For Emily Yates, the worst part of serving in Iraq with the U.S. Army was the loss of control.
Yates, now a 29-year-old student at the University of California, Berkeley, was sent twice to Baghdad, serving as a public affairs specialist, military journalist and photographer with the 2nd Brigade, 3rd Infantry Division.
Her first stint in Iraq stretched from June 2005 to January 2006; her second was from March 2007 to May 2008. She signed up in the hopes of getting training for a career in journalism, but found herself unable to leave on schedule when the military's "stop-loss" policy forced her to extend her service.
The worst was not the rockets and mortar shells that rained continuously down on her bases at Camp Liberty and Camp Victory, she said.
"My source of depression and emotional and psychological issues come from being there for such a long time at a stretch and not really getting the kind of support I needed for what I was dealing with," she said.
"When you are feeling not in control of your own destiny, you either shut down or you become angry."
Yates does not look much like a soldier now. With tattoos and long curly hair, she dresses in cowboy boots and faux sheepskin shirts. She plays the ukulele, draws, writes and does graphic design. She co-founded a group called Veteran Artists and is focusing some of her studies on the Middle East.
And as much as she hated her years in the Army, she feels stronger for them.
"Having gone through that, I feel like I can do anything," she said.