The Sandbox

GWOT hot wash, straight from the wire

Welcome to The Sandbox, a forum for service members who have served or are currently serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, returned vets, spouses and caregivers. The Sandbox's focus is not on policy and partisanship (go to our Blowback page for that), but on the unclassified details of deployment -- the everyday, the extraordinary, the wonderful, the messed-up, the absurd. All correspondence is read, and as much as possible is posted, lightly edited. If you know someone who is deployed who might have something to say, please tell them about us. To submit a post click here.


October 10, 2006

Name: SSG Emily Joy Schwenkler
Posting date: 10/10/06
Stationed in: Baghdad, Iraq
Hometown: Salem, Oregon

It is extremely hard to be here and not question the people and events that led to our being here. I don't question my own personal choice to be here. I ran, not walked, to my local recruiter with the desire to serve my country. And I am much more fortunate than many soldiers serving here. I am on a large, well maintained FOB (Forward Operating Base) located smack dab in the middle of the Baghdad International Airport. I can go to Burger King every day, and I sleep in an air-conditioned trailer with internet access every night.

When I go out on missions, I get to see the way the "other half" lives. I have to wear all my gear, even while I'm fixing trucks in the 120 degree heat, convoy from place to place, sleep outside on a cot, run to the bunker when mortars go off, and experience the horrifying feeling of seeing an IED go off at the front of a seven-vehicle convoy (I was driving the rear vehicle) and wondering for seconds-that-felt-like-hours if someone I worked with and cared for was hurt or killed, while simultaneously breathing a guilty sigh of relief that it hadn't gone off seconds later on my truck.

The "security" problem going on in Baghdad right now translates into my husband, a heavy equipment operator, going out onto the Main Supply Routes and placing concrete barriers at traffic checkpoints leading into Baghdad in order to protect the Iraqi Army that man those checkpoints during the day.

Let me break it down to you as I see it...We tell the Iraqi people when they can leave their homes and for how long, when they can be on the road and when they can't. The majority of Iraqi people have no electricity, except for dangerous generators supplying too many people with less than sub-standard wiring. Iraq is a deeply divided country of people who went right back to hating each other as soon as their common enemy was ousted. Democracy will only give the upper hand to the majority, the Shiites (whose most radical sect, the Hezbollah, already hold 23 seats in the Lebanon parliament).

Meanwhile, the only thing the Iraqi people know is that a foreign army is occupying them to protect them against "insurgents" who, I'm saddened to say, would probably not be here if American forces weren't roaming the streets, searching people's homes and enforcing curfews.

I'm not so idealistic that I think all the conflict would simply vanish if we were to leave. History has proven otherwise. But there is no "winning" here. I can see the signs that our government is beginning to realize the same thing, beginning its modern-day version of "Vietnamization", training the Iraqi Army to take a more active role in its country's defense. (Right now, mechanics in my unit are training Iraqi Soldiers to fix their vehicles, and we've been informed that the training is "priority".) Nixon did the exact same thing at the end of the Vietnam War. After it was well established that we were fighting a losing battle, we slowly decreased the offensive measures, while touting morale-boosting press releases about the South Vietnamese people's ability to defend themselves.

I love the Army, I truly do. It has offered me incredible opportunities, and helped me come a long way from the crank-smoking high school drop-out that I was 15 years ago. And I love our country, even when I don't always agree with the people that run it. I'm desperately sorry to the people that have lost loved ones here.

My husband's job site was ambushed last week, and although no one was hurt, it has prompted a lot of these reflections. It was a terrible question to ask: If, God forbid, he had been hurt, what would it have been for? I read an article in Rolling Stone recently, about a reporter riding with some soldiers here in Iraq. He put it into words perfectly.

Those of us serving here simply can't afford to ask that question.


Thanks for your candid, insightful piece. I felt the same way in Vietnam 40 years ago. Good luck!

Thank you so very much for your honesty throughout the post. And thank you for having the courage and the passion to serve our country so that I can be safe. Your thoughts bridge the gap between soldier and civillian.


Thank you so much for writing. I hate that anyone has to be in this war, but I'm so grateful to you and your husband and others serving in Iraq. For what it's worth, coming from a civilian, I believe there's great honor in what you're doing--living up to a commitment to our country's well-being, and staying thoughtful, brave and caring in a situation where it must be hard sometimes just to think. And the Army you love is going to need your help to learn from this experience. I'm praying for your safety, and wishing you well.

Keep Up the Fire!

