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.

SKI |

July 30, 2007

SKI
Name: CAPT Benjamin Tupper
Posting date: 7/30/07
Returned from: Afghanistan
Hometown: Syracuse, New York

Ski and I met on a hot summer morning in Ghazni, Afghanistan. I was inspecting one of our base's fighting positions when a tall, thin kid with glasses and a pencil-thin moustache ambled up to me. His camouflage boonie cap sat cocked sideways on his head, and his pistol belt hung low off his hip.

He didn't salute me. He didn't even stand at parade rest. He casually reached into his pocket and pulled out his lighter and lit a cigarette. Then, with a thick Polish accent, Ski mumbled his first words to me.

"Wassssssup, Sir."

And so began our partnership as Embedded Team Trainers within the Afghan National Army. Ski was assigned as my NCO for leading and training an Afghan infantry company. In the Pashto language, and among the Afghan army officers, our company was officially known as "Too-Lay-Say", which translated means Third Company.  But Ski and I quickly nicknamed them "The Third Herd". This seemed appropriate given the cloud of dust and gunsmoke they kicked up whenever we rolled out on a mission. At times they acted more like a wild cattle stampede than an infantry company, but they got the job done when it mattered, so we didn't complain too much.

Our Company went out on more missions, was in more combat engagements, and probably killed more enemy than any group in our Battalion. Third Company was just like Ski and I:  laid back and easygoing, but serious when it was time to do the heavy lifting in combat.

We seemed to have a knack for finding danger, and for being in the wrong  place at the right time. And as I got to know Ski, I found that this pattern of finding trouble was a continuation of his pre-war life back home in the States.

On the streets of New Jersey, Ski blended into his troubled urban landscape as just another kid on the corner. As a Polish immigrant in a tough neighborhood, he had a hard time navigating in his new homeland. He eventually ended up joining the Army National Guard to escape a downward cycle of problems at home and with the law. In time, he ended up in the heat of Afghanistan.

How it happened, or why, I don't know, but there he instantly, and seemingly effortlessly, was transformed from the role of troublemaker into a noble American Hero. Selfless. Compassionate. Brave.

But his kindness and good nature to those around him was only one side of the equation. Ski was lethal in combat, and he remains the bravest machine gunner I've ever seen in action. During one difficult ambush sprung on us by the Taliban, Ski was shot in the ear while manning the 240Bravo Machine Gun. He ducked down from the incoming fire just long enough to let me know he was hit, that he was pissed, and that he was going to get the guy who shot him. Then he popped right back up in the turret to unleash a torrent of bullets and f-bombs.

You may recall from a previous Sandbox essay how Ski treated a wounded Taliban soldier. Upon seeing the wounded man, Ski immediately grabbed his Combat Life Saver medical bag and moved to begin treating the fallen enemy. Ski told me how the wounded enemy was looking at him with fear in his eyes, expecting Ski to finish him off. When the Taliban realized Ski was trying to save him, he relaxed and put his hand over his heart. In Afghanistan, it's customary among men to put their hand over their heart as a sign of deep respect and thanks. This image of mutual compassion from unlikely sources, in an unlikely place, summed up what having Ski as a partner was like. No matter what the circumstances, Ski would choose the right path and do the right thing. Here, in the heat and dust of war, despite the mental and physical fatigue that cracked our minds and bodies, his moral compass was always pointing in the right direction. In Afghanistan, it never faltered when it mattered.

And then we came home. And for Ski, and for many like him, the transition was perhaps harder than the war. The return to the civil and mundane life was like a withdrawal from a powerful drug. And in his case, this withdrawal brought out some demons, bad choices, and ultimately tragic consequences.

I visited Ski yesterday. I hadn't seen him since we returned from Afghanistan. I knew he had been having problems, but my plate was too full with my own "transitional issues" for me to be there for him like I should have been.

So I sat there with him, and told him in no uncertain terms that he needed to get his shit squared away. I reached into my social worker bag of tricks, and mixed good mature adult advice with salty infantry threats and obscenities. As a Platoon Leader, and Commander, it was a technique I had used many times on my wayward soldiers with good results.

