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.


August 31, 2011

Name: Erik Wolf
Stationed in: Gardez, Afghanistan
Hometown: Owasso, Oklahoma

Framed Erik Wolf PHOTO I've thought for a long time about trying to conjure up words to somehow describe to you how things are over here. My past deployments have always afforded me the opportunity to give positive updates and "upbeat" themes to embrace. This deployment is different. Very much so.

The truth of the matter is that this has proven to be the single most challenging deployment I have ever known. From the time this whole mission started (over 18 months ago) throughout the past 45 days, this has been the most strenuous experience of my life on a great many levels, both personal and professional.

To date, we have lost seven of our finest. All were honorable men, aimed with a common goal; to execute the orders set before them, to accomplish the mission and to protect their fellow soldiers. They gave their lives in the course of this action. While all that sounds very gallant and noble (and it is) I can tell you with all assurance that it doesn't make the loss any easier.

I am an emotional man and not in the least bit ashamed of it. I wear my heart on my sleeve and those who know me, know I cannot feign happiness when I'm swallowed with sadness. For the past several weeks, this has been my proverbial "cross to bear."

I don't pretend to have all the answers about this deployment or the decisions made through each and every mission set before this. We have a saying: "It is what it is." We cannot change it. We cannot leave it. We must simply embrace the harsh reality that this is our situation and we must continue through it, despite the pain it inflicts. We don't have the luxury of sitting back in a comfy sofa and playing "armchair quarterback" with the direction or course of this war. We're stuck right smack-dab in the middle of this stench and we have two choices; breathe the stinky air, or suffocate.

I realize I have painted a rather bleak picture thus far but I must say It's not all bad. We have each other here, and believe me, we rely heavily upon each other to both preserve our lives and our sanity. This place can (and will) drive you hopelessly into despair if you let it. We find comfort in each others' company. I personally am blessed to have an amazing crew. My guys are, in my opinion (and the opinion of many others), some of the best in this Brigade. Through their professional and technical expertise, not only do they make my job immensely less difficult from the mission's standpoint, they each bring a unique character quality and sense of humor that keep things entertaining. Yeah. I've got a good crew. The best.

We pass the time (whatever "free time" there is after an average 16-18 hour day) playing video games, watching TV, working out, hanging out or collectively working on some weird project that only geeks think of. Saying that my guys "tell jokes in Binary" would only be a slight exaggeration.

They're Infantry Signaleers -- communications experts in an Infantry Battalion. They provide digital and tactical communications on the battlefield by any means possible. Which means not only do they ensure that our soldiers can call in to report their status, they ensure they can call for help when needed. They often going out to where the combat troops are, fixing things that aren't supposed to be fixed. They go into harm's way, mounting up with the other soldiers, driving through hostile fire and dodging IEDs just so they can get to a remote location and install a printer on a commander's tactical network.

They work on Satellite terminals, trying to lock in a transmit frequency, only to run for cover as rockets and mortars come raining down. They "man the wire" to defend against attacks, then turn around and go back to fixing and maintaining the network. They are presented with all manner of technical challenges, sometimes under fire, usually with little sleep, some of them without the "luxury" of running water or flushing toilets. Despite these odds, these guys can create digital magic out of a cardboard box, a paper clip and a pop tart. Don't ask me how they do it. Even I am amazed at times. I swear, if I ever hear someone from the Best Buy "Geek Squad" complain about the hassles of making a house call I'm gonna smack them square in the mouth.

I have to say (and I would be utterly remiss if I didn't), the men and women we serve with are amazing. Even in the face of such recent tragedy, these professionals "soldier up" and go back out, day after day. Facing the challenges and deadly environment, these individuals refuse to be beaten. Their resilience is unquestionably the most amazing thing to behold. How can they, after all they've been through, simply put their armor on, grab their weapons and go back out into the fray? Well, it's simple. They have no choice. Not because they've been ordered to, but because their professional commitment to duty and their personal commitment to each other won't allow it any other way.

I'm sure when this whole thing is said and done you will hear a plethora of stories, some good and some bad. Some will question, or even challenge, the reasons and motives behind this mission. Others will support and defend it. But regardless of their individual positions on the matter you'll find one common thread. Not one of them really even considered their own personal beliefs on this war when they mounted up in the trucks to head out the gate. They did it without question because their Brothers and Sisters were getting in the truck with them. And not one of them would let the other go into harm's way without protection -- a "Battle Buddy". It's inspiring. Every time.

On a personal level, I must say that one of my greatest mainstays throughout this whole thing has been my beloved wife, Annie. She has, without a doubt, been the single most faithful supporter and partner I have. Despite her own fears and apprehensions, she looks out for me. She prays for me. She continuously worries for me and yet, despite that constant anguish, stays focused to sustain me in any way she can. Her devotion and love is unquestionable. When one of my most beloved friends, Kirk Owen, was killed in combat, Annie comforted me and, despite her own private horror and fear, went to the funeral to show support and deliver a personal message to Kirk's wife on my behalf. She could have chosen to stay home, but her devotion to me and her unwavering support compelled her to represent our home and to support her fellow sister of the military family.

