, 29 tweets, 34 min read Read on Twitter
As we reach another anniversary of 9/11, I'm proud to present you here with a war story that is both old and new. Let me explain. 1/

In 2010, I was a 29-year-old journalist in my third year of covering the military. I’d been at @MarineTimes since January 2008, and I hadn’t yet seen U.S. troops in combat.

That would change, abruptly and violently. 2/
@Marinetimes That spring, I set out to visit Marja, Afghanistan, which was then one of the major efforts for the U.S. military.

I traveled with Tom Brown, a veteran war photographer who also happens to be married to the great @cbudoffbrown. 3/
@Marinetimes @cbudoffbrown As the Obama administration sent tens of thousands of additional troops to the war, commanders set out to seize this Taliban stronghold and set up “government in a box.” 4/

@Marinetimes @cbudoffbrown Marjah was seized in February, and things appeared to be calming down a bit when I got on a plane in Virginia for Kabul in late April. 5/
@Marinetimes @cbudoffbrown News flash: Things were not calm. As I arrived at the beginning of May, the Taliban were flush with cash after a successful poppy season and ready to fight. The attacks across Helmand province came that month fast and furious. 6/
@Marinetimes @cbudoffbrown Like many reporters covering Helmand operations at the time, we made a stop at Camp Leatherneck (here), where @justine and other Marines stationed there helped us get our bearings. Then we flew to Marja. 7/
@Marinetimes @cbudoffbrown @Justine On the way, our helicopter found a surprise sandstorm. It was ugly enough that the aircraft was diverted to Camp Dwyer, another Marine Corps base. 8/
@Marinetimes @cbudoffbrown @Justine We waited for a while to see if it would clear, and when it didn't, we departed the CH-53 in a red swirl. Couldn’t see more than a few feet in front of us. I turned on my head lamp, and the light reflected on the sand crystals like a bizarre disco. It crunched in my teeth. 9/
@Marinetimes @cbudoffbrown @Justine A day or two later, @LuisRAgostini and other Marines helped us get back on our way. We arrived by helicopter in Marja to learn that an infantryman, Lance Cpl. Christopher Rangel, had been shot to death by an enemy marksman that day: May 6, 2010. 10/
@Marinetimes @cbudoffbrown @Justine @LuisRAgostini Marines were standing around the smoke pit that night, tears streaking their sandy faces in the firelight. It was a stark reminder of where we were, and what young men and women must do when they go to war. @cjchivers wrote about Rangel here. 11/

@Marinetimes @cbudoffbrown @Justine @LuisRAgostini @cjchivers . @cjchivers and @TylerHicksPhoto and were incredibly kind in a tent we shared there at a base named after Lance Cpl. Matthias Hanson, who had been killed in February. Meant a lot as I grappled with what I was about to do for the first time. Scared? Hell yeah, I was. 12/
@Marinetimes @cbudoffbrown @Justine @LuisRAgostini @cjchivers @TylerHicksPhoto Tom Brown and I headed by convoy down to a base named after Lance Cpl. Alejandro J. Yazzie, also killed in February. The Marines there several times per day, and we went on at least one of them a few days in a row. /13
@Marinetimes @cbudoffbrown @Justine @LuisRAgostini @cjchivers @TylerHicksPhoto Somehow, it seemed that all of the patrols I *didn’t* go on in those first few days got ambushed, while mine did not. Left me with a sinking feeling that it was a matter of time.

It was a matter of time. 14/
@Marinetimes @cbudoffbrown @Justine @LuisRAgostini @cjchivers @TylerHicksPhoto Ghost of the Taliban seemed to be everywhere on those patrols between picked-over poppy fields: vacant fighting positions, spent rounds, villagers complaining of intimidation. 15/
@Marinetimes @cbudoffbrown @Justine @LuisRAgostini @cjchivers @TylerHicksPhoto We departed Yazzie several days later. Made our way on another armored convoy to a place that battalion commander Lt. Col. Brian Christmas told us was his most challenging: the “yellow schoolhouse.” 16/
@Marinetimes @cbudoffbrown @Justine @LuisRAgostini @cjchivers @TylerHicksPhoto On the way there, the vehicle in front of mine exploded in front of our eyes, rattling everything around it. A 40-pound jug of explosives had been buried in the road. /17
@Marinetimes @cbudoffbrown @Justine @LuisRAgostini @cjchivers @TylerHicksPhoto All of the Marines walked away, though one in the gun turret, Lance Cpl. Dominic “Bear” Draper, was rocked pretty good and concussed. He's pictured here in a Marine Corps photo by Tommy Bellegarde.

Draper later died in a car wreck in 2016. 18/
@Marinetimes @cbudoffbrown @Justine @LuisRAgostini @cjchivers @TylerHicksPhoto We arrived at the yellow schoolhouse a few hours later, once a tow for the destroyed vehicle was secured. Looked like something out of a movie, I thought. Marines there were in good spirits, but also on edge and waiting for the next fight. They got one many days. 19/
@Marinetimes @cbudoffbrown @Justine @LuisRAgostini @cjchivers @TylerHicksPhoto Seemingly as an icebreaker, the Marines there introduced me to Sarah Palin that afternoon. Sort of. Not surprisingly, the story about that encounter drew more readers than most. 20/

@Marinetimes @cbudoffbrown @Justine @LuisRAgostini @cjchivers @TylerHicksPhoto And that introduced me to life at the school. Firefights, ambushes, significant threat of attacks on the base itself.

My own first firefight appears in the lede of this story, first published in 2010 and re-published here. It wouldn't be the last. 21/

@Marinetimes @cbudoffbrown @Justine @LuisRAgostini @cjchivers @TylerHicksPhoto I spent long enough at the schoolhouse to get to know some of its Marines pretty well. Sgt. Ian McConnell, who died by suicide a year later, was one of them. He sought me out after the first firefight to make sure I was doing ok. 22/

@Marinetimes @cbudoffbrown @Justine @LuisRAgostini @cjchivers @TylerHicksPhoto And then there were Cpl. Anthony “Rocco” DePrimo and Staff Sgt. Ryan Clay.

DePrimo was a young squad leader trying to keep his guys alive. Clay was salty combat vet who had been wounded in Iraq, in the Battle of Nasiriyah. Spent a fair amount of time with both of them. 23/
@Marinetimes @cbudoffbrown @Justine @LuisRAgostini @cjchivers @TylerHicksPhoto For a long time, I’ve wondered: What would a follow-up story about this unit look like? How are they doing? How do they process all of this?

How do I?

This new story for The Post gave me a new chance to try, and I’m grateful for it. 24/
@Marinetimes @cbudoffbrown @Justine @LuisRAgostini @cjchivers @TylerHicksPhoto In a lot of ways, this trip set in motion my adult life, too.

I went from being iffy about staying in Washington to committed to a specific niche of journalism and eventually joining @washingtonpost to do it. 25/
@Marinetimes @cbudoffbrown @Justine @LuisRAgostini @cjchivers @TylerHicksPhoto @washingtonpost According to numbers the Pentagon provided for this story, more than 775,477 U.S. veterans and service members have deployed to Afghanistan since the U.S. war there began. At least 28,267 have gone *five times or more.* 26/
@Marinetimes @cbudoffbrown @Justine @LuisRAgostini @cjchivers @TylerHicksPhoto @washingtonpost On this 9/11, here’s to the modern vets like Rocco and Clay, still processing what it all means.

You're not the only one, guys. 27/27
Addendum: We broke down 18 years of Afghanistan deployment numbers by service graphically here for @washingtonpost. I haven't seen these details elsewhere. Some surprising findings emerge.

Check it out here:

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