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 21, 2007

Name: Combat Doc
Posting date: 12/21/07
Returned from: Iraq
Milblog url:

Oh. So this is what they're talking about..."P" TSD. Now it makes sense.

I have days when I just laugh out loud at some of the near misses I survived in Iraq. RPGs, IEDs, small arms fire pinging off the ground at my feet. I remember the shrapnel that hit my chest when I was running to the tower after the RPG near-missed a Kiowa helicopter. I remember walking through pitch black fields during no-moon nights in Fallujah using only the green-filtered nightmare of what Vietnam vets called a Starlite scope to open the darkness the Hajj used to hide right beside us. I remember the raids when we'd bust through the smoke and fragments left by the water-impulse charge after blowing the door and entering the room that was usually empty; sometimes it wasn't.

But none of that keeps me up at night.

Jake's face followed by Alcantara, Gummersal, and Khan. Then the blast. John outside crying into the arms of a Platoon Sergeant doing the same. Knowing I wasn't there. Knowing that I had no hope of saving or even seeing his last smile before he called me a fag and went in. Not being there when Hector was shot because of a lazy Iraqi cop mistake and bad commo. Not being there when Strong's legs were blown out from under him as he stood in the hatch pulling security in a place where that phrase is an oxymoron.

Why do those of us who stayed behind, those of us with responsibilities outside the Army, those others who chose lives after Iraq, those of us who still wish to feel the need to be there when it happens yet knowing it could have been us. Why does THIS and not the near-death punctuated blur of combat affect us?

Worse, why do they understand. Why does no one pass judgment. Why does no one say, " You shitbag, you abandoned us."

Both sides have reasons and valid points, but what America doesn't understand when they choose a side is that we hold both opinions.

They don't pass judgment, they don't complain, they don't hate because they feel the same as I do, and they would feel the same as me if they were here with me.

So they know what I'm feeling without asking...and they'll never ask.


It feels as though you abandoned them, but you did not. Utmost responsibility is too great a burden for any man to bear. All that can be done with such an immense, awful-tasting meal is to cut it up into man-sized portions. You made it through your plateful of The War Meal, and you did your part most righteously.
I'm so grateful to see that you came back from the table alive. It hurts so bad now because you don't have a yummy side-dish of adrenaline and dopamine to cover up the horrible taste of guilt and anxiety these days. Another way that the war is like a bad meal is that it takes a while to digest, and the digesting isn't at all comfortable. There's no barfing it up; but eventually it'll all pass through.
Please just be patient with yourself and with life. You upheld your responsibilities as nobly as any man alive today. It is right for you to be home now.

Wow, you've explained survivor's guilt - an irrational and completely unjustified sense that you somehow failed these men - better than anyone whose account I've ever read. There was nothing you could have done to stop what happened and you can't torture yourself thinking there was. You didn't abandon anyone, and the reason no one will judge you is because you don't deserve judgment. You deserve instead the right to know that you did all that was asked of you and then some, and that there comes a time when no one can affect the course of things no matter how much he asks of himself. Please give yourself time to work through those feelings and be at peace with yourself. You've earned it.

Your Words; "Worse, why do they understand. Why does no one pass judgment. Why does no one say, " You shitbag, you abandoned us.""

That's not how it happened. Anybody with an intact nervous system would want to get outa downrange. The difference between how it might have happened and how it went down is all about how the Army runs its' operations. It's NOT about how you run your lifes' decisions. You got short, you rotated out, you lived through it.

And frankly, if one of these guys heard you were beating yourself up for not gettin' any on ya . . . you would be a pussy and a fag. There's all kinds of guys, probably in your own town, who could use a look-see. Check up on them, will ya? You want to put on a burden, help the wounded here.

Ya know, it could go either way. The guys that got popped, might just be saying, "Hey, better me than him. He's got family."

I'm pretty sure they're not holding a thing against you.

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