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.

THE BEST OF CARE PACKAGES |

March 30, 2011

Name: Scott
Stationed in: Afghanistan
Milblog: The Sand Docs

When the going gets tough, the tough have a cookie. Or read a magazine, flip through cards and letters, or wrap up in a quilt. All this is possible thanks to the dozens of care packages that we get from family, friends, and various organizations. Whether it's food, clothing, reading material, toiletries, we appreciate the support.


The never-empty care package shelf.

 

Here are some of the memorable gifts:


Italian night in a box.

Mangia, Mangia!

 

Cookies Ready-To-Eat.

Camoflauge chocolate chip.



General interest magazines and books.

For poultry lovers anywhere (cue snarky grin by a Texas friend).

 

The Empire State novelty.

Nothing like cutting and gluing matches to cure monotony.

 


REDEPLOYMENT AND TRANSITION |

March 27, 2011

Name: Major Dan
Returned from: Afghanistan
Milblog: AfghaniDan

Bird-spotting: wondering which plane would take me home.


REDEPLOYMENT.  That's the odd name our military uses these days for returning from deployment.  So despite whatever logical tendency you may have to assume that it would mean "deploying again" or "returning to deployment", now you know it means coming back from one. That's what I've now done, or am still doing: redeploying.

Hurry-up-and-wait in Kuwait.
Mural at Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan

It's an abrupt change, being stateside again after most of a year away. Return from deployment tests us all in different ways. For those with their own families, there is the "reintegration" of that. For us without, there are still numerous challenges. Everyone you know is at a different point in their respective lives now. You've changed and they've changed, and as much as you may strive to find an immediate "normal," there is none.

 Thrilled to see some immediate family at BWI!

It has rained in Jacksonville, NC, for three days straight, and at some point during most of the others as well. It's a drastic change from experiencing rain maybe three days in all of eight months, and only briefly at that.

The New River, North Carolina, in rain.

I check my hip constantly for my weapon. We all do. It's weird how many times you have to process the realization that it's not there -- you turned it in, dude.

Last twilight in Kuwait before the return trip.

I'm incredibly anxious, to what's probably an unhealthy extent, about what's next. My pattern for a few years now has been one of chucking aside the uniform for awhile, only to grow restless and return to the one known commodity: that of going to fill an open job somewhere, one that ostensibly requires my skill sets and experience. I've been offered a few already, and haven't even finished the mandatory outprocessing from this one. Wish me luck as I seek to buck that trend for once.

Camp Swampy living up to its nickname this week...

Some seem to anchor themselves quite easily to what's consistent or stable in their lives. Some might be free of past associations, but set about going after their goals in a straightforward manner. And some return to their struggles. I belong to that category -- of those who turn inward and don't find clear goals, who overthink just about everything, who find themselves dwelling too often on things out of our control, and consequently, who wonder just where we are supposed to fit in.

Various members of family AfghaniDan rock their scarves.

I hope I can purely enjoy life for awhile, and shake off this philosopher's lament. It comes saddled with too much attachment, too much fantasy, and often, too much heartbreak. Although I yearned every single day for all that I couldn't enjoy while deployed, there is a sudden unhappiness in being back and realizing that some things are not as you remembered, or would like them to be. I think every day about the latest struggles my team is facing, and about those whose deployment is infinitely more dangerous than mine ever was. And I have enough difficulty taking my mind off all the possible tasks to tackle without constantly being asked what I'm doing next. I know most people mean well, but please -- cut a recent veteran a break!

A little snapshot of my current neighborhood.
 My surroundings should soon be the Rocky Mountains again.

So what's the current situation for your nomadic narrator? A full-time attempt at "transition" and "adjustment" -- though those words don't mean much at all when it was a very transient, unsettled situation you left in the first place. Honestly, I thought I'd be a hell of a lot happier in at least my first few weeks. There have been some very good times -- some standout moments that have welcomed me back across the first month stateside, from Virginia to NC to Nevada to Coloradoh -- but no vacation yet from the psychological burden of doing something important with myself, with this experience. And now?

