Camp Leatherneck: A land that teaches humility

Dan Lamothe/Staff
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.


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.


  1. Myself and my other 3/6 families are following your journey. Thanks for everything you’re doing and Be safe!!

  2. We’ll be checking in on you throughout your journey, my son is with the 3/6, he has Boston tatooed on his arm.

  3. You are about to become VERY popular with 3/6 families! We can’t wait for you to meet our guys and write all about them! Give them our love and Stay Safe!

  4. I enjoyed reading your description of Camp Leatherneck. My grandson, with the 3/6 somewhere around Marjah, spent a short time at Leatherneck and was very bored. I’ll be checking your blog every day. Thank you for bringing families some interesting insights about their loved ones’ deployment in Afghanistan.

  5. Look up 1/2 while you are there, especially Weapons Company 81 Plt. Our son is currently with them.

  6. My son is with the 3/6 Marines in Marjah, I am looking forward to hearing about your adventures, be safe.

  7. Doc Bradshaw on

    hey brother, i spoke to you yesterday at the flight line. hope you got out. good luck on your next adventure. i’m still stuck on Fobbit ville.

  8. My son is also a 3/6 Marjah Marine. We are all looking forward to following your journey. Stay safe and please tell them that we love and miss them! (It looks like you are already experiencing “Semper Gumby”!)

  9. Dan Lamothe on

    Thanks for the feedback, everyone. I’m looking forward to getting downrange sometime soon.

    Doc, thanks for your time yesterday. It was good talking down there on Bastion.

  10. My boyfriend is with 1/2 weapons company, 81 plt. Darell I wonder if your son and him know each other. Anyhow, I really appreciate what you are doing and I thank you for giving me insight into what this deployment is really like over there. I look forward to hearing more about your travels. Be safe!

  11. My husband is with 1/2 weapons co 81 plt.
    Thank you for giving us a look at what it’s like over there. It’s one thing to hear about it over the phone weekly but to get updates a little more regular will be nice!

  12. Dan, Sorry about the unexpected layover. The boys at the flight line will get you to where you need to go when the weather clears.

  13. I’m enjoying your blog so far. Thanks for covering the 3/6 Marines. My nephew is with India Co. Please tell them that we are praying for them, that we appreciate them and that we love them! We’ll be praying for you, too!

  14. My son is on there right now – 9th Comm on nights.
    Hope you encounter many of those behind-the-scenes heroes! OOH RAH

  15. If you get to the guys of 1/6 Charlie Co tell them we all say thank you and we are so very proud of them! Semper Fi!

  16. Let’s here it for 1/6 Charlie Co! Daniel, thank you for allowing us to follow along as our son is there now. Would love to hear what an “average” day was like in and around “D day – Marjah” and then what is an “average” day like since. Keep up the good work! Tell them all we are proud of them. Semper Fi!

  17. Pingback: Camp Leatherneck: A land that teaches humility « Evil2dcorps's Blog

  18. You are going to have a huge following of 3/6 familes as we are a close group! : ) Tell our boys we say we love them and cant wait for them to be home. Hope you get a chance to talk with India Co. (2nd plt) the guys are awesome and will show ya how its done! Ooh rahh Lcpl Oxley <3

  19. My son just arrived at Leatherneck from Marjah Saturday medivac. He is with 1/6th. Him and one of his boys both took rounds while on post the other night. He managed to get back on the 240 and saw their asses down. Good job son. Both our Marines will be O.K. after some surgery. Now get your but home to Texas you have a week old baby girl waiting on you. Proud U.S. Marine Corps Dad Semper-Fi!

  20. My son Adam is with A Co, newly arrived combat engineers. We have not been able to visualize anything about where he is, and your descriptions have helped a lot. Had no idea it got so hot out there. Yuck! Semper Fi!

  21. Danine Smith on

    As a mother of a deployed Marine at Camp Leatherneck I sure have enjoyed all your articles on it.Thank you
    Semper Fi

  22. Hi,

    I was searching for some info of Venlo Netherlands, because i want to go on vacation there. Unfortunately i did not find what i was looking for. But i must say i liked your post and will be coming here again.

    Bye bye!

  23. Does anyone know if there’s communication out of Camp Leatherneck? My husband left RI (Maj. John Marley) on September 26th, 2010 and we have had no contact from him since then and he was supposedly on his way to Camp Leatherneck. His two little boys miss him horribly and I am not sure what to tell him re: the no phone calls or e mails or any communication whatsoever. He’s JAG and not affiliated with any ‘deployed unit’ but volunteered to go to Afghanistan with the help of his best friend and God Father to our son, Col. Joe Bowe, USMC also… ….
    My two little boys would love to speak with their Father … if you can help, please let me know… many thanks

  24. Denise Angelora on

    My son Nick is in the Motor T at Camp Leatherneck. We haven’t heard from him in a few weeks. Your blog helps us feel connected to him. God Bless our Military

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