Annie will be the first to admit that she's not perfect. Who among us is? What amazes me is that, despite my flaws, she still remains forever and devoted. After all the pain my chosen career has caused her, she supports and loves me. She is my hero. I love you Annie.

I'll tell you, the anguish and strain that military wives are forced to endure is beyond comprehension. Especially for the wives of this deployment. People are dying over here. Our people. Our wives don't have the luxury of watching TV, hearing about casualties, and then politely dismissing the news as "unfortunate" or "sad." For them, it is a horror they live with every day and every night. To spend their waking hours in dread, and sleepless nights in fear of that horrifying news that their loved one, their life partner, is gone. Or to hear the news, and for a brevity of a millisecond, be grateful that it isn't their loved one -- only to be immediately plagued with guilt and remorse; for they know that another spouse, one of our military family, is forever shattered. It is an unspeakable and horrible situation that they must face, and embrace, each day. As we here on the front face the war, our spouses and partners are every bit engaged in battle back home. Yet, they still keep our homes in order, still look out for us, impatiently waiting, hoping, praying and longing for that day when we return.

Yet there are those hidden among our "circle of friends" who cannot stop themselves from attacking. Those who have the misguided and twisted mentality that exploiting an imperfect situation somehow elevates their own sense of self-worth. I would submit this to you: Until you have walked the proverbial "mile" in a military spouse's shoes, kindly walk away and go on with your pathetic lives. You obviously have no real interest in ours. We pity you, but we don't need you. We have what matters most to us locked tightly in our hearts.

I have seen a great number of treacherous things -- tragedy, heartbreak, betrayal, death and destruction. Things that constantly pull at my soul and fight for my sanity. Emotional devastation and psychological horror. Yet, through all of this I can still hold my head up. I can still look at the horizon and see hope and continue on.

My Faith in Jesus Christ, my steadfast and loyal teammates of the Unit, and the unwavering support of my Friends and Family give me the strength and focus to see that this "hell" we are living in is merely temporary and, while prominently thrust into the forefront of my life, it is ultimately not the force that defines me.

I'll end on this thought: I honestly don't know how you will receive this message. I started out with every intention of giving you an "update," and yet somehow this message has transcended into a personal reflection and testimonial of sorts. I don't want to leave you with the impression that we (over here) are in helpless despair. We're not. However there are times when it hurts. Times when it simply sucks, and no words can adequately convey the moment.

I once had a Marine Corps Colonel tell me, "You know why they call it war, son? Because 'shit' was already taken." I think he summed it up nicely.

That's all for now my friends. Just needed to get that out. Know that we over here love you over there more than words can say.



I am not a military spouse -- but I am a marine corps mom and I want to reach out to you with a giant Hug for you and your wife. God bless you both and bring you safely back home along with your brothers and sisters at arms. Thanks for sharing your personal relfections. Stay strong.

Thank you for the update. Very good to hear that we are so well represented in this endeavor.
As you said, if a person cannot be supportive of those serving and their families, shut up and move on. It is said all too often. If you have never deployed or known someone who is close to you who has, you have no idea what the soldier and their family goes through.
Stay safe. And, "Thank you. And those who serve with you. Thank you."

Dear Eric,
I came across your blob accidentally. As you say, treachery, death, destruction are evident all around. What man or woman would not be affected
sad, distraught?! I say all would. Keep heart and faith to persevere.
We love you all and wait for your return asap.
Faith is the ability to overcome all obstacles. XXXOOOO

Well written and thank you for writing it. ..."Because shit was already taken." It is hard to put all of those emotional extremes into a package that accurately describes any of it but damnit someone has to try. We love you guys too and as my Gunny once put it "Keep your ass down and the head will live."...Although sometimes that is impossible. Stay safe and Semper Fi!

Thank you for your well written words. Some people think that they can sit back and make comments about this or that, oh we shouldn't be in this war blah blah blah but have no thoughts as to what it takes from a great person such as yourself to be over there in harms way even defending that idiots right to think the way he does. My dad and step dad were both Air Force and I remember as a young teen my step dad being shipped to Iraq, I also recall that when he was a 1/2 year from retiring being shipped back to Iraq for three months. Thankfully he returned to us with only a few mental scars. Once again thank you for your words and what you do for this country.

Wow. Thank you for this blog and for your service. I hope you stay strong and know you have many back home praying for your safe return home.

Hi Erik,

Thank you for your raw honesty. You guys are the best of the best. What can I say other than keep your heart, please, and know there are people praying for your safe return. It doesn't make any more sense to us than you, but we thank you so much for putting it on the line.

Nice, and thanks for sharing this info with us.Good Luck!

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