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.


November 24, 2008

Name: T.T. Carnehan
Posting date: 11/24/08
Deploying to: Afghanistan
Milblog: Long Warrior

When you graduate the Fort Riley Training Mission and are granted the non-existent but still impressive title of “Combat Advisor,” you are rewarded with a final bit of leave home prior to heading out. For us, this was short -- too short -- but this is always the case.

The pre-deployment leave is a desperate, uncomfortable type of leave. With the impending separation looming large, the entire period is spent in a hushed anxiety with stifled emotion. The elephant in the room puts everyone on edge. You try and assuage the fears, and this is most easily accomplished by trying to change the subject. Confrontation is avoided as much as possible with all those around you. In this setting, one assumes that no frustration is worth a fight, so more often than not everyone agrees with everyone. Using that as a template, perhaps we should deploy both houses of Congress to Afghanistan in the hopes that they all shake hands smile, hug, kiss, and agree on everything before departing.

Such a conciliatory attitude makes the pre-deployment conversations difficult at times. When people tell me what we should be doing, my instinct is to politely ask them to “Shut the f*#! up, and sit there for two hours while I explain what I know of Afghanistan.” What an obscure country, with an even more obscure mission. This is why veterans don't discuss their experiences with their families. It’s not that you will have a Born on the Fourth of July style meltdown, pee your pants, and start screaming at the heavens. The problem is just that no one knows enough to even buy into your conversation. The ante is too great.

No one knows what FOB, ETT, PMT, PRT, DoS, M1151, RG33, DFAC, MWR, HMFIC or any of the three million other acronyms and jargon we use mean. And beyond the language, the reference points just aren't there. To have a topical, free and easy conversation about the subject, I need to have someone who actually knows Afghanistan. It’s a world away, and maybe I’m not the best at communicating it, but if you’re reading my blog posts, keep heart -- as the tour rolls on, I hope to at least partially educate (using the word loosely).

On your final leave there are too many responsibilities. Too many people to see, too many hands to shake, and too many memories to create. You want to spend quality time with every individual that you care about, but the calendar simply won’t cooperate. The time is spread a little too thinly. Really, you miss out on the depth with that one individual you’re thinking about the most. But you realize that even if you had more time, the looming deployment would keep the conversations much the same. More difficult than the amount of people, is the tone of each encounter. The urgency is palpable, and you try to turn each moment into a golden one. More often than not they turn out to be bronze, and sometimes aluminum.

Eventually, right around the last day, the visit comes to a head, and nearly all the pretense of normalcy is dropped. Very few people have a screenwriter living in their head, relaying to their mouth killer lines to deliver at the perfect moment. Instead, people say exactly what is necessary with as little window dressing as possible. Here’s an example of a final goodbye:

“I love you so much.”

“I love you too. Don’t worry, I’ll email or call as soon as I can.”

“Be safe.”

“Don’t forget to take care of yourself.”


Just because someone doesn't know what the acronyms mean is no reason to assume that they can't understand. Acronyms function to separate people into groups -- those who know and those who don't know what any particular TLA or FLA means. We who know are the in group and you who don't know, well you're just clueless morons who will never be in the know because we won't let you be in the know because you aren't one of us.

Hey Elmo! It sounds like the old boys club is at it again. I only wrote to let T.T. know there are even worse goodbyes than aluminum.
Try Iron or Lead. Have a nice deployment and come home in one piece.

Thank you for the honesty of the post. Nothing can make the pre-deployment visits less weird or less needed for everyone. Like everyone else I wish you a safe return and opportunities to help educate us by post while you are in Afghanistan.

Hey, hang in there.


Elmo, it's not about acronyms or clubs or letting you in or keeping you out. It's about understanding and being there and doing that. It's nothing personal nor derogatory it just the way it is. There's a saying that is often over used but in T.T. case that is very true "If I have to explain you wouldn't understand".

The last goodbye seems very familiar to me when my other half calls me from Iraq. But then when we speak, if he is talking to me using acronyms, if i dont understand i ask, as i'm interested in his working life, and seeing as he has alot of time for me, he tries to explain things the best he can so i get the jist. i don't think its fair to generalise but i understand both points of view.

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