(Media availability with veterans of operations in Afghanistan. Also participating were moderator Col. Tom Begines, Capt. Kevin Cochie, Sgt. Steven Longan, and Sgt. Brian Turner.)
Begines: Good morning. I'm Colonel Tom Begines, chief, Media Relations Division, Army Public Affairs. I'll be brief. Thanks for coming to this media availability. Today we have with us three Army Special Forces soldiers who will, as our media advisory states, describe the equipment they used in Afghanistan and talk about some of their personal experiences in the war against terrorism.
These soldiers are in Washington, D.C. to meet with members of Congress as part of the fourth annual Soldiers Systems Days on Capitol Hill. It is also the 50th anniversary of Army Special Forces, and the 20th anniversary of the Special Operations Aviation Regiment.
Captain Kevin Cochie, over here, is assigned to the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment based at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. He is an MH-47E pilot. He went to Afghanistan in October with the first wave of American soldiers. He was responsible for planning and coordinating Special Operations air missions. And as you know, in addition to the threat from the al Qaeda and the Taliban, the terrain and weather in Afghanistan posed special challenges for helicopter operations.
We also have two soldiers from the 5th Special Forces group, also based at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, Master Sergeant Steven Longan, over here, served in Afghanistan as an operations sergeant for an Operational Detachment Alpha (ODA), commonly known as an A-Team. He has also worked as an intelligence NCO and as a communications NCO. He served in Kandahar and the surrounding area.
Sergeant First Class Brian Turner served in Afghanistan as the communications sergeant of an A-Team from December through March, and participated in Operation Anaconda. Obviously, one of his areas of expertise is with communications equipment.
They'll be describing in detail the equipment they brought today, but let me highlight some of those items. Most obviously, to my side, we have the flight gear worn by MH-47E crew members. At the table, we have the Viper laser range finder, the multi-band intra-team radio, and other equipment.
I'll ask Captain Cochie to begin this session by narrating a five-minute video about the MH-47E, and then describing the flight equipment. And then as you ask certain -- about certain items of equipment, we'll bring them to the podium and discuss them. At some point, it will probably be best to move to one-on-one conversations. I know many of you will want to do that, and we'll do that at some point.
While these Special Forces soldiers are going to describe some of their personal experiences in Afghanistan, particularly with regard to their use of equipment, for reasons of operational security, there are some aspects of their missions they can't discuss. We have a need to protect special tactics, techniques and procedures because we don't want our adversaries to know how we operate.
Cochie: Good morning. The purpose of this video that we're going to show you, and you can go ahead and get it rolling, is to really show you some of the unique characteristics of the MH-47E. There's a lot of people out there that do not know the full capabilities of this aircraft. It's an incredible piece of equipment, and it has been incredibly successful in the Afghanistan theater.
So this video really just shows a lot of pictures of the aircraft, some video clips, some FLIR video from over in Afghanistan. And it really shows some of the special things we do. I'll note some of those things, and then I'll answer some questions, if you want to know how we use the aircraft in the combat environment.
But bottom line, there's a big difference between an MH-47E and a CH-47D. The big, conventional army flies CH-47Ds. There's a couple hundred of these aircraft. We have only 21 MH-47E helicopters, and they are all assigned to the 160th. The major difference is, is if you put them up next to each other, our aircraft is a little bit fatter because we have bigger fuel tanks on both sides of the aircraft. That's the first difference. We have an aerial refueling probe. We're the only unit in the Army that aerial refuels. So it basically gives us an indefinite range on the aircraft.
We have the FLIR, forward-looking infrared, which allows us to see much better at night; improves our situational awareness, and also assists in getting through some bad weather, because the FLIR tends to see through fog and dust better visually than you can through the night vision goggles.
And then the most notable piece of equipment, which I'd really like to touch on, is the multi-mode radar. It's terrain following terrain avoidance radar. Again, we're the only aircraft in the Army that has this piece of equipment. This one piece of equipment really helped us get teams on the ground in Afghanistan when there became a growing need to get the Green Berets and the Special Forces A Teams on the ground.
I can tell you a story about how we used the aircraft initially to get guys in. Last fall, the weather -- as the Colonel said, the Taliban was our greatest threat, but the weather was our greatest challenge in hazard. Last fall, the weather in the Afghanistan theater was so horrible -- horrible sand storms, dense fog, weather systems. Virtually, when we started trying to get teams on the ground, we ran into close to zero visibility weather every single night and ended up turning the aircraft back. We had never penetrated zero visibility weather at terrain flight altitudes. And what I mean by terrain flight altitudes is we fly around at two to three hundred feet above the found. Fast movers, they're up at 15,000, 20,000 feet, so it's really not an issue. Two hundred, 300 feet, you have towers, wires, mountain ranges, -- those kind of things to fly through. The multi-mode radar allows us to penetrate weather and basically fly in the clouds, in the mountains in the terrain flight altitudes.
