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.

LIVE FREE, DIE WELL |

May 31, 2009

LIVE FREE, DIE WELL
Name: Alex Horton
Posting date: 5/31/09
Returned from: Iraq
Hometown: Frisco, TX
Milblog: Army of Dude   
Email: [email protected]

A Memorial Day post:

My old team leader Jesse was a curious mix of disarming humor and overt seriousness. He would joke and jump around, shouting quotes from Rambo and countless Schwarzenegger movies. His laugh, deep from the belly, echoed down the halls of the barracks and in between the plaster and brick homes of very bewildered Iraqis. Just as quick, though, he'd delve into moments of austere reflection on the tide of war that swept over us. While training to deploy, he hunched over to Josh and me and let us in on a secret ritual that he did during his first deployment with the scouts. Right before the ramp dropped, he would shout, "Live Free!" to which we would reply, "Die Well!" Even though we were about to dismount to shoot blanks and throw fake grenades at people pretending to be insurgents, he said it exactly like he would in combat.

When I was younger, I took the time on Memorial Day to think about men I never met. The Marines that didn't come back with my uncle from Vietnam, and the infantrymen who gave their all with my grandfather in Korea. I thought about a distant relative, killed in battle at Gettysburg. Now that I'm on the other side of the civilian coin, I'm not sure what to think or do on this day. Like I've described before, every day is Memorial Day when you spend months and years with someone, learning their favorite movies and parent's names and their least favorite Spice Girl, only to see their lives end much too soon. The moment you leave a memorial service for someone killed in action, the feelings that come out on Memorial Day are amplified and refracted across the spectrum of emotion. You get a bit each day, forever.

Jesse and Chevy will never be with us again, but their spirits carry on. I can't even look at my backpack without sparking a memory of Jesse. Chevy's name is etched across the bracelet of my wrist, never to be removed. Reminders of their sacrifice are not limited to the attachment of physical objects, but to the future itself. They died well so we could live free. Keep that in mind today, for tomorrow the flags will come down, the barbecues will simmer and the memories of the fallen will quietly fade away.

Please post a story of someone you knew that fell in battle HERE. Doesn't matter who, doesn't matter what war.

A FAREWELL TO ARMS |

May 29, 2009

A FAREWELL TO ARMS
Name: Vampire 06
Posting date: 5/29/09
Stationed in: Afghanistan
Hometown: Folsom, CA
Milblog: Afghanistan Shrugged

Memorial Day 2009 will be one that I remember for the rest of my life. By my own admission I’ve not treated Memorial Day with the appropriate gravitas. Like many Americans, I’m embarrassed to say, I understood why we celebrated it but failed to completely embrace it. It tended to be another day off to barbeque and spend time at home.

It is humbling to stand in a war zone and see your country’s flag flown at half mast in honor of those that have made the ultimate sacrifice on her behalf. I think back to others in my family that glimpsed a similar sight. My father in Vietnam, with the Sky Soldiers, and his father before him with the Tough Hombres at Normandy; I’m just the next in line to pick up the family trade, the profession of arms.

This year is different though. I lost one of my soldiers several nights ago during a mortar attack. He wasn’t an American but he was no less a patriot and no less my soldier. He was a Sergeant in the Afghan National Army. He’ll have to remain nameless as those that wished to do his country harm will still attempt to reach out and harm his family even after his passing.

In a country where so many chose to sit on the sideline, to wait and critique, he chose to pick up arms and insure that his country would not be ruled by a despot or religious fanaticism. He fought to guarantee a better future for his fellow citizens.

He chose a life of hardship and danger. Serving beside the best equipped and trained military in the world, he fought to the best of his ability with what his country supplied him, his spirit and his determination moving him forward into battle.

His sacrifices will not be forgotten. Yesterday we had his memorial service; much different than what we have for US soldiers. We gathered behind the mosque; we being ANA, ETT and the CF Company here.  The death of one soldier, no matter the country, is memorialized by all. ACM bullets, rockets and mortars do not differentiate between US and Afghan.

The mullah sang several suras from the Koran and the Kandak Commander spoke about the important choices each had made to defend their country. Not that much different from what a US Commander would say. Even through my interpreter I understood the meaning, “Don’t let your brother die in vain, keep up the fight.”

