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.

IRAQ/AFGHANISTAN AND MORE: MY TRIBUTE TO THE SANDBOX |

March 01, 2014

Name: Garrett Phillip Anderson
Returned from: Iraq and Afghanistan
Hometown: Portland, OR
Email: GarrettAnderson0311@gmail.com
Milblog: Iraq/Afghanistan and More

The memories manifest, gently blowing in my mind like curtains in a draft. I may find myself aboard the U.S.S. Harpers Ferry, floating back in time. Or I may find myself aboard the parking ticket mobile of my day job getting paid to write. In August 2004 the Marines of Alpha Company 1/3 (one­three) had been acclimating to being owned by the waves of two typhoons on our route out of Okinawa. I turned nineteen and it had been a year since I had traded home for boot­camp. The smaller troop transport would rock and whine; occasionally it felt like the naval vessel had struck a rock. Some Marines would get sick, or fall out of bed, dangerous if they were in an upper rack. We were supposed to be on a tour of the South Pacific, heading for Singapore and the Philippines.
 
 
Framed GARRETT Sbox 6
Harpers Ferry post-Iraq, 2005.

 

Sometimes looking back on it­­ I daydream that perhaps the storm spit us out in an alternate reality, because instead of some prostitute inhabited jungle sucking humidity trap, the ships offloaded us in Kuwait and we ended up in Fallujah, Iraq just in time for an urban battle.

 

Framed GARRETT Sbox 3

I was not aware of or concerned with our final destination when I began reading the collection of books my father had mailed. I read Dialogues of Plato, a translated version of the great ancient Greek philosopher Plato’s account of his teacher Socrates. Socrates was a Hoplite veteran of the Peloponnesian War fought between the Athenians and the Spartans. As I recall the story from almost a decade ago, Socrates made a name for himself because he would question everything. I now hypothesize this was a latent manifestation of combat trauma. Once you have spent enough time in a combat zone, it has been my experience that for a special belligerent subculture of the few, an old iron door to the room of many questions swings open.

I currently find myself twenty­eight­years­old in an Introduction to Western Civilization class at Portland Community College, learning about Socrates again and recalling what was deep shit for a ship ride in the ancient past of 2004. Fifty-one Marines including the attachments of 1/3 were killed from October 2004 to late January 2005. Many more were wounded. All brothers forever, some personal friends. The memory draft kicks up again and I am frozen in time. I am taking cover behind the Navy doc who bravely stands guard while Marines of third platoon (3rd herd) rest.
 
 
Framed GARRETT Sbox 7
Fallujah, Iraq, December 2004. (Photo by Matt Ranbarger)

 

In his famous book Slaughterhouse-Five, Kurt Vonnegut wrote about becoming unstuck in time. Vonnegut had been an Army grunt who was taken prisoner and survived the firebombing of Dresden, Germany during the Second World War. I now hypothesize that becoming unstuck in time was a latent expression of combat trauma. That’s how it has felt to me waking up in different years preceding the war. Times before I ate the apple were something deeper than pleasure reading.

I was present when we were surfing the waves of aggression, or I am present when I study for this week’s exam, both occurring to me at the same time. Intensity pumping through the crevices of my mind like pressing the trigger down and holding; going cyclic with the memory machine­gun.
 
 
Framed GARRETT Sbox 4
Korengal, Afghanistan, May 2006. (Photo by Chavo)

 

When The Sandbox started running posts from my blog I was crawling out of the thick mist of crisis. After two hospitalizations for combat-related mental health issues I was disillusioned with my care, while at the same time putting heavy emphasis on a new attempt at assimilating. I began writing about war and transition because I had been fond of writing long before my Iraq experience and found it to be an effective outlet for exploring deep feelings of pain incurred during my active duty service. Fellow contributor Matt Gallagher came across my blog in early 2011 and put me in contact with the duty officer  of The Sandbox.

As I crawled out of the mist this terrific collaborative helped me feel accepted, which greatly enhanced my confidence after being too low for too long. Thank you Roy and thank you Bruce. Things started happening after that, I began networking with writing veterans and a community of supportive civilians. A team and I hit the road and filmed The November War, a documentary that captures the perspective of members of my platoon who fought alongside each other on November 22, 2004. The day I consider to be my source point of trauma.

