RAF MILDENHALL, England (7/25/2012) - Like many, I was prepared to lay
down my life for my country each time I shipped off to war.
There were a few times when I genuinely believed the cost
would be my life, but, sadly it's turned out to be much
profile of the team of U.S. Army scouts and attachments who fought
at Operation Red Sand, Bala Murghab District, Badghis Province,
Afghanistan. Five service members were wounded in the mission,
including: Tech. Sgt. Kevin Wallace, military working dog Petty
Officer 1st Class "Valdo," Petty Officer 2nd Class Ryan Lee, Sgt.
Jeff Sheppard and Pfc. Ben Bradley. Image USAF Master Sgt. Kevin Wallace
The sacrifices paid in combat can't be
quantified in dollars or time, but are counted in tears shed
by those who love and support us while we're downrange or
healing back at home.
I'm an Air Force Wounded
Warrior, a Purple Heart recipient, and not ashamed to admit
On the outside I look just like any other airman
and relish in that. However, something nearly always feels
different. I'm typically withdrawn and emotionally numb.
I've adapted and am learning to live like that.
respected colleague of mine and someone I consider a friend
advised me to try to put my feelings down into words – to
share this experience.
So taking the U.S. Air Forces
in Europe public affairs functional manager Chief Master
Sgt. Tyler Foster's advice, I've done just that and will
recount one particular mission, as I remember Operation Red
A group of scouts, their medic, a Navy combat
cameraman and I set out by foot April 2, 2011 into areas far
north in the Bala Murghab Valley, Badghis province,
We ventured further than coalition
forces had ever gone, and spent the night reconning
villages, plotting locations and fighting positions both for
ourselves, and anticipating enemy locations and contact.
It was a rough night, but paled in comparison with what
was soon to follow.
The next night the same scouts
from Red Platoon, Bulldog Troop, 7th Squadron, 10th Cavalry
Regiment, Navy dog handler Petty Officer 3rd Class Ryan Lee,
his bomb dog "Valdo," a handful of Afghan National Army
soldiers, Petty Officer 1st Class John Pearl and I returned.
This time we took to secure an area of ruins central in
the location where we could operate patrols in known
insurgent areas, and egress by riverbed if needed.
After securing the ruins in a field just outside Kamisari
Village, we dug in fighting positions and fortified the
eroded walls and doorways with sandbags, all under the cover
of darkness. We also patrolled the nearby Kamisari and Joy
Gange Villages, looking for evidence of mines, improvised
explosive devices or booby traps.
At day break and
without rest, we launched a patrol into a known insurgent
hotbed and tried to convince locals to not support the
insurgency and start supporting their government, with
promises that a better life and development being made
Army 1st Lt. Joe Law, Red Platoon leader,
assured the men that if they worked with the government of
the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, they would see bazaars
and progress like that seen in central BMG.
Unaccepting to Law's offers, the village elders became
argumentative and accused our team wrongdoing and
trespassing. Tension grew in the air in the villagers became
visually upset, spitting and behaving in a way you rarely
see in people who typically put a lot of stock into saving
face and respect.
Law ordered our team to move out.
As we headed out of the village, around a dozen
fighting-age men began to line rooftops, and we knew a
battle would soon ensue.
We headed back to our
fortified ruins and dug our heels in for the inevitable
battle that would find us.
The ruins we established
as Observation Post Reaper was eroded and roofless, and was
basically a dilapidated, old three-room mud hut.
was in the western-most part of the ruins with scouts Sgt.
Jeff Sheppard and Pfc. Ben Bradley. Pearl, Lee and Valdo
were also in that room.
The center room housed an ANA
soldier, his platoon sergeant, our interpreter, Law, scout
Sgt. Peter Nalesnik and Maj. Jonathan Lauer, an adviser from
the 1st Brigade, 4th Infantry Division, who was along for
Three ANA soldiers, scout Spc. William
Newland, medic Spc. Kellen West, and forward observer Spc.
Dwayne Sims-Sparks were all in the eastern room.
we began to take small-arms fire and started to locate where
they were attacking from, and returned fire. Pearl was
documenting the fight with video and I with still photos.
From where I stood, I noticed Sheppard and Bradley
immediately engage the Taliban and lay down suppressive
fire. Most of the incoming fire was originating from a
compound several hundred meters to our north. Insurgents
were also using canals to our east and west to flank us.
They were able to maneuver up and down the canals,
spraying rounds at us at will from a wide array of cover
locations. Almost immediately the fighting reached a level
of intensity that forced me to lay down my camera and volley
rounds back at the insurgents.
