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 30, 2007

Name: CAPT Lee Kelley
Posting date: 3/29/07
Returned from: Iraq
Milblog url:

When this is over, take my weapon. I won't need it for a while. Take this body armor. I would look silly wearing it at the beach. Witness as I grow a goatee. And watch me indulge, at least for a while, in fast food, massive amounts of sleep, alcohol, channel-surfing and many other things that I have lived without for long enough now that I remember liking them more than I actually do.

I have two wonderfully resilient children to whom I've dedicated my life, and who will one day soon forget that their Dad was gone for so long. They won't notice if I'm gone another day or two.

So just drop me off when this is over.

I truly appreciate all the support, but I don't need parades or awards or speeches from the governor. I don't even need a ride. Just leave me on any interstate that has a friendly shoulder with nice loose gravel to kick at, or in a subway car full of morning New York commuters, or in a hotel room looking out at the arch in downtown St. Louis. Leave me in Atlanta, or Portland, Ore., Gig Harbor, Wash., or in a lighthouse on the coast of Maine. I'll gladly be dropped off anywhere in North Dakota, Maryland, Alabama, or Florida. How about a rest area in Flagstaff, Ariz., or a four-way stop in Twin Falls, Idaho? I'll be fine on my own, whether you leave me in a quiet forest, at a state fair, or in the middle of a mosh pit.

I have a lot of friends and family, but rather than going from a combat environment straight back to my block in suburban America, I'd prefer a small period of complete privacy, surrounded only by the elements.

Leave me on a ridge in the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina or a canyon in the Colorado Rockies. I'll find a nice walking stick that is well-balanced and has the perfect spot, worn of bark, for my right hand. I'll hike the rest of the trip.

In the wide open spaces of America you'll find me, walking across the Golden Gate Bridge lost in thought, skipping rocks at the Pacific Coast, having breakfast in a small cafe in Vermont, or lying on a South Carolina beach in the glare of the setting sun on the tide-washed shore.

You may see me huddled against a 1,000-foot rock precipice near Dead Horse Point outside of Moab, Utah, a lone figure silhouetted by my campfire, feeding sticks into the flames, captivated with observations of the universe.

Or I'll be the man fishing near you on Lake Hermitage, La.

"Catch anything?" you'll ask.

"You bet. Some big trout on the west end of the lake, and some nice Redfish if you go for the bottom around that inlet right there." I'll say this as I point over my shoulder. Then I'll wave, throttle the engine and move away for a better spot. The spray will fan out behind me, catching the sun as my prop churns the warm dark water.

As you stand looking down into the Grand Canyon, a sun visor on your head, a Gatorade bottle in one hand and a tourist pamphlet in the other, which also has three fingers wrapped around the railing because the depth perception is giving you vertigo, someone will ask "Amazing, isn't it?" then smile and walk away. That will be me.

I'm the guy sitting on the H of the Hollywood sign, smoking a cigarette. I'm a face you can only see half of through the Medieval art display in your local museum. I'm an illegible name scribbled in the guest book of the St. Louis Cathedral in New Orleans. I am the happy drunk man talking to his slot machine in Vegas. I am the dad playing Frisbee with two children at a neighborhood park in Minneapolis. And I am the guy sitting next to you in English Lit class at the University of Montana, or the owner of a hand sticking out of a car that waves you to go first at a stop sign on your way home from work.

I am still focused on this mission and proud to be serving in Iraq with such incredible people. But in quiet moments of introspection I am becoming fixated on my life beyond this war, beyond this uniform. The thought of being with my children is a kinetic force, and the pure unadulterated momentum of inspiration grows each time the sun spans from East to West in syncopation with these oft monotonous minutes. The beauty of my America compels me with a newly discovered pentameter, like a favorite poem I haven't read in years. And the perceived difficulty of picking up the pieces of my life there is a welcome challenge.

