When Lane Harper called his parents, Bob and Betty Harper, via satellite phone the other day from the other side of the world, he told them that the temperature there had already reached 115 degrees. It was still morning. Harper, a Marine infantry officer, has been deployed to Afghanistan to lead a platoon of soldiers in the fight against the Taliban.
Platoon commander 1st Lt. Harper is also a 2003 graduate of Mercer Island High School. He is in charge of 50 Marines in a remote combat outpost in Farah province. His platoon patrols a key road between the poppy fields and Iran.
He and his Marines live in a compound constructed of fabric containers stacked eight feet high. There is no air conditioning, and the refrigerator is broken.
Maybe his preparation for commanding in such stark conditions began during his MIHS football career, when he played as an inside linebacker for coach Nichols, his father joked.
Lane, now 24, also pitched for the Islanders baseball team. After high school, he graduated from Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles with a bachelor’s degree in business. While there, he entered the Marines through the Platoon Leaders Class program. He attended intensive training sessions at Quantico, Va., and was commissioned upon his college graduation in May of 2007. A year later, Harper graduated in the top 10 percent of his training class, giving him the opportunity to choose his field. He chose the most difficult and coveted assignment, which is to become an infantry officer. Upon completion of more training, Harper was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Regiment, in Kaneohe, Hawaii, where he took charge of his unit.
They were deployed to Afghanistan in May.
Harper is part of the additional 21,000 U.S. troops whom President Obama is sending to Afghanistan this summer to bolster the roughly 40,000 troops already there as part of the strategy to combat insurgents, train Afghan forces and provide security for the upcoming Afghan national elections, scheduled for Aug. 20.
The soldiers are in a fairly remote location and have their supplies dropped by C-130 transport, Harper’s father explained. The conditions in Afghanistan are harsh, but the Marines are sanguine.
“The weather has actually been cooperative, in the low 100’s, with only the occasional dust storm,” Harper wrote in a recent but infrequent e-mail to his family.
The Harper family knows a bit about life in the military. Lane’s father, Robert, was a navigator on EC-47s and C141s in the Air Force, serving for five years during the Vietnam War. Lane’s older sister, Michelle, is married to an Air Force captain who flies C-17s. Still, the father is worried about his son — a worry compounded by the infrequent contact that characterizes war in remote locations. “It is hard not to,” he said.
In May, the soldier was home on the Island for a week before his deployment and had a chance to see many of his Island friends. The question asked by many, including his parents, is why he chose this course of action. His response, his dad said, is that life is pretty good, especially on Mercer Island, and this is his chance to give something back.
He seems suited for his role.
He writes again: “We are into a pretty good rhythm with our patrols and other missions. We have a few things we are working on that could find us some bad guys, and hopefully they pan out.”