A few minutes into the
firefight, I watched in awe as, while my co-worker Pearl was
shooting video, an insurgent hit three rounds near his head,
walking each round closer than the next.
hear several whizzing bullets passing very near to my face
and body, and their sound is unforgettable. At a distance,
they sounded like pops; near my position, they sounded more
like loud cracks; and when they passed within inches of my
ears, they sounded like a high-speed bullet train roaring
The Taliban were bombarding us with AK-47 and a
barrage of heavy machine gun fire.
As we fought, I
could literally see the mud walls of our ruins being cut
down by the incoming PKM fire.
Sheppard called out to
Pearl that he'd better move. At that point, Pearl grabbed
his video camera and moved into the next room. Our room was
the smallest of them all, not well fortified and we were
taking one hell of a beating.
The firefight continued
for a few hours and we were literally pinned down and under
attack from the compound and both canals.
We needed a
mortar mission or close-air support desperately as we were
severely outgunned, had minimal cover in the ruins and
field, and the insurgent force attacking us was growing very
Italian army soldiers from Forward Operating
Base Todd began laying mortar fire into the field west of
where most the insurgents were attacking. The first mortar
hit about 25 meters from my position.
mortar shook the ground like an enormous bass drum, rattling
my bones and soul. The first mortar stunned me for a moment,
then coming out of the haze I joined Sheppard and Bradley,
calling out mortar positions to Law. Under Sims-Spark's
directions, mortars moved closer and closer to the target.
The enemy assault grew in intensity and I recall
wondering if we'd make it out alive. Our 15-man team seemed
Still, Law kept working the CAS mission and,
despite the dangerously close proximity to which bullets
were impacting, I could see Sheppard and Bradley keep
fighting. It was inspiring!
Law was calling on
someone to verify no insurgents were approaching from our
south. I remember thinking that in order to see over the
southern wall, I would have to run through a hail of enemy
AK and PKM fire, jump up to grapple the top of the wall and
Shaking and petrified, I garnered the
courage and ran through the barrage of bullets and verified,
indeed we didn't have any surprises coming to attack us from
When I raced back to the front of the room
and returned scanning the western canal, Sheppard shouted at
me to stay down. I knew any dumb move would burden my team
in that they'd have to carry my mangled body off that field.
Still, keeping insurgents off our rear was worth the risk.
Through panic and impending doom, the scout team kept
their focus and wits about them, and we all continued to
fight our hardest.
Law called out to check the south
again. This time, without giving it too much thought, I
checked the rear.
With each dash to the southern
wall, my heart skipped beats and rounds bounced near my body
and face. I could taste their proximity as dirt peppered my
The fighting went on and continued to
intensify. Sheppard was keeping the insurgents out of the
river beds by launching grenades and one of our ANA soldiers
hit the compound center mass with a precisely aimed RPG.
No matter how hard we fought, they were growing in mass
and their attacks were intensifying. It was clear they did
not want us to set up a fire base in their backyard.
Our room continued getting pounded and we soon found
ourselves taking three RPGs back to back, nearly destroying
our northern defenses. Sheppard knew it was time to move and
planned to lay down squad-automatic weapon fire to cover
movement to the next room and he'd soon follow.
Before he had the chance to do so, the insurgents shot an
RPG straight through the makeshift doorway in the front of
our ruins, and I watched, as if in slow motion, as the
grenade went straight over Bradley's head, skimmed within
inches of my face and impacted the ground a few feet behind
When the grenade exploded I was thrown into the
front wall and saw nothing but sharp white light. I couldn't
smell, feel, see, and couldn't comprehend what was going on
for moments ... then I heard clear as day, Sheppard screaming,
“Medic! Medic! Medic! We need a medic! Get down here, West!”
I stumbled and regained my footing and found that I had
all extremities and knowing Lee was dead, shuttered to look
back. When I did, I learned he was alive, but Valdo was in
really bad shape.
The RPG struck right behind Valdo
and the heroic dog took most of the blast. Lee seemed
extremely concerned for his wounded shipmate Valdo, Sheppard
had shrapnel to the front of his arm, Bradley had shrapnel
in his leg, and I caught some in my upper back and also had
But we were all alive and while Lee
and the West tended to Valdo, the rest of us continued to
Knowing the insurgents were dialed in on our
position and that another direct RPG hit would kill the four
of us, Law called for more mortar fire and CAS.
F-16 Fighting Falcon soon shrieked low and over head,
popping flares to scare the insurgents. A remote piloted
vehicle pounded the compound with 30 mm cannons, and we
egressed towards the canal.
I didn't know it at the
time, but soon learned that Nalesnik, Lauer and an ANA
soldier were already in that canal, clearing our path
During the fog of the battle, I really only
saw what was before me and around me. I knew Sheppard and
Bradley were in the fight, I knew Law was leading us forward
and calling in fire missions, I knew Lee was struggling with
Valdo and that West was tending to wounds, but I had little
knowledge of the vital parts the rest of the team was
playing in the fight.
