Capt. Christopher Conner ’95 is commander of Company C of the 2nd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion in the U.S. Marine Corps. In July 2009 Conner led his company into southern Afghanistan, which The Washington Post documented through three multimedia presentations that include photos of him:
This month, Conner’s leadership during that mission was honored with the Leftwich Trophy for Outstanding Leadership.
The Leftwich Trophy is awarded annually to one active duty Marine captain in the ground combat element serving as a company or battery commander in the ground forces. It honors the memory of Marine Lt. Col. William Groom Leftwich, who was killed in action in Vietnam in 1970. In addition to an awards ceremony in Washington D.C. that took place earlier this month, Conner will be recognized with a “hometown hero” billboard in his hometown of Gastonia. He spoke with writer Angela Spivey for a story for the fall issue of NC State magazine. After the jump are excerpts from Angela’s interview with him.
Friday update: Below is video of Capt. Conner receiving the award during the Marine Corps Association Ground Awards Dinner on June 3.
The trophy is quite an honor. What was it like to receive it?
It was a humbling experience. On the night of the ceremony, I could literally think of 1,000 people to thank for helping me to get to that point. But I narrowed it down to 146: my wife, my battalion commander who had such faith in me, a good friend and operations manager in my battalion who helped me plan the mission, and the 143 men in my company.
What did your company set out to accomplish as you moved into the southern part of Afghanistan?
The south of Afghanistan had been relatively untouched by American troops, and we knew that enemy forces moved in and around the border into Pakistan freely. In a massive assault on July 2 of last year, two infantry battalions and our light armored reconnaissance battalion moved into Southern Helmand province, trying to seek out the enemy and at the same time bring about the legitimacy of the Afghan government and bring some security to its people. Around the 17th of July we ended up going into Safar Bazaar, which is a marketplace and was a known criminal insurgent stronghold. Think of “Mos Eisley” from Star Wars; it’s where all the bad people went. By the time we arrived, word had gotten out, and the insurgents had skedaddled. But they left things behind; we found and destroyed 1,600 bags of poppy seed, totaling 82 tons. The chief export of Afghanistan is opium, and the insurgents use the sale of that opium to facilitate their war by buying more weapons or ammunition or paying people to fight on their side. It’s estimated that the 1,600 bags we found at the bazaar total about 11 percent of the poppy seed that had been grown that year in Afghanistan. What I wanted my men to realize is that because they took that poppy seed off the street, fewer Americans will be killed.
When did you decide to go into the Marine Corps?
I wanted to be a marine since I was 12. I wanted to serve my country; that was the biggest thing in my mind. Right before I turned 18, Desert Storm began, and I was ready to go. But I was accepted to NC State, and my parents said to me, ‘You will be the first person in our family to go to college.’ So I opted to do that. My first year, I lived in Metcalf dorm, and a friend who lived there also told me about the Marine Corps reservist program, in which you serve one weekend a month and an additional two weeks each year. I did that every year starting with my sophomore year. I’m still in touch with many people from that time; my first platoon sergeant from that program came to my wedding a few weeks ago in April. I joined the active duty marines in 1996, after graduating from NC State.
Monday noon update: Click here for a story about Capt. Conner and the Leftwich Trophy that appeared in the Jacksonville News this past weekend.