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.

I.E.D. |

June 26, 2009

I.E.D.: WAR IN AFGHANISTAN AND IRAQ
Name: SANDBOX DUTY OFFICER David Stanford
Posting date: 6/26/09

Excerpts from some of the posts on the Sandbox have been included in a fascinating new book, I.E.D.: War in Afghanistan and Iraq, by photographer David Levinthal, recently published by Powerhouse books. Here is Levinthal's introductory essay, along with some of the images:


OSCAR MIKE (On the Move)

This book is an examination of how we are looking at war. It is about how and perhaps why the wars that we are now engaged in have been miniaturized and abstracted right before our eyes.Framed danger

We are faced for the first time with war that is brought to us virtually in real time, through cell phone images and streaming video, daily television sound bites, and a profusion of milblogs. And it is being brought to us through toys and models as well.

In the fall of 2006, I came across a company that was making sets of model soldiers and civilians from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. They were made of metal and beautifully hand-painted.

I had seen one of the first sets of these figures back in 2004 -- a group of figures depicting Osama bin Laden being captured by U.S. Special Forces. The vacuum-formed cave that served as a background was available as an accessory. Two years later, there was suddenly a flood of figures and models, miniaturizing the participants and objects involved in both conflicts; everything from Iraqis manning checkpoints to insurgents, who came in a box labeled "The Bad Ones." Framed roadblock Along with the increase in the number and type of models came an increase in the quality of the figures and armored vehicles. Kits were now available that offered highly detailed molded plastic parts that could be painted and used to construct extremely realistic dioramas.

Thirty-six years ago, while I was a graduate student in photography at Yale, I started working with some very small and very simple unpainted plastic toy soldiers. Creating primitive dioramas with butcher paper and paint, I began a series of photographs that eventually evolved into a collaboration with fellow student Garry Trudeau and resulted in a book entitled Hitler Moves East. First published in 1977, it re-created the conflict of the Eastern Front in WWII.

Framed greenlight In the early 70s there were very few documentary photographs or films from the Eastern Front available. The British series on the subject, narrated by Burt Lancaster and broadcast on PBS in 1978, was appropriately called "The Unknown War."

This paucity of images gave Garry and me a virtually blank visual canvas. I hadn't lived through World War II, so I was free to let my imagination merge with the documentary images that did exist and create a symbolic reality. Working with the concept of staged photography, I was venturing into unbroken ground.

The situation I faced when I began this project in 2007 was completely different. The reality of war today is all too vivid. Not only are there now models covering every facet of the war and every imaginable vehicle, but all of these figures exist in every degree of quality, from the most simple representation to the most complex and exact replica.

Framed RPG Synchronicity has linked my work to a project by my Hitler Moves East collaborator, Garry Trudeau, creator of the comic strip Doonesbury. In the fall of 2006 he started The Sandbox, a milblog which posts writing from troops deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan on his website Doonesbury.com. In the course of The Sandbox's first two years the site's Duty Officer, David Stanford, has edited and posted over 500 essays from over 100 contributors. For I.E.D. he has drawn from that body of work to provide the boots-on-the-ground testimony that accompanies the images.

What was I trying to accomplish with these photographs? Leaving aside the analysis that psychotherapy might provide, which would be far too expensive and impossible to schedule around the demands of a very active four year old, I can only venture a self-reflective guess. I  Framed by wall looking up was drawn to these figures in large part because I was both amazed at their existence and fascinated by what they represent. I wanted to make beautiful, compelling pictures of the horror of war. I wanted to create reality without hiding the unreality of what I was doing.

When something unreal can become almost real, it is perhaps more frightening to us, and perhaps more revealing.


MY NON-DINNER WITH STEPHEN |

June 24, 2009

MY NON-DINNER WITH STEPHEN
Name: Chaplain CPT Dr. Father Tim 
Posting date: 6/24/09
Stationed in: Iraq
Milblog: Curmudgeon: An Unlikely Army Chaplain

You know, pronounced "Koal-Bare".

So there SFC McG and I were, on our way into a palace to say Mass. It happens quite a lot for us. It was our fourth Mass of the day, and it was well over 100 degrees Fahrenheit (again, still, already), so it might as well be in a palace, nicht Wahr?

We saw lots of military types lined up, as if cattle, according to last name presumably, as we neared the rather impressive entrance to the edifice. (But do cattle have last names?) We avoided them as if they had the anthrax.

