It’s been three weeks since I’ve been dropped in Sangin, Afghanistan. So far my unit has experienced over one hundred firefights, nine deaths and more than sixty casualties. I’ve been patrolling at Patrol Base Fires where the most extreme fighting in all of Afghanistan occurs everyday – you have to fight your way out of base and fight your way back in. Only in recent days have we been able to patrol out of our fifty meter bubble without getting pinned down; the farthest we have gone is 200 meters with two platoons.
November 6, 2010 — We were preparing for our last patrol at Patrol Base Fires before moving to Patrol Base Transformers. The patrol was to go about 800 meters away from base to check out our new area of operations before the move. Already, we had a bad feeling about this patrol. One, we had never gone out that far – or even close to it – without taking at least two squads and this patrol was just going to be my squad alone. Two, we had a brand new mine sweeper because on the last patrol our original mine sweeper was blown up. Three, we were told we weren’t going to have any air assets all day. Knowing all this, we brought extra ammo and grenades and said our prayers before exiting the gate.
I was the last Marine of fifteen in the patrol to exit the patrol base. It was a beautiful day: the sun was out and the locals were tending to their fields. It’s always good to see the locals out and about cause usually it means the Taliban aren’t around. We slowly patrolled in and out of cornfields to hide our movement and to make it harder for Taliban to spot and ambush our patrol.
We got about 650 meters away from base and it was a great shock for us to make it that far and not to be fired at or for families to still be out and about with us around. But that soon changed and things started looking different. Families were no longer around – they just completely disappeared. It was getting awfully quiet and I could see signs that the Taliban was around. Right before we got to a water canal I started to see fresh motorcycle tracks and halfway dug holes where they were trying to plant IEDs but couldn’t do it in time before we got there.
Now the patrol was about 50 meters from our turnaround point and I was crossing the water canal into an open field. As I looked around I saw a family run into their house and as soon as they closed the door, pow pow pow pow – a four round burst from an AK-47 echoed into the air.
Immediately I dropped to the ground, since I was in the middle of an open field with no cover. As I hit the ground all hell broke loose. The whole squad opened fire using machine guns, rifles, and grenade launchers. What was just one enemy firing position quickly turned into seven firing positions, all firing at us simultaneously, with some Taliban running to different firing points to shoot at us.
Everyone except me was able to make it to a ditch for cover. Within just a few seconds after getting down in the field I got up and ran 40 meters in the middle of a firefight, praying that I wouldn’t get shot since I was the easiest target to hit. Miraculously, even with bullets landing at my feet I made it to the ditch with my squad without getting shot. I can remember as soon as I jumped in the ditch I turned around and shot a grenade to where we were getting fired upon. Even though rounds were continuously being exchanged, I felt relief in the middle of chaos because I was no longer left out in the open.
That moment of relief was short lived when I realized my buddy and next door neighbor (back in the States) had been shot on that third round of the initial four round burst that started the ambush.
Radio traffic from our Forward Operating Base began to increase after they picked up enemy communications that the Taliban were sending more reinforcements because they knew they shot a Marine. Now my heart is pounding: I have a friend who is shot and is not responding, the firefight is about to get a lot more intense with enemy reinforcements on the way and our back up is at least two hours away. In the midst of all the yelling, gunfire, and explosions I hear our Staff Sergeant transmit the radio code words Fallen Angel.
Never before had I heard the words Fallen Angel but I already knew what they meant. Lance Corporal Randy Braggs was dead.
Once we declared Fallen Angel we were advised that no medevac chopper was going to come pick him up and that we would have to carry him 800 meters back to base while still being caught in the middle of a firefight. The only good news was that the rest of our company – about three platoons – was coming out to help get Braggs back home and air assets were on the way.
Ten minutes after Fallen Angel had been declared we started running dangerously low on ammo. After notifying command of our ever worsening position, they unleashed hell on the Taliban. In the span of two hours, 2 missiles, 6 five hundred-pound bombs, and multiple gun runs by fighter jets were unleashed on the Taliban positions and their reinforcements; that was the most ordnance dropped by a single squad in 3 years of the Afghan war.
Soon after all the “fireworks” we cleared the area from which we received fire and the other platoons secured our route so we could get Braggs back home. I can remember putting his limp body on our pole less litter and seeing him there made me realize how short my life could be. I will always remember carrying him back and how much respect we had for him after his death. Despite being in a firefight for hours and being physically and mentally exhausted, we never let his body touch the water in the five water canals we crossed.
Not even when the water was up to our chests and the six of us carrying him were slipping in the mud, we made sure he didn’t touch the water.
(This was written as a college English assignment by Danny Craft, one of my Marines at Security Forces, Bangor, Washington. Danny lives in California.)