News: Soldiers make history on Memorial Day
Story by Staff Sgt. Whitney Hughes
PAKTYA PROVINCE, Afghanistan – Traditionally Memorial Day is a time to celebrate the history of American service members, but this Memorial Day the Soldiers of the 3rd Battalion, 172nd Infantry Regiment were not celebrating history; they were making it.
The Soldiers and their Afghan national security forces counterparts performed the first combat air assault operation ever led by the battalion, and the second largest ever in eastern Afghanistan. The Soldiers flew into the village by CH-47 Chinook and UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters to search for illegal weapons, munitions and militant forces in Sepine Takhte, Afghanistan, May 30-31.
"I think it is great that we have opportunities like this," said U.S. Army Capt. Dan Newman, from Merrimack, N.H, and the commander of Company C, 3rd Battalion, 172nd Infantry Regiment. "We showcased our abilities. Not only are we mountain infantry, but also we can do air assaults and we can do many different facets of the job."
During the operation several caches of weapons were discovered, which consisted of rocket propellants, missile canisters, crew serve weapons (heavy machine guns usually mounted on vehicles), various rifles and ammunition, and communication devices, all used by the militant forces to attack ANSF.
"Anytime we can keep these explosives off the road, that is one less thing they have to harm us and the civilians in Afghanistan," said U.S. Army Sgt. Francesco Farinella, from Windham, Maine, a fire support noncommissioned officer with C Company, 1st Battalion, 172nd Infantry Regiment. "Anytime we can take the weapons, it's a good thing."
The operations were overall a combined effort with the battalion having operational control of all the elements as they searched the village.
"We should be pleased with our actions out there," said Newman.
The plan that was presented by the battalion was not only organized well, but also executed proficiently. Being part of this battalion and having the opportunity to be a part of operations like this is something that his Soldiers will take away from this deployment as a point of pride, Newman said.
"Anytime we get to do something as a group is a good thing, and then to have it be our battalion's first, that's even better," Farinella said.
In addition to the weapons, the Soldiers found that they were also able to gather information.
"We spent a considerable amount of our time using our ANA (Afghan National Army) counterparts to engage the population. They usually don't give up information as freely, but I think it helped with our rapport seeing that we're there (with the ANSF) as part of GiRoA(Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan)," Newman said.
By engaging the local population they were able to gather vital information on militant forces' safe houses and their movements.
No coalition forces' presence had been in the area in over three years.
"There was sense that they appreciate us taking the time to go a village that is a little bit further off the beaten path and engage the population," said Newman.
From the village elders down to small children herding their goats, the Soldiers could be seen having serious conversations or just handing out toys and candy.
"Being able to meet with the villagers is really great, especially with the children running around, it's the reason why we're here," said Farinella, who took as many opportunities as possible to talk to children and hand out pipe cleaners for them to play with. "I will be telling my kids the story of what we did here today, next Memorial Day and probably for years after."