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.

STARTING POINT |

January 30, 2012

Name: Old Blue
Returned from: Afghanistan
Returning to:
Afghanistan
Milblog
: Afghan Blue and Afghan Quest

In the next few days I will begin my journey back to Afghanistan for the third time. This is my first time deploying as part of a brigade-sized unit. A brigade from my home state of Ohio, the 37th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (IBCT), is in the process of deploying to northern Afghanistan after training for several months at Camp Shelby, Mississippi. How I came to be with them, to volunteer again, is a longer story. The train-up period seemed to drag on forever, with a certain degree of fatigue having set in before the actual deployment begins.

My uniforms, weapon and equipment surround me here in my billet. Some of my gear is already in Afghanistan waiting for me. I and the rest of my gear will be loaded onto a charter aircraft soon for the long, miserable flight across the world. Once again I will stand on the soil of Kyrgyzstan, then I will once again trod the soil of Afghanistan. I don’t anticipate a lot of excitement on this tour, but along with the familiarity of working with Afghans and our NATO allies will come new experiences. I am filled with a feeling that is similar to the anticipation of jumping into a cold pool having already experienced that same shock only recently; except this is more intense. It’s not really dread, but it’s similar. I know that this is going to last a while, that I will be uncomfortable, that I will miss my family and friends. I know that I will develop close relationships, but they are not that close at this point. I know that I will live in conditions that are similar to those of inmates at an Arizona county jail, and that it will suck.

DSC 0121 a 685x1024 Prologue

Back through the doorway into Afghanistan (photo courtesy Rebecca Zimmerman)

Our mission in Afghanistan is a huge question in my mind. I came back from my second tour a little more than a year ago. At that point I was encouraged, but President Obama’s timetable for withdrawal had not had any significant effect. Now it seems to have had an effect, and the mood of the American people regarding our mission and purpose there feels as if it is and has been in decline. That does affect us. It affects me. But we have a job to do in a potentially dangerous place. The sense of wonder and excitement that I had on my first tour is not there. I know a lot more what to expect. This tour will be nine months long, and I’ve already spent three times that long in Afghanistan. This will be my first experience in the north, after having spent lots of time in the east and the south/southwest of the country. Once again, I will work as an advisor to the Afghans, this time with the Afghan Border police.

 So I embark on this deployment with mixed feelings. My sense of determination is still there, but it is deeper and less intense-feeling. I wonder sometimes if I am not steeling myself for an outcome that is less than what I had hoped for in 2007, perhaps much worse. As it was before I headed out on my second tour, I feel a sense of anxiety about the “suck factor” of being away from my kids, of being out of the loop with the reality of life in the States, of living in spartan conditions and working daily in a third world country. There is very little, if any, sense of anticipation or excitement.

This is my starting point.

 At the end of all this, I will be able to look back at what I have written here and see the ups and downs, the key events of my experience on my third tour. My intent is for this blog to be about the experience, not about my analysis of the bigger picture. That I will save for AfghanQuest. Here I will tell the stories of the long, strange trip that will be my third tour (and my last in this uniform).

During and between his previous deployments Old Blue has contributed over 40 posts to The Sandbox, including PICTURE AND MOVIE TIME, I WASN'T PREPARED, CHAI, THROUGH THE J-BAD PASS, HERO, and DECEPTIVELY SATISFYING.

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.

YOU SEE US ALL THE TIME |

January 17, 2012

Name: Jason Payne
Returned from: Iraq and Afghanistan
Hometown: Irvine, CA
Milblog: IAVA
Email: jrpayne26@yahoo.com

Recent media reports covering violent tragedies committed by veterans have both alarmed and motivated me to take action.  As a Veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), I became very concerned when I learned the murder of a National Park Ranger at Mount Rainer National Park was committed by an OIF Veteran who potentially suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). My concern was not just for the Park Ranger’s family and colleagues, but for the potential of the over 2.4 million OIF/OEF Veterans being stigmatized as violent psychopaths because of the flawed choice of one single person. Instead of media reports highlighting how vets were drawing personal closure from the war, in quiet reflection or shared pride or both, the bad press for veterans just kept getting worse.  

