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.

READJUSTMENT |

July 30, 2008

READJUSTMENT
Name: Old Blue
Posting date: 8/1/08
Stationed in: Afghanistan
Milblog: Bill and Bob's Excellent Afghan Adventure

The Army warns you about readjustment and "reintegration." They warn about depression, or let-down. They warn about the family, and things that happen normally as part of reintegration.

Oddly enough, a lot of it is true.

I never felt overly "jacked-up" in Afghanistan. It all felt pretty normal to me, actually. There were a few times when I knew that I could easily be killed, and there were several times when I knew without a doubt that if the ACM* had chosen to hit us at that moment that I was in a very, very precarious position.

I did, however, feel alert. There have been times here in the States that I have been inattentive, even though I was going through the motions. For instance, driving around town running errands but thinking about something else, to the point that I would suddenly realize that I had lost track of where I was. I never lost track so much that I was endangering other people or vehicles around me, just the bigger picture.

I was on autopilot.

That never happened in Afghanistan. When I was outside the wire I always knew what was going on -- at least what was going on in proximity to me, even if the rest of the situation was unclear.

At the time, I wouldn't have described it as hyper vigilance; it felt normal, and not uncomfortable. I liked being outside the wire. I pitied those poor fobbits who never left the wire. There are so many of them. I couldn't have felt good about myself had that been my existence in Afghanistan.

When you get so used to having to have your "hand on the stick," being where you can put it on autopilot and get away with it causes the spring to uncoil. When the spring uncoils, the lack of tension sends a ripple through the rest of the heart and mind.

It's disconcerting.

Being back in American culture you have a whole new perspective after having been in Afghanistan. The apparent inattention of the American public to the war, the seeming lack of support for the task, even with the apparent support for the individual, is something that requires some getting used to. It was my life for nearly a year and a half, counting the spin-up time and the deployment itself. To find it so trivialized in the daily life here is, for some reason, mildly disturbing.

I'll get over it.

I try to keep in mind that my brother, upon his return from Viet Nam, was encouraged by many to engage in physically impossible acts of self-love and was showered with dog feces at the airport in San Diego. I actually had to avoid running over people who stepped in front of me not to shower me with feces but to say, "Thank you."

Like I said, I'll get over it.

It is truly the electronic age. The mess halls on even some of the smaller FOBs had a big screen TV, with military satellite TV programming. We often watched AFN (Armed Forces Network) Europe while we ate. This was not the case at the firebase at the top of the Tagab Valley, but in many other places there was AFN.

The "commercials" on AFN consisted of such things as OPSEC* awareness commercials starring "Squeakers the Mouse," an evil, yet unnamed cat that was constantly spying on Squeakers with apparent ill will, and an occasional guest-starring hamster whom I'm not sure had a name. Other "commercials" were such things as military organizations advertising what they did for the overall war effort ("We are the Logistics Command, supplying everyone with everything everywhere") and so on.

Apple did have an iPod commercial; it warned that wearing earphones on a military base is generally against regulations, and exhorted iPod users to avoid incurring the wrath of military justice by being smart about not using their products in violation of post policies. It was done in the typical iPod crazy-dancing silhouette with white iPod wires style; and the silhouette was obviously wearing bloused combat boots, and then he was busted by a silhouette wearing an MP armband.

I thought that was pretty cool; a civilian company who paid enough attention that they would actually spend money to cater to the military market.

I've always enjoyed imaginative, humorous commercials. I used to quote the "Beggin' Strips" commercials in Afghanistan ("What is it? I can't READ!"). The amateurish Squeakers commercials were a stark contrast to the stylish commercials that even the most ridiculous of products sport here in the States. Smilin' Bob looks like a pro compared to the AV Club reject products that adorn AFN Europe.

Right now, though, the seriousness with which advertisers present their pleas for Americans to spend their money on trivial... well, there's just no other word for it but crap... it's just so glaringly obvious to me.

After having spent a year in combat, the vigor and earnestness with which such minor luxuries are touted just seems more than comical; make that nonsensical. Americans actually have the time to think about "increasing the size of that certain part of the male body" (eyes batting in amateurish seductiveness.)

Sheesh.

Now, like I said, I enjoy products being presented with humor, and production value is much appreciated after having been subjected to Squeakers scurrying past a mousetrap baited with obviously paper cheese; but commercials that pander to the obviously asinine just grate on the soul.

My sense of being a "fly on the wall" in my own culture will probably decrease with time, but right now I am a witness to the slack-jawed amazement with which others can view our trivial thrashing about.

The network news is a whole 'nother issue. The American public has never been shown the truth about what is going on in the theaters of combat. They don't even pretend to try to present a snapshot of what is really going on; yet they will, with all seriousness (bordering on somberness) present a fingernail-clipping-sized snippet of deeply disconcerting "news" about something without ever really showing the value of what is being attempted, even accomplished, by a very tiny portion of our population.

No wonder sizable chunks of the American public appear to be more than willing to vote for somebody, anybody, who promises to "bring the troops home." I can tell you one thing; if we "bring the troops home" before we can leave the two governments capable of governing their countries, then all those lives will be wasted, and we will find ourselves less secure than we have been in a very long time.

I didn't go to Afghanistan to win the war. I am not that powerful. It takes the efforts of many like me for a long period of time to do that. I saw a lot of actions/inactions that were completely counterproductive towards that end; but I also saw a lot of people performing small acts of greatness.

Keep this in mind; we are fighting a counterinsurgency in both Iraq and Afghanistan. In history, there has never been a successful counterinsurgency that has been won in less than ten years. What we are doing requires consistent effort over a period of time. This is not a sprint, it is a marathon. We are a nation of 50 meter sprinters. We need to be a nation of marathoners, a nation of patience, and a nation that views itself as a citizen of the world. That doesn't mean that the world should dictate our actions, nor does it mean that we need to seek the approval of the world.