After this we departed and the Kandak entered the mosque to pray and remember their brother. That it was Memorial Day in the US made it all the more poignant. As I walked back across the FOB my boots stirred up the chalky Afghan soil that has absorbed so much Afghan and American blood.

Some reading this may wonder why I’ve chosen to write about an Afghan on Memorial Day, when there are so many great Americans to be remembered. I see no difference between my dead ANA soldier and Americans. If I could, I would have made him an honorary American citizen there on the spot. He embodied what we believe in, the fight for what is right.

So, this Memorial Day and those forward will be much different. I’ll remember those who’ve sacrificed for my country and celebrate their lives, but I’ll also remember a lone Afghan sergeant who perished in a distant corner of the world in hope that one day his country will be free from tyranny and evil. 

A MEMORIAL DAY VIDEO |

May 25, 2009

A MEMORIAL DAY VIDEO
Name:
1SGT Troy Steward
Posting date:
5/25/08
Returned from:
Afghanistan
Milblog:
Bouhammer.com

AFGHAN LESSONS LEARNED |

May 22, 2009

AFGHAN LESSONS LEARNED
Name: Vampire 06
Posting date: 5/22/09
Stationed in: Afghanistan
Hometown: Folsom, CA
Milblog: Afghanistan Shrugged

How’s your train up for Afghanistan going?

Not so hot?

Pretty good?

Wonder what equipment you should take?   

Well, four of us from the blog world have banded together to establish a new blog called Afghan Lessons Learned to answer those questions for you.  Bouhammer, Bill and Bob’s Excellent Afghan Adventure, War on Terror News and I want to help get you that information.

After discussing the issue the four of us agreed that there wasn’t a site accessible to everyone with the information needed to prepare for Afghanistan. We also all agreed that some of what the Army is teaching is just pure and utter BS. Like telling people not to drink Chai. What the…?

Thus, A.L.L. came into being.  We want to make this a one-stop shop for open source info on culture, equipment, COIN, FOB reviews and anything else we can think of or you think you may need. The rest of the guys have been here and had very successful tours and I’m still here, so we have plenty of info.

All of us are senior NCOs or officers and we’ll give you the no BS answer to your questions as long as it doesn’t violate OPSEC.

So, if you’re deploying to Afghanistan or know someone who is, please pass word about the site along to them.

Good luck, good hunting and VAMPIRE!

EARTHQUAKE IN SHERZAD |

May 20, 2009

EARTHQUAKE IN SHERZAD
Name: Michael Brameld
Posting date: 5/20/09
Stationed in: Afghanistan
Milblog: A Year in the Sandbox

A couple weeks ago I lucked out and got two days in a row with no mission scheduled, a Thursday and Friday. Most weeks I only get Fridays off, and a lot of weeks there are no days off, so I planned to take full advantage. We spent Thursday building walls in our hooch to replace the hanging sheets and blankets. Even though we actually worked the whole day it was much more enjoyable than another combat patrol. Friday I planned to sleep until noon.

Friday morning at 8 am a guy I work with woke me up. “Hey Brameld, there was an earthquake out in Sherzad, killed a bunch of people. They’re throwing a mission together to take some HA (humanitarian aid) up there, you want it?”

“No I don’t want it, I want to sleep till noon!” I thought as I said, “Sure, I’ll take it,” and climbed out of bed. He told me they were leaving right away so I shaved and dressed and made it to the trucks with all my gear in 15 minutes only to find out they weren’t leaving for another hour and a half. There’s a reason I call this particular co-worker “Ready, fire, aim!”, although Chicken Little would be an apt nickname too. So I went back and took a shower and ate breakfast before we left.

Our Civil Affairs team has had a few 1151s since we got here and they just picked up a couple new MRAPs a couple weeks before. They haven’t had very good luck with them. They’re the ones that almost rolled the MRAP off the side of a bridge. File this tidbit under obvious foreshadowing.

I ended up in the back of their MRAP, which was the lead vehicle. We made it just past the ECP* before the driver managed to get it stuck in a ditch beside the road. We hadn’t even made it completely off the FOB and we were already stuck. We hooked up the winch to a tree and managed to get it out and on the road again.