A U.S. Army Green Beret who just returned from Afghanistan was recently arrested at Midland-Odessa Airport in Texas after two bricks of C-4 explosive were found inside his carryon bag at the security screening checkpoint.  In Ogden, Utah, an Iraq veteran was arrested after a team of law enforcement officers came to his residence to serve a search warrant for drug possession.  By the time the vet was in custody, five officers had been shot and another was dead.  Again, these are only three recent nationally covered news stories that in some ways understandably put all veterans in a bad light.  

I implore the entire veteran community to take action with every opportunity they are given to show our communities and our country we are a strong and determined group of men and women, who reflect a wide cross section of our nation’s population.  

I’m not a psychologist, but I can say the following with certainty:

Although it is widely accepted that every veteran is changed by their service in a conflict, not all veterans have PTSD. Additionally, not all veterans who have PTSD are going to act out violently. 

Therefore, again, it is crucial that the veteran community seizes this negative publicity and turns it into an opportunity to demonstrate with collective action that we are a trustworthy and stable group of people.  A group of people who know how to cope with our feelings about the war in constructive ways, and that we have learned to roll with the punches of life.

For example, a 20-something friend of mine whom I’ll call Sammy served a tour in Iraq and one in Afghanistan.  During Sammy’s post-deployment from Afghanistan, he was diagnosed with PTSD and consequently separated from the Army. Sammy told me he was diagnosed after only one visit to the Veteran’s Affairs Medical Center, and was never examined for PTSD by a military physician or psychologist. However, having kept in touch with Sammy, I know he has been having a tough time adjusting to civilian life. Sammy seems okay for now, he has a good support system of family and friends and he has access to mental health resources, but he is very adamant that he would not resort to violence as a coping mechanism. He knows he has a long road ahead and he seems to be taking it one arduous step at a time.

Another example is my friend Brian, a 30-something Air Force Reserve veteran who served on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan. During his last deployment, Brian breathed a sigh of relief when he missed being laid off from the city he was employed at back home, only to eventually get laid off a year later during another round of layoffs. Despite having to short-sell his house and the loss of his primary form of income, he took the challenge as an opportunity to better himself and successfully enrolled in law school.  

There are other colleagues and friends; Brad, a career Airman who served twice in the early stages of OIF and recently returned from Afghanistan. Despite being divorced after his first deployment and the recent death of his battle buddy who he served two tours in Iraq with, Brad still has a strong sense of duty driving him which can’t be broken.  

My friend Mike who served in Iraq couldn’t pass the psychological screening to become a police officer. He almost gave up his dream only to realize there was nothing else he wanted to do more than serve his community as a police officer. He didn’t give up. He allowed himself an appropriate amount of time to heal from his service in Iraq and sort out his life. He now serves as an officer for a large municipal police department in the Midwest.

Finally, a Marine OIF Veteran named Jordan, who I met through a veterans organization, told me he got involved in several community service programs to help veterans of all generations as his way of coping with his service in the war.

They all serve as examples of what veterans are: strong, tenacious and determined mission-oriented people who don’t quit when things aren’t going their way.

I would like to close by reminding my fellow military veterans we are our brother’s keeper. Reach out to fellow vets in your community to remind each other that if you need help, you’re not alone. I also want to remind American society that vets come from all different walks of life, men and women of different shapes, sizes and colors. You see us all the time, and might not even know it.  But we’re there, driving fire trucks and ambulances, teaching kids in public schools, volunteering in our communities, running small businesses and leading people in large corporations. Please, give us a chance before you categorize us all. We deserve better than what the recent news coverage would have you believe.

Jason Payne, a 34-year old US Air Force Veteran, lives with his wife and kids in the San Francisco Bay Area. Jason served one tour in Baghdad, Iraq in 2005 and one tour in Khost Province, Afghanistan in 2010. He now serves as a federal civil servant in San Joaquin County, California and is a spokesperson for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.

SUPER RABBIT |

January 14, 2012

Name: America's 1st Sgt.
Stationed in: Bahrain
Milblog: Castra Praetoria
Email: castrapraetoria1@gmail.com

For your Saturday morning entertainment I present an old Warner Brothers cartoon starring Bugs Bunny from way back in 1943. This was a time when your military were still the good guys and were actually lauded by the media. Enjoy the cartoon, because you won't see anything like this made in modern times. For my money the really good part starts at 7:30.

ONE YEAR LATER |

January 12, 2012

Name: Major Dan
Returned from: Afghanistan
MilblogAfghaniDan

It wasn't this one, I am sure...


