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.

OH DARK-THIRTY |

January 15, 2010

OH DARK-THIRTY
Name: Six Foot Skinny
Posting date: 1/15/10
Stationed in: Iraq
Hometown: Minneapolis, MN
Milblog: Lost in the Desert

Alarm, too early, as usual.  It is truly “oh dark-thirty,” and it’s cold. Start the coffee that I ground the night before so as not to waken my roommate. Rub my hand over my face -- I shaved late yesterday because we had the day off so I’m good for now. Brush my teeth and spit in an empty water bottle. Pull on flame-retardant uniform pants and undershirt, combat shirt over top of that. Check pockets. Notebook, pens, dog tags, ID, room key. Lace up my boots. Drink my coffee. Surf a little, while I wake up. Time to go. Wind breaker over everything else. Grab my helmet and gloves and sunglasses. Make sure I have clear lenses in case we’re out past sunset. Sling my weapon and hoist my body armor onto my arm. All on autopilot, all silent as I can. Out the door to the motor pool.

I am the first one there. I even beat my driver, so the truck’s not unlocked yet. Stack my gear by the passenger side door. The eastern sky is starting to glow, transitioning from midnight to that clear and startling blue that is every day in Iraq. My coffee steams from my battered aluminum travel mug. The hot liquid warms me from the inside and the caffeine and nicotine combine to give me a happy buzz as my head clears for the day’s activities. I watch shambling shadows morph into human figures as my Soldiers make their ways to the trucks, also toting body armor and helmets. One by one the lights go on and the trucks cough to life, diesels protesting in early morning chill.

As my driver checks fluid levels and tires and my gunner mounts his machine gun and prepares his turret, I turn on the dizzying array of electronics. Radio, check. GPS unit, check. Blue Force Tracker, check. Jamming equipment, check. My Lieutenant -- “ell-TEE” -- is at my door, there’s a glitch of some type. We work it. Find a solution. All good. A quick briefing, checks of personal equipment and protective gear. We’re rolling.  All snug in our reinforced up-armored steel and kevlar and thick-glass vehicles that sprout antennae like some giant beetle that just might eat your children -- we’re here to help.

I listen to the trucks in front of me call off their status, letting the convoy commander know that countermeasures are operating and weapons are loaded. My driver always loves it when it’s our turn and I click my button and announce, “One-seven is amber, amber, hot, and jamming.” She smiles to herself and we’re out the gate. Two hours north today, all on a modernish four-lane highway. Through slums and commercial districts and along the overpass that goes through “trash city.” It is just that -- a smoldering garbage dump as far as the eye can see on both sides. There are livestock and people and homes. The shacks are made out of things cast off by others. Reminds me of a documentary I saw about a similar place in Guatemala.

We BS and smoke and drink energy drinks and watch. Always watching. Watching for people and cars and trash and anything that looks out of place. Mid joke I mention a suspicious-looking dude to my gunner and continue the joke knowing that he is paying particular attention to the guy who is watching us intently with his hands in his pockets. And then we’re there. I always breathe a little easier when we clear the gate and are safely inside the wire. We make our linkup, do what we need to do, eat lunch, and get back on the road. More of the same on the way home and we’re back before we know it. Again breathing easier to be safe and sound. It was a routine mission, and uneventful and boring in hindsight, but never boring at the time. Just like a dozen other trips I’ve made in the last year. And just like all the others, it’s one day closer to home.

Comments

Wow! Reading this post was like I was along for the ride. This is the first time I've been to this site and this is the first post I read. It made me feel a little home sick. I know I'm here in my cozy office warm and safe, but posts like this really make a person think about what's really happening outside of the safety of their own little world. Thank you for your service and for taking me on that mission via your words. Thank you! -Mandy

Thank you! I have never heard of this site, until my professor turned us on to it for an assignment.
I was so impressed with the readings, that it will now be one of my daily rituals. I plan to check in periodically just to read and reflect. I too believed I was right beside you, what a great writer you are. I hope that the rest of your days and missions go as easily as this one. And yes one more day closer to coming home.
Be safe! Hugs from the states!

I have never been in the army or any sort of military. I have always supported our troops and I will continue to. What our troops do to protect this country is amazing, and I respect everyone of our troops for putting their lives on the line to protect the rest of us. I really enjoyed your post and I will continue to read them. Most of this country does not know what is happening over seas. I wish that this site would be promoted more. Then everyone would feel what is really going on. I liked the detail of how you were going threw a trash town, I felt like I could see all the shacks and the people looking at you as you drove by. Thank you for what you do and God Bless you and keep you safe!

I never heard of this site before, it’s interesting to read your description of your everyday lifestyle. I realize how different life must be once you go to Afghanistan, nothing is the same anymore. You have a new daily routine, and each day you complete it, it’s one day less that you have to spend without family or loved ones. I don’t think that a simple thank you is enough, because you have the courage to do something that many of us will not. - Anne

Thank you very much for what you do on a regular basis. I can only pray that God keeps you safe and your coffee and smokes never run out! You have a teriffic writing style and would be honored to read more from you :)

It is hard to think that getting up to get coffee and go to work for a solider seems as routine as many in other fields. The big difference how thankful you are to make it back safe. Hopefully while you stay on watch to keep safe yourself and many others god watchs over you and others. I thank you for keeping watch!

Thank you! Reading your blog made my heart skip beats. I am so thankful that you are doing what you do.

My professor directed our class to this site and, what an eye opener!

I will add you to my prayers and continue to think about you and your family. Again, thak you.

Sara

You are seriously such a great writer. I felt like I was right there along with you on one of your trips. I really enjoyed your post because I actually got a feel for what a day is like for a soldier. Your life is so much different than it is back here in the states. I want to personally thank you for serving and for everything you sacrificed to do it. I hope you stay safe and get to come home soon! Will be thinking about you and all of our troops.
Thank you.
-Ashley :)

In checking this site, I have never had somebody in Iraq explain a day and a life of a soldier. Thank you for the experiance you gave me and thank god for the uneventful day, may there be many more in your future.

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