Marijuana, fleas and shell casings: A morning in Marjah

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Sgt. Daniel Leith, of 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines, makes his way through a small doorway while searching the rear area of an abandoned compound while on patrol in Marjah, Afghanistan. The compound search began after AK47 shell casings were found in front of the structure during the patrol. Thomas Brown/Staff

Sgt. Daniel Leith, of 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines, makes his way through a small doorway while searching the rear area of an abandoned compound in Marjah, Afghanistan. The compound search began after AK47 shell casings were found in front of the structure during the patrol. // Thomas Brown / Staff

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.

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About Author

I'm a senior writer with Marine Corps Times, covering ground warfare, manpower, weapons acquisition and other beats. I embedded in Afghanistan in spring 2010, and plan to return at least once in 2011.

20 Comments

  1. Momof2Marines on

    Yep, my son said fleas were a real problem. He said they put flea collars around their ankles over their boots and one of his Care package requests was flea spray!

  2. Amazing. It reads almost like my tour in Viet Nam, 66-67. It’s sort of like watching a parade…you’ve seen one, you’ve seen ’em all. About the only thing that changes is the horses. Ooh-Rah 3/6!

  3. Thanks, everyone. And Cathy, your son introduced himself today. We had already met, but I didn’t put two and two together with his relation to you until he brought it up.

  4. Monica Castillo on

    My husband is with 3/6 lima, 1st plt. Its amazing what the guys are capable of doing. I’m so proud of him!!!!

  5. Cathy Furlong on

    Thanks Dan for mentioning that. Of course I love to hear about any connections made with my son. Have you been able to take a shower? I hear those come few and far between. Sounds like things are heating up a little, stay safe.

  6. I will start putting flea collars & spray in my care packages to the grunts out there on the line. Stay safe Devils!!!

  7. Megan Sharlow on

    Thanks for reporting Dan. I’m so happy to see you’re with 3/6 India, if you see Cpl Peter Gentry tell him I miss him! I’m looking forward to your posts very much.

  8. Dan,

    Thanks for reporting Dan many people here forget there is a war and our guys are fighting far from home, keep telling their story. My son is with 3/6 Lima Lance Cpl Seay – if you see him tell him we’re proud of him and can’t wait to go fishing!

  9. Dan,
    Thank you for doing this for the 3/6 family. It allows us a chance to glimpse into a little piece of what they are going through. Even hearing you tell it it is unimaginable. I know our boys will have your back, but keep you eyes open and be safe!!!!

  10. Deena Wiltsie on

    Dan, Thank you for sharing your photos and experience while being with the 3/6. Sgt Leith is a very special Marine in my life! Fall down 7 Stand up 8!!

  11. Alexis Cruz on

    It’s great to see that 3/6 is still motivated, and it’s a pleasure to see my boyfriend, Sgt. Leith!! I love you, oohrah WarHawks!

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