Roberts Ridge

Roberts Ridge 0115Z. Kevin “Scrappy” Vances official Statement

Interview of SSgt Kevin Vance 25 March 2002
Bagram, Afghanistan

My name is Kevin Donell Vance. In June, I will have been in the United States Air Force for eight years. I hold the rank of Staff Sergeant. I am currently married with two children, ages four and two. I was born on 3 September 1976 and am currently 25 years old. My SSN is XXX-XX-XXXX

I entered into the USAF eleven days after graduating from high school. I went to open general basic training. I was not sure which career path to take until I was asked to try out to be a tactical air control party [TACP] from a TACP recruiter. I was one of the few who tried out and was chosen.

I went to technical school in Florida for fourteen weeks. My first assignment was at Ft. Polk in Louisiana supporting the 2nd Armored Calvary Regiment[ACR] for three years. I then transferred to support the Joint Readiness Training Center [JRTC] for a year. Next, I was assigned to Camp Casey in Korea for one year. Afterwards, I tried out for and was selected for my present job. I have been with my current unit for two and a half years. I have had basic training, TACP training, Ranger School, Basic Airborne School, Air Assault School, HALO School, and Pathfinder School.

At around 0115z on 4 March 2002, I was told that a military member was on the ground in a hostile area in Afghanistan after falling out of a helicopter.

My team was told that another team was attempting to go in and get him, but if they were not successful, my team would go in. We were waiting to find out if we would go in to try to get to our lost military member. My team was in a helicopter in route and our estimated time of arrival was 0150z. My team consisted of ten people plus three special tactics squadron members [STS] and we were with eight crewmembers, a total of twenty-one personnel.

At 0140z I had noticed we were flying in circles around the mountaintop because I had noticed the same terrain twice. As we were circling about the third time, we were hit with a rocket-propelled grenade [RPG] around 0145z. There were sparks on the right side of the aircraft and we started to shake violently. Then our helicopter just fell out of the sky about 15 feet to the ground. After the first RPG hit us to when the helicopter hit the ground, I do not remember specifics of what happened, it was a blur. No one, to my knowledge, was injured from the initial crash.

Before I could get off the aircraft, another RPG hit the aircraft where the right door gunner was. There was only one military member between the right door gunner and myself. I am not positive how many times our helicopter was shot but I think altogether, four RPGs were shot at us. I was snap linked into the helicopter, a precaution so we do not fall out of the helicopter.

First I was trying to get my snap link/safety line off but the pararescueman [PJ] behind me was pushing me so it pulled tight. I had a little bit of trouble getting it off; it slowed me down about 15 seconds. I then ran off the back of the aircraft.

By the time I was able to get off of the aircraft, three of our team members were already dead. One team member was on the ramp with a hole in his head. There was no mistaking that he was dead. The second team member was at the end of the ramp face down in the snow. His position was such that if there had been life left in him, he would have moved his head out of the snow. I later found out that he had been shot under the arm though his chest and out his above right nipple. The last deceased team member was lying on his back at the end of the ramp not moving. These three deceased members survived the initial crash without injury, but had died from enemy fire. Their names
were Marc Anderson, Brad Crose, and Matt Commons.

I knew we had three killed in action [KIA], which left seven of our team, three of which were injured. I had shrapnel in the arm, but did not notice it until later. My platoon leader had shrapnel in his leg, it was a pretty good chunk, and another team member had shrapnel in his lower left calf and moving slow. Our team knew how to fight and how to operate on the ground. The aircrew did not have the same training.

I exited the aircraft and threw my rucksack off but kept it within 20 meters from me. I figured out which way we were being engaged from and I sought cover behind a cut out in the rock face. It was just big enough for four team members to kneel behind it. We set up a perimeter. Two other members were back to my right and three members to my left. I was closest to the enemy. There were two enemies about 50 meters north of us near a tree. There was one enemy behind me and to the right already dead. There were
some more enemies to the south coming out. Then we started to engage the enemy.

I was shooting an M4. At first, my priority was to keep engaging the enemy to hold them back and then to seek assistance for close air support [CAS] on the radio. My radio, a PRC 117F, was still in my rucksack. There was a combat controller [CCT] with us named Gabe Brown who was behind me a bit. I turned around and yelled at him to work on getting communications running; he was already was working on it.

I decided that I needed to be on the line fighting, if I had been on the radio, then the combat controller would have been sitting there doing nothing because he doesn't have the assault training.

I decided that he should call in the CAS as I directed him. I told him my rucksack had a radio in it. A member of the crew dragged my rucksack to the CCT so he had my radio.

First, we shot M203 rounds at bunker. A M203 is a grenade launcher that fits on a M4/16. As the squad leader and team leader shot M203s, I stood up and provided covering fire. When he would stand up to fire a grenade at the bunker, I would standup and shoot at the bunker to cover him. I did the same when the crewmembers would run for more ammo.