The first hour of the drive to Sherzad is on hardball, after that it’s all dirt roads. About five minutes after we left the hardball we were in another ditch. These trucks are actually more narrow than the 1151s but it’s hard to judge how much road is left on the sides from the cab, especially on the right side. So the new drivers tend to stick close to the left since they can judge a little better over there. In the picture below it’s hard to see but this is about the widest stretch of dirt road I’ve seen in Afghanistan, but our driver thought the ditch would be a better option. This time there were no trees to hook the winch to so we used the 5-ton that was carrying the HA to pull it out. We switched up the order of march and had the SECFOR* MRAP lead the rest of the way.


Framed Brameld EARTHQUAKE stuck 


We finally made it up to the Sherzad district center and after a short meeting the sub-governor led us out to the village with the most damage. It was way up in the mountains but there were still a lot of people living up there, lots of mud houses. The earthquake happened pretty early in the morning, at 1am or so. By the time we got there they had already evacuated the seriously wounded people. The docs worked on some minor injuries while we unloaded the HA. We were only on the ground for an hour or so, but the commander made the decision to take off so we wouldn’t end up camping out.


Framed Brameld EARTHQUAKE village

Walking down to the village.


Framed Brameld EARTHQUAKE damage

Close up of some of the damage.


Framed Brameld EARTHQUAKE elders

Elders surveying the damage.


Framed Brameld EARTHQUAKE fixing

Fixing the plumbing.

We made a few personnel changes in my truck: the TC (truck commander) took over driving duties, I became the TC, and the old driver became a quivering puddle of useless shame in the back.

The trip back was uneventful for the most part. It got dark when we were about 45 minutes from the city, so that made things a little more interesting. When we got close to the city the convoy commander chose to take the shorter route through the city instead of the bypass around, thinking that there wouldn’t be much traffic out at 8pm. Little did we know Afghanistan had won a spot in the cricket World Cup that evening and the whole city was out celebrating. The streets were packed with people. They were cheering, dancing, setting off fireworks, running around like crazy. Some people had aerosol cans they would spray and light on fire. It was nuts. It made it very scary for the gunners. With all the noise and lights and people everywhere it would have been a mess if somebody had started shooting at us. It would have been impossible to figure out where it was coming from. Luckily we made it through without incident and got back to the FOB.

Framed Brameld EARTHQUAKE rainbow

A rainbow we saw on the way back.


Framed Brameld EARTHQUAKE other stuck

It’s not just MRAPs that get stuck out here…


From what I read in the news later there were 20 or so people killed in the earthquake and hundreds of homes damaged. I’m sure they’ll be cleaning up and rebuilding for a while.


*

ECP: Entry Control Point

SECFOR: Security Forces

DECISION |

May 18, 2009

DECISION
Name:Toby Nunn  
Posting date: 5/18/09
Returned from: Iraq
Milblog url: tobynunn.com

Lately there has been something weighing on my mind that requires some action, but I have been procrastinating. The old reenlistment decision has reared its head once again. I have been commuting a great distance to finish out this contract with the Cal Guard and feel a strong sense of loyalty to the guys out there. It's true that many in the company are Bad Voodoo Members, which makes them family, and it's good to still be able to track their lives and to participate in them since these guys are truly special and enrich my life and yes, even the Knuckleheads.

Is this reenlistment a Gateway Drug? If I do it will I then get sucked into Dancing with Mister Brown Stone? Undoubtedly yes! I am not sure what it is about me, but I cannot seem to do something halfway. I have always been compelled to max it out and push myself very hard, so if I sign back up will I go back over? It's easy for me to look at the kids and say no and have talks with Jeff and Patti and others and say I'm not interested, but I also know in my heart that I would not shy away from it if asked and would not fight to get out even if I was given an out. So what's wrong with me? Am I an addict to serving this country? Am I an addict to the lifestyle of danger? Am I just plain stupid and selfish with no regard for others? I don't know but I am starting to get some insight.

I have been reading a book called No Angel, which is about the infiltration of the Hells Angels by an under cover ATF Agent. As I read the book I saw the point of view and behavior of this agent change. He started out a proud cop that was thirsty for busting bad guys and getting them off the streets because his children used the same streets, and turned into a guy that respected these villains and was estranged from his wonderful family.

It took me back overseas and to my efforts to be a good family man while getting sucked into the realm of my role as a Hard Ass Platoon Sergeant and forgetting to call home and making excuses for not finding more time to do it. I saw this guy's life change and realized that mine too changed when I entered into these roles with the Army. For me to be successful as a Warrior I had to lose my tender side. Toby could not exist, at least to me. Through the past couple of months I have been debating who I like better, Toby vs. SFC Nunn, and it took a weird set of events to set me straight.

