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.

J.R. AND JOSIE SALZMAN UPDATE |

November 30, 2007

J.R. AND JOSIE SALZMAN UPDATE
Name: SANDBOX DUTY OFFICER David Stanford
Posting date: 11/30/07

Longtime readers of The Sandbox will remember COPING, a post by world champion logroller J.R. Salzman, written from Walter Reed Army Medical Center shortly after he was wounded in Iraq, and his wife Josie's subsequent post about PTSD. Here's "Coming Home", a recent ESPN profile which provides a welcome update on their situation:


J.R.'s site: Lumberjack in a Desert
Josie's site: Life in a Cracker Box

REVENGE OF THE PLAN |

November 29, 2007

REVENGE OF THE PLAN
Name: Adrian B.
Posting date: 11/29/07
Stationed in: Afghanistan
Milblog url: The Satirist at War

Every Operation, every war, has its defining moment. The point at which most motivating factors intersect; the epitome of what is at stake is expressed in one clash, or battle. In the Civil War that battle might have been Gettysburg, and Lincoln’s emotion-charged Gettysburg Address, still memorized by eighth graders everywhere. The American experience in Normandy during Operation Overlord seems best remembered in the Airborne efforts behind enemy lines, and the first thirty minutes on the beach when the outcome was still — sort of — in doubt. In the Vietnam War, we remember images from the Tet Offensive; our embassy overrun and occupied despite a numerical and technological superiority.

Framed_adrian_revenge And so it was with what I’ll call “Operation Outrageous Success". Our movement back to our home base of B from [OPSEC] came to epitomize the anger and frustration of a two-week mission, over the course of which we pulled guard, handed out truckloads of HA*, strengthened our ties with locals, and, ostensibly, conducted training with our Afghan Army counterparts, teaching them everything we know. In my case, I didn’t need to teach my resourcing counterparts anything, and in fact had quite a bit to learn from them about ways to “acquire” materials for a unit.

I also equaled whatever record for boredom had previously been established, probably during one of Professor R's interminable lectures on Paradise Lost my first year at Yale.

A brief aside on Professor R (here on out referred to as “Rawdawg”), a brilliant man who has written great, incisive books about Swift and Satire, many of which I’ve read (and which have contributed to my development as a human being). The world would be worse without him. I remember him, unfortunately, for three interactions, two through classes and one outside of class.

Interaction Number One: The second semester of English 125, which he treated as a lecture, was easily the most boring class I have ever taken in my life. He managed to take all the joy out of Paradise Lost and Wordsworth’s “The Prelude” with rambling, exhaustive discourses delivered in his trademark monotone and punctuated for no apparent reason with lengthy pauses that may have been intended for dramatic effect, but the actual effect of which was to fill his audience (me, in this case) with an ardent desire to do him bodily harm. This class had such an effect on me that I wrote, and considered posting, as a warning, around campus, a dictionary of terms with which to become familiar before taking any class with Rawdawg. That dictionary is, regrettably, lost to the ravages of time, but included terms like “pre-lapsarian,” “post-lapsarian,” “comatose,” “Lindsey-Chit,” and “narcolepsy.”

Interaction Number Two: I guess time heals all wounds, because even armed with firsthand knowledge of Professor Rawdawg’s abysmal classroom presence I still enrolled to take his course on Satire. I got a lot out of the class, through reading and a steady diet of coffee (I’d learned my lesson), but once again things didn’t quite work out with me and old Rawdawg. My grade in his class did not do justice to the amount I’d learned — mostly, again, in late-night library sessions with me, the authors, and his commentary — but no matter. One thing I learned at Yale was that grades at no point accurately reflected my academic progress through the institution.

Interaction Number Three: I proposed a thesis bringing Eminem into the satirical tradition by comparing “The Marshall Mathers LP” with Swift’s poetry and drawing parallels. This idea was rejected in favor of a more conservative project involving The Memoirs of Martinus Scriblerus (an ancestor of Rawdawg’s), in which I had very little interest. Well, so much for that.

On day three, at 0500 or 0600, “guarding” [OPSEC] we learn that due to operational necessities, we have to RTB*. We’re sent to clear a couple towns “one valley away” in the wrong direction on our way back to B, and are supposed to be back within the next 36 hours. I and our FSO*, CPT J, express some concern that the expectation that we are to be back in B in 36 hours seems unreasonable given the constraints of mountain travel, and the fact that we’re headed in precisely the wrong direction. Not long after, our concerns will prove to have been prescient.

The conversation ran something like this:

"So we’re heading east to the village of S to clear Objectives 90-95, then heading out first thing in the morning once X Company relieves us [the first idea, that we’d leave in the morning, was actually subordinate to the second idea, that X Company needed to relieve us, and in the event, that’s how it
played out]. The MPs say they know of a Mountain Pass that can get us to a paved road that leads to S, and from there it will be 4 ½ hours to B. We’ll be back home tomorrow night.”

“Isn’t S, like, 30km in the wrong direction from B?”

“The paved roads will cut the driving time down to almost nothing. Would you rather drive back through that mountain pass that took us here?”

Of course not. Firstly, that mountain pass, like all mountain passes, was not designed to be driven by up-armored HMMWVs. Secondly, now’s the perfect opportunity to remark on that White Whale of Afghanistan: “The Paved Road.”

You hear about Paved Roads now and again, like the Spanish heard about El Dorado. They’d seen the Inca cities, so had reason to believe that there might be more such cities, dripping with precious metals, ripe for the taking. We’ve seen paved roads — they’re building one near The Mother Ship, and they do exist (I saw them from a Blackhawk once) up near Kabul. Besides which, we know from experience that they’re eminently feasible from an engineering and construction standpoint, having many of them in America.

This belief in the possibility of the paved road, when coupled with the unrealistic desire for speedy travel, which is constantly thwarted by mountain passes and horrible, degraded trails that look like superhighways on maps, conspires to create in soldiers the — unsupported by fact or plausibility — hope which is quickly confirmed as certainty that over the next hill awaits a speedy journey by paved road. In this case, the unrealistic expectation was created by the Military Police, who are great at their job, but their job is not land navigation. In this they failed us. And we were going off their word that this paved road would take us from the bottom of the O Pass to S in a matter of 120 short minutes. At night...

We depart [OPSEC] for this new valley, taking a shortcut to the North which promises better going than the notorious “Southern Route", sometime around noon. By 1pm, we’ve reached the end of the Northern route, which ends, abruptly, in a forest. Back to [OPSEC]. Refuel. It’s now 2:30pm, and we have until 5pm before sundown. The Southern Route is said to take 2 hours to navigate, and — miracle of miracles — it actually takes a shade over 2 hours, leaving us a half hour to find a spot to make camp.

When we stop, I go to the man responsible for making the call on the ground as to where we are headed the next morning — S (30km in the wrong direction), or The Mother Ship. I plead for a change in plans. Sadly, he remains committed to the idea of paved roads bringing us to S in what has now become “one and a half hours", a number which continues to shrink, just as the anticipated quality of the promised road improves.

The next day everyone wakes up in decent spirits — we are further away from home, but different scenery is always good for morale, and besides, we have good reason to believe that, if our relief shows up as promised in the morning, we could be in The Mother Ship by nightfall, and from there, head home to B the next morning.

This is another wartime bogey. When you’re out on mission, you want nothing more than to be back on your FOB or COP or whatever. The unpleasantness of sleeping outside, in the mountains, in the cold, when you could be in your heated room enjoying hot chow (instead of MREs) -- home base becomes the goal, the thing you look forward to, yearn after, like a five year old longing for Christmas Morning.

Actually, the FOB is a terrible place; or B is at any rate. When you’re on B you have just enough of the outside world around to remind you of all the great stuff you’re missing, most of all booze and female companionship, and you come to hate and resent your deployed life — rightfully so. Then, back in “The Rear", you’re flooded with mundane civilian-like concerns, like paying bills, your f***ing car breaking again, and getting off work on time to make the expensive dinner reservations you scored in order to impress that hot chick you managed to sucker into going out on a date. So deployment forces you to constantly hope for a better situation than the one you’re currently in, when in fact the only time you’re truly happy is during those three or four hours when you’ve just returned to a new place and are enjoying the new scenery, catching up with friends, and so on, before the crippling depression of everyday routine catches up and overwhelms you with its deathlike certainty.

As I mentioned earlier, our promised relief was another Company operating nearby our battle space. The situation required us to stay in place until relieved, so that although the hoped for plan called on us to leave in the morning, in reality we were not leaving until the second Company arrived to replace us and fall in on our security plan — the process of handing over complicated by the fact that Company personalities don’t often get to see one another, so there’s 30 minutes of battle handover, then 30 to 60 minutes of catching up, complaining about higher, and so forth.

Needless to say, the morning’s high spirits had evaporated by the time early afternoon rolled around and our relief finally showed up. An hour and a half after we were relieved, after the man in charge had had his fill of grabass/catchup, we lined up to depart, Military Police in front, set to lead us to S.

We left at around 1pm, and everyone realized that there was only the smallest chance that we’d be able to make S and still have the daylight necessary to push on to The Mother Ship. And if we couldn’t push on to The Mother Ship, there was an excellent chance we’d be stuck there for 24 hours, which would require us to spend yet another day away from B — at that time, still a desirable objective. I mean, from my end, I hadn’t seen the place for over a month and a half, as I’d arrived back in country just in time to get sucked into “Operation Outrageous Success". Two weeks for everyone else was more than enough to make the prospect of spending any more time anywhere but B a nearly-intolerable prospect.

With high, fragile hopes riding on the MPs' ability to navigate us back to S as quickly as possible, you can only imagine the scene when, not three minutes after leaving our security position, deep into a web of narrow, twisting roads separating the compounds that made up the village of S, the MPs stopped the convoy.