You can take the "Dan" out of Afghanistan...

...but still the shadows will give chase. 

Now the hard work begins. For whatever reason, it is far more daunting to me to establish some sort of 'normal' life than it is to log 18-hour days for eight months straight in Afghanistan, working my tail off to try and build a government ministry and new army's capacity. That is my next thing, I think, to create stability where I've known none. And to ignore the teasing temptation to simply be irresponsible for awhile, which works counter to that. In the frequent, more depressed moments, I see myself as a homeless, jobless, car-less, even ski-less (in Colorado!) single veteran who still somehow is saddled with too much accumulated stuff. It's as if the last ten months were an odd dream, and I'm back trying to figure out life in the place to which I up and moved just a few months before that.

Hike up Mount Sanitas, and Boulder drops far below.

My hiking partner and buddy's best friend, Bodie

I didn't plan on a segue from my Afghan chronicles to the personal lamentation of a restless, anxiety-hounded Nowhere Man who is searching for the motivation to do even some of the most basic things. But it seems that I'm doing it anyway. Bear with me. I still plan to post "lost chapters" of this deployment (hopefully in time to keep the attention of some loyal readers, anyway). And your honest feedback is always welcome.

DOG DAY AFTERNOON |

March 25, 2011

Name: Scott
Stationed in: Afghanistan
Milblog: The Sand Docs

We had an unusual request for patient care today.

One of narcotic-sniffing German shepherds from the air force K9 unit lacerated his rear leg. The nearest vet is a helo ride away in Kandahar, a bit far for simple treatment. So as jacks-of-all-trade (masters-of-none) and animal lovers (or tolerators, in some cases), we took the case. Hey, it was something different. After a quick teleconference with the vet, we make quick work of the wound.

Dog iv on the floor.

 

Paw and fur specialist at work.

 

I think we qualified for honorary membership in the Afghanistan Veterinary Society, Zabul Chapter. That, and a Scooby snack.

Don't quit your day job.

BEAUTY AND SADNESS |

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.

AND BACK AGAIN |

March 21, 2011

Name: CAPT Marc Rassler
Stationed in: Afghanistan
Hometown: Livingston, MT
Milblog: To Afghanistan and Back

A week ago today my team and I were returned to our friends and family in Minnesota, ending our year together as a team working to train and mentor Afghan soldiers. For some I don't think the year could end soon enough, as there were some strained relationships and guys no longer talking to one another. A year living together can be tough. Hopefully next month when we return for our first reintegration event, time apart will have mended some feelings.

Once our replacements arrived in theatre we set about trying to show them as much of Northern Afghanistan as we could before we were forced to leave. I had one last chance to galavant across the Afghan countryside OMLT 4 on a familiarization trip to Pol-e-Khomri. It was our last trip to the top of "Cement Hill" overlooking Pol-e-Khomri (PEK), and the fertile valley to the south of PEK. They were eager and excited to learn, which was fortunate for us as we were eager and excited to teach them so that we could go home.

The challenge during our handover training was not letting any of our frustrations from the past 10 months overtake their training. We tried to teach and give them realistic expectations of their mission. However, there were a few subjects purposefully not covered or only touched on lightly, as there are some things that it would be best if they learn or experience for themselves. I am very excited though for our replacements and all the good things that they will accomplish. Our team, OMLT 3, left the mission better than we found/received it. Yet there is a lot of room left to grow or directions to take for OMLT 4 to take and plenty of opportunities to succeed.

As when you have to leave summer church camp, the thing that I think many on the team will miss most about Afghanistan is the people. Working with Afghans can be frustrating and challenging, however working with people was very rewarding. The guys in the shop that I mentored -- CPT Sayed Sharif, SGT Mohommed Hussain, SFC Shafiual, SGT Massioula -- were a fun and hard-working bunch. I told my replacement several times that in my opinion he probably has one of the easiest mentoring jobs of the group simply because of the group in the S1 shop.

