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.

ASK A VETERAN |

September 21, 2007

ASK A VETERAN
Name: SPC Ian Wolfe
Posting date: 9/21/07
Returned from: Iraq
Hometown: Minneapolis, MN

I'm finally home after 22 months gone, 16 of those in Iraq. While over there I didn't really think much of it, I just did the job I was given. But it has been a strange experience. I try to be good about talking to people when they ask what I think. I try to tell them what most of us talked about: how the media is failing us and the public, how the news shows and papers are irresponsible in their reporting and presentation, the positive things we did and the people we met. 

The first few weeks home were so surreal. I kept thinking, "How could a place this nice exist?" I was in awe. I had forgotten how nice this country is.

I did find it hard to talk about the wounded Americans I saw while I was working in the ICU. That affected me more when I got home than I thought it would. I think mostly that had to do with coming home and seeing people with such strong opinions, people who have never even left the country. Don't get me wrong, the "Thank you's" and the handshakes are plentiful. It's just that I live in the city, so it's mixed. I don't usually tell people where I was because some people get awkward and others don't know what to say. Mostly I think this is because they have never met a Soldier who has been there, and they are caught off guard.

When I hear people bitch about the war and give their views on it I can't help but think of those wounded guys, and think of what they would say. I have read some nasty things about the war and us, and I don't understand it sometimes. It's funny how nothing here is really affected by it.

Of course, some friends had to ask the token questions: "Did you kill anybody?" "Did you get hit?" I was in a medical unit. We typically aren't the ones shooting. When I went out, we were with a gun truck team. I wasn't running convoys, but I was around the villages for quite a bit of time. Thankfully I didn't get hit with anything. Sitting around with some comrades we were discussing what people must think it is like over there. I guess if all you see is the stock footage from the news media, you would think it to be a constant explosion. I almost get tired of trying to explain things, but I try to inform people as best as I can using the experiences I had. I always appreciate people who want to know.

I refuse to get an antenna for my TV, or cable. I just can't take it anymore. The politics drive me nuts. I feel so disgruntled with these presidential candidates and the talk of the war.

I have talked with friends who were in different situations over there -- Marines, Infantry, etc. -- and the funny thing is that all of us in our own way were mad at the media. Liberal and conservative, we all felt the same. None of us have agreed to do interviews because of this, though quite a few of us have been asked. The problem with this is that the media will find someone to interview, and it may not be the best person to represent us. So I am now encouraging vets to talk with the media, but to be cautious about how the media will spin it.

The other issue for me has been the Iraq War Vet license plates. I like to stay incognito, not to advertise. After telling someone my logic on the interviews, they pointed out to me that it is the same with the plates. So I am getting them. I have been walking around school trying to hide the fact of where I was. If people ask, I tell them, but there's that initial awkwardness.

Overall the transition home has been good, with a few bumps here and there. There are some images that I will never forget, and I don't think I want to. I went back to work and school after a month, and it's been good getting into a routine. It's still hard to see all this discussion of the war, and I do get upset and angry at times. There are other times where I am so overcome with happiness I almost get teary.

There was one moment that really caught me off guard. The day we were bussing back home we stopped to pick up the Patriot Guard riders. One of them came over to shake my hand, and did, and then he grabbed my shoulder and I saw he was tearing up. I thought to myself that I didn't deserve this, that he was a Vietnam Vet, and yet he was so emotional about us stepping off that bus. I know I couldn't have done as much as he did, or had it as hard as he did, but here he was shaking my hand and thanking me.

I understand it now. Past whatever you did, whether it was kicking down doors, patching people up, answering radios, or whatever, there is a common understanding of being in the military during something like that. It's everything involved, and when I talk to other Veterans from WW2, or Vietnam, there is that understanding that we all share. This is one of those things that people who haven't served in a war will never understand.

So while people discuss these wars they should remember that there is so much more that goes into it, and just watching the news or a movie does not help you understand. If you want to know, ask a Veteran.

