This video is a dramatized summation of events that occurred at Vehicle Patrol Base Kahler in the vicinity of Wanat Village, July 13, 2008. It was created shortly after the battle.
Chosen Company | July 13, 2008 | Vehicle Patrol Base Kahler vic Wanat Village, Afghanistan
- Rock Move
- AREA OF OPERATION
- Waygal Valley, northeastern Afghanistan
- Reposition forces from Combat Outpost Bella to the outskirts of Wanat village
- Disrupt militant traffic, and lay foundation for local economic and security improvements
- STAFF SGT. PITTS’ ELEMENT
- Chosen Company, 2nd Battalion (Airborne), 503rd Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade
- SUPPORTING ELEMENTS
- Army engineers, Marine Corps Embedded Training Team mentors, and Afghan National Army
July 8-9, 2008
Forces arrived in Wanat under cover of darkness, established a perimeter and immediately began building-up their defenses for the new base. The Soldiers nicknamed the base “Vehicle Patrol Base Kahler,” in honor of Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Kahler, their former platoon sergeant. An observation post, called “OP Topside,” was placed on a ridge to the east of the main base to provide overwatch of the valley.
July 13, 2008
The sun was not even peaking over the mountains when the Soldiers of 2nd Platoon manned their assigned posts around the burgeoning perimeter of VPB Kahler. It was their fifth day in the village of Wanat, and like every day of their 14-month deployment, the paratroopers were awake before dawn and prepared to fight – a practice known as “stand-to”.
“It definitely felt like we were being watched.”
SIGNS OF ENEMY ATTACK
As far as the tone goes, it definitely felt like we were being watched where the Vehicle Patrol Base was, which was more central of the village of Wanat. There were a lot of men sitting along the rock walls outside of the perimeter by the bazaar, or by the hotel; sitting and having tea, just spending a lot of time watching what we were doing.
Then, at the OP (observation post), I remember specifically a tree to the north, and I remember one guy climbing that tree, sitting and watching what we were doing. Eventually, we had told him to move on.
The morning of, one sign that seemed a little bit odd was the indication of what might be coming. Every day leading up to July 13th, at the crack of dawn, people were out there working the fields, and that morning, no one was out there. Often times, in some of the other fights I’ve been in, in Afghanistan, the locals sometimes know that it’s coming, and you can get a sense that something might happen because no one’s around. It’s kind of a ghost town.
Then-Sgt. Ryan Pitts, the forward observer, was at his position at OP Topside with a team of eight other paratroopers: Spc. Jonathan Ayers, Spc. Jason Bogar, Sgt. Matthew Gobble, Pfc. Chris McKaig, Spc. Matthew Phillips, Spc. Pruitt Rainey, Spc. Tyler Stafford, and Spc. Gunnar Zwilling. The nine-member team at OP Topside served as the company commander’s eyes and ears. Their job was to keep watch over the village, warning leadership at the main base of suspected enemy movements and responding with force if ordered.
Shortly after stand-to, Soldiers identified potential insurgents on the western high ground, above Wanat. From OP Topside, Pitts and Gobble began putting together a request for indirect fire support. As a 13F, Fire Support Specialist, commonly known as a forward observer, Pitts was the team’s expert at identifying where enemy targets were located, and calling for accurate mortar or artillery fire to destroy those targets.
“My role within our unit was to help with indirect fire…artillery, mortars.”
DUTIES AS A FORWARD OBSERVER
I was located at OP Topside, and part of my job was to help build up that position. My role within our unit was to help with indirect fire; that being artillery [and] mortars. I also would talk to any rotary wing attack aircraft such as Apaches, and also be the eyes on the ground in case we had close air support. My job was also to plan targets if we were attacked, trying to adjust fires onto enemy locations. It’s also part of the standard operating procedure for us when you have a new patrol base, or any established base that you have certain pre-planned targets that are there for the defense of the base; locations where you think the enemy are likely to attack from, historic attack positions, things of that nature.
Before they could complete the request, at approximately 4:20 a.m., they heard a burst of machine-gun fire coming from the direction of a two-story building to the north. Then the valley erupted in fire, and an estimated 200 enemy fighters launched a full-scale assault.
The insurgents had infiltrated Wanat and set up firing positions and weapons caches in the town’s bazaar, hotel complex, homes, and mosque. The initial volley targeted Chosen’s best defenses inside the main perimeter: the mortar-firing positions and a vehicle equipped with a TOW (tube-launched, optically-tracked, wire-guided) missile system. The enemy also focused fires onto OP Topside.
The paratroopers at OP Topside were hit with small arms fire, rocket-propelled grenades, and hand grenades thrown at close range by insurgents concealed in a brush-filled creek bed, or draw, just beyond the northern perimeter of the observation post. All of the paratroopers at OP Topside were wounded by the first round of fire.
