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.

FROM HERO TO ZERO |

February 01, 2008

FROM HERO TO ZERO
Name: Toby Nunn
Posting date: 2/1/08
Stationed in: Kuwait / Iraq
Hometown: Oakland, CA via Terrace BC CANADA
Milblog url: tobynunn.typepad.com

I really can't participate in my hobbies over here, other than MMA* training, but one thing that I have been able to do is read. I get my hands on a book every now and then, but mainly I read the papers. Yes, I read the papers when possible.

My good friend Deborah hooked me up with a New York Times subscription, and we get the Stars and Stripes on a pretty regular basis. These are very contrasting papers, one left and the other that caters to its military readership, so it's good to see more than one thing. Don't get me wrong, I am not confessing to be a liberal or a conservative. It's no secret I am pro soldier, but that does not make me a face or commercial for a propaganda campaign either.

I don't get my headlines from the papers because they are usually a little behind. The New York Times gets in about a week after print date, and the Stars and Stripes is 48 hours to a week off. For instance, we only recently read about the Michigan primary results.

I was sitting at my desk after finishing some paperwork and picked up the latest paper I'd received via mail. On the front page was a story about soldiers, marines and service members returning to the U.S. and getting into trouble with the law, mainly for killing. Of course this intrigued me, so I read the front page portion and followed it into the back pages. It was a compelling story about several young men who had returned and found themselves in violent situations that resulted in death. The story first brushed over a few scenarios then went into depth.

Reading in a limited space behind my desk, I always fold the paper in a manner that I can only see one page at a time. I do this with many things -- I think it's to keep the surprise, and not spoil  what could happen next. I will be frank. In this case I was not prepared for what I was going to read on the following page.

I turned the paper over and saw the picture of a "biker-looking" guy -- shaved bald head with a thick chin beard -- and it reminded me of me when I got back last time. I saw a lot of myself in that photo, and the face was comfortingly familiar. The story continued and went to Nebraska, where a seasoned veteran returned after his second tour, and got in an altercation resulting in a fatal shooting. The name rang a bell but not loudly, for it was a common name, and for a second I thought about a guy I used to serve with who had that name.

I smiled and remembered laying in the Kuwaiti sands trying to see how far out we could get our new sniper rifles to shoot, and Strasburg getting a solid 1800-meter shot off. I then remembered sitting on a rooftop OP with him and taking turns scanning for the enemy. Some of my friends didn't get along with him and everyone has their differences, but he never did wrong by me and was a great sniper. When we got back from Iraq he ate a couple of meals at the house like everyone else did, and decided to get out of the Army and go back to Iraq as a contractor because of his limited skill sets. I too suffer from this affliction, and almost followed in his footsteps.

Imagine my astonishment when I see a picture of Strasburg in the signature Stryker CCUs* (we were the only unit to ever wear them) and realized I had just read the fate of the man I had been reminiscing with a smile about. I had heard from a good friend of mine and former leader of his that he had found some trouble, but I kind of chalked it up to rumours and bad blood. But the biker-looking face was Strasburg, serving his 24-36 year sentence in Nebraska for murder.

I continued to read hoping that the story would take a twist and things would be different, but only sadness followed. Near the conclusion there was a piece added about CPT Ben Tiffner, a former Platoon Leader in the Tomahawks who was killed here a few months back, and who had written the court to demonstrate support. He wrote about how we are trained to react a certain way, and that Strasburg had done so over here and was rewarded for such actions, and was faced with many situations that required a solid resolution in violence. Perhaps Strasburg could not differentiate between here and there. CPT Tiffner went on to state that he was not writing for a "please excuse this guy" purpose, but in the hope that with his punishment there would be help and some form of PTSD treatment.

From Hero to Zero. This happens far too frequently. I hope all the guys that need help get it, for the sake of their families and themselves. I am not sympathetic to those that murder, but perhaps I understand the willingness ingrained. Thank GOD for my wife and kids who bring light into this dark day.

*
MMA: Mixed Martial Arts

Stryker: Eight-wheeled all-wheel-drive armored combat vehicle, named for two American servicemen who posthumously received the Medal of Honor: Pfc Stuart S. Stryker, who died in World War II, and Spc Robert F. Stryker, who died in the Vietnam War.

CCU: Close Combat Uniform

 

Comments

Strasburg is now a "biker looking" guy in prison. I hope he takes the time to change for the better there, the number of predators and victims inside is amazing and too few are in the middle where you would be if you were inside, and still caring. Write to him.

Strasburg is now a "biker looking" guy in prison. I hope he takes the time to change for the better there, the number of predators and victims inside is amazing and too few are in the middle where you would be if you were inside, and still caring. Write to him.

I work at the Kancas City Airport MCI, I am trying to start an USO in the airport. I need to find out how many military personal travel through the airport daily, weekly, monthly. Any ideas on how to get numbers. If it were up to me, one would be the magic number. Thanks, Janet WD

How does one unlearn skills that become hardwired and totally instinctual? Moments where the slightest hesitation means self-demise? We train these men to be killers - for their country. They are ultimately our responsibility. We owe them. Too often are the times they are discarded and ignored after their usefullness has expired. To acknowledge them would be to recognize our own twisted culpability. Our government has fallen down on this issue since its creation. Where does it end? PEACE

Three items; 1. We created this person. 2. We failed to de-brief this man. 3. We have abandoned him to the legal system.

FWIW: 1. VietVets had the lowest recidivism rates of any group of incarcerated persons. 2. Some vets just never came back to the World. They were changed. They knew it. The world as they knew it was now a place of extreme danger. What was the longed for home, became a threat. They knew it would be their undoing. 3. Getting real focused legal help AT THE FIRST SIGN OF TROUBLE can really help. I know of more than one VV who simply got their hands caught in a legal machine which proceded to grind their lives to pieces.

David: This is the focus of my experience with VietVets. Often a minor brush with the law turns into a standoff, and sometimes a fatality. Usually not the well trained, combat ready veteran, either. This can be most graphically illustrated in the latest release of the 'Terminator' series. The Terminator who is after John Connors manages to attract an entire LA SWAT team. Upon scanning the assembled SWAT team, the Terminator model computes, "THREAT:minimal" and sneeringly procedes towards his objective. You can usually tell by the way the men hold their weapons, their 'body language', the posture -- even the best armed and armoured man will still demonstrate the willingness to flee, rather than fight. And, for some of our best warriors, this is now instinctive rather than cognitive.

I'd like to offer that scenario plays out in some form or another occasionally, and with increasing frequency as deployments continue. We created these individuals. We will have to confront, deal with and, to the greatest extent possible, tolerate these individuals. They did not begin as monsters. We have made them so.

The responsibility lies, of course with the present administration. Predictably they will not even acknowledge, nor confront the consequences of their actions. We, the peasant class (or is that pissant, I never really know), will be forced to deal, alone, with these creations. Saddest of all, these creatures began as able, partiotic men. Damaged and bent by our use of their finest qualities. It is our epitath, as a society, which will be written in the fate of these patriots and heroes.

My son recently saw Rambo (the very first), and he said it looked like an old, bad, unrealistic action movie. I told him that the main point of the movie (to me at least) was that once you hardwire the soldier to kill, you can't just let him go home and abandon him. Our heroes might need help to become civilians again, and it is our responsibility to provide that help. My heart goes out to all the victims.

It was a compelling story about several young men who had returned and found themselves in violent situations that resulted in death.

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