SPRINGFIELD, Va. — The journey is over.
After six weeks in Afghanistan, three of which came in some of the most violent sections of Marjah, I’m back in the office at Military Times headquarters. The main focus today for me is pitching in on an in-depth print story about Gen. James Amos likely becoming the next commandant of the Marine Corps, while combing through notes and anecdotes collected in Afghanistan that I haven’t yet reported.
Wearing a shirt and tie for the first time in nearly two months, I’m still struggling to put my trip in perspective, but I’m grateful for the experience. In fact, I’m already considering what my next war zone foray might be, because I’m now convinced that there is no substitute for embedding with military units to accurately capture the moods, hardships and successes that occur at the ground level.
Anyone who has been reading this blog for a while knows that my reporting team encountered its adventures while out in the field with 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines. Just like Marine deployments, the assignment had moments that were frustrating and scary, but there were also times filled with laughter, relief and boredom, too.
Perhaps the most rewarding part was getting to know some of the Marines in the field who made life a little easier for me, knowing full well that it was my duty to report things as I saw them, pros and cons included.
I’ll remember Sgt. Daniel Leith, the burly squad leader who patiently fielded question after question from me after my initial foray outside the wire with India Company, 3/6.
I’ll remember Staff Sgt. Ryan Clay, a salty platoon sergeant who threw one hell of a spiral with a football and who made sure we felt welcome at the rustic Yellow Schoolhouse, even if there wasn’t always much to share.
And, yes, I’ll remember Gunnery Sgt. Benjamin Lepping, who is now famous for his Sarah Palin tattoo, but is widely loved and respected for his sense of humor and fearless willingness to go outside the wire late at night to disarm improvised explosive devices.
There’s easily a dozen other Marines I could mention, but you get the point.
Two weeks ago after I cycled out of Marjah, my mother, dealing with having a son in a war zone for the first time, quietly left the following comment on this blog:
I want to thank all the guys and all the families who have been so supportive of my kid’s work in the last few weeks.
I was a little antsy about Dan going into a war zone with a week’s worth of training, armed with nothing but a pencil and a laptop. From where I sit, your guys have been extremely helpful to the rookie tag-a-long, watching his butt like it was one of their own. Thanks for keeping my clown in one piece.
I might wince a bit at the “rookie” part, but I have no problems making sure that readers see her sentiments here today. Like many Marines, I’m lucky to have a supportive family that understand why I do what I do.
Thanks for the hospitality, Marines. I’ll see you downrange again soon.