Subscribe

Click here to view or download the entire Welcome Home special section (in PDF format)

ARGHANDAB VALLEY, Afghanistan — A few years ago, the soldiers who reformed the 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment decided to resurrect "The Rock's" former company name as well.

So Company B is referred to as Battle Company, instead of the now-common Bravo Company.

In the mountainous north of Zabul province, the name fit well. There were probably more Taliban in the sector than anywhere else in the province. But "Boot Company" would have been just as appropriate.

"Our plan all along was to walk," said Capt. Josh McGary, the company commander. "Our battle space just didn't support wheeled movement."

If Humvees were largely out, that meant that patrols needed to be carried out by foot — across some of the roughest terrain in the country.

"I've climbed pretty much all of these," said Spc. Ben Roberson, a member of 3rd Platoon's weapon squad, gesturing toward the mountains surrounding Forward Operating Base Arghandab. "Up and down. Up and down."

Staff Sgt. Dave Barberet, a squad leader in 1st Platoon — which spent much of its time at Forward Operating Base Baylough — said the longest patrol he went on took 17 days. As in two weeks and three days. Walking.

Spc. Jeremy Swoyer, assigned to 2nd Squad, said the unit did know something of what it was getting into.

"Prior to coming here, we spent time climbing mountains in Italy," he said. "But that was nothing compared to the elevations here."

He said most of the platoon's soldiers thought they were in good shape before the deployment. But after months of climbing, many shed any extra pounds they had.

"I'm probably in the best shape of my life," he said.

The company took over an area with one basic base and left with four. The bases provided relative safety and some of the comforts of home: Internet, hot meals and a dry place to sleep.

"B" did not stand for "Bath," though.

"You get used to not taking showers," Roberson said in an interview in late March. "The last one I took, I think was in January."

There were a few times the unit had to drive. It lost four soldiers during one of those rare occasions on Aug. 21 when a Humvee hit a roadside bomb. A fifth soldier survived, but lost his legs.

"I didn't think they were going to be able to pull through that," said Staff Sgt. Shayne Charlesworth of his squad, which had several soldiers close to those killed. "Because it hit me pretty hard."

Another soldier was killed Sept. 1 in a firefight.

Barberet said his first tour in the country with 82nd Airborne Division was nothing like his latest one.

"It would be one or two [enemies] and nothing lasted longer than a minute or two," he said.

Many of Company B's firefights lasted for hours.

"Our company's motto is 'Battle Hard' and from a selfish perspective, there's no company in this theater that has spent as much time on its feet in the mountains practicing bread-and-butter infantry skills as we have," McGary said.

author picture
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 almost 38 years.

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign-up to receive a daily email of today’s top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign up