ammo canister

“I was in charge of 250 Marines during my second deployment. We were assigned to a district called Sangin. Most of Afghanistan’s poppy was grown there, and the heroin it produced funded the Taliban’s war effort. We didn’t have a clear mission. Our job was to establish a ‘presence.’ We were supposed to make the Taliban as uncomfortable as possible. Our mission wasn’t to take any hills or to kill a certain number of enemy combatants. And that lack of clarity could be frustrating. Guys were getting killed but we had no concrete ways to measure our gains. The best I could do was tell them that our mission was to ‘make Sangin a better place.’ Every day I’d send them on patrols. I’d sit in a small mud room, square like this, with maps on the walls and a radio on the table. And the patrols would call back if they needed support. Some days it was chaos in that room. Multiple patrols would come under fire at the same time and they’d all be calling at once. We lost nine guys over those six months. Dozens more lost arms or legs. Others had serious gunshot wounds. I remember sitting on an ammo canister the day before we left, with my head between my knees, wondering if we’d done anything at all. And a village elder came up to the gates of our base. He wanted to thank us for making the area safe enough so that his village could finally return to their homes. That was the only tangible difference that I’d seen in six months. It was the ray of light I needed.”