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.

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June 05, 2008

RETURN TO SENDER
Name: Colby Buzzell
Posting date: 6/5/08
Returned from: Iraq
Hometown: San Francisco, CA
Milblog: My War

When I voluntarily enlisted in the Army, I remember asking my recruiter about the fine print on the contract about being called back up to active duty once my enlistment was completed. He assured me not to worry, that every contract said that and it would only happen if "World War III" broke out.

That was a little over five years ago. After serving in Iraq, I elected to use my GI Bill to enroll in a photography course at San Francisco City College. I felt good, and I had a feeling that the days to come were all going to be good as well.

On way out of my building two weeks ago, I checked my mailbox and found a letter from the Department of the Army with "Important Document" printed in all caps on the middle. I immediately felt sick, so I went back to my room, locked the door, grabbed a beer from the fridge and stared out my window for a while.

People outside were all wearing sunglasses and walking about enjoying the sun. I took a picture.

I got out of the Army three long years ago, and since then I've never really talked ill of the military, the people in it, or expressed any regrets at all about enlisting. If I had to do it all over again, I honestly would have. Granted, I got lucky and made it back with all my body parts intact. If I hadn't, my answer might be a little bit different than what it is now.

As terrible as this might sound, whenever someone asks me about enlisting, I'm tempted to encourage them. I figure that the more people who enlist, the slimmer the chances that I'll get called back up. But of course this is ridiculous: No one in their right mind would enlist now, whereas I've already signed the papers. I'm now going back to Iraq for a second time because people like me -- existing service members -- are the only people at the Army's disposal.

Looking back, would I have joined the military if I were doing something that I loved? Or had a job that paid $100,000 a year? Probably not. Those are the men and women I feel that we need to mail these letters to.

Let's see what happens when they receive letters telling them to put on a uniform and ship out immediately to the front lines in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Many people believe that the draft ended the Vietnam War. I'm convinced that reinstating the draft would definitely end this war. Rich, connected people will always find a way to evade mandatory service, but what about the rest of America? The middle class -- people with good jobs and nice lives -- would perhaps riot if the government even suggested that it expected from them what the Army expects from veterans.

What if there were a war and none of the veterans who were called up showed up?

Every time when I hear about a soldier's death now -- which is always reported very briefly -- there always seems to be a short mention that it was the soldier's second or third deployment, and now my name might be among them.

I know I won't get any sympathy at all from the "you dumb ass you signed the contract!" crowd, which is fine, but I really was looking forward to applying my GI Bill to photography classes so I could learn how to take pictures. But now, thanks to not enough Americans volunteering for military service, I have to worry about my picture appearing on the second or third page of my hometown paper with the words, "it was his second deployment" in my obituary.


Colby Buzzell proudly served as an infantryman in the U.S. Army and participated in Operation Iraqi Freedom 2003-04. He is the author of My War: Killing Time in Iraq, for which he won the Lulu Blooker prize in 2007. He lives in San Francisco and spends his free time going on long walks with his camera.

Note: This post was previously published in the San Francisco Chronicle.

Comments

Geez CB Bit of a shocker to read your post this am.
Sorry to hear of your return to the sandbox. For now I'll reserve comment on the politics of the military and this war.
Wanted to tell you I read your book. OK there's not much funny about this war, any war but I chuckled my way through every page of "My War". Thanx for writing it. It offers great insight into what our soldiers are actually experiencing over there especially for those of us who are hungry to know and understand our troop's plight.
Hope you don't abandon your aspirations to study the art of photgraphy. I am a life-long "shutterbug" myself having recieved my first brownie camera from my Dad in the second grade.
Hope you will continue to blog if that is your wish.
Hope you bring your camera. I believe your talent for photography will equal your talent for writng. You'll be awesome!
I will say a mighty prayer for you each day. Please, if you need anything let me know. Tlang009@aol.com

Although I've been a bit of a pain to some around here I would never call a person who volunteered to serve a "dumb-ass." But, I take exception to your "Looking back, would I have joined the military if I were doing something that I loved? Or had a job that paid $100,000 a year? Probably not. Those are the men and women I feel that we need to mail these letters to" comment. Many, many "libs" are succesful, educated, and affluent and don't believe that you or any other American should be Iraq right now. Why send them?
IMHO, you should have stated "Looking back, would I have joined the military if I was wearing a pretentious flag pin on my shirt/jacket/blouse? Probably not." Those are the men and women I feel that we need to mail these letters to.