Whipping out our ID badges that permit us entrance into the place (unlike those hoi polloi, who needed to get "Visitor" badges -- oh the shame of it!), we strode imperiously past the armed guards, who smile deferentially. As they should.

Inside, the normally quiet and mostly deserted space had been enclosed and transformed into a television studio, with Stephen Colbert minions milling about, ant-like, doing whatever Stephen Colbert minions do. Himself was at a large, almost circular desk in the center of the raised platform that serves as the stage. (The desk-top, seen from above, is revealed to be a large letter "C.")

SFC McG and I proceeded upstairs, though via a different route from that which we normally take, as the Stephen Colbert minions had blocked our path with television studio equipment. Or just because they could, I suppose. The racket made by all those civilians and their military handlers drowned out the sound of the musicians practicing for Mass (which we can usually hear upon entering the palace's central rotunda).

I had somewhat expected to be accosted by someone demanding to know why SFC McG and I were there, but we just sailed on through. It turns out we got there two hours before 'show time'. The military personnel who'd been herded into long lines outside the building began to enter the audience's portion of the 'studio' just after SFC McG and I arrived.

The noise grew louder.

Mass started promptly at 1730, and although we were 90 minutes out from the start of the show downstairs, the sounds from down there intruded rather noticeably, even with both doors of our upper room closed. The building is actually rather sepulchral on Sunday evenings, normally, so this was quite distracting.

Now, I've said Mass in some interesting situations over here Down Range before, accompanied by some rather odd sights and sounds. I'm reminded of one tiny patrol base we visited (so tiny that only one helicopter could land at a time; the other would remain airborne, circling) where we set up for Mass in an MWR (morale, welfare, recreation) room separated only by a thin wall from the power-lifting gym.

I had never said Mass before to the sounds of such grunts and groans and profanity. Quite an experience for me, but didn't seem to phase the congregants in the least....

About mid-way through the palace Mass yesterday, so an hour out from the beginning of the show, they seemed to begin the warm-up entertainment, which increased the noise factor considerably.

We just soldiered on in our celebration of the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity.

I must admit there was something very incarnational about doing Mass in the midst of that mess!

Afterward, SFC McG and I just grabbed folding chairs from the video conference room where our faithful remnant had been praying, and watched the festivities below from the second floor. Again to my surprise, no one gave us a hard time about that, to include the couple of full-bird colonels who wound up standing beside me and to my left as they watched the show, too.

The show was quite funny, as it turned out.

Now, Stephen Colbert has often mentioned his Catholicism on air, I'm told. So why didn't you come to Mass yesterday, Stephen?

Huh? Huh?

Framed Chaplain Colbert bigger  

In this photo (by Moises Saman for the New York Times), if one looks very, very closely (and practices a healthy modicum of willing suspension of disbelief, I suppose), one can see my bald pate, as I'm seated at the railing of the second-floor gallery. SFC McG, or at least part of his upper body, can be seen standing next to the wall near one of the pillars.

Blessings and peace to one and all.

THE LAST BURNING EMBERS |

June 23, 2009

THE LAST BURNING EMBERS OF AN ENLISTMENT
Name: The Usual Suspect
Posting date: 6/22/09
Returned from: Iraq
Milblog: Stop-Loss, and a Wakeup?

This brings us to the last light of a strange and vile journey. Nearly every loose end is tied and the frayed ends are melted down with a buddy's lighter (armyfags will understand this one).

All the hoops, every last ring of the despicable circus, every detail, every mission, every CQ shift, every 3 AM drunken stagger through the barracks, every broken washing machine, every formation, all neatly categorized in a fat thick filing cabinet labeled "NO LONGER RELEVANT."

Sometime when I have a day to kill, I'll sit down and read this entire oddyssey from beginning to end, starting with the narrative from that dumb as shit nineteen year old kid, before there ever was a Suspect at all. I'll retrace all my steps and try to figure out where I was and where I am now. Get my bearings, nervously test the ground to be sure it's solid.

An unshaven, sparsely stubbled face behind a pair of Oakleys and unkempt hair will wear a tiny smirk from behind a sloped windshield, piercing through traffic on I-5. Riding off into the sunset, kid.

Yeah, I was never fully gone, but I was never really here either. A castaway in limbo, a wild rollercoaster of a trip that for all intents and purposes might not have even been real. Who I was and what I am now, well that's something that'll take some figuring out. Rising through the rubble of four years, I guess we have all the time in the world to piece that one together.

