Talking Proud Archives --- Military

Special Forces ODA 3336 deep in the Hindu Kush, gallantry and courage

By Ed Marek, editor

March 16, 2009 re-published February 26, 2018

The Battle of the Shok Valley, April 6, 2008

The mission for ODA 3336 and the 1st Company, 201st Afghan Commando Kandak was "to kill or capture a Joint Priority Effects List target of the Hezebela Islami Gulbadin (HIG) insurgent group," located in the Shok Valley (also Shuk) area of Nuristan, a group led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. Their operation was nicknamed, "Commando Wrath." There were a few USAF combat controllers from the 21st Special Tactics Squadron, Pope AFB, with them for air support. I understand there were some Afghan police with them as well.

The Quqnoos Afghan web site reported that the specific target was Gulbuddin Hekmatyar himself. I have not confirmed that through other, perhaps more reliable sources. He has been a target for the US for several years. Quqnoos also said that the attack was based on a tip-off that Gulbuddin was at his hideout meeting with his deputy, Kashmir Khan. I cannot attest to this organization’s credibility, though it seemed slanted against the US.

There are many renditions of the battle available on the internet. I want to highlight two which I thought were especially well done. I relied on them a lot, and commend them both to you as they address details I do not. One is,
"Cliffhanger, fierce battle in the Shok Valley tests SF team's mettle," by Janice Burton, associate editor Special Warfare. The other is "Ten Silver Stars for ODA 3336" by The Mikkelsen Family.

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Members of ODA 3336 survey the Shok Valley, the scene of a six-and-a-half-hour gun battle on April 6, 2008. U.S. Army photo. Presented by Special Warfare. The combined operation consisted of a group of 12 special forces soldiers from ODA 3336 and about 100 from the 1st Company from the 201st Afghan Commando Kandak (battalion equivalent), men ODA 3336 had trained, men they knew very well, men they admired. It was drawn from the Afghan National Army’s (ANA) 201st Corps and was organized and trained as the country’s first commando unit. It numbers about 600 men all together.

201sttroops

Afghan National Army 201st Commando Kandak prepare to deploy on first mission in southern Afghanistan, February 19, 2008. Photo credit: Spc. Rhett Hillard, USA. Presented by The Tension. The 201st deployed on its first mission in southern Afghanistan on February 19, 2008. It is a crack outfit that has already built a strong reputation as fierce fighters. It has benefited greatly from US training and equipment. US forces regularly join with them to fight the enemy. Their American counterparts brag that the enemy calls these Afghan Commandos, "The Wolves," a marvelous compliment. ODA 3336 for this mission was an experienced combined unit. Eighty percent of its men were combat veterans. The main challenge for ODA 3336 was that the men had not been in the Shok Valley before. No US forces have ever been there that we know about. Experts believe even the Soviets stayed out of here. The US and Afghan combatants selected for the attack planned out their assault using old Russian maps. They knew they would encounter terrain different from what they saw on the maps, and they always prepare for the unexpected, but they were reportedly taken back a bit by how austere the area really was once they got there. Up front, I'll say the fight that would ensue lasted about seven hours. Six of the 12 Special Forces were wounded, four critically. I believe they were all injured in one form or another. Two Afghan Commandos were killed in action. The estimate is they killed anywhere from 150-200 enemy. I prefer to report on these kinds of battles in chronological order. I have tried to weave many inputs together in an understandable way, and fear that I surrendered early on trying to get it chronologically correct. There was simply too much going on and at various points I found myself having to explain something which would take me off the timeline. First, let's get a little better acquainted with the Shok Valley.

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I regret this Google Earth aerial is tough to read, but I wanted to show you the area of the Shok Valley in the context of other areas with which you might be more familiar. Kabul is in the lower left quadrant, marked by the red star. The Valley is to the north of Jalalabad and northwest of Wama, Nangalam and Asadabad, highlighted by the white arrow. It is in the western sector of Mandol District of Nuristan Province. You can see the Pakistan border.

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This is a graphic view of its location in the Mandol District. I had mentioned earlier it was in the area of the Alingar River. It actually sits on a tributary of the Alingar. I tried to obtain several zoom views of the specific area, all thanks to Goggle Earth. These follow. I like the first one best.