But unfortunately my words were falling on deaf ears. Ski, the vibrant, supercharged soldier, lay silently in a coma, unaware of my pearls of wisdom, and for that matter, unaware that I was even in his presence. The only response to my profanity-laced lecture was the hum of medical equipment and the rhythmic pulse of a ventilator.

Good news update: Ski is out of the coma, off the ventilator, and pretty much seems back to his old self. Thanks for your prayers and messages of concern.

Framed_tupper_and_ski_3

Tupper and Ski.


Comments

Dear Mr. Tupper,
There's not much I can say except I'm really, really sorry. It's obvious that you liked and respected this man very much, this isn't a regard that sprang up after he got hurt. And "being there" for some one can't keep them safe, unfortunatley. You couldn't have ordered him to live a sane, rational life on return, could you? I'm very sorry this happened to you and your friend. I've vented my views on war in this forum before, so there's no point in a repeat. But I do wish politicians and more-patriotic-than-thou citizens would wise up to the true cost of war. Not that it would help now. My best to you and your friend.

May God please bless your precious souls and give you both grace and peace!!

I remember that essay. My first draft of this post was like a eulogy. The second draft more like an appology. Anyway: Thanks, live well, and I hope your friend recovers.

Ben, Ski is a special guy and someone I wished I could have worked with more me while we were over there. He will stay in my family's prayers and we look forward to him recovering and moving forward in life.

I'm really sorry to hear about Ski. I can only imagine how hard it would be to transition out of that life. I wish him a quick recovery.

As for you, I hope your transition back to home is going OK. Best wishes to you.

So now we should know the cost of war goes a lot further than Afghanistan and Iraq. People still pay when they get home.

For some, Normal life isn't, and they should be where it rocks and rolls. If Ski fit well in the Afghanistan and the conflict with the Taliban, then he should have stayed there. I hope he recovers from the ugly stuff of American culture and bad choices, there is good out there for him.

For some, Normal life isn't, and they should be where it rocks and rolls. If Ski fit well in the Afghanistan and the conflict with the Taliban, then he should have stayed there. I hope he recovers from the ugly stuff of American culture and bad choices, there is good out there for him.

I'm so sorry. I hope he makes it.

I was saddened to read this post. My family will keep you, Ski and your families in our prayers.

I cursed when i started to read this post. I knew where it was going. Damn! We can sorely afford the loss of such good men as Ski. God, if it be for his best and highest good, please spare the life of this man. We need his kind of nobility and service desparately.

This is another example of the fact that the true cost of war is never tallied. I recently read of a survivor of the Battle of the Bulge who slipped into schizophrenia shortly after the war, spent many years in a mental institution and broke down in tears every Christmas day until 1978. These things need to be considered before we start a war. Those concerned have my deepest sympathy, thanks, and respect.

oh god DAMN it. I'm so sorry...y'all deserve so much better.

Yeah, I remember the post. I wanted to ask you how 'ski was holdin' up.

Was his coma caused by accident?

I'm praying that God can hear our prayers, and that in his coma, so close to angels, that Ski can hear them too, and that he knows it's not his time yet to go cause we really need guys like him here on Earth with us now.
Capt. Tupper- I'm going to be praying for you too.

So sorry to hear about Ski - hope he's doing better, you as well.
The coma may give him the rest/peace he needs before returing to his friends and family the hero he is.
God Bless!

You know, folks always laugh about 'Polacks', how the Germans took over their country in 2 weeks, how they fought tanks on horseback; but the French lost in 20 days, with a modern army, advanced notice, no Soviets invanding the other side of their country, and the British helping them. Truth is, Poles are some of the toughtest fighters out there - my Grandfather was a drunken, bad-tempered Polack who fought in the Pacific with the 1st Marines; every nasty battle they had he was in - Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima, you name it.
I'm sorry to hear Ski didnt make it back 100%, but I think we're all proud to know that kind of guy is serving this country.

Ben, truly sorry to hear about Ski. Wishing you the best in your stateside transition.

Cpt. Tupper, My first reaction was profanity-laced as well. Is Ski at Walter Reed? If so, and he could use some visitors, holler. Really sorry to hear about Ski, hope you're getting all the support you need. I also hope you've got enough sense to ask for help ..... right?

There should be a stronger phrase than 'thank you' to offer you both.

Cpt. Tupper,
If Ski is in the NY/NJ area & would like, need, or could use visitors, please let me know.

