Sun reporter David Wood is embedded with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit in southern Afghanistan. Here are excerpts from his blog.
April 11: Looking for land mines
I used to know how many mines were thought to be buried in Afghanistan, but such statistics are useless. Known mine fields, after 40 years of war, carpet much of the country. Random and unknown mines continue to take innocent lives. The cleanup is endless.
On a training run this morning, I stopped to talk to some of the blue-helmeted Afghan de-miners (they obligingly came over to where I was standing). The work is pretty straightforward, as they described it. You start at the edge of a known minefield (Russian, in this case) and work from one end to he other and back again, like mowing a yard. You mark what's been cleared with a rock painted white on one side (cleared), red on the other (danger).
On your knees you prod, and inch forward. Prod, inch forward. After a couple of hours, a tea break out under the broiling sun. Then prod, inch forward.
If your prod (like a 15-inch pencil) encounters resistance, you back off and get a shovel, and carefully clear away the dirt to see what it is. Imagine yourself doing this in cement-hard, stony soil (is that a rock, or ... ? How hard should I push?) If you find a mine you summon the specialists. ...
I did ask their supervisor what these guys earn for this work. A heavily bearded Afghan, he leapt up with a grin from where he'd been sitting, on a rug under a white awning, as I approached. After we shook hands back and forth, he calculated the amount.
Thirteen dollars and 30 cents a day.
March 30: What we ask
My mother died last night.
I got the news in an e-mail this morning, a crisp, clear Sunday dawn in the Afghanistan desert. It had been a day full of promise. I called home and spoke with my wife. Mom died peacefully. ...
I took a shaky breath and stared out through coiled razor wire at the bright, flat desert and the hazy horizon of barren mountains. Armored vehicles crawled along a distant road. Two platoons of Marines in battle gear trudged past, raising a plume of dust. A memorial service is planned, I heard my wife say. ...
This is not uncommon. 2,500 Marines are sent away to war knowing that among their many loved ones, there will be tragedy and triumph. ... A beaming child will excel, beyond expectations, on a math test. A championship game will be won; a graduation held. Someone will be arrested, someone married.
In this battalion (1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment) alone, 58 Marines will become fathers while they are away.
Only shallow glimpses of this rich, other life reach here, through the scratchy echo of a phone or by e-mail, or letter. The glimpses are precious, a grainy snapshot lovingly folded into a wallet.
It is perhaps the most we ask of those we send. ...
April 2: Marines on patrol, near Kandahar
One hundred twenty rounds of M-16 bullets. Sixteen hundred rounds of linked .50-cal ammo. One M-16 rifle. Twelve bottles of water, four MREs. Hand grenades, fragmentation. Hand grenades, smoke.
Throw all that in your rucksack and add two pair of socks, a small pack of baby wipes, one toothbrush. A small toothpaste for every four guys. Smokes or dip. Camelbak filled with water. First aid kit, night vision goggles and batteries, bayonet, tourniquets.
Hoist it all up over your flak vest and Kevlar helmet and you find you've gained 100 to 120 pounds. Now start walking.