Opposition towards CF run so deep in the Saygal Valley that Afghanistan's ISAF hasn't ventured into the area in 8 years. Under a midnight moon, 3rd Plt, commanded by 2nd Lt. James Brown was inserted by helicopter on a ridge opposite the mission's first objective—a lofty village surrounded by golden terraces of corn.The CH-47 Chinook helicopter carrying Brown’s plt. and the group of ANA Soldiers, commanded by 1st Lt. Mohammed Agha, the proud son of an ANA colonel, touched ground with both leaders, knowing from Taliban radio chatter that the enemy already had eyes on the team. “The first night, looking up at the mountains tops, we knew we were in a little bit of trouble,” said Brown. “We knew we probably shouldn’t have been there.” Afghan and American Soldiers hastily stacked loose boulders, building fortified fighting positions, before making their beds on stony ground, using rocks as pillows. The team rose before sunrise and began to navigate a hazardous route down one peak and up another, just to reach the 1st of 8 villages. They picked their way down a 15-story drop, lined by unforgiving boulders that made a treacherous staircase to a riverbed below. “If I die falling off the side of a cliff, tell Rick I love him,” newlywed Spc. Erica Watkins said of her husband, as her 5-foot-2 frame gingerly slid down a boulder. Watkins was 1 of 2 female Soldiers in the Female Engagement Team (FET), who travelled with the infantrymen. These teams are responsible for interacting with, and if need be, searching Afghan women during missions like Brass Monkey. After a pit-stop at the river below, the team geared up again, this time to ascend to their first objective. The trail up to the village was moderately steep, but appeared well travelled, dotted with ruby-red pomegranate seeds. As they neared the village outskirts, the team took a break. Heavily laden with a 2-day supply of food and water, machine guns and ammo, in back-breaking loads that easily weighed up to 70-lbs, the Soldiers were glad for a chance to catch their breath. As they rested, they spotted 3 men observing them from the ridge opposite to their current location. “We've gotta get out of here,” someone said, suspecting an ambush. Even as the Soldiers pressed their way upwards into the village's cornfields, the 1st RPG hit from a ridge above, followed by another. A hailstorm of small arms fire followed. Sgt. Mycal Prince was killed instantly. The 28-year-old Oklahoma native, who worked as a policeman in the K-9 unit of the Minco Police Dept, was a husband and father of 2 girls. A 19-year-old, baby-faced Afghan Soldier named Amanullah was also wounded in the attack, taking a bullet through the thigh that narrowly missed his femoral artery. The ambush came as a shock to Agha. "It's my first time to come face-to-face with the Taliban," said the ANA cmdr., who has been in the Afghan Army for nearly 4 years. While Amanullah survived the gunshot wound, his condition was critical. The firestorm of bullets between the Soldiers and their attackers continued until an air weapons team of helicopters arrived on scene, laying down ground-shaking munitions that killed several members of the ambush. Over the next 2 hours, U.S. and Afghan Forces set-up security in cornfields, as Brown requested a medical evacuation for 8 casualties, including his medic. While medevac helicopters came for the casualties, there was no relief for the rest of Brown's battle-fatigued team. Instead, they were asked to do what seemed impossible—continue the mission. "Don't stop until we reach the bottom," Brown urged his team as they made their way downhill over treacherous rocks. Over the next 100 hours, Brown's plt., together with the rest of Co. A and their Afghan partners, would continue the mission, and comb Saygal Valley for insurgents. The company of Soldiers navigated peak after peak as they moved through Saygal’s villages. As they entered the valley’s hamlets they held shuras, or meetings, with elders, some of whom said that they hadn't seen any military presence since the 1979 Russian invasion. The Soldiers collected biometric info from scores of military aged men, detaining 3 with suspected Taliban ties. Most importantly, Co. A killed 10 insurgents including a mid-level Taliban cmdr., who was on the bn’s most wanted list. Two weapons caches were also discovered. “We took some bad guys out of the game, we took some of their equipment and ordnance out of the game,” said Capt. Jason Taylor, Co. A cmdr. “I think it’s good to take those bad guys out of the villages, and let them know that the insurgents are not safe, even in the farthest reaches.” Looking at the Soldiers of Co. A, it was evident that they had been to the farthest reaches. After 5 days of patrolling through the treacherous terrain, engaging the enemy, and searching through 8 villages, the Soldiers were covered in layers of sweat and dirt. Many of their uniforms were tattered and torn, exposing their tired limbs beneath. “They performed excellently,” Taylor said of his Soldiers; “I really couldn’t ask for anything better.” Staff Sgt. Edward Johnson said that Brass Monkey’s success had come at a high cost; a sentiment echoed throughout the company. “The worst part of this mission,” said Johnson, “the part that everybody’s going to remember is we lost one of the best men we had.”
