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Whatley tells Afghanistan conditions

When he was in Afghanistan, Lance Cpl. Justin Whatley would buyvegetables from a local marketplace and cook them in a coffee canfor the other Marines in his scout/sniper platoon.

It broke up the monotony of military food and helped support themarketplace, but associating with Americans earned the market ownera death sentence.

“The next day I went to buy more, but the Taliban had come andkilled the guy who ran the marketplace,” said Whatley, a Loyd Starnative. “You could be talking to someone and shaking their hand,but the man standing next to them could be Taliban and they wouldhave no idea.”

Whatley, 23, briefed the Brookhaven Lions Club on conditions inAfghanistan Tuesday, putting out the call for prayer and supportfor American troops fighting in the heartland of terrorism. He saidthe soldiers and Marines operating there are doing a good job, andthe Afghans need the American presence.

“They don’t know if their next-door neighbor is Taliban or not,”Whatley said. “These people have no way of protecting themselves,and if we weren’t there, the Taliban would be here – I’d ratherfight them over there. No one wants to see American troops die, butwe do need to be there.”

A 2005 graduate of Loyd Star Attendance Center, Whatley has beenin Brookhaven for about one week on medical leave from Marine CorpsBase Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, where’s he’s been recoveringfrom what are likely career-ending injuries sustained in combat. Hesuffered minor brain damage and permanent hearing loss in his leftear on March 20 when he was struck by an improvised explosivedevice in Afghanistan’s Marjah district during his seconddeployment with the 1st Battalion, 6th Marines.

“It was a command (detonation). We saw the guy running and Iraised up on him but he detonated first,” Whatley said. “It wasinside a wall about 3 feet away. When I came to, I was across theroad, across the canal.”

The IED used against Whatley and his fellow Marines was packedwith nails, nuts and bolts, making it a deadly shotgun-likeexplosion designed to kill and injure many troops in a wide area.Nearby Taliban combatants opened fire on the Marines as soon as thebomb detonated in an IED ambush, and the bomber was neverfound.

“The nut they pulled out of my buddy’s throat was the size of aquarter and about an inch deep. Luckily, in God’s hands, he’s stillalive. I talked to him just before I came back to Mississippi,”Whatley said.

Whatley said the roadside bombs developed by Taliban fightersare not quite as sophisticated as those deployed by insurgents inIraq, but he’s seen the quality and effectiveness of Afghan bombsincrease since his first deployment in March 2008. The newestmodels of IEDs confronting U.S. troops in Afghanistan are poweredby ammonium nitrate instead of leftover munitions and use no metalparts, making them harder to detect.

One thing Whatley and his fellow Marines often detected were thebomb-makers themselves, but the rules of engagement didn’t alwaysallow for an intervention. With their high-powered optics, thescout/snipers often observed Taliban bombers carrying their deadlyparts in yellow jugs, but innocent Afghans used those samereceptacles and the Marines won’t chance killing civilians.

“We’d see guys on the road with yellow jugs, but we couldn’tengage. That guy could have water in those jugs, or fertilizer forhis crops,” Whatley said.

Whatley couldn’t offer much specific information because so muchis classified – some things he can’t even tell his wife, he said.News reports on Afghanistan are mostly accurate and convey as muchinformation as the news outlet can gather, he said.

Despite the dangers, the Marines in Afghanistan are doing welland need support from the home front, Whatley said. The Marineshave few comforts in the war zone, and letter and packages fromhome are “like Christmas,” he said.

Care packages may be sent to Whatley’s Marines at Team One, 1/6WPNS Co. SSP, Unit: 73145, FPO-AE 09372-3145. Packages may consistof hard candy – the scout/snipers really enjoy Sour Patch Kids, hesaid – toiletries, wipes, drink mixes and more. More suggestionsfor care package contents are easily found online.

“The Marines in Afghanistan right now are doing an amazing job,and I thank God for every day for my brothers. Semper Fi,” Whatleysaid.