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.


June 27, 2007

Name: Eddie
Posting date: 6/27/07
Stationed in: Baghdad, Iraq
Hometown: Phoenix, AZ
Milblog url:

I haven't posted much lately. On top of the heat, and sitting in a guard tower, and studying my ass off for this board exam I have in a couple days, I'm just plain exhausted, physically and mentally. I'm feeling good about the board, but I can't wait to get it over with so I can finally stop studying and cramming my head full of information.

A few nights ago we went on a raid. We were looking for some guys that we've been trying to get our hands on, and we were ready to go at it hard. It was to be a quick one, an in, grab 'em, out, go kinda thing. My team was to be first into the building -- my favorite role, because that's where the biggest rush is. Though I will admit I don't really get the rush I used to. No more butterflies. I don't know what that means.

I normally carry a shotgun with me. I had a break for a little while, which was nice because that thing definitely gets annoying sometimes, but now I'm stuck with it again. Oh well. It can come in handy, like it did that night. Being the lead team, we were to breach the door and go in and do our thing. Usually another guy does all the shotgun breaches, and though I've been right there (close enough to get pelted in the face by ricocheting pellets) I've never actually done it myself. Tonight was going to be my chance.

As things were falling into place, I started getting nervous. My squad leader gave a quick "lesson" on where to shoot and whatnot, but I was still unnerved. At one point I asked him if he wanted to do it, but he was going to be throwing a flash bang (which is cool as hell and we hardly ever get to) so I had to breach it. Fuck it, let's do it. About a minute before, I leaned back to one of my guys and whispered, "So yeah, this is the first time I've ever shot a shotgun before!" Hahaha. Good stuff.

The flash bang is thrown, and I go to work. My first shot obliterates the lock on the door. I try kicking it in, but no luck. I look at where the lock was and I still see metal there, so I continue to shoot the same spot two more times, kicking the door. Still nothing. What the hell?! I try a couple more areas, do some more kicking, and finally some football-style running into the door from one of the bigger guys on my team gets it open. Wow, I'm never going to live this one down! What do you expect though; for me to be an expert my first time? Apparently my squad leader had told me that after I shot the lock I shouldn't keep shooting the same area, but in the rush of the situation, I missed that. Oops.

Before I know it I'm racing upstairs, clearing rooms and taking people under control. We come upon one room where a family of 15 is living -- one man, and a bunch of women and children. It's nuts. I ask the man to come out of the room, as I don't want to scare the shit out of the women and kids. He isn't listening. I grab for him, to pull him out, and he snaps his arm back and pulls away. Sorry buddy, that was your last chance. He needs to come out and he is coming out, so I reach in, grab his ass and pull him out into the room. As I expected, the family starts going berserk! Crying, wailing, screaming. Jesus. He should have listened to the man with the gun the first time.

So that was the excitment for that day, and though I did catch some shit for being the five-shot door-breach guy, it didn't last.

A couple nights later we were out on patrol. Nothing special, just a normal patrol, walking around, checking things out, making sure everything is good and safe. We ended up patrolling close to the area where we used to get into firefights all the time. I could see some of the buildings in that area. Part of me was begging for someone to just come out on a rooftop with an AK. At one point I was pulling security down an alleyway where I could totally see that area, and I was trained on it and ready for someone. Unfortunately (or fortunately?) no one came out.

Being close to that area reminded me how much I miss what we used to do there. On this deployment I've seen a lot more shit than I ever expected to see. I think we've seen more than a lot of people see over here. In a way, I really wouldn't care if I was never again in a position where my life was in danger because some jackal wants to shoot me. I would be content to finish up this deployment in boredom. But there's always part of me that yearns for the rush of combat. It is one of the best feelings I've ever felt. Just the whole situation. Yeah, it's scary. Yeah, I worry whether or not I'm going to get shot. I think that's normal. But there's something about having all the thoughts and worries running through your head and having to push it aside and say FUCK IT! and just do what you have to do.

It's kind of like when you're young and go to an amuzement park and there's a big ride and you're scared and don't want to do it. You're nervous about riding, but you say screw it and ride it anyway. And even though it's scary it's incredibly exciting too. Well that's what combat is like, and I'm guessing that's a normal thought process for combat.

Combine that with the sensory explosion, and wow. You have the thunderous sound of various caliber machine guns rocking away, the sporadic sound of our rifles firing, intermixed with the load explosions of your own rifle firing, the crack of a burst from an AK or some other machine gun, and the deafening snap of rounds as the fly past you and smash into walls, or the ground or whatever. You can smell the sweat, the gunpowder and probably even the adreneline. That's probably the best part. It's like an intravenous drug injection. It hits you instantly when your body drops the A(dreneline)-bomb on you. Your heart starts beating so hard you can feel it pounding in your chest. Your state of awareness is at 1000%, as if you just injected 10 cans of Red Bull. Everything is clear and you see just what you need to. It's such an amazing thing. If death wasn't a real possibility, I would wish for it every day.

