Dear Interested Reader,
Nawa Victory Walk: Day 3. Op. Cat in the Hat at Bagram Air Field. Forces clear insurgents from Logar. Training the new guys in Paktika prov. ISAF Joint Command operational update, Nov. 15, 2011.
Iraq: Honoring a modern day veteran at COS Echo.
Nawa Victory Walk: Day 3
Story and photos by Cpl. Jeff Drew
Ark. native Sgt. Jeremy Cooney, a ground element cmdr. during foot patrols, prepares to lead his Marines on patrol outside the town of Khalaj. Cooney, with 1st Bn, 9th Marine Regt, was responsible for all dismounted Marines during the Nawa Victory Walk, a patrol across the district with ANA soldiers, to instill confidence in ANSF.
Editor’s note: This is the 3rd installment in a 4-part series chronicling a trek across Nawa district called the Nawa Victory Walk, a 4-day, 30-mile patrol by U.S. Marines and ANA soldiers.
CAMP LEATHERNECK, Helmand province – The third day of the Nawa Victory Walk began early. Marines woke as the sun rose, then filled up on energy bars for breakfast. They checked their equipment, refilled water containers, met up with their ANA counterparts, and headed for the front gate.
The 3rd day of the 4-day, 30-mile patrol was in full swing. The bn cmdr. of 1/9, Wash. native Lt. Col. Tyler Zagurski, joined Afghan Lt. Col. Gul Ahmad, the comm. officer, to continue their trek, meeting with local elders and Afghan residents along the way, to promote confidence in ANSF.
The Marines’ aching shoulders and sore feet seemed to be a thing of the past, as they had grown accustomed to the weight and pace of the movement, during the previous days of patrolling. Morale was high as the group set out the 3rd day, marked by a shorter distance of 8 kms.
“I think we're setting out to do what we intended,” said Cooney. “The biggest part of this was being able to go to the different patrol bases, and let the Afghan soldiers see that their cmdrs. are out here with them. The ANA and the Marines are walking the streets and keeping it safe. I think, so far, this has been a success,” said Cooney.
As the ground element cmdr., Cooney is in charge of all Marines walking in the patrol, taking charge of all security aspects, and ensuring coverage in all directions. His southern drawl matched with the surrounding sea of cornfields and farms, highlighted his southern upbringing. He spoke of his family as the soldiers and Marines walked down the dirt roads. He described his five children and how he couldn’t wait to finish the mission and go back to the United States so he could go fishing and hunting and ride horses with them.
Nawa’s security stands on the cusp of transition to Afghan control, and as the Marines patrolled to the various patrol bases and outposts, Cooney spoke of some of the district’s progress.
“The people were pretty supportive of us when we got here, but I think we’ve been able to build on that relationship a lot,” said the 31-year-old Cooney. “There are many more patrol bases being run by ANA than when we got here; that, in itself, is a big accomplishment. (Afghans) are starting to take care of security and do things themselves.”
“You reach a point in a place like Nawa where continued growth and progress is impossible until you take a step back and encourage your partners to fill the gap,” said Zagurski.
“We won’t let them fail; we haven’t let them fail. We’ve watched them very carefully, and they have been very successful.”
The ANA soldiers and Marines patrolled to Patrol Bases Luy Jolah, Jangeali, and Toor Ghar. At each stop Afghan security forces welcomed them, offering food and chai tea. From Toor Ghar the Marines jumped into vehicles and moved to Patrol Base Kharaman, an abandoned mansion turned into an outpost where they would sleep for the evening. With one day left on the scheduled patrol, the service members were excited. They tucked themselves into sleeping bags to fend off the dropping temperatures and fell asleep under the stars.
“I couldn’t be prouder of my men,” said Cooney. “They keep pushing on without complaint – some have blisters, or their shoulders ache, but they don’t show it.”