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You get the idea. Rugged, rugged, rugged. Six CH-47 Chinook helicopters inserted the men in the objective area in the morning. I've found some 3rd SFG (A) raw footage that reflects the ingress. I'll show a few video grabs. Thanks to Blackfive for presenting this. I commend the video to you.

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The attack force departed from an airfield at Jalalabad in the early morning hours of April 6, 2008. The force was brought in by CH-47 Chinook and UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters.

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This is actual video footage of the Shok Valley from an inbound helicopter as the force approached the objective area. Other attack aircraft, fixed wing USAF and Army helicopters for close air support were tasked for this mission as well and I'll address them later.

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This is a video grab of the objective for insertion of the force, again taken from a helicopter. You will recall from the earlier graphic of the district that the valley was on a river that flowed westward into the Alingar. There it is.

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On the upper right of the video grab, you see a CH-47 and to the left and center you can make out soldiers moving away from the insertion helicopter. His engines were running during the insertion. Some helicopters could set down, others could not. For those that could not, the men had to jump out from about 10 ft. and many jumped into either jagged rocks or 30 degree melted snow water or both. This CH-47 looks like it was on the ground on a spot on the river bed. These next few video grabs is from footage I believe that was shot from the valley stream bed. It gives a look at the terrain, and a part of the lower end of the village.

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These next two video grabs show forces on the ground, I believe at the base of the hill in the landing zone area.

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Capt. Kyle M. Walton, 29, was in command. He said many of the men were carrying 60 lb packs and "they jumped off (the helicopter) into jagged rocks, running water, and 40 degree temperatures at approximately 10,000 ft. elevation."


Since they were at the base of the valley, their plan was to get to a village perched strategically above the valley on top of the mountain, so right away they had to climb.

The team separated into three groups, six Afghan commandos and an interpreter with each element. The plan was to get to the village up the mountain, enter the village by surprise, take on any insurgents in the village, and then fight their way downhill to the target. He has said:

"We didn't want to fight uphill."

While they hoped for the element of surprise, most of them knew that the helicopter insertion force was going to make a lot of noise while weaving its way in through the valleys. At best, however, their hope was that the the enemy would not be fully prepared for the attack and would have to jump through hoops to respond. Any element of surprise obtainable is better than none.

I'll have some video grabs of the actual village objective in a moment, but they are fuzzy so I want you to imagine a bit more clearly what these men were up against by showing you this next photo.

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This is the Nuristani village of Waigal in the Waigal Valley. The photo is credited to Max Klimburg. It is about 31 miles to the east southeast of the village objective of ODA 3336, but in similar terrain. The village targeted by ODA 3336 was like the one shown here, with buildings built one on top the other.

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These two B&W video grabs from an Army AH-64 Apache attack helicopter about to initiate his attack on the actual village show the village.

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Terraces opening up toward Shakut, Afghanistan, April 12, 2007. Photo credit: jreabe jreabe, presented at webshot.com At least some of the assault force chose to use "switchbacks," the terraces formed by the irrigation landscaping, to go up the hill instead of tackling the jagged rock climb.

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SSgt John Walding (left) and SSgt David Sanders (right) led the way in with about 10 Afghan commandos.

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Sanders also had Senior Airman (SrA) Zachary J. Rhyner (shown here), USAF, with them as a combat air controller. He was assigned to the 21st Special Tactics Squadron, USAF Special Operations Command, at Pope AFB, North Carolina and served as the primary terminal attack controller attached to special forces, known officially as the Joint Tactical Air Controller, the JTAC.

Capt. Stewart Parker, USAF, a special forces commander at Bagram AB, Afghanistan, was the command-and-control link to the Joint Tactical Air Controller (JTAC) on the ground, to wit, SrA Rhyner. One JTAC was assigned to each team as they went into the valley and up the cliffs.

I have not talked much about these "battlefield airmen," so I'd like to pause and do so here. They train for two years at Pope AFB, adjacent to Ft. Bragg, the home of airborne and special forces. They train to operate with the Army special forces mostly on covert missions in hostile territory. Bruce Rolfsen, reporting for the
Air Force Times, has said:

"The 'battlefield airmen' can parachute or infiltrate into enemy territory to set up drop zones, do air-traffic control or call in aircraft to shoot or drop bombs on the enemy. They often work on an Army Special Forces or Navy SEAL team and fight alongside soldiers and sailors while summoning Air Force firepower from overhead. The aircraft often are firing near 'friendly' forces on the ground."

