HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan - Troops in Camp Leatherneck refer to Khandahar and Kabul bases as shopping malls.
If you travel farther into the desert to a place called Dwyer, they will inform you that they enjoy the quiet, away from the hustle and bustle of big city life at Leatherneck, where superiors can breath down their necks.
Go even farther into the haze of a sandy fog and you'll find a forward operating base called Marjah, located in south central Afghanistan.
Before departing you may hear this phrase, “Marjah? No way I’d want to go down there.”
This base has a reputation for taking heavy fire.
It also has a reputation for being rustic.
The lack of any outdoor light structures gives you a view of a starry sky. If you happen to get lost in the darkness you can’t go very far without running into a sand barricade or smelling the constant fire of the burn pit. The fragrant black smoke billows all day and night.
Located next to the burn pit there are two choices for your bathroom. You can choose to pee behind a wall or visit the stalls, which employ the wag bag (portable bathroom) system, which is basically a plastic bag that seals in waste.
“Just wait until the wag bags run out,” you may hear as a warning by a laughing Marine.
Don’t bother looking for a trashcan, but rather read the burn pit sign: “Please throw trash into the center.”
Walking back to the chapel, where you will stay if you are female because there isn’t a surplus of tents, you will pass by a few more tents and barricades with barbwire.
On most days there is only one female Marine among the estimated 1,000 male Marines here, and she only spends about two days of the week on this base.
The chow hall tent serves up two hot meals a day.
Then there’s the laundry with a 24-hour turnaround.
Next are the showers with at least four hours of running water a day, if you’re lucky to be around during those operating hours.
Then there are the office buildings made of sturdy plywood boards.
At any given time Marines put up more fencing or work on the armored vehicles in the motor pool.
Despite the scorching temperatures of over 110 degrees and the constant sand invading every corner the only complaint that you may hear is that in the bigger bases, they have ice cream.
COMING SATURDAY: The U.S. fixed the road. The locals complained. So soldiers built speed bumps in Afghanistan.
Morrison teaches photojournalism and multimedia reporting at the University of Oregon School of Journalism and Communication in Eugene, Ore.
Bagby is a freelance multimedia journalist who spent 10 months embedded with the Oregon National Guard in Iraq for KVAL.com.