The Devil's Sandbox

By John Bruning

From the Inside Flap
It is well known that substantial numbers of the Army National Guard have been deployed to Iraq for extended tours of duty. Less appreciated is the fact that these National Guardsmen are primarily combat soldiers. The Devil’s Sandbox tells their story.
Specifically, this is the story of the 2nd Battalion of Oregon’s 162nd Infantry Regiment (2-162), known as the Volunteers. They were called up in the summer of 2003 and moved to Fort Hood, Texas, for training in October. The next spring  found them in combat in Iraq. Upon entering the country in April 2004 they immediately saw heavy fighting in Najaf, Falujah, Sadr City, and “trolling for terrorists” in the Sunni Triangle. The occupation of Iraq, as seen through the eyes of these Oregonians, bring the realities of the war home for the reader.
In one instance, a platoon of the Volunteers found itself deep behind lines of the Mahdi militia in Falujah. In the battle for the six-story hotel that became known as the “Apache Hilton,” eighteen Oregonians fought a multi-day pitched battle. When the dust settled at the end of a week of combat and the Volunteers withdrew, over three hundred dead enemy militiamen littered the battlefield. And this was just one battle by one platoon.
On average the National Guardsmen are older and more mature than their regular army counterparts. Many of them have years of active-duty military experience. They also bring high-level civilian skills with them to Iraq. With a substantial complement of  experienced craftsmen and contractors, the Volunteers of 2-162 were able to engage in direct civic action through the rebuilding of the ancient marketplace in downtown Baghdad as well as constructing roads, rebuilding mosques, repairing sewer and power lines, and establishing schools in the Iraqi communities they served in.
The Volunteers’ year in combat in Iraq is told largely in the words of the soldiers themselves. Author Bruning interviewed virtually all of the members of the battalion as well as many family members. He even deployed with the Oregonians as an “embedded historian when they were sent to New Orleans in the aftermath of Katrina. This brings the reader a remarkably intimate and immediate experience of “being there” as the infantrymen of 2-162 go into battle, The Devil’s Sandbox is replete with the valorous stories of  these Americans in combat on the mean streets of Iraq.


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