EUGENE, Ore. -- When a mission ends and the sun sets, Marines 7,000 miles from the Unites States call Camp Marjah in Marjah, Afghanistan, home.
“They come back from hours of patrols, they return to base and clean their weapons,” said Dan Morrison, a University of Oregon journalism instructor who embedded with the Marines in August 2010 for KVAL.com. “Then they’re done. That’s their job for the day.”
Depending on their mission, these Marines can spend anywhere from a few hours to a few days on base. It can be an oasis, a place to lounge or take a rare shower, but even hometown comforts come with limitations.
“In General David Petraeus’ counterinsurgency manual all the rules are outlined,” said Morrison. “And according to that book the Marines are not allowed to have anything that could potentially offend conservative Muslims. It’s all in an effort to win the hearts and minds of the local Afghans.”
That means no alcohol, no girly pinups, or anything that could be construed as offensive.
“It isn’t like people picture in the movies,” said Morrison. “The men aren’t all sitting around drinking beer and looking at Playboy. They’re allowed to have Maxim but even that is kind of pushing it.”
Passing time in between field missions comes down to the basics. They workout in a makeshift gym, fill sandbags, and exude their competitiveness through water drinking competitions.
“One day they had a contest to see how much water they could drink before they puked,” said Morrison. “They were betting how many liters someone would drink until they started vomiting.”
Being inside the wire is supposed to give the Marines a connection to life outside, but often they need a reprieve from the chaos of war for a moment to mourn.
“I went to three memorials in one day,” said Cali Bagby, one of Morrison's former students who spent several months in Afghanistan reporting after almost a year in Iraq covering the war. “There’s really no time ... to grieve."
Bagby and Morrison interviewed many Marines during their total of three months in Afghanistan. Eight of those Marines were killed by the time Bagby and Morrison left. The two said it was their duty to inform the public of the realities of Afghanistan.
“At the very least I can say that I gave you this information,” said Bagby. “I did the best I could to show you what is going on there.”