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.


October 16, 2008

Name: Old Blue
Posting date: 10/16/08
Returned from: Afghanistan
Milblog: Bill and Bob's Excellent Afghan Adventure

I had tried to deploy to Iraq twice with units from my home state of Ohio, but neither worked out. After my second go-round with the sons of Ohio, a fellow senior NCO, who had also volunteered, called me the day after we had both been told that there was no room for us with the deploying unit and gave me some information.

He told me to go and check out the NGB (National Guard Bureau) website and check the "Deployment Opportunities" page. I did, and found a spreadsheet with the projected needs for soldiers of all levels and many different MOS's listed. He also gave me the phone number of the SGM (Sergeant Major) at the deployment branch.

The spreadsheet didn't show any needs for someone with my rank and skill set, and so I called the SGM and asked him what he had projected. After a brief conversation about my skills and experiences, he told me that I should consider becoming an ETT in Afghanistan.

"ETT... Okay. What's an ETT?" It is said that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. My journey of seven thousand miles began with three letters. I was stumped, and turned to my friend Google.

"Oh, mighty Google," my supplication began, "what in the hell is an ETT in Afghanistan?" Thousands of pages of information were suddenly at hand.* I dug in earnestly, seeking. I read a ton of stuff. I began with "One Valley At A Time," and a progression of white papers, articles and, finally, blogs.

Very few blogs. Two captivated my attention. One was Scott Kesterson's KGW Afghanistan Blog, sponsored by a Portland, Oregon TV station and written by an independent journalist who volunteered to go with Oregon's 41st BCT (Brigade Combat Team) as they assumed the TF Phoenix mission. Scott's writing is powerful. His videography is stunning. Scott finished an independent film about his experiences, "At War," earlier this year. Trailers for the film are available at the KGW blog link above.

Scott Kesterson touched me deeply with several of his posts, and became one of my heroes for his ability to convey the experience. Having had the experience, my respect for his ability has only grown. I hoped to meet him in Afghanistan; it was not to be.

The second blog was written by a National Guard Senior NCO from New York named Troy Steward. His blog, Bouhammer's Afghan&Military Blog, gave me more than theoretical information on the nature of the mission. His writing and pictures brought it home for me. Through all of this information, the mission became real, and I began to be a believer. Troy's blog was a huge part of this growth.

The perspective that I gained from Bouhammer gave me a sense of reality and prepared me for the challenges; the frustrations with Phoenix, the need for constant patience with the Afghans, the reality of small teams in remote locations with tremendous shortages and incredible odds to overcome.

I also perceived the sense of accomplishment; the tiny victories of  enlightenment, the incremental change that meant so much, the camaraderie and humor. Bouhammer's portrayal of life as an ETT was realistic, straightforward, and unromantic.

Troy's blog gave me the ability to peek inside the mission and get a glimpse of what men were going through seven thousand miles from my home. His blog inspired me and, with my own innate desire to serve, convinced me that the ETT mission was more than worthwhile; it was a calling.

His writing did something else for me. It made me think about writing, too. I had never seriously considered the idea of blogging. I didn't really understand what it was. Scott Kesterson is a writer by trade; Bouhammer is a soldier by trade and a writer by choice. He was sharing, for whatever reason, freely of his experiences, and I was a beneficiary.

It was Troy's blog, more than any other single thing, that gave rise to the impetus in me to write my blog. I never knew where that would take me. I've had a lot of great feedback, and I love it. Many have encouraged me to write a book; it's in the works. I'm a small player in the arena of blogging, but I do what I can, and I've spoken honestly about many things and have lent my small voice to help on a couple of occasions. I'm glad that I've had The Adventure as an outlet and a voice to add to the chorus.

I'm a blogguppy; a very small fish in a big pond, but I've been visited a few times. This blog has been read in every state in the Union, Guam, every province in Canada, every country in Europe (including Lichtenstein,) Norway, Sweden, Finland, Lithuania, Latvia, Afghanistan (go figure,) Pakistan, India, China, Hong Kong (still China, but I'm claiming it,) Singapore, Malaysia, Viet Nam, Thailand, Philippines, Korea, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Algeria, Morocco, South Africa, Egypt, Israel, Iraq, Iran, Chile, Peru, Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Belize, Honduras, and Mexico.

Just to name a few.

Oh, and in the motherland; Ireland. I know that they count as part of Europe, but I wanted to give a shout out.

That's some legacy, huh Troy?

*ETT: embedded training team


I also read Troy's blog. I'm glad you decided to write - Blogs are where I get my info regarding the wars we are in. Thanks again,

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