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.


January 05, 2010

Name: Six Foot Skinny
Posting date: 1/6/10
Stationed in: Iraq
Hometown: Minneapolis, MN
Milblog: Lost in the Desert

I live in a shipping container. Yep, a good old twenty-footer. Like the ones you see on semi trucks and stacked up in ports. I have half of it. It’s the back half, which is by far the preferable half -- rank has its privileges, even when you don’t have that much. I am lucky to have outranked both my roommates, although I don’t pull enough to get my own. The Army calls them “CHUs.”  That’s short for “containerized housing unit.”

Sometimes I like to run numbers. Arithmetic has always been a strong suit for me. I dug algebra, did fine with geometry and trig. Was hopeless in calculus. So I have half of the twenty-foot CHU, and they’re seven feet wide with an eight foot ceiling. That gives me seventy square feet of floor space. It's not much, so I lofted my bed and now I get to count in cubic feet. By that rationale I have 540 cubic feet of space that is my own.

To be fair, this isn’t exactly like the shipping containers you see in ports and on the backs of trucks. These are outfitted (in Turkey someone told me), and they’re deluxe, if you will. There are two windows with blackout blinds, a door, and an air conditioner. Sweet digs. Oh, and there’s also some high-quality, laminated faux wood paneling on the walls. I feel like I'm trapped in a suburban rec room. And it’s 1983. Also, we get two lockers -- lockers like in high school -- two beds, two nightstands, and two reading lamps. The rest is up to us and whatever scrap lumber we can scrounge.

My half of the CHU is in its third and final arrangement. Having my bed lofted gives me space for a big L-shaped desk underneath. That’s where my computer, coffee maker, coffee grinder (high class), an assortment of books and DVDs, and a little chest of drawers (underneath) live. It’s also where I spend most of my time. The wall that I face is plastered with pictures of friends and family. I stopped asking people to send stuff about a month in, and asked them to send pictures instead, and they obliged. Back behind me, but within reach -- well, everything is in reach really -- is my guitar, and a plywood shelf I got from the unit we replaced. I also have one of those sweet “chair in a bag” chairs. I tell myself it’s a reading chair, but the reality is that it’s a horizontal space where I put crap until it piles so high it falls off and then I get frustrated and clean. I mostly read in bed when I can’t sleep. Oh, there’s also a nice little area rug that really ties the room together.

The CHUs are laid out in rows, facing in, and surrounded by blast walls. Our whole platoon lives in one row. It rained last night and that middle walkway area is a lake of sorts. I look at it as a moat; it keeps the riffraff away from my door. We’ve got a big charcoal grill just outside the blast walls where we grill burgers and brats on weekends. It’s a definite improvement over the chow hall.

Soon -- well, Army soon -- we’ll pack it all up and move into tents in preparation for the move south. Seems like not too long ago I was writing about preparing for the move North. Time flies when you’re having fun.


Hi Dude,
I'm from South Africa. Sounds like your having a "hell" of a time over there. If you think you have it bad...i'm stuck behind a desk all we can swop if you want..LOL!!
A-way...keep well.

I lost my comment.

Holiday Inn, eat your heart out.

There's people in your home town dying every night from exposure. (Not an idle guess, I'm in Bemidji, and I read the Mnpls news all the time.)

Don't complain too much.

I am well aware of the cold back home, and trust me - no complaints here. Last tour I spend the first half (the summer half) in a tent. That might have been worth complaining...

me what do you do during the day?

Depends on the day Caz. Some missions - but they're slowing down now. Mostly getting ourselves and our equipment ready to be out of here, washing and packing and hanging out. Happy thoughts...

That's cool man. how long have you been that side?

Now, why can we provide similar housing stateside? Oh yeah, we do...called nursing homes...Thank you for such eloquent description of 'home sweet home' away from home. I love reading the Sandbox. I work for the VA and directly with disabled veterans. Y'all really give me some insights into what they have encountered and endured. Hoo Rah! I send you love and support!

Been here since April Caz, not much longer though. Merri, thanks for the work you do, I work veterans issues on the civilian side - never boring.

I don't see any complaint, at least not from my CHU.

skinny, if you want to send me some photos it would be so email is
keep well,

It is very interesting to hear the live standards. I always pictured something much different. It reminds me in much of your description of a dorm room. Lofted bed with a desk underneath possibly even a fridge. The room almost so small arms can touch each side. The worst I thought was sleeping with a ceiling just above your head not able to sit up to quickly. I guess the bright side is you have a roof over your head.

I never knew that they put you in the back-of-semi-type rooms. The CHUs. 540 cubic feet is not a lot of room. I feel for you. I hope it isn't that bad for you and your roommates. It is nice that you get to grill out on the weekends! It seems like that is a little escape to home. Anyways I hope you are safe out there, and I hope you get to go home soon to see your family. Thank you for everything you sacrifice for our country.
-Ashley :)

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