PARWAN PROVINCE, Afghanistan – It was 10 p.m. on Bagram Air Field and the hustle and bustle of garrison had begun to slow down. The workday was ending and most soldiers and airmen were preparing to call it a night.
For the 101st “Pathfinder” Company, the workday was just beginning.
Fox Company, 5th Battalion, 101st Combat Aviation Brigade, also know as “Pathfinders,” are an elite infantry company nestled inside an aviation brigade, who’s 1st Platoon patrols the area around Bagram Air Field under the cover of darkness.
“Our primary mission is downed aircraft recovery and personnel recovery,” said U.S. Army 1st Lt. Curtis Cullen the platoon leader for 1st Platoon, Fox Company. “In the event an aircraft goes down we go out and secure the site.”
Once the “Pathfinders” have assessed the situation they can get to work.
“We’ll do a number of different things once we get out there,” said Cullen. “We pull security, we can sling load [downed aircraft] out of there, we can cut it up and sling load it out, or burn the sensitive items and blow it in place, but that doesn’t happen very often.”
For this mission Cullen’s men are well prepared through different Army schools and training opportunities.
“We have a lot of training on cutting aircraft and sling loads, some demolitions experience, some extra first responder medical training along with all our infantry training,” said Cullen. “Being an infantry company in an aviation brigade, we had priority over schools, particularly air assault and pathfinder. A huge part of our job is air-to-ground integration.”
Fox Company is also an airborne company, and has no shortage of ranger tabs in its ranks. Through all of this the “Pathfinders” have created a unique esprit de corp’s.
“A normal soldier can’t say they’re doing and getting trained up on what these guys are doing,” said U.S. Army Sgt. Jonathan Madrid, the 1st Platoon sniper team leader. “I have full confidence in my Joe’s, that in my absence they can do my job, because that’s the way we train our guys.”
On Bagram Air Field the “Pathfinders” put their training to use for a different mission.
“Regional Command East recognized that a couple of units left the Bagram area as our forces transition to Afghan National Security Forces,” said Cullen.
This gave Cullen’s platoon an opportunity to utilize their skill set in a more traditional infantry mission.
“We were tasked to send a platoon up to Bagram to augment the battle space with more forces,” said Cullen. “We’ve done a lot of dismounted patrolling.”
“We also do targeted assaults against the IED makers and indirect fire facilitators,” added Cullen. “The targeting piece is something that really takes a lot of planning and experience. A regular infantry platoon wouldn’t have the capabilities to plan and execute a mission like that on their own.”
“We’re a pretty self-sufficient unit,” added Madrid.
A large part of these night patrols became possible because of the close partnership between the “Pathfinders” and the “Reapers” an Air Force Security Forces Team with the 455th Air Force Security Squadron.
The “Pathfinders” are not here just to increase the “Reapers” numbers, but also to expand on the security and presence patrols around Bagram.
The “Reapers” conduct lighter patrols in the area, where the “Pathfinders” have the ability to move farther and cover more ground at night.
“They’re still out there everyday doing their patrols,” added Cullen. “We can kind of stretch a little farther.”
After the sun has set and the day is over the “Pathfinders” once again find themselves out on patrol, moving through the fields and villages around Bagram to deter enemy movement and activity.
As the security environment changes with the ongoing transition to the ANSF, the “Pathfinders” and “Reapers” will continue their patrols in Parwan province, adding to the overall security of the enduring base.