Welcome home, 173rd Airborne: 'Bandits' missions covered it all
May 2, 2006
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The "Bandits" of Headquarters and Headquarters Company had to do a little bit of everything in Afghanistan, as opposed to soldiers in the rest of the 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment, who had specific territories for which they were responsible.
For the "Bandits," that sometimes involved doing a lot of the same thing. Over and over again.
Just ask the cooks who prepared one meal after another. Or the transportation platoon, whose long resupply missions were often punctuated by a jingle truck rolling over.
The disparate missions all had one theme, though, according to Capt. Paul Larson, the company commander — offering the rest of the battalion "world-class support."
"[Battalion soldiers] never had to worry about ammunition coming in, being fed or getting good medical care," Larson said. "They could just focus on the operational missions."
Not that the "Bandits" didn't have some of those on their own.
The scout platoon operated all over Zabul province looking for – and finding — signs of the enemy.
"I think we were the most diverse platoon in the battalion because we had to operate in every company's sector," said Sgt. 1st Class Juan Pena.
Sometimes that was by Humvee. Sometimes by foot. Sometimes by air via helicopters attached to Task Force Storm. And sometimes it was by dirt bike. Yes, "Bandits" on dirt bikes.
"I think we learned more out of Afghanistan on different ways of fighting — and our tactics had to change a lot — than we did in a year in Iraq," Pena said.
The scouts' missions sometimes ended with their engaging a superior number of enemy forces and staying in the fight until more of the battalion's assets could arrive to help.
"If you allow the enemy to flee, you allow the enemy to fight another day," Pena said.
The support and transportation platoon supplied soldiers at far-flung locations. Many forward operating bases in the north took more than a day to reach from the battalion's headquarters in Qalat.
"The roads were not designed to travel in large trucks," said Staff Sgt. Paul Cerabone.
But that's what the transportation soldiers did, guiding a series of jingle trucks driven by locals to resupply American soldiers.
Cerabone remembers one mission that took 33 hours and included a trip through Paktika province to get to its mountainous destination. Four jingle trucks rolled over and off the road on that trip alone.
Some of those waiting for supplies at the end of those missions were the battalion's cooks. Staff Sgt. Jerrad Bloom said his platoon was shocked — in a good way — when it arrived at the battalion's headquarters in Qalat.
"We weren't expecting to have the amount of food and equipment that we had," he said. "We were only limited by our imaginations. And there was no shortage of imagination."