The U.S. Marines from Echo Company are in Afghanistan with a mission to hunt down the Taliban in dangerous Helmand Province so that voters could get to the polls yesterday. They weren't always successful and voter turnout was very low.
But, as CBS News Chief Foreign Affairs correspondent Lara Logan reports from the frontlines, Echo Company is used to a challenge. More than 200 strong, the company served eight tours in Iraq. This is their first tour in Afghanistan. They arrived on July 2nd and have been operating in some of the worst conditions imaginable.
Combat Outpost Sharp, an old school building, has been home to Echo Company for almost two months now. Taliban fighters battled these marines as they fought their way to the school. Now the marines use this as a base to launch attacks on the Taliban.
"When we first came here this place was disgusting - it had syringes on the ground, human waste, it was just absolutely filthy and while it's not the Taj Mahal right now, we have made this into a place where the Marines can operate out of, comfortably really," says Lt. T. Tompkins, a 27-year-old from Nashville, Tenn. "The dust, the mud, the canals - none of that goes away. There's no escaping it, you know, you just have to make your peace with it."
CBS News' Lara Logan's coverage of Afghanistan:
Video: More from Echo Company
Marines in Taliban's Backyard for Election
Marines Walk Tightrope of Death
Mission Critical for U.S. Troops
What the Afghans Really Want
With the Marines in Helmand Province
The Marines at Combat Outpost Sharp live, eat and sleep in the dirt. Because they're on the frontline of the fight, there are no barracks and no mess hall for hot meals. There's nowhere for them to wash when they get back to base, sweaty and dirty.
Sgt. Sam Walters hasn't showered in nearly two months and says showering "would be awesome." He spends his downtime working out. But there's no gym.
"If you think about it, we live in better conditions than about two thirds of the world, so I consider myself pretty fortunate," says Walters.
The heat is relentless. Temperatures reach 120 degrees every day.
The conditions here are about as rough as it gets, but the Marines rarely complain. Living hard is part of the Marine mentality, as long as they have what they need to fight and just enough to survive.
Supplies mostly come by road. The much-anticipated logistics convoy shows up when it can and brings what they need and what they want to make life bearable. Some hope for cigarettes. But what they want most of all is mail from home.
For many of these men, the hardest part is being so far from home. Sgt. Anthony Matthews already knows what he'll be telling his children.
"I'm gonna be telling this story in 40 years and I'm gonna tell them it was rough ... I'm gonna tell them my war story," says Matthews.