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.


September 03, 2008

Name: Gruntshit
Posting date: 9/3/08
Returned from: Iraq
Hometown: Clarkston, Washington
: The Angry American

How do you describe an Infantryman? Some would say it’s by the blue cord, the medals, tabs, and badges they have. I can tell you it’s someone who eats, sleeps, and breaths Infantry. It’s someone proficient in battle drills and the weapons of his chosen profession. It is someone who is calm cool and collected in the face of danger. It is someone who can make life or death decisions on the fly. Sgt Murray did all these things. Sgt Murray is how I would describe an Infantryman. If you didn’t know him you wouldn’t think that this skinny non-smiling soldier was the embodiment of an Infantryman. Looks can be deceiving.

Sgt Murray was full of courage, natural leadership ability, and stamina that you can’t even imagine. I was amazed by Sgt Murray during the squad eval at range 10, the ‘Suck Fest’ as we lovingly referred to it. It was only supposed to be a 14km movement, but somehow we managed to turn it into 22km. Under a brutal Kansas sun, we lost half of the platoon as heat casualties in the first day. Not once can I recall ever seeing signs of suck on Sgt Murray’s face.

It carried on over in Iraq and became somewhat of a contest between us, trying to catch each other tiring out. Captain Anderson told us that when we started feeling fatigued to ‘smile’ and keep moving on. Sgt Murray and I referred to this as Smiles Time. He would call me on the radio or come over to my side of the street and take a knee and ask me if I was ‘Smilin’ yet. I would never admit to it nor would he, but at the end of a mission there would be Sgt Murray smiling from ear to ear, and he was not alone.

Sgt Murray was brave, and I know I had never seen him scared. There was a time where he got shot at while pulling COP security. I heard the 240 rattle off and seconds later I hear Sgt Murray come over the radio: “I took small arms fire and returned fire to let them know I mean business.”

That was Sgt Murray, all business. Super cool is the best way to describe him under fire. He always wanted to be out front and in the lead, a true no-nonsense, leads from the front NCO. He loved to lead the way. He would tell us, “I love having the open road in front of me.” He loved being an NCO. He told me he liked being a Squad Leader more so than a team leader because he could have more influence over more Soldiers. He loved to mentor and teach, and there is not a single soldier in 2nd platoon that has not learned something from Sgt Murray. That is his legacy and those of us touched by his leadership will carry a piece of Sgt Murray and pass it down to other young soldiers for years to come.

He had this dry sense of humor, and was just hilarious. Out of the blue he would say something so random and straight-faced that everyone would burst out into laughter except for him, and he would make you wonder whether or not he was joking. He thoroughly had Serrano convinced one day that getting an exhaust sample was part of a PMCS. Everyone who was there will remember Serrano walking around holding a large trash bag full of humvee exhaust for hours. He also had these Murrayism’s that he would come up with. My favorites: "The Highest of Speeds”, and “The Hooahness”. He was always challenging his men to be of the Highest of Speeds, knocking on one's door at random hours of the night, to see if they wanted to disassemble a SAW or something.

We talked about what we wanted to do career-wise, and he said this is what he wanted to do. Be in the Infantry, go to Ranger school and just be in the Infantry. He had found a home in the Army.

I’m glad to have known Sgt Murray because we had a lot in common. He was a real man all the way around, because it takes a real man to admit they are a classic Star Trek fan, or X-Files. We would sit together out at the COP and try to get through episodes of the original Star Trek, and then try to remember why we used to enjoy them so much long ago. He was a really smart guy and had done so much in life. He ran the NYC marathon; he had been all over the world. He loved to see new places and do different things; he was a modern day explorer. He loved history and he would encourage others to learn and to try something new. Before I knew it he had me reading The Iliad, and would always ask me if I was done so I could start The Odyssey.

Sgt Murray was a great person too; recently he had told me that he wanted to become a Freemason. He liked what they stood for and had told me that he thought he could become a better man, how he always wanted to be a part of something like that, helping people and kids, and being a part of history. So many great names in history had been Freemasons. What I didn’t get to tell him and what I want his family and everyone to know is: Joel, you were already a great person, a great man and leader, and someone that I will strive to be like, a great role model for any young soldier or grown man. Sgt Joel Lee Murray was an outstanding leader, Soldier, Hero, Husband, Father, and friend. We miss you, and we love you. You will never be forgotten.


SGT Joel L. Murray, KIA September 4, 2007




Just read this post. I am a stranger, but after reading this, I am making a point to remember SGT Murray. Our thoughts go out to his family and friends.


