COMBAT OUTPOST TORBERT, Helmand province, Afghanistan --
The small, dusty tent reeks of filthy gear and grimy infantrymen who haven’t seen a real shower in three months.
As the day falls into night, they’ve found a moment to escape the grind of their deployment duties. They stretch out on their cots, enjoying the chance to joke around or watch movies.
Unaffected by the cackle of his roommates, U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Edward Knudsen quietly sits on a green folding cot. He’s plugged into the soft sounds of a movie soundtrack and lost in a thick math textbook.
The 25-year-old is mentally spent from his day’s work but he has a commitment to uphold. With a view to future schooling, he’s pledged to keep his mind sharp by hitting the books.
“Studying allows me to measure my progress and get something out of my down time,” said Knudsen, a native of Rapid City, S.D. “I’d rather see myself going through 1,400 pages of an SAT study guide during the deployment than knocking out six seasons of a television show.”
This unobstructed time is precious to Knudsen. During his second deployment to Afghanistan, the mortarman is filling the demanding billet of armory custodian for Headquarters Platoon, Weapons Company, 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment.
From inside a shipping container armory, his days play out like a hectic game of Tetris. He receives, sorts, accounts for, stores and distributes approximately 1,400 weapons and related equipment to the Weapons Co. Marines and sailors. At any given moment, he has a stack of folders and notebooks — his logistical lifeline — within reach.
When he’s not on duty in the armory, he stands guard post duty and joins in on security patrols of the surrounding area.
Despite the physical and mental challenges of his workday, Knudsen is resolved to make up for lost time. He worked through two years of college before joining the Marine Corps in 2008, admitting he couldn’t muster the discipline to remain committed to school.
“My study habits weren’t great in high school because I did well and didn’t need them as much,” Knudsen said. “When I started college, I learned the hard way how important good study habits were.”
Over three years and two deployments, he said he’s found what he lacked during two years he spent studying mechanical engineering — self-discipline.
“It’s a defense,” Knudsen said. “Without it, I’d just keep repeating the same mistakes and not learning from them.”
Now, thousands of miles removed from formal schooling in the U.S., he’s gainfully employing his newly acquired focus. At the end of many long days, he fades into study mode, refreshing on algebra and trigonometry, teaching himself calculus and preparing to re-take the SAT exam.
Though Knudsen is two years from completing his five-year enlistment, he’s intent on preparing for college well in advance. He said he’s confident the investment in time will enable him to be more competitive for college applications and scholarship opportunities.
When his active duty service expires, he plans to resume his studies and complete a bachelor degree in mechanical engineering. This stepping-stone will lead him toward his goals of earning a master degree in the same subject and performing research in the alternative energy field.
“I’m not a hippie,” Knudsen said. “I just believe that if we’re going to use alternative energy, it needs to be intelligent, not ineffective.”
For the time being, he’s three months into his seven-month deployment and only partly through a daunting stack of college textbooks.
“This isn’t an ideal time or setting to study, by any means,” Knudsen said. “But if I can learn to study in a challenging environment here, I’ll have the discipline to succeed when I have the time and resources available to do so.”
Editor’s Note: Third Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, is currently assigned to Regimental Combat Team 5, 2nd Marine Division (Forward), which heads Task Force Leatherneck. The task force serves as the ground combat element of Regional Command (Southwest) and works in partnership with the Afghan National Security Forces and the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan to conduct counterinsurgency operations. The unit is dedicated to securing the Afghan people, defeating insurgent forces, and enabling the ANSF assumption of security responsibility within its operations in order to support the expansion of stability, development and legitimate governance.
This is the fifth installment in a series on U.S. Marines and Navy corpsmen from 3rd Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, based out of Marine Corps Base Hawaii, Kaneohe Bay. After laboring through training in the California desert in 2011, they are now supporting Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan. Grueling days and the absence of home’s amenities here make their work exhausting and their down time precious. They labor with little and appreciate the simple. This is their deployment grind.