A Fight in Afghanistan

 

 

         
Flipper's Coin, Front - 2003.
   Flipper's   

In

   Afghanistan   
Flipper's Coin, Rear - 2003.

 

 

         
85-24343 unloading humanitarian aid near a village in Afghanistan.

 

             On 19 December 2002, Boeing Chinook 85-24343 - a CH-47D helicopter belonging to Charlie Company - "Flippers", 159th Aviation Regiment, from Fort Bragg, North Carolina - sits in a valley as soldiers of the 82nd Airborne Division unload humanitarian aid at the village of Shumace, Afghanistan. The soldiers were in Shumace giving medical and humanitarian aid to the local Afghans as well as reimbursing some for damaged property sustained during the removal of the Taliban. The soldiers have been deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

 

 

         
Members of the U.S. Army's 82nd Airborne board a CH-47D Chinook helicopter loaded with Christmas foods.

 

             Members of the U.S. Army's 82nd Airborne Division, from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, board a CH-47D Chinook helicopter loaded with Christmas foods on Thursday, 26 December 2002, at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. The delivery of Christmas food stuff to their advance fire base was delayed due to bad weather.

 

 

         
An Afghan MiG-21 wreck is lifted out of Bagram Air Base via 86-01649, a CH-47D helicopter belonging to B Company - "Hercules", 159th Aviation Battalion.

 

             An Afghan MiG-21 wreck is lifted out of Bagram Air Base via 86-01649, a CH-47D helicopter belonging to B Company - "Hercules", 159th Aviation Battalion, from Hunter Army Airfield, located at Fort Stewart, Georgia. B Company is part of the 18th Airborne Division, headquartered at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. [2002, exact date unknown].

 

 

         
C Company, 7th Battalion, 101st Airborne Division company flag, circa January 2003.

 

             C Company -"Outlaws", 7th Battalion, 101st Airborne Division hoists a new United States and 101st Airborne Division flag at Kandahar, Afghanistan, 21 January 2003. Click-N-Go Here for a larger image.

 

 

         
Old One Eye - C Company and "Bobo".

 

          "Bobo" - the men, the myth, the story.

 

 

         
Chinooks provide transport to health care providers in Afghanistan.

 

             Afghans and U.S. Military Police take cover as a U.S. Chinook helicopter takes-off in Aroki village, Kapisa province, northeast of Kabul, in Afghanistan Tuesday, 21 January 2003. U.S. troops visited the area to extend health services to villagers as a way of fostering good relations with Afghans.

 

 

          Decorated Soldier Bush's Guest for Speech

 

          Monday, 27 January 2003, 4:37 PM ET

 

             High on a mountain in Afghanistan, the helicopter circled, maneuvering into position to try to rescue a Navy SEAL who had fallen out of another chopper. Suddenly, the second craft [92-00475] was hit by two rocket-propelled grenades. When it crash-landed, it was hit again. And again.

             It was part of a fierce engagement at a place called Takur Ghar, a barren, 10,200-foot ridge where U.S. forces exchanged deadly fire with fighters for al-Qaeda and the former Afghan rulers, the Taliban.

             "By the time I was able to get off of the aircraft, three of our team members were already dead," said Air Force Staff Sgt. Kevin Vance three weeks after the engagement last March. In the end, seven Americans died.

             Vance has been awarded the Silver Star, one of several decorations for valor in the fight, and he has been invited to attend President Bush's State of the Union address Tuesday.

             Vance's story, detailed in an affidavit he gave at Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan a document that would normally remain secret mysteriously made it onto the Internet. Confirmed by U.S. military officials, it is a rare firsthand look behind the veil of the ongoing war against terror.

             "Gripping" was how one authority, retired Army Col. David Hackworth, described Vance's account. "In the days of satellite wonder bombs zeroing in on their targets from 40,000 feet in the sky, you don't have gunfights anymore."

 

 

             Vance: "One team member was on the ramp with a hole in his head. There was no mistaking that he was dead. The second team member was at the end of the ramp face down in the snow.... The last deceased team member was lying on his back at the end of the ramp not moving. These three ... had died from enemy fire...."

             "I figured out which way we were being engaged from and I sought cover behind a cutout in the rock face. It was just big enough for four team members to kneel behind it. We set up a perimeter. Two other members were back to my right and three members to my left. I was closest to the enemy. There were two enemies about 50 meters north of us near a tree. There was one enemy behind me and to the right already dead. There were some more enemies to the south coming out. Then we started to engage the enemy."

 

 

             A specialist who normally directs air strikes from the ground, Vance, a 25-year-old father of two, was taking part in Operation Anaconda, a mission to rid the Shah-i-Kot mountains of southeastern Afghanistan of al-Qaeda the group believed responsible for the 11 September 2001 attacks on the United States and its Taliban allies.

             Vance was among 21 Army Rangers, air crew and other special-operations troops on the MH-47E Chinook helicopter. The initial mission to Takur Ghar was to set up an observation post on the summit. An earlier helicopter carrying the reconnaissance team was hit as it tried to land on the ridge. U.S. Navy SEAL Neil Roberts fell out as the helicopter [92-00476] flew off to crash land a short distance away. A group of Navy SEALs in a helicopter sent to rescue Roberts was forced off the ridge. Vance and the Rangers he was with made another attempt.

