- Dan Lamothe/Staff
CAMP LEATHERNECK , Afghanistan — Leatherneck never sleeps.
If you’re looking for a good way to describe the Marine Corps’ major forward operating base in Afghanistan, that’s a good start. The wee hours of the morning here are filled with everything from the staccato thumping of helicopters in flight to the deep groans of big-rig trucks hauling heavy loads. The chow hall is open 24 hours per day.
I arrived on this dusty, sprawling installation early Monday with photographer Tom Brown, hopping a ride with a Navy public affairs officer to Leatherneck after flying in from Kabul to nearby Camp Bastion, a major British base that abuts it. We came in on a C-130 flight shortly after midnight, riding down with about 50 NATO troops and civilian contractors, mostly Royal Marines.
I’ll geek out for a minute: As a first-time war zone correspondent, there was a definite thrill to disembarking the C-130 under eerie moonlight onto the barren, dusty runway at Bastion. I quickly found myself in a labyrinthine maze of armored vehicles, cement traffic barriers and hulking metal shipping containers that stretched for miles. Plant life is an afterthought here, and row after row of tents fitting up to 20 people dominate the landscape. Actually, call it a moonscape. That’s more appropriate.
As FOB life goes, Leatherneck has improved in the last year, but it’s still relatively austere. Portable toilets dot the installation, and there’s little more than card games and reading to amuse Marines in their free time. There’s a commissary on base, but a visit today showed it was out of everything from several kinds of basic T-shirts to wet-wipes, which are popular downrange to help troops stay clean. Marines also improvise to get exercise, as the makeshift heavy bag shown in the photo above illustrates.
There’s also this: Most rank-and-file Marines I’ve talked to at Leatherneck say they hate the base because it means garrison life in the most mind-numbing sense of the phrase. It’s a hustling, bustling place, but many Marines filling billets here long for something dirtier and more glamorous.
Initially, Tom and I expected we could be at Leatherneck for just a single night before going downrange to Marjah, but our planned flight aboard an MV-22 Osprey today fell through. It’s part of the famous military game, Hurry Up and Wait, and it can affect anyone right up to and including the moment they reach the flightline with bags in hand. That’s what happened to us today.
As I write this, it’s about 10 p.m. here, and the weather has finally mellowed out. The temperature reached 104 degrees this afternoon, and the heat was followed by a small sandstorm that may have played a role in grounding our flight.
I have several interviews set up here in the morning, and may or may not leave Leatherneck by tomorrow night. If you can’t have humility and patience waiting for things to line up, you probably don’t belong covering the military.
Finally, a footnote: We’ve just improved the commenting process to allow readers to interact with the blog more quickly. Please, feel free to weigh in at any point.