We tried throwing fragment grenades at the enemy but it they were too far away and the bunker was on the backside of the hill. The enemy threw fragment grenades at us but they landed 5-10 feet in front of me, buried in the snow and blew up.

I believe one of the helicopter pilots was dead and the other was injured severely. The other pilot opened the door to the aircraft and fell out of the aircraft face first. He lay there in the snow securing his area.

There was no power to the aircraft without which we could not operate the mini-guns. One of the team members yelled at a member of the crew to get the power working so we could use those guns. The mini-guns shoot 7.62 ammo and so does our M240. The crew was taking ammo and giving it to our M240 gunner.

When the crewmembers would run back to the aircraft for more ammo, I would standup and shoot at the bunker to cover them. They were also taking M203 rounds and magazines off of the KIA and bringing it to us. The crew pulled off insulation from the aircraft to wrap the casualties in to keep them warm.

Then four of us (myself, the platoon leader, squad leader, and team leader) started to assault the tree area where the enemy was coming from while the M240 gunner suppressed it. The CPT Self, the platoon leader [PL], was in charge.

Once we realized that it was a bunker, a couple of enemy came out from behind a tree and took shots at us. We were moving slow because the snow was up to our knees and we were going uphill.

The platoon leader finally said let's back up and rethink this. We backed up because we could not afford to lose any more guys.

The combat controller yelled that we have F-15s on station. The Platoon Leader was next to me and we discussed it. Then F-15s were overhead and the combat controller was directing them to the enemy according to my instructions. I told the combat controller to have the F-15s to strafe the bunker and have them come in from our right to our left.

The CCT repeated what I said. He was smart enough that I did not have to tell him too much detail of what to say on the radio. We used the position of the helicopter to give clock directions. He had basic knowledge of CAS so I could tell him to have the fighters do gun runs on an area from which direction and he would get on the radio and make it happen.

The first F-15 pass was really close and I was uncomfortable because I could not tell if the guns were pointing at my team or the enemy bunker so I told the CCT to abort it. I told him to have them come in more from behind us, so I could tell they were not pointing at us. I told him to clear them and the rounds hit right by the bunker. I told him to have them do that over and over again.

I think the gun runs were made by both F-15s and F-16s. For the first 10-15 minutes, the CCT thought I was the team leader. He yelled to me: "aren't you the team leader?" when the team leader was sitting next to him.

At this point, the team member who was injured in the leg and could not move easily was facing one way. Sgt Walker and I were pulling security on the bunker. CPT Self and I tried to determine where would be a good landing zone.

The fighters did some more gun runs and the enemy was still jumping up shooting at us. The enemy was moving on us from behind us (we didn't know this at the time) but the majority of enemy were firing at us were on the hill near the bunker area. We killed seven of them.

The last time I saw anyone move in the bunker, I was scanning the hilltop and I saw the upper half of an enemy behind some bushes. I shot three times, got down and stood back up. This was the last I had seen him. I never went over towards that bunker so I cannot confirm if I had killed him.

Then we shot some more bombs in the bunker area. I told CCT to direct them to shoot down the backside of the hill north of us. I thought it was better to have them shoot downhill with the first one so we could walk him in to the target. The first bomb hit the backside of the hill and then I told him to bring it up and hit the tree over the bunker. The second one hit the tree dead on and split it in half. The fire from the bunker area ceased.

We could not see over the hill and did not know what was over there. CCT said we have some 500-pound bombs to use. After discussing with the PL, I said let's drop them on the backside of the hill and walk them up. They were dropping them about 75 to 100 meters away from us. Some of the pilots did not want to drop them without the commander's initials because they were afraid they would kill us.

At that point we were not taking any more fire from the top of the hill so the platoon leader wanted to wait until our reinforcements linked up with us before we tried moving on the top of the hill.

By this time, the second helicopter landed at the bottom of the hill to our northeast and reinforcements were moving towards us. The second aircraft had ten team members on it. They moved uphill to us.

This was about two and a half hours after we had crashed. On the way, they were taking some mortar fire. At one point they had bracketed us with the mortars but then they started shooting mortars down the hill to try and hit the second team members as they were coming up the hill to reinforce us. I do not know where the enemies were shooting the mortars from. Later, I learned they were being shot from a position about 300 meters from us on the backside of the hill.

Finally, our reinforcements linked up with us. Sgt Walker took a couple of rounds in his helmet. When the reinforcements arrived, Sgt Walker came forward and told SSG Wilmoth which direction the enemy was located. Sgt Walker's helmet had holes in the top of the head and the side of the head.

A 500-pound bomb hit just over the backside of the hilltop. It hit at an angle where it blew everything back over the top of us so it was raining debris and metal pieces down around us. That was the only point where we were really concerned with our safety from the friendly bombs. This was the last time we used the 500-pound bombs. Together we started to take the top of the hill.