Depending on when you read this, I might already be out there amongst you. Hell, I have so many places to go and things to do, we'll cross paths and you won't even know it. A neat thought to be sure, but now's a good a time as any to pop ninja smoke and ghost the fuck out of here, roll credits, thanks for playing, ya don't have to go home but I ain't staying anywhere near this joint.

But first, let's share a parting chuckle, shall we?

My DD-214 reads "HONORABLE DISCHARGE." HaHaHaHaHaHa!  Yeah, a real All-American good ol' boy. My most honorable discharge was in the middle of a firefight in Baghdad, so joke's on you, Uncle Sam.

Peace, and fuck Honda.


P.S.  I started these filthy rags as a way to keep track of everything I was doing, let my friends see what was up with me if they by some miracle were still interested, and also because I couldn't find a complete chronicling of an enlistment anywhere on the internet.

That said, I never expected a whole lot, figured it wouldn't get much exposure and amount to little more than a notebook full of ramblings, stuffed under the bed or buried by dirty clothes in the closet, that sorta thing. I never really put a lot of intense thought into any of this, I just always sort of did it on a whim, very much in the moment, and when I was done I left it at that. On occasion, I went back and proofread, but usually not. So you can imagine what a kick in the ass it is to find that people read this of their own free will, and some even enjoy it. It still blows me away.

So thanks to everyone who has ever stopped to read, and to everyone who takes the time to email or comment and tell me to pull my head out of my ass or to otherwise opine and relate experiences. I never would have kept this rag up this whole time if it weren't for all the feedback. I get bored. So thanks for helping me complete this and giving me the kick in the ass I constantly need. The adventure continues at Rucksack To Backpack. Live free. Suspect.

TO THE STRONG AND WONDERFUL WOMEN! |

June 19, 2009

TO THE STRONG AND WONDERFUL WOMEN!
Name: Vampire 06
Posting date: 6/19/09
Stationed in: Afghanistan
Hometown: Folsom, CA
Milblog: Afghanistan Shrugged

How does one say “Thank You” for such an incredible debt owed?

This is a post that I’ve struggled to write many times during my deployment and each time it seems that I’ve failed. At the end I’m always left with the feeling that I didn’t quite describe their hardship, give them their true credit or convey our true gratitude. I’ll try; but am afraid I shall fail them.

I’m talking about the women that stand guard at home, support us, encourage us and reinforce that fighting spirit that sustains us. Our wives, mothers, grandmothers, aunts, sisters, volunteers and so many other wonderful and strong women that I can’t even begin to name.

Not just our team but each and every soldier, marine, sailor or airman that deploys to Afghanistan or Iraq, for that matter any conflict. A huge burden is being carried by those that fight but do not go to combat.

Thank you, for being the ones that deal with the mess once we leave. We’re trained well to fight. But there is no Field Manual that describes how to explain to a young child that their father isn’t going to be home for a long time or in the worst case may never come home. You do it with such grace and poise.

Thank you, for being patient and waiting. Enduring the pain of waiting to hear from us, wondering if the worst has occurred when we’re late calling or emailing, and enduring our complete lack of understanding at your frustration and fear when we are late. “We came back late from patrol," just doesn’t validate that fear. Your patience is epic.

Thank you, for being the ones that hold us fast to reality and help put us back together when we return. You hold us tight and tell us things will be okay when the rockets and gunfire have gone but the war has not left us. Your strength is what protects the warrior.

Thank you, for accomplishing all the things that we fail to acknowledge. Fixing broken sprinklers, taking kids to school, paying bills and the myriad of other things that are required to sustain life at home. You do so much and get so little from us many times.

Thank you for being the volunteer that says “Welcome Home” in the middle of the night, ensuring that no one comes home to silence, and being there when we leave to say “Come Home Safe." You inspire us with your selfless service.

Finally, thank you for being you. For serving in a war you did not volunteer for and keeping us strong, sane and secure.  We and the rest of the country owe you a huge debt that can never be repaid. The best we can hope for is to understand your journey, listen and learn from you.

From the bottom of our hearts, Team Vampire and every other serving member says “THANK YOU!"

And to my wife and mother; I could not have done all of this without you. You are the truest warriors I know, pure of heart, strong in determination and unwavering in faith. I have a lot to learn from your examples!

Once again I reach the end of this post and I think I’ve come so very short of expressing our gratitude. This is the 12th time I written this post.

In tribute to all of the strong and wonderful women that support the fighting force, we’ve joined together with Ranger Up to stage OPERATION:VAMPIRE PINK to raise money for breast cancer research.  We designed a new shirt which you can see below, and $5 from each sale is donated to the Susan G. Kommen Foundation.


