“Take this box of sand with you; it needs to get to Washington DC.”

If you are a young enlisted man charged with the security of getting a general, and everything that goes with him, safely out of Afghanistan the last thing you need to be in charge of is a box of dirt.  Also, if you are an enlisted man and a colonel tells you to safely escort a box of sand, you may be thinking, “Say wha?!” but you respond with a crisp, “Yes sir.”

In my work as a volunteer at the National Infantry Museum at Ft. Benning Georgia, I hear a lot of good stories. This young man’s story was spreading through the museum that day like kudzu on the nearby trees. You see… he was here to see the sand.

He told me lugging a box of dirt out of Afghanistan along with everything and everyone else seemed crazy. He and his buddies questioned each other wondering, “Why on earth are we doing this?” I suspect– and am willing to bet– this question was a lot more colorful originally and was cleaned up for present company. They even wondered if it were possible to somehow “dump the dirt.” Of course, being the responsible young military men they were, they never carried out that plan but soldiered on with the added weight and responsibility of a box of sand. When he arrived in Germany, he was surprised to find someone looking for him… and the box of sand. When he asked why it was important to take a box of sand to Washington DC he was answered with a shrug and the statement, “I don’t know; it’s going to some museum.”

Now, of course, anyone working at the museum knows why this box of sand is significant. We know we are hearing a special story and meeting a special young man.  You see, we tell the story of “dirt” to visitors every day. And when we tell visitors about our special dirt and where it can be found, I have seen tears in the eyes of grown men. But, back to our story of this young man…

After his tour in Afghanistan, our solider decides he wants to become an officer. He attends OCS (Officer Candidate School) at Ft. Benning. When he graduates and is ready to head to his next assignment, he calls the colonel who gave him the task of escorting the box of sand out of Afghanistan more than a year earlier. He knew the colonel would be proud of him and wanted to share his accomplishment. It was then the colonel explained the true significance of the box of Afghanistan sand.

The National Infantry Museum has a signature exhibit called The Last Hundred Yards. It is there to honor the American infantryman who takes the last hundred yards of battle on foot, up close, face to face with the enemy, and has done so since the Revolutionary War.  Battles from Yorktown to Omaha Beach to Iraq are depicted in this centerpiece of the museum. The exhibit is a moving experience for those who have served, are serving, and teaches all of us about the uncommon valor of the American infantryman and his willingness to fight and die for our freedom.

There is a parade field at the museum, where at least once a week, our nation’s youth graduate from basic infantry training. They are heading to assignments around the globe, often in harm’s way, to serve our country. MG (Ret) Jerry White (the vision behind the museum) wanted these young graduates to understand the legacy they were becoming part of, so he ordered the parade field spread with “sacred soil”. Soil—or in this case, sand– where American infantrymen fought and died making the ultimate sacrifice — was gathered from all over the world. There is soil on this parade field from Yorktown, Antietam, Soissons, Omaha Beach, L.Z. X-Ray…to name just a few. And so it came to be 2 LT Lane Berg carried the soil out of Afghanistan to join the soils our forefathers fought and died for.  Young soldiers visit the museum and walk slowly through the last hundred yards exhibit and they graduate on the sacred soil from these battles. Infantrymen continue to march on, their duty to preserve our freedom; it is our duty to respect and honor those who willingly choose to serve their country.

Lt. Berg was on his mobile phone calling his buddies from his tour in Afghanistan telling them the story of the sacred soil. He understands the legacy he is part of and the honor being shown to our nation’s soldiers. Plan a visit to the museum, make a small donation if you can, to say thank you in a big way to all of those who know, first hand, freedom is not free.

Darby Britto

Darby Britto

I was raised in the south by a pair of Yankees, and everyone around me wore combat boots. I think this explains a lot. A childhood spent working in little theatre and a professional career in television, tends to give me a point of view not often shared by others.

