April 21, 2005
By Staff Sgt. Bradley Rhen
WARDAK PROVINCE, Afghanistan -- As the sun peeked over the mountains early on the morning of Apr. 15, three CH-47 Chinook helicopters packed with U.S. and Afghan Soldiers sped toward their target in Wardak province.
When the helicopters landed, the Soldiers raced out the back ramps. While the Afghan National Army Soldiers formed a perimeter around the compound, Soldiers from 3rd Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment from the Virginia Army National Guard searched for three men suspected of having ties to the Taliban.
The men were not home at the time, and thus evaded capture. However, the Soldiers were able to locate and confiscate some weapons, and they gained valuable intelligence during questioning of others.
The air assault mission was the first mission of Operation Vigilance. The operation was expected to last several days and included humanitarian aid drops in several villages, said Lt. Col. Blake Ortner, commander of 3rd Bn., 116th Inf. Rgt.
“The objective this morning was we were going after three targeted individuals that we were trying to kill or capture,” Ortner said. “From here on out, we’ll have some additional targeted operations, but also a lot of patrolling and other operations within Wardak to set conditions for the future.”
Due the large amount of snow this past winter and the bad road conditions, the mission was delayed several time, Ortner said.
“This was essentially an operation we wanted to kick off to disrupt any of the spring attacks that may be going on up here,” Ortner said. “We seem to have a larger threat up in Wardak than we do in other areas, so we wanted to kind of preempt some of that.”
The mission came nine days after a CH-47 Chinook helicopter crashed in Ghazni, killing all 18 people aboard. Many of the Soldiers who took part in the Operation Vigilance mission are based at Forward Operating Base Ghazni, which is just a few miles from the crash site, and participated in the recovery effort of the crashed helicopter.
Spec. Robert Mumaw, an M249 Squad Automatic Weapon gunner with Company B, 3rd Bn., 116th Inf. Rgt., said the crash weighed on a lot of Soldiers’ minds.
“We saw that first-hand, so that was probably the biggest worry, not going in and doing the actual mission,” he said.
Mumaw, a native of Woodstock, Va., said once he hit the ground, those worries disappeared and he was able to focus on the mission at hand.
“The entry went well, it went quick,” Mumaw said. “We put the females in one room, segregated the males, and had the female MP search the females.”
Mumaw said they found 17 to 20 RPGs, about 200 rounds of 7.62 mm ammunition, a few AK47s and a few grenades. Additionally, they found large amounts of cash on the women.
Wardak province is located southwest of Afghanistan’s capital, Kabul. Because of its proximity to the capital along with the fact that Ring Road – Afghanistan’s lone major highway that connects several of the country’s biggest cities – passes through the eastern part of the province, Ortner said a Coalition presence in the province is important.
In the past, the Coalition has not had a significant presence in the province, Ortner said, but that’s something he’s working to change.
“Our big intent was to get up here and really get a feel for the area,” he said. “We wanted to get a lot of patrols out to a lot of villages and try to build confidence in the people.”
For Mumaw and his fellow infantrymen, the operation was a chance to get their boots muddy.
Coming into the deployment last year, many Soldiers from the battalion didn’t really know what to expect coming here. Some of them have found themselves pulling guard duty in towers at Bagram Airfield.
“Infantry just ain’t used to getting stuck in towers,” he said. “This is what we’re supposed to do.”