Troops decorated for actions during Sept. 13 attack
Bullets and explosions struck around troops at the New Kabul Compound on the morning of Sept. 13 soon after they suited up, knowing dangerous new hostile activity was likely given the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
The troops, including dozens from the Alabama Army National Guard, took up their assigned positions almost immediately and stayed vigilant throughout the assault. Many did not sleep – staying awake to return fire and ensure supplies of food, water, communications equipment and ammunition were flowing among their ranks.
“You didn’t have to look for anybody,” said Army Sgt. 1st Class Kevin Carroll of Daphne, Ala., NKC’s non-commissioned officer in charge of force protection. “Everybody was where they were supposed to be.”
The attack lasted 20 hours. Insurgents targeted NKC, the U.S. Embassy and the International Security Assistance Force’s headquarters.
For their rapid response under hostile fire, 10 of the Alabama guardsmen received the Joint Service Commendation Medal, while 14 received Combat Action Badges, many earning both.
They were part of a group of 33 NKC service members overall who were decorated for their actions during the attack. The remaining NKC troops honored were under the command of Capt. Jerry Mitchell of San Antonio, Fla., a member of that state’s Army National Guard. He leads one of NKC’s force protection teams and is the facility’s headquarters company commander.
“It could not have been better,” he said of the defensive response. “Not just the people we had in place, but all the other teams, did exactly what they needed to do. People were coming out of the woodwork with combat experience, saying ‘what can I do to help, where do you need me?’”
He was one of four people on his team to receive a JSCM. Mitchell, along with 17 others serving under him, also received a CAB. One soldier, Pvt. 1st Class Douglas Smith, of Columbus, Ohio, received a Combat Infantryman Badge, which only soldiers trained as infantrymen and serving in an infantry unit can earn.
NKC forces suffered no casualties. Afghan National Army soldiers later cleared, floor-by-floor, the building where insurgents had taken up positions.
“We let the enemy know ‘we’re here, and we’re not going to take anything sitting down,’” said Alabama Army National Guard 1st Lt. Rich Rogers, of Montgomery, Ala., NKC’s officer in charge of force protection.
Rogers praised the Alabama National Guard’s training program, saying it prepared them to operate in Afghanistan and there have been few, if any, surprises in theater.
“If we needed time, or we needed more training, they provided that for us,” he added.
Rogers signed up at 35 and has been in the Guard for more than four years, working full time for the organization as an operations officer in Montgomery, Ala. He previously was a stockbroker and financial services adviser.
He said the conflicts the nation recently has been involved in “have really closed the loop” between active duty and the Guard. The private sector skills Guardsmen bring with them also are an asset for deployed units, he noted.
“It brings more diversity,” he said. “Guardsmen, if you will, can do a few more things. They may be an MP deployed, but a mechanic back home, so if their vehicle breaks down, they can fix it.”
He said his enthusiasm for serving in the Guard was undiminished by the risks of combat, and the Sept. 13 attack served only to reinforce his opinions about the institution.
“If anything, it reassured me that the training we were getting was quality,” he said. … “It’s got a good program. It deploys a lot of soldiers. And now I’ve gotten to see the program from both sides, stateside and deployed.”
Mitchell, for his part, took charge of the defense at one part of the compound, initially leading the response in that area.
“When I first walked out there, we got hit by an explosion that pushed us back a little bit,” Mitchell said. “It was just the concussion.”
The troops rapidly got focused, he added, and “their training kicked in. They did phenomenal.”
While Rogers’ team was exclusively Alabama National Guard, Mitchell’s was made up of active duty troops and volunteers from units throughout NKC, which were used to fill out the compound’s force protection needs.
“A lot of the people that were under me that received awards are intel people. They are IT people. They are lawyers. They are people who volunteered to help,” he said. “They are the people who initially protected the base, laid down suppressing fire. … They went above and beyond and were a very significant part of the response.”
Mitchell, a 2004 West Point graduate who served on active duty for five years, also spoke highly of the National Guard. It gave him a chance to remain an infantryman, but also allowed him to serve alongside fellow soldiers who were firmly rooted in their communities.
He said Guard troops were “absolutely” the same quality as active duty soldiers. Also, just as Rogers said civilian experience aids deployed units, combat experience can benefit a civilian’s career, particularly in the areas of leadership and responsibility.
“The average E-5 soldier who’s been in combat and led people when they’re at their most afraid, you can’t replace that in the civilian world,” he said. “You can’t replace that they’ve led people when they’re at their hardest to lead.”
He added that they also often are responsible for millions of dollars worth of equipment, “which normally takes years” to achieve as a civilian.
Both Mitchell and Rogers plan to stay in the Guard. Carroll, a heavy equipment operator for the Baldwin County Highway Department, plans to retire after 22 years of service.
“It’s just time,” he said. “I want to be able to spend more time at home with the family.”
Article by Erika Stetson, U.S. Forces Afghanistan