Once we took the top of the hill we found two more friendly bodies. They included the member who fell out of the helicopter that we were there to find and a member from the team before us that tried to go in to get him. We were sent in because they were not successful. Both members had been shot and killed. We had thirty-three members on the hill (including two deceased we found), sixteen were fighting, and three of those sixteen were wounded. The other half was working on casualties or were casualties themselves.

As we took the top of the hill, we started taking fire from behind us. We had to turn around and fight the other way. Meanwhile, all of our casualties were lying out in the open down the hill. Once taking fire from the other direction, we had to go downhill to get our casualties. The casualties were the first three team members out of the aircraft and the pilot. A PJ, SrA Jason D. Cunningham, and another team member were killed from gunfire as they were going down to get the casualties. Jason Cunningham was injured seriously but did not die immediately.

At this point, I was still on the top of the hill sitting next to the CCT and the PL while talking on the radio. I was reporting back to higher and CCT was talking to the aircraft. We were the command and control [C2] section. I could have taken the radio back from CCT and said that it is my job to call in CAS, but he had been working with them already and understood the landmarks he was talking about. If I had to do it, then it would have been a relearning process so I continued to monitor him and let him call in CAS. The medics kept the PJ alive for about 10 hours (about an hour and half before we got exfiltrated). I reported it to the Controller when he died.

They also dropped 1000 pounders that landed 150 meters away from us. That was a little close and I made sure the CCT had them push those out a bit. It hit the nearside of the hill instead of the far side and shook the team members up. No one was injured. When the bomb hit, some debris on fire flew up into the air about 75 feet over our heads and continued on into the valley where it caught something on fire in the valley.

After being on the ground for about three hours, we had to move the bodies up the mountain before we could be exfiltrated. This would have taken about one half hour.

Controller asked me if the pick-up zone [PZ] was cold and how many guys we were going to lose if we waited to be exfiltrated. I asked the medic: "if we hang out here, how many guys are going to die?" The medic said at least two, maybe three. I reported to Controller it is a cold PZ and we are going to lose three if we wait. Just as I said it was a cold PZ, we were shot at.

However, we could have made it cold by the time they got the helicopters in there. It was just every once and while the enemy would take pop shots at us. If we had CAS on station dropping bombs, we could have gotten out of there at that time. I told CCT to drop bombs down in the valley and on the small hill every now and again.

Every time the plane showed up and you could hear them, we weren't being shot at. Just having the planes nearby kept the enemy away. Continuously dropping bombs discouraged them from coming after us. So every now and again, we would drop bombs on them with B52s, B-1s, those were the last aircraft we had. I cannot remember which one.

I was watching our medic, he was a part of the second team, as he was working on the PJ. I saw him doing CPR on the PJ and I knew it was bad. I then saw the medic stand up, look over at me, and start walking to me. That is when I got on the radio to Controller and told him that we now have seven KIA.

The whole fifteen and one half hours we were on the ground I was fighting, talking on the radio, or telling CCT what to call in. I shot a total of 420 rounds during the fifteen and one half hours. I was on the C2 line the whole time while watching over CCT's shoulder to make sure everything was all right. As the hostile fire started slowing down, I barely had to tell CCT what to do, just drop bombs over here or over there.

I kept telling Controller that we'd lost another one, cold PZ, when are we getting exfiltrated? Controller said to hold on. After asking him three times, PL expressed urgency at getting the team out of there. I continued to tell Controller but he just kept telling me to hold on. After the third time, I handed the hand mike to the PL and asked him to tell Controller the same thing.

For the next thirteen hours, there were sporadic firefights from about 300 meters away. All of the close fighting was done because we had neutralized all close enemies. The mountaintop had three different peaks. We held the two highest ones. About 300 meters to our south, southeast was the third hilltop where the enemy was coming up. At one point Controller told me that the enemy was trying to reinforce with seventy guys. I was not clear if he was talking about seventy friendly or enemy. I then asked if the seventy guys coming up this way were not my friends. He said "Roger". I said I wanted to make sure that was clear. I tried to keep that between the PL and myself because it would have destroyed the other guys' morale. I think the PL let the team know so they could be ready. We never did see the seventy enemies.

I put the PL on the radio and he was being told the exfiltration sequence of events. I was sitting next to him taking notes. Once the exfiltration plan was sorted out, we sat around and waited until the AC-130 checked in. We had them fly around and occasionally shooting. Controller said we had eight enemies moving in to our south. I never did run into them.

CCT was talking to the AC-130 and I was talking to Controller. I gave Controller the approach heading, the land heading and the departure heading. There was a 090 approach heading, 235 land heading, and 270 departure heading. The first aircraft came in on a 090 and then came to a hover. I tried to get him on the radio to tell him to turn around and do a 180. I could not reach him so I called Controller and asked him to get in contact with the second and third helicopters to have them land at 180 degrees from what the first one did.

