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.


April 22, 2009

Name: Alex Horton
Posting date: 4/23/09
Returned from: Iraq
Hometown: Frisco, Texas
Milblog url: Army of Dude 

As the days turn into months that become years, it becomes difficult to imagine that the collective experiences of second platoon Bravo company grow more distant from the present, drifting in a sea of time away from the shores of what was known, and loved. One fights to recall the names and faces of certain characters that were surely there, but not so easily remembered. Firefights and shootouts, dismembered bodies covering the earth (and below it), and uproarious fits of laughter grow fuzzy, their events occasionally muddied in skepticism -- did they happen quite the way I remember, or did I simply fill in the gaps with piecemeal memories?

Some events transcend space and time, full of vivid color and smells and gut-feeling that will never go away, no matter what the calendar seems to read. Now it has been two years since March 14, 2007 -- a day that has been on the minds and hearts of everyone that knew and cared for Brian Chevalier.

He was a man that did his job without reservation and without complaint, far outshining and outclassing those of us that bitched at the slightest notion of additional work. His job in combat was a vital one: to navigate the treacherous roads, fields and alleys of Iraq and drop off his squad safely and quickly so they may carry out their mission. He was rarely seen by others not in his squad; the position of driver carries with it extra maintenance and care for the vehicle. While others in the platoon played videogames, smoked cigarettes and sat at the poker table, Chevy was in the thick mud of the motorpool making sure his vehicle was in peak condition. And he did it for his squad.

Perhaps it was best that Chevy never saw it coming. The only indication that something was about to go terribly, horribly wrong was the children on the outside of the school. They seemed to be the only living creatures along the far-reaching road our column of Strykers and Bradleys were on. The children watched each vehicle pass with dark, detached eyes. Baqubah was a city where insurgents operated with impunity, a place where a few men could cut into the street with a concrete saw and bury a massive bomb -- and nothing would seem out of the ordinary. The children had a front row street to the mayhem, and almost in unison, they all plugged their ears with their fingers in anticipation for what they knew what was coming: an explosion from deep underground.

What happened next replays in my mind every single day. In an instant, a loving father and a good soldier lay dead on the ground, and the squad he so readily guided was a tangled mass of limbs in the back of the vehicle, turned sideways from the force of the blast. For just a brief moment, Chevy was airborne.

Framed Horton Chevy

Even in death he was elevated far above his contemporaries. Yet the blast didn't just end his life. For each of us that knew him, it was the defining moment of our lives when we became not only familiar with death, but intimate with it. We were a band of young soldiers, many in our early to late 20s. We were not accustomed to the idea of departed souls, and that explosion was the catalyst that set in motion a new reckoning of what it meant to truly love someone, only to see them go. From that day on, we fully understood the power of the bonds forged in the dusty plains of Yakima, in the sand-blasted tents of Kuwait, and on the muddied streets of Iraq. In a snapshot of time, we aged well beyond our years and gained a luminous insight into life and loss that we will forever carry with us in our hearts.

A friend from the platoon recently came to me, worried that he was thinking about Iraq, especially the time of year that Chevy passed.

"I don't know man, I've been thinking about him a lot lately," he said.

"Don't worry," I replied. I think about it every day. Almost anything reminds me of something."

"Yeah, me too."

I realized I wasn't the only one trying to sort out Chevy's death two years later, to search for the meaning behind it all. The explosion that shook our world to its core and ended the life of an honorable man changed something inside of us, a subtle transformation that we felt but continue to define as the years wear on. It took the loss of Chevy to make us whole, and for that, I cannot thank him enough for being a part of Second Platoon and the spirit for all of our successes and triumphs already accomplished and not yet realized. He brought us home, and for that we owe him a debt of gratitude measured only in prosaic terms.

On March 14 and on every day, I think of him.


That was a mighty powerful message. My heart goes out to you and your comrades.

Thank you for bringing reality and insignt to those of us safely at our computers. I also read the blog-links and am still blinking back tears. My son is now the age Chevy was the day he died. So much courage and so much heartache. Bless you. MC

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