July 30, 2007

Name: CAPT Benjamin Tupper
Posting date: 7/30/07
Returned from: Afghanistan
Hometown: Syracuse, New York

Ski and I met on a hot summer morning in Ghazni, Afghanistan. I was inspecting one of our base's fighting positions when a tall, thin kid with glasses and a pencil-thin moustache ambled up to me. His camouflage boonie cap sat cocked sideways on his head, and his pistol belt hung low off his hip.

He didn't salute me. He didn't even stand at parade rest. He casually reached into his pocket and pulled out his lighter and lit a cigarette. Then, with a thick Polish accent, Ski mumbled his first words to me.

"Wassssssup, Sir."

And so began our partnership as Embedded Team Trainers within the Afghan National Army. Ski was assigned as my NCO for leading and training an Afghan infantry company. In the Pashto language, and among the Afghan army officers, our company was officially known as "Too-Lay-Say", which translated means Third Company.  But Ski and I quickly nicknamed them "The Third Herd". This seemed appropriate given the cloud of dust and gunsmoke they kicked up whenever we rolled out on a mission. At times they acted more like a wild cattle stampede than an infantry company, but they got the job done when it mattered, so we didn't complain too much.

Our Company went out on more missions, was in more combat engagements, and probably killed more enemy than any group in our Battalion. Third Company was just like Ski and I:  laid back and easygoing, but serious when it was time to do the heavy lifting in combat.

We seemed to have a knack for finding danger, and for being in the wrong  place at the right time. And as I got to know Ski, I found that this pattern of finding trouble was a continuation of his pre-war life back home in the States.

On the streets of New Jersey, Ski blended into his troubled urban landscape as just another kid on the corner. As a Polish immigrant in a tough neighborhood, he had a hard time navigating in his new homeland. He eventually ended up joining the Army National Guard to escape a downward cycle of problems at home and with the law. In time, he ended up in the heat of Afghanistan.

How it happened, or why, I don't know, but there he instantly, and seemingly effortlessly, was transformed from the role of troublemaker into a noble American Hero. Selfless. Compassionate. Brave.

But his kindness and good nature to those around him was only one side of the equation. Ski was lethal in combat, and he remains the bravest machine gunner I've ever seen in action. During one difficult ambush sprung on us by the Taliban, Ski was shot in the ear while manning the 240Bravo Machine Gun. He ducked down from the incoming fire just long enough to let me know he was hit, that he was pissed, and that he was going to get the guy who shot him. Then he popped right back up in the turret to unleash a torrent of bullets and f-bombs.

You may recall from a previous Sandbox essay how Ski treated a wounded Taliban soldier. Upon seeing the wounded man, Ski immediately grabbed his Combat Life Saver medical bag and moved to begin treating the fallen enemy. Ski told me how the wounded enemy was looking at him with fear in his eyes, expecting Ski to finish him off. When the Taliban realized Ski was trying to save him, he relaxed and put his hand over his heart. In Afghanistan, it's customary among men to put their hand over their heart as a sign of deep respect and thanks. This image of mutual compassion from unlikely sources, in an unlikely place, summed up what having Ski as a partner was like. No matter what the circumstances, Ski would choose the right path and do the right thing. Here, in the heat and dust of war, despite the mental and physical fatigue that cracked our minds and bodies, his moral compass was always pointing in the right direction. In Afghanistan, it never faltered when it mattered.

And then we came home. And for Ski, and for many like him, the transition was perhaps harder than the war. The return to the civil and mundane life was like a withdrawal from a powerful drug. And in his case, this withdrawal brought out some demons, bad choices, and ultimately tragic consequences.

I visited Ski yesterday. I hadn't seen him since we returned from Afghanistan. I knew he had been having problems, but my plate was too full with my own "transitional issues" for me to be there for him like I should have been.

So I sat there with him, and told him in no uncertain terms that he needed to get his shit squared away. I reached into my social worker bag of tricks, and mixed good mature adult advice with salty infantry threats and obscenities. As a Platoon Leader, and Commander, it was a technique I had used many times on my wayward soldiers with good results.

But unfortunately my words were falling on deaf ears. Ski, the vibrant, supercharged soldier, lay silently in a coma, unaware of my pearls of wisdom, and for that matter, unaware that I was even in his presence. The only response to my profanity-laced lecture was the hum of medical equipment and the rhythmic pulse of a ventilator.

Good news update: Ski is out of the coma, off the ventilator, and pretty much seems back to his old self. Thanks for your prayers and messages of concern.


Tupper and Ski.


July 27, 2007

Name: Adrian B.
Posting date: 7/27/07
Stationed in: Afghanistan

It had been quiet for a couple weeks, with nothing more exciting to write home about than a couple rocket attacks (which, on the most heavily-rocketed FOB in Afghanistan, hadn’t raised any eyebrows). When things are quiet for too long, soldiers tend to get a bit stir-crazy, probably from the accumulated aggression that, under normal circumstances, has a morally-acceptable outlet: enemy soldiers. Stir-craziness is the only way to account for the bizarre, ridiculous thing that happened recently.

It all started innocently enough, with a dispute over wood. Simply put, there wasn’t enough wood to build all the things everyone wanted, and, as human nature and the way of things would have it, everyone wanted to build something different, and in such a way that made compromise (of course) impossible. The FOB was generally divided into two camps: those who wanted their personal space improved, and those who wanted better equipment. Things quickly came to a head when one party -- the party with easiest access to the construction materials -- decided to end the argument by building what they wanted, regardless of the other side’s opinion. In fairness, the other side would have done the same, had the roles been reversed -- I’m not trying to favor one side over the other.

In my defense, I was ignorant of the dispute until the two sides were set on a collision course. The first I heard about it was during lunch, the day before everything went down, when it was brought to my attention by the chief proponent of the Build-Better-Equipment side, our Company’s 1SG.

"Did you see what fucking A Co built?” he asked, with a glimmer in his eyes I’ve seen only in soldiers and members of fanatical religious sects. “A fucking signpost!”

I replied that I hadn’t, while trying not to give the impression that I didn’t care. Not that I didn’t, just that I could immediately see where this was all headed, and wanted to be as far away from the whole thing as possible. As an officer, it is my responsibility to stop tomfoolery with rules and overbearing speeches, the likes of which father used to give when I’d come back after midnight stinking drunk. NCOs know this, and thus have built up a substantial collection of “unwritten” rules that frustrate officers in their job. Which is to say that, had I expressly forbidden any interaction with the signpost, it would have been taken as a gesture of bad faith, and earned me the contempt of both sides.

“You know what I should do,” he continued, “I should cut that bitch down, and make target stands out of it.”

Trying to diffuse the situation, I took a different tack, which was to suggest that he not cut it down, that instead, he talk to the leader of the Improve-Living-Conditions-and-Morale camp, the other Company’s Executive Officer. This suggestion was discarded out of hand.

"Fuck that,” he said, “those motherfuckers can go fuck themselves. This is the last straw. That thing’s getting cut down.”

Maybe that was the point at which I should have stepped in and said, “Absolutely not, to cut it down would be a crude gesture, far beneath us; this is a sordid, dastardly, unthinkable scheme." But to suggest that our 1SG, or anyone in our Company, would actually stoop to such an act would have been to display a lack of faith and trust in them, and to be quite honest, I didn’t think they’d actually do it.

