CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan, Oct. 10, 2013 – As he nestled his cheek against the stock of his machine gun, Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Kevin Dunseith hoped the man on the motorcycle would heed his warning.
Dunseith, a Blue Point, N.Y., native and turret gunner with Combat Logistics Regiment 2, Regional Command - Southwest, called out a possible threat shortly after his convoy halted along an isolated desert road in Afghanistan’s southern Helmand province.
A motorcyclist made a sudden turn toward his vehicle and failed to halt its approach on the convoy’s flank when Dunseith waved for him to stop. Now the two met eye to eye as the man dismounted his bike and took a package off the back.
“It’s a huge burden,” Dunseith said. “You have to make sure you make the right choices and follow the rules of engagement. It’s a big responsibility, but I like it.”
Dunseith was the rear gunner and last line of defense for a large convoy in Afghanistan conducting a recent four-day patrol between Camp Leatherneck and Camp Dwyer. The dusty, jarring ride passed through empty landscapes pockmarked with dried out riverbeds capable of trapping even the Marines’ large trucks.
“It gets tiring,” said Dunseith, a Marine reservist. “It’s uncomfortable. You’re legs are tired. It’s really hot, and you get tossed around easily. The dust kills you. You can’t really breathe.”
He wrapped his face in a scarf for protection from the worst dust clouds and shielded his eyes with a pair of protective sun glasses. Like a modern cowboy, Dunseith rode the bucking vehicle by flowing with the motion.
The metal turret walls provided protection for the price of a few good bumps.
“You force yourself to do it,” he said. “You want to take a break as much as possible, but you have to do what you have to do. It’s a very important job. That keeps me going.”
Dunseith managed to halt the motorist and convinced him to place the package on the ground. The relief in his voice was palpable as the convoy finally pushed on with the mission.
The space below Dunseith’s turret represented more than a crew compartment, and his position as gunner meant more than a job. His Mine-Resistant, Ambush Protected vehicle was his shelter and home on convoys.
And the MRAP’s crew was his family.
“It’s necessary to protect everybody,” he said. “It’s cool to be part of the crew. We try to keep the same guys and the same truck. You get to know everybody even better because you’re stuck in there for days at a time.”
Dunseith volunteered to deploy with other Marine reservists from New York. The rigorous work schedule forged a bond amongst his teammates over the past three months.
The work pace with CLR-2 resulted in a mission nearly every week for the rear-guard trio. They passed the time sharing stories about home and teasing each other.
“They’re loopy,” Dunseith said of his comrades. “I’m probably the wackiest one out of them.”
Dunseith joined the Marines after visiting a recruiter with some of his friends back in New York. He felt the lifestyle seemed a good fit with his personality.
“I grew up in a pretty quiet town,” said Dunseith, who brashly referred to his deployment as a vacation. “I was never inside. I was always outdoors getting lost in the woods. There was just something I liked about it. It’s about going on an adventure. I never liked sitting still.”
His love for adventure hasn’t made the deployment easy -- far from it.
It took a while for Dunseith to adapt to the climate in Afghanistan and his role in the turret. A single shift behind the gun often lasts longer than an average American’s work day. There are no breaks.
A bottle of water and a smooth patch of road are about as good as it gets until the convoy stops.
At night, the crew alternates guard duties while the others sleep inside the truck.
“It’s cramped, but you get so tired you eventually fall asleep,” Dunseith said. “Even though it’s not the best sleep, all you need is a little rest so your body can recover for the next day. It’s not bad.”
Dunseith said he prefers to be on missions. In spite of the stress and exhaustion, it gives him a chance to see Afghanistan and makes the time go faster.