At 23 years old, Lt. Lauren Luckey is the leader and sole member of the 2nd Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment’s female engagement team. Mark Schapiro talks by Skype with journalist Mimi Wells on assignment for CIR in Kunar Province, Afghanistan.

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TRANSCRIPT

Mark Schapiro: Last time we talked with you, Mimi, you were just leaving for Forward Operating Base Bostick.

Mimi Wells: In Eastern Afghanistan, it’s the furthest-north U.S. Army compound.  It’s in basically a bowl, surrounded by mountains. They have one overlook; it’s called Outpost Mustang, and it provides some gun-cover protection coming down on Bostick. There is a ridgeline called Rocket Ridge. It’s just behind Bostick, where the insurgents regularly send indirect fire. They call it IDF. There’s two levels of attack that happen at Bostick: An indirect attack, you’re supposed to run inside. And if you get direct attack, which means that they’re actually trying to overrun the FOB (forward operating base), you’re supposed to go into what’s called a battle position. 

I was told, basically, if we get shot at to try to get inside.

Schapiro: You met some of the people who you were going to then spend time with during your embed?

Wells: So a helicopter landed, and a guy was off on the field, like on the landing strip, and he said, “Ms. Wells?” And I said, “Yes?” And he said, “Come with me,” and there I was introduced to Lt. Lauren Luckey, who is basically my go-to person at FOB Bostick.

Schapiro: And she’s the commander of the female engagement team?

Wells: She’s the head, and she’s the only one. She runs it. It’s her baby. She goes out on missions. There are very few females there, and the ones that are there are mechanics and logistical support; they’re not technically allowed to leave the wire. That’s not in their job description. So what Lt. Luckey is doing is totally outside the norm. The female engagement team in Kunar is basically a one-woman effort.

Schapiro: Tell me a little bit about Lt. Luckey.

Wells: She’s 23 years old. She’s from Nashville, Tennessee. She was slated to be a pro soccer player. She’s incredibly motivated, very bright, very focused. 

Schapiro: And what is she trying to do?

Wells: You know, sometimes, I think she’s just trying to go outside the wire and engage these people. It’s so dangerous, and, you know, for her to go out, it requires 16 soldiers and four gun trucks every time she goes. So it takes a lot of planning and a lot of different meetings to make it happen. She is trying to do a project with the war widows – Afghanistan has one of the highest number of widows in the world – and she’s also trying to do something with the local girls school. 

Schapiro: Thank you, and next time, we want to know what it’s like outside the wire.

Wells: OK.

Mark Schapiro specializes in international and environmental stories. His award-winning work appears in all media: in publications such as Harpers, The Atlantic, Mother Jones and Yale 360; on television, including PBS FRONTLINE/World and KQED; on public radio including Marketplace; and on the web. He is currently writing a book for Wiley & Co. investigating the backstory to our carbon footprints. His previous book, "EXPOSED: The Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Products and What’s at Stake for American Power," reveals the health and economic implications of the tightening of environmental standards by the European Union.

Mimi Wells

Mimi Wells is a multimedia journalist based out of New York. In May 2011, she graduated from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She then studied Pashtu on a scholarship from the South Asia Language Institute. In September 2011, Mimi traveled to eastern Afghanistan with the support of the Center for Investigative Reporting. Her writing and photography have appeared in the International Herald Tribune, CNN.com and The New York Times.