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.

TWO WORLDS |

September 09, 2010

Name: 1SGT (retired) Troy Steward
Posting date: 9/9/10
Returned from: Afghanistan
Milblog: Keeping An Eye on Afghanistan

Prologue: I kind of wandered into this blog posting as I wrote it. I have not written like this since I was last here in 2007. It is what it is.

I am stuck in Bagram for goodness sake, the largest base in Afghanistan, so it not like there is a lot of excitement here. While on this trip I decided to catch up on some reading I have wanted to do. I get lots of books, movies, and documentaries to read and watch and maybe do reviews on. I get them free of charge and 99% of the time without asking. I have two book reviews in draft status that I need to finish, but I need the books and my notes with me to do that, and I didn’t bring them, in order to pack light.

What I did bring with me was two books I have had for the longest time but have never gotten around to reading. They are very special, because they are both written by good friends of mine. One is The Blogs of War by Matt Burden of Blackfive.net fame, and the other is House to House by David Bellavia.

David has been recommended for the Distinguished Service Cross and the Medal of Honor and both are still pending. He has already been awarded the Bronze Star and the Silver Star. He and I have spent hours (and I mean hours) on the phone talking about Iraq, Afghanistan, combat in general and leaders (both political and military). His book, like Matt’s, has been on the nightstand next to my bed for way too long. As I was packing for this trip, I knew those were the ones I wanted to bring.

I am half-way through Matt’s, but the other day it was not where I thought I had put it, so as I was leaving my room I grabbed David’s and figured I would at least start that. That was three days ago. I just finished its 312 pages today. I could not put it down. I will eventually do a review of it.

But this posting is about where I was, why I am here, and what I was reading -- and how all of those came together. Without giving away too much about the book, let me just say that David writes about going back to Iraq, having been there as a soldier. He returned mainly to bring closure. I was reading a part near the end of the book about how he had to do this trip, how he had to return, etc. while I myself was sitting in Afghanistan for the first time since I left here as a soldier. Like David, who was not a soldier anymore when he returned to Iraq, I am no longer in (having retired). Like David, I felt a little out of place here as a guy in tactical cargo pants, not ACUs. I don’t “fit in” with the soldiers here. I do with the many contractors, but not the soldiers.

So I was reading how David had to bring closure at the expense of his little boy’s trust and emotions. How his son was angry with him for going back, and how he scolded David upon his return. And a wave of emotions overtook me. As I sat at a picnic table in the middle of a secured compound full of A-type personality warriors, I desperately tried to keep reading even though the words were getting blurred from the tears pooling up on the inside of my Oakleys.

I used every muscle to hide the fact that I was crying as I sat there. I read how his son Evan told David that he was not allowed to go back, and that the reason that David had made it through this second trip to Iraq was because Evan “saved” him. Yes, words like that just kept the tears coming.

My situation is not 100% similar to David’s, but I felt many of the same emotions that he did and I can relate to others. I didn’t really come back here for closure. I am here doing my job. However the feeling of a need for closure sort of comes with being here. On this trip certain actions, smells, and sights have brought back memories or flashbacks. I am not sure if that is really closure, but it is something. I would have loved to get down to my old stomping grounds in Paktika and Ghazni provinces. I would have loved to see where I used to live, and I guess that is a desire for closure. However my job here this time does not warrant me going out into bad guy country.

If you ask my wife she may tell you that I am still in Afghanistan sometimes in my heart. She knows I was I was excited about this trip. She knows that I have a bond that is tighter than blood and marriage sometimes with the guys I served with. On the night of my retirement party I told several of them that I would be there for them anytime, anywhere. Now, I may have been slightly intoxicated at that moment, but they know I meant it. I did then, and I still do now. A part of me lived, flourished and died in Afghanistan. And those guys were with me every step of the way. That is normal for someone in combat, I believe. I will always have a connection with this country regardless of how it turns out in the future.

So as I finished up David’s very awesome book, the tears started to dry up and I just sat there. I wondered what kind of emotional event I had just gone through. What brought all that on? I was not sure at the time, but what I was sure of was that I had to write this blog post. As I started writing, a realization came to me. I think I know why I cried. I cried for what I believe are some of the same reasons that David did in the book. The bond with warriors in warfare is tighter than anything. Once we go through it with comrades we are closer than anyone can comprehend. We want to be with those guys, again, all the time, back in the hell of combat. But we have lives, we have families, we have dreams, plans and passions that are not compatible with war.

I believe it is the tearing apart of our souls by those two worlds which bring grown, tough men to tears. I so bad want to be with Puss, Prophet, Mouse, Rog-O, Bid D, Face, Smoke, The Dude and others again. Standing together, side by side in the shit. However I also want to be at home coaching my youngest’s hockey team, and going on date-nights with my wife, and helping my middle son pick out a college, and all the other things we do in normal life.

One man cannot do both over a sustained stretch of time. It is either one or the other. The adrenaline, the “high” we get from combat, cannot be had on a regular basis if you want to be a father and a husband. Those times in the past with people trying to kill me and me trying to kill them are just that -- in the past. They are memories now, and stories around the campfire once a year when my team reunites for our annual reunion camping trip. So yes, that is why I think you see warriors and ex-warriors cry sometimes. We want both worlds, yet we can’t have them both. So we are sad to be away from one, but cry tears of joy that we have survived to be with the other.

 

 

Comments

HooAh! very very well said.

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julianhankins52@gmail.com

Thank you for exploring this topic, in this way, in these words.

While reading this, I realized that I've probably been engaged in a similar emotional exercise, as I've been helping my unit get ready to go to Afghanistan.

The Army says I'm retiring, and my kids and wife are more than OK with that. And, more than sometimes, so am I.

But then I hear the Sirens' call of my buddies' voices, and I try to figure out how I might strap-hang onto this deployment as a civilian or contractor or something, and start late-night bargain-hunting for tactical pants and ballistic eyewear.

I worry that I'd be doing it for the wrong reasons--that I'd be doing it for me, and not for my buddies. Even worse, I worry that I'd show up, only to find out that I was no longer one of them.

well spoken. I had this conversation with my now wife after I came back from a deployment to Afghanistan as a civilian. As it turns out, I have not deployed to a combat zone since, but I have deployed for disaster responses. We're expecting our first son soon, and we have to think through this again.

Thank you for the excellent post, and a few tears!...As an ex military brat and mother in law of a soldier, this helps to explain my Viet Nam era fighter pilot father's uncharacteristic moments of emotion and my son in law's ferocious loyalty to his buddies..I never pretend to "get" it but simply stand in awe of these men...

Well said, 1st Sgt. As someone who served in peacetime, I will always be on "the outside" with combat vets. Although my wife hasn't deployed, her mindset is much like those who have because she's working with them (and training for it) day after day. We need to keep things in perspective.

You, sir, can write. What a great "wholeness" to this piece. Thank you.

Dear Troy,
One of our twins is deploying for his first time to 'the stan'with the 2/34th at this time.
I have read the books "on Combat" and "On Killing" to try and help myself understand more of the psychological/physiological impacts of war on individuals. It is wonderful that you can communicate such intense feelings so well, helping the rest of us understand. Thank you for serving.

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