So it came to a point, in the growing need to get these guys on the ground, that we finally just penetrated the weather with the radar, and the radar allowed us to carry the first several teams to their locations, landing zones in Afghanistan, and get them on the ground. Once we did it the first time, we did it night after night until we -- we kept putting teams in. And that was really one of the turning points of the war in the beginning stages, was getting these guys on the ground so that they could direct the bombs where they needed to go.
So, you guys can take a look at that video. Right here, [pointing to a mannequin in a flight suit] my friend, this is the flight gear that we wear while we fly. The only difference between what we wear and what the crew members in the back wear is that in the colder environment, this face-plate right here, they wear that over their face because a lot of times they're hanging out the side of the aircraft with the mini-guns or directing the hoist, the rescue hoist and that kind of stuff, so that just protects their face. The pilots up front fly with this -- basically the standard equipment: survival vest; we have a belt that has different equipment around your waist, survival equipment, and then our 9-millimeter strapped to our leg. The horse collar around the neck is a flotation device, if we would have to put the aircraft in water. It's just a precautionary safety device.
So, having said all that, I can answer any questions that you may have.
Q: Could you tell us where you're from? And also, describe what those guys were doing who were hanging -- five or six guys hanging from --
Cochie: Okay. I'm from Fort Campbell, Kentucky. The 160th --
Q: You don't want to give your hometown?
Cochie: Oh. I'm from Ashland, Ohio. The 160th, which is probably important to note, is based out of Fort Campbell, Kentucky. That's where the regiment and two battalions of our units are based out of. We also have one battalion based at Savannah, Hunter Army Airfield in Savannah. And then we have five Chinooks forward-based in Korea, and we have a company of Black Hawks in Puerto Rico.
So -- and then the guys that were hanging, that's called STABO. It's -- these guys can probably say what it stands for. But that's just another means of inserting or getting guys out of a landing zone that we couldn't -- if we could not land the helicopter on the ground.
Q: Captain, some of the zones you guys went into, some hot LZs, and some of the planes took fire, but I don't think you lost any to combat. How well is this bird at taking, you know, enemy fire?
Cochie: The MH-47E is very good at taking some pretty serious combat damage and it will still fly. We did lose one aircraft to enemy fire in the theater. We started off -- initially the purchase on the MH-47 was, I believe, 24 aircraft, and we have 21 now. We lost one in training. I'm sure you're aware of the one we lost in the Philippines, and then we lost one in Afghanistan.
Q: A constant problem in the theater was the brownouts on landing.
Q: Your radar -- it will get you into the LZ, but it doesn't do anything as far as finding the ground on that last move. Have you all experimented with any kind of altitude radar or something like that, anything that would help in that last few seconds?
Cochie: Yes. On the MH-47E -- there are so many differences between that and the CH-47. Our systems, our cockpit is completely different as well. We have what's called a complete glass cockpit. There's four TV screens in the cockpit, and that's all of our systems, all of our attitude indicators, they're all on these TV screens. Whereas a regular helicopter that the conventional Army flies have all the analog gauges -- the steam gauges is what we call them -- in their cockpits.
What's neat about the glass cockpit is that we can pull up on any of our TV screens any of our systems -- communications systems, navigation systems. One of our systems we have is altitude hold, and mostly for your question, we have what's called a "hover page," and that page allows us to hover in one spot, but on brownout and dust landings, it allows us to -- when the aircraft comes in, it's really an art to bring the aircraft down at the perfect speed so that the dust cloud is just engulfing you, hopefully, as the aft wheels touch down. Now, that's not always easy when you have a flight of maybe two or three aircraft and everybody's blowing dust on everyone else. But the hover page allows you, once the dust cloud engulfs you, allows you to keep the aircraft going in a straight direction, and then you can gauge -- it also will tell you how fast you are going. So the idea is to have the dust cloud engulf you right as your aft wheels touch down. You transition to that hover page to keep the aircraft straight, and then slow the aircraft and put it down on the ground.
Q: How about knowing your distance off the ground so you know exactly when your --
Cochie: We have a system called Radar Altitude Hold, a radar altimeter. And that just basically bounces a beam off the ground and tells us how far we are off the ground.
Q: Is it accurate enough for that purpose?
Q: I mean, normally, you know, it's got a margin of error.
Cochie: Very accurate. Normally, that -- and that's real good over water because it's just -- you have a set distance off the water. But on ground it works just as well.
Q: Could you tell us about the first time between having zero visibility and pulling out and then making the decision, "Well, we're just going to have to land." What was that first landing for you like?
Cochie: The first -- well, more so the first mission than anything. When we first started conducting operations where we're intentionally going to penetrate the Afghanistan airspace, to intentionally put guys on the ground -- before that we had executed a mission called Combat Search and Rescue. We were there to pull pilots out that got shot down. It just didn't happen because they were having tremendous success with avoiding any anti-aircraft for the fast movers.
