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.

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