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A week in Afghanistan

March 01, 2009

In January, artist Roman Genn spent seven days embedded with U.S. Marines of the 3rd Battalion, 8th Regiment at an isolated forward operating base near Gulistan, a small village of mud huts in Farah province in central Afghanistan. In an area known for kidnappings and drug trafficking, the troops provide both security and humanitarian aid. Here are his drawings and captions from the trip.

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This gunnery sergeant, Matt, is an explosives-ordnance disposal tech. "You gotta have a sick sense of humor to stay sane here. We blow things up for a living. That's not normal." A native of San Gabriel, Matt wouldn't give his last name. There's a tradition in his unit, he said, that anyone whose full name makes it into a newspaper has to buy beer for everyone.

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Mohammad Hashem Dayak, a former mujahideen and now a policeman with the Afghan National Police, comes to the base regularly for training. He lost a little finger during the Soviet war. "We would attack them, they would run away. They would attack us, we would run away," he says of those days.

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Part of 2nd Lt. Daniel Yurkovich's job is to assist the locals. When Quasim Khan, a local tribal leader, visited the base, he asked for rice, beans and sugar. Yurkovich, a 24-year-old with the quiet competence of a much older man, told him he wanted assurance that it would get to the people who needed it most. "Every kilo will be accounted for," Khan said.

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Quasim Khan was brought into the base by helicopter for a regular meeting with Yurkovich. The two-hour conversation between the tribal leader and the Marine ranged from a discussion of the relative merits of single malt Scotch in comparison to local moonshine to the glory days of jihad. Khan told me he loves American books, "especially that guy from Missouri, Dale Carnegie."

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Cpl. Jonathan Radu was the squad leader one day on a mission to the village. Men in the area are used to being searched. Some are resigned to it. Others aren't.

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Sgt. Aaron Titus, like a lot of guys in the unit, carries candy in his pockets for the local children. "This one always picks on his brothers," he said about one of these boys. "They're good kids, though. Better behaved than American kids."

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