Ligonier author publishes second book
Kenneth Clark's recently released book details his experiences, based on stories from a log of more than 522 missions, during the 32 months he served as a convoy driver between 2005 and 2009.
Clark of Ligonier will be signing copies of his book, “Other Sons and Daughters: A True Account of Civilian Convoy Drivers in Iraq,” 1 - 3 p.m. Saturday and 2 - 4 p.m. Sunday at Second Chapter Books.
Clark said more than 5,700 civilian men and women served as combat convoy truck drivers, supplying the military with fuel, ammunition, food, water and other military vehicles between November 2003 until the end of the Iraq War in 2011. This was the first time in the history of the United States military that civilians participated in direct combat.
“This is a piece of history that really nobody knows about,” Clark said. “I wanted to put a face to humanize these people; to show the plight of these people coming home and what they have to do to get some semblance of their lives back together and get the disability that they deserve. These people I think need to be recognized for the sacrifice that they paid.”
Clark explained that the military is able to be as small as it because of the jobs performed by civilian contractors.
“The non-combat side is now relegated to civilian contractors so the military can lead with their best. This country needs to know how we wage war today,” said Clark. “People need to know not just how the Iraq War played out, but how future wars are going to be played out. No matter what your feeling is on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, these people stepped up and did a job that few knew was out there and a lot of people didn't want to do when they found out about it.”
During his two tours of duty in Iraq, Clark said his convoy was attacked 20 times. His truck took two direct hits from roadside improvised explosive devices as well as two more indirectly. He was in numerous fire fights and said he even had a rocket-propelled grenade come through his windshield, narrowly missing him in the driver's seat. Clark added that although the convoys had military escorts, the drivers were only allowed to carry a pocketknife with a blade no longer than four inches.
Upon returning home, Clark had to deal with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as well as two traumatic brain injuries he suffered. Today, he must cope with hearing loss, constant headaches and neurological damage, which can lead to vision loss in highly stressful situations.
As an exercise to mitigate his PTSD, Clark said his therapist recommended he write a journal about his time in Iraq. Clark said is was a very emotional experience going back through his mission logs; that it brought back a lot of difficult memories. However, he did say it helped him to manage his condition.
“It was a cathartic experience to write the book,” Clark saidd. “I had a lot of anger, a lot of management issues and a lot control issues. I thought ‘You know what, I need to turn this anger into something positive.' And I believe I did. There's a lot of humor in it. There is tragedy in it. But it really is a positive book.”
Clark also said his reason for publishing the book was to highlight the legal struggle he and other convoy drivers have undergone to receive disability benefits for injuries, wounds and other damage they have suffered.
“We're not tracked like the military,” Clark said. “We don't have a support system the way the military does and for us to get benefits we have to go to court and sue for them. It took me two years to get my permanent disability. If it weren't for the 522 mission logs that I had, I probably would have lost the case. That's not right and people don't know about that. There are tons of charities out there for the military, but there isn't one for drivers in Iraq.”
With that in mind, Clark said all of the proceeds from his book sales would go to benefit civilian convoy truck drivers. He has been working with an attorney in Washington, D.C., to set up a foundation that would help these returning drivers to pay their bills while they go through the litigation process to get benefits.
“There are a lot of people out there suffering, who needn't be suffering if they got some attention. Many of these drivers have lost eyesight, hearing, limbs and all kinds of other grievous wounds,” he said. “A lot of drivers have been denied benefits, have lost their benefits, who are still in court, five years after being wounded or injured. Many of these drivers have lost their homes, went into bankruptcy, families have been broken up over this, and it angers me, so I wanted to do something.”
Clark said he is seeking national recognition to raise awareness for this issue. He has contacted talk shows, including the Rachel Maddow Show and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, which deal with human-interest stories.
When asked if he regretted taking the job because of all that has happened as a result, Clark answered with a resounding no.
“I have lost something, but I have gained much more,” he admitted. “I am forever changed by it; some ways bad, but in other ways it has made me understand who I am a lot better and also other people. Unless you have been in a life-or-death situation, and looked death head-on, it changes your perspective on things. What I have come to firmly believe is that the most important thing in a person's life is their relationships with other people. I only take seriously the things that need to be taken seriously. Too many people don't see the big picture and are just caught up in the minute details of their lives. I don't want to get caught up in the little things in life that just drain so much energy. I want put find what I can put my energy into that is positive.”
Kenneth Clark's book is available online at Amazon.com and at Second Chapter Books.