It was perfectly bizarre, and ironic, and somehow appropriate, to see and hear a helicopter in the airspace ahead of me as I left the Boulder Vets Center today. There are rarely helos ("choppers" if your service insists on that term) above this town, so rare that it's practically jarring to hear the rotors. It caused me to smile and shake my head, as I'd realized earlier why the dates of January 8 & 10 consciously stood out to me -- they were the dates I left Kabul and Bagram, respectively, one year ago.

Kabul, Jan '11: Conference Room in Winter

 

Jan '11: Bagram bus stop

 

Jan '11: Bagram, amidst the haze...

 

Jan '11: Dawn over Hindu Kush...and barriers

 

Jan '11: Final departure...for now.


Not that it's the first time I find myself marking the passage of time since a deployment shook me from a completely different life in the U.S. and then returned me half-dazed -- but as this latter experience was longer, and somehow more personal, I find that I'm paying more attention to the anniversaries. The blog has definitely languished again, and for that I'm less than pleased with myself. There are the experiences I never caught up to recount, as well as the developments and incidents which continue to unfold, including major shifts in strategy, organization and approach. I'll highlight a couple of those here, and hope still to finally post photos and stories from the archives -- and I tremendously appreciate every reader who has encouraged me to keep writing. While my motivations for blogging from Afghanistan were many, that isn't the case for blogging from here. In contrast, it's only the occasional urge to keep it up that motivates me to do exactly that, especially a full year removed.

Jan '11: Last glimpse of Afghan mountains...

 

Dec '11: Usual glimpse of Rocky Mountains


It gets harder and harder to find news out of Afghanistan, which often is attributed to 'war weariness' -- an excuse I truly doubt when such a small percentage of the U.S. population is even aware that the war trudges on. The news that does emerge usually covers the latest attacks, which tend to occur outside of Kabul, therefore rarely are covered at the site by western media -- and therefore lack context as a result. A typical rundown from today follows, with discouraging news from completely different and unconnected regions cobbled together (and a quote from my old colleague Maj. Gen. Azimi):

10 die as Taliban storm Afghan government building

More relevant to my forecast from last month's post about bitter divisions coming to the surface between Northern Alliance leaders and Karzai supporters is this intriguing development, brought to my attention by my former colleague and NTM-A counterpart Joe Holstead. I find it significant that some of the leaders with whom the United States sided in 2001 now feel so threatened by the concentration of power in Kabul and the government's future direction that they openly warn against the peace process that our Coalition officially supports, something not much heard openly just a year or so ago...

AP Photo/Ferdinand Ostrop


Afghan opposition urges caution in Taliban talks

I hope to have more on-scene accounts of the "view from the ground" as some good friends are either back in parts of Afghanistan now in various capacities, or on their way. In addition, my cousin should be on the ground there by late Spring, and my younger brother continues to play an unheralded part in the war effort, as he and his soldiers train Jordanian forces to serve in the Coalition. I look upon their deployments with a big brother's concern, but I admit a touch of envy too, as the restlessness rises to not only find relevance again in this pivotal struggle, but to see my Afghan friends again, and to witness firsthand the changes that are sure to come in the next couple of years.

Finally, here's wishing everyone a very belated Sal-e Now Mubarek (Happy New Year)!  I joined the Twitter beast at last, and have been forwarding insight, analysis and updates on Afghanistan -- I post much more often when it doesn't keep me up all night.  Follow me: @ MayorDelMundo

 

THE DANCE |

January 10, 2012

Name: RN Clara Hart
Stationed in: a civilian military hospital in the U.S.
Email: clarahart2@yahoo.com

Handsome date. . .check.

Tickets. . . .check.

Formal gown. . .check.

Shoes to match the formal gown. . .check.

Jewelry and other accessories. . .yes, have those too.

I am ready for the Marine Corps Birthday Ball.

For the past three years I have attended the Wounded Warriors Marine Corps Birthday Ball. This year was to be no different and I was very much looking forward to it. Every year I have attended I have left the evening with the knowledge that I did make a difference. I have seen the smiles and heard the laughter of Marines I thought surely would die. Handsome in their dress blues whether still seated in wheelchairs or proudly standing tall on prosthetics, it’s hard to reconcile these faces with the ones I remember. Pale, anxious and scared faces were what I saw when I first encountered them.

