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NEWS | April 12, 2011

Operation Promethium Puma: Battling the Elements

By Staff Sgt. Ryan C. Matson and Sgt. Mike Miller , Task Force Red Bulls and Task Force Ironman

CENTCOM

U.S. Army Soldiers with Company A, 1st Battalion, 133rd Infantry Regiment, Task Force Ironman, a part of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry Division, Task Force Red Bulls, and Afghan National Army soldiers from 2nd Battalion, 1st Brigade, 201st ANA Infantry Corps, walk through the Galuch Valley, Afghanistan, March 29 during Operation Promethium Puma. Photo by U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Ryan C. Matson.

NANGARHAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan (April 12, 2011) — The Soldiers of 2nd Platoon, Company A, 1st Battalion, 133rd Infantry Regiment, Task Force Ironman, bedded down for the night on the rocky slope of a mountain. They had climbed through the evening in darkness to get there.

On day two, Soldiers endured the most strenuous day of movement during the eight-day operation, according to the Soldiers from 2nd Plt., Co. A., 1st Bn., 133rd Inf., of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry Division, Task Force Red Bulls. It began with a much-needed airdrop of food and supplies. The Soldiers, still carrying heavy packs of gear, scaled a series of steep ridges during a roughly five-mile movement southwest to clear three villages. They found nothing. 

The first two days of heavy movement took their toll. Five Soldiers suffered knee or ankle injuries. Many more said they were close to being “broken off.” The night would offer no relief.

“We got to our patrol base and got pounded with the winds and rain of ‘Hurricane Hind Dor,’” U.S. Army Pfc. Anthony McAndrew, a 2nd Plt. Grenadier, from Dubuque, Iowa, said. “That was the worst night.”

The weather turned out to be the Soldier’s most formidable adversary. The second night began with cold, heavy winds before hard rains and hail. The Soldiers struggled to keep warm in their all-weather sleeping bag and covers, ponchos, or in some cases, just sleeping bags. Many displayed signs of hypothermia and two were treated by the platoon medic, U.S. Army Pfc. Zack Volz, of Des Moines, Iowa. 

Soldiers tried to sleep in between guard shifts but many woke up cold and shivering. When day broke for day three of the mission, the Soldiers were not greeted with a sunrise, but rather a final intense two-hour bout of cold rain and hail.

The platoon claimed some of the village’s outlying farm shelters, and built fires to raise their core temperatures.

“That’s where we shacked up with three cows,” said U.S. Army Spc. Skyler Moser, a 2nd Plt. squad automatic weapon gunner, from Osterdock, Iowa.

As the weather improved, so did the Soldier’s luck. That morning, as Soldiers took turns drying by the fire, another cache was found. It was discovered because the Soldiers garnered the cooperation of the villagers.

“Right as we got into town, the first house the Afghan National Army hit, there was a cache,” said U.S. Army Sgt. Joshua Anderegg, a squad leader from Osterdock, Iowa.

The villagers led the Soldiers and ANA to several other finds, a result of a promise the villagers made during a key leader engagement the day before.

The platoon found a lot of expended rounds, mortars, heroin, TNT and other items.

On day four, the mission changed. The original plan called for the platoon to continue pushing south to a medical clinic, which would be the site of a huge peace shura among elders of the Galuch Valley, later that week. It was also the future site of a new district center for the valley.

However, the Soldiers instead found themselves packed, once again, into a CH-47 Chinook helicopter, air assaulting back to their first objective, the village of Hind Dor. 

Things would be different in Hind Dor this time around. The first thing they noticed was significantly more males in the village. 

An hour after arriving in the town, the voice of U.S. Army 2nd Lt. Taylor Gingrich, the platoon’s platoon leader from Dysart, Iowa, came across the radio. 

“We just found a Degtyaryova-Shpagina Krupnokaliberny, (Soviet heavy machine gun) barrel,” he said. “I want to talk to these elders and ask them why they lied to me!”

Gingrich walked into the village courtyard with the massive gun barrel and plopped it down. 

Meanwhile, the platoon and ANA continued re-sweeping the village, uncovering three additional RPGs. Second Plt. Soldiers entered the town males, numbering more than 100, into the biometrics system. 

The day concluded with a massive meeting in the courtyard.

“I can promise you that my Soldiers are here to help you and not change your way of living,” said U.S. Army Capt. Jason Merchant, commander of Co. A, 1st Bn., 133rd Inf., 2nd BCT, 34th Inf. Div., TF Red Bulls, from Dysart, Iowa, to the crowd of townspeople. “You have a strong, rich culture. There are elements here in Afghanistan who are enemies of peace and who create instability.

“I need your cooperation to root out these elements of instability and enemies of peace,” continued Merchant. 

The day concluded with the Soldiers bedding down in the poppy fields surrounding Hind Dor. Many crafted beds from poppy plants to keep them off the cold mud below. It would be another, cold, rainy night for the Soldiers of 2nd Plt.