Not a lot of people realize how much authority enlisted men and women get in the US military. In this case, these JTACs operate from a forward position and direct the action of combat aircraft engaged in close air support and other offensive air operations. In military jargon, they are authorized to direct terminal attack control, which means they have authority to maneuver attack aircraft and grant weapons release, to wit, destroy the enemy. The USAF aircraft are flown by officers, but they depend on these young enlisted controllers on the ground to pin-point their targets and keep the choreography in the air such that aircraft are not smashing into each other. SrA Rhyner described the battle area as "busy," so everyone had their hands full.

Rhyner also described the climb up:

“Initial infiltration began ... with snow on the ground, jagged rocks, a fast-moving river and a cliff. There was a 5-foot wall you had to pull yourself up. The ridgeline trail was out of control.”

As they climbed up about 1,000 ft, they could see enemy scurrying about to get into position. It is believed that the sound of the incoming helicopters had alerted them. MSgt. Scott Ford has said from the time they were inserted until the first shots were fired spanned about 30 minutes.

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As this lead element approached some of the buildings on the outskirts of the village, SSgt Luis Morales, shown here, spotted an enemy and killed him.

Little did Morales know that there were an estimated 200 enemy waiting for them, positioned for a well-planned defense of the village. This is one of the problems associated with going after high value targets --- they are well protected.

The enemy immediately opened fire with machine guns, sniper rifles and rocket propelled grenades (RPGs). The enemy was shooting down at the Allied force as it came up. The enemy immediately had the attack force surrounded. The enemy was well concealed in thick-walled buildings marked with occasional holes from which to fire.

SSgt Rob Gutierrez, USAF, a JTAC with one of the groups, said this:

“We were caught off guard as 200 enemy fighters approached. Within 10 minutes, we were ambushed with heavy fire from 50 meters. The teams were split by a river 100 to 200 meters apart, north to south.”

Gutierrez was assigned to the 352nd Special Operations Group at RAF Mildenhall, England.


gutierrezrob
Capt. Walton, shown here during another mission, was behind the lead group with the command and control (C2) element. His group immediately came under heavy fire from multiple enemy positions on the mountain, and for the moment it was pinned down.

Walton said:

"We were completely surrounded on 360 degrees and were taking heavy enemy sniper, machine gun and RPG (rocket-propelled grenade) fire from all around us."

Walton's interpreter, "CK," 23 years old, was killed almost immediately. "CK" and orphan, had hoped to one day come to and live in America. I'd like to mention here these men give their interpreter a special place on their team. Morales has said:

"They are just like a member of the team. One of our interpreters has seen as much combat as any of us. He has six years of combat experience. He's been with six SF teams and been in hundreds of firefights - but he doesn't get the six-month break."

Sanders, in the lead group, said:

"I had approximately 10 commandos with me, and we got into the village before we started receiving fire. We couldn't move any farther forward. Through the radio traffic, we heard some of the team had gotten shot, so we started trying to identify the buildings where the fire was coming from. We hoped to neutralize the threat."

howardseth
SSgt Seth E. Howard, shown here, was with a group of 201st Commandos. Once the initial contact was made, his group too was pinned down by heavy sniper, RPG, small arms and machine gun fire.

He directed his Afghan commandos to take the enemy on while he employed his sniper rifle and 84 mm recoilless rifle against enemy positions. This fire enabled Capt. Walton's C2 group to move to covered positions.

Walton and Spc. Michael Carter, a combat cameraman in the C2 group, dove into a cave.

The battle was underway, the Allied force was vastly outnumbered, some were already in the village, others were climbing up a mountain and being attacked from above, all exactly what our guys did not want. Men started getting wounded one after the other. So they now had two huge jobs on their hands. First, return fire and kill as many enemy as they could, wounded or not. Second, provide suppressive fire so those among them could go after their wounded, treat them, and drag them to safety.

behrdillon
SSgt Dillon Behr, center in the photo, the communications sergeant, couldn’t fit in the cave with Walton and Carter, so he stayed outside and commenced firing.