Khan’s unit received info that the Taliban were emplacing road-side bombs near the new Polish fire base. When his unit arrived in the area, they saw the Taliban placing IEDs in the ground. The Waghez police chief, and others, attempted to diffuse the bombs when they exploded.“The Taliban exploded the mines and destroyed the vehicle,” said Khan. “They killed 9 soldiers. I was 5 meters [16 feet] away from the vehicle.” At that point, the Taliban started attacking. Khan, with his eye badly injured, was the only ANP left. “I called to the district center by radio and asked for more soldiers,” said Khan. “It was 15 minutes until soldiers arrived. During that time, I was fighting alone with the Taliban.” Khan fought so well, and heroically, that according to reports, the Taliban thought they were fighting a much larger force. One American cmdr. referred to him as the 'Hero of Waghez.'
“He's a true hero of Afghanistan,” said Gen. Jhalawar Zahid, Ghazni prov. chief of police. The Waghez police chief and 8 of Khan’s companions were lost during the explosion. However, due to Khan’s efforts, it was the Taliban who lost the battle.
“We have 2 basic goals,” said Col. Mike Peeters, Security Transition Team Chief. “That CF are confident that there are trained landing zone operators on the ground, and to give a minimum level of ability to the ANP so helicopters can land.”
The class started out with basic skills, such as knowing how to do a 100-meter pace count, and what obstacles prevent a helicopter from landing. With the assistance of the PRT, the ANP were better able to set up a landing zone by the end of the day .
Meza and his Crossfit affiliate, Crossfit Jangyali, not only put their strength and endurance to the test this year, but put their money where their push-press was. “Our affiliate raised $1,680,” said Chief Warrant Officer 2 Brian Masters, 325th BSB, 3rd BCT, 25th ID, TF Bronco Base Defense Ops Center officer-in-charge.Masters and Meza are both part of a small group of Soldiers who make Crossfit part of their daily fitness routine on FOB Fenty. Crossfit, although not an official Army Physical Fitness regimen, has taken the military world by storm with its concept of functional, high intensity and constantly varied workouts. “The concept of Crossfit is well suited for military training, because the routine of push-ups, sit-ups and running may not adequately prepare Soldiers for the physical tasks of combat,” said Masters. Many Soldiers have taken up Crossfit as a way to give their usual training a more versatile edge. In turn, Crossfit has chosen to give back to its military warriors and heroes in many ways. “If you go to the Crossfit website, you’ll see they support the military in more ways than just donations,” said Meza. “They also waive affiliate fees for every military affiliate crew in the world, and have various “Heroes” workouts, named after many of our fallen brothers.” Meza and his group were honored to raise money, and give ‘Fight Gone Bad 6’ all they were worth in the name of their fellow fallen heroes. -30-
SouthKANDAHAR PROVINCE -- A combined Afghan and coalition SecFor discovered 2 drug caches, during 2 different security ops, in Zharay district, yesterday. The caches resulted in a total of 308-lbs (140 kgs) of cannabis, 88-lbs (40 kgs) of poppy seeds, and 506-lbs (230 kgs) of hashish. ----- In Zharay district, a combined Afghan and coalition SecFor discovered a weapons cache, while on a security patrol, yesterday. The cache consisted of an IED, 132-lbs (60 kgs) of homemade explosives, 2 rifles and 2 82 mm rounds. HELMAND PROVINCE -- A combined Afghan and coalition SecFor patrol detained an insurgent leader, during an op in Qal’Ah district, yesterday. The insurgent leader is a known IED facilitator and supplier, weapons supplier and suicide bomb coordinator. He's directly responsible for organizing attacks against Afghan and CF throughout Helmand. ----- In Now Zad district, a combined Afghan and coalition SecFor detained multiple suspected insurgents, and seized 50-lbs (22 kgs) of black tar heroin, while conducting a security op in search of a Taliban facilitator, yesterday. The facilitator provides reports to Taliban leadership based in Pakistan, following organized attacks against Afghan forces. ----- A combined Afghan and coalition SecFor detained multiple suspected insurgents, and seized weapons while conducting a security op in search of a Taliban facilitator in Now Zad district, yesterday. The facilitator provides reports to Taliban leadership based in Pakistan, following organized attacks against Afghan forces. Multiple weapons, including a 40 mm grenade launcher and grenades were seized by the SecFor. East
NANGARHAR PROVINCE – A combined Afghan and coalition SecFor killed numerous insurgents, during a security op in search of a senior Taliban facilitator in Achin district, yesterday. The senior leader is responsible for orchestrating multiple direct fire, roadside and suicide bomb attacks against Afghan forces. During the op, the SecFor observed multiple insurgents armed with RPG launchers and AK-47 assault rifles maneuvering to attack. The SecFor engaged the threat, killing the insurgents. Numerous additional suspected insurgents were also detained.KUNAR PROVINCE -- In Ghaziabad district, yesterday, a combined Afghan and CF discovered a weapons cache consisting of 14 AK-47 rifles, 50 fuses, 5 radios and 42 shotguns. All the items were seized by SecFor.LOGAR PROVINCE -- Lastly, a combined Afghan and coalition SecFor detained multiple insurgents, while conducting a security op in search of a Taliban facilitator in Pul-e Alam district, yesterday. The facilitator is responsible for VBIED attacks in the region.
