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.

THE FOUR AMIGOS |

May 02, 2007

THE FOUR AMIGOS   
Name: CAPT Doug Traversa
Posting date: 5/2/07
Stationed in: Kabul, Afghanistan
Milblog url: traversa.typepad.com
Email: traversa@gimail.af.mil

I’ll be compiling this post, but four of us will be writing. I’ll try to keep it clear when we switch authors. Last week 1SG Troy Stewart wrote a post called SOME GUYS I WOULD LIKE TO MEET. We are those guys, writers for AWAC -- Afghanistan Without a Clue. We will attempt to write a joint post, and with four hours until my mandated deadline, I guess I’d better get going...

Last summer I started AWAC, and for many months it was a solo effort, but in the late winter of 2007 my hut mates started writing too, as did a few other folks stationed in the Kabul area. Today we’ll be bringing you the first ever four-man post for The Sandbox. Here are the men of B-Hut R5, (East Side), Camp Phoenix, Kabul, Afghanistan:

Framed_traversa_group_1_3
Capt Mike Toomer, USAF 
Capt Doug (Rat) Templeton, USAF
Capt Drew Morton, USAF
Capt Doug (Bear) Traversa, USAF
 
David (The Sandbox editor) asked for a tour of the hut, as well as some thoughts from each of us. So let’s take the tour first, shall we? 

Framed_traversa_front_door_2
Our front door.

Framed_traversa_hall_2
Looking down the hall, here are the four of us at Christmas.

Framed_traversa_rat
Rat’s room.

Framed_traversa_drew
Drew’s room.

Framed_traversa_mike      
Mike’s room.

Framed_traversa_bear


My room.

Rat and I also did some artwork on the walls.  I drew anime (Japanese animation), while Rat prefers the more traditional American cartoon characters.

Framed_traversa_wall_rat
Rat’s wall.

Framed_traversa_wall_bear


My wall.

Now that you’ve seen where we have lived for the last year, here are some thoughts from each of us.

----------------

Here’s Drew:

Wow, it’s hard to believe that it was over a year ago I showed up at Camp Shelby, MS, for training. It’s amazing what can happen in life in just a year. Prior to coming here, I was a young, hard-charging captain in the Air Force. A lot has changed in my life, and for the better I believe. Two significant events happened this past year that will change my life forever. The first is that Stacy and I got back together in September and I proposed when I was on leave in February (and she did say yes). Being over here made me realize what is truly important in life, and when you have someone special like her, you just cannot let her go.

The second major event is my decision to separate from the Air Force. A year ago this would not have been a thought that would have entered my mind. My career was going really well. I had an assignment to Germany when I got back (finally I get to go to Europe) and everything was on the up and up. So this was not an easy decision to make, but it had to be made. The AF is cutting 40K people over the next few years in order to purchase new airplanes. My career field is being cut by a third, and my commissioning year group was one of the hardest hit. I could see the Air Force, being short on people now, extending deployments and myself basically ending up in the Army. Logistic officers are in high demand, and the Air Force has no problem loaning us out to other services. The joke over here with the Army is "Welcome back to the ARMY Air Corps." It still boggles my mind that we are in the middle of a long war and the service is cutting people. However, they did offer a nice separation package, and the time is right, since I have only been in now for six years, still young and nowhere close to retirement. I will truly miss the Air Force, the great people I have had the honor to serve with, the deployments, the mission, and the friends I have made.

Speaking of friends, let me talk a little about my hooch mates. We are a diverse and dynamic group who were forced to live together and therefore had to learn how to get along. It was nothing like MTV’s The Real World, but at times it felt like it. The best way to describe it is freshman year in college, living in the dorms...minus the partying, drinking, women, sleeping in and all that. After a year of sharing meals, stories, smoking cigars, and general kidding around, we have all become very close. How close? They are all invited to my wedding, which will be next year. It is people like them that will make me miss the Air Force the most.

It has been an honor to come over here to serve my country, and this is an experience that will stay with me for the rest of my life.

-- Capt Drew Morton, USAF

----------------

Here’s Rat:

I thought I would tell you a little about myself and a little about what I did here in Afghanistan. I am a 19-and-a-half-year veteran of the Air Force. The first 12 years I spent as enlisted, and then I made the switch to the dark side and got my commission. I have been a logistics officer for the last seven years; my major focus has been in the area of war planning and deployment operations. I am currently stationed at Dyess AFB, Texas. however upon my return I will be heading to SOUTHCOM headquarters in Miami, Florida for my next assignment.