Instead, I offered the tame-by-comparison,“That sounds like a terrible idea,” which of course was overlooked by everyone present.

Curious as to what had provoked our Chain of Command to such vitriolic, insulting outbursts, I went outside and cast about for the thing that had been described as “huge, towering over the TOC.” After a couple minutes lucklessly searching rooftops for the signpost, I finally located it -- a rather skinny and subdued, if tall, post, with three signs, one pointing toward a town in Wisconsin, one to Las Vegas, and one to Cincinnati. (1) The Company Artillery officer, leaving the chow hall behind me, observed that it looked flimsy. We laughed, and went about our day.

It’s a tribute to the routine that all I remember of the afternoon and evening are that a meeting happened, and that I spent a great deal of time trying to figure out why my internet mail wasn’t working, and an even greater deal of time making up for lack of internet connectivity by talking with people on different bases over the phone. Here in Afghanistan it’s a bit of an ordeal; there’s a three-second pause between when you say something and when your counterpart hears it. Good-byes are invariably awkward, and society suffers from the confusion. Then I watched Rambo 3 with the Commander and First Sergeant, read a bit of George MacDonald Fraser, and packed it in somewhere around midnight. Signposts were the last thing on my mind.

When I rose the next morning -- early, so I had some kind of chance at an open washing machine (clothes get dirty here something awful) -- the threats of the day before were completely forgotten. So I was surprised when the other Company’s XO met me at the entrance to the shower / washing machine area with a wild look in his eye.

“I just want you to know," he said, "that this is war. Your Company and my Company. It’s on. You started something you can’t finish. I’m taking this all the way to the top. You guys are going down. You want a war, you’ve got it.” (2)

He must’ve seen that I had no idea what he was talking about, something I tried to reinforce and emphasize by giving voice to my feelings with a suitably impassioned and slurred, “Dude, I just woke up,” because he moved from readying his fist to appraising my condition. Apparently satisfied by what he saw, he backed down.

“You know what your 1SG did last night?” he asked.

I could guess, and said so, inwardly doubting that the 1SG had, in fact, physically cut down the signpost himself -- for one thing, 1SG likes his sleep, and for another, why cut something down yourself when you can have someone do it for you, or simply encourage them to do your dirty work? I was pretty sure that 1SG’s public announcement over lunch the day before had been the factor responsible for the lopped sign-post; he’d been quite clear as to his wishes. But in a dramatic twist that nobody could have seen coming, the signpost’s demise had not resulted in target stands.

“Your 1SG cut down the signpost, carried it out to the shit-burn barrels, and lit it on fire.”

Well, my XO colleague had a point. Chopping down a piece of his property then covering it with shit and burning it did seem like an unforgivably aggressive action -- a declaration of war. The realization that this whole incident was now out of the realm of ordinarily mischievousness and had become some kind of weird, primitive statement took me aback, to the point where I thought it might be best if everyone understood where I stood on the issue.

“I know this goes without saying,” I said, feeling for some reason miserable about myself, and a bit like a weasel, “but I had nothing to do with this.”

“I know you would never do something like this,” he said, making me feel worse. “But it’s beyond you, now. I’m just telling you: you guys are getting nothing from us. Nothing.”

I was quiet for a moment, feeling a bit terrible. “I’m sorry about this. And I’m sorry I can’t do anything about it.”

“I know it wasn’t you, man,” he said, and passed me on the way out of the bathroom.

I set my laundry in, shaved, and headed for the courtyard. I was curious. I wanted to see what it was I hadn’t done, and what the 1SG had instigated. The burned piece was leaning on the wall beside the base of the post; some brave soul had rescued it from the shit-burn barrels. My colleague had taken the time to put a sign on the base of the signpost which said: “Only a coward plays these games,” which I guess was his return-salvo in this game of wills. Even though I wasn’t involved, I couldn’t help but grin at the absurd enormity of it all. After all, we’re in a war zone. I had half a mind to hop into the middle of it by lighting the “cowards” sign on fire, something that would surely have enflamed emotions yet more.

My mature side getting the better of me, and thinking there might be an easy, graceful end in sight, I proposed to my Commander and 1SG that we literally mend the situation. “Why don’t we put the upper half back up,” I offered, “show them that we’ve buried the hatchet, that there’s no hard feelings.”

Framed_adrian_signpost_2"There’s no hard feelings here,” said 1SG. “But if they put it up, it’s getting cut down again.”

“Not by me,” he was careful to say. “By whoever did this.”

Looking at the broken halves of the signpost today, I took a moment to reflect on it all, trying to make some kind of sense of the childishness, put it into perspective. Eventually, I decided that on the whole it was an amusing diversion, and that it would probably play itself out until the emotions that led to the situation’s creation had dissipated; also, that it wasn’t the sort of thing one could affect for the better. The events of the day confirmed my suspicion, as accusations flew back and forth, threats were made of involving battalion, and ultimately, nothing happened. Such is the way of things. The broken half of the signpost is still lying in the courtyard, a monument to the egos of everyone involved.

(1): These things are never as big as they’re made out to be, or as one imagines them; my mind’s eye had created a billboard, a hulking monstrosity, when in fact it was little more than a 12’ 4x4 with a couple of street-name signs on the top.

(2):   One of the stranger effects of being at war is that, due to the amount of warlike images and phrases in our language, people turn into factories of unintentional self-parody. I read once of a man in WWII who saw his friend, who’d been shot, shake his fist at the enemy and yell: “They got me! Those dirty rats!”


July 26, 2007

Name: SGT Roy Batty
Posting date: 7/26/07
Stationed in: Germany
Hometown: Yellow Springs, Ohio
Email: [email protected]

SGT Batty is insane. Bonkers. Screaming raving mad. It’s official. The powers that be have shipped the broken Nexus 6 out of the sane and rational world of Baghdad and its gleaming model of Jeffersonian democracy, with a hastily typed Letter of Release and a swift kick in the ass. The upside of which is that he is now safe and sound in Germany, eyes wide and blinking at the uber-organized Bavarian wonderland, wondering if it is all a particularly sanitary and wonderful dream. The downside of which is that his Army career is essentially over, and that he now gets to enjoy the thrill of reading alarming news reports from the Eastside of Baghdad, knowing that his soldiers are still stuck in the middle of the shitstorm.

It all came to a head on the 3rd of July, when we had a little fireworks display of our very own, since the Army logistics system seemed to be all out of Roman candles and bottle rockets. July in Mesopotamia is paradise; a seething, roiling solarium of 135-degree heat, festering sewage in the streets, and the impetuous joys of highly armed insurgents, their brains boiling with the combined delights of the heat and their favorite brands of high octane Jihadism.

I was where I always was, and in some ways may always be -- standing at the gate of our IP station, making small talk in Arabic to the Iraqi cops, with one eye on the dented blue gate looking for the next suicide bomber to appear. Nix, my driver, was next to me, his cherubic cheeks bulging with the usual wad of noxious Copenhagen, his face awash in a thick sheen of sweat. Phil and CPL Gless and Epps were on the roof, no doubt deep in earnest conversation over the finer details of some weighty hypothesis: "If you wake up and some guy is giving you head, and you get off on it, does it mean you're gay?" The rest of the squad was either nodding off in their trucks, or somewhere inside the paltry corridors of the IP station. 