In Tampa, I assisted a friend with an unusual request and it took SFC Nunn to do it, but I realized it was Toby that agreed to do it. In California I met up with an old Soldier of mine and realized that the reason he still keeps in contact is not because SFC Nunn taught him something great or saved his life but that Toby was someone he wanted to be friends with. He feared SFC Nunn but respected Toby. At home, SFC Nunn is a nobody that is definitely not who the kids know or want to know; there's this stranger there called "Dad" that I am getting to know, and Toby really likes him. Living in Austin has kept SFC Nunn in California, and Toby runs around freely with this cool cat named Dad.

So recently, after a morning work session with Patti and shipping out some cool swag to the 'Ghan with Jeff, I got home and hopped on my road bike. I had a ride coming up the next weekend from Bethesda to Gettysburg with the Invincible Chuck Z and his Angels and Asphalt Team so I had been "attempting" to prepare myself. As I was riding I decided to take a road I have seen other cyclists go down in the past. I had no idea where it would lead but saw a sign that said "Boat Launch 6 Miles," so to me that sounded like a nice little loop that would be a good keep-the-legs-loose ride.

I'm plugging along thinking to myself about the Bonus and what I could do with it, and how cool it would be to have a Sucker Punch Sally Bike.The road started to twist a bit and I got aggressive so as not to get stuck in a turn with traffic, even thought there was no traffic, and I was starting to lean towards re-upping when the earth dropped out from underneath me. As I made it through a blind corner the road started to go downhill and I mean down hill. This change of events was a commitment and I was in it, going at breakneck speed and no room for error, and it reminded me of how much I like risks.

As I picked up more and more speed I leaned into the corners, reliving past glories and forgetting the obvious. I could handle the risk; in fact my heart rate didn't climb too much, it was exhilarating but manageable. As I finished out that leg I continued to ponder my future, and turned around to head back home.

As I approached that hill that had brought my hair up I realized how far down I had traveled and that the commitment was not to my safety coming down the hill but to my body going back up it. I struggled and panted and dry heaved and puked and gave all I had and hit failure and didn't have the strength to get my cleets out of the pedals.

I cursed myself, perhaps my maker, definitely the bike manufacturer and a bully I hadn't thought about in years. The hill was the ride home and away, but to get home I would have to suffer. A car pulled up behind me and they suffered too since I held them up, but finally I reached the top of the hill -- but was still eight miles from home with more hills to climb.

I have heard that God works in mysterious ways and has a good sense of humor. Yesterday I cursed him and that hill got longer, but before I cursed myself he placed that road in front of me. Lessons on a bike. I never thought I would learn them as an adult, but it seems that I have learned more from a bike now than I did when Darcy and I were kids chasing bears away from my fishing holes on them. By the time I got home and the lactic acid in my legs had reloosened there was no need to make a decision, because there was only one option and it was in front of me all along.

A CULTURE ISSUE |

May 15, 2009

A CULTURE ISSUE
Name: Air Force Wife
Posting date: 5/15/09
Spouse: Preparing to deploy
Milblog: spousebuzz.com
Email: [email protected]


I recently got to attend the Milblog Conference in Washington, D.C., and sit on one of the panels -- with Lily Burana, no less!  Let me tell you, she is every bit as funny, charming, and down to earth in person as you would guess from her writing. Love. Her.

I've been thinking about one question from the conference ever since -- mulling it over in my mind and dissecting my own answer. I've been trying to really define what I was trying to express in a way that someone who is not a member of the military can understand without feeling as though the answer itself was an attack (I'm pretty sure that the military folks there "got it").

The question, paraphrased, was this: I hear that the MSM has failed the military community. Why do you think that is the case?  I hear there are all kinds of communities that feel the media has failed them. (see live blog here)

My answer was short. I'm not complaining about a lack of stories and I'm not complaining about a bias. My biggest problem with the news coverage of the military is the way that stories are so often couched in terms designed to evoke pity or victim-hood. I believe I called it the "Oprah-ization" of the news.

And I am not a victim.

I resent very much any attempts to portray me as a victim, and quite frankly the thought of being pitied by someone makes me want to vomit.

These are the problems I have with the media.

