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.


May 29, 2007

Name: CAPT Lee Kelley
Posting date: 5/29/07
Returned from: Iraq
Milblog url:

Flags drifting in the wind. Tears. Memories. Veterans. Family vacations and celebrations. It’s Memorial Day 2007 and I am nostalgic once again. On this day in 2005 I was in pre-combat training and mere weeks away from my trip across the Atlantic. I spent Memorial Day 2006 in Iraq. I am painfully aware of the soldiers that have perished in this war, yet I know that they chose to serve and were willing to die fighting terrorism. They volunteered and put themselves out there in the fray, active participants rather than observers. And I still believe that if we weren’t in this war, terrorists would be bringing the fight to American soil. Call me biased, but I say let’s fight in the deserts of the Middle East.

We lost two soldiers from my Battalion while I was in Iraq. One was killed by a suicide bomber, and we held his memorial service in country. The other soldier was injured in an IED attack during our deployment and he passed on a month after we returned home to Utah. I’ll never forget the memorial walls we kept in Iraq. When we first showed up, the unit we were replacing had 17 pictures on their wall. They took them down, of course, when they left. Our wall remained empty for the first half of our tour, and then we had just one photo on it for the second half. My Brigade as a whole lost over 80 soldiers while we were in Ramadi. Every time I went to Brigade headquarters, there were more photos on the memorial wall. And the Brigade built a memorial obelisk. We were called the “Iron” Brigade, 2nd of the 28th Infantry Division, also known as the “bloody bucket” from WWII. The obelisk was a large tower made of raw iron. Hanging inside of it were the dog tags of all the soldiers who had been killed. The wind turned the tower into a huge chime, thin metal dog tags tinkling softly against iron. I can still hear it.

I've been home for nine months now, and I still find it hard to believe. I live comparatively. Whether I'm tucking the kids into their beds or letting them crash in mine, I stare up at the ceiling and think about how lucky I am. When I get tired of my commute to work, I slap myself and remember the roads in Iraq. When I don't like something my daughter's school does, I remember the schools I visited in Iraq. And when I am having a bad day or moment, it takes me all of one nanosecond to use simple comparison and bring a smile of contentment to my face. Life was good before I went to Iraq. But now grass is more than the green of a well-landscaped cliché; it's like the very carpet of the earth.

I had a four-hour gem of free time the other day, meaning no kids, no work, and no distractions. I chose to spend it in the Salt Lake City library. I've been working on a manuscript, and I wanted to write in a new environment. At home it's too easy to find housework or cleaning to do. Distractions abound.  This library is supremely comfortable, and who doesn't like being surrounded by books? It still feels wonderful to be more concerned with the quality of my free time than with the prospect of a rocket attack on my battalion headquarters in Ramadi.

I was on the fourth floor of the library, looking past downtown at the mountains, writing and listening to Grant Lee Buffalo on my ipod. It was pretty crowded, even for a Sunday. But it was quiet. I felt completely in my zone as the ambient light was filtered by the nimbus clouds raking the mountains and the height of the chair was perfectly suited to the clean wooden desktop; again, a far cry from my dirty desk in my dirty room in Iraq.

There was a guy sitting across from me, jacked into his ipod as well, laptop purring. We were mere feet from each other, but separated by the somewhat diplomatic engineering of the tables. It was only a metal lamp spanning the length of the desk with an artistic four inch frosted glass bottom, but it was an intended border of space and we were respecting that.

I heard and felt a loud concussion. I looked up at the guy across from me. His eyes were huge but he just sat there. I find that hard to do. Even when I witness a car crash or any kind of emergency I feel compelled to help. 

I took my headphones out, went over to the railing, and scanned the crowd below for erratic behavior, the kind of herd-like movement that you might see when a fight breaks out, or a bomb explodes. Nothing. It's too easy to think I'm having a flashback from mortar attacks, or that I'm paranoid because of the recent bombing attempt on this very library. "Too easy" because dismissal must be tempered with a healthy paranoia. It is just when you think it won't happen to you that it might. I should be receiving my concealed weapons permit any day now. I'm excited. I won't always carry a weapon, of course, but sometimes I will.  And the first time some freak decides to start killing innocent people while I'm nearby, I will do everything in my power to put one in his head, and two in his chest.

Sitting in this library being honest with myself, I remember the details of my 18-month deployment as if it just ended. And I think about Iraq a lot lately. In some deep way I miss it. I ponder all the military folks still over there, and I hope they are able to complete their missions and return to their families. I pray for them.

