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A-10s Rescue Ambushed OEF Ground Forces
by Master Sgt. Andrew Gates
Army News Service
August 18, 2004

BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan -- When Army Staff Sgt. Jamie Osmon met Capt. Tonto (call sign used for security reasons) for the second time Aug. 16, the reunion was much less hectic than the first.

The first time, Osmon and a group of ground forces were trapped in a canyon ambush and Captain Tonto was the lead pilot in a flight of A-10 Thunderbolt IIs, also known as Warthogs, which responded to provide close air support.

Osmon and his team met Tonto and his wingman, Capt. Lobo, for the first time July 29. Osmon and his team, of Spc. Patrick Little and Pvt. Robert Schloss, members of the 101st Airborne Division, were escorting a convoy to a remote area of Afghanistan, about 350 kilometers west of Kabul.

“A local warlord had agreed to disarm and (dismiss his militia),” Osmon said. “Later he refused to turn in his weapons, so (United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan) sent a mission. We doubled that mission up with a presence patrol.”

The convoy of seven vehicles included one armored highly mobile multi-wheeled vehicle, crewed by Sergeant Osmon and his team. The other six vehicles contained 26 other troops, including Afghan National Army and Global Security forces.

On the way, the convoy entered a deep canyon -- about 30 to 50 meters across, with waist-deep water in some locations. “Once we had traveled a bit into the canyon, we decided this wasn’t the place to be -- we started heading south toward the mouth of the valley,” Osmon said.

The convoy reached the edge of the valley, and was ambushed for the first time -- the lead vehicle, the Afghan National Army vehicle and a Ford Ranger right behind it took small-arms fire. Then, the ambushers fired a rocket-propelled grenade, which struck the ANA vehicle.

The passengers in the Ranger had gotten out of the vehicle and were pinned behind it by enemy fire, so Osmon pulled the armored Humvee up next to them, to get them out of danger. Schloss was manning the Mark 19 machinegun mounted on the Humvee, when he was shot.

“I was hit at the top of the plate on my (Level IV) body armor,” said Private Schloss. “It felt like I was hit by a train. My knees buckled and I fell back into the Humvee.”

After extricating themselves from this ambush, the convoy headed back north through the canyon once again. Little manned the turret gun as the Humvee assumed the lead.

“We knew they were going to hit us again, it was just a matter of where,” Osmon said.

Three kilometers later, the convoy was again attacked. Little laid down suppression fire with the Mark 19 until the rest of the convoy was able to get under cover. He was grazed by a bullet that went under his Kevlar helmet.

“We stayed as long as we could in the open,” Sergeant Osmon said. “We watched an RPG come at us from about 200 meters away -- it passed within 10-20 feet.” It was one of more than 10 RPGs fired at the convoy.

By this point, the Mark-19 was empty and the team backed the Humvee up to get some cover – only light weapons remained to suppress an estimated 800 ambushers. As the team attempted to account for the rest of the convoy, they noticed the ANA troops were missing. “We headed back south to the other ambush point to see if we could find them,” Osmon said.

On the way back, the first close air support aircraft, a B-1, flew overhead. “It didn’t seem to have much effect,” Osmon said. As the Army team got back to the convoy, they discovered the other team was still pinned down by enemy fire -- one of the embedded tactical trainers was pinned behind a rock in the river. He was squatting behind that rock, up to his nose in the water, Osmon said.

“I’ve never been more scared in my life. We were able to watch as enemy fire chipped away the rocks we were using for cover,” Little said. “The rock (the trainer) was using for cover had been chipped from about two and a half feet wide to about a foot and a half. The Global Security squad coordinated suppression fire, so we could get everyone together.”

As the convoy regrouped, Osmon asked about A-10 close air support and was told it would be about an hour before it could get there.

On the Bagram flight line, Tonto and Lobo had just taken off.

“We were sitting alert and were put on 15-minute alert -- we were just waiting for the call to scramble,” Tonto said. “Once we got the call, we took off and refueled enroute to give us more time on station.”

Once the A-10s were close to the ambush site, “we were told they didn’t have radio capability,” Tonto said. “We flew over the canyon to put eyes on the situation.”

“We could hear the A-10s come in,” said Private Schloss. “It was like it was Christmas -- the happiest moment of my life.”

“It took us a little time to determine exactly where the friendly forces were, as well as where they were taking fire from,” Tonto said. “There was a village close-by so we wanted to make absolutely sure before we started firing. Once we identified the enemies, we marked their positions and opened up with 720 rounds of 30mm high-explosive incendiary ammunition.”

“When the Vulcans opened up, the enemy fire ceased,” Osmon said. “It was great.”

The Army team on the ground marked their positions with smoke and finally made radio contact with the pilots.

“Responding to an attack like this can be one of the toughest missions we do,” said Captain Tonto. “We don’t often get the exact locations of the enemy -- Sergeant Osmon did an excellent job getting us the information we needed.”

The A-10s came around for a second gun pass, Tonto said, prompting Sergeant Osmon to quip: “Grip-21, this is Maverick. This may be a bit quick, but I think I love you…”

After the A-10s arrived on scene and started firing on the enemy, the convoy discovered the whereabouts of the missing ANA members.

“One of the ANA members came up to the group in a lull in the fighting -- they told us they had been captured by the enemy forces,” said Sergeant Osmon. “The enemy said they would release the rest of the ANA team and let us go if we called off the aerial close air support.”

Eventually, the enemy dispersed and the reconstituted convoy limped home -- shrapnel had pierced two of the tires on the Humvee, so they had to drive on the hard rubber ‘inner tire.’ A trip that normally takes about three hours took twice as long. A-10s stayed overhead the entire trip, protecting the convoy as it rolled home.

The air and ground teams met on the ground two weeks later, as the A-10 pilots inspected the bullet holes in the Humvee and the ground forces got a close up look at the lethal Warthog.

“This is the epitome of our job,” Lobo said. “Getting these guys home safe is why we go out.”

The experience has given the Soldiers a great appreciation for the team providing top cover for them, as well.

“I’m never going to crack another Air Force joke again,” said Sergeant Osmon.

(Editor’s note: Master Sgt. Andrew Gates is a member of the Air Force 455th Expeditionary Operations Group Public Affairs.)

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Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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