Editor’s note: David Fennell of Littleton is a major in the U.S. Marine Corps. He is stationed in Marjah, Afghanistan, as head of the Civil Affairs Group there. Before that, he served a tour in Iraq. His father, Denny, asked David to sum up his experiences as he nears the end of his deployment.
Although I’ve gotten used to things around here, this place can wear on you.
Don’t get me wrong, I truly believe in our mission and its importance to both the Afghan people and security back home. Still, southern Afghanistan is a hard place.
The question Marines ask themselves most when talking with folks back home is “Where do I start?” There are no easy answers.
Sand, moon dust, terrain, weather, enemy, Marines getting hurt, Marines taken out of action, high op tempo, 2 4/7, working with locals, working with civilians, working with Afghan government, working with Afghan police, working with Afghan army, working with international forces (ISAF), bad food, drinking tea with locals knowing you’ll get sick, getting sick, watching for IEDs, looking for ambushes, suicide bomb threats, enemy murdering and intimidating the local population, local “friends” working with enemy, Marines getting killed, controlled IED detonations, wondering what caused an explosion, the kids, seeing bad things happen to kids, bad kids throwing rocks, bad kids taunting and making gestures that you’re going to get blown up, locals gaming the system, locals complaining about everything, locals always want more, some locals step up and the enemy takes some locals down . . .
Sand storms, bad sleep, incoming rockets, burn pits, relieving yourself in a bag, reports, reports, reports, briefs, briefs, briefs, VIP visits (generals, ambassadors, Afghanistan officials, etc.), second-guessed by others, second-guessing yourself, media, interpreters, bad interpreters, not being able to find an interpreter, losing gear, getting gear stolen, keeping Marines motivated, rewarding Marines, punishing Marines, taking care of interpreters, patrolling through canals and irrigated farms, getting your only pair of boots wet, getting your camera wet, Medevacs, finding IEDs, waiting hours for EOD to detonate IEDs, acronyms, hearing Marines in a firefight over the radio, losing communication, incoming mortars, long days, short meals, dirty uniforms, making yourself sick from your smell . . .
Needing air support but not getting it, taught not to look at Afghan women, taught not to talk to Afghan women, not knowing how to react when an Afghan woman approaches, false claims of Koran burning, false claims of night searches, false claims of civilian casualties, lies, lies, lies, protests, riots, local leaders calm protests and riots for a few prayer rugs.
Taking malaria medication, flak jackets, Kevlar, bad feet, bad knees, bad back, bad haircuts, looking forward to firefights, dreading IEDs, sand in everything, too few computers, no printers, no scanner, generators go down, e-mail goes down, “where’s your report?”, cold winter, no heat, local gets shot, local comes to Marines for help, is local a Taliban who we shot?, Marines trying to be experts in crime scene investigations, getting mail late, getting mail stolen, not getting mail at all, being hungry, saving the last Ramen noodle, losing weight, bad shaves, hot days, no A/C, sunburned faces and necks, white arms and legs, trying to get contractors to start development projects, contractors getting intimidated and robbed by Taliban, contractors getting kidnapped by Taliban, workers being killed by Taliban, hoping a Marine “makes it,” going to memorial services, hoping it’s never your Marine, rules of engagement, escalation of force, taking small arms fire from house, having to let detainee go for lack of evidence, running out of wet wipes, running out of water, losing your flashlight, running into razor wire at night, living in the “gray,” questioning how much corruption is acceptable, flies in your food, flies in your eye, trying not to be motivated by hate, broken-down vehicles, stuck vehicles, getting caught on an extended patrol without NVGs, did I do enough? did I do it right? and.. did I mention the sand?
It’s just a normal day or week or month out here, but Marines seldom bring up any more than a few of these things to complain about.