By Brian Russell
Monsanto Public Affairs
Sergeant Derek Logsdon lay on his bunk trying to sleep. It was April 15, 2012, and Logsdon had just returned from a mission debrief following two weeks of back-to-back missions at Forward Operating Base Finley-Shields, in Nangarhar, Afghanistan.
Logsdon was going to have tower guard duty that night, so he needed to catch some shut-eye while he could. It was early afternoon.
“It’s not easy to sleep that time of day on a military base – it’s hot, it’s bright, it’s loud, people are coming and going,” said Logsdon, then a member of the Missouri National Guard’s Agri-Business Development Team VI (ADT VI), a non-fighting force stationed in Afghanistan to help the local agriculture industry rebuild after decades of war.
“But I knew from the schedule that was going to be my easy day, so I was looking forward to it. It was supposed to be relaxing.”
That’s the thing about a war though – relaxing is almost never a part of the itinerary. That day – one year ago today – would prove to be no exception for Logsdon, but it would mark the beginning of a journey that would bring him into contact with Monsanto, the Monsanto Vanguard Diversity Network to the aid of its brethren overseas, and eventually land Logsdon in Fremont, Neb. as a customer operations specialist with Fontanelle.
It’s a journey that begins at the end of a nap.
“It was 13:52 hours – for some reason, the time has stuck with me,” Logsdon said recently. “I woke up to a big boom. It nearly blew me out of my bunk.”
A truck laden with more than 350 lbs. of home-made explosives had been driven up to a wall of the base and detonated in a suicide blast not far from where Logsdon slept.
“The shock wave of it knocked people down and broke all the windows,” Logsdon said. “You’re just kind of stunned for the first few seconds. You’re looking around like, ‘What was that?’ We didn’t know what was going on at that point or what the explosion was.”
Logsdon dressed in his body armor and headed out to investigate, as a group of insurgents scaled what was left of the wall their bomb had just destroyed.
“They were running around our base shooting into buildings and throwing grenades and rocket-propelled grenades,” Logsdon said.
Logsdon and other soldiers took a position inside a room of their building and engaged the enemy. A sergeant nearby was hit by shrapnel from a grenade, while bullets whistled past Logsdon’s position.
Soon after, Logsdon was ordered to clear and maintain a position between two nearby buildings, which housed the staff and equipment of the ADT VI.
“We ran over there, but by this point between the original explosion, the grenades and everything else going on, things were on fire,” Logsdon said. “We got to where we were supposed to defend, and it was extremely hot, and a grenade was tossed at us so we had to retreat. … We had explosives and stuff stored in our building, and it was on fire, so we had to pull back pretty far.
“We had to pull back and basically watch our home burn.”
The fighting lasted for about an hour. The insurgents were pinned into a corner of the base after trying and failing to capture a guard tower and eventually were neutralized.
“The attack was well-planned,” Logsdon said. “They did it when there was basically nobody at the base, and at just the right time. They knew what they were doing.”
Following the attack, the fires were extinguished and the wounded were tended. Zero U.S. service members died in the attack, while some 16-18 service members received Purple Hearts for wounds and injuries sustained. According to reports, one Afghan security guard working at the base was killed, and one civilian died in the original suicide blast. Three insurgents were killed in the fight and another was wounded and captured. Logsdon was unharmed. Unfortunately for ADT VI, the original explosion happened just outside the part of the base in which they were housed, and the blast and ensuing fires resulted in the complete destruction of all their equipment, including all their military gear and personal belongings.
“The only thing anyone in ADT VI had left was whatever you were wearing,” Logsdon said. “Some people didn’t even have a uniform. I slept with my uniform on, so I had that, but some people were just in shorts, a t-shirt and a helmet.
“All our possessions burned up. I had a new laptop that I lost. Any pictures anyone had, or clothes, or supplies – it was all gone. None of us had anything to bathe with, or brush our teeth with. … The one sense of comfort we had in a war zone – our personal belongings, which we thought were safe on our base – and we lost it.”
“I’m still making payments on the laptop I had that got burned up. But that’s fine – I’d rather get to come home and leave its ashes in Afghanistan than vice versa.” ` Derek Logsdon
Making things worse for ADT VI members was that following the attack, personal communication was ceased to allow the Army time to notify affected family.
“Rumors can spread fast, and if anybody is hurt or deceased, the Army doesn’t want the family catching some word-of-mouth story,” Logsdon said. “They flipped the switch on anyone calling home, so not only did we not have any of our stuff, we couldn’t even call home and tell them we were OK and ask for more stuff to be sent.”
