Memoirs of an Outlaw | Life in the Sandbox

Posted: June 30, 2013 in Healing from War

MemoirsOutlawAmazonRecently, Bob Tanner, an OIF veteran, reached out and asked if I’d be interested in reading his book, Memoirs of an Outlaw | Life in the Sandbox – I was honored to do so. In a very accessible way, Bob captured the essence of his second deployment to Iraq as a Marine in 2004. I asked Bob if he’d be willing to write a guest post here and he graciously accepted. His book is a testament to what so many of you have been through – and while his story would definitely resonate with you and allow you to access  your common experience – it is also a great vehicle for helping the civilians in your life better understand what it was like to deploy and spend time in Iraq in those days. Bob writes not only of action, but boredom, enemy fire and accidents, brave decisions and sandbag duty, heat and mortars, and how the men in his company cried together when they lost man after man in a very short time. This book will take you back there, but it will also take you out of there as you follow Bob’s journey. What I want you to remember as you read Bob’s post is that sharing your story is part of your healing journey, too. It isn’t about being “a writer” or “good with words” – but about expressing your story, and letting others honor you and your service by being able to carry that story with you. If you want to share your story here, email me and I’ll post it.

And with that said, here is Bob’s post:

BobTannerOn September 11, 2001, I stepped onto the yellow footprints on Parris Island and my whole world turned upside down.  I had recently decided to join the Marine Corps to take on a new adventure in life.  Boy, was I naïve.  That day, as all are sure to know, terrorists attacked the United States and my desire to be a crypto linguist quickly changed to me becoming an infantry Marine.

Two years later, I found myself as an infantryman with Charlie Company, 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion.  Our Mediterranean deployment which was only supposed to be seven months got extended to nine and we were headed on our way towards Kuwait to assist in the invasion of Iraq.  As we were about a week behind the invasion force, our platoon didn’t get to see much action, but we did conduct several missions to help maintain and restore peace to newly occupied areas.  After that deployment, still young and naïve due to lack of combat, I didn’t think much of war.  In fact, I thought it was a piece of cake.  We walked into Iraq and declared victory a short while later.

A year later, in February 2004, my view of war changed dramatically.I was assigned to a new company within 2nd LAR: the Delta Company Outlaws.  We were a mish-mosh group of Marines, hastily thrown together and given directions to prepare to deploy to Fallujah.Over our seven-month deployment to the most hostile area in the country, we experienced so much as a group that brought us all close together, representing more of a family than just an infantry company.  We lost way too many fine men and these losses hurt us all.  For many, the experience of combat and loss of friends was like getting our cherry popped for the first time.  None of us had really had to deal with the flood of emotions that came of these new experiences.

When we got back to the States, many of the guys either transferred to new units or left the Marine Corps to enter the civilian world.  I took the latter path a few months after that deployment.  What I was not prepared for was the sudden transition to civilian life.  I went back to school, but so many of the memories from my deployment, both good and bad, continued to invade my thoughts on a daily basis.

About halfway through my last year in college, I was given some advice by a doctor who said that it might help my anxiety and guilt if I started writing the thoughts that were on my mind.  It was around the beginning of November which happened to coincide with National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).  I took it as a cue to start writing and for a month straight, I dedicated a few hours a day to writing.  By the end of the month, I had written about 50,000 words (for comparison, a novel is typically around 90,000) but I came to a halt.  I was getting to a point where I didn’t want to revisit some experiences.  So, I took the easy way out and put it on the back burner. 

That back burner turned out to be a very desolate place because it took nearly seven years before I would write a sentence again.  It took so long due to a variety of factors: going back to school for my MBA, attending classes for a degree in web design, marrying my beautiful wife, and having two great little boys come into our lives.  But, the thing that really kept holding me back was those memories.  I just didn’t want to touch them.

In 2012, my wife and a couple friends I had served with had read a few pages of what I had written and began to encourage me to finish it.  I picked up what I had written, dusted it off, and began reading over it again.  So many memories came flooding back and the fire inside me was ignited.  I had the urge to write again and this time I was determined to finish it, bad experiences be damned.  The more I wrote, the more I felt as if a weight was being lifted off of my shoulders. 

By the end of 2012, I had written around 82,000 words which retold the story of my experiences with the Outlaws.  I was overwhelmed that I had accomplished such a formidable task.  What made the experience even more worthwhile was that some of the guys who I served with read the book and thanked me for getting our story out there.  Some went so far as to say that it helped them in the healing process.  Those words coming from men who were my brothers were all I cared about. I set out with the goal of writing to help me in the healing process.  To know that my book helped my fellow brothers as much as it helped me was the ultimate sign of accomplishment.

I hope that my book continues to help my fellow brothers, as well as other service members out there.  And, as more people continue to read it, I hope that it gives others that never served a better sense of the sacrifices, both physical and emotional, that our service members endure on a daily basis.

Visit Amazon to order Bob’s book.
Contact Bob Tanner at or on Twitter @bmtanner3

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