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 11, 2013

Name: Mikey Piro
Returned from: Iraq
Hometown: Lindenhurst, NY
Milblog: ptsdsurvivordaily



In a letter to my wife, I once wrote "When this war is over for us, I want to move far away, buy a small piece of land and live the rest of our days in peace."

I quickly found that returning from combat was a much longer trip than riding on a plane. The impacts of exposure to war, especially prolonged combat living under a constant threat of attack, deeply engrained in me experiences that are complex and tough to understand at many levels.  In most respects, the war is not over for those of us that have returned. The laws and morality of war differ enough from life at home that adjustment is problematic at best, impossible at worst. Talking with Veterans of other generations, I am not sure if the wars in our hearts and minds ever end.


I can describe my combat self as a troll who thrives on stress, fear, grief and uncertainty.  He is the ugly and mean part of my soul. Like the trolls from myth, he feeds on flesh and tears. He is kept at by by sunlight and comes out at night when all is still to stalk and prey on the weak issues that linger in my mind. He takes refuge in my inability, despite my work, to understand fully or process my experiences. He digs up issues that I have tried to bury and lines the path to peace with bodies on pikes. He slips in and out, leaving horrific reminders that any effort to forget him will be punished. To him, trying to live in peace as a Veteran is dissent.


December always brings the nightmares of dead children to haunt me. I keep my house cold to help me sleep, but my son is a restless sleeper--the blankets don't hold him. He somersaults in his sleep, thrashing covers as he rolls. When I go up to check on him, his foot is dangling out from the covers. His tiny digits mirror the dusty foot of an Iraqi boy blown from his shoes by a mortar. It is after midnight and I selfishly climb into my son's bed to hold him and cry. I clutch him tight as I try to reconcile the images of grief-stricken fathers holding the blankets that wrap their precious dolls robbed of life.  Avoidance is nearly impossible. The tiny foot of my own son is all it takes. I cannot hold him tight enough.

I believe the troll I mentioned lives in many people, and especially in combat Veterans. The geek in me likes to label him a troll because then I can hope to outsmart and conquer him someday. If I can ever claim victory, I think it will be in my ability to keep him from appearing often and when he does, in a smaller diffused role. Until then, I have further to travel. My destination is finding peace, and hopefully I will help others along the way as they have helped me.


All these years and I still struggle to live in peace. I have given up the pastimes of fighting and martial arts in favor of yoga and CrossFit.  I want to be non-violent, but I still cling to violence as an option. I aim to be calm but my boys will tell you there are times in frustration and weakness when I am anything but. I try to live in the moment, but my wife will tell you I am easily distant and distracted. If you compare my demeanor to other Veterans with PTSD, I believe this is typical. Discovering and learning more about these contradictions make the journey so important to me and my family. We need time, and space to explore, to find peace.


Thank you for sharing your story. I pray that many others will read, listen deeply and be better able to listen to other veterans.

May you find the peace you seek.

I have no idea what you are going through brother but I hope all is well or gets better. I have a lot of battles over there right now and I hope they are all doing well on this veterans day.

To: Dave Stanford
I've a question for you. can you send me an email so that I get your email address.

Thank you so much for sharing. Your descriptions are very powerful and help me understand what combat and PTSD must feel like. I will share this with my friends and family.

I hope you are able to heal and have fun again with your family. A friend of mine found to be of help with his PTSD.

I am very grateful for your sharing. In my case, the experience of war is almost 50 years ago. Although I have grown a lot and find grace entering and influencing my life, the troll is under control - but not dead.

I pray that grace will be a good friend to you.

This is an excellent piece of writing. My war was 45 years ago, and this was how I felt. Unfortunately, much of it has not faded with time. Semper Fi

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