The past year and a half have changed my viewpoint in a number of ways. None of the above means that I am anti-American. I love this country. While I am concerned about our country failing to follow through on this endeavor, thereby wasting my efforts and the lives of those who lost their lives in putting forth their efforts, I still have tremendous faith in both this country and the amazing Constitution that established our great nation. I tear up when the National Anthem is played, and I am stirred by the sight of the flag.

While I was overseas, America was the ideal. It was the paradise willingly left behind to dwell amid the hostility and mud huts and poverty and strange languages. America is an ideal that our terps aspire to. Even a lot of the Afghans that we advised dreamed of how to get here, to be allowed at this huge table of peace and plenty. To be American.

It means so much more than I can convey with words. Many have tried to express it; I don't think that anyone ever will... just little bits of it at a time.

I'm not saying that America is bad, or trivial; but we do some absolutely inane things.

The biggest fear of most of the "good" Afghans that I dealt with is this; that we will leave. What they fear is real, and it is our pattern as a nation. We get halfway through and we get bored or tired and we leave.

And then the bad guys win.


Speaking of reintegration shock, what did everyone do while I was gone that pissed off the oil companies so badly?...

*
ACM: anti-coalition militias
OPSEC: operations security

FAYEZ |

FAYEZ
Name: 1SG Troy Steward
Posting date: 7/30/08
Returned from: Afghanistan
Milblog: bouhammer.com

Last week I was online working, as I always am, and a familiar name popped up on my instant messaging client. It was my old terp and good buddy, Jawed. If you ever read the blog entries that I wrote on here back in 2006-2007 that name should sound familiar. Jawed was one of the terps that spent a lot of time downrange with me. He and I got to know each other through hours of talking in the Humvee.

It had been a while since I had heard from him so I was pleased to see his "Hey Top, are you there?" comment pop up. Of course I quickly responded and asked how he and all the terps were doing. He told me he was fine, and was just coming back from a three-week mission, so that is why I had not heard from him in a while.

He then proceeded to tell me that another of my terps, who I also spent many hours with talking both in the FOB and downrange, had been killed. He told me that Fayez had been killed about two weeks earlier in an ambush.

Ironically, Fayez was the terp in a truck with three National Guard soldiers that was ambushed a couple of weeks ago. Two of the soldiers were from my brigade in New York. I was very sad to hear that my youngest terp, Fayez, who was only about 20-21 years old, was killed in that attack.

Framed_steward_fayez_2 However I was pissed off and angry to hear how he died. Jawed told me that Fayez had survived the initial IED blast and even the subsequent small arms ambush. At some point I assume that all three soldiers had been killed and this (for some reason I don't know) allowed the enemy fighters to make it all the way to the Humvee.

I had seen news reports of the enemy fighters holding up an U.S. issued M4 rifle the day after the attack, but was not sure it was legitimately from that attack. Well I guess it was true, because Jawed told me that the enemy fighters got to the truck, pulled Fayez from the truck and executed him right there in the road. That is what really pisses me off, to think that the last thing he saw was these a**holes standing over him.

He was just a boy to me, but he was a patriot, he helped support many Americans (not just me), and he was truly trying to do something good for his country, and there are not many of those over there.

Jawed and I chatted a little bit more. He was very sorry that he had to tell me that, but I thanked him for being the bearer of bad news. I told him to let all the terps know my whole team is constantly thinking of them and praying for their safety too. I miss chatting, BSing and joking around with all of my terps. I would sit for hours in a humvee or in meetings with the ANA and constantly joke with these guys. We ate together, we joked and we shared a lot of information about our cultures.

I had emailed with Fayez regularly since I came back from Afghanistan and I was glad to see I saved many of those emails. I won't ever get any more from him, but I will cherish the ones I got, in addition to the photos I have of him.

I am so sorry, Fayez, that you died the way that you did. You will be truly missed, not only by your Afghan family and friends, but also by your American brothers-in-arms. May Allah bring you in as a true martyr for your faith. You more than deserve it.

WHY WE ARE HERE |

July 28, 2008

WHY WE ARE HERE
Name: MSGT Ken Mahoy
Posting date: 7/28/08
Stationed in: Afghanistan
Milblog: Third Time's A Charm

Framed_mahoy_why_1_2 There was nothing I wanted to do more than somehow be involved again in a humanitarian effort here in Afghanistan. I had been involved some with TAO Project and was able to participate in a humanitarian program locally here in Kabul.
And having been part of such programs in past deployments I was excited to get to do it again, if time allowed. Things have been so hectic throughout this deployment that I began to wonder if I was going to miss my opportunity, but finally a few days ago I was able to get approval from my commander to travel with a local group and hand out humanitarian goods to a Koocha Camp on the outskirts of Kabul.

Framed_mahoy_why_2_4 A Koocha Camp is comprised mainly of refugees, or desert nomads, who have migrated to the city to find work and earn a living for their family. The families are former desert dwellers, shepherds, migrants, and a variety of other backgrounds. They usually converge onto a small, unclaimed, and substandard (even by Afghan standards) area to try to make a life for themselves and their families.

The camp we traveled to was no different, and was set upon the side of a steep hill. Everyone was living in ceiling-less mud huts, or bombed out shelters that barely protected them from the harsh elements outside. Many of the walls were constructed of sewn-together burlap sacks to cover the portions  that were lying in rubble on the ground nearby. Raw sewage trickled down in a centrally located stream down a narrow walk-way and eventually ended up on the road down below. It reeked.

