See What Happened When 'Red Air' Stranded Marines In Taliban Territory


Photo: Geoffrey Ingersoll

I was with the Marines in April when we assaulted a Taliban jump-off point just east of the Musaqela District in Helmand, Afghanistan.The assault, which took place on the second day of our operation, killed 20 Taliban, while one Marine was injured and medevac’d out of the area. The remaining days we spent patrolling the surrounding villages, expecting at any time to run into a fight. No fight came though, and on the fourth day we woke up expecting to start our hike home right away. 

There was just one problem though: Red Air.

The Marines set up a perimeter and catch up on sleep any way they can

Generally, Marines will work security in pairs along the perimeter, one Marine snoozing while the other maintains watch

It turns out there's more than one purpose for an AT-4 rocket launcher — check out the post on the right

The Marines will also use their ponchos to protect their gear from the elements

Each Marine carries about 80 lbs. of gear, making progress not so much slow as it is painful

You can tell we're entering friendly areas by the crops grown by the locals. If it's poppy, keep an eye out for the Taliban — if wheat, we're getting close to home.

We're at the tail end of wet season in April, coming into the first weeks of harvest. This is when the Taliban beefs up its operations.

The fighting season generally starts in April and ends in August/September, once all the poppy has been harvested and shipped

As we get closer to the Marines' patrol base, more and more friendly locals come out to say hello to the troops

Cpl. Kyle Lemaire can barely contain his happiness, both at the news, and that we're going home. Hard to believe just a few days prior, he was killing Taliban insurgents.

Finally back at base, the Marines take advantage of the shade to go over all their gear, cleaning and storing it

Others can't wait to use the computer room. For most of the Marines, this dingy room with its 5 computers and 3 phones, is their only connection to home.

My room is a basically a hole dug into the side of a pile of mud. The floors are dirt, the walls are dirt, and the beds are cots. But hey, we have electricity.

In an effort to combat the constant encroachment of mud and elements, Marines will line their floors with plywood

We haven't even been back a few hours when the Marines bring out their guitars for a smoke-deck jam session

The mud is as unstoppable at home as the Marines are in combat, and the food may be hot, but it's still just a step above the mud. At least hot sauce is as plentiful as ammunition.

Despite all the hardship, and often the sorrow at losing a teammate, Marines still find solace in battlefield music — from what I saw it was all songs they wrote themselves

This is how they'll live, waiting for the next mission. This is the way it is for Marines in remote patrol bases, until they catch that big bird home.

You saw how these Marines live in Afghanistan ...

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