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 20, 2007

Name: CAPT Benjamin Tupper
Posting date: 12/20/07
Returned from: Afghanistan

A good friend of mine got killed recently in Afghanistan. He was the First Sergeant of the Infantry Company that I was assigned to. Mention of his death won't be in your local newspapers, nor listed on any web sites honoring the fallen, so you probably don't know about him or how he died. He was a great soldier nonetheless, and we have all lost a man who committed his life to the goals of a modern, tolerant, and peaceful Afghanistan. His name was Iftah Kharullah.

Word of his death came last night, while I was sitting in my comfy reclining chair, bathed in the heat of my wood burning stove. The living room where I sat was decked out with colored Christmas lights, a sparkling decorated tree, and my four noisy children who were all getting ready to watch a much anticipated Christmas movie.

I was busy between getting the DVD player up and running and getting my kids situated with snacks, when I saw I had an email from my old Afghan interpreter. It had been weeks since I last heard from him, as he had recently gotten married. Suffice to say, I was expecting some good news.

Instead, in broken English, he had written the following sentance:

"Tooran Tupper…3th company 1st sgt got killed in an action."

I should take a moment to explain that "Tooran" is Dari for "Captain". This was my rank while I was embedded in this Afghan National Army Infantry unit. Everyone called me "Tooran Tupper", from the lowest ranking soldiers of 3rd Company, all the way up to First Sergeant Iftah Kharullah.

The Christmas movie started. The kids laughed. I whispered to my girlfriend that I had just learned of the death of a close Afghan friend. It was such an awkward mix of tragedy and holiday lightheartedness that I think she was caught at a loss for words.

I said nothing of the news to my children. Even though I wanted to tell everyone and anyone this dark news, I didn't want to damper the festive spirit of the evening.

My silence did nothing to lessen Kharullah's memories, which visited me throughout the evening like Marley's Ghost of Christmas Past. I tried to drown him out with a few more beers than normal. I drifted off a few times during the movie to memories of Afghanistan, as I sat there next to the warm stove. But I was always drawn back by the laughter of my children at comical points in the Christmas-themed movie.

First Sergeant Iftah Kharullah died on a very typical mission for 3rd Company. Members of the Battalion had been ambushed in Qarabagh District. Like we had done so many times before, Kharullah's Afghan Company rode out as a quick reaction force to assist the besieged Afghan Army unit. The Executive Officer of 3rd Company was shot and wounded in the ambush, and First Sergeant Kharullah organized a team to go recover him and bring him out of the kill zone. During this attempt, he was shot in the kidney and heart, and died.

The email from my Afghan interpreter went on to say that after First Sergeant Kharullah was shot, the Afghan soldiers moved to recover his body. In this counter attack, seven Taliban were killed. This news gave me a momentary sense of satisfaction that his death had not been for naught. But even with this lopsided final score favoring the Afghan National Army, I was left feeling empty and defeated. No amount of festive holiday spirit could lift my heart from this cold news of a long distance loss.


Here is a picture of me with Kharullah (on the right) and the XO (on the left). In a separate incident last fall the plump officer in the middle was shot three times, but survived.


I am so sorry for your loss. The loss of anyone during the holidays is always tough, harder when you could not/cannot be there to grieve with those who share the loss on a personal/professional level. Let the love of your family help you through it.
Merry Christmas, sir!

My sympathies on the loss of your friend and fellow soldier. Your post is a powerful reminder of the often unacknowledged casualties of this conflict. He will be remembered and honored.

Your gift as a writer deeply honors First Sergeant Iftah Kharullah. Be Merry for your children. For you have done your duty well and are here to tell these stories, so we never forget.

I am sorry for the loss of your friend. It sounds to me like a loss for the nation of Afghanistan as well.

You are all too young to pay so much, I am very glad you found out about his death and could put him into our history, thanks for that. Keep him close and name a child for him, or a school building, greater love has no one...

I am so sorry for your loss.I will make it my business to pass on your blog to as many people as I can so this man will not be forgotten.

Sometimes I visit websites and forums where can be found the usual blowhards bloviating about the "ragheads" and Islamofascists; armchair warriors prattling about blowing them all back to the Stone Age and saying we should kill them all and let God sort them out. These are people who do not see the humanity of other people halfway across the world. They may see and care for American soldiers with homes and families and hopes for the future, but of the Afghans and Iraqis they see cardboard cutouts, two-dimensional people whose lives somehow do not mean as much as ours.

And then there is you, Tooran Tupper, an American soldier who has formed lasting bonds with the Afghans with whom he served. You mourn Iftah Kharullah because you knew him to be a real person. You knew him as someone who was loved and admired, a person with dreams of a brighter future, a loyal friend and brave soldier who put his life on the line and paid the ultimate price. By your mourning you have reminded everyone of the humanity of all people. You've reminded us that there are people worth saving and fighting for in Afghanistan, and who are willing to fight for that brighter future. Thank you for bringing this story to our attention, for reminding us of the sacrifices of your fellow soldiers. Please accept my condolences on your loss.

You mention that the death of First Sergeant Iftah Kharullah will not appear in any newspapers but you have brought word of his sad passing in a meaningful way to those who care deeply about the passing of this brave soldier in common cause with us here. Over the years others have written of friends among our allies who have made the ultimate sacrifice and I and others have wept sorrowful tears for them and I do this now for the First Sergeant as I write this.

May your heart find comfort in your loss, and I pray for all those who share this walk with grief. God bless you all.

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