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.
Dan, Thank you for taking us along with you. I am the Mother of the Burly Squad Leader Sgt Leith, you will never know how wonderful it was to see and read about his journey. Thank you so very much!
Thanks so much, my son is a Marine with the 3/6 India Co and it has helped alot to see and read about their experiences. I hope you realize how many lives you have touched with your reports. May you have safe journeys ahead.
Thank you for your sacrifice to help others better understand the many situations and hardships these brave marines are enduring. I wish your informative reporting would reach more people so everyone could understand what our sons and daughters are facing. My son is with 3/6 Kilo Co. Your articles and photos were very helpful to us parents.
Hey Dan, Glad to hear you’re back on American soil. Thank you so much for all your articles about 3/6, I’m going to miss them. I felt like I was able to connect with my son Tommy through you by reading your pieces on a daily basis. Thanks again!
I also want to thank you for your posts. I have a son in 3/6 and I think any blogs, articles, videos etc. help us to feel closer to them since communication is so hard to come by. Glad you are home safe and can’t wait for our guys to be back home too!
Dan, I have so appreciated your blog posts while you were embedded with the 3/6. Thanks to you, I was able to feel closer to my son who is there with 3/6 India. It took a lot of courage for you and you family to have you so far from home, in a war zone. I’m glad you are back in the US, and thank you for your truthful, respectful, sometimes funny, sometimes scary portrayal of the events in Marjah. All the best for you and your future endeavors.
Dan, I also would like to thank you for all of your blogs. You made us feel a little closer to our Marines (my brother and fiance are with 3/6 India). I loved reading them every day and sharing them with family and friends.
Take Care and best wishes for your future adventure.
Dan, I want to add another big THANK YOU! My son is with 1st LAR Alpha, so I have a pretty good idea how happy your Mother is to have you state side again. Thanks for your work and bring our Marines closer to home through your words and pictures. You have no idea how much it means to the families here at home.
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Hey Dan, It was a pleasure having you with us, glad you made it back stateside safe. Hope to see you out in the war again, I’ll watch your back any day of the week. I’m glad that I could be there for your first, maybe also for the second?
Your blog was a real connection for us and I’m already missing it. My son was with India and I always felt more connected knowing I could read your blog and see glimpses of their life. Your job made a difference for sure in this marine mom’s life. OOHRAH