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Outside the Wire

American Soldiers' Voices from Afghanistan

Edited by Christine Dumaine Leche. Foreword by Brian Turner, author of "The Hurt Locker"

Publication Year: 2013

A riveting collection of thirty-eight narratives by American soldiers serving in Afghanistan, Outside the Wire offers 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 Wire creates that opportunity for us as readers to bear witness to the men and women who carry the weight of war for us all.

Published by: University of Virginia Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 1-6


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pp. vii-x

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pp. xi-xiv

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. ...

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pp. xv-xxii

The e-mail at the top of my Yahoo list read, “Doc, sorry I couldn’t make it to class last night, but with the suicide bomber and everything, I was kept really busy. Can you send the assignment?” I assured my student that our English 101 class had been canceled. In fact, on the evening of the suicide bomber scare on Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan, ...

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pp. xxiii-xxiv

With gratitude to the soldiers who were students in my creative writing and English classes in Afghanistan. We shared difficult living conditions, rocket and mortar attacks, and small planes. I felt honored to work with each of you. You protect us all. I will always remember. ...

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pp. 1-2

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. ...

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pp. 3-9

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. ...

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pp. 10-13

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. ...

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pp. 14-16

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. ...

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pp. 17-19

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. ...

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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. ...

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pp. 23-27

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. ...

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pp. 28-30

I spent a rare night away from my husband and children, house-sitting for my mother, watching John Hughes flicks on VHS from Goodwill for fifty cents. I returned home refreshed on Saturday morning, happy to see my family. I wandered through the house and met them in the backyard, mowed where the Little Tykes plastic slide and swing reside but left mostly wild. ...

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pp. 31-32

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. ...

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pp. 33-34

As I lay reading over the latest copy of Men’s Health magazine, 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.” ...

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pp. 35-39

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. ...

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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. ...

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pp. 42-47

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. ...

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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. ...

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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. ...

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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. ...

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pp. 57-60

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. ...

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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. ...

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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. ...

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pp. 72-78

“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. ...

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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. ...

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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. ...

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pp. 83-85

I don’t want to wake up this early in the morning, but my cousins are watching Alvin and the Chipmunks on 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. ...

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pp. 86-93

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. ...

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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. ...

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pp. 97-99

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.” ...

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pp. 100-103

5 May 09 Today 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. ...

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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. ...

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pp. 107-109

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. ...

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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. ...

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pp. 113-140

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. ...

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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 the Daily Tribune from her. ...

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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, ...

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Soldiers Tell Why Writing Classes in a War Zone Matter

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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. ...

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On Teaching Writing to Soldiers and Veterans

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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. ...

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Writing Prompts

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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. ...

List of Abbreviations and Military Ranks

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pp. 147-148

E-ISBN-13: 9780813934129
E-ISBN-10: 0813934125
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813934112
Print-ISBN-10: 0813934117

Page Count: 176
Publication Year: 2013

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Afghan War, 2001- -- Personal narratives, American.
  • United States -- Armed Forces -- Military life -- Anecdotes.
  • United States -- Armed Forces -- Biography -- Anecdotes.
  • Soldiers' writings, American.
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