Behr was hit in the leg-hip area, stayed in the fight to enable others to move the wounded, but he was hit again, and lost the strength needed to hold his weapon. Morales ran over to shield him and himself was hit.

In here somewhere Capt. Walton realized that he's greatly outnumbered, he had no element of surprise, many of his men are fighting uphill, they are surrounded by a well dug-in, well armed, and well trained enemy, and concluded he's going to need air power to lay waste to the enemy so his guys can get their wounded to safety, get better positioned to kill more enemy protect themselves, and figure out a way to get the hell out of there. All the while, Walton has to defend himself, defend his men, help with the wounded, and kill enemy as well. So here's a young officer with a full plate to be sure.

carter
Spc. Michael Carter, shown here, was one among many to dash out into the open to get to the wounded. He charged some 15 ft. into enemy fire to recover the wounded Behr. Capt. Walton provided suppressive.

I've got to say that the enemy must have been startled to see this young American soldier charge right at their fire, undaunted by that fire. Not only did he do that, but he recovered the wounded Behr, administered first aid and at the same time maintained fire against an enemy trying to advance on his position. In the mean time, Walton got over to help Morales who had been shielding Behr and was himself wounded. Among them all, they got Behr and themselves to safety.

Once in a safer position, Morales started treating Behr even though he himself had been shot in the thigh. Morales would be hit again in the ankle, but kept treating Behr. Behr was badly wounded.

Carter is quite a story. For starters, he was not a SF soldier, but rather a combat camerman assigned to the 55th Signal Company (Combat Camera) and attached to ODA 3336 to document the fight with camera and video. Set all that aside. He most certainly conducted himself like a card-carrying SF. He maintained heavy fire on enemy locations, several times exposing himself to intense fire. On one occasion his suppressive fire enabled Capt. Walton to retrieve his dead interpreter's body, "CK." At another point, Carter popped out again to retrieve a satellite phone. I know of one occasion where an enemy force came within 40 ft. of Carter's position with the C2 element, so Carter again jumped out into the open and provided the needed fire to disrupt the advance.

SSgt Howard was with the third element and heard that the C2 and their two wounded ODA 3336 comrades were in danger of being overrun, so he jumped out from his position as well, fought across a 60 ft cliff, and made it to the C2 group. His presence was sorely needed, and he placed himself between the wounded and the enemy and put down some heavy fire against advancing enemy. Like Carter, he would emerge into the open and engage the enemy.

Howard was a trained sniper. He used his skills to pick off enemy one by one. he directed his Afghan commandos to lay down some heavy fire on the enemy so he could get into place to work his sniper and recoilless rifle. He would say the trained enemy snipers had been doing their thing and it was now time for him to do his. He said the enemy was well trained and disciplined, and therefore hard to find and target. Nonetheless, Howard and his team became fully engaged..

Carter's actions enabled Walton to establish communications and call his headquarters to get approval to use his air support. He got the A-OK right away.

Sanders and SrA Rhyner had gotten to a place where they could talk, and Rhyner called in the close air support. He had F-15E "Strike Eagles, A-10 Warthogs, and AH-64 Apaches all in the air and waiting for their instructions. I understand that the F-15s and AH-64s were there as the assault began, and that the A-10s came in about one hour later to augment the force and apply its special design for close air support to the battle.

Rhyner was hit by enemy fire within 15 minutes of the attack, along with three team members. He said:

“I was pulling security when I got shot in the leg. The rounds hit my left thigh and went through my leg and hit another guy in the foot ... There was nowhere to go. I grabbed the wounded guys, but we were trapped by the enemy. I was calling in air strikes and firing, while moving the wounded down (the cliff).”

keelyprichard
Capt. Walton treated Rhyner while Rhyner called in the air. Rhyner ended up as the air controller in charge, as he was closest to the fight and could see the enemy best of all, better than even the pilots whom he was directing in.

Two USAF F-15 "Eagles" from the 335th Fighter Squadron were orbiting above waiting for such a call, and rolled in on the targets right away. The call was for "danger-close air," which means the pilots were going to strike very close to the friendly force, close enough to potentially cause friendly casualties.

Sanders was worried the attacks were coming in too close, and called over to Walton to see if this was a problem. Walton's response was:

"Bring it in anyway."

