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.


January 16, 2007

Name: CPT B. Tupper
Posting date: 1/16/07
Stationed in: Ghazni, Afghanistan
: Syracuse, NY

It had been a difficult day, with a patrol through mined roads and in an area with recent enemy activity. Awakened by a lingering case of dehydration, I decided to get something cold to drink, and walked over to our TOC, the tactical operations center. While grabbing a cold bottle of Gatorade from the mini fridge, my attention was diverted by frantic voices coming over the military radio. Somewhere, out in the darkness, in some valley, at some random grid square, members of my Task Force were in a bad firefight. Some of my U.S. brothers and their Afghan Army Unit were in a pitched battle with the enemy. 

Combat on the radio here is nothing new. But the urgency, the terror, the frantic tones of their voices was out of the ordinary. Normally, Army radio transmissions are very formal and programmed. But when things go bad, it's all out the window. And things had gone bad.

"Keep your eyes on that fucking wall -- he's there! He's there!"

The staccato of a 240bravo machine gun ripped the radio's speakers. Voices faltered, quivered. Strong men were choking on their words.

"Fucking shoot them! Fucking shoot them!"

Then silence.Framed_tupper_ana_soldier_2


The bottle of Gatorade slipped from my hands onto the floor. I flashed back to recent moments here when I've found myself outflanked, outmaneuvered, outnumbered, and under enemy fire. The hot summer air in the TOC  had become cold, and I literally shook. I had a familiar sense of being alone, vulnerable, helpless. I couldn't move. I had become part of their distant fight.

Afghan Twilight Zone. My mind was working overtime, filling the silent radio's void with the fear and adrenaline  rush of combat. I could literally see the fight as if I was there. But being alone in the TOC, with this deafening silence, I just couldn't take it. I ran out into the warm night. I didn't know how the battle ended. I didn't want to know.

I nervously laughed at myself as I ran in the darkness back to my barracks, half mocking my childish fear, half running from something I felt was pursuing me.

But you can't run away from the war. When I returned to the TOC in the morning, the radio squawked with normal administrative chatter of movements, reports, and updates.The office was filled with my teammates and the usual upbeat, boisterous banter. I relaxed and joined in the small talk. Then a report come over the radio that an Afghan National Army soldier had been killed last night in the fight I overheard. He was found alone, separated from his unit in the fog of combat and the blackness of the night. He'd been captured by the Taliban, and his throat was cut. His body had been booby-trapped with explosives.

My fear of being alone last night came back. Listening to the fight unfold on the radio, feeling as if I were being drawn into it, all in the last moments before this soldier was killed.  Alone. I'm glad I ran through the darkness last night.

Note: This photograph is not of the man who was killed, but I think it is a very humanizing picture of an ANA soldier.


For sharing the experience....and for staying when part of you wants to run.
God Bless and be safe.

I am a daughter, sister, and aunt of military men. My brother was one of the first into Bagdad. He set up headquarters in Uta's palace. Once, while leaving for a break, the headquarters was shelled hitting the spot where he sat. I cannot imagine, as you described, how at every moment your thoughts are on every detail of your mission. We are always praying for your safety and that as a leader, you will lead with God's hand upon you. God Bless You.

The TOC is a 24/7 activity. How could it have been left unstaffed? Where were the SDO and NCSDO?

what part of Not enough Boots on ground
does Bush not understand!

It sounds as though you picked up on the emotion the captured Afghani was experiencing. ( I think this stuff happens.) His family may have been relieved he met his death by having his throat cut, instead of encountering one of those unhinged guys with drills. Maybe that's just an Iraq thing. I would like to thank you for mentioning this ANA soldier in your post. In the states, the official disregard for the deaths of Iraqi and Afghani people is astounding. Individuals I speak with about the war may care, but the talking heads and the politicians act like it doesn't exist, even the politicians who suddenly think invading Iraq was a terrible idea. There is tremendous hoopla over the safety and well-being, or lack thereof, for U.S. personnel, but we don't even get accurate body counts for the locals. I'm really sorry you had that experience in the TOC. It must be hard to have stuff flood in like that. I hope you get out of there with all your "faculties intact." I also hope I am not responsible for undermining military morale, but I shoudn't give myself too much credit, the guy at the top can do that on his own. Best of luck!

Thank-you for sharing this difficult moment in your life. Thank-you as well for your obvious concern for your local counter parts. Please disregard the previous comments which do not reflect my very significant feelings or those of the people I know who care and care deeply about our local allies be they Afghani or Iraqi..." any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee"...John Donne. Nor do they reflect the thinking of the leaders that I read of and follow the actions of now and for many years; for example President Bush was my Governor immediately before he ran for President and he is a deeply caring man. We are all in this together; we are our brother's keeper. I truly appreciate this account however sad which so exemplifies our interdependence as human beings. The ANA soldier was not alone because you were with him and I suspect that the Maker of us all was with him. God bless you, and again my thanks for all you do for all of us.

As a confirmed pacifist and opponent to the war in Iraq (but less of an opponent to US/NATO involvement in Afghanistan) I have to say this: Thank you very, very much. I have talked to many soldiers and ex-soldiers of many armies, veterans of actual war and those who only served in peacetime, from my grandfather, veteran of Guadalcanal and Italy in WW2, to some who have served in Afghanistan recently, and their stories and this site have done so much to bring the human side of war home to all of us, so much more than any other medium I have seen. Reading your posts here has greatly increased my respect for you, the soldiers, and the jobs you do. I may not agree with the reasons why or the strategies and tactics employed, but I recognise and have the utmost respect for the sacrifices you make. Thank you very much, and I hope and pray that you all find your way home safe and sound.

RE my question concerning no TOC SDO or SDNCO: I've been corresponding with CPT Tupper and learned the reason the TOC is not staffed at night is because it's ANA, not U.S. and the ANA habitually does not staff their TOCs during night time. I was not fully aware that CPT Tupper is an embed with the ANA. Hope this may be of some use to someone.

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