 

 

             Vance: "First, we shot M203 rounds at (a) bunker. An M203 is a grenade launcher that fits on a M4/16. As the squad leader and team leader shot M203s, I stood up and provided covering fire. When he would stand up to fire a grenade at the bunker, I would stand up and shoot at the bunker to cover him. I did the same when the crew members would run for more ammo. We tried throwing fragment grenades at the enemy but they were too far away and the bunker was on the backside of the hill. The enemy threw fragment grenades at us but they landed 5-10 feet in front of me, buried in the snow and blew up."

 

 

             In broad military terms, the action at Takur Ghar was a minor skirmish. If not for the casualties, it would have remained an unknown peak, a footnote to the 16-day Operation Anaconda.

             But in military circles it's a cliche to say that there is no such thing as a minor skirmish for those who are being shot at.

             "It's war at its worst, war at its most noble and glorious," Hackworth said. "It was what our forefathers went through at Valley Forge, in the Argonne Forest in World War I, and Bastogne in World War II."

 

 

             Vance: "There was no power to the aircraft, without which we could not operate the mini-guns. One of the team members yelled at a member of the crew to get the power working so we could use those guns. The mini-guns shoot 7.62 ammo and so does our M240. The crew was taking ammo and giving it to our M240 gunner. When the crew members would run back to the aircraft for more ammo, I would stand up and shoot at the bunker to cover them. They were also taking M203 rounds and magazines off of the KIA (killed in action) and bringing it to us. The crew pulled off insulation from the aircraft to wrap the casualties in to keep them warm ..."

             "Then four of us (myself, the platoon leader, squad leader, and team leader) started to assault the tree area where the enemy was coming from while the M240 gunner suppressed it. Army Captain Nathan Self, the platoon leader, was in charge. Once we realized that it was a bunker, a couple of enemy came out from behind a tree and took shots at us."

             "We were moving slow because the snow was up to our knees and we were going uphill. The platoon leader finally said let's back up and rethink this. We backed up because we could not afford to lose any more guys."

 

 

             Thanks to an unmanned Predator drone flying surveillance over the ridge, commanders back at Bagram Air Force Base about 130 miles away watched the fighting live.

             "It was gut-wrenching," Maj. Gen. Frank Hagenbeck, then-commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, told The Washington Post last spring. "We saw the helicopter getting shot as it was just setting down. We saw the shots being fired. And it was unbelievable the Rangers were even able to get off that and kill the enemy without suffering greater losses."

             Controllers on the ground directed Air Force F-15 and F-16 fighter aircraft to pound the entrenched enemy positions. And eventually, another MH-47E full of reinforcements landed 2,000 feet below where the skirmish was unfolding.

             By then, 2 1/2 hours had passed since Vance and his group had landed on the mountainside.

 

 

             Vance: "The majority of enemy ... firing at us were on the hill near the bunker area. We killed seven of them. The last time I saw anyone move in the bunker, I was scanning the hilltop and I saw the upper half of an enemy behind some bushes. I shot three times, got down and stood back up. This was the last I had seen him. I never went over toward that bunker so I cannot confirm if I had killed him."

             "Then we shot some more bombs in the bunker area. I told (controllers) to direct them to shoot down the backside of the hill north of us. I thought it was better to have them shoot downhill with the first one so we could walk him in to the target. The first bomb hit the backside of the hill and then I told him to bring it up and hit the tree over the bunker. The second one hit the tree dead on and split it in half. The fire from the bunker area ceased."

 

 

             It took two hours for reinforcements to make it up the mountainside to Vance and the others. Once they reached the top, it was 13 hours before they were picked up by three more helicopters. The fighting continued, but without the intensity of the early hours of the battle.

             Besides the seven U.S. forces killed at Takur Ghar including Roberts, the Navy SEAL 10 were wounded, and one U.S. soldier died in another phase of Operation Anaconda.

             U.S. military planners claimed success in driving al-Qaeda out of the region, but others have questioned the effectiveness of the operation.

 

 

             Vance: "I received a minor wound to my left shoulder. It is a shrapnel puncture wound. I didn't notice it until a day later when I woke up and my shoulder felt like someone punched me. I then looked at the T-shirt I was wearing that night and noticed it was blood stained."

             "I went through so many different emotions, excited, mad, frustrated, sad; any other emotion you could possibly feel, you feel going through this whole thing. And I felt guilty if I felt anything was funny ... because we had lost members of our team."

             "Everyone out there just did his job. I just did my job, everything came natural and my training kicked in. There is nothing I could have changed about that day. Nothing we could have done different or better. ... Everybody working together and the good Lord is what got us home."

 

 

          POSTSCRIPT:                                                                                      

             Colonel William Darley, a spokesman for U.S. Special Operations Command in Tampa, Florida, said: "There are many, slightly different versions of this statement circulating around the Net. However, of the ones we have compared, the differences are slight and do not impact the basic facts that Vance asserts in his recounting of events."

             Vance was to attend Tuesday's State of the Union speech, according to the Air Force.

             The military has awarded two Air Force Crosses, nine Silver Stars, eight Bronze Stars for Valor, 19 Bronze Stars for support and other decorations to personnel who fought at Takur Ghar, Darley said.

             The Silver Star awarded on 16 January to Vance, now stationed at Fort Benning, Georgia, officially recognizes his "notable and unusual acts of singular bravery."

 

 

         
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