Sanders remained concerned that the F-15 attacks were too close, and Walton told him:

"Hit them again."

Capt. Prichard Keely, USAF, was a weapons system officer (WSO - "Whiz-oh") aboard one of the Eagles, responsible for firing the weapons. He was the lead WSO, and was responsible for finding and verifying targets and determining which weapons were needed for each situation.

Keely's role is very interesting. He maintained constant communication from his F-15E "back-seat" with the assault force on the ground while the pilot in the front seat flew the aircraft. The ground force moved up the stream bed assessing how best to get up to the village. The F-15E carries high-fidelity targeting pods which enabled Keely to see enemy movements on the ground. Keely said:

"I could see people with weapons moving around on top of the houses ... They asked me to get them the best route of ingress from the riverbed to the village itself ... I chose the terrain that was least exposed to enemy gunfire and the easiest point of ingress, while avoiding the most mountain climbing."

His assistant director for operations at the time, Lt. Col. David Castillo, has said this about Keely's job:

"It was extremely important that Prichard stay focused and deliver the weapons with extreme accuracy. He was dropping weapons close enough to where 'friendlies' were within lethal radius. He had to be extremely precise. It is a testament to his skill as a tactical aviator and as a person."

Keely's later comment was:

"It was a great feeling. Those guys were in the heat of it. It was least we could do."

As I read the accounts of the battle, Rhyner initially focused on directing the F-15s which brought in a tremendous amount of fire power and conducted strafing and bombing runs. SSgt Rob Gutierrez seemed to have been focused initially on the Army AH-64 Apache attack helicopters which were armed with cannons, rockets and Hellfire air-to-ground missiles, and USAF A-10 Warthogs, also heavily and similarly armed.

Orchestration with such fast moving and lethal air power is essential. As Rhyner was putting down bombs on specific coordinates, Gutierrez would keep his Apaches and Warthogs out of the way. As the fight went on, the combat air controllers kept working their air assets against the enemy, throughout directing different aircraft types. Somewhere in the mix were UH-60 Blackhawks, I understand two for medevac and others for extraction, as well as CH-47s for extraction.

What I want to emphasize here is that this air-ground thing is a giant ballet, between the controllers and their special forces colleagues on the ground, the pilots in the air, and the main command and control organization to the rear, the latter of which must worry about whether more aircraft will be needed and help solve issues that arise on the battlefield that the combatants don't have time or authority to resolve. This is not easy work. We have all heard of cases where friendly air mistakenly attacks friendly forces. One of the main reasons Polk AFB is adjacent to Ft. Bragg is so that the ground controllers can train with the ground forces and keep their orchestrated ballet under tight control.

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This bomb completely leveled a building, and created huge clouds of smoke, and a great deal of flying debris. The explosions and implosions were substantial enough to get everyone’s attention, friend and foe. This kind of bombing would go on throughout the fight.

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Video grabs of air attacks on target in the village.

Following the initial phases of the battle, the attack aircraft would unleash a torrent of cannon, rocket, and missile fire and conduct numerous bombing and strafing runs. Capt. Walton was very sensitive to how close the "danger air support" attacks would be, but nonetheless his air controller called this kind of air in 70 times. All together during the battle, Rhyner is said to have brought in 4,570 rounds of cannon fire, nine Hellfire missiles, 162 rockets, twelve 500-lb. bombs and a 2,000 pounder. These air attacks enabled the combined Allied team to brave enemy fire and retrieve wounded. Some men were injured by flying debris from the air attacks. Walton said a 2,000 pounder hit perilously close to his position. Walton said this: “They dropped a 2,000-lb. bomb right on top of our position. Because of the elevation, the bomb blew upward rather than down. It just didn’t seem like we had much of a decision. Our guys were wounded, and we couldn’t go back the way we came.” While the air was coming and going, the men on the ground remained in intense combat. Most agree that the air was what enabled the men on the ground to regain the initiative and eventually get out. Amidst all this, concerns grew that cloud cover was moving in and there was some chance they would have to spend the night, so while they used a lot of ammo, they had to be controlled. There were all kinds of issues associated with staying the night. Ammo was one. They did not know whether they might get weathered in the next day, deprived of air and stuck in place with a superior sized force. Furthermore, the pilots reported about 200 more enemy coming, about 10 kms away, armed with rockets and missiles. Everyone on Walton's US team was hurt or wounded, four critically. He felt he was in a mass casualty situation. Capt. Walton decided they had to get out of there. His higher command agreed they had to get out right away. However, they could not exit the way they entered, but they had to get going before the weather and darkness worked against them. Bad weather could leave them there for days, surrounded by overwhelming force. There was only one way out, and that was down a steep cliff, not an easy chore given they would receive fire on the way out and they had to move a lot wounded, whom they refused to leave behind. Walton raced through the options for getting his men down the cliff, which included rolling them over the edge, something he dismissed. He would say later: "We couldn't leave the casualties. We were prepared to sit there and die with them." SSgt Sanders went down the cliff to assess the "doability" of it as and exit. He came back up with SSgt. Matthew Williams and told Walton it would not be easy, but it could be done.

