Tough commute to work: convoy with USMC in Afghanistan

Sunday, October 3rd, 2010

Clement-gift

In this photo is the Vice President of our Naval Academy Alumni Chapter, Jeff Truitt, and First Lieutenant Jeffrey Clement USMC at a recent Chapter luncheon. I am this year’s President of the RTP Chapter of the Association. First, more about Lt. Clement. He is 24 years old and a graduate of Georgia Tech. His young wife joined us for lunch. She is also a Tech grad and employed by the Nuclear Reactor Commission in Washington, DC. Her busy workload there kept her mind occupied as her husband spent six months leading 30 vehicle convoys forth and back across the lengthy, sole paved road in Helmand Province, Afghanistan. I’ll update this post with associated photos of the scale of equipment required to keep Marines supplied in their desert outposts. Aside from the terrifying nature of the work where they must contend with 1,000s of home-made bombs on every transit – a home-made bomb is termed Improvised Explosive Device or IED and is essentially a five gallon pail of explosives planted in the sand in clusters- their routine transit up and down the one highway (sic) twists and turns through sand storms and scorching heat without the benefit of maintenance support along the way. Those associated photos depict a modern day wagon train in a landscape unchanged in thousands of years. No matter one’s political association, one has to wonder why we are there with nothing to conquer, nearly no one to convert and only handful of small village, actually campsites, where any sort of help will make any kind of difference.

As with the young Navy lieutenants whom I meet leading the RTP’s ROTC programs at Duke, NC State and UNC, I was humbled by the calm and purposeful demeanor of Lt. Clement. At 24 years old and now a combat veteran, he stands tall with a presence of honesty, sincerity and trustworthiness. When foiled by the weather or the enemy on convoy, he described simply what happened, what had to be done and what was learned to keep his men safe and the mission on target. He looks you straight in the eye when speaking with you because you have his full attention. I doubt if he suffers fools lightly and you receive the benefit of the doubt in conversation.

Why does he do this? Why do any of the young officers commit to service, enthusiastically pursue routinely dangerous jobs – not once in a while assignments, but routinely dangerous jobs- and perform such roles for lower pay and a reduced quality of life compared to their peers? I guess because they are attracted to a cause greater than themselves and feel that they must try to repay what they have and expect to receive by virtue of being citizens of this country. Not exactly a cable television, reality show concept.

Whenever I try to make sense of the aftermath of the financial bust- now Ireland has one foot off of the platform so who knows what awaits- I wonder how the nation would feel if our military sold us out the same way that our financial institutions had.

At my end, I’ll try to bring to work on Monday the lessons and messages that the 1st Lt. USMC conveyed to me on Friday during the noon hour. I’ll endeavor to see beyond the petty distractions and disruptions that too often take me off of my own single lane highway. I’ll try to accept stoically what I cannot change and do my calm best when I have the opportunity to make a difference. For sure, I won’t complain about any commute that I might have down I-40 and across town.