Framed Vampire Women shirt


Click here to order the SUSAN KOMMEN TRIBUTE SHIRT by RANGER UP !

It has the female Vampire on the back. Yes, she's bad ass because you're bad ass! We all know you always cover our back, and the front is just politically incorrect enough. We don’t collect a dime for this.

It’s a very small way to say “Thanks” for everything you do. So please buy one in tribute to those that have supported every warrior!

Please pass the link along to whomever you wish. It can do so much good in the name of those that have given so much!

AN OPEN PLEA TO MILBLOGGERS |

June 17, 2009

AN OPEN PLEA TO MILBLOGGERS
Name: Old Blue
Posting date: 6/17/09
Returned from: Afghanistan
Milblog: Bill and Bob's Excellent Afghan Adventure

There is a disturbing trend among milbloggers; they fade away. So many who have written during their deployments come home and eventually shut down their blogs.The groundswell of on-the-spot literature detailing the experiences of so many and giving unique insights into the minds of America's fighting few is as temporary as a Facebook profile or a Yahoo Personals ad. That's a loss, because we few, we happy few, we band of bloggers, are writing history and then deleting it.

Last year I was contacted by a graduate student in history who sought permission to archive my blog. I'm sure I was not the only one. In a recent conversation a friend of mine, Susan, a PhD Professor of Journalism who is fascinated by the phenomenon of milblogging, lamented two things. First, the fact that so many female milbloggers just go away, as they provide a unique insight into a war in which females have shared the burden as in no other. Second, the fact that so many milbloggers cannot find what we decided to call a "post-deployment voice." I know I struggled with this, and a quick check of my archives after my return from the lumpy sandbox will show the struggle. Eventually, I found that voice. Many don't.

Susan also pointed out that there are dozens of Iraqi blogs that are maintained even if the principal author is killed. These are insurgent blogs, and at this rate their history will overshadow our own. Win the war, lose the history. Hey, it's happened before. It's not like there aren't, or won't be, any revisionists out there. Ask a holocaust survivor.

Troy, the author of Bouhammer, and I discussed this as well. He had the same trouble. We talked about the number of blogs out there, some quite popular while the author was in a theater of combat, which just faded away, and eventually were removed from the rolls of the blogosphere. Some of these bloggers had their own domains and perhaps just got tired of paying for them. Some just quit writing, but instead of leaving the blog up they deactivated it or deleted it.

Here is my plea: Don't delete your blog. Please don't delete your blog. Whether you realize it or not, whether you can find a post-deployment voice or not, whether or not you feel that you can share the experiences of being a veteran warrior returning to a country that seems to have forgotten or chooses to ignore, please don't delete your blog. You have written history, and someday there will be those who wish to know what you saw, how you felt, how the events such as the summits, the conferences, the elections, the official high level stuff that others will care to prognosticate, spin, alter and otherwise fold, spindle or mutilate affected you as an entity who wore one pair of boots. Someday your story may affect someone's perception of how the big picture looked, and how your little picture fit into the big picture.

It's bigger than you. If you are paying for a domain and you wish to stop, get a blogspot address and import your old posts. Please. It's too easy.

Every historian wants to be the one who unearths the next treasure trove of long-forgotten letters from the front in an old trunk in an attic. We have done more documentation of this war from the ground level than any other war. Except this war, which has been so well documented via electrons, is likely to be the least well-documented for posterity because electrons fade away or are deleted.

So, from one blogger to another (among thousands of others), please keep your blog up on the net, even if you never write in it again.

Readers, if you have a favorite milblog that has disappeared, put the name and an old link to the blog in the Comments section below this post. We're going to start a list of now-defunct blogs and perhaps we can prevail upon the authors to restore their blogs, if not their voices, to the blogosphere.

PARADISE |

June 15, 2009

PARADISE
Name: SGT B.
Posting date: 6/15/09
Stationed in: Iraq
Hometown: Rockford, WA
Milblog: The Gun Line 
Email: hvygunner@gmail.com

I was looking at the number of posts I written since we got here. Not that many, actually.

Compared to the work-up and the story of my journey to get here, it’s almost anti-climactic. The Ernie Pyle in me was expecting a series of “Joe Blow” stories, regaling with heroic exploits of daring-do, punctuated with the poignant observations of a soldier at war.

Frankly, there hasn’t been much in the way of excitement, and I didn’t want to bore you with the same old “Nothing happened today...” day after day.