My time here has been spent as the Senior Mentor of the Plans and Policy Directorate, located in the Logistics Support Operations Center. They are responsible for developing policy concerning logistics operations, as well as being a clearinghouse of information concerning where requisitions are in the logistics process. I have also spent a considerable amount of time as a mobile trainer, traveling to different forward operating bases to teach the Afghans the logistics process. They don’t have a formal school, so when they were assigned to a logistics unit we traveled to them to each them how to do their jobs.

What can I say about the other three I have spent the last year living with? They are my friends, my brothers, and my sounding board at times when it seemed things were too difficult to surmount. It may be hard to believe, but in the entire year we have been together we have never had a fight amongst any of us. Sure we have disagreements on things, but they were professional arguments and emotions were checked at the door. We depend on each other for safety outside the wire, and support in times of stress and need. I can’t think of a better group to have shared this adventure with.

The key to this harmony may lay in the differences in our personalities. We have a way of balancing one another out and being able to find humor in what we do. Laughter is the best medicine, and we have had plenty in stock. Whenever someone is down or frustrated about things, it never takes us long to dissect its parts and see the comical side to the issue and end up laughing our way to a solution. Some may have found our humor rude or even inappropriate at times, but for us it was the glue that held us together and created a bond that will endure for years to come. I will miss these guys when we leave here, however I have a feeling we will always be in touch and never far from each other's thoughts. The men of the Cult of the Evil Monkey, R-5 Studios, and the West Berlin Public Affairs Office will always be a part of my history, and the best part of my deployment to Afghanistan.

-- Capt Douglas Templeton, USAF, Ratman 

----------------

Here’s Mike:

What a year this has been. It was made immeasurably better by the hoochmates I lived with over the year. I can’t imagine what life would have been like had one or more of us been unable to get along with the rest. We spent virtually every day together, at least when we were inside the wire in the late afternoons and evenings. As fate would have it, we all jelled well together and made the year bearable.

We all endured the difficulties of being in a combat zone for a year. None of us are combat troops, and I do not mean to compare our plight with that of combat troops down range; I understand we have it easy by comparison. We did travel outside the wire on a daily basis, in light-skinned vehicles, facing a very real threat each time we left the wire. That stress, combined with the frustration of working with a newly established national-level logistics system, language and cultural differences, and general apathy displayed by many of the Afghan National Army leadership, made for a hard environment in which to find much humor or peace. It was the hoochmates that made the difference between going crazy and laughing at it all. There were plenty of times when I wanted to just shoot someone (figuratively of course) or just throw up my hands and give up. Generally those days were tempered by sitting around the dinner table at night making fun of some aspect of our jobs, or venting my frustration at some moron who had written an inane article in Stars and Stripes, and watching the other three laugh at me ranting.

Over the year it was the humor that the four of us developed together that made our time together enjoyable. We noticed about seven or eight months into this adventure that our humor began to become universal. Yes, Traversa’s sense of humor has been dragged into the depths of sick humor along with the rest of us; just one of the many negative influences we have had on him. In fact he even originates some really sick, but funny, lines instead of just building on one that the other three of us came up with. It is finishing one another's jokes, or instantly making a comment that builds on the previous one, that made us all realize we were beginning to think alike; a sure sign we had lived together WAY too long. And an indication of how well we get along.

More times then I can count, one of us would have a bad day or be at a breaking point, only to be brought back to reality by the humor of the other three. For me it wasn’t so much a joke cracked by one of the other three so much as watching them laugh, sometimes to the point of tears, as I spewed an expletive-laced tirade about whatever, or whomever, pissed me off. It is said that laughter is the best medicine, and I can honestly say it was the only thing that kept me sane throughout my year here. It is my hoochmates, my buddies, my friends that got me through the year. More importantly, got me through the year with a smile.

As the year winds down (we are down to under two weeks left) I realize how much I have depended on the other three amigos. It is a year I will never forget, and the three individuals, three brothers, I spent the year with will always be the first images that come to my mind when I think of Afghanistan. And yes, they will have smiles on their faces.

-- Capt Mike Toomer, USAF

----------------

Here’s Bear:

Since I’m compiling all this, I get to read what everyone else wrote first.  Excuse me, I’ve got something in my eye.

I deny that any of my humor is sick, as Mike alleges. It is highly sophisticated, and I’m pretty certain he doesn’t have any tapes or videos to prove otherwise.

