‘Restrepo’ Soldier returns to Afghanistan

| May 18, 2011 | 0 Comments

 

Sgt. Misha Pemble-Belkin, infantry team leader, Co. B, 2nd Bn., 27th Inf. Reg., “TF No Fear,” 3rd BCT, 25th ID, stands under camouflage netting at OP Coleman, outside of Combat Outpost Monti in eastern Afghanistan's Kunar province, May 5. Pemble-Belkin, who was in the documentary "Restrepo," is focused on training and teaching his troops all he knows about Afghanistan.

Sgt. Misha Pemble-Belkin, infantry team leader, Co. B, 2nd Bn., 27th Inf. Reg., “TF No Fear,” 3rd BCT, 25th ID, stands under camouflage netting at OP Coleman, outside of Combat Outpost Monti in eastern Afghanistan's Kunar province, May 5. Pemble-Belkin, who was in the documentary "Restrepo," is focused on training and teaching his troops all he knows about Afghanistan.

Story and Photo by
Sgt. 1st Class Mark Burrell
210th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment

KUNAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan — Less than six months ago, Pfc. William Swaray’s drill sergeant at Fort Benning, Ga., gathered soon-to-be infantrymen in a small room.

The drill sergeant wanted the young Soldiers to watch the movie ‘Restrepo.’

“He said, ‘okay, this is what you guys have gotten into, so watch it and see,'” said Swaray, now assigned to Company B, 2nd Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment, Task Force No Fear, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division.

“When we watched the movie, some of us became afraid,” Swaray said. “We started to see reality from that day on.”

Now, Swaray is living at an observation post outside of Combat Outpost Monti in eastern Afghanistan’s Kunar province. The reality is he is not far from where the documentary ‘Restrepo’ took place.

Not only is he a few miles from the Pech River Valley, but his team leader is Sgt. Misha Pemble-Belkin.

“Surprisingly, when I came to this unit, the very guy that was in the movie is in the same platoon and my team leader,” Swaray said. “I remember him in the movie shooting the MK-19 (automatic grenade launcher) and I remember him when he was being interviewed by the reporter. He’s like a hero, man.”

Pemble-Belkin laughs when people treat him different than other Soldiers.

“It’s just a movie; that’s the way I look at it,” Pemble-Belkin said. “It’s no big deal to me, it’s cool, but I’ve done cooler stuff than that, I feel like.”

Some of the stuff that Pemble-Belkin is referring to is snow boarding, hiking and photography. In fact, he wanted to join the military as a combat cameraman.

He tried to join the Navy, but they told him it would be at least five years before he would be able to do photography in combat.

Then he went to an Army recruiter and was asked what his hobbies were.

“The recruiter said, ‘Well, I know the perfect job for you — airborne ranger. Sit down and watch this movie,'” Pemble-Belkin said.

The recruiter showed him a video of Soldiers jumping out of planes, blowing things up and firing weapons. He was almost sold, but first wanted to check out the Marines.

“At the door there was a Marine in his dress blues standing at attention and he looked like a robot, so I didn’t go in there,” he said.

He left for Army basic training three weeks later.

Through all the attention the documentary has recently attracted, all the speaking engagements he had to attend and even partying at the Oscar Awards ceremony, Pemble-Belkin remains amazingly humble. At heart he is a genuine Soldier who loves his job.

After redeploying from Afghanistan in 2008, he married his childhood sweetheart, Amanda, and trained Soldiers in Fort Polk, La., for war. Yet, he felt the need to deploy again.

“I had to come back here. I had to do one more tour. I had to at least lead a team,” explained Pemble-Belkin, now a team leader in charge of a small observation post called OP Coleman.

“I felt like if I got out, then it’s like I’m kind of failing because I have the experience of being out here; you know, 15 months of walking these mountains.”

Living at OP Coleman, the days are filled with pulling guard duty and passing on his knowledge to new Soldiers like Swaray.

As Pemble-Belkin methodically dissembled a .50-caliber machine gun, he points out every piece and explains what he is doing to the Soldiers gathered around him at the small, dilapidated bunker.

Most of the Soldiers are in their early 20s and on their first combat tour. They have been in Afghanistan for only about a month and it’s been unusually quiet in their area. They’re itching for their first firefight, but the lull in combat at the observation post isn’t a relief for Pemble-Belkin. Instead, he said it adds tension to their mission.

“If we spend the whole year without getting shot at once and if you guys don’t have to see anything or do anything horrible, well it’s not horrible it’s our job, but in a way it’ll change them,” Pemble-Belkin said. “I just tell them, don’t get scared when you get shot at. Just hunker down and shoot back.”

The Soldiers are eager to hear about combat, but more eager to react and prove themselves. Pemble-Belkin doesn’t blame them. He’s lived through some of the worst fighting in Afghanistan and is back for more.

His wife isn’t too happy with the prospect, but understands it’s his job. On the other hand, he believes he hasn’t done enough compared to his peers.

“There’s been guys that have been deployed five, six times now,” Pemble-Belkin said. “I’ve only been on one, 15-month tour. I (feel) I haven’t even deployed yet.

“My grandpa did three years in World War II. Once I hit his mark, then I’ve been deployed,” he continued. “I still feel like I haven’t done a full tour yet until I catch up to my grandpa.”

Before deploying this time, he had mixed emotions and said he felt like there was still something he needed to accomplish.

“I came back here in that mindset — I need to go back because I have some unfinished business,” Pemble-Belkin said. “But now I’m just here to protect and try to teach these guys something that are brand-new to the Army.”

The mission of this unit is different from what Pemble-Belkin grew accustomed to. He said his company is really focusing on the counterinsurgency fight, and trying to win the hearts and the minds of the locals.

“I hope what the (commander) is trying to do right now, push the COIN fight, I hope that works,” explained Pemble-Belkin. “But I don’t know, we’re in Taliban country up here, so I don’t know … It’d be nice to see them laying down their weapons and turning them into the Afghan National Police and the Afghan National army and going and farming their lands.”

With 11 months left in Afghanistan, Pemble-Belkin and his Soldiers have plenty of time to find out.

(Editor’s Note: This is a Hawaii Army Weekly web exclusive.)

 

Tags: , ,

Category: Deployed Forces, News

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *