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 30, 2006

Name: SGT "Roy Batty"
Posting date: 10/30/06
Stationed in: Baghdad, Iraq
Hometown: Yellow Springs, Ohio

I am sitting on my camp chair in the corner of my room, the laptop on my bunk, Ipod inserted deep within my ears. Hedley Moose is asleep next to me, exhausted after another night of avoiding the restless bulk of a snoring ex-Marine. The bed is cluttered with a 1:50,000 scale tactical map of Baghdad, my black cordura wallet, everpresent Camels, a bright yellow Arabic for Dummies book, and Chuck Klosterman's awesome novel, Killing Yourself to Live. After finally putting down Neil Stephenson's bulging Quicksilver for the hundredth time as being brilliant but absolutely unreadable, I picked up Chuck's tome and have been reading it every chance I've had for the past 24 hours. Which means that I am about halfway through it. He writes almost exactly the same way as I hope to, except for the fact that he is actually funny.

Peter Gabriel surfaces on the tiny scratched screen of the Nano, singing quietly about Mercy Street. I close my eyes and the white-tiled ceiling disappears as I slowly rise through it and drift away to somewhere vaguely Celtic, full of dark rain clouds over coal tailings, thick with the wet smell of distant sheep. Amber scotch-colored water pours over my hands as I dip them in a cold Northern loch somewhere in the memories of my childhood in England.

I don't have anything to write about. We'll have to see what happens tonight on patrol. Baghdad has a way of throwing inspiration into the path of your HMMWV, either with the wet plop of over-ripened fruit, or with something considerably denser and unfortunately louder in volume.

Actually, it just did. Resigning myself to writer's block, I put down the Ipod and went outside to smoke a cigarette. Schrader and Smith were out there, so I went over to say hi. We were just starting to talk, when we were interrupted by a weird whirring noise, sort of like a radio-controlled car in low gear.

We turned to see what it was, and a short black robot trundled around the side of the building on little round all-terrain tires. The intruder was just under a foot high, and about three feet long. A tiny, two-inch silver camera was mounted on the top of the front bumper, and two spring-loaded antennas bounced along merrily at its rear. This was one of our newest toys; something I had heard about, but had not actually seen yet. It's an EOD robot, but a cheaper version just for MPs. Designed to investigate possible roadside bombs, but small enough to be carried in the back of a HMMWV.

Robbie the Robot trundled oblivously past us, turned right, and drove underneath a parked semi, its antennas bouncing and scraping the undercarriage of the truck. He then cruised off in the general direction of the Battalion TOC.

The three of us looked at each other, wondering if we had actually seen this mechanical apparition. We had, so we peered around the building, expecting to see whoever was controlling the cute little thing, but no one was visible. I don't know the range on the radio controller, but it must be pretty far. No telling where they were hiding.

Robbie was disappearing in a small cloud of gravel dust, and, on a whim, I ran after him, following the bright little blue LED mounted on his rear. I caught up with him, got in front, just to the side, and got down on all fours on the gravel. As he rolled by, I leaned over, mouth wide open, right in front of the TV camera. I would have loved to see the view on the distant TV screen. Understandably, he stopped instantly.

I laughed to myself and stood up, looking at him at him from the side. The robot paused for a minute, and then lurched forward, and then slowly started circling around me. I was amazed to see the little silver camera start traversing back and forth. Obviously he was trying to find out what halitosis-ridden monster had just tried to bite his head off. Robbie did a slow 360-degree turn around me, and I stepped in front of him, blocking his escape. The camera shook for a second, and then raised up on an articulated arm that had been hidden inside his body. I leaned over, and pointed a finger at him, like a boy admonishing a wayward puppy.

"Go home! Go home now!" I mouthed at him. I don't know if there is a microphone on the camera, but I couldn't see one. The camera raised up another inch or two, and then, amazingly, slowly shook its head left and right. No.

I burst out laughing, absolutely delighted. Apparently whoever was on the other end of the video feed had a decent sense of humor, too.

Robbie lowered his head, backed up, slowly rolled around me, and headed off on his exploratory journal. The last I saw of him, he was headed off in the dust, antennas bouncing joyfully, silver head checking out the scene, trundling off in the general direction of the showers. The female showers.

Ah, to be a bored soldier in Iraq, with million-dollar toys. These are your tax dollars at work. At least he made my day, so it was worth it, I hope.


My daughter is over there somewhere with you all, and your postings make this come alive in ways that I know she will never be able to talk about when she gets home. Whether that's good or bad, I don't know. But your perspective is one that isn't offered by the TV commentators, it doesn't fit into a sound bite. Please stay safe, I hope you and all your soldiers come home soon.

i'm in a computer lab, supposed to be writing a paper, and i laughed out loud reading it - and everyone's staring at me.
absolutely amazing.

I was at a military base overseas earlier this year and one of "Robbie's" cousins was out and about. I watched in awe as "he" climbed up the steps of one of the buildings, raised his "arm" and opened a door, etc. Pretty darn amazing. Once the robot noticed us looking at him he interacted with us, too. Thanks for allowing me to relive my experience AND share yours!

I'm glad you all have the "Robbies" around to help look for the danger instead of you having to always do so.

Thanks so much for sharing this story. I, too, like Kate, laughed at loud - more at your actions than at Robbie! Gotta laugh to get through life and I can only imagine how good a laugh feels where you are.

Yo, Batty, I'm looking forward to reading the book you eventually make out of the log you're keeping now. BTW, the real war is trying to keep sane as time fast-forwards; and there is still too much to process. Then you will need an excellent sense of humor more than ever. The laugh I got from your post just bailed me out, thanks!

Great stuff, Batty. Humor takes the edge off it, keeps you sane, sometimes only for a while. You gotta worry bigtime when you can no longer laugh about the little things.

HI-LARIOUS! Keep 'em coming! Stay safe cuz!

Well I think you're pretty funny--made me laugh out loud! Stay safe.

That was funny, I am not suprised you laughed.

Incredible! Amazing! The literary feat of the century!! Where can I read more?!?

oh thank you. that was wonderful. glad to see you can laugh. give Robbie a high five!

Hee,hee,eee... Get back to work. Seriously well done "O". Thanks for explaining our plight in the Army today in a humorus way. You are a great writer bro.

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