Michael's Dispatches

Death in the Corn: Part II of III

31 Comments

Soldiers with metal detectors walked ahead, clearing the path.  As I walked up, a soldier had just found something.  The choice was simple: stay outside where it would be very dangerous while he cleared, or walk on by.  I walked on by.

Inside the compound, soldiers moved into security positions.

The soldiers often haul ladders.

I waited to give them time to get into position before climbing up. If a firefight broke out, or there was a bomb hidden on the roof, it would be bad to have an extra man in the way who was only carrying a camera. As a writer, it’s better to stay out of the way while the soldiers set up security, then move into position after they settle in, unless they tell you to come straight away.

Once they were set, I climbed up to where soldiers were watching the next position.

The soldiers had seen a man who appeared to be a dicker, possibly tracking the unit that we were over-watching.  But since we all split up in the corn, the dicker seemed to have lost sight of our element, and didn’t realize he was in the crosshairs.  The sniper reached up and dialed the range on his scope bezel.  Soldiers had said earlier that this British sniper had already dispatched his share of Taliban.

Dust can be seen puffing off the sniper’s shoulder as he fired.

“I’ve got him,” said the British sniper, as he steadied the crosshairs, controlled his breathing and squeezed the trigger. BAM! The rifle cracked and the bullet raced at about Mach 3—SNAP!—just next to the man, the bullet crashed through the trees. Since neither the CLU nor the sniper could see a weapon or radio, the sniper fired only a warning shot. The man hit the ground and slithered away.

Some soldiers were betting when we would be attacked, but then an hour had passed, and nothing. By 0900, I was asleep on the roof. Then a firefight broke out far in front of us. At least one of the forward elements was in contact. The gunfire and explosions were loud, but none of our guys at Lima 1-1 had identified targets, so they just scanned while holding fire. An 81mm mortar at Gib fired a single HE (high explosive round) with a 40-meter lethal radius. Wham! The shot arced straight over our heads—we were between Gib and the target. Artillery is unmistakable, but that mortar seemed quiet, or the shooting drowned it out; I did not hear it fly over us: BOOM! Impact. On target. The mortar team launched more HE rounds, which rained down directly on target. Fine shooting, and very fast. Enemy firing stopped, and the Brits stopped firing.

At 0920, Major Dawson ordered white phosphorous smoke to be fired in the vicinity of the enemy, hoping to draw a response. If they were alive and well and still there, the enemy wisely refused to fire. Word came that some enemy were moving in our general direction, then I fell back asleep. While I slept, at 1012, Major Dawson ordered more smoke, which also drew no response. The soldiers at Lima 1-1 stayed on high alert, and constant communication (I would occasionally wake and hear them).

USMC Harriers were flying overhead cover, but they had to go somewhere else. I heard two or three bombs that morning and they were likely no more than a few miles away, which might have been the Harriers. There was at least one short firefight that was not related to 2 Para. The CSM, Charley, said he thought our Marines were attacking someone, or maybe it was Special Forces. Major Dawson told me later that the Marine Harriers came back, but were short on gas and had to get fuel, and so were replaced by British Harriers, which loitered until they, too, had to go away for fuel. Each time contact started, the jets were gone bombing someone else or getting gas.

There was some heavy shooting far in front of us that abated within minutes, and I fell back asleep in the last slivers of shade. Then a very sharp firefight broke out at the forward positions. Again, Lima 1-1 was not involved, but intelligence came in that Taliban might be heading in our direction, although no one knew if they were aware of our position. Probably they did know, because two boys rode by on a donkey, and there were other compounds nearby where we could hear dogs barking and kids playing. Some of the dogs here are massive and look like Cujo.

I tried to fall back asleep, but the shade was evaporating as the sun rose, and every time sweet dreams started, they were interrupted by a firefight, so I climbed down the precarious ladder to sit with Dr. Lalani. Soldiers have great respect for medical doctors who can justifiably stay on base, but instead push into combat. If the doctor is there during those first minutes after a soldier is wounded, there is a far greater chance of survival.

At about 1106, the enemy initiated contact on one of the forward positions. It was so loud that I thought our guys were firing from the roof. Rockets were blasting away. About 40 seconds after contact, the 81mm mortars were firing straight over our heads and crashing down on enemy positions about a klick to our front. Thousands of rounds were being fired, though the guns all around me were silent.