So, with the transition in mission to actually put guys on the ground in Afghanistan was a pretty steep learning experience because the weather was so bad at that time. So for us, as a unit, and for 5th Group, who we were working with, it was a tremendous success that first night when we finally got the first teams on the ground.
Now, in training, the multi-mode radar, the terrain-following radar, is a relatively new piece of equipment, within the last couple of years. So in the training environment -- we live in Kentucky, so we'll go over to Knoxville, in that area, and do our training. But in the training environment, you always have your margins of safety that you're training in. So we always had visibility, and ceiling and visibility minimums that we, to even go train using the radar. So, to go into combat is one thing, then to penetrate weather that's almost down to zero visibility without ever having done it in training was a pretty steep learning curve for all of our crews.
Q: Are they going to change now any of the training rules so that -- obviously this is going to be a requirement in the future.
Q: You're going to need to train to it. This has demonstrated that. So now, are you going to take this home and suggest --
Cochie: We've taken a lot of our lessons learned home in how we can improve our training. That's probably the biggest lesson learned on how we might change something with our training. But overall, we've done really nothing but validate the training that we give our crews and our pilots. It's neat to talk about how awesome this aircraft is all day long, it's just such a special piece of equipment. But what's truly special about the 160th and the Night Stalkers is the training that we give our soldiers. Number one, we have a deliberate assessment process to bring the right guys into this organization. We're very small. And then the training that we give our pilots and crewmembers is absolutely superb.
One of the neat things -- we were talking the other day with the 5th Group guys, is that we will -- we are based at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, but the amount of training we do there is not a whole lot. You look at a conventional Army aviation unit, they have -- the 101st, for example, they have their own aircraft and they have their own infantry guys, all those soldiers right on Fort Campbell, so they can do their training on Fort Campbell. We typically go to a location where we work, with our -- the guys we work with. Fifth Group is right there at Fort Campbell with us, but they're only, one small element of the people that the 160th works with. We work with all the Special Forces groups, the NAVSPEC warfare people. So that requires us to go to them for their training.
So we do -- that's one of the neat things about our organization, when we need to train with SEALs, we'll go to where the SEALs are and do over-water training with them. When we want to conduct desert operations with 5th Group or the other Special Forces elements, we'll go to where they're at -- Fort Bragg. We'll take 5th Group guys and we'll go out to Nevada and out to the actual environment where we want to conduct that training. It's not a whole lot of simulated training. We do so much realistic training in the actual environment that we want to improve our training in.
Begines: And, I'd just say, Lisa, there's always a careful balance to be struck between realistic training and the safety of the soldiers. And while you want soldiers to be fully prepared for every contingency they might meet in combat, you also don't want soldiers to die or be injured in training. And so commanders pay a great deal of attention to risk assessments and exactly how training is conducted. They want to do it to the highest possible standards to prepare soldiers for combat, but the bottom line is they don't want to get soldiers killed in training.
Q: I understand that. Can you articulate what it is, this lesson you learned was, though?
Cochie: The major lesson learned with the terrain-following radar is that training with a weather minimum of, say, 500-feet altitude, 500 feet and two miles visibility is a stretch to go into combat and penetrate zero visibility using the radar.
Q: Could you address what difficulties altitude poses for the helicopters?
Cochie: Altitude, whenever you go to a higher altitude, -- you have to sacrifice something -- gross weight or fuel. And fuel translates to gross weight. The mass gross weight for the 47E is 54,000 pounds. The special thing about this helicopter is that we can take this helicopter up to its max gross weight and still fly at extreme altitudes. We were cresting 16,000, 17,000 ridge lines in Afghanistan, while sacrificing very little gross weight.
Q: Captain, were your missions totally in Afghanistan or did you go into Pakistan as well?
Cochie: Our missions were primarily in the Afghanistan theater. So, where we based out of were numerous places, within and outside of Afghanistan, but I would be hard-pressed to, name exact locations where we've conducted missions.
Q: Could you explain a little bit about how your logistics and maintenance works? I know that when you're working in stressing environments that causes even wonderful helicopters to have problems.
Q: So how is that working out? Are you--
Cochie: I'm glad you asked that question, because our maintenance -- it's kind of weird, because when we're in the training environment, it always seems like the helicopters hold up better when we're on the road, training at an off-site other than at Fort Campbell. And that really translated right into Afghanistan as well. When you take a helicopter -- when you take a helicopter somewhere, especially Afghanistan, you're going to take the whole slew of maintenance support personnel with it. So, we have a complete 200-plus man company that's responsible for maintaining these aircraft. When they get to a location, they have nothing else to focus on but those aircraft, so there are very little distracters as far as keeping the maintenance up.
