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'Rat Patrol' Secures Afghan Mission

By Sgt. Frank Magni, USA
Special to American Forces Press Service

KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan, Sept. 10, 2004 – Their name is inspired by a '60s television show, and their concept by the movie "The Dirty Dozen," but there is nothing staged about what this band of cooks, medics, mechanics, and supply and communication specialists are doing at Kandahar Airfield.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Army Sgt. 1st Class Mark Danley, the "Rat Patrol" platoon sergeant, communicates with a local man while clearing traffic for a convoy he is escorting. Photo by Sgt. Frank Magni, USA

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Nicknamed the "Rat Patrol," soldiers from Headquarters and Headquarters Troop, 3rd Squadron, 4th Cavalry Regiment, are trading in their traditional support roles and performing missions once reserved for cavalry scouts and infantrymen.

"We have basically taken soldiers from different (military occupational specialties) and military backgrounds, put them together and begun conducting (security) missions with them," said Capt. Robert Horn, the unit's commander.

Although their non-traditional mission began when the unit hit Afghanistan, their training started when the unit's leaders realized some of the support services were already taken care of in Afghanistan, said Horn.

"We knew that food service was contracted to civilians in Afghanistan, so we were looking for an alternate mission for our cooks," he said. "But we found we had other soldiers interested in doing something different."

Not really knowing what the ultimate role of the Rat Patrol would be, the unit began conducting training in Hawaii that would prepare them for a wide variety of missions.

The training began with weapons familiarization and broader use. Rat Patrol soldiers learned how to proficiently operate the M-2 .50 caliber and M-240B machine guns, as well as the M-249 squad automatic weapon, said Horn.

They then conducted convoy live-fire exercises, in addition to day, night and grenade ranges. The group also trained on advanced land navigation and scout- observation tactics.

Finally, they tested their skills in combat simulators and performed a security role in training exercises leading up to the deployment.

"Not a lot of headquarters units get the chance to do the extensive training necessary for this type of role," said Horn. "But our chain of command was supportive and the troops were really motivated to make it happen."

The Rat Patrol's first missions were convoy escorts and pulling security for forward arming and refueling points. They were also responsible for escorting engineer convoys to Forward Operating Base Tiger, where they provided perimeter security.

"They never ceased to amaze me," said Horn. "They have shown nothing but flare, professionalism and experience above what was initially expected of them."

He said one of the main factors that contributed to the success of the Rat Patrol was the unit's leadership and ability to bring their diverse backgrounds together.

Army Sgt. 1st Class Mark Danley, the Rat Patrol platoon sergeant, is a 12-year veteran of the infantry. He said he never doubted any of the soldiers' ability to perform in a combat role, but the training they performed was just an extension of what they already knew. "It just goes to show that practicing the basic combat skills pays off," said Danley.

He said the patrol has even showed him strengths he didn't expect. "It is kind of convenient that each one of our guys has skills that come in handy," he said. "If we have a (vehicle) break down, a mechanic is right there."

Even with the new mission, they continue to support the rest of the squadron in their traditional roles, said Horn. For example, the motor pool here has more of a workload than when they're at home station. "They not only maintain the equipment we initially brought over here, but the fleet of up-armored Humvees the unit added in Afghanistan," Danley said.

In the future, the patrol will also have the additional responsibility of escorting medical missions coordinated and sponsored by the squadron. "The demand for them (the patrol) is non-stop," said Horn. "But they rise to every challenge put in front of them."

"I'm just proud that I can do my part over here," said Army Spc. Hansel Davis, a cook and Rat Patrol member. "This is just my shot to do something more."

Whether his unit is just a unique combination of soldiers and circumstances or every headquarters unit in the Army has a Rat Patrol of their own, Horn said he has always known that every soldier is a rifleman, and his unit proves it every day.

(Army Sgt. Frank Magni is a member of the 17th Public Affairs Detachment.)

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