As soon as we pulled up, we circled the vehicles as best we could in chuck wagon fashion, allowing a protective cover and a quick exit should things get out of hand. We were here, and the refugee camp was more than ready for us.

Framed_mahoy_why_3_3 As soon as the vehicles stopped, a large crowd gathered around, barely allowing us enough room to squeeze out. Some quickly tried to draw the crowd toward an open area nearby, as our Force Protection team took their positions to set up perimeter security.The logistics of the trip were done. Now we were ready.

The first thing I remember was all the kids running up to each and every one of us, as if taking bets on who had the goods. Was it me? Was it Roger?... Charlie?... Gary?... Charlie and Roger had never had the privilege of helping on a humanitarian mission such as this before, so the initial shock of 20 or so kids hanging off of them with every step was evident on their faces. As for me, I welcomed it and recalled the previous humanitarian missions I’d been on in past deployments. These kids just wanted some attention and whatever we could give them.

Since the humanitarian items were not yet unloaded, I took the crowd of kids I had with me and began to clap hands and play with them. Soon, I began a countdown. "3….2….1….. TAG!" and I would take off running. They quickly understood and soon took chase. They loved it. I would run. They would catch me. Then we‘d count down again.

Framed_mahoy_why_4 Pretty soon, they were picking up on the English-spoken countdown, and they‘d repeat after me, "Tr-r-r-ree… toooo…. Waaan!! TAG!!!" and off I’d go again. It wasn’t long before running with 50 lbs of armor, weapon and gear wore heavily on me in the 90+ degree heat, so I took refuge in the shade of a nearby mud wall and sat down, and began to play another game with them -- thumb wrestling.Framed_mahoy_why_6

The 8-10 year old boys of the tribe loved this game. They’re no different than most boys that age -- very competitive and very impatient. To those inquiring faces who knew no English I explained as best I could, in "motions", how thumb-wrestling was supposed work. I demonstrated to each one "the grasp", then I held each child’s thumb with my other hand to show the 3-2-1 countdown before the wrestling begins.

It was funny to watch this, as some did not understand the alternating thumbs during the 3-2-1 countdown, and immediately wanted to begin wrestling without waiting. Consequently, because of the jump start they got, the kids watching thought the boy or girl had won and they’d all cheer for them. Most times, I let them win anyway. I’d put up a good struggle, grimace and groan, act like I was juuuuuust about to best them, and then with a final grunt, they’d win.Framed_mahoy_why_7

Others in our group were organizing games with the kids. A couple females with our group formed a circle with the kids and played Ring Around The Rosie, London Bridges, and Duck Duck Goose. What a magnificent sight to see those kids twirling around in that big circle; the smiles on their faces, and utter joy when they’d catch the person they were chasing.

Framed_mahoy_why_8_2 I’d be remiss if I didn’t make mention of a small group from New Knoxville, Ohio, who adopted me as their point of contact for sending donations for these kids. They had sent me a few hundred beanie babies, knitted items (from their "Busy Needles" group), and other humanitarian supplies. Most of those items were sorted and packaged into Ziploc bags for distribution to the families on this trip, but I held back a few to hand out personally.

I have to send out a huge thank you to Norma (that's her packing boxes) and her crew from "Operation New Knoxville Cares" for having the faith to trust this tired soldier with their many donations. The tireless effort of the congregation of the First United Church of Christ did not go unappreciated nor was it wasted. To Norma: I am humbled by your enthusiasm and by your faith. You have strengthened my faith that good people do exist in this world, and you have also touched the lives of hundreds of impoverished Afghan children. Bless you.

Framed_mahoy_why_10 At the Koocha Camp, each child was so cute and loving in their own way. Some were quiet and composed, others were boisterous and proud, but every one of them touched my heart in some way. One little girl just loved the camera and kept coming up to me and the guys and motioning with her hands held close to her face the "picture click", so we could take her picture. Lots of preteen boys would stand arm in arm, looking tough, wanting me to take their "tough guy" photo.

Framed_mahoy_why_11_2 Others just seemed to want "me" and whatever I could offer them -- love, attention, fun, stuff. There were so many I wished I could’ve taken home with me and adopted. My heart ached for some of them; a six-year-old girl holding her baby sister in her arms; others with faces weathered beyond their years and chapped lips -- each of whom I’m sure had their own heartbreaking stories to tell. But through all the dirty, malnourished faces, the tattered clothes, and growling stomachs, they were still just kids, and they wanted someone to play with them, like kids do. So I did.

In the end, lives were changed, hearts were touched (theirs and mine), and the world made sense again. After three tours to the Middle East -- being torn away from family, witnessing unspeakable sights, and even becoming jaded occasionally about our presence here -- it is always humbling to be a part of something like this, something bigger than yourself, and get that proverbial slap in the face that says, "Wake up! You are doing some good here!" It’s days like this that remind us why we are here.

Framed_mahoy_why_14


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Framed_mahoy_why_15_2



THE MONSTER |

July 25, 2008

THE MONSTER
Name: RN Clara Hart
Posting date: 7/25/08
Stationed in: a civilian military hospital in the U.S.
Milblog url: www.mcneillysperspective.blogspot.com
Email: clarahart2@yahoo.com

“No, No, NO!" The words were wrung from my mouth as I read the caption on the front page of Sunday’s editorial section. “NO!” I sadly shook my head and collapsed onto the chair.

It was an article was about Joseph Dwyer. An Army medic doing his job helping a wounded Iraqi child, he had caught the attention of an embedded journalist, whose photo of a mundane but heroic moment was flashed around the world and shown in innumerable places. It was the beginning of OIF in 2003, and for Joseph Dwyer it was also the start of his own personal war with PTSD. He ended that battle recently when he died of a substance abuse overdose. He was 31 years old.