It was important to have the second one land that way in order to upload the KIAs quickly. He was able to reach them and the second and third helicopters landed according to direction. Because the first one landed heading the wrong direction, the exfiltration was slowed down immensely. We had to drag the casualties all the way around the back of the helicopter and load them up. It was important that the second one landed the way it did.

My entire unit got on the second helicopter while another unit got off to pull security. They then got on the helicopter and left. If they had landed the way the first one did, it would have taken a lot longer than it did. The entire exfiltration process took too long, about 15 minutes for the first two helicopters. It was all quiet when we were being exfiltrated.

It felt really good when I got back and my buddies said they were sitting around the radio listening. They were impressed that I never got emotional and was calm and professional the whole time. I tried to keep a monotone voice. There were times that I tried to throw some words in there to make Controller realize that we have to get out. It became a personal conversation and we kept saying we have to get out of here.

I received a minor wound to my left shoulder. It is a shrapnel puncture wound. I didn't notice it until a day later when I woke up and my shoulder felt like someone punched me. I then looked at the T-shirt I was wearing that night and noticed it was blood stained.

I went through so many different emotions, excited, mad, frustrated, sad, any other emotion you could possibly feel, you feel going through this whole thing. And I felt guilty if I felt anything was funny like Sgt Walker's helmet with the holes in it because we had lost members of our team.

Everyone out there just did his job. I just did my job, everything came natural and my training kicked in. There is nothing I could have changed about that day. Nothing we could have done different or better. I could not ask for a better group of guys to work with. I have trained for eight years to do this and now I had the chance to get to do my job -- that is reward enough. Everybody working together and the good Lord is what got us home.

I swear that I have read this statement and it is true and correct to the best of my knowledge.

This statement has been subscribed and sworn to before Capt Erin Bree Wirtanen, an officer authorized to administer oaths this 29th day of March 2002 and witnessed by Lt Col Kenneth M. Rozelsky, II.

KEVIN DONELL VANCE, SSgt, USAF At Bagram, Afghanistan

I, Erin Bree Wirtanen, the undersigned do hereby certify that on this 29th day of March 2002, before me personally appeared SSgt Kevin Donell Vance, who signed and executed the foregoing document.

I do further certify that I am a person in the service of the United States Armed Forces authorized the general powers of a notary public under 10 U.S.C. 1044a of the grade, branch of service and organization stated below and that this certificate is executed in my capacity as a person authorized notary authority under Title 10 U.S.C. 1044a.

ERIN BREE WIRTANEN, Capt, USAF 332 AEG/JA Al Jaber AB, Kuwait

I certify I was witness to SSgt Kevin Donell Vance's oath of truthfulness and signature on the aforesaid document on the 29th of March 2002.

KENNETH M. ROZELSKY, II, Lt Col, USAF

Gregory Stone was killed on 03-22-2002

Gregory was killed in a grenade attack near the Iraq/Kuwait border prior to the invasion of Iraq. The individual that threw the grenade was a disgruntled US Army soldier who believed his actions would affect the outcome of the war. Another officer was killed in the attack. The individual in question was sentenced to life without the possibility of parole in Ft Leavenworth Military Prison.

Air Force Maj. Gregory Stone, assigned to 124th Air Support Operations Squadron, Idaho Air National Guard, Boise; died of injuries suffered in a grenade attack March 22 near the Iraq-Kuwait border during Operation Iraqi Freedom. Major Stone was attached to the 101st Airborne when the attack happened. A disgruntled US soldier was charged with throwing the grenades that killed Stone and another officer. Most of Stone's family lives in the Portland area. He was survived by his former wife and two sons.

I knew Maj Stone for a brief time, in fact, I was training him and his team on the new digital software about 20 minutes before the grenade attack. We probably walked directly past the traitorous individual that initiated it. Maj Stone was dynamic and engaging and was 100% behind insuring his men were prepared for the fight. He made no bones about the important of combat readiness and not getting bogged down in process. His loss was an a blow to the 101st as well as the entire TACP community in theater and back home. He was there in spirit as we stormed the gates of Baghdad. (Charlie Heidal, MSgt Ret)

Roberts Ridge

Roberts Ridge, from a Young TACP member on the Ground
(name withheld. Currently operating somewhere on the earth in harms way)

