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Outside the Wire

Outside the Wire: American Soldiers' Voices from Afghanistan

Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 176
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  • Book Info
    Outside the Wire
    Book Description:

    A riveting collection of thirty-eight narratives by American soldiers serving in Afghanistan,Outside the Wireoffers a powerful evocation of everyday life in a war zone. Christine Dumaine Leche-a writing instructor who left her home and family to teach at Bagram Air Base and a forward operating base near the volatile Afghan-Pakistani border-encouraged these deeply personal reflections, which demonstrate the power of writing to battle the most traumatic of experiences.

    The soldiers whose words fill this book often met for class with Leche under extreme circumstances and in challenging conditions, some having just returned from dangerous combat missions, others having spent the day in firefights, endured hours in the bitter cold of an open guard tower, or suffered a difficult phone conversation with a spouse back home. Some choose to record momentous events from childhood or civilian life-events that motivated them to join the military or that haunt them as adults. Others capture the immediacy of the battlefield and the emotional and psychological explosions that followed. These soldiers write through the senses and from the soul, grappling with the impact of moral complexity, fear, homesickness, boredom, and despair.

    We each, writes Leche, require witnesses to the narratives of our lives.Outside the Wirecreates that opportunity for us as readers to bear witness to the men and women who carry the weight of war for us all.

    eISBN: 978-0-8139-3412-9
    Subjects: History
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. vii-x)
  3. Foreword (pp. xi-xiv)
    Brian Turner

    Histories are too often told from the vantage point of power—from the courtly heights of kings, queens, and emperors; through the map-maker’s scope during a sultan’s rule; influenced by the diplomatic pressures and nuances of a president’s years in office. The problem with these versions of history is that they function more like sketches, or outlines. History rings truer to my ear when it is spoken from the pavement of the street, the kitchen table, the local grocery store. How much was a gallon of milk? What did the old men and women say when they looked up from...

  4. Preface (pp. xv-xxii)
    Christine Dumaine Leche
  5. Acknowledgments (pp. xxiii-xxvi)

    I sit on a stone bench in Bayswater Park, Queens, in the oppressive July heat. The burned-earth odor of weed mixes with the smoke of dripping fat from the burgers on one of the public grills. A vagrant pisses on a tree trunk not twenty feet away. A few small children, seemingly alone, run in and out of the sprinklers, and older kids play homicide on the handball court. The scorching sun sears my face and arms. The recruiter next to me keeps talking, determined to persuade me to join the Army.

    “Look around you,” he says. “Is this really...


    My duffle bags lay clumped in the bed of my truck, and in the backseat all three of my boys were weeping as quietly as they could manage in order to spare me more of the wretched heartache that comes with leaving them behind for fifteen months. I was to drop off my bags at the two-tone military-tan building with the rusted window ledges where I usually worked. By the traffic jam in the parking lot, it was clear I would not be the only one who would be breaking down into tears. I pulled my bags from the truck...


    Excitement boiled in my stomach as I finished the last of my packing. Pushing and kneading my ACUs and personal hygiene items into my duffle bag left me with beads of salty sweat on my brow. I dipped my combination lock around the eyelet of my duffle with a second sigh. I peeled open the Velcro that kept the pocket on my uniform sealed to make sure I had my ID card. I felt around my neck for the tiny steel beads from which my dog tags dangled. I checked the room for the last time. I had left nothing...


    A few days after it happens I pick up my cell phone and call my friend Trish in New Jersey. Voice mail. My head drops. I try my sister Lori. She picks up but starts rattling off her own boyfriend problems. Twenty minutes later I decide I’ve had enough and make an excuse to hang up. I try Trish again. I want to throw the phone into the wall. I give in and fold myself under the covers.

    My eyes shoot open. I’m in a sweat. A bad dream. No faces. No screaming. Just the barrel of an AK-47 on...


