Where do we find such remarkable men? Hackworth recounts


Mar 11, 2001
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Where do we find such remarkable men? Hackworth recounts brave exploits of Rangers in Afghanistan


May 21, 2002

Col. David Hackworth

Our Rangers still aren't allowed to talk publicly about Operation Anaconda, fought last March in Afghanistan, probably because the op proved in spades how out-of-touch the top brass are with counter-guerrilla tactics. I suspect the Secrecy Act's being employed once again to protect bad generals – at the cost of telling our countrymen the truth about an extraordinary mission conducted by the men of the 1st Platoon of Alpha Company, 1/75th Rangers.

Eyewitness reports I've stitched together from Allied commandos testify to that platoon's daring and heroism while rescuing teammates and aircrew from a downed chopper as they were about to be snuffed out by a ferocious enemy.

Earlier, the platoon had been spread across the battlefield on separate missions. When word came down to find MIA Navy Seal Neil Roberts, the lead element air-assaulted, its chopper was shot to smithereens upon landing, and the Rangers and aircrew were stuck on a rocky ridge surrounded by a large, well-dug-in al-Qaida force.

Because of blistering enemy incoming fire, a 1st Platoon reinforcing element landed by chopper at the base of the mountain, about a mile from the besieged warriors. The 10 men began clawing their way toward the top – loaded down with 100 pounds of kit – on what would prove to be a 5,000-foot, almost-vertical three-hour climb. And throughout this near mission-impossible feat, they were battered by enemy rifle and mortar fire that wounded several of these elite warriors.

When the Rangers got to the top, they busted through the enemy's bunker line and linked up with their surrounded mates. But they soon found themselves waist-high in snow, the thermometer hovering around zero, in an increasingly hotter frying pan – with incoming RPGs, recoilless rifle fire, mortars thumping in and bullets snapping like angry bees across the open plain at 12,000 feet.

An SAS commando who watched the fight said, "These blokes, along with their tactical aircraft and chopper air support, killed a bloody lot of them."

Apart from their own incredible guts, the air support – virtually on top of them – is what kept them alive. If USAF air controller Kevin Vance wasn't on the ground bravely directing the fire, it would have been taps for all these good men.

Ranger Marc Anderson said, "This is where all the training pays off" before catching one with his name on it while bounding toward the enemy. Ranger Bradley Crose was hit in the head by a round that smashed under his helmet and out the back of his head, and Ranger Matthew Commons went down for the count as well. Air Force warrior Jason Cunningham was hit by two rounds in the gut and lay out in the bitter cold – slowly bleeding to death.

When the Ranger rifles were shot up, had malfunctioned or the men ran out of ammo, the Rangers policed up al-Qaida weapons and waded into the fanatics, wasting them with their own bullets. For almost 18 long, blood-soaked hours, it was often hand-to-hand fighting with knives, pistols and rifle butts.

That terrible night, the Rangers were supported by USAF C-130 Specter gunships that, according to an Aussie SAS commando on a nearby knob, lit up the hills around them. "It was bloody amazing, the most beautiful – yet fearsome – sight I'd ever seen," he said.

The entire action was relayed by Predator drone to the White House, the Pentagon and the generals whose flawed plan got our kids into FUBAR-plus in the first place. The spectators could watch in comfort and safety while our courageous Rangers fought and died and another squad fell wounded. But those who were hit never faltered, continuing to put heavy fire on the enemy in the fierce kind of combat and freezing conditions our forces haven't seen since the Korean War.

Marc Anderson used to tell his buddies he was leaving the 1st Platoon $5,000 to celebrate the good times if he checked out. Upon their return to Fort Stewart, Ga., they were stunned to learn he wasn't kidding. Hopefully, it won't be long before they'll be lifting a few to him and the other extraordinary men they – and we – lost during one of the most heroic small-unit fights in U.S. history.

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