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Washington airmen return from four months on the front lines

Post by Adam Ashton / The News Tribune on Aug. 3, 2011 at 5:35 pm |
August 3, 2011 5:35 pm
Sr. Airman Michael McAffrey, a joint terminal attack controller with the 116th Air Support Operations Squadron, Washington Air National Guard, on patrol near the village of Khanda./ Army photo

Washington airmen who helped repel a May ambush in Afghanistan are back home safely in the South Sound.

The 116th Air Support Operations Squadron of the Washington Air National Guard landed at Seatac Saturday, completing a four-month mission in Afghanistan where it worked with infantrymen to call in air strikes on the front lines.

Two airmen from the unit earned gratitude from their infantry counterparts for their work directing air fire against insurgents who held better ground in a May 25 attack in Do Ab, a small village in Nuristan Province.

“If they hadn’t been there dropping bombs, I don’t know that we would have gotten out of that valley, ” Army Sgt. Edward Kane, an infantry team told an Army writer about the attack. “The enemy was getting closer, and their shots were getting more accurate.”

American forces were outnumbered in the battle, with about 40 soldiers, two airmen and 20 Afghan soldiers fighting against a mix of insurgents.

Washington airmen told the Army writer they knew they’d get hit with an ambush as soon as they responded to a report that the town center had been overrun by insurgents.

“This was some of the worst terrain,” said Air Force Tech Sgt. Tavis Delaney of Tacoma, “and exactly where I would choose to place an ambush if I was the enemy.”

“As soon as we got off the helicopters, we started taking fire from every direction … rocket propelled grenades, AK-47, machine guns and mortars,” Senior Airman Michael McCaffrey told the Army writer. “They held all the high ground surrounding the landing zone.”

Soldiers took what cover they could find while the two airmen began calling in strikes. They reportedly fought for seven hours and didn’t lose a single coalition casualty. Several insurgents were reported killed.

“We spend years preparing for days like this,” said  Maj. Raed Gyekis of Tacoma. “They were the right men, in the right spot, at the right time. We train so that each of our teams can be thrown into a meat grinder like Do Ab and do what those two did. We are fortunate to have a lot of men of their caliber in our unit … and they were all jumping at the chance to hop on a helicopter and get up there and help Tavis and Mike out during this battle.”

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