The Sandbox

GWOT hot wash, straight from the wire

Welcome to The Sandbox, our command-wide milblog, featuring comments, anecdotes, and observations from service members currently deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. This is GWOT-lit's forward position, offering those in-country a chance to share their experiences and reflections with the rest of us. 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. The Sandbox is a clean, lightly-edited debriefing environment where all correspondence is read, and as much as possible is posted. And contributors may rest assured that all content, no matter how robust, is currently secured by the First Amendment. To submit a post, click here.

Name: The Afghan Battle Fox
Returned from: Afghanistan
Hometown: Clyde, Ohio
Milblog: Afghan Battle Fox's Blog

Name: Charlie Sherpa
Previously embedded: with former unit in Afghanistan
Hometown: Boone, Iowa
Milblog: Red Bull Rising

"On average we are losing 25 of our best young people every day to a condition that could be eliminated with more effective care."

The family of a deceased Iowa "Red Bull" soldier hopes that publicizing their story of loss to suicide will help other citizen-soldiers, families, and friends seek help and resources. The 46-minute documentary "Dillion" debuts on Kansas Public Television station KPTS, Wichita, on Sept. 11, 2013, at 8 p.m. CDT.

The subtitle of the documentary is "The true story of a soldier's battle with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder [P.T.S.D.]." The family is seeking other venues and media outlets through which to distribute the film.

Their messages? That suicide is not a rational option, nor is it inevitable. That there is never a single event to which one can trace an explanation of suicide. And that there are others, like their son, who may be suffering depression, PTSD, or ideas of suicide.

Dillion Naslund, 25, of Galva, Iowa, was a former member of the Iowa National Guard's 1st Battalion, 168th Infantry Regiment (1-168th Inf.) and 1st Battalion, 133rd Infantry Regiment (1-133rd Inf.). Both are units of Iowa's 2nd Brigade Combat Team (B.C.T.), 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division.

"Dillion had felt he was alone," says his mother Lisa, "but we quickly found out that he wasn't." In the days and weeks following his December 2012 funeral, she says, more than a handful of other soldiers have independently contacted her family. They told her that Dillion's example had inspired each to seek help in their own struggles. "Dillion's legacy can be to save lives," she says. "He's already saved lives."

According to news reports, eight former or actively drilling citizen-soldiers from Iowa have committed suicide since December 2012. All were between the ages of 18 and 25, and experiencing relationship and/or financial problems. Nationwide, suicide-prevention efforts continue to be a concern of military veterans and families. They are also the focus of programs throughout U.S. military and veterans communities, including the National Guard.

Naslund had previously deployed as an infantry soldier to Iraq in 2007-2008. More recently, he had returned from a 9-month deployment to Eastern Afghanistan's Laghman Province in July 2011. Back home, in addition to being the member of a close family, he was active in the the local fire department, and worked a concrete construction job. Naslund died of a self-inflicted gunshot Dec. 10, 2012.

"Dillion wasn't any different than anyone else," Lisa Nasland says. "He had chores, he got grounded. He was just an ordinary kid who went off to war."

Friends and family say that Dillion had changed upon his return. He was no longer upbeat and respectful, and his drinking became destructive. Earlier in 2012, family and friends had picked up on warning signs, and had gotten Dillion to medical help. Once out of in-patient care, however, medical and counseling resources were located more than 2 hours away from Naslund's Ida County home.

"You want something or someone to blame," says Lisa Naslund. "It took me a long time to realize that my argument [with Dillion on the day of his death] wasn't to blame. His girlfriend wasn't to blame. I call PTSD 'the Beast.' The Beast is to blame."

Russ Meyer, a veteran, father of two U.S. Air Force pilots, and former president of Cessna, introduces the "Dillion" documentary in 1-minute trailer here, as well as embedded in this blog post below.

Independent film-maker Tom Zwemke is a Vietnam War veteran, a Naslund family friend, and a current member of the KPTS board of trustees. The documentary was first screened at a private gathering of more than 200 friends and family earlier this summer, at a Western Iowa celebration of Dillion's July 2 birthday.

