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.


November 07, 2013

Name: Lisa Wright
Returned from: Iraq
Hometown: Iron River, MI

I wrote this about when I deployed to Iraq in 2005:

Truth be told, I was terrified. Now I know what you’re thinking: “What kind of soldier admits they’re scared?” But what kind of person would I be if I didn’t?

I was nineteen years old, and the longest I’d ever been away from home previous to the Army was maybe two days. I still couldn’t tell you my exact reason for joining the military. I know I had many flourishing emotions throughout my contract. I also know the number one feeling I had next to pride was fear.

I’d say the fear started with the phone call, or the mobilization training that spanned over a month, but it didn’t. It didn’t start with the cushy commercial airplane ride, either. I was too tired and confused to know exactly how to feel. There was a spark of fear, but not nearly enough to really give it a name.

Unloading off the airplane to Camp Doha was when I first realized that maybe I had gotten myself into an unfavorable position. I was there with six other soldiers, and we would all have the same fate. We stayed about a week in Camp Doha. The smell in the air was putrid; it stunk of dead rotting fish and human waste, and it was thick, like you walked into a cloud of trash and fog. The ground was shades of ecru and khaki, and the only green in sight was grown in Dixie cups by American soldiers missing home. The sky always seemed to be grey and the sun never seemed to shine. I don’t understand how we didn’t see the sun because the heat was so intolerable it felt as if we were standing directly underneath it.It took us a while, but we adapted to the extreme climate change, the sweat evaporating off of our skin like steam.

We were there about a week before they rounded us into the cattle trucks with all our gear, driving us to a canvas tent, location unknown. There we sat, in metal folding chairs, with nothing to entertain ourselves but what we carried on our person.

There we sat, seven very different human beings, all with the same fate, unsure of what was to come. We waited there for what seemed like an eternity. I don’t know if it was 20 minutes or 20 hours. I didn’t have a watch and there wasn’t a clock on the makeshift canvas wall. Even if there had been it wouldn’t have mattered. Time wasn’t ours to contain anymore.

Finally a man came into the tent. He told us we had five minutes to collect our gear and gather outside the tent. How long was five minutes? Time was unknown to us still. We just hurried and retrieved our items. We Velcroed together our IBAs*, we clipped our Kevlar straps taut under our chins, and we slung our weapons over our shoulders and grabbed our large green military issue duffle bags and scurried outside. We climbed on to the back of the truck and dutifully took a ride.

We arrived to the location of a C-130. I had never seen anything like it in my life. It was large with a subdued grey coloring to it. The propellers were working their way around and it was so loud we had to shout to one another. We handed our duffle bags over the guys waiting for us and we boarded the jet and waited to be strapped in. We were loaded right in with the supplies that needed to be delivered, as if we were nothing but expendable material objects.

The take-off was rough, but the ride was worse. I remember sitting in the plane with the others, and as they were talking they all winced in pain and struggled to hold a conversation of attempted sign language. There was nothing but a loud whistle and whir of the wind and the propellers spinning. We couldn’t hear a word out of anyone’s mouths, and at one point I remember fearing that my head was going to fold from pressure. I closed my eyes and didn’t think until it was over.

Once we landed safely, we all unloaded off the jet, stood in a circle, looked at each other, and didn’t say a word. It could have been because our heads felt concave, or it could have been because we were all scared. The men who transported us on the plane tossed our bags out onto the hard desert ground. The sky was black with a speckling of white stars, and there wasn’t a sound to be heard, not even a cricket in the distance. It felt like we were at the end of the earth looking out into space.

We waited for what seemed like an endless amount of time, until at last a dirty white bus pulled up to us, curtains drawn over all the windows. A man walked out of the bus, not in uniform, and not American. He spoke broken English, his skin was brown, his hair was very course and very black and my ethnocentrism led me into fear. I did not understand the world outside of what I was raised to know, and I did not know if this man was to be friend or foe. Another man stepped off the bus, dressed in DCUs, and a Kevlar helmet, carrying an M4, with his black First Sergeant E9 rank stitched onto his vest, and ordered us to grab our gear and load into the bus. Hurriedly, we jumped on.

The bus smelled like stale piss and fruity tobacco, and the ride in it wasn’t any better. We all sat in silence, staring at each other, afraid to look out the curtained windows, afraid of what could happen. Was there potential for gunfire? How about an IED or a mortar attack? Where was our final destination? Full of contemplation and anxiety, we sat, seven of us new to the country, and two men who had to know what was in our future. All that we could see of the strange land outside was the tawny ground from underneath the gap below the filthy curtain covering the missing door.

We reached a stop, and the two men got out of the bus. The next thing we saw were tan suede combat boots that blended well into the ground walking toward us. We all sat up, rigid, as if we were at the position of attention but still remained seated. On walked fellow comrades, a woman and a few men. Not dressed in full armor, they almost seemed naked. They only wore their cargo pants, combat boots and their burnt sienna tee shirts, stained dark with sweat. We all stood up and followed them off the bus, into yet another large canvas tent.

The tent was empty of any furniture besides a couple of metal folding chairs and a wooden desk. What was this place we were at? Was this my destination? We learned that it was just another rest stop in our journey. We were told to get comfortable but be ready to move at any second. How was this possible? I did what I could. I removed my helmet and laid it on the ground. I then opened up my IBA and propped it against my helmet, took my floppy-ass booney cap out of my pocket, and I laid down on my makeshift pillow and covered my eyes with my hat. If I was going to die, I wasn’t going to die scared.


* IBA : Interceptor Body Armor


Good for you. Glad you made it home.

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