National Guard troops show mettle in attack
BY U.S. ARMY SPC. TANANGACHI MFUNI 7th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
Sunday, October 02, 2011
10/28/11 at 12:15 PM
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Editor's Note: The following article about the Oklahoma National Guard's mission in Afghanistan was written by U.S. Army Spc. Tanangachi Mfuni, 7th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment.
LAGHMAN PROVINCE, Afghanistan - Over a period of five grueling days and nights in September, one Oklahoma National Guard infantry unit was tasked to venture deep into Taliban territory.
The soldiers from Company A, 1st Battalion, 179th Infantry Regiment, 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team out of Stillwater, together with Afghan National Army soldiers, swept through eight villages in southeast Afghanistan's remote Saygal Valley as part of Operation Brass Monkey. Located in Laghman province, Saygal is a place where Taliban loyalty is fierce.
Opposition toward coalition forces runs so deep in the Saygal Valley that Afghanistan's International Security Assistance Force hasn't ventured into the area in eight years.
Under a midnight moon, 3rd Platoon, commanded by 2nd Lt. James Brown, an Oklahoma National Guard soldier from Binger, was inserted by helicopter on a ridge opposite the mission's first objective - a lofty village surrounded by golden terraces of corn.
The CH-47 Chinook helicopter carrying Brown's platoon and the group of Afghan National Army soldiers commanded by 1st Lt. Mohammed Agha touched ground with both leaders knowing from Taliban radio chatter that the enemy already had eyes on the team.
"The first night, looking up at the mountaintops, we knew we were in a little bit of trouble," Brown said. "We knew we probably shouldn't have been there."
Afghan and U.S. soldiers hastily stacked loose boulders, building fortified fighting positions, before making their beds on stony ground.
The team rose before sunrise and began to navigate a hazardous route down one peak and up another, just to reach the first of eight villages. It picked its way down a 15-story drop lined by unforgiving boulders that made a treacherous staircase to a riverbed below.
"If I die falling off the side of a cliff, tell Rick I love him," newlywed Spc. Erica Watkins, of Sapulpa, said of her husband as her 5-foot-2 frame gingerly slid down a boulder.
Watkins was one of two soldiers in the Female Engagement Team, who traveled with the infantrymen. These teams are responsible for interacting with, and if need be, searching, Afghan women during missions like Brass Monkey.
As it neared the village outskirts, the team took a break. Heavily laden with a two-day supply of food and water, machine guns and ammo, in back-breaking loads that weighed up to 70 pounds, the soldiers were glad for a chance to catch their breath. As they rested, they spotted three men observing them from the ridge opposite to their current location.
"We've gotta get out of here," someone said, suspecting an ambush. Even as the soldiers pressed their way upward into the village's cornfields, the first rocket-propelled grenade hit from a ridge above, followed by another. A hailstorm of small arms fire followed.
Sgt. Mycal Prince was killed instantly. The 28-year-old Oklahoma National Guardsman, who worked as a policeman in the K-9 unit of the Minco Police Department, was a husband and father of two girls. A 19-year-old Afghan soldier was also wounded in the attack.
The firestorm of bullets between the soldiers and their attackers continued until an air weapons team of helicopters arrived on scene, laying down ground-shaking munitions that killed several insurgents.
Over the next two hours, U.S. and Afghan forces set up security in cornfields as Brown requested a medical evacuation for eight casualties, including his medic.
While medevac helicopters came for the casualties, there was no relief for the rest of Brown's battle-fatigued team. Instead, they were asked to continue the mission.
"Don't stop until we reach the bottom," Brown urged his team members as they made their way downhill over treacherous rocks.
Over the next 100 hours, Brown's platoon, together with the rest of Company A and their Afghan partners, would continue the mission and comb Saygal Valley for insurgents.
The company of soldiers navigated peak after peak as it moved through Saygal's villages. As it entered the valley's hamlets, it held meetings with elders, some of whom said they had not seen any military presence since the 1979 Russian invasion. The soldiers collected biometric information from scores of military-aged men, detaining three with suspected Taliban ties.
Most important, Company A killed 10 insurgents, including a midlevel Taliban commander who was on the battalion's most-wanted list. Two weapons caches were also discovered.
"We took some bad guys out of the game, we took some of their equipment and ordnance out of the game," said Capt. Jason Taylor, Oklahoma City, Company A commander. "I think it's good to take those bad guys out of the villages and let them know (the insurgents) are not safe, even in the farthest reaches."
"They performed excellently," Taylor said of his soldiers. "I really couldn't ask for anything better."
Staff Sgt. Edward Johnson, of Tulsa, said Brass Monkey's success had come at a high cost, a sentiment echoed throughout the company.
"The worst part of this mission," Johnson said, "the part that everybody's going to remember is we lost one of the best men we had."
Original Print Headline: National Guard troops show mettle in attack
Oklahoma Guard troops overseas
- About 200 members of the 138th Fighter Wing of the Oklahoma Air National Guard deployed Wednesday to provide air support to the drawdown of troops in Iraq.
- More than 2,000 members of the 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team deployed in late June to support combat operations in the east-central region of Afghanistan. Those deployed include the 179th Infantry Regiment of Stillwater, the 279th Infantry Regiment of Tulsa, and the 700th Support Battalion of Oklahoma City.
- About 1,200 guard members from the 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team deployed at the same time to Kuwait to aid in protecting support lines. They are members of the 180th Cavalry of Durant and 160th Field Artillery of Chandler.
Second Lt. James Brown of Binger meets with elders in the Saygal Valley during Operation Brass Monkey on Sept. 15. It marked the first time in eight years a sizable coalition force had ventured deep into the Afghan valleyâ€š considered a Taliban haven. SPC. TANANGACHI MFUNI / 7TH MOBILE PUBLIC AFFAIRS DETACHMENT
Oklahoma National Guard soldiers from the 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team travel through mountainous terrain in eastern Afghanistan's Laghman province during Operation Brass Monkey. SPC. TANANGACHI MFUNI / 7TH MOBILE PUBLIC AFFAIRS DETACHMENT
Oklahoma National Guard soldiers from Company A, 1st Battalion, 179th Infantry, 45th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, pull security while clearing a village in the Saygal Valley, Laghman province, in eastern Afghanistan. SPC. TANANGACHI MFUNI / 7TH MOBILE PUBLIC AFFAIRS DETACHMENT
Coalition soldiers found a rocket-propelled grenade buried in a Saygal Valley village during clearance Operation Brass Monkey. They discovered two weapons caches and also killed 10 insurgents during the mission. SPC. TANANGACHI MFUNI / 7TH MOBILE PUBLIC AFFAIRS DETACHMENT