Same old same old.

Occasionally one of the guys from the roof would get on our little Motorola radio and call in the random gunshots and distant explosions that make up the incidental soundtrack of life in Baghdad. 

Nothing alarming, nothing too close -- just part and parcel of another day on the job.That is, until the sharp crack of the single gunshot right behind our station.

I looked around the side of the little cement hut that is the front gateshack, peering towards the back of the station, my hand reaching for the walkie-talkie to see if Phil could see what was going on, when there was a POPPOPPOPPOP of rifle fire, an indignant reply to the initial shot, which quickly blossomed into a riot of heavy weapons fire. I could hear the guttural cough of a .50 cal, the baritone stutter of a couple of 240Bs, and the popcorn rattle of M4 rifles, all of which were mixed in with the mechanical rattle of PKC machine guns and AK-47s. The racket was deafening, the heaviest exchange of gunfire that I have been next to yet, made all the more intimidating by its sudden and unexpected appearance. We were under attack, apparently along with another US element somewhere on the main road behind us.

"Ambush!  Ambush!  Behind the station, on Route X!" I yelled into the squat black radio, which squawked back something unintelligible in reply, virtually inaudible over the weapons fire. It didn't matter anyway, as rounds started cracking over the wall of the gate, making me and Nix and the IPs duck and scramble for cover. We've gotten pretty used to being shot at in the past 13 months, and after a while you can tell a lot by the sound of the gunfire. Rounds fired near you make a sort of ripping noise as they zip through the air. Rounds fired right over you make a sharp, abbreviated CRACK -- a sound so short and punctuated that you can't help but involuntarily duck, even through the bullet has already passed you by and is a thousand meters or so down the road by the time the noise registers. It's usually only a second or two later that you actually hear the THUMP of the rifle firing, but if the shooter is really close, the two sounds are virtually simultaneous: CRACKTHUMP. I experienced that up close and personal, two weeks earlier, when I got shot in the head -- but that's a story for another post. Anyway, that's what we were hearing now, a shitload of it: CRCKTHMP-CRCKTHMP-CRCKTHMP!  Someone was firing up the gate, right across the little alleyway that runs by the station, and real hand-grenade close.

I was pissed. Furious -- a feeling that hit me like a heavyweight punch to the chest and my head. I'd had a bunch of close calls recently, getting shot, the mortar round that blew up 30 feet in front of me as I stood smoking a cigarette in the middle of the mortar pool, followed by eight other rounds. The early morning direct fire rocket attack on the Termite Mound. The IED that sent Mr. B. back to Walter Reed. The day we lost one of our corporals -- finally and irrevocably dead -- to an RPG-29.  And now here they were, attacking our station. My police station -- MY gate!

I didn't register any of this logically or intellectually. I just felt suddenly and severely pissed, and before I knew it I was outside the gate. Flashes of rounds impacting the sand. An IP cowering behind his sandbagged checkpoint. Movement on the rooftops across the alleyway.

I flipped the selector switch on my M4 from safe to burst, put the weapon to my shoulder, and unloaded over the rooftops. Muzzle flash, strobing. Glint of sunlight on ejecting brass. The reassuring push of the stock in the hollow of my shoulder as the three-round bursts kicked out. Someone was screaming at the top of their lungs -- "BRING IT MOTHERFUUUUCKERS" -- and I dimly realized, somewhere in the back of my skull, that it was me.

This was it, the thing that we had come three thousand miles and spent thirteen long and horrible months looking for. The great Apocalyptic death battle, good versus evil, Christian versus Muslim, Crusader versus Terrorist, die a good death, going down in a blaze of glory -- "into the valley rode the three thousand" -- all that good shit. And then the bolt of my rifle thunked open. Out of rounds.

I ducked back into the gate, back up against the rough concrete. Ejected the empty magazine, ripping it out of the well and hurling it away. Slammed in a fresh one, released the bolt, and rotated back outside. 

Fired off one or two more bursts, and then realized that the incoming fire had stopped.

I blinked a couple of times, scanning for more enemy, then ducked back inside. I got a glimpse of SGT Nash inside the ASV, gesturing wildly through the thick ballistic window, his driver revving the huge turbo diesel engine of the armored vehicle. I pushed open the long sliding metal gate, and they pulled quickly outside, the twin muzzles of the .50 cal and MK-19 grenade launcher on the turret whirring as it searched for the bad guys.

There was no more fire over the gate wall, but there was still plenty of automatic weapons fire at the back of the station. I heard a thumping roar overhead, coming in low and fast from the northwest, and looked up to see an Apache screaming overhead, a scant 50 feet above the roof of the station, the thin barrel of its 25mm chaingun swiveling madly from side to side. Followed quickly by his wingman, also eagerly looking for someone to vaporize.

The gunfire ceased almost immediately. No one wanted any part of that.

My squad leader and platoon leader emerged from the safety of the police station, coincidentally only after all of the gunfire had stopped. And that was when the armchair quarterbacking started...


July 25, 2007

Name: CAPT Benjamin Tupper
Posting date: 7/25/07
Returned from: Afghanistan
Hometown: Syracuse, New York

I spent the last year as an American Soldier embedded within the Afghanistan National Army. The time I spent away from home was both rewarding and damaging. Like the Afghan mountains we lived and fought in, my year there had emotional high peaks and valley lows. I experienced the loss of close friends, both American and Afghan. I inflicted my personal share of destruction on my enemies, and managed to avoid my own violent demise through chance, skill, and dumb luck.

And now I'm home. The adrenaline rush and combat euphoria are slowly being smothered by a wet blanket of safe mundane civility. This feeling of suffocation has made my return to safety and comfort ironically uneasy. It's probably counterintuitive, but now that I'm home, what I miss the most is being back there, among my brothers in arms, facing those that wished to kill me.

This seemingly unhealthy longing for the danger and thrill of combat would bother me more if I were experiencing it alone. But I've got plenty of company in this withdrawal drama. Many of the men I fought side by side with in Afghanistan are experiencing the same difficulty in kicking their adrenaline habit. A quick roll call can shed some light on how it's impacting reintegration into our American lives. 

Right before I left Afghanistan, I received an email from a close friend who had left the country two months before me. It simply said, "I would trade everything I have to be back over there." This fine soldier has more recently taken to alcohol binges and high risk late-night activities. Just last week I received an urgent phone call from him. His voice was tweaking with excitement. He had just totalled his car in a high speed drag racing accident. Listening to him talk on the phone was like listening to him talk on the TACSAT radio, calling in enemy contact. Instead of lecturing him on his irresponsible drag racing, I was feeding off his buzz, trying to capture a long-distance high.

Another close comrade of mine leaves me voicemails using our Afghan radio call signs instead of our real names. His messages tell of fist fights with his VA counselor, being kicked out of his father's house, and weekend-long alcohol-induced blackouts.

Within days of my return home, the front page of my local newspaper reported on a recently returned Afghan Vet who was arrested after a violent alcohol-induced spree. His impressive and unprovoked rampage involved extensive property damage. At its climactic peak, he climbed to the rooftop of a building and rained cement blocks onto parked cars below. Those around me joked at how this guy must have been crazy. Privately, I gave him extra points for creativity in addressing his need to recapture the thrill of combat.

