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.


July 02, 2008

Name: CAPT Lee Kelley
Posting date: 7/4/08
Returned from: Iraq
Hometown: St. George, Utah
Milblog: Wordsmith at War

It's been two years since I stepped off of that airplane in Salt Lake City. No cliches about "time flying by" seem fitting at the moment. Life is too colorful, too much of a grand adventure to taint its description with an overused play on words. I remember everything as if it were yesterday, and yet I've learned and grown so much that it's like watching someone else in my mind -- some other soldier, some other father, some other soul.

I'm enjoying my days more than ever before, writing full-time, and working hard to build my company Desert Sun Writing and Editing. Although my hometown is New Orleans, I've been living in Salt Lake City, Utah (on and off) for the last 12 years. And I have now moved my little family to an absolutely gorgeous town in southern Utah. It's actually a desert climate not so different from the deserts of Iraq. Do I smell irony?

To mark my anniversary and the exciting changes in my life, I'm going to re-post something I wrote two years ago, when I was flying back and forth across the Atlantic on emergency leave because my mom was very sick and Hurricane Katrina had recently struck. I saw soldiers walking around my hometown with loaded weapons, but I had to go back to Iraq. I felt frustrated and wondered if I should be serving in New Orleans or the Sunni Triangle. I questioned my own path and sometimes grew cynical and philosophical about the way Americans were supporting their troops.

We are still a country at war, and I still have soldiers in Iraq who I sent there personally as their company commander. And yet very few people that I meet in my little microcosm of America seem too concerned. I don't know... is it just me?


America, we remain your constant and faithful servants. Satellites that hover 23,000 miles above the planet in geospatial orbit feed down into our little dish and we get to see sports, current events, and news.

We know what you’re up to. We might watch the news for 10 minutes after a long shift outside the wire, just enough to get the highlights, read it on the internet, have friends mail us copies of newspapers, or monitor CNN just as the insurgents do, for breaking news. Maybe you know one of us personally, or maybe we’re nothing more to you than nameless faceless soldiers on TV. Either way, we still know about the hurricanes down South, the newest movies and music, the earthquakes in Pakistan, and the latest football scores.

You populate our dreams.

Your state of affairs is part of our thought processes, however hard it may be right now to recall exactly what it felt like to stand within those borders. The mind and eyes play tricks on you when you live in this environment, always on guard, ready to kill if needed.

Yes, we’re soldiers, but who wants to live this way? What man enjoys being threatened all the time? Show me that man and I’ll show you a fool. But ask me to show you a person who is willing to live like this so that Americans back home can live more safely, and we’ll show you a couple hundred thousand.

Drive your comfy cars to work, we want you to. It makes you the personification of our daydreams. As you’re giggling at the immature humor of local morning radio comedy, sipping a vanilla latte from Starbucks, oblivious of the gunshots and explosions in Iraq, and tailgating the car in front of you, we’re trying to stay alive out here. We are not complaining -- we raised our hands and swore to serve. But we do envy the ease with which you can walk out of your door and take a casual stroll through streets that are not your own in that soft suburban streetlight safety.

We wouldn’t expect you to alter your lives for us -- you’re not soldiers. Don’t travel 7,000 miles to fight a violent and intelligent enemy. We’ll take care of all that. You just continue to prosper in the middle class, trade up on your economy sized car, install that new subwoofer in the trunk, and yes, the red blouse looks wonderful on you. Buy it.

Remain the same embodiment of our fading memories, the portal to our daydreams, the catalyst for hope when hope eludes us, a land of winding roads and fishing holes, pretty pictures in frames, campfire stories, fields of wheat, skyscrapers made of glass, a woodshop, a fireplace, a patriotic song. Be you a mantle full of family photos, a smiling face at a convenience store, a dog that follows us around the yard, someone we meet spontaneously and get along and laugh with, the feel of grass on our bare feet as we walk out to get the morning paper, a parade or a fair or a swap meet.

Be you a pool table in a dimly lit room, a candle in a window, a Christmas tree, a rainy day, a hug after a hard day, a bowl of chicken noodle soup when we have a cold, the feel of a steering wheel in our hands, gravity tugging at our calves as we walk up a mountain trail, the thrill of water running over rock, a stone thrown from a bridge, or skipping across a lake, someone to call on a cell phone just because, or our favorite band coming to play a show in our hometown at an outdoor amphitheater. Be you the faces of strangers at that concert, laughing, smiling, silhouetted in light and smoke amidst the energy of musical celebration, or be Chris Cornell’s CD Euphoria Morning, which has some lyrical moments that put chills down my spine.

Be all of these things and more, as we know you can.

Just be what you will, Americans, with your goods and bads, your lights and darks, your jerks passing at 100 mph in the slow lane ( Believe it or not, I miss you jerks -- I will relish the next opportunity I have to give you the finger), your wrong change and bad attitude because you don’t like your job at the drive thru, your high school boy with braces handing us that delicious movie theater popcorn (extra butter please), your mall food courts, your egg-drop soup, your soft shell taco for .49 cents on Tuesdays, your dryer sheets that make the pillow case smell so damn fine, your beautiful face the first thing we see in the morning, your crying children, and yes, your diapers that need changing.

Remain a perfect parody of yourself by having a mid-life crisis and listening to tribal meditative music on a state of the art CD player that you ordered from Sharper Buy that Porsche and drive it to Yoga class, or be the guy in Wyoming whom I cursed because he won the Power ball and he was already a millionaire.

Be whatever you choose. Let fate and synchronicity guide you.

But please remain constant as well, because we have changed.

Don’t move the continent. Don’t sell the house. Don’t lose the dog.


Was that me you were addressing, sir? There are a few that care and watch and do little things, thanks for writing about what should really matter and all the never did. How did we get this way? Keep the faith and your powder dry.

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