Afghanistan -- incredibly harsh environment; the dust, the altitude, routinely flying them at max gross weight, very hard on the airframes. But the maintenance guys have done an impeccable job at maintaining them, keeping them flying. We've never dropped a mission due to a maintenance problem -- not once. And that's -- that's really -- I mean, that's such a testament to -- our youngest soldiers, 19 to 25-year-old soldiers working and turning wrenches on these aircraft. Very impressive.
Q: Is that ever or just in Afghanistan?
Cochie: In Afghanistan.
Q: You talked about working with the SEALs as well as the Army special ops. When you're in Afghanistan, is there any difference in your operating procedure depending on who you've got in the back, or do they pretty much all operate the same?
Cochie: Well, as far as the 160th is concerned, we are the Special Operations Aviation component of the Army. But, we work exclusively with Special Operations ground forces. To us, I mean, Green Berets, Navy SEALs, what not, to us, they're our ground force, and we're going to give them all the same support.
Q: What kind of a situational awareness feature do you have in this aircraft?
Cochie: I'm sorry?
Q: Situational awareness, how much information do you have in the cockpit about your other troops or enemies and like that?
Cochie: Well, situational awareness as far as the environment, the aircraft is impeccable. You have so many systems to aid you in keeping the aircraft in the right direction and heading towards the target. Our motto is, "on target, plus or minus 30 seconds," and we live and die by that motto, even in the harshest weather and the harshest terrain. The Echo model Chinook has so many systems that allows the pilots to maintain and to live by that model.
So, our navigation systems are completely redundant. It's a complete digital cockpit. We have the ability to plan our flight routes on a laptop computer, download all the information to a card, take it out to the aircraft, upload all the information. We have a moving map display, so you have a map in the cockpit but you also have a digital one on display in the cockpit. So there's a lot of things there to help with your situational awareness while you're flying an actual mission.
In relation to the enemy situation, there's so much planning, detailed planning that goes into flying an actual infil/ exfil mission. And you have intelligence folks that are right there throughout the whole planning process, templating where enemy locations may be, how you can fly around those in the most effective manner.
So it's just a great process, and it's a great airframe to maintain that situational awareness.
Begines: Barb, in the back.
Q: What lesson did the 160th learn from its loss in Afghanistan? Were there lessons learned from that incident? Could you help us --
Cochie: I'd be reluctant to -- and, of course, that was Operation Anaconda. And I'd be reluctant to talk about the lessons learned from Anaconda because, they're still formulating all those lessons learned.
I can tell you that aircraft was shot down in daylight. So, that lesson learned equates to a lesson learned in Somalia, and a lesson learned in any of our -- when we lose aircraft. We need to conduct operations at night. When we start conducting operations in the daytime, is when the risk factor of losing an aircraft is going to go up exponentially.
Q: Is there anything you can do to mitigate the daylight situation or just not really? Is that really --
Cochie: Planning. Careful planning. The best mitigation is to not do it, unless, there's no other option. We're going to -- we're going to execute a mission when we're told, but the historical facts are there that when we operate at night, we're going to be much safer. We fly low level at night, and it keeps us out of trouble.
Begines: And I'd just say that Central Command did release a report on May 24th on Takur Ghar and they covered that situation. And there was an acknowledgment of the risk at the time, but there were soldiers on the ground in trouble, and the decision was made to deploy the Quick Reaction Force, well aware that it was under a higher degree of risk. It was a balancing of risks.
Cochie: And I'll tell you, to caveat that, we as soldiers, as pilots, we're not -- we're never going to question when we're told to go, whether it's day or night. That's --those are questions and decisions that have to be decided by the echelons above the guys flying and operating the helicopters.
Q: As you look back, though, also, is there any lessons learned that you can help us understand from flying into an environment where you have fixed mortar positions essentially above you, and how to deal with something like that, which clearly was a factor in this case?
Cochie: I'm really reluctant to speculate on lessons learned like that. We, again, fly -- the best opportunity is to fly at night. And this airframe is -- the biggest lesson learned is that we need more 47Es; 21, we're stretched very thin. And they're very expensive, obviously, but the return on investment for this airframe, for what it can do for us, the Special Operations ground force, is so incredible.
Q: Two quick admin-type questions. In the video you showed us, is the black and white or any of that actually Afghanistan?
Cochie: Yes. There's some footage of a dust landing that's actually Afghanistan. The picture -- the video clip going through the mountains is Northern Afghanistan. And what's interesting to note about that is -- I mean, those are -- that those altitudes on that video are 14,000, 15,000 feet, and our crews transversed through those ridge lines on several missions before they ever actually saw those. When they -- the first time our crew saw those mountains, they were -- it was a rude awakening that they had actually been flying through those mountains on several missions.
Q: The infrared, though, is not Afghanistan?
