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 19, 2006

Name: CAPT Lee Kelley
Posting date: 10/19/06
Stationed in: Iraq
Hometown: Salt Lake City, UT
Milblog url:
When this thing is over...

Just drop me off on any Arizona or Utah highway, where the Buttes and the red rock canyons create optical illusions in the distance and across the horizon – I'll walk home.

Place me right at the top of a hill; I'll let gravity help me down.

Leave me on a back road in rural America, it doesn't matter where, so long as the leaves crunch under my feet and it is dusk and as I walk the shadows deepen and every so often I can see the lights from someone's house, and smell their cooking, and see families together on their couches watching movies, and hear their laughter.

Airlift me directly into a canoe in the middle of Black Creek in Missoula, Montana. It's fine, just leave me right there. I'll wet a hook for a while, then paddle to shore at dusk, enjoying the sound of the oar splashing in the clear, cold water. I'll clean the fish right there on the bank and cook it fresh over a small fire. Then I'll find the nearest road and hitch-hike home.

Believe me, it's no inconvenience.

Instead of transporting me directly to my home of record, according to my official military personnel file, do something spontaneous for me. When I get back to the States, blindfold me, and then leave me in a Pearl White Corvette Stingray or a rebuilt '77 Jeep Cherokee that has a 3-inch lift, with a full tank of gas, a sleeping bag in the backseat, a compass, and a map.  Don't tell me where I am. Just leave me with my release papers and pat me on the back for my service to God and country. I'll remove the blindfold, crank the engine, turn on the radio, and start driving.

It doesn't matter what state or what city you leave me in - pick one. I’ll have a grand adventure getting home.

Better yet, ask me where I'd like to be dropped off. I'll hop out right in front of my daughter's school. Its only 9:00 a.m. you say? That's just fine. I'll sit here on this nice wooden bench under this tree for a while. Leave me that newspaper, will you? Thanks. A little later I'll stroll up the street where all the fast food places are. I'll get a large fries at McDonalds and I'll put lots of salt on them. Then I'll get a Frosty at Wendy's. And I'll pick up a Whopper with cheese, extra onion, from Burger King. Perhaps I'll browse the shelves of the local Barnes and Noble after lunch and finish up with a cup of Starbucks Irish Cream coffee. By the time I get back to the school, it will be just about time for the bell, and I'll surprise my daughter and hold her tiny hand all the way home.

My son's daycare would be a fine place to drop me off too. I'll go in and check him out early. It may take him a minute to realize that Daddy's back, because he's only three, but I know he'll be very excited to see me. Then I'll take him with me to lunch and the bookstore, and to his sister's school. I'll walk all the way there with him on my shoulders. I'll buy him a Happy Meal with a toy.

Just get me on American soil.

Get me to New Orleans, and then put me in a taxi. I'll have the driver tune to a classic rock station that plays a lot of Queen and Styx and The Eagles and Steve Miller, or a nice jazz station, and bring me straight to my parents' house to surprise them. They'll be very pleased. I'll bring Mom a dozen roses and Dad the American Flag I flew for him in Iraq.

I don't sit around all day dreaming of home. We are too busy, and there is a lot of important work to get done. It's when I sit down to write, and I'm trying not to bore readers with the little everyday mundane things that I do, that I get really nostalgic like this. I can't help it.

I honestly live an inspired life, and I am perfectly content to be here fighting in a war in Iraq if this is God's plan for me right now, but that's because I know this too is transitory. I wouldn't want to stay here. It's not my home.

It is not America.

My children are young enough that they won't realize I was gone for so long until they're older. One day when they are teenagers it will dawn on them, and we'll be sitting around after a barbecue or something like that and I'll get a faraway look in my eyes and realize that they're growing up too fast and that I am having an adult conversation with my children who were just starting Kindergarten when I went to Iraq.

And they’ll say, "Wow, Dad. You were really gone for a year and a half? I don't remember it being so long."

In fact, they're young enough that one more day won't matter. I know, I know, their mother will probably pull her hair out if I wait any longer than I have to.

But still, I mean it.

Open a road map of the United States of America, pick a cozy little town like Kinston, North Carolina or Gig Harbor, Washington or Lafayette, Louisiana or Moab, Utah and just leave me there. It can be rock, asphalt, water, or sand - a busy college campus in New York or an abandoned park in Savannah, Georgia - the noise of a large highly populated metropolis, or the silence of the Appalachian Trail. Put me next to an interstate or next to a campfire - in a library or at a rock concert - in California or Maine. Leave me in a nameless park, on a darkened street, or in a snowy canyon.

Don’t ask me why. I don't want to explain it, and I can't explain it. But it will be fun and completely un-planned and I like the idea of that very much. I'll have time to be utterly alone and think about a few things as I journey the last leg home to the life I left behind. And I'll have a lot to think about.

So just drop me off, and let me drive out of the past, through the present, and into the unimaginable future of this crazy life.


Captain Lee,

That was the most amazing post we have EVER read on here.

Please come home safe - anywhere they drop you off... ;)

Thanks so much for making our week.

David, Janie, Hailey (4) & Madison (2) Stewart

Thank you for this post and thank you for the job you are doing. I wish you well and send positive thoughts for your safe return. I can understand the need to reflect upon your return home. Be safe. Peace to you and your family.