    It was a New York rush-hour lunch on Bagram. I sat in my office with four other sergeants conducting my normal duties, attempting to update all the information and documentation required on each of my soldiers. My desk floated like a boat in a sea of standardized forms punctuated by little mounds of paper clips, silver volcanic islands. I was so busy I didn’t know what to do next. That’s a cliché, fair enough, but you get my drift. Okay, relax, I told myself. Take a deep breath. What I needed was a break, five minutes on the other side...

  11. SERGEANT SEAN MOORE (pp. 20-22)

    My skin, the color of three months’ worth of sand, wind, and sweat, longs to feel her touch. I cringe at the idea of my wife imagining me in this state. I have rotated a single change of clothes over the course of four months of dismounted foot patrol in full gear while carrying my weapon in 135-degree heat, and all with no shower. The above equates to a state of stench that can no longer be fathomed even by its owner. Even still, I think she would be glad to see me.

    Talking on the phone is a thing...


    Fifth Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, was out on a mission to patrol the streets of Baquba to establish a presence in the neighborhood. It might have been Tahrir or Buritz. I can’t remember anymore. The days were running together in my mind even before they were over. Now it’s all a violent blur that permeates my daily life.

    Baquba is a decimated city about 30 miles northeast of Baghdad on the Diyala River, just outside Iraq’s so-called Sunni Triangle. The site has been inhabited continuously since ancient times as a center for agriculture and commerce. The name means “Jacob’s House”...


    I don’t remember the day, month, time, or even his name. It was about halfway through my deployment to Iraq. I had just been switched to night shift in the DFAC (dining facility) when I got the call. I was needed because of President Bush’s surge. I had heard stories from other girls. Some passed out, others vomited, but most cried and just refused to do the job. I had said no to being placed among their ranks once already. It wasn’t mandatory or anything. Just a new skill and a new experience. I didn’t understand the big deal. I...


    As I lay reading over the latest copy ofMen’s Healthmagazine, I listen to the 120th day of wind produce its violent music as it pops the tin roof back and forth. The Great Voice, the eerie public-address system that permeates even the gray rock that covers almost every inch of ground here, spits out a familiar monotone phrase, “The aerial gunnery range is now hot.”

    Do any of us really know what the hell this means? Will someone please enlighten me? What we do know is that in the next few minutes there will be several big booms,...


    I sit in the back of a van bumping along a dirt road that circles the perimeter of Bagram Air Base. The road, just inside the concertina wire, opens to views of Afghan villages, small mud huts melting with age, home sweet home to the young children herding goats, stopping only to stare with dark eyes as we pass. I zone out to my graduation from Bolton High less than three years ago. I knew nothing about either the military or terrorism. Every plane looked the same, and all bombs did the same thing, went BOOM. Now here I am,...

  16. SERGEANT LATAYNA ORAMA (pp. 40-41)

    I see her for the first time in many years. She is not what I remember at all. Her once flowing black hair has thinned. It hangs wispy over the blue and white flowers that cover her hospital gown, adding such age to her face. Her frame is fragile and frail, her eyes sunken, cold spaces. No one has been home for quite some time. A suffocating blanket of guilt wraps tight around me. I abandoned her. I am the reason for her lifeless, vacant body. She is dying. I stand at a distance, going over and over what I...


    0400 hours. Myself and four others from my scout platoon infiltrate a palm grove under cover of darkness. It’s already 80 degrees and the humidity reminds me of back home in Philadelphia during a heat wave in July. This was supposed to be a routine mission. Gather intel on possible river-crossing points used by Al Qaeda insurgents to supply weapons to local militias. “Easy mission,” I said when I was briefed. “Just another waste of time.”

    We’ve already been in Iraq six months. This is my second deployment here in three years. Three guys in our platoon along with our...

  18. PRIVATE VENETA WHITE (pp. 48-49)

    As a boxer, I have been thrown many blows. Some were harder than others and some even knocked me down. Losing my parents at an early age was the experience that took me to the ring.