And then there is my story. I returned home to a comfortable and privileged life, only to turn it upside down in many respects and start over. I needed to do this because a return to the predictable comforts would have driven me to dangerous and high-risk acts that would have hurt those closest to me, as well as myself. I had seen this demon in me when I came home on leave eight months ago. I tried to pretend I hadn't been changed, and the result was that I felt like an animal in the cage of my pre-war life. I had outgrown that cage.

The advice given by mental health professionals who deal with Veterans like me, is to accept the fact that we will never feel or find the euphoric heights of combat in a healthy manner here at home. We need to accept the pleasures, albeit mundane, that our daily lives have to offer. As sound as this advice may be to those who haven't been downrange, for me it's still a hard reality to accept. Giving up the need for this rush of action is like abandoning a close friend on the battlefield.

And any soldier will tell you, leaving behind a fallen comrade is something we just don't want to do.


July 24, 2007

Name: LT Carl Goforth
Posting date: 7/24/07
Stationed in: Anbar Province, Iraq
Milblog url:
Email: [email protected]

I'm sitting in EVAC with Tim, watching the Buick Open on the Armed Forces Network. I'm not a big golf fan, but I'll take any distraction at this point.

"Just past midnight. We finally hit One July."

"Yeah. The month you're in doesn't count, and the month you go home doesn't count either. Guess that means we only have one month left in Iraq?" Tim's laughing and not quite agreeing at the same time, as we herald the disappearance of June and crawl one month closer to home.

"Four casualties inbound. Mikes unknown; still engaged in a firefight," says one of the EVAC platoon medics.

"Army or Marine?"


Tim and I walk out to Patient Receiving, waking up some key staff, including surgical teammates. Hospital CO is up, as well as the XO.

3rd ID Sergeant Major drives up; his men have been ambushed and are taking a beating. The unit is having a hard time getting them out of the fight. Finally a Humvee guns up to Charlie Medical out of the dark; one of the four casualties. A Soldier with gunshot wounds to his extremities. Medics, corpsman, and physicians go right to work; no surgical intervention is needed, and he will be fine. The Humvee looks worse than the soldier: the turret is torn to pieces, but the gunner is OK. Two more casualties arrive via Humvee. They are also OK. More gunshot wounds, but all stable. No surgery needed; we start making arrangements for MEDVAC.

Framed_goforth_one_humvee_3The fourth casualty is critical. GSW to the face and no way to safely get him to Charlie Medical by road. A decision is made: one of the Apache gunships providing close air support will touch down, the gunner will get out, and we will just airlift him in the Apache. Effective, and a first for anyone present.

He has some facial damage and airway swelling. In the OR, Bob does an awake intubation to protect him from continued edema (swelling). Mark flies all four patients to Balad, and they do well.

9 AM: We get a detainee from last night's firefight. Both feet shot. The surgical team takes him to the OR for debridement
* and a complete washout. After post-operative recovery the detainee is taken, complete with security entourage, to a detention center in Baghdad that has an attached hospital.

1 PM finds Jason and I trying to figure out another detainee's injuries. Initial chest film looks good, but the patient's oxygen levels aren't quite right and he seems to be guarding a mystery injury. Tim and I are in the x-ray room five yards away, and I'm right in the middle of looking at the detainee's chest film, when a detonation and the subsequent deep bass of its concussion wave knock the wooden window cover back.

My initial thought is, "Mortar attack, pretty close." Jason and I both look at our patient and immediately request he be put in patient hold for observation. We need the trauma bay cleared out -- as in right now. All staff immediately start pulling down litters, setting up triage stations, and the trauma bay jumps to life as all stations are manned with medics and corpsman.

Framed_goforth_replace_explosion_2"VBIED" cracks over the radios. My initial thought was wrong but the results will be the same: casualties. I snap a quick picture from Charlie Medical on my way to Tactical Command, only a few shorts steps away. A truck-borne IED has taken out a local bridge. Small arms fire is coming from the back gate. The few remaining staff are running to Charlie Medical from church service and from the barracks.

New insurgent tactics include attacking Anbar infrastructure.
This is the second local bridge targeted over the past few weeks. The attack was coordinated with several others in Anbar throughout the day, including another bridge in nearby Fallujah. A communications tower was targeted last month. There's been a shift away from hitting local civilian populations, as the insurgents found that Sunni leaders have united against outside aggressors and are now working directly with U.S. and Coalition authorities under the Anbar Salvation Council.

Radios continue to stream information: two casualties inbound. Both Iraqi civilian. They weren't close to the blast, and only have some superficial scrapes and soft tissue injuries.

The rest of the afternoon is spent on standby as more casualties arrive. An abandoned VBIED is blown up by an Explosive/Ordnance platoon near the bridge. I'm not sure if the driver was found, or what happened to him.

Midnight: An Angel ceremony for the fallen. The entire Army unit is in formation, and the surgical team falls in, off to the side. We get word that the men lost today were the heart and soul of their platoon. Tragic beyond words. In formation, it's an unspoken rule that no one talks. Thirty minutes of silence. Each man left to his thoughts and prayers for the fallen, and the families and friends left behind. Yet in the silence, we all feel so connected. We stand as one collective Spirit to honor those who gave all. Two hundred silent salutes in the night as an H-46 lifts them gently Home.

One July. One 24-hour period; midnight to midnight.

One day that couldn't go fast enough.

One day that I will never forget.

*debridement: the removal of dead, damaged or infected tissue, or foreign material, from a wound


July 18, 2007

Name: 1SG Troy Steward
Posting date: 7/18/07
Returned from: Iraq
Milblog URL:

What an injustice the Army has done to our National Guard soldiers -- while thinking they are doing them a favor. The Army tries to get NG soldiers back home with their families as soon as possible after leaving a combat zone. They seem to think this is the best thing for them and what everyone wants. It may be what the soldier and family wants at the moment, but it is performing an injustice in the long run. The soldiers are literally thrown from a combat zone to sitting in their living rooms in less than 21 days, and that is on the long end. It can be as short as 14 days.

When OIF first started, the Army had planned to run every NG soldier through a six week de-mobilization process, slowly getting them back to a non-combat environment and normal life. However, for many political and resource reasons, the Army has shortened this to around five to nine days, then home. After three days, they come back into the armory for a few days of follow up de-mob classes, and then they go home again. They do not return to the Armory for normal drills for at least 90 days.

Active duty soldiers typically are given a 14-21 day block leave at home, and then they are back at their bases with their fellow soldiers. This is good because the honeymoon is still happening in those first few weeks, and any issues that may arise or develop will happen when they are back at base. Also, being with their battle-buddies in a peace-time environment, coming off the high and talking through their experiences, helps them with the process of returning from combat. Being thrown back to the normal civilian life, with weeks off before they have to go back to work or back to drill, and sitting with family and friends who cannot relate to what they have been through, can be very damaging. In the long run, alcoholism runs rampant, relationships fall apart, risky behavior increases, depression sets in, and jobs are hard to keep.

