News: Farmingville, N.Y., native takes driver’s seat in Afghanistan
Story by Cpl. Paul Peterson
CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan - The route north from Camp Dwyer, Afghanistan, passes through a vast swath of deserted sands and vehicle devouring wadis.
It’s a lonely, unforgiving place.
Lance Cpl. Justin Miller, a vehicle operator with Combat Logistics Regiment 2, Regional Command (Southwest), straddled the hood of his Mine Resistant, Ambush Protected vehicle trying everything he could to bring the motor’s familiar hum back to life.
Miller, a Farmingville, N.Y., native, departed Camp Leatherneck three days prior on a convoy of more than 40 vehicles. His gun truck formed the rear anchor for the long line of vehicles now kicking up a wall of sand well ahead of him.
The convoy commander was aware of the crew’s predicament, but there is no good place for a vehicle to break down in Afghanistan. It would take time to back track to the stranded crew.
“We trouble shoot our own issues,” said Miller, who worked on cars in his youth. “It will blow your mind. You’re sitting there thinking, ‘We got to get there. We got to get there.’ But sometimes when you think it’s only going to take 14 hours, it ends up taking 36 hours. You just have to accept it.”
Miller was not alone. His vehicle commander joined him in repairing the engine while their turret gunner hunkered down behind his M240 machine gun and scanned the bleak surroundings.
The team has become used to flying solo. Their position at the rear of convoys conducting runs between Camp Dwyer and Camp Leatherneck bred a certain independence.
“It’s been tough,” confessed Miller. “It’s a lot of long working hours. The stress level is very high trying to get the job done. There’s just not enough hours in the day.”
The team of three is particularly isolated in the rear, where the gunner watches an exposed flank and the driver see’s little more than the dust cloud of the vehicle ahead.
“You build a strong relationship with the Marines inside the vehicle,” said Miller, who volunteered for the deployment. “Sitting in the truck for 36 hours, you get to know each other. You try to do things with each other to make the time fly – talking about back home or the things we’re going to do when we get back.”
Fortunately, the crew shares a lot in common. They are all Marine reservists with distinct New York personalities. They are also completely reliant upon each other.
The truck seemingly exudes their peculiar personality as the three Marines share jokes or fond memories from back home during their missions. Half of their conversations are lost on anyone outside the tight-knit group.
“Driving back home, you mostly sit in traffic, especially on the Long Island Expressway,” said Miller. “[Out here] it’s about the people in the vehicle. They talk to you. They keep you awake and alert.”
The crew was on the verge of rigging their truck for tow when the smell of fuel began permeating the air. Moments later, the engine bucked and revved to life.
Miller washed his greasy hands with a bottle of water and climbed back into the driver’s seat. Camp Leatherneck was within eyesight on the horizon to the north. As luck would have it, he would be able to take a shower and eat warm food within a few hours.