Cochie: No. Some of the infrared, the IR taken through NVG goggles, those are Afghanistan.
Q: And could you spell your last name for us?
Cochie: H-I-E. C-O-C-H-I-E.
Q: How did you find the Stinger threat there? There was lots of talk here before you went in that that was going to be the major problem.
Cochie: Well, Stinger threat, SA-7 threat, it's MANPADS to us. And it was a concern, because when we first started penetrating Afghanistan airspace to get these guys in, the country was -- was laden with the Taliban. I mean, all of their enemy templated, fixed positions were there. So that was our -- our biggest concern was the MANPAD threat. When we fly around at 200 or 300 feet, I mean, you can hit us with a shotgun.
Q: And how did it pan out? I mean, you obviously didn't lose anyone.
Cochie: We didn't lose any aircraft to MANPADS. We --
Q: Did you see a lot?
Cochie: We saw multiple -- in the first several weeks of flying into the country, we saw multiple MANPAD launches against us.
Q: You briefly described the equipment that you used. Without giving away any secrets, can you say that there was an instance where this particular piece of equipment came in very handy, and someone said, "Boy, I'm sure glad we had this on the chopper."
Cochie: As far as personal equipment, no. When we did lose the aircraft -- when we did have the aircraft shot down, our body armor in the front -- and we're always trying to improve body armor, obviously, but one of our -- one of our guys was shot in his body armor, and it probably saved his life.
Q: Could you just straighten us out on which one was shot down? I know it was a very confusing thing. But from my recollection there was one that was shot through the hydraulic line and landed a mile away, and then there was the other one that put down to rescue.
Cochie: The first one was shot, flew a little ways and landed.
Q: Is that the one that you're talking about that was shot down or was it the second one?
Cochie: The second one I was talking about was shot down -- that's the one we lost.
Q: Why do you think it was that the Stingers that were shot at you weren't effective? Was it countermeasures on your part, bad tactics on their part?
Begines: I think that's probably exactly the sort of question we're just not going to answer. I mean --
Q: Secondly, when you're flying with this multi-mode radar, does that automatically control your altitude? You were saying you didn't know you were flying through mountains --
Cochie: Well, we knew we were flying through mountains because it's on your moving map display, and it's -- wow, we're in these mountains. But what the multi-mode radar does is it just shoots out radar, feeds back, you know, paints the ridge line, and then it -- we have a pretty incredible computer system on this aircraft -- it will give you the pilot a cue on the TV screen -- it's kind of like playing video game, for lack of better terms -- it tells you when to climb and when to descend. So it takes you right up over, maintaining a clearance above the terrain. And then it will keep you on your course, which is also inserted into the navigation system, so it will tell you when to turn. You know, you'll get cues on the cockpit from the navigation system on when to turn left and right to stay on your course. And then the radar is telling you when to climb and descend over the terrain.
Q: But, I mean, is that on auto-pilot? Do you actually --
Cochie: Oh no, you're wiggling the sticks. So -- the aircraft, what's called -- the aircraft has a fully coupled capability. And what that means is that in theory the navigation system will fly this aircraft hands off. It will -- you can -- the aircraft can take off, fly a complete route hands off. The only thing you would have to do at the other end is slow it down and land it. The only thing that's not coupled is the radar system is not coupled to the fully -- the radar is not coupled to that computer system, and there's reasons for that, because when you're flying using the radar, there's a very -- depending on how heavy you are, there's a low margin as far as over-powering, over-torquing the transmission system and the engines.
Q: You talked about weather problems, and we've heard a lot of stories about aborted infiltrations. Can you talk about your first time, an example -- you said that you arrived in October, was that with -- (inaudible)?
Cochie: Right. Say again?
Q: Was that -- which ODA was that with?
Cochie: There are multiple ODAs from 5th Group there that we were working with.
Q: How about the first time for you? Can you just sort of describe the scene, where you were and who you were with?
Cochie: For the first infil, I was in the TOC (Tactical Operations Center) that night, and I was basically running the battle, so to say, of the first infil. We have an execution checklist that when you reach certain points throughout the mission, the crew that's actually flying that mission calls back, via satellite communications, an execution checklist call. So, your aerial refueling execution checklist call, "Aerial refuel complete," you know, "Crossing over into Afghanistan airspace," yadda yadda.
So, for us it was -- it was disappointing the first couple of times because we didn't -- we didn't actually complete the mission, and then that night that we finally penetrated the air space and penetrated the bad weather and then completed the mission, it was -- I mean it's just euphoria really, because we were there, and we were doing what needed to be done. There was a very growing need to get these guys on the ground.
Q: What was that conversation that took place that you finally decided, we're just going to have to go in and take this risk with the zero visibility and set down?
Cochie: There was a captain in the jump seat of the Chinook. The Chinook is configured -- you have two pilot seats and then a seat in between those two pilots is called the jump seat. The air mission commander was a captain that night, and he made the decision. It was as simple as that.