“A.T. 2-6, this is X-5,” I called over comms, not wanting to know the reason we’d stopped but needing to know anyway, “Um, I’m curious: why are we stopped? Over?”

“X-5, this is A.T. 2-6,” said the lead MP. “Please be patient with us. We’ve actually never been here, we’ve only been as far as O. We’re trying to find a route through the village, but this one dead-ends in a square. We’re turning around and going to try to bounce East around the village.”

A great, fiery anger went coursing through my veins, like the time I spent all summer saving up for a plane ticket so I could go visit this girl I was exchanging letters with in high school, then when I got there, she told me that two days earlier she’d started dating one of her brother’s friends. Rage, waves of emotion coursing through your body. Wanting to shatter something, or drink aggressively, pick a fight with someone bigger than me, and get my nose pushed in. At this point, I also realized that the MPs were not fit to lead us to O, and that they would almost certainly get lost again. Still, my belief is that a man wants a chance to redeem himself, he deserves a shot.

“A.T. 2-6 this is X-5. Roger.”

Sure enough, thirty minutes later we were turning around again, and the MPs had been consigned temporarily to the rear of the convoy pending our arrival at the O Pass, from which they were to show us the paved roads to S. Now our 1st Platoon was in the lead, and they brought us without further incident to O, a trip that took us far to the North. At 3pm we reached our 2nd Platoon, which was staged at O, linked up with them, and approached the pass.

Ah, O Pass. Described to us by the MPs as “Two Tight Turns and a Cannonball Run to the bottom", for some reason we expected a relatively easy ride. I guess we focused on the second piece — the cannonball run, and not so much on the tight turns. A “cannonball run", for those readers who aren’t familiar with the phrase, is any long downhill stretch of road where you go faster than you should, and flirt with death therefore; for example, the stretch of Autostrada that runs through Italy into Monaco and then into Nice/Cannes.

This was just the sort of road we were looking for after the stop-and-go, steep uphill, treacherous downhill, tight squeeze, ambush-alley mountain passes of the past week. As it turned out, we should’ve been focusing on the “Two Tight Turns” warning, not because our HMMWVs couldn’t make them easily — they could, and did — but because we had an “LMTV Wrecker” with us, a mobile mechanic’s vehicle about half again as long as a HMMWV, and ours was towing a HMMWV behind it (a victim of the aforementioned mountain passes).

Suffice it to say that I spent an hour and fifteen minutes at the bottom of the cannonball run (well described) alternately staring through my binoculars (thank you, Mr. and Mrs. Burke) as the wrecker did its best impression of the Austin Powers parallel parking move made famous in the first movie of that franchise, scanning the ridgelines that surrounded us for ambushers, and watching nervously as the sun dipped toward the horizon. The last thing anyone wanted was another night in a patrol base, MREs, and dry-shaving. Eventually, the Wrecker made it, to great cheering from everyone at the front of the convoy, and caught up to us, to great cheering from everyone. Lesson learned: don’t take a big vehicle up the O Pass, unless you feel like wasting an hour of your time.

As we started to roll forward toward the base of O Pass, I got a call from the convoy’s de facto leader, our Company 1SG: “X-5 this is Y-7; I talked to Battalion and we’re staying in S tonight.”

Well, it was better than another night freezing my bags off in two dust-coated sleep-systems beside my HMMWV. Besides, the MPs were about to link us in with what, by now, had blossomed into a veritable interstate in the minds of the convoy members.

I’ve thought a lot about this since then, and I’m pretty sure it would’ve been anticlimactic if a paved road had existed at the bottom of that pass. Certainly nobody expressed surprise when we came down off the mountain on a dirt trail, no evidence of a paved road in sight. Still, it bore commenting on, so I spent the next 10 minutes making unkind remarks over our Company net to the individual who’d been naïve enough to believe the MPs attractive, if obviously bogus, description of the countryside.

As it turned out, in many places, no road existed leading to S, so that a good 25% of our journey was spent off-roading.

Further, the time we’d spent getting the Wrecker down off O Pass (miraculously, accomplished without loss of life or equipment, though the gunner manning the heavy weapon on the Wrecker’s turret soiled himself) had burned what little daylight remained, so most of the journey was spent driving with night vision, which, for those of you who’ve done this for extended periods of time — it turned out to be a bit over two and a half hours — totally blows.

A special thanks goes out to 2nd Platoon, which despite a valorous record in combat, couldn’t manage to follow the vehicles in front of them and took a wrong turn at one point, driving 6km in the wrong direction before they noticed that they weren’t following anyone. This maneuver resulted in thirty minutes wasted; they only found the convoy after F-15s that were flying air cover for us guided them back to us using their lasers.

By that point, the prospect of spending another night in a patrol base had so shaken even the bravest from the convoy that nobody complained when we rolled in, and the MPs actually did us a solid, squaring us away with tents and keeping the chow hall open. Ultimately, that’s the memory I have of those guys — they set us up proper when we got to their FOB, gave us food, water, and fuel. Hospitality goes a long way when you’re out in the sticks; it’s basically frontier rules.

Their Platoon Sergeant also squared me away with some internet, which I used rather than take a shower. I did shave, but when I have the dirt and stench of 15 days on me, I need me a long shower without interruption, and loads of steaming hot water. I figured I’d wait until B. In any case, there were some words from a woman — I guess you could say the woman — I’m totally crazy about, so that kept me going. You get word from the outside world and it’s enough to make everything else OK, even after a long, impossibly long, day.

I’d just gotten back to the tent I was staying in — everyone was out taking a shower or cleaning up, minus our Air Force “JTAC” (the guy who talks to the planes, and brings down the wrath of God when the Taliban come knocking), when 1SG came in. He’d been curiously nonchalant during my ribbing concerning his having bitten on the old “paved road” bait. Understandable, as it reflected poorly on him -- he can dish it out but he’s pretty bad about taking it when the criticism is justified. But he had a look, a bad look, like the kind of look he gets sometimes when he’s just seen or heard something serious.

“What’s going on, 1SG?” I said.

“I just talked to Battalion,” he said. “Apparently they weren’t tracking us going to S. They want us to go back to [OPSEC] tomorrow.”

“You’re f***ing kidding me.”

“I’m going to talk to someone about this, there’s no f***ing way.”

1SG left the tent looking agitated. Me and the JTAC looked at one another and broke out laughing. I laughed so long and hard I was almost in tears. What else can you do?

1SG straightened it out, thankfully, and the next morning we were on our way to The Mother Ship. From there, the rest of the journey was pretty routine, and we were back in B that evening, pulling in just as the sun was going down. So went “Outrageous Success". So goes the deployment. We’re doing well out here, and we’re doing our job. It just takes a sense of humor sometimes. Because nothing ever goes according to plan, and the guys who thrive are the ones who can adjust fire.

*
HA: Humanitarian Assistance
RTF: Return To Base
FSO: Fire Support Officer

THREE SOLDIERS |

November 28, 2007

THREE SOLDIERS
Name: Combat Doc
Posting date: 11/28/07
Returned from: Iraq
Milblog url: candle_in_the_dark.blogspot.com

Lots of people say they want to go to war. Some people watch too many movies. Many join and are just where they need to be. You never know how you're going to react to something until that something happens. Most who join are exactly who they think they are, and the fact that they came in shows their worth. The sight of the reality for the first time, though, is where you find your place. For others the sight of the reality may take you back to somewhere you don't want to be again.

I was at the hospital the other day with two new privates who were doing their clinical training for AIT*. A soldier from the 82nd was there who had been RPG'd the week before and had a mangled left arm that had been flayed open and reassembled. His wrist had been shattered, the skin on the back of his hand was macerated from the past week of sweat and ointments that covered his arm. The staples and stitches snaked around the extremity delineated with blood and bruising.

We cleaned, dressed and splinted his arm as the two newbies watched in confusion and wonder. Three surgeons and myself hovered over this soldier as he wailed and moaned through squeezed lips. I wiped blood as we pulled staples and the wounds opened and leaked as we tried to give this kid some of his old life back.

He'll be fine, but he won't be himself. Neither will the two newbies.

I turned to them when we were done, the soldier sitting in his wheelchair waiting for the pain to subside, using his thumb and index finger to push his eyes into his head. The two looked shocked but not frozen. I pulled the bloody gloves off and made sure to throw them away in the can behind them.

"You have an opportunity most new soldiers never get. This is the reality of it, gentlemen. This is what you're going to see." They nodded and understood. One couldn't take his eyes off the soldier.

I was proud. I helped three soldiers with the war that day. One who knew it all too well, and two who now know it for the first time.

* AIT: Advanced Individual Training

A LITTLE SOMETHING MORE |

November 27, 2007

A LITTLE SOMETHING MORE
Name: Eddie
Posting date: 11/27/07
Stationed in: Iraq
Milblog url: airborneparainf82.blogspot.com 

Thanksgiving is a time when we give thanks for the things we have, and remember that some of the most important things we have are those that we have always had or will always have; our friends and family. But this year, I have a little something more to be thankful for.

The last couple patrols I went on were the first I had done since being back in Iraq. There was nothing really special about the first one. I was a dismount team leader and we did the usual amount of walking around, but I discovered that it was going to take my body a little bit to get used to working 20+ hours at a time again. I ended up sleeping at every opportunity. Fortunately I had a couple of days off before the next patrol. And since the weather has cooled down a lot, I'm not trying to split my time between dismounting and driving. I should be dismounting a lot more now.

The next patrol turned out to be a true tester of my body's willingness to function. The day started out like most other days, but after our stop for breakfast we were to do a dismount through a couple of the markets with some folks working for Civil Affairs. These are the people that do projects and whatnot to improve infastructure and people's lives in certain areas. I was looking forward to this because it has a completely positive purpose and makes me feel as though I'm accomplishing something, even if I'm just pulling security for the people that actually do the work. Anyways, they ended up stopping and talking to just about everyone, and a loop that would normally take 30 minutes to walk ended up taking three hours!

