Marines in Afghanistan Weigh In on a Life at War When compared to Iraq, the conflict in Afghanistan is often described as the forgotten war. As U.S. Marines aim to stabilize the former Taliban stronghold Garmsir, they're dealing with strenuous living conditions and wondering what's happening back home.
NPR logo

Marines in Afghanistan Weigh In on a Life at War

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Marines in Afghanistan Weigh In on a Life at War

Marines in Afghanistan Weigh In on a Life at War

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.


And I'm Robert Siegel. Afghanistan is often described as the forgotten war - forgotten when compared to Iraq. The U.S. military has 33,000 troops deployed in Afghanistan, and has lost 448 since the overthrow of the Taliban.

Last month, 1,500 U.S. Marines were sent to attack a Taliban stronghold in Afghanistan's southern Garmsir District. From Garmsir, NPR's Ivan Watson reports.

IVAN WATSON: In the Dari language, garmsir means hot weather. The Marines deployed here spend a lot of time talking about the heat.

Unidentified Man #1: The flies died out. There's no more flies.

Unidentified Man #2: It's even too hot at night for the mosquitoes. I'm liking that. I'm liking that.

WATSON: A thermometer here flat-lined the other day when temperatures reached 135 degrees Fahrenheit in the sun.

Unidentified Man #3: It went 117, 120, 30, 33, 135, and then it just lined out.

(Soundbite of laughter)

WATSON: The 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit captured Garmsir from the Taliban after 30 days of constant fighting. Now their mission is to stabilize the region.

They live in crude, mud-walled compounds. There's no sewage system, no telephones, no electricity. These young men have been sleeping in the dirt for weeks. The Marines have come up with a trick to beat the Afghan heat.

(Soundbite of rustling sound)

WATSON: Lance Corporal Brian Archer sticks water bottles in a wet cotton sock.

Lance Corporal BRIAN ARCHER (US Marines, Afghanistan): Piece of cloth, wrap up a hot drink it, well water over it and let the wind hit it. After like an hour or two, it feels like you just pulled it out of the fridge. It's great.

WATSON: In this hostile environment, Archer says he feels worlds away from the debates over Iraq and Afghanistan in the U.S. presidential election.

Lance Cpl. ARCHER: It really is almost irrelevant, you know, because the things that people are worried about back home, when we get here, you know that war, all it is is old men talking and young men dying. You know, that's all we see. So it calms down politics a lot when you're out here, you know.

WATSON: Like many of the Marines here, Corporal Cody Bazanech was in eighth grade when the September 11th attacks took place.

Corporal CODY BAZANECH (US Marines, Afghanistan): We were sitting in class, and then the news comes up, an announcement comes over the radio, told everyone to turn on the news.

WATSON: Six years later, Bazanech is patrolling on foot through fields of waist-high opium poppies.

Cpl. BAZANECH: I do what I have to do. I signed the contract, fighting for these people's rights. And I can do that because these people deserve the same rights that we have in the country.

WATSON: But many of the Marines deployed here worry that Americans back home don't know what their servicemen are doing in Afghanistan. Mason Bennet is a Navy medic.

Mr. MASON BENNET (Medic, US Navy, Afghanistan): People should know kind of what we're doing over here probably a little more than they are. It seems like they're focusing a lot more on Iraq right now than they are on Afghanistan. You know, people are - they've called this the forgotten war, and they need to know what's going on here, I guess.

WATSON: About a third of the Marines in this company have done previous tours of duty in Iraq. Corporal Dennis James says the living conditions there are more comfortable, but the enemy in Iraq is more dangerous.

Corporal DENNIS JAMES (US Marines, Afghanistan): The people in Iraq, they hide amongst the crowd. These guys, you know who's going to shoot at you and you know who's not. But in Iraq, they could be right there, and then the next thing you know, bang you're getting shot. Anything can happen in Iraq.

Lance Corporal MICHAEL ERTLE (US Marines, Afghanistan): Having been both places, I don't want this to become another Iraq.

WATSON: Lance Corporal Michael Ertle is from Fleet, Ohio. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: Michael Ertle is from TOLEDO, Ohio.]

Lance Cpl. ERTLE: I don't want us to become an occupational force, and we're leaning towards that big time in Iraq. Hopefully, we'll be able to get the job done here, do what we need to do and get out. I don't want to see us, you know, my kids here doing the same thing I was doing.

WATSON: Sergeant Christopher Nipper expects to be sent to Iraq next year, after he finishes up this tour in Afghanistan.

Sergeant CHRISTOPHER NIPPER (US Marines, Afghanistan): I'd like to see more action from the politicians versus talking, because they've been talking now for seven, eight years with very little resolve. I mean, the conflict in Iraq's been going on for five years now. The Afghanistan thing's been going on with the U.S. and other countries now since 2001. There's really no resolve to it. It's all a lot of talk.

WATSON: Another Marine, who doesn't give his name, has a message for the people back home.

Unidentified Man #4: What are the people back home, civilians, citizens of America, what are you guys doing? That's what we're asking you now. You know what I mean? I bet you none of them could answer. Why don't you guys do what you can do to get us out of here?

WATSON: For now, the Marines have come up with a temporary solution to the homesickness and boredom here.

Unidentified Man #5: This is the Hillbilly Bar and Grill.

(Soundbite of laughter)

WATSON: They bought several sheep from a passing Afghan shepherd, and Corporal Elvin Hendricks(ph) from Kentucky cobbled together a barbecue.

Corporal ELVIN HENDRICKS (US Marines): Come out here, we got a 55-gallon drum, cut it in half and made a grill.

WATSON: The Marines ate lamb chops, and, for a few hours, forgot about the heat. Ivan Watson, NPR News, Garmsir, Afghanistan.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.