Fierce fire fight brings together MEU ground and air
(Featuring Vets for Freedom member, Chris
FORWARD OPERATING BASE RIPLEY, Afghanistan (June 4, 2004 ) -- When
the lead elements of a large 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit
(Special Operations Capable) and Afghan Militia Force (AMF) convoy
recently entered a village in central Afghanistan, nothing seemed
out of place and it looked as if another quiet day would soon draw
to a close.
However, in a flash, all that changed when the specter of Taliban
insurgency reared its ugly head.
As four machine gun and anti-tank missile-toting Humvees of
Battalion Landing Team 1st Bn., 6th Marines' Combined Anti-Armor
Team pushed through the village and spread out to assume blocking
positions on its far side, the lead vehicle noticed three Afghan
men attempting to nonchalantly walk out of the village and into the
"I saw them walking away from the village and up a hill," said 1st
Lt. Chris Niedziocha, who hails from Montgomery County, Penn. and
serves as the CAAT platoon leader. "We immediately went after them
and when we got closer they started running."
Meanwhile, the other three CAAT vehicles had been converging on
Niedziocha's position, fighting through the difficult terrain and
confusing village layout to reach their platoon leader.
As Niedziocha's vehicle (dubbed Light Horse 1-1) pulled up to a
stop behind the three men, Niedziocha and his driver, Lance Cpl.
Ray Colvin, got out to order them to stop when one of the three
stopped, turned, drew a Russian-made AK-47 assault rifle from under
his clothes and opened fire on the Marines. The vehicle's gunner,
Cpl. Curtis Spivey, of Vidalia, Georgia, was the first to respond
to the threat.
"Spivey let go a few bursts with the 240 [M240G machine gun
mounted atop the Humvee] and all three of the bad guys jumped into
a trench and began firing on us," Niedziocha said.
In a span of only a few minutes, Niedziocha and his crew had
accomplished the first two edicts of their battalion commander's
instructions to 'find, fix, and finish' the enemy and set out to
accomplish the third as well. Carrying their M16A2 assault rifles
and with grenades bulging in their pockets, Niedziocha and Colvin
began pushing forward while Spivey jumped from the vehicle and
grabbed the rifle from CAAT's forward air controller, Capt. James
'Big Jim' McBride who was busy radioing for air support.
"Beaver [Capt. James Hunt] was controlling some helos for Charlie
Company so when we broadcast that we were in contact, they switched
over to support us," said McBride, an EA-6B Prowler crewman from
Butte, Montana. McBride and his radioman, Lance Cpl. Jason
Heighland, of Eaton Rapids, Mich. stayed on the vehicle to provide
security as their comrades advanced.
The helicopters weren't the only ones to hear the announcement of
troops in contact. Driving Light Horse 1-6, Sgt. Dan Trackwell, a
machine gunner from Klamath Falls, Oregon was already speeding
toward Niedziocha's and the call spurred him on. Sitting beside
Trackwell was his assistant driver, Cpl. Nicholas Marrone of
Saranac, New York, and riding on top was his MK-19 heavy machine
gunner, Lance Cpl. Jonathan Freeze of Naples, Florida.
"As soon as I heard them say 'contact' all bets were off," said
Trackwell, who 'stood' on the gas pedal and plowed over the rough,
uneven terrain as the sound of firing began to fill the air.
On the hill, Niedziocha, Colvin, and Spivey moved forward firing
their weapons as the enemy fighters would pop up, fire a few
rounds, and then move right or left inside the trench to repeat the
process. When Spivey ran out of ammunition in McBride's rifle, he
tossed it aside, pulled his 9mm pistol, and began tossing hand
grenades into the trench, as did Niedziocha. Colvin, carrying a
M203 40mm grenade launcher underneath his M16A2, began accurately
lobbing rounds into the trench as well.
"When one of the grenades went off," Niedziocha explained, "all I
saw was turban and equipment flying, so I knew we had gotten at
least one of them."
By the time the grenades starting flying, Light Horse 1-1 had
pulled up and Trackwell and another Marine began moving forward and
firing at the enemy while Marrone and Freeze stayed on the vehicle.
Manning the 40mm 'up gun,' Freeze opened fire on Trackwell's
command and lobbed 25 40mm grenades onto the hillside directly over
the trench where the Taliban had taken refuge.
At almost this same instant, spotting the yellow smoke billowing
from the signal grenade tossed by McBride, one of the UH-1N Huey
helicopters overhead banked sharply and the door gunner, Cpl.
Samair Alyassini of San Jose, Calif., let loose a sustained burst
of around 100 7.62mm rounds into the trench.
Between the barrage of grenades, and rifle and machine gun from
both the air and ground, the enemy fire ceased as all three Taliban
fighters died where they chose to make their last stand.
"That was the closest fighting we've seen," said Colvin after the
brief, yet intense firefight. "Usually we use our weapons to create
a stand-off, but we weren't more than five or ten meters from these
"It was the hottest fight yet," reflected Niedziocha, who had led
his platoon through at least eight sharp engagements last
A thorough search of the slain enemy fighters revealed, in
addition to their personal weapons, a wide array of explosives and
bomb-making materials that are commonly used in constructed
improvised explosive devices.
Discussing the wide range of armament and fighters brought to bear
in the fight, Freeze summed up their collective feelings.
"It doesn't matter who got them, just that they aren't around to
hurt us or anyone else ever again."
In addition to BLT 1/6 and HMM-266 (Rein), the 22nd MEU (SOC)
consists of its Command Element and MEU Service Support Group 22.
The MEU is in Afghanistan conducting combat and civil military
operations as Task Force Linebacker.
For more information on the 22d MEU (SOC)'s role in Operation
ENDURING FREEDOM, visit the unit's web site at