That's not to say that the military life isn't hard. In the normal course of events I usually feel like I'm the main actor in "The Sisyphus Show", pushing my troubles up to nearly the brink before they come crashing down to the bottom (plus a few more) which I then try to roll over the top of the mountain again. And I consider myself lucky! I know the most amazing women who have gone through pregnancies and delivered babies alone. Women who have gone through miscarriages alone, spouses who have dealt with horrendous family problems, moved entire families alone. I know one spouse who dealt with her own extremely debilitating mental health issues during her husband's constant deployments (he has officially been gone about twice the amount of time that he has been home). She dealt with those issues, issues so severe books have been written about the debilitating effects they cause, and she came out of it ahead. With two children.

And how much further can we look than Sew Much Comfort to see an incredible story of rising above -- of succeeding no matter what life tries to throw at you?

I see none of these spouses as victims -- they are my role models. I can't imagine why there is so much focus on the struggle when it seems to me the focus should be on how incredible these military spouses truly are. Pity?  I see them with awe. These are the people I look at when the going gets hard for me, and I think, "So and so went through far worse than I am going through right now and did not give up -- so I have no right to do so myself."

Part of the problem, I think, is that there is a definite culture difference between the military and the non-military connected worlds in America. The drama so ever-present in American pop-culture with reality shows and Perez Hilton is more alien to our inner world, because when you are always facing the ultimate drama of those uniforms at your door, you aren't exactly looking for new ways to create upheaval. When we spouses identify a problem, we talk about the problem; but we also talk about what we need to fix it. And then we fix it.

There was a dearth of connections for military spouses -- and so SpouseBUZZ was born to create a virtual connection for those without FRG's* (or Other Service Equivalent) or with non-functional FRGs (again, or OSE).

Returning wounded needed clothes that would fit around their wounds and still allow them to have some normal activity -- so Sew Much Comfort was born.

Recovery help did not go far enough for many wounded, so Honor Their Service was created to help reach that need.

The list goes on and on.  Military families have stepped up to the plate to fix the problems that no one else seems to notice.

And so, when we run up against a wall that we are unable to fix on our own (like the residency issues we encounter with frequent PCSing*), we assume others will approach the solution in the same matter-of-fact manner that we do: Here's the problem. Here's what is needed to fix it. Let's get that solution started.

Quite often somehow, in trying to get problems solved, the translation to civilian turns soap opera, and the focus becomes not the solution we are seeking but the "pity" that can be evoked by the journey we have traveled.

Perhaps it is a culture issue -- our culture is different, and it isn't always understood outside the military. Our base assumptions and the base assumptions of many civilians about certain things are on opposite sides of a huge chasm. Generally I believe that because we are in the minority, we carry the obligation to be ambassadors and explain things that those outside the community might not have the background to understand. What is normal in my world is a tragedy in someone else's.

On the other hand, I don't think it is too much to ask that the media not use their platform to widen the chasm even more.

Every story is done from a Point of View -- every story. And generally the PoV is the one in which the author is most comfortable, the one they use to present their stories most often. I challenge the media to step outside the tragic milieu and see and represent the military stories they show as we see them.

People for whom the journey isn't the end-point. The most incredible group of grass roots activists in the nation.

Normal people who also happen to be absolutely amazing.


*

FRG: Family Readiness Group

PCS: Permanent Change of Station


NATO NIGHT FEVER |

May 13, 2009

NATO NIGHT FEVER
Name: Deployed Teacher
Posting date: 5/13/09
Stationed in: Afghanistan
Milblog: Deployed Teacher 
Email: [email protected]

Many linguists, hired as contractors, previously held important positions within Afghanistan before their families fled. Some were university professors, some were doctors, others were government officials; it runs the gamut. It's very interesting to hear about their past lives. From my observations, there is a subculture of linguist hierarchy on US bases, based on their prior Afghan status and related to their present status. For example, translators who work for Generals, Colonels, or are considered the primary translators for high profile meetings with Afghan Ministers, Governors, etc., hold greater status than other linguists down the food chain. Think in terms of an unofficial military rank, civilian style. Makes sense, right?

An acquaintance has taken to referring to his fellow Afghan linguists by nickname. You know, like we use "Bubba" and "Dawg." He has christened three linguists as SuperZ, ZZ, and EZ. Their first names begin with Z, so I was impressed by his use of humor and creativity in coming up with these nicknames, each designated according to reasoning that only he is privy to.