I'm sure there were probably a dozen changes or improvements that I could have tried with my guys, however what they have seems to work and more importantly work for them. To the best of their ability they keep accurate track of the soldiers in their battalion, and everyone gets paid. If soldiers were not getting paid, I am certain that daily people would have been coming into their office complaining. The complaints I witnessed were not that different from a typical western Army; "You didn't pay me for three days, I was only gone for two days."As I left I was very encouraged as more than once the guys I mentored said that they will miss me, and they wished that I could stay longer.

The people I will miss most were the interpreters that we had working for our team. I was the interpreter manager for our team, and at first I thought having that responsibility would be a burden. Now that my time in Afghanistan has ended, I feel that working as the terp manager, or the "terp whisperer" as the guys on my team called me, was a blessing. The seven young men that we had working on our team were some of the brightest, the future of Afghanistan. Unfortunately for us, but fortunately for him, one of the guys left us, as his visa came through and he was able to go the United States. During our time in Afghanistan I worked with three of the guys on my team to help sponsor them for visas to the United States. I truly hope that in the future I can see most the young men that worked for me. While I would admit that I would have them visit me here in the United States, someday when Afghanistan is safe and secure (probably 10 or 20 years in the future) I would find it interesting to go there as a tourist to visit them.

One of our frustrations was how we left theatre. We were going outside the wire on missions until the last possible minute. As a result we did not take an opportunity to officially hand over the mission to our replacements, and more importantly properly say goodbye to the men that we had worked with for the past several months.
I had made certificates of appreciation for the guys that I mentored, and for the interpreters that worked for me. I never got a chance to present those in person to everyone. Luckily I had gotten a nice gift for my terp, which I gave to him a few days before handover. Much to my surprise, and enjoyment, he gave me a nice gift also -- a Paron Tambon, an Afghan man shirt and pants. It is a fitted shirt that goes down to my knees, and pants made of the same fabric. Very comfortable, and very common throughout the Middle East. I was very tickled to receive one as a gift.

Since I have returned to my status as a part-time soldier and most-of-the-time civilian, I have been enjoying the leave that I earned while I was deployed. I've already started taking flying lessons again, and am now working to earn my multi-engine endorsement. In a couple weeks, to celebrate my birthday, I'm going to be going on my first cruise. After that I will head out to Arizonia to help my parents as they return to Montana after another winter spent as Snowbirds down south. As I finish writing this post I am excited, as I am about to go and meet, for the first time, a friend that I gained as a result of writing this blog.

PILGRIM'S PROGRESS |

March 16, 2011

Name: Matt Gallagher
Returned from: Iraq
Milblog: Kerplunk

I’m one of the lucky ones.

War destroys without regard to what’s fair or just. This isn’t a new or terribly profound revelation, but witnessing it, and sometimes participating in it, makes it seem like both. In a professional military, the entire point of training is to minimize the nature of chance in combat. But all the training in the world will never eliminate happenstance in war, or even render it negligible.

I returned from Iraq with all of my limbs, most of my mental faculties and a book deal. I wake up every morning in an apartment in New York City. I’m working toward a graduate degree. I have a beautiful fiancée who reminds me to slow down when I’m drinking. And every day I feel more and more detached and removed from the Iraq dustlands I promised myself  I’d shed like snakeskin if I ever got back home.

Like I said, one of the lucky ones.

Meanwhile, the black bracelet on my wrist carries the names of four individuals who weren’t so lucky. One got shot through the armpit with a ricocheting bullet and bled out on an outpost roof. Two drove over the wrong piece of street at the wrong time and likely didn’t even know it was a roadside bomb that ended it all. The last one made it through 15 months of war only to get drunk one night back in the States and shoot himself in the face during an emotional breakdown.

