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 29, 2008

Name: Vampire 06
Posting date: 12/30/08
Stationed in: Afghanistan
Hometown: Folsom, CA
Milblog: Afghanistan Shrugged

There's a storm coming. We can smell and see it as it rolls across the eastern mountains. One of my Captains and myself are standing on top of a two-story connex* looking at a distant spiny ridge through binoculars when we notice it. The clouds are beautiful, but like lots of things here in Afghanistan, if it looks good it's usually a harbinger of something bad.

The ridge we're looking at in the opposite direction of the storm is several klicks* off, low slung so that we can see the ridge line behind it. Pakistan. We often get rocketed from this first ridge line and we're now trying to figure out what the ANA and we can do about these rockets. Really not much. Usually they're set up on washing machine timers and then left to do their damage. By the time you see or hear the rocket, the ACM have scampered back across the far ridge into Pakistan. This post isn't about the rockets but the storm -- a metaphorical one headed toward each of us serving here.

I had one of my usual sarcastic posts ready for this afternoon, one about the supply system and how it fails to work for us, but that'll be for another day. This one is inspired by a simple question posed by a Specialist Fourth Class (SPC4) from the 101st Airborne, who is stationed with us here on the FOB.

I was walking through the chowline, collecting my usual sampling of luscious flavors, when he asked, "Sir, can I talk to you for a minute?"

"Sure, what's up?" I replied, figuring he wanted to ask about being an ETT or the ANA. The 101st doesn't talk to us much as we report to different bosses and don't actually do much together. We're the weird guys that hang out with the ANA.

Then he hits me with the question I think all soldiers in a war zone ponder. "What do you think it's going to be like when we go home, how do I explain it here?" I'm still not sure why he chose to ask me; maybe because I'm an officer and a field grade at that so I must have all the answers. Who knows? We did have a lengthy discussion about this topic but that's between he and I.

What I will share is my own thoughts on this topic. As I've stated before, I think all soldiers here grapple with this question at one time or another, many times not until they go home. I've read posts on other blogs asking questions or citing struggles. Early in my Army career I deployed to Haiti, and failed to learn the lessons about what to do when you come home or how to cope with events that occurred. Now I have some perspective, I think.

The Rand Corporation issued a study prior to my deployment stating that a huge number of combatants suffer from PTSD. I could have told the government that and they could have paid me half what they paid Rand. We each cope here in our own ways. Some guys watch TV, others listen to music, almost everyone works out.

I prefer to read and blog. As you can tell from the title of my blog I'm a huge Ayn Rand fan, Atlas Shrugged is my favorite book. So I'll read it again along with some others. 1984 takes on a new perspective here. I will probably stay away from Conrad's Heart of Darkness. I need some time just to myself; reading and blogging helps me vent and process what goes on here, and trust me, some days you need a lot of processing.

We laugh at totally inappropriate times and things. You have to laugh or you will lose it here. Our humor is immature. We think it's hilarious to yell out, "Who is Patrick Swazye in Roadhouse" to questions we don't know the answer to on Jeopardy. No one can actually identify where this joke came from, but we think it's the funniest thing ever.The other crowd-pleasing response to unanswerable questions is, "Where the Hell is FOB Bermel."

Another great moment in ETT coping is when another Captain here on the team says to me, as we hide behind a rock waiting for an IED to detonate, "Sir, you know what the problem is with real life?"

"No, what's the problem?" I'm wondering what could be so pressing at this moment. 

He responds, "There's no soundtrack. Wouldn't some Metallica be great right now!"

These are the things we do. I don't know if it's healthy or not, but it makes us feel alright. Which is pretty darn good. Mental Health sent out a questionnaire to see if we suffer any issues. One of the questions was, "Do you have any obsessive compulsive impulses?" Yes, I do. That's what keeps me alive each day. If I'm still checking for my M4 when I go to the mall next Christmas, please help me out.

ETTs are different from the rest of the Army. We are piece-mealed together from all over the place, we don't go back to our home base with the team. I have one other person from the unit I mobilized with in my team. TF Phoenix is butchering this process and I hate to think what will come of their inability to manage these teams. There is nothing worse than training with someone for two months, building friendships, learning who you can trust, and then getting to combat and everyone going their separate ways. There is a price to pay, but no one in Kabul will pay it.

The Army has gotten much better about transition counseling, and the VA has made huge leaps in assisting combat veterans. When I left Haiti there was nothing. Twelve hours later I had turned in my ammo and frags and was walking the streets of Honolulu.

So is there a storm or not, and did the SPC4 and I solve anything? If you watch the weather report you can take action and be prepared. Get your warm clothes and hunker down with someone. The bottom line is the storm hits everyone and you have to talk about it and each soldier isn't alone. I learned my lessons the first time around. So, I'll keep yelling, "Who is Patrick Swazye in Roadhouse," blogging, reading, working out, and talking to everyone about what goes on in Afghanistan.

As for the SPC4, I think he's good to go, especially tonight when he screams, "Where the Hell is FOB Bermel" during Jeopardy. And calls home to tell them about his day.

Alex, I'll take Afghanistan FOBs for $1000!


connex: large steel shipping container

klick: kilometer


Vampire 6 Dude,

You as usual are side splitting funny, and I look
forward to reading your postings, when they appear.

My invitation for drinks and

is still valid, see earlier

message of a few weeks ago.


Gregory Hall

i reallly like the info at this post thanks!!!

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