Sgt. Greg Heath
4th Public Affairs Detachment
NURISTAN PROVINCE, Afghanistan – Soldiers of the 10th Mountain Division lived up to their namesake, braving treacherous terrain and weather to accomplish their initial ground mission during the launch of the Combined Joint Task Force 180’s latest strike in the war on terrorism, Operation Mountain Resolve.
Elements of 10th Mountain Division’s Warrior Brigade, led by B Company, 2nd Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment, air assaulted into farm fields on the outskirts of Namgalam village in the eastern Afghan province of Nuristan shortly after nightfall Nov. 6. Upon landing they immediately began their trek that would ultimately end six days and more than 20 kilometers later on a mountaintop after reaching their objective, a suspected anti-coalition militant stronghold.
During the first three nights the 10th Mountain Division force traveled along the mountainsides of the Darrahe Waygal valley along the Fawerikhwar River.
Coalition forces had received information about ACM activity all throughout the valley, said Capt. Toby Moore, B Company commander. It was their job to disrupt any ACM operations and deny them sanctuary in a province that coalition forces hadn’t been in since the beginning of Operation Enduring Freedom.
As they moved through the valley, the foot Soldiers were protected from the sky by AH-64 Apache helicopters and A-10 Thunderbolt II aircraft providing 24-hour close air support.
For the division, this was one of the largest operations in terms of military assets available since arriving in Afghanistan in early August, according to Moore.
Along with the close air support, the Warrior Brigade infantry units were augmented with assets from numerous job specialties, including field artillery, civil affairs, military police, psychological operations, combat camera and a forward treatment team, to name a few.
“Normally when we deploy we have very limited attachments, but this time what we had was pretty impressive,” said B Company 1st Sgt. Carl Ashmead.
With all of the attachments able to help out on the mission, the infantry units were more able to save infantrymen for the fight, according to Ashmead.
During the first days of the mission, Soldiers from A Company, 2-22 Infantry destroyed weapons, ammunition and explosives they found while searching through Namgalam village.
By the fourth day, the Warrior Brigade Soldiers had traveled more than 20 kilometers over rocky mountainsides and even moved through a river at one point.
“We traveled straight-line distance of 20 kilometers, but we ended up walking probably close to 52 kilometers total,” Moore said.
“This terrain is very rigorous and unforgiving,” he added. “… These (Soldiers) were tired, it was cold and raining, and they marched over 50 kilometers and didn’t complain.”
To help lessen the load of carrying heavy radios and other essential supplies while climbing the mountain, the division Soldiers borrowed a page from World War II history, according to Ashmead, when they contracted local residents and rented four donkeys to aid them on their mission.
The Soldiers climbed the steep snaking mountain trail and arrived at the objective as the sun was setting behind ridgelines that dominated the area’s landscape.
“Every one of the Soldiers has definitely earned his mountain tab this mission,” said Moore, about their efforts.
When they arrived at the objective and cleared the buildings in the area, the Soldiers discovered that the enemy had clearly abandoned the site.
According to Ashmead, showing up to an empty objective was a bit anticlimactic.
“Every infantryman trains to close with and destroy the enemy,” he said. “This was an indicator of how positive the war on terrorism is going in Afghanistan that there isn’t any enemy to close with when we get here.”
Over the next two days, the infantrymen searched the objective and surrounding areas for clues of ACM forces.
Even though there were no enemies to be found, many of the Soldiers were still content with their accomplishments.
“There were a few times when I wanted to quit, but I just kept going,” said Pvt. Jason Dominguez, A Company, 2-22 Infantry. “The mountains were a little rough, but we overcame them.”
And perhaps most importantly, the Soldiers were able to draw some important lessons from the harsh experience, according to Ashmead.
“What it shows me about my Soldiers is that they are very hard physically and mentally because they’re able to come into unfamiliar terrain, and they’re able to adapt to it,” he said.
After two long, bitterly cold nights at the objective, the Soldiers made the vastly easier trek down the mountain and back to the village, where they started to prepare for extraction from the province.
“It was a stressful experience, but rewarding,” said 1st Lt. Matthew Crowe, fire support officer with 3rd Battalion, 6th Field Artillery Regiment, about the experience. “It seems we’ve severely hindered the enemy’s operations in this area.”
And in climbing the mountains of Afghanistan to fight the war on terrorism, the Soldiers added pages to the proud history of the 10th Mountain Division, according to Ashmead.
“We’ve added to the legacy of the 10th Mountain Division. Maybe not with the same skill or dash that our forbearers from WWII did it, but we did it,” he said.