5:28 | The logistical problems were monumental, but a few hundred Americans from a range of units and agencies ran the effort in Northern Afghanistan from a former Soviet air base in Uzbekistan. Doug Heckman describes the challenges the team faced in supporting the Northern Alliance and remembers Johnny Spann, the first American to lose his life in the war.
Between West Point and Ranger school, mind and body were as well trained as it gets. Doug Heckman valued those experiences as he deployed to Europe when Ronald Reagan faced off with the Soviets.
Doug Heckman had been part of the initial Special Forces leadership in Afghanistan and in 2005 he volunteered for Iraq. He and his men got their combat badges the very first day when an IED hit their convoy. He says the Iraqi people are like people anywhere and were very hospitable to him.
The surge was succeeding but at a price. Doug Heckman liked riding in the lead vehicle but was in the second one the day Captain Shawn English had the lead and took the brunt of the blast from an IED. This altered his view of how high the bar should be set for military commitment.
Doug Heckman returned for a second Iraq tour and chipped a golf ball into Saddam's lake at the Grand Palace on his birthday. This was the wrap up to a great career and he reflects on that and on the relationship between Americans and their warriors.
He rose early to play golf but the sight of the Twin Towers in flames changed his plans. Doug Heckman was a Green Beret in the reserve and he knew what was coming. Soon he was selected by Col. John Mulholland for the Special Forces team leading the mission in Afghanistan.
Doug Heckman's Green Beret A Team was a group of highly trained and experienced specialists. Their primary mission area was North Africa. He got to see Rommel's caves in the Sahara but felt the lure of a business career and pursued an MBA while staying active in reserve.
Justice details a too-close-for-comfort interaction with a vehicle-borne IED. The IED came as a complete surprise and the entire F.O.B. fell into what Justice could only describe as “chaos” immediately following the explosion. She suffered several injuries and had to work with the nurses back in Bagram and depend on the friendship of comrade Colonel Ellison to come back from the injuries.
After being a live fire trainer for a few years, Jason Wilebski got to see the operations side of the Marine Corps in Afghanistan. There were hundreds of thousands of dollars in high tech equipment in the HQ but he still maintained a map with push pins. This impressed the brass. (Caution: strong language)
He had a greater appreciation for life when he returned from his first tour of Afghanistan. But Josh Rodriguez had to readjust to family and finances and continue with his career. He wanted more than anything to get back into combat as a company commander.
After his train up, Joe Diomede's motor transport outfit joined the 13th Marine Expeditionary Unit on a cruise. He spent a lot of time fighting rust on his trucks down in the hold but he had time to visit a lot of interesting ports of call and he got to meet a SEAL team celebrating a successful mission. (Caution: strong language.)
He had an Iraq tour under his belt, but Colin Walsh wanted something different and he got reclassified into Civil Affairs. The medical and humanitarian aspect appealed to him. He managed to get into a unit that was slated for Afghanistan and began working to get a plum assignment there.
It was a big convoy with over a hundred local Afghan national fuel trucks along with Marine tactical vehicles. As soon as they set out, torrential rains began and everything slowed to a crawl. Joe Diomede remembers the boredom of being stuck in one place for days at a time. This was interrupted more than once by attacks, including one that crippled his vehicle.
Platoon leader Josh Rodriguez had just told his commander that his exhausted men were not going to move out as ordered. He didn't have much time to question that decision because the radio came to life with the news that OP Bari Alai, near where he declined to go, was under attack with just a handful of defenders. Part 3 of 9.
Due to his peculiar enlistment contract, Robert Rose didn't have to go to Afghanistan, but when his Reserve unit deployed, he felt he had to go. It was a civil affairs unit and, once he was there, the missions were varied and, inevitably, involved something that he had to study to understand, like prison assessments.
Mobilization is a lot of work for a sergeant like Michael Trost. Paperwork and medical stuff. He nearly didn't make the tour because of high cholesterol. He persevered and he was glad because it had been a long wait for action and he had assembled a great team
The men of the 489th Civil affairs Battalion were having a good deployment in Afghanistan despite mistrust of their Afghan allies and intermittent funding for their projects. That all changed one day when they took an official from USAID with them to assess local schools. Out of nowhere, machine gun fire erupted and a scramble for life began. Michael Trost, Robert Rose and Colin Walsh combine to tell the story of this surprise attack. (Caution: strong language.)