    Round 1My mother had been my oxygen. She supported me in every way a mother could. She believed in me and always told me I could accomplish even when I felt I could not. She was my home. Without her I couldn’t have stood on my own.

    Round 2I barely remember my father. His absence left a sense of incompletion in me....

  19. SERGEANT JOSE GITHENS (pp. 50-53)

    It’s 150 degrees and the breeze feels like a hair dryer blowing finely powdered dirt at close range into my eyes, nose, ears, mouth, and even under my clothes. Everyone on the team wears a neck gaiter and pulls it up over his face in order to breathe.

    I thought today might be uneventful, but one of the commander’s runners walks my direction. “Hey, he wants you to grab your gear and be ready to roll out in an hour.”

    We all know who “he” is. I am an armorer, and before deploying I helped fix and calibrate multiple weapons...

  20. SERGEANT, ANONYMOUS MALE (pp. 54-56)

    The desert air is stagnant in the peculiar L-shaped room. Old photographs of Iraqi policemen laughing, remnants of calmer years, lie scattered about the floor. “Should be a quick one,” I was told in the operations brief. “In and out in a couple of hours. Just make sure that ASR (alternate supply route) gets swept for IEDs.” Four feet back from the solitary second-floor window, my spotter and I sit and stare through scopes waiting for the sweep.

    14:22: “Viper COC (chain of command), this is Thunder Actual. We are Oscar Mike on ASR Lincoln.”

    “Well, it’s about fucking time!...


    I wake up to my usual routine of brushing my teeth and washing my face. I throw on my Marine uniform and head into work. Once at my desk, I check the time to make sure I call Trish, my wife, on her way to the office. I have two hours to spare before it’s time to make the much-awaited call, so I head to chow with a few of the guys. When I return, Sergeant Johnson is parked on the phone, so I walk over to the Imagery section.

    I call the 1-800 number, wait for the flat voice...

  22. SERGEANT MICHAEL DIGGS (pp. 61-65)

    We live at the corner of West Ash Street and Seminole Road in a house painted the green color of faded money, and the green is curling off. The burnt bricks at the bottom of the house could hardly be called a foundation. It makes me sick at heart to look at the dingy off-white windowsills around the outside. If Gerry Thomas (a stuck-up guy in my class) ever decided to do a house inspection, he would tell me we came in last out of the whole first grade.

    Once you actually make it inside the house, you might be...

  23. SERGEANT JESSIE EVANS (pp. 66-71)

    Wham! The door flies open, smashing against the faded green-and-black dresser, knocking everything over, pictures and glass cups careening onto the hard oak floor, old mail flying in all directions. She stands over my bed in a flash. I jerk around, almost snapping my neck. My eyes just about pop out of my head. She’s in that red-and-white Bob Evans uniform with her apron half undone, short-order book about to fall out of her pocket, hat twisted, and name tag smudged with ketchup.

    Her arm swings wildly. WHOP goes the first hit across my arms as I raise them to...


    “You are so ugly. You look like your ugly aunt on your father’s side of the family. I knew I shouldn’t have had a mixed baby. Damn, the older you get the more you look like them.” My mother would say this so often I was surprised when she didn’t. My mother would sit me on a kitchen chair in front of the window for hours while she parted and braided my hair. She dressed me like her little queen, black patent leather shoes and all. She thought such attention would change my features. When she was mad at my...

  25. PRIVATE EMILY ANDERSON (pp. 79-80)

    Today is just another day on Bagram Air Base. The routine is habit, and all I can do is watch the clock count down. I am contemplating leaving work early, but the consequences wouldn’t be worth it. I stare at the computer in a daze.

    Then I hear a high-pitched voice. “Anderson.” It’s Staff Sergeant Coleman. “Sergeant South has an issue with her promotion packet.” Coleman’s surfing on the Internet, and I’m annoyed because she’s calling me to help the soldier. I walk to the counter closest to the door. Sergeant South, fidgety and perturbed, rambles on about three or...

