6 years, 6 months ago
From Todd Pitman:
MARJAH, Afghanistan — In the first two months of a seven-month tour, US Marine Corporal Chuck Martin has been in 16 firefights.
The 24-year-old native of Middletown, R.I., has done laundry twice, mailed five letters, and received two. He has spent 378 hours on post and 256 hours on patrol. He has crossed 140 miles of thorny bomb-laced farmland and waist-high trenches of water on foot.
Along the way, he has ripped eight pairs of pants, ruined two pairs of boots, and downed 1,350 half-liter bottles of water. His platoon has killed at least eight militants in battle and nine farm animals in crossfire. The rugged outposts he has lived in have been shot at 46 times.
“Tiring would be the best word to describe it,’’ Martin said, summarizing his time so far in the insurgent-plagued southern Afghan district of Marjah. “There’s no downtime. It’s a constant gruel.’’
Martin’s list, stored on spreadsheet on his laptop, offers a snapshot of American military life in this rural battle zone, where a new generation of young service members are growing up thousands of miles from home.
Since arriving in mid-July, personnel from the Second Battalion, Ninth Marines’ Echo Company have spread out across 13 small, austere outposts in northern Marjah, a vast patch of fields and ancient hardened mud homes without running water or electricity that one company commander likened to “200 B.C.’’
At one outpost called Inchon, a droning generator provides power for iPods and laptops loaded with movies, and just two lights — one for the Americans, the other for their Afghan counterparts. Service members have knitted together several shaky chairs from the metal fencing of discarded Hesco barriers.
At many bases, Marines sleep outside on cots inside hot-dog shaped mosquito nets. There are no toilets and no showers. Troops bathe with water warmed by the afternoon sun. Fleas are such a problem, many Marines have taken to wearing flea collars made for cats or dogs around their wrists and belts.
“It’s definitely a culture shock,’’ Lance Corporal Benjamin Long, 21, of Trussville, Ala., said of life for incoming Marines. “Some people come here and they think we’re living like cavemen.’’
Todd paints an effective picture of the hardships endured by the Marines in the Helmand Province of Afghanistan. The Soldiers in Korengal lived an equally hard existence, as do some of the Soldiers elsewhere in Afghanistan. But in a tip of the hat to large population centers, far too many Soldiers live in huge FOBs rather than connected with the population.
In order to find and kill the insurgents, Soldiers and Marines must be spending the majority of their time with the people amongst whom they hide. There is no downtime for the Marines. Neither can there be any for other participants in Operation Enduring Freedom, whether infantry, logistics, or vehicle and aircraft maintenance. Downtime comes after the deployment.