Heroes 2006: ‘Something had to be done and we did it’
June 14, 2006
The soldiers of the 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment hadn’t been in Afghanistan for long when they were put to the test.
A group of scouts from the battalion’s Headquarters and Headquarters Company came across a man while on a morning patrol on May 3, 2005. He told them he had just been beaten up by a group of insurgents near Baluc Kalay.
Led by Staff Sgt. Patrick Brannan, the scouts investigated and came into contact with an enemy force many times their own numbers. Brannan’s forces engaged the enemy and called in reinforcements.
Brannan, who has since left the Vicenza, Italy-based battalion, was awarded the Silver Star for his efforts that day. Two other soldiers from Chosen Company who came as part of the reinforcements also earned the Silver Star in the battle, the first major fight in country for soldiers from “The Rock.”
Staff Sgts. Matt Blaskowski and Christopher Choay were at the battalion headquarters in Qalat when they heard that their fellow soldiers were under attack. Less than two hours later, they were in the fight themselves, thanks to CH-47 Chinook helicopters.
“The bird that I was on got hit by two RPGs (rocket-propelled grenades),” Blaskowski said. “It landed safely, but further away from its original destination.”
Still, Blaskowski and his squad — six men and two machine guns — were directed to a hilltop that would allow them to direct fire on enemy positions in an orchard-filled valley below, keeping their foes from maneuvering or retreating. The position was less than ideal, though.
“There were only a few rocks and they weren’t very big,” Blaskowski said of the cover provided. And enemy forces soon realized that they needed to eliminate those on the hill if they had any chance of winning the battle.
Blaskowski and his men endured fire from opposing ridge lines for four hours, maintaining fire of their own. Spc. Tyler Wilson was hit in the leg and back and severely wounded. Blaskowski went to help him and was shot in the leg.
“After my bleeding stopped, I was OK,” he said, crediting the other soldiers with him for treating him and Wilson. Blaskowski continued to direct the fight until help could arrive to evacuate the wounded.
In the meantime, there was heavy fighting in the valley below. Enemy forces were found to be centered along a stone wall and bunker. Apache helicopters circled overhead, but were largely thwarted from attacking many positions by the tree cover the orchard provided.
Choay’s squad was told to take the position.
“When we hit the ground, casualties had already been reported,” Choay said.
He and his squad ran toward the enemy position, using the tactics they were taught: Provide cover as your buddy advances, then advance yourself.
Choay said he was able to approach the wall from a flanking position because of the efforts of Blaskowski’s crew and other soldiers who were largely holding the enemy’s attention. He found three enemy combatants on machine guns and another with an RPG launcher. He killed three and wounded another, who was then shot by another soldier. Approaching the bunker, Choay exchanged shots with someone.
“He fired at me and I fired at him,” Choay said. “I think we both missed.”
Another soldier killed that enemy, leaving Choay free to toss a grenade into the bunker. Five bodies were later found inside the bunker.
Choay said that he and his soldiers had to rely on instincts honed by training at such places as Grafenwöhr in Germany.
“There wasn’t time to think,” he said. “We had to get to the objective quickly. You can’t just stay in one place. Somebody’s going to take casualties. Somebody’s got to move.”
“Everyone knew their jobs and did it,” Blaskowski said.
He said his first large firefight did have some surprises, though.
“Everyone thinks in a large fight that it would be so chaotic and noisy,” he said. “But it was really quiet at times.”
The fighting, which started late in the morning, would continue for hours.
Enemy forces eventually fled the field during the night. Dozens of insurgents were killed, though the exact number might never be known, because insurgents often carry off their dead if they can. No U.S. soldiers were killed, but several were severely wounded — including Wilson, who was paralyzed. Another lost a leg.
Both Blaskowski and Choay said they feel proud of their accomplishments that day, but believe that many other soldiers in the unit deserve the same recognition.
“I think we were put in a situation where something had to be done and we did it,” Blaskowski said. “But I don’t think it was something that anyone else in the battalion wouldn’t have done.”
Matt BlaskowskiUnit: 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry RegimentMedal: Silver StarEarned: May 3, 2005, near Baluc Kalay, Afghanistan
Staff Sgt.Christopher ChoayUnit: 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry RegimentMedal: Silver StarEarned: May 3, 2005, near Baluc Kalay, Afghanistan
More profiles from the 2006 edition of this Stars and Stripes special section:
Capt. Marlon JamesSpc. Kurt-Alexander KaahuiPetty Officer 3rd Class Robert MaldonadoCapt. Chad T. MartinMaj. Lauralee McGunagle and Maj. Kathryn Van AukenChief Warrant Officer 3 Brian MucciStaff Sgt. Timothy Nein, Sgt. Leigh Ann Hester and Spc. Jason MikeStaff Sgt. Jason PepperPetty Officer 2nd Class Juan RubioMaster Sgt. Suran SarStaff Sgt. Anthony ViggianiStaff Sgt. Matt Blaskowski and Staff Sgt. Christopher Choay1st Lt. Stephen BoadaSgt. Keith CamardoSgt. 1st Class Makonen CampbellCol. James Coffman Jr.Petty Officer 2nd Class Alan DementerCapt. Steven Victor EngbergPetty Officer 3rd Class Clayton GarciaLance Cpl. Ben GonzalezSgt. Justin HormannLt. Cmdr. Richard JadickVisit Heroes 2006 for more