LETART — On this Fourth of July as Americans gather with family and friends to celebrate independence, there are other fellow Americans far from home who are working to protect that independence.
Recently, Cpt. Brenton Clark, a 2007 graduate of Wahama High School and 2011 graduate of West Point, reached out to the Point Pleasant Register. Clark, currently serving in Afghanistan, had heard about a local high school student from Hannan who wished to pursue admittance to West Point and he wanted to help. During these email exchanges, Cpt. Clark agreed to answer questions about his days in Afghanistan, what he misses about home and what the Fourth of July means to him.
Cpt. Clark is the Infantry and graduated Ranger School in 2012. He’s stationed in the 101st ABN DIV located at Fort Campbell, Ky. but, again, has been deployed to Afghanistan since March and is set to redeploy this fall. Clark is also the son of Brent and Amanda Clark of Letart who still reside in the house Cpt. Clark grew up in outside of New Haven. He’s also the grandson of the late Mel Clark who played baseball for the Philadelphia Phillies.
Cpt. Clark stated he felt “undeserving” of being asked to participate in the interview because there were many heroes in the area worthy of being asked about their thoughts when it came to service, home and the Fourth of July.
The following are questions posed to Cpt. Clark and answers in his own words.
Q: Describe what your days are like in Afghanistan?
A: These views are only from my personal experiences, and will describe accordingly. Due to operational security, I cannot delve into too much information, but will give a sweeping overview. This is my second deployment to Afghanistan and the environment has changed substantially as the Afghan Army continues to improve what seems to be daily in defense of their own nation. At one point, their dependence upon us was evident. However, through our progressing relationship with one another, they have improved to the point where they act independently as we now only assist when the necessity arises. On last deployment (in 2013), our interactions with local Afghan citizens were far more frequent as we attempted to work together in stabilizing the immediate area. As mentioned previously, the interactions are less frequent now, an indication of their growing strength and our pending exit.
Q: How, in your opinion, is Afghanistan different than the United States?
A: The two are nearly impossible to compare. I praise the Lord for making me an American, I am truly grateful for it. Our issues in America and West Virginia are so insignificant that is often embarrassing and humbling when I reflect on my past issues that in no way came close to having drastic effects as these Afghan citizens endure. A country that has only been exposed to conflict for decades on its own soil, how can we even relate to that? Our definition of poverty still consists of having what we deem as necessities in electricity and running water, but are viewed as luxuries here. But overall, Afghanistan has undoubtedly caused me to be more appreciative of all the opportunities I have been afforded. With weather, the temperatures are just brutal. It honestly is a sauna every time you walk outside, the temperature hovers around 110 Fahrenheit each day.
Q: Some people seem to have forgotten soldiers are still protecting our freedom in Afghanistan. Is there anything you’d like people to know about what you and your fellow soldiers are doing there now?
A: We still indeed have a presence here in Afghanistan. It may be perceived that US citizens lose track of the war and continue with their daily lives, but that is what is desired from my perspective. The war shouldn’t be affecting individuals stateside as their ambitions should go unhindered. With that being said, there are over 6,000 families whose soldier gave the ultimate sacrifice that will forever be affected. However, my personal experience is the complete opposite in terms of people forgetting about the war. The idea of community resonates with every West Virginian, and ours has been the epitome of it. The support I have received has been overwhelming, I am truly grateful for it and find myself undeserving of the unbelievable gestures from back home. I am very proud of the national pride that the West Virginian exhibits and comes to fruition by it consistently having one of the highest per capita enlistment rates. Our area alone has had more than its share serve since 9/11. Off the top of my head, it includes my brother, Caleb Roach, Michael Crist, Brandon Hankinson, DJ Riggs, Kris Gibbs, Luke Ferguson, Michael Taylor, Nathan Ohlinger, Zach Wamsley, Bobby Errett, Kaleb Petry, JR Parsons, Jon Shields, Tyson Reitmire, Josh Errett, Quentin Scott, Alan Roach, Todd Burris. I apologize because I already know in advance that I omitted several individuals throughout our community, but these individuals have gallantly answered the call to serve, many of whom have deployed multiple times.
Q: What do you miss about Mason County?
A: After being away from home now for eight years, it is the idea of community that I miss the most. It is impossible to go anywhere and not be approached and subsequently engaged in good conversation. Outside of Christ and my family, no other entity has had a larger impact on who I am.
Q: What is the first thing you’ll do when you are stateside?
A: The first thing I will do undoubtedly is spend time with my family. The Army has at times taken away time to be with family, but it makes you appreciate your loved ones that much more and the time you have with them. And honestly, I really cannot wait to drive my truck (F-150). I know she’s in good hands with my father though.
Q: How will you celebrate the Fourth of July this year and do you have any Fourth of July memories from your time in Mason County?
A: Last year was the first Fourth of July in eight years I have had privilege to do of my choosing. It was very enjoyable as I got to spend time with my friends and family at Dan and Cathy Riggs. I only wish I could join them again this year. Without hesitation, I can easily say that my most memorable Fourth of July memories growing up were spent with the late Kenneth and Donna Thompson and their sons (Mark, Tom, Tim, and Matt) and their families. They were always beyond hospitable to us Clark’s as we were typically the only non-Thompson’s to be there, am still to this day appreciative of their generosity.
Q: What has the Fourth of July come to mean to you?
A: I believe grateful most accurately describes our Independence Day on many levels. First of all, the courage of our forefathers to stand up to the tyranny of oppressive British. I praise the Lord for allowing me to live in a land where the idea of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness prevails. I love the idea that with a little bit of hard work and ambition, the individual directs their own path and no one else determines their success in life. I am very grateful for these opportunities as I get to witness daily for those that is not the case. The Fourth of July means all of this and more, but I am most appreciative for the freedom to worship freely. What a glorious God we serve.