When he got to Afghanistan, he knew the mission was going to be frustrating. Colin Walsh was in a Civil Affairs unit with erratic project funding and unreliable Afghan partners. It was a good team, though, and they decided to make the best of it.
Afghanistan veteran Andrew Witzel is not at all happy about the pullout from that country. How in the world would anyone want to be our ally? He feels remorse for the women and girls who are losing their opportunity to thrive in an open society.
Military service was the family business. Robert Rose followed his father's lead and enlisted in the Army reserves after three years of college. He wasn't a great soldier during his initial training but his sergeant in advanced training sent him to someone who could be a great mentor for him.
The pilot said he could take out the attackers but the blast would be in the danger close zone, almost right on top of the position where Josh Rodriguez and a handful of men were nearly overrun by the Taliban. Drop it, he said. Everyone hit the deck. Part 8 of 9.
Why were we there? Afghanistan veteran Zack Knight recalls what a General said to him while he was there. If what he said is true, the withdrawal could be troublesome for us as well as the Afghan people. He also has some surprising ideas on leadership and a not so surprising choice of inspirational music.
Between his Afghanistan tours, Josh Rodriguez was lucky to be mentored by his commander at the Recruiting Command. He learned to work a room and how to network, valuable skills for an Army officer. After that assignment and after the Captains Career Course, he readied to return overseas.
Joe Diomede was one of five boys growing up in New Jersey in what was a pretty rowdy home. One of his brothers was serious about becoming a special forces member but it wasn't on Joe's radar. After 9/11 he was angry, like everyone else, but the memory had faded somewhat by the time he graduated high school.
The Taliban was warned that if they engaged in attacks during the withdrawal, the Americans would revert to combat operations. There was no response when they did, however, and platoon leader Zack Knight returned home with remorse and anger over how his Afghan allies had been abandoned. His downward spiral increased with the discovery of a hidden injury.
It was their worst day in Afghanistan. Joe Diomede's Motor T unit was in a convoy when a truck up front hit a mine. Another truck moved up to help and it hit a mine. Then his truck got hit. Before it was over, at least nine trucks were disabled.
The new operation in Afghanistan was named Freedom's Sentinel. Zack Knight was a brand new platoon leader who was told to forget guard duty, he and his men were going straight into combat ops. The rules of engagement had been loosened and they were told to go out and make contact.
Colin Walsh describes an incident in which an Afghan Police colonel sought justice when a drunk American threatened a relative. He was in the man's office surrounded by Afghan police and he was starting to fear for his safety, but then he spoke to the men like a diplomat. (Caution: strong language.)
The fighting was getting intense in his area and it was really evident when Josh Rodriguez responded to a Taliban attack on a small convoy of American contractors and Afghan workers. If only they'd asked for an escort.
Now he understands how those Vietnam veterans must of felt. When the Afghanistan withdrawal unfolded the way it did, Michael Trost felt a new kinship with them. Still, he was proud of his team and he knew they made the best of a bad situation.
Josh Rodriguez knew he had to get a Ranger tab to continue on the path he wanted. He got in as a walk on and made it through Ranger School, but he didn't get the assignment he wanted. Then, he heard about a position as an aide de camp to a general officer.
When Joe Diomede got to Afghanistan, he thought he had landed back in Twentynine Palms. His anxiety level started to creep upward when he saw gun emplacements but he knew he was well trained and ready for anything. He was a "Motor T" Marine who was there to run convoys so, naturally, his first action involved an IED.
As the Taliban swarmed his position, Josh Rodriguez called for final protective fire, your own artillery right on the perimeter of your position. When the machine gun went down, he gave his rifle to the gunner and continued tossing grenades. He didn't know who was going to win this fight but, thankfully, it started to ease off. Then a helicopter pilot reported that the enemy was massing behind a ridge. Part 7 of 9.