Story and photos by Cpl. Meredith Brown
CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan – Over the last two years, Camp Leatherneck, located in Helmand province, has dramatically evolved. When Marines and their Navy counterparts first started building the base it was a mere 400 acres. Now, at more than 1,600 acres, the base serves as the main hub for all units operating within Regional Command Southwest’s Helmand and Nimroz provinces.
Departing and arriving units complete their turnovers and sustainment training at Camp Leatherneck before heading out to the different forward operating and patrol bases, as well as combat outposts within RC(SW).
Camp Leatherneck is one of the largest Marine forward operating bases in history. The camp regularly services more than 19,000 U.S., coalition troops and civilian personnel, said Gunnery Sgt. Peter McCollough, the base operations chief and a native of Miami. The base began being built up under the command of 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade-Afghanistan in early 2009, and has continued evolving, he explained.
The camp serves as the headquarters for Task Forces Belleau Wood, Helmand and Leatherneck, and has a robust command and control aspect, he added.
Additionally, U.S. and coalition forces operate on neighboring base, Camp Bastion. The joint forces work together to run the airfield and hospital, which are both located on Camp Bastion.
With more than 3,000 facilities on base, Camp Leatherneck can now easily be described as a self-sustained city, with the closest comparison being to Al Asad, Iraq. They both have served as regional headquarters with large airfields and command and control centers located on them. It is the constant moving parts of Camp Leatherneck that make operating smoothly a continuous task.
Marines at the Camp Commandant’s office work to ensure the necessary duties are completed each day.
McCollough and his team of 21 Marines are responsible for the dozens of tasks involved in keeping the base functioning. Everything from laundry and waste water removal to the delivery of non-potable water is completed each day.
With them making sure everything on base is running smoothly, Camp Leatherneck continues to evolve to meet the war fighter’s needs.
“We can still expand another four to six hundred acres, but we want to grow systematically,” said Philip Russo, the Camp Leatherneck architect master planner. “We don’t want to grow just because we have the space, we want to grow because there is a reason. Having the foresight and ability to assign units where they go and grow properly, was a big keystone for Leatherneck.”
Russo, a Pittston, Pa., native who now calls Chicago home, arrived at Camp Leatherneck in June 2009 and has since played a lead role in the development and expansion of the base.
“It has been continually changing,” Russo said. “We don’t just operate from a functional perspective, but we account for troops outside the wire. When they come back, they are able to recuperate and get their heads together and live properly.”
Even with the responsibility of building what some may say is similar to a small city in a combat zone, Russo credits most of Camp Leatherneck’s successes to the continuity between the servicemembers and contractors on the base.
“It’s not just one person deciding what happens,” Russo continued. “It’s thousands of people making a difference, doing the right thing at the right time for the right reason. That is why Leatherneck is the way it is. It’s a whole lot of people doing a whole lot of the right thing.”