Marine Lt. Jeffrey Clement, who served two years in Afghanistan.
This year, the U.S. military is facing the massive task of bringing home tens of thousands of troops from Afghanistan, along with their equipment. At the heart of that effort are logistics officers, whose job it is to maneuver convoys of dozens of armored trucks through often hostile and rugged terrain.
Marine Lieutenant Jeff Clement is one such officer. The D.C. resident is out with a new book, “The Lieutenant Don’t Know,” chronicling his two years serving in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province.
Clement spoke with Metro Connection’s Jacob Fenston, and said his combat logistics battalion was often the main link for Marines stationed in remote and dangerous posts.
"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 ten, twenty miles from some of them. So, yeah, when you’re out there, you’re all alone."
Talk about some of the challenges you would face on a daily basis.
"There’s the initial challenges that any supply-chain manager faces: everyone wants everything now, and you’ve only got so many trucks. So you’ve got to prioritize loads and capacity and make sure they have what they really need when they really need it. And then you’re also dealing with – it’s off-road, so the terrain was very challenging. Our convoys were limited to going three to five miles per hour because of how rough the terrain was. Our trucks are amazing, but you're dealing with that."
"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 per hour looks like a really nice target."
That’s a striking image, the idea of this huge convoy of armored vehicles traveling across open space at three to five miles per hour and people being able to see you for miles.
"Absolutely. The Helmand Province has got all kinds of terrain. You’ve got rivers and some extremely fertile areas with farms and very dense compounds, and then you’ve got flat expanses of desert. So if you’ve got a convoy that’s moving three to five miles an hour, and they can see you from 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 with these heavy loads."
What was the biggest danger in traveling? Was it improvised explosive devices, IEDs?
"Absolutely. You know, a direct ambush, while it’s not really fun, it’s something like, “I know I can fight through this and I do have an advantage in this fight.” The IEDs, it’s a totally different story. The best analogy I can make, it’s kind of like a really, really bad car accident. But at least with a car accident you can kind of see it coming. There’s no warning in an IED explosion. Suddenly you’re slammed with this incredible force, the air fills with the smell of fertilizer, because 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 that are in the truck that gets hit. It’s almost more terrifying, for me as a platoon commander, to be three or four trucks back, and suddenly out of nowhere one of my trucks is in this dense cloud. You have no idea — are the Marines in that truck still alive? Are they okay? Time stops for that instant."
"Every mission we pretty much knew that somebody was going to hit an IED. But yet they went out, day after day to get the mission done, to get the supplies to the people who needed it, and to deal with that uncertainty. They had a job to do, and we did it."
What do you hope readers take away from reading your book and who do you hope reads it?
"I want the average American to be able to pick this up, and sort of understand everything that goes into war, and everything that’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 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, as far as how “successful” our counterinsurgency efforts have been. In my book I really focus on just my piece of the fight and say, “This is what we did, and we did it well."
Marine Lieutenant Jeff Clement’s book, “The Lieutenant Don’t Know,” comes out in April.
Music: "Living With War" by Neil Young from Living With War
The Lieutenant Don't Know Excerpt