Nevada native Petty Officer 3rd Class Mathew Petersen, a corpsman, provides security outside of PB Jaker. Petersen provided an integral part in the patrol, checking on the physical condition and hydration of each service member, as they patrolled through the district during the 4-day trek.
La. native Lance Cpl. Justin Wilson, an infantryman, relaxes for a moment before leaving on a recent patrol.
Ark. native Sgt. Jeremy Cooney, a ground element cmdr., during foot patrols, cleans his protective eyewear before a morning patrol. During the day’s patrol Cooney explained how the farms and cornfields along the way reminded him of home.
Marines with 1st Battalion,9th Marine Regiment, clean their vehicles after arriving at Patrol Base Kharaman. The abandoned mansion turned into an outpost provided Marines a place to lay their heads as they finished the third day of the Nawa Victory Walk, a patrol across the district to promote confidence in Afghan security forces.
Operation Cat in the Hat
Story and photos by Capt. Karena Hill
Members of the 228th TTSB, volunteer at the newly opened Operation Cat in the Hat School located at Bagram Air Field. The school opened in Oct., and currently serves students in the surrounding local community.
BAGRAM AIR FIELD -- School-aged children in the community surrounding Bagram Air Field are taught basic English skills on the base. Students are separated by gender into classes that are taught twice weekly for two hours a day. Students are taught basic conversational English, and how to recognize and recite the alphabet, numbers and animals.
Two young girls trying their best to write in English.
A young girl is focused on her penmanship.
RC-East Bagram Media Center
Combined Forces Clear Insurgents from Logar
By Army Spc. William Begley
A large weapons cache is destroyed.
LOGAR — Historically, Logar prov. has been a Taliban stronghold. Almost all Afghan and Coalition Soldiers who have entered the prov. in the past, have come under attack. Looking to change this, Soldiers of Co B, 1st Bn, 2nd Inf Regt, TF Black Scarves, assisted ANSF during a 5-day mission in support of Op Shamshir Oct. 17 - 21. The goal, according to Capt. Michael Roesler, of Minn., Co. B cmdr., was to disrupt insurgent activity, facilitate Afghan governmental control, as well as expand ANSF influence.
Landing in the middle of the night just outside the village of Kut Kay, the combined forces took their first enemy contact.
“It was a pop shot with an AK-47 assault rifle or a PK machine gun,” said 1st Lt. Laurent Lundy, of Mass. After the enemy quickly broke contact, the troops went ahead and cleared the location, finding a large weapons cache.
“We found approx 13 RPGs, 23 detonators, 3 RPG boosters, several feet of detonator cord, and a few sticks of TNT,” said Lundy. “It was the biggest one we've found so far, since we've come to Logar prov.. It felt pretty good; the guys were excited and you could see it in their eyes.”
The 2nd day began early with the goal of clearing the area inside the Maani bazaar. Once again, the unit came under enemy fire. While a team was in the bazaar, an RPG struck a hillside near an overwatch team; landing just 5 meters from the element.
“Everybody was stunned right at first, so we hopped over our makeshift fighting position, and took cover down the other side of the hill,” said Spc. Benjamin Brock, from Iowa, a sniper with HQ plt. “We got everybody together and figured out everybody was all right; then we went back up and tried to get eyes on whoever shot the RPG.” The Soldiers returned fire, later intercepting insurgent radio chatter, saying they killed an insurgent and injured another.
Speaking with locals in the bazaar, ANA Capt. Namutllah, cmdr., appealed for peace. “Let us seize the opportunity to end the destructive influence of the Taliban, and to embrace the opportunity that the GoA is providing for them,” he said. “It's up to you. It's your responsibility to make this positive change for the future.”
Day 3 began establishing an outpost above the village of Omarkhel. After occupying a hilltop, Black Scarves Soldiers took contact early that morning from the west, and a ridgeline to the NE that overlooked the entire area. What ensued during the fire fight was a unique display of firepower that they could deliver.
