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.


December 12, 2008

Name: CAPT Benjamin Tupper
Posting date: 12/12/08
Returned from: Afghanistan
Hometown: Syracuse, NY

In deference to the morals and traditions of countries like Iraq and Afghanistan, Army General Order 1
Bravo prohibits the consumption of alcohol, engaging in sex, and a myriad of other staples of young male American life.  

One of the lesser tenets buried in the rules of Army General Order 1Bravo is the prohibition of distributing religious materials, as well as other evangelical activities. This was a rule founded in common sense, that prevents numerous chances for friction between US Soldiers and Local Nationals.
But General Order 1B is in no way a gag order on religion, and I witnessed many a friendly religious debate between US soldiers and the Muslims we met on a daily basis.  

I had a unique role in many of these religious debates, as I was the lone Atheist on my small specialized US Army team embedded in the Afghan Army. I remember many cold nights, sitting on worn mats drinking Chai in cramped, smoky huts, pondering great religious subjects with my Afghan Interpreters, Afghan soldiers, and fellow US Soldiers. The Christians and Muslims in these amateur theology debates went back and forth with claims about the veracity of their faith. I never saw anyone converted during these conversations, but there was one thing they all agreed on. That sole point of consensus was the fact that I, the lone Atheist, was going to hell.    

Despite my best attempts to explain my worldview, half the Afghans couldn't take me seriously. The other half took me for my word, and made efforts to reassure me that they wouldn't hold my belief against me, even though I was surely doomed to hell. 

And then there was Fayez. During one of these religious discussions, he floored everyone when he stated that my faith in man to do good deeds without intervention or guidance from God, was a possibility they all should consider as being true. This was a brave thing to do in a country that even today stones people to death for questioning Islam. 

Fayez was one of our  interpreters, a soft spoken teenager who seemed out of place brandishing an AK 47 out on combat missions. In our country, he would have been the kid in the high school drama club, too skinny to play sports, and too nerdy to get a girlfriend. But in Afghanistan, his intelligence and proficiency in English meant he was on the front lines in war, earning a high salary to support his large family back in Kabul.

I am often reminded of this moment when Fayez spoke in support of my beliefs, at great risk to himself. He was a brave young man, even though he didn't look the part. Fayez was always a ray of hope when I pondered the future of Afghanistan. He was intelligent, tolerant, and decent to others in all his interactions with everyone. 

I recently received an email from one of our Afghan interpreters informing me that Fayez had been killed in action. The HUMVEE he was riding in had been hit by a devastating IED that killed all the American soldiers on board instantly. He had survived the initial blast, but was subsequently captured by the Taliban, tortured, and then killed.

It's disturbing news like this, of a friend cut down in the summer of his youth, that shakes one's faith to the core. This equally applies to a person like me, who holds no religious faith. I find myself in an awkward position of hoping there is a heaven, and that the rewards promised to the faithful in the Koran, which Fayez patiently and compassionately explained to us in our many discussions, are being enjoyed by him.

It would be dishonest to say that in the shadow of his tragic and cruel death I'm now a believer in the afterlife, but I can say that if there is such a thing as heaven, Fayez surely belongs there.



Nice that you have known someone that deserves to be in a Heaven of his beliefs. Sad that they all died that were with him. Take care, and when God wants your attention He will make it known to you. Take care out there.

guess i lost my post.anyway,if there is a heaven,viet nam taught me that the gatekeeper wouldn't be checking for religion,wealth or medals but only the scars on your "spirit" aka soul. welcome home and remember your terp died in his.

Thank you for telling us about Fayez. Although the tale has a sad end for those
left behind, it is good that we all got to know him ....

I am sorry this happened. It sounds like the war is still very much going on for you even though you're not there. Your friend Fayez sounds like a fine person. I hope and believe he must have had an effect on others that will continue after his death. I found his understanding of faith without a deity and awareness of the responsibilty of simply being human inspiring.
Anyway, if there is a hell, I'll have some good friends there. We can learn to play accordian and let those jerks upstairs tinkle on their harps.

a sign of a INEPT army that sends out 1 HUMVEEE without backup !

Thank you for your centered and fair account of your experiences.
I am athiest also and deal with the same predicted 'fate' from others.
I agree with wwitch-fayez understanding and awareness to be inspiring - too bad it is so rare.

Trying to convince someone Christianity is real sure sounds like evangelizing to me. I don't see how it helps what we are doing over there.


As an atheist once in a bunker in Vietnam, thanks for your post. My terps were either Buddhist or Catholics: the Buddhists got atheism way better than the Catholics did!

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