On the other hand, the fact that there’s nothing to report is a good thing (see my previous post).

If I were 20 years younger, I would be humming with suppressed frustration, wanting to get into the fight and mix it up in grand style. I would be absolutely inconsolable because, right now, there is absolutely nothing exciting going on. The missions that we send outside of the wire are in the most danger, but even then the excitement factor is low, because you’re out there looking for signs of something that the bad guys may have implanted days ago. They have long since left the area, so even if you get lucky, there’s not much that the young war-fighter can do but brush himself off and continue on. The “Falluja-type” operations are a distant memory, and the challenge now falls to the NCOs to keep their young charges focused on a job that can be mind-numbingly dull.

Which, in the big picture, is a good thing, when viewed with the eye of an old soldier: Excitement is bad, boring is good, means that there’s a pretty good chance that everybody will come back with all of their fingers and toes.

Sooo…

They told me that I had to go on Pass, to Quatar, for four days of fun and frolic.

I won’t go into detail about the amenities. Elaborate Force Protection Measures exist to make this place as safe a haven as can possibly be, so that war-fighters can totally relax, let their hair down, and take a deep breath without concern, and I won’t do a thing to change that.

But there is beer --  three a day. Which also happens to be the safe limit for your humble scribe, without treading into the realm of “let’s-make-a-slobbering-fool-out-of-ourselves."  Enough time in a dry country, and you become a really cheap drunk!

And the rest of the day, you do…nothing. You loaf around, beholden to no one, wandering about in t-shirt, shorts, and flip-flops. Your hardest choice is deciding at which venue you want to have your daily booze ration, and practicing for the evening goof-off.

For a young warrior, with his hair on fire, it could be maddening. For us old long-fangs, it is paradise. Being able to sit back in air-conditioned comfort, relaxing, pondering, moving at “dead slow."

Paradise, I tell you…

AN OPEN LETTER |

June 12, 2009

AN OPEN LETTER
Name: Guard Wife
Posting date: 6/12/09
Spouse deployed to: Iraq
Hometown: Dayton, Ohio
Milblog: Spousebuzz

Dear Deployment,

Although I understand that we are not strangers, I did want to set forth a few ground rules and observations before you officially begin your timeline. First and foremost, please remember that I despise surprises so should you feel the need to visit again before my husband retires, a little notice never hurt anyone. Frankly, I'd appreciate it if you would just take the hint and make yourself scarce, but I understand that you have a job to do and you sometimes find it necessary to do it repeatedly and on your own terms.

You are a tad hard to ignore, Deployment, but I'm doing my best. I have a list of questions in my mind that I need to address with my husband and I will likely do so this weekend. This interaction should not, however, be interpreted as my accepting that you are here or acknowledging your existence in any way. I prefer to maintain my usual schedule of denial until this summer...when I'm really sure you're seriously not kidding in your intentions toward my husband. We plan to put up with you, but we do not plan to make you comfortable in your stay with us. In fact, prepare to be ignored. Sorry. That's just how we roll.

I would also like to make clear that I have absolutely no intention of allowing you to sponsor any type of Germ Festivus in my home as you did in '04-'05. This is patently unsat and will not be tolerated under any circumstance. You will also not invite over any of your other "unexpected" friends. These friends include, but are not limited to: The Germ Tag Team; Death-of-a-Pet; Health Scares; Anxiety Attacks; Insomnia; Crying Jags; or R and R babies. We are willing to work with you, Deployment, but we have rules here and they must be obeyed.

It goes without saying, Deployment, that I expect you to return my husband to me in the manner in which I am delivering him to you next week. He can remain the cranky, stubborn, self-centered man that he is (and if he comes home with washboard abs, I won't complain), however, I do not believe you will want to test me by changing his physical, chemical, spiritual, mental or any other -al part of his make-up as I will not take that lying down. Ask around. I do not enjoy being pushed around and you are already on thin ice where I am concerned.

You will also, Deployment, maintain an assured clear distance of my children and their hearts and minds.They will, of course, miss their Daddy and cry for him. You will, however, allow them to maintain as much normalcy and stability as I can create...you will not stand in my way. But, once your welcome is officially worn out at our home, Deployment, you will go. You will not remain to cloud their hearts or put doubt in their minds. Again, don't test me. I think I'm being overly generous here.

Finally, Deployment, I will admit that I am far less interested in the lessons I may learn from you this time than I was the first go 'round. I do know two things for sure: 1)  I will not become restless enough this time to consider anything even remotely as crazy as law school, and 2) I will be strong in the face of disappointment, fear and loneliness in regard to our adoption. You are not going to rob us of that joy. Sorry. I'm just not allowing you to have that kind of power.

