Infantry Soldiers Hold Border Hilltop During Overnight Attack

GAYAN DISTRICT, Afghanistan, May 20, 2011 — This week, mem­bers of ‘Dog’ Com­pa­ny main­tained their hold on a key hill­top locat­ed just meters from the Afghanistan-Pak­istan bor­der by win­ning a 14-hour fire­fight with insur­gents.
Army Sgt. 1st Class Adam Petrone, fill­ing in for a pla­toon leader on mid-tour leave, was the senior sol­dier on the ground with the 4th Brigade, 101st Air­borne Division’s Third Pla­toon, Dog Com­pa­ny, 2nd Bat­tal­ion, 506th Infantry Reg­i­ment.

101st Airborne Division's 'Dog' Company, 2nd Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment
Sgt. 1st Class Adam Petrone, act­ing sec­ond pla­toon leader for the 101st Air­borne Division’s ‘Dog’ Com­pa­ny, 2nd Bat­tal­ion, 506th Infantry Reg­i­ment, shown above after an ene­my attack May 18, direct­ed his platoon’s defense dur­ing an fire­fight at the same loca­tion May 16 and 17.
DOD pho­to by Karen Par­rish
Click to enlarge

The pla­toon was con­duct­ing a five-day oper­a­tion, which includ­ed set­ting up a block­ing posi­tion about three kilo­me­ters from the rest of the company’s posi­tions.

“Our task was to destroy the ene­my in the engage­ment area,” Petrone said.

The hill­top which the third pla­toon occu­pied is a now-dis­used obser­va­tion point, so some sand­bag-rein­forced dug-in fight­ing posi­tions already were in place. The sol­diers added more sand­bags when they reached posi­tion May 14, 2011 – a Sat­ur­day.

About 1 p.m. Mon­day, Petrone said insur­gents attacked the pla­toon from 300 meters to the east, along the Pak­istan bor­der. The ene­my used rock­et-pro­pelled grenades, mul­ti­ple machine guns and small-arms fire.

“They were set up in three dif­fer­ent spots; I’d say there were about 15 to 20 of them,” he said.

The attack start­ed with machine-gun fire fol­lowed by around 10 RPGs, Petrone said. Six of the grenades hit the hill­top, while the rest went over.

“I know I felt one hit about 10 feet from my posi­tion,” he said. “They were pret­ty effec­tive with machine-gun fire; they had us pret­ty con­tained in our fox­holes.”

The pla­toon fired back with machine guns, squad auto­mat­ic weapons, 90mm recoil­less, hand-held 60mm mor­tars and oth­er weapons, Petrone said.

“We just engaged them until they stopped shoot­ing,” he said. “Total sup­pres­sion was prob­a­bly 10 min­utes to push them back. They went back over the side of the ridge – we obvi­ous­ly didn’t push them too far back, since they stayed around the entire night.”

Petrone said he called for a med­ical evac­u­a­tion after his medic was bit­ten twice by a snake before the fight start­ed. “So the whole night we were there with­out a medic … [but] we had no injuries,” he said.

Intel­li­gence reports through the night indi­cat­ed the ene­my kept advanc­ing toward the platoon’s posi­tion. Those reports were impor­tant; the men on the hill couldn’t see more than about 40 meters because trees and a steep drop blocked their view, Petrone said.

Four air-weapons teams, two Apache heli­copters at a time, and close-air sup­port F-15s and F-16s stayed on-sta­tion through­out much of the night, he said, report­ing ene­my move­ments and fir­ing at exposed insur­gents.

Petrone the­o­rized the insur­gents thought they could take advan­tage of the platoon’s loca­tion away from the company’s oth­er ele­ments to over­run their posi­tion.

Air sup­port kept push­ing the ene­my back, but fight­ers con­tin­ued advanc­ing through the night, Petrone said. “We could hear them, but we couldn’t see them,” he said. “We knew they were there, but we couldn’t find them.”

Around 3 a.m. Tues­day the pla­toon stopped hear­ing the ene­my, Petrone said. By that time oth­er Dog Com­pa­ny ele­ments were mov­ing to rein­force the third platoon’s posi­tion.

“I think [the ene­my] prob­a­bly saw them com­ing and retreat­ed,” Petrone said. “Plus by that time the [Apach­es] had shot a lot of rounds.”

By 10 a.m. Tues­day relief was in place, Petrone said, and the pla­toon was down to a third of its ammu­ni­tion.

Petrone, who twice served in Iraq and is now on his third deploy­ment, said the third platoon’s per­for­mance was “out­stand­ing.”

“I think every­thing we did was exact­ly what we should have done,” he said. “We had good sec­tors of fire, good posi­tion, we didn’t take any injuries.”

The platoon’s pre­vi­ous fights have usu­al­ly run 30 min­utes or so, Petrone said, with one sus­tained five- to six-hour con­tact under move­ment.

“This fight was the worst one I think my boys have seen,” he said. “Not the con­tact; they’ve been in worse con­tact. But this by far was the most nerve-wrack­ing, because there’s noth­ing you can do but scan your sec­tors and hope you see them before they’re with­in 35 meters.”

Dog Com­pa­ny com­man­der Capt. Edwin Churchill mon­i­tored the fight from his hill­top posi­tion with first pla­toon 1,400 meters south­west of the third platoon’s loca­tion. The air sup­port was help­ful, he said, but couldn’t effec­tive­ly pen­e­trate the dense trees pro­tect­ing the ene­my.

Around mid­night, Churchill called for two 500-pound bombs on the insur­gent posi­tion.

“We only end­ed up engag­ing two more [ene­my fight­ers] after that, for the rest of the night,” he said. “The bombs cleared a bunch of the tree cov­er and … had a tremen­dous psy­cho­log­i­cal effect.”

Spc. Alan Vogel, a fire team leader with the third pla­toon, said the ammu­ni­tion sup­ply was one of his main con­cerns dur­ing the night-long fight.

Vogel’s team, fir­ing weapons includ­ing a 90mm recoil­less rifle and two light anti­tank weapons, fought from a dug-in posi­tion they called the “thun­der dome.”

“I had to make sure the guys weren’t fir­ing when we weren’t get­ting shot at, to con­serve rounds,” he said. “We were on a moun­tain top, and what we had was what we had.”

“I’m a trig­ger-puller too,” Vogel said. “Team leader, you’re down there mak­ing sure that your guys are shoot­ing, you’re return­ing fire, con­trol­ling rates of fire.”

Pfc. Steven Boert­mann, a 19-year-old third pla­toon machine gun­ner, car­ried near­ly his body weight in gear up the moun­tain where the fight hap­pened.

“All togeth­er, about 120 pounds,” he said, not­ing he weighs 150.

Boert­mann esti­mates he’s been in about 20 fire­fights dur­ing the deploy­ment, but this week’s engage­ment was a lit­tle dif­fer­ent.

“Being so close to the Pak­istan bor­der … this time we weren’t real­ly ambushed, we were set into a posi­tion,” he said. Oth­er than that, “It was what you expect in a fire­fight – to get shot at.”

The pla­toon was divid­ed among sev­en fight­ing posi­tions, he said, and shout­ed ene­my posi­tions and round counts back and forth to each oth­er.

“There’s a lot of trust … you’re basi­cal­ly putting your lives in everyone’s hands,” he said. “Out here, no mat­ter what you look like, age, your per­son­al­i­ty … every­one watch­es over each oth­er. It’s like one big fam­i­ly.”

Boert­mann likes his job, he said, because he can make a dif­fer­ence in a fight’s out­come.

“This is a career choice for me,” he said.

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

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