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.

DOUBT |

June 21, 2007

DOUBT
Name: SPC Freeman
Posting date: 6/21/07
Stationed in: Iraq
Milblog url: calmbeforethesand.blogspot.com

The time between mortar attacks used to be measured in days, even weeks. Now it's measured in hours.

The days have been hot, and long. I've worked 12 to 14 hours a day, at least, for several weeks now. Only recently have I begun to enjoy some downtime, and had time to think about anything but cleaning my weapon or calling my wife.

I'm sitting on my bed the other night, in my t-shirt and underwear, inspecting my blistered feet. The boot socks they sell at the PX are terrible for moisture, so since the start of my deployment I've suffered from a mild but tenacious case of athlete's foot. I've just gotten back from the phone bank, and am slowly beginning the process of preparing for bed. Brooks is on his bed a few feet away, playing Yu-Gi-Oh on his Gameboy. Oz is laying down at the far end of the room, absorbed in my bootleg copy of Heroes.

I'm depressed. I've been suffering from a deep malaise lately, related chiefly to my separation from Anne and my growing disgust with this war. We've been talking about re-enlisting, and to be honest I'm still not sure how I feel about the whole thing. I'm chewing on a few nagging thoughts, left over from my last conversation with my spouse, when I look up from my daily ministrations.

"Hey Brooks," I say. A pause.

Brooks' game music continues bleeping away. "Yeah," he pipes up in a rumbling drawl from the other side of my wall locker.

"Anyone ever tell you 'Thanks for your sacrifice?'"

Another pause. "Sure. Why?"

"I dunno." I go back to peeling dead skin from my blisters. "What do you make of that? Does it actually do something for you? Or is it just more empty words?"

"Sometimes," says Brooks.

"What, the first part or the second?"

"The second."

"Gotcha." It's my turn to pause now. Brooks continues. The music stops abruptly.

"I dunno. I mean, it's nice and all, but it doesn't really change the situation."

"Yeah."

"Makes 'em feel better, I guess."

I roll my eyes. "Like the yellow car magnets."

"Exactly." I hear Brooks sit up. A brief silence ensues. After a moment I speak up again.

"Wife and I are talking about our plans."

"Whaddaya mean?"

I shrug. "You know. Do I re-enlist? Do I get out? We've been arguing back and forth about it for a few weeks now, ever since I got back from leave. I'm still kind of on the fence about it. I don't really know what I want yet."

"Need to reclass."

I snort. "For real. I'm getting kind of fed up with all the bullshit, you know? Especially with all this talk of being extended."

"So get out."

I shake my head. "Not that simple, though. We're kinda talkin' about tryin' for a kid. Wife thinks it'd be better for us financially to have the kid in the Army, ya know?"

"Yeah."

"Maybe not raise, but for the actual birth, shit--"

"Yeah, it makes sense."

"--And if I get out, that kinda throws a wrench into the kids thing."

"So don't have kids yet."

"Yeah, but she really wants kids, ya know? And honestly, so do I."

"How old's your wife, man?"

"Twenty-three. Couple months younger than me."

"Makes sense. That's about the age they start thinkin' that way."

"They? Dude, c'mon. You know Anne. She's not like that."

"They're all like that. It's not a bad thing, man, I'm just sayin'."

"I guess."

I trail off. I let both my feet rest on the floor. Brooks' game starts up again. I slip in one of my earbuds and put on some Terminal. I'm still not satisfied.

"I dunno, man" I say, speaking over my music. I turn down the volume a bit. "I'm just starting to feel like I can be a husband, or a soldier, but not both. At the same time, neither of us have our degrees yet, and it's like 'What is there for us on the outside,' ya know? Not like I can get the degree I want out here."

"Yeah."

"I'm just tired of wearing the mask. I'm fuckin' tired of putting other people's agendas before my own. It's what got me thinking about that 'Thank you for your sacrifice' bullshit. Who's gonna tell me when I've sacrificed enough?"

"Hey, you signed up for it."

"Yeah, I know, I know. But did I sign up for 15 months away? Mandatory? Did you? Shit."

"Fuck no."

"I rest my case."

