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Minnesota Marine is a heavy lifter during Helmand drawdown

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Minnesota Marine is a heavy lifter during Helmand drawdown

22 Aug 2014 | 1st Lt. Garth Langley

During the final year of operations in Helmand province, U.S. forces with Marine Expeditionary Brigade – Afghanistan, Regional Command (Southwest), are hard at work. While some security force assistance advisors continue to train, advise and assist the Afghan National Security Forces, others are focused on ensuring the retrograde mission is met with success. By the end of the year, RC(SW) will transition full security responsibility including the remaining U.S. and coalition military bases to the ANSF after more than five years of counterinsurgency and security force assistance operations. 

U.S. Marine Cpl. Robert W. Clark, a native of Maple Grove, Minnesota, and landing support specialist with RC(SW), deployed with MEB-A during Jan. 2014 to aid U.S. and coalition forces in the complete retrograde and redeployment of equipment and personnel. 

Later this month, Clark will celebrate his third year in the Marines. He enlisted on Aug. 22, 2011. He said the call to serve came early. 

“It was something I had always wanted to do since I was little,” said Clark. 

Military service also runs in Clark’s family. His grandfather served in the Air Force during WWII; his older brother served in the Army during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Pop culture and celebrities’ portrayals of military men and women also influenced him. 

“I’m pretty sure Sly Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jean Claude Van Damme all had a lot to do with planting that seed,” said Clark. 

During 2012, he served in Helmand with Combat Logistics Battalion 2 as a landing support specialist at the Arrival and Departure Airfield Control Group aboard Camp Dwyer, Afghanistan. Clark served during a period of transition from coalition-led to Afghan-partnered operations. He said the unit supported thousands of U.S. and coalition forces who were still operating outside of the main bases at small outposts.

For his current deployment, Clark was hand-selected. Although when he received the initial call, he was in disbelief. 

“I said ‘again?’” said Clark. 

His family was supportive despite expressing disappointment he was leaving again. 

Initially, Clark was unsure what the second tour to Helmand would entail. 

“I didn’t know exactly what I was going to be doing at first, and my job has shifted from when I first arrived,” said Clark. 

He has been exposed to a series of advanced problem sets, including working on a very senior staff with regional command. His position has required him to work across language barriers and nationalities including eight coalition countries that have ended their participation in the campaign during 2014. 

Clark said each nation had unique requests in order to drawdown their forces and equipment. 

“I first noticed there weren’t as many people riding bicycles and how much retrograding and downsizing had occurred,” said Clark. 

“As the downsizing continues, it is going to be challenging to accomplish all of the work that needs to be done. With less manpower and fewer assets and as more and more troops leave, we are going to have to operate outside of our comfort zones.”

The deployment has been a colossal challenge. “We have a lot to manage. There are so many moving parts,” said Clark.

“I can see the changes in the Bastion-Leatherneck Complex, and it has been a great growing and learning experience doing something outside of my military occupational specialty.” 

His officer-in-charge, Capt. Kevin Holt, said Clark has exceeded expectations considering his position was reserved for more a senior Marine. 

Holt said Clark always has a positive attitude and finds a way to accomplish the mission.

“Corporal Clark's ability to prioritize, forecast, and track logistical requirements has been vital to the success of the Marine Corps' redeployment and retrograde from Helmand province,” said Holt. 

During his time in Helmand, Clark has benefited from working with coalition military forces. As the Georgian Army worked to retrograde their forces from the region, Clark said they relied on his abilities to generate logistics support. 

For his efforts he was awarded a certificate of commendation from the 31st Georgian Light Infantry Battalion. 
“Not only does Cpl. Clark and his Marines manage all logistical requirements aboard Camp Leatherneck, they also oversaw the resupply and retrograde of U.S. and U.K. forward operating bases throughout RC(SW). 

“In order to minimize the threat to coalition forces, Cpl. Clark assisted in planning with unmanned helicopter external loads, supervising Helicopter Support Teams and requesting coalition convoys,” said Holt. 

In total, Clark coordinated 716 logistical support missions totaling 31,506.9 tons of cargo. In addition he coordinated 297 aviation support request which allowed more than 250 personnel and 450 tons of cargo to move throughout Helmand and Nimroz provinces via U.S. and U.K. aviation assets.
“On the lower end, I coordinated 437 service support requests for maintenance and repair including generators, air conditioning units, vehicles and even surveillance camera systems,” he added. 

“He also lifts some serious weight in the gym,” said Holt. 

Clark has managed the heavy workload in Helmand by balancing time in the gym. “I like working to improve myself in every way,” said Clark. “If I don’t lift weights, it’s a bad day,” said Clark. 

He said he has thoroughly enjoyed serving as one of the last Marines in Helmand province. 

“The best part of my job here is the Marines I get to work with,” said Clark. 

When the deployment is complete, Clark will rejoin Combat Logistics Regiment 17 based out of Camp Pendleton.

Clark is looking forward to returning to Oceanside, California, and reuniting with his wife Lateasha. He and his wife enjoy snowboarding, hunting and playing with their dog. After this deployment, there may even be talk of raising a family.