Comments

Thank you so much for your service and for posting this with such honesty. I have a lot of friends in different branches of the military and they have served in Iraq and Afghanistan. I too get irritated when I hear people's strong opinions about the war, when they actually know nothing about it, and know no one that has been there.

I really appreciate your post. Welcome back home. I'm glad you made it back safely. Good luck in school! I wish you the best.
-Lana

Hello,
Thanks for your post. I have not been in this war or any other one. I had strong opinions about the war. But over time the constant reminder of death, destruction and most of all conflict has tired me. I avoid the news as best as I can. It is hard to do for somebody like me because it seems like I am avoiding reality.

Your quiet and reflective post in many ways mirrors the way I feel about the war. I wish we could see more of this in the media. But its unlikely the media, in its daily grind from breaking story to breaking story has much time for reflection.

Thank you very much for keeping something very important very real.

Wish you luck with all your endeavors.

Thank you, Ian! I appreciate your service, your thoughtful and intelligent comments and I am SOOOO glad you are back home!

I hope you'll read this article: http://www.truthout.org/docs_2
006/092007B.shtml as I think it will help explain why a great number of us are in an uproar over this invasive occupation.

I send you love, Ian - and all my wishes for a beautiful life.

From a Vietnam combat vet. First, thank you for helping our wounded in Iraq, who were wounded for no good reason. Second, Iraq is not a war, it is an occupation.

From another Veteran: The politics of war is a dirty business. Once we were committed to Iraq, we no longer, the media began dancing around the issues around it afraid to speak the truth. The fact is: The pottery barn rule is in effect. We broke Iraq, now we own it. Throughout this conflict, from war to occupation, the differing opinions of the American Public were played against one another. It is rather disgusting on many levels.

I appreciate your service. The middle east is a confusing place. I have worked in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, as well as in central Asia, as a commercial paramedic. After years of living there, I don't pretend to understand it any more, today, than the first time I stepped off the airplane in Riyadh.

While I identify with you and the job you have done in a medical capacity, it has to be realized that there is much more to this occupation than military actions. We have been, overwhelmingly, successful militarily. We have failed miserably in just about every other area.

Just like in Vietnam and Korea, this occupation will, ultimately, be "decided" in the political arena. Unfortunately, the politicians have no understanding of what is going on and what is involved. This has been true since the first day. The day the last soldier leaves, the politicians will understand what is going on in Iraq less than the day the first soldier set foot there.

Your service is honorable and above politics.

Welcome Home Ian. Freedom isn't free, and you paid your dues. Get on with your life knowing a grateful country thanks you. From all the retired vets out here....Thank you from the bottom of my heart for your courageous and honorable service. You did us old guys proud.

I would like to point out that the link provided in Joan Kelly's post to truthout.org/docs_2 has gone missing, oddly enough. Thank you for your kind attention to this matter!

Welcome back Ian and thank you for your service. Like most Americans (including the president, vice-president, et al), I've never had the kind of experiences shared by soldiers in a combat zone, and I know I'm ignorant about a lot of what's going on in Iraq. But I am a member of a representative democracy who loves his country and cares about the lives of U.S. soldiers, the Iraqi people, and human beings in general, so I feel I have to take a stand based on as much info. as I can get. I only wish that the current debate in our country was about finding the truth and doing the right thing instead of winning the argument by whatever means of cherry-picking, oversimplification and name calling seemed most effective.

Hi Zelma,

The link is still good from my end. It's on www.truthout.com a George Lakoff article entitled Oil And Betrayal In Iraq. http://www.truthout.org/docs_2006/092007B.shtml

My point is much the same as that which is being made in the UK - the Army is at war - the country isn't. Ian and all of our guys serve to the best of their ability from a heartfelt position of protection and patriotism. However, this isn't a war about patriotism. Our country was not invaded by Iraq. We've all been lied to and it's leaving our vets in a difficult place. I would like them all to know I'm proud of them, love them and don't blame them. But, I'd like them to understand why I say, NO MORE WAR!

