MS. REBECCA SHEIR
This year, the US military is facing a massive task. Bringing home tens of thousands of troops from Afghanistan, along with their equipment. At the heart of that effort are individuals charged with logistics. That is, maneuvering convoys of dozens of armored trucks through often hostile and rugged terrain. Jeff Clement is one of those individuals. The US Marine is back home in D.C., and is about to publish a book about his two years serving in Afghanistan's Helmand Province. It's called, "The Lieutenant Don't Know."
MS. REBECCA SHEIR
And as Clement told "Metro Connection's" Jacob Fenston, his battalion was often the main link for Marines stationed in remote and dangerous posts.
MR. JEFF CLEMENT
Some of these places are small patrol bases in little villages, and so you might only have 20 or 30 Marines out there. You know, the closest friendly forces are 10, 20 miles away from some of them. So, yeah, when you're out there, you're all alone.
MR. JACOB FENSTON
Talk about some of the challenges that you would face on a daily basis doing this. I mean, it sounds like part of it is, as the name implies, logistics, like figuring out how to get things to different places.
There's the initial challenges that any, you know, supply chain manager faces, as far as, you know, you've got to manage all the loads and, you know, everybody wants everything now. And you only have so many trucks, and so you've got to prioritize loads and capacity and everything to make sure that they have what they really need, when they really need it. And then, you're also dealing with, you know, it's off road, so the terrain is very challenging. You know, our convoys were really limited to going three to five miles an hour, just because of how rough the terrain was.
You know, dropping down two feet into these, basically, we call them wadis, dry river beds. And then trying to get back up the other side. Our trucks are amazing, but it's very rough. So, you're dealing with that, you know, and then you get, basically, the external influence of the enemy. There are no front lines in Afghanistan, and a convoy moving three or five miles an hour looks like a really nice target.
That's a striking image, the idea of this huge convoy of armored vehicles traveling across, you know, open space, and at three miles, three to five miles an hour, and people just being able to see you from, I imagine, from miles.
Yeah, absolutely. You know, and the Helmand Province, it's really got all kinds of terrain. You know, you've got rivers and some extremely fertile areas, you know, with farms and very dense compounds. And then you've got flat expanses of desert, so, you know, if you have a convoy that is moving at three to five miles an hour and they can see you 25 miles away, they have five hours to prepare to attack you. And there's only a couple different routes you can go on over this terrain, that our trucks are able to handle.
What was the biggest danger, do you think, in traveling? Was it improvised explosive devices, IEDs?
Yeah, yeah. Absolutely. Without a doubt. You know, a direct ambush, while it's not really fun, you know, it's something like, OK, I know that I can fight through this and I really have -- I do have an advantage in this fight. The IEDs is a totally different story, and the best sort of analogy that I can make, sort of, you know, what does it feel like to be in an IED explosion -- it's kind of like a really, really bad car accident. But, at least in a car accident, you can kind of see it coming. Like, uh oh, I'm about to hit the car in front of me. There's no warning in an IED explosion.
Like, suddenly, you're just slammed with this incredible force. The air fills with the smell of like fertilizer, cause that's what they're made out of. Your visibility immediately drops to zero, because the air fills with this cloud of dust. And that's just for the Marines who are in the truck that gets hit. It's almost more terrifying, you know, for me, especially as a platoon Commander, you know, to see my Marines, to be in a truck, you know, three or four trucks back, and to suddenly, out of nowhere, one of my trucks is in this dense cloud, you know?
And you have no idea, like, are the Marines in that truck still alive? Are they OK? Time stops for that instant.
It seems like from a psychological standpoint, too, that could just be so, you know, the ambush maybe you would see people coming and have some warning, but with an IED, like, just to know that any moment, that could happen.
That is one of the things that I'm most impressed about my Marines, and really impressed with the way that they handled it. Every mission, you know, we pretty much knew that somebody was gonna hit an IED. But yet they went out, day after day, to get the mission done, to get those supplies to the people who needed it, to accomplish our mission. And to deal with that uncertainty and say, OK, you know what, I don't know if this is gonna happen. I don't know when it's gonna happen. They dealt with that uncertainty and that not knowing, which is a really uncomfortable feeling, but they had a job to do, and we did it.
What do you hope readers take away from reading your book? And, I guess, who do you hope reads it?
My book -- I really hope that it's approachable to people who aren't in the military. I want, you know, sort of, the average American to be able to pick this up and sort of understand that, you know, everything that goes into war and everybody who's involved to make that happen. I think it's important, especially as we contemplate future conflicts, as a society, the total cost of the war. And it's beyond dollars and it's beyond just lives lost. Everybody who goes and fights in a war, they lose something and it costs them something.
I wouldn't call myself a dove, and I'm not necessarily anti-war, but I think it really should be a last resort. I think, really, time will tell, you know, as far as how quote end quote successful our counterinsurgency efforts have been. In my book, I really focus on just sort of my piece of the fight, and say, hey, you know what, this is what we did, and we did it well.
That was Jeff Clement, speaking with "Metro Connection's" Jacob Fenston. Clement's book, "The Lieutenant Don't Know," comes out next month. You can get a sneak peek on our website, metroconnection.org.
After the break, feeling lucky this St. Patrick's Day week? Then, perhaps you've never owned a certain 45.52 carat diamond.
MR. JEFFREY POST
As tragic things did happen in her life, there's evidence to suggest that she started to wonder whether something related to the diamond was dictating these problems.
Stick around. That story and more is just ahead on "Metro Connection," here on WAMU 88.5.
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