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.


February 12, 2009

Name: Vampire 06
Posting date: 2/12/09
Stationed in: Afghanistan
Hometown: Folsom, CA
Milblog: Afghanistan Shrugged

DISCLAIMER:  No Fobbits were harmed during the writing or creation of this post. I would have liked to, but they took away my weapons prior to departing.Thus, much to my not so subtle dismay no Fobbits were injured physically; notice I did not mention emotionally.

I’ve been looking forward to going on leave for quite some time, in fact since the time I was notified of my leave date; I’ve been counting down the days. The part I’ve been dreading has been the trip between Bermel and arrival at home.

My dread stems from the sometimes horrific and often epic nature of the stories guys tell upon their return. The Iliad pales in comparison to some leave stories. Sorry, Homer. Weeks are the time measure for the actual travel, you can be gone for a month plus.

There are several stages to any leave journey:

DENIAL:  My trip won’t be as bad as everyone else’s was. This is the “It won’t happen to me syndrome." Quickly dispelled as soon as snow cancels your helicopter (which happened to me) or when the C-17 you’re supposed to depart Afghanistan on belly lands on the runway with no landing gear (also happened to me). Luckily no one was hurt.*

Framed Vampire WAR FORGOT

RESIGNATION: This is as bad as I thought it would be and worse.  I’m surrounded by idiots and they control both the vertical and horizontal. This sets in after I’ve manifested for the same flight six time, four days in a row. I’m now an expert at the waiting game and fully tabbed out in the grab your armor and run to the gate to be told to return at a later time. At this later time no one will be there and anyone I ask questions of will stare at me like I just asked my Labrador what the square root of a billion is.

ACCEPTANCE: There is nothing I can do, however the ACM will pay for this upon my return. I can’t do anything to these idiots but I can exact some form of revenge on the Taliban when I get back; if I ever get back. I reach this point about the time I’m sleeping on a plywood floor in Kuwait, with the Superbowl blaring in the background and having a panic attack because I can’t find my weapon. My weapon as I stated in the disclaimer has been secured for others' safety in the arms room at Bermel.

My leave travels were much like getting a tattoo. I know that I’m going to be happy with the design and colors after, but as soon as the needle bites I know it’s going to be long, painful and out of my control. Once it starts you’re committed. Yes, permanent scarring occurs in both instances.

Here’s are a snippet from my trip into the heart of darkness:

Setting: Bagram, home to thousands of Fobbits. I’m walking to the chow hall -- yes I still call it that -- during darkness. I’m squeezing between several plywood B Huts on my way to the divine grounds of hot chow. I’m lost when suddenly Bob the MP Fobbit stops me.

“Hey, where’s your road guard belt?"  He confronts me in that arrogant, you stupid ass tone they use.

A road guard belt is a belt made of reflective material which you wear while running so you don’t get hit by a vehicle. From the look of Bob he hasn’t ever used his belt during PT hours but he can probably tell me where the chow hall is.

“What?"  I respond in an exasperated manner. I have limited time to get some chow and get back before the time my plane is rumored to leave. This rumor will later morph into a lie on the part of the terminal personnel.

“Your road guard belt. You’re required to wear one during hours of limited visibility regardless of uniform." He tells me this in a way that leads me to believe he thinks I’m an idiot.

Currently, my uniform consists of the same ACUs I’ve been wearing for the last seven days, my IBA and my ACH helmet.

“Where’s your belt”? Bob asks again.  I’m considering asking him if he has a brother --  a Chief named Retard working at another FOB.

“Obviously, I don’t have one or you wouldn’t be asking me where it is. I’m from a remote FOB and I didn’t bring one. Where I’m from we try really hard to have people not see us!" This seems like a darn fine answer to me and makes obvious sense. I start to move out smartly toward what I think is the Fobbit feeding grounds.

“Well, you’re going to have to get a ticket then." Bob informs me. Evidently, a violation of Supreme Fobbit Directive #1 results in a $35 ticket.

“You’re kidding, right?" My leave hasn’t even begun and I’m $35 bucks in the hole. Heck, I haven’t even made it out of Afghanistan. My wife is going to love this; I blew $35 dollars because I don’t have a reflective belt in a war zone.

“No, I’m going to issue you a citation for not being properly marked during hours of limited visibility." I keep wondering why Bob can’t just say "dark."  I guess the other sounds more dangerous.

I’m deeply perplexed at this point. I have no road guard belt which means I may get run over by a vehicle, but I’m standing between two buildings where Bob and I could barely pass each other. Mostly because of Bob’s refusal to use his road guard belt during PT hours.

“So, I have to be properly marked?"  I ask, as I take off my helmet and tuck it under my arm.  Visions of beating Bob with it are creeping in.

“Yes!"  Bob replies, self-satisfied.

He seems to be thinking, "Finally, this dumb-ass war fighter gets the sheer danger he’s placed himself in by moving about the FOB without a reflective belt. I should get a Silver Star just for saving this guy from himself."

“Oh, okay, cool." I say as I notice the infrared (IR) strobe I’ve attached to the back of my helmet. An IR strobe is used by us to mark our positions to aircraft at night (hours of limited visibility) preventing us from being torn to shreds by a JDAM or depleted uranium shells. Not as dangerous as Bagram. There’s a shield on it that you can slide back and it turns into a visible strobe. Something out of a disco!

I slide the shield back and turn on the strobe.

“What the hell is that?"  Bob asks clearly fascinated by the now-bright flashing light.

“It’s my proper marking, can you tell me which way the chowhall is?"  I respond, overjoyed by my ingenious ability to scam the man.