Mea culpa - it's www.truthout.org - not .com.
Sorry 'bout that.

Brett, I agree with you. I get confused sometimes but my heart comes back to Gandhi and Ike. I just don't see where war has done any real good in the last 50 yrs.

I look at photos of the clouds coming off the explosions and I wonder what war does to Mother Earth.

Ian, my first trip to Europe was in '81 and I was struck by how wasteful we are in the US! When will we learn that we are all simply brothers? Sigh...

I am a PGR rider, too. And I tear up sometimes, too. No matter what the opinion, and we cover the gamut in this outfit, it's your butt on the line. It ain't hard to remember what that's like. So, yeah, when we see you guys coming home, upright, with all body parts firmly attached and functional, we're happy as all get out. And, I gotta tell ya straight, it ain't about where and when or who did what. It's about heart and duty and dedication.

We were trick-f**ked from the start. History now shows that clearly. One of our most profound and common feelings, as vets, was one of rape. Our response to the politicians call to patriotic duty was twisted into this Vietnam mess. I'll reserve my opinions on this one for history to sort out, as well. We did a lot of good, too, but all you saw on the news was May Lai, Tet, and napalm. As our war became an occupation, we had less and less to do with liberation, and more to do with occupation. Our common joke on that; No good deed goes unpunished.

So, no matter how this washes out, we know what it's like to serve. And we know how we feel to get back alive. So, it is with heartfelt grattitude and teary eyed thanks that we welcome you home. It does tear me up a bit, because it brings back things I just do not want to remember. But if it means something to you for the Grey Wolves to welcome you home, I'll be there.

Besides what others have already said, one of the reasons I'm reading this blog is to hear from those that have been there first hand. Everyone who posts his or her story helps the rest of us understand the three-dimensional reality of Iraq and Afghanistan.

If you want to see the Truthout article, copy and paste the entire link in your browser window.

"http://www.truthout.org/docs_2006/092007B.shtml"

Ian --

Welcome Home!

Politics are such BS, constantly sending young men off to war. Many times they on their return they are ostracized. Though I managed to avoid confrontation, my best friend was spat on in San Fran airport. Long ago, I wore my uniform as little as possible, ultimately throwing them all away. On reflection, I am proud that I served, the BS politics of the 'Nam aside.

Fuck what other people think. You did you duty. Stay proud of that fact.

Thanks!

Jim / USN '66-'72
Tonkin Gulf Yacht Club, '69-'70

Dear Ian,
Thanks for your post. You're right - I will never know what it's like, and I should ask a Veteran. I will feel just as confused and confounded when I meet one, because I won't know what to say. "How are you?" doesn't go anywhere near getting down to your experience, and I won't know what to say.

And you have a point with the media. They present a small view of things, and often they don't get it right (I know that from my small experience, which has nothing to do with world affairs). But we're so hungry for someone to tell us what's really going on, and which way to go, that we cling to it sometimes. We just don't know, but we want to fix it somehow.

Thanks so much for posting because these posts tell me what people on the ground have been doing. It seems to me that many of the people telling their stories through these posts just show people who are doing the best job they can; and they seem to be our best envoys. I have a problem with the policies and the policy makers, not those doing the work, and doing it well.

Take care.

When I was in the Army, it always seemed to me that no soldier ever had any clue what is happening outside his situation because we were too busy staying alive. I only spent 9 months in Vietnam before my unit was rotated out, but it was obvious that things in my narrow circle were much worse than in the media. So you never know. The fact that we are not being beat militarily in Iraq is totally irrelevant. If the people are not backing you, then no army has a chance at victory. This was true in Alexander the Great's day, and it is true today. The truth hurts, and sometimes it hurts real badly.