With a .50-caliber machine gun mounted on a 6-wheeled vehicle, and a grenade launcher mounted on another, the ANA and Black Scarf Soldiers returned fire. Forcing the fight, they moved quickly to claim the ground the firing had come from. While there were no bodies recovered, insurgent radio chatter reported they killed 2 Taliban and wounded another.
With memories of the previous day’s fight still fresh, the Soldiers headed out early to a small village called Azurkhel. With the high ground well covered, the forces moved into quite a different mood than the day before. “Kids, the elders, and the rest of the villagers came out to greet us,” said Lundy. “We were able to maneuver easily about in the village, which is typically not the way it goes.”
With the villagers’ cooperation, the clearing op began and ended in a relatively short period of time. “The ANA were actually sitting and breaking bread with the locals, which is a good sign,” said Lundy. “Nonetheless, the threat remains the same. We did have chatter that day saying that they're going to try to shoot down a helicopter, and continue attacking CF.”
Lundy’s words proved ominous and, once again, they took contact. “Some Soldiers were on a ridgeline west of the village of Azurkhel, when they started receiving fire from about 5 enemy insurgents from the south; 4 to 6 hundred meters away,” said 1st Sgt. Todd Bair, of Utah. “There was a small amount of intermittent fire going back and forth between the U.S. Coalition and insurgents, which lasted about an hour. We did end up shooting an insurgent in the leg that was on a motorcycle fleeing the area with a weapon,” Bair said. “Later on the ANA destroyed the motorcycle.”
Afterwards, the forces moved on to their last task, the village of Muchkhel, just a few kms away. That afternoon, an outpost was secured from an old set of ruins in the village. The forces spent the rest of the evening there without incident.
On the final day, the mood around the camp was much more upbeat than the previous 4 days. The men were ready to finish their mission and return to FOB Altimur for a hot shower and a warm meal. Laughter could be heard all around the camp as the Soldiers recanted stories and told jokes.
While the ANA and Black Scarf Soldiers made their rounds clearing the village, Roesler purchased a sheep from the village cleric. Afghan troops bought vegetables and bread, and began to prepare dinner. “I think things like this go a long way in our relations with the ANA and the people,” said Roesler. “It shows them that we aren’t much different than they are. I think this actually makes us a little more human to them.”
While the troops could almost see the helicopters coming to pick them up, the insurgents weren’t ready to let them go so easily. Shots rang out and once again, the Black Scarves took action. Rolling the .50-caliber and the grenade launcher into position, they returned fire.
As the insurgents ran for cover, darkness settled in and the forces prepared to come home. “The biggest thing for all of us is that we took a lot of contact during the last 4 days and everybody’s okay. No injuries or scrapes and that’s due to individual Soldier discipline.”
RC-East, Bagram Media Center
Training the New Guys in Paktika Province
Photos by Army Sgt. Wesley Petrus
PAKTIKA PROVINCE – Sgt. Brandon Hernandez (middle), a team leader from W.Va., with 370th Engr. Co, TF Gridley, TF Sword, trains Spc. Brent Crawford (left), from N.Y., and Spc. Mark Walters, from N.Y., both drivers with the 877th Engr. Co, on communication radios, Nov. 1.
Spc. Mark Walters finishes checking his vehicle, after a long day of training with incoming Soldiers of 370th EC.
Staff Sgt. Brian Mathis (far right), with 370th EC, a squad leader from Ga., demonstrates route clearance patrol techniques to new troops from the 877th EC, Nov. 2. Mathis’ unit conducted route clearance patrols over the past year throughout Paktika prov., without losing any Soldiers.
Sgt. Steven Lacasse (front), a squad leader from Mass., 370th EC, outlines mine sweeping techniques in the dirt to U.S. Army Soldiers of the 877th EC, Nov. 2.