I entered into the USAF eleven days after graduating
from high school. I went to open general basic training.
I was not sure which career path to take until I was
asked to try out to be a tactical air control party
from a TACP recruiter. I was one of the few who tried
out and was chosen. I went to technical school in Florida
for fourteen weeks. My first assignment was at Ft. Polk in
Louisiana supporting the 2nd Armored Calvary Regiment for
three years. I then transferred to support the Joint
Readiness Training Center for a year. Next, I was assigned
to Camp Casey in Korea for one year. Afterwards, I tried
out for and was selected for my present job. I have been
with my current unit for two and a half years. I have had
basic training, TACP training, Ranger School, Basic Airborne
School, Air Assault School, HALO School, and Pathfinder School.
At around 0115z on 4 March 2002, I was told that a military
member was on the ground in a hostile area in Afghanistan after
falling out of a helicopter. My team was told that another
team was attempting to go in and get him, but if they were
not successful, my team would go in. We were waiting to find
out if we would go in to try to get to our lost military member.
My team was in a helicopter in route and our estimated time of
arrival was 0150z. My team consisted of ten people plus three
special tactics squadron members [STS] and we were with eight
crewmembers, a total of twenty-one personnel. At 0140z I had
noticed we were flying in circles around the mountaintop
because I had noticed the same terrain twice. As we were
circling about the third time, we were hit with a
rocket-propelled grenade around 0145z. There were sparks on
the right side of the aircraft and we started to shake violently.
Then our helicopter just fell out of the sky about 15 feet to
the ground. After the first RPG hit us to when the helicopter
hit the ground, I do not remember specifics of what happened,
it was a blur. No one, to my knowledge, was injured from the
initial crash.Before I could get off the aircraft, another RPG
hit the aircraft where the right door gunner was. There was
only one military member between the right door gunner and
myself. I am not positive how many times our helicopter was
shot but I think altogether, four RPGs were shot at us. I was
snap linked into the helicopter, a precaution so we do not
fall out of the helicopter. First I was trying to get my
snap link/safety line off but the pararescueman [PJ] behind
me was pushing me so it pulled tight. I had a little bit of
trouble getting it off; it slowed me down about 15 seconds.
I then ran off the back of the aircraft. By the time I was
able to get off of the aircraft, three of our team members
were already dead. One team member was on the ramp with a
hole in his head. There was no mistaking that he was dead.
The second team member was at the end of the ramp face down
in the snow. His position was such that if there had been
life left in him, he would have moved his head out of the
snow. I later found out that he had been shot under the arm
though his chest and out his above right nipple. The last
deceased team member was lying on his back at the end of
the ramp not moving. These three deceased members survived
the initial crash without injury, but had died from enemy
fire. I knew we had three killed in action, which left
seven of our team, three of which were injured. I had
shrapnel in the arm, but did not notice it until later.
My platoon leader had shrapnel in his leg, it was a pretty
good chunk, and another team member had shrapnel in his
lower left calf and was moving slow. Our team knew how to
fight and how to operate on the ground. The aircrew did not
have the same training. I exited the aircraft and threw my
rucksack off but kept it within 20 meters from me. I
figured out which way we were being engaged from and I
sought cover behind a cut out in the rock face. It was just
big enough for four team members to kneel behind it. We set
up a perimeter. Two other members were back to my right and
three members to my left. I was closest to the enemy. There
were two enemies about 50 meters north of us near a tree.
There was one enemy behind me and to the right already dead.
There were some more enemies to the south coming out. Then we
started to engage the enemy. I was shooting an M4. At first,
my priority was to keep engaging the enemy to hold them back
and then to seek assistance for close air support on the radio.
My radio, a PRC 117F, was still in my rucksack. There was a
combat controller, who was behind me a bit. I turned around
and yelled at him to work on getting communications running,
he already was working on it. I decided that I needed to be
on the line fighting, if I had been on the radio, then the
combat controller would have been sitting there doing nothing
because he doesn't have the assault training. I decided that
he should call in the CAS as I directed him. I told him my
rucksack had a radio in it. A member of the crew dragged my
rucksack to the CCT so he had my radio. First, we shot M203
rounds at bunker. A M203 is a grenade launcher that fits on
a M4/16. As the squad leader and team leader shot M203s, I
stood up and provided covering fire. When he would stand up
to fire a grenade at the bunker, I would standup and shoot
at the bunker to cover him. I did the same when the crew-
members would run for more ammo. We tried throwing fragment
grenades at the enemy but it they were too far away and the
bunker was on the backside of the hill. The enemy threw
fragment grenades at us but they landed 5-10 feet in front
of me, buried in the snow and blew up. I believe one of the
helicopter pilots was dead and the other was injured severely.
The other pilot opened the door to the aircraft and fell out
of the aircraft face first. He lay there in the snow securing
his area. There was no power to the aircraft without which
we could not operate the mini-guns. One of the team members
yelled at a member of the crew to get the power working so
we could use those guns. The mini-guns shoot 7.62 ammo and
so does our M240. The crew was taking ammo and giving it to
our M240 gunner. When the crewmembers would run back to the
aircraft for more ammo, I would standup and shoot at the bunker
to cover them. They were also taking M203 rounds and magazines
off of the KIA and bringing it to us. The crew pulled off
insulation from the aircraft to wrap the casualties in to keep
them warm. Then four of us (myself, the platoon leader, squad
