Ed: This e-mail was forwarded by Mike Sparks from a 1st Sergeant in the 187th Regiment, 101st Air Assault Division, about operations in Afghanistan.  It has made its way to the highest levels of the Army.  Mike made some punctuation and spelling corrections. His clarifications are in brackets [  ].  Photos are from the US Army.

Rakkasan lessons learned

I would like to pass on a few things learned during our recent deployment. It won't be in a specific order so bare with me.  I guess the biggest lesson i learned is nothing changes From how you train at jrtc. We all try to invent new dilemmas and hp's because it's a real deployment but we end Up out-smarting ourselves. Go with what you know, stick With how you train.

Some of the things in particular were Soldier's load, because you're in the mountains of Afghanistan you try to invent new packing lists, or new uniforms. Some units went In with gore-tex and polypro only, when the weather got bad they were the only ones to have cold weather injuries that needed to be evaced. We've all figured out how to stay warm during the winter so don't change your uniforms. It was never as cold as I've seen it here or Ft Bragg during the winter.  Because of the high altitude's and rough terrain we all should have been combat light.  That's the first thing you learn at jrtc [Joint Readiness Training Center, Fort Polk, Louisiana], you cant fight with a ruck on your back.  We packed to stay warm at night. Which was a mistake; you take only enough to survive until the sun comes up.

We had extreme difficulty moving with all our weight. If our movement would have been to relieve a unit in contact or a time sensitive mission we would not have been able to move in a timely manner. It took us 8 hours to move 5 clicks.  With just the [Interceptor hard body armor] vest and [Enhanced Tactical Load Bearing Vest or the MOLLE vest] lbv we were easily carrying 80 lbs. Throw on the ruck and your sucking.GIF Photo

We out-smarted ourselves on how much water to carry. We took in over 12 qrts per man on our initial insertion, which greatly increased our weight. In the old days you did a three-day mission with 6 quarts of water, and that was on Ft Campbell in the summer. Granted we were all heat exhaustion [casualties] at the end but it's more than do-able. I say go In with six quarts, if your re-supply is working than drink As much as possible keeping the six quarts in case re-supply gets weather rd out. We also over tasked our helicopter support bringing in un-needed re-supply because we've lost a lot of our needed field craft.

We didn't even think to take iodine tablets [to purify water from melted snow etc.] until after we got on the ground.  If you're in a good fight your going to need all your birds for medevac and ammo re-supply.  Bottom line is we have to train at the right Soldiers load, relearn how to conserve water.  How many batteries does it take to sustain for three days etc.? Take what you need to survive through the night and then wear the same stuff again.

The next day, you can only wear so much snivel gear it. Doesn't do any good to carry enough to have a different ward robe [set of BDUs] every day. Have the bn invest tn gore-tex socks, and smart wool socks; our battalion directed for every one to wear gore-tex boots [Intermediate Cold Weather Boots] during the mission, you can imagine how painful that was. 71 gave up my boots to a new Soldier who didn't have any so I wore jungle boots, gore-tex socks and a pair of smart wool socks and mv feet never got wet or cold even in the snow.  You need two pairs [of boots] so you can dry them out every day. All personnel involved hated the lbv its so constricting when you wear it with the vest, then when you put a ruck on it cuts off even more circulation.  I would also recommend wearing the body armor during all training, I doubt if well ever fight without it again.

It significantly affects everything that you do.  Equipment wise, our greatest shortcomings were optics and organic or direct support long-range weapons. After the initial fight all our targets were at a minimum of 1500m All the way out to as far as you could see. Our 60[mm] and 81[mm]'s accounted for most of the kills. Next was a Canadian Sniper team with a MacMillian .50 cal [sniper rifle]. They got kills all the way out to 2500m.

The problem with our mortars was there as a 24 hour [Close Air Support] cas cap. And they wouldn't fly near us if we were firing indirect. Even though our max ord[nant: how high mortar rounds arc into the sky] was far beneath their patterns. Something for you and you alo [Air Liaison Officer] to work out. The other problem was the Air Force could never flit small groups of personnel I watched and called corrections on numerous sorties and they could never hit the targets. My verdict is if you want it killed use you mortars.  

Pay close attention to ti-hz direction of attack your ALO is bringing in the CAS. Every time it was perpendicular to us we were hit with shrapnel. Not to mention the time they dropped a 2,000 lbs [bomb] in the middle of our company, it didn't go off by a sheer miracle i'm sure. [Marine] Cobras and 2.75" [rockets] shot at us. Also, once again, they were shooting perpendicular to our trace. Aviation provided the most near misses of all the things we did. I recommend all sl's [Squad Leaders] and pus [Platoon Sergeants] carry binoculars with the mils reticle. Countless times tl's [Team Leaders] and sl's had the opportunity to call in mortars. More importantly is leaders knowing how to do it. Our bn has checked all the blocks as far as that goes.  Guess what they still couldn't do it. Especially the pus contrary to popular belief its not the pl [Platoon leader] who's going to call it in its the Soldier in the position who will. If you don't have the binos guess what?  You have to wait for somebody to run to the M240[B Medium Machine Gun] position to go get them. Also same goes with not knowing how to do It, you have to wait for the FO [artillery or mortar Forward Observer] to move to that position.GIF Photo

