18 October 2010

'60 Minutes' Covers Eastern Afghanistan

While the soldiers of the 2nd Brigade Combat Team (B.C.T.), 34th Infantry "Red Bull" Division were under a communications blackout while at Fort Irwin, Calif., the CBS newsmagazine "60 Minutes" featured a story regarding tactical conditions in Eastern Afghanistan.

Titled "A Relentless Enemy," the 13-minute feature focuses on one company of the 101st Airborne "Screaming Eagles" Division. (Symbols depicted in the report indicate the company is part of 3rd BCT "Rakkasans", 101st Airborne Division.) Operating approximately 15 miles from the Afghan-Pakistan border at Combat Outpost ("COP") Zerok, nearly half of the U.S. troops there have earned Purple Hearts since January.

For the video, click here.

For the transcript, click here.

Coincidentally, Capt. John Hintz, just happens to be from Iowa. His wife and children live in West Des Moines. That connection helped Des Moines Register reporter Tony Leys, who has been following the Red Bull deployment, localize the story. In the Sept. 26, 2010 Des Moines Register, Leys wrote:
Nearly 3,000 Iowa National Guard troops will soon travel to eastern Afghanistan, and some of them will man outposts similar to the one where Hintz and his troops are living. Guard leaders say the Iowa soldiers will be too busy training in California to watch “60 Minutes” tonight. [...]

But many Iowans probably will tune in, and they could see troubling images.

Several thousand civilians live in the 50-mile-by-30-mile region the company is assigned to cover, and most of them seem to support the insurgents, Hintz said. Much of that support probably stems more from fear than from loyalty, he added. The civilians might switch sides if U.S. and Afghan government forces could turn the tide and show they are going to beat the insurgents. But that’s a daunting challenge.

In the past three months, 254 insurgent rockets have hit Hintz’s outpost. The soldiers also face roadside bombs and rifle and machine-gun fire when they head out on foot patrols.

His company’s 110 soldiers have been awarded 40 Purple Hearts for combat injuries since arriving in January. Two of his soldiers died, and several were sent home with serious wounds.
Like my fellow mil-blogger Red-Bull-Six-Bravo, I think it's important that Red Bull friends and family recognize that conditions vary widely across Afghanistan. Expressing concerns about how family and friends will react to the "60 Minutes" report, Six-Bravo writes:
Now I know that none of you are idiots and you know that the media always tends to slant things. I also know that a lot of people are experiencing their first deployments; their first separation from husbands, wives, brothers, parents, etc. In that situation, it’s always easier to believe misrepresentative information, specifically if it’s bad.
I know that part of the reason my wife sent me that article [about the 60 Minutes feature] is because it made her worry even more than she already was. I don’t want that to turn into an epidemic. If you’re worried and don’t know where your soldier is going, ask. More than likely they already know.
I hear what Six-Bravo is saying, but, in this case, I think that the "60 Minutes" report, along with The Des Moines Register's follow-up print story, is relatively clear-eyed and responsible. (I find the coverage similar to the hefty-dose-of-reality "Restrepo," a documentary to be released on DVD in November.) After all, we're not exactly sending our friends and neighbors on a risk-free vacation.

Any military endeavor is inherently risky--that's why we spend so much time and effort focusing on safety, and wearing protective equipment, and training on life-saving skills. Our Red Bull troops will be as safe as possible, but they'll still be in harm's way.

Am I concerned about my Red Bull buddies? Sure. Am I worried? Not so much. Here's an example of why:

At approximately 7:30 to 9:30 minutes into the "60 Minutes" report, one of the Mine-Resistant Armor Protected (MRAP, pronounced "em-rap") vehicles bottoms-out on some rocks. While the troops are recovering the vehicle using a tow-bar, they're ambushed by insurgents who are using machine guns and rocket grenades.

Compare that scenario with a recent training event reported on by WHO-TV Channel 13's Sonya Heitshusen out at Fort Irwin. While recovering an MRAP vehicle, soldiers of Delta Company, 1st Battalion, 168th Infantry (D/1/168th Inf.) reacted to an ambush, booby-traps, and taking casualties.

In the WHO-TV report, on-scene trainers described the scenario as "worst-case." Given media reports from downrange in Afghanistan, however, "worst-case" doesn't mean "can't happen." In the months to come in Afghanistan, some Red Bull soldiers may never hear a weapon fired in anger. Others may hear them all too often.

All of them, however, have trained with the right equipment, the right people, and under the right conditions to meet the challenges ahead. Friends and family should remember and take comfort in that, above all else.



  1. OK, here's my idea. We still have a few hundred B-52's. Let's move all our troops back to a central base, then do around the clock bombing. Everything! Mountains, poppy fields, goats, terrorist...everything. Until we run out of bombs.

    then...move the COBs and FOBs back in. then send out daily patrols. If any attacks on our troops...just back off and call in airstrikes and 155's. That'll get the insurgent's attention and the local population that is protecting them.

    AF is different than Iraq- the folks who attacked the US on 9-11 came from there....so we must beat them down so hard that they can never ever attack us again.

  2. I hear you, and share your frustration. A lot of Red Bull soldiers do, too. Still, I think it's amazing how our soldiers--young and old--are negotiating the complexities of the mission at hand. Yeah, we roll our collective eyes at thread-bare phrases like "winning hearts and minds" and "drinking three cups of tea," but if anyone can pull it off, I'd like to think that today's soldiers can.

    We're asking a lot of our National Guard soldiers. That's one of the reasons I started writing this blog, in order to help tell that story.

    I know it's not easy, facing a faceless enemy--or shaking the hand that was most probably shooting at you just a few minutes ago--but to do otherwise, wouldn't that just be another case of burning the village in order to save it?

  3. I have thought for several days about how to react to this post, and I still don't really know. Nothing that I can think of to say doesn't sound reactionary and defensive, but nothing else is coming to mind.


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