6/29/2010 2:33:00 PM Guest column: Operation Mountain Fire and the Battle for Barg-e-Matal
Cpl. Jeff Sutton
Cpl. Jeff Sutton U.S. Army
(Editor's note: The following first-count submission was written by Army Cpl. Jeff Sutton, who fought the battle for Barg-e-Matal in Afghanistan July 12, 2009. Sutton fought alongside SSG Eric Lyndstrom, of Flagstaff, who was killed in action that day.)
Back at the base in Afghanistan, things were going as routine as they could go. We were on the same missions that we always had with no change as usual. I remember asking myself why this tour to Afghanistan was so much different than the last. It seemed that the enemy didn't show their faces around in this area very much. For the most part we had it under control. Most of the firefights were short and didn't last but 5-10 minutes. We usually won every single fight that presented itself, but that couldn't last for the whole deployment.
On July 9 it was just another admin day for 3rd Platoon Alpha Company. The platoon sergeant took me aside and told me to grab all the ammo I could find out of the trucks and bring it to him. The look on his face was serious, like we were getting ready for something big. All our ammunition we had was in front of the tents within the hour and sacks were stuffed with everything we needed to sustain us for at least two weeks. None of us really had a clue what was going on, but we didn't ask questions.
Later that night we were told that we were going to Nuristan, which wasn't even our area of operation. From what little intel that we received, we were told that the Taliban had overrun a small village in eastern Nuristan called Barg-e-Matal. All I was told was there was 0-800 enemy troops in that area and the U.S. Military hadn't been in that village since October 2008.
The birds landed at the LZ and we loaded up all our gear and left the base. We arrived at a base close to the mission area to stage our assault into Barg-e-Matal later that night, or so we thought. For some reason, the higher leadership didn't want the mission to go down. It sounded too dangerous and it seemed we weren't ready for something this high scale. This mission had to be approved by the highest chain of leadership - the commander and chief of staff.
As I sat on my bunk in the transit building, I could hear the other guys talking. They were saying that they heard rumors about this mission. They all seemed really high strung and nervous. To avoid unnecessary plot, I'll skip to the part when the mission actually kicked off.
The whole platoon and some scout and sniper attachments staged gear on the outside LZ and waited for the birds to pick us up. We were told to prepare for a Hot LZ (a helicopter landing zone with us being engaged by the enemy). This is something that I myself had never experienced, but I had made it through some dangerous situations before, so I could make it through this one.
The pilot yelled, "30 seconds" as we arrived in the cornfields outside of Barg-e-Matal. The birds left and everyone had taken up security, silently waiting for the next orders, eyes down at the sites of their weapons. They are watching us right now, they say they are going to hit us when we start moving. We could hear them talking on the radios as we planned our walk into the village area. Suddenly an Apache attack helicopter flew overhead launching hellfire missiles into the western mountainsides in front of us, killing a small RPG team that was watching our every move. We picked up our gear and started moving towards our objective.
Later that day we had stopped at two separate Afghan military checkpoints that had been overrun by the bad guys. They were completely deserted and stocked with ammo. This mission was looking more and more crazy as it went on. But I couldn't think about how hard it was going to be, so I just tried to take it one step at a time. Finally, we arrived in Barg-e-Matal to find it completely deserted with Taliban flags flying on each point of the village. They had been here before, but they had disappeared.
We took a few buildings to ourselves and started setting up our stations, Things were going so smooth and nothing had happened. Did they just leave without planning to return? I didn't think that was the case. We were being watched. I could feel it. My feet were worn and cracked from the swamps walking towards the village. If I was going to get into a fight, I wanted my feet to stay dry. I dug out a pair of socks and some foot powder. I had gotten one sock off when all of a sudden the silence broke with a loud band.
I looked out and saw RPGs and small arms fire whizzing back and forth on my squad's position, which meant it was coming from two different directions. I threw on my body armor, tossed my helmet on my head, grabbed my weapon and stopped dead at the doorway. I could clearly see rounds whizzing in front of me. All I could do was wait for the opportune moment to run. There!
