Michael's Dispatches

Pale Riders


A No-Name Unit, in a No-Name Place

2011-09-10-070713cc1000Pale Riders' Tents

03 November 2011

Few people realize that Task Force Spartan is in what is probably the toughest fighting in Afghanistan.  Many of the Soldiers might not even realize it because they are so busy.  Within Task Force Spartan is the 4-4 Cav squadron who call themselves the “Pale Riders.”   The Pale Riders are tasked to fight and move the ball forward in Zhari District of Kandahar Province.

The tents where they often live are comfortable.  Other times they sleep on the ground or on cots in rough places.  Rockets often fly onto the base and have caused casualties—and they are loud.  You would need a 360 constant-streaming surround sound system to get a feel for how much combat actually occurs at smaller bases.  Combat has abated remarkably over the months.  One cause appears to be that the Taliban are actually being beaten in the Task Force Spartan areas.  Another more recent cause might be that as the green sheds off the trees, attacks likely will slow down.  Some enemy likely will go to Pakistan for the winter while any who decide to fight will have a hard time hiding under naked trees.


On nights with a full moon, it can be bright enough to make shadows.


Other nights, it’s just dark.  We loaded up to go on a mission.


There were not enough seats, so I sat on that case of grenades by the back ramp.  It’s probably no exaggeration to say 4-4 Cav has shot thousands of 40mm grenades.  When firefights begin, the grenadiers start hitting “dead space” and it might be surprising to see how quickly they can go through a few dozen grenades.  Our men usually fire much more ammo than does the enemy.   The enemy also shoots back with grenades.  Enemy grenades must hit very close to get you, but if you actually get hit in the body, that’s probably the end of the road.  When there are casualties, you have to be careful that no unexploded items lodged inside the body.  The crate of grenades was a rough seat down the bumpy road, but a traffic cone made the seat softer.  Some people have read my dispatches and complained that units will go into villages that are all but abandoned.  Only the enemy and their hidden bombs are there.  But there is method to the plan as 4-4 Cav (and other units) build outposts to try to encourage people to move back to areas that were abandoned.  The plan is working.


The Afghan troops rolled without armor.


What most struck me about 4-4 Cav is that it’s a “no name” unit in a faraway, “no name” place.  They are not famous like the 82nd or 101st.  It’s just a unit that’s doing its best and giving its all in a war that many Americans seem to have forgotten.  Soldiers say when they go home on leave they are surprised that many people don’t realize the fight is still on.  We’ve tuned it out.  The Soldiers get bloody but they keep going.  I’m told they’ve been awarded about 120 Purple Hearts.  Brave men, and a few brave female attachments.  There are other units like this around Afghanistan, with names we’ll likely never hear about.  This war is far from over and the Pale Riders are out there tonight.

On the day the following video was made—the day after the bumpy grenade ride—we walked into a village and there was one minor IED strike and some minor gunplay.  Minor means nobody got badly hurt.  The area is nuanced and you might be hated in one village and welcomed in the next.  The Soldiers at 4-4 Cav had tea at one of the family compounds and as I recall some A-10s (or maybe it was F-18s) pounded on someone distant.  A dog handler gave his bomb dog an IV, which she seemed to like.  And eventually we set off again, and when we did, the kids in this video came out singing and dancing.

Please watch this video.

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  • This commment is unpublished.
    JJ · 9 years ago
    God knows all their names. Thank you for sharing.
    • This commment is unpublished.
      DeAnna · 9 years ago
      Another great story told & I must say I enjoyed the video as well. Thank you for sharing something I would have not otherwise seen or known about sir.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Randall Todd Royer · 9 years ago
    Notice how the translator would not tell Michael the words of the children's song, only that it involved beating someone with shoes. Michael said that was an insult and the translator did not disagree nor did he elaborate, and his body language seemed like he was uncomfortable.

    This may seem like a minor point but this interaction carries great importance. If the children insult the American troops one can speculate the parents and the rest of village/clan also hate the American soldiers.

    My questions are: Why was the translator not forthcoming with that information? What was the nationality of the interpreter and was he indigenous personnel? If yes, one must question why he did not fully answer the question.

    Michael, you were there, I was not - Did any of these questions run through your mind or those of unit you were embedded with while on patrol.

