In the spring of 2007, The Denver Post invested heavily in a story, despite having no idea where it would lead. Photojournalist Craig F. Walker followed a young man, 18-year-old Ian Fisher, as he finished high school and joined the army at the height of insurgent violence in Iraq. The intent was to tag along wherever his deployment led and to chronicle his journey – for better or worse.

What emerged was a detailed sketch of a young man’s struggle with himself and the army that would redefine him. With access to Fisher at home and in uniform, Walker documented both civilian life and the political realities of a war that, when Fisher reached Iraq, bore no resemblance to the violent conflict he both feared and craved.

The photographs capture the story of countless young men who find themselves in the armed forces through some combination of patriotism and personal inertia. On an intensely personal landscape, it is the story of a boy struggling to become a man. The primary conflict that flared over the course of two years was not on the streets of Baghdad or Fallujah, but inside Ian Fisher.


Along the way, the series shows the army’s recruitment struggles during an unpopular war, looking at the shifting strategies for training young soldiers for the “new Army” and the battle against boredom when combat readiness runs up against a mission that demands as much boots-on-the-ground political savvy as tactical competence.

At the heart of Walker’s photography is a coming-of-age story with the detail that comes only from close access over an extended period. Whether sitting at the family’s kitchen table or hunkered in a Humvee, Walker blended into the background so seamlessly that Fisher, as well as his family, friends and fellow soldiers, acted and reacted with unselfconscious authenticity.

When Fisher spoke comfortingly with his father just before heading to boot camp, Walker was there. When he tried to wriggle out of his commitment just 48 hours into basic training, Walker captured the battle of wills with Army officers. Family conflicts over drugs, break-ups with girlfriends both at home and via the Internet from the war zone, impulsive decisions to go AWOL – it was all fair game and all found its way into print.

The result is the tale of one young man’s struggle to transform his life, and also shows the difficulties experienced no doubt by so many as they commit themselves, in a time of war, to a job and lifestyle far removed from their everyday existence.

“American Soldier” is an intense photojournalism project viewing one soldier’s journey through a highly introspective lens.

Kevin Simpson, The Denver Post

Craig F. Walker

See full archive