For many of the medical staff attending the Wounded Warrior Regiment’s Marine Corps Ball is an opportunity that fills us with hope. Hope that we are doing a good job. Hope that these young men so horribly injured can move forward in their lives and be happy. That the smiles and laughter we see and hear are coming from the same people we busted butt to save.

I have a photo of myself and several other nurses with one of our most severely injured Marines, taken at last year’s Ball. It made the rounds to other staff members. Every single person had the exact same reaction, “That’s Dwayne??”  “Oh my god, he looks awesome!”  It’s an incredible experience, to be able to see that person looking awesome when you know where they’ve been and what they’ve overcome to get there. That, perhaps, is the single most reason I look forward to this particular ball, I know where they’ve been because I’ve been there with them.

This year I had one Marine in particular who I’d promised a dance to. Older than his physical years he arrived without his legs and soon lost one of his arms. One day, for my entire 12-hour shift I answered the question, “Ma’am, are my legs really gone?”  or “My legs are not there anymore, right Ms Clara?”  Over and over I answered that question. Repeatedly I said, “No baby, they’re not, but this time next year you and I are gonna be dancing at the Marine Corps Ball.”

From then on whenever this Marine saw me, no matter if I stopped in to visit him or if he saw me in the hallway his comment was always the same: “Ms Clara, don’t forget about our dance.”  “Absolutely not” was always my quick response.

Unfortunately five hours prior to the start of the Ball, after spending many pennies financing my endeavor, I found out I was unable to attend. The reason?

From a letter I wrote the Ball organizers: Thank you to the organizers of the Wounded Warrior Regiment's Marine Corps Birthday Ball for exponentially raising ticket prices so it's cost prohibitive, overselling the event, not having enough seating, allowing corporate VIPs to attend and forgetting who really matters. I was more than disappointed to learn, even though I bought tickets, that my name was not on the attendee list. I was told I could still attend but when cocktail hour was finished and other guests were being seated for the ceremony and dinner, my date and I would have to remain outside at the bar. 

I was saddened to miss an opportunity to see all the Marines I had cared for this past year now looking healthy and handsome. But most of all, DW, I'm sorry I missed our dance. 

 

AND SO IT BEGINS, AGAIN |

January 07, 2012

Name: Genevieve Chase
Returned from: Afghanistan
Milblog: Army Girl
Email: armygirlblog@gmail.com

I've had so many signs and messages lately, telling me to get back into writing, journaling -- blogging. I've avoided it this long for many reasons not to exclude the fact that I blogged anonymously for five years -- and now I am pretty confident that I can't get away with that anymore unless I change the name of my blog.

ArmyGirl_DrawingBut I've always been "Army Girl" and it didn't seem right to change it. Despite the fact that I feel more like a "woman" now than a "girl," a part of me doesn't want to let go of her. I've let go of enough of her...

The compromise was to start a new blog. The old one is still here but it's hidden now. Someday I'll go back and read through the posts, decipher the embedded messages and code I put in for OPSEC reasons, and turn it into a self-published book for family members generations from now that might want to know a little bit about their long-deceased relative. Army Girl was the legacy I thought I would leave them.

My, my, so much has changed.

I wouldn't say I'm all grown up. I wouldn't say that I have all of the answers. I will say that I have answers to many of the questions I once had, many of which I shared in the first Army Girl blog. Would I know what to do when the shit hit the fan in combat? How would my Pashto language training hold up in Afghanistan? Would I return home, safe and sound, with my unit? Am I a coward? Could I hold my own with the guys? Would I kill or be killed?

So. Much. Has. Changed. I have changed, in many ways. Sometimes I wake up and I don't even know who this person is or how I got here. But that -- that's not a story I can tell in one blog post.

I've always been a writer, but on March 17, 2005, I became a "blogger." I was a young-20-something girl, who aspired to be a Soldier and not just a leader but a great leader. A woman -- a girl who wanted to serve her country and felt pride in the opportunity to do so.

I was going through quite a bit in my Pashto class at 10th Mountain Division in Fort Drum, New York. As the only female in a class of nine, I had no one to truly confide in. No one that would understand. So the internet became my diary and fellow bloggers became my "friends." To this day, they are some of my closest friends.

