Letter From a Marine


Marine reports on life in the Afghanistan sandbox.

by Robert O’Dowd


(SOMEWHERE IN AFGANISTAN) – I’ve known this Marine since he was in grade school. He’s married now, father of a young boy, deployed with the Marines in Afghanistan, his unit or the place of deployment in-country are not disclosed for obvious reasons. If you met Mike you would like him instantly. Mike’s email to family and friends is reprinted with his permission:

HELLO everybody. I am being told that I need to stop slacking on getting in touch with you people in the outside world. What can I say, lately I have not found myself on the computer as much…as the time is ticking down we find ourselves trying to find anything we can to keep ourselves busy when we are not working. Tension is building and everybody is ready to go home. I can’t blame them, I cannot wait to get out of this hell hole of a country….out here we have a couple things we can do…work…workout…and think…I think I have decided that this will be my final deployment and I will most likely be hanging up my cammies 1 and a half years from now and bidding the Marine Corps goodbye.

I do love this brotherhood and I will always be a Marine in heart and that will never be taken from me, but it’s just not what I want for the rest of my life. I feel that I have served my country and did my time, and it’s time for me to get out and watch my son grow, spend time with my wife, and do something with my life. Although this is something that is incomparable when it comes to doing “something with your life.” I feel that there is something I’m meant to do. I am good at my job but I want to do something I will enjoy and be remembered for. I don’t know but I just feel that this isn’t where I am supposed to be. One of our phrases is “once a Marine, always a Marine” so I don’t need to re-enlist to “stay a Marine”, that I will always be.

Well back to life in the sandbox we call Hell. We have come to terms with the fact that the Afghan people must of been nomads traveling through this place and got lost and never left, because there is no way people would settle here, EVER. There is no reason, as the days go by and we get closer to August the temperature gets higher and higher. I truthfully can’t even tell you what the degree is. All I can say is it’s over 110. And I see these Afghans walking around, long sleeve, long legged, face wrapped up and they look like the heat is nothing. If I lived and was born in Afghanistan I rather die trying to get out of here then stay here for life. I now know why they hate our guts. Just watching a movie based in any other country makes me jealous. They must be extremely mad that where they live is terrible. That and we have soap. The smell of an Afghanistan person is one to remember. Ha-ha. I have tried to sit and talk to an Afghan person when at their shops and I don’t even want to barter with them because there smell is probably the worst thing that my nose has ever encountered.

Marines in Afghanistan, Courtesy: AP

Well what else has happened new, probably nothing because every day is just a repeat of the day before that is why the joke was before we got out here the deployment would only be 3 days long? 1 day to get out. 1 more day being out here and the final day going home, because this whole deployment has been 1 LLOOONNNGGG day.

I’m glad we are going home soon; I am kinda forgetting what it feels like to be home, and be in a civilized place. I look at pictures of my son and wife and get a feeling in my stomach, not a good one, and not a bad one; it’s kinda like that feeling like you’re scared. Like when you know your principal is going to call your parents. Or, like when you are on the way to court and you don’t know what is going to happen, or even comparable to showing up to the first day of school as a child. I guess its anxiety, being nervous, or just worried you have forgotten how to interact with civilians.

I mean we still have a social life but how Marines interact and how humans interact are two different things. BELIEVE ME. I could never go into a new work place or normal social area and act the way I do here with you all, the jokes wouldn’t be funny, the volume of my voice would be unacceptable and the language would be frowned upon.

Only a short time now, in 1 month the advanced party of Marines from our relief will be here, and then the main portion of our relief will be here, we will tell them what we have done and prepare them for their next 6 months here and we will be heading out of here the first week of September.

Which is good because the fact that we leave in the beginning of September we will be getting tax free money for ALL of September, then I will be taking my combat leave in October probably and getting tax free money then as well? So when I do taxes in January it will look like I made like 5 grand the whole year, and then I will receive a lot of money for being “under the bracket.” It kinda works out pretty damn good that way. GOTTA LOVE TAX FREE MONEY! HaHa. Even though the things I have missed are much worst then any tax free money I can receive.

My son’s FIRST birthday was July 12th. My 3 year anniversary is August 14th. When I left my son, he could barely roll over flawlessly and now he is just doing all types of things. I was skyping with my wife, my son was in her arms, I forgot that he was all grown up and he jumped out of her arms. The first thing I think is OH NO my son fell, BUT NO!! He jumped out of her arms and WALKED away. Like he thinks he’s grown. He might as well get a job and get a license while he’s at it. I did get him a birthday present. I hope he will like it. A box set of 130 Disney and Pixar movies with movies from when I grew up all the way to newer movies that I still watch myself. That way we can enjoy some kiddie movies and just be together when I get home.

Well I really don’t have much more to say. You pretty much got the gist of what life is like out here. You probably can tell I am ready to leave and go home and just relax. Love you all!


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Robert O’Dowd served in the 1st, 3rd and 4th Marine Aircraft Wings during 52 months of active duty in the 1960s. While at MCAS El Toro for two years, O'Dowd worked and slept in a Radium 226 contaminated work space in Hangar 296 in MWSG-37, the most industrialized and contaminated acreage on the base. Robert is a two time cancer survivor and disabled veteran. Robert graduated from Temple University in 1973 with a bachelor’s of business administration, majoring in accounting, and worked with a number of federal agencies, including the EPA Office of Inspector General and the Defense Logistics Agency. After retiring from the Department of Defense, he teamed up with Tim King of Salem-News.com to write about the environmental contamination at two Marine Corps bases (MCAS El Toro and MCB Camp Lejeune), the use of El Toro to ship weapons to the Contras and cocaine into the US on CIA proprietary aircraft, and the murder of Marine Colonel James E. Sabow and others who were a threat to blow the whistle on the illegal narcotrafficking activity. O'Dowd and King co-authored BETRAYAL: Toxic Exposure of U.S. Marines, Murder and Government Cover-Up. The book is available as a soft cover copy and eBook from Amazon.com. See: http://www.amazon.com/Betrayal-Exposure-Marines-Government-Cover-Up/dp/1502340003.