G.I. Joe

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It has been a tumultuous year for the U.S. Armed Services, one that included the complete withdrawal of troops from Iraq and preparations for a dramatic drawdown of combat troops in Afghanistan, the end of the Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy, the removal of a dictator in Libya, and a strategic pivot to Asia. At the same time, the American military has weathered a scandal over burning Qurans in Afghanistan and stared down the barrel of a looming budget fight in Congress.

For Memorial Day, FP takes a look at the last year in the life of the troops on the front lines, from young cadets on their graduation day to wounded veterans learning to live with disabilities.

Above, U.S. Marine Capt. Tom Kearns, of Bordentown, NJ, gets a fist bump while patrolling through a village near Forward Operating Base Zeebrugge near Kajaki, Afghanistan. The Marines were responsible for securing the area around the Kajaki Dam on the Helmand River.

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Three paratroopers with the 82nd Airborne Division's 1st Brigade Combat Team and a trainer run through a smokescreen during a live-fire exercise on Jan. 14, 2012, in Fort Polk, Louisiana. The middle soldier carries several tools used to breach doors on his back.

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Cpl. Jose Pacheco, a soldier with Headquarters and Headquarters Platoon, Company D, 1st Battalion, 28th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, practices rappelling techniques during the basic-mobility portion of an exercise at a training center in Northern California's Toiyabe National Forest.

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U.S. soldiers gather near a destroyed vehicle and protect their faces from dust blown by a helicopter -- known as rotor wash -- as their wounded comrades are airlifted by Medevac from the 159th Brigade Task Force Thunder to Kandahar Hospital Role 3. Three soldiers were wounded while their vehicle was destroyed up by an improvised explosive device.

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U.S. Army Private First Class Kyler King of the 2nd Platoon of Task Force 3-66, Bravo Company of the 172 Infantry Brigade gets his head shaved by Shawn Riggins (also 2nd Platoon) on Sept. 6, 2011. Of roughly 100,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, 33,000 are scheduled to leave by mid-2012.

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U.S. Army soldiers from the 2-27th Infantry Regiment work out at their outdoor gym on Sept. 2, 2011 at Observation Post Mustang in Kunar Province, Afghanistan. The area, in northeastern Afghanistan near the Pakistan border, is a major infiltration route by Taliban fighters coming across from Pakistan and has seen some of the heaviest fighting of the war.

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U.S. Army Sgt. Aaron Sweeny and Staff Sgt. Robert Novak watch explosions from a mountain top near Forward Operating Base Salerno in Afghanistan during a call for fire exercise on Feb. 3, 2011.

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Lt. John Coombs, assigned to the Warlords of Helicopter Anti-Submarine Squadron Light 51, conducts preflight checks before flying with members of the humanitarian assessment survey team to assess the damage caused by flooding on Oct. 22, 2011 in Bangkok, Thailand.

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Marine Sgt. Brandon Morgan and his boyfriend embrace in Hawaii during a homecoming ceremony for soldiers returning from Afghanistan. The military's Don'tAsk, Don't tell policy, which barred openly gay people from serving in the military, expired in September 2011.

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An Afghan girl greets a joint patrol of U.S. troops from the Charlie Company, 2-87 Infantry, 3rd Brigade Combat Team at Kandalay village in the southern Afghan province of Kandahar on Aug. 8, 2011. U.S. troops had just launched missile attacks on Taliban targets in nearby Kelawai village, killing at least three and capturing two insurgents.

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First-year midshipmen, or plebes, participate in the "wet and sandy" portion of the U.S. Naval Academy's annual Sea Trials. The Sea Trials program is modeled after the Marine Corps' Crucible and the Navy's Battle Stations recruit programs. It is a capstone event for the fourth-class midshipmen and serves as a leadership challenge for the upper class, who lead each event during the exercise.

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President Barack Obama greets troops during a visit to Bagram Air Field on May 1 in Afghanistan. Obama signed a U.S.-Afghanistan strategic partnership agreement during his unannounced visit to the country.

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Retired Army 1st Sgt. William Staude, of Elliott, PA, salutes the colors being carried by soldiers from the 316th Expeditionary Sustainment Command as they march past him during the Veterans Day parade in downtown Pittsburgh on Nov. 11, 2011.

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Senior Airman John Fitzgerald, a medic attached to Laghman Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT), hangs a bag of fluids to to keep Staff Sgt. Jason Roberts hydrated during a multi-day operation on Aug. 21 in Alingar District in the Laghman Province of Afghanistan. The PRT, combined with assets from the 45th Infantry Brigade, conducted a cordon and search in a village thought to be home to IED makers and Taliban fighters.

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Seen through a haze of fine dust kicked up by a helicopter's rotor blades, U.S. Marines carry a wounded comrade who was hit by an improvised explosive device to a medevac helicopter of U.S. Army's Task Force Lift 'Dust Off' Charlie Company 1-171 Aviation Regiment in Helmand province on Nov. 2, 2011. The marine lost his right leg from the knee down in the blast.

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Cyclists with the sixth annual Wounded Warrior Project's Soldier Ride wait to ride around the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, D.C. on April 20. Soldier Ride provides rehabilitation opportunities through cycling for U.S. military members wounded during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, raising public awareness of the challenges facing veterans as they recover from life-altering injuries.

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U.S. Army soldiers assigned to Company C, 2nd Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment, Task Force No Slack, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, say farewell during a memorial service for six fallen soldiers at Forward Operating Base Joyce in eastern Afghanistan's Kunar Province on April 9, 2011. 

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A U.S. Army carry team moves the body of U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Terence J. Hildner during a transfer ceremony at Dover Air Force Base on Feb. 6. Hildner, a one-star U.S. Army general from Fairfax County, Virginia, was found dead in his Kabul sleeping quarters. He is the highest-ranking U.S. officer to die in Afghanistan, according to the Pentagon.

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