"See," says Brooks finally. "I don't really care though. That's three extra grand a month in my pocket. Fuck, I mean it sucks for the married guys, but me, I say keep me down here as long as you want. Your money, ya know?"

"Yeah, but I am married, and anyway, you really think you're gonna notice three fuckin' grand at this point? Shit, if they're cutting away our benefits and our time at home, but the enlistment bonuses are fuckin' twenty grand like Oz's, what's that tell you?"

"Tells me we're fucked."

"Exactly." I shake my head. "Not exactly how I envisioned military spending. Plus, man, you know me. I've never been totally on line with this shit. And man, since I've been here?" I sigh.

"I dunno. I'm getting so tired of this shit. I'm tired of of this fucking war. I'm tired of not seeing my wife. I'm tired of fuckin' watchin' people starve and beg us for food from outside that fence" -- here I point sharply toward the far wall of the trailer -- "while in here I see KBR's logo plastered over every dumpster and shitter. Civilian motherfuckers rollin' around up in this bitch makin' 90 grand a year."

"They're not starving, dude."

"And how do you figure? You looked out that fence lately?"

"They're not fuckin' starvin, man, I'm telling ya. They're just like the TCN's here, man -- comin' in here, playin' the pity card, preying on guys like you to scam what they want. It's just how it is."

"I don't believe that, dude. Not all of them."

"Enough of 'em." Brooks sits up again. "Don't get me wrong, dude, I'm not tryin' to harp on ya. Havin' a compassionate heart is not a weakness. I'm just sayin' people -- and especially these people -- are always gonna try to use that against you. Ya know?"

"I suppose." I think back to a recent exchange I had with Haider, and wonder how much of that was colored by my own eagerness to do Good. I don't really know what to say at first, and at times like this I find myself missing my wife more than ever. She would no doubt provide the sort of eloquent insight that I seem to have difficulty extracting from my more taciturn peers. I go back to picking at my feet.

"I wish I could believe you, man." I look up. Brooks just shrugs. I hear Oz pipe up from the far side of the room.

"I dunno, man," he says in his lazy West-Coast slur. "I think you're just dwelling on shit again. You always get like this. It's like you're never happy unless you're fuckin' miserable."

"I suppose." I put on dry socks and reach for my smokes. Oz almost never speaks up in the evenings -- he's usually sucked into some black-market DVD made by the locals -- and so I take his sudden input as a broad hint that Brooks and I need to shut the fuck up. I grab my weapon. Lately, I'm beginning to think that these guys are right. I do get too worked up about things. But it's part of my nature -- isn't it? Aren't I supposed to care? Haven't I always prized passion as a virtue. Is it possible that I let my feelings -- as capricious and volatile as they are -- cloud my views?

I shrug. I stick a smoke between my lips and make for the door. I pass by Oz's bed, and I slap at his boot as I pass. He glances up briefly.

On the way out I say, "Maybe you're right."

Comments

Passion is a virtue, having a compassionate heart is not a weakness. Recognizing the injustice of your situation is not clouding your views. Clouds are in the eyes of those who apply yellow magnetic stickers and offer thanks when they are unwilling to sacrifice.

SPC Freeman,
My soldiers on the 2nd tour and one somewhere else. Oh, and also extended. They are depressed, no showers, no regular food and rockets hitting everyday and night. They knew what it was like before they went in. They would rather be somewhere else also.
I'm sure someone will respond to this, but this is how I feel. I'm a mom with one there and I care for everyone there.
If you don't want it , get out. I'm to old to enlist and I do have magnets on my car and I do THANK every soldier and pray for their safety.

