FORWARD OPERATING BASE APACHE, Afghanistan – On Dec. 17, 2013, an American UH-60 Black Hawk crashed in Zabul province, killing six service members and severely injuring one other. The Department of Defense later acknowledged that the aircraft was brought down by enemy forces. That night, the 2nd Battalion 2nd Infantry Regiment of 3rd Brigade 1st Infantry Division Combined Task Force Duke reacted swiftly and secured the crash site of the fallen heroes.
The Black Hawk crash occurred in the area of operations of Combined Task Force Duke whose garrison station is located in Fort Knox, Ky. The unit selected 2nd Battalion 2nd Infantry Regiment, also known as the “Ramrod” Battalion, to lead the effort to secure the crash site. The Ramrods activated one of its companies, Charlie Company “Comanche.” The company at the time was not the quick reaction force but was chosen as they would deploy into action with Afghan National Army soldiers who would assist in securing the site. Charlie Company has been deployed as part of the Security Force Assistance mission in Afghanistan and has been conducting multiple operations with the Afghan National Army (ANA), specifically the 2nd Brigade of 205th Afghan National Army Corps. This partnership proved invaluable during this mission since the ANA unit was familiar with terrain and the mountain where the crash occurred.
With the winter season in full effect at Zabul province, the location of the crash site had reported below freezing temperatures. The extreme cold temperatures were a major concern for leaders while assembling the Ramrod Soldiers to secure the fallen aircraft.
“We didn’t think; we reacted,” said Command Sgt. Maj. John Morales. Command Sergeant Major of the Ramrod Battalion added, “Security is a normal condition that our soldiers know how to do right.”
The Ramrod Battalion command team deployed to the crash site along with Comanche Company in the late afternoon of the 17th to act as a command and control node. The Ramrod battalion deployed to two locations to secure the crash site. The first location was on a higher position overlooking the crash site to provide an overwatch security. The second location provided additional support to Special Forces elements already on the ground. Due to this immediate response, several life-saving materials, including extreme cold-weather gear, were air-lifted to the Ramrod elements that secured the crash site.
“First thing I thought was that this was a really serious situation, and I needed to get my guys prepared as quickly as possible,” stated Sgt. Jon Davis, a squad leader with the platoon that participated in the rescue. “I had to inspect my guys to make sure they had all the proper equipment to execute the mission.”
The Air Rescue Force and Special Forces that had been activated to rescue the fallen heroes of the crash left hours after the crash. The Ramrod element’s mission was to secure the site until it could be removed. For the Ramrods, that meant bearing the extreme conditions over night. As darkness fell, the temperature dropped significantly.
“I knew how cold it could get on top of the mountain from previous deployments and previous air assault (helicopter) missions,” stated Army Spc. Justin Necessary. “I was not expecting it to be as cold as it was. That was the coldest I have ever been my entire life.”
The 21-year-old Clifton, Texas native did not know that he was about to be part of a life-saving critical mission to retrieve extreme cold-weather equipment. An aircraft had arrived and dropped the cold-weather equipment at a location at the bottom of a mountainside near their location. Morales, Davis, and Necessary fought the harsh conditions to retrieve the cold-weather supplies.
“[Command] Sergeant Major [Morales] came by and picked me and Necessary up to go down to the valley to retrieve the cold weather gear,” Davis of Dothan, Ala., said, “We were pretty uncertain where we were going. It took a lot of searching to actually find it at first. We knew it was going to be a long walk down the mountain and back up too…but we knew our guys needed the gear.”
The three Ramrod soldiers eventually located the much needed supplies at the bottom of the mountain, several feet from their observation post where the rest of their comrades awaited. This speedball required a two-man carry method through which one of the soldiers rested in rotation. According to Davis, about halfway up the mountain, they found a second package of much needed supplies. That second speedball was picked up by Necessary alone while Morales and Davis continued on with the first speedball.
“We didn’t realize how high this was,” Morales noted. “We were 9,000 feet in elevation. We were dragging the speedball (supply bag) 20 feet at a time before we had to take breaks.”
The supplies had several gear in it to include heating blankets, extreme cold-weather jackets, additional water, gloves, facial gear, and other life-preserving supplies under harsh wintry conditions.
“Before we were getting that cold weather gear, I wasn’t sure if I were going to make it that night,” stated Necessary. “I was already getting pre-stages of hyperthermia. My hands and toes were getting numb. My body would shake uncontrollably. I was getting worried.”
Retrieval of the speedball package had taken a significant effort from the three soldiers. However, in particular, when the group had returned to the top of the mountain overwatching the crash site, Necessary had dropped off the supplies and then crawled into a ball. He began to shake uncontrollably.
The platoon from Comanche Company began helping their fellow soldier in need of warmth. His platoon leader, 1st Lt. Kevin Collins, reacted quickly and began clothing him in an extreme cold-weather jacket and pants most commonly known to soldiers as the “marshmallow suit” due to its large puffy form and color. Davis assisted his St. Louis-born platoon leader to help Necessary. Collins then placed the Texas native into a body bag filled with marshmallow suits to raise his core temperature once again. This quick reaction allowed him to ensure that Necessary would not be a cold-weather casualty.
“At night, as the temperatures dropped significantly,” stated Collins, “I was more occupied with monitoring the condition of ISAF and ANSF (Afghanistan National Security Forces) soldiers to ensure there would be no cold-weather injuries.”
The cold-weather gear was also used to help the Afghan National Army soldiers on the mountain with the Ramrods, who both endured the extreme freezing conditions.
Of note, the Ramrod battalion was the only element that did not receive a cold weather injury during the rescue and security operations of the fallen aircraft.
“The guys knew their mission, and they didn’t know how long they would be there,” Morales stated. “They didn’t fail or falter at 9,000 feet or in 9-degree weather with minimal cold weather gear allowed. They did it honorably. They facilitated Special Forces and DART (Downed Aircraft Rescue Team) to do their mission.”
Combined Task Force Duke received 12 Army Commendation Awards. Of the twelve, six were from 2nd Battalion 2nd Infantry Regiment. The Ramrod soldiers receiving awards were: Lt. Col. Eric Lopez, Collins, Morales, Staff Sgt. Scottie Anuntak, Davis and Necessary.
Morales added, “Hopefully we will never do a mission like that again; the guys know the importance of it.”
First Lt. Marco Kilongkilong is a member of Combined Task Force Duke and serves as the Task Force Fire Support Officer for 2nd Battalion 2nd Infantry Regiment.