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 05, 2007

Name: CAPT Lee Kelley
Posting date: 3/5/07
Returned from: Iraq
Milblog url:

The weather's been moody out here in this vast desert. This morning began with a family of thunderclouds, distant cousins to the serrated zeppelins that have obscured the sun for days now. Between 0900 and 1600, it rained maybe three times. Each shower turned the world into mud, and each stretch of dry instant heat absorbed large amounts of it. I am still amazed at how quickly a little rain turns this place so sloppy, and followed by a little sun how rapidly it dries. The weather feels phony, like a poorly arranged set on a stage, and I am dumbfounded by this strange anomaly called the passage of time. The sun is like a bright metronome, slowly marking the days with vivid regularity.

These are exciting times. I've said this before, and I'll say it again: we are not finished, and there is still a lot of work to be done, and 10,000 miles to travel; but we are getting closer. As with any experience that challenges us and teaches us, when the end is near you begin to scour the moments for meaning, scanning sandpaper days like a hunter, divining truth. I want to leave this place better than I found it. And I want to be a better person when I return than I was when I left.

Iraq has become my home and this room has become my comfort zone, the quiet place where I hunch over my computer and write, the end point of my walk from the office after a long day, the concrete clipboard of all my pictures tacked to the walls, and the starting point of the incredible journey home. This FOB looks like a bad dream that I know will fade with time. Right now I want it to. I look around and I find it difficult to believe I've been here for almost a year.

Of course I want to know what it feels like to stay on my side of the Atlantic. I want to wake up and feel strange as my dog licks my face and my children ask me for cereal and milk. I want to work through the uncomfortable transitions from combat to freedom, from chow hall to food court, from M-16 to car seat, from structure to spontaneity, from constant vigilance to pure relaxation, from HMMV to Volkswagen, from stoic to silly, from sandbag to sidewalk, from this to that, from here to there, from now to then, and come around full circle to continue my most important job -- as a Dad.

But one day I know I'll also cherish these Middle Eastern moments as bold marks of punctuation on the score card of my life, as flashbacks to a kind of work ethic that makes other adversities pale in comparison, as a folder of digital photos that trigger nostalgia, and as times when fellow soldiers were the only comfort I had close at hand. We have been through a lot together, and these bonds will not easily be broken.

Right now this little circle of wire feels like a home, but I still feel like a stranger here. Now I'll be living out of a duffel bag, changing homes again like a gypsy. Since I've been in Iraq, a lot has changed in my life. Not only have I changed as a result of this adventure, but my family has been altered as well. The most striking example is the loss of my wonderful mother to breast cancer. Such a small thing as the ability to call my mom on the phone has altered my world forever. And so this desert has become my confession booth, my psychiatrist's dusty couch, my bended knee, the sponge for the quiet tears of self-pity.

At night, when there's a light breeze, nothing is exploding, and the few trees that encircle my living area sway and make sounds like giant wind chimes, I can find some solace. I can look back at the days, and the weeks, and try to capture them in my journal, lest I forget. Carpe Diem. I try to seize the days, even the bad ones, knowing that I have a lot to be thankful for.

I sit on my plastic chair outside of my room and I send my thoughts arching over the country of Iraq, past this life-sized mirage, into the vast canopy of distinct stars, and they look like a horoscope. There's the Archer, sketching my future with the tip of his diamond arrow. There's the Big Dipper, reminding me of lying in the grass as a child in New Orleans. There's the North Star, lending guidance like a compass. I know that when I look up at the night sky here, the sun hovers above my children, but still I imagine them looking at the same stars. It shortens the miles. I've worked through an Iraqi summer, I've been through an Iraqi winter, and now I am coming full circle to my one year boots on the ground. This weather, this war, they have taught me, and they have frightened me.

I want to remember this. And I want to forget.

"Lost, yesterday, somewhere between Sunrise and Sunset, two golden hours, each set with sixty diamond minutes. No reward is offered, for they are gone forever." -- Horace Mann


Captain, sir, you need to consider a career in writing. You just expressed so much, so well, in so small a space, I am deeply moved.

Thank you.

Keep your head down and come home safe!

Your written words have express my thoughts as I look at the night sky each evening. One amazing moon, one earth, one sky, knowing that all our thoughts, dreams and worries are out there. May the Gods keep you safe and secure, till you reach home.

Cpt Kelly, that's one nice little essay on man & time & memory. I'm glad that you can snatch some tranquil moments to put your thoughts down. We all look at the same stars. Be safe.

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