Framed_hart_dwyer2 I do not know Joseph Dwyer, nor have I ever met him. However I have taken care of hundreds if not thousands like him. Soldiers, Marines, Airmen and Sailors, all battling PTSD.

In one of the comments left under my previous post, which also dealt with PTSD, someone stated, “Your posts shine an intense light onto a growing monster lurking in the basement of this war.”  It’s so tragically, horrifically true. Almost every single patient I care for has some form of PTSD. And these are the lucky ones. Since they are hospitalized and mostly bed-bound when I start my impromptu “PTSD education brief”, I have a captive audience.  But there are thousands coming back from this war without resources, without education and without the knowledge and skills to defend themselves against the monster known as PTSD. A monster it is, and it grows bigger and more deadly with each passing day.

The way to defeat it is to understand it. To realize it’s okay that you have it. You were placed in situations where you saw things and experienced things you would not have if you were not in the arena of war.

The way to defeat it is with education. Education about what it is, what the signs and symptoms are and where to go for treatment, because make no mistake; PTSD is a disease. It is a lifelong disease that goes in and out of remission. It can be extremely well controlled with the right treatment, but is devastatingly deadly if not.

When people learn I work with the wounded, they all want to know what they can do and how they can help. It is time to also think about the ones who come back home physically intact, but are nonetheless wounded and disabled from the battlefield. It is time to realize there are thousands now back on American soil who are still fighting OIF/OEF in their minds, and we need to help them. How many more Joseph Dwyer’s will we allow to die before we do something about it?

If PTSD were a contagious disease would we let it ravage our countrymen without a public outcry?  How long would we let it kill thousands of men and women before the media began warning and educating people about its signs and symptoms, and spreading the word about where to go for treatment? If PTSD were a contagious disease how long would we wait before pouring money into research and treatment?

How long will we be content to let the monster known as PTSD take our American Heroes?

Here are some helpful links:

Department of Veterans Affairs: National Center for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder 

VetTrauma.org: A Readjustment Resource for Military and Civilian Combat Zone Veterans

Reserve Component Resource Center


And I recommend these books by Bridget Cantrell and Chuck Dean:

Down Range; To Iraq and Back

 

Once A Warrior; Wired for Life 

KABOOM |

July 24, 2008

KABOOM
Name: SANDBOX DUTY OFFICER David Stanford
Posting date: 7/24/08

Framed_lt_g_2 A few weeks back, frequent Sandbox contributor LT G was ordered to stop posting on his milblog Kaboom: A Soldier's War Journal, as his final post there explains. More detail is provided by this story, which appeared today in the Style section of the Washington Post.

At the time he was shut down it seemed prudent not to draw more attention to LT G's situation, in the hope that he would be allowed to resume posting. That has not yet happened, and City Girl, to whom he recently became engaged, has taken charge of the site, providing updates on The Gravediggers as they begin the second half of their deployment. Among her first posts was one indicating that, were he still online, LT G would now be using the nom de blog CPT G.

So here's a Sandbox salute, thank you, and congratulations to an excellent and much-appreciated writer and his beloved. We wish you many happy years and many good words ahead.

FLINTSTONE VILLAGE |

July 23, 2008

FLINTSTONE VILLAGE
Name: James Aalan Bernsen
Posting date: 7/23/08
Stationed in: Iraq
Hometown: Austin, TX
Milblog url: http://aalan94.blogspot.com/

Framed_bernsen_flintstone_1

Saddam Hussein was a sick, evil bastard, but there's no reason that sick, evil bastards can't love their grandkids too. Hitler loved children, or at least that's what the propaganda photos always showed -- Hitler shaking hands with little German girls in dirndls and starting a "youth club" for the little boys. How charming.

Hitler's bizarre mountaintop retreat at Obersaltzburg was kind of an adult fantasy land, complete with strange pagan and medieval imagery and castle-like construction. Perhaps the builders took an idea from the not too distant Neuschwanstein Castle, Mad King Ludwig of Bavaria's astounding fairy-tale fortress which became the inspiration for Disneyland.

Framed_bernsen_flintstone_2_4 It finally occurred to me that that's what this whole palace complex where I live is: a fantasy get-away place for the old Iraqi elites. And like Hitler's cronies, who built a mountaintop dreamland (for a guy who was notoriously afraid of heights), Saddam's cronies built palace after palace to glorify their leader and his triumphs, real or imaginary.

But Saddam didn't want to live the big life all by himself, and built palaces for his sons and his friends. He had grandchildren too: precocious little tykes who liked cartoons, sports and games.

He must have thought them charming, suspended in that little naive world of youth -- you know, that time before they grow up to run rape rooms and torture cells just like daddy and grandpa.

And one thing that these kids really, really liked was "The Flintstones." That's right, the 1990s spinoff movie of the classic 1960s cartoon. These kids must have devoured the show, because one year, for their birthday or something (it probably wasn't Christmas) Grandpa Saddam told his architects to take time off from building some of his numerous palaces and had them build something entirely different -- a perfect replica Flintstone Village.

Framed_bernsen_flintstone_3

And so the architects of the tyrant turned away from their marble columns, monumental arches and intricate mosaics and turned to something totally new. It was like no government-built building in the entire country: It did not feature either the image or the wise sayings of Saddam Hussein. What? A building in Iraq without Hussein's face or name stamped all over it? Blasphemy!

Framed_bernsen_flintstone_4

The replica building they designed is complete with fanciful cave-like dwellings, odd-shaped windows and terrifying precipices that any normal parent would never conceive of incorporating into what was to become a child's playground.

One can almost imagine the wonder and joy of the children when they first saw their new fantasy land. I could just hear them shrieking and yelling as they bounded up the stairs.

