Todd Clark’s ambition to be a soldier started at a young age and he never outgrew it.
As a boy, the Albany native wanted to follow in the footsteps of his father, Jack, who was a colonel in the Army. And after graduating from Texas A&M University, Clark’s career as a soldier took off.
Clark was commissioned as an officer and was promoted to the rank of lieutenant colonel before the age of 40. He became a respected leader during five deployments to combat zones overseas and was regarded as a forward-thinker when it came to advising foreign military forces in both Iraq and Afghanistan.
“He was a great young man,” recalled retired Major Gen. Joseph Taluto, the former leader of the New York National Guard who had known Clark since he was a young child. “He just became a model soldier and a great leader — a leader who took care of his men.”
But Clark’s life was cut short following a so-called insider attack in the Paktika province of Afghanistan on Saturday. Clark, 40, and fellow New Yorker Joseph Morabito, 54, were among three American trainers killed when a man in an Afghan army uniform opened fire on them following an argument at an Afghan National Army base in Paktika’s Kher Qot district.
Morabito was a resident of Greene County and was a civilian contractor. The name of the third American killed in the attack was not released Monday.
Though details are still emerging about the attack, initial reports indicate the angry Afghan soldier also wounded three others before being killed by return fire from members of the international military coalition. An investigation into the shooting is ongoing, but preliminary results suggest the soldier had no links with insurgents.
Clark’s death several months into his latest deployment as an adviser with the 10th Mountain Division sent a wave of grief through his friends and family. He is survived by his wife, Shelley, and his two teenage children, Madison and Collin.
“Waking up this morning was even worse than yesterday,” Shelley Clark wrote on her Facebook page Sunday. “Words cannot describe [the] pain and anguish. I just want him back so bad. Thank you everyone for the kind words. To know Todd was to love him.”
Taluto, who was stationed with Clark’s father in Albany, recalled how the young boy was determined to be a soldier early on in life. From his time at Christian Brothers Academy to joining the Reserve Officer Training Corps in college, Clark’s life never deviated from achieving a career in the military.
“He was born to be a soldier,” Taluto said.
As an officer in the Army, Clark was a calvary troop commander who served three tours in Iraq. He attended the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, Calif., where he completed his master’s thesis on the critical role of selecting the proper advisers for transitional efforts during the United States withdrawal.
“He was just as impassioned about how advising needed to be done better and needed to be done right,” recalled Anna Simons, a professor of defense analysis who advised Clark in 2007.
Simons said Clark was ahead of the curve in his theories about advising the Iraqis and wasn’t bashful about pushing for change. Though she described him as kind and easygoing, she said Clark had a streak of determination that never diminished.
“A closed door never stopped someone like Todd Clark,” she said. “He was just an irrepressible guy who made you smile whenever you saw him.”
Clark’s advisory role with the military later shifted to Afghanistan in 2010, when U.S. military casualties were on a steady rise in the war-torn nation. He was seriously wounded in July 2010, when a roadside bomb ripped through his convoy near Walakan in southern Afghanistan’s Kandahar province, on the Pakistani border. The blast killed 24-year-old Staff Sgt. Jesse Ainsworth in the vehicle ahead of Clark’s.
Taluto presented Clark with a Purple Heart during a ceremony at the Ancient Order of Hibernians in Albany as he was still recovering from his injuries three months later. Clark played down his wounds in his speech, instead focusing on the soldiers who were given the award posthumously — soldiers like Ainsworth.
“Each of these men are also purple heart recipients and each of them are men who were killed in Afghanistan,” he said after reciting the names of those who had died in June and July 2010.
Clark’s injuries also led him to become an advocate for the Wounded Warrior Project, a nonprofit organization aimed at assisting badly injured soldiers. Both Clark and his father helped raise money for the cause following his combat injury.
Clark’s love for the military was only trumped by his love for his family, friends recalled. Though he was always focused on his military career, he was even more devoted to his children and wife, recalled Glen Woodson, an Army reservist who attended graduate school with Clark.
“He wanted to spend every moment he could with his family,” he said.
Clark was a rising star in the Army, Taluto said. His even-tempered demeanor made him popular among his peers and when coupled with his aptitude, made him a likely candidate for quick advancement.
“He had fabulous credentials,” Taluto said. “He had great potential to do more.”
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