Q: You talked earlier on the question about situational awareness, how the radar gives you good terrain feel, and that the (inaudible) depends on the intelligence. Some of the problems become knowing where our guys are. Is that strictly voice comm -- you have no other way basically of knowing where friendly forces are? No IFF --
Cochie: Like the ground force?
Q: You know, a ground position. IFF works in the air, but do you have anything that works on the ground for knowing where our guys are?
Cochie: It's really a tough question because for us, when we're flying a mission, especially in the beginning we knew where they were and where we were because we were, establishing getting these guys on the ground in certain places. So, at all times we knew where they were. As far as the guys up above, the big airplanes, they knew where we were as well. I mean, there's a complete process that's involved, and a lot of people to talk to when you're executing a mission like that. So, I mean, you have -- you're talking to AWACS, you're talking to a lot of different people that are participating in this mission.
Q: (Off mike) -- and Anaconda was effecting -- we didn't -- you didn't know where the guys -- I mean, they were coming in to try to rescue, they didn't know, the Seals had extracted part way down the hill --
Q: And you didn't know -- there was a problem knowing where the other people are. And it seemed like there was a comms -- which I assume is just -- is a terrain factor because you're inside mountains and you've got blanking of your HF.
Cochie: Right. Well, I tell you -- first of all, I wasn't involved in the planning or execution of Anaconda. What I can tell you is on the air side, on the helicopter side, we have redundant -- a very nice communications package on the aircraft, multiple different radios. Some of our radios are line-of-sight, and those would be impeded by rising terrain. But we also have satellite communication, which has been very dependable throughout the execution of our missions.
Q: Sir, I see from this sheet that describes Sergeant Turner's role in a blocking position.
Q: Could you talk about the blocking mission? And would Sergeant Turner be able to describe --
Cochie: That would probably be --
Begines: Do we have any more questions in the -- (inaudible) -- arena? Okay. Well, you haven't had one yet. Go ahead.
Q: How important was the air-refueling capability? What kind of flexibility did that give you?
Cochie: Oh, my gosh, just -- it was invaluable, because some of the distances that we were -- we were conducting missions that exceeded 6(00) to 800 miles. So, when you have an aerial-refueling capability, it takes the whole need for a ground FARP, forward arming and refueling point, out of the equation. And the tanker support that we were working with, these guys were incredible. They would -- very flexible. They were always there, always there with the gas. Very dependable. So that capability there alone cuts out a lot of risk factors as far as establishing ground refueling points in hostile environments.
Q: Did you work with --
Cochie: It's an incredible capability. No, MC-130 aerial-refueling tankers.
Q: If I could follow-up?
COL. BEGINES: Sure.
Q: Since you're the only pilots in the army who air-refuel, how is your training handled?
Cochie: We do extensive air-refueling training. We do it at Fort Campbell. It just depends. They'll come to us, or we'll go down to Florida where they're based out of and train with them. A lot of times we will deploy to California to work with a specific ground force. It's -- we will get aerial-refueling support between Fort Campbell and California. We try to get it on all of our -- when we deploy within the United States to do training, we try to get aerial refueling on every deployment and redeployment for multiple reasons -- to train with it, and it also helps us get home faster, or get to that location faster.
Q: You work solely with the Air Force 130s? Have you ever used the Marine KC-130s?
Cochie: We use both, Marine and Air Force.
Q: When you go on missions on the MH-47, do you take soldiers only, or do you take vehicles sometimes?
Cochie: We can take vehicles.
Q: What types of vehicles?
Cochie: Anything that will fit in the back.
Q: Like small trucks?
Cochie: That's -- we -- they would certainly fit.
Begines: Okay. The question I think is for Sergeant Turner.
Thank you very much, Captain Cochie.
Q: Sergeant, could you describe the blocking mission? You know, what that involved, the importance of trying to block the enemy's escape route? And, if you're at liberty to do so, can you describe the capture of the two suspected al Qaeda?
Turner: Basically, our blocking position, we used Afghani nationals that we recruited earlier on to be in the military type situation that we had. Blocking position -- basically all we did was we were a small part in the big battles. But we sat -- tried to observe valleys, and if we had a vehicle or something that came down the road, we had our Afghani soldiers there to actually man the position. They would check out -- check proper ID, and if they were good to go, they would let them go through. It's kind of hard to tell the difference between a regular Afghani person to us and a Taliban -- it's not like they come with a marking on the forehead that tells them that that's who they are. But it's -- that's how we -- we captured our couple of suspected, it was through our Afghani forces.
Q: Did they put up any kind of resistance?
Turner: No. They weren't in very good health. They were pretty malnourished
Q: You talk about not being able to tell the difference between the Taliban and the good guys. When you first go in, you've got to establish contact and working relationships with people. How do you sort out the ones you can trust and those that you have to worry about?
