October 31, 2011
Emerson Brown, NPR




They call themselves Darkhorse – the Third Battalion, Fifth Marine regiment. One year ago, these Marines deployed to Afghanistan. The mission: liberate one of the most dangerous parts of the country from Taliban control. Seven months later, they came home, having suffered the highest casualty rate of any Marine unit in the ten years of the Afghan war. In a seven-part series airing this week on NPR's All Things Considered, Pentagon reporter Tom Bowman offers an inside account of Darkhorse: the intense battles faced by the men fighting to survive, and the struggle of their families to endure at home. The series is based on interviews with the battalion commander, many of the wounded, the families of those killed, as well as senior officers in the Marines Corps, all the way up to the Commandant.

"The Darkhorse Battalion" runs Sunday, October 30 - Saturday, November 5 on All Things Considered. For local stations and broadcast times, visit www.npr.org/stations All of the reports will also be available at www.npr.org along with a timeline of the unit's deployment, interactive maps, photographs of those profiled and extended audio. Listeners can offer feedback and questions for Bowman to potentially respond to during the final piece via the NPR Facebook page.

Approximately 1,000 men from the Darkhorse battalion were sent to Sangin, Afghanistan – a haven for Taliban fighters and drug traffickers. British troops had tried and failed to secure the region in the years before the Marines arrived. Almost from the start, the Darkhorse Battalion took horrific casualties – mostly because of roadside bombs. In one two-day stretch, seven were killed, more than the previous unit lost in six months. Though the Battalion made significant gains by the end, Darkhorse paid a tragic price: 25 dead and 184 wounded. Of those wounded, thirty-four lost at least one limb.

In "The Darkhorse Battalion," Bowman gives listeners an intimate portrait of the realities of war and its aftermath. Through first-person accounts from the Marines and their families, Bowman reveals the unique circumstances military families live with and a striking dichotomy of opinion about whether or not the sacrifice is worth it.

The series begins with a profile of Lieutenant Colonel Jason Morris, the commander of Darkhorse Battalion. His father had served in Vietnam. Before Morris joined the service, his father cautioned him that Marines lead a “tough life.” Morris candidly talks about the hardships he and his men faced, dealing with the high casualty rates and the burden he will carry forever. The second story – airing today, Monday, October 31 – offers an overview of the difficult seven-month deployment, from the vantage point of the Marines at war and their families back home. The story is told through the voices of those who served – and those who endured the long wait for husbands, sons and fathers to return.

On Wednesday, Bowman steps back to offer an analysis of the strategy, expectations and missteps that led Darkhorse to incur the highest casualty rate of any Marine unit in Afghanistan. Two profiles follow on Thursday and Friday: one of a Darkhorse widow whose son, born the day after his father was killed, only knows his father from the audio tapes he left behind. The other follows the rehabilitation of several Darkhorse Marines. One lost both legs but still expects to get on with his life. Another lost one leg but hopes to head to back to the field one day and serve in combat. On Saturday, the series wraps with Bowman offering his reflections and answering select listener questions submitted throughout the week at NPR’s Facebook page.

All Things Considered, NPR's signature afternoon newsmagazine, is hosted by Melissa Block and Robert Siegel and reaches more than 12 million listeners weekly. To find local stations and broadcast times for the program, visit www.npr.org/stations