We were recently having a discussion of a serious nature, solving the war and all, and talk turned to Afghan linguists. With a serious tone, he said, "You know, EZ is a member of NATO." I paused, feeling honored to be let in on EZ's status. I've seen EZ around so I know who he is.

EZ is a self assured middle-aged Afghan, who is held in high regard by fellow Afghans due to his seniority in theater and current position. He's like a BMOC (Big Man On Campus) at a university, and I gather, is a ladies man. His appearance is akin to that of a Saturday Night Fever disco character.

His linguist "uniform" is accentuated by a thick gold chain, a satin, unbuttoned pointy-collared shirt, and topped off with a black fedora hat, brim turned down -- to cover his bald spot? Don't get me wrong, It's perfectly alright to still be living in the 80s. Back in the US, I see it all the time. But in Afghanistan?

Needless to say, beyond EZ's appearance, I was impressed by the linguist's comment. I expected him to continue, feeding us more details, telling us how EZ travels to Kabul to translate for our NATO partners. We waited for him to go on.

After a short, well timed pause, he continued. "Yes, EZ's like NATO...all talk, no action!" Those present were so taken aback by his statement, we laughed! But beyond the reference to EZ, I took it also as his opinion of NATO, an entity I had never given much thought to while in theatre....hmmm.

WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE |

May 11, 2009

WHERE THE WILD THINGS ARE
Name: America's 1st Sgt.
Posting date: 5/11/09
Stationed in: Iraq   
Milblog: Castra Praetoria
Email: [email protected]


During my previous deployment to Iraq I had to contend with all types of exotic creatures which made our lives that much more interesting. These included mosquitoes which extracted blood by the pint, chupacabra sightings which turned out to be feral cats living in our garbage can, and an army of mice which could chew through armored bulkheads if they thought something edible was on the other side.

This trip I have had to contend with swarms of gnats which blow into your face like a winged tornado. The phenomenon becomes quite interesting during physical exercise. So far I have only swallowed seven of them. It is a far more pleasant experience than keeping your mouth firmly closed and snorting one up a nostril though. Trust me.

As spring moves into summer, we expect to see an increase in snake activity. Among the various neuro and hemotoxic fiends which inhabit the area are the Desert Black Snake, the Persian Sand Viper, and the Blunt-Nosed Viper (look closely at boot, below). All come equipped with a full range of lethality, not unlike your average Marine.

Framed AmFirst WILD snakes

Also available are the nocturnal joys of the local arachnid population. My favorite is the Death Stalker Scorpion. This creature lives throughout Iraq and we are told is very neurotoxic. Fortunately for humanity it is only “relatively aggressive." Not a trait I admire in predators, but for my own safety I’ll take what I can get.

Framed AmFirst WILD scorpion. jpg

At night here on Al Assad you can hear the din of strange creatures cavorting about. Some have assumed wild dogs are roaming the area. Others suppose they are coyotes of some kind. The other night one of these lurking nightmares was caught in a live trap by animal control on base.

Framed AmFirst WILD hyena truck

That friends, is a wild striped hyena. It looks like some ferocious space dog thing which may have attacked Captain Kirk in an old Star Trek episode. Here is another picture from Wiki:

Framed AmFirst WILD hyena front

Seems there is a pack of these creatures prowling the base. Here is some video:

 

When I leave the company office at night, I now do it at a full sprint.



EIGHT YEARS LATER |

May 07, 2009

EIGHT YEARS LATER
Name: RN Clara Hart
Posting date: 5/8/09
Stationed in: a military hospital in the U.S.
Milblog: From Our Perspective
Email: [email protected]

The September 11th Pentagon Memorial opened last year, and while I had an invite to the official unveiling I could not bring myself to go. This weekend was different, so with friends in tow I worked up the courage to make the journey. I knew it was going to be a hard thing for me. After losing friends that day and being at the scene as a medical provider there were too many painful memories for it not to be.

The day dawned bright and beautiful; sunny, cloudless blue sky, temperatures in the 80s. A day a lot like Sept 11th, 2001, and there was an eerie sense of calm as I stepped out of my car and took it all in. Sucking in deep breaths I reached back for the flowers I had brought and straightening with them in my shaking hands I gazed at the memorial. It was the first time I had seen it except in a picture or architectural plans.