Sgt. Pitts immediately received shrapnel from a grenade explosion in both legs and his left arm. He crawled to the southern end of the post, where Bogar applied a tourniquet to his right leg. Meanwhile, Stafford informed Pitts and Bogar that both Phillips and Zwilling had been killed by hand grenades and rocket-propelled grenades.
Realizing the enemy was in hand-grenade range, Pitts returned to the northern position and began “cooking off” hand grenades – pulling the safety pin, but holding the live weapon in his hand for several seconds before throwing it toward the enemy. This risky tactic prevented enemy forces from throwing the grenades back at the observation post before they detonated.
Between deploying hand grenades, Pitts called in a situation report to the company commander, then-Capt. Matthew Myer. He informed Myer of the casualties and estimated enemy locations.
In an effort to conserve hand grenades, Pitts then decided to fire the M240-B machine-gun in the northern position of OP Topside. Unable to stand because of his injuries, Pitts blind-fired over the waist-high wall of sandbags to provide momentary cover, then propped himself up on his knees to continue laying down fire.
OP Topside fighting positions
As the remaining paratroopers at OP Topside fought for their lives, enemy forces inflicted major damage to the main base, destroying the TOW system and injuring the personnel manning the 120mm mortar firing pit, and setting both positions ablaze. Myer attempted to control the battle from the center of the vehicle patrol base, desperate to get additional firepower to support the paratroopers at OP Topside. Pitts was the only contact between the command post and the OP, and the only person left capable of controlling indirect fire support. While firing the machine gun in the northern position, Pitts maintained contact with Myer on the radio, directing artillery fires from FOB Blessing onto pre-planned targets around the OP.
At approximately 4:45 a.m., 1st Lt. Jonathan P. Brostrom and Spc. Jason Hovater maneuvered from the VPB main perimeter, through direct enemy fire coming from the hotel, to reinforce the OP. Pitts gave Brostrom a situation report and described the locations of the enemy before surrendering the machine gun to Spc. Rainey and exchanging it for an M-4 with a mounted M-203 grenade launcher. While Brostrom, Hovater, Bogar, and Rainey re-established the OP’s defensive posture, Pitts manned the radio and continued to call in indirect fire requests to Myer.
“There was no cover. I honestly don’t know how they made it.”
1ST LT. BROSTROM&RSQUO;S ARRIVAL
Later on, I don’t know how much time had passed since I had thrown hand grenades and gotten on the machine gun, that Lt. Brostrom arrived at the OP, and he popped his head up over the sandbags to the west, right at the edge of that northern position. It startled me because I wasn’t expecting him. He and Spc. Hovater had left Vehicle Patrol Base Kahler and made a run to reinforce the OP. They had cut through the bazaar/hotel area [and] exposed themselves to direct enemy fire. There was no cover. I honestly don’t know how they made it. They probably shouldn’t have made it. They may have just surprised the enemy [taking that] route, and so, they came to reinforce the OP.
Lt. Brostrom asked me what was going on, and I told him where I thought the enemy was to the north, and he disappeared after that, and I never talked to him again.
It didn’t surprise me when I later learned that nobody really told him he had to go, that he just went. He loved his Soldiers. He loved being with us, and he loved leading, but he also, I think, he saw himself as the same as us; that he was just another guy who was trying to fight too, which I think endeared him to the guys. We all loved him.
Suddenly, Pitts realized he could no longer hear other fires coming from within the OP. Not wanting to reveal his position to the enemy, Pitts crawled silently from his position to the southernmost edge of the perimeter, checking to see if anyone was still alive. He discovered that McKaig, Stafford, Gobble, Brostrom, Rainey, Bogar, and Hovater were gone. Pitts later learned that Stafford and Gobble attempted to call-out for survivors in the OP. When their calls went unanswered, Stafford and Gobble then moved to the casualty collection point at the main base’s traffic-control point, referred to as the TCP CCP. Meanwhile, McKaig had maneuvered to the main base for ammunition. The reinforcing troops, Brostrom and Hovater, as well as Bogar and Rainey, had been killed while setting up a defensive perimeter on the northwest side of the OP.
Alone and losing blood, Pitts radioed Myer to inform him that everyone at the OP was dead or gone. Myer told Pitts, he had no one to send as reinforcement for the OP. At this point, the insurgents were in such close proximity to Pitts, Soldiers at the command post and those listening on the same channel at FOB Blessing could hear enemy voices through the radio. Despite this, Pitts remained determined to bring the fight to the enemy before they overwhelmed the OP.
“I’m by myself. I’m wounded. What do I do now?”
