Happy Holidays from Afghanistan

Happy Holidays
Submitted by: C. Mullis

I hope this letter finds everyone during the holiday season having a great time. There has been a lot going on since my Thanksgiving letter, and coupled with all the letters and e-mails requesting information, this could be a long holiday message. That is the beauty of the delete button, if I start rambling, as much as the women in my family, you can delete out the parts you don't like.

On 30NOV03 our unit sent a detachment down to Salerno FOB (Forward Operating Base) near Khost, Afghanistan. We were supporting "Operation Avalanche" along the Pakistan-Afghan border. The operation is officially over now, however we still have elements of our unit in that area. Essentially, we were in support of some army units to sweep the area and find bad guys crossing the border. The higher ups said the mission was a success, however our unit never apprehended nor assisted in the apprehension of anyone coming across the border. I ended up flying over 40 hours in a 9-day period, with most of the missions uneventful. As I said in my previous T-day message, the bad guys don't want to mess with attack helicopters, so we are mostly a deterrent. Two particular missions do stand out for their uniqueness and I will try and go into some detail.

The first occurred on 03DEC03. Our section launched in the morning to do a surveillance mission on the border near one of the border checkpoints. Upon our return and shutdown, we were hanging out in our tent, and we were informed of a TIC (troops in contact) with a SpecOps (special operations) unit. We took off and got overhead the unit in question. The unit had been ambushed while driving in a river bed (they are used as roads here) and we were vectored to the area where the shots were fired. I saw four individuals with AK-47s (everyone has weapons over here, so we just can't engage) and reported that to the ground unit. These four individuals ran into a house and came out with nothing. They then proceeded to start hiking up the mountain side away from our guys on the ground. This of course made us suspicious. After numerous low fly bys, we realized that they were not going to stop. The SpecOp guys requested lift assets. We were the only game in town and the Cobra is not a lift asset. I explained our emergency procedure of strapping guys to our ammo bay doors with emergency straps, and they asked us to do it. After a discussion with my copilot (Bullet), we decided to do it and I made a total of three lifts carrying two people at a time. I did the flying, while Bullet watched the guys and gave me reports. It was pretty nerve racking because you were afraid the guys would fall off even though I had personally strapped them onto the aircraft. Afterward we stayed overhead and provided fire support. It turns out the mission netted 5 POWs, 2 weapons, and bloody rags and shells from were the rounds originally came from on the ambush. More importantly, two days later this unit came and tracked my section down. They brought us a case of beer (YEA!) and wanted to thank us personally. Not only did we do something out of the "box" on the lift, but also we were on station in less than 8 minutes from their initial request. The army standard for attack assets is 30 minutes, and these guys just wanted to thank us. It made us all feel pretty good.

We had another noteworthy mission on 08DEC03. My section was tasked to provide escort for a ground convoy going trough what the grunts refer to as "ambush alley" because of all the hostile fire that they have received lately. We had been airborne for about 1.3 hours when the convoy was hit by an IED (improvised explosive device). These IEDs are usually a 107mm rocket warhead that is detonated by a cell phone. This particular one was on the side of the road under some rocks and went off just as the fourth vehicle (12 vehicles in this convoy) went by it. Luckily it only blew out the rear window and tore up the bed (it was a pickup). We got the rest of the convoy going (it didn't take much as you might imagine) and we sent our dash 2 aircraft forward to clear the road and escort the convoy while Bullet and I went back to find the bad guys. We found some suspicious gents, but of course, if they won't engage us, we can't engage them. It was pretty obvious they were guilty, because we flew over them really low and really fast about three times, and they never once acted like we were there, except all the other people around that area kept looking up at us. We thought we were done; however the other Cobra saw a bunch of mirror flashes and guys running around with guns. Our job is to protect the ground guys, and not go out on our own, so we proceeded to help our dash two. All the guys around the mirror flashes had guns and decided to put them over their shoulders when the Cobras showed up. They also walked down from their elevated positions over the road, to the local town. Humint (Human Intelligence) reports three days later said that the presence of attack helo's made the enemy to decide to abandon an ambush. The ground convoy guys came and found us later and thanked us. This unit's XO also sent a request up to a 2 star Army general and requested that his unit only wanted Marine air in the future. We didn't get any payback on this mission towards the bad guys, but it makes you feel good when the good guys want you around.