In Kurt Vonnegut’s classic novel Slaughterhouse-Five, the protagonist Billy Pilgrim becomes “unstuck in time.” Much of the novel focuses on Pilgrim’s experience of the fire bombing of Dresden in World War II, something Vonnegut himself survived as an American prisoner of war. Like many American literature students, I was required to read Slaughterhouse-Five in high school, and if memory serves, I even enjoyed that assignment at 16. But I didn’t really appreciate the concept of becoming unstuck in time until I returned from war. Just like anyone who poured blood, sweat and tears into missions in faraway foreign lands, I left part of myself over there, and it remains there, while the rest of me goes about my business 6000 miles away — a paradox of time and space Vonnegut captured all too brilliantly.

I’ve walked by manholes in New York City streets and smelled the sludge river I walked along in north Baghdad in 2008. I’ve stopped dead in my tracks to watch a street hawker in Midtown, a large black man with a rolling laugh and a British accent, who looked just like my old scout platoon’s interpreter. And I’ve had every single slamming dumpster lid — every single damn one — rip off my fatalistic cloak and reveal me to be, still, a panicked young man desperate not to die because of an unseen I.E.D.

Despite these metaphysical dalliances with time travel the names on my black bracelet are, in fact, stuck in time.  Or, more accurately, stuck in memory, where they’ll fade out and disappear like distant stars before becoming shadows of the men we served with and knew.

So it goes.

So it went for my friend Rob. During the invasion of Iraq in 2003 his unit drove through a neighborhood near Baghdad airport in doorless Humvees. A civilian vehicle pulled out in front of them, temporarily blocking their path. A group of teenage boys stood aimlessly on the street, and one exchanged nods with Rob, who sat in the front passenger seat. Rob glanced away quickly, to see if the civilian vehicle had moved yet, and then, suddenly, a grenade bounced off of the inside of the windshield and into the vehicle. Rob followed the small plume of smoke and rattling noises, grabbing the grenade from behind the radio to his left. He picked it up, intending to throw it back out of the vehicle, but it slipped out of his hand and dropped, landing between his feet. He reached back down for it, fingers just meeting casing when it exploded. He lost a hand and suffered severe nerve damage in his right leg as a result.

Recounting the story over drinks one night Rob said he wished he and the other soldiers in his Humvee hadn’t taken their eyes off of the Iraqi teens. Then he added that “luck was for sure on our side that day,” because had he not dropped the grenade but tossed it away as planned, it would’ve exploded at head level, likely killing him and possibly the Humvee’s driver, as well. He laughed deeply, and clinked his prosthetic hook against my pint glass.

Everything’s relative, I guess. Especially luck.

If chance is war’s dirty little not-so-secret, self-righteousness is the veterans’. Upon returning to American society, it’s all too easy to fall into pitfalls about what civilians get or don’t get. Nine years of war fought by an all-volunteer force that constitutes less than 1 percent of the total population has augmented this disconnect between soldier and citizen; in many ways, a separate warrior caste has evolved into being. The impact on our republic of fighting protracted, landlocked wars with an all-volunteer force can be debated. The impact of it on those actually fighting can’t be.

After returning from Iraq and separating from active duty, I carried my self-righteousness around in the form a portable soapbox for many months. Occasionally this proved necessary — sometimes the pejorative “they” really didn’t get it. There was the drunk Wall Street-type who told me, without a trace of irony but with plenty of faux-jingoist twang, “it must be awesome to kill hajjis.” And there was the too-cool-ultra-progressive who couldn’t help but smirk condescendingly while pointing out that “we” signed on the dotted line, after all, so “we” should’ve been ready for anything and everything before we departed for Iraq. Then, as passive-aggressively as possible, he analogized modern American soldiers to mercenaries.

Though I’m certainly no tough guy, the primal urge to put both of these guys’ faces through the nearest window was very real and very pointed. I didn’t do that though, for better or worse. Instead, I told the former that some of my best friends were Muslim and that such a black-and-white understanding of the war is what got us into so much trouble over there in the first place. For the latter, I nodded and smiled, telling him that for someone who hadn’t left the borough of Brooklyn in over a decade, he certainly possessed one hell of a world view.

Neither talked to me again. So it goes.

