MARJAH, Afghanistan – It was a moment I was simultaneously dreading and seeking: My first time on foot outside the wire.
This morning, I went on a four-hour foot patrol with members of 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines. Half of 2nd Platoon’s 3rd squad took me along with them on a routine, early morning security patrol, which can drag on monotonously boring for hours at a time, only to shift into a blood-pumping engagement with the enemy at a moment’s notice.
Today’s stayed quiet, but it showed the dynamics Marines deal with on a daily basis. They set out on foot south from Patrol Base Yazzie shortly after 6 a.m., walking along the east side of one Marjah’s many canals. There were four Marines, four Afghan National Army soldiers and an Afghan interpreter, all led by Sgt. Daniel Leith, a burly squad leader. Photographer Tom Brown and I followed along.
I’ll be writing at length about how 3/6 conducts its business in northwestern Marjah for next week’s print edition of Marine Corps Times, but it’s worth mentioning here just how much of a foreign land the area is to most individuals passing through it for the first time.
People following the war are familiar with Marjah’s famous poppy production, but that’s really a small piece of the puzzle. Unlike so many other parts of Afghanistan, Marjah is teeming with wildlife, from plucky ducks that make the canal home to bees, ants and spiders large enough to carry away your first-born child. Birds chirp throughout the morning, and herds of goats wander down to the water to drink. Lush marijuana grows alongside the road, and villagers approach the Marines regularly to share tips, problems and complaints, depending on their moods.
Through all this, the Taliban lurks. The Marines this morning assumed they could have faced an ambush, but they always do. The closest they got this morning was finding several spent AK47 rounds on the street in front of an abandoned compound. A search of the compound revealed nothing, other than a note in Pashto saying the house was abandoned ahead of the Marines’ announced assault on Marjah in February.
A Taliban home? Doubtful. Walking through the compound, however, did lead to several of us finding our pants covered in fleas. We pulled the bugs off quickly, after an ANA soldier laughingly pointed out the problem through the interpreter.