As my friends walked by my side, my steps slowed with trepidation the closer we got to the entrance. Two black granite walls were inscribed with “Pentagon Memorial” and words which reduced me to tears.

The first wall said, “We claim this ground in remembrance of the events of September 11th, 2001. To honor the 184 people whose lives were lost, their families and all who sacrifice that we may live in freedom. We will never forget”.  

The second wall bore these words: “On September 11th, 2001 acts of terrorism took the lives of thousands at the World Trade Center in New York City, in a grassy field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania and here at the Pentagon. We will forever remember our loved ones, friends and colleagues.” 


Framed Kalaine Pentagon Memorial 4

As my vision began to blur I scanned the names for one in particular. Unable to find it I clutched the flowers to my chest and began to cry in earnest. I remembered hearing the words “We can’t find him” that day and in the days that followed. I smelled the jet fuel and saw the flames and black clouds of smoke rising from the destroyed building. I heard the “evacuate” orders and in my mind I watched people running. Pain blindsided me and sobs buried deep within clawed their way out. I wanted to fall to my knees, wrap my arms around my body and scream with the absolute agony of the hurt inside me. The sorrow overflowed and I was helpless. My friends, on either side of me, wrapped their arms around me and protected me from the onlookers witnessing this very private hell.

Slowly I was able to regain control and move forward into the memorial. As I walked the perimeter I looked at the years on the markers. The memorial is set up from youngest to oldest, each name engraved on the open end of a bench, with the bench opening to the Pentagon if the person was on the plane or opening away from the Pentagon if the person was in the building.

Framed Kalaine Pentagon Memorial 3

Reaching the correct year I began to walk amongst the granite and silver benches; once again unable to find that particular name I began to feel panic whelm up inside me. My friend called my name and as I turned around he pointed and said, “It’s here”.  Making my way over I sat and laid my flowers in the water flowing below. Thoughts and images raced around in my head, silent screams once again threatening to become audible.  How is it possible after almost eight years it can still hurt this badly?

Framed Kalaine Pentagon Memorial 001

Later I faced my friend and looked at him and said, “You often tell me I am passionate about my work, protective as hell of my wounded and their families." I waved my hand in the direction of the other benches and the Pentagon. “This is why." With tears streaming down my face and in a voice choked with emotion I spoke of that day and I told him things I have never shared with anyone. I talked about the very basic fact that, to me, every single one of the men and women I care for is helping to prevent another September 11th.

When I finished speaking he walked over to me and wrapped his arms around me, my sobs again taking over as we stood there. A combat veteran and a nurse, both with memories too painful to put into words but sharing the common ground, the agony, that such images and experiences bring.

Needing to be alone I wandered off, and when I was ready I circled back around to meet my friends.  As they approached I saw another woman accompanying them. As we drew even she gazed at me and said, “I’m sorry to intrude, but I felt led to come over and tell you how sorry I am for your loss." Her face filled with sadness. She said she was from Texas, and I recognized her as the woman who had arrived at the same time we did, and had witnessed my collapse. Embarrassed, I wanted to move on, but she opened her arms and said, “I’m so sorry for your pain. Please, I’d like to give you a hug if I may.”  In that moment the kindness and empathy of strangers was shown to me. She understood, even eight years later. I briefly hugged her, thanked her for her words and had to move on, afraid if I stayed any longer the pain would resurface and I would once again be reduced to wrenching sobs. 

Framed Kalaine Pentagon Memorial 5




ANATOMY OF A FIREFIGHT |

May 06, 2009

ANATOMY OF A FIREFIGHT
Name: Uncle Jimbo
Posting date: 5/6/09
Returned from: Two dozen countries that aren't Iraq or Afghanistan
Hometown: Green Bay, WI
Milblog: Blackfive

Anyone who has not been in one would be surprised by the randomness and lack of certainty in a firefight. Neither team knows just what is happening. But the team that dominates wins. This video is a quick look at an hour-long scrap of our guys v. the Talibs, shortened to four and a half minutes. I vote for these guys from the 173rd Airborne, 2nd of the 503rd Chosen Company as America's bad asses.They are known to us many due to the Tanker Babe's relentless support of them and so many others. The Rock dominated.


