U.S. Army combat photojournalist Blanka Stratford connects with local villagers in this photograph taken near Anwar, Iraq. During her service under Operations Enduring and Iraqi Freedom, Stratford took part in a number of life-threatening missions in order to provide both security and humanitarian aid in Iraq. One such project included assisting actor Gary Sinise and author Laura Hildebrand in the implementation of "Operation Iraqi Children (OIC), a grassroots program aiding war-stricken children. She also played a key role in developing the "Digital Video and Imagery Distribution System" (DVIDS), serving as a reliable media link to worldwide deployed military units. In late 2004, Stratford's military career was cut short following the violation of what is now the repealed Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy. Her honorable discharge served as the premise for her first novel, "Years Becoming," which details her downfall for love. Since her dismissal, Stratford has continued to serve military personnel by dedicating herself to helping veterans. She has been a strong force on radio talk shows, discussing pressing issues such as military suicide rates, veterans homelessness, military sexual trauma and lastly post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) - a condition she was diagnosed with in 2009, after four years of struggling with the disorder's devastating symptoms.
Stratford is now working on her second novel "CIRCA 2011" - detailing the lives of veterans within a psychiatric unit. The novel entails several key points to understanding the complexities of combat trauma, its effects on veterans and their family and friends, and the long and arduous path to recovery.