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 23, 2006

Name: Adam Tiffen (AirborneJD)
Posting date: 10/23/06
Returned from: Iraq
Milblog url:

The front gate of the Alamo opens up into the sprawling town. A mass of triple-strand concertina wire and Jersey barriers block out traffic and channel incoming vehicles thru a chicane of concrete blocks. The front entrance is reinforced by an up-armored HUMMWV, a gunner sitting in the cupola manning a long-barreled .50 caliber machine gun. The gunner scans oncoming traffic looking for signs of trouble, while the driver sits patiently and monitors the radio. The vehicle must be moved for any traffic to enter or exit, and is a last ditch effort to prevent a car packed with explosives from slamming into the Alamo and reducing the building to fire and ash.

Nearing the front gate and stepping around the wire, I wrinkle my nose as I catch a fresh draft of hot wind from the city. The sewer stench of the city permeating the air is something I will never get used to.

At the front gate a man stands patiently, waiting to talk. He is wearing a dark blue robe and worn brown sandals. His rolled-up sleeves reveal faded swirling tattoos and Arabic markings on his skin. His unshaven face is rough, made up of sharp angular planes that are hardened by hooded, expressionless eyes. Looking into those dark brown eyes, I can tell that he wants me dead.

Without taking my eyes off his, I motion for the interpreter. Steve walks over and stops suddenly, as if sensing the tension between the stranger and myself.

"What does he want?" I ask.

Steve begins hesitantly, stumbling over the first few words of his normally flawless Arabic. The man replies so softly that Steve has to lean forward to catch his last few words.

"He says he has come for his brothers."

"Who are his brothers?"

"He says that one of his brothers was killed by Americans yesterday, and that the other brother was taken and arrested."

Unconsciously I nod my head. I know who he is talking about. The day before, an IED had hit an American patrol. Immediately after the blast, the soldiers had spotted a blue bongo truck fleeing from the scene. The patrol reacted quickly and gave chase. The truck fled until its tires were shot out. As it ground to a halt, two armed men had jumped out and started running. My patrol had arrived on scene just after one had been shot dead and the other had surrendered.

The two brothers had been insurgents. This one likely is as well.

Standing before me is the enemy.

The bastard is trying to stare me down.

Resting my right hand on my pistol, I feel an involuntary rush of adrenaline.

"Tell him that he can have his brother's body. I will show him where it is."

At the mention of his brother's body, his gaze cracks. For an instant, the corners of his eyes tighten with grief, and then his features return to the intense, hate-filled stare. Motioning with my right hand, I turn and walk over to the Iraqi police station. Behind me, the man follows, shadowed by two of my soldiers pulling security. They have picked up on the lethal atmosphere and are moving with extra care, their eyes scanning for trouble.

I can feel his gaze on the back of my neck.

Walking into the comparative cool of the police station, I step thru the shadowed concrete corridors and into a back room. There, on a wooden pallet, is a body bag with his brother's remains. An Iraqi policeman walks in and Steve quietly explains what the man is there for. There is a slight stench in the air that no words could properly describe.

The man steps around me and walks up to the bag. I can see him grip his blue robe with his right hand, holding the material so hard that his knuckles have turned white. After a long moment, he turns to face me.

"And my other brother, the Americans arrested him. Where is he? How can I get him?"

I look at him for a moment, not saying anything.

"Your brother was arrested after he attacked an American patrol. He has been confined and they are doing an investigation. If he is guilty of terrorist activity, he will be charged and sentenced by an Iraqi court of law. If he is not guilty of terrorist activity, you have nothing to be afraid of. If he is innocent, he will be released and you will see him again. If however, he is guilty, he is going to be going to prison for a very long time."

The man looks at me, his jaw working in anger. For a brief second, I get the impression that he is going to attack, and then suddenly, as if the energy has gone out of him, his shoulders slump slightly and he looks down at his brother's body.

"Can you help me move him to my vehicle?"

I can tell that it was painful for him to ask me for assistance. Looking steadily at the man standing before me, his face half cloaked in the shadows, I consider his request. Part of me goes out to the man in sympathy. For the loss of a brother.

And then I remember all of the bodies of innocent civilians that my men have found rotting in the sun, their hands bound behind their backs, and their eyes blindfolded, before they were shot in the head by insurgents that had suspected them of helping us. This man is an insurgent. His brother had tried to kill Americans.

