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Guest view: Sister reflects on brother heading off to war in Iraq

Editor’s note: Writer 18-year-old Michelle Aguilar is a 2005 graduate of South Tahoe High School and attends Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. The following, titled “Sandbox,” is about her brother, Nick Aguilar, a 2002 graduate of South Tahoe High School who will leave Feb. 22 for Iraq. He serves in the U.S. Marine Corps.”Sandbox” was a paper Michelle Aguilar submitted in her English class. She received an A. The siblings’ parents are Manny Aguilar and Peggy and J.T. Thompson of South Lake Tahoe.

As I fill my sand pail and begin constructing my sand castle, I can see my brother Nick out of the corner of my eye filling up a bucket with sand. Not thinking anything of his actions, I go back to my castle. Once my brother’s bucket is full, I see him begin to lift it, struggling at first because of the weight of the sand. I realize what is happening; I have been in this situation in the past. Before I have time to react, my brother’s bucket falls over my eyes, everything goes dark, I feel warm sand flowing everywhere, in my hair, over my face, in my eyes, in my mouth, and down my back. I can hear Nick’s laughs quickly turn to tears when he realizes my mother has caught him red handed. I pull the bucket off my head, shake myself off and I get back to my castle. My brother has been taken into the house as punishment. This was over a decade ago, and since that time I have come to realize that playing in a sandbox is not always fun.

Five years later, after leaving the home with the sandbox and moving to a different neighborhood, my brother and I grew extremely close. By this time he was 10 and I was 8. We were too old for sandboxes now, and we were much more interested in sports, tree houses, rock climbing and going on adventures through the forest. We still argued occasionally but nothing too big. When my parents got a divorce in 1996, we grew even closer. He was the one person who knew exactly what I was going through, and he was always there to comfort me. Our friendship kept getting stronger, and when I entered high school, even though he was a senior, we never fought again.



My fourth day of high school was September 11, 2001. I remember that morning as though it was yesterday. My brother and I were watching the destruction on television at 6:30 a.m. Both of us sat there stunned and speechless at the devastation. It wasn’t until two years later, long after President Bush declared war on Iraq, that my brother made his decision to join the Marines. After much thought and research, my brother left for boot camp May 3, 2004. When returning home for two weeks, after boot camp, I noticed that Nick’s vocabulary had changed drastically. Besides him saying “yes sir” or “yes ma’am,” everyday things now had new words. The bathroom became the “head,” a stairway was now a “ladder well,” a wall was a “bulk head,” a bed was a “rack,” a door was a “hatch” and a drinking fountain was a “scuttle bucket.” So understandably when my brother called me in May 2005 and told me that he was being shipped to the “sandbox,” he had to explain that the “sandbox” was Iraq.

Nick has been telling me since the moment he enlisted in the Marine Corps that he wanted to help fight for our country, the way our grandfather had in World War II. Nick has never been the type of person to sit on the sidelines. He said he wants to help “his brothers” as much as possible, and he would rather be over in Iraq, than on the Marine base in Yuma, Ariz., where he is stationed now. Knowing that being shipped out is what Nick really wants to do gives me great relief.




My brother leaves for “the sandbox” on Wednesday. I can’t help but think about the little sandbox that my father built in our back yard, and how much things have changed since my brother dumped the bucket of sand on my head. Now, Nick is my best friend; he would never do anything to intentionally hurt me, like dump sand on my head. It has been said that fighting in a war changes people. I also know that having someone I love fighting for our country has made me look at life in a completely different way.

Prior to finding out my brother was going to Iraq, I didn’t follow the war too much. I knew the war against terrorism was happening and occasionally I would hear a number on the radio or on television saying how many American solders were killed, but I never really had much reaction to it all. I understood that people died in war, but there was still a lot I didn’t understand, until the situation became very personal. The day my brother told me he was being deployed, I started paying much more attention. Now I realize those numbers of American soldiers dead are much more then just numbers. Each one represents a person, either someone’s son, daughter, mother, father, brother or sister. Knowing that there are so many people fighting and dying for me to be free, I try not to take anything for granted. I am so grateful to have a roof over my head, food on my plate, a loving family, and a great chance for an education. Nick has taught me that we all can do something to help. His choice was to help first hand, and I now understand that if people like Nick didn’t raise their hands, all Americans would not have the luxuries we have today.

It is interesting to me that a sandbox is usually idealized as a safe place, a place for children to play with their toys and their parents don’t have to worry about them falling down and getting hurt. I have never heard a sandbox referred to as a war zone but in the case with my brother, and other brave men and women, that is exactly what it is. Some may call Iraq a sandbox, but I know that a lot worse can happen in this sandbox than getting a bucket of sand dumped on your head.


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