Monday, December 8, 2008

Ambushed US Troops Prove Themselves in Afghan Mountains

Lt. Col. James Markert, commander of 6th Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment, receives a Bronze Star Medal for Valor and a Purple Heart Nov. 27, 2008, for his actions during an attack on their convoy in northeastern Afghanistan. (Photo by Sgt. Charles Brice.)

Dispatches from the Front:

BAGRAM AIR FIELD, Afghanistan, Dec. 8, 2008 -- The mountains of Konar Valley in eastern Afghanistan are some of the most treacherous and contested in the world. They are also home to Task Force Raider, 6th Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, from Fort Hood, Texas.

The squadron began to train for the challenges of the harsh Afghan environment the instant they were notified of their deployment. This training was put to the test during a mission this fall.

1st Platoon, Charlie Troop, Headquarters and Headquarters Troop, a supporting Civil Affairs team, a platoon from the 2nd Kandak, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Brigade, of the 201st Corps of the Afghan national army and their supporting U.S. Marine Corps Embedded Training Team were traveling down the only improved road in the Nari District to check on development projects and resupply voter registration sites.

The movement south was uneventful until the patrol reached the Tsunel Valley.

The enemy was crouching among the houses on a hillside, waiting for the convoy. When the convoy came by, a rocket-propelled grenade was fired and impacted approximately five feet in front of the lead International Security Assistance Force truck, blowing a three-foot hole in the surface of a culvert.

"I saw an explosion to my front that opened a hole in the road, and the window cracked in front of me as bullets struck it, so I knew we were in an ambush," said Spc. Brian Engel from San Antonio. "I drove to avoid the hole in the road and get out of the kill zone, but an RPG hit the engine of my truck."

It was an all-out firefight and several soldiers exited the vehicles as gunners from the vehicles fired on the enemy.

Pfc. Leonard Kroll, from Ontario, Calif., was fighting from outside the vehicle and helping Sgt. Daniel Ward, from Steamboat Springs, Colo., when he was struck just above the ankle by a bullet. As Ward continued to return fire he gave the order to Spc. Christopher Christensen from Fort Smith, Ark., and Engel to get Kroll into the truck to treat his injury.

Some vehicles from the convoy, despite damage, were clear from the enemy's fire, but not all.

They had to get to the high ground; Ward's truck was still in the kill zone, said Lt. Col. James Markert, 6-4 commander.

Sgt. Jammy Randell, from Smyer, Texas, took the lead, moving his scout team up the hill to establish an attack position on the high ground.

Randall, Markert and Pfc. Kirk Goff, from Swansea, S.C., engaged the enemy from approximately 400 meters away, suppressing the RPG team that was still firing at the ETT, ANA and Ward's truck. Sgt. 1st Class Scott Huffman, from Copperas Cove, Texas, grabbed the medic and moved back down the hill to provide treatment for Ward.

Markert called for fire, and the first 155 mm shell exploded on the hill above the enemy positions.

Soon after, Alpha Troop arrived as the quick reaction force. They suppressed the enemy as some of the more seriously wounded were medically evacuated for treatment.

"We were lucky that even though there were quite a few wounded soldiers, very few of the wounds were serious," said Capt. Amanda Cuda, a doctor from Kailua, Hawaii.

The shooting stopped, but the fight wasn't over. Artillery from a nearby base continued to explode onto the battle scene.

"We tracked them down and engaged with an appropriate level of force," said Sgt. Maj. Gregory Turner from San Antonio. "Although well planned, we were expecting an attack so the enemy lost the element of surprise."

The mission didn't go as planned, but the battle drills that they had been practiced a hundred times did, leading to a successful battle without the loss of personnel.

"I was proud of the way my Troopers fought that day," Markert said. "They demonstrated the aggressiveness and quick thinking expected in Cavalry units."

(Report by 2nd Lt. Zack Moss.)

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