The firing stopped for about four seconds when I started to sprint for the nearest cover that I could find. I found myself up against a small house, which we had turned into our fighting position. My squad mates were firing in multiple directions, sending well-aimed lead into the mountains around us. Nova was next to me shouting orders. I still had one boot barely on, so I dipped down to get it past my ankle. When I looked up, all I could see was the Taliban attacking us from about six or seven different directions.
Nova started throwing 40 mm grenades into his grenade launcher and firing them into the hills to our front and sides. I put my sites on and saw figures running back and forth in the hills. They were everywhere. I hit my trigger as fast as my hand would allow. At this point we were completely pinned down with no air support. Something had to happen and quick.
All of the sudden, an RPG sailed down the valley and smacked a building sending shrapnel in every direction. Three men fell to the ground and I could see someone was being dragged to cover. I heard my name and it was the PL telling me to grab two guys and get to the other side where we were being hit harder. His leg was drenched in blood as he darted back and fourth from position to position. He looked like he was hit pretty bad, but it didn't seem to faze him.
As me and two other soldiers ran I was looking for the nearest cover that would facilitate the kind of fire power that he needed. I saw a little shack and headed straight for it. I heard a "whish" sound when I threw myself back behind the shack as another RPG slammed into the building next to me. I closed my eyes thinking that was it. When my eyes opened I checked myself to look for injuries. Nothing. An RPG had hit less than four feet away from us and we were left untouched.
I ran inside the shack and asked the guys how much ammo they had left. Both told me they were running dangerously low. I looked around in panic scanning for the nearest place to grab some ammo. I asked them where they had left the rest of the ammo. They told me it was in their sacks, on the other side of the village. It was now or never. They needed ammo and I was running out of ideas.
I took off on a dead sprint as rounds pinged and zipped over my head and feet. As if in slow motion, I saw that someone was already in a body bag down below inside my main compound. Someone had died but I had no idea who the guy was. I grabbed all the ammo my hands could carry and ran off into the area I was in before.
When I arrived back in the shack the fire power had doubled on the enemy's side. Both of my guys were almost out of rounds and bullets started skipping near the window just missing their heads. I grabbed Vinne out of the next room, who had an M203 grenade launcher. He ran out and got beside me.
"When I tell you to get up, I'm going to point at a spot in the mountainside behind us. I want you to shoot at it, okay?" I said.
"Ok, Corporal," he yelled.
I could barely see it at first, but soon as the dust cleared a little, I could see one of the enemy positions.
"Now," I yelled.
I pointed and Vinne sent two 40 mm grenades into the mountainside as the shooting started to subside. I stocked up the boys with ammo and went to check on the other guys. Everyone was pretty shaken up as the firefight started to reach its last lull.
Nova got in my face and told me that I was a squad leader now. I was just a team member before, but for some reason he gave me his job.
When I found out what had happened, I was in shock. Three had been hit; out of the three one was dead, which left certain squads without leadership. I was placed first squad leader for the remainder of the mission.
Nova walked up to me later on and informed me that Eric had passed away. As I tried to stop the tears from surfacing, I checked out the rest of the men in my squad. Some had hearing loss, others just shook up.
I still had little if no idea just how many Taliban were attacking us that day. When I asked later, I was told around 180 Taliban had surrounded us and initiated a 360 degree ambush.
In the seven days after July 12, 2009, we had been in 20-plus other firefights and killed over 170 enemy combatants. We had shot every single weapon system, called bomb runs and had the support of specter gun ships every step of the way. I think that the Taliban will think twice before they mess with 3rd Platoon A Company.
Posted: Saturday, March 23, 2013
Article comment by:
Jeff, Thank you for your service, and thank you for sharing a little slice of what goes on "over there" while we at home enjoy our comfort and freedom. You put some perspective into my thoughts... Thank you.
Posted: Thursday, March 21, 2013
Article comment by:
Jeff good to see you are well. You men did a great job. Going to miss Eric.
Posted: Monday, July 5, 2010
Article comment by:
What an incredible account of a real fire fight, by a young man who was actually there, being shot at by the bad guys. I never cease to be amazed by the caliber of young men like Jeff Sutton who are fighting for our continued freedom in the War Against Radical Islamic Terrorism. God bless all our fighting men, like Jeff, and their families.