(Participants included 1st Lt. Richard C. Phillips, rifle platoon leader, Spc. Jeffery E. Reen, team leader, Staff Sgt. Kevin A. Schiedeck, squad leader, Alpha Company, 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment, 10th Mountain Division. Introductions by Sgt. Maj. Larry Stephens, 10th Mountain Division.
Staff: This morning we have three members of the 10th Mountain Division that were involved in Operation Anaconda -- and you should have a press advisory with their names and hometowns -- that will be speaking to you from Bagram, Afghanistan.
And to start us out, Sergeant Major Larry Stephens from the 10th Mountain is going to introduce these individuals. They'll make a few comments and then just open it up for your questions. When you want to ask a question, just catch my attention, and we'll use this microphone right here. Okay?
Staff: Can you hear me?
Stephens: Yes, I sure can.
Staff: Go ahead, Sergeant Major.
Stephens: All right.
Again, we have three infantrymen from Alpha Company, 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry Regiment. I will be giving it first to 1st Lieutenant Richard Phillips, who will then in turn pass it to Staff Sergeant Kevin Schiedeck, who then will pass the phone to Specialist Jeffery Reen, and then Specialist Reen will give the phone back to 1st Lieutenant Phillips, and at which time they'll start taking your questions.
Here is 1st Lieutenant Richard Phillips.
Phillips: This is Lieutenant Phillips, a platoon leader deployed with Alpha Company 4-31 at Bagram Airfield. We've been involved in Operation Anaconda and Operation Harpoon. I took my platoon out there with three squads and we've done what's been asked.
Schiedeck: It's Staff Sergeant Schiedeck. I am a first squad leader in 1st Platoon, Alpha Company, 4-31 Infantry. I've also participated in the same operations as Lieutenant Phillips, who is my platoon leader.
Reen: This is Specialist Jeffery Reen. I'm Bravo team leader in 1st Squad, 1st Platoon. Kenneth Phillips is my platoon leader. I've also participated in all the operations that were mentioned.
Phillips: This is Lieutenant Phillips again. We're ready for your questions.
Q: Yeah, hi. Brian Hartman, ABC News. I'm wondering if you could talk a little bit about the weather and the challenges of fighting in the cold climate and the high altitudes down there.
Phillips: The weather -- when we went at the tail end of Anaconda, it wasn't that bad. It got cold at night, but we had our Bivy Sacks with us. And it just got hot during the day.
The high altitude -- we were at about 800 meters and just a steep incline. It'll get to you. You just have to pace yourself and not overdo it.
Q: Do you feel like your training adequately prepared you for what you encountered over there?
Phillips: Oh, definitely. Definitely. We're well trained. Everything that we did, some of it, it was pretty realistic, but it seems like sometimes it was just a live-fire exercise.
Q: This is Mike Mount, with CNN. Question for Lieutenant Phillips. If you could give us a kind of quick rundown on what your platoon saw in terms of action during Anaconda.
Phillips: Yes. My platoon was part of Alpha Company. We -- with some of the missions we did, where we were looking for caves, and which -- they turned out to be a bunker position, which were -- used the natural terrain to their advantage. There would be a rock face, and there be a hole in the rocks, and then they'd have a built-up bunker around it. And mostly we cleared caves, which, unfortunately for us, didn't have any enemy personnel in them. And mostly we just blew up enemy equipment.
Q: Staff Sergeant Schiedeck, this is Linda Kaserne from American Forces Information Service. Could you tell us a little bit about what Operation Harpoon meant for you? And also, could all three of you guys mention your hometowns at some point? Thank you.
Staff: Staff Sergeant Schiedeck, I think that's the first of your questions.
Schiedeck: Okay. (Off mike) -- first part of the question. I'm sorry.
Q: Could you tell us a little bit about Operation Harpoon? What did that mean for you guys?