Word of the attack and its effect on ADT VI eventually reached Operation Homefront, a not-for-profit group whose mission is to provide emergency assistance to the families of military service members. The Monsanto Vanguard Diversity Team, which already had a relationship with both Operation Homefront and, given its agriculture focus, ADT VI, quickly organized to help.
The Vanguard Diversity Team coordinated communications, logistics, and support at Creve Coeur, Chesterfield and North Campus for “Operation Resupply,” a project designed to resupply the personal needs of the troops of ADT VI. The list of requested items varied from tennis shoes, t-shirts and personal hygiene items, to paperback books, snacks and leisure items.
Between April 30 and May 4, the Vanguard Team collected donations from employees, plus 11 refurbished laptop computers donated by Monsanto, and transported them to Operation Homefront’s warehouse. The Vanguard team and ADT families met May 5 to sort and pack 49 boxes, which were shipped May 7, only 15 days after learning of the attack.
“The Vanguard Network is made up mostly of military veterans and their families, and I think we took this mission of helping ADT VI personally,” said JC Chandler, video producer and co-lead of the Vanguard Team. “The Vanguard Network came together in a very special and impressive way for this mission; I know we take a great deal of pride in what we were able to accomplish.”
The effects of “Operation Resupply” were significant for ADT VI.
“It was overwhelming support,” Logsdon said. “Boxes and boxes and boxes of stuff just kept coming. There were several companies involved, but Monsanto and the Vanguard team were the leaders.
“It was nice to brush our teeth. It was nice to take a shower with soap. It was nice to have a pair of socks. Little things like that, you don’t think about but it made a tremendous impact.”
“My camera screen was broken during the attack. Since I slept with my uniform on, my camera was in my cargo pocket. I lucked out. I was able to take pictures, but could not see if they took or even see what I was doing. I could not see them until I got home and uploaded the memory card. Pentax actually took the camera back and fixed it free of charge, which was really nice.” ` Derek Logsdon, on the photos, included here, that he was able to capture after the attack
For Logsdon, the return stateside – Logsdon is originally from Wentzville, Mo., in suburban St. Louis – presented its own challenges.
“You’re left thinking, ‘What do I want to do when I get back?’ Do I want to go back to my unit and become full-time again? Do I want to go into teaching?’” said Logsdon, who has a history degree and had taken classes toward his master’s degree in education before joining the National Guard.
Logsdon, though, had grown up around farms and enjoyed agriculture. Plus, with his training with ADT VI, he had a strong background in the industry. When he returned home, Monsanto was one of the first places Logsdon applied. It wasn’t easy, though – Logsdon had lost his resume when his laptop burned up and had to rebuild it from scratch.
To make ends meet, Logsdon took a job as an armed security guard while applying for other jobs. Eventually, he interviewed for a position with Kruger Seeds in Iowa, which later led to an interview with Fontanelle. In early November, Logsdon began a new career as a customer operations specialist for Fontanelle.
“I had never been to Nebraska in my life, but when they offered me the interview I jumped at it,” Logsdon said. “I wanted to be a part of Monsanto. I had heard about how great they treat their employees, and after seeing what the Vanguard Network did for us in Afghanistan, I really wanted to be a part of this company.”
“I wanted to be a part of Monsanto. I had heard about how great they treat their employees, and after seeing what the Vanguard Network did for us in Afghanistan, I really wanted to be a part of this company.” ` Derek Logsdon
Monsanto also has hired two other former ADT members who were in Afghanistan at different times and not involved in the attack – Chris Rees, testing operations manager in Waco, Neb., and Dan Clark, research assistant in Jerseyville, Illinois.
Logsdon’s hiring has proved to be good for Fontanelle.
“Derek has been an exceptional performer with great attitude and energy,” said Steve Parle, team lead and Logsdon’s manager. “He is working hard to get an understanding of our business and is never afraid to challenge how things are done. His military experience brings an interesting new look at the way tasks get completed that we are already working to incorporate into some of our team processes.”
For Logsdon, life has taken a 180-degree turn in the 365 days since the attack.
“Last year, I was living out of a duffel bag, going to different places for training, and then to Afghanistan, and then the attack,” he said. “Now I rent an apartment in Nebraska, which I would have never guessed possible. I’ve got a job at a great company. I’m in the U.S. I’m just happy to be home and happy to have a job.”