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I want to say here that Williams, shown here, had spent much of his day not only fighting enemy and climbing cliffs, but going after the wounded under intense enemy fire.

He fought up a mountain for over an hour to get to several wounded men. His team sergeant was wounded and he ran through a hail of fire to get him, and help him down the hill to safety. Following that is when he went back up the hill with Sanders to help the rest of the men down.


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MSgt. Scott Ford, the team sergeant, organized the medevac. He had earlier organized a counter-assault to reinforce his teammates. Now, he organized the medevac where the less seriously injured-wounded would carry the more serious down the cliff to the casualty collection point. As he was getting this set up, he was hit by an enemy sniper in the chest plate. He nonetheless returned fire. Then the sniper got him again, this time in the upper arm, nearly knocking it off. All that notwithstanding, Ford led the group down.

It is my understanding that Morales led the way down with wounded while Sanders, Carter and Williams went up to get the badly wounded Behr, then back to rescue the also badly wounded Walding.

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Earlier in the battle, MSgt Ford and SSgt John Walding were engaging the enemy. Walding, shown here, was hit below his right knee as he headed toward the edge of the cliff, hit so hard that Ford described it this way:

"(The bullet) basically amputated his right leg right there on the battlefield."

Capt. Walton dragged him to the cliff's edge. Walding's top priority was to stop or at least slow down his loss of blood. He got a tourniquet and tightened it until the bleeding stopped.

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SSgt Walding describing how his leg was basically amputated at the knee and how he pulled it up into his groin where he tied it to his thigh. Presented by NBC News video. Walding said: "I literally grabbed my boot and put it (his leg below the knee) in my crotch, then got the boot laces and tied it to my thigh, so it would not flop around. There was about two inches of meat holding my leg on." He also said: "(This way) I could scoot on my hands and buttocks down the mountain." Having tied himself up with a tourniquet, Walding then attempted to inject himself with morphine, but accidentally stuck himself in the thumb. Legend has it, documented by War on Terror News, that when he stuck his thumb by mistake, his comrades around him started laughing, laughing out loud. The author said this: "But he shot the morphine in his thumb not his thigh and in the midst of one of the deadliest battles of the war, with the glory of Valorous actions all around, the team laughed. The enemy had found themselves in a terrible situation, they had surrounded a Special Forces team in difficult terrain and when the enemy managed to shoot the leg out from under this out gunned, outnumbered team, the team burst out in laughter!" During an interview on Fox News with , Walding was asked: "And SSgt Walding over here, as it all begins, all of a sudden you get injured very badly." Walding replied: "It was a little scratch." While on the subject of laughter during the heat of battle, SSgt Gutierrez has commented that it took him three hours to link up with his fellow JTAC Rhyner. Rhyner commented on the link-up: “Sergeant Gutierrez and I met on the cliff during the battle briefly. We shared a laugh, but it was a busy, bleak situation.” During the withdrawal down the cliff, Walding carried his leg with him. Capt. Walton commented about him this way: "At one point we had ah, ah soldier missing his leg continuing to apply pressure to one of his comrade's wounds, not concerned about himself. During the daring rescue that some of the soldiers conducted to get these guys off the mountain. John Wayne Walding (real full name) carried his own leg down the mountain." Capt. Walton, Howard and Carter stayed behind to cover the withdrawal. They also spent time retrieving weapons they had left behind, not wanting them to fall into enemy hands. Carter ran out in the open under fire grabbing equipment and throwing it off the cliff while Howard provided him cover, picking off the enemy with his sniper skills. Thankfully, an element of soldiers came up as reinforcement. Howard, I believe, was the last to leave. Carter described one of several trips he made down the cliff: "We had to Spiderman down the cliff to find ways. There were 20 foot down straight drops. It was just a bad place to be at ... I took one (of the wounded soldiers) down, the one who was able to walk. He wasn’t as bad off. He was still conscious. I’d climb down first, and there were parts where he couldn’t hold (on to the cliff face), so I’d let him drop on me so I could catch him and continue taking him down.” Sit for a moment and imagine the intensity of the fighting, the rescuing of wounded by men themselves wounded, and the climb down the 60 ft. cliff by the wounded and badly wounded, all the time with fighting continuing. Now for the extraction. A medevac helicopter swooped in but his rotors were hit by enemy fire. He could not land, and barely had enough time to enable a medic to jump off to care for the men. The UH-60 medevac then had to fly away. A second medevac followed in and landed in the midst of an icy stream that was moving along at a good pace. MSgt. Ford said: "It took two to three guys to carry each casualty through the river. It was a mad dash to the medevac."