Thank you for posting this, Tristan. You're such an amazing writer. Your love of your friend and brother shines through.
He'll always be remembered.

I have stumbled upon your milblog whilst doing an assignment for my college class back here in the states. That being said you have left a great tribute to your friend here today. After I read the first line I couldn’t stop from finishing the rest of your blog. If Sgt. Murray was indeed as good of a man as you have professed to here, and I am not doubting that is true, you have honored him greatly here today. Even though I have never met the man I will not forget his sacrifice for us all. Take care and God bless.

This is one of the most touching tributes to a fallen soldier that I have read. As an Army wife I am proud of all that put their lives on the line for our country. SGT Murray seems like he was a wonderful man, friend and soldier. I am sure his memory will live on in all that served with him and knew him. Keep your head down and stay safe!

It sound as if Sgt. Murray was a role model for all people he personally knew and could have touched the lives of many more. There are times when we need more people like him around to help guide the ones who are in the need of the most help. I hope to someday meet some one like him and I hope that this person has the same effect as Sgt. Murray had on you. It is a travesty that he is no longer here but remember that “the good die young” and obviously compassion for more people than just for himself. He will never be forgotten and will always have a place in many people’s hearts.

You got it, Tristan, capturing the soul of another person and showing us his admirable ways. I am sorry Joel Murray is no longer alive. Know that even strangers care. Thanks.

Sir, your tribute to Sgt. Murray is so heartfelt. It made me feel like I knew him. He sounded like such a great man. To love your job as if it is your whole life, not just a part of it.
It is a great thing he had a friend like you to keep everyone remembering him.
God bless Sgt Murray's family and you.

This was truly a genuine and heart-filled tribute to SGT. Murray. It allowed me to get to know the soldier he was and what impact he had on the other soldiers he worked with. I am honored and glad to know that we have some of the BEST men and women fighting for our country. I appreciate all that you guys do! I know SGT. Murray is in a much better place. May God keep you safe! –Iesha. W

After reading this tribute to Sgt. Murray, it was hard not to tear up. It sounded like he was a great guy in every aspect of his life. If I had to have someone lead me into battle, it sounded like he would be the one to do it. It feels like I know him as a person by reading this tribute. It is great of you to let everyone know just how wonderful of a person and leader he was. Just from reading that, he sounded like a great man that wanted to help everyone else before he helped himself.

Thanks for sharing about your friend. He seemed to be a great person and friend. Sorry for your loss, but keep telling his story. He can be an inspiration to all of us.

As I read the tribute to SGT. Murray. I wondered as I had after Vietnam. What will our country be without such wonderful men, forever missing there contributions? It is hard not to tear up at such a thing.

You have truly captures this man's life in your writing and showed what a great man he was. It is great to know that there are people like him out there who are such great leaders. I am sorry to hear of his passing, and I hope that you will carry on his legacy. My thoughts are with you, his family, and everyone he has touched.

please remember all the victims of war. especially the civilians who are dying there and the families here who suffer the deaths of some of their members.

I was moved to tears by this piece.
I am sure that you will manage to keep smiling.

It really is amazing how just one person can touch our lives forever. Keep smiling my friend, may God be with you and with his family.

I just wanted to say that this really made my day. Joel was my cousin and it's good to know how highly Joel was thought of. I appreciate all the good things you have said about him as well. God bless you!

I was very moved by this soldier's elegy to Sgt Murray. I am glad Garry Trudeau set this site up. Shows where Trudeau is coming from, a good space. That's why we've had great affection for him for 35 years. I will be back to read more.

I am a firend and was underneath Sgt Murray when we were in Iraq. Everyone loved him.

Always Remembered

Tristan, thanks for posting this! Joel was my best friend... i still cant believe he is gone.. i talked to his wife maricel and his little boy jerry on the phone the other day and have been thinking alot about him lately.. his boy is 5 now and he told me he wants to be an american soldier when he grows up just like his daddy! i know he must a have been a great sgt. all he talked about when he was home was how he loved the army and everyone that served time in the army with him.. thanks again for posting this! Heath

thank you so much tristan for all those wonderful words for my husband,joel is not just a great soldier,he's very loving,caring,a very supportive husband,a great dad to my son,joel is my life,its almost 3 years now but its killing me everytime i think he cant be with me and my son anymore,but i feel so proud of my husband,i feel so proud of all the soldiers who risk their dear life for our country,i wanna thank you for your sacrifice too,for doing this tribute to the fallen soldiers especially for my husband joel.. god bless you tristan and your family..

Hello Tristan:
Thank you for the beautiful tribute to my son. He is a true American hero and we love him and miss him dearly. God bless you and your family.

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