The Battle to Save Outpost Margah
By Spc. Luther L. Boothe Jr.
Army News Service
PAKTIKA PROVINCE, Afghanistan , Dec. 9, 2010 On the night of Oct. 30, clouds filled the sky, making the night darker than usual at Combat Outpost Margah. The six soldiers tasked as the first line of defense for the COP already were on alert, but no one expected an attack of the magnitude that came.
U.S. Army Gen. David H. Petraeus International Security Assistance Force commander, shakes the hand of U.S. Army Spc. Timothy James of Gilbert, Ariz., after pinning him with a Bronze Star Medal with Valor at Combat Outpost Margah, Nov. 11, 2010. James, an infantryman with Company C, 2nd Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, received the medal and a battlefield promotion from private first class to specialist for his actions during an Oct. 30 attack. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Maj. Hector Santos
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
"We knew air was red, we knew we were outnumbered, and we knew that the insurgents wanted to take over the COP, but all hands were on deck that night, ready to fight, backfill, and give everything we asked of them and more," said Army Capt. David V. Schulz, a 101st Airborne Division company commander.
More than 120 insurgents attacked the outpost, and by the end of the battle, five U.S. Army soldiers were wounded, 92 enemy combatants were killed, two insurgents were wounded and captured. The U.S. soldiers involved in the fight were assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division.
The enemy chose to launch the attack on an observation point for the outpost that was manned with six soldiers.
"The guard at the northeast corner in the turret of the Maxx Pro [a mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicle, or MRAP] called me on the radio and said he was seeing movement," said Sgt. Donald R. Starks, a Company C fire team leader.
Starks said as soon as the guard reported, insurgents fired a rocket-propelled grenade at the MRAP and followed up with small-arms fire.
"I began to lay down suppressive fire, to give Pfc. [James R.] Platt a chance to exit the vehicle," said Pfc. Michael T. Landis, an infantryman. Landis and Platt also are assigned to Company C.
Once Platt was safely away from the MRAP, the soldiers assessed the situation and repositioned themselves to prevent the enemy from maneuvering around and gaining the upper hand.
"The enemy had 30-plus men attacking the observation point," said Landis. "We got into firing positions so the enemy couldn't flank us."
The situation happened so quickly that some of the soldiers didn't have time to put on all their personal safety equipment. But that didn't deter them from having an impact on the battle.
"Sgt. Starks, even though he didn't have time to put his boots on or find all his gear, still maneuvered through the enemy while being fired on," Landis said. "It was almost unreal for him to keep positions manned and keep in contact with Margah Base while engaging the enemy."
With the observation point under attack, the soldiers down the mountainside at the COP prepared to defend their outpost.
"At approximately 1:20 a.m., I woke up to Sgt. Byron O. Reed Jr. screaming that COP Margah was taking enemy small-arms fire, RPGs and mortar fire," said Spc. Matthew D. Keating, a Company F gunner. "Under heavy small-arms fire, my team immediately ran to the rooftop mortar position and started preparing rounds to provide suppressive mortar fire for the soldiers under attack at the observation point."
With the rounds prepared, the soldiers wasted no time and began raining down mortar fire on the enemy.
"Shortly after I reached the roof top, Sgt. Reed and Spc. Keating made their way to the roof and manned the 60mm mortar system," said 1st Lt. Christopher S. MacGeorge, a Company C platoon leader. "I let them know we were taking contact from the valleys to the west, and they immediately began dropping mortars in that direction."
Meanwhile, at the observation point, the enemy was massing more men for the attack and the six soldiers were giving their best effort to continue pushing them back.
"Pfc. Timothy James had ran across open ground under fire to reach the southeast machine gun position, which ended up being essential to defending our ground," said Starks.
From his position, James was able to fire the rocket launcher as well as throw two grenades in the direction of the enemy. Starks manned the light crew-served machine gun, James was on the .50-cal on the northwest, while Platt and Landis waited behind the bunker for more enemies to come up the road.
With the enemy surging, Starks realigned his soldiers to better defend against the threat.
"Pfc. Platt yelled to me that they were coming up on the observation point from the road entrance, so I sent Pfc. Morehouse to assist in eliminating the threat by increasing fire from the bunker," Starks said. "At that time, I informed Margah Base that our situation was getting worse because they were beginning to rush us and that I had observed more insurgents running up the road to increase their numbers."
Platt and Pfc. Livingston D. Morehouse, a Company C infantryman, both laid down a steady rate of fire, engaging the enemy to the southeast of the Observation Point.
"They were so close we could hear them speak to each other," Morehouse said of the enemy.
Margah Base soldiers at the bottom of the mountainside were on the rooftop doing everything they could to assist their brothers in arms as they battled a surging enemy at the observation point above.
"Sgt. Clifford Edwards was now acquiring enemy targets with the grenade launcher from the firing position located on the rooftop directly to our front," Keating said. "I fired one high explosive round to the northwest and Sgt. Edwards immediately came back with a correction of 'left 50 drop 50,' he was also firing his personal weapon while giving these corrections."
Keating said the soldiers kept adjusting the mortar fire as they spotted muzzle flashes or enemy movement, and fired rounds to the northwest, south and southeast.
An observation point provides early warning of attacks for the main COP. Since the warning had been provided and the OP was running low on ammo, Starks decided it was the ideal time to withdraw and pull back to Margah Base.
"Everyone was reporting that the ammunition was running low so I made an attempt to reach the ammo bunker, which was between our position and the enemy," Starks said. "Due to heavy small-arms fire and grenades, I was not successful in retrieving any ammunition."
The soldiers continued to stave off enemies coming toward them, but it became increasingly difficult because they were within 15 to 20 feet, so Starks began making preparations to tactically reposition his men back to Margah Base.
"Right then we started taking RPG fire again, which had wounded two of my men with shrapnel," Starks said.
Both soldiers, despite their injuries, were able to move down the mountain toward Margah Base.
"All of us took cover behind some cliffs about 100 meters down and I gave the mortarmen on the roof the signal that we were clear from the OP," he said.
Once the signal was given that the OP had been repositioned, MacGeorge explained that Spc. Brett Capstick moved off the roof to assist with the 81mm mortar system and the team began to bombard the OP with 155mm mortars from Forward Operating Base Boris, 81mm mortars and the 60mm mortars on the roof.
"I tried to direct them best I could," Starks said. "I told them they were hitting danger close and that they needed to fire higher up the hill to the east."
Soon after the barrage of mortar and artillery fire was laid down, the air-weapons team was on site with AH-64 Apache helicopters to finish the job, accurately targeting the enemy from the sky above.
"Once the AWT was on station, everything calmed down as they began engaging the enemy," MacGeorge said. The AWT continued to engage the enemy until 2 p.m.
As a result of the night’s combat, unit leaders recommended awarding one Silver Star, three Bronze Star Medals with Valor, 12 Army Commendation Medals with Valor, two Purple Hearts, 10 Combat Infantryman Badges and one battlefield promotion.
"The men demonstrated an extraordinary amount of courage on the night of Oct. 30," Schulz said. "I was already proud to be the commander of Company F, but the courage and valor that my guys showed makes me extremely proud to be part of this organization and a leader of soldiers who give so much in return for so little.”
(U.S. Army Spc. Luther L. Boothe Jr. writes for Task Force Currahee Public Affairs)