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.

11 YEARS LATER |

September 11, 2012

Name: Jen Neuhauser
Deploying to: Afghanistan
Hometown: Raleigh, NC
Milblog: Expeditionary Lawyer

Eleven years ago I was lugging duffel bags across the parking lot of the 71st Corps Support Battalion in Bamberg, Germany. That morning my battalion was set to depart for a training exercise in Poland called "Victory Strike," part of an ongoing effort to partner with former Warsaw Pact countries. The main thing I remember is after retrieving my bags and dragging them through the lobby is seeing images on the television in the Staff Duty NCO's office of a plane hitting the Twin Towers.

"What's going on?" I asked the SDNCO. "An accident?"

'They're not sure yet," he responded. And then the next one hit.

By midafternoon it was clear we weren't going to Poland, at least not that day. The conference room was transformed into a command center. They sent us home to get the rest of our battle rattle. By evening they had replaced the normal security guards at the installation entry with Soldiers in full kit, although I do remember their weapons not being loaded. We were still trying to figure out how to actually be at war again.

Other than the haunting images of people holding up photographs of their loved ones, begging for information, the other thing that sticks out in my mind about that day was the kindness of the German people. After going back to the apartment for a couple of hours of sleep, I saw that there was an accumulation of flowers and candles by the gate of the installation. I had Germans come up to me and say, "I am so sorry. Are you okay?"

When I heard about the rescue dogs getting depressed because they were unable to find any more live people under the rubble, I wept.


And now here I am, 11 years later, packing these same duffel bags in order to go to Afghanistan. The awful man who arranged those attacks is dead. If you ask the average American why we are still in Afghanistan, he or she might shrug their shoulders or mumble something about Al Qaeda. If they are a little more educated, they might say something about Colin Powell's Pottery Barn Doctrine: You Break It, You Buy It. But the average American is more concerned about whether the economy will recover and whether he will be able to provide for his family.

Why are we still there? If you want in-depth analysis or deep political insight I suggest you go and read any one of the several thousand blogs on the subject. I have the luxury of having a mission, direction, motivation, leadership. I am going there to help the people of Afghanistan achieve a stable, peaceful government and rule of law. I intend to put forth my best effort at accomplishing it.

Otherwise, my best guess is that we are trying to avoid the mistakes of the past. As they say at the end of Charlie Wilson's War: "These things happened. They were glorious and they changed the world...and then we f----d up the end game." We are trying mightily not to f--k up the end game. It's hard.

Comments

Stay safe and thank you for what you have done and continue to do.

Sorry to say, the "end game" is already FUBAR. The best thing you and other eager young Americans can do for Afghanistan is take your great attitudes and stay home.

Assuming you don't take that advice, then write down your sentence, "I am going there to help the people of Afghanistan achieve a stable, peaceful government and rule of law. I intend to put forth my best effort at accomplishing it," put it somewhere you will be sure to see it again in five, 10, 15, 20 years, and see if those admirable ambitions don't seem pathetically naive and misplaced. You could have said that and felt that way 11 years ago. Same result.

Powell's Pottery Barn comment originally referred to Iraq. I doubt that even he could have dreamed a decade ago, as we prepared with his help to Shock and Awe the people of Baghdad, that we would be so mired in The Graveyard of Empires in 2012. Our military leadership still hasn't learned the lessons of Vietnam, and it's been nearly 40 years. Our politicians don't seem to care, and the contractors are fat and happy.

I see in today's news that the 2,000th U.S. soldier has been killed in Afghanistan.

And having said all that, let me add this: Good luck to you. And God help the people of Afghanistan.

Jen,
It was touching to read about the kindness and understanding of people from other countries when the attacks happened. Thank you for the work you do, and God bless!

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