I was exhausted and sore and sitting back in my truck felt like heaven.

It would be short lived, because we were to go check out some possible car bomb factory. We dismounted for that, along with the Civil Affairs Major for some odd reason. I'm not real sure what business she had going with us but whatever. We found nothing, and ended up being out another hour searching through various buildings. OK enough already, I NEED A BREAK! :)

I'll use this time to gripe about a new rule. It's called No More Lunch. Yes. During days that we are on patrol and outside the wire we may no longer stop by the nearby base that we normally eat at. Breakfast and dinner are still OK (for now) but lunch is a no-go. Now this is completely moronic because this base is not far at all and if we were needed in sector for anything we could get there very quickly. But some officer who never goes outside the wire, and never puts in the hours and work we do, was probably eating a cheeseburger at lunch one day and had an epiphany: "Oh you know what, I think we could be more productive if we cut out a stop of lunch for these guys! Ah yes, I'm a genius."

That's about how it went I'm guessing, and now we are forced to eat MREs (Meals Ready to Eat) when there is no reason that we should have to. Hey buddy, there ain't shit going on in our sector. It'll be fine if we have a damn decent meal. But they're not the ones making the sacrifice, so it's not an issue to them. Makes me mad.

So back to the rest of the day. After lunch it was pretty uneventful and we ended up having to make a trip to the Green Zone for something, which was nice because I was able to have Subway for dinner. We had a night dismount planned across sector (its not really that far) which we got dropped off for on our way back from the Green Zone. At this point I was totally exhausted and just wanted to chill, but now there was this patrol I needed to do. My team was to be in front, so I took up point and led us around sector. I was pretty surprised how well I still knew the alleyways.

We were almost back when we got word that the neighborhood we were in supposedly had 10 guys with AKs walking around in it. We were also told that there was an IA (Iraqi Army) patrol in the same neighborhood looking for them. I instructed my guys to keep their eyes open, but to make sure of what they were seeing so that we wouldn't get into an accidental confrontation with the IA guys. Oh yeah, the two other guys on my team were new and brand new. The patrol picked up and continued on.

Very near the end I turned into this alleyway and noticed an older kid sitting on a desk or something, and through my nightvision it totally looked like he had on a training bra. I thought to myself, "What the fuck is he wearing?" The nightvision sometimes messes up colors and makes stuff look weird like that, so I tilted my head up to try and look at him with my eyes, but it was kind of dark. I had just focused back on him when his friend, about the same age, whom I had not seen before, came out from around him, about five meters in front of me. I noticed he had something in his hands and made out the shape of an AK-47. My heart stopped and I lost my breath. My team and I were probably done for. Fortunately my head kept working and training kicked in as I drew my rifle on him, shining my tac-light on him and putting my visible green laser on his chest. Not taking any chances, I flipped my rifle to FIRE. I yelled for him to stop and to drop the weapon.

The boy froze in place, still holding his rifle. It seemed like an eternity, just waiting to see what he was going to do. Any movement other than a downward motion would have immediately triggered me, as well as the guys on my team who at this point were now aimed at him as well, to unload on him, filling his body with 5.56mm holes. He made the right move and laid down the AK.

I continued to pull security on him and his friend as the guys on my team moved up to search them. The other kid had an AK-47 that I had not seen, and together they had five full magazines of ammo. These kids couldn't have been more than 16 or 17, but apparently they were part of some security force that we, the US military, have been paying to keep things under control in some neighborhoods. I don't see why we would allow them to carry weapons, but it's beyond my control. We gave them their weapons back and left to head back and link up with our trucks.

My mind was still racing, thinking of all the different ways that situation could have ended up. I'm thankful that, due to quick thinking and control on my part as well as by both the new guys, we did not end up having to waste two kids that night.

Once we linked back up with the trucks we got word that the supervisor of the security force had found a weapons cache, so we headed down there and dismounted again to go check it out. Sure as shit, they had found a cache alright. It was eight or nine RPGs (Rocket Propelled Grenades) and a couple mines. We gathered them up and took them out to the road and ended up having to wait forever for EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) to come out and take them away. As bad as it is, I ended up locking my door in the back of the Humvee and racking out. I was totally exhausted, void of any energy at this point. But again, the proper handling of those kids with AKs paid off, for I'm sure if we would have shot them, their "boss" would not have cared to help us out with the weapons cache.

So that's about it. That second patrol was a long day and totally kicked my ass. But its OK because now any future ones won't be as bad. And I now have a little extra to be thankful for this Thanksgiving. A potentially horrible situation was defused without incident, and I'm forever grateful that it went down the way it did. Thanksgiving was yesterday, and I didn't really do anything special. I had the day off, which was nice, and for lunch they had the whole Thanksgiving Day meal. It was pretty good. Nothing great, but for being in Iraq, I can't complain!

THINGS TO HOLD CLOSE |

November 26, 2007

THINGS TO HOLD CLOSE
Name: Eric Coulson
Posting date: 11/26/07
Stationed in: Iraq
Milblog url: badgersforward.blogspot.com
Email: badger.six@gmail.com

Soldiers have traditionally, for very practical reasons, carried very little in the way of personal items with them. In an historical context those of us in Iraq have traveled very heavy. Nonetheless we carry little compared to what we have in our homes, and I still find that I have many things that I can do without. I anticipate much simplifying when I do finally return home.

There are however six things that are now almost like a second skin to me, that I feel truly naked without.

My watch. My Breitling SuperOcean was a gift to myself following law school. A rugged time piece is important in this environment, and military operations are very time oriented. It was important to me before I came to Iraq, but now it is a reminder of everything, because when something important happened we always needed to know what time it was.

My black fleece
. Our last few wars seem to have produced some signature clothing items. To me it is the black fleece jacket. Comfortable, soft and warm, I have two that have warmed both my body and soul when it seemed like nothing else would. Should I wear them out some day, no doubt I will need to replace them.

My desert boots. Belleville 390s. The most comfortable boot ever. Many veterans of Vietnam continued to wear their jungle boots at home, and I can imagine these remaining fairly ubiquitous footwear for, if not the rest of my life, a long time.

A green fleece blanket. A gift from my in-laws last Christmas. I have slept with this every night since I received it; I took it home on leave and slept with it, and all summer long in the cool air-conditioned room I needed something to keep me warm. I will sleep with that until it wears out. Again, it's something that has kept me warm when nothing else could.

A pillow case. When we arrived in Ramadi last year, the unit we replaced had received a box of pillow cases from someone in North Dakota. For some reason this struck my fancy and I picked one out. It had the name and address of the person who made it, and I sent them a thank you letter. I sleep on it every night (yes I have washed it) and will do so until it is no longer usable.

My sunglasses. Oakley Half-Jacket XLJ with polarized lenses. This item is what got me thinking about this list. Mine broke today. I have had them with me every day, and they are on all the time when I'm outdoors. I finally wore the plastic hinge out so it simply would not stay seated, and I lost one of the arms. I was very upset, almost unreasonably so until I analyzed why. Well, I have a new pair on the way, thanks to the Oakley US Standard Issue account.

CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS |

November 23, 2007

CRIMES AND MISDEMEANORS
Name: Kevin
Posting date: 11/23/07
Stationed in: Iraq
Hometown: Oakland, NJ
Milblog url: iraqpartii.blogspot.com

After another good meal the at the Taji DFAC, I walked outside with my friends Alex and Dave to discover that my bike had been stolen from the bike rack. I didn’t lock it up before going into the mess hall because I had left it out there every night for the last few weeks and no one messed with it. That was the first night I'd gone to dinner a little late, and the thief took advantage of the darkness. The bike only cost me $20 second hand from another soldier, so it certainly wasn’t a financial disaster, but I was angry, with the thief and with myself, because my mother had just sent me a bike lock to use. Shrugging it off, I walked back to work and was then made the butt of several jokes amongst my fellow officers.

The same night, my spirits were lifted by the delivery of two care packages -- one from my father and another from my uncle’s friend at Unilever. Since I didn’t want to carry them the half mile back to my barracks, I decided to drop them off using our beat-up old John Deere Gator utility vehicle. I brought the two boxes out to the Gator, absentmindedly dropped them in the open bed in the back, and began fumbling in the dark with the lock on the steering wheel.

I drove back to the barracks, got out of the vehicle to get my two boxes, and realized there was only one box in the back. One must have fallen out! Oh, no. I immediately retraced my path, keeping an eye out for a cardboard box lying in the dirt, but found none. How could this have happened? It must have fallen out on one of the many sandbag speed bumps, or on a sharp turn. Confident that someone must have seen the box in the two minutes I was gone and picked it up in a good-natured gesture, planning to later return it to me, I wrote the box off as lost only for the night.

One week later, I still have not seen my dad’s care package. The pretzels and cookies in it are probably long gone, having found their way through some other soldier’s digestive track. If all of this dishonesty in one night seems improbable, I’ll give the soldiers on Taji the benefit of the doubt. Maybe Explosive Ordnance Disposal found the box, considered it a suspicious package, and blew the thing to bits. But having not seen any singed wet wipes, cookie crumbs, or pieces of The Bergen Record newspaper anywhere along the route I took that night, I have to conclude that the suspicious package explosion thing probably didn’t happen. In the meantime, I hope that the unhealthy cookies cause a serious bout of digestive complications for the person(s) who took my box, and may perhaps contribute in a small way to the growth of a second chin.

After having spent a day checking out every bike that I saw (Taji isn’t that big, after all) and eyeing all bike riders as possible suspects, I went to dinner with my friends. On my way into the mess hall I took a quick look at the bikes in the rack. One on the right side was the same shape and style as mine, only it was completely white. Upon closer inspection, I blurted out to my friends, “This is my bike!” I spent the next few minutes noting all the identical features, including the Krypton headlight I recently installed, the identical brand name, the blue color (underneath the shoddy white spray paint job), helmet, gear shifter stuck in one gear, seat tilted too high upward in the front, etc. I could also see spray paint marks on the tires, indicating that the spray job was very recent.

