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Tragedy Demonstrates Degree of U.S.-Afghan Cooperation

By Capt. Jim Tierney, USA
American Forces Press Service

GHAZNI, Afghanistan, April 15, 2005 – Last November, the U.S. Army's 25th Military Police Company spent several hours a day training the Afghan National Police of Ghazni on basic police skills and tactics. On April 6, the police were called upon to implement some of those lessons alongside members of the Afghan National Army when a U.S. Army helicopter crashed near a brick factory during a turbulent windstorm.

Within moments of the tragic crash of the CH-47 Chinook helicopter, citizens, Afghan police and members of the Afghan National Army responded to help coalition forces at the scene.

"Local citizens contacted the police to inform (them) of the crash," said U.S. Army Lt. Col. Blake Ortner, commander of the 3rd Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment, the Virginia National Guard unit operating in Ghazni. "Within minutes, members of the Afghan National Police and the Afghan National Army were on the scene responding to the incident."

The helicopter was flying a resupply and transport mission through southern Afghanistan when it crashed. Ghazni police immediately worked to secure the site. Moments later, members of the Afghan National Army stationed in Ghazni arrived to help preserve the scene.

Staff Sgt. Stephen Mudge of the 25th MPs helped train the local police and was called out to the scene of the crash. "We're struck with mixed emotions," Mudge said. "On one hand, we're very happy to see the level of professionalism of those police we trained. On the other, we're devastated that we have to respond to an incident where we've lost fellow soldiers."

"This tragedy measured the effectiveness of the provincial and local government," Ortner said. "The ANA and Ghazni police provided a pivotal role in the emergency response mission. Their professionalism and dedication throughout speaks highly of the progress made in the province of Ghazni."

Once the soldiers of the 3-116th Infantry arrived on the scene, a joint Emergency Operations Center was established to synchronize the efforts of the Afghan and coalition forces. The center served as a command and control center where the Ghazni chief of police, the ANA commander, coalition forces and other entities involved in the security and recovery of the site could coordinate efforts.

The local police and ANA weren't the only Afghans to respond. Several private citizens, along with employees of the brick factory, came out with shovels to help extinguish the fire. Many offered their condolences to the U.S. forces at the site.

An investigation into the cause of the crash is ongoing.

The remains of the 18 crewmembers and passengers were flown to Dover Air Force Base, Del., for identification. Names of known victims have been announced.

(Army Capt. Jim Tierney is assigned to Task Force Normandy, 3rd Battalion, 116th Infantry Regiment.)

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