Thanks Much for the 411, Staff Sergeant . . .
You do your soldier thing over there, and hopefully those of us left behind will do the right thing, or at least start to figure out the right things, back here.

Thank you for your post, and for your 15 years of service. America owes so much to you and your comrades. Whatever our politics on the war, we know the difference between the politicians and the warfighters. Come home safely.
(No need to post this.)

Emily, thanks to you and your husband for being the kind of people who will step up to protect our country when needed. Please know that many of us wish your talents and, well, life were better respected by those who have placed you in harm's way. May your deployment remain "safe" and your return home be imminent. Hugs!!! and Thanks!!!

Thank you, Emily!

I hope you will post again soon.

Emily, I hope that as an NCO you are not sharing your doubts with those in your charge. Just publicly posting on the web may be enough to get you relieved. It's defeatism. When you think you're beaten - you are. We all have doubts but a decent leader doesn't infect his troops with them. What exactly did you think joining the army meant? That you'd be able to pick and choose which wars you'd fight? You took the oath, stop whining.

It's rare for me to read insight from the front lines that I can relate to. In 1971 I left Vietnam, thinking Vietnamization was the answer. It wasn't, and Iraqis standing up as US forces stand down won't work either. Thanks for the post and your hard work, soldier.

Emily, as a Disabled VietNam Vet I understand your feelings. But I determined that I did the right thing (even though I was drafted). Even though I lost many good friends there I would do it all again.

And "they" say that your generation has no grasp of history. You have more than is evident at the White House. Congratulations and good luck!

To Doug Wargo - are you serving in the military? No? Then don't ask this brave woman to "stop whining". I'm not in the military, and I deeply respect those who are, no matter what my opinion on this war may be. What Emily wrote was insightful, humane; not defeatist. So please don't disrespect Emily and waste our time by criticizing her opinions. Go do something useful with your life today.

You have Salem's support and prayers. We never stop thinking about our soldiers. :)

I feel so much gratitude for the sacrifices you describe. Without such posts, we lost sense of the humanity of your effort. Thank you for informing me today.

Thank you for serving, for caring, and for your honesty. You have more guts in your little finger than most of us put together. Stay safe and God bless you and your husband.

Actually we don't tell the Iraqis anything. Their elected officials decide on curfews. BTW Vietnamization was actually working before we tucked and ran. Oh ya btw who was it who got us into that war and ran it into the ground anyways? Ya that's right, the same people who brought u Somalia. Ya I'm goona let them have a go at OIF... NOT!!!!

You've said it all and said it well.

Good job, Emily, at telling it like it is!
If you have doubts there's a good reason!
Listen to your gut.
I watched this same thing happen in VietNam... sincere people , soldiers and others, who believed their lying leaders. It almost tore your country into pieces.
Let's hope it doesn't take 10 years for you Americans to understand what's REALLY happening.

God Bless you. Thanks.

Emily: Thank you for your insight. My Father is a Vietnam Vet and I have three Sons - My Father says he would NOT want to see them in Iraq - not because of the war but because of the way they are fighting the war in Iraq. The Insurgents,the road side bombs and suicide bombers are not a fair fight. I wonder if President Bush would so freely send his daughters to fight this war.......I don't think he would. Everytime I see another soldier killed by a roadside bomb or a suicide bomber killing innocent people - I wonder what are we doing there ? This is a battle never to be won. The people there are not normal and they worship death not life. I do thank you & your husband for your service and I pray you return safely. God Bless!

That's right Emily. The real war is being hard fought right here in the living rooms of America, just the way the Viet Nam playbook calls for. We're invested with the Islamists in your failure and a shameful retreat. We can then fight next campaign using your children, on our own streets.

You're right to be fearful and confused as you cry and bleed for the ones you left at home, who want nothing more than to use your defeat as a tool to destroy the One, the Evil, the diabolical genius-idiot. That's all that really matters and has for some 6 years now.

Finish your work there and come back for the real fight.

Sounds to me like your insightful perspective on the hisory of the Viet Nam war comes from a public high school history book. Kinda sad that so many Americans would engage in a similar pat analysis and reach the same conclusion.

I would be thankful for
what the troops are doing
in Iraq - IF, IF, the troops were doing
anything positive for
Americans. The disaster
in Iraq MAKES AMERICANS LESS SAFE. I am sorry, I am sorry, I am sorry,
SORRY, for having to be so
honest. Hey, I didnt spit
on you, so reader, you dont have to send
death threats to my email
- its called freedom of

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