Thank you SO much for this great news update. I have been praying so hard for Ski and thinking of him every day and I am so relieved to hear this good news. I hope he continues to make an amazing recovery.

Thanks for telling Ski's story. It's touching to know that a man could still have compassion even through war. Our prayers are with you all. Thank you hardly does any justice.

Its great to hear stories of true war heroes. Of those who fight when they have to fight, but are compassionate too, especially to those who are against him and may not be as kind to him. Someone who can give orders, but also take orders when needed. Its sad that these kinds of soldiers are often overlooked, injured, or even killed without the recognition they deserve. It's touching to hear that Ski came out of his coma and is recovering from this injuries. There could not be a better ending to this story. Thanks for sharing it with us.

What an amazing story. It is wonderful that Ski has someone to tell his story for him. Also good news to see the blog updated to reflect that Ski has improved and back to his "normal" self. I agree that "normal" isn't for everyone, but you all deserve our gratitude and admiration upon your return. I hope that things work out for you both, as you deserve it. God Bless.

How wonderful to have encountered someone like Ski in your life! Your words painted quite a picture of your friend and made me feel as if I knew you both. Strong friendships develop in unusual circumstances and it sounds like you've both been blessed. Even though times get hard, true friendships stand the test of time. You don't know me, but you both have touched my life. God bless you both!

Dude, you rock. Love the fact that you're breaking down assumptions about this war, about the people in it. Love the writing.

Enjoyed reading your article - I will stop by again in the near future to check up on your latest news. Trent

hello fellas, I just want to emphasize the good work on this blog, has excellent views and a clear vision of what you are looking for.

hello friend excellent blog, I really enjoyed reading about CAPT Benjamin Tupper!! thanks for sharing

hey awesome post thank you !!

I appreciate the information found on this blog. this is really interesting and entertaining. I thank you again for your blog

Hello,
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Kind regards

It's seems it's nothing more than business as usual, try preserve and maintain a sinking ship putting plugs here and there to stop further leaking.I love Jesus, but his bride had better clean up her act if she ever hopes to make to the wedding feast.

Someone who can give orders, but also take orders when needed. Its sad that these kinds of soldiers are often overlooked, injured, or even killed without the recognition they deserve. It's touching to hear that Ski came out of his coma and is recovering from this injuries. There could not be a better ending to this story. Thanks for sharing it with us.

You wrote a very good article, thanks a lot.

who can give orders, but also take orders when needed. Its sad that these kinds of soldiers are often overlooked, injured, or even killed without the recognition they deserve. It's touching to hear that Ski came out of his coma and is recovering from this injuries. There could not be a better ending to this story. Thanks for sharing it with us

I was saddened to read this post. My family will keep you, Ski and your families in our prayers.

An informative blog! We can sorely afford the loss of such good men as Ski. God, if it be for his best and highest good, please spare the life of this man. We need his kind of nobility and service desparately.

A good blog! If Ski fit well in the Afghanistan and the conflict with the Taliban, then he should have stayed there. I hope he recovers from the ugly stuff of American culture and bad choices, there is good out there for him.

I hope he recovers from the ugly stuff of American culture and bad choices, there is good out there for him.

I think, this theme is quite actual now. I was inspecting one of our base's fighting positions when a tall, thin kid with glasses and a pencil-thin moustache ambled up to me. His camouflage boonie cap sat cocked sideways on his head, and his pistol belt hung low off his hip.

then he should have stayed there. I hope he recovers from the ugly stuff of American culture and bad choices, there is good out there for him.

The come back to the city and routine life was like a drawback from a highly effective medication and in this case, this drawback produced some challenges, bad choices, and finally terrible repercussions.

A good blog! Cpt. Tupper, My first reaction was profanity-laced as well. Is Ski at Walter Reed? If so, and he could use some visitors, holler. Really sorry to hear about Ski, hope you're getting all the support you need. I also hope you've got enough sense to ask for help ..... right?

An informative blog! We can sorely afford the loss of such good men as Ski. God, if it be for his best and highest good, please spare the life of this man. We need his kind of nobility and service desparately.

You wrote a very good article, thanks a lot.

your post is so nice. It's not only good for a single people but also all general people. thanks to your great shearing.

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