PICTURE POST |

May 04, 2009

PICTURE POST
Name: Michael Brameld
Posting date: 5/4/09
Stationed in: Afghanistan
Milblog: A Year in the Sandbox


I’ve been pretty bad about updating my blog lately, so I’m just going to post pictures from the last month or so to catch up, then I’ll start writing again.

Framed Brameld PICTURE Zombies 1

One of our SECFOR guys making sure the zombies don’t get us.

Framed Brameld PICTURE Pee break 2


Stopped for a pee break in Sherzad.

Framed Brameld PICTURE kids 3

These kids were trying to sell us some hash.

Framed Brameld PICTURE vehicle 4

New toy, a MaxxPro Dash. These MaxxPros suck sooo bad. They were designed for urban operations and have very tight suspensions. When you go off-road you feel every little bump. And by feel every little bump I mean your head gets jammed into the ceiling.

Framed Brameld PICTURE turret 5

Beautiful day to be in the turret.

Framed Brameld PICTURE locals 6

LT chatting up the locals.

Framed Brameld PICTURE donkey 7

Cargo donkey.

Framed Brameld PICTURE 50 cal 8

There are big shiny metal balls hanging from the .50.

Framed Brameld PICTURE school 9

School assessment.

Framed Brameld PICTURE valley 10

River valley below the school.

Framed Brameld PICTURE slingshots 11

Kids shooting slingshots at a Gatorade bottle.

Framed Brameld PICTURE kids 12

Kids and their slingshots. I bought one for $1.


Framed Brameld PICTURE gate 13

Clinic at Torkham Gate.

Framed Brameld PICTURE clinic 14

Another clinic in Mohmand Dara.

Framed Brameld PICTURE tooth 15

Kid with a tooth infection. Doc gave him some Motrin and antibiotics.

Framed Brameld PICTURE edge 16

Got a little too close to the edge.

Framed Brameld PICTURE closeup 16

It looks much worse than it really was…

Framed Brameld PICTURE closer up 17

Figuring out the best way to unfuck the truck.

Framed Brameld PICTURE Reid 19

Reid in the turret.

Framed Brameld PICTURE Brameld 20

A whole lot of sexy.


RUSSIAN MINED |

May 01, 2009

RUSSIAN MINED
Name: Deployed Teacher
Posting date: 5/1/09
Stationed in: Afghanistan
Milblog: Deployed Teacher    
Email: [email protected]


Today, as I was walking to the office, I came upon familiar LN* workers walking towards our building. Lagging behind was the elder gentleman of the group, limping a bit.

I'd guess him to be around 50-55 years old. It's hard to tell. In Afghanistan. If born in a village, people generally don't know what their birth date is. When asked for one's age, an Afghan might respond with something like, "I was born when the King died," or "The year the Russians invaded is when I was born."  In addition, I'm told, there are only two major ceremonies in their lives: when they're born, and when they die.

Mind-boggling, huh? Can you imagine the possibilities if we used that same reference system to answer the question, "When were you born?" A response in the US might be, "When the first car came out," or, "The year we landed a man on the moon," or, "When President Clinton denied having sex with that intern, Monica." But I digress.

Framed Teacher MINED As I approached, I asked the elder why he was limping, like he could understand my impeccable English. Then I reverted to what I know best -- gesticulating, pointing to his leg, and raising my voice like he had a hearing problem, as opposed to a comprehension problem. Now he understood my question!

I was stunned by his answer because I knew he spoke little to no English. He stopped, looked down, lifted his pantleg to show me a prosthesis, and exclaimed, "F***n' damn Russians mines! F***n' Russian mines!"

Whoa, Polish flashback! I was not sure whether to laugh at his impassioned, totally unexpected outburst, or be disgusted by the reality of the Russian legacy left for Afghanistan. After an awkward pause, I congratulated him on his impeccable English, encouraged him to continue expressing his feelings concerning the Russians, and we shook hands and continued our walk silently to the building.

I saw this gentleman later in the day, and having thought about what he'd said, asked if I could take a picture of his prosthetic leg to share with the world. He smiled and obliged.

In hindsight, the "mines" picture at the top of my blog, has more meaning than ever to me now, and I will always think of this man, my "I was born when the King died"-aged, Afghan friend.

*LN: Local National; hundreds of male workers are brought in from nearby cities and villages to do a variety of jobs on the base. Their employment helps stimulate the local economy.


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