I learned later that at one
point, the ANA sergeant bravely tossed Newland down and
covered him with his own body, to protect the young
specialist from a barrage of PKM rounds. That's the type of
heroism you see on movies but rarely witness first hand.
Meanwhile, we battled our way into the canal and for two
kilometers, we fought our way through sporadic small-arms
Pearl carried Valdo, our wounded shipmate, on
I was behind Pearl in the canal and
could see Valdo had a hole about the size of a Pepsi can in
his intestine. Pearl was soaked in vomit and feces, but kept
pushing forward, determined to get Valdo to the medevac
Once we made it to a clearing, we found two
Mine Resistant Ambush Protected all-Terrain Vehicles
(Cougars) waiting for us, which Law had already coordinated.
Even coming out of the canal was intense as we had
to climb up about 9 feet, while the roots we grabbed would
break away. I had about 200 of the 550 rounds I left with
still on me, plus an AT-4 (anti-tank weapon), 9mm handgun,
four grenades, camera gear, back-up camera gear, food, water
and supplies – it was hard as hell to climb out of that
Once I got to the top, I quickly saw that the
Cougars were under attack and were rocking their crew-serve
automatic weapons at distant insurgents.
crammed as many as we could inside the Cougars, others
jumped in back, and we moved our wounded to Combat Outpost
Metro for a medical air evacuation.
Once we reached
COP Metro, we found the COP was under attack and all our
comrades who stayed behind during the mission were up on the
walls engaging. West cared for Valdo and the rest of us,
while more MRAPs arrived for a mounted re-assault toward Joy
We got Valdo, Lee and Sheppard
airborne, and West then treated Bradley and I.
being patched up, I was horrified to find that the mounted
counter offensive left without me. I jumped in the back of
an ANA Ranger about to ride back north but their movement
was cancelled, so I hauled butt to the walls of COP Metro to
man a sniper rifle, and provided over watch.
pleasantly surprised to find Pearl already up there on a
machine gun. He and I had been through much together on that
deployment and for all my life, I'll truly consider him my
Bulldog Troop's first sergeant, 1st Sgt.
David Dempsey, led a quick-reaction force and joined Red
Platoon, and continued with mounted and foot patrols in the
nearby villages, capturing and killing insurgents,
destroying known compounds, capturing IED-making materials
and destroying an IED-making facility.
coalition forces were wounded in the engagement.
Air Force B-1 dropped four 38GBU bombs and Army CAS assisted
with hellfire missiles and 30mm cannon support from the air.
Italian Army soldiers supported with eight mortars from
FOB Todd, and provided observation support from COP Chroma,
which overlooked the engagement, and allowed them to
accurately advise Army scouts on insurgent locations.
In the end, we were all fine and ready for duty within
days. Valdo was sent to a Role-2 hospital at Camp Arena,
Herat, where he was stabilized by a team of doctors. Once
stable, he was transferred to Kandahar Air Field, where a
veterinarian could treat him.
Until then, it had been
an Army field medic, doctors and nurses who strayed from
their ‘human expertise' and did their best to patch up the
I'm not sure what became of Valdo and often
wonder. As for the rest of the team, I keep in contact with
nearly all of the Americans who fought at Operation Red
Sand. I'm told the Army Combat Studies Institute will
release part two of their Vanguard of Valor Book in the
coming months, and that an entire chapter will be dedicated
to Red Sand.
Have I suffered from Post-Traumatic
Though I know I'll
continue to keep in touch with my team, I direly wish I
could meet some of the insurgents whom we fought against at
Red Sand. If I could, I'd plainly tell them this:
should have aimed your shots better, you should have fired
your RPG with precision ... you should have pierced our
hearts, but you didn't.
No, your attempt on our lives
failed. Our hearts still beat and they beat for your people,
the people of the Murghab Valley whom you carelessly toss
aside and grow fat from, as they continue to go without
food, water or a peaceful existence.
As you attacked
us on that field, I watched Afghan women and children take
cover behind trees on the western side. As your men attacked
us from within those families, we never once returned fire
in their direction.
Why do we care more about your
families than you? Why can't you see that your cause is
futile? Here's my sincere recommendation to you:
down your arms and join the reintegration process. You
should stop terrorizing your people and start assisting your
government in rebuilding and development.
If you do
this, someday you will see an Afghanistan you've never
imagined possible. Perhaps someday your grandkids and mine
could play in the park together, or tour some of Herat
City's spectacular sites on the same tour bus.
don't, more will needlessly suffer at your hands. And rest
assured, there are many scouts from Red Platoon whom
remember your faces as we met in the village prior to your
Just join reintegration.
all, I forgive you.
By USAF Master Sgt. Kevin Wallace
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