It’s been quite a year. I’ve written before about camaraderie, so I won’t repeat myself here. I have been very fortunate to have spent the last year in both a fulfilling job, working with the Afghan National Army, and forming close friendships with my hut mates. It really did feel like we were living in an episode of M*A*S*H. The humor was incredible, and Hawkeye and Trapper John have nothing on us. I owe my survival and my sanity to Rat, Mike, and Drew. Next year we will all reunite in Indiana for Drew’s wedding, and I look forward to it. Naturally, I’ll write all about it in A*W*A*C, which will stay up even after we all go home.

Time to round up appropriate photos and send this all off to David. I would like to add that we’ve all been proud to have had our writing appear in The Sandbox. David has been great to work with, and has also been very supportive in general. And he better not edit out this paragraph!

Here’s to victory over the Taliban, a free and safe Afghanistan, and a safe return home for all of us!

-- Capt Doug Traversa, USAF, The Bear

Editor's note: Thank you, gentlemen, for everything -- for your service, your writing, your insights, and your good humor. Like many other readers I have enjoyed and appreciated your contributions to The Sandbox -- especially the conversations with Hamid. It's been a pleasure and an honor.Framed_traversa_group2
 

Comments

There is so much I am going to miss reading about when you go home too. Thanks so much for AWAC.

hey guys! thank you for being you! and for all you have put up with; and all you have shared with those of us here at home! it has been incredible to read your posts and i have learned something new each time! may the Creator and Giver of Life bless each one of you and keep you in the palm of His hand always!

Thankyou all for the posts and your service! Going to miss you on here, but happy you're coming home.
Congrats Capt Morton on your upcoming wedding.
Again, THANKYOU ALL FOR YOUR SERVICE!

I'll miss your postings on the Sandbox but it'll be a GOOD miss knowing you'll all be home again. Y'all did a magnificent job in Afghanistan and I'm just one of a zillion Americans who will never be able to adequately express our collective gratitude for every single sacrifice you've made - along with those of your family and friends here in the land of the Great PX - on our behalf.

Safe journey home! Let us know when you're here...we worry doncha know...

We'll miss you and please pass along to Hamid that we will miss him too. He added a different perspective, much needed here. Thank you all for your service and your posts.

Congratulations on your returning home soon. I don't know what your meals were like but none of you seemed to have suffered with a starvation diet?

I strongly second the comments above. For the past several months I have been reading your pieces with interest and pride--you served your country with dedication and integrity. Best wishes to you all. I am sure your familiy and friends are thrilled to have you home.

May God richly bless you all. Safe travels!

Apart from not being assigned combat duty (although you spent a lot of time outside the wire), the close friendship that formed between the four of you has been an important buffering agent against the stress and strain of serving in the ME. Don't know if you've heard, but the diplomatic corp has finally admitted that most of their rank and file serving in Iraq and Afghanistan have suffered intense mental whiplash from their assignments, sans family. It's interesting to cogitate on why they developed mental duress and you four gentlemen did not. I suspect its close comraderie: part laughter relief valve and part talk therapy, that has resulted in you all sounding relatively unscathed, emotionally. I and other readers are glad that your long year is about over.

Its been a humble learning experience to view the war through your eyes. We'll cross our fingers and keep y'all in our thoughts and prayers as you play out the final days of your duty in the wartime pressure cooker. God Bless and Keep You Safe.

-a simple Passerby

All four of you totally rock for sharing your lives, and those of the people you worked with, with us for so long. Doug, Let me know when I'll be able to purchase "Conversations with Hamind" from Amazon.com, would you?

thanx for sharing;
helps keep it real
for those of us back home

I am glad that you are going home. I am going to miss your stories and your conversations with Hamid. I hope that he comes out of this as well.

Bear, your anime drawings on the wall are great! My daughter is into drawing anime and is getting pretty good at it, I will have to show her your work.

I loved reading your blog. It reminds me of my husband's AF days in EOD and he was deployed. You have to have a special sort of sense of humor, especially when you are deployed or just in EOD.

You all are in our prayers and I hope you all are home soon!

Welcome home guys - I'm sure that the paint on the signs your wives/ girlfriends/ parents/ whatever is drying right now!

It's chaos here. Strange and fast. Just trying to keep my head above the sea of people and smoke and lights and gold lame, sequined, shoulder-padded blazers (they still make those?!?!?), and tube tops stretched lengthwise to barely cover the...ahem...you know. I had no idea a woman could balance on a 6 inch point no bigger that a finger's width around!!
We found family. How sweet it is. So, so sweet.

Thanks for sharing the pictures of your complete house. You house is so good. It sounds like you love all the rooms of your house and enjoying a lot there. I also love my house but sad thing is that I am moving to new home. I will miss my old house very much.

Ive read your stuff Before and you're just too awesome. What I love youve got here, whats your love and Saying the way you say it

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