It was my bike. I couldn’t believe it. I waited outside at a distance for a while to confront the person who might lay claim to the bike, but no one walked over to it. I was hungry, so I brought the bike to the mess hall’s guard shack to have the guards look after it while I ate. The thief may have walked out, seen that the bike was missing, and taken off.

The sheer stupidity of placing the bike in the same rack it was stolen from, with such a shoddy paint job, leads me to believe that the person either 1) slept on it and reconsidered what a dumb idea it was to steal a bike on an Army base, 2) found out it was a bad bike (the brakes stink and the gears don’t shift), or 3) felt bad about it and left it in the same rack so I would find it on my way to dinner. Either way, I sleep here at Camp Taji with the knowledge that a share with this base with at least one moron.

Here is what my bike looks like now. I actually kinda like the new color scheme. Thanks, man!

Framed_kevin_bike_15

THANKSGIVING IN THE LAND OF SANDCASTLES |

November 22, 2007

THANKSGIVING IN THE LAND OF SANDCASTLES
Name: Old Blue
Posting date: 11/22/07
Stationed in: Afghanistan
Milblog url: billandbobsadventure.blogspot.com

We thought we were going to eat Thanksgiving dinner at the most dangerous firebase in the province, but that plan changed before breakfast due to a late night email barrage between two Colonels. It's not important what it was about to anyone but us.The end result was that we took a nice long drive in the land of sandcastles, policed up some Joe's, and returned to Bagram for our Thanksgiving dinner.

Framed_ob_food_line Thanksgiving dinner with the Fobbits. Nice and safe. It's amazing how we can go from potentially having Thanksgiving in a place that was rocketed yesterday to dining as guests of the Fobalonians.

This morning before we rolled out was our moment of thanks. I looked at the small group of soldiers gathered around for our now perfunctory convoy brief, and thanked all of them for the privilege of serving with them. We gave thanks for the fact that none of us has died. We gave thanks for the brotherhood that we have found in our tiny group. We gave thanks that our families are safe at home.

Then we said our prayer, which we always have before we roll out. The Reverend Cookie Monster said it for us, as he does most mornings. He's very good at it, and he nearly always thanks God for the talents and abilities that each of us brings to the table.

I thank God for the presence of these men. I look around and I see some of the best men that I have ever known. They are not supermen. They are a slice of America, and they cheerfully serve under what may not be the most uncomfortable of conditions, but certainly under difficult conditions.

I thank God for the humor that they bring to their jobs. We laugh a lot. We make fun of ourselves, our foibles, each other, the Afghans, our officers, our terps, and the weapons that have been shot at us.

I thank God for the privilege of serving my country. I thank God for being blessed with these soldiers that are grouped here.

We thanked God together for each other.

Then we went out and did our jobs.

I lost my brakes today, and found out that I could navigate the switchbacks by using the transmission and the transfer case. I was grateful for not smearing my humvee down a mountainside.

We toasted our families at dinner. All of us miss our families, and we would much rather be having dinner with them. We all reminisced about what Thanksgiving is like at home. It could have gotten maudlin, but it didn't. It was bittersweet to share, each in his turn, about how this day usually goes when we are home.

Instead of getting weepy, we shared our experiences and gave thanks for what we do have. We have each other, and we feel damned lucky and truly blessed.

Next year we will have our families, and a small part of us will miss the other men who sat around the table today. We will, in a small way, miss the comraderie and the familiarity that comes with pain shared. Not enough, though, to give up the time we will have with our loved ones. We will have already paid that price.


Happy Thanksgiving!

Framed_ob_ht_group


Left to right: Cookie Monster (in the helmet), Burt Schtickem, Old Blue (myself), Coopage (removing the .50 from the turret), The Colonel, and Gonzo.

GIVING THANKS |

GIVING THANKS
Name: RN Clara Hart
Posting date: 11/22/07
Stationed at: a military hospital in the U.S.
Email: clarahart2@yahoo.com
Milblog url: mcneillysperspective.blogspot.com

I held the hand of a soldier today and watched helplessly as he sobbed uncontrollably. I held the hand of a soldier and listened with growing horror to the litany of complaints; not sleeping, having nightmares, anxiety, dreading report for duty, uncontrolled crying, feeling irritable, not eating. I held the hand of a soldier and listened to him say, “I may not have been shot at or blown up but I also serve!”

As I looked into his red rimmed, tear filled eyes I thought, “You are a wounded soldier too."  Because, you see, this wounded soldier is a United States Army Nurse. This wounded soldier cares not only for other wounded soldiers but their families and their friends. This wounded soldier cares for not only the physical injuries but also the emotional injuries and social fallout that soon accompany. This wounded soldier sees the others being recognized for their injuries and is quick to say, “I don’t want to be given anything, the quilts, the coins, the clothes, the meals, the trips. I don’t want any of that."

What this wounded soldier would like is for someone to say thank you. This wounded soldier would like to be told about all the good things they are doing instead of hearing about all the bad. This wounded soldier would like someone, anyone, to recognize that he and his fellow nurses bust their ass every single day taking care of wounded troops. This wounded soldier would like people to know they work short-staffed almost every day and go home so dead tired their bodies ache. This wounded soldier wants others to know about the relationships that suffer, the marriages that are strained, and the families that make do with all the missed activities. This wounded soldier works a mandatory 48-hour workweek, has mandatory on call, and may have vacations and days off cancelled at a moment's notice all in caring for their brothers in arms.

Many people email me and tell me to take care of myself, they tell me to watch for compassion fatigue and burn out. Thankfully I have spent enough time in nursing and caring for trauma patients to pay attention to my stress levels. I know all my triggers and red flags and heed the warning signs when something starts going amiss. However, many of my colleagues do not have that knowledge or ability to do the same.

Often, they are young 20-something officers and NCO’s barely out of high school and college. Why is the combat veteran mandated to training on PTSD and combat stress, yet little if any stress training is given to the nursing staff? There are no in-services on compassion fatigue and burnout, and classes on PTSD for nurses are non-existent.

Much is said about our wounded troops. I myself have written many posts on just that subject. However we have other wounded troops in our midst and we are doing them a great disservice by not recognizing and paying attention to that! Their sacrifices, too, are many, and often with as a high a price to pay. They, too, could use your support, your thanks and your best wishes. They, too, need to know their sacrifices are not in vain and are truly appreciated.

So, from one nurse to another: yes, my wounded warrior, my United States Army, Navy, Marine and Air Force Nurses, you do serve too and I, for one, think you do an awesome job! 

PICTURE AND MOVIE TIME |

November 21, 2007

PICTURE AND MOVIE TIME
Name: Old Blue
Posting date: 11/21/07
Stationed in: Afghanistan
Miblog url: billandbobsadventure.blogspot.com

In an earlier post, I mentioned that it was strange to an Afghan National Army M-113 armored personnel carrier (American made) with a Russian "Dashka" .50 caliber machine gun mounted on it, parked next to a BMP-1 Russian armored personnel carrier, painted in the same livery:

Framed_ob_in_pt

Here they are. This is just bizarre. Brave new world indeed.

Framed_ob_here_are_our_intrepid

Here are our intrepid EOD techs wiring up a couple of 60mm mortar rounds that magically appeared beside the road near one of our favorite ambush spots. Maniac called them in as IED's, which they weren't (yet). There is a reason why we call him Maniac.

 

Well, we had the C-4. Might as well just blow them in place, right? Right.

Framed_ob_this_is_a_room_2

  This is a room full of poppy stems and bulbs. They were saving them for the seeds to plant next year.

"What poppies? Those aren't mine. I don't know where they came from. That is just kindling for the winter fires."

Ummm... yeah.

Framed_ob_poppies

They score the poppy bulbs, which are just below the flowers on the growing plant, with razor tips embedded in wooden handles. Then they scrape off the black, tarry opium resin with a specialized metal tool, a cross between a spoon and a dustpan. Voila; opium. You can see resin residue on some of the bulbs. Kinda makes you want to lay around all day with a hooka, doesn't it?

Framed_ob_looky_what

Oh, looky what we found! Oddly enough, Mr. Taliban guy had an antitank mine (Italian, plastic, very nasty) and four RPG rounds (Russian, metallic, very nasty) buried within feet of the house in which his children lived.

"What? Those aren't mine. My neighbor is angry with me and trying to get me in trouble!"

Ummm... yeah.

We took him with us. And the other guy. And the old man who was selling the opium.

Framed_ob_burning_the

Burning the poppy bulbs along with some marijuana we found on site. We did a dawn raid on this compound to capture a Taliban bad guy and found more than we thought we would.

This is what we did with the mine. Boom. Nice. (Did I say, "Nice"?)

Framed_ob_walnut_trees
Walnut trees in The Valley That Time Forgot. SGT Surferdude and myself were the only Americans to ever go up in there. Truly beautiful. They literally spoke a different language.

Framed_ob_the_peaceful_beautiful

The peaceful, beautiful valley, counterpointed by RPG warhead tips. Art.

Framed_ob_the_bazaar

The bazaar in the little village in The Valley That Time Forgot. A dude in man-jammies, bazaar trash on the ground.

Framed_ob_doorways

Doorways of Afghanistan. I should publish a coffee table book.

Right.

Framed_ob_i_can_however














   I can, however, show you where the doorways of Afghanistan are made. Fascinating, no?

Framed_ob_some_of_these_kids

Some of these kids had never seen an American before. Yes, I have read the book, The Ugly American, and it has nothing to do with my looks.