Schiedeck: Operation Harpoon was up on the -- what we called the whale back, which is one ridge line. And we were up there. Basically, we had a zone that we had to clear, and what we were looking for was caves, mortar positions, caches of ammunition, and what we considered al Qaeda or Taliban forces still in the area. And what we were doing is going in, basically on a search and attack, and to basically clear the positions as we went along and destroy any enemy forces that posed a threat to us.
Q: Sergeant, this is George Edensen from Cox Newspapers. Is this the first mission you were out on? Were there others? And to echo the previous questions, could you talk a little bit about your hometown and your service experience?
Schiedeck: Yeah, not a problem. Been in the Army six and a half years. Hometown's Cottage Grove, Oregon. We did two actual combat missions, which are -- the first one was Operation Harpoon and then the tail end of Anaconda, which was Polar Harpoon. I already talked about the first one. The second mission, once again, we were sent in to clear a zone, and this was a little more in-depth, because once we actually hit the ground, got off the birds, we started rolling through the ravine, and there was fighter positions everywhere. But the night prior, they had came in and bombed them pretty good, to where we were pretty much just coming in and cleaning out all the ammunition and equipment that they had left behind and destroyed as we went along clearing the zone.
Q: Lieutenant, this is Richard Sisk from the New York Daily News. Can you tell you us, did you encounter any of the enemy? And what kind of equipment -- what did you find in these protected positions that you were coming across?
Phillips: Could you repeat the first part of your question again?
Q: Did you encounter any of the enemy, Lieutenant, and if not, what did you find in the positions that you were clearing? What kind of equipment was the enemy carrying?
Phillips: Yes. My platoon did not encounter any of the enemy, but one of the other second -- I'm sorry -- the third platoon did encounter the enemy in the Ginger Valley. And they went into an actual cave site, and there was a -- some of the equipment from the Rangers and the Seal that had been -- that died in Operation Anaconda. Some of their equipment was in the cave, and we recovered a flawed automatic weapon and some commercial Global Positioning Systems. And we also recovered some Kevlar helmets that had a Ranger's name on them. And it's a pretty good feeling to return that equipment to some of the units here.
We also encountered just some bunkers, well-built bunkers that were abandoned but had recoilless rifle rounds in them and the recoilless rifles -- different types of ammunition for small arms and machine-guns, and those we blew in place.
Q: Sergeant, could you tell us anything about the equipment that you carried? What kind of gear were you using -- boots, whatever -- to protect yourselves against the cold that you're running into at night? And did you have to take pills to counter the high altitude?
Schiedeck: Well some of the equipment we wore up there was just basic -- we have the desert camouflage uniforms and we also have our -- what we call our "rocky boots," which are just basic cold weather boots.
To be honest with you, we didn't have to take any pills for high altitude, although they did look out for us and made sure that no one came down with the sickness. They usually could encounter it within 24 hours.
The cold weather for basically the night was the only part, and we pretty much stopped movement at night because the terrain was -- it was really difficult to maneuver through. And we'd set up a basic patrol base and a base -- (inaudible) -- security throughout the night. Once morning came around, we'd come up and continue operations. But the cold wasn't really a factor. It didn't really hurt us, hinder us or anything. It didn't really phase most of us.
Q: Yeah, my name is Dennis Ryan from Army Newspaper at the Pentagon here in Washington. Could I -- Specialist Reen, did you guys feel the earthquake the other day? And were you close enough to it? And anything you can say about that, any effects of it.
Reen: The earthquake that was felt heavily Kabul, we only got little tremors. There really wasn't much of anything.
Q: The Rangers' helmets that you mentioned, were these Rangers who were in Anaconda? And were you able to return them to them personally?
Phillips: Could you repeat that question again, please?
Q: Yes. The helmets that you mentioned that you found that had Rangers' names on them, were they Rangers who were involved in Anaconda, and were you able to return them to them personally?