“But you don’t have a belt," he pleads.

“True, but I’m marked; which is what you stated to me I needed." I’m now starting to wonder if maybe Bob is just trying to keep me from getting to the chowhall because he’s afraid they may run out.

“Later,” I say as I move out smartly toward a chowhall I’ve got no idea about.

That just a little glimpse into my little journey; the nonsense and pain endured just to get home.

This next ordeal is purely self inflicted:

I arrive in Kuwait at about 3 AM. We pile out of the bus and stand in a windswept open area as a Specialist briefs us about the procedures here in Ali. I’m still basking in the pure cunning I used to outsmart Bob back at Bagram.

Then I hear a magic word, a whisper of democracy and true American power known throughout the world. Proof that we’re the only remaining superpower, a hegemony of greatness and invincibility. A word not torn asunder by the Soviets, Saddam or Al Qeda.


As soon as the briefing breaks up I take off at the double time. I’m running like the wind, falling over tent tie-downs and rocks. I look like Jeffy the Special Olympics sprinter unleashed. I know that’s not politically correct, but for God's sake it’s illustrates the point and I get paid to kill people who don’t look like me so how correct can I be. Stumbling and huffing I reach the Golden Arches, basking in their heavenly glow.

"Two Big Macs and fries please," I order with a reverence reserved for buying a Ferrari or a house. My slobber would make Pavlov proud.

And then they are delivered unto me and I devour them. Breathing infrequently and in gasps I finish them. God has blessed me and shone his face upon me. Amen!

Now, let me backtrack a little. I haven’t eaten anything that wasn’t issued to me by the US Army in four months, and I just consumed enough fat, grease and carbs to support the entire village of Bermel for roughly two weeks.

About an hour later it begins. A hushed rumble, building to a cramping pain that to me verges on labor. It’s good thing that women give birth, because if it was up to me I’d never go through this again and the world’s population would greatly attenuated.

But it keeps coming and I begin my search for the latrine, commonly called "the clench and scurry", the half bent-over run of the panic-stricken. Pleadingly searching, I see it about 500 meters away. It might as well be the NYC marathon. Oh so far, can I make it? God please let me make it! I will be a better person if you let me make it, I swear, no more Jeffy jokes!

I am reduced to a lumbering ape. Pausing every few meters, pleading. It’s a long journey and I swear that at one point my life flashed in front of me; it did.

I reach the sanctuary of the latrine, but the first door is locked, the second, and the third the same. Oh how I’ve sinned and punishment is swift. I look and see another latrine is about 300 meters away -- the face of the moon.

The fourth door. I reach out, full of hopes and prayers. A life so full of promise about to be decimated by two Big Macs.

But it’s open and I quickly initiate the butt claymore. Saved! Thank you God, I really didn’t mean the Jeffy thing.

Thus are my journeys in the Land That War Forgot. I’ve finally reached home and it truly is glorious to be here, worth every ounce of the pain and suffering it took to get here, seeing my wife and our home. I know this is a crappy conclusion but it’s now dinner time and a beautiful woman and a beer are calling my name. 

* Thanks to The Duke for letting me know where I could find this picture of my original ride home.


Given that there is no such thing as a "depleted uranium" shell - and the DU kinetic energy penetrators were not used in Afghanistan, you really did not have much to be afraid of in that regard - you said

Oh, okay, cool." I say as I notice the infrared (IR) strobe I’ve attached to the back of my helmet. An IR strobe is used by us to mark our positions to aircraft at night (hours of limited visibility) preventing us from being torn to shreds by a JDAM or depleted uranium shells. Not as dangerous as Bagram. There’s a shield on it that you can slide back and it turns into a visible strobe. Something out of a disco!

Don't be a propagandist, spread the truth, not lies.


Tell Roger to go pound sand, write what you want.

I thought the "Bob the MP" part was hilarious, my biggest fear is running into a Fobbit that has that little bit of power. 35 bucks? yikes.

Viet Nam was my gig. It's really great hearing what you guys have to put up with, as has every grunt throughout time. One big difference between your war and ours: at least the Vietnamese didn't hate each other, and now we're best friends. Good luck, and thanks sincerely for sticking your necks out to protect us. And come soon, safe and sound.

I've eaten twice in my life at McDonald's, and once at Carl's. One round of barf, and two of the runs. Never again.

Your normal system tolerance for grease and fat will return in time. It is the American way. Glad you survived Bob the MP and your trip. Be safe. Thanks for the post.

Incredibly funny! "Fobbit" is this war's "REMF." Fell over laughing as I've experienced a very small part of your odyssey (not during war...but coming from overseas). And, I second Fritz's comment...somone with a "DU" e-mail tag complaining about "propoganda" is inviting a divine lightening strike for cosmic hypocrisy.

I was laughing so much reading this, trying not to wake my wife. I returned home late last night from 15 months deployment in the Kaboul area. I, too, was delayed a week in BagramAF due to the same bellied C-17, weather, and no seats for us “hitch-hikers! I was especially bothered by the demand to salue everyone. Typical BAF: “the closer you are to the flagpole, the more the chicken s--t”. Then add the anger and insult to be treated as criminels by Navy Customs in Kuwait! The pits was to be stuck for 14 days at CRC, Ft.Benning, waiting for an extension of orders from the MORONS at HRC St Louis to take terminal leave. So close ( to home), but no prize. But, finally, I have a smile on my face after my "welcome home", an espresso in hand, waiting for a glass of wine with dinner. Thanks so much for your service! Safe journeys, and may you return home soon, only with good memories.

Experience is not interesting till it begins to repeat itself, in fact, till it does that , it hardly is experience.

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