Framed_ob_the_wily_afghan

The Wily Afghan Black-Crested Rockhopper in its natural habitat. Nature photography at its finest. It took patience to capture these secretive creatures on film... errr... electrons.

Framed_ob_really_cool_house

Really cool house perched among the boulders. The mountain top in the background is over 12,000 feet. Our elevation here was about 7,800. GPS means never having to say, "I don't know my altitude."

The owner of the house invited us to breakfast and served us Nan that was like buckwheat pancakes, and a buttery home-made cheese with chai. Delish. Afghans are very hospitable people.

Framed_ob_the_same_12000_foot

The same 12,000 foot peak, framed from outside the mouth of The Valley That Time Forgot. Yes, that means I was waaaaay the hell back there, and now I'm not. It was a big day. Sandcastle in the foreground framed by trees. More art.

Framed_ob_at_the_patrol_base_2


At the patrol base we became the Afghan kids' version of Saturday morning cartoons every morning. Please get these kids televisions, as this behavior is really disturbing.

Framed_ob_ah_the_beauty

Ahhh, the beauty of Afghanistan.

DREAMS |

November 20, 2007

DREAMS
Name: Teflon Don
Posting date: 11/20/07
Returned from: Iraq
Milblog url: acutepolitics.blogspot.com

There's peace in dreams, and terror too
Sometimes the ghosts will speak
Sometimes they come for company
Sometimes for words unsaid
Sometimes to warn the living
Sometimes to mourn the dead
They come to tell their tales true
And find the dreams they seek

I was looking through some of Idaho Journal writer Bill Schaefer's dispatches last night, trying to find the one he wrote about Badger 6 and me. Alongside the title list for his writing is a constantly changing slideshow. When I loaded the page, the image that came up was a picture of a hand holding a framed photograph -- a picture of Clev and his fiancé. I've been thinking about him a lot lately, and unexpectedly seeing his picture was a bit of a shock.

Of the three guys we lost, I was closest to him. During mobilization in the States we'd talked about opening up a coffee mini-bar when we got to Iraq; it was a series of conversations that revealed later how little we understood about the environment we would find ourselves in. We never got the room with an espresso machine that we'd talked about, nor did we really have much spare time to make coffee for people other than ourselves. He did it anyway, though -- producing some decent brew on a tiny little machine in his room.

Hold fast to dreams/For if dreams die/Life is a broken-winged bird/That cannot fly

I've always had vivid dreams, and Clev has made his appearances in them as long as I've known him. Back before deployment, he showed up in dreams of crazy stunts and wild times back in Boise. Then he turned up in dreams of a memorial service in the dusty future. I never told him about those -- superstition aside, there's no point in worrying about something that's never going to happen. After it did happen, he kept showing up from time to time. Once, he told me the same thing he told me the last time I spoke to him: "Don't feel guilty, man... we all have a job to do." I'd told him to stay safe, because I was supposed to be out on patrol until I drew guard duty instead, and I'd feel guilty if something happened out there.

Hold fast to dreams/For when dreams go/Life is a barren field/Frozen with snow

The latest dream was earlier today, just before I got onto the internet to be surprised by his picture. The platoon was back home; a bunch of us were at the mall for some reason. Everyone has little quirks about them -- in the dream, those quirks were exaggerated until each person was nothing more than a caricature of themselves. Anderson was off shopping for guns, while Kildow and Sgt Kelsch were having a no-holds-barred grappling match in the middle of the food court. Yaw was doing pull-ups on an overhanging railing, and LT was standing on a little stage telling stories. I was sitting and writing behind a pile of coffee cups. When I went back to the stand to get a refill, Clev was standing behind the counter making coffee.

At least I know he's happy, somewhere.



Above: "Dreams", by Teflon Don

Below: "Dreams", by Langston Hughes

AT WAR |

November 16, 2007

AT WAR
Name: 1SG Troy Steward
Posting date: 11/16/07
Returned from: Afghanistan
Milblog url: bouhammer.com

Framed_steward_at_war_troykesters_6 In March of 2006 I met a guy who I was at first very skeptical about and was not sure I could trust. He was an embedded reporter, and we in the military typically have to be wary of such people. However, it did not take long for me to come to consider him a true and damn good friend, a Great American and a hell of a Patriot. His name is Scott Kesterson (that's him on the right) and he accompanied the Task Force I was with, spending three months in pre-deployment training and one year plus on the ground in Afghanistan.

During the train-up time at Camp Shelby, Mississippi our paths crossed a few times and he seemed like a nice guy, but it was not until after the 20+ hour flight around the world that we really got to know each other. At some point during my tour I was in Kabul at Camp Phoenix and Scott and I spent two or three hours just talking. Talking about our past, what we were currently going through, and a little about what we hoped the future would hold for us. It was here that I learned that Scott had been a Lieutenant in the Oregon National Guard (the same Brigade that was in charge of our Task Force), and had worn the uniform and walked the talk.

Framed_steward_at_war_rifle_3 It was also during that meeting that he showed me several pieces of footage he had shot since being in Afghanistan, and I was truly amazed. There was no doubt that this guy went to where the action was and lived in the same harsh conditions many of us ETTs (Embedded Training Teams) had lived in. This was not a guy reporting on what was happening from headquarters, but from out in the trenches.

Scott told me that the end goal of his tour was to create a documentary, and that he was there in Afghanistan completely self-funded. I remember thinking "What balls this guy has, to put it all on the line for something that is not a sure thing, and could make him completely broke, not to mention dead." 

After I got back to my FOB I told my teammates about him and put my name on the line for him. I told them all to give him the utmost respect if they were to ever run into him, not to fear him and to openly talk to him. I knew that if they did (regardless of their feelings towards the media) they would end up feeling the way I did. I mean, there was no other full-time embedded journalist of any kind in Afghanistan. They were all in Iraq.

I was fortunate enough to run into Scott many more times. During one period  while I was away from my FOB for weeks at a time running missions, I let him stay in my room while he was visiting there. I kept in very close contact with him during the rest of my mission and since the mission ended, and I am eagerly awaiting the release of his documentary At War, which is scheduled to be released at the end of January 2008.

Framed_steward_at_war_patrol_4 I don’t think the actual method of release has been confirmed, but I know that Scott and his Pulitzer Prize and Emmy Award winning producer David Leeson are feverishly working on this topic. I think it will be released both on the large and small screen, and with 2008 being an election year I am sure it will be very popular. As Scott has personally described it to me, “This will be a documentary like no other." I believe him. All you have to do is watch the two trailers below, and you will be impressed. The goose bumps climb up my back as the music, audio and video easily transport me back to the filth, stench and death of Afghanistan.

Many people have written me emails over the last year and a half to thank me for writing my blog. They say it helps them feel like they are there, or helps them sort of understand what their loved ones go through. Let me tell you, the effect of a blog cannot compare to that of the footage Scott has shot for this documentary. If you truly want to know what it is like to be at war in Afghanistan -- or in any place for that matter -- then you owe it to yourself to see At War.


For more information, visit www.atwarfilm.com or www.myspace.com/atwarfilm.

ROLLOVER |

November 15, 2007

ROLLOVER
Name: The Usual Suspect
Posting Date: 11/15/07
Stationed in: Iraq
Milblog url: theunlikelysoldier.blogspot.com

Once again I found myself behind the wheel of one of the big green monsters; larger mission, plenty of US flags running around. I wasn't even remotely tired the night before, so I didn't bother to go to sleep. Figured I'd get plenty of sleep in during the mission. How's that for American work ethic?

We puttered along for two solid hours before we finally stopped. I reclined and slept as planned, except for when I had to move the truck or drop the ramp or cure cancer. Before long (quite a few more hours) it was time for us to leave. Feeling rested, I put the truck in gear and prepared to follow our convoy out of the area.

The thing is, to exit this particular area, we had to drive over a narrow strip of land with a deep ditch on both sides of it. No problem, right? Handled it just fine coming in. Truck after truck crossed it without incident. Then comes my turn, the last vehicle to cross. We get about halfway when the ground on the right side starts giving out. The truck leans to the right. Thing is, you get used to Strykers leaning this way and that, so for that first second or so, it seemed normal. You know, until it kept on leaning.

This is my thought process versus what came out of my mouth:

Thought: We are clearly about to roll over, and this is going to be bad. My vehicle commander is probably going to be ejected from his hatch and crushed to death, and it will be all my fault for being an idiot and a shitty driver. This is really bad.

Spoken: "FUCK!!! FUCK!!! FUCKFUCKFUCKFUCKFUCK!!!! FU---Oompf!........fuck...fuck. Ow, God......fuck."

The Stryker was on its right side, wedged in the canal so that it didn't roll completely over. Instead it was suspended at this bizarre angle. But enough about that, let's talk about me.

All my weight was on my right side (see also: Arm) pinned against the wall, which was at that point more or less the new floor. My head was stuffed up against the roof of the hatch, also trying out a new floor position. I couldn't reach the lever to recline my seat to climb out through the back (see also: really old post about the underwater rollover training we did. Then read: Obsolete). I couldn't get my hatch open for the life of me. I triple checked to make sure it wasn't locked.

"SUSPECT!! ARE YOU ALL RIGHT?!"

"FUCK!"

"Are you hurt?"

"Nah, I think I'm fine. FUCK!!!"

"Can you get out?"

"TRYING THAT IDEA OUT RIGHT NOW, SERGEANT! LOOKED BETTER ON PAPER."

Well, my vehicle commander seems to be doing just fine.

All right, douchebag, calm down. Breathe. Good thing you aren't claustrophobic huh? HAHAHAHA. Dumbass. Now get yourself out and meet your shame like a good little idiot.

I clawed around, tried to shift weight, tried to place my feet somewhere besides in the air. No such luck. I didn't think to press the button to lower the seat platform (technically raise it at this point), and it probably wouldn't have worked anyway since pretty much every system we had went down. Through my periscopes, I could see people coming down into the ditch to gawk and/or help. No luck getting the hatch open.