Ian, We rejoice at you and all who come back and grieve so much over those who do not. We owe you so much. I am grateful for the Sandbox because it helps us a little to know what the people who are experiencing it are experiencing, and how they feel about that. The sharing is very important. I used to be a newspaper reporter, so I can tell you that it is nigh unto impossible to get every fact, much less the real nuance, right in every or even any story. But I am very grateful that we live in a country with a free press and broadcast news -- I've lived in a country where everything was censored all the time, and believe me, ours is the better way. God bless you real good and thank you, Martha Huntley

Thank you for your service and for telling people so eloquently that everyone who has been there has a feel for war that the folks who haven't been there just can't "get." I'm going back for a 4th time to OIF next month ... all behind the wire. I don't have the experience of the folks on the convoys or kicking down doors, but neither am I home safely in my own bed.

So thanks,
T-Hawk

Ian,

I'm wondering if you can expand on "all of us in our own way were mad at the media." What is it that the media is doing or not doing that you are angry about?

I can imagine many answers to this question -- the elevation of celebrity gossip over actual news, the sensationalism, the over-simplified views of Iraq and its people... But there's just a civilian's guess as to would make a soldier angry. Instead of guessing, I'd rather... ask a veteran.

Thank you very much,
A different Ian

Reply to IanBY
Most of us have different stories of why we are mad at the media. A Marine friend of mine had a reporter embedded and after an incident, the reporter completely fabricated about half of the events. I have several irritations, one being that when I was working civil military ops we were out all the time doing things to help the people but even when we brought an NBC reporter out we never heard the story. Not that bad things don't happen or that they are saying we are doing bad things, its just all you ever see on the news is stock footage of an explosion two years ago. Another thing that is subtle is how a story is presented. For example, I was there when the surge started and it is only in Baghdad. In some of the media outlets that area is much larger than it really is, so think if the news would count a suburb of Detroit as Detroit. They never really give much depth about the story or the situation or put things in context so when things get reported it has the potential to be taken out of context unless you do your own research.
It is sort of hard to explain but I think for most of us it's just the way in which they paint the picture of Iraq, its usually short, quick stories and then on to the latest breaking news about paris hilton.
So, you are pretty close in your guesses, its the oversimplification, sensationalism, gossip, too much emphasis on celebrities especially when they start getting political which is enetertaining sometimes. There is just too much free reign, like micahel moore and his editing. I don't have a solution and I don't want government control, I think its just a responsibility of the media that they are forgetting. They need to get back to providing us information and not fueling the fires.
Hope that kind of makes sense.

Dear Ian,

Thank you very much for your service and your sacrifices.
I also appreciate that you have taken the time to post your experiences here. I do not have any answers, or even any ideas of how to make anything better, and I think that this helplessness is a big frustration for many folks here at home.

But I do remember, every day, that our men and women, our boys and girls and sisters and brothers, are sacrificing every single day over there, and that each and every one of them will be changed by what they experience, good, bad, ugly, painful, intense, and awesome. None will be untouched, unscathed. This was a fact from the very first day of this war, but seems not to be much acknowledged.

It makes my heart feel very sad that so much more attention is paid to credit interest rates, the price of gas, and celebrity gossip, and that the individuals who serve are pretty much ignored except when they can be used for political profit or media currencies.
So often it feels like the media members forget that these soldiers are not "them" over there to "us" over here, but OUR loved ones who serve. These are our people, our children, our fathers and mothers, etc., not some faceless, nameless GI Joe drones.

Our family has members who have served in the Army, Marines, and Navy, and our nephew will enter the Navy in about 10 weeks. I am very scared for him at the same time I am very proud.

God bless you and keep you safe. I hope the upcoming holiday season and celebrations find you and your family safe, warm, whole and peaceful.

Valarie
Eugene, Oregon

why are people so retarded. people need to have respect for our veterans. why aren't they treated better?

I will be entertaining newly returned and wounded Veterans at the local VA hospital in about two hours.I always tailor my material to the audience, but I have no idea what to play for these men and women. BTW, I am mostly country/bluegrass.
Any ideas?

So what's it like being near an IED or other explosive device when it goes off? Do you get that hearing loss like in the video games? Are you fully conscious or is there a sort of daze that happens like in Saving Private Ryan? This is assuming you survived intact. I'd understand if you didn't wish to answer that one.

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