Point Man Steers Team Clear Of Danger
(March 30, 2011)
Taking a moment to check on fellow soldiers, U.S. Army Sgt. Nathaniel S. Gray, an infantry squad leader from Tupelo, Miss., assigned to Company B, 2nd Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment, Task Force No Slack, walks to different fighting positions during a combat operation in eastern Afghanistan's Kunar province, March 18,
2011. Gray joined the Army Reserve and deployed to Iraq before going active duty with the 101st Airborne Division. He is currently assigned to the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Abn. Div., from Fort Campbell, Ky.
KUNAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan (March 28, 2011)
– "I can say that I've led this platoon into
more ambushes than any other point man here on
this deployment," said U.S. Army Sgt. Nathaniel
S. Gray with a toothy grin and slow, southern
"I was point man for the first
six, seven months here," he continued. "I walked
us into a lot. I can smell it, but I don't know
where it's at. I know it's going to happen.
Every time we were walking I was looking for my
next covered and concealed position. Ya know,
I'd look at this rock, then that rock. Oh,
there's another rock, that's where I'm going. I
just never knew when it was going to happen."
Gray, assigned to Company B, 1st Battalion,
327th Infantry Regiment, Task Force No Slack, is
now a squad leader and has an uncanny knack for
getting himself and his team out of tight spots.
Even before joining the Army, Gray found
ways out of potentially hairy situations.
He grew up in Tupelo, Miss., a town about
the same size as Asadabad, the capital of Kunar
province, Afghanistan, where he now patrols.
As a teenager, he watched war movies and
idolized the men in those action roles who wore
Screaming Eagle patches on their shoulders.
"If you see TV or movies, who wouldn't
choose the 101st?" Gray said. "If you see
'Hamburger Hill' with those dudes charging up
the side of a mountain, who wouldn't want to do
After returning from his first
combat tour in Iraq, he quickly joined the 101st
Airborne Division and deployed again to Iraq
with 3rd Brigade Combat Team for 15 months.
Now, 10 months into a yearlong deployment to Afghanistan
with 1st Brigade Combat Team, Gray stares out of his
makeshift fighting position into the Shigal Valley.|
"You see something?" another Soldier asked. "Ah, it's just
"Make sure you know where it's coming from
before you shoot, know what I mean?," said Gray to the
Soldier. "I expect a rocket-propelled grenade to come from
that ridgeline over there."
It was quiet for a few
minutes as the Soldiers scanned the ridges with their
Then Gray said, "Actually, it's my sons'
Jacob and Joseph, twins, turned 5
years old, March 16. Gray said he sent home a bow and arrow
set for their presents. He started laughing.
time I was home, one of them was walking around the gas
station we were at singing the Pledge of Allegiance," Gray
said. "I thought that was pretty cool."
One of the
main reasons Gray has stayed in the Army is because of his
two sons. He is able to care for them, but they also look up
to and admire him for being a Soldier.
camouflage stuff, ya know they're 5," Gray said with a
smile. "They want the G.I. Joe backpack, and I think that's
Then he explained the difference
between being a squad leader and a father.
here, a squad leader is more difficult than taking care of
kids," Gray explained. "Here, you have to check to make sure
their magazines are full, their (combat optics) are tied
down, you have to check everything. Small things have bigger
consequences over here."
Since joining the Army, Gray
has learned that it's the little things that count.
"The Army changed my life a lot," Gray said. "It kind of
distilled something in me. I started doing the right thing.
I respect myself more and I respect others more."
After dodging as many more ambushes as he can in his three
years left in the military, he plans on going to college and
walking into one more ambush: being swarmed by children.
"I want to be a kindergarten teacher," Gray said.
The fighting position on the mountain was quiet for a
moment, and then erupted with muffled laughter from his
"Everybody laughs, but that's what I want to
do," added Gray. "I love kids."
A few days later,
back home in Mississippi, Jacob and Joseph got a phone call.
Their dad was on the line, far away from them but reassuring
them that he found a safe route off the mountain. Gray has a
certain knack for that.
Article and photo by Army SFC Mark Burrell|
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