|© Louie Palu; U.S. Marine Gysgt. Carlos “OJ” Orjuela, age 31, Garmsir District, Helmand Province, Afghanistan, from Project: Home Front (2008)|
By Louie Palu
|Louie Palu, Kandahar, Afghanistan in 2010|
In the summer of 2008, I spent several months covering frontline fighting around the volatile districts west of the city of Kandahar in Afghanistan. By August I was preparing to move from an area under Canadian Army command in Kandahar to one in neighbouring Helmand Province where the United States Marines had been fighting. When I arrived at the Marine’s headquarters the public affairs officer asked me what I wanted to do. I asked her to send me to the combat outpost located in the worst area with the most austere conditions. I was told to meet a Marine at a tent on the flight path at Kandahar Airfield around midnight and they would take me on a C-130 military aircraft, then a helicopter followed by a heavily armed convoy (a journey totaling several days) and finally arriving in Garmsir District at Forward Operating Base (FOB) Apache North. As expected from my 2+ years covering the war, it was 120 degrees Farenheit everyday, 4-6 patrols per day, no running water or toilet and sand fleas biting me all night.
At 31, U.S. Marine Gunnery Sergeant Carlos Orjuela was one of the oldest Marine’s in the unit at the FOB. Most of the Marines in the unit were just 21-years-old. The conditions were so rough there that for me what said the most about this place was the faces of these young men. Everyday I spent several hours talking to each Marine and getting to know them, sometimes it took several days to build a connection. When we returned to the FOB at the end of each patrol I took a Marine into an empty bunker where there was natural light and took some portraits of them for about 5-10 minutes. Carlos was the very first Marine I photographed for this body of work.
WAR/PHOTOGRAPHY: Images of Armed Conflict and Its Aftermath will show at the Annenberg Space for Photography through June 2, 2013. Learn more about Louie Palu on his official website.