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.

FLASHBACKS |

January 24, 2012

Name: C.J. Grisham
Returned from: Iraq
Deployed to: Afghanistan
Milblog: Afghanistan War Journal

This is a post I wrote a while back, after my first deployment:

I had a rough night last night. Sleeping was labored, even with the Vicodin I take to overcome my back pain at night. I woke up numerous times wondering where I was for a few seconds, then falling back asleep.

I was dreaming about my trip through the town of Al Mahmudiyah. The town is located just south of Baghdad. Before we took Baghdad, we had to go through this town and destroy any forces that may try to ambush us during our taking of the great city. Hidden between buildings and in alleys were Iraqi T-80 and T-72 tanks, as well as BMPs, AA guns, mortars, you name it. As we slowly progressed through the town, the sounds of main tank rounds resonated along the streets as we slowly destroyed the Iraqi Forces defenses. I was in the middle of the convoy going through this town…in a HMMWV (a humvee). We didn’t have the up-armored HMMWVs that we have nowadays. Heck, for the first week of the war, I was in a HMMWV with canvas doors and covering. After a week or so, I was able to trade our truck out for a turtleback HMMWV. It looks a lot like the armored ones, but with thinner skin. Definitely a lot safer than my other truck. As least if hot shrapnel landed on my truck, it would burn through the roof onto my lap.

As the tanks and Bradleys ahead of me continued their raping of Iraqi defenses (and I don’t mean that in a sexual sense), we faithfully followed, picking off the remaining pockets of soldiers that slipped the sights of the big guns. At one instance, while crossing a bridge, a soldier in a bunker opened up on our convoy. I shot back at him with my M-16, and when that jammed, the AK-47 I had taken earlier in the war. The shooting stopped in the bunker, but the noise inside the truck was VERY loud. My chief in the seat in front of me took the brunt of it with his ears. His hearing is a lot worse than when we left.

The convoy pushed further south, leaving behind burning chunks of metal and barely recognizable military equipment. Some of those vehicles were ammunition carriers. After they were destroyed, the intense heat and fire would set off the rounds as we were passing by them. One such vehicle was literally on the shoulder about 25 feet from us as we passed it, popping off mortar rounds and sending bullets zinging past our truck. Pieces of shrapnel landed and bounced on the hood of our vehicle and landed on the top. The concussions were deafening, indescribable booms that pierced your very soul. At that moment, I was more afraid of the dead stuff than the stuff shooting at me.

Then, at the worst possible moment, the convoy would stop. Off to our right and further away to our left artillery shells and mortars were still cooking off. Bullets were zinging over and beside our truck and we were just sitting there. There wasn’t a human being hurling those shots at us. We couldn’t return fire to quell the rage. The targets of those rounds were left totally random. The fact that not one pierced or even grazed our truck was more miracle than chance. The 1SG just ahead of us had red hot shrapnel land on his shoulder and burn through his uniform onto his neck. Eventually, it was over and we made it through the town and past the defenses on the other side. But, that was just the beginning -- we had to go back!!

The entire way back through the town we had just blown to bits was like driving through a gauntlet. The only thing that got me through that ordeal unscathed was prayer and faith. I made my peace and privately said goodbye to my family and begged their forgiveness for not coming home. But, we made it through. We had some injuries, but surprisingly no one died. As we got to the northern side of town where we had entered, the Iraqis were out cheering for us and thanking us for saving them.

Last night, I relived this episode again. I’ve relived it many times before without any problems. But last night wasn’t like any other time. My youngest daughter was playing in the streets of Al Mahmudiyah last night. I couldn’t catch her and bring her into the safety of my vehicle and out of harm’s way on the street. She had her favorite blankie with her and was sucking on her two fingers in the usual fashion. She was giggling and completely oblivious to the fighting going on around her. She didn’t notice the shrapnel that pierced the lower part of her blanket and left a burnt ring near the corner. Each time I woke up, I tried to gain my bearing, realized it was a dream, and drifted back into the same terrifying loop as before.

When I finally woke up to the voice of my son and wife calling me, I was dizzy. I couldn’t see anything straight as the world whizzed by me from left to right. I went downstairs and listened to my wife read our morning scriptures to the kids before they headed off to the bus stop. A couple of times, I had to go to the bathroom because I thought I was gonna be sick from all the spinning. It was hard to open my eyes. Emily allowed me to fall back asleep on the couch and when I awoke I felt a little better. But it was time for work. I headed upstairs, took a shower, and began feeling a lot better. I was only slightly dizzy when I mounted my trusty steed (my mighty ’03 Suzuki Hayabusa) and headed to work. Within an hour I was back to normal.

Emily reads this blog, so I know she’s going to read this. I didn’t tell her about why I probably felt the way I did. I didn’t tell her about my dream, though I know she asked me why I was up so many times last night. I don’t talk a lot about what’s going on in my mind, cause usually not much really is going on in my mind. Usually, it’s just a bunch of voices arguing over whether or not to eat another Tootsie Roll or drink another Dr. Pepper. Sometimes my mind contemplates deep issues like whether black is really purple and we just named it wrong. Most of the time the only thing going on in my mind the breeze travelling from ear to ear. So, as you read this Emily, forgive me for not talking to you about it first. You know I don’t like discussing my weaknesses. I need to be the strong man you married, not the weak guy who has a bad dream every so often and can’t talk about it.

By the way, Hannah’s blanket is fine. I didn’t notice any holes in it this morning.

Comments

God bless you. I can't imagine going through that experience. You are extremely brave man, and I am so thankful for people like you who risk their lives everyday for our country. Your story really touched my heart and I just want to thank you for all that you do. This is my first time on this blog and I have been blown away by many stories, including yours. Once again, THANK YOU SO MUCH and God bless!

Ali

Wow i sit back and read this for my college class and i realize how lucky i am to live in this country to have so many brave men and women like you keeping it save thank you!

As I sit idly here in my safe home, I'm thankful there are heroes such as yourself that keep us safe here in the states. Please take any options you have to talk of these things with a counselor. Please don't hold them in. You've done well by expressing in this blog. Thanks for your service!

I too feel lucky to live in such a wonderful country protected like brave men and women like you. Thank you so much for your service! ps. You have a grand sense of humor, and don't worry sometimes I too wonder about the whole naming colors wrong thing! =] Again, thank you so much for everything you have done for the millions of people in our wonderful country! God bless!

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