The Veterans Crisis Line is a toll-free and on-line resource staffed by trained Department of Veterans Affairs personnel, who can confidentially assist soldiers, veterans, families and friends toward local help and resources.

According to the Veterans Crisis Line website:
1-800-273-8255 and Press 1, chat online, or send a text message to 838255 to receive confidential support 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Support for deaf and hard of hearing individuals is available.

Posting date: 8/10/07

The remarkable animated short film below was adapted from Colby Buzzell's book My War: Killing Time in Iraq. The piece was created by director Richard Robbins as part of his award-winning documentary Operation Homecoming: Writing the Wartime Experience, which evolved out of a National Endowment of the Arts project to gather the writings of soldiers serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. In addition to interviews, the film features dramatic readings of letters, memoirs, journals, essays, poetry and fiction. Operation Homecoming played in almost 20 cities around the country, and the TV version was broadcast on PBS in April. You can order a copy here.

Thanks to Colby Buzzell and Richard Robbins for giving us permission to post Men in Black.

Name: 1SG Troy Steward
Posting date: 3/27/07
Stationed in: Sharana, Afghanistan
Hometown: Amherst, NY
Milblog url:

This video was created by Smoke before he left country to return home at the end of his tour here. Because he was the Artillery company mentor, it has more of an Artillery focus, and offers a different perspective from the video I posted last week, MY YEAR IN AFGHANISTAN. He also spent some time at the Kabul Military Training Center (KMTC) at the start of his tour, so he has seen some of that. His choice of music is great, and goes with the content. I am sure you will enjoy this...

Name: 1SG Troy Steward
Posting date: 3/21/07
Stationed in: Sharana, Afghanistan
Hometown: Amherst, NY
Milblog url:

This is a time of reflection. Four years ago the war in Iraq began, and it has had a profound impact on many of us. I had just flown back from Hawaii, spent six hours packing my stuff at home and flew to NYC. We settled in at LaGuardia airport and worked out of there for the next 30 days supplementing security there, at JFK and on the LIRR. There were soldiers spread throughout NYC securing many other sites.

One year ago I was at Camp Shelby doing some needless training -- 95% of it had nothing to do with here or what we would be doing here. Unfortunately it has not gotten any better, according to the newest people to come over here. They are still doing the same things, and making the same mistakes.

I have been mobilized for 13 months now, and over that time a lot of stuff has happened. This is my second war, so the initial “excitement” of being shot at had its time 16 years ago. But the “time standing still” moments of trucks blowing up, bodies being shredded, or shots being fired at you still cause the adrenaline to pump and the senses to be on overdrive. Those times are still branded into my psyche and probably always will be.

There are other things I will never forget. The bonds between friends that were forged like steel, under heat and pressure. The looks on children’s faces when we handed them a simple “dollar store” stuffed animal or a five-cent piece of Tootsie Roll. The hateful stares of men and some boys as we roll through their villages or walk by their houses. The one curious eye of a woman peering around a head-wrap as she watches us. The smell of dust (yes, it has a smell). The weird weather that goes quickly from snow to sun with a 30 degree rise in temperature.

I have changed, as anyone would spending a year in combat. There are things back home that I used to consider small and insignificant that are now very important to me. I have a higher appreciation of how much our country has, my family has, and I have. There are reminders of this every time I go to a Third World country, but even more so spending a year in the third poorest country there is.

As I reflect over the last year, I know there will be even more to think about once I get back. I still have a little bit of time left here, and who knows what unforeseen events lay out there for me and my team.

I have spent a lot of hours over the last weeks editing together still pictures and videos I have shot here, adding the appropriate music by Flogging Molly. The film below is actually the third one I made, so it is called Volume III. I plan on releasing Volume I, Volume II and others later. The images are of combat operations, life on the FOB, convoys and kids, Afghanistan scenery, and other things that give a brief snapshot of life here. I hope you like what you see.

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