  26. SPECIALIST J. J. SALDANA (pp. 81-82)

    He stands in the shadows debating whether or not to take me. He almost did it once when I was a kid, and at an earlier time, when I was an infant. Death knows me well, but I have never seen his face.

    Today it’s over 100 degrees in the barrow pit located just outside the wire of what the military will name Camp Cooke, Taji. The “pit,” as we call it, consists of four 15-foot dirt berms that we engineers amassed into place with our dozers. Our fortress is guarded by a .50 caliber and one SAW (squad automatic...


    I don’t want to wake up this early in the morning, but my cousins are watchingAlvin and the Chipmunkson TV with the volume turned high. I roll over on my twin bed to check the clock. Nine o’clock. I never get up this early on a Saturday. I am twelve years old, with no hobbies. I used to dance hula, but I chose to hang out with my friends Darla and Justine instead. I live at my grandma’s house. The house has three bedrooms, one bathroom, and was built during the old plantation days.

    The town is called...


    I grab my “bag of deliciousness,” my snacks for the mission on which I am about to embark: some Girl Scout Thin Mints sent from home, strawberry fruit roll-ups, and the case of Rip It energy drinks I “acquired” from the DFAC. Then I throw my IOTV (improved outer tactical vest), with my Kevlar helmet attached, over my shoulder. Last, but certainly not least, I grab my M4 5.56mm gas-operated rifle with the ACOG sight (advanced combat optical gunsight) on top.

    I dread this mission, partly because it is my turn to drive. Secondly, this is a “peace” mission, which...

  29. PRIVATE ENESHIA MYLES (pp. 94-96)

    Playing with a child is like payday for some adults. Attwon, a clever young man, had the brain of Einstein. He knew the answers to the hardest questions and the solutions to most problems. Attwon was fascinated with the stars, galaxies, and planets. He would spend hours reading books about the Earth’s gravitational pull and how long poison could be in a person’s body before he or she died. Attwon enjoyed being adventurous. No matter how uncomplicated the game, he always managed to make it exciting. Tag could become an adventure in a matter of minutes. The typical tea party...


    Yeah, man. I’m thinkin’, “There must be some kinda way outta here . . . I can’t get no relief.” In fact, I’m singin’ my way outta this Army abuse, slipping away into songs of my youth while walking along in Mazerfa village, Iraq. This time I sing to the tune of Hendrix doing “All Along the Watchtower.” It’s 1330 Zulu on September 23rd. Ten American advisors from the 98th Infantry Battalion and the 5th Battalion Iraqi army are on a presence patrol. We’re moving from house to house talking with people in the village to find out what’s going...


    5 May 09Today is Cinco de Mayo. Not much to report, or is there? Yesterday I was awarded the title of Defender of the Week. I suppose I was awarded it because nobody else here takes any initiative. Since the 15th of April, I have amassed sixty-plus hours volunteering at the hospital. On my first day I changed the diaper of a man who is paralyzed from the waist down due to being shot in the spine. He also has other gunshot wounds. He looks American at first glance, almost like a pararescue or Special Forces soldier, dirty blond...

  32. SERGEANT JEFFREY LAMBERT (pp. 104-106)

    As a platoon sergeant for a forward support company in the 2nd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, I am responsible for the welfare of the soldiers under me in Taji, Iraq. My soldiers and I serve as escorts on what is called the route clearance team—Task Force Iron Claw, a team put together to find and remove IEDs from common routes used by our military convoys. We’ve been on over one hundred missions and have either recovered IEDs, blown them out, or had them blow up on us.

    Our patrol consists of three up-armored Humvees, one Buffalo, and one Husky....


    I’m not sure why today is any different from those other days I got new parents. Every other time I got moved to a new house, the ladies in black told me those people were going to be my new parents too. But this morning the ladies in black seem different. They get out of their car, their black dresses blowing in circles like leaves on a windy day. They laugh, run up to the porch where I sit, and ask if I am ready. They laugh again and tell me they are really excited about today, and that today...