I have a nephew about to go back to Iraq and a niece finishing her training in Virginia and a niece in the Navy finishing her training. All signed up of their own chosing. So I mean it when I thank every service person I can. And my car magnet stays on til it falls off. Many of us really do care soldier. It'll never be just a phrase to this Aunt, until you all come home.
Good luck with your decision, and thanks for taking time out of your life to keep me and others safe here at home.
Hugs,

You were pretty honest and blunt so I will be too... I don't think you are in the armed forces for the right reason... It sounds to me like you're only doing it for the money... Risking your life is not worth what you are being paid... You think most Americans are just giving lip service when they say they appreciate the sacrifices you are making... That cuts pretty deep, believe me... I think quite a few people will take offense to your words, I know I did, although I am trying to understand where you are coming from... Yes, there are Americans who could care less, and Americans that don't think we should be in this war, hence, they don't think you should be there, but there are far more whose heart's ache everytime they read or see that more US troops have died, or have been wounded...I get a very sick feeling when I hear US troops have been captured... But some of us do not know how to show our respect and appreciation other than to say thank you, God bless you, and be safe... But there is alot of love, appreciation and respect behind those words...
Thank you, God bless, and stay safe... God be with you always...

Dear SPC Freeman, I know you volunteered to join, but you also have a right to question! I don't like those who say if you are against the war you are against the troops. Horse s___t! I have been against the war since well before it was thought up by that idiot in the W.H. I also was aware of the problem in Vietnam, where you couldn't tell the good guys from the bad guys. We are too trusting to be fighting people who have no intention of telling the truth. I pray for all soldiers all over the world everyday, all our wounded and sick soldiers and especially for all the dead soldiers and their families. I don't believe in losing one single soldier for anything, period.
You do what you think is right to you, and go home if necessary and have your kids. I'll support you all the way. This is not the way to spread democracy, in an unwinable war.

Your words;
"Hey, you signed up for it."

"Yeah, I know, I know. But did I sign up for 15 months away? Mandatory? Did you? Shit."

"Fuck no."

"I rest my case."

Exactly. Sometimes your head just can't accept what your ass is telling it. Trust your feelings, Puke.

HTH

R

I just want to add that many people with those yellow stickers on their cars actually have loved ones overseas "in harm's way." Also, 23 is way too young to be having children because of "an urge." If you're not employable outside the Army, you and your wife should put on your thinking caps and figure out another way to support yourselves. And yes, this old geezer appreciates your service. It's not something we told our VietNam vets. We spat on them.

Wow! I applaud you for unconditionally sharing your thoughts with the world. Personally, I believe that the folks thanking you for your sacrifice are truly showing you how much they appreciate your service. Perhaps, many lack the ability to find their own words. (The ones that don't say anything are just self-centered.) My brother's stationed at COP Cashe. He does not share his thoughts as freely as you, but I understand we all deal with situations in our own way. I care about him very much...but I also care very much for each of his brothers serving beside him...you included. So, I will say from my heart...thank you for your sacrifice...and I truly do understand some of the sacrifices you feel. Thank goodness we all are unique...like you I am passionate, and like you I think over serious decisions that will impact my life. I say BRAVO, for being the unique individual you are! Take care of yourself! Tammy

I too have have that yellow sticker!! And am proud of what it represents. My nephew is on his way (2nd tour) downrange and another nephew headed to Afghanistan, and my son will be deploying(again!!) soon. But honestly, I think you went into the service for the wrong reasons. But be safe and always check six.

My husband and I are Viet Nam-era vets, our daughter and son-in-law are active duty army. We have the yellow magnets on our cars because we don't want anyone to forget that our military is at war. Those that thank you for your sacrifice do so because they mean it. It's not empty words to them. They're the types that are praying for you, sending care packages and letters, and pretty much are the only ones trying to make sure that our military isn't disrespected like it has been in the past. Years ago, when my husband and I were active duty, we didn't give our service and sacrifice much thought. As a matter of fact, like most military people we never thought of it as a sacrifice. It wasn't until much later after we retired that it kind of hit us and we sort of started thinking, Wow, we really did that stuff! I think part of that realization comes from being around civilians more now and realizing that they have absolutely nothing from which to compare what they've done in their lives as opposed to what a military person has done in theirs. No slight intended. It's just what it is.

You can do what your doing now for alot more money,some of us Pukes paid our dues and got smart it's all about the duckets!

First off...THANK YOU FOR YOUR SERVICE!! Many lack the will or the balls to face what you have to......

My brother-in-law is over there in Military Intelligence, he is a Jar-head......

I worry about you all.

