U.S. Soldiers Preserve Honor of Fallen Heroes

Story by 1st Lt. Marco Kilongkilong, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division

On Dec. 17, 2013, an American UH-60 Black Hawk crashed in Zabul province, Afghanistan, killing six service members and severely injuring one other. The Defense Department later acknowledged that the aircraft was brought down by enemy forces. That night, U.S. soldiers assigned to 2nd Battalion, 2nd Infantry Regiment of 3rd Brigade, 1st Infantry Division, Combined Task Force Duke reacted swiftly and secured the crash site of the fallen heroes.

Photo: U.S. soldiers assigned to C Company, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Infantry Regiment of 3rd Brigade 1st Infantry Division Combined Task Force Duke stand at parade rest during a recognition ceremony on Forward Operating Base Apache, Afghanistan. (U.S. Army courtesy photo)

U.S. soldiers assigned to C Company, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Infantry Regiment of 3rd Brigade 1st Infantry Division Combined Task Force Duke stand at parade rest during a recognition ceremony on Forward Operating Base Apache, Afghanistan. (U.S. Army courtesy photo)

The Black Hawk crash occurred in Combined Task Force Duke’s area of operations and the unit selected Charlie Company, 2nd Battalion, 2nd Infantry Regiment, also known as the “Ramrod” Battalion, to lead the effort to secure the crash site.

With the winter season in full effect in Zabul province, the location of the crash site had reported below freezing temperatures. The extreme cold temperatures were a major concern for leaders while assembling the Ramrod soldiers to secure the fallen aircraft.

“We didn’t think; we reacted,” said Ramrod Battalion Command Sgt. Maj. John Morales. adding, “Security is a normal condition that our soldiers know how to do right.”

“First thing I thought was that this was a really serious situation, and I needed to get my guys prepared as quickly as possible,” said Army Sgt. Jon Davis, a platoon squad leader assigned to the rescue. “I had to inspect my guys to make sure they had all the proper equipment to execute the mission.”

The Air Rescue Force and Special Forces that had been activated for the mission left hours after the crash. The Ramrod element’s mission was to secure the site until it could be removed. For the Ramrods, that meant bearing the extreme conditions over night. As darkness fell, the temperature dropped significantly.

Due to the mission’s urgency, several life-saving materials, including extreme cold-weather gear, were air-lifted to the Ramrod elements after they had left to secure the crash site.

“I knew how cold it could get on top of the mountain from previous deployments and previous air assault [helicopter] missions,” said Army Spc. Justin Necessary. “I was not expecting it to be as cold as it was. That was the coldest I have ever been my entire life.”

An aircraft had arrived and dropped the cold-weather equipment at a location at the bottom of a mountainside near their location. Morales, Davis, and Necessary fought the harsh conditions to retrieve the cold-weather supplies.

“[Command] Sergeant Major [Morales] came by and picked me and Necessary up to go down to the valley to retrieve the cold weather gear,” Davis said, “We were pretty uncertain where we were going. It took a lot of searching to actually find it at first. We knew it was going to be a long walk down the mountain and back up too…but we knew our guys needed the gear.”

The three Ramrod soldiers eventually located the much needed supplies at the bottom of the mountain, several feet from their observation post where the rest of their comrades awaited. This supply bag required a two-man carry method during which one of the soldiers rested in rotation. According to Davis, about halfway up the mountain, they found a second package of supplies. That second supply bag was picked up by Necessary alone while Morales and Davis continued on with the first supply bag.

“We didn’t realize how high this was,” Morales noted. “We were 9,000 feet in elevation. We were dragging the speedball [supply bag] 20 feet at a time before we had to take breaks.”

The bags had several types of gear in it, including heating blankets, extreme cold-weather jackets, additional water, gloves, facial gear and other life-preserving supplies for harsh wintry conditions.

“Before we were getting that cold weather gear, I wasn’t sure if I [was] going to make it that night,” stated Necessary. “I was already getting pre-stages of hypothermia. My hands and toes were getting numb. My body would shake uncontrollably. I was getting worried.”

Retrieval of the supply package had taken a significant effort from the three soldiers. Once they returned to the mountaintop, Necessary realized he wasn’t out of the woods yet. He began to shake uncontrollably.

His platoon leader, 1st Lt. Kevin Collins, reacted quickly and began clothing him in extreme cold-weather clothing and placed him into a body bag filled with un-worn jackets and pants to raise his core temperature. This quick reaction helped save Necessary’s life.

“At night, as the temperatures dropped significantly,” said Collins. “I was more occupied with monitoring the condition of ISAF and ANSF [Afghanistan National Security Forces] soldiers to ensure there would be no cold-weather injuries.”

Thanks to their quick thinking and savvy use of equipment, the Ramrod battalion was the only element that did not receive a cold weather injury during the rescue and security operations of the fallen aircraft.

“The guys knew their mission, and they didn’t know how long they would be there,” Morales stated. “They didn’t fail or falter at 9,000 feet or in 9-degree weather with minimal cold weather gear allowed. They did it honorably. They facilitated Special Forces and DART [Downed Aircraft Rescue Team] to do their mission.”

Combined Task Force Duke received 12 Army Commendation Awards for the mission. Of the twelve, six were from 2nd Battalion, 2nd Infantry Regiment. U.S. Army Lt. Col. Eric Lopez, 1st Lt. Kevin Collins, Sgt. Maj. John Morales, Staff Sgt. Scottie Anuntak, Sgt. Jon Davis and Spc. Justin Necessary, all Ramrod soldiers, were among those to receive the award.

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U.S. Soldiers Preserve Honor of Fallen Heroes