leader, and team leader) started to assault the tree area where
the enemy was coming from while the M240 gunner suppressed it.
Once we realized that it was a bunker, a couple of enemy came
out from behind a tree and took shots at us. We were moving
slow because the snow was up to our knees and we were going
uphill. The platoon leader finally said let's back up and
rethink this. We backed up because we could not afford to
lose any more guys. The combat controller yelled that we have
F-15s on station. The Platoon Leader was next to me and we
discussed it. Then F-15s were overhead and the combat
controller was directing them to the enemy according to my
instructions. I told the combat controller to have the F-15s
to strafe the bunker and have them come in from our right to
our left. The CCT repeated what I said. He was smart enough
that I did not have to tell him too much detail of what to say
on the radio. We used the position of the helicopter to give
clock directions. He had basic knowledge of CAS so I could tell
him to have the fighters do gun runs on an area from which
direction and he would get on the radio and make it happen. The
first F-15 pass was really close and I was uncomfortable because
I could not tell if the guns were pointing at my team or the
enemy bunker so I told the CCT to abort it. I told him to have
them come in more from behind us, so I could tell they were not
pointing at us. I told him to clear them and the rounds hit right
by the bunker. I told him to have them do that over and over again.
I think the gun runs were made by both F-15s and F-16s. For the
first 10-15 minutes, the CCT thought I was the team leader. He
yelled to me 'team leader' when the team leader was sitting next
to him. At this point, the team member who was injured in the leg
and could not move easily was facing one way. Another Sgt. and I
were pulling security on the bunker. The Patoon Leader and I
tried to determine where would be a good landing zone. The fighters
did some more gun runs and the enemy was still jumping up shooting
at us. The enemy was moving on us from behind us (we didn't know
this at the time) but the majority of enemy were firing at us were
on the hill near the bunker area. We killed seven of them. The last
time I saw anyone move in the bunker, I was scanning the hilltop
and I saw the upper half of an enemy behind some bushes. I shot
three times, got down and stood back up. This was the last I had
seen him. I never went over towards that bunker so I cannot confirm
if I had killed him. Then we shot some more bombs in the bunker area.
I told CCT to direct them to shoot down the backside of the hill
north of us. I thought it was better to have them shoot downhill
with the first one so we could walk him in to the target. The first
bomb hit the backside of the hill and then I told him to bring it up
and hit the tree over the bunker. The second one hit the tree dead on
and split it in half. The fire from the bunker area ceased. We could
not see over the hill and did not know what was over there. CCT said
we have some 500-pound bombs to use. After discussing with the PL, I
said let's drop them on the backside of the hill and walk them up.
They were dropping them about 75 to 100 meters away from us. Some of
the pilots did not want to drop them without the commander's initials
because they were afraid they would kill us. At that point we were not
taking any more fire from the top of the hill so the platoon leader
wanted to wait until our reinforcements linked up with us before we
tried moving on the top of the hill. By this time, the second
helicopter landed at the bottom of the hill to our northeast and
reinforcements were moving towards us. The second aircraft had ten
team members on it. They moved uphill to us. This was about two and
a half hours after we had crashed. On the way, they were taking some
mortar fire. At one point they had bracketed us with the mortars but
then they started shooting mortars down the hill to try and hit the
second team members as they were coming up the hill to reinforce us.
I do not know where the enemies were shooting the mortars from. Later,
I learned they were being shot from a position about 300 meters from
us on the backside of the hill. Finally, our reinforcements linked
up with us. A 500-pound bomb hit just over the backside of the hilltop.
It hit at an angle where it blew everything back over the top of us so
it was raining debris and metal pieces down around us. That was the
only point where we were really concerned with our safety from the
friendly bombs. This was the last time we used the 500-pound bombs.
Together we started to take the top of the hill. Once we took the top
of the hill we found two more friendly bodies. They included the member
who fell out of the helicopter that we were there to find and a member
from the team before us that tried to go in to get him. We were sent
in because they were not successful. Both members had been shot and
killed. We had thirty-three members on the hill (including two
deceased we found), sixteen were fighting, and three of those sixteen
were wounded. The other half was working on casualties or were
casualties themselves. As we took the top of the hill, we started
taking fire from behind us. We had to turn around and fight the other
way. Meanwhile, all of our casualties were lying out in the open down
the hill. Once taking fire from the other direction, we had to go
downhill to get our casualties. The casualties were the first three
team members out of the aircraft and the pilot. A PJ, and another
team member were killed from gunfire as they were going down to get
the casualties. At this point, I was still on the top of the hill
sitting next to the CCT and the PL while talking on the radio. I was
reporting back to higher and CCT was talking to the aircraft. We were
the command and control section. I could have taken the radio back
from CCT and said that it is my job to call in CAS, but he had been
working with them already and understood the landmarks, he was talking
about. If I had to do it, then it would have been a relearning process
so I continued to monitor him and let him call inCAS. The medics kept
the PJ alive for about 10 hours (about an hour and half before we got
exfiltrated). I reported it to the Controller when he died. They also
dropped 1000 pounders that landed 150 meters away from us. That was a
little close and I made sure the CCT had them push those out a bit. It