People who have never been in the military may find it hard to relate to everything, but, MANY do support the troops and that means you all.

Having been in the US Army, I can understand your feelings and it is ok to let them out.....

When you are "in the s#*t" all of the time, it is hard not to feel hopeless.

It seems as if there will never be an end to it and I think your buds were trying to get you to lighten up.

My grandfather fought in France against the Germans in WW 2 and my great uncle in the hell-holes of Guadalcanal, Saipan, and Okinawa......not a lot of fun.

The political BS aside, I am PROUD of how well the US Army and Marines kick ass!

Soldier, YOU are making a difference and of course, in the end, you have to decide what is best for you.

I get into heated arguments here in the US standing up for the US Military and you know what......I DON'T BACK DOWN!

When you are feeling down, remember, despite the Left-wing crap on TV, MOST of us here in the US recognize that the only thing that stands between terrorists and us is YOU!!!

We as a country and civilization are in the fight of our lives.....make no mistake about it.

Doesn't matter what Party you affiliate with, the clear thinker sees the danger and you who are sacrificing are the ones defending our democracy and our Western culture.....

Again, THANK YOU!

Jack
Former US Army Combat Medic/Psych Tech

Unabashedly American and PROUD of OUR TROOPS!

From this little sheep to the sheepdogs who keep the wolfs away THANK YOU from the bottom of my Heart....!!

I'm not in the Army, but I am in public service and sometimes I also get the 'thank you for all you do' line. When I really did pull a client out of the fire or someone points me out and says 'I want her as my lawyer,' it does feel good. However, if I didn't get the check on the 15th, I wouldn't set foot in the building.

I don't have a magnet or a ribbon. Just a lot of impassioned conversations with my Vietnam-vet brother about the arrogance of those who put you in this position. Those 'thanks' are empty when the speaker is not willing to do what is necessary to change things, such as vote out those who continue to prosecute this war.

You have every right to your feelings and I appreciate you sharing them and giving us something more than smiling troops marching out to liberate the poor Iraqis and never feeling or complaining about the morasse they are mired in.

One day and step at a time and if you need to step down, then step down. The shores of America are not in immediate danger. Take care and keep blogging. We are listening.

Your words: "Yeah, I know, I know. But did I sign up for 15 months away? Mandatory? Did you?"

My words: Actually you DID sign up for this when you signed on the dotted line. What did you think you were doing when you took that oath to protect and defend - especially if you signed up after Sept. 11th? Or were you simply in it for the paycheck with no strings attached?

My husband and I didn't particularly jump for joy when he was extended but it's part of the deal. Go back and re-read your orders - they probably say something along the lines of "365 days unless otherwise extended..." So yeah, again, you signed up for this.

Hey man,
I hope this finds you healthy and with feet that are feeling fine.

I don't have the yellow magnet. I guess I think my own eight years of service means that I don't have to say "Thank you for your sacrifice". I know how weird it sounds from someone who hasn't been there - who hasn't made their own 'sacrifice'.

So let me just say that this country was built on, and continues to exist because of not only the service you are performing now, but also through the lessons that men like us learn in the service, through who we are *after* we get out. There will be others who come after you, just as you came after me. Don't feel that you have to stay in on account of me and my family. We honor the second amendment and we think of ourselves as being the home guard, the ones who stay behind to make sure there is a place for you to come home to.

There will always be service for you to do should you choose - whether it be something as simple as voting or something as complex as raising your children to be good men and women.

My last four years in, I was deployed for over 36 months. I too felt like I as wearing "the mask" - that my life was not my own, that I had reached a point where I needed to make my own decisions about where my life was going.

It is a pretty much a given that once you get out you will never again feel so much a part of something - thus the prevalence of American Foreign Legion, Moose Clubs, and VFW's.

The military has worked hard to convince the young men of this country that the service can be a viable 'career opportunity' just like any other job. So don't let anyone tell you that you joined up for the wrong reason. Those recruiters tell us 'Its not just an adventure, its a job!'

It sounds to me like you have done your job and now it is time to come home, be with your wife, raise some kids as an active and present father.

Any financial safety net that the army offers you and your wife can never equal the joy of being there every day with you children.

