FORWARD OPERATING BASE DELHI, Afghanistan — The ragged dartboard nestled between camouflage uniform items and a giant American flag has seen better days.Thousands of tiny holes pockmark its aged cork scoring area. An ever-increasing growth is swelling just above its bull’s eye, courtesy of the tiny spotlight illuminating it from above. The thin piece of plywood it hangs on is barely a wall, but it holds the room’s most important item.
Hanging in a tiny office hewn out of Hesco barriers, the dartboard is a haven of relaxation for U.S. Marines and Army soldiers after another day on deployment in Helmand province’s Garmsir district.
Though the nightly matches began as a way for three Military Information Support Operations soldiers to unwind after finishing their work, they slowly evolved into a spirited competition with their Marine counterparts.
Rather than playing video games or watching movies every night, they frequently opt for this simple source of entertainment. Marine Cpl. Robert Garcia jokingly refers to the dart board as their best entertainment alternative since “a pool table wouldn’t fit in the office.”
The three MISO soldiers — currently working in support of 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment — are a rare commodity on the Marine base. Despite their autonomy, they’re determined to earn bragging rights through their dart-throwing dexterity.
“The Marines are both professional and proud, so I try to show them somebody else can be better than them in other disciplines when we play darts,” said Army Sgt. Pedro Reyesmontiel, a MISO team leader supporting 3/3 and 42-year-old native of Cleveland, Ohio. “I love seeing the desperation on their faces when they’re losing a game to a soldier.”
Long before any darts are thrown, the Marines and soldiers trade jabs, offer sarcasm and boast with unwavering confidence about the results of the night’s upcoming games.
Army Cpl. Timothy Walker, an assistant MISO team leader and 30-year-old native of Mentor, Ohio, jokes that the soldiers are still “looking for a few good men” to challenge them to a game of darts.
Refusing to be outdone, Garcia accuses Reyesmontiel of failing to hit the dartboard and encourages his fellow Marines to stay clear of the “danger zone” for fear of being struck by an errant throw.
The inter-service competitors welcome the constant flow of animated dialogue and relentless rivalry surrounding their dart games. The friendly competition is a breath of fresh air amid the work atmosphere from which they are rarely able to step away.
“This helps us learn each other’s personalities, which creates a more relaxed work environment and builds camaraderie between us,” said Garcia, a radio operator with Headquarters and Service Company, 3/3, and 21-year-old native of Lake Forest, Calif.
Once their work is done, the darts are drawn and the competitors dive into their highly anticipated games. Though they play for victory and bragging rights, the mental break, which Walker called a “morale booster,” is something on which they can all agree.
“Playing darts helps us kill some time before going to sleep, and to blow off some steam after putting up with the crap we had to that day,” Garcia said.
As the soldiers eye the end of their deployment and the Marines near theirs as well, they embrace the brief moment to set aside the stresses of the day.
“At the end of the day, a couple of games of darts are a good distraction,” Garcia said. “They keep my mind off of worrying about going home.”
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