Got the wrong attitude, son. Meet life head on and stop the whining. That's the polite form of 'suck it up.'

If they call do your best for yourself and those you are with. Yes, more should share the burden - the biggest problem with the War on Terror is that the Nation isn't fighting it, just the few. Vietnam with a draft still didn't get the elite out of college and into uniform, and if you were Kerry or Gore you only had to do five months in country (NAM). So even the draft doesn't get everyone. Look at countries that really are at war, the rules are different. Good luck and God Bless, and take lots of pictures.

I signed the contract a long time ago to avoid the draft. The only action I saw was disasters in the making at sea. Would I do it again? In less than a heartbeat. Would I go where the action is? Betcher butt I would, it is a part of life worth living. Would they take me now? No, not a chance. I envy those that can do now what we did in wayback times, for whatever reasons we did it. Hard times in the service make for better times for those that don't serve, and may they suffer for that lack of service. Thank you for going, even if it represents a temporary setback in your life's plans.

A friend sent me your book when I was deployed to Afghanistan. It inspired me to do a blog, which helped me a great deal in getting through my year there. So for that I thank you a great deal. Hope all goes well on your deployment.

How lucky are you!?! I used to love writing and I got to Iraq and stopped. I don't know how to express myself through writing anymore. But I discovered that I love photography and now I want to be a combat photographer. Maybe in hopes of showing the world what soldiers deal with out here...and to be able to express myself without saying anything. Good luck to you...and take lots of pics!

Hey CB I felt sorry for you when I you heard that you were called up again.

You had your publsher send me a copy of your book and I wrote a review on blog. You are the reason I started the blog.

You also inspired a great many others to write a milblog like Capt Doug Traversa above.

When you get over there you should find that the Iraqi's are doing most of the heavy lifting now. It's the Iraqi's who are fighting the "Men in Black" now. So it won't be as crazy as when you wrote chapter.

I followed a blogger who was inspired by you to blog. He's an insanely good writer and photgrapher to.

I followed his blog from the day he set foot on FT Lewis for basic. He just got back from his 15 month deployment with the 2/4 Stryker brigade.

He is The Usual Suspect with a year to go Garrison at FT Lewis.

Yeah getting called up sucks but having read your book I know you'll man up and get the job done.

Who knows, you might just get another book out of it. With pictures. Stay as safe as you can. We'll be rooting for you.

Colby,

I haven't read your book yet but will.

I think we, human beings with a finite life, are here by chance between two eternities. In other and less pompous words, you've only got some decades left and they're pretty precious. Take care of them.

Why waste your life going to a foreign country to fight a war which was started on a pack of lies and which has killed and maimed thousands and which is bankrupting your country ? This is beyond my understanding.

I met an American guy in Toronto who escaped the army because he didn't want to go to Iraq. He was happy and had all his limbs. It seems to me there are solutions for artists like you. Do you agree with going to kill other human beings whom you could have had a beer with under other circumstances ?

I don't think anyone should go and fight a war for oil barons or the enrichment of a few. If you don't believe in the mission, you don't belong to it and you shouldn't participate in it. You're unfit for it because you're a thinking human being and not a machine.

You've got to think it through. Going back to Iraq, or not, might be the most important decision of your life. Obviously once you've made up your mind, and once you've done what you think is best for you, you'll have to live it and you won't be able to know how it would have been if you had made a different and opposite choice. So weigh the pros and cons of both situations and do your own personal choice, the one that allows you to live with yourself, and don't bother with anyone judgment or criticism, whether it comes from a pacifist or a warmonger.

Good luck, be safe, live as you should. Stress on the "you", because you as a free citizen living in a democracy aren't a slave to be sent here or there against your will.

Well, I wont say, sign zee papers. I wont say it's your fault. However, I will say that it was those earning 100K or more and those with university degress who protested this war from the beginning and people like you who made it possible. What if we had a war and no one showed up?