Framed_bernsen_flintstone_5

The building is not just eccentric on the outside, it features tons of little caves and maze-like walkways, as well as funny little playrooms:

Framed_bernsen_flintstone_6


Framed_bernsen_flintstone_70

It must have been quite the playground back in the day, but after four years of neglect it's a shell of its former glory. Years of soldiers, contractors and others passing through have left their marks, in ubiquitous graffiti. A touch of Disneyland meets a touch of the Berlin Wall.

Framed_bernsen_flintstone_9_2

The graffiti shows the wide diversity of people who have passed through. Americans from just about every state;Texans, Californians, and some very proud patriotic Hawaiians who took the time to sketch their unique flag. Certainly a few proud Marylanders must have come through, but they didn't bother trying to do their complex, gaudy flag.

Framed_bernsen_flintstone_10

Australians are well-represented, as are troops from El Salvador and other coalition countries. Indians, Pakastanis, Fillipinos and other contractors have all come by to tag this place.

As someone who is averse to graffiti on principle, I nonetheless make exception for symbols of oppression, be they in Baghdad or Berlin. Seeing good ol' American obscenities painted all over this place actually warms me up inside.

Framed_bernsen_flintstone_11

It is impressive on its face, but like many places around here, the construction is rather shoddy. In the palace where I work, the beautiful marble is a fake facade. Once the marble panels -- about half an inch thick -- are removed, the concrete beneath is appallingly-poorly made. In fact, it's not really concrete, but more like adobe. While I'm sure the structural beams are stoutly-built with re-bar, elsewhere the only support in this cheap concrete is some kind of chicken wire.

Framed_bernsen_flintstone_12

The Flintstone Village is no different. Walking along the walkways here, you see dozens of places where the fake walls have simply caved in, leaving gaping holes you could easily step into and fall through.

And when I say fall through, we're not talking a little drop to Pebbles' playroom below. How about a 40-foot drop through iron girders and concrete supports to the rancid lake muck? Perhaps we could have disposed of Saddam quicker by simply exporting to him our legal system and then unleashing the tort attorneys.

Framed_bernsen_flintstone_13


Framed_bernsen_flintstone_14

In other places, whole sections of the wall have fallen through, as if the Flintstones' pet tyrannosaur had come through, smashing and stomping in full Godzilla roid-rage style.

Framed_bernsen_flintstone_15

Perhaps this is what happens when Fred doesn't give you your Dino crack.

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One only wonders how much damage is a result of the Occupation, or perhaps soldiers knocking chunks of the plaster off for souvenirs. But the advanced deterioration of this less-than-a-decade-old structure is really just par for the course for Saddam Hussein's Iraq. Everywhere I turn, I see this ostensibly opulent facade is really just rotted through underneath. A kind of Costco version of Versailles.

Right across the lake from this faux Americana is, ironically, Saddam Hussein's unfinished megalomaniacal masterpiece, the "Victory over America" Palace. Like the builder of Versailles, Saddam Hussein lived in a dream world of his own overblown importance. "L'Etat est moi," he seemed to be saying. If you can't beat 'em, build a palace and claim you did anyway.

In the end, Saddam's dementia offered nothing to his country but disaster and gaudy monuments to ego. And years on, that's all that's left. He thought he was a new sun king, but ended up little more than a half-baked Ozymandias.

Framed_bernsen_flintstone_17

Perhaps the final statement on Saddam Hussein's Iraq can be summed up with this image. Standing and surveying the wrecked America palace is Staff Sgt. Billy, an Oklahoman on his third tour in Iraq. Sgt. Billy's a simple guy -- a hard-working American Indian who does his job and never complains. Humble and good-hearted, he's the antithesis of the egoism reflected in the design of the palace before him. Saddam Hussein thought of himself as one of the greatest conquerors and historic figures of all time, but in the end, he was toppled not by generals or presidents or even high technology.

Saddam Hussein was toppled by an army of Sgt. Billys.

THE SLUMP |

July 21, 2008

THE SLUMP
Name: Sean Dustman
Posting date: 7/21/08
Stationed in: Iraq
Milblog url: Doc in the Box

I’ve hit the slump of the deployment, along with many of the Marines and Sailors that I work with. The only difference is that this is the first time the slump has shut down my writing cold. I'll put an idea on paper and try to expand on it and will end up having monosyllablic conversations with myself. As painful as it is to have a conversation with one of those people, it’s worse to read it.

Back in 2004 and 2005 I did a two-blog post called Twilight of the Deployment (here are take one and take two). I can’t really improve on either of them with this writer's block filling up my head.

The Dear Johns or Dear Janes have started trickling in. Recipients are shocked and can’t believe it’s happening to them. It’s that season of the deployment, between the middle and right before we get home. I’ve been here before, and most of the Staff NCOs I work with are on their second or third marriage. It’s the junior guys that worry me. Right now is where relationships crumble. One party realizes that they really don’t like being alone, or that their significant other isn’t "The One”, or meets someone special who isn’t far away, and doesn't know how to break it off with someone on the other side of the world, and waits till right before they get home.

I see these stories every single day. As a leader or a healer, you have to help people make something constructive out of the crap that life took on them. For an air unit like mine, it’s not the suicide bombers or the mortars that cause most of us to toss and turn at night or think it’s not worth it anymore. It’s the worry about the person we expected to spend the rest of our life with on the other side of the world. The military is tough on family life any way you look at it, and there isn’t a cookie cutter solution that can fix all of the problems.

For me, this trip, I’m just soul weary tired. Four deployments out here is beginning to add up, and it’s tough to keep that cheery grin on my face or to find the words to put down on paper. The last year was a bit rough on my psyche and I haven’t a chance to patch all of the holes. It all adds up in the end.