The Army needs to stop going for the short-term win and instead keep soldiers on Active Duty longer so they can slowly decompress. It took a year or less of constant combat to get the NG soldier to that state of mind and nature. It will take more than three weeks to get them out of it.


July 16, 2007

Name: CAPT Doug Traversa
Posting date: 7/16/07
Returned from: Afghanistan
Milblog url:
Email: [email protected]

Since I returned from Afghanistan, the endless series of chores and distractions at home have a way of making me forget to write, or too tired to write. After two weeks of recovery time I was back at work, and it’s been very busy. I am happy to report that I am back in the deployments business (which is what I did before leaving), and I enjoy it immensely. In my office of seven people, three are new and one had just arrived when I deployed, so I am getting to know all the new folks, who are a good bunch. I have been assured by the powers that be that I will be allowed to spend my final year and a half here at Arnold AFB, and then I retire. On the very small chance that I get promoted to major, all bets are off, and I’ll have to move again. We shall see.

I mentioned to Jancy this morning that the toughest transition for me was going from having very little to do at our hut to the endless series of chores around the house. Once we got back from our day at CMA, the hardest things we had to do were haul laundry to get it washed, and clean our weapons.

So what has been keeping me so busy?

1.  Finding a car for Ryan (my son)
2.  Finding a job for Ryan
3.  Staining my fence (17 gallons of stain required)
4.  Shopping for carpet, moving all the furniture, getting the carpet installed, and moving the furniture again
5.  Shopping for a new stove/oven (our old one looked to be as old as I) and getting it installed
6.  Building an Adirondack chair
7.  Various repairs around the house    
8. Buying all sorts of stuff at yard sales for Elise (my daughter) who is getting an apartment for her five-year stint working on her PhD.  We’ll be hauling it all out there next month
9.  Having the in-laws visit for a week

I had a Welcome Back lunch and was also interviewed for the base newspaper. As I talk to people the same questions keep coming up, so I thought they’d make a good posting:

Would you do it again?

I would never volunteer to go away for a year. I could never look Jancy in the eyes and tell her I had volunteered to leave her for a year. Further, I don’t want to be away from her for a year again. If I get picked to go, fine, but I won’t be volunteering.  But assuming I was single, would I do it again?  Probably. I felt we really made a difference there, despite all the frustrations we faced. I am a better person for having gone, and I think it would be interesting to go back in a couple of years and see what progress is being made. Besides, my blog is far less interesting now that I am home.

What was the worst moment you had over there?

That one is easy. The night of 10 September we were all told that there was a high threat level for the next day, the anniversary of 9/11. We assumed we would not travel on the 11th, yet we were told we would be going to work as normal. Everyone was furious. I got it in my head that I would die the next day, and I went to bed sure that it would be my last night alive. It’s a miserable feeling, and easily the worst time I had over there.

What is your happiest memory?

There were so many, it’s impossible to pick just one. I loved my conversations with Hamid and the friendship we developed. Christmas Eve when the four amigos sang Christmas carols to Mike’s daughter. Winning the best Air Force Blog award. Playing soccer with the French and Romanians. Standing on an Antinov 124. Poker on Saturday nights. The camaraderie with my hut mates.
Was it worth it?

Yes, I think so. CMA make huge progress while we were there, and by the time we left, they were hauling 100% of the Afghan Army’s cargo. Pretty impressive, when you consider that when we arrived, they were hauling zero!

The deployment was a grueling, tiring experience that probably aged me ten years. Yet I am proud of what we accomplished there, and we did do something special. I am pleased to have been a part of it, but I am happy to be home, enjoying all the incredible luxuries that we take for granted.   


July 11, 2007

Name: Eddie
Posting date: 7/11/07
Stationed in: Baghdad, Iraq
Hometown: Phoenix, AZ
Milblog url:
Email: [email protected]

A couple of days ago I was doing some of the last studying for my NCO of the Quarter board when I discovered that the exam was not going to take place at the base I was at. Wow, what a surprise. Thank God the board got pushed back another day.

I had a good bit of the information down, but there still were a few things that I had just received and needed to study up on, so I planned to study all day the last day before the exam. Well, it didn't go quite as I planned. First off, we ended up having a layout for our platoon -- where basically we lay all of our gear out and they go through and check everything, and sign off and all that fun officer stuff they do. By the time that was done, the day was half over. Then came the next surprise: I would be convoying out that night to go to the base where the board was, so I needed to pack and get ready for that. Well, at least I'd have all night to study.

They couldn't come up with room for my squad leader to go with me and sit in on the board with me, which had me a little nervous. I thought I was going to have to do it alone. But the guy they got to replace him was a guy I went through Jumpmaster school with. We'd become friends while we were there, so it definitely was cool to have him fill in. He was a little worried, thinking they were going to ask him questions about how well he knew me, but I reassured him that they were there to judge me, not him.

That evening we got ready to head out. I wasn't rolling with my unit; we were with another one from our base. Their route was to go down a road that we don't travel on because of all the IEDs that go off on it. Oh great... I can't wait. Thankfully the trip was uneventful -- until the very end. As we turned off the road, towards the base we were heading to, we heard an explosion several hundred meters further up the road we'd just been on. I remember thinking "Thank God we got off when we did."

Once on the base we found out that the explosion we heard had hit an American convoy. We would later learn that one US soldier was killed.

That night was dedicated to just studying and cleaning my weapon (I'd learned from my Batt. Sergeant Major that they might inspect it). It was going to be a long night. I headed to the coffee place they had on this base and picked up a Caffe Mocha on ice, with two shots of espresso. An hour or so later I was back getting the same thing, this time with four shots of espresso. Needless to say I got all the studying done that I wanted to, and was able to make my weapon look brand new. At least I thought it looked brand new until I saw the weapons of some of the non-infantry guys attending the board the next day.

I ended up crashing out around 0230 or 0300. We had to be up at 0615 to eat, get ready, and head out for the board around 0830. I decided I didn't want breakfast so that I wouldn't get all tired, and I could use the time to recap on studying. I brought two Red Bulls with me, and opened one and drank it while I smoked and studied. I was starting to feel pretty good about the board at this point.

We headed up to the conference room. As usual, they brought everyone in, talked a little about the members, what it was going to be like and whatnot. Every other board I've done they always do the NCOs first and then the Soldiers. This time it was to be reversed, and being a 'W'atson, I was to be the last of the last. Fantastic. I love sitting around, bored, with nothing to do. Just how I wanted to spend my day. Hahaha.

There were seven of us NCOs competing. Everyone except for me was an E-5 (Sergeant) Promotable, which means they were coming up on getting their E-6 (Staff Sergeant). I was a lonely E-4 Corporal. An E-4 can also be a non-NCO as a specialist, which many of the Soldiers competing were. Anyways, I was the only Infantry guy for the NCOs. The rest were support or super-support soldiers, which meant they would have had ample time to study, unlike me. And they all had won previous boards to get here. I had thrown my name out, been picked, and here I was.

By the time they were done with the Soldiers it was lunch time. They gave us about 50 minutes to break for lunch, and I quickly walked all the way to the chow hall and had half a sub sandwich. I didn't want to eat too much, but I was starving since I didn't have breakfast. Once I got back I cracked open my other Red Bull and smoked some cigarettes while I was waiting for my "sponsor" to show back up. When he did, he had some terrible information. The unit that had lost the guy the night before had just lost two more guys. There was to be a Hero Flight a little later. I'll explain this in a bit.

