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Bad weather grounds Marines en route to Afghanistan in Watertown

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A couple of hundred Marines en route to Afghanistan have made the most of the north country after being grounded by bad weather late last week at Wheeler-Sack Army Airfield.

Since the delay, the Marines have been lodged in hotels around Watertown as they wait for a new flight early this week.

“We’re here for a few more days enjoying your fine city,” said Lt. Col. Nicholas A. Morris, commanding officer of the Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 461, based at Marine Corps Air Station New River, Jacksonville, N.C.

Talking to the Times by phone, he said the hospitality that he and his unit had received from the city and Fort Drum’s 10th Mountain Division had been wonderful since their layover.

While the sight of Marines in uniform roaming around Watertown is out of the ordinary, it’s not uncommon for units from other branches to stop at Fort Drum on their way overseas, said Maj. Josh T. Jacques, 10th Mountain Division deputy public affairs officer.

The Marine unit has to wait until the next available window opens up for its flight out.

At the Hilton Garden Inn, 1290 Arsenal St., a small group of Marines lounged at the bar area ordering drinks and buffalo wings while they watched the Weather Channel. With little means of transportation, most of them had spent the down time in the hotel, and were taking the delay in stride.

“This is something you can’t change, so it’s nothing to get mad about,” said Capt. Robert J. Paugh.

With only a small amount of clothing other than their camouflage utility uniforms, which they were not supposed to wear outside of the hotel, a number of Marines sought out a deal at the Thrifty Shopper store in the nearby Stateway Plaza. The shopping trip turned into a small contest of who could dress the best for under $20.

Among the favorites were Capt. Jay J. Barron, who wore a shirt and tie under a maroon cardigan and slacks, which he described as a “Mr. Rogers look,” along with Capt. Andrew J. Matthess, who wore a light blue suit and khaki slacks outfit he described as “Connecticut circa 1975.”

“We decided we were going to keep it classy,” Capt. Matthess said.

“You look like you’re opening an amusement park,” one of his comrades called out.

Some of the Marines said they would donate the clothes back when they left.

Many of the Marines will gather at the hotel tonight to watch the Super Bowl, with the hotel putting on a special viewing party for the squadron in its conference room.

Col. Morris noted that if it weren’t for the layover, he and his squadron would have had to watch the game by satellite feed in another country.

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