By BRENNAN LINSLEY, Associated Press
PATROL BASE 302, Afghanistan -- One small U.S. Marine base in southern Afghanistan is surrounded on three sides by bomb-infested farmland and ever-changing Taliban firing positions. The base is reachable only by foot, on the fourth side, by way of a path they call the Serpentine.
The unit of infantrymen and snipers occupies a traditional Afghan mud-walled compound called Patrol Base 302 in the Gereshk Valley of Helmand province, where fighting persists nearly 10 years after the war began.
U.S. Marines with 3rd Platoon, Kilo Company, 3/4 Marines are close to the end of their deployment. All have known fellow Marines killed or maimed by enemy explosives and bullets.
Their only power source is an ATV they have rigged to generate enough power to charge the field radio and the occasional laptop. Helicopters resupply them by dropping pallets of water, food and ammo. Many relish the austere living.
The Marines here take fire from fighters who use AK-47s and grenade launchers, as well as World War II-era sniper rifles and .50-caliber Soviet Dishkas. New fighters seem to replace those killed, the Marines observe.
When attacked, the Marines are capable of defending the base with massive firepower. Over a few days in late August, the Marines used M-4 rifles and rapid-fire SAWs, medium and heavy machine guns, Mark-19 automatic grenade launchers, sniper weapons, as well as calling in airstrikes on nearby tree lines.
The Marines called in attack helicopters, a jet fighter that dropped a 500-pound bomb, and a mobile position several miles away that fired a HIMARS missile at a spot a few hundred yards away.
Marines fill their days with guard duty, manning a nearby checkpoint, or sleep and workouts in a homemade gym. Some read, some listen to iPods using solar chargers, and write letters.