So -- back from my tangent -- we were patrolling along when we came across a couple of guys out at night with AKs on the street. (Insert slight adreneline dump here.)  We get in position to take care of this, in the event it goes sour, and I take my team and move to a better position, bringing me closer to the guys with guns. (Insert fuck-it mentality as we move.) Fortunately night gives us an advantage and we definitely make use of it, and before I know it we have a few guys detained, no shots fired.

One funny note. On the way back in from the patrol we came across this guy sleeping out in the alley on a mattress. He was totally oblivious to us being there, even though we weren't totally quiet. I so wish we had a Polaroid camera with us so we could have gathered around him, taken a picture, and left it for him for when he woke up.

Yesterday was an interesting day. Lately it has been kind of quiet on the streets, which is never a bad thing, although I'm a true believer of the "calm before the storm" mentality. In the past week I haven't heard many explosions or gunshots, which is good. So I went to pull guard, and not long after my buddy and I get situated there is a loud and thunderous BOOOOM!! that rocks the air and walls around us, causing sand to come spilling out of sandbags. Immediately I'm thinking this is a big mortar round that was fired at us and hit close, and I scan around for a cloud to indicate as much. Nothing. I keep scanning and then all of a sudden I see it. It's a dirt cloud alright, but it's nowhere close to us, a ways off in the distance. There's only one thing this can be. A car bomb.

As it's getting called up, I stare in awe as the massive dirt cloud begins to turn black, a thick black blanket covering everything in its wake as fire engulfes the area around the blast site. I remember thinking, "God I hope we dont have to go check this out. I really don't want to have to see that shit again."

Fortunately we didn't go, but in the ensuing chaos, emergency vehicles were flying around, sirens blarring, warning shots being fired out windows everywhere to move cars out of the way. I saw the same type of trucks that were at the last VBIED site I was at, with hoards of helpers on the back, screaming towards the blast area, chanting and yelling many things, including "Allah Akbar" (God is Great). All of this was giving me bad memories of that day. Apparently a carbomb targeting a mosque had gone off and as of today, so far, the death total is at 87, with the wounded in the hundreds. I seriously do not understand these people. Is what you believe in that important, that you would kill innocent people and destroy sacred buildings!?

So that was the excitment of the last week or so. Time to catch up on some sleep and cram the last bit of information in my head before I head to this board in two days. Wish me luck!


Dear Eddie, You sound like a fun kid to be with on patrol. Watch your backside! Probably nothing like Phoenix!

I wish you Luck along with my prayers. Thank you so much for all you do.
May God Bless and keep you safe.

I hope your tour is over soon and that you stay safe. Here is something to think about:

It's funny. I did security for EOD in the PI during Nam. All that stuff is real. Huks (Hukkabakuk Provisional Revolutionary Gopvernment) used to set the bombs, then shoot at the EOD and security crews. I remember thinking how ffing absurd it was, having to stand around a bomb with a shiny badge right over my heart. Sorta like a bulls eye. But hey, ya gotta lighten up a little, or it just wears your ass down, forever.

Funny thing, tho, my kids say I still laugh at the wrong time at movies. Other night, a show had the bad guy shot, not once but seven times. After the third round, the baddie was still flinching for his gun. The hero burns the rest of the clip into him, while I yell, "Pump him!" at the TV. I may not know shit, but I know if a proven killer is still moving towards a weapon, you ain't done shooting him. Broke all the rules of good sportsmanship, but hey, you're alive, he's not. That's the best part, right?

Oh, yeah, the rush? You can get that on any number of jobs in the real world. Big bridges or skyscrapers need men of courage and skill to get them put up. It's called Helments to Hardhats. We welcome proven men who can get the job done under stress.

Five shots? Hell, you hit it every time! You'd think they would be gratefull . . .

AWESOME read! Thanks. GOOD LUCK!

"I don't really get the rush I used to. No more butterflies. I don't know what that means."

Well, it sure doesn't bode well for your hypothalamus and adrenals. Not sure what kind of boards you are studying for, but you might want to look at a list of chronic stress syndrome symptoms. You're threshold for epinephrine action at receptors has changed.

You also might want to consider the impact of those really bad scenes after a car bomb blast. I don't think you get inured as much as the novelty is worn off - but the ad infinitum cross linking of bad memories is sure in effect. Thats the stuff of flashbacks and nightmares, sir.

Thanks for your vignette on life in Iraq; it was interesting. It's sad that you have to do the door-to-door warfare. I remember that, at the beginning, everyone said that "flash and awe" would avoid the need for this type of combat.

Please take good care and come back to America in one piece, both physically and mentally.

Hope you did well on your boards! Fantastic story telling of the non-fiction variety!! Take care and God keep you, Eddie.

This post is a great example of why we will never prevail in Iraq. To do the things that need to be done will outrage the civilian population so much that all support will be lost. We should have learned that in Vietnam, but we didn't, so we get another chance. Let's not be so stupid this time, please.

Be safe, come home in one piece.

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