Plugger [AN/PSN-11 Global Positioning System] battle drill is the way to go, even with the civilian models [Signals are unscrambled now thanks to President Clinton]; the contour interval on the maps is outrageous so terrain association was difficult. Range Estimation was probably the most important or critical thing you do. If you close on your estimation you'll get the target. We all carried in 2 mortar rounds apiece and that was more than enough. We took mix of everything; the only thing we used was wp [White Phosphorous] and he [High Explosive]. All together we took in at least 120 rounds as a company

Lots of lessons learned on air assault.  Its was always seats out due to the limited # of ac [aircraft] and the # of personnel we had to get in. That presents a few problems. Offloading a CH-47 on a hot lz [landing zone] packed to the gills is an extremely slow process (2-3 minutes). Landing was the most dangerous part. While we were there just because of the conditions and terrain, if you crash without seats and seatbelts your going to have alot of broken bones. If possible maybe you could send in the first few lifts with seats in, that will get the helo off the lz much quicker then following ac seats out. Food for thought

Just like the Vietnam the pilots were courageous and will do all and even more of what you ask of them. However, re-supply was a big difficulty.  Problem was they never put the right package at the right place and you know what that means, especially when its 120mm mortar rounds that fell into a deep ravine. Fix was put a lno [Liaison Officer] on the bird with grids frequencies's and call signs. Our S-4 had a group of supply sergeants that would accompany the re-supply's. Also as the S-3 push the birds down to the company freqs. That killed us the whole time. Bn would never push the birds down to us so they were always landing in the wrong place or dropping off resupply in the wrong place. Same with AH-64s [Apache Attack helicopter gunships] we always say give them to the user but we never do it. We always had to relay thru the S-3 to give corrections.

Flying was by far the most dangerous thing we did while we were there.  The environment was extremely harsh. The cold wasn't that bad, its the hard cold dry wind that will eat you up like you wouldn't believe. Chapstick, chapstick, chapstick, sun screen, sun screen, sun screen.  [4x2 All-Terrain Vehicles made by John Deere] Gators, didn't hold up to good, that place eats up tires like you wouldn't believe. They're a great thing to have when their running. Also there real easy getting them into to the fight, getting out is a different story, your always scrounging for ac when its time
to go. So be prepared to leave a few Gators.

We used the [Javelin missile Command Launch Unit infared thermal sights] clu's a lot, every night for that matter. Beautiful piece of equipment. They consume a lot of batteries and add a lot of weight. After it snowed, two in the company stopped working until they dried out a few days later. Other than that they held up real well.  Go in with a good or should I say great [battlesight] zero on all your weapon's. We never got a chance to re zero while we were there. Also zero all your spare weapons for replacements etc. On our last mission I hit a dud M203 [grenade] at 75m with one round from my M4 using my M68 [Close Combat Optic]. It held a zero great. A 1SG [1st Sergeant] doesn't normally abuse his weapon like a young Soldier does though. However, if they treat their weapons like tiller nintendos they should be alright.  Our bn bought the ammo bags for the M240 [B Medium Machine Guns] from London Bridge, they worked great.

Knee pads are a must, needless to say not all personnel had some msr stoves are the shit [great], and they burn any kind of fuel. Quality sun glasses probably more important [as] would be safety or shooting glasses. Bolle goggles are
the way to go if you can afford it.  We had one guy who was hypothermic one night, the medics and a wool blanket
saved his ass. Green wool still can't be  beat.  Fleece gloves are the best.

We also eventually (after we were done) received Barrett .50 cals [2+ km range] for our snipers. Their M24's [308 caliber, 7.62mm range only 1 km] never got used because of the extreme ranges. I think each company should have one. Or a sniper team or a M2 [Heavy Machine Gun] with crew.  Lots of thermite grenades and C-4, we used them a lot our engineers were great.  Proficiency with the M203's [Grenade Launchers] right now there isn't a viable sight for the M-4 [5.56mm Carbine], so lots of practice with Kentucky windage. Lots of HE also mounting brackets for the [an/] peq-2 [Night laser aiming device] for the at-4's [M136 84mm disposable rockets] the smaw-d [Disposable version of 83mm shoulder fired medium assault weapon rocket launcher] comes with one. Also The smaw-d is smaller, easier to carry and hits significantly harder. Won't collapse a cave but will definitely clear it.   

Soldiers did great you can always depend on them. They are extremely brave and want to fight. Gotta do realistic training, they'll do it just like we teach them, they'll patch a bullet hole just like you taught them in EIB, but they won't take off the Soldier's vest to check for more bullet holes etc.  Because of the extreme ranges you need the 3x adapters for the [AN/PVS-7B Night Vision Goggles] nvg's  There's a lot more I could talk about but probably better left unsaid on e-mail. Hope this gives you some food for thought.

                                                                    187th Regiment 1st Sergeant

Ed:  I have read that the requirement to suspend mortar and artillery fire during air strikes arose as a safety precaution after the Vietnam war, even though there was only one recorded case of an aircraft getting hit by a falling shell, and that was a Caribou spotter.  Actually, aircraft should want artillery and mortar fire on the bad guys during an air strike to keep them on the ground instead of shooting up at them. 

Five Army Apache helicopters were seriously damaged during the fighting.  Only four made it back to their base, so one was actually "shot down".  The Army had to swallow its pride and ask Marine Corps Cobras from ships to fly in and help.  The Marines used the "Dragon Cow" idea I wrote about last year where a CH-53E helicopter refueled the Cobras on the ground near the fighting.  When it needed more fuel, it would fly up and tank up from a KC-130 refueler overhead.

2002 www.G2mil.com