The elements up front were fighting while I just listened to the gunfire and explosions while eating one of the MREs the Danes had given me. Up front in the fight, Lance Corporal Alex Fraenzel was hauling a Javelin missile. Fraenzel and Private Richard Lloyd ran forward. While Fraenzel set up for the shot, Lloyd began firing his SA-80 rifle into suspected enemy positions to provide cover.

Fraenzel spotted an armed target that was out of Lloyd’s rifle range. He pressed and held the seeker trigger until the picture came on. Then he released the seeker trigger. Javelins are incredibly accurate. Fraenzel brought the tracking gates down to cover the target, then pressed and held the seeker trigger to get a lock. With bullets snapping by, Fraenzel held the firing trigger and . . . instead of WHOOSHHH, missile away, he got the red symbol of a missile with a line through it. Misfire.

Fraenzel released the triggers and locked on again, and again tried to fire. Nothing. With bullets cracking by, Private Lloyd did not realize there was a misfire and wondered why Fraenzel was taking so long. He turned to Fraenzel and said, “Hurry the fuck up!!!”

Fraenzel was in a pickle. The missile might fire on its own at any moment. Fraenzel held his ground, turned off the CLU, turned it back on and tried the whole thing again. The Javelin didn’t work. Fraenzel took off the CLU and attached another Javelin. This one launched and hit the target. But they couldn’t leave the dud for the enemy, and so the two soldiers began packing it up while the mortar crews started hammering away again.

Finally, on the sixth mortar fire mission that morning, smoke was dropped to cover extraction. We all moved back out through the corn, linking up with other elements, then back to Gibraltar.

On the way back to base we cooled off – against our will – in the filthy water.

The patrol returned to Gibraltar, not knowing how many Taliban they had killed, if any.  But tomorrow they would go out hunting again.  This time, they would bag their limit.

 

 


To read Part I of this series click here.

To read Part III of this series click here.

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  • This commment is unpublished.
    Freedom Now · 11 years ago
    What great reporting.

    Some people are only aware of the mistakes that the British have made, like their negotiations with the Taliban in Musa Qala.

    Yet British forces are fighting fiercely wherever they are deployed in the country. Stories like this one and the one about the convoy to Kajaki Dam reveals the truth about their fighting spirit.

    We should honor such faithful allies. I am grateful and inspired by their unselfish acts of heroism.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Dave · 11 years ago
    These pictures remind me very much of images from Vietnam - except that we have an opportunity to win this war and redeem the Western powers by bringing peace and modern civilization to a neglected corner of the world. If we succeed, we deal a mortal blow to terrorism worldwide. If we fail, we will fight the war in other countries. We civilians support you and pray for you men. May you destroy the enemy and return to us safely, and may your grandchildren have pride in your contribution to our great victory!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    AmericanJarhead · 11 years ago
    Most excellent writing and photography. Thank you.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Orion · 11 years ago
    Sir,

    Incredible reporting as always.

    Do you have any data on what actually happened to those French soldiers who were ambushed by the Taliban? I'm very puzzled as to what went on there as I saw photos at Paris Match of Taliban wearing a French soldier's uniform and with his weapon. What happened to their backup or cover? Why were they there?

    I figure if anyone knows - YOU will and asking never hurts...

    Respectfully,

    Orion
    • This commment is unpublished.
      Si Yip · 1 years ago
      The French troops suffered a lot of casualties, and the wounded were beheaded or had their throats slashed by the Taliban.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    David Pizzo · 11 years ago
    Michael,

    Thanks as always for the great reporting. Tell the Brits thanks from America. Great pictures as well. Keep up the reporting. Things are a little nuts over here with the election and all.

    Thanks,

    David
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Hanna · 11 years ago
    I doubt you remember me, er talked several years ago. The minute I saw your name on FR I remembered you and your wonderful reporting. Several years ago I lost everything on my computer including your e-mail address. Since then new computer, new e-mail address.

    So glad to see you are still reporting! You do such a wonderful job:-) As always, BE CAREFUL:-)
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Thud · 11 years ago
    Again reporting that puts any British reporters to shame...please keep on showing just how good our troops are....they deserve all the exposure they can.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Brooke · 11 years ago
    Michael,

    My husband is in the Army and always talks about your books and articles. Today for the first time, I read Part I and Part II of Death in the Corn Field. Great writing and excellent photography!