I think that's it for now, Deployment. I do, however, reserve the right to add to this list as I see fit over the next fifteen months or so. You, however, had best just stick to the nuts and bolts of your plan and don't try anything funny or fancy.

Sincerely,
Guard Wife

LORD OF THE FLIES |

June 10, 2009

LORD OF THE FLIES
Name: Vampire 06
Posting date: 6/10/09
Stationed in: Afghanistan
Hometown: Folsom, CA
Milblog: Afghanistan Shrugged

The Cougar MRAP rumbles to a stop. The trailing dust cloud washes over the vehicle, temporarily obscuring the outside world to us. The AC is broken and the group stuffed into the armored behemoth is sweating profusely; you can see it soaking through the sleeves and collars of our uniforms. Underneath our vests is worse -- I feel it dripping down the back of my pants, not a pleasant feeling.

The gunner is the only one spared. He sits with his head out of the vehicle; a dangerous job, but at least you’re cooler. The one and a half hour drive to this location was along a rocky, rutted “road”,  jolting us violently with every foot. The Cougars were designed for the paved roads of Iraq not the rock-sewn trails of Afghanistan. I’m confident I’ll survive an IED but my back and kidneys may be destroyed by safety.

The purpose for us coming here is a shura -- an afghan term for a gathering or meeting. This shura is in honor of opening two schools in the area.  Much has been made of the supposed destruction wrought by US forces in the towns and villages, but very little is ever said about the good that’s been done.

Just in our operational area we’ve built four schools, numerous wells, water retention walls and various other projects. We’ve also treated over 700 cases in nine months.

Today though we’ve come for the opening of the schools. We dismount from the vehicles, get security set and head to the shura.  As I walk across the field I see the school, white-washed and pristine, a snowball sitting in the brown dirt of the valley. Its partner sits about four kilometers to the west; easily visible due to the contrast. Part of me wonders if that’s such a good idea, as I’m positive it can be seen from the Pakistani mountains five kilometers to the east -- easily within range of rockets.

We enter the school and meet the local elders. They are the staples of the community. We meet them in order of age and precedence. In the beginning I didn’t realize this but I’ve now become aware of the rigid hierarchy these introductions follow. I shake hands with about 20 older looking men.

Older looking is the correct phrase here. My internal American age estimator isn’t calibrated for Afghanistan. Several times I’ve met people I thought were 60 years plus, and it turns out they were my age -- 39. It’s a hard knock life.

Post-introductions we tour the school, entering each classroom and seeing the desks, books, pens and pencils. There’s a small select group of students here; large gatherings are discouraged for security reasons. The ACM* often IED them or use suicide bombers. The reverence with which the Afghans treat the school is amazing.

The small group reaches the final room, where sitting mats are spread on the concrete floor shaped in a U. It’s filled with the ubiquitous flies of Afghanistan and smells of the diesel fuel used to cut the paint. If you have a weak stomach Afghanistan is not the place for you.

I’m placed at the head with the oldest elder. What many Americans fail to realize is that just by being an American soldier you’re honored and revered. That’s why any form of disrespect is such a crushing blow to the Afghans. When the men you thought could do no wrong have insulted you, that’s hard to take, for anyone.

We sit down and the senior elder begins to speak. The speaking order is key. You speak in the order of your importance. Generally, I’m given the second position. At the beginning of my tour I usually spoke toward the end, or at the end.

Now here’s a little more insight to American vs Afghan ways: Afghans are verbose and like to talk; I mean they really like to talk. So a shura can go for a long time. You’re expected to speak even if you feel that everything’s been said.  In America we strive for short concise meetings.  In Afghanistan it’s as if the sheer amount of talking wills things to happen. The more talking, the more likely it will happen.

Conversations and meetings in the US are a single thread going from point to point. In Afghanistan it’s a woven rug with muted tones, subtle patterns and held together with an intricate base layer. The pattern you see in the rug may not be what you think it is.

Obviously, I don’t speak Pashto so I’ve got to have an interpreter. My preferred method is to have my terp sit next to me and translate in a low voice what being said as they say it. Some prefer to have breaks where the terp translates. I find my method keeps the flow going and makes it more like an actual conversation. I can participate more actively with gestures and facial expressions.

