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.


February 24, 2008

Name: The Usual Suspect
Posting date: 2/25/08
Stationed in: Iraq
Milblog: The Unlikely Soldier

Oh-Dark-Fuck-Me-Rotten and we throw our gear on. I'd spent the previous night preparing.

"Suspect, here ya go, we're supposed to carry these," says our resident New Guy. He hands me a frag grenade, a flashbang grenade, a smoke grenade, and a star cluster thing. They've never given me grenades before.

Ah shit, what's this all about? Fuck, this is going to be some kind of crazy-ass hardcore mission or something isn't it? The Last Bastion Of Anti-American Bastards in a crazy Alamo fight, with every type of ordnance and dirty tactic in the book, ten-foot-tall desert warriors, complete devastation and total annihilation. Why the hell are they putting me back on the ground now? I'm short! I go on leave real fuckin' soon! What kind of fucked up God would let me get hit right before leave?!

They'll set up all kinds of crazy traps and ambushes, then they'll run us down like dogs! I'm not trying to take a Hamburger Hill, I'm trying to suck down liquor and chase women with negotiable morals. What the fuck, over?

I double-check everything, and I clean my rifle and oil it. It's almost silent when I pull the charging handle back. Nice. I stick fresh batteries in my NODs. Fresh batteries in the optic sight on my rifle. Fresh batteries in the SureFire tac-light on the same rifle. Getting all ready to rock and whatnot, motivated, pseudo-high-speed type shit, Brand New Private kinda thing.

So there I am, Oh-Dark-Fuckin'-A, at the helipad. We're getting our brief and I take my NODs out and attach them to my helmet, then I flick them on to check them again.


I yank the helmet off and look at the NODs. Just like I figured, the battery cover had come off and was still inside the pouch on my body armor. One guy is holding my rifle for the light on it while I'm dicking with my NODs, trying to snap the cover closed (I don't have the normal one-battery slot most NODs do). I try them again.


At this point, I'm getting pretty damned nervous. Here we are, about to go on some big ol' super secret Army Strong mission, and my fucking nightvision doesn't work. I try different battery configurations, then I put another fresh set in, still nothing. Until I finally realize that the piece of metal on the lid that completes the circuit or facilitates the black magic or whatever, it's missing. It was in the bottom of my pouch, and we had to ghetto rig it just to get the bastard to work, but it finally did. Just in time to get on the bird and wait. And wait.

We're sitting on the benches that line both sides of the bird and I snap a picture. This sets off a chain reaction, and now everyone's going through the Pre-Mission Ritual that we went through back when Iraq was still new and interesting to us.

And then we waited some more.

The engine started, a damn near deafening whine, and still nothing. Then the bird started to shake, vibrate, gyrate, whatever. But nothing. The back ramp raised up, but nothing.

I kept looking at my watch, wondering when the hell we were going to actually lift off, when the rotors sped up and the ground shifted. I flipped my NODs on and looked out the open back.

A friend of mine will gladly tell you what a fag I am for thinking the following:

Through monochromatic shades of green, the helipad dropped out from underneath us, and the whole FOB followed. We leaned to the bird's left and the world tilted, bright green sky, lights glowing from here and there, and we were up and away.

Fucking breathtaking.

I stared in awe out the back, like a complete tool, as we passed clusters of houses and road and open nothingness and palm groves. Then a village panned behind us, every light like a glowing emerald. I closed the eye that looks through my NODs. Lame. I opened my nightvision eye again. Groovy.

It was almost like it wasn't even real, like no way could this be happening. This is too not mundane. Like there was a movie screen on the back of the bird with all sorts of crazy wind blowing in.

Then the darklights blinked a few times. Two minutes.

We continued to pass villages and desert wilderness until the bird sank down, leaning this way, then leveling, and then the ramp dropped and we poured out, the rotors whipping the shit out of the air. I took a knee once I was far enough away, but when the bird lifted off again, it still blew me over and I had to catch myself with my free hand.

And so began the mission. And it was productive.


I was getting nervous for you just reading this. Awesome piece of writing. Please post more about the mission.

Great evocative writing. I need chapter 2!

Damn, you are good. I'm sorry for the added stress of a trip like that with your time getting short. I've been told that everything gets spookier if that is possible when you get to be a short timer. Thank you for writing and thank you for having your breath taken away by the view out the back. Beauty wants to find you even in Iraq. One day you won't feel two hundred and fifty. I believe that old man wisdom helps keep you alive now. Glad you got back and could write it down.

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