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American Forces Press Service

Soldiers Overcome Afghanistan Terrain Challenges

By Staff Sgt. Luis P. Valdespino Jr., USMC
Special to American Forces Press Service

KHOWST PROVINCE, Afghanistan, Dec. 4, 2007 – Mentoring Afghan national security forces puts coalition soldiers everywhere in Afghanistan, which means a lot of wear and tear on their vehicles. But that’s not stopping them.

Soldiers recognize that the dirt and rocky roads, mountain sides and random paths are hard on even the toughest of all-terrain vehicles, so the troops handle mechanical breakdowns in stride.

During a recent morning mission in western Khowst, soldiers with Anti-tank Platoon 4, Company D, 1st Battalion, 508th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division, drove from Shamal district center to Spera district center, then to Spera village. Along the way, they experienced many challenges brought on by the rough Afghanistan terrain.

The soldiers had a four-vehicle convoy and experienced mechanical difficulties early on. They drove primarily through a wadi, but traversed up and down several hills as well. At their first stop, the Spera district center, soldiers had to change a flat tire on one Humvee. They also decided to tow one of the Humvees because a front left wheel had become wobbly.

“It’s really difficult to maintain the vehicles in this terrain,” said the AT-4 platoon sergeant, Sgt. 1st Class William J. Holman, from Flora, Ill. “We do what we can. But it’s a big heartache lots of times.”

After their business at the Spera district center, AT-4 soldiers followed Afghan National Police by vehicle convoy to Spera village to assist in searching for Taliban and other enemy fighters. This trip was also through a wadi. The roads at Spera village were too narrow for the towing and towed Humvee. They parked just below the village, from where soldiers stood guard.

The other two Humvees were positioned in the village to provide additional security. Several soldiers and Afghan police were dismounted throughout the village to provide more protection as needed. The platoon commander, Army 2nd Lt. Marc D. Laighton, from Erda, Utah, assisted Spera district police in searching through random compounds.

Once the searches were finished, AT-4 had to decide on the return route. Holman and Laighton decided to drive through the wadi because it might be a shorter trip than the road. Unfortunately, a few miles into the drive, the wobbly wheel on the towed Humvee fell off. “This is the second time we’ve had a wheel fall off (in a wadi),” Holman said.

Holman and a few soldiers climbed a nearby mountain to ensure the area was secure. The Humvee driver, Army Sgt. Ryan A. Siddall, removed the tire from under the vehicle to determine the cause of the breakdown. Once he determined additional maintenance assistance would be needed, a message was sent to the company headquarters, from where a mechanic and parts could be sent.

It would be several hours before maintenance assistance could be sent, so the soldiers made due. They created a secure perimeter, kept themselves warm, and made use of night vision goggles to remain on the lookout for possible attacks. The soldiers rotated shifts hourly as lookouts in the gunner turrets to remain alert.

Night fell by the time help arrived, but the soldiers went right to work. Army Sgt. David L. Wight, from Joplin, Mo., was the mechanic sent over from AT-3 at Camp Clark. Wight worked from about 11 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. before realizing another trip would have to be made. This time AT-4 split up, with two vehicles making their way to Camp Clark for picking up a gear box and the other two remaining at the site of the break-down.

After returning in the morning, Wight spent another hour making final repairs. Like the other soldiers, he took it in stride. “It wasn’t too bad,” Wight said. “It’s all easy.”

At about 9:30 a.m., all of AT-4 had returned to the Shamal district center, their current home in Afghanistan, just in time to prepare for a visit from their battalion commander and stand by for their next mission.

(Marine Staff Sgt. Luis P. Valdespino Jr. is assigned to Combined Security Transition Command Afghanistan Public Affairs.)

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