The group talks for a long while, drinking chai, and then we adjourn to another room for lunch.  As I come into the room, I’m hit with dread. The walls of the room are covered in flies, as is the food. One of my no shit rules is that I never refuse any food or drink given to me by an Afghan. It’s insulting to them. So, I’m going to have to eat.

I do, and pay for it two days later with violent vomiting and diarrhea that makes a claymore mine seem like a fire cracker. Ten pounds and six bags of IV fluid later I’ll be fine, and my relationship with the elders is intact.  A small price to pay for good relations.

After lunch we pose for pictures. Again this is a hierarchy; the most important elders get their picture taken with me first. Yes, all of the pictures have me in them. You would think I was the President of the US and not just some dumb ground pounder. They all want a picture with me. This goes on for about 20 minutes and I’m quickly smiled out.

Framed Vampire LORD OF FLIES one


The final event is the students, male and female, singing the Afghan National Anthem. A touching moment. About 100 girls go to this school every day. A far cry from the Taliban days.  The elders are very happy about this fact but are concerned that the ACM will try to stop the trend.

Framed Vampire LORD OF FLIES two


We shake more hands and start to move back to our vehicles. I reach mine and prepare for the back-pounding patrol back to our FOB, the time bomb of the chow ticking in my stomach. But it's been a good day in the history of the Bermel Valley.  

* ACM: Anti-Coalition Militia

TO ASK FOR A FRIEND'S HAND IN WAR |

June 09, 2009

TO ASK FOR A FRIEND'S HAND IN WAR
Name: Mike T.
Posting date: 6/9/09
Returned from: Afghanistan
Milblog: c/o Bouhammer.com

Tonight my friend asked me to send him to war, which set me back on my heels. He stated it was his time and that I had done enough and he has done little. We sat drinking beers and pondering the universe, but all that came of it was that I had done my time and he had not.

I have known this man for years; he was truly a good friend, the friends-that-I-can-count-on-one-hand type. He watched over Nicole while I was gone myself in Afghanistan and never did I think twice about it.

M
y heart dropped when he told me this. I thought of six different ways to tell him that he didn’t need to go, but all he could come back with was why me and not all the others?

I stared in amazement and said it wasn’t his duty, and yet he came back again and raged that he was like all the others and it was his time. My mind raced to think of excuses that I could use, but nothing worked.

I hung over his truck and screamed at him, begging him. It “wasn’t his war."  It was mine; ours, the ones who went out there and came back under-appreciated and misunderstood.  That is our bond. Maybe being selfish, maybe scared that I wouldn’t get him back. He has watched over me for so long that I forget the time we met. This war is hard, its unpredictable, it’s for those who are willing to climb the mountains, walk the deserts, able to look to the skies and know that no one is looking back at them. I don’t want Joe to endure that. He is better than that.

I rode home tonight with Nicole and felt the rush of the Jersey shore on our faces, and I am not sure that I can convince him to do other than what he wants. I stared into her eyes and wished for an answer and all she could say was simply, "It’s not your war anymore; it is his if he wants it."

What scares me more than anything
else is being there. God forbid if the word comes and the chaplain is at the door like in the movies. Have you ever seen At War --  the ramp ceremony? The scene in We Were Soldiers? Christ I couldn’t do it! Not this time, not with him or his family. They mean too much. I would rather go back myself; at least I know I am good at it.

As we sat there tonight I told him to accept the wind, the smell of the ocean, the quietness of his neighborhood, because God damn it would be the last time until he got his ass home that he would ever feel it again, but every day over there that is all he would think about. I feel like I cannot prepare him or ask anyone who has been there to do the same thing and feel good about him being successful.

Fuck I hate this, those who have not gone want the chance now. Of all the times to do this, they choose now! It is a horrible time in the Stan and my God damn best friend wants to be in the shit. So I said okay, I will do it. I will put you in touch with those that are going over, but I am not going to God damn like it. To those who have been left out of war, here is your chance to join those who suffer nothing less than the pain they have inflicted.

FROM INSURGENTS TO PRE-EMERGENTS |

June 05, 2009

FROM INSURGENTS TO PRE-EMERGENTS
Name: Deployed Teacher
Posting date: 6/5/09
Returned from: Afghanistan
Milblog: Deployed Teacher 
Email: deployedteacher@gmail.com

It's interesting to observe how life has shifted from one focus to another now that I'm home. An example: For six months, it was all about Afghanistan insurgents, now, it's crabgrass pre-emergents. So, for peace of mind, I set out to find similarities between the two that might help make my mental transition easier, and more meaningful.