They started doing the NCOs, but they were in a hurry, obviously. They ended up only asking one question per subject. Each board member (there were seven of them) had four subjects, so that really wasn't a lot of questions. By the time it was my turn I wasn't really that nervous, and was ready to get in there and do the thing. I went in, and I thought I did pretty damn well. I only missed a few questions, but I was able to get ones that were even outside of what I had studied. I found out that the CSM in charge of the board was from Phoenix and went to HS out there, and had been 82nd at one point and was with the 505th PIR, which was the first unit that I was assigned to at Ft. Bragg. Such a small world.

Once they were all done asking me questions I left the room, happy with how I had performed. Apparently they had one more "stape on" guy to go after me, but when he was done they were going to add the points real quick, then bring us in to announce the winner.

I didn't end up winning but I got second place, and the points difference wasn't much. I got a Brigade Coin, which was cool. I really like collecting those things, and have quite the collection building. I was proud of how I had done, and it really didn't matter that I hadn't won, although it would have been nice.

Once the winner was announced, everyone was in a hurry. The Hero Flight was in five minutes and we were rushing to get there in time. I raced to my room, dropped off all my gear and began running to the flight line. I barely made it. I knew it was important to be there, but I truly didn't know...

I had never heard of a Hero Flight until that day. These are the flights that carry the soldiers who have been killed in combat home. Everyone, including the unit that had lost their soldiers, stood at attention, in formation, guidons present, on both sides of the road, forming a line down the flight line. There were two Blackhawk helicopters sitting there, engines running, blades turning. In the middle of the street was an FLA (an Army ambulance). Orders were yelled for everyone to salute, then "PRESENT ARMS!" At this point, a group of soldiers walked up to the FLA and lifted out a combat stretcher. It carried the body of a soldier, draped in an American flag. You could see the outline of the soldier's body, and it hit me then: There is a true American hero underneath that flag. Right there, not far from me, lies the body of someone who has made the ultimate sacrifice. I felt extremely sad, yet proud to be a part of this young man's voyage home.

They marched him down the flight line, then onto one of the awaiting Blackhawks. They then began the process again with another soldier, another American hero. Shivvers ran through my body, and I'm not going to lie; it took everything I had not to begin tearing up. I did not know these soldiers in any way, but the realness of it all, seeing the bodies under the flags, seeing how everyone came together to pay the honors these men deserved, it was overwhelming.

Once both men were on the helicopters we all dropped our salutes but stood at attention. Orders were given and everyone was now facing the helicopters, and then the order was given to salute once more. I heard the sound of the Blackhawk engines pick up and they began to lift off, but stopped five feet off the ground and just hovered there. Slowly, in unison, they began to move to the left, to the right, forward and back, still just five feet off the ground. Then they both began to turn left, slowly lifted up, and sped off. Just like that, they were gone and it was over. Even typing this right now, I can feel shivvers running down my spine...


July 10, 2007

Name: Eric Coulson
Posting date: 7/10/07
Stationed in: Ramadi, Iraq
Milblog url:
Email: [email protected]

The current meme of the anti-war crowd seems to be that if this really represented a colossal struggle of ideologies the President would have called for some sacrifice on the part of the nation and if he had done that then they would be on board. I admit that I do not understand the psychology of "we will sacrificed if asked, but not before then", but I suppose it makes sense to somebody.

What you should know about though is the people that have made sacrifices without being asked. I am not going to write about the obvious; service members and their families. There are other people making sacrifices at home that you likely know little about.

We have one officer here in the Task Force whose employer paid him his full salary for the first three months of mobilization, and now makes up the difference between his Army pay and his civilian salary. Another officer continues to receive the 401K contribution the company would have made if he had stayed working there. Another friend of mine who deployed before me had an employer that only intended to make up the difference, but continued to pay the full salary while he was gone. When he went to return the money the company told him to forget it.

Of course these are the exceptions, but most employers at least abide by the minimum standards of the law and save a job for a mobilized reservist. They either operate short a person, or they hire a temporary who knows they will only be there for a certain period of time. Many American businesses, their owners, and their employees are sacrificing every day without a specific request from the President. So if you are one of those people, thank you for your sacrifice.

Unfortunately some people have had problems. Like LTC Debra Muhl, USAFR, who worked at Sutter Health Care in California. When LTC Muhl informed her boss that she was being mobilized he became "visibly angry". Two days after she notified him of her impending deployment, he allegedly told her that she would not have a job when she returned from the desert. The company has given an economic reason for her termination, but given the timing, it certainly looks pre-textual. Maybe if the President had asked Sutter Health to sacrifice this would not be a problem...

This has to concern all Reservists. No matter what the law states, if an employer violates it, the burden is on the employee to call the employer to account. That involves legal fees, heartache, and acid indigestion.

I wonder how difficult it is going to be for me to find a job when I leave here. Some young officers I know have asked if they should just not mention their service. I point out that it is difficult to hide more than a year of your life spent in Iraq. I will of course mention it, not just because it is necessary, but because I am proud of the fact that I have been here. If you don't value that as an employer, then you don't want me as an employee.

On the national level, a serious conversation needs to be had about how we organize our Armed Forces, both active and reserve. What was right for the Cold War may not be right for the war on terror. On the individual level, we should recognize those employers and those employees that shoulder extra burdens at home so we can deploy, and we should help every reservist return to a good job.


July 09, 2007

Name: RN Clara Hart
Posting date: 7/9/07
Stationed in: a military hospital in the U.S.
Email: [email protected]

Fisticuffs was the name of the game today, or, as one anesthesia provider put it, "Rodeo Anesthesia." Today was the day I ducked flailing fists, kicking feet attached to powerful legs, and tried not to be head-butted by 6' 4" 230-lb soldiers. Twice! Twice I dodged punches, kicks and brain-rattling smacks.

I was looking forward to an "easy" day when I saw that my first patient was a ruptured eardrum repair. Most of the time we see these surgeries in our wounded who have experienced some type of blast: IED, RPG, or mortar. But as anesthesia rolled the stretcher into the bay and we put the oxygen mask on the patient, he began to flail. Fixing the anesthesiologist with a glare as I tried to hold his arm still so he wouldn't pull out his IV, I asked, "Is he OIF?"

"No," came the response. 

Reinforcements arrived in the form of several other nurses and tech, and we each attached ourselves to a limb in an attempt to keep him from further hurting himself and undoing his fresh surgical repair -- or taking one of us out.

Over and over we crooned to him, "You're in the recovery room, your surgery is all finished, you're OK." After continuing to fight us for several more minutes he slowly -- very, very slowly -- settled down.

The rest of the recovery went without incident, and when he was finally coherent and able to answer questions I asked him if he was OIF. "No," he responded, "I'm OEF, been home 2 months." Uh huh, I thought to myself, that explains it.

As he was transported down the hall I went in search of his wife. Once I found her and assured her he was doing well, I asked her about his deployment. She responded she didn't know much as he never spoke about it to her. I questioned her on her knowledge of PTSD, and referred her to websites where she could find additional information. As I walked her along in the direction her husband had gone, I gently reminded her that for any and all future surgical procedures she needed to tell the staff about his deployments. She told me she would, and thanked me for my help.

