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.


April 01, 2008

Name: Doc in the Box
Posting date: 4/1/08
Stationed in: Iraq
Milblog url:

Framed_docinthebox_cliques_2 We each find our way of coping with the distance. Being a Corpsman of Marines has turned me into a watcher of people, and being tapped as the unit photographer gives me an unbiased license to see everything. Humans are social beings, and just observing the interaction between people gives me hours of enjoyment. Lately my focus has been on the unconscious cliques people form to deal with the stress of deployment.

If you're watching us from the outside, the first people to catch your eyes are the PT Studs in all of their muscled glory. In some past life before they became Marines they were probably jocks, or someone who dreamed of being a jock. Now they're deployed, and unencumbered by the social niceties of family and network television they have free reign to shape their bodies into an Arnold-like state of physical perfection. Back home, it’s rare to be able to fit a daily three-hour workout into your schedule. But here? Once your work is completed, a distraction-free day provides optimal work-out conditions.

Another group is the Halo/Call of Duty/Unreal Tournament Super Virtual Soldiers. They're sort of an upstart group, only appearing in the last decade or so. These guys spend a good percentage of their deployed lives training their brains into becoming one with their warrior avatar, till they find that cyber nirvana where they are able to lay waste to the online countryside and bask joyfully in the sound of curses and moans of the Marines whom they have fragged. In decades past, their ancestors were probably D&D players. The hardest task these guys have when returning to the States is remembering that they have responsibilities outside of the game.

No matter where you go or how primitive the environment is, you'll find a group of people who live to play cards. They spend hours each night practicing telepathy on each other, not that it works. Watching from the outside, you expect to hear a eureka moment that never happens. They lie in wait, an empty chair at the table for fresh meat to have a seat, and when they lose to the outsider, their moans can be heard for weeks. The banter of card players is a familiar drone that has laid the backdrop for every conflict for centuries. Don't think it's going to stop anytime soon.

Myself? I follow the more nerdy studious crowd. I walk around with a paperback in my cargo pocket, and when I'm not reading I spend a fair amount of time online catching up with email and talking to people around the world.

There are as many categories as there are people. I've only named a few that stick out. The folks who end up having the problems out here are the ones who haven't developed a good method of spending their free time. They spend hours dwelling on being in the middle of the war, or feeling lonely, a clock ticking in their heads counting off the seconds to that date far off in the future when they get to go home.These are the people I watch the closest and with whom, when I have to, I intervene.

I've learned over the years that the more time you hold in your head, the less space you have for other things. The old adage of taking things "one day at a time" actually works.

I'm lucky in most respects, to sort of quote one of my SSgt's: "There's too many Frikkin happy people around here!" It's true. This trip I've deployed with a cheery bunch. Every morning I'm forced though a gauntlet of smiling Marines saying "Hi Doc!", "What's up Doc?", "Good morning Doc!" with high fives. You think I'm kidding? Nope. At least they like me and it makes it hard to be down for too long. Most days it’s difficult to imagine these guys as lean mean fighting machines, but I've seen them slip on their battle skins, and then it's hard to believe that they were ever soft.


God bless those Medics!

I love your categories. Please describe more of them. But the cheery high-fives every morning seem a bit fantastic; are they setting you up for a joke?


Have you visited Books for Soldiers yet this deployment? We remember you well! If you can't get to the website, you can also email your requests to our gmail account. It's bfs010 (there are three numbers at the end) at gmail(dot)com.

Please take care! We'd love to send you a book or two your way, you "nerdy studious" person! :-)

Site Admin
Books for Soldiers

my fellow workaday editors and I were appalled to hear about upper-crust editors-in-chief who sent their luggage via overnight delivery, rather than be hassled by carrying-on or checking-in. Schlepping a gym bag full of heavy-but-still-breakable bulletproof plates on my way to Fort Irwin,

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