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 20, 2006

Name: SGT Salamander
Posting date: 10/19/2006
Stationed in: Iraq
Hometown: Pennsylvania

So we get good news. Minus forty days and a wake up and our time in this is over. Minus a few good soldiers, who were a few good fathers, who were a few good husbands and friends. They left boxed and flagged months back. So this is the time we start taking inventory of what we have. We count the few rounds we didn't use. Frags, smoke, 40mm's. We count blouses and trousers, measure the tread on our third pair of boots. I watch my privates scrub the piss and sweat from their IBAS, the blackened ring that has inched lower and lower from the neckguard that wouldn't stop a water balloon. We take inventory there in my hooch, bags out.

Everything laid out.

And some of these cats are crusty-eyed, off-mission. Missions I fight to pull them from. Missions attached to other platoons or companies, out from under my umbrella of...whatever I have to give them. Other cats pick at pimples. Mumble about the women in their lives, the women to which I promised the return of their boy. All five appendages.

They all sit there and listen to time hacks and dates, block leave windows: "Don't go blow that blood money on a fuckin' car. Blow it on tattoos. I believe in the permanence of tattoos."

They chuckle because they have to, or want to. But nothing is really funny anymore. It's been a long year and we feel we've failed. Samara to Now and we are in a different film. There are new buzzwords. And we are older. JODY made his rounds through a few of their lives. And yes, we've accepted this.

Warsaw to the Wall, Samara to Now and back again, and I, twenty-five years old, believe I've seen it all. But I know I'm wrong about a lot of things. I am lucky. These little bastards are all I have. They do what I say because they want to, not because they have to. They know when to move, when to cover the other guy, the pre-combat checks. They know that at three hundred meters to aim at the gut, not so much center-mass. The alleys and buildings hug the bullet, and harmonics get screwy, ballistics get screwy. So just go for the meat with the first and a few more will follow. Iraqis are fatasses, Sarn. And if he lives, he'll be back out there shooting again in two weeks, so make sure he dies this time. That's maybe, maybe, one less asshole.

All of this is running through my mind. This inventory of physical things, this gear, this ammo. That little M4. That little squirtgun-looking thing that has been so good to me. We take inventory. And my one guy, my Godson Godsend, my little future something, my favorite Joe says, "Sarn, I'm missing some things, little things. But nothing sensitive."

I take inventory.

"Alright, get this shit out of here, go eat, go sleep."

"Roger..Roger...Check, Sarn. Night, Sarn."

All this laid out here, on my poncho. The same poncho that my squad leader and I piled a decimated Iraqi Soldier inside after a big, big bomb rocked our joint patrol. We balled him up and I carried him to his platoon sergeant, who sat with his tea cup and just nodded his head."I need the poncho back, Irif, get your ass up and go find something else."

I take inventory. I have everything I left home with. Plus faint crow's feet and a few gray hairs. A few scars that will make good stories, fodder for bar girls and that's about all. Stories that will become lies in a few years. Plus fifteen pounds of back and chest from all that gear.

I should have called my parents more than just the once. I should have shucked when I jived. Was that, then, that one time, was that necessary? Do I dig too far for meaning? Yes I do.

And I find, having done the inventory, this being the last, a few patrols, a few raids and OP's left, that's all, this being the city it is, I being who I am, and watching things die and tan and bleach out and young boys grow and harden, listening to myself even now; the inventory, those three bags, is our deconstruction.

We went from what we were then, a year ago, to what we are now. Nothing much has changed, we just know the difference. Having shat out a few basic emotions. The only animals on the Ark who built cities and burned them down. Animals nonetheless. And the souls of those guys leaving my room are saved, having survived this believed once in the purpose.

Everything is accounted for, all things sensitive. We may play damaged or violent, but we're okay. We are these things, it will always be with us, we are just ready to see the difference.


I hope you and your guys have a safe 40 days and a wake-up. In the mean time stay safe and be smart. The enemy doesnt get to leave so they will still be going strong.

Thank you for writing. Every American should read this so they can wrap their arms around what we are asking dedicated soldiers to do in this war. I am in awe of you and the job you have done. I am so sorry that you have had to do this in my name and our country's name. We are all responsible. Thank you and be safe.

May you keep safe, clear and strong till your boots are back on American soil. Reading your post, your skill with words, the old-soul perspectives and ideas coming across, I thought you must be late 30s into your 40s, till you said you are 25. Your courage and sense of duty and responsibility are awe-inspiring. I apologize to you for the government of our country, which has put you and so many other young men and women in harm's way, and into positions where they must kill other people or risk being killed. My heart aches for what you have had to witness, learn, and do at such a young age. It is incomprehensible to me that in the 21st century, with all the knowledge that humankind now possesses and all the experience of history, we still have religious fanatics trying to resolve their differences with murder, and the most advanced civilization in the world resorts to bombs, guns, rockets and war to try to pursue it's goals. Human beings can, should and must find ways to be better than this. Come home, Sergeant, and be a youth again.

sgt. salamander--

thank you for sharing. i wish you all the best, i hope for you, most of all that the 40 days passes quickly enough for you. take care.


You made me cry--with gratitude, with admiration, with fear for the 40 days, with disgust at the dirty bastards who lied us into this war of choice and with hope that when you return home you will use your gift of words to repair what has been broken in your fellow heroes and in our beloved country. Thank you for your noble sacrafice and your words.

SGT Salamander,

You have such a gift for words, Sarn. Such a caring heart. Your troops are so lucky to have a leader like you looking out for them. Can you be only 25? You seem wise beyond your years. Much too young to have been asked to do all you have done.

Sarn, I will pray that your 40 days go by quickly and without incident. I will pray that you and the rest of your men come home safely with "all five appendages." Keep feeling deeply. Keep looking for meaning. Keep writing. God bless you.

Be safe my brothers, be safe - I'll leave the light on for you and keep the beer cold so we can talk, or not, when you come home.

That was the best summary of an Iraq tour I've read yet. You're an outstanding writer. Keep it up. Take care of yourself-- I already know you're taking care of your troops.

Hey bro. Thanks for your poetic comments. You put your situation in such a disjointed and disconcerting way that really represented your thoughts in their form much more than simple words could do. Stay safe mate.

Your blog was exceptionally interesting. It's good to read actual words from a soldier, to hear what is being thought. And to hear something so well-said is refreshing. I don't know anyone in the military, and I'm a little lost on what to say. What do you say to people living in Hell? Everything I want to say sounds too hopeful. I'm sorry you have to be there, and just know that there isn't one person who doesn't appreciate that you signed up for the military (except for the crazies). I just wish your skills, bravery, and everything else that makes you good enough to be our first line of defense, were being used in a better manner. Thanks for everything.

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