Larry Roberta's every breath is a painful reminder of his time in Iraq. He can't walk a block without gasping for air. His chest hurts, his migraines sometimes persist for days and he needs pills to help him sleep.
James Gentry came home with rashes, ear troubles and a shortness of breath. Later, things got much worse: He developed lung cancer, which spread to his spine, ribs and one of his thighs; he must often use a cane, and no longer rides his beloved Harley.
David Moore's postwar life turned into a harrowing medical mystery: nosebleeds and labored breathing that made it impossible to work, much less speak. His desperate search for answers ended last year when he died of lung disease at age 42.
What these three men - one sick, one dying, one dead - had in common is they were National Guard soldiers on the same stretch of wind-swept desert in Iraq during the early months of the war in 2003.
These soldiers and hundreds of other Guard members from Indiana, Oregon and West Virginia were protecting workers hired by a subsidiary of the giant contractor, KBR Inc., to rebuild an Iraqi water treatment plant. The area, as it turned out, was contaminated with hexavalent chromium, a potent, sometimes deadly chemical linked to cancer and other devastating diseases.