I no sooner returned to the recovery room than my next patient rolled out of the OR.  Striding to the bay, I grabbed the monitor cords only to notice this patient was also auditioning for rodeo anesthesia. I grabbed hold of his arm -- the one with the big cast on it, the one they had just completed surgery on, the same one he was trying to behead me with, yeah that one -- and all of us, anesthesia providers, pacu nurses and techs, again attached ourselves to various appendages. I looked at one of my coworkers and asked,"Is it a full moon?"

Another responded, "No Clara it's just you! They knew you hadn't been to the gym today and needed your workout."  We all cracked up at that and continued to hold on.

One of the techs managed to get a pulse ox on him so we could monitor his breathing and his heart rate.  He too, took some time to reorient.  Once he was awake and alert he was a wonderful patient with a wicked sense of humor. I asked the key question: "Have you been deployed?"

"Yeah," came the response, "finished my three tour seven months ago."

I simply nodded my head. I asked him if he'd had surgery before, and when he responded in the affirmative he asked "Why?  Did I get a little rowdy?"  After apologizing for fighting with us he seemed pleased to hear it took six of us to keep him from hurting himself or any one of us. I reminded him to tell the anesthesia providers of this anytime he had surgery. He agreed, apologizing some more. 

Over and over I have witnessed the OIF/OEF population emerge from anesthesia combative enough to do great damage to themselves or the staff. Again and again I have listened to their appalled lamentations once they fully awaken. Whether it is PTSD-related or just the disorientation that may come with emergence from anesthesia, very few really know. 

Too few people have a good understanding of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). With that in mind I would like to share this very short, very simple definition: PTSD is a normal reaction to extremely abnormal events. PTSD does not, repeating not mean you are crazy!  Even though it may seem like it, you are not losing your mind.

The following websites offer information and resources for helping to understand and overcome Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

The VA's National Center for PTSD

Deployment Health Clinical Center


July 06, 2007

Name: Teflon Don
Posting date: 7/6/07
Stationed in: Ramadi, Iraq
Milblog url:

There's a small charm that hangs around my neck. Many soldiers carry some small token or good luck charm -- Saint Christopher medallions, coins, crosses, sometimes even hand-blown glass hearts. Mine is a stylized fishhook carved and polished out of bone. The Maori call it Hei-Matau; they believe it will bring strength, peace and good health. My sister bought mine for me while in New Zealand this winter, and I've worn it ever since. The Maori say that with time, part of the essence of the bone and of the wearer will swap places, and the necklace will become a small part of one's self. Mine has certainly changed in the six months I've worn it -- one side has become even more highly polished from the constant rubbing of my cotton shirt, and the other shows dark streaks along the pores of the bone and hints of color from months of sweat and dust.

I've changed, too. One of my friends told me I wouldn't begin to realize how different I had become until I went on leave and saw soldiers who had spent their tours in Kuwait or other less violence-prone areas, and that I would not realize it fully until I got home.

A part of the difference is a profoundly deeper appreciation for peace. One of the first days I was home, I lay on a strip of grass while I waited outside the store my sister was shopping in. I breathed in the clean air and closed my eyes to better hear the wind whispering through the trees. I opened my eyes again and watched the people strolling by, caught up in their own concerns and ignoring the quiet beauty that surrounded them. I jerked upright when a garbage truck dropped a dumpster -- the harsh thump of metal sounded enough like a VBIED to jerk me back to Iraq.

The polished sheen of my necklace is there -- one friend told me that he'd never seen me act more confident. I felt it before he mentioned it. I own the ground I walk on, and you'll have to go through me if you want to take it. I've made it through nine months in what was once called the "triangle of death"; that area of Iraq that last year saw nearly thirty percent of those serving within it earn the Purple Heart. I've learned, as I think most combat soldiers do, to truly "not sweat the small stuff". If a situation doesn't threaten death or injury, I can't trouble myself to care too much about it. The only things that bother me are the moments in which my reflexes work faster than my brain, and for a moment I'm "back there". It didn't happen to me often over my two weeks at home, but when it did, it reminded me of what I think of as my "dirty side". I don't say dirty as in bad, but as in colored by Iraq.

By the time I left home again, I'd stopped jerking the wheel when I saw pieces of junk on or near the road, but I was still cautiously approaching manhole covers and overpasses. The dumpster falling bothered me. The car backfiring startled me for a moment. The neighborhood kid dropping a string of firecrackers out in the alley definitely startled me. All those incidents were quickly over, though.

The only one that truly bothered me was while I was on a trip up to Alaska. One of my roommates from college was getting married and I happened to make it home for the wedding. The bachelor party was standard Alaska fare: shooting guns (don't worry -- the drinking waited until afterwards). We took a long drive out around the coast from Anchorage. The improved road ended at a small dirt airstrip. My friend took his little Toyota Camry up to about 40mph and pulled the e-brake, spinning us in a complete circle.

Things started going downhill from there. We drove along a rutted, potholed road through trees and undergrowth that looked like places I'd been along the river, and turned to cross a small culvert onto another road. Some enterprising Alaskan had blown up a car on the narrow crossing -- the rusted hulk of it and another vehicle lay bullet-riddled on the other side of the blackened hole in the dirt. A little further on, the road disappeared into a giant hole. Another bullet-scarred car sat in the water-filled bottom. We backed up and took another side road and parked. I got out and smelled rotting meat -- the smell of death.

One of my friends gagged, and I remarked to him that all we needed was the smell of burning trash to re-create Iraq. That was the cue for someone nearby to start firing single high-caliber rounds. Of all the things on the trip so far, that was the one I was actually expecting -- it startled me less than it did them.

Another friend said he hoped we didn't get hit. I said not to worry, because the rounds weren't coming our way. He said that sounded like the voice of experience. I just nodded. It made me feel better to pick up a gun.

People will think I'm crazy for saying this, but I'm glad to be back in the desert. Things aren't quite black and white, but there are fewer shades of grey. The danger is real again, not imagined like some monster in the night or a djinn conjured out of the air.

Life is real.


July 05, 2007

Name: Eric Coulson
Posting date: 7/5/07
Stationed in: Ramadi, Iraq
Milblog url:
Email: [email protected]

A Soldier learns early in his or her career about hand and arm signals, which are used effectively at team, squad and even platoon level to transmit basic information to all members of the group simultaneously. Those of you who have served in the Army or Marine Corps know what I am writing about. Those of you who have not have probably seen hand signals used in films and TV shows, such as Band of Brothers.
Think of a small unit advancing through the woods on foot.

One basic hand and arm signal is the clenched fist, held straight up. This means "stop" or more specifically "freeze, do not move". Of course this clenched fist has other popular varitations in meaning, such as "power to the people" (think any campus protest), "black power" (think Mexico City 1968), or "solid" (think Mod Squad).

Yesterday I was having some leadership challenges moving some vehicles from here to there, and I was becoming agitated, so I stepped out of Badger Main and headed down to Badger Maintenance to put some Command emphasis on the issue. As I walked down the main road in the already 100+ degree temperature, I became more frustrated the more I contemplated the issue that had arisen.