    My husband is also currently in Afghanistan. We don't get to speak too much or too often but your articles were eye opening to say the least. You even have helped to clarify some of things he has been trying to explain to me.

    He would love to meet you one day. If you want his information, e-mail me. You never know if your paths might cross. He knows you are in country but I am not sure if he has had a chance to read your articles.

    Keep up the good work
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Jason · 11 years ago
    Love the last pic in this article, reminds me of Animal mother from full metal jacket, only not as muscly. note the AB+ blood type written on his body armour. Excellent reporting and pics as usual mike. makes a change from just seeing casualty figures of allied troops in the main stream media. keep it up.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Fernando · 11 years ago
    Michael,

    Thank you for the fantastic read. It helps "average US citizens" like myself appreciate what our servicemen and servicemen from other countries do to protect our liberties and freedom. How does one go about shipping goods to soliders over there? You mentioned that they are always happy to receive snacks, etc.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    pull2eject · 11 years ago
    Thanks for doing what you did for more than one reason, Not only does the world get to see what is actually going on there, but also the squaddies know as long as your there reporting then somebodys listening.
    Keep on keeping on thanks.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Ali · 11 years ago
    Great Site but also give some coverage on the attrocities committed by these eages. . . .
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Huntress · 11 years ago
    Please check out http://www.anysoldier.com/
    Click on "Where to Send"
    On the left of the page you will see a drop down menu that allows you to chose "country."
    Once you do that, a drop down menu below that will allow you to chose WHICH Country,
    Obviously Afg and Iraq are available.
    If you choose AFGHANISTAN, lets say, a list of names will appear of soldiers & Marines stationed in Afghanistan. Click on any name. An email from that person appear on the right & generally outlines what the men/women in that unit need.

    You can also click on the sister site: http://treatanysoldier.com/ to select pre-made care packages to send to your soldier of choice. Both sites work in conjunction with each other.

    Hope this helps!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Amy K · 11 years ago
    Michael,

    thank you again for serving as our eyes and ears. I put a check in the mail today, and I hope that other readers can support your next dispatch with funds in addition to leaving their appreciative comments.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    SHODAN · 11 years ago
    Michael,
    Been a fan since the beginning - ordered 2 copies of your book, one for my Dad who started and couldn't put it down. I've yet to start mine because I know I'll suffer the same fate, but I did sneak a few pages in.

    In these days of massive media bias, when the anti-war left wants the world to perceive Iraq as a dismal failure, and puppets like Obama more than willing to placate them, some friend of mine have wondered how, in the midst of such BS, can the American public really find the truth? "Simple" I tell them, "Go to Michael Yon's site and you'll get the straight scoop on everything concerning the wars."

    I have repeatedly stated that I truly believe in these days of massive propaganda, misinformation, and downright disinformation, that the Internet is the "Great Equalizer". In wars past, even Desert Storm, the 'net wasn't the massive information tool that has become in our everyday lives. True, idiots would find what they want to believe regardless if the 'net was here or not. But most people want the truth, and misinformation only works when people can be truly misled on all fronts - "All of the people all of the time". Even in ancient wars, not everyone believed propaganda put out by their enemies. Propaganda works when you can control the flow of information, and the liberals have forgotten that we don't live in a network world anymore, and that most people no longer get their news from a printed publication. The BS of the past doesn't work in the present, as too many have access to the truth, and they will find it.

    Again, the 'net is the Great Equalizer of our time. You, Michael, have become one of truth's biggest factors in the struggle between those who would misinform for political and personal gain, and those who wish and hunger for the truth, knowing there's more to the real story. Americans aren't as stupid as the left believes, and with your work you're helping to further educate the masses. Keep it up, and:
    DON'T FORGET TO DUCK!!!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    HLH · 11 years ago
    I was also going to suggest the www.anysoldier.com website.
    I currently have "adopted" groups of soldiers in Afghanistan.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    DKC · 11 years ago
    Your byline first appeared in my junk mail box several months ago and I ignored them, thinking they were were from a political fundraiser. It is only recently that i see what you are about. Please accept my thanks for giving us a nitty-gritty first-hand look at what is happening in Afghanistan (and Iraq) and my small contribution to your work.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Richard Garrison · 11 years ago
    The close up of the slab-sided weapon is a British M1889 British Martini-Henry Marks I-IV (I am not sure which model), which were used heavily in India, through Persia, etc.
    Love your work