SALAH AD DIN - With SecFor being the largest career field in the AF and the many locations to be deployed, what are the odds of deploying to the same base twice? "When I found out I was going to JBB again, I was excited because I knew the base, and I'd never been part of closing a base," said Wrisley. "I also started some programs the last time I was here, so I wanted to see how they evolved.""Balad was like a metropolis; anything you needed, you could get at Balad," said the Mass. native. "With the theater, pool and restaurants, it didn't feel like you were deployed. JBB used to be a major stopover point for convoys, so there were a lot of people here." Compared to her last deployment, Wrisley says the site looks emptier. "I like the attitude though," she said. "Everyone understands the base is closing. Everyone is resigned to the fact that this is not going to be like the old JBB. There are going to be changes. We accept what's coming in good nature." As a result of the drawdown, there are more opportunities at JBB. "Last time all I did was SecFor, but now there are more things to do that normally would not be an option for me," said Wrisley. "There are more job-related opportunities, but there's also more volunteer opportunities, and things to do outside of my AF Specialty Code." "What you're doing today, you may not be doing tomorrow," she continued. "It's always something different." Throughout both deployments, Wrisley says that she enjoys working with the Ugandan and Iraqi nationals. "The Ugandans are the most hardworking and respectful people I've worked with," she said. "I see what they're doing and they're impressive people." "The Iraqis have worked so hard; they're such brave people, it's humbling," she continued. "Looking back at our history when our country was building up, it reminds me of where the Iraqis are now. I salute the Iraqis that have helped us here, and I am hopeful for their future."
Sappers Climb to New Heights
Spc. Doxton Johnson, Co C, 3rd BSTB, 3rd AAB, 1st Cav Div climbs the Sapper Tower with a 40-lb ruck sack, before conducting a 6 mile foot march at COB Adder, Sept. 15. The tower was constructed in front of the company HQ building, and serves as both an inspirational motivator and training device for combat engrs. training for Sapper School. (Army photos by 1st Lt. Peter Thompson)
COB ADDER – Combat engrs. serve as the Army’s premiere breaching force; the tip of the spear. When confronted with a daunting obstacle that hinders their mobility, maneuver cmdrs. rely on their sappers to perform adaptively in the urgency of combat, and lead their force through the objective. As the only combat engr. co. within 3rd BSTB, the soldiers of Co C uphold that standard daily. They neutralize IEDs while on patrol, but on COB Adder, they overcame a new obstacle of their own.Under the leadership of Sgt. Chad Keith, the company’s intel and support team NCO-in-charge, and an architecture major at Texas A&M University, a plan was developed to construct a 20-foot, portable steel rope tower. With the support of Pvt. David Poirier, a welder and mechanic assigned to Co C, and the Allied Trades Section, materials were procured and cut to strict specifications. After 2 weeks of manufacturing and welding, the tower’s frame was complete and ready for assembly.
Spc. Doxton Johnson led a small team of soldiers from the co., and assisted in the raising of the tower, which was proudly anchored next to the company’s command post. Thanks to the generous donations of several families of unit members, the company was able to raise enough money to purchase new ropes for the tower, which now allows 2 climbers to negotiate the obstacle at once.To date, the new sapper tower has seen more than 150 climbs, each instilling confidence and physical toughness in the soldiers of Charlie Co. Designed to replicate the rope tower at the Sapper Leader Course, it has also become an invaluable training tool for those soldiers, who aspire to earn the Sapper Tab. At the end of Aug., the company as a whole decided on a new standard that would be set forth for the remainder of the deployment: before each mission, every soldier on that patrol will climb the tower – an affirmation that sappers will overcome any obstacle.
Spc. Doxton Johnson and Pvt. David Poirier begin the construction of the Sapper tower.