KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan — Capt. Dirk Ringgenberg and the 74th Long Range Surveillance Detachment spent a lot of time in the last year getting to know some of the roughest parts of Afghanistan.

And the company-size element that’s a part of the 173rd Airborne Brigade wasn’t often among friends. Two soldiers in or attached to the unit were killed while conducting operations in Helmand and Kandahar provinces. Others survived dozens of attacks engagements by enemy forces or roadside bombs.

“There were some times it could have been worse, but we have some very good soldiers,” Ringgenberg said. “Some very good soldiers.”

Ringgenberg himself will arrive back in Vicenza, Italy, as one of the most decorated Sky Soldiers from the unit’s yearlong stint in Afghanistan.

He was awarded the Silver Star Medal in February for his actions on the battlefield in June while still assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment.

A month later, Ringgenberg took over the 74th and guided operations first along the Helmand River valley, then later in northern Kandahar province. The population in Helmand, where British forces will soon deploy, is light except along the river valley that runs roughly from north to south in the province.

“A lot of [Helmand] is just trackless desert,” Ringgenberg said. But there are towns and villages along the river. “That’s where we put our effort into,” he said.

Forced to cover a large area with only a small force, the 74th relied on what it does best: surveillance, communications and mobility.

Ringgenberg said those are traits commonly associated with scouts, but the 74th is a bit different.

“We’re more robust than a battalion scout platoon,” he said.

Still, at the height of Ringgenberg’s command, he said he probably didn’t command more than 170 troops. That total included a platoon from the 82nd Airborne Division and Afghan National Army soldiers. In the fall, the detachment spent much of its time around a cluster of villages called Qal Eh Ye Gaz.

“There was a very smart enemy out there,” he said.

It also spent considerable time taking the fight to those trying to disrupt the construction of a major road connecting Kandahar to Tarin Kowt.

The district of Mianeshin in the northern tip of the province has “very, very rough, difficult terrain,” Ringgenberg said. “We had a lot of fighting up there.”

Ringgenberg said his soldiers proved themselves in battle time after time and enemy forces started to change their tactics “to the point where they will try to disengage very quickly now.”

The 74th itself has now is leaving from Afghanistan, with many planning to spend about a month off after returning to Vicenza.

“It’s well-earned,” he said.

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Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for 40 years.

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