exitobjective Helicopter video grab exiting the target objective.

But the "mad dash" they made, into the helicopter, hearing bullets ping off the sides of the aircraft, with one hitting the pilot. But out they went. This photo is from the cockpit on the way out.

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I need to highlight SSgt. Ronald Schurer, the medic, one each very busy medic. Schurer was a graduate of Washington State University and was working his way toward a master's degree in economics, when the Afghan war began following 911 and he felt obliged to serve. He enlisted, completed basic training, then started training with the special forces to be a medic, took language classes and trained to work directly with local Afghans. During his first tour with ODA 3336, he did a lot of training for the Afghans and help local Afghans and lead local clinics.

Fourteen minutes into this mission he received the call, "Medic," and went to the aid of an Afghan commando hit in the inner thigh. He then moved back to his position in the river bed, and as the teams went up the cliffs, the calls rang out again. One of his colleagues was hit in the neck. Under heavy fire, he went to his aid, treated him, and pulled him to safety.

Then two more calls as the enemy attack became more intense. He ran up and found one of his teammates shot in the pelvis and arm, with another shot twice in the right leg. He carried both to safety even though he himself had been shot in the helmet and the right arm. Two more colleagues were found and carried to safety, one critically wounded in the right leg, the other hit in the arm.

Schurer was the only medic there. Everyone was running low on ammunition, and he was running low on medical supplies. Nonetheless, he treated four soldiers for more than five hours until medevac helicopters arrived to get them out. He is credited with saving the four and treating more than 10 Afghan commandos.

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I wish to mention SSgt. Daniel Plants. This was first firefight as a special forces soldier. He calls it his "Baptism by fire." Plants has recalled hearing the request go out for a bomb run. He said:

"I was staring at it and saw the building go up. I remember looking up, and then all of this stuff starting coming down. All I could do was roll up tight and hug the cliff wall."

When it was over, the Green Berets and 201s Afghan commandos suffered 15 wounded, with two Afghans killed in action.

How do the men view this? From where I sit, Walding's perspective says it well:

"We should not have lived."

But the deal was that all but two lived, a living testament to the power and training of the combined US-Afghan and air-ground team. The estimate is they killed somewhere in the neighborhood of 150-200 enemy.

Capt. Walton highlighted an even more important point:

“We think we sent a pretty big message to the insurgents. We let them know that we could penetrate their comfort zone. We told them there’s nowhere you are safe that we aren’t willing to come in after you."

He also said:

bandbrothers

Video grab of ODA 3336 walking together as a Band of Brothers at Ft. Bragg. Presented by NBC News video. "This battle to me is about the Brotherhood, the camaraderie. Personally I'm just honored to be in the same room as these guys." Walding, operating with a prosthetic leg, remained on active duty and hopes to redeploy with his Green Berets. He said:

waldingb

"Sir, you can take my leg, but you can't take my heart and you can't take my soul. I'm a Green Beret." Video grab of Walding saying those words. Presented by NBC News video.