It seems only reasonable for you as a father to become the protector of your children. Let the young ones coming along protect the borders.

Whatever choice you make, I'll support you.

Be well,

Ben

...and if your wife really wants you to re-enlist rather than be home to help raise the kids, maybe she isn't the right one to choose to have kids with.

Man, you don't re-up because you go to war or because JoeC says "Thanks". You re-up, as my Dad did, because he had to prove future employment to get the loan for the house and for the furniture for the house. And because, like he used to say, "My country, right or wrong".

My Dad was too young for WW2 but his brothers went - for the duration. That was what a deployment was then. You were there till it ended. If the Prez was that honest, maybe it wouldn't be so hard on military families but how often can you make signs and gather the neighbors and the flags together only to hear 'extended three/ six/ whatever'. You can tell he rode a pool cue for his war. No sense of what it is about.

Can Anne do the military wife thing? Take care of everything and then pretend she doesn't know how when you get home? Can she deal with getting pregnant between deployments (most of my childhood acquaintances were conceived while Dad was home for the jungle rot to dry out or for a tech refresh.) Is your goal to be a soldier or are you soldiering to afford your goal? Cuz the Middle East is about as far away as you can get from your goal and still be on planet if the goal isn't to be a soldier.

You did your time. No crime in not equiping yourself for another round if you would rather be dancing elsewhere.

For some, like the priesthood, its a calling. For some, its a license. For some, its a duty to be fulfilled before moving on. For most, though, it's a job. What was that old Army ad "The hardest job you'll ever love". Well, if love has faded, time to move on.

Thing about expressing our thanks for your service; a lot of us, at least in this blog, are veterans ourselves. We know its damned hard to just raise your right hand - let alone get shipped off to the other side of the planet to fight a war.
I think what we're trying to do this war is not condemn the soldiers fighting it - no Hanoi Jane this time around. Saying 'hey, give em hell over there, we'll give the President hell over here.'
We also know how bad it is to get extended without a choice in the matter - I was praying we'd kick Saddam's ass quickly in the first Bush War because I was short and didnt want to extend. That one, thankfully, was a quick war.
Finally, as a father and as someone who grew up on military bases - my advice as a father: wait until you're absolutly sure its time. Because even when you think you're 100% ready, you arent. Fatherhood changes everything! Dont get me wrong, my son is the single best thing thats ever happened to me, but its damned hard.
Growing up in the service is very hard - the benifit is you see more of the world by 18 than most Americans ever do, but the drawback is you're always the new kid (worse if you send your kid to an off-base school). Military kids tend to be a little more distant with friendships, because, hey, he's your best friend today, but in a year Daddy gets shipped to a whole other country so dont get too attached.
Thats hard. Thats real hard.

-Don

Speaking as a sometime fiction writer, I rate this post as pretty well written. (not to say this is fiction, of course.)

The dialogue sounds natural, subtlely nuanced. The expositional comments are right on, only slightly more sohisticated than the dialogue might suggest.

All in all, a good middle chapter in someone's war novel.

SPC Freeman -

You're right. I really hate to say this, but it's wrong to continue lying to guys who are busting their asses every day out on the front lines. It's a lot of empty words, a lot of the time. But remember - these people don't appreciate what you do because they have no idea of it's value. When you were a kid, if your parents hadn't done their jobs, you'd have a much better idea of what they were like - because theoretically you'd be doing them yourself. It's the same way now. If the armed forces had no one in them, if ours weren't the second largest in the world, then people would understand. I don't claim to understand. Anyone civilian who does claim to does not. But it's not so much that our imaginations are weak, and empathies stunted, that you guys do something that no one can ever really comprehend - not even vets, in the long run. I'd say hang in there, but that's horse puckey; simply because I have no idea what it's like over there. I have no idea what you should do about the jobs, since I have no real way of knowing what life is like in a war. Just remember, like mom and dad back home, the job can be terrible. You're just waiting for some independence to arise - from children, taking up their own burdens, and from a nation, pulling out their tired and hungry soldiers and using diplomacy, standing up for themselves instead of paying someone else to do it. But those guys who thank you; remember, like parenting, no one ever has to by expectation come out and say thanks. They should, and someday everyone will, but for now, the people who do are feeling awkward, and trying to go out of their way for a minute to show some respect. A lot of them sense that what empathy they can feel for you won't get through. Yes, it's pretty meaningless coming from people who don't understand the first thing, including me, about the meaning of war, but they really want it to be something more a lot of the time. There is always going to be an invisible wall between us and you. We're just trying to let you know that we care, on the other side of that wall.

