U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Jonathan R. Waldman

Here’s a familiar scenario for most enlisted Marines: You’re walking along when you see an older Marine barreling toward you with an immaculate eight-point and a shit-ton of black stripes and rockers on his collar. As you get ready to greet the fast-approaching staff NCO, you realize you can’t read his rank. The black chevrons have perfect concealment among the foliage of his woodland MARPAT uniform. He’s 15 feet away, then 10, then five. Oh shit, is he a first sergeant, no a gunny, no a master serg— Too late, so you spit out the first words that come to mind: “Good morning first sergeant.” Phew, nailed it.

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NATO photo by Kay M. Nissen

Apart from its sprawling arid plains, Afghanistan is home to fertile farmland intersected by irrigation canals, soaring mountains and plunging valleys. But the country is also home to a resurgent Taliban engaged in heated combat with the Afghan National Army, the latter of which has been wearing expensive — and, it turns out, pointless — woodland camouflage uniforms for the last nine years.

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