the offer back to base. The company commander seized on it, ordered him to
split his platoon into two serials--one escorting the albatross GMV to a
rendezvous point on the highway, the other proceeding to Manah--and to move
out, now. Uthlaut, steamed, e-mailed back his disagreement and then radioed it,
hoping that officers would overhear and amend the command. It meant splitting
his firepower, relying on a local, traveling in daylight and arriving in Manah
after sundown, too late to begin clearing operations. Why not move at night and
arrive there at dawn, especially after sitting in one place for so long that
half the countryside knew his platoon's whereabouts? Objection overruled.
were being barked, vehicles were pulling out. Pat and Russ would join 14 other
Rangers and four Afghan soldiers traveling in Serial 1 to Manah. Serial 2,
including Kevin and the towed turkey, would leave a few minutes later and take
another road through the mountains to the highway. Just before their exodus a
one-legged man approached the platoon with a message: An Afghan doctor who
lived on a nearby hill had something to tell them. The Black Sheep, who could
tarry no more, blew him off and left in a cloud of dust.
Was the doctor
trying to warn of an ambush? A more appetizing opportunity than this, no enemy
could possibly conjure. No, wait, yes it could. The tow truck--a jinga, the
locals called it--tried to but couldn't negotiate the steep, twisting dirt road
through the mountains. Serial 2 would have to turn around and take the longer
path to the highway, following Serial 1's route for a stretch through the
narrowest of canyons. The jinga driver knew the way. He'd lead them.
Serial 1, in six
vehicles up ahead, entered the canyon (see map, page 96), its walls so sheer it
felt like a cave and so tight in spots that vehicles had just inches of
clearance. Russ's guts tightened. This was exactly the sort of terrain where,
in Army training videos, he'd seen Afghans pick apart the Soviets during their
war two decades ago. "This is Ambush Alley," he told a Ranger beside
him. They made it through the gorge unscathed, passed a cluster of four houses,
then missed their turnoff to Manah and pulled to the side of the road.
Serial 2 entered
the canyon and got the same ominous feelings. "Reminds me of the opening of
The Lone Ranger," one Black Sheep said, "where all the Texas Rangers
got killed." Suddenly an explosion ripped through the canyon.
"IED!" someone shouted--but no, it wasn't an Improvised Explosive
Device hidden along the road. More explosions shook the canyon, rocks cascading
from the 650-foot-high walls: mortar or rocket-propelled grenades launched from
The jinga driver
froze, and the four Ranger vehicles behind him were pinned, the gorge too
narrow to squeeze around him and escape. The squad leader in the GMV behind the
jinga, Staff Sgt. Greg Baker, screamed and waved at the Afghan driver to Move!
Move!--got no response and shattered the driver's window with a blow from his
Pat and his serial
might never have heard or responded to that first explosion if they hadn't
missed their turn and pulled over. But they did, at 6:34 p.m., and were now
running back toward the canyon in fire teams of two to four men. Oh, f---, Russ
thought. Here it was: his and Pat's first firefight.
Pat took off, then
turned. There was confusion in the eyes of a young Ranger, 18-year-old Spc.
Bryan O'Neal, whom he'd taken under his wing months earlier. "Follow
me!" he called, and the kid came on the run. "Let's go kill the bad
guys!" All the Afghans in Serial 1 stayed with the vehicles ... except one.
He went with Pat.
Russ, for the
first time, saw Pat move when it was life and death. Damn, he thought--hauling
all that gear and that big SAW gun uphill, scaling five-foot stone walls,
crossing the rock rubble of that lunar landscape, Pat was flat-out flying. He
had mates in Ambush Alley. He had a brother in the kill zone.
Three to four
football fields. That's how much ground he had to cover to get back there. He
and his two men raced past the four houses. From one bolted a woman, screaming,
and a flock of children.