I've gotta say, I love the way you write. The first sandbox post I read was your piece about the fires, and I loved it, your description, your language, your quiet observation . . . I can't help but wonder what you do when you're not overseas.
You're a wordsmith indeed, thanks for sharing it.

You are very articulate and perceptive.
Stay safe and be smart.

Kudos for a well-written piece. God bless you and your family and thank you for the job you are all doing over there. Take care.

elegantly expressed...still of all the food you want to eat American fast food isn't what I would want to crave.

I can't critque your desires, they are yours. But I find it interesting that American fast food is expressed so much as "hunger for Americaness." Because as food that stuff is just crap.

Beautifully written - please keep writing. I wish you were on top of a mountain in Colorado on your way home to your kids.

Frostys now come in vanilla and chocolate.

Which flavor do you want?

Capt Kelley, we meet again.:) This is definitely some of your best work. I loved it the first time I read it, and it still has that same impact. I'm looking forward to reading your new works.

I cried reading this. Godspeed.

Thanks for the great post pointing out what a wonderful country we live in. I've been to most of the places you mentioned and I have to agree they are all nices places to be dropped off, I am especially fond of Gig Harbor. Take care and come back safe and sound.

great reading, and I'm with you soldier...sounds like the adventure of a lifetime...

It is a beautiful Autumn evening, here in Omaha. The trees once again are turning colors in our neighborhood. The stars still shine as bright, maybe brighter for you, there in the desert? I get a long-lasting hug from my grandson when I come home from work, and suddenly realize how very lucky I am... Thank You!

Capt Kelley,
We share a name in common; Mine came from ancestors in China. Yours, I suspect, from the "ould" country. Never mind that though, your wordsmithing just blew me away.
When you reach your journey's end, I'll still look for you. Perhaps on the best selling author's list at Amazon.
Be safe Captain

This, more than any of the other posts in the Sandbox, brought tears to my eyes. I don't know you at all, but please know that I want you to come back safely so badly. Salt Lake City is beautiful this time of year.

Now you go through Saint Louis, Joplin, Missouri
And Oklahoma City is mighty pretty.
You see Amarillo,Gallup, New Mexico, Flagstaff Arizona.
Don't forget Winona, Kingman, Barstow, San Bernandino.

Thanks you for the wonderful posting....

Come home safe and thank you to you and your family.

Great writing. Should you find yourself at the Watch City Brewing Company, in Waltham, Massachusetts, I'll buy you a beer.

Incredible as always; a change of pace from the last piece but as moving in it's own way. Home were the heart is...

I hate this war, I hate this president and veep, I hate what America has become in the eyes of the world. I do, however, love the fact that we have people like you who will put yourselves in harm's way for your country. You made me cry with this post, and I can feel your longing from thousands of miles away. I wish you and your fellow soldiers well. Please come home safe so you can kiss your children again.

Wow. It made me cry. I hope you write a book...

I am too choked up reading your post. I would drop you off in the midst of the Redwoods in Northern California and give you the time to enjoy the grandeur that is AMERICA. The freedoms we enjoy and the riches that we all don't realize we are so fortunate to have are due to soldiers and a government like ours that protect it every day, every year. From one Captain to another, I truely appreciate your feelings of missing home and I do hope you come home to your lucky family soon.

I've enjoyed reading your blog for a long time now. You definitely brought the life out of one of the nastiest places in Iraq. I left for this place the day you got home from it, and I'm struck by how well you painted the picture of what it's like here in Anbar.

~One more Joe

I just wanted to thank all of you for reading, for your support, and for taking the time to comment. It truly means a lot. To "one more Joe," thanks man, and keep your head down. I lived on FOB Ramadi, near the big gym. What a surreal environment of dust, sandbags, twisted metal, explosions, and Muslim prayers coming over the loudspeakers you find yourself in. Don't worry, you are not alone. Thanks for your service.

I'm in tears and can't articulate why. You probably know better than I. Soldier, may your words never be lost. They tell your stories. Stories that belong in beautifully bound books sitting on coffee tables in homes nation-wide.

Cpt, this is your life's story, and few people have the gift of telling that you do. You should someday, when this is all done, consider telling it in it's entirety. Until then, be well. We are all here waiting.

Your words took ME on a journey. Thank You for sharing your heart and mind via your story. Please keep writing, and I'll keep praying for all ya'll to come how swiftly, safely and SOON.

Your posting was an ode to our country. You obviously love America and your family. When I was in a war zone long ago, I would think about how nice it would be to drive on a New England road with no particular destination in mind and not worry about driving over a land mine or being ambushed. I was never in danger very long and it cannot compare to the constant danger that you and so many of our brave servicemen and women are face. May you and all of them be safe and wander the byways, rivers and mountains of America at your leisure.

As a now grown-up military brat who never saw his dad when he was in kindergarten, reading this made me cry.

Of course, reading anything that makes you appreciate your father just a little more ought to do that.

Thank you for your words and your service.

I read this post when you posted in 2006, but I come back to it from time to time so that I can appreciate my life better.

Thank you.

Studying your surprising blog, I notice it is of the particular insights and best suited suggestions.Believe I will acquire what exactly I would like from your trusty ideas.Greatest wishes for you!

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