As I considered a pre-emergent for the lawn/garden, I found an article from the Ohio State University Extension entitled: Pre-Emergent Herbicides Effective for Weed Control. Here are some bullets from the article:

Marestail, giant ragweed and lambsquarter remain some of the most challenging weeds to control for several reasons:

• They become more difficult to control with increasing size and age.

• They are some of the first weeds to emerge in the spring, and marestail grows quickly in size, making proper burndown treatments a must to control them.

• Avoid making post-emergence applications during periods of adverse environmental conditions, such as low temperatures, extended cloudy periods, and drought.

Here's my take on this useful information, uh,... I mean intelligence:

Taliban insurgents and their radical fundamentalist followers are the most difficult to control for several reasons:

• They become more difficult to control with increasing size and rage.

• They are the first to emerge in the spring/summer, and their numbers grow quickly in size, making appropriate engagement/elimination a must.

• Avoid engaging insurgents during periods of adverse environmental conditions, such as low  temperatures, extended cloudy periods, and drought.

Is it a stretch to equate Taliban insurgency with out of control weeds? Mmmm, you tell me -- but if any of you pass by my house and see me vigorously eradicating/eliminating weeds, via airborne or ground assault methods, please consider that my conduct is easily explained by the psychological term, "transference."

Transference: "the redirection of feelings and desires; especially of those unconsciously retained from war, toward a new object." *

* For you psych majors: Yes, I replaced the word "childhood" with "war." Sorry, but it makes
sense.

IN THE WARRIOR'S EYES |

June 03, 2009

IN THE WARRIOR'S EYES
Name: SGT B.
Posting date: 6/3/09
Stationed in: Iraq
Hometown: Rockford, WA
Milblog: The Gun Line 
Email: hvygunner@gmail.com


What is best in life?

Conan of Cimmeria would tell you:
“To crush your enemy; see him driven before you, and hear the lamentation of his women!”

Well, in today’s age, not so much…

What I would see is a country rebuilt. A country strong in standing, rich in history, and full of realized potential.

However, in the warrior’s eyes, what is best in life is to bring home the weapons of a defeated enemy. It shows that he was victorious in the encounter against someone who was trying to kill him, for how else could he have taken possession of his enemy’s weapon, but by vanquishing the foe?

Now, gentle reader, you must understand that my enemies in this country are not the people, but the remnants of a defeated government, and the criminals who would try to usurp power at the expense of their own people.

In this light, I take a great degree of satisfaction at the discovery I made here. Although I cannot bring anything home, the pictures speak for themselves. (Truth be told, given some heavy lift equipment, shipping resources, and a toolbox, I could have a field day in this scrapyard!)

Framed SGT B Best in life dead migs

Dead MiGs. How many of them dropped bombs on their own citizens?

Framed SGT B Best in life Mig-17
MiG-17.

Framed SGT B Best in life T-72

T-72 anyone?

There is something satisfying about your own aircraft flying over the remains of an enemy’s...

THE WEATHER |

June 01, 2009

THE WEATHER
Name: America's 1st Sgt.
Posting date: 6/1/09
Stationed in: Iraq  
Milblog: Castra Praetoria
Email: castrapraetoria1@gmail.com

The weather is here. I wish it were beautiful...

Framed AmFirst WEATHER

The end of May is the time of year out here when it is starting to get warm. Well, hot really; but considering what the temperature is going to be like in July and August I like to think that what we have right now is merely warm.

Soon enough the oppressive heat will make a mere walk to the chow hall seem downright volcanic. If you want to know how hot it is here, turn on your oven all the way and stick your head in. To experience Iraqi summer temperatures there at home, simply climb into an asbestos sleeping bag, have someone ram a flamethrower in one end and let her rip.

There are other interesting weather phenomena occurring at this time as well. On any given day dust devils and high winds are capable of blasting nearly a pound of sand right up your colon. Whirling dust storms lend the area a Mars-like atmosphere. This is usually followed by a short rain shower that comes down as a sprinkling of mud.

Last night we had the privilege of experiencing multiple phenomena at the same time. Thunder boomed as lightning lit up the sky like day. Wind gusts sandblasted buildings, stripping the paint clean off. Rain sounded like marbles hammering the roof, coloring everything in a light muddy brown. Remarkably, the temperature remained constant,and going out the door that morning felt like stepping right into a blowing hair dryer.

Even more remarkable is that despite the fact I am in a combat zone, the most interesting thing I have to talk about is the weather.

What’s up with that?


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