Most of the time though, my soapbox and self-righteousness and sardonic wrath were unnecessary. Not because people didn’t get it, but because I finally realized it wasn’t their fault they didn’t get it. They’re not supposed to get it — this isn’t Sparta, nor is it even post-World War II America. Sometimes — many times, actually — they wanted to get it. Slowly and surely, I found the all too obvious solution of simply answering people’s questions as considerately as I could, careful not to ascribe my experiences as universal to all of Iraq or all of Afghanistan. I’d rather ramble, I reasoned, and provide nuance and opinion than serve as the representational hollow caricature born only to sacrifice for fast food and online shopping and general postmodern excess.

Just one man’s solution to a litany of complexities, I guess.

I got unstuck in time again last month, right when winter graced the Eastern seaboard with its presence. I was getting out of the Union Square subway station, headphones in, mind tuned out, stomach craving a cheeseburger. I don’t qualify as a full-fledged New Yorker yet, but I’ve lived here long enough not to be disturbed by the sight of a cold and decrepit-looking homeless person. So, coming up the subway steps, I strolled by a young man with a scraggly yellow beard wrapped in an urban camo jacket without anything more than a passing glance. He held a cardboard sign marked in black marker with the words “IRAQ VET, HOMELESS, PLEASE HELP.” I didn’t help, nor did I give the man a second thought until two blocks later, when I cynically scolded him in my head for using the veteran title to his advantage.

“But what if he really is an Iraq vet?” I asked myself.  I’d read the statistics — according to the Department of Veterans Affairs, more than 100,000 veterans are homeless on a given night in America; the figure is twice that over the course of the month. Not all of the unlucky ones are dead, after all. So the old platoon leader in me kicked in, and I turned back around, to see if I could verify any of this. Certainly a legitimate vet would remember names, units, places … something. And then? And then I’d help. Or I’d bring him to the people or organizations who could help. Maybe, if he seemed legit and came across as relatively stable, I could talk my fiancée into letting him sleep on the couch for a night or two. Just to get him back on his feet, of course.

He was no longer there. Or anywhere nearby. Maybe someone else had helped him. But probably not. I initially breathed out a sigh of relief, and then a sigh of shame. I thought about how these wars may be coming to some sort of end, but veterans’ issues for my generation are really just beginning. I only deployed for 15 months, and had all kinds of support systems in place upon my return. What about the men and women who have done nothing but deploy, redeploy, rinse and repeat since 9/11? What about those soldiers who return to broken homes, mountains of debt, no professional goals beyond not going to war again? What about them?

I smacked my lips and tasted guilt. Then I walked to a restaurant and ate a cheeseburger.

Like the veterans who came before and the ones who will come after, I walk the streets of New York City forever the soldier I no longer am. Oh, I’m no longer lean, hungry, or clean-cut — I’ve put on a little weight, grown my hair out and sport a patchy beard that can best be described as pirate-fashionable. But I still scan crowds for suicide vests, seek out corner vantage points like a bloodhound and value competency in a human being above all else. Jumping back into civilian life headlong, like I originally attempted, proved both disastrous and shortsighted. And coming to terms with this permanent state of combat readiness has made me realize just how much I miss  war (or parts of it), and how lucky — and twisted — I am to be able to even write those words. I miss the camaraderie. I miss the raw excitement. I miss the Iraqi locals, from the kids who walked our daytime patrols with us to the frightened mothers who just wanted us to go away. I miss the soldiers, the N.C.O.’s, and even some of the officers. I miss that daily sense of purpose, survive or die, that simply can’t be replicated in everyday existence.  I miss standing for something more than myself, even if I never figured out just what the hell that something was supposed to be.

I don’t miss all of it, of course. I got out of the Army for some very good reasons. Love. Sanity. Bureaucracy. A Holy Trinity for our time. But there is a messy ambiguity at the core of this that must be conveyed, if not necessarily understood.

I’m one of the lucky ones. Unstuck in time. Stuck with chance. Stuck at war. Considering the alternatives, I wouldn’t want it any other way.

 

Matt Gallagher contributed to The Sandbox frequently during his deployment. This essay originally appeared as part of the HOME FIRES series in The New York Times.

