It’s hard to believe that I have been here almost two weeks. So much has happened, and I have been so busy getting acquainted with Leatherneck, conducting turnover with the outgoing crew and trying to get back into a regular workout schedule that the time has gone by quickly. I finally have a few minutes to sit down and update you. Where do I begin?
Ah, Leatherneck. Many of the Marines who had been to Afghanistan before had told me about Leatherneck, so I was mentally prepared for what greeted me. But before I begin to tell you about Camp Leatherneck, let me take you back in time for a moment, about ten years. Let me take you back to an equally dusty, hot, dry place – to Iraq 2003.
That was the first, and the last time, I deployed. I was there for “the war”, when U.S. forces first crossed into Iraq. This was what we came to know as Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF). Yes, I’m dating myself. But the start contrast between Iraq 2003 and Afghanistan 2013 still amazes me, so I share it with you here.
I remember going into Iraq, and being very happy that we had field showers, and field laundry and a field mess (food out of trays – imagined heated up packaged food). The showers were barely a trickle, but they got us clean and the laundry smelled kind of funny – because of the fuel used to power the laundry units and because of the water running through the purification units. But we had showers and clean laundry! If any of you have read about those first 30 days in Iraq, you know that many Marines did not shower at all during those first 30 days, nor did they eat anything other than Meals Ready to Eat (MREs) – straight out of the bag.
So I thought we were living pretty high there in southern Iraq. It was definitely a deployed environment. We were in the field. No amenities, no weekends, no Starbucks or cars. A close friend of mine likes to remind me of how much of an austere environment I was expecting (and encountered). She laughs when she tells me of how I took a bucket to Iraq so I could wash my hair. You may laugh as well. But I did it in all seriousness. We did go without showers for some time, and I wanted a way to wash my hair! One of those buckets you might use to wash your car fit into my sea bag just perfectly, so I took one with me. I knew we would always have water because we would need to drink, and if I had something into which I could put the water (aha, a bucket!) then I knew I could wash my hair once in a while. I thought it was ingenious, but she laughs when she remembers the story. (Yes, I used the bucket to wash my hair.)
Back to Afghanistan. I had been warned that there were hardstand buildings, running water for showers and toilets, more than one chow hall, and at least one coffee shop! Needless to say, I was dismayed to discover what we are now calling “a deployed environment”. This did not sound like the deployment I had experienced, or envisioned when troops deployed overseas.
When I arrived, I found everything I’d been told was true. There were hardstand buildings where we slept, running water with shower and bathroom facilities, two chowhalls, and Wifi available in the living areas. There are roads, complete with STOP signs and speed limits. My room (yes, room) has two sets of bunk beds in it and a regular floor.
As amazed as I am, I do admit that the air conditioning is wonderful. Outside temperatures are already exceeding 100 degrees on a daily basis (wait until June!). The reprieve is definitely welcome. Hot showers in the evenings are equally splendid, after trudging around all day in the heat and the dust. The chowhalls have plenty of food, and a fair amount of variety. There is always a “healthy bar” option, usually with baked chicken or fish, rice and some sort of vegetable. I am happiest when the vegetables look remotely fresh. Most of the vegetables obviously come from a can. This makes sense, when one considers the journey that any type of food, but especially fresh vegetables, must make to get to Camp Leatherneck.
There are a few different gyms, including one solely dedicated to Crossfit. I have not yet made it to any of these. I admit that I’ve been scared off from the regular gyms due to rumors of overcrowding. I have not yet made it to any of the Crossfit classes either. The morning class is most appealing to me. However, I am still getting settled into the daily “battle rhythm”. We have daily meetings for which I must prepare, so the 5:45 AM Crossfit class is not in the cards for me, at least not yet. Perhaps as I get more comfortable with the daily routine, I can shift my schedule a bit. For now, I’m sticking to push-ups, pull-ups, squats, lunges, abs and a daily run. When the Internet is working, I can even post to this blog! So, life is pretty good.
It is unlikely that I will be leaving Leatherneck during my deployment, since our whole purpose in life is to retrograde equipment. Getting a routine established feels good. I’m looking forward to the rest of the deployment, and to sharing my stories with you!