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.


September 02, 2009

Name: Alex Horton
Posting date: 9/3/09
Returned from: Iraq
Milblog: Army of Dude

From behind his chip stack, Dozer looked unbeatable.

The nightly Mosul poker game saw the regulars leave in a predictable fashion. Mark built up a strong stack in the most unlikely string of winning hands, only to fall after his luck ran out. Steve played tight to his chest as his chips slowly melted into other stacks. Bill let it ride one too many times, sipping Mountain Dew as the other players siphoned his chips. Dozer and I emerged with nearly equal stacks in a game of head-to-head poker. A full poker game means playing the cards you're dealt. In head-to-head, the cards are almost irrelevant. You play the man, using your chips as a battle ax or a scalpel, depending on your playing style. In just a few rounds, his chips barely outnumbered mine. I chose to use the battle ax.

I peeked underneath my fingers before the flop. Pocket twos. Not ideal for a pocket, but a pair off the bat is a good place to start. The flop came out: 2-3-J. Three of a kind! I maintained my cool and placed a healthy bet. Dozer immediately called. I quickly assumed he was holding another Jack. He rarely bluffs, and with a slim lead, he didn't have to. The turn came: 7. Just what I wanted to see. Even if he held two pair, it didn't beat my three of a kind. I bet even larger than before. Without hesitation, Dozer raised.That threw me off. What the hell was he holding? I called his raise, less confident this time.

A nine flopped on the river. My tensions cooled. Staring at the big pot, I decided to go for the gold and make a big dent in Dozer's stack. "All in," I said, a hint of arrogance carried from my throat. Dozer didn't even hesitate. "Call." I flipped my cards over and pushed them forward, expecting to see a frown appear over his face. "Three of a kind twos, dude." Dozer still shielded his cards from view. He erupted in laughter. "No way dude!" He tossed his cards toward the pot. Pocket threes. His three of a kind threes beat my twos. Holy shit.

The countless poker games in Iraq weren't so much about the money as they were about escapism. Once you get on that plane, there is no going back unless you're injured or dead. The heat, the dust, that saccharine septic smell -- it swirls overhead like a black cloud. Distractions like poker and endless DVD libraries prove to be valuable tools to keep that overwhelming feeling from slowly eroding morale into dust. Outside the wire was the time to take it all in, to be masters of our own senses. Back on base though, one has to relax. Tension, they say, is a killer.

The Third Stryker Brigade is in the process of heading back to Iraq for the third time in six years. The brigade has proven itself in combat -- From Tal Afar,Samarra and Mosul in 2003-2004, to Mosul, Baghdad and Baqubah in 2006-2007. My old company, Bravo 5/20, has been the tip of the spear in both deployments. Bravo company was legendary in its recovery of a Kiowa helicopter in 2005, a story later made into a documentary on the Military Channel. In March of 2007, Bravo Company, along with Alpha and Headquarters Company, moved into Baqubah to take it back from al-Qaeda in Iraq. What ensued in those bloody months form the core of this blog and forever shaped the lives of the men who were there.

5/20 has seen more than its fair share of combat in Iraq. For once, I hope their tour is memorable for all night poker sessions and gathering around a small TV at three in the morning to watch the Super Bowl. I hope firefights this tour are as showers were the last tour. The first thing I want to hear when Bravo Company 5/20 returns is "Man, that tour was fucking boring." 5/20 is notorious for finding trouble. This tour, I'm praying they find time to play poker so I can hear all the great stories of full houses beating flushes. I want pranks and jokes to be what the men come back with. We've seen enough scars, thrashed minds and body bags. We've heard Taps far too many times.

I dug up this video from the waning months of our deployment. It's all doom and gloom (typical of the media), but there are moments of hilarity featuring the Snack Master. Second platoon, I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Good luck, Bravo Company. I wish you all the best and I'll be following your tour closely. Bring it home, and I'll see you on the other side.


I am glad that you have some sense of sanity out there. I am also very greatful that you are willing to risk your life to protect this country and me. I lift up the military in prayer throughout the world on a daily basis. My father served along with my older brother. Thanks again.

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