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 21, 2008

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.


You hit the nail on the head as to why so many good folks leave the military to pursue civilian life. Life is all about priorities, and when you have a volunteer military, people who have their priorities straight (IE family) will eventually see the light and leave. The guilt you feel for having volunteered to put your spouse through hell is hard to deal with. Eventually if you ignore it long enough the spouse leaves.

Your story stood out for me. I use to write, I loved it but after I joined the service, deployed to Iraq things change. I couldn't pick up a pen and paper and write as I once did. I didn't realize myself until I was out of the service. Two-tours and a title that will be with the rest of my life, (OIF Vet). Is it good or bad? Don't really know, times I rather just be.

I pray that you get back in the swing of writting again, lord knows I'm beginning to write again. It has been a slow process but I continue to embark on it.

Thank you because now I know that it's not just me.

Hey -- I wish my mom (age 90) could speak with some of the people of this generation. She met my dad just before he deployed with the Marines to the pacific during WWII -- he was gone for 3 years -and they only had snail mail at that time to communicate. She waited for him the whole time -- then they had a long and wonderful marriage when he returned. Now he awaits for her on the other side of life! I wish I could send some healing to you and your men/women soldires who have had the dear JOHN letters. That really stinks. I will keep you all in my prayers -- and I thank you for your service. God bless.

Four deployments!!? Holy crap. So you feel tired and stretched...It seems to me that what you've written is very good anyway. I hope you get out of there, get home, and sleep for a month. Good luck!

Jim Butcher does well in our library, once we found him I loaded up. I keep wanting to say that it is lack of commitment, responsibility and love that causes all the relationships to crumble - but maybe calling them relationships is the first step to their destruction?

My first assignment in the mid 80s was a remote. Dear Johns were as common then as now. We used to take them and post them on the unit bulletin board, so everyone could add a comment, correct the grammer, etc, then after about two weeks you mailed them back to the person that sent it. It was a pretty effective way to help the sting, you didnt slam your soon to be ex-spouse, all your friends and co-workers did. I know I laughed out load when I dropped my "return-to-sender" Dear John letter in the mail box.

Hey Sean, hang in there! I'm sure hearing from a bunch of strangers doesn't do much for you, but we're thinking of you all the same!

As far as Jim Butcher- he is a really fun writer and if you like his books, the Sci-Fi channel made some episodes out of them. I'm not sure if the series is continuing, but the ones I saw were pretty good- very true to the books and I really thought the guy who played the main character nailed it. So hopefully someone can send them to you on DVD or you can order them from Netflix or iTunes or something. Anything to get you through... come home safe!

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