First Person: Estancia grad, Marine describes life in Afghanistan

Editor’s note: Lance Cpl. Christopher Robert Perkins, a 2003 graduate of Estancia High School in Costa Mesa, sent the Daily Pilot a brief account of his duties and experiences as a Marine helicopter maintenance worker currently in Afghanistan with the HMH-363 unit. Perkins says he misses the Orange County Fair and would rather be there now than in the “dirt” in Afghanistan. He joined the Marines in March 2008, and recently ran into a 2004 Estancia High graduate, Cpl. Ian Paul Morton, on base.

So let me start with saying I’m not too good with my words, but what I am good with is helicopters and machine guns.

My experience here has been a bit of a trip. I left Hawaii last February on a plane with my unit. A few days later and a few countries later, I found myself here in Afghanistan.

Since we have gotten here, I have felt a lot of days that feel like I’m living in the movie “Groundhog Day,” being that every day here is pretty much a repeat of the day before; minus a few things, well, and the fact that you can’t just keep dying every day and coming back.

We live in 20-man tents in Camp Leatherneck. Camp Leatherneck is in southern Afghanistan, in the Helmand province.

Like I said before, the daily routine is pretty much the same over and over. I wake up around 3 a.m. every day to catch the 3:30 a.m. bus. (Yes, I ride a bus to work every day. The base here is so large that I have a 20-minute ride across base to get to the flight line.) I’ll get to work and have some maintenance to do on the helicopters.

Now here is the only thing that breaks up the routine: I’ll go out for my flight. My unit carries out all sorts of missions such as ground troop insertions, resupplying to Marines out in the field, escorting high-profile people around the country or retrieving the remains of fallen Marines so they can be sent home.

It really has opened my eyes, traveling the country so much and seeing how some people live out here.

Every day is new, in that part, but in the end it is the same area I’m patrolling every day — just a little different mission.

By the time I get back from my flight and clean up my helicopter, I’m usually out of work around 5 p.m. then off to the bus.

We live here along with a bunch of Afghan locals who work on base. Our chow hall is run by the locals along with other random services on base. Connected to Camp Leatherneck is Camp Bastion, the British base.

There is a lot of cultural differences around base. I’ve got to say that after being here more than six months, running 14-hour days, seven days a week, you start to get pretty tired. It was refreshing seeing a friend (fellow Estancia grad Cpl. Ian Morton) out here.

It was just a little piece of home.

I have missed Costa Mesa a lot since I’ve been gone. All the little things are what I miss the most right now, i.e. good food, nearby beaches and the fair going on right now. Instead I’m sitting in the dirt out here missing it.

I’m just looking forward to getting home to my friends and family. I only have about one and a half months left before I’m out of here and back to my duty station on Hawaii. I am so excited to leave this place and get back to a green island.