CAMP BASTION, Afghanistan – He tends his peculiar garden every day –- a pterodactyl, President Abraham Lincoln, even a scaled-down model of Stonehenge.
The fields of gravel around Camp Bastion are a ripe, rocky orchard ready for the picking. Marine Corps Gunnery Sgt. Gregory Miller, a maintenance controller with Marine Medium Tiltrotor Squadron 165, Regional Command (Southwest), scours the fields along the base’s roads and living areas daily.
He said he’s taught himself quite a bit about the geology of Helmand province just by picking through the fields of gravel, looking for the perfect rock for his sculptures.
“Leave no rock unturned,” he joked, walking to one of his favorite gathering areas. “Just walking around here long enough, all you’ll see is rocks. They’re everywhere, and there’s nothing else to look at, so I put the first [sculpture] right next to my room.”
It’s probably the closest thing to an actual garden any of the Marines have, so Miller made it a reflection of the service members around him. He built a motorcycle for his biker neighbor and a tractor for a friend who was raised on a farm.
“I kind of made [life] comfortable for them,” said Miller, a native of Raritan, N.J. “It definitely gives them a morale boost. There are so many people who go through here just to check it out. It brings them back.”
Stone representations of the Starship Enterprise, an old Huey helicopter, and even Kim Kardashian, all stem from personal requests or ideas inspired by the Marines. After each 12-hour work shift, Miller walks around the base in search the right rock for his next inspiration.
He erected Stonehenge with approximately 75 stones as part of a challenge from one of the officers in his unit. He even added a stovepipe hat to Abraham Lincoln to make sure people recognized the figure.
It took him nearly ten days to find enough pieces for his rendition of the Great Pyramid.
“For each project somebody said something, or I was like, ‘I’m going to do this,’” said Miller, who considers himself more of a tinkerer than an artist. “It keeps my mind off everything else. I don’t have a worry in the world.”
Miller has a sculpture in front of each of his neighbor’s rooms –- the Eiffel Tower, a Greek amphitheater, the Marine Corps’ eagle, globe and anchor.
“I work the midnight to noon shift,” said Miller. “Most people will go to the gym or sit in their rooms and watch movies … I don’t really sit too well.”
Building rock sculptures is a new hobby to Miller. He started it when he first got to Camp Bastion more than two months ago. He created his first sculpture on a whim, and it grew from there.
“It’s kind of therapeutic,” said Miller, who spends hours trying to balance some of his structures. “You’re just thinking, ‘I’m going to get this. I’m going to get this.” I just keep putting it together until I’m finally finished. Then I take a step back and think, ‘I did it.’”
Miller jokingly compared his quest for rocks to his dating life until he found his wife. He just keeps searching until he finds a gem.
“When you start building something from nothing … It gives you a great sense of accomplishment,” said Miller. “I’ve trailed through every inch of this [living area], the mountains over there, and almost halfway around the flight line … it just feels healthy.”
Small stacks of rocks, rejected for one reason or another, dot the area outside Miller’s living quarters. Occasionally the wind or rain will topple some of his creations. Fixing the sculptures is just part of the therapy of it all, said Miller.
He said his newest challenge is to create a moving model of one of his unit's aircraft.