Phillips: Yes, they were Rangers that were involved in Operation Anaconda. And the helmet that we found, we were not able to return to the Ranger personally. He died in combat. We gave it to his company commander, and I believe his company commander said he was going to give it to that Ranger's family.
Q: Can you tell us who that was?
Phillips: Honestly, I don't -- I feel bad, but I don't remember the name. I did not personally recover the helmet. But it was one of the rangers that had died on top of -- (inaudible word) -- mountain where the Seal fell out of the helicopter and they were called in to go and recover him.
Q: When did you find this equipment? How recently? (Pause.) Can you hear me? Hello?
Phillips: Yes. Could you repeat the question again?
Q: Okay. I'm with Cox Newspapers also. When did you find the equipment from the Rangers?
Phillips: Yes. We found that equipment on 18 March.
Q: What are some of the greatest challenges? You said the weather is not. What are some of the greatest challenges you're facing right now in your operation, would you say?
Phillips: When we're out there, if everything runs smooth and calm, people are focused, they know their job and what they have to do, but one of the biggest challenges is the terrain itself, the steep inclines. It's very easy to -- we've had -- some of the other units that we've been associated with have had badly broken ankles, just twisting their knees. So the terrain can be difficult. You just have to maintain the old Army saying, three points of contact, when you're moving up the steep inclines that we go up sometimes.
Q: It's Mike Mount again with CNN. Two questions. One, when you came up on some of these sites that were bombed by the Americans, can you describe what those sites look like in terms of damage and possibly bodies? And two, when you're doing your cave searches, did you come across any booby traps or land mines or any anti-personnel devices that seemed to be left behind for you-all?
Phillips: Yes. Some of the bunkers that we came across that had been bombed out, some were completely destroyed but the bomb had landed practically directly on them and it was just a big crater with scorched earth, and some of the contents of the bunkers would normally be battered, thrown about in a mortar round. We saw mortar rounds with rockets, still in their cases. Mostly just -- when the bomb hit directly on, it would destroy it. In some cases, we encountered the one bunker that sticks out of my mind, a bomb had landed near it, and we went in to clear the bunker to ensure there were no enemy personnel in it. And there were none, but there was some equipment there. But the I-beams, the support beams for the roof of it were severely -- were weakened, and we detonated that bunker from the inside and destroyed it. We never found any enemy booby traps or mines that were left behind, because I believe most of the enemy fled and were in such a hurry they didn't -- to save their life, they didn't have time to place any traps behind for us.
Q: Richard Sisk, New York Daily News again. Staff sergeant, can you tell us what altitude you were operating at? How high up were you?
Schiedeck: The height approximately was like about 8,000 feet, and it ranged according to the higher you climbed the mountain. But it was approximately about 8,000 feet.
Q: All three of you -- first of all, can you give us your ages? And can you say whether you trained at the Mountain Warfare School in Vermont?
Stephens: Staff Sargeant Schiedeck is 24. Specialist Reen's age is 21. Lieutenant Phillips' age is 27, and no, none of us have trained at the Northern -- Mountain Warfare Center.
Q: Yeah, Dennis Ryan, Pentagram. Have you guys found evidence that al Qaeda or Taliban were well fed? Or what type of food do you think they were eating? Do you have any examples of provisions? Were they well supplied, or can you tell that?
Schiedeck: Well, we're rolling -- maneuvering through the canyon, through the ravine or what not -- there was bags of flour that was pretty much thrown all over the mountainside after the bombs hit. But I tell you, once we rolled in there, there wasn't much left -- I mean, like we said, mangled metals and vehicles and just ordnance everywhere. But for the eating -- we know they had stoves, because some of the bunker cave complexes, they had two stoves we encountered.
Q: Staff Sergeant, I hope I'm right about this, but I think last week you all got some very good news that you're coming home. How long have you been there? And what do you -- how do you feel coming home now?
