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    Against all odds

    Against all odds

    Photo By Pfc. Zackary Root | U.S. Army 2nd Lt. Jared Ackerman,(left) of Carman, Okla., the fire support officer for...... read more read more



    Story by Pfc. Zackary Root 

    7th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

    PARWAN PROVINCE, Afghanistan – Gusts of wind scoured the rock-strewn mountain; lashing dust and sand as soldiers covered their faces against the flying rocks.

    Two CH-47 Chinook helicopters hovered for a moment before the powerful blades propelled them forward and off into the distant night. Onboard, the first group of soldiers, including members of the Afghan National Army, were returning to base after a three-day mission.

    The ANA and soldiers from 1st Battalion, 179th Infantry Regiment, 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, Task Force Maverick, combined efforts for Operation Lionheart in Parwan province; a mission focused on clearing villages of weapon caches, bomb-making materials and Taliban insurgents.

    “This is an area they hadn’t been in for a number of years so we wanted to come down here and show an Afghan National Army presence as well as Coalition presence,” said Lt. Col. Jeremy Siegrist, Task Force Maverick commander. “So even if we don’t get a [weapons] cache, it’s still a successful operation just getting in here and showing the population we have the ability to.”

    Darkness surrounded the remaining soldiers while the pale iridescent moonlight cascaded over the mountain cliffs. Half the forces had left, leaving a group of infantry men mixed with various combat service support soldiers to wait for their flight back to base.

    An explosion shattered the silence; a mortar round landing 200 meters away. Gunfire erupted, a chorus of grunts, explosions and shouts filled the air. Soldiers dropped down, seeking cover on the exposed ridgeline and returned fire. Tracers filled the night sky, illuminating the battle for brief moments.

    Bullets whizzed by from the backside of the ridge pinning the soldiers down as mortar fire landed closer and closer. This was supposed to be the end of the three-day mission, and with the ANA soldiers and half of the U.S. forces heading out on the first sortie of Chinooks, the soldiers were literally fighting an uphill battle.

    Day 1

    The operation started in the early morning hours, Sept. 12. ANA and U.S. forces were dropped down on a pitch-black hilltop in Parwan province. Soldiers exited the helicopters, immediately setting up perimeter security and scanned the area for the enemy. They had missed their landing zone by 900 meters, a seemingly insignificant distance in other parts of the world. In Afghanistan, however, the impassibility of some of the unforgiving terrain caused a change of plan.

    At first light the Afghan and U.S. soldiers struck out, shouldering their combat loads that weighed upwards of 100lbs. The soldiers carried all the food and water necessary to survive for the next two days.

    Sheer cliffs, deep valleys, and steep mountains made travel hard, even impossible at times, forcing the ANA and U.S. forces to backtrack on several occasions.

    “This terrain is a completely different beast,” said U.S. Army 2nd Lt. Joseph Bedingfield, of Tulsa, Okla., Company B, 1-179th Inf. Regt. “The routes are hard, they are hard to assess and the maps are old.”

    The ANA and U.S. pressed on, arriving at the first village in the early afternoon, Sept. 12. A deep valley sheltered the quaint village that appeared to be friendly. ANA and U.S. forces walked about while the leadership sat down with the village elders to discuss matters and gather information.

    After the meeting, the combined forces bedded down in the courtyard of the village clinic that U.S. forces had built to improve healthcare for the region. Exhausted, the soldiers slept and prepared for the following day’s travel, reassured with the information from the village elders that the Taliban were not in the area

    Day 2

    Early the next morning, Sept. 13, ANA and U.S. forces gathered their supplies and set-off for the next village.

    Unfortunately this village was not as friendly.

    “We weren’t in the village 10 minutes before we started taking fire,” said Bedingfield, “at which point we had no choice but to maneuver on the enemy.”

    The first rocket exploded aimed at an over-watch position on a cliff-side.

    “My dismounted element, led by Sgt. 1st Class Cooley, maneuvered through the valley to get a better vantage point,” said Bedingfield. “That’s when all hell broke loose.”

    The insurgents simultaneously attacked with rockets and small arms fire, from positions in dug-out caves in the mountain-side. U.S. and ANA soldiers responded.

    “The ANA took fire and returned fire. Their platoon leader was snatching up weapons. He was firing a SAW at one point, an RPG at another point, all while giving out firing commands,” said Bedingfield. “[The insurgents] didn’t take much of it before they scattered.”

    OH-58D Kiowa Warrior helicopters arrived and provided security and over watch for the combined forces. Hopping over crumbling stonewalls and ducking through cornfields, the combined forces exited the village. They set up a security perimeter in the flat area a couple hills over.

    U.S. and ANA leaders reassessed the situation and concurred that they had gone as far as they could on this current mission. The decision was made to leave and return at a later date with additional forces.

    The ANA forces remained optimistic despite the resistance and heavy fighting.

    “One day we will stand up by ourselves and defend our country,” said Col. Afazalla Soskrdy, the commander of ANA forces assigned for Operation Lionheart,

    Day 3

    Around midnight on Sept. 14, the first group of U.S. forces and ANA left on Chinook helicopters to return to Bagram Air Field. The remaining forces had a 40 minute wait before their ride returned.

    That is when the first mortar round struck.

    Pinned down, the Soldiers started taking cross-fire from two different positions. With half of the forces back on their way to Bagram Air Field, the group kept calm and called in for air-support.

    An AH-64 Apache helicopter answered the call. Hell-fire missiles rained down on the enemy firing positions as cheers rose among the soldiers while they continued to fire their weapons.

    “We gotta’ move,” said Capt. Markus Shawnee, commander, Company B, 1-179th Infantry.

    Sprinting down through the valley, and up to a hilltop position, they waited, while scanning for the enemy. Although the battle was intense, there were no casualties, and the helicopters arrived twenty minutes later returning everyone safely to the airfield.

    Back on base, the camaraderie of the soldiers was evident as they exchanged excited stories, hugs and looks of relief. Despite the flying bullets, rockets and mortars, the Afghan and U.S. soldiers had established a presence in an area not visited by Coalition forces in recent years. More importantly to the soldiers involved, all survived heavy enemy resistance and their formation was complete as they looked on to future missions.



    Date Taken: 09.17.2011
    Date Posted: 09.17.2011 09:34
    Story ID: 77180
    Location: PARWAN PROVINCE, AF 

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