CAMP LEATHERNECK, AFGHANISTAN
CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan - The tip of his nose peeled slightly, and his lips chapped from a prolonged stint in the gun turret. Even the thick canopy over his head offered limited protection from hours beneath the Afghan sun in August.
Lance Cpl. Dustin Dodd, a Habersham, Ga., native and turret gunner with Combat Logistics Regiment 2, Regional Command (Southwest), didn’t seem to notice.
He genuinely enjoyed his long hours bouncing between the armored walls of the turret during a three-day trek through baked desert between Camp Leatherneck and Now Zad in northern Helmand province.
“It’s hard after hours and hours, but you get used to it,” said Dodd with a smile. “Being up there on the gun and rolling with the convoy is an amazing feeling. I love doing it. It’s my favorite position in the whole truck.”
Dodd volunteered for the job months before he deployed to Afghanistan. He wanted the responsibility and felt he could contribute to the safety of his team.
“We’re a family,” said Dodd, who regularly mans the turret for more than eight hours at a time. “Being close adds to it. As the driver or the gunner, that one thing you miss could be that mistake.”
Dodd is the key to protecting his crew from improvised explosive devices and other potential threats. His perch in the turret offers the best view of surrounding terrain. Still, it is impossible to see everything.
Not long ago, his vehicle was damaged by an IED during a routine patrol. His team escaped unscathed, but it was a potent reminder – threats are real.
Dodd serves as his team’s eyes and ears against further attacks. It’s a taxing responsibility as missions stretch from hours into days.
A constant blast of sand and exhaust fumes engulfed the turret while he scanned the route to Now Zad and called down to the crew below. Just staying awake while standing becomes a challenge, he admitted.
“You stay vigilant the whole time,” said Dodd. “You’re always looking for things because anything could be out there.”
This trip was no different. Only a few hours from their destination, the convoy rolled to a stop. The lead element discovered an IED in the road and prepared to neutralize the device.
Dodd hunkered down behinds his armored walls to wait in relative safety. Sometimes the convoy halts for extended periods of time, leaving him exposed to the dry air and sun. He survives off of the occasional bottle of water or a handful of candy passed from inside the vehicle.
“It’s definitely a team effort,” said Lance Cpl. Morgan Almazan, the driver of the team’s vehicle and a native of Arvada, Col. “Dodd is like a brother to me. Once you get comfortable in a truck, moving out is like the worst thing that can happen to you. You feel that bond, and you spend so much time together it’s impossible not to know them like family.”
While halted, an explosion erupted in the distance, too far away to be the IED. Somewhere in the distance another convoy of Marines waged their own fight and called in airstrikes on confirmed enemy positions.
A few minutes later, a controlled blast by an explosive ordnance disposal team kicked debris up from the road. Freed of the danger, the convoy resumed its bumpy path toward Now Zad.
Somehow, Dodd managed to laugh and joke as the truck bucked over broken terrain and through once foreign village streets. A body harness anchored him to the floor to combat the worst jolts from the bouncing vehicle.
It’s all part of the ride for Dodd.
“I wouldn’t want to be in any other truck,” he said. “We complete the picture, and we do everything we can.”
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This work, Through their eyes: Turret gunner in Afghanistan, by Sgt Paul Peterson, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.