HELMAND PROVINCE, Afghanistan – --
It was a bit of a bumpy ride for Cpl. Thomas Hornor when he sat atop the turret of his Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicle during a nearly eight-hour combat logistics patrol across the unpredictable terrain of the scorching Afghanistan desert.
He and the Marines of General Support Motor Transport Company, Combat Logistics Regiment 15, 1st Marine Logistics Group (Forward) were on a routine resupply mission to Forward Operating Base Dwyer from Camp Leatherneck to keep their fellow war fighters resupplied with the items they need. As a gunner, it's Hornor's job to watch out for possible threats to the combat logistics patrol and ensure the safety of his fellow Marines.
At one point, the vehicle took an unexpected dip into a steep pit of soft "moon dust," a term used for the talcum-like sand that covers much of Afghanistan. From the turret, Hornor feels every bump in the road more so than the Marines riding inside the armored vehicle. But he wouldn't trade places for anything.
"I love it, I wouldn't do anything else," said Hornor, a Chicago native. "It gets a little bumpy and a little dusty, but you can't beat the view and you get to see everything, and I'm able to aid the convoy in just about everything it does."
Hornor, 26, graduated with a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from Purdue University and worked for the Kohler company before receiving news that he was shipping out in March with his reserve unit, 6th Motor Transport Battalion, 4th Marine Logistics Group, from Texarkana, Texas. For his last project with Kohler, a company that manufactures and distributes sink faucets, he was in charge of an $8.6 million project that he worked on for nine months before having to hand it off to another employee when he received orders to Afghanistan.
Despite the drastic change in responsibilities, going from a desk job to the gun turret was an easy transition, he said.
"I call it my other office," he joked. "I actually sent a picture from the turret to my boss just letting him know that I've changed venues, just something with a little bit more of a view and a little bit more firepower."
Hornor said he always wanted to serve his country and chose the Marine Corps because "Marines are the best at everything that they do."
"I wanted to challenge myself, and the Marine Corps was the place I could do that," he added.
Hornor was faced with another challenge when he attempted to complete Officer Candidate School in 2006, with the hopes of becoming a Marine officer. Those hopes were abruptly halted after he injured himself while slipping on a patch of ice during a run a few weeks into training. He didn't see it as a setback, though. He decided to "stick it out" as an enlisted Marine in the Reserves, and said he might give OCS another shot when the time is right.
"I knew I wanted to get a deployment under my belt before I tried again," he said. "[It's] just something I felt was needed. If you want to lead Marines you should know what they go through."
After completing four years as an enlisted Marine, Hornor certainly does.
Upon arriving at FOB Dwyer, Hornor hopped down from the turret, his face covered in moon dust from the long ride, save for the rim around his eyes where his sunglasses sat. The Marines unloaded their cargo of supplies – mostly uniform items, ammunition and construction materials – and spent the night, only to wake up a few hours later to make the long return trip back to their home base of Camp Leatherneck. It's a trip the unit gets to make every few days.
And Hornor has the best seat in the house.