The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were in many ways acutely different from their predecessors. This time, American soldiers were fighting in urban settings, dodging improvised explosives and often searching for enemies indistinguishable from civilians.
With a new kind of war come a new host of challenges for those who fought in it. Fewer fatalities has led to more life-long injury, an economy in crisis will translate to fewer jobs and less federal funding, and the use of unconventional weaponry is already apparent in the prevalence of invisible, untreatable mental wounds.
More soldiers than ever are surviving their injuries: Last year, 7.9 percent were fatal, which represents an all-time low for the American military. But the mangled limbs, burned flesh, shredded muscles and missing body parts that once guaranteed death now need to be patched up - And despite improvements, the results are far from ideal.
The military has invested upwards of $100 million into cutting-edge prosthetics, from research into
brain-controlled limbs to the development of synthetic skin. They've also thrown $250 million into regenerative medicine to help repair some of the damage. Still, a prosthetic that's as good as the real thing is likely a decade off, while new body parts will no doubt take even longer. "I’m not satisfied we’re doing it rapidly enough," Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Admiral Mike Mullen said last year. "10 years doesn't satisfy any of us."
Photo: U.S. Air Force
Katie Drummond is a New York-based reporter at Danger Room, covering the wild world of military research, and a contributing editor at The Daily. Follow @katiedrumm on Twitter.