Framed GARRETT Sbox 5

 

Framed GARRETT Sbox 8

The California-based crew on the road in North Carolina during the Cohen family’s interview.

Here is the trailer:

 

 

I married Katharine, the most important part of my coming-home experience, in October of 2012. We met shortly after my discharge from the Marines in October 2007.

 

Framed GARRETT Sbox 2

 

I recommend a significant other to those who are in crisis, if possible. The right one will understand.

I empathize with being in crisis without opportunity. I don’t mean to bring these two separate worlds too close, but if you can’t find a significant other find a pet. Good books have been written about the subject; pets will help a suffering person feel needed, which is an important step toward normal -- daily steps, in my experience.

 

Framed GARRETT Sbox 1
Me and Lucy hanging in our apartment, 2011.

 

I found myself deeply affected by combat when I returned home at 22. I could not wrap my head around losing friends and this country’s disconnection with the veterans sent to do the dirty work they are not willing to carry out themselves. The care that seemed confused, underfunded, and had me convinced those who had developed mental health issues in combat were being treated as lab rats for meds because the shrinks had no cure for what ailed us. The most helpful knowledge I have come across or gathered during my journey through these years of transition, writing with The Sandbox and filming my battle buddies who each walked their own path back from their combat experience, was best summarized in my opinion by our old corpsman, “Doc” Brian Lynch.

When Doc Lynch spoke his wisdom a lightning bolt went off in my head, and though cliched it has brought me peace: "Don’t let the bastards win." I mean that monstrous bureaucracy that is happy to shred your records because they are too lazy to truly advocate for our care, which is just a government paycheck to them.

If you can muster the strength, if you can still fight through pain, understand that as the war closes out so will public interest in our dispositions. Due to our minority status in American society we will not have enough veterans voting to represent our needs. This leaves us to the mercy of those in our society who will look away from what they don’t want to see. Every one of us is vital and those without purpose can find it in advocacy. A basic internet search will plug you in with various veterans organizations that provide a multitude of services and get you tapped in with a tribe that speaks to you.

We need to rise to the top. Use your GI Bill and represent yourself as an ambassador to those civilians who don’t get it. Nearly alone we bore the burden for well over a decade of war, and if the sacrifice of our fallen is to mean anything, make it mean forward momentum. If you fall short, remember falling short in service and the remedial action; get back up. We will need veteran politicians and media, business majors, foremen and scientists, writers like the grunts mentioned above, nurses and those with grave disabilities to articulate their needs.

Don’t count the years that have passed, please look forward for all of us. We have been held to the highest standard this country holds a citizen to, and those of us that are able need to maintain that standard and be an example. We also need to be studied carefully for the first time in the history of American warfare. if we were at least accounted for in status after discharge, research in the fields concerning veterans would be light years ahead of where we find ourselves today. They won’t count us after discharge because it would raise the “official” suicide statistics to a staggering number that can’t be stuffed into a paper­shredder.

I remain haunted but optimistic. My therapy is creativity, for better or worse. Bless you, readers, for being an active participant during that transitional period of my life. My deepest gratitude to David Stanford and Garry Trudeau (The Sandbox) for providing this forum of first hand expression and helping us archive our history.

 

Note: Garrett Phillip Anderson's numerous Sandbox posts include Some Things I Learned In Combat, Church Bells Sing Suicide, Semper Fi Mom, Mexican Marine, and Happy Marines Come From Connecticut.

Comments

To All:

In the interests of disclosure, the writer is my son. If I was a proud poppa with suspenders to snap, I suppose that I would. But that is not the case.

Instead what I have is grave respect for the pain that former Lcpl Garrett P. Anderson and his brothers (and some sisters) have endured. Also, I have had the pleasure of watching his writing muscles work out and expand.

Garrett P. Anderson is among the thousands of young voices (and some not so young) returned, like Ulysses, from these wars. Also like Eric Maria Remarque, and unlike Wilfred Owen, who did not return at all.

What I respect most is that so many of these voices newly home from war have been willing to look at it unflinchingly, let the facts fall where they may. We can learn from them. We better, in order to avoid more folly next time.

Dennis Anderson, Army veteran, Embed OIF I and II

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