  34. SERGEANT JOSH WYLY (pp. 110-112)

    “Cowboy” made his living pimping women, such as my mother, who were in bad situations. He was smart. He got his girls out into the city by having them sell roses in nightclubs like the Blue Diamond and Crystal’s Hideout. Every day hundreds of roses arrived at his house, and the working girls, including my mother, would spend their afternoon cutting stems, pruning leaves, and tying each rose with a satin bow. A sequined heart on a stick finished off the arrangement. At night in the clubs the women made contacts with johns and left Cowboy’s number to arrange visits....

  35. SERGEANT JOSEPH COLVIN (pp. 113-113)

    A salty mist rolls down my forehead as my duffle bags find their way outside. My plywood square of a B-hut room is now as eerie as a concert hall in the middle of off-season. This was the place I could go after a day of life on Bagram. The smile on her face made this room my personal heaven. A paradise.

    I am ready to carry out the last box, the one that will signal my departure. Glare bakes the B-hut, but the room itself feels cold. My steps toward the door, slow. This box is heavy with a...

  36. SERGEANT DAN YOKE (pp. 114-115)

    You know the place. The McDonald’s on Muhammad Ali Boulevard. It sits back off the corner right next to Chase Bank. I manage that restaurant, and every morning when I open up, usually around ten minutes till seven, I talk to the lady that sits out front and buy theDaily Tribunefrom her.

    Anna Maria, that’s her name. Very pleasant and kind to everyone. She’s my first customer in the morning and the last in the evening. She sits in a brown folding chair, always with a large cup of coffee with four creams in one of my cups....

  37. SPECIALIST ANDREW STOCK (pp. 116-128)

    I want to be a tanker. I want to be the tank, a depleted, uranium-infused, steel-plated titan of war. To crush my enemies, see them driven before me, and to hear the lamentations of the women. A tracked terminator in which the lords of battle would command me to leave kingdoms and republics both under my treads, to deliver resounding glory with menace, to instill such trepidation in the foes destined to cross my path that they would spew shit from their loins and quake in fantastical epilepsies.

    Alas, you don’t always get what you want. My recruiter, Sergeant Archer,...

  38. Soldiers Tell Why Writing Classes in a War Zone Matter (pp. 129-130)

    Taking a writing course in Afghanistan gave me the freedom to vent, to speak out in a healthy way. The course offered an opportunity to interact positively with other deployed soldiers when there was so much negativity surrounding us. I made some friends—more like sisters—to whom I speak even today. The class gave me confidence in my writing. Class was what I looked forward to after dealing with the mortuary affairs team all day long. I enjoyed every minute of it.

    In hindsight, I realize just how much my life has been altered because of my creative writing...

  39. On Teaching Writing to Soldiers and Veterans (pp. 131-140)

    The terrain is harsh—plateaus and deserts, rugged mountains, dry open plains. The wind blows with unprecedented violence. But it is the uncertainty of man-made events, such as the rockets and mortars ripping into the supposedly safe zones of military camps, that keeps even those who live within the concertina wire on edge. In need of diversion, groups of soldiers gather in whatever vacant rooms can be found for creative writing and English classes.

    They open the plywood door to the B-hut that serves as a classroom on this particular night. Desert combat boots thump across the gray tiled floor....

  40. Writing Prompts (pp. 141-146)

    The prompts below are ones I have used with both active-duty soldiers and veterans in my creative writing and English classes. Following each piece I’ve included the title of a memoir from this collection to show how far from the original prompt memory can take us.

    1. Write a scene in which three of the following appear: desert boots, M16, RPG (rocket-propelled grenade), Humvee, tank, helicopter, IED (improvised explosive device), cell phone, NVGs (night-vision goggles), computer, DVD, Great Voice, cigarette or cigar, photograph, wedding ring, wallet, money, foot locker. One object becomes central to your story, while the others remain...

  41. List of Abbreviations and Military Ranks (pp. 147-148)