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 14, 2008

Name: MSGT Ken Mahoy
Posting date: 7/14/08
Stationed in: Afghanistan
Milblog: Third Time's a Charm

It’s probably not surprising that I have been feeling particularly reflective or melancholic these past couple months, but turning 40 recently has given me cause to reflect. My life has been an incredible journey filled with marvelous experiences, a few life-threatening incidents, and one heartbreaking event more painful than death itself. But all of them have, for better or for worse, made me who I am.

I think turning 40 puts me at that age when my perspective sharpens quite drastically. At 40 you’re at the peak -- you can see the other side and your fate. But you can also see and vividly remember where you’ve come from. There will be no other time in my life quite like this one. This is the convergence of my past, my present, and the people and elements I imagine will play a major part in my future.

If you could only imagine how strange and funny and exhilarating it is to be sitting here in Afghanistan again, laughing and reminiscing about my life. I mean think about it: What would I even consider normal anymore? Everything has changed! I am outside of my comfortable life as I know it back home, I am physically and mentally exhausted most days, and I am weighed down with incredible responsibilities. I also have my recent divorce, just to make things interesting. You would think I would have enough reason to look back on my last 40 years and complain.

But I can’t.

I accept responsibility for my past mistakes, and I ask God daily to give me guidance on the way He would have me go. And looking beyond myself, I also wake up every day here witnessing firsthand how poor and destitute the average Afghan citizen lives. I have also seen it in Iraq. For all of them, every day is fraught with fear; fear of the last remnants of the Taliban, or Al Qaida, who still give no value to human life and will easily steal it from them just to make a political point.

I have seen the kids of the refugee camps, clinging to their prized possession -- a wadded up plastic bag encircled with rubber bands to form a ball they can play with. I have seen the smiles on their faces when I give them a beanie baby, or a soccer ball, or even something as simple as a pencil or pen. I have seen the blown-up remnants of old buildings -- windowless, dirty, filled with raw sewage, open to the harsh elements -- that many Afghans and Iraqis call home.

So how can I complain about turning 40? How can I complain about ANYTHING, let alone trivial things like the pizza that arrived late, or the car that cut me off on the freeway? Turning 40 has made me realize the blessings I have been afforded in my young life. Heck, three war-time deployments to the Middle East will give anyone MORE than a healthy dose of perspective. Secretly, I wish that everyone could see what I’ve seen to understand how fortunate they are to be living in the United States.

Last night Bixby, Gary, Charlie and I sat in my room and reminisced about past deployments, recalled harrowing experiences, and laughed until we cried at the funny stories that inevitably come out of deployments like this. I needed that so much, and I am here to tell you, it was therapeutic; I haven’t laughed like that in a long time. Those are the stories that only those who have “been there” can tell -- and understand. And I realized what a great friend I have in each one of them, and many others.

It’s been said that if you have five friends that you can count on for anything -- anything in the world -- that you’ve lived a full life. As I look back on my last 40 years I realize I am easily above my quota. Those friends, military and civilian, have always been there, and thankfully will be a part of my future.

So here I am, standing at the peak, looking forward and back. There's a lot to treasure, to appreciate, to savor, whichever way I look. Sure, there's some crud, too, but you don't get to this point without being forged in the fire a few times. Look what that does to steel. I have to wonder, are 50 and 60-year olds reading this and saying to themselves, “What’s the big deal? The 40s are a piece of cake!"

Soon I will be headed home, and friends old and new, family of birth and of love, are gathering to greet my return to my -- dare I say it? -- “normal” life. I will wake up every morning realizing what a gift these last 40 years have been, living in the greatest nation on the planet. Until you’ve truly awakened in the morning and wondered if that day would be your last, you’ll never fully appreciate it.

And what of the next 40 years? Well...I think they’re going to be great.


If you've been there, glad you made forty, once is enough although the next twenty years go fast they will be great ones - you don't make the same mistakes as the first and you take a little more time to savor the moments or rush to that Social Security moment waiting up ahead - I would pick savor because they do go fast and keep posting, we are reading and we do care.

I looked forward to my forties because I saw them as a time of confidence in my own abilities. Emotionally things start to level out somewhat. While a forty year old may not regularly feel the roller coaster high of a twenty-something, neither will he feel the pit on the other side. In a family filled with a fine southern mix of craziness, this was a good thing for me :>) Thank you for your reflections and for sharing. Belated Happy Birthday. I'm closer to sixty than forty now, went through my own divorce at forty-something. Life is good. I'm in a relationship that is healthy and I deserve that too. We all do. Good to hear from you.

As a 74-year-old Korean War vet, let me assure you that the next 40 are going to be awesome in a totally different way. There are so many places you haven't seen and things you haven't done that await you. And don't forget that for what you have given to all of us, we know you deserve the very best. We welcome you home, even if we are not present at the great event.

How I enjoyed reading your remarks and the beautiful way you express them.

I hope you'll write a book when you get the notion; even if your family and friends, you really do 'reach out' to anyone who reads your thoughts and story.

I'm 66; believe me, the time will truly 'fly' - it gets easier, and you're not as hard on yourself. Diane

Now the 3rd day from my 59th birthday as I read your words, I find myself looking back to my 40th and wonder where the years disappeared to when they slipped threw my fingers like water flowing down a drain never to be retrieved again. I found a few memories that I had tucked away in a very safe place but most of that time is a blur.
As I sit here wondering just what I had been doing I realize that most of it had no true meaning in my life. I also wonder what if any impression I have/had made on any person that wondered into/threw that time in my life.
Sad, isn't it.

As you work through the coming years when you look back on them you will discover that you will have NO problems seeing that you have made a difference in many lives and had a direct effect on a few very special people.
I envy you more than you will ever know just because of who and what you are and truly wish that the medical condition that did not allow me to live my dream - to have been able to walk one of the paths that your feet now trod upon.

THANK YOU for your service it is more than appreciated by this one person.
If I could, I would be one of the persons standing in the background jumping up and down waving a large 'Stars and Stripes' as you place your feet back on this Country's soil and are greeted by those who are your loved ones.

cheer up , made it thro' the first 40...the second will be a breeze.....

I pray you will continue to find life wonderful even when at it's crudiest: I'm 78 and it has sure been worth the wait!

Amidst all the death and suffering we can find meaning. Keep on moving, friend.

This is one of the most incredible blogs Ive read in a very long time.  The amount of information in here is stunning. Your blog is great for anyone who wants to understand this subject more.  Great stuff; please keep it up!

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