Schiedeck: We've actually only been in Afghanistan for three weeks. We were deployed back in October time frame and we spent -- (brief audio break) -- October was in Kuwait. But I'll tell you what; I'm ready to come home.
Q: Lieutenant Phillips, Barbara Starr with CNN. Could I ask you to go back over one detail? When you spoke earlier about finding the helmets and the equipment from the men who died, was that your platoon, your group of men that found that equipment? Was it another group? And regardless, what's the assessment by you guys; do you think that the al Qaeda basically looted the gear from the men who died? How did the al Qaeda get their hands on it and -- you know, that can't be a very pleasant thing for you guys to contemplate, if they did loot the equipment of the men who died.
Phillips: It wasn't my platoon, it was 3rd Platoon that found the U.S. equipment in a cave. And it wasn't a good feeling because one of the enemy personnel, the enemy personnel that they destroyed was reaching for a U.S. light machine-gun to assault. And fortunately, the 3rd Platoon was able to kill him before he could use it, use that weapon on them. And it wasn't a good feeling. But they died in a -- they died in a -- those men died in a combat zone, and the enemy was trying to use our own equipment against us.
Q: I'm sorry, sir, could I just make sure I understood what you were saying. In other words, when the platoon came across this cave with the equipment, there were enemy forces there at the time, and they tried to -- are you telling us they tried to use one of the U.S. Ranger's light machine-guns and turn it against U.S. forces? Is that what you were saying?
Phillips: Yes. It was one enemy personnel, and 3rd Platoon was able to destroy him before he was able to use that machine gun on them.
Q: Thank you.
Q: Hi. Do any of you have any messages for family or friends back home? I know you'll be home soon, but want to give you a chance to say anything.
Reen: Could you repeat the question real quickly?
Q: Do you guys have any messages for family or friends back home? I know you'll be home soon, but this is the opportunity to --
Reen: Yeah. I mean, I'd like to tell my parents and my family that I love them and, you know, say hello to my friend's back home.
Schiedeck: Hey. Staff Sergeant Schiedeck. Tell my wife I love her and my family that I'll be home soon.
Phillips: This is Lieutenant Phillips. I'd just like to tell my family that I miss them and think about them, and I can't wait to get home.
Q: Excuse me. What sort of contact have you had with Afghans there, either Afghan military or civilians? And what kind of reception have you gotten?
Phillips: Yes, we've had contact with the Afghan military forces at Bagram Airfield, and they -- (off mike) -- capable soldiers, friendly, and they know what they're doing.
Q: If I understood you before, you were saying you came directly into Anaconda from Kuwait. I would think that would be a very tough physical adjustment going from a hot, low-altitude place to a very cold, high-altitude place. Were you acclimated in any way? Was that a problem when you got there?
Schiedeck: It wasn't a problem. The biggest problem was dealing with -- dealing with the terrain. Acclimating to the weather and the height wasn't a problem because the company was in excellent physical shape when we deployed from Kuwait to Afghanistan. It was just being on a flat desert for 5-1/2 months, then going to a steep incline and this terrain.
Q: This is Jerry Bodlander from AP Radio. Could you describe for us the complexity, if you will, of the caves? Was there anything in there that surprised you in the way things were structured?
Phillips: Yes, what really surprised me is -- we went on a -- our last mission we went on was cave clearance, and we were looking for caves, and we mostly found holes or natural ravines that had been built over into a larger bunker. One of the bunkers that we destroyed was 14 feet long and you could only see about five feet of it, but it was about 10 feet deep; it had been built into a natural hole in the rock and it was well camouflaged so that it would appear to look like a cave from a passing helicopter. And the bunkers were not just set up randomly, they were interlocked. Whoever designed the scheme for their defensive positions, they knew what they were doing and they were well in place.
Staff: Okay, it looks like we're about out of questions here. On behalf of everybody in the room here in the Pentagon, I'd like to thank you for taking the time to share some of your experiences with us today, and we all wish you the best in the future.
Thank you very much.
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