COMBAT OUTPOST KOSHTAY, AFGHANISTAN
Editor’s Note: This is the fourth installment in a series on U.S. Marines and Navy corpsmen from 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, based out of Marine Corps Base Hawaii, Kaneohe Bay. After laboring through training in the California desert, they are now supporting Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. Grueling days and the absence of home’s amenities here make their work exhausting and their down time precious. They labor with little and appreciate the simple. This is their deployment grind.
COMBAT OUTPOST KOSHTAY, Helmand province, Afghanistan — A group of infantry Marines huddle around a Scrabble board, barely visible beneath filthy camouflage utilities and a mishmash of warming layers. Sheltered in the meager warmth of an unheated concrete room, they fill their down time by channeling boredom into a board game.
The room — a chow hall that doubles as a recreation center — is plastered with cheesy Christmas decorations. Sparsely decorated miniature Christmas trees, cheap plastic tablecloths imprinted with mistletoe and giant paper snowflakes offer a weak semblance of holiday festivity.
A veil of dust thickens the chilly air outside, limiting visibility and rendering the once-blue sky an ashen gray. In the wake of the Dec. 21 dust storm, Marines with 1st Platoon, Lima Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment remain indoors, unable to travel beyond the base’s walls.
This down time is an exception to the short time they have between the regular rotation of guard post duty and foot patrols — precious moments to unwind by connecting with family, lifting weights, cooking and watching movies. Today, however, they’re away from their home base, stuck indoors with little to do.
“We’re playing games just to pass the time,” said Lance Cpl. Stuart Ferreri, a 21-year-old improvised explosive device dog handler with 1st Platoon, from Northglenn, Colo. “There’s always a lot of boredom in our down time, but we just make the best of it.”
Ferreri surveys the letter blocks on the table in front of him, struggling to find a word to put on the board.
“Man, I’ve gotta go back to playing Uno … I can’t do letters,” he said. “This game wasn’t made for grunts.”
Ferreri settles for a simple word and the turns rotate clockwise. Lance Cpl. Dustin Whitton attempts to place the word ‘quagoy’ on the board but his play is quickly disputed.
“That’s not even a word!” several opponents protest.
“Well, it sounds like a word!” said Whitton, a 19-year-old rifleman with 1st Platoon, from Brentwood, N.Y.
He attempts to explain where he’s seen the word, but the Marine seated next to him raises an eyebrow and crosses his arms. Defeated, Whitton ceases arguing.
As they play, ‘hot chow’ is announced. The Marines evacuate the table in a flurry of activity, grabbing dinner and inhaling ravioli, sliced pears and a carrot-pea vegetable medley.
They quickly re-convene, this time trading the Scrabble board for a deck of Uno cards. Unlike their first game, they aren’t playing this one for enjoyment. It’s an open opportunity for the Marines to harass each other. Each dishes out sarcasm and receives it in return.
These frank conversations, filled with guttural sounds and separated by fits of laughter, are far from malicious. It’s their way of developing relationships.
“Little things like these games build camaraderie between us,” Ferreri said. “But it’s not so much about playing the game as it’s about just being able to spend time together.”
The Marines’ spirited chatter fills up the cavernous room as they plunge into an argument about the game’s rules. Several feverishly tap their feet to stay warm. This interject-and-retort conversation goes nowhere, so they give up, only to discover they’ve all forgotten whose turn it is.
The Marine in question finally resumes his turn, makes a debatable decision and is sarcastically congratulated by a friend with a tilted chin and a deep, mock announcer’s voice.
This cycle continues until the Marines’ attention spans wane and the game ceases. The moment of camaraderie was brief, but it’s filled their time and brought them together.
“In our free time, we pull people in and keep the mood as light as possible,” said Lance Cpl. Timothy Kinkade, a 22-year-old fire team leader with 1st Platoon, from Levittown, Pa. “Passing time like this keeps our minds healthy and helps us stay engaged.”
He said the rigors of their seven-month deployment — separation from family, long days and few comforts — challenge each of the Marines to stay positive while enduring this grind. Both on and off duty, they depend on one another to get through the days.
“On post or patrol, it’s all business,” Kinkade said. “When we have down time, we have to have fun.”
The Marines spend this time, however infrequent, with some of their closest friends. These relationships and the moments they grow in are the cure for the day’s ailments.
“When we’re together at a time like this, it’s easy to joke about the miserable stuff and get through it together,” Ferreri said.
Editor’s note: Third Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, is currently assigned to Regimental Combat Team 5, 2nd Marine Division (Forward), which heads Task Force Leatherneck. The task force serves as the ground combat element of Regional Command (Southwest) and works in partnership with the Afghan National Security Forces and the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to conduct counterinsurgency operations. The unit is dedicated to securing the Afghan people, defeating insurgent forces, and enabling the ANSF assumption of security responsibilities within its operations in order to support the expansion of stability, development and legitimate governance.
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This work, Killing Time: Channeling boredom into board games, by SSgt Reece Lodder, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.