After the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, 3rd Ranger Battalion was deployed to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. On the night of October 19, 2001 portions of Companies A and C conducted a daring low-level parachute assault onto Objective Rhino, a desert airfield in south-western Afghanistan, in order to capture key logistical information. During follow-on missions, forces from Company B, 3rd Battalion accomplished a successful night parachute assault into Bastogne Drop Zone to secure a desert landing strip in support of a special operations raid.
The following was written exclusively for ShadowSpear by a member of B company 3/75th Ranger Regiment.
In November 2001, a small group of B 3/75 Rangers and Air Force Special Tactics Squadron personnel departed Masirah Island aboard a C-130. The mission would later be recognized in Ranger history as the smallest Ranger element to parachute into enemy territory.
Prior to our departure from Oman’s Masirah island, General Tommy Franks gave us a quick “pep talk” on the airfield. He ended it by stomping his foot on the tarmac and stating something along the lines of “the ground is probably going to be as hard as this.”
Not Exactly Coach Class Seating
We left the airfield waddling onto the aircraft in full kit and sat on the floor of the aircraft until it was time to hook up. I hopped on a scale before we boarded the plane and, as a 170 pound M249 SAW gunner, I weighed over 300 pounds. We were jumping into Afghanistan with only two squads and not a full platoon.
The aircrew removed the seats prior to the flight, so we sat on the floor the entire flight. We weren’t sprawled out and practically sitting nut to butt while wearing parachutes, reserves, M1950’s, and assault packs. I had enough SAW ammo in my pack to take over a small country. Since my pack was connected under my reserve parachute, the ammo rested on top of my legs and quickly put them to sleep. I was dreading the thought of quickly standing up and being able to remain upright.
We sat motionless on the cold metal floor of the blacked out bird for what felt like the longest flight ever. Some Rangers stayed awake the entire flight, but most slept as per standard operating procedure. I did a little bit of both. It was easily one of the most turbulent flights I had ever been on. My stomach made multiple attempts to come out of my mouth during the entire trip. Just as I was able to close my eyes, the aircrew passed around a hand carved baseball bat that they wanted each of us to sign. I signed it and went to sleep.
Train as You Fight…Except For..
It was time to wake up and everyone hobbled to their feet. I couldn’t tell if everyone was smiling because of what was to come next, or if they were just happy to feel blood flowing into their legs once again. The turbulence was getting worse and I was practically ready to dive out head first to make it stop.
I can’t say I was feeling too confident about this jump. The Army mantra has always been “train as you fight,” but all of a sudden there were several sudden unexplained changes. First, since we were jumping into hostile territory, the waste strap that went through your reserve was just coiled up and taped to your side. The reserve was just dangling by the two hooks. Most prefer that that strap to be cinched tight and often refer to it as the “security blanket.” Another thing was the little safety pin you bend through your static line was not to be used at all. These weren’t huge game changers, but things felt a little different. Oh well. We adapted and were prepared to meet our maker.
Into the Darkness
Nothing made me happier than to jump into the darkness. I came ridiculously close to hurling on my squad leader. There was zero illumination outside; the moon was non-existent. I could barely see my reserve chute and that was about it. In any static line jump, you followed several steps as soon as you exit the plane. One important step involves checking your canopy to see that it deployed and not full of holes. There was no canopy check on this night. I just had to assume it was okay, because I couldn’t see it. I couldn’t see the ground. I couldn’t see a horizon. I couldn’t see any trees. I couldn’t see… BAM! That noise was the sound of me hitting the frozen solid ground like a sack of rocks.
We parachuted in at around 500 ft and the air was very cold. Cold air makes the parachute descend faster. Fortunately, I separated my feet for a split second before hitting the group (this is extreme sarcasm) and at that moment I made contact with the ground. No one saw the ground coming. It was the first jump that knocked the air out of me. Feeling like a fish out of water, I struggled on the ground attempting to get my weapon into action and my night vision over my eyes as quickly as possible. Even with night vision, everything was barely visible. I was now ready to go. Just as I stood up I felt like I was standing barefoot on shards of broken glass. Apparently I busted my heel on that landing and those shards of glass were pieces of my bone.
The Running of the Rangers
The majority of those who jumped that night were injured in one way or another. Needless to say, we were in for a long night. We hobbled out and ultimately accomplished our mission. Aside from the jump, everything went as planned. Now it was time for our exfil.
How were we getting out of there? Well, the birds were going to land where we landed of course! This meant that several of us had to haul some serious ass to the drop zone and grab all the parachutes so the aircraft wouldn’t suck them up. I recall someone asking for “those who weren’t injured” to step up and run. I believe only one person fell into the non-injured category. The rest of us ended up running regardless.
So off we went. Running through Afghanistan in full kit, I felt my foot eventually go numb. A few of us started to quietly chuckle at the wonderful events that unfolded that night, which made me realize two things. First, Regiment emphasized a superior fitness plan for a reason. Second, I was running through the deserts of Afghanistan and unlucky enough to find that one land mine willing to put me out of my misery.
The Worst is Over!
We made it to our newly frago’d objective and looked around for the parachutes. This was not an easy task considering it was still darker than dark. Eventually we rounded up the last of them and the birds were able to land (they were landing regardless). Everyone and everything boarded the C-130’s and off we flew. It was that simple; no problems whatsoever. We actually had a more room on the floor, since we split up onto the two birds. Everyone was exhausted and out cold. Some Rangers were hunched over a retrieved parachute, while others slept on the floor. Since it was such a long flight, the aircrew was nice enough to place multiple five gallon jugs at the front of the aircraft for us to urinate in. I still would love to thank them for that to this day, because everyone clearly had to go. At this time, we felt very content without a care in the world.
We were on our way back to the island, we successfully did what we needed to, and now we could just relax. I was sound asleep and woke up suddenly, because it seemed as though someone had been laying on their camel back hose and caused water to pour through the aircraft. The water flowed around me in the dark aircraft and my back was soaked. I didn’t care, I was tired and decided to just get back to sleep. All of a sudden someone yelled the unmistakeable phrase “Ugh! IT’S FUCKING PISS!” That’s right, we were laying in five gallons of urine. One of the flight crew guys apparently knocked it over by accident. A few grumbles and what the fuck’s were only to be silenced with immediate snoring. I don’t think anyone adjusted their position and stayed as they were. We didn’t care at that point.
There isn’t any moral to this story. Just pure love of country!