I wish I could thank each veteran for his or her sacrifices this Memorial Day, because I know what a deployment can do to a family. Looking back at my own recent combat experiences, I can only hope that the people of Ramadi, perhaps as they once did, can someday stand in silence on the shores of their own violent history and look forward into the light, at last, of their halcyon years.


Your words;
"And the first time some freak decides to start killing innocent people while I'm nearby, I will do everything in my power to put one in his head, and two in his chest.

Sitting in this library being honest with myself, I remember the details of my 18-month deployment as if it just ended. And I think about Iraq a lot lately."

With regard to the first item, I found those kind of thoughts to be more caustic and hazardous than the 'freak's' bullets. With regard to the second, thinking about time In Country isn't the totally reflective activity you profess.

If you're contemplating blowing away baddies for the good of humanity, you might want to think about what you're thinking about. If the terrorists have us all armed, tense, and ready to burn a clip at the sound of a car backfire, they won.

I totally support the right (of peaceful men) to keep and bear arms. The whole idea is that this is a place where you caan peacefully pursue your own happiness. If you have to defend yourself from some 'weirdo', it's not a safe place to do that anymore.

And that is an American mental health problem. Your own brothers in arms are experiencing that at an increasing and alarming rate. The practice of treating it with Valium just isn't getting it. It's one of the three really bad factors of a broken military: Desertion, Drugs, Dereliction. Our own medics are encouraging drug addiction. It pumps up readiness figures and completely dismisses PTSD figures.

It's because I support the right to keep and bear arms that I support a national health care plan that includes a confidential and mental health plan. No amount of support for any plan will work, if it's not addressing the real problem.

When you said you missed being over there, it struck me. Why do we miss it so much? I sometimes feel like I am in the wrong place here back home. Its almost like I am driven to be with the deployed. A loud bang makes me jump like never before. More than once in a crowded area I heard somthing and almost freaked while most of the people around the area didnt even react. Must be a genetic thing. Not everyone can be a soldier.

To Earl3rd:

Your words;
"I sometimes feel like I am in the wrong place here back home. Its almost like I am driven to be with the deployed."

That part never goes away. My kids say I laugh at the wrong times at movies. My daughter, then a teenager, stopped going with me, even if it was free. I laugh when the bad guys are cruelly, gruesomely, painfully killed. I like that part a lot.

I'm OK with the fact that it's weird, mebbe. I'm still in a spot where it's better him than me. And, yeah, I was peeved when they told me I was too old to go back in after 911.

I rode with the PGR a week ago. We did flag security at a funeral. What I didn't realize was the rifle salute was forming up right behind me. I bout shed my skin when the first volley went off.

The whole thing takes ya back, ya know. It never gets completely better, but it gets less weird, more tolerable, more normal to be not normal. You been through a crucible.

The part that's left is more, refined, purer than it was before. It's you, but you are now a lot more than you were before this all went down. . . I'm struggling here . . .

It's OK to be you. It's gets better over time. Try reading 'Starship Troopers' or 'Hammers Slammers'. Civillians will never 'get' you. They can't. And you don't have to explain squat to them.

End of Message


"And I still believe that if we weren’t in this war, terrorists would be bringing the fight to American soil. Call me biased, but I say let’s fight in the deserts of the Middle East."

To be honest I can't see the logic here at all. What is stopping terrorists - foreign or domestic - from attacks on US soil just because US soldiers are occupying Iraq? The occupation serves to piss more people off at america, surely?

Please accept my apologies up front. I have never been in the military. I have no concept of all that you went through and still are going through. However, I feel compelled to say that I thank God you didn't have a weapon with you that day in the library. You never said what the loud noise turned out to be. Being startled could've resulted in tragedy, if you or someone else had a gun and had 'put one in (someone's) head! I am a pediatric nurse. One of the saddest situations I ever was involved with was on a rehab unit in a hospital for children. The little girl was shot in the head by her mother, who was startled in the middle of the night by what she thought was an intruder. It turned out to be her own little girl. This isn't Iraq. It makes me very nervous to think about people carrying concealed weapons here in libraries or anywhere else, for that matter. That, frankly, frightens me much more than the threat of terrorists.
Again, my apologies to you. God bless you as you care for your own children now as a single father. And as you readjust to life after deployment in a war zone. And thank you for all you have done for us who stay home safe and sound.

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