Face of Defense: Point Man Steers Team From Danger

KUNAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan — “I can say that I’ve led this pla­toon into more ambush­es than any oth­er point man here on this deploy­ment,” Army Sgt. Nathaniel S. Gray said with a toothy grin and a slow, south­ern accent.
“I was point man for the first six, sev­en months here,” he con­tin­ued. “I walked us into a lot. I can smell it, but I don’t know where it’s at. I know it’s going to hap­pen. Every time we were walk­ing, I was look­ing for my next cov­ered and con­cealed posi­tion. You know, I’d look at this rock, then that rock. ‘Oh, there’s anoth­er rock, that’s where I’m going.’ I just nev­er knew when it was going to hap­pen.”

Afghanistan's Kunar province
Army Sgt. Nathaniel S. Gray scans the moun­tain­side dur­ing a com­bat oper­a­tion in east­ern Afghanistan’s Kunar province, March 16, 2011. Gray is on his third com­bat tour.
U.S. Army pho­to by Sgt. 1st Class Mark Bur­rell
Click to enlarge

Gray, assigned to the 101st Air­borne Division’s Com­pa­ny B, 1st Bat­tal­ion, 327th Infantry Reg­i­ment, Task Force No Slack, now is a squad leader and has an uncan­ny knack for get­ting him­self and his team out of tight spots. Even before join­ing the Army, Gray found ways out of poten­tial­ly hairy situations. 

He grew up in Tupe­lo, Miss., a town about the same size as Asad­abad, the cap­i­tal of Afghanistan’s Kunar province, where he now patrols. As a teenag­er, he watched war movies and idol­ized the men in those action roles who wore Scream­ing Eagle patch­es on their shoulders. 

“If you see TV or movies, who would­n’t choose the 101st?” Gray said. “If you see ‘Ham­burg­er Hill,’ with those dudes charg­ing up the side of a moun­tain, who would­n’t want to do that?” 

After return­ing from his first com­bat tour in Iraq, he quick­ly joined the 101st Air­borne Divi­sion and deployed again to Iraq with the division’s 3rd Brigade Com­bat Team for 15 months. 

Now, 10 months into a year­long deploy­ment to Afghanistan with the 1st Brigade Com­bat Team, Gray stares out of his makeshift fight­ing posi­tion into the Shi­gal Val­ley. “You see some­thing?” anoth­er sol­dier asked. “Ah, it’s just dead trees.” 

“Make sure you know where it’s com­ing from before you shoot, know what I mean?” Gray said to the sol­dier. “I expect a rock­et-pro­pelled grenade to come from that ridge­line over there.” 

It was qui­et for a few min­utes as the sol­diers scanned the ridges with their weapons. Then Gray said, “Actu­al­ly, it’s my sons’ birth­days today.” 

Jacob and Joseph, twins, turned 5 years old March 16. Gray said he sent home a bow and arrow set for their presents. He start­ed laugh­ing. “Last time I was home, one of them was walk­ing around the gas sta­tion we were at singing the Pledge of Alle­giance,” Gray said. “I thought that was pret­ty cool.” 

Gray said his sons are one of the main rea­sons he has stayed in the Army. He is able to care for them, he added, but they also look up to and admire him for being a sol­dier. “They want cam­ou­flage stuff — you know, they’re 5,” he said with a smile. “They want the GI Joe back­pack, and I think that’s pret­ty cool.” Then he explained the dif­fer­ence between being a squad leader and a father. 

“Over here, a squad leader is more dif­fi­cult than tak­ing care of kids,” Gray explained. “Here, you have to check to make sure their mag­a­zines are full, their [com­bat optics] are tied down — you have to check every­thing. Small things have big­ger con­se­quences over here.” Since join­ing the Army, Gray said, he has learned it’s the lit­tle things that count. 

“The Army changed my life a lot,” he said. “It kind of dis­tilled some­thing in me. I start­ed doing the right thing. I respect myself more, and I respect oth­ers more.” After dodg­ing as many more ambush­es as he can in his three years left in the mil­i­tary, Gray said, he plans on going to col­lege and walk­ing into one more ambush: being swarmed by children. 

“I want to be a kinder­garten teacher,” he said. The fight­ing posi­tion on the moun­tain was qui­et for a moment, and then erupt­ed with muf­fled laugh­ter from his troops. “Every­body laughs, but that’s what I want to do,” Gray said. “I love kids.” 

A few days lat­er, back home in Mis­sis­sip­pi, Jacob and Joseph got a phone call. Their dad was on the line, far away from them, but reas­sur­ing them that he found a safe route off the mountain. 

Gray has a cer­tain knack for that. 

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs) 

Face­book and/or on Twit­ter

Team GlobDef

Seit 2001 ist GlobalDefence.net im Internet unterwegs, um mit eigenen Analysen, interessanten Kooperationen und umfassenden Informationen für einen spannenden Überblick der Weltlage zu sorgen. GlobalDefence.net war dabei die erste deutschsprachige Internetseite, die mit dem Schwerpunkt Sicherheitspolitik außerhalb von Hochschulen oder Instituten aufgetreten ist.

Alle Beiträge ansehen von Team GlobDef →