Turner: That's a very good question. What we do is we get inserted in with a group of people that -- and what we do is we start -- we have to gain their trust, as well as they have to gain our trust. It's a -- it's kind of a touchy-feely kind of thing where you have to go in, you start meeting with people. You kind of recruit them, and then you start finding out who you can and can't trust, just like you do anywhere in the world. If you can't -- you go on first impressions, you might get a little distracted on some things. But that's part of -- you know, we go through training like that. That's part of our training whenever we go through our qualification course. We learn how to go into an indigenous country, how to try to gain their trust, and try to assist them and train them.
Q: When you have a chance to work -- you know, try to work with these people, do you make a decision as to who you will take in the field on a touchy operation, or are you at the mercy of the locals?
Turner: Kind of both. It's kind of 50-50. We go on the words of the leaders, their leaders that are kind of appointed. And then we let them have our opinion in a kind way. We don't try to insult them. We try to treat -- we try to treat them as we would our own soldiers, basically.
Q: You said you used the Viper. I know that a lot of the Air Force combat controllers are using off-the-rack Grumman systems. Can you tell us what the differences and the advantages and disadvantages are?
Begines: You might want to grab a Viper just so everybody knows what it is here.
Turner: All right. This here is a Viper. What it is, it's a laser range finder. And basically this one here will tell you -- it can give you azimuths and distance to a target, or whatever you want to lase to. It's got your basic tripod. It can elevate. This is the standard one that we usually carry, though. What you can do is you can get a plot. If you lase something, you'll get a grid location if you have a GPS hooked up to it.
Now, you were asking about the Grumman. I've never used it. This is the only one I ever -- the only system that I've used.
Q: But you can use -- you can use a GPS system with the Viper --
Turner: So long as everything's working good, you've got good visibility and line-of-sight, you can use this and get a grid location.
Q: Does the -- (inaudible) -- earth radio get you around the line-of-sight problem that the other guy mentioned?
Turner: It's a line-of-sight radio. It's for communications problems. Line-of-sight is -- means exactly what it says, line-of-sight. Distances, they can range, depending on terrain, but I'd say in excess of probably about five miles on a good day.
Q: So what's so special about it?
Turner: What's special about it? It's an inter-team radio. We use it to communicate with each other. We can talk to higher -- they're trying to get new softwares put in it, so where we can talk, hopefully, satellite communications on these someday. They're very light. The radios that we usually carry are much larger. They're about 18 pounds with the batteries, and then you've got all the accessories, antennas and everything. So, this is pretty much a complete radio right here, and then you carry it in a pouch. You can have headphones. You can have hand mikes. You can talk on an internal speaker on it or an external, for example, a hand mike.
Begines: Okay. Other questions for Sergeant Turner? And I want to give Sergeant Longan an opportunity -- you can get an opportunity to talk with him. Again, he was an operations sergeant in Kandahar and the surrounding area.
Longan: How do you do? In early December, my team infiltrated into the Kandahar area. Our mission initially was site exploitation. There were a number of high-value targets in that area that, for whatever reason, our higher needed us to look at, either to ascertain if there were al Qaeda, Taliban in that area, operating or hiding, and to recover any information or indicators that would support our intell efforts over there.
We conducted about 73 high-value target operations, and then we progressed into more of a security and assessment role where we were conducting reconnaissance in the outlying areas, primarily for supporting the oncoming more conventional units that were going to be operating in the area. We were trying to determine where there were caches of unexploded ordnance or weapons, minefield trace, that kind of thing -- things that might affect follow-on, or civilians for that matter. We spent a lot of time clearing unexploded ordnance out of homes of people coming back to Afghanistan from Pakistan, people who had been in exile.
And we spent about four-and-a-half months there in Kandahar, generally trying to stabilize that area. We worked with the anti-Taliban force also -- that's what they called them at the time. We had a few guys, they were -- they were pretty professional guys that were quite capable at doing what they needed to do. And we worked jointly. They were concerned with securing it so that the local government could regain the seat in Kandahar, and to establish security for the civilians in that area. So we had kind of a mutual goal throughout our operation.
And I'll field any questions if you have --
Q: Were you relying mainly on the anti-Taliban folks for identification or location of these high-value sites? Was that your main source of intelligence on that?
Longan: There were a number of things, which identified targets for us. Some were CINC-directed targets. Some of them became -- came from other organizations in our government. There were a lot of targets that -- we called them "opportunity targets," where the locals themselves would come to us and say, "Hey, there are al Qaeda in this house over here, or in this compound." Or, "We have some weapons over here that we want out." There's -- people would come up and hand you materials or things that they had saved when the al Qaeda ran, when they left. So, there were a number of sources. There were a number of things determining where we -- you know, if we felt a threat from a certain area of town, we would -- or even in the outlying areas, we would go out and see what was there.
