PATROL BASE BURY, AFGHANISTAN
This is the sixth 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 in 2011, 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.
PATROL BASE BURY, Afghanistan — For six of the eight months he’s been married, U.S. Marine Cpl. Devin Deweerdt has lived apart from his wife.
Shortly after their wedding, the 20-year-old mortarman left for his last leg of pre-deployment training in California’s Mojave Desert. Only a month later, the newlyweds said goodbye and Deweerdt departed on his second combat deployment to Afghanistan.
From the tiny Patrol Base Bury, Deweerdt and his fellow infantrymen with 3rd Platoon, Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, tackle an exhaustive daily schedule of foot patrolling and standing guard duty. They work hard and return to the simplicity of PB Bury, where they live without running water, internet and phones.
Though Deweerdt’s duties hold him and his wife far apart in both distance and setting, he’s bound to a promise to stay connected. Before the Marine left home, the couple resolved to handwrite each other a letter for each day they’re apart.
“Writing a letter gives me alone time to put everything I went through and thought about that day on paper,” said Deweerdt, a native of Riverton, Utah. “Even though the letters take a long time to get home, they let my wife know I’m thinking about her and caring for her every day. It’s like sending a part of me off.”
From past experience, Deweerdt knew snail mail would likely be his only surefire way to communicate with home. His suspicions were confirmed at the primitive patrol base; to call or email, he would need to patrol with his squad to nearby Combat Outpost Rankel. The trips are infrequent, but he never considered a lack of correspondence between them as an option.
“If we don’t stay connected, there’s a void,” he said.
Four months into his deployment, Deweerdt is still writing. Every night, the giant Marine sits on a green fold-up cot in his tent, places a sheet of notepaper on his black storage container, dons a pair of headphones and escapes into a letter. The daily routine isn’t a task. In an environment devoid of privacy, it’s a welcomed moment of solitude.
As a husband, it’s how Deweerdt reaffirms his love. As a Marine, it’s a means of preserving the details of his unique deployment experience before they fade into distant memories. Scribbled between faint blue lines on ruled paper, he tells his wife details about his day, from his work, to what he cooked, to how he interacted with his fellow Marines.
“A lot more thought and sincerity goes into a letter, as opposed to just quickly typing an email,” he said. “Writing letters make my wife and I take good means of communication much less for granted. It helps our love grow.”
While the routine process of writing helps him unwind, receiving and reading his wife’s letters sustains him mentally and emotionally.
“Some days, when I’m in a rut and I need to clear my mind, I’ll grab a letter from my wife, any letter, and read it,” Deweerdt said. “It doesn’t matter what day she wrote it on. Just to know that she wrote the letter and handled it, and that it’s taken a long journey to get to me … once I receive the letter, it’s the best feeling.”
The Marine’s duties are taxing, but he’s quick to say they aren’t the biggest challenge of his deployment — it’s being married but unable to be with his wife. Despite the draw of this separation, Deweerdt knows he has an important job to do. He’s thankful for “a great shoulder to lean on whenever I need anything.”
“When you’re only able to talk to your wife once every two or three weeks, it makes your conversations that much more special … and it makes the time apart go by all that faster,” he said.
Between those treasured chats, Deweerdt and his wife devotedly continue to pen handwritten letters. Thousands of miles and many days later, they hold a piece of one another in their hands.
Editor’s Note: Third Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, is currently assigned to Regimental Combat Team 5, 1st Marine Division (Forward), which 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 responsibility within its operations in order to support the expansion of stability, development and legitimate governance.
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This work, Killing Time: A Letter A Day, by SSgt Reece Lodder, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.