In 2002, just weeks out of Ranger School, Dan Stuewe became a platoon leader in the 101st Airborne Division, which was deploying for Operation Iraqi Freedom within weeks. On the day they deployed, Dan was convinced he would never see his new wife again. As he entered the battalion command post, he found a soldier handing him some chewing tobacco and a valuable lesson: smiling changes everything. Once in Kuwait, after weeks of waiting, Stuewe crossed into Iraq . After air assault missions as the unit moved toward Baghdad, Stuewe’s soldiers provided him the valuable reminder to smile when times got tough. Combat in Najaf, Karbala, Baghdad, and Mosul all proved the wisdom of smiling when it sucks.

Once in Mosul, however, it was harder for Stuewe to smile. In July 2003, Stuewe was the convoy leader when Sgt. Brett Christian was killed in an IED strike. Several months later, Stuewe’s soldiers responded to a fatal helicopter crash, further testing his ability to smile when things became difficult. On his way out of Iraq, though, Stuewe was once again reminded of the value of smiling when it sucks.

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Image credit: Sgt. Luis Lazzara, via Wikimedia Commons