  1. Over the course of my life, I’ve been fortunate to have exposure to many pleasant military surprises. This is my most recent and being near by, I intend to pay a visit. Thank you.

  2. Truly, I agree that when tyrants turn vicious, it becomes necessary for the people they tyrannize to get some outside help. However, when the ouster of tyrants follows on the heels of a failure to turn them into minions of the United States with bribes (Saddam Hussein and Manuel Noriega come to mind) then the honor of such an endeavor is tainted and our troops are duped.
    Also true is that freedom is not free, mainly because those who presume to free us expect our gratitude and subservience in return. That’s why it is written that “Freedom is Obedience to the Law.” It may be depersonalized, but the law is every bit as harsh as any tyrant. And more difficult to struggle against.
    Perhaps that’s our lasting contribution to world jurisprudence — the deprivation of rights under cover of law. African slaves learned about it in a New York court when they discovered that a bill of sale trumped human rights, not just for themselves, but unto the next generation, whose birthright had been sold along with their own. Even now, our “voluntary” soldiers discover that “stop loss” trumps the right to loose one’s own chains. And then, of course, there’s DADT, which violates the right to speak without fear of retribution or penalty under cover of a Congressional law. No honor in that either.

    Finally, given the concern about alien microbes being inadvertently shipped home with the military equipment from Iraq, one is left to wonder if the boxes of dirt have been properly sanitized and sterilized before being mingled with the red clays of Georgia.

    1. Darby Britto

      Monica, thank you for your comments. I find it very easy to honor and admire the sacrifices a soldier and his family make. I do not have to be pro war to recognize the valor one ( civilian or military) is capable of in extraordinary circumstances. DADT is an issue our military faces and certainly needs to be resolved, but again despite the policy, our nations young men and women serve and I respect them for their willingness to do so. I too, have some serious “frustrations” with many of the issues we face in this country, you don’t even want to get me started. I have to say I am not really worried about microbes being mixed in with our Georgia red clay given all the other crap dumped there daily……………but that is the subject for another rant.

  3. Monica –
    Cuss and discuss the people who sent the soldiers there if you wish. Please do >not< fault the troops for going where they were ordered and doing what they were told. That they do so and have done so for a couple of hundred years makes it possible for you to disagree publicly with those who sent them.

    MSGT retired

    1. No, the troops are not to be faulted for having been deceived. However, by focusing on those who paid the price, we let the people who extracted it frivolously off the hook. Giving our young people an “opportunity” to sacrifice their lives for the nation is not a justification for lying us into war. Our military personnel (being fungible, as Rumsfeld said) have been shamefully abused. That they bore up honorably and surrendered their own human rights to boot, cannot be permitted to erase that shame.

  4. Thanks for posting this, Darby! Excellent article. I will link to it on our FB page. It’s great having people like you volunteering at the museum!

  5. Thank you for your story adding to our information about our “Sacred Soil.” My son graduated on that parade field this Spring, marching across what others before him have fought so valiantly for, including his father. May he bring only honor and not blood, as his father did, to other fought over lands.

  6. Wonderfully written, Darby. An inspiring story that brought tears to my eyes…

  7. Jack deJarnette

    Again you set my teeth on edge. I served in the U.S. Army with pride, voluntarily and willingly. I was not duped, nor deceived!! I volunteered a little later than most with my eyes wide open and a clear mind knowing I was honoring the country that I love. My son served in the Marine Corps, again fully aware of his purpose. Two of my nephews are presently serving, one an air Force Parajumper (a hero of heroes) the other a Army captain leading a group who defuse IED’s to protect both fellow soldiers and innocent civilians. Neither have been duped, but are fully aware of what they do and why.

    I hate the war and am not sure we should be there, but the reality is that we are. How you demean the individuals who willing support the decisions of our governmental authority, by suggesting they are duped.

    I don’t anticipate that these discussions will change your mind, but my deep love for our country, even with its faults, requires that I stand against some of your rants.

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