    RDG
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Jack Williams · 11 years ago
    These are the so-called "Kyber pass Martini henry" rifles which are locally produced imitations. These rifles were famously used by the Empire troops against the Zulus at Isandelwanda and Roark's Drift. See this site:

    http://www.martinihenry.com/khyberpage.html

    There are two main varients, the 1871 Mk 1 and the 1877 Mk II long lever action. There was a "Mk-III and "Mk-IV" but most were just reconfigured Mk ! or !!'s. Other variations were named and several different modifications were made on each of the main models.

    The "Khyber Pass" varients are made in backyards and shops from scrap throughout the region. Here is a site that discusses them. They can be quickly identified when compared to an original.

    http://www.martinihenry.com/infantry.htm

    Another rifle shown in one of the pictures. It is a locally produced imitation of the Snyder Enfiled..which was a 1866 British issue breech loading adaptation of the 1853 muzzle loading Enfield. The muzzle loading Enfield was much used by Imperial troops in India and imported by the thousands by CSA forces for use during the USWBTS. It was probably the most common confederate firearm. Actually, there may be an imitation 1853 enfield standing in the corner of one of the pictures.

    Regards
  • This commment is unpublished.
    funky1 · 11 years ago
    Micheal,

    Once again another profressional job done on reporting on British troops. I was in Basra in early 2007 when you reported on our troops bagging the militiants trying to ambush our guys.

    Good job and if you are ever in Tidworth, UK. Give me a shout and I will buy you a few beers.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Phineas · 11 years ago
    Great reporting as always, but this section jumped out at me:

    We would get into position first, to observe and cover the other two elements as they moved deeper into Terry country. As if we could go any ƒ??deeper.ƒ? The Command Sergeant Major, who told me to call him Charley, was at the head of our group, while Major Adam Dawson led the element most likely to get into serious contact. The Danes had told me that every time the base comes under attack, CSM Charley just walks around calmly. The Danes said that one day he had a cup of coffee in his handƒ??saying things like, ƒ??Stay focused. Pick your shots. Good job, keep at it boys. Youƒ??re doing fine work.ƒ?

    Anyone who's seen "Zulu," a fabulous movie, will recognize "Colour Sergeant Bourne" in this. I thought it was just a joke in the movie, a sterotype of the British, and yet CSM Charley is a living example. The British fighting man is just amazing for his steadiness. If only they had a government worthy of them.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    MLTS · 11 years ago
    Sir,
    I have read your writing for years now. The book is on my shelf and your bank account has heard from my bank account a few times. Your writing has become a part of my life as I assign your text to my children as part of their schooling for it's clarity, vividness, and structure; use your stories of bravery, self sacrifice, and honor of the military community as examples of how a good person should act/react in the world; uphold your work for it's speaking of truth, be it good or bad, against the roaring noise of the media bias and the uninformed.

    Here is my problem with this article. Call me a puritan, not cool, or whatever. Pornography is a multi billion dollar industry. Some estimate the perveyours of this blight make more money than most businesses, worldwide. The use of this product destroys our families and makes victims of the men, women and children that are used to portray the acts of violence against human beings. When you give a wink and a nod to the practice, implying American unworldlyness as compared to the Dutch in their restriction of the product to its troops you have, in the position of influence I have given you in my world, made pornography a thing to seek out more information of and prostitution in the face of family a good thing. I challenge you, and your substansive journalistic skills, to find out the truth and consequences of this destroyer of our families, present and future, with its use of it by our men and women and children. To research and report of the predatory practices of the industry and how many crimes against humanity result when people view this product as normal and good.

    I realise this is probably not the forum for this sort of email but there is no other way to attempt to contact you that I can find on the website. Please accept my appreciation to you for the job you do in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. My thanks to you for your commitment to excellence. My gratefullness for your willingness to share with us what you learn.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Don Meaker · 11 years ago
    One note about the Martini rifles. Most common caliber .45/577: these may be very old originals, may be local imitations. There were also Cadet variations that used the .303 British round (used through WWI and WWII and Korea). A recent lot hit the market from the arsenals Nepal. That lot was old, but not a local imitation. Some were made at the Indian arsenals about the 1890s.