And now people are yelling random things to me. Fuck them, I need to focus on getting out. What a shitty day.

I finally managed to recline the seat a slight amount. The funny thing about trying to get out was that I still had my body armor on, and you wouldn't believe me if I told you, but it's actually a bitch to move around in an enclosed space with all that shit on. Take my word for it.

I immediately gave up trying to climb out in the state I was in. So I ripped my helmet off (it was rotated sideways over my face anyway) and threw it to the mangled wreckage that was the back of the truck. From that one glance backwards that I took, it became apparent to me that Shiva the Destroyer had stopped by to completely fuck this vehicle's world up. Nothing was in place. It had a very doomed feeling about it.

As a result, I elected to tear my body armor off and throw it, too.

I crawled through the obscenely narrow space and fell on my ass against one wall, tangling up in cords and hoses and gear and fuck-knows-what. Grabbed my M4, tossed it out the vehicle commander's hatch to whoever the hell was out there. My shotgun received the same treatment. Neither were loaded.

Next came the body armor. I strapped the helmet back on, tossed out my knee pads and any other gear of mine (or anyone else's) that I could find, and then I half climbed/half fell out of the hatch, dusted myself off, and put my gear back on. Slapped a magazine into the battered, runover M4 (that's right, I still got it) and climbed up the ditch where I learned to say, "Yeah, I'm fine" as a new "Hello, good to see you too."

I pulled security while we tried to decide on the best approach to get the truck out of the ditch. (God, we should be halfway to the FOB by now...)

One Stryker hooks up its winch and pulls for dear life. Nothing. The sun starts to set. I pull out my night vision and set it up, very pissed off at myself and more or less feeling like the most incapable, bumbling idiot ever passed along by Uncle Sam's nonchalant number-crunching ass.

Eventually, it took a wrecker and two Strykers to pull the monster out. And one of the Strykers that was pulling was damaged in the process. Messed up a differential or something.

(We would have been already fueled up, and done with....everything...by now. Great.)

We gathered up all the spilled debris and all other manner of assorted bullshit and eventually made it the hell out of there.

I spent the next two days in the motor pool repairing that fucking truck.

Other than that, I'm doing pretty good.

THIS IS THE END |

November 14, 2007

THIS IS THE END
Name: Combat Doc
Posting date: 11/14/07
Returned from: Iraq
Milblog url: http://candle_in_the_dark.blogspot.com

I have recently abandoned my blog to drift through cyberspace until Google goes out of business or Skynet takes control, and have received many e-mails and requests asking to both restart and answer why.

Well, here it is.

Back in 2004 when Colby Buzzell and I started our blogs it was for one thing and one thing only, to get out the news the alphabet networks were forgetting, omitting, or were just too scared to cover. The press came to ask why, and wondered how a bunch of nobody fuzz-butt mud-rolling shitbag soldiers were getting word out that they seemed to miss.

The whole milblog (hate that term) craze began with American Soldier, Boots on the Ground, Doc in the Box, Buzzell, me and A Star from Mosul. I sometimes wonder if twenty years from now some idealistic college student will hunt us down when we're all eating out of the KFC dumpsters we're living in so he/she can write a paper about how a bunch of rejects changed journalism. We were the first. Some were loud and boisterous, some made comments about politics, some just said what happened good or bad. We told though, and THEY didn't like some of the things we said.

I did interviews with Financial Times of London, NYT, Annenberg Review of Journalism, Washington Post, NPR including the This I Believe essay for Veteran's Day 2006, and a dozen others. Universities called about speaking at their respective schools, teachers and professors have written to say they use my blog to teach rhetoric to their students. Writers, politicians, and others of note have complimented my site and its content. Some have been nice enough to send me death threats. Nice to know I could incite someone to murder. Loved or hated but always remembered.

Well after we got back many wannabes wrote wondering how to get the success most of us had. That's when it turned into the whorehouse it is now.

Now don't get me wrong, there are good milblogs out there. Sadly though the ones getting the press generally aren't. Infantrymen by their own admission not having done a single mission. Medics in a hospital complaining about the internet going down, pogues saying they went outside the wire with no armor, guys talking about watching mortars land. Yeah, those mortars were landing on US while you watched. Welcome to the war, kid.

The press ate their sob stories up. Now every press blog is about basket-case soldiers. We all have issues and some more than others. That still doesn't communicate what it is to stand next to your Brothers ankle deep in shit, brass, and blood and kill those trying to kill you. That still doesn't tell you about how we all regret not going back. That still doesn't tell you about how we love each other enough to do it all again, even if our minds are going to be irreparable after that.

None of this is for God, country, apple pie, or "W". It is so some of you could understand some of us.

Those new blogs are guys who want a book deal and write in a way to get one. We're getting deals because of the truth we told.

Maybe someone can convince me otherwise but this all feels for naught now.

Thank You All for the last three and a half years.

MARATHON |

November 13, 2007

MARATHON: THE WOUNDED WARRIOR PROJECT
Name: Old Blue
Posting date: 11/13/07
Stationed in: Afghanistan
Hometown: Cincinnnati, Ohio
Milblog url: billandbobsadventure.blogspot.com

I had to bring the team to Bagram for a day or so to take care of some critical maintenance issues with a vehicle. While here, I ran into CPT Mike Keilty, who is a member of the original team I trained with at Ft Riley.

CPT Keilty is a West Pointer who did a tour in Iraq before coming off of active duty. He is a bronze star recipient. He was pulled from the IRR* after just starting law school. Talk about a sacrifice for his country! He is stationed down in Kabul, and has been training for a marathon as he serves.

It turns out he is going home on leave, and while there he's going to run the Philadelphia Marathon. He is running to benefit the Wounded Warrior Project. He has raised over $60,000 for them, and I think that's absolutely amazing.

I asked CPT Kielty what I could do for such a worthy cause, and he gave me the web address for www.takepride.com. He said to go to the Special Edition page. They are selling T-shirts, with 100% of the proceeds going to the Wounded Warrior Project. Or you can opt to contribute to scholarships named for three fellow graduates of his high school who died in Iraq -- Michael Lucian LiCalzi, James Regan, and Ronnie Winchester.

So please stop by the site and read about four American heroes from the same small high school and what one of them is doing to honor the other three. Please consider helping CPT Keilty to help severely wounded warriors.

Before we came into this country, we were told to bear in mind that this is a marathon and not a sprint. Caring for our wounded warriors is a marathon, and not a sprint.

Thanks, CPT Keilty. Good luck in the Marathon, and good luck with the fundraising.

*
IRR: Inactive Ready Reserve

SOME THINGS OF USE |

SOME THINGS OF USE
Name: @WR
Posting date: 11/13/07
Returned from: Iraq
Milblog url: thisvetslife.com

Framed_wr_somethingsNot everyone has the luxury of being here at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, surrounded by a medically concentrated community such as this. Many Soldiers and their families move rapidly through the system. From med evac in theater, to Germany, then to the hospital, treatment, and before they know it they are separated from service or returned to duty. In some ways this is a positive and in some ways a negative.

There are a myriad of programs to assist Soldiers and their families. Unfortunately, they go unused because they are unknown. Time on the ground and word of mouth advertising are the two mitigating factors by which people learn of the services available to them. The Army does have guest speakers from these services from time to time, but due to the turnover of Wounded Warriors the speakers rarely hit the same audience twice. So the negative is that there are services to help, but they go unused.

On the positive side however, Soldiers are now being treated in an expedited but thorough means. The days of overworked platoon sergeants, case managers, and PEBLO* counselors are drawing to a close. The system is catching up to its demands, sometimes slowly, sometime by leaps and bounds. Services that assist Soldiers and families, which were once in their infancy both logistically and operationally, are now more streamlined and available.

Below are links to a few publications that   have been produced by the new command structure. Since they are difficult to   find I decided to link to them. Hopefully they will be useful to someone that   has had a need, but has moved on and been unable to receive the quality of care   that I have.

A   Guide for Families of Wounded Soldiers

A   Guide for Spouses of Wounded Soldiers

Walter   Reed Heroes Handbook

Warrior in Transition Handbook


* PEBLO: Physical Evaluation Board Liaison Officer

VETERANS DAY 2007 |

November 11, 2007

VETERANS DAY 2007
Name: CAPT Benjamin Tupper
Posting date: 11/11/07       
Returned from: Afghanistan

Veterans Day 2007 marks the six month anniversary of my return to the United States. A week doesn't go by but that I repeatedly catch myself saying I "just got back". My internal fact checker buzzes in and reminds me that this is not an accurate thing to be telling people, but I rarely correct myself. It feels accurate. It feels honest. It still feels like I got home last week.

The reasons why I still feel like I'm shaking Afghan dust out of my hair are twofold. Internally, I wake up most mornings happy to have survived a torturous visit into an Afghan Dreamscape of tension, stress, fear, and an impending sense of doom. Externally, and more to the point of this Veterans Day reflection, I'm physically in a country that seems to have no sense of personal sacrifice, and no national emotional consciousness of the fact that American soldiers are dying daily in two wars that are complex, long term (multi-generational), being fought half-assed, and unfortunately seem to be slipping away from our intended objectives.

The sense of sacrifice, urgency, and commitment at home is practically non-existent, save for those who literally have skin in the game (soldiers and their families), and a handful of motivated activists on the right and left who sincerely love the warrior no matter what battlefield they are bleeding on. The rest of America is marching to the drum of consumption, entertainment, immediate gratification, and ignorance, that drowns out the importance of Veterans Day.

However, there are brief moments when I feel like I'm home. When the stars align I can sense that the people around me understand what their country, right or wrong, has committed its youth and its patriots to wrestle with. In these moments I feel comfortable here, and I feel like the sacrifices of my comrades are at least being recognized.

