Afghanistan: Life on the Frontline

(CBS)
CBS News correspondent Mandy Clark is reporting from Helmand Province.
It wasn't the pelting rain or hail that had me questioning my career path, it was the gale-force winds that tore open the tent at 2 a.m., creating a wind tunnel that could test the aerodynamics of a sports car.

Hopping around in my cold sleeping bag, I tried to fix the tear in the tent in the darkness. It was a futile effort. I hopped back to my patch of cold ground and curled into a ball. Though I was wearing every layer of clothing imaginable (minus a gorilla suit, but if I found one, trust me, I would have worn it), I still shivered and had a fitful sleep on the cold hard-packed sand of the Helmand River Valley.

It's easy for me to complain. But spare a thought for the Marines who slept outside that night in foxholes — shallow, body-length ditches which eerily resemble graves. I can't imagine laying there, soaked and lashed by the freezing winds, and then putting in a full day of work. They are made of tougher stuff than I.

(CBS)
I am here to cover a joint NATO-Afghan operation to drive the Taliban out of the town of Marjah, in Afghanistan's southern Helmand Province.

Waiting for the mission to commence, I get to experience a small taste of life as a U.S. Marine.

A small group of Marines from the Third Battalion are hosting me at an outpost about 10 miles north of Marjah. There are no showers. Baby wipes are the closest thing we've got. Washing my hair is a fantasy.

Food consists of military MREs (Meals Ready to Eat). There has been a lot written about MREs, and they aren't all that bad, considering they come in a packet and can last for months, but I will say eating is more of a chore than a joy, and I dream of hot coffee.

Bathrooms are WAG bags. The less said about that the better.

As a TV reporter, I have different concerns than the Marines who are focusing on the mission. I wonder if I'll have enough power to charge my equipment? Will the sand destroy my camera? Does it matter that that my hair will be a mess?

These frivolous concerns distract me from the very real worry of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) — the homemade bombs that are apparently littered all over Marjah and are the greatest danger the Marines will face on this operation.

In my frozen sleeping bag, I was thoroughly miserable by 8 a.m., around the time my AP colleagues, David Guttenfeld and Evan Vucci, woke. The tent was half broken, the wind was still whipping, they were also shivering.

David simply said, "Awesome," while Evan asked out loud "Why is the tent so angry?"

Sharing misery somehow makes it more bearable.
  • Mandy Clark

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