News: Up front: Port St. Lucie, Fla., Marine leads the way in Afghanistan
Story by Cpl. Paul Peterson
CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan - He makes the path everyone else follows. It’s his job and his burden.
Cpl. Lee Walls, a Port St. Lucie, Fla., native and navigator with Combat Logistics Regiment 2, Regional Command (Southwest), serves as the point man for convoys of more than 30 vehicles through the rugged terrain of Helmand province, Afghanistan, on missions that last for days at a time.
“We’re the eyes up front,” said Walls after returning from a two-day mission to Forward Operating Base Shir Ghazi. “It’s constant communication.”
It falls to Walls and his vehicle crew to create paths around impassible obstacles and possible danger areas while they move through Afghan villages and a difficult desert environment.
Every move requires consideration of the numerous vehicles behind the team.
“It’s easy of us because there’s no one in front of us,” said Walls. “We have to make a decision whether we want to go over something where there might be a possible [improvised explosive device], or do we want to go around it and [risk] the terrain and possibly lose a load. There are choices that come in there, and it weighs heavy on us.”
The position requires a great deal of knowledge. Walls must familiarize himself with the terrain, each vehicle in the convoy, and the situation of the enemy. At the end of the day, his choice impacts every Marine.
“We squabble, we argue, but that comes with the job,” said Walls. “Tensions get high because it’s a lot of mental work. If you make that wrong decision, it weighs on you.”
Walls familiarized himself with numerous routes around the province during his previous deployment to the region. He understands the paths and when something doesn’t look right.
“We have to keep ourselves alert,” he said. “It’s a lot of panning in and out of the vehicle, looking in front of us, eyes constantly glued to the road. Communication is the key.”
It is impossible for one person to handle it all, said Walls.
He relies on his gunner to scan for threats and communicate terrain features to his driver. Everything is a team effort.
“We keep each other going,” said Walls. “As good as you get, you think, ‘Hey I could do this with pretty much anyone,’ but that definitely isn’t true when it comes to the guys I have. I’m sure they feel the same about each other myself.”