    That was great footage. I felt like I was right there with you. Keep up the good work and stay safe.
    • This commment is unpublished.
      Michael Yon · 9 years ago
      Randall -- spot on. Was wondering if others would detect that. The children seemed to be honestly happy but I was curious about the shoes. Interpreter told me he is American, originally from Afghanistan.
      • This commment is unpublished.
        john carew · 9 years ago
        I ws in Kandahar in 09/10. I was attached to an american unit the 4th id. As a Canadian i had my own terp, and he was from Kabul. What i noticed was that, when we entered a village, i would look for "PATTERN OF LIFE" and my terp (i didn't trust him with my life)always, and i mean always kept me informed on the mood and chatter of the children. The Children were the eyes and sole of that village, and if they were not receptive, sure as shit in a cat, the adults were not either.I had a better terp than my American counterpart, so the commander always asked me what my terp was saying.
      • This commment is unpublished.
        MikeM · 9 years ago
        I think we had seen in Iraq as well that we don't necessarily have to like each other to meet goals goals together. Many Iraqis would openly state that they want your white face gone from their land forever; but first, lets work together to move these other guys out (be it AQ, death squads, etc.). I guess that's all the relationship there needs to be.
        • This commment is unpublished.
          Dan · 9 years ago
          The sound effects the child made kinda made me think he was imitating automatic rifle fire...This probably made yall uncomfortable. Keep up the fight Michael.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    mechinf · 9 years ago
    Thanks for sharing. Nice film, even though i don't know what the kids are saying. Remember be of the happier times in afghanistan.

    /MechInf deployed in AFG 2009-2010
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Joann · 9 years ago
    Michael, that video brought tears. Please give all of our guys a big hug from Oklahoma City!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    ABN INF Veteran · 9 years ago
    Michael please let all in this and all units know that this American Airborne Infantryman has not forgotten and will not forget the War goes on. I am Proud of each and everyone and very thankful for their service to OUR COUNTRY. God Bless All The Way
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Mitch · 9 years ago
    So they call pot plants okra over there... must be an inside joke. Anyway I picked up on the shoes thing too. Seems like they were kids being kids, making fun of you in their language knowing that you could not understand. If they are picking up songs like this from their parents this war is truly far from over.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Clinton · 9 years ago
    Have you had anyone interpret the children's song and it total meaning yet? If and when you do I would like to hear about the content and meaning...
  • This commment is unpublished.
    BG · 9 years ago
    I follow all your courageous work. Keep it up. Support soon to follow. I will be back in Afghanistan myself at Kandahar in about a month. Hope to someday get a chance to meet you.

  • This commment is unpublished.
    Max · 9 years ago
    Out of the mouths of babes!

    Great footage. Hope to see more.

    The sooner they put Afgan speaking troops into each unit the better instead of relying on interpretors who not only interpret the words but also the intent, often wrongly.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Randall Todd Royer · 9 years ago
    The point I was making with indigenous Afghans "on patrol" with our troops more often have a dual allegiance. For example, hunter killer teams who refused to take any indigenous personnel on "operations" had significantly higher enemy kill ratios than those units with indigenous personnel.

    The reason for this is easy to understand. The enemy embeds itself into our units, FOB's, and base operations to gather intel for the enemy. This has been going on since The Muslim Brotherhood infiltrated allied troops in Africa and ME during WW2. Flag Grade officers mired by PC and MC to "win the hearts and minds" of the native people, knowingly put our fighting men and women in unnecessary risk.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Julia Mason · 9 years ago
    Be assured that "No Name" units in "No Name" places and the warriors assigned doing great jobs are never forgotten. Relatives out of love and respect often honor these warriors through research. I have done so with ancestors who have fought every American war (except Vietnam) since 176 and now proudly record achievements of the warrior for whom I have a Blue Star Banner in the window. With Michael Yon's reporting, the Pale Riders are known and honored. Thanks from Grannie.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Kurt Olney · 9 years ago

    Always good. We never see this in the media anymore. Keep the stories coming. Thanks always.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Steve Fader · 9 years ago

    Your committment to war coverage of Iraq and Afhghanistan is incredible, my friend! Stay safe!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    KimH · 9 years ago
    Geez, that was beautiful video. Your Canon DSLR? Maybe with that much depth of field it was something smaller? How did you make it so stable?

    You should do more video- much more. As great as your stills are, video makes it all viscerally immediate & real. If I were you, I would be collecting audio, too- interviews when you can. If you collect enough material, you can put together a documentary later- a combination of video, stills, & audio. Guess that's already your plan.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Barbara M · 9 years ago
    this Mom of a Marine will never forget what they do also ! American military families know all too well the sacrifice being made in Afghanistan, and in Iraq too. Please let them know we do care and our family is continually writing letters and sending care packages over there ! Just because it is not on the nightly news , be sure that many Americans appreciate it anyway !! Sometimes it is long after wars are over that we realize the true benefit of having beat back the enemy ! Just a pity that the rest of the world does not realize and appreciate what American warriors have done going back to WWII. My Dad begged us to always appreciate it, having fought in the Philippines . Read the book, Unbroken for a true story of incredible sacrifice !!

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