Isn't it the height of arrogance to think saying "thank you for your sacrifice" gets you off the hook? It embarasses me to hear it - so hollow sounding... And then the "you signed up for it" bullshit... dagger to the heart. And the extent of the War Profiteering makes me sick in my soul.

Hi.
I'm one of the people who supports the troops and not the war. I haven't met any vets yet and when I do I probably won't say "thank you for your sacrifice." I understand why those words wouldn't be enough. But sometimes we civilians don't know what to say. So if we are callous or repetitive, understand that we do support you and want you home safe. We are only seeing the war from the civilian side. It's the only way we can see it.

SPC Freeman

You are young - your wife is young. You have a whole future in front of you. Hold off on having kids for awhile. Go to school, write - explore. Life might be short but it is wide.

SPC Freeman,

Normally I wouldn't presume to post in a place like this. I don't think that my politics really entitles me to, and don't want to intrude into a space that should be overwhelmingly supportive. But there was an underlying pain to your words that just... got to me.

I won't say "thank you". Not because I don't approve of this war (I don't, for the record, but that doesn't mean that I don't approve of and appreciate what you guys are willing to do-- it means that it infuriates me that people like you are being risked with so little thought, under such shady circumstances) but because what you said is true... too often it means nothing at all, so it starts to sound trite I'm sure. You do have my respect for your choices, and your willingness to make that sacrifice, if that makes any difference. So instead of "thank you" would you prefer, "what kind of socks do you want, and where can I send them?" Will they allow you guys to receive things like foot-powder, or is that on the suspect list? Probably your wife has already sent you what you need, or some other family member, but if for some reason they can't, well... someone ought to, so why not a nasty liberal type like me?

So very sorry that you're having to feel these doubts and pressures, and I wish you the best of luck, whatever you decide. I do have to say, though, that as a mother (who faced severe financial difficulties when my first child was born), the practicality of planning out insurance and finances can't be denied... but the most important thing you can give any child is two parents who love him and are with him for as long as humanly possible. I can only imagine how much more empty my life had been if my father had spent most of it away, or worse yet, had been killed by a random bullet when I was two or three years old... but it's a horrible, wrenching, tear-producing bit of imagination, I promise you.

Of course, poverty and poor medical care suck big rocks, too, so don't let me sound too damned preachy, either... you do what you feel you need to do, and nobody has any business second-guessing you! Anyway, I hope things look up for you very soon, and if I can help with the whole sock thing, let me know.

SPC Freeman,

My husband's been home from Iraq for a little over a year now, we're both in our thirties and have one child. He had to decide whether to re-up in Iraq as well, but we finally both came down on the side of finances. Keep talk to your buddies, to a superior you respect, to a friend back home. As a wife, I can admit that it's too easy to get caught up in the emotional aspect of the deployment here and now. I'm not saying to ignore her, but either way it's going to be you who has the boots on the ground.

Stay safe, all the best to you and yours.

you had a job to do and you're doing it. if you don't want to do it anymore, don't. no shame in that.

if you want kids, you need a decent job. the cost of the pregnancy is just the beginning. and if your wife things a pregnancy alone with a husband away is going to be made "ok" by having some Army doc deliver the baby at no cost, she's being unrealistic. all she has to do is talk to other wives in the base support group to convince her of that.

for decent job, you need education or training. you won't get that where you are, will you?

even if you decide not to wait before having kids, there are lots of other ways to get medical care for a pregnancy without staying in...wife can try talking to the workers at the local department of social services, health department or the social worker at the local hospital.

a live, healthy-but-broke dad beats a dead or permanently injured or PTSD-riddled one anyday. as a former army brat, i would know.

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