hit the nearside of the hill instead of the far side and shook the team
members up. No one was injured. When the bomb hit, some debris on fire
flew up into the air about 75 feet over our heads and continued on into
the valley where it caught something on fire in the valley. After being
on the ground for about three hours, we had to move the bodies up the
mountain before we could be exfiltrated. This would have taken about one
half hour. Controller asked me if the pick-up zone was cold and how many
guys we were going to lose if we waited to be exfiltrated. I asked the
medic 'if we hang out here, how many guys are going to die?" The medic
said at least two, maybe three. I reported to Controller 'it is a cold
PZ and we are going to lose three if we wait. Just as I said it was a
cold PZ, we were shot at. However, we could have made it cold by the
time they got the helicopters in there. It was just every once and while
the enemy would take pop shots at us. If we had CAS on station dropping
bombs, we could have gotten out of there at that time. I told CCT to
drop bombs down in the valley and on the small hill every now and again.
Every time the plane showed up and you could hear them, we weren't being
shot at. Just having the planes nearby kept the enemy away. Continuously
dropping bombs discouraged them from coming after us. So every now and
again, we would drop bombs on them with B52s, B-1s, those were the last
aircraft we had. I cannot remember which one. I was watching our medic,
he was a part of the second team, as he was working on the PJ. I saw
him doing CPR on the PJ and I knew it was bad. I then saw the medic
stand up, look over at me, and start walking to me. That is when I got
on the radio to Controller and told him that we now have seven KIA.
The whole fifteen and one half hours we were on the ground I was
fighting, talking on the radio, or telling CCT what to call in. I shot
a total of 420 rounds during the fifteen and one half hours. I was on
the C2 line the whole time while watching over CCT's shoulder to make
sure everything was all right. As the hostile fire started slowing
down, I barely had to tell CCT what to do, just drop bombs over here
or over there. I kept telling Controller that 'we lost another one,
cold PZ, when are we getting exfiltrated?' Controller said to hold on.
After asking him three times, PL expressed urgency at getting the team
out of there. I continued to tell Controller but he just kept telling
me to hold on. After the third time, I handed the hand mike to the PL
and asked him to tell Controller the same thing. For the next thirteen
hours, there were sporadic firefights from about 300 meters away. All
of the close fighting was done because we had neutralized all close
enemies. The mountaintop had three different peaks. We held the two
highest ones. About 300 meters to our south, southeast was the third
hilltop where the enemy was coming up. At one point Controller told me
that the enemy was trying to reinforce with seventy guys. I was not
clear if he was talking about seventy friendly or enemy. I then asked
if the seventy guys coming up this way were not my friends. He said
'Roger.' I said I wanted to make sure that was clear. I tried to keep
that between the PL and myself because it would have destroyed the
other guys' morale. I think the PL let the team know so they could be
ready. We never did see the seventy enemies. I put the PL on the radio
and he was being told the exfiltration sequence of events. I was
sitting next to him taking notes. Once the exfiltration plan was sorted
out, we sat around and waited until the AC-130 checked in. We had them
fly around and occasionally shooting. Controller said we had eight
enemies moving in to our south. I never did run into them. CCT was
talking to the AC-130 and I was talking to Controller. I gave Controller
the approach heading, the land heading and the departure heading. There
was a 090 approach heading, 235 land heading, and 270 departure heading.
The first aircraft came in on a 090 and then came to a hover. I tried to
get him on the radio to tell him to turn around and do a 180. I could not
reach him so I called Controller and asked him to get in contact with the
second and third helicopters to have them land at 180 degrees from what
the first one did. It was important to have the second one land that way
in order to upload the KIAs quickly. He was able to reach them and the
second and third helicopters landed according to direction. Because the
first one landed heading the wrong direction, the exfiltration was slowed
down immensely. We had to drag the casualties all the way around the back
of the helicopter and load them up. It was important that the second one
landed the way it did. My entire unit got on the second helicopter
while another unit got off to pull security. They then got on the
helicopter and left. If they had landed the way the first one did, it
would have taken a lot longer than it did. The entire exfiltration
process took too long, about 15 minutes for the first two helicopters.
It was all quiet when we were being exfiltrated. It felt really good when
I got back and my buddies said they were sitting around the radio
listening. They were impressed that I never got emotional and was calm
and professional the whole time. I tried to keep a monotone voice.
There were times that I tried to throw some words in there to make
Controller realize that we have to get out. It became a personal
conversation and we kept saying we have to get out of here. I received
a minor wound to my left shoulder. It is a shrapnel puncture wound.
I didn't notice it until a day later when I woke up and my shoulder felt
like someone punched me. I then looked at the T-shirt Iwas wearing that
night and noticed it was blood stained. I went through so many different
emotions, excited, mad, frustrated, sad, any other emotion you could
possibly feel, you feel going through this whole thing. And I felt guilty
if I felt anything was funny like the Sgt's helmet with the holes in it
because we had lost members of our team. Everyone out there just did his
job. I just did my job, everything came natural and my training kicked in.
There is nothing I could have changed about that day. Nothing we could
have done different or better. I could not ask for a better group of guys
to work with. I have trained for eight years to do this and now I had the
chance to get to do my job -- that is reward enough. Everybody working
together and the good Lord is what got us home.