    Without careful inspection it would be hard to distinguish local imitation from very old. In either case, you take your life in your hands if you shoot them.

    The big "raindrop" on the side is a cocking indicator.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Afghan · 11 years ago
    Just wanted to say great photos Michael
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Susan Periano · 11 years ago
    The reporting is clear and it's a wonderful service you're providing. Like comment #22 I believe pornography is abusive and has created more unhappiness in the world. Pornography is sometimes confused with the notion of entertaining adults. Mature adults do not need to resort to denegration as a means of entertainment and immature young people need strong values to emulate. Pornography accomplishes neither. Including it in your reports allows for commenting which is good. I cannot imagine what it must be like to live in such conditions, let alone write about them. Thank you hardly seems adequate. Now having been exposed to your coverage I will be sure to add you to my daily prayers. God be with you.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Susan Periano · 11 years ago
    After reading and viewing the photos, the war becomes close up and personal and not so distant. The service and sacrifices you're making are immeasurable. Like the commentor #22 (:Blight) I agree that pornography has created more unhappiness in the world. Mature adults do not need denegrating filmmaking, and immature young people need values to emulate. Pornography accomplishes neither. I cannot imagine what it is like to live under such conditions, let alone witness and write about them. I will keep you in my daily prayers. God be with you.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    andy mcatee · 11 years ago
    i`m only home from helmand province,this is the first time i have read your work,it`s truly inspirational,thankyou for highlighting what we are doing in afghanistan.your photographs are fantastic and remind me of what i have just left behind in fob keenan.i will continue to read your work.thanks andy mac
  • This commment is unpublished.
    CopenhagenDK · 10 years ago
    Having fired a Martini-Henry, it's worth adding that "...you take your life in your hands if you shoot them" might be overstating the case. They fire black powder, which doesn't subject the weapon to the same pressures modern ammunition does. The round makes more of a "woosh" than a "crack", and my first shot gives the impression that - much like the LAW misslie - you swore you could beat the bullet to the target in time to see the impact. Check the weapon carefully - or have your armorer check it - and try a low-power cartridge the first time you fire the weapon.

    PS Note the slenderness of the wooden stock under the barrel. The barrels of the soldiers at the battle of Rourke's Drift got so hot from repeated shots that the linseed oil used to preserve the wood boiled out of the pores burning the soldiers' hands. They reportedly tore strips from their uniforms to wrap around their hands. The experience is credited by some for the heavy wooden stocks on the military bolt action rifles that followed.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Erik Christian Monte · 10 years ago
    I was stationed in FOB armadillo just on the other side of the helmand river... just about km from FOB Gib, we could actually see FOB GIB from Armadillo, I was part of the Danish infantry company from February to August 2008, I remember every morning hearing the shot coming from the other side of the river, and it was the paras that were in contact... We also had a lot of firefights but not was many as our English friends on the other side of the river...
    You fail to mention in your article that FOB Armadillo was so close, I actually think we were closer to GIB than Robinson was... Sometimes the Taliban fled from a firefight with the para only to come into combat with us...
    We didn't loose as many men as the Paras did, but my section's(squad) Corporal was killed the 26 of march...
    It was quite an experience been there... Just Glad we had such a great company just on the other side of the river...
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Heartland Patriot · 9 years ago
    I know this is an old article. The reason I write now is that there is a current of folks here in the USA who say that Obama is trying to "internationalize" the war. If he is, it is the ONLY thing right he has done. The Europeans (Brits exempted from this) need to share more in the COMBAT. Americans have come to their aid oh so many times; they could come to ours this time. AND, if they don't want to send combat troops, then we need to reevaluate what sort of aid, military or otherwise, that we are giving to them. Think of all the military equipment we sell at a cut-rate to European nations...if they can't help fight, maybe we should put the prices of the equipment where it should be or not sell to them at all...sure, they can buy old Russian junk if they want, but that is what they will get most of the time: old junk.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Erik Christian Monte · 5 years ago
    Asesore blog and fotos.
    I was stationed in FOB Armadillo just about 2 km from FOB GIB... I personally lost a couple of good friends there... Seeing the green zone reminds me of my time there... Thanks Michael

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