PITTS REALIZING THAT HE’S ALONE
I don’t know exactly what happened when Lt. Brostrom showed up. I know Rainey started helping him, because at one point, Rainey wanted the machine gun. He said Lt. Brostrom needed the machine gun. I gave him the machine gun and all the ammo I could grab. He gave me an M-4 with a 203 grenade launcher. At that point, I’m thinking of other things that I could do to impact the fight. I think I got on the radio and probably tried to call for fire with something else.
After a while, it just kind of got [long pause] quiet and it didn’t sound like there was any fire coming out of the OP. I didn’t want to yell out because I didn’t want the enemy to find out that I was by myself and [that] I was hurt, so I couldn’t be 100 percent effective in defending the OP. I crawled around and I looked on the lower terraces and I saw — I don’t know who it was — but there were guys, dead down there. I crawled south towards the southern position, and looked up into what we call the “crow’s nest.” It didn’t look like anybody was in there. I crawled into the southern position, and no one was in there. I realized I was by myself, so I crawled back to the northern position.
I’m by myself. I’m wounded. What do I do now?
I called for Chosen 6, which is Capt. Meyer; Chosen 2-6R, which is John Hayes. He was Lt. Brostrom’s RTO (radio telephone operator). I called for 2-5, which was Sgt. 1st Class Dzwick, our platoon sergeant.
Chosen 6 answered — Capt. Meyer — and I told him that everyone was dead or [had] left the OP, that we just needed help up there. He came back and said that there wasn’t anybody to send, that they couldn’t send anybody and I just said, “Roger. Well, either you send more people or this place falls,” and I just put the radio down at that point, because there was nothing to talk about. There was nothing that they could do.
I just remember thinking I couldn’t leave — the reason why — I don’t know. I know after talking to Capt. Myer, and I completely support his decision. I wish the guys hadn’t come up there. It was kind of after that I thought it was my time. I could hear the guys — the enemy — and my personal goal was just to try to kill as many of them as I could, before they got me.
Then, four Soldiers – Staff Sgt. Sean Samaroo, Sgt. Israel Garcia, Spc. Michael Denton, and Spc. Jacob Sones – maneuvered to reinforce OP Topside. They found Pitts fighting for his life, weakened by blood loss and multiple concussions. Sones began to treat Pitts, but his care was arrested by another round of explosions at the OP. Now, all the reinforcing troops were wounded. Garcia’s wounds would prove to be fatal. While the other Soldiers attempted to secure the OP’s perimeter despite their injuries, Pitts crawled to Garcia and comforted him, holding his hand as his condition worsened, and accepting the responsibility of carrying his last words to his family. Samaroo, Denton and Sones then pulled Garcia out of the open, to the OP’s casualty collection point at the southern position.
“I definitely felt relief when Garcia and Sam and Sones and Denton showed up.”
GARCIA, SONES, SAMAROO, AND GARCIA REINFORCE THE OP
I definitely felt relief when Garcia, Samaroo, Sones, and Denton showed up. It was, “thank God I’m not alone.” I was just glad that they were there. I didn’t even care that they were trying to treat me. It was just good to know that they were there.
I don’t know how long it was after they got up there, there was another volley of RPGs that came in. It was more than one. I don’t know how many it was. It was multiple [RPGs], and everybody was wounded in that.
Sone’s was hurt pretty good. Sones moved to the southern position, where Sam and Denton had moved to, and Garcia was in the central area. He was [hit] pretty bad. He couldn’t move. At that point, I didn’t really know what else to do, so I crawled over to Sgt. Garcia. He just wanted me to tell his wife and mom, that he loved them, so we talked there for a little bit.
After a while, I moved to the southern fighting position. I don’t know how long, it might have been a minute, [or a] couple minutes, and Sgt. Sam and Sones and Denton were in there, and Sgt Sam asked me where Garcia was, and I said he’s right out there. So, he and Sones dragged Garcia into the southern fighting position.
Chosen Company left the village of Wanat about a week after the fight. From the villagers’ desertion prior to the attack, and the concentration of fires that came from buildings inside the town, it was clear to Task Force Rock leaders that locals were not receptive to having American neighbors. The mission to support the village could never be successful as long as village elders were unwilling to support the mission.
Throughout the battle on July 13, 2008, despite the loss of blood and the toll of multiple concussions, Pitt’s incredible mental and physical resilience while under fire was instrumental in maintaining control of the OP. His actions allowed U.S. forces time to reinforce the OP and bring in airstrikes which turned the tide of the battle. If not for his ability to be the commanders’ eyes and ears in his critically wounded state, the enemy would have gained a foothold on high ground and inflicted significantly greater causalities onto the main vehicle patrol base, and the enemy could have been in possession of seven fallen Americans.
