Home from Afghanistan: 2006 Hudson graduate John Burman
Life passes in phases, for John Burman graduation from high school was the end of one phase and he leaped right in to the next one -- a hitch with the Marines that started in July of 2006.
"I didn't know what to do at that point," said Burman, "The Marine Corps sounded like a good idea, so I signed up."
A 2006 Hudson High School graduate, Burman is near the end of his four-year commitment to the U.S. Marine Corps, which included tours of duty in both Iraq and Afghanistan. He was home for the holidays.
In hindsight, his deployment to Iraq after completing boot camp and extensive training as a radar operator was a piece of cake compared to his recent deployment to Afghanistan.
Burman was in Ramadi, Iraq from October 2007 until May of 2008.
"Life was pretty good on base," said Burman, "You had access to the Internet, and it was over the winter so it wasn't ungodly hot." Both his barracks and his office were constructed out of portable shipping containers and were air conditioned. "It's that whole learning thing. You do what you can to make life better." Because the base had been used for a long time, every unit that came left improvements behind.
"You always wore an MTV, Modular Tactical Vest and had your ammunition and rifle with you at all times," said Burman. It was the rainy season so instead of heat, winter in Iraq offered its own challenges, mainly mud.
"Everything we did required an amazing amount of math and science," said Burman of his radar and meteorological work. Upon his return stateside he was stationed at Camp Pendleton. In May 2009 he was deployed to Afghanistan until December.
Burman arrived in Afghanistan on a C-130 with 150 other Marines. He spent his first three and one-half months at Camp Leatherneck sheltered in large tents. The second half of his Afghan deployment was at a forward location, living literally on the land.
"We were basically in the middle of a field," said Burman. It was Command Outpost Koshtay used as a patrol base, where sandstorms were common and the sunsets and sunrises were things of great beauty.
"It was 110 to 130 F most days going up to 140 F at times," said Burman. "The work has to be done so you just do it, drink a lot of water and keep an eye out for heat stroke."
"You could just sit there and drip," said Burman. In the seven months he was in country, it did not rain once.
"My official job was radar operator," said Burman, who, because he was certified to drive a Humvee, drove daily between bases, as well as taking his turn doing foot patrols.
"The rule is body armor before pants," said Burman. "If there was fire near or towards the base you get your flak or Kevlar on first, then your rifle. It was not an uncommon sight to see a Marine with his body armor, helmet and rifle but no pants."
They essentially slept outside.
"Cats were a favorite," said Burman. If you could get the cat to hang around your rack that was a good thing because of the mice." Every cat that came on an American base was welcomed with food.
As far as being in touch with home, Burman had access to a SAT phone 10 minutes a week. Letters and packages come and go every couple of weeks.
"We had very little communication with the outside world," said Burman.
"We were with the Afghan people on a day-to-day basis," said Burman. "For transportation they walked, used small motorcycles, donkeys, bicycles, camels, horses and occasionally small vans.
According to Burman, the Afghans are essentially subsistence farmers, raising, cotton, corn, poppies (opium) and marijuana (also used for rope and reinforcing the mud the homes are made of.) They are shepherds as well.
"It was pretty easy to tell the locals from the Taliban," said Burman. "The Taliban are mostly Pakistani."
"Unquestionably the Afghan people want us there," said Burman. "If we weren't there all the time the Taliban would come back. They are on the move all of the time." As to the Afghan countryside, the roads were just dirt, however the area is laced with an impressive irrigation system, according to Burman.
"It was a good experience," said Burman with a mischievous grin "I have no problem jumping up to my knees in mud." Then he became serious.
"As far as I am concerned, military service should be mandatory," he said "I figured if you are going to feel that way you should serve and that's what I did."
"There are a lot of countries out there that require service before college," said Burman.
"It gives you a good world perspective," said Burman. "You don't care about things, you learn to prioritize on what you want and need."
"I spent seven months living outside," said Burman. "When you have to be able to carry your entire life on your back, you pare down.
"We tell the newcomers, 'ounces add up to pounds and pounds add up to pain,' Think about having to carry it 100 yards over uneven ground. It becomes a real priority as to what you want.
"It begins with items that are considered mission essential including, a Piezo match, your sleeping bag and clothes then you think about what you want."
Batteries are heavy and electricity is at a premium. For Burman, taking his laptop along was a priority. Loaded with games and movies it provided much needed breaks in the boredom, not only for Burman but dozens of others. Lots of IPods and small appliances were evident on base. All laundry was done by hand and the hygiene station, is like individual doggy bags for waste.
"Boredom has always been a huge problem," said Burman. "That's why letters and care packages are important. It is great to hear that you are remembered in letters and prayers."
"Afghanistan can be quite beautiful," said Burman, who plans attend college and study environmental science when he gets out of the Marines this summer.