I do write when I’m depressed. That’s not exactly what I’m feeling right now. It's just sense of numbness in my brain. I’m trying to talk some of them out of their pain. The heartache I’m feeling isn’t for me, it’s for the people whom I work with and care about. It sucks not having an answer to such big questions when people are so desperate. My head feels like I’ve stretched something too far and it broke away.

Speaking of away -- while I've been away from the keyboard I did get a chance to read everything by an author named Jim Butcher. Lack of sleep probably added to my writers block. I couldn’t stop reading. Seriously, he’s good.

GENERATION KILL |

July 18, 2008

GENERATION KILL
Name: Army Girl
Posting date: 7/18/08
Returned from: Afghanistan
Milblog url: desertphoenix.blogspot.com

This evening I attended a Campus Progress special screening of HBO's contribution to the wars of our time: Generation Kill. The miniseries is based on the same-titled book written by Evan Wright, one of the first embedded reporters to cover the war in Iraq, before the military and the Pentagon knew what to do with reporters.

Gracing an audience of college students and other interlopers was producer and co-writer David Simon (Ed Burns was unable to attend), former United States Marine Staff Sergeant Eric Kocher, and Evan Wright.

Going into the screening, I knew that I had little to really compare with the story of those marines. 1) I'm an Army soldier; 2) I am a woman; 3) I've never been to Iraq. But I had little time to think about much else. From the moment the dialogue started, I was sucked in.

The episode accomplished many things with me. I noticed everything, from the fast-paced, non-stop, raunchy back-and-forth between the characters, to the use of the word "homo-erotic" (which brought back a memory of the time infantry grunts enlightened me to the definition), to the seamless construction of dynamic characters and true-to-life conflicts of personalities. It's all there, and so much more. You even get a minuscule glimpse of the desensitizing that goes on in combat as the camera forces you to view civilian bodies lining the roadside and the blood of fellow comrades painting the windows of burned-out, blown-up armored vehicles.

With the characters, the viewer gets one step closer to having a clue than any American does who hasn't served or heard first-hand the accounts of those who do.

I thought that the one-liners were awesome. Interestingly, some of the authentic dialogue from combat made it not only into the book but to the filming. How do I know? Because there are things they say and do that only someone who has been deployed or spent time with a bunch of grunts would know. There were times I wanted to laugh out loud, and many times I did, but I would look around and no one else was laughing -- except the others who were service members or worked with service members. I would say that it was those "you-had-to-be-there" moments in the movie that I loved the most. Like when one of the characters goes on about how having some "(insert vulgar reference to a woman's genitalia here)" would make the people in that country happier.  I HAD to laugh --  because I've heard it a few times before almost verbatim.

Additionally, when the ineffective officer clearly doesn't have the respect or the trust of his marines, it brought back memories of moments where I've witnessed very similar scenes unfold in real time, in the real war. And I've seen the damage it can do to unit and team cohesion, to the safety of soldiers and to missions.

My only issues are petty ones, and I think a critique based on petty points is a testament to the success of the author's mission. There's no way Hollywood can portray a tour in seven episodes on TV, but overall, in my humble POG opinion, Generation Kill does a pretty damn good job of it.

All in all the screening was a success. But the questions by the audience? I'm truly. Very. Sad. I can't believe how far removed some people are from what's going on -- from the issues, from our military communities. There was a lot of back and forth about the draft even after a couple of attempts to move on from that subject.

It bugs me that there was so much concern over the draft issue when we're nowhere near invoking a draft (getting  rid of "Don't ask, don't tell" is a bit more likely to happen). The lady sitting behind me kept saying matter-of-factly, "The draft is going to happen." After a while, I could hardly take it anymore. I commented to a fellow veteran that those people seemed so concerned about it because it would mean that they'd have to actually serve their country (by being a soldier/going to war).

They don't actually care about what a draft would do to the military, to volunteer soldiers, or the war. They just want to know if there is even a remote chance that they might have to leave their cushy lives to go to dirty, nasty places like what they just saw on the big screen to do unfathomable things like kill bad guys and see dead bodies and wounded people. They didn't care or ask questions about the movie, about the characters in the movie that were based on real marines, what it took to get the story from Iraq, to the pages of a published book, to the big screen (which is a bit more relevant line of questioning for an author and a producer, don't ya think?). They just wanted to know if these non-military people thought that THEY might have to one day face the call from their country, to serve.

Despite not being a soldier, David Simon was spot-on in my opinion. We don't want draftees in our wars. We don't want anyone that doesn't want to be a soldier. I don't need you in my convoy, on my mission or even as my bunkmate. I don't want to eat with you, talk to you or even shit with you while I'm deployed.

Soldiers do enough complaining when they knew what they were getting into and volunteered. Imagine the morale bashing a draftee would bring. No. Thank. You. We're not that desperate and we won't be for quite some time. We don't want you any more than you want to stand with us in the ranks.

'Nough said.

For those whose stories this book/series tells, thank you. For the man that took the time to put it to paper, thank you. For the men who brought it to life for those who care enough to watch it, thank you. You've all truly been a part of something bigger than yourselves. And for that, you have my unsolicited respect.

MEETINGS |

July 16, 2008

MEETINGS
Name: Adrian B.
Posting date: 7/16/08
Stationed in: Afghanistan
Milblog: The Satirist at War

The inspiration for this post comes from several discussions I’ve had over the past ten days; some with co-workers, some with friends. The subject of these conversations -- verbal, written, and in some cases play-acted -- has been meetings. As redeployment is just around the corner, and I am an Executive Officer (responsible in garrison for the most boring, frustrating part of a Company’s life: coordination), I’ve been logging no less than four meetings a day for over a week.