WEARINESS |

March 13, 2011

Name: Scott
Stationed in: Afghanistan
Milblog: The Sand Docs

Today a young boy died.

We were paged this morning for a casualty. An eight year-old boy in an IED blast. He set off the explosive on foot at his village. American forces arrived at the scene and performed first aid. The boy stopped breathing in the field. The flight medic took over his care but the patient was pulseless and needed CPR during the flight.

He arrived with tourniquets on both legs to prevent bleeding from the stumps that remained. Had he lived he would have been a bilateral amputee. His head was wrapped in bandages that hid major skull indentations and exposed brain. One of his eyes was missing.

We pronounce the boy dead and cleaned and wrapped his body . His father had flown in on the helo and so was able to spend time with his son. He was visibly upset. Most of the rest of the day was spent trying to facilitate the father bringing his boy home for burial before sunset as is their custom.

The atmosphere in the FST was unusually hushed afterwards. You grow rather thick skin in this job but even thick skin can be penetrated by a sharp edge. This case seemed to be that. In another world, this boy could have been a play date for my own sons who are his age.

I have written that our days have been quiet in recent weeks. The lull in action along with the approach of our departure portended to a leisurely end to this mission. But much has changed in the past few days between the extension of our deployment and the resumption of violence. During the lull, my blog entries had veered towards the glib. Much of that was due to lack of anything else to write. Now that the war seems to have no intention of letting us leave quietly, I admit that lightness of being feels like a luxury. I am weary of writing about violence.

We are fortunate to have an out. In a few weeks we will return home where bombs and guns make the news but don't penetrate our lives. This man and his family have no such out. It is they who have a right to claim weariness.

HOPE FOR THE WARRIORS |

March 10, 2011

Name: RN Clara Hart
Stationed in: a civilian military hospital in the U.S.
Milblog: From Our Perspective

Many times in these past years I have run and walked alongside our war wounded in various races. To see the smiles and hear the laughter at these events makes the terrible days of caring for these warriors fade into the background. With that in mind I want to show you the resilience and determination I see every day. I hope you enjoy watching the video, and may it bring a smile to your face!

 

 

Note: RN Clara Hart's numerous contributions to The Sandbox include  THE VIGIL, RODEO ANESTHESIA,  CARNAGE OF THE MIND and SEPTEMBER 11th.

ECONOMY |

March 08, 2011

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

For such a rainy, dark day, the Qalat bazaar was surprisingly crowded. Then again, I thought to myself, what else would these people be doing? It's not like they can go home and relax on a comfortable couch watching TV or wasting time on the internet. The bazaar is their livelihood, and their lives, and our presence for a few short hours is basically the most interesting thing they will see all day. In a way, we are their entertainment, which is probably why it's fun for them to throw rocks or shoot at us sometimes. It's not necessarily in anger, but more like extreme sport. Especially because we shoot back.

For months we kept hearing about The Rainy Season that was always "just a few weeks away."  That was November. Now, we've seen rain for a few days in a row and it's like, OH MY GOD WHAT IS THIS FALLING FROM THE SKY? IS GOD CRYING!?!

Well, that's not entirely true. We did attempt to cover the entire base in gravel, which means taking big rocks and smashing them into smaller rocks and spreading them over the ground. This process -- getting rocks and making them tiny -- cost something like $1.4 million. So yeah, that's awesome. And of course there are still vast areas without gravel, so it's just one big mud pool anyway. 

But I don't mind the rain, I really don't. The farmers, which is what most Afghans are (except for the warlords, drug dealers, weapons traffickers, bombmakers, Taliban tax collectors, or, um, various other things), need the rain to have a chance at a legitimate harvest in the spring. Without it, they will be unable to raise any crops, and have a much higher chance of turning to the insurgency. So if it means tracking a little mud on my boots as I walk around, so what? At the end of the day, I can take a shower. And as far as I'm concerned, that's a mark of any great civilization -- the ability to wash away the day's dirt.