Suddenly, coming the other direction, I spotted what I thought was one of the vehicles in question. I looked to see who the driver was to confirm it was one of my vehicles. Yes, it was one of my Soldiers. This young man is an excellent Soldier, he works hard and does what he is told. He is also very new to the Army, and when I first met him he was petrified to be in the presence of anyone above the rank of Specialist. I thought that he would never be comfortable around me, the Company Commander, or around the First Sergeant. But he has in fact come out of his shell and become more at ease around us.

Now seeing this vehicle drive down the street I wanted to confirm that it was ready for combat. I held up my fist to communicate I wanted him to immediately stop. The Soldier however, interpreted my clenched fist more along the lines of the Mod Squad's "solid" than as a command. The Soldier returned my "salute" with a wide smile on his face.

I clenched my fist again and shook it at him as I glowered. His smile disappeared and a look of horror replaced the grin when he realized what I wanted. He stopped the vehicle and popped the door.

"Yes sir?"

"This vehicle ready to go?"

"Yes sir."

"OK, good. Thanks."

"Anything else, sir?"

"No. Good job. Go park it."

"Roger, sir."

As I turned to stride down to Badger Maintenance, I could not help but let some of my agitation go. Not only was the vehicle ready, but I had seen a Soldier emerge from his shell to feel comfortable being less formal with his Commander. That must be the best part of leading Soldiers, watching them grow, develop and gain confidence. Additionally he (and I) have a funny story to tell, and that makes the load in the rucksack a little bit lighter.


July 04, 2007

Name: SGT Sack
Posting date: 7/4/07
Stationed in: Iraq
Hometown: Omaha, NE
Milblog url:
Email: [email protected]

Part of the process of getting out of here is remembering those that have gone before us. It struck me the other day as we were making plans for coming home parties, car purchases, and vacations, that not everyone that got on the plane with us is making the trip home.

One of the benefits that the Guard sells to young soldiers is that Guard is family, and I think this is true, in the sense that you get to know your fellow Guardsmen over the years better then you would in an active duty or reserve unit as personnel are changed out more often. Most of the soldiers that you drill with are from your hometown, went to the same schools, and know the same people. The Nebraska National Guard has lost eight of our brothers and sisters during OIF. While the loss of every soldier is a tragedy, the loss of our fellow Guardsmen usually hits a little closer to home. I didn't know any of these soldiers on a personal level, but they've all had a lasting impact on me, and my fellow soldiers, that I wanted to share.

The first two soldiers we lost were early in the war. MSG Linda Ann Tarango-Griess and SGT Jeremy J. Fisher were killed in action on 11 July 2004. I remember getting an email at work with a link to the story and feeling incredible sadness, shock, and disbelief. Most of us thought the war would be over quickly and without much loss of life. The fact that our fellow soldiers had paid the ultimate price was hard to believe.

The Nebraska Guard went over a year without another casualty. SFC Tricia L. Jameson was killed in action on 14 July 2005. SFC Jameson was a medic that had volunteered for her deployment to fill a spot that needed a soldier, and had only been in theater a short while. She was responding to an attack when her ambulance was targeted by a secondary IED, a particularly cowardly attack. The Combat Medic Training Center here at Balad is named after her.

Framed_sack_jameson_3Another year passed, and on 31 July 2006, SGT Joshua Ford was killed in action. His death occurred after we arrived in theater, which made it that much harder. Every soldier knows that there is the possibility this will happen, but as a coping mechanism, most of us think that it won't happen to us or anyone we know.

Unfortunately, the year between combat deaths pattern didn't hold. Task Force Saber lost our first soldier, SSG Jeffrey Hansen, on 27 August 2006. SSG Hansen was the victim of a tragic accident where his vehicle rolled over into one of the many canal roads surrounding Anaconda. SSG Hansen had been around the Cav for a long time, and was well known by many and loved by all. His memorial service was held here at Anaconda, I served on the rifle team and was part of the 21 gun salute. It was an honor to participate and allow the soldiers from his unit and those that knew him the best to attend the memorial.

A short two days after B Troop and the rest of the 1-167 had grieved for SSG Hansen, SGT Germaine Debro was killed in action. He died on 4 September 2006. For an already grief-stricken unit, this was an incredibly tough blow. SGT Debro had volunteered for this deployment to serve with his friends and paid the ultimate price. I went home for leave a few days later, and attended his funeral in Omaha while I was home. It was obvious from the crowd and the speeches what kind of a man SGT Debro was and how much he was loved by his family and friends. The IED Training Lane here at Anaconda was just recently dedicated in honor of SGT Debro, in order to provide training opportunities to other soldiers and increase their chance of survival.

Framed_sack_debro_2SGT Randy J. Matheny died in combat on 4 February 2007. His sister is a Staff Sergeant in a unit that is stationed here at Anaconda, and he would often spend time with her when he had a stop over during a convoy. His brother is also a member of the Nebraska Guard. His sister's unit held a small memorial here on post for him, and once again it was clear that SGT Matheny was a hero to those that knew him.

The final Nebraska casualty was SPC William L. Bailey III, who was killed in action on 25 May 2007. His unit was stationed here, and I attended his memorial. SPC Bailey was a father of five and had a lifetime of service. He was a volunteer firefighter in Bellevue, and had rejoined the Guard in 2005 after fulfilling his initial obligation because he wanted to serve.

One thing that struck me about these soldiers is that most, if not all, were volunteers. Not just volunteers to join the Guard, as we are all, but volunteers to deploy to Iraq and do what needed to be done.

I know that most of them could have stayed home, having already done duty in Kuwait, Bosnia, or a prior deployment to Iraq. But they didn't. Their unit, their state, and their country needed them, and they answered the call. And they paid the ultimate price. This may be cliche, but "Where do we find such men and women?" I am proud to wear the uniform and to have served in the Nebraska National Guard with MSG Tarango-Griess, SGT Fisher, SFC Jameson, SGT Ford, SSG Hansen, SGT Debro, SGT Matheny, and SPC Bailey. God bless you all. We will never forget you.


July 03, 2007

Name: @WR
Posting date: 7/3/07
Returned from: Iraq
Milblog url:

Framed_wr_sentinelGod Bless Our Troops.
Defenders of Freedom.
American Heroes.

Standing sentinel at the gates of Walter Reed. Standing to remind those who would forget.

The protestors.
The administrators.
The families.
The Soldiers.

Reminded that cost of liberty and the cost of war are not the same. The cost of liberty is much higher. It is not a number that can be measured by marble markers in Arlington or by dollars and cents. Liberty is measured in giving of a Nation's sons and daughters. Sons and daughters we have given so much of our own lives to. We give them to our Nation. And our sons and daughters give their years, and months, and days to the Nation.

Tonight, somewhere, our sons and daughters stand ready.
Remind them that you stand with them.
That they are our defenders of freedom.
That they our heroes.
That we are proud.
And that we are grateful.



July 02, 2007

Posting date: 7/2/07

In this recent interview with Joyce Kryszak of radio station WBFO in Buffalo, New York, 1ST Troy Steward, a frequent Sandbox contributor, talks about "two-way culture shock", and shares his thoughts on returning home from a year-long deployment in Afghanistan.

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