War is hell.

The importance of meetings, and the extent to which they are detested, can be seen in the large number of ways there are to say “meeting” in Army-speak. You have:

Meeting — A meeting.

Huddle — A small meeting of those chiefly responsible for a mess that needs cleaning up.

Pre-huddle — A small meeting prior to the actual meeting.

Synch — A meeting.

Azimuth Check / Map Check — A meeting to make sure everyone’s “on the same page” or “tracking.”

Breakout Session — A small meeting after a bigger meeting, consisting of a few key personnel.

Sidebar — A small internal meeting during the actual meeting, usually conducted "offline." Often includes unkind remarks about the meeting's moderator.

AAR or “After Action Review” —  An official meeting the purpose of which is to identify what went right/wrong with a mission or Operation. Usually a waste of everyone’s time.

Hotwash — A meeting the purpose of which is to identify what went right/wrong with a mission or Operation. Less formal than an AAR. Generally identifies what actually went wrong.

Sit-down — A meeting.

Pow-wow — A meeting.

Skull Session — Where the “heads” get together to plan “the movement piece.” Typically involves chalkboard / colored chalk or dry-erase board with minimum two colored dry erase markers.

IPR or “Interim Progress Review” — A meeting to gauge progress on a particular project.

In attempting to catalogue the different types of meetings, I’ve thrown out some terms that people may not be familiar with in their Army usage. Here are their definitions:

on the same page — an expression that designates comprehension
tracking — same as above
offline — not during a meeting, or whispered during a meeting
heads — leadership
the movement piece — the fun part of the plan
nug it out — to figure out a problem

Meetings...Lord. I’m typing this up between meetings. Sometimes a day is so thick with meetings, I'll roll through three or four, get into a fifth, and be asked what the progress was on the item asked about in the first; of course, as I've been in meetings since the issue was identified, the progress will be: “none.”

If I’m forgetting anything, let me know.

FORTY |

July 14, 2008

FORTY
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.

BURNING SENSATIONS |

July 09, 2008

BURNING SENSATIONS
Name: Alex Horton
Posting date: 7/9/08
Returned from: Iraq
Milblog: Army of Dude

I was kind of lucky going on leave when I did. We arrived in Diyala Province just ten days before my scheduled day to go. My friend Steve and I decided to go to Europe together, and we were the very last in the platoon for a much needed break. Everybody knew it, too, and if you were ever in the military, you know that anything that could be made of, will be made fun of. My leave date was no different.

"Hey dude, when you going on leave, two weeks before we go home?" Some would ask.

"It must suuuuck not to go on leave yet," said others, regaling me with stories of their two weeks at home that came months prior.

I gave them all a quick fuck you and playfully told them I wished they would have twice the work to do while I was gone. Sadly, that came true.

In the near month I was gone, my company saw some of the most intense fighting of our deployment. Firefights became more routine than patrols, and for the first 45 days of operations in Baqubah, 40 of them were spent outside the wire, sleeping in abandoned Iraqi houses as the summer slowly crept on.

By the time I got back, my former team leader was killed and my squad leader was shot in the arm by a sniper. I had missed a lot, but was a bit anxious to be back in the mix. There was no point in looking forward to home. When I left for Europe, it was only two months away. When I came back, it was five.

I wasn't placed gently back into missions but thrown violently into a new phase of our deployment. Before my departure, it was standard operating procedure to call EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) any time we found a cache or an IED. We didn't find many in Baghdad, but they kept popping up in Baqubah. Imagine a road where every few yards, a bomb buried deep in the ground was waiting for you like a starving predator waiting for the next meal.

It was too much for the EOD guys to handle, bless 'em. They were overloaded, and that meant that blowin' up stuff was going to be a new addition to our endless list of side jobs.

I was stunned the first time Matt uncovered an IED wire, picked it up and followed it to a HUGE FUCKING BOMB in the middle of the road. It eviscerated every rule I knew about IEDs, which all amounted to "don't go near them." It was all too routine for Matt and others in my company to simply find the bomb, mark it and wait for EOD to come.

Framed_horton_burning_1_3

You just follow that wire. I'll be back here.



Framed_horton_burning_2

The culprit: Underneath our metal can marker.

We left some guys to watch it and continued on our patrol. We got word later that EOD had placed charges on it, so it would be in our best interest to take cover.

On our way back to COP Battle I, we passed by the crater the blast had left. We had to run by it, actually. To our left was a huge open field with scattered palm trees -- a perfect hideout for snipers. Everyone was running in pairs past the hole, except Bill. Bill wanted me to take his picture inside of it. Matt decided to join him. I accepted the invitation to take the picture as my fellow platoon mates sprinted ahead of me.

Framed_horton_burning_3jpg

It took me awhile to wrap my head around that. Before, we didn't go near IEDs. Now we were walking directly to them to give it a once-over. Let the EOD team know: Hey, you got some land mines taped to a can of gasoline. Good luck.

Pretty soon after that, we were finding so much bullshit that we could take things a step beyond and blow stuff ourselves. A couple of guys carried C4, detonation cord and all the other goodies necessary for homemade boom.

Dozer was always finding caches, like it was a sixth sense. In one particular courtyard, he uncovered a buried water tank filled with RPGs, launchers and machine gun ammo. In other words, a lot of shit.

Framed_horton_burning_4

If you spend enough time on the ground in Iraq, you're bound to come across a screaming, hysterical woman that will cry and yell right in your face before she slaps herself over and over. It's one of those things that transcend culture and human dignity; women striking themselves in fits of rage.

I caught one of those moments from across the street. I was standing in the courtyard with a bunch o' weapons while the people in the houses near us were told to leave while we destroyed the cache, for their safety.