ISAF Joint Command Operational Update, Nov. 15, 2011
By ISAF Joint Command
HELMAND PROVINCE — A combined Afghan and coalition SecFor captured 2 Taliban leaders, during a security op in Musa Qal’ah district, yesterday. The leaders coordinated the movement of insurgent fighters in the Musa Qal’ah district, conducted attacks against CF, and distributed roadside bombs throughout the region. Multiple additional suspected insurgents were captured.
GHAZNI PROVINCE -- A combined Afghan and CF discovered a weapons cache, during an op in Andar district, yesterday. The cache consisted of 9 RPGs.
KHOST PROVINCE -- A Haqqani network leader was captured by a combined Afghan and coalition SecFor, during an op in Bak district, yesterday. The leader distributed weapons and planned attacks against Afghan and CF. The security force also confiscated multiple weapons, and detained an additional suspected insurgent.
Honoring a Modern Day Veteran
By 1st BCT, 1st Cav Div
COS ECHO -- For many, the year 2003 is nothing more than a year that is long gone. For South America native, Sgt. 1st Class Fred Fox, a 12-year Army Infantry veteran, and former Marine, currently assigned to Co B, 2nd Bn, 8th Cav Regt, 1st Bde, 1st Cav Div, it's a year marked by the beginning of a life changing event.
U.S. Forces began their push into the country of Iraq in early 2003. Vets like Fox vividly remember those trying years leading up to the current U.S. Forces’ position within the country. “In those years of the war, it was about killing or being killed, and we soldiers all wanted to come home,” Fox states.
Fox remembers these years as being some of the most mentally challenging. “Witnessing a battle buddy pass or a friend die, is an image that you never get out of your mind. No matter how much you try to shake it, it’s always there,” said Fox. “You almost want to run away to escape the hardships.”
These hard times brought forth growth, but for Fox, the growth that was evolving within him was one fueled with anger for a people viewed as the enemy. This anger led him to ultimately make the decision to leave the military, after serving as a Marine gunner for 5-1/2 years.
“These people were not friends of mine. I was nothing more than an outsider looking into a culture I couldn’t understand, and didn’t care to relate to,” expressed Fox. This pessimistic mentality changed with Fox’s return to the military as a member of the Military Transition Team (MTT). The intense combat that was previously favored, started to lean more heavily toward rebuilding the country of Iraq.
“We lost many lives during the invasion, but their sacrifice has not gone unnoticed or unappreciated. In fact, their memory still drives me to want to push forward in this fight,” a sympathetic Fox states. He said that this was his reason for opting to return to the force, but as an Army infantryman.
Fox gives much credit to his time deployed as a member of MTT. This deployment shaped his pessimistic way of thinking to an optimistic point of view, symbolizing a pivotal change in his life. “Living in close quarters with leaders of the Iraqi public changed the way I viewed the civilians. Iraqi civilians were friends. I understood them, and no longer viewed them as the enemy, but as people who needed my help, a service I volunteered to do; to protect those who find it hard to protect themselves,” explains Fox.
A humbled Fox, now a platoon leader, is on his 4th tour in Iraq. He's astounded by the progression that has occurred in Iraq, during the 8 years that U.S. Forces have been in the country. “There’s a lot of good here in Iraq. When I lead my guys on patrols, I tell them to avoid tunnel vision, and not be afraid to connect with the people here. I not only view the populace through the eyes of a soldier, but from the perspective of a father, husband and friend,” advised Fox.
When asked about his military career, Fox states, “I joined not wanting the praise or accolades that come with the uniform, but to make a difference. I’ve been deployed almost half of the time I have been married to my wife,” and every day that I’m able to inspire a soldier or young child in a village, by giving them a necessity like water, it makes it all worth it”.
Spending time away from family and friends never gets easier over the course of multiple deployments. However, Fox feels his personal sacrifice and selfless service is greatly appreciated by Iraqi civilians. He says their gratitude and appreciation can be seen in the smiles of admiration, whenever his platoon arrives to a local school or village to deliver humanitarian aid.