Last week I had one of these moments. I attended a large sports-related event, and I felt this familiar sense of American ignorance about life outside our borders. Thousands of carefree people were gulping down beers and Cokes, chatting on about their daily lives and significant events. The cotton candy man strolled through the aisle in front of me, just like he did before I went to war. I sat there, equally amazed and disgusted that if you eavesdropped on the thousands of conversations going on, save one or two you would never know we were a country at war.

And then the National Anthem was played. The arena fell silent. I looked around at the faces surrounding me, and I saw, for the first time since I've been home, what I can only describe as a look of collective fear, and concern, and sorrow. For these short moments, as the familiar notes played, everyone was firmly reminded of what is going on. They couldn't escape it. They couldn't distract themselves with some factoid about work or the kids. They were confronted with the enormity of the mission, and its sacrifices.

I was glad to see the pained discomfort on their faces. While the man with the trumpet expertly played the final notes of the anthem, I choked back an emotional tide rising from my gut. Seeing these Americans share in this collective grief finally made me feel like I was home.

WHY? |

November 09, 2007

WHY?
Name: Eric Coulson
Posting date: 11/9/07
Stationed in: Iraq
Milblog url: badgersforward.blogspot.com
Email: badger.six@gmail.com

"Why?" That is a question I have received frequently over the last couple of weeks. Why, when I could be at Fort Living Room, seated on Camp Couch, my command and duty safely behind me, two dogs, a cat, and a loving wife vying for my attention, did I choose to stay in Iraq?

The answer of course is complex and has a myriad of reasons both personal and professional. It was a mutual decision between Mrs. Badger 6 and myself. We took about a week to consider how it would affect us, and decided that the personal challenges it would afford also offered us personal opportunity.

Professionally I was simply not ready to call this done; I think I have something to contribute to the war effort and while there are things I could do from home, for a variety of reasons I became convinced that in fact I would not make the difference I hoped to. And thus I decided, when presented with the opportunity, to stay in Iraq.

Unfortunately most of the United States is not at war; her Armed Forces are, but it seems the rest of the country simply wants to move it off the evening news.

I get so tired of people saying "I would serve, but...", usually followed by some personal choice they have made that has nothing to do with an objective constraint on their ability to serve. I particularly love the "I have a family" excuse. So does most of the military. If you don't want to be in the military that's fine, I think the all volunteer service is preferable, I want to be with people who want to be here. Just be honest with yourself and the rest of us.

I receive personal satisfaction from serving my country. Values such as Duty, Honor, Country may not be the only reasons to serve, but they do resonate with me and with many of the people I serve with. So as we sacrifice by separation from our families we also know we are contributing to our national effort and our brothers and sisters in arms.

CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR |

November 08, 2007

CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR
Name: The Usual Suspect
Posting date: 11/8/07
Stationed in: Iraq
Milblog url: theunlikelysoldier.blogspot.com

I'd been itching to get back on the ground for some time. Always driving, the same places over and over again. The same routine. Gear up, open the truck, wait, drive, wait, drive, fuel it up, close it down, sleep. Wake up. Repeat. Gargle, swish, and spit. The Groundhog Day Effect in near-lethal doses.

During these mind-numbing excursions, I'd find myself responding to radio traffic, generally serving no real purpose. And then the company commander says, "Who is that? Is that Suspect? Wow, he's really clear over the radio. Think I'll make him my new RTO."

An RTO is the radio guy. That's the job my buddy was doing when he was killed by the sniper. I wasn't thrilled with the idea, but it became a long running joke. Until I was told one day that on our next mission, I was RTO, no joke. I grabbed a marker and left a note for my platoon sergeant on the dry erase board:

"I hate you with all of my being. Love, Suspect."

Being an RTO is somewhat like being on the ground normally, except you carry a backpack with a radio that's amazingly heavy considering the bastard's small size. The funny thing is that you actually don't do much, yet some seem to think that it's always best to target the radio guy. Bile-flavored irony, really.

Our boys are doing their thing, setting up, moving out, pounding the ground, being Army Strong and whatnot, and I'm following The Boss around. My helmet is fucked up and I can't seem to get my nightvision to seat right, let alone focus. Two minutes into the walk, I begin to sweat like a call girl in church.

It isn't all that long before I hear that there's someone hiding in the taller grass just off of the road we're standing on. He's by one of our vehicles and gives off that whole IED Trigger Man vibe. Over the radio, I hear them saying that this meets Rules of Engagement criteria, blah blah bliggety bloo.

I tell The Boss that this target can be engaged. I'm looking around for the guy, because I'd certainly love to take a few shots at some prick trying to blow people up. I really do frown on that type of behavior. I can't see him anywhere, but he's got to be right by us, right?

An Apache flies overhead, and at first it looks like it dropped a flare into the field. That is, til the "flare" explodes with an authoritative BANG! Oh, that's where the guy is.

A couple of minutes pass by, and then one of our guys on one of our trucks announces that there's someone who appears to be armed, carrying or dragging something. He's told to engage with the 240.

Cuts the guy down, and another guy runs back into the house.

I ask The Boss if he thinks the Apache had any idea how close we were. 100, 150 meters max. Cool huh?

We laid down, trying to avoid being silhouetted by vehicle lights, until the sun came up. I chilled, watching the stars through night vision. (They didn't do much, the stars I mean. Bummer.) Once the sun came up, we heard what sounded like either wild animals in extreme distress, or women completely freaking out.

The family had found the bodies.

We made rounds around the area, cleared a few houses, talked to a few people, took a seat for a while in front of one house (my back was one pissed off motherfucker, and gladly announced it to me in a constant dull fatiguing ache). I handed out Pringles and candy and Gatorade to little kids who fought over it. Fought over who got to high-five me first. Hearts and minds, right? Yeah.

We returned to the house of the guys that were killed. Why be outside hiding in the grass at 3 AM, unless you were trying to pull something?

The entire family was herded into two rooms, neither of which I bothered to enter. I watched chickens in the courtyard and did my best to ignore the sobbing and the shouting and the most eerie prayers I'd ever heard.

They had retrieved the bodies and brought them out back, placed them on sleeping mats and covered them with sheets. The guy who had been hit with the 7.62mm looked like he was only asleep. They cleaned him up immaculately, must have put new clothes on him. I didn't see the other one. Out of courtesy, those of us who weren't directly involved in conversing with the family faced outwards, pretended like we were pulling security, or posing for some bullshit Army brochure, a myspace picture, whatever.

Come on, you all know we were imagining being somewhere else anyway. It's what we always do. Between that and the curiosity of how bad the other guy got it, that was pretty much it.

A car tried to flee the scene of a different house. Warning shot. Warning shot. Warning warning warning shot shot shot. Then everyone in the area opened up. The car stopped and two males got out. I couldn't make much out from the rooftop I was standing on, but as soon as the driver put his hands up, a grenade from an M203 grenade launcher exploded at the front of the car. From where I was, it looked like a direct hit. All I thought was, "Damn. Too little too late. That sucks."

Turns out, neither were wounded.

Is this my life? Nah, this is the Twilight Zone or something. An alternate life while the rest of the world moves on. Still killing time, that's my mission.

Oh, and to you, the reader: I'd tell it better if I had the time. Seems like every time I have something truly interesting to talk about, I don't have the time to do it justice. I'm working on that though.

Til next time. You do your thing, I'll be doing mine. Driving a big green monstrosity through Third World Escape From New York, with two-foot-tall naked toddlers standing in front of their gates while their older siblings wave and demand handouts.

Is this my life?

82ND AIRBORNE IN BAGHDAD |

November 07, 2007

82ND AIRBORNE IN BAGHDAD
Name
: Eddie
Posting date: 11/7/07
Stationed in: Iraq
Milblog url: airborneparainf82.blogspot.com

For the past three months or so I have been creating a really long video/picture slideshow with Windows Movie Maker, and decided to put part of it online for your viewing pleasure. Many of the stories I've written about are represented in this video. Who knows, maybe one day I will get around to making up a guide with links to the stories. Anyways, enjoy!

HOW CAN I EXPLAIN THIS? |

November 06, 2007

HOW CAN I EXPLAIN THIS?
Name: Old Blue
Posting date: 11/06/07
Stationed in: Afghanistan
Hometown: Cincinnati, Ohio
Milblog url: billandbobsadventure.blogspot.com

There was a change recently to how we are task organized for missions in The Valley. I can't describe why due to "keeping our cards close to our vest." It's more of an evolution of the operation than anything else. Operations are maturing, though they have not reached the state that they need to in the end. The change was at least a little bit welcome, as it offered us the ability to sleep at night without having to wake up and strap on the night observation device (NODS), to take a shower, and to have porcelain (or plastic...who cares) under my butt again.

We take a lot of things for granted as Americans.

We operated from the firebase, meeting up with our Afghan counterparts for the missions that we did with them. We did missions daily with them, many of them vehicle-borne. On some, we dismounted and patrolled areas as a presence, to gather any intelligence that might be available, or fight whoever wanted to fight.

One patrol took us down to the main town that The Valley is named after. It has the dirtiest bazaar I've ever seen, and until recently the bazaar itself and basically the whole town was under undisputed Taliban control. Major Stone Cold bought a goat, and the guy who sold him the goat came back to the district Police station and slaughtered it for us. It was really something else. We ate the goat that night. It was a special treat for the Afghans.

Every day, we patrolled the areas that had just a few weeks earlier been under such strong Taliban control that only the Special Forces went in. About a week later, we came back to Bagram for one night.

I could not post during that trip back, partially due to the finicky internet at Bagram. How irritating. We returned to our firebase the next day and settled back into our new field routine. It was almost strange to have so many guys from the team in one place again. It had been over a month since I had seen O and the Maniac on a daily basis, and all the SECFOR guys were clearly ecstatic to see each other again. They were like a bunch of puppies.