Framed_horton_burning_5

Obviously, the lady in the blue wasn't going to go quietly, but we managed to get her family to take her away to a neighbor's house.

The guy who laid the charges on the cache let us know it was going to be, for the lack of a better term, a big one. We moved several blocks, took off our helmets, and waited.

One minute.

Thirty seconds.

Burning.



For the truly impatient, go to 1:00.

The explosion threw so much shit into the air that I heard chunks of concrete falling near us, several blocks away. The house that contained the cache was completely destroyed, as was the house next to it.

Framed_horton_burning_6

Winning hearts and minds.

The force of the blast was great enough to destroy the courtyard gate across the street and start a small fire on the roof.

Framed_horton_burning_7_3  

The oozing septic pond next to the house was thrown all over the neighborhood as bricks from the house were strewn about.

I learned quite a bit in my first week back in the game. It was okay to approach a massive IED like an injured bunny and place other bombs on top of it. It was okay to tug on its wires and hack at it with a crowbar to get a better look. It was at one time profane, but eventually it became nothing more than ordinary.

BACK TO WAR |

July 07, 2008

BACK TO WAR
Name: Mike T.
Posting date: 7/7/08
Stationed in: Afghanistan
Milblog: c/o bouhammer.com

So we sit, in the middle of New Jersey.

I listen to everything that happens around me.

I have Dead Kennedys and One Republic, Cicero.

I have something in my life.

There’s something in combat that you lose.

You look at the flowers, the literature. You look at your life.

There are things that you see that no one else can find.

You grow old, you grow tired. You find happiness. You call in an air strike.

You watch as somebody grows upon you. You just wanted her to know how you felt.

You’re tired of feeling like some used up bag of war. I am ready to stop and come home.

I get tired of telling her that she’s nothing but beautiful.

But you’re old, you’re tired, you’re beat up.

Yet you don’t remember what it was like not to drink a bottle of vodka and make excuses for your country.

You sit there and just say I’m sorry. How do you sit there and say I drank too much and believed too much? Because that’s what I did.

How do you sit there and say this shouldn’t have happened, but I did them? Part of my life that I can’t explain.

That’s it.

That’s what you’ve got. I’m sorry I blew up this village or shot down these people. It is what it is, right?

You come home on a C-130 to nothing.

To you, to this imaginary life. To a woman who loves me to no end.

I have music and I have art.

Everything stops when I get off that aircraft. And here I am, still missing everything. It’s never fair though.

It’s not fair to say what we want to say and do what we want to do because it just never is.

Last night I got to hang out with good friends, and tonight here I am, ready to argue again. If I have to do this, then they’re the ones missing out.

Sometimes I wonder if I gave up everything. I’m so pissed off. Find war is such a simple matter.

I’m not sure it’s that anymore. But what about my beach? My Ocean Grove? Having wine with my future wife?

What about the things that I care about?

What about the things that I gave up?

What happened to the things that I cared about?

What about the drafting table, Osaka, Piancone's?

Where is my rose that I left so long ago?

I sit here and sometimes wonder those things because I have a house and I have a family.

I have shot and killed, and the worst part is that my family thinks I’m a drunk. They think I’m a failure.

Sometimes I think if my new family thinks that too?

What do you do? How do you suffer? I’ve seen life. I’ve tasted art. Will we find our own way? I just don’t know how to do it anymore.

I’m tired.

So I write this, I sit here on my living room floor, my future wife typing as my German Shepherd sits with us.

But I can’t explain shit. Here I am, tired, worn down, beaten down. But I love my country. I love my ocean.

How do you explain what you have given up for 11 years?

How do you explain what you’ve given up for everyone else for 11 years.

I miss the times, I miss the art. I miss the humming in my life.

I’m tired of people shooting at me. That’s what it is.

I get to sit on my floor, drinking a beer.

I’ve got 48 hours left until I go back and I’ve got no excuses.

But I have rosemary wine, I have salty wind.

These are the things that people dream of. I have books that people imagine having.

And I have a fiancée that no matter what, I will jump out of a helicopter for. I will do anything for her because I can’t do anything about the war. So it's back to war then back to my real job.

A LETTER TO THE REPUBLIC |

July 02, 2008

A LETTER TO THE REPUBLIC
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?


A LETTER TO THE REPUBLIC FOR WHICH WE STAND

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 Image.com. 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.

THE BLACK BUNNY OF DOOM |

THE BLACK BUNNY OF DOOM
Name: Sean Dustman
Posting date: 7/2/08
Stationed in: Iraq
Milblog: Doc in the Box

Going to war has always been a somewhat mythical experience. Legends often rise up, and just as many are dashed to the ground. One tale I've heard over the last couple years is of a black bunny who comes out at dusk and goes up to strangers and allows them to pet him. Yeah, right. In the middle of war zone, with some sort of howling beasts living in the waddee a couple hundred feet away. And face it, I know that there are some very unfriendly military folk out here as well. This has to be one of those urban myths that they use on the new guys fresh off the plane. I'm not about to fall for it.

Framed_docinbox_black_bunny Well, I was walking home the other night, the light was at my back, and a black blur came up on my left. I froze and looked, and along came a little black bunny. He hopped right up to me as friendly as can be and put his head on my foot, and my hand, without asking my brain for permission, reached down and started scratching him behind his ears like it was the most normal thing in the world.

I sat there dumbstruck, as the light drained from the day, and continued petting him. What do I do now? Who's going to believe me?

Oh yeah! Me being me, I had my trusty camera in my pocket, and so I am able to prove to the non-believers that indeed, there is a friendly black bunny that comes out to be petted in the twilight. I gave him a granola bar from my pocket. It's not often you get to prove a legend on film.


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