Q: Were there any particular challenges in finding unexploded ordnance in Afghanistan? Do you need special equipment to do that or how do you guys do that?
Longan: It depends. Sometimes they walk up and hand it to you. (Laughter.) People would try to throw it into your truck. You know, "Here, take this -- this was in my house." But, for us, every time we went into a facility, we would go in jointly with our anti-Taliban forces, and as with any operation of that sort, you'd clear the facility. You clear the entryway and everything else. And there was a lot of stuff laying around. In the outlying areas, we were doing assessments -- what were initially assessments of the area, just making sure we knew the lay of the land, you know, the minefield trace, that kind of thing, things that would affect our operations. And we found a number of caches out there. Some of them were just dumped when people left, and some were neatly cached in caves and tunnels and things like that.
Q: One of the problems that has -- well -- (inaudible) -- problem to you -- (inaudible) -- controversy over some of the air strikes and ground raids on suspected Taliban, al Qaeda operations, and in the aftermath, they say, "No, there were only good guys there." You're relying on the intelligence you collect from the locals. Do you have any feeling for what -- is there any time that you were being used by one guy, one group against another --
Longan: I wasn't involved in those operations, first of all. The people that we worked with are very reliable. We didn't have as much of an offensive role as that, our team. We were trying to gather information. So, we spent a lot of time with our guys. And they wanted to have Afghanistan back. They want to run their own country. They want to fix it themselves, okay. So they have a vested interest in being honest with us because we're helping them, and they understand that. And they understand that eventually more help is coming in other areas. So, if we had somebody in our organization, because we are one organization, who might not be legitimately on our side, or who had been affiliated with the al Qaeda, generally our guys pointed him out to us or brought him to us. It wasn't -- it wasn't a big issue there, trusting those guys.
Q: When did you actually enter the country? Were you -- were you early on, or --
Longan: Early December.
Q: Early December. Okay.
Begines: Okay. Maybe one or two more questions because we're coming up on an hour here. And thank you for your patience and interest. One or two more?
Q: Can I ask you one? This is not an operational -- but yesterday, Secretary Rumsfeld put out a memo on leaks and how they would endanger guys like you. At any time over there, were there news stories that you read and thought, "Jesus, why is this out there?" Seriously, because this keeps coming up, that we're endangering U.S. lives -- your life, your life, your life. Can you give a sense of news commentary and news stories -- did you get a feel for -- you were endangered because of information?
Longan: We -- we were constantly chased by the international press. Now, American press and most of the British were very sympathetic to our cause. They would write their reports, take their pictures, and they would show them to us and say, "Is this okay?" So -- now some of the others, and there were -- I understand there were a lot of legitimate -- well, I would consider it legitimate press organizations over there, but there were also some of the others. And some of them could be quite hostile at times, trying to enter a target when you're going there, and definitely that's a threat for us. Because they'll bring a lot of attention to what you're doing, chasing you around and bringing all their entourage and stuff, and that's an extra security issue for us that we have to manage.
Q: I'm talking about the contents of the stories --
Longen: Contents of the stories --
Q: That might have jeopardized an operation. That's the big issue here that Rumsfeld keeps bringing up without any evidence --
Longen: Filming where we live --
Q: And nobody challenges him, so --
Longen: Taking pictures and filming where we live, saying exactly where we live, that kind of thing. Sure, I mean, they're pretty good at mapping out things like that.
Q: There were stories that had -- that kind of information was in there?
Longen: I'm sure, yes.
Q: You've obviously been involved in this game for a while. This was a -- you know, the Special Ops folks were very heavily used in Afghanistan. Do you have a feeling for whether you could use some more bodies? (Laughter.)
Longen: I know we need more bodies. I know this. We have a very high attrition rate, both in training and throughout your career, people -- you do burn out. People do get injured; move on to their goals. I know that we have always had a problem keeping the teams manned, particularly in what we consider critical MOSs -- medics and communications. So, yeah, absolutely.
Q: I just had --
Q: Is it a case of getting more people in, or do you think the Special Ops -- do you need more groups --
Longen: The feeling throughout the Special Operations community is yes, we'd like to fill the teams. We'd absolutely like to fill the teams, but not at the cost of quality.
Begines: And that's the key point. It really is a matter that these individuals are the best of the best in the Army. They're highly skilled, highly motivated, very unique sorts of soldiers, and they have to work as a cohesive team and trust that every member of their team and everybody in the organization has that same high quality in terms of skills, caliber, motivation. So, while you want more soldiers in Special Forces, they have to be the right sorts of individuals. And I believe there are some initiatives. I believe there's now an initiative for direct recruiting into the Special Forces. And that concern has been recognized.
Thank you very much for coming today. We're right on an hour. I think these soldiers will be here if you have a few more questions.
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