The team comprised of paratroopers from Chosen Company, 2nd Battalion (Airborne), 503rd Infantry Regiment; Army engineers; Marine Corps Embedded Training Team mentors; Afghan National Army soldiers; Apache and medevac helicopter crews, and other support personnel, fought hard for their brothers-in-arms when 200 AAF attacked the fledgling base in July 2008. They battled an enemy who had the advantage in both numbers and terrain. However, the professionalism, skill, courage, and determination of every Soldier to fight as hard as possible to try and save the lives of his teammates and battle buddies won the day. Unfortunately, the team paid a high price. At the end of the day, nine Soldiers were lost in the heated battle. Killed were: Spc. Sergio S. Abad, Cpl. Jonathan R. Ayers, Cpl. Jason M. Bogar, 1st Lt. Jonathan P. Brostrom, Sgt. Israel Garcia, Cpl. Jason D. Hovater, Cpl. Matthew B. Phillips, Cpl. Pruitt A. Rainey, Cpl. Gunnar W. Zwilling.
Hover over a military occupation below to see the team members that supported each role during the Battle of VPB Kahler.
Sgt. ERIC AASS • 1st Sgt. SCOTT BEESON • Staff Sgt. JONATHAN BENTON • Spc. SHANE BURTON • Spc. JACK BUTTERFIELD • Chief Warrant Officer 4 JOSEPH NOWELL CALLAWAY • Sgt. HECTOR CHAVEZ • Cpl. DEREK CHRISTOPHERSEN • Chief Warrant Officer 3 ERIC WILLIAM COLLIER • Chief Warrant Officer 2 NICHOLAS THOR DANCE • Spc. AARON DAVIS • Staff Sgt. ADAM DELANEY • Chief Warrant Officer 2 JEREMY PAUL DELK • Staff Sgt. DENCY • Spc. MICHAEL DENTON • Sgt. 1st Class DAVID L. DZWIK • Sgt. FRAILEY • Chief Warrant Officer 3 JONNY GAVREAU • 1st Lt. DEVIN GEORGE • Sgt. JARED GILMORE • Sgt. MATTHEW GOBBLE • Staff Sgt. LUCAS GONZALES • 2nd Lt. ERIC GONZALEZ • Spc. REID GRAPES • Staff Sgt. JUSTIN GRIMM • Chief Warrant Officer 2 JUAN LUIS GUZMAN JR. • Spc. ADAM HAMBY • Spc. TYLER HANSON • Sgt. JOHN HAYES • Staff Sgt. WILLIAM RICHARD HELFRICH • Spc. WILLIAM HEWITT • Chief Warrant Officer 3 CHRISTOPHER MIKEL HILL • Sgt. BRIAN HISSONG • Staff Sgt. THOMAS HODGE • Cpl. JASON JONES • Capt. KEVIN JOHN KING • Staff Sgt. MATTHEW SEAN KINNEY • Pfc. WILLIAM KRUPA • Capt. JUSTIN JEFFREY MADILL • Sgt. MATTHEW MAY • Chief Warrant Officer 2 WAYNE ANTONY MCDONALD • Spc. CHRIS MCKAIG • Sgt. DYLAN MEYER • Spc. JEFFREY MOLNAR • Sgt. Maj.MORALES • Chief Warrant Officer 3 JAMES (JIMMY) EDWARD MORROW III • Capt. MATTHEW MYER • Spc. ANANTHACHAI NANTAKUL • Cpl. JASON OAKES • Staff Sgt. ERICH PHILLIPS • Staff Sgt. JESSE QUECK • Sgt. LUIS REPREZA • Staff Sgt. SEAN SAMAROO • Sgt. MIKE SANTIAGO • Spc. JEFFREY SCANTLIN • Spc. JAMES SCHMIDT • Capt. BENJAMIN ALAN SEIPEL • Spc. NIKHIL SHELKE • Staff Sgt. KYLE SILVERNALE • Chief Warrant Officer 2 ISAAC SMITH • Spc. JACOB SONES • Spc. TYLER STAFFORD • Pfc. SCOTT STENOSKI • Sgt. 1st Class SHANE STOCKARD • Spc. MICHAEL A. TELLEZ • Capt. WALT TOMPKINS • Staff Sgt. ATWON THOMPKINS • 1st Lt. AARON THURMAN • Chief Warrant Officer 3 BRIAN JEFFREY TOWNSEND • Sgt. JACOB WALKER • Chief Warrant Officer 2 THIEMAN LEE WATKINS JR.
(Left to right) Sgt. Matthew Gobble, Sgt. Ryan Pitts, then-Sgt. Adam Delaney, Sgt. Dylan Meyer, Sgt. Brian Hissong, Sgt. Mike Santiago and Sgt. Israel Garcia, with 2nd Platoon, Chosen Company, pause for a photo before going out on patrol, at Forward Operating Base Blessing, Nangalam, Afghanistan, spring/summer 2007.
1 of 19