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.


December 31, 2007

Name: 1SG Troy Steward
Posting date: 12/31/07
Returned from: Afghanistan
Milblog url:

Unlike last year, where Christmas was just another day and the only real joy I had was talking to my family over a static-filled and sometimes-cutting-out Afghan wireless cellphone, this year I enjoyed my time home with my family.

Not only did I enjoy it at home with my family, but I enjoyed it at home with my oldest son, who is about to leave for war himself. He won’t be with us next Christmas, as he will be spending it in Afghanistan. He leaves in a few days to start training up for his own mission and time over there. A boy who grew up playing Army, dressing in my old uniforms, and then playing video games as if he were a soldier. A boy that went to ‘family days’ on base and as an eight year old got to sit in the cockpit of an Apache helicopter, and as a ten year old had the chance to jump off the 34-foot jump tower that we use for concurrent airborne training.

He is about to go over and do it for real. He will probably find himself recognizing the distinct sounds of 7.62x39mm rounds leaving the end of an AK-47, and getting to know the “whoosh” that an RPG makes once it is shot. He may find out for himself what it is like to be down on his knees sticking someone (American or Afghan) with an IV or putting a tourniquet on a stump as the person screams in pain. As a medic, he will be the one that everyone else looks to as their “Doc”. They will all have had Combat Lifesaver Training, but he may very well be the only guy on a mission whose sole job is to treat injuries and save lives.

I know first hand, many times over, that anyone of any age that goes to combat for a year will come back five years older. It is a simple fact of life. I don’t mean just hanging out in a combat zone, I mean truly facing combat. With all the shots, explosions, screaming, smells, blood and adrenaline that come with true combat.

So not only was this my first Christmas home in two years and one that I was glad to be here for, it was the last with my oldest “little” boy. He will not be the same when he comes back. A lot of innocence will be gone, if not all of it. And so this holiday, unlike the Christmas, Easter, July 4th, and many other holidays that I missed while in Afghanistan, each of which was just one more day on the calendar until coming home…this one had meaning.

I had a moment on Christmas Day where I just reflected on how special it was to be home, and how lucky I am. I mentioned to my wife that I was so glad to be home, so lucky and fortunate. She kind of looked at me puzzled and said “Lucky?”

It was one of the first times I let the cat out of the bag to her and said, "Honey, if you only knew how many times I could have been killed or maimed. I am glad that I am spending this Christmas at home and not at Walter Reed recovering." I am not sure why I shared that with her, but I did. Maybe it was time, maybe I just had a weak moment.

It was great being home on Christmas morning, watching the faces of everyone as they opened their gifts, sharing the joy and the surprise. It was great to be able to just pick up a phone and talk to family and friends. It was great to be home.


It's tough sending your beloved son into harm's way. You do not even have the luxury of ignorance of the realities of what he will face. Thank God we have people like you and your family and your son who are willing to serve their country. Of all the MOSs out there the one I respect the most is that of medic. The medic's role is to save lives and bring as many of our people home as possible. There is no higher calling. You and your wife must be very proud of him.

Good luck and Godspeed to your son, and may he return unharmed from his deployment.

Thank you for sharing this post, and I am glad you were able to share this last "young" Christmas with your son. I work at a university and have watched students returning to school from the war zones. One young man's face finally started to relax two years after he came back. He almost looked his true age.

I am old enough that my brother and others are veterans of Vietnam. Nothing is ever the same. My brother pretty much still walks point. Functions in society, but always on edge. I recognize veterans in many ways. Where I live the best parade of the year is a combined Memorial Day parade in two small river towns. Politicians had better not forget the purpose of the gathering. The residents certainly do not. The last time I walked in it, the float I was following was decked out like a DAV poppy with various historic posters. The driver an Iraq war veteran home a few weeks.

Welcome back and I wish you and all your family, blood and brotherhood, well. May we see a better 2008 and beyond.

My son is nearing the end of his medic training and he's been home with us for Christmas, on a plane tomorrow back to San Antonio for the final few weeks. We anticipate that this time next year he'll be somewhere unpleasant, away from us at Christmas for the first time. I know that after that experience he'll be a very grown-the-hell-up man but reading your blog brought that thought to the front of my mind.
We've been studying him extra hard so as to embrace and etch the memories of this time because it will never again be as it was. When he comes back to us it will be a different version of him. This now is a kind of waking dream that will dissolve about 0700 tomorrow. There will be other dreams but not this one.
Peace to you and your family.

I hope you will keep updating your content constantly as you have one dedicated reader here.

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