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 04, 2010

Name: Troy Steward
Posting date:1/4/10
Returned from: Afghanistan

Do you think you know what an ETT (embedded training team) member does? ETTs have been the true tip of the spear in Afghanistan since Task Force Phoenix was first stood up in 2002. Task Force Phoenix and the ETT teams were initially charged with standing up, training, mentoring and assisting the Afghanistan National Army. The first mentoring was done by the active duty 10th Mountain Division. After Iraq kicked off in 2003, it was realized that the mission would need to be transitioned to the National Guard as there were not enough active duty forces to do the Phoenix mission in addition to the other missions they were being tasked.

Training and empowering a country’s indigenous Army has always been a mission of the Special Forces, and is what they have mastered over the last 40 years. However there was not enough of them, so National Guard was tapped. And if there were a second best option to Special Forces doing the mission, it was the National Guard. The soldiers in a National Guard unit have just left being civilians and will soon return to that status. They know and understand the basics of COIN, and did so long before it became a buzz-word and well before it became a standard part of our doctrine.

The National Guard soldiers bring with them a mixture of civilian skills which are vital to the mission, as many of the ETTs are very far downrange and must provide for their own life-support. There is little to no support from higher headquarters at all. So the skills of carpenter, plumber, HVAC, mechanic, school teacher, etc., etc., all are transferable to the mission of being forward deployed on a small FOB or COP with no support and almost no other Americans with you. In 2007, Task Force Phoenix took over the mentoring and advising of the Afghanistan National Police with PMTs (Police Mentoring Teams).

Famed WWII history author James F. Christ, who is known for his novels about the small but important Marine Paratroopers during the battles in the Pacific, has now taken up a new focus for his writing. James is in the process of writing a 10-book series on ETTs in Afghanistan and the very important, but unknown battles that have happened there since 2003. His first two books are available and can be downloaded for the Kindle or purchased from here or here. You can also learn more about the books at the publisher's website. 

I have read both of these books cover to cover, along with the next one in the series that is not yet published. They are all easy-reads and will suck you right into reading them nonstop until you are finished. There is no building up of characters, there is no plot development, all because there is no need. James takes you right into the ETT team, and before long you get to know the individual soldiers, how they act in combat, etc. If they have dialects or accents, James writes in a way so you can hear the accent as you read. I relate these books to the famed book Blackhawk Down (which the movie was based on). I say this because just like Blackhawk Down, James’s books start right before the battle, take you through the battle and then wrap up soon after the battle is over. The entire book is about the battle itself.

The battles are huge and the odds are stacked up against the American forces (most of which are National Guard ETTs). As you read either Morghab Canyon or The Boneyard, you will be amazed at how out-numbered and how brave the American soldier are and you will even be more amazed that more US and ANA forces were not slaughtered. The ingenuity, initiative and drive to survive by these soldiers is amazing.

I have interviewed James twice on You Served Radio (you can hear the latest interview here, ) and after talking to him then, and on multiple one-on-one phone conversations since, I am convinced he is one of the most knowledgeable civilians about Afghanistan that has never actually been to the country. He has spent so many hours interviewing ETTs for these books that he has truly become immersed in what it is like to be an ETT and in my opinion would have earned an honorary ETT title if there were such a thing.

I have told James and his publisher that if these books are not finished and published that it would be a dis-service to all ETTs, past and present. I have circulated several of his books to other past ETTs to get their opinions, and the response has been 100% that “he gets it", with comments such as, "This is the best book ever written about ETTs."

I recently heard back from Vampire 06 at Afghanistan Shrugged and his response to James’s writings was: “This book is awesome! It definitely needs to be out there for people to read. I think every ETT has a story like this…. While reading this I could identify with these guys and felt like they were just like guys on my team. Truly awesome book!”

So if you have been an ETT/PMT, are an ETT/PMT, will be an ETT/PMT or you are a family member or friend of a past, present, future ETT/PMT then you need to go to and get these books. I cannot stress enough how accurate these books are and how well they will educate you as to what it is like to be "on the Tip of the Spear, but at the end of the line.”


If you want to find a copy of this book, go to The previous publisher (or someone) is listing it for $250 on amazon. James did a great job of interviewing all of us involved and truly painted a "spot-on" depiction of what happend to some brothers-in-arms that will always be in my heart. ~SSG Jamie Osmon.

I got this book off Amazon... wish I would have read your comment earlier Kytnmp

Life is crazy for them, definitely. I can't believe how expensive that is, though.

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