DUDES OF WAR |

March 05, 2011

Name: Charlie Sherpa
Unit: Deployed to Afghanistan
Hometown: Boone, Iowa
Milblog: Red Bull Rising
Email: SherpaatRedBullRising.com

In a second memoir generated from his experiences as a U.S. citizen-soldier deployed to Afghanistan -- the first was "Greetings from Afghanistan: Send More Ammo," reviewed here -- Benjamin Tupper presents readers with a rogues' gallery of his fellow soldiers: buddies and frenemies, gun freaks and mule-lovers, tobacco-chewers and pornicators. Tupper talks not only about about the guys who made war, he talks about the guys who made war hell for everyone else.

A New York National Guard soldier, Tupper deployed as a 16-member Embedded Training Team (ETT) to Ghanzi and Paktika Provinces. Before his 2006 deployment, he'd also worked in Afghanistan as a civilian non-governmental organization worker.

"Welcome to the war story where nothing goes bang..." he writes in his introduction to "Dudes of War." "This second book shoots an entirely different azimuth: To tell the story of the other 99 percent of the time we spend over there; the tasks, chores, and austere conditions that forge today's modern soldier culture."

Tupperflowerpower To tell that story, Tupper profiles a cast of characters constructed of various callsigns, caricatures, and (in one or two cases) composites. Let slip the dudes of war!

The writer's trick is a useful one. By not-naming names, Tupper is able to distill truths good, bad, and ugly from a group of disorderly personalities, the traits of which range from the outrageous to the compulsively routine. Although brutally candid, he never comes across as mean-spirited. He comes neither to praise these stereotypical soldiers nor to bury them.

Rather than air the military's dirty duffel bags, he's out to discuss a laundry list of hard-to-crack and almost-never-discussed topics. For example:

--    Dealing with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (P.T.S.D.), as an individual and as a unit.

--    The downrange debates between those who loved dogs and those who loved to shoot them.

--    The question of whether soldiers are in Afghanistan to provide humanitarian assistance or to play "Whac-a-mole" with Afghan bad guys.

"The longing for women, or beer, or other vices of American culture cannot be wished away by Army regulations. The hours of boredom that are the fertilizer for political debates, pranks, and ball-busting continue to fill the days," Tupper writes. "The American soldier continues to adapt to and overcome these challenges. The means and methods are sometimes morally questionable and the results sometimes problematic, but the outcome is never in doubt: Dudes will be dudes."

The dude knows what he's talking about.

 

Note: Benjamin Tupper is a long-time contributor to The Sandbox. His numerous posts include DECENCY AND HONOR, PIECES IN THE SNOW, and THE HEAT IN MY DREAMS.

You can read another review of the book HERE.

POP OPEN THE BUBBLY! |

March 02, 2011

Name: CAPT Marc Rassler
Stationed in: Afghanistan
Hometown: Livingston, MT
Milblog: To Afghanistan and Back

Today was a reason to celebrate for my team and I. Our replacements arrived last night to Marmal Air Base. First thing this morning we did one of our largest convoys -- seven vehicles -- to drive to Marmal and pick up the guys who will hopefully continue what we've been doing right. Hopefully they also find a way to avoid making the same mistakes and growing pains.

Something that is unique compared to my other two deployments is that we did not have to move out of our rooms to make space for the new guys. They are moving into a set of connexes recently built by the Croatian contingent here on Camp Mike Spann. Not having to live out of a duffle bag for the next two weeks while we conduct our handover training will make life a lot easier.

It was fun, after dropping off the new guys at their rooms, observing their amazement at taking in all of their new surroundings. Kind of like getting dropped off at your first dorm in college; a good deal of excitement was on their faces. I took my counterpart and a couple other guys on a brief 'nickle tour' of our small base. At the end I gave them a couple boxes of care supplies which I had received, to help get them settled in.

Now we will try and teach them everything we've learned over the past nine months. First impression is that they have a pretty decent crew, and should do fine. Several members have prior deployment experience, which should help ease their transition.


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