A Message from Operation Anaconda

A Message from Operation Anaconda
Editor's Note: The following e-mail message from an Air Force Tactical Air Control Party officer recounts the intense fighting in Afghanistan during Operation Anaconda.

Friends and Family,

Many of you know my goal has always been to lead men in combat. I assumed it would be with a four-ship at 20,000 feet with 2000-lb. LGBs. Little did I know it would be 12 guys on the ground with rucksacks and an M-16 rifle.

With that in mind I thought I would give everyone a different perspective of Close Air Support (CAS), i.e. from the ground looking up as opposed to the other way around. Let me begin by saying we are all back at Kandahar refitting and preparing for the next operation. No KIA and only one Purple Heart (nothing serious) - a fact I am most proud of.

For those who have not been following the situation, a little background: The 3rd Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division (nicknamed the "Rakkasans") provided the bulk of the conventional forces as well as command and control for Operation Anaconda. The 101st is an Air Assault Division, meaning they use helos as the primary means of delivering themselves to the battlefield (a la Vietnam). As the Air Liaison Officer (ALO) to the Rakkasans, I commanded the Tactical Air Control Party

(TACP) that provided all the conventional ground forward air controllers (GFACs, also known as ETACs, Enlisted Terminal Air Controllers).

As it turned out, Operation Anaconda was the largest tactical ground battle since Desert Storm, and the Army had no artillery and only a few mortars. CAS was therefore the only means of indirect fire support, making our job critical to success.

Simply put, we jumped off the birds right into the middle of a hornet's nest: the quintessential "hot LZ." Almost immediately, everyone came under small arms and mortar fire. Within the first 30 minutes five of six AH-64 Apaches were hit and although none were shot down, all were NMC (non-mission capable) for the next few days. This put even more pressure on my guys to save the day and keep the enemy off us until the Army could take cover and return fire. They performed magnificently. A few quick stories to drive home the effect CAS can have:

I'll never forget one of my guys who was pinned down for 18 hours in roughly the same place, within 500 meters of their original LZ. I went in with the brigade commander and a small security detachment on the top of a small sliver of mountain we thought would be secure (more on that later). I could overlook his position and saw where some of the fire was coming from.

Between the two of us we controlled for eight hours straight, bombing the ridgelines. Right in the middle of it, when it looked like his position might be overrun, he (the ETAC) made a desperate call. "B-52, I want you to put every fu#@ing bomb you have on that fu#&ing ridgeline, right fu#&ing now!" When I jokingly reminded him that someone was probably taping this he responded, "Sir, if I survive this they can court-martial me for poor radio discipline."

"Roger that," I responded, "B-52 you heard the man, bomb the fu#&ing ridgeline with everything you got right fu#&ing now!" A hell of a show.

Back to that sliver of rock on top of the mountain. We starting taking fire and mortars from a concealed position below us, so I called in asking for some LGBs (laser-guided bombs). Little did I know I would get F-16CG's and none other than "Bodhi", a lieutenant of mine I flew with in Osan, Korea. (He's an instructor pilot now by the way, my how they grow up). I talked him on to the target, which was inside danger-close criteria of 425 meters. I must say after he shacked the target, we never took fire from that location again.

Bodhi was great. He stuck around even though AWACS yelled at him twice, warning they had no gas for his RTB back to Saudi Arabia (or Kuwait, not sure). Never heard if he diverted into Pakistan, but I do know he drinks for free the next time I meet him in the bar. His last words before checking off were, "Dino, no shit, keep your head down." Bodhi always was the master of the obvious.

I could go on and on with stories about my guys, but suffice to say by the end of day two, no Army soldier would walk more than 50 meters from an ETAC, and no one fell asleep until they heard the sound of fighters and AC-130s overhead. The ETACs controlled hundreds of deliveries from everything in the inventory: fighters, bombers, AC-130s, Navy, even a few French aircraft. They did all this over 12 days with NO FRATRICIDE and NO FRIENDLY LOSES IN TASK FORCE RAKKASAN! A truly incredible accomplishment that is a testament to the dedication and bravery of 12 enlisted professionals. I'm proud to have had the chance to lead them.

I know this has been long-winded and I thank you for your patience, but I thought everyone (especially the pilots) should know what a difference CAS can make to a few grunts on the ground. I know I will never look at CAS the same again.

Best of Luck and Check 6,

"Dino"