His mine roller cuts a path to safety through an otherwise barren, yet dangerous, landscape where his eyes are the front line of defense.
He is their guide and guardian in an unfamiliar land.
“That’s the worst part about this job,” said Stanek, the driver in one of CLR-2’s navigation vehicles. “It’s never really the imminent fear of an [improvised explosive] strike or the route itself. It’s always the fear of hearing an explosion behind you and knowing you could have done something to prevent that by being the front vehicle.”
Stanek volunteered for the hazardous duty of driving the front vehicle. Years of experience and his understanding of the local routes made him an ideal candidate for the mission up front.
“You take a route that goes over an IED, or you make the right decision and go over a route that doesn’t,” said Stanek after returning from a mission. “A lot of times the stress builds up. You just take a deep breath … You have to kind of take a step back, not focus on the small things, and just keep driving.”
At more than 6 feet tall, the driver’s compartment in his mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicle is a tight squeeze for Stanek. Missions stretch into days as he shifts in his seat to relax over-stressed muscles or gain a better view of the route ahead.
It is an exhausting responsibility in a place where traffic laws are few and far between and possible threats abound.
“Out here you’re one hundred percent all the time,” Stanek said. “Twelve hours out here could be equivalent to 48 hours driving back home. It’s rough. When you get off the convoy, you just want to sleep. You want to close your eyes. You want to relax and let your stress levels go down.”
In spite of it all, Stanek confesses he wouldn’t want to do anything else. He has grown attached to his truck. He knows its creaks and moans like it is a part of his own body.
The Marines inside are his family.
“I love the camaraderie,” said Stanek, who is known for his friendly, lighthearted personality. “We’re a really tightknit group. I’d say we’re brothers. We’re not really friends. We’re not really enemies. We’re brothers … That’s probably my favorite part about being in this vehicle.”
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