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.


March 23, 2011

Name: Captain Dave
Stationed in: Afghanistan
Hometown: Tampa, Florida
Milblog: Playing in the Sandbox...Again

On a small hill overlooking Kabul sit the stoic remains of a castle that once housed the Queen of Afghanistan. Nearly one hundred years ago King Amanullah Khan, attempting to bring his country into the modern era, hired European architects to build a palace for him and one for his wife, intending to use them as a symbolic meeting place for the Afghan government. 

Over the next 50 years the palace caught fire a few times, for various reasons, but still it stood. In 1979, the Russians invaded and in the process shot the palace full of holes, some big, some small. It became the headquarters of the Russian army for the next 10 years, commanding a view of the city set against a backdrop of beautifully imposing mountains. When the Russians left, the Taliban used the same area for executing their enemies, staining the ground below with the blood of their opposition.

Recently, I walked up and around this same palace that has been an innocent bystander to decades of war. Feeling more like a tourist than a soldier, I took pictures and marveled at the simultaneous beauty and sadness. Afghanistan is like that, a country of paradoxes. The view from the air presents snow-covered mountains standing watch over vast brown plains, cut by riverbeds, dotted by mud huts huddled together to form a thousand isolated villages. Some spots with better soil sprout brilliant dark green patches that stand out in contrast amongst the surrounding barren lands. It’s breathtakingly gorgeous, in its own strange, semi-civilized way.

Yet back on the ground, destroyed palaces tell one of many tales of a country fighting over its own identity for thousands of years. From a distance, the palace looks unharmed, even dignified. But a closer look reveals years of neglect, rotting, and decay. Two images, eternally bonded, of a single theme.


Thank you for the history and the tour - you draw word pictures beautifully. Thank you for aiding my efforts to expand my world view. And, oh yeah, big thank you for your service in The Sandbox. Please keep writing.

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