The next day I was doing something in my tent -- I can't even remember what it was -- when someone came in and asked if I was the mentor of a particular Afghan officer. I said yes, and he said, "Five of those guys got blown up by an IED down in the valley. The SF medics have one of them." I ran out, heart in my throat as I made my way over to their compound.

As I was on my way over, a medevac bird was taking off from the firebase with the fifth occupant of the truck. He would survive.

The SF were very understanding and very kind. They told me what they had tried to treat the man for, and allowed me to see his body. He had bled to death on the way to the camp. Even with immediate attention he might not have survived. He had some significant head injuries. I had a hard time recognizing him.

I had returned from the SF compound to our little compound when the others arrived, with three bodies in the back of a Ford Ranger, just like the one that they had been in when it was shredded by the IED. They were wrapped in blankets covered in dirt and dead grass. I didn't want to look, didn't want to do this; but I had to. These guys looked to us for leadership and to know what to do when they didn't. Now here they were with the bodies of our comrades, looking for something from us. It was my job to provide some leadership and some guidance.

My American comrades knew that I was bereft, and they began to help with some of the aspects of what had to be done. The bodies had to be identified, sorted out, each put in a more suitable container, and some order made of what was going on. One of the officers said he knew where some body bags were in the medical storage conex. O began to organize the body bags. One of the medics, Surferdude, went to get rubber gloves. We would need them.

O knew exactly what I needed; someone to be the hard guy who was unaffected by the carnage that lay before us in the bed of that truck. Those guys who had been full of life had been converted into things that you wouldn't want anyone you care about to see.

I set about trying to see who the casualties were. They were a mess. I will avoid being too descriptive, but there was a lot of unpleasant work to do. One of the dead had his ID card, a combination ID card and copy of his training certificate, in his shirt pocket. I looked at his face and had a hard time picturing him alive. When I saw the card, my heart sank.

He was a young man, just beginning to grow a beard really. He had obviously been killed instantly. As Surferdude put it, he had sustained "injuries incompatible with life." They all had.

I had eaten with these guys, had discussions about ethics and the future of Afghanistan with them, had trained them for the operation as best I could in the time available, had led them on missions nearly every day for over a month in the field. These were, in a sense, my men. I was responsible for them, and they had looked to me for guidance.

One of the others had also been very young. I recognized him immediately. His more horrible injuries hadn't affected his face as much. My heart sank again.

"Awwww, no!"

We carefully placed the remains of four Afghan heroes in the vinyl bags, tagged them in English and Dari, and the ANA loaned us their ambulance to carry the dead to the Police headquarters.

Some of the guys asked why the Afghans had brought the bodies to us. They seemed almost resentful. I explained to them that the Afghans looked to us for all kinds of help. When they weren't sure what to do, they looked to us. This was one of those times.

The next day the order came out that the Afghans were not to be given body bags anymore.

Initially, the remains of the truck were taken to the Police headquarters, but it was too upsetting to the Afghans to have it there, and the rats were picking through it for the pieces of the soldiers that had been trapped in the wreckage. The truck was moved to our firebase, where it sat beside two conexs burned by the Taliban; a daily reminder to me of the soldiers from my group who were so brutally killed.

The front half of the truck was gone. The engine was nowhere to be found. Everything forward of the backs of the rear seats was just gone. All that remained was the bed of the truck and the wheels. Scraps of sheet metal, most of the hood, the doors, and a portion of the roof lay in a heap next to the bed on two wheels.

I'm astounded that the bodies were as complete as they were.

I don't think I'll ever get the images of my Afghan friends' mutilated bodies out of my head completely. I know that I have no desire to watch horror movies for awhile.

It was a rough couple of days after that. The ANA lost a couple of soldiers during the same period, and while that was terrible to hear about, the deaths of my four guys was a huge blow to me. They had been on the return trip from the chow run. Each meal was prepared at the Police headquarters and then the group sent a truck to pick up the chow and take the pots and platters back up for the next meal. Every time you move in The Valley, something could happen. It usually doesn't, but there are four lives that prove that it could.

I am a believer in what I am doing over here. I have a personal philosophy and a rudimentary understanding of counterinsurgency and the nature of trying to mentor underdeveloped governmental military/paramilitary organizations to do basic things. I believe that the world will be a safer place when Afghanistan is a peaceful country under the rule of a freely elected government and free of the armed gangs who run the villages and countryside. I believe that the Police need to be the first line of contact that people have with the government in their neighborhoods, and that life with the police roaming armed in the streets must be better than life under the Taliban.

All of that is on a higher level. On a base level, I was/am pissed. I am hurt, and I am angry, and I want to solve this problem with my weapons. I want to find the cell that is responsible and I don't want for them to survive the encounter. I don't want a trial. I don't want any chance for corruption to set them free. I want to even the score.

Aggressive, ugly feelings.

Operations are continuing, but we are also getting back to the business of mentoring the Police at the Province and District levels in day-to-day operations. It's a two-sided sword. We split our time between The Valley and the Province headquarters and the more peaceful districts. And then there are the occasional trips to Bagram.

Soon I will get to go on leave. I will get to fly home to the U.S. and see my kids and be in a place where everything is "normal." It will be a stark contrast to the mud buildings and dirt/rock roads. This is a beautiful country, but I miss seeing familiar sights. I miss my family and my friends. I really miss my kids.

I DO IT - SO CAN YOU! |

November 05, 2007

I DO IT - SO CAN YOU!
Name: Toby Nunn
Posting date: 11/5/07
Stationed in: Kuwait / Iraq
Hometown: Oakland, CA via Terrace B.C. CANADA
Milblog url: tobynunn.typepad.com

I was recently invited to speak at Brown University for a Watson Institute forum involving frontline media, writers and filmmakers. I was honored by the invitation, but it was hard to attend since I am over here. I did participate via webcast and found that in itself very entertaining.

I was able to watch the panel before the one I spoke on. It had Colby Buzzell, a kid that was a specialist in the same unit I was in the first time over, and also Matt from Blackfive. They spoke of military blogs and how they have changed. I believe there has been a change in material, and the change reflects the new battlefield. I also believe that the bloggers that are on the frontlines are being more responsible with information and being respectful of the families back home, since the media has portrayed such a misleading image.

I take the time when it permits to read other milbloggers and have found some great material and insight and a sense of fellowship. But I have also found that many are not even in the military. I do appreciate their past military experience and in many cases I respect the things that they have accomplished. But I do get confused when people use the military genre to promote their personal political opinions. Does that not make one a "poliblogger" rather than a "milblogger"?

When I take my uniform off I will be able to speak of things political, but when I am in it I have an obligation to be supportive of my entire chain of command, whether I agree or disagree. I am also held responsible for things that I might say "out of line" (<--military term). The responsible handling of information and opinions about the actual, factual ground truth was the intent of milblogging.

A Marine Colonel that had worked as a Pentagon spokesman sat on the same panel as I did, and spoke of how he wished there was more milblogging, since it portrays the service members' perception and reality. I agree with what he said, as this has been my intent all along. I want to tell the legacy and story of these great heroes. I stand beside them everyday, and watch these young men blossom into mature, socially conscious, humanely responsible adults. Not a day goes by that I am not awestruck by one of our guys and something he has done or said.

Do not be afraid to write about these things, my friends. I am sure that those warriors' families will appreciate knowing how their sons and husbands and fathers are doing. There are OPSEC concerns, but think before you write and get someone to check it out first if need be. I want to hear the real frontline voice. I do it -- so can you!

MY TWO CENTS |

November 02, 2007

MY TWO CENTS
Name: Doug Templeton
Posting date: 11/2/07
Returned from: Afghanistan
Hometown: Kansas City, MO
Email: dtempleton14@yahoo.com

Why would I want to read Doonesbury.com’s The Sandbox? Not because I have a couple posts in it, not because I have my ugly mug on the back jacket, but because it tells the human story. Contained in its pages are gems of knowledge about what it is like to be there, and how to bridge the gap between cultures, and proof positive that the world can be a better place.

I often read the news stories detailing what is going on in the Middle East. They thoroughly cover the political side of the conflict, and the intricacies of how high ranking officials are attempting to make change in the nuances of the emerging governments, and how money is spent financing the programs. In some cases the cost of doing that business is paid for in the loss of American soldiers -- as well as the human toll being paid by the people of these countries. All this is extremely important and needs to be talked about, but through the eyes of someone who has been there.

What continues to be overlooked and, in my opinion, is the real key to this situation, are the people who are rarely asked for their two cents when it comes to how to move forward. That is the soldier on the ground, the one who interacts with the local population every day and knows the real situation on the streets. That person has the wealth of knowledge I want to leverage. Why are we not asking the soldier the important questions? If you want to know how to milk a cow, would you not ask a farmer? If you want to know how to build a house, would you not ask a carpenter? So why are we not going to the source to ask questions about how to move forward?

During my year in Afghanistan I worked every day with the Afghans, and I had no illusions as to where they were in their development. In the whole time I was there no one ever asked what I thought, other than those who worked with me. We were not only building a military, we were building a country -- and we used our ability to do just that by interacting and developing trust with our Afghan counterparts. We embraced our differences and learned to work together to head toward a common goal.

We are the human story, complete with all our flaws, our highs, our lows, and our experience, a treasure trove of ideas that we employed to make the mission happen. Like all treasures, we tend to be hidden from view and can be lost to time. If I were king for a day, I think I would round up as many of these people as I could and get their ideas about the road ahead. We are the tactical “think tank”, and the best source of what does and does not work. We know the personalities of the various countries' troops, what motivates them to go forward and pull their own country from the brink of danger. We should tap this well before it evaporates.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think we are floundering in our effort. I just think we could do it better if we could see the forest through the trees. Remember, no country was ever built by government. Countries are built by the people.   


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