October 06, 2006

Name: CAPT Lee Kelley
Posting date: 10/8/06
Stationed in
: Iraq
Hometown: Salt Lake City, UT
Milblog url:
E-mail: [email protected]

We burn a lot of things out here. There is a huge pit where we destroy much of our trash. There is no city dump to drop things off, where trash is divided into papers, plastics, and metals to help with the ever-imminent energy crisis always lurking behind the door. There is also no Environmental Protection Agency. Somebody surely cares, somewhere, but alas, he is not here. Just tonight I walked outside and the air was thick with acrid smoke. It smelled like burning plastic or rubber or something else one wouldn't normally burn back home.

We burn anything that may be considered classified. It could be the address label off of a box that our family has sent us, a personal letter, or an official military document. If the enemy can use it to his advantage, just burn it. Leave nothing to chance.

There are burn barrels and little pits dug into the ground all over. Sometimes at night you pass by an area and see mysterious darkened figures around a barrel alight with orange flame, like hobos in a New York back-alley. Or like robed men in sandals on an island in the Euphrates a mere mile from a large American military base, shadowed figures lost in thought. Add to this the Muslim prayers coming over loudspeakers from way too close, and it hits you just how much your personal reality has changed. The man who is usually praying sounds passionate, and fully enthralled in the words. It reminds me of a Native American prayer, as the vibrato voice rises and falls with a rhythm that is frantic and unsettling.

I think Alfred Hitchcock would have loved this place at night. Without streetlamps, the darkness is complete, and you can find yourself on the walk back from the chow hall after dinner in a strange land of shadow and danger, your perception limited by the power of your flashlight. Fire breaks up the darkness. It is a welcome sight.

As the weeks roll by, I fill up a box with paper I need to burn. I like to go out at night under the stars when I think it's safe and feed my paper into the fire, piece by piece, my eyes scarlet with the flames as my thoughts are reflected in them. I stand close because the heat doesn't bother me much. I have become accustomed to heat. Never again will I stand in America in the summer and complain about the temperature. Conversely, 60 degrees will probably chill me to the bone.

We live our days in a place of harsh realities, of danger, of intense heat, of learning the hard way, of brotherhood, of war, of sacrifice, of bold action, of bitter tears, of love, of hate, of regeneration, and of history. But every once in a while, in the silence of the night, we simply stand around a fire and feed paper into the flames, each one of us lost in our own quiet thoughts.

As September came to a close, I ripped it off my calendar and walked out to the barrel. I felt symbolic as I sacrificed September to the fire -- but it's only paper. Some of us have sacrificed much, much more.


beautiful prose

Your writing really put me there and moved me more than anything I have read in quite some time. Good luck. Hope you make it home safe and okay to go on and be happy.

Captain Kelley: Its 4:15am here in St. Louis and I'm at work. I learned tonight about The Sandbox on Doonesbury and started reading. I read about 5-6 blogs then came to yours. After reading it I realized I was so engrossed in what I was reading I wished it would go on and on. You are a true wordsmith and hopefully you will author more than blogs someday. Thank you for sharing your talent. lynn

I, too, am struck by the moving imagery of the writing. At the same time, I fear the destruction by burning of primary source documents that should, at some future date, be used to research, understand, and write about htis war. Okay, official government documents. But burning personal letters? Why? How will we alive today, our children and our grandchildren ever understand what this war was truly like, what it truly did to us, if government policy dictates the destruction of this material?

Moms and Dads - keep copies of everything you write to your children at war. Children at war - ask Mom and Dad to keep whatever you send home. We need these documents in order to understand and learn from this conflict.

Oh that was breathtaking. You are truly talented at depicting a world that is so foreign to us at home. You are not alone. In fact we are all part of the same world, no matter how far away or how strange and lonely it might be. I am here in your home town and my family is there with you, so we share something and we don't even know each other. Hope that helps to brighten your dark nights a little.

I am haunted by your words. War scares me, death scares me, but most of all, the thought of people sacrificing everything for a single cause scares me shitless. Thank you for having the courage to do what I never could. Come home safe.

Very engrossing words. Thanks for sharing. I just found this site and I am glad I did. Being able to communicate with those defending our country is awesome. Hearing from the troops there beats the hell out of what the media is putting out. Take care and stay safe!

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