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Photos: The Gun Team

Soldiers carry brutal, but necessary, loads on patrol in Zabul's mountains.

Combat Outpost Baylough sits at about 7,400 feet, and to walk anywhere means climbing the surrounding mountains. The terrain is difficult, and there is very little air to breathe up there.

Yet soldiers from B Co., 1-24 Infantry, conduct daily patrols from Baylough, often carrying heavy loads up the rocky slopes. And no one carries a heavier load than the gun team.

Pfc. Noah Nowell carries the 30-pound gun and Pfc. Gary McClintock carries the ammunition, which is even heavier. The two must stay close together, since one is far less effective without the other.

Nowell only has about 100 rounds in his M240B machine gun, which might only last 10 seconds in the frantic initial moments of a firefight. McClintock carries about 1,000 rounds of ammunition and a spare barrel in case Nowell's overheats

While Nowell carries a 9mm pistol as a sidearm, McClintock must carry his M4 assault rifle with 10 magazines of ammunition. It is a crushing load, and soldiers carrying far less weight constantly implore them to move faster and stay ahead of the patrol.

While they have not yet been in a firefight while on patrol, their presence is necessary — the ridiculous weight they carry translates to a ridiculous amount of firepower. 

Pfc. Gary McClintock (left) and Pfc. Noah Nowell leave Combat Outpost Baylough on a patrol. Nowell carries a M240B machinegun and 100 rounds. In addition to his own weapon and ammunition, McClintock carries 1,000 M240B rounds and a spare barrel.

Staff Sgt. Scott Ianno waits for McClintock, who carries the most weight, to catch up to the patrol.

A rock wall collapses under McClintock's weight, and his heavy backpack drags him to the ground.

Nowell and McClintock follow their squad leader, Ianno, up a steep hill in Day Chopan.

After the patrol, Baylough's kitten, Sammy, welcomes McClintock back by scrambling up his back.