Even 7,000 miles from their camp in the Helmand province, Afghan dust laces their combat gear - and they still remember the distinct smell.
“It smells like a burn pit,” said Morrison. “A burn pit that’s burning trash and human waste. That’s what it smells like all the time.”
Morrison, a University of Oregon School of Journalism and Commuications instructor, and Bagby, a graduate of the SOJC, teamed up in August to cover the war in Afghanistan for KVAL.com by sending articles, pictures and videos of life in a combat zone. The pair joined the Oregon Marines from 2nd Platoon of the 6th Engineer Support Battalion (ESB).
ABOUT THIS STORY: Bagby stayed in Afghanistan until November. Morrison returned from Afghanistan in September - and challenged his Fall 2010 NewsLab class at the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communications to investigate the impacts of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq on the Eugene and Springfield area. | Share your story | Watch KVAL 13 TV News on Friday, Nov. 12, and Sunday, Nov. 14, for more on this story.
“They called Marjah the bleeding ulcer of Afghanistan,” said Morrison. “Let me tell you, when we were there it was the most dangerous place in all of Afghanistan.”
Weighed down by over 60 lbs of gear, Bagby and Morrison fought through 120 degree temperatures to keep up the Marines during patrols. They lived through Improvised Explosive Device (IED) attacks and several firefights all in a mission to show the daily life of Marines.
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“I wish there was some way to tell you what it’s like sprinting across fields in that kind of armor and that kind of heat,” said Morrison. “There’s no way to tell you how that feels.” | Watch a helmet camera video
They feared for their own lives and mourned the losses of others. During their time in Afghanistan, eight Marines Bagby and Morrison had met died in combat.
“It was really eerie because you knew when a Marine nearby had been killed,” said Morrison. “In order to prevent people from getting it out on the Internet and sending a message and having that get back to the next of kin, they just shut down Internet access. So when you couldn’t get on you always knew a Marine was dead.”
From the front lines in the field to life in Camp Marjah, Bagby and Morrison reported on everything from elections to children’s clinics capturing intimate moments from behind their lenses.
“Having that camera in front of me I kind of focused all my adrenaline and energy into that,” said Bagby. “Sometimes when you’re taking fire you’re not even thinking about it because you know the Marines will take care of you, but all you focus on is trying to get that picture.”
Bagby and Morrison both say they took on the challenge of embedding in Afghanistan knowing full well they were risking their lives. Bagby and Morrison say when it’s all said and done, they can look back and know they did their duty to inform the American people about the state of Afghanistan.
“You kind of have to tell yourself that you’re doing this because it will matter to people,” said Bagby. “You have to tell yourself that you’re invading this moment that you’re coming in there with your camera because of a reason – because of the bigger picture.”