December 04, 2006

Name: CAPT Lee Kelley
Posting date: 12/4/06
Returned from
: Iraq
Hometown: Salt Lake City, UT
Milblog url:

Some soldiers take pictures of everything. Some just take pictures of what they consider unique -- things they don't think they'll ever see back home, like palaces, or Iraqi children, or themselves behind a .50 caliber machine gun looking like a battle-hardened steely-eyed killer. But it's interesting when there's a beautiful sunset. Framed_kelley_sunset_flag_7 I see a lot of my fellow soldiers pulling out their digital cameras to capture it, though pictures rarely do a sunset justice. Don't get me wrong. A sunset is a wonderful thing to behold, and even more so when it happens to take on colors and formations that really rest upon the retina with a splendor it's impossible to deny. But we've all seen thousands. And we'll presumably see thousands more.

It reminds me of the movie Smoke,  in which a guy takes a picture of a busy street corner in front of his smoke shop every single day at the exact same time for decades. When he shows a friend, the friend says "They're all the same." But upon further consideration, he realizes how poignant the photo album really is, and how each day is in fact unique, and he even sees some people he recognizes who have died in the years since the photos were taken.

Sunset out here can be like that. Most days, you don't even notice the conversion from light to dark. The light is irrelevant, its strength superfluous to what you're working on. But sometimes it catches your eye, especially one like tonight when the orange looks like melted copper spreading across the horizon in a river of floating lava, playing hide and seek with the moon across the smooth curvature of the earth.

Years from now, you'll look at the picture, and it will just seem like one of a million beautiful sunsets. But it won't be. 3_framed_kelley_sunset_tank It's a sunset from when you were deployed in Iraq, and it takes on a special meaning, carries more weight somehow. For the rest of your life, you'll probably never be in this place again, looking at the sunset from this perspective, either geographically or mentally. Others might look at it and say "Oh, that's pretty." But you'll know it was more than that. You will remember taking the picture on a particular day, and you may very well use the quality of life you had back then as a barometer by which to judge just how bad something really is.

The pictures will help you remember your combat experience, which I think is important, because once you've gone to war, what else in life can really match the endless tests of patience, courage, physical fatigue, sleep deprivation, stress, and camaraderie? I think we'll be able to handle more than we ever thought possible, conquer obstacles once insurmountable. Yes, the work is satisfying. But the experience of being here will be all the sweeter once it is an artifact of the past -- a conversation at a party, a dream sequence in the documentary of your life.

I took a lot of pictures today, in part just because I happened to have my digital camera with me. But part of it is the ever-growing anticipation that I will be departing this 3_framed_kelley_sunset_base eyesore of a base sometime in the next few months. I want pictures to help me remember, so that I can counterpose living on this FOB with life hereafter, making it seem eternally richer. Oh, it's not so bad. You make the best of it. You have food, shelter, clothing, "recreational facilities," the internet, movies, video games, books.

But let's be honest, shall we? The "suck factor" outweighs satisfaction. The cons kill the pros. Of course you'd rather complete the mission and be in your own home with nothing but a box of crackers and a bean bag pillow than live here with every amenity under the sun. Having a bad day, soldier? Think the world is being too hard on you? Just pull out your photo album from the year you spent living on a Forward Operating Base in the Sunni Triangle.


May each sunrise and sunset bring all of you another day closer to home.

Great post, beautifully written and incredible pictures! Laughed at the suck factor comment! But I liked the idea you developed - the life long ability to put today in perspective by looking at yesterday. Thank-you for sharing another thought provoking post.

You are right--I never took pictures of the drift that went from the center of the parking lot all the way to the top of the two-story building (behind which was the door to our office, and which we had to shovel away to get inside) because it was my present--my current reality--in 1978, at twenty below, at Grand Forks AFB, ND. Of course, that current reality had never heard of cell phones, computers, etc. etc. Take pictures. Take LOTS of pictures. You'll be glad you did. I wish I had.

Re: the "Suck Factor." The further away from the military you get, the better the military gets. Hee hee.

Another comment on the "Suck Factor": This is an instance where life imitates Hollywood. Consider the "morning after" scenes following the climatic battle in Platoon:

Chris Taylor: It's the way the whole thing works, people like Elias get wasted, people like Barnes just go on making up the rules any way they want. So what do we do? Sit in the middle and suck on it. We just don't add up to dry shit, King.

King: Whoever said we did, man? All you got to do is make it out of here. It's all gravy, everyday the rest of your life, gravy.

CPT Kelly, see and record as many sunrises and sunsets as you can.

CPT Kelly,

Your blogs are priceless to those who live in this country of 3 million and who's freedom so few of you protect. Thank you so much. Yes, keep photographing and write that book when you return! The photographs will take your book to the next level. I wish soldier's blogs would be on the front page of every paper.
It would certainly enlighten the country as to the positive of this war.

A photog in PA

Cap'n - Great stuff! The few phtos I did have from 2 tours in Vietnam went up in smoke when part of my parents house was damaged by fire not long after I got back after #2. The sunrises were a bit more consistently noteworthy from where I was, in part, at least, because we had made it through another night.

I remember the desert sunsets in Egypt. I was there in 1980 during the Iranian Hostage Crisis. We waited, tense and poised, ready to go. We lost an Aircrew and we all felt the loss of two fine gentlemen. Thank God it was resolved without a conflict like the ones in the mideast now. I remember how badly I wished I had a camera then. Treasure your memories. They get better with time.

Great photos. They remind me of some I have from near the Persian Gulf on the Iranian side. I really liked the reference to the movie "Smoke." That film is a gem & far too little known. For 20 years I lived catty corner to where the movie was shot. The neighborhood was really like that. It was also the shooting location for "Dog Day Afternoon."

Regarding the "suck factor" - I was a 1st Recon Marine in Nam and later (Desert Storm) in the Army with 1st AD when we went up by Basrah. People enjoy it now when I say it's a great day - no one is shooting at me. The time in combat can sure give a person a relaxed attitude about the vicissitudes of life. Good luck when you get back to the world.


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I have total the objective and be in your own house with nothing but a box of cookies and a vegetable bag bed sheets than are living here with every service under the sun.

Super cute! My little man would look so stylin' in those!

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