One of the few constant comforts in the Marines’ deployed lives is their vehicle and they take advantage of any nooks and crannies not taken up by ammo, radios, and other gear, to create a mixture that is part mobile firepower, part mobile home.
FORWARD OPERATING BASE PAYNE, Afghanistan — At first glance, the back of the light armored vehicle designated as a casualty evacuation vehicle for Company C, 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion, appears to be a simple mobile trauma bay on eight wheels. Stretchers sit stacked to one side of the already-cramped, 6-foot by 7-foot cargo area. Emergency medical supplies are crammed into bags hanging from almost every surface.
There is more here, though – a hot water heater peeks out from behind a bag of combat gauze. A weightlifting kettle bell is kept in front of a set of expeditionary tent poles. An assortment of freeze-dried meals is piled in a pack next to rifle cleaning gear. These and other comfort items are in the LAV because the closet-sized space is what three Marines and a Navy corpsman consider to be their home – of sorts.
“It’s small, but it’s what we’ve got,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Alex Averill, the senior medic for the battalion.
Since arriving in southern Afghanistan’s Helmand province, the Marines with 3rd LAR have done what these Marines do best – rove the open landscape for weeks or months at a time, patrolling for enemy activity, living out of their vehicles.
One of the few constant comforts in the Marines deployed lives is their vehicle and they take advantage of any nooks and crannies not taken up by ammo, radios, and other gear, to create a mixture that is part mobile firepower, part mobile home.
“People call us the desert gypsies,” said 1st Sgt. Justin Owens, Company C first sergeant.
The LAVs’ maneuverability and rugged suspension make them ideal candidates for interdicting insurgent narcotics and weapons smuggling in the rocky, rolling desert south of the Helmand river valley. It’s a mission the battalion has pursued across a 5,500-square mile battle space throughout their deployment.
LAR units are based around four to seven vehicle platoons of LAVs, most of which are manned by two-man crews and support a section of four to six infantry scouts. The vehicles are stout and eight-wheeled; most wield a 25 mm cannon as well. To Marines, these vehicles are affectionately known as “pigs”.
“It’s like that Black Sabbath song, ‘War Pigs,’” said Owens. “They’re dirty, they’re nasty, but they’re capable of a lot of destruction.”
Staff Sgt. Garrette Guidry, Company C maintenance chief, has a different take on the nickname.
“They call them pigs because they’re always as dirty as a bunch of pigs,” he said. “We come back from the field looking like a bunch of little piggies.”
LAR companies are meant to be independent operators, with the ability to self-sustain for weeks, or with occasional fuel and rations resupply, for months. The wandering nature of their mission means that the Marines of Company C and other members of the battalion have spent significant time away from the relative comfort of a forward operating base. That means weeks on end with no showers, no dining facility and very little contact with home.
“It’s your home, so you can arrange it how you want,” said Averill, adding the caveat that tactical considerations come first. “I’ve got a lot of personal stuff in here, but obviously my medical supplies are going to take precedence.”
Averill’s most prized possession in his LAV is a fast-heating camp stove, he said.
“There’s nothing better at the end of a long day than a hot meal,” he explained.
Guidry takes that line of thinking to a different level. He makes use of the extra space in his vehicle to carry pots, pans and his family’s secret blend of Cajun seasoning. His uncle owns and operates a Cajun restaurant named “Guidry’s” in Deerport, Texas, and Guidry hopes to open an offshoot of the brand after his time in the Marine Corps.
“It’s definitely a morale booster and a camaraderie builder,” he said of his cooking, which typically includes dishes made of soup broth, summer sausage, rice, noodles and other non-perishable, shelf-stable items. “Everybody seems to like it.”
When the Marines aren’t signing off at the end of a day of interdictions, they’re usually trying to find a way to work out. There are no membership gyms in southern Afghanistan, and fitness is important to the Marines, said Owens.
This leads to some creative thinking. The Marines do pull-ups on suspended tow bars or off the edge of their vehicles. Some crews sacrifice personal space for small sets of weights. Other exercises require no extra equipment.
“In the last month of the deployment you’ll see a lot of people doing sit-ups,” Owens said with a chuckle.
Ultimately, it’s not the niceties that can be squeezed into LAVs that make being with LAR an enjoyable experience, but rather the other Marines and sailors riding along with them, said Averill.
“I’ve become brothers with these guys,” he said of the Marines he serves with. “I’ve lived with them, played with them, and deployed with them. Pretty much every aspect of my life for the last couple of years has revolved around 3rd LAR.”
“I just hope all this doesn’t spoil my love for camping,” he added.
Company C and other elements of 3rd LAR have plenty more open-air lifestyle ahead of them; the battalion raided the insurgent trafficking hub at Bahram Chah on the Pakistan border, March 14 to 17, and continues to carry out interdiction campaigns in the wake of the attack.
// By By Sgt. Earnest J. Barnes, 2nd Marine Division
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