Story and Photo by
Staff Sgt. Luke Graziani
7th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
NURISTAN PROVINCE, Afghanistan — With perimeter security appearing out of the darkness around the landing zone, Soldiers disembarked from a helicopter in a blur of camouflage.
Observation Point Shogun became a strongpoint from which the Soldiers made their home for the duration of Operation Fire Rock, the most recent combat mission for 3rd Brigade Combat Team, “Task Force Bronco,” 25th Infantry Division.
As their name implies, “Tropic Lighting” Soldiers bolted into action, high above the village of Wanat, to create a position of watchful security for Afghan commandos and U.S. forces who were scheduled to sweep the village for Taliban insurgents that evening.
“My first thoughts were to spread security out in a way that we could have the helicopter landing zone secured,” said 1st Lt. Emmanuel Batara, platoon leader, 1st Platoon, Company B, 2nd Battalion, 35th Infantry Regiment, 3rd BCT. “As you get off the bird is one of the most dangerous times.”
Soldiers in 1st Platoon forced their way into the rocky soil to create fighting positions to protect themselves from enemy fire.
Sandbags were filled and stacked neatly in rows, rocks were made into improvised walls and the brisk mountain air kept Soldiers cool as they worked diligently to fortify their fighting positions.
After the positions were completed, Soldiers were weary, but the mission had only just begun.
“Our specific mission was to infiltrate into Observation Point Shogun and create a ‘support by fire’ for the Afghan commandos and special operations task force, to allow them to clear the city of Wanat directly to our west,” Batara explained. “I took everything one step at a time, taking ownership of what I could control, which was security to the north and security to the east.”
Operation Fire Rock took place in an area with a history of violence, and the troops were prepared for anything.
“I thought we were going to have a lot of contact,” said Sgt. Shawn Burke, forward observer, Co. B. “I knew some of the ins and outs of (the mission). I didn’t really want to expect anything — just be prepared for the unexpected and always be ready for anything.”
The first few hours of the night were quiet. TF Bronco Soldiers settled into their positions, while Afghan commandos and coalition special forces made their way to objectives in the valley below.
Then, Apache missile explosions and the rapid percussion of rifle bursts echoed loudly from the valley floor.
As abruptly as it began, the cacophony below became silent, except for intermittent shots from a distant sniper rifle.
“I watched the first group of commandos go in, and they hit the first set of quality systems that were about 200 meters from my overwatch position,” said Spc. Mitchell Napier, Co. B. “I think the key to their success was speed. They cleared through Wanat before the sun came up.”
Coalition forces counted zero casualties when the dust settled, and Taliban militants were either neutralized or pushed out.
“There was a lot of good that came out of this,” Burke said. “We can hand this area back to the Afghan people, so these guys can do well for themselves, and they can protect their own borders against insurgency.”