My resolve hardens, and I shake my head to clear my thoughts. I will get him what he needs. "Tell him that the Iraqi Police will help him carry the body." The policeman in the corner nods, and leaves the room to get a colleague to help. For my men will do no such thing.


Well written Mr.Tiffen. To bare one's soul so eloquently takes courage and skill.

I think it was Lao-Tzu who said something like "A warrior must never face the enemy anger." He also goes on to recommend that a warrior honor the enemy and respect him for the traits that make him a worthy adversary. To do otherwise is to court failure, to be blind to your adversary's strengths. Lao Tzu suggests you empathise with your adversary and use your innate ability to understand him as a fellow human being (as you do in your writing) for in doing so you will better understand both his strengths and weaknesses.

Carry on and keep the faith.

Stunning story. Absolutely. Please keep writing. I'm trying to see through one sliver of the window into hell that a friend of mine is going through.

Dear Adam, Thank you for writing this for all of us to see exactly what you go through each day. What a decision you made, and I doubt if I could have held my anger as well as you did. I pray for all of you and hope you all get home safely.
God bless you all.

I feel so conflicted hearing this story, or the stories of my friends coming home, saying that they run after the enemy that has been firing at them, only to see them drop their weapons and start crying about the baby they have at home. I know you all must be so angry when this stuff happens, you must want revenge, but I am so amazed by the control and poise that our Marines and Soldiers carry, with really very few exceptions. To lead strong, aggressive, frightened men and women to always do what is right is awesome. Thank you for being the bigger person and for doing, despite temptation, what you felt to be right.

The fact that the truck the men wrere riding in fled the scene does not prove they were insurgents, the fact they had guns does not mean they were insurgents, the facty the man looked angry and scared when he visited the camp does not make him an insurgent, the fact that he held out his hand for help and you refused may well make him one.

Mr. Ferry, do you REALLY believe that fellow was not an insurgent? If so, well, I've got a nice big bridge here to sell you, cheap; I'll deliver it as soon as your check clears.

Mr. Ferry - I have spent the last 10 months trying to wrap my head around the things my boyfriend must do while he is in Iraq. I do not question him, I know he does what is best for him and his soldiers. To hear someone doubt the decisions our troops must make on a daily basis sickens me. Innocent people have no reason to flee...running only proved the guilt of those men.

Mr. Ferry - I have spent the last 10 months trying to wrap my head around the things my boyfriend must do while he is in Iraq. I do not question him, I know he does what is best for him and his soldiers. To hear someone doubt the decisions our troops must make on a daily basis sickens me. Innocent people have no reason to flee...running only proved the guilt of those men.

Amy - the innocent have every reason to flee. The US forces have killed, raped, maimed many innocent people in Iraq - running away from an invader that has killed half a million proves them guilty of only self-preservation.

Imagine if the scene had been reversed. A soldier had been shot on patrol and help was needed to get him into a vehicle - would you be cursing the civilians for being unfeeling and evil if they refused to help? Lacking in basic humanity? I bet you would. Now look at the situation from their perspective - the soldiers refuse to extend even the smallest measure of humanity to the occupied. Way to go guys.

And as for SB - if you spent more time building bridges instead of trying to sell them then perhaps the world would be a better place.

Oh, that God would give us the very smallest of gifts
To be able to see ourselves as others see us
It would save us from many mistakes
and foolish thoughts
We would change the way we look and gesture
and to how and what we apply our time and attention.

Very interesting account. I would say, though, that even IF this man's brother was an insurgent, that certainly does not make him one. Heck, my father and my mother share opposing politics, and that has nothing to do with my personal relationship to them and their well-being. I symphathize with the difficult decisions you need to make on a daily basis, but I agree with S. Ferry. Certainly, there is not enough proof to make this man, who was greiving a loss, into the monster that you want to make him into. Resist this dehumanizing force, this force that compels you to make someone the "other"--the "not me" that can be insulted and killed. And yes, that "other" which can be turned against you by your lack of compassion. Yes, you lost your friends. Think, too, of the losses that this man must feel. Prove yourself to be better. That's the only way out of this mess.

My question is what was this concrete made of? Not much concrete will withstand a bullet unless its very thick.

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