I'm a man on the cusp of the rest of his life, standing between war and family life, citizen and soldier, officer and parent, participant and observer. I'm about to step across a line, and I simply want to be deliberate about the process, that's all.

Don't mind me as I walk past you on the Appalachian Trail at dusk some summer evening soon, when the light is fading behind the hills in the distance. Everyone will be hiking back to their cars, and I'll be hiking in. We both will smile casually and keep going in opposite directions. Tomorrow I may be in Texas. The next day I may see you in California.

So when this thing is over, just drop me off on American soil and bid me farewell. Maybe I'll honk the horn as I pass by you on a highway in Utah where the Rocky Mountains frame the path to futurity and the landscape is welcoming like an old couch. I'll be just another American on the road, wearing aerodynamic sunglasses and listening to the radio. Soon I'll park in front of my children's school and check them out early.

Oh yes, this is where it all begins.

Originally published by the New York Times



This land was made for you and me!

Sigh...........What a nice way to start the day, listening to someone who truly appreciates America, and everything it is about... May you time fly by, be safe and God be with you...

You forgot one thing, my brother! You can't imagine the sights, smells, and thoughts that you have in the saddle of your Harley. When my son gets back from the Marines, we WILL take a trip like you describe. Have a great life!

Check your six. Constantly. We need folks like you to come back.

I remember the biterness of realizing that the best folks often don't make it back. Plenty enough of the bad ones do.

I did take a trip like yours when I got back. It was well worthwhile.

Do it!

As wonderfully solitary as your travels sound, you won't be entirely alone as we will be your companions of the heart. Don't forget to write the occasional imaginary "wish you were here but not really" scenic postcards and be sure to tell us about the best places for breakfast along your route.

Oh yeah, if you'll stick out your thumb we'll be sure to stop and give you a ride to the next town.

Constant vigilence. Come home soonest.

Yeah, I'm a vet. Yeah, I appreciate the personal perspective on world events. But what I really come here for is the writing! And you hit a literary homerun with this one, my brother! You must submit this for publication somewhere. Please.


Hello again!

I have read this post before. Was it entered on the Sandbox previously? Always a pleasure though!

This has been posted before.. but I love it, so I don't mind. :)

You write beautifully.

Your written words again have taken me away, across this great nation of ours. Loving the road trip idea. I think everyone should do it at least twice in their lifetime. Thks for posting again. May the powers that be, keep you and yours safe and well. Till then ...

Beautiful! Best of luck- come home safe.

Don't forget to come to southwest Wisconsin in the summer - Wyalusing State Park, which overlooks the Wisconsin River meeting the Mississippi, should be a place that you can come, stand, walk the little trails, and be surrounded by nature and silence.

Watch out for the mosquitoes, though.

This post was shockingly touching. Thanks.

It doesn't get any better than this, Captain.
We go around, we come around,
But when you come arriving back,
You bring to us our love for America
That was already within us but buried,
Under the dust, under the sloshing tin box
Of modern hollowness,
Now seeing you, in your aerodynamic sunglasses
Your children next to you,
Throwing newspaper pieces at one another
We are thankful, we are the crew
We wave at you, resisting the urge
To steal some of your sunshine
Welcome home Captain
We never had a better ambassador of life
Reflected in your cool aerodynamic sunglasses

Regards, RK

man, the cap knows how to write!
you take care, brother of ours!

Captain, I just came across you're blog while doing a search for the Gov ctr in Ramadi. One of my Marines that I adopted has been assigned there. It's his 3rd time. The guy keeps volunteering to go back. Anyway, thank you for painting a vivid picture for those of us who don't understand what it's like to be on the frontline. Thank you for doing what you do. The world is a better place with men like you in it. Keep your chin up and your knees down!

Wow! :) Everything I love, you described with such poetry.

Captain - I know the feeling. Someone said watch yur six. I say put your head on a swivel and watch it doubly, stay safe, and come home for the trip. I never forgot mine.

Beautifully written and very touching. I hope you get home soon -- America needs you here. Be safe.

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