NEVER ACCORDING TO PLAN |
February 12, 2014
Name: Jeff Clement
Returned from: Afghanistan
Hometown: Cary, NC
Milblog: The Lieutenant Don't Know
After deploying, one of the reasons that it took so long to relax, to not be on edge, was that nothing in Afghanistan ever went according to plan. We always had to be ready for anything.
May 23, 2010 was supposed to be a routine day.
“Alright, guys, another recovery mission.Third Battalion, 7th Marines is up north of us. They hit a couple IEDs last night, but they’ve pulled the two trucks and one mineroller back to a relatively secure area.” A mineroller was a 9,000-pound sled with wheels that would be attached to the front of our trucks to limit the damage from IEDs — the IED would go off under the mineroller instead of under the truck with Marines inside.
I was five months into my deployment as a truck platoon commander with Combat Logistics Battalion 6, a Marine Logistics unit. We had the cranes, trailers, and wreckers needed to recover vehicles that were damaged by IED strikes.
I continued briefing. “The idea is that we’re going to move fast. This isn’t a resupply, so we’ve only got 15 trucks. We know that the insurgents will try to target us with IEDs on the Tabletop, this ridge in the middle of the route. So we are going to try to run up to the objective, load up and get back. Mission time, six to eight hours.”
I looked up. Calm, dirty faces stared back at me. Dirty was good. It meant they had spent time on maintenance. Calm was good too. They knew what they were doing.
My routine mission was disrupted right from the start. At the last minute, we had to bring some supplies up to 3/7, so we left about six hours late.
Still, the trip up to the recovery site was smooth, and I thought we were back in a groove. I found the officer in charge and asked him where the equipment for us to recover was. “Alright, so we got three MRAPs,” he said, “and one mineroller.”
“Three?” I cut him off. “The request was only for two.” Another change.
“Can you show me where this mineroller is?” I asked
“Yeah,” he pointed to the map “it’s a ways down here by itself.”
“You left it?” I was incredulous.
“Well yeah. It’s pretty heavy,” he laughed. “I don’t think anybody can take it.”
“I’m not worried somebody could take it. I’m worried that somebody could booby-trap it!”
“Hadn’t thought of that. Well, can you still get it?”
“Don’t have a choice, do I?” The risk went up.
My driver drove in a circle around it with our mineroller. It would be much better for our mineroller to be destroyed by a booby-trap than to damage one of our wreckers, which were in very short supply.
“Bump that mineroller with ours. Don’t crash into it, but hit it hard enough that any hair triggers or pressure-release switches will trip.” No explosion, but my adrenaline was still pumping.
Once we got everything loaded up on the wreckers, we headed back down south.
“IED!” my gunner called down. Our first vehicle had struck an IED. The Marines in the truck had concussions, but could go on.
The only mineroller left was on my truck. My platoon sergeant demanded that we switch places, that he ride in my truck since it would be in the front of the convoy.
“Sir, you shouldn’t be up front. You know that.” Our tactics didn’t allow platoon commanders in the first vehicle.
“You’re right, but I can’t switch trucks with you. It might be right by the textbook but how could I ask you to ride up front if I’m not willing to do it myself?”
A few hundred meters after we started moving, the ground under us erupted.
In slow motion, the air filled with brown moondust and the front of the truck was lifted off the ground.
“Lepinski!” I grabbed at the gunner’s leg. He had been in the turret, exposed to shrapnel.
Umoren, my driver, was visibly in pain, but said he could continue. After the shock and adrenaline of the IED strike wore off, everyone in the truck had a splitting headache. A few of us had some torn muscles and damaged vertebrae (we later found), but nothing that seemed to warrant a MEDEVAC.
We would have to push through. The convoy continued south.
The radio crackled, “I think the truck in front of me just rolled over!”
I could see a pair of headlights off to the side of the path. They appeared to be about 15° from level. Well, that wasn’t too bad...We could just tip the truck back down and it’d be fine.
As we got closer, I realized that the headlights were 15° from level because the truck had slid down a ridge, rolling 195°. The Marines inside the truck were okay. But because it weighed over 100,000 pounds, we had nothing that could recover it.
I sent a request to higher asking for an M88 Tank Retriever. We would have to wait until it arrived before we could flip the truck upright. The 6-hour mission had stretched over 36. We couldn’t relax yet.
We set up security for the night...
Jeff Clement served two tours in Afghanistan as a US Marine Corps logistics officer. His first book, The Lieutenant Don’t Know, will be released in April. Find him on the web (http://clementjd.com) or on Twitter (@jeffclement).