Even more so than Vietnam, this war had detractors from the beginning. Detractors and protestors. However, our current government was just too good at PR.

I wont get into the necessity of this war or its lack thereof and I wont poo poo the war since it is on going but I will say, you should rather send those draft letters to the senator's sons and daughters. Or perhaps to our sitting president or his sidekick, the veep.

I'm deeply sorry you may have to go back. I'm deeply sorry anyone might. I didn't vote for Bush either time. Nor did I want this war. So, don't blame me. I am guilt free even though I carry the burden.

A long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, the Army tried to grab my butt to send em off to meet the folks in S.E Asia. But, I fooled 'em and joined the USN. The recruiter, at least, was honest in that all he'd guarantee me was 3 hots and a cot. Six years of active duty later I was done. Those who were drafted for 2 years active duty could still be called up during their 4 years of "inactive" service. Sounds like nothing has changed other than no draft.

I would expect (and hope) that if conscription was re-instated there would be revolution in the streets ala the late 60s'. I remember well bumper stickers and t-shirts emblazoned with "What if they gave a war and nobody came?"

"I ain't no senator's son ..." (Fortunate Son, Fogarty, Creedance Clearwater Revival, 1969)

Jim
USN '66-'72
Member, Tonkin Gulf yacht Club '69-'70

Colby,

I'm giving you my Email address should you need to talk with some foreigner who has opposed this war and who has protested against it right before it started.

I'm not judging you or anyone because average people like us do what they can with their abilities and the lucks they got at the unfair lotery of birth.

Obviously I'm judging, and condemning, some politicians who went AWOL or got deferments but are tough enough to send other young ones to kill innocent civilians and get killed by resistants and fundamentalists.

So if it is of any help for you, please feel free to contact francoisesaliba@hotmail.fr

What would happen if you just didn't go back? I think youve done enough.

All of the commenters who are busy telling Colby to either "suck it up" or "don't go back" have missed the point. He's not asking for your advice, nor is he asking for your pity or your sympathy. He is, in typical Colby Buzzell style, telling you what's on his mind.

If you still don't understand where he's coming from, then I suggest you read the articles he's written regularly for Esquire and other publications over the past several years. It took work on Colby's part to reintegrate and finally enroll for those classes. Now he's being yanked back Through the Looking Glass. If you were in that situation, I suspect some of those same thoughts might cross your mind-- although you likely wouldn't express them as well as he has.

CB-- thanks for telling us what's on your mind. Stay safe and remember, your BFS family is waiting whenever you feel the need for a good book. :-)

--Julie (ABQ)


Julie, you are right on point. For those of you that say 'suck it up', yes, we (i.e. those of us on Active Duty who have a done a tour in Iraq and who are or will be going back), will suck it up and do our duty--but that doesn't mean that we have to like it or not be fundamentally bothered about the prospect.
If you have not done a combat tour, particularly one that takes you outside the wire on a daily basis, with all due respect: shut the fuck up.
You have no real, tangible, personal idea what you are talking about. It's easy to talk about killing and death from the safety of your living room, high on Hollywood gore and political rhetoric--but it's something else entirely when there is a night full of EFPs waiting for you on the side of the road.
For those of you that advocate a solution left over from the 1960s, i.e. running for Canada and just 'not going back', I have news for you. There is no Gerald Ford who is going to forgive and forget the fact that you have shirked your duty and run for the hills. There are concepts that are still alive and kicking in the military, that you may have the luxury to avoid but that we do not--things like bravery, honor, selfless service, and most importantly, duty to your soldiers. The young guys next to you in the HMMWV are looking for the experienced combat vets to bring them through, and that is something you can not run away from.
This doesn't have anything to do with whether or not the war is just, or whether or not our President lied about the motives behind the war. I was not a fan of the war before I deployed, and I am even less of one since I returned. But I will go again, if and when I come down on orders, because that is what I have to do. And my troops are depending on me to lead them into harm's way.
Anything else is cowardice, pure and simple.
Colby, I feel for you, bro. I know it sucks, but you'll do what you have to, with eloquence and integrity and your unique vision. Keep sharing that vision with us, and take us along with you. We need you to tell your story, or those of your troopies.
Stay safe.

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