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.

FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS |

August 05, 2009

FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS
Name: Vampire 06
Posting date: 8/5/09
Returned from: Afghanistan
Hometown: Folsom, CA
Milblog: Afghanistan Shrugged

For whom does the bell toll?

The low dull thud of the rotors signals the end. For the last year that sound has meant many things -- Apaches with rockets, HIPs with food and God forbid Blackhawks for MEDEVAC. This time it’s our ride out of Bermel and the end of a year in combat.

Since the beginning we’ve known this day was coming. It’s hard to describe the want for something to come and the dread that it will actually arrive. Each day I’ve prayed that I’d reach this day safely and in the next breath cursed the onrushing dreadnought.

Today is the 4th of July and CPT Brain and I stand on the dusty LZ in Bermel. The sound of the bird slowly crescendos as it approaches low, blending with the brown, washed out landscape. Independence Day has arrived for both the U.S. and us.

As we stand waiting for our ride to the rear, the Battle Captain rides out to the LZ on a four-wheeler to inform us that a COP to the north is under heavy attack. The attack started with a VBIED and mortars. The current report is that nine Americans have been evaced, but they’re holding the position against heavy enemy fire. I realize that I’m powerless to do anything about this. My time here has ended.  It another’s chance to fight the fight.

Our departure comes at an inauspicious time. Several days ago while we were on a dismounted patrol we learned that a U.S. Soldier was missing and captured by the Taliban. Radio calls every 10 minutes to account for all our personnel were a prelude to the actual notification. The circumstances of the incident are cloudy to say the least. Since notification we’ve established check points, trying to find the soldier, and were awaiting orders to air assault to the south.

The rotors now build to a deafening fortissimo as the bird circles overhead and flares to land. The rest of Team Vampire is there to say goodbye. It’s difficult to sum up a year in the brief moments before getting on our ride. The noise is too loud to hear anything so maybe it’s for the best. Soldiers do very poorly at goodbyes.

The sand and moon dust coat everything as we move toward the screeching bird, an Afghan parting gift as it bores its way into my uniform and skin. Burdened with equipment and bags, we waddle our way out to our ride to freedom.

Part of me will stay here. Forever. Lost in the Afghan landscape, a part best left in the war torn land. How many others have done the same? Greeks, Mongols and the British, pieces of warriors left behind not needed in pleasant society. It’s best to leave it here, not try to put it away when one gets home. It has a nasty habit of escaping the box. Let it run free here where it belongs. Just walk away.

A new part though I take with me. Understanding, friendship, and things I would have never learned or experienced if I hadn’t been here. I cherish them and don’t think that I quite understand them all at this moment.

Scott Kesterson once asked me if I thought war changed me. It has. For the worse and the best. It is the paradigm of controlled chaos. Difficult to explain to those that have never experienced it, but no words are needed to explain to those that have. Take the good and leave the bad, while doing something positive with what you now know about yourself and mankind.

We reach the precipice; the door of the helicopter. Only the two of us enter, leaving the rest behind. We wave our final goodbyes and the door slams shut, with more finality than suits me at this instant. The bird slowly lifts and begins to transition to forward flight. Bermel shrinks in size but grows larger.

The bell tolls for thee…

Comments

What a beautifully written and poingant piece. We Americans owe you guys so much, thanks for opening up a glimpse of understanding into the hearts and minds of the American soldier, it makes a difference in the life of this civilian citizen.

One more thing...

Time marches on... ;>)

Thank you for the posts you have written. I appreciate your perspective. I hope you keep writing. All the best to you, good luck!!

Excellent piece - you ought to get into it professionally.

I don’t know If I said it already but …I’m so glad I found this site…Keep up the good work I read a lot of blogs on a daily basis and for the most part, people lack substance but, I just wanted to make a quick comment to say great blog. Thanks!

This time it’s our ride out of Bermel and the end of a year in combat.

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