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.


March 19, 2007

Name: 1SG Troy Steward
Posting date: 3/19/07
Stationed in: Sharana, Afghanistan
Hometown: Amherst,NY

It was a new day, and time for more village patrols, where we pull in, talk to the locals and elders, and let them know about the upcoming Shura. We press them on Taliban presence and safety in the village, blah, blah, blah -- all the same stuff. The adults may or may not tell you anything. Kids are still the best source of information. They will tell the truth as long as they don’t think they will get in trouble for it.

Jawed has a good eye for who to talk to, and through many missions has repeatedly picked the right man or boy out of a crowd and been able to get some type of intel from them. On this day we went through about five villages. Somewhere along the way Face pulled me into the shade of a tree, which was a nice relief, and we just hung back and let the ANA and the 10th MTN work most of the people for intel. Jawed spotted this one little boy who was about 10-12 years old. Jawed told me later he was just not acting the same as the other boys, and we soon found out why.

Through Jawed talking to him we found out that the boy’s father had been murdered by Taliban just 12 days earlier. Apparently the boy’s father worked for the government of the province and was home one night when the Taliban came into the village. I guess it did not take long for the locals to tell the Taliban that he was a government employee. They busted into his house and started beating him and questioning him in front of his family. They made the whole family, including the boy, watch him get beaten like a dog. After they beat him really badly, he admitted that he worked for the Governor of the Province, and they took him out to the field behind the house. According to the boy’s words they hit his father with something in the head and split it in two pieces. The boy was quite descriptive about this, so it made us think they must have hit him in the top of the head with an axe.

The boy was somber and not begging us for things like other boys did -- we ran the rest of them off repeatedly while talking to him. He also told us that none of the local men would help the family with retrieving his father's body from the field, and even the Mullah of the mosque we were sitting right next to refused to give funeral rights or hold a funeral procession because the man worked for the government. This means the whole town is dirty, or the whole town is scared to death of having the same happen to them. Either way it just pisses you off to think you are trying to help these people, give them winter food and supplies and take care of them, when they won’t even help a man’s family out after he was just brutally murdered.

I almost never personally give out food or water when we are stopped, because I don’t want all the kids begging me. But this time I made it a point to give the kid some snacks and some bottled water. Not because he gave us the info, but because for one of the first times since I have been here I felt sorry for a local person that is not in the ANA. Normally they are all just in the way and always considered a threat. This time I felt bad for the kid, truly bad for him, and it just made me think what a sucky start to a life he has had. I figured the least we could do is give him some good water and the tasty treats that we take for granted, hoping maybe they would put a smile on his face.

In countries like this where the people are destined for poverty, sickness, and possibly early death just by being born here, you have to block out all your emotions or it will eat you up. Each of these people has a sob story, but not one you can listen to. The enemy on the battlefield is just a target of opportunity, and not someone's father, son, or brother. They are a target that must be eliminated, and when you see them drop, you just mark that as another one that can’t kill you.

I am not a liberal, bleeding-heart type of person ( in case you haven’t figured that out yet), but I am a human being that has a family back home and people I love and care about, both family and not family. I am not a cold-hearted killer, but I am a soldier. The only way a soldier makes it through the places and events that we must walk through is to remove the emotion and spirit from the people that are around us. It is easy with adults, actually very easy, but with kids it is not. When you hear a little boy laugh or a girl giggle, you are reminded of the innocence these kids deserve, but will never realize. They are destined to a life one tenth of which would drive a kid in our country to years of Prozac and therapy. It makes the kids hard mentally. They are not allowed to enjoy being kids.

When you are in a field trying to drag your father’s split-head body to a burial spot because nobody else will help you, your innocence is left in the field with your father's soul.


Thank you for telling us about this. Good luck, and I mean that with all my heart.

Thank you for sharing that. Your reactions are the reason why we need citizen soldiers. We need citizens to see war and loss up close. They need to know what they're talking about when Politicians say the war will be over in six weeks and won't cost the taxpayers a red cent.

Oh, yeah, and the people there will thank you for doing it.

Stay alive, come back, and help fix this mess at home.

If I lived in that village, I probably would not have helped bury the boy's dad
either... It is too dangerous, they all have their own families to worry about... What a world we live in... The saying "life is good" comes to mind... That boy would never understand that saying... God bless him, and God bless you, Troy... It's good that you feel, just don't forget when to pull back... and hang tough... Be safe...

I'm so sorry for the boy's loss of innocence, and yours, and mine. War is not healthy for children and other living things.

Another terrific essay in this forum. Thank you for posting this and reminding us of the price paid by children and their families for trying to stand up to fanaticism. I hope this young man remembers forever the kindness shown him by you.

It makes you think of the Nazis and the way they treated everyone. They loved snitches and were after the traitors to their causes. History does indeed repeat itself.

I do not think you are seeking votes of sorrow or sympathy, you make that clear in your passage, so I will not give them. Do not lose the sceptical eye for humanity you have though, that is commendable.
I should introduce myself, I am a 20 yr old student in England, orginalyy from Liverpool but I am studying near London at the moment. I was for the war when it started, vehemently so. I plan a military/political career, and two housemates are in the Army as future commissioned officers.
I reply to your post because after reading the preceeding ones I felt I had to. I am currently worried about missing a shift at my part time job, essay deadlines, where the next month's rent is coming from, what am I going to do about my life. And all of this is pretty much pointless. The sheer scope of what you experience, and what you have recorded for us, puts me into context, and I thank you for that.
I do not know about the war anymore, is it right, is it winnable. I suppose those are unimportant quesitons once the first bullet is fired - someone somewhere is irrvecoably tarnished by violence, so it is a failing immeadiatly perhaps.
I study history, especially American history as the case may be, and this means that I worry more so than others. I know about the patterns of conflicts - the likelihood of disaster. Another Vietnam people say, but this could be worse. I do not know. You do. I respect that, more than I thought I did.
Kudos to you, and thank you for writing the post. It has encouraged and discouraged in equal measure my desire for a military career. RAF though, like my uncle. Different to your experiences perhaps. The idea is the same though.
But then politics is less of a 'good choice' isn't it?
An innate desire to do something good, to do something some other person, to follow the Great Commandment, Love God and love each other.

Enough of my musings, good luck, and keep your eye keen.

Thank you for reminding us of who the real victims are.

Thank you so much for sharing this

Thank you so much for sharing this

Thank you so much for sharing this

I just want to emphasize the good work on this blog, has excellent views and a clear vision of what you are looking for.

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