Michael's Dispatches

Pale Riders

A No-Name Unit, in a No-Name Place

2011-09-10-070713cc1000Pale Riders' Tents

03 November 2011

Few people realize that Task Force Spartan is in what is probably the toughest fighting in Afghanistan.  Many of the Soldiers might not even realize it because they are so busy.  Within Task Force Spartan is the 4-4 Cav squadron who call themselves the “Pale Riders.”   The Pale Riders are tasked to fight and move the ball forward in Zhari District of Kandahar Province.

The tents where they often live are comfortable.  Other times they sleep on the ground or on cots in rough places.  Rockets often fly onto the base and have caused casualties—and they are loud.  You would need a 360 constant-streaming surround sound system to get a feel for how much combat actually occurs at smaller bases.  Combat has abated remarkably over the months.  One cause appears to be that the Taliban are actually being beaten in the Task Force Spartan areas.  Another more recent cause might be that as the green sheds off the trees, attacks likely will slow down.  Some enemy likely will go to Pakistan for the winter while any who decide to fight will have a hard time hiding under naked trees.

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On nights with a full moon, it can be bright enough to make shadows.

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Other nights, it’s just dark.  We loaded up to go on a mission.

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There were not enough seats, so I sat on that case of grenades by the back ramp.  It’s probably no exaggeration to say 4-4 Cav has shot thousands of 40mm grenades.  When firefights begin, the grenadiers start hitting “dead space” and it might be surprising to see how quickly they can go through a few dozen grenades.  Our men usually fire much more ammo than does the enemy.   The enemy also shoots back with grenades.  Enemy grenades must hit very close to get you, but if you actually get hit in the body, that’s probably the end of the road.  When there are casualties, you have to be careful that no unexploded items lodged inside the body.  The crate of grenades was a rough seat down the bumpy road, but a traffic cone made the seat softer.  Some people have read my dispatches and complained that units will go into villages that are all but abandoned.  Only the enemy and their hidden bombs are there.  But there is method to the plan as 4-4 Cav (and other units) build outposts to try to encourage people to move back to areas that were abandoned.  The plan is working.

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The Afghan troops rolled without armor.

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What most struck me about 4-4 Cav is that it’s a “no name” unit in a faraway, “no name” place.  They are not famous like the 82nd or 101st.  It’s just a unit that’s doing its best and giving its all in a war that many Americans seem to have forgotten.  Soldiers say when they go home on leave they are surprised that many people don’t realize the fight is still on.  We’ve tuned it out.  The Soldiers get bloody but they keep going.  I’m told they’ve been awarded about 120 Purple Hearts.  Brave men, and a few brave female attachments.  There are other units like this around Afghanistan, with names we’ll likely never hear about.  This war is far from over and the Pale Riders are out there tonight.

On the day the following video was made—the day after the bumpy grenade ride—we walked into a village and there was one minor IED strike and some minor gunplay.  Minor means nobody got badly hurt.  The area is nuanced and you might be hated in one village and welcomed in the next.  The Soldiers at 4-4 Cav had tea at one of the family compounds and as I recall some A-10s (or maybe it was F-18s) pounded on someone distant.  A dog handler gave his bomb dog an IV, which she seemed to like.  And eventually we set off again, and when we did, the kids in this video came out singing and dancing.

Please watch this video.

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