MARJAH, Afghanistan – When I came to Afghanistan, I expected to find many strange and unusual sights.
A gunnery sergeant with a tattoo of Sarah Palin on his buttocks wasn’t one of them.
So it is, however. Within minutes of meeting Marines who patrol this former Taliban stronghold from the Yellow Schoolhouse, a rundown former Afghan school here, I was asked my opinion about Palin, a hero to many politically conservative Americans. Before I had a chance to answer, however, I was introduced to fun-loving Gunnery Sgt. Benjamin Lepping’s left butt cheek.
Sure enough, there’s a realistic caricature of Palin there, perhaps four inches wide and five inches tall. She’s wearing her trademark glasses and smiling, her hair in a bun.
Lepping, a technician with 1st Explosive Ordnance Disposal Company out of Camp Pendleton, Calif., said he got the tattoo last June while on a routine assignment in Alaska. He and a few colleagues were sent there to clear ordnance from Air Force bombing ranges, and apparently had quite a bit of fun enjoying the nightlife after work each night.
“On the way back, I decided I wanted to get a tattoo that reminded me of Alaska, because we really had a good time,” said Lepping, currently attached to India Company, 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines. “I decided, ‘What could be better than getting a tattoo of the hottest cougar in the Republican Party?’”
Originally from Louisville, Ky., Lepping goes by the nickname “Gus,” a shortened version of his middle name, Gustav. He estimates he has about 30 tattoos, including a full sleeve on his left arm that pays homage to his job in a colorful mural that includes a variety of bombs and EOD lettering.
He’s also known for his quirkiness: Most nights, for example, he takes his bedding outside and falls asleep on the front stoop of the quarters where his fellow Marines live. He also has a tattoo on right butt cheek of the Southern Cross, the constellation of stars on the Australian flag.
“I had a good time in Australia,” he offered with a shrug.
Lepping said he is a fan of Palin’s, and hopes to meet her someday.
“If it was going to be a funny tattoo, I figured it had to be in a funny place,” he said. “I’d say it’s pretty famous in the southern California area.”