Troops Battle Elements, Violence to Bring Hope to Afghan Valley
By Sgt. Brandon Aird, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service
KUNAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan , Jan. 23, 2008 – The sound of water
dripping through the roof was a constant reminder of the weather
outside Forward Operating Base Able Main. |
Two paratroopers, covered from the waist up in mud, tried frantically –
and unsuccessfully – to divert a small pond that had risen above their
building. Water was seeping through sandbags and running inside.
1st Lt. Kareem F. Hernandez, a N.Y. resident and 2nd Platoon leader in
Company A, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment (Airborne), talks on
the radio while village elders and an Afghan National Police officer
walk down a mountain during a patrol to Omar, in Kunar province,
Afghanistan, Jan. 11, 2008. Photo by Sgt. Brandon Aird, USA
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
days of rain had turned the base into a field of puddles. Once the
puddles were contained and their gear was safe, the paratroopers went
back to work.
These paratroopers never stop patrolling the
newly constructed Pech Road here. Night and day, through rain and snow,
they patrol the $7.5 million Pech Road to bring security to an area
known for violence.
They make up Company A, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment (Airborne), also known as “The Rock.”
though Company A is an infantry company, the company commander stresses
that the troops’ main focus is helping and taking care of the villages
in and around the Pech River Valley.
“We’re responsible for over 100 villages,” explained Army Capt. Louis Frketic.
company works side-by-side with Afghan National Police and Afghan
National Army troops to help bring security and development to the
“We’ve put a tremendous amount of effort into connecting with the people,” Frketic said.
of the key ways the unit is accomplishing that task is through
humanitarian-aid missions and assisting the Kunar Provincial
Reconstruction Team as it builds infrastructure and constructs
government facilities in the province.
“We, literally, do one
to five humanitarian-aid missions a day between our platoons or
facilitating the (Kunar PRT),” Frketic said. “We’ve done at least 500
since we got here. It’s astronomical. We’ve given out building
supplies, food, Qurans, prayer rugs, clothing -- pretty much the entire
spectrum of (humanitarian assistance).”
One of the biggest
projects in the area has been the Pech Road, which over the last eight
months has opened the area to new opportunities. Taliban extremists
don’t want the region to prosper under the new government. Since
arriving in country in May, Company A has been engaged in more than 150
fire fights with Taliban, al Qaeda and other anti-coalition militants.
the violence has prevented international aid agencies from operating
consistently in the Pech Valley, it has not stopped Company A or the
Kunar PRT from offering humanitarian aid or continuing the development
of self-help projects, Frketic said.
Company A launches these
efforts out of forward operating bases Able Main, Honaker-Miracle and
Michigan -- all on the Pech Road. The three bases are strategically
placed to enable Company A to engage more villages and cover a larger
area. FOB Michigan is the home of 2nd Platoon, and they are on the
front line of these efforts on a daily basis.
any given day, we have two patrols,” said Army 1st Lt. Kareem F.
Hernandez, a N.Y.-area resident and 2nd Platoon leader. “In the
morning, we usually go check on our elders to make sure they’re doing
alright and see if they need anything.”
Hernandez and the
Afghan National Police have built good working relationships with the
village elders and area populace. After three days of rain and 6 inches
of snow, 2nd Platoon and a squad of Afghan National Police walked 45
minutes to visit the village of Omar on Jan. 11. The patrol was
conducted so Hernandez, Afghan police officers and the village elders
could discuss future projects and security in the area.
While the patrol was intended to conduct business, the rapport built in the meeting allowed for some humor.
weeks ago, we were in south Omar, and some guy started shooting at us
from a house,” Hernandez told the village elders. “Halfway through the
firefight, the house he was in caught on fire from a rocket. The guy
actually set his weapon outside against a tree and started throwing
buckets of water on the house.”
The village elders laughed when Hernandez told him the story saying, “The people up in south Omar are crazy.”
After the meeting, village elders walked Hernandez down the mountain and promised to visit him soon at FOB Michigan.
|Military Connection's Comments:
The terrain of Afghanistan is tough enough in the summer, but the winters can be treacherous. Soldiers at Forward Operating Base Able Main are dealing with the cold and wet weather. While continuing to fend off any attacks, paratroopers from the Company A, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment (Airborne) offer assistance to villagers in Kunar province. Army 1st Lieutenant Kareen F. Hernandez is the 2nd Platoon leader in Company A. Company A works with the Afghan National Police and the Afghan National Army troops to provide security and humanitarian aid to the villagers in the Pech River Valley. The paratroopers also provide protection for the Kunar Provincial reconstruction team. The Afghan people are starting to trust our troops, and they are learning to enjoy each other’s company. In a recent meeting, the soldiers of Omar village shared a laugh with the village elders.