It's a different world, the Milblogging community. I don't expect anyone to understand it but just as gamers "get" gaming, Milbloggers get milblogging. Crazy as they may be (and you know who you are), they were there for me when I felt a type of loneliness I had not encountered before. Blogging is still something many people don't "get" and that's okay.

So why now? I once again find myself needing the outlet. There's more to it this time. I feel that there are things happening in my daily life that I need to share, not because I'm so interesting but because I'm on a journey, an adventure, a mission.

Many people think I'm odd when I tell them that a part of me died on April 7, 2006. Many think I'm melodramatic when I say that I walked around feeling like the "living dead." I don't even know how to describe that feeling -- like you're there but you could just be a wisp of smoke and be gone. You feel with every cell in your body -- like you can just as easily not exist as exist. I felt like a ghost. I would pinch myself to feel alive. I would stand in the shower and try to feel every single drop that hit my skin. To everyone else, I was fine. I begged our LTC not to bring me back to Bagram. I told him to allow us to stay and finish our mission. I talked to people, I smoked (a lot). I went back out on the next mission they would let me go on.

Back then, they didn't know much about Traumatic Brain Injury so I guess it wouldn't have mattered if we'd gone back to Bagram or stayed in Helmand. We probably got more rest in Lashkar Gah than we would have trying to make our way back to Bagram. The problem wasn't time available to rest, it was being able to sleep.

The point? My new life is not my own.

I feel compelled and driven by some unexplainable force to take on this new mission. It is so much bigger than what I wanted for myself. And I know I'm not the same. I know my brain, my memory, are not the same. I know that someday soon I won't remember many of the things that have happened. I know this because I have already forgotten so much.

Framed Chase SO IT BEGINS AGAINThe bigger point? American. Women. Veterans.

I want to share, with every servicewoman and veteran, as much of the experience and amazing things that have transpired as I can. And how the universe itself seems to conspire to make American Women Veterans what it needs to be. A majority of the time, I feel like I'm on a fast-moving river and it's all I can do to just steer around the hazards while appreciating the opportunity to have the amazing honor and incredible experience of working for and with some of America's most incredible citizens.

Fearing that I won't remember enough to write a book someday, I want people to be able to share in this adventure with me, as it's happening.

That's what a web + log = blog is. And so it begins again...

 

Genevieve Chase, posting as Army Girl, was one of the first contributors to The Sandbox when it launched in October 2006. Her numerous contributions to the site include PLEASE DON'T INSULT ME, A FEW CHOICE WORDS and COMBAT .

SFC ZEKE |

January 03, 2012

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

Today, I listened to the advice of more than a few people and finally went to the TMC and Combat Stress hospital. My right hand hasn’t stopped twitching after nearly a month and it’s beyond irritating. I’m not sleeping, not eating, and highly irritable. I’ve been under a lot of stress and feel like many of those above me are just making things worse.

So, for three hours today, I sat and got to revisit many issues related to my PTSD, depression, and anxiety as well as some new ones. While waiting to speak with one of the case workers, I had the opportunity of sitting down with “SFC Zeke.”

Zeke looked very busy when I entered the room, but could tell immediately I was there for business. He set aside his distraction and gave me his complete attention. He didn’t say a word. Just sat there and listened to me. He didn’t judge me; he didn’t interrupt me; and he never blamed me. In five minutes, Zeke did what few others could do having just met me -- he calmed me down and made me feel like I was worth listening to. I want to introduce you to Zeke:

“SFC Zeke” is a Vet Dog. These dogs are raised from puppyhood around the military. They are used to the sounds, the business, and the chaos that accompanies military service. They are Labs, which are the most laid back and gentle dogs.

When I walked into the room, Zeke was going to town on his bone. He looked up, saw me, and -- I kid you not -- placed the bone off to the side in an “it’s time to go to work” fashion. He was no longer focused on his chew toy, but on his patient -- me. While it sounds hokey, I can now see the value in having these dogs in a combat zone.

Zeke has a busy schedule. He frequently visits other FOBs and checkpoints to visit with other troops. He works out with the service dogs and working dogs. It was refreshing to be human again for awhile and just pet a real dog. We aren’t supposed to mess with the animals around here because of fears about rabies. Dogs have a way of calming your nerves and reminding you what normal is supposed to look like.

Zeke did just that and I’m glad I got to hang out with him today. It was definitely a much better day. And I found a group of troops here to meet with on a regular basis for continued therapy.


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