Behind the Wire & TOEing the Line

SFC Mark Burrell, an Army Reserve Journalist and voice from “Behind the Lens” is back after a two week hiatus he talks about life without a mission, whether or not he’s still in shape, and how after being shot at many times it’s his big toe nail that kept him inside the wire.

SFC Mark Burrell, US Army Reserve

As I hung up the phone with some lieutenant at some remote combat outpost, I started to rethink my profession.

“I hope you’re in shape,” I remembered the lieutenant saying to me on the phone.

“Well sir, ‘Cosmo’ has been telling me that I’m not thin enough, but I can send you a 6×8 glossy if you want.”

I’m not sure if he approved of my humor.

You see for the past four weeks, I’ve been sitting on Forward Operating Base Fenty in eastern Afghanistan. Due to a series of unfortunate events, I’ve only gone outside the wire for one mission in this time frame. I’ve hated every minute of it.

After my last mission, I had to get my big toe nail amputated. Yes, amputated.  Some young Army Pfc. was very nice about it.  He took a large tool that resembled  pliers and pulled my toe nail off in about five minutes. That put me out of commission for about two weeks.  What’s kept me laughing is that even though I was almost shot in an ambush on my last mission, it’s my big toe that kept me out of the fight.  My big freakin’ toe.”

The whole time I wasn’t out on mission, covering troops and taking pictures, I felt like Martin Sheen in some hotel room in Saigon:

“When I was here, I wanted to be there; when I was there, all I could think of was getting back into the jungle. I’m here a week now… waiting for a mission … getting softer. Every minute I stay in this room, I get weaker, and every minute Charlie squats in the bush, he gets stronger.”

OK, that’s probably a bit dramatic, but I’ve been seeing the photos and the stories of all the other photojournalists in Afghanistan and I’ve been chained to my desk getting softer the past four weeks.

It’s important for me to get out there and show the world what our Soldiers are going through every day. It’s important for me to document the joy, pain and perseverance these young men and women fight with daily.

I’m used to going out and jumping from mission-to-mission and living on a bunk in some combat outpost and hearing my editor yell at me to get more product; better product and feel my uniform stick to my sickly skin. I really love my job. I’ve grown to love the abuse it entails.

I stand by the phone staring at it. Contemplating the last words from a lieutenant deep in Kunar Province at some remote combat outpost high up in the Hindu Kush Mountains where I will be in a few days.

“I hope you’re in shape!”

I’m not sure.  I’ve been chained to my desk getting weaker while the troops are out there getting stronger and wiser and grittier. That’s were I need to be. That’s where I’m headed. Those are the stories that I need to tell because that’s the job that I love.

SFC Mark Burrell is an Army Reserve NCO and continues to provide real, raw content from Afghanistan.

For more, click on the Army Reserve’s official blogsite.

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