News: White Platoon, ANA key to security in southern Bala Murghab
Story by Tech. Sgt. Kevin Wallace
BALA MURGHAB, Afghanistan - At Combat Outpost Delorean, the southern-most coalition stronghold in the Bala Murghab Valley, soldiers typically fall asleep to the gentle serenade of explosions and awaken to hostility and enemy fire. They live this life so the Afghans residing in the valley above can live in relative peace and tranquility, when compared to other parts of Afghanistan.
The small team of U.S. soldiers based at COP Delorean are known as White Platoon, and report to Bulldog Troop at nearby Forward Operating Base Todd, in the center of BMG.
The soldiers are mostly scouts, and are all deployed from the 7th Squadron, 10th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Brigade, 4th Infantry Division, at Fort Carson, Colo.
After receiving waves of enemy attacks from three different directions Jan. 6, U.S. Army 1st Lt. Nicholas Costello, White Platoon leader, decided it was best to reconnaissance the battlefield and locate routes the enemy used to get so close to COP Delorean.
The platoon geared up for a combat foot patrol Jan. 8.
White Platoon is used to foot patrols as, according to Costello, "we've been successful by getting out on foot patrols and walking among the Afghans who live nearby. These face-to-face encounters show them that we are human beings too."
When asked if he was nervous about the patrol, Costello said he wasn't, and that he trusts his non-commissioned officers will do their jobs.
"My NCOs are so good that I mainly just need to focus on the plan," he said.
The ranking NCO on the recon patrol was Staff Sgt. Nicholas Lewis, a scout with nine years in the Army.
Lewis never likes to miss a patrol, he said.
"I always worry about my guys when I'm not there," said Lewis. "I know they can handle themselves but I hate to think about one getting hurt and me not being there to help out."
White Platoon teamed up with a handful of BMG-based Afghan National Army soldiers, two Tactical Air Control Party Airmen (an Air Force ground asset attached to Army units and call in close-air support when needed), and two military journalists from Regional Command-West Public Affairs, Camp Arena, Herat.
"We need to recon the riverbed east of the outpost and gain [intelligence] to learn [infiltration] routes and flank the enemy," said Costello, who lauded the ANA on patrol together.
"The ANA and [Afghan National Police] are great. We work with them a lot and include them in every operation and in training," said Costello.
As the patrol made their way down the riverbed, they took accurate small-arms fire from the south east. The platoon initially took cover. Then, after hearing Lewis return fire and order the soldiers up on a line, everyone came to their firing lines and scanned the area.
Meanwhile, U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Jose Cruz-Richardson, a Joint Terminal Attack Controller deployed from Fort Hood, Texas, called for close-air support.
Cruz-Richardson's request was denied.
"We give these soldiers all we can," said Cruz-Richardson. "We patrol with them and get into the mix of combat with them. When the enemy gets too close, my job is to do what I can to get CAS or a show of force from the Air Force. These guys are my brothers."
Without CAS, Castello had to re-evaluate his plan.
After a quick discussion with Lewis and another NCO, Sgt. Jonathan Sweetman, White Platoon's leader decided the platoon would bound forward toward the direction from which they received fire and continued to recon the fields and riverbed.
Costello, Lewis and Sweetman divided the service members and bounded by three teams. They made a great deal of headway and gathered intelligence from the battle space the whole way forward.
After a long patrol, the visibly tired and sweaty service members tactfully moved back to COP Delorean, stopping by to talk to some village elders on the way back.
The relationship White Platoon has with the elders is one such that if someone new arrives in the area, the elders will alert Costello to their presence.
Costello noticed a new face while returning to the COP, but the elders introduced the new gentleman and explained that his family had just returned to the village.
Under the terrorizing hands of the Taliban and other insurgents, many villagers fled BMG years ago and resorted to living in the mountains, without a river or valley to grow crops in.
Since White Platoon took root in the southern tip of BMG, and the ANA moved to an adjacent COP, many villagers are now returning to live a more productive live inside the security bubble.
"Holding this ground helps keep the BMG security bubble in tact, and keeps the Taliban out," said Costello. "We want them to be too afraid to come into the villages in our [area of operations], and to know that the ANA is here to stay, that they can no longer terrorize the people of BMG."