After a couple of more days my section came back to Bagram. We enjoyed all the missions, but it was time for other guys to get a shot at it. When we got back, I was approached by one of our embedded reporters and he asked if I could get a group of officers approved to drive down to Kabul. It took a lot of paperwork, and convincing, but 16DEC03 our unit took a total of 5 vehicles to include 11 officers on a road trip. Now, the weird thing about road trips in Afghanistan is that they are not your normal drives. We are all wearing our bulletproof vests; Kevlar helmets and all have loaded weapons. We also have to take a security team with us. Remember, 98% of the people in this country like us, but you can't tell which the other 2% are. We took off from the base fairly early Tuesday morning. We made it about 15 miles and the vehicle I was driving completely died. So you can imagine, 11 officers (all pilots) are back to their infantry training and are all fanned out on the road, providing 360 degree of coverage while we try and fix the thing. I can't say all the officers were in on the security. It seems a few, took the time to take pictures with the locals running around to include holding their AK-47s for the pictures. Bullet and Hero are such cards. We ended up bribing a local Afghan with a case of MREs and a case of bottled water to watch the vehicle until someone from the base came to retrieve it. We all piled into the other cars and took off again.

We ended up making it to Kabul and had a wonderful time. I saw a lot of interesting things and it was not as nerve racking as I envisioned. The people were really friendly and all the children knew a few words of English and we gave them all candy. We ended up getting back right as it got dark. It was an awesome day.

The 16th did end a little auspicious. After we got back, we found out that Kabul had been hit by four rockets while we were there and then later that night (the 16th) we got rocketed here at Bagram. The bad guys use a shoot and run tactic. So basically, if you don't get hit with the first rocket, then you are ok. The problem is that the Army (who runs the base) still will make everyone go to the bunkers. It was really cold that night, and one of our guys runs out of the tent yelling "Rocket Attack!," looking like an elf. (Helmet, boxer shorts, t-shirt and socks pulled down over his feet so they were floppy in the front) Bullet and I look at each other and both of us decide at the same time that being warm and comfortable in our sleeping bags, is infinitely better than cold and safe in a bunker. So giggling like little schoolgirls (while controlled chaos was going on around our tent) we climbed back in our sleeping bags and went to sleep. Boy, the guys outside got really cold by the time they came back inside, top include elf boy. No worries, the rockets (there were two fired simultaneously) landed somewhere out near one of the taxiways. No injuries or damage to anyone or anything.

There has not been a lot to happen since the 16th. I have gotten the flu (yes, I did get the shot) and have been SIQ (Sick in Quarters) for five days. My section is not scheduled to rotate back to Salerno until later, so I should be better by then. There have been some big changes over here for the better. There was a big brief this week and it was made public so I can pass the information. The US DoD has reorganized how it is going to fight OEF II (Operation Enduring Freedom 2). Afghanistan has been divided into three regions. One region is the north and west, one is the south and west and one is the east along the border of Pakistan. Except for a few bad boy stragglers, the only al Queda and Taliban left are in the east region. The other two regions are going to be mainly PRT (Provincial Reconstruction Teams) with big army and other countries building up the government and local infrastructure. The east region is going to be were all the military operations are going to happen. The Red Dogs, my unit, has been assigned the task of providing 24/7 attack helo support until April for the east region. Hopefully, we can be more aggressive than helo assets in the past, and take the fight to these guys so we can end this thing in the near future. There are all sorts of rumors about which bad guy might be in that area (you can probably guess) and getting him and his friends would help the cause. Anyway, the unit is really excited and looking forward to making all this happen. We had to come up with some different type of plans to support all this, and hopefully in the future I can explain it. I came up with the plan, so it true Fagan fashion, if the plan works I will talk about it, if it doesn't, I will never say another word.

As for the holidays, everyone is hanging in there. I haven't really noticed anyone getting depressed or down. We all miss home, but we all want to get the job done like everyone else. Technology is amazing, I have been able to call my wife and send e-mails on a regular basis. Thanks you very much to all of those who have sent e-mail and mail. It really is a nice feeling to know people are thinking of you.

We still don't know when we are coming home, but when we do it will take a couple of days, not months like in WWII. We even get to watch TV over here. The football games are in the middle of the night, but you take what you can get.

I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday. I wish I could be there with everyone, but hopefully I will see everyone during the next holiday season. I would like to say a special hello to my wife. Although we are apart on our first holiday season of our marriage, you're in my heart and thoughts everyday. I am lucky to have you.

Paul

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