'We were there for those kids'By Jennifer H. SvanStars and StripesPublished: June 14, 2011
It had the makings of a classic ambush, with the enemy poised on a remote ridgeline in Afghanistan waiting for the Americans to enter the narrow valley below. But the two Apache helicopters that roared to the rescue squelched the scheming insurgents with a barrage of gunfire.
Four U.S. Army pilots were thrust into a battle for their lives and for the U.S. and Afghan soldiers they were protecting on the ground against a heavily armed group of Taliban on motorcycles and in trucks equipped with weapons to knock aircraft from the sky.
It was Nov. 7, 2009, a day that began as a routine mission for Capts. Kyle Maki and Matthew Clawson, and Chief Warrant Officers 4 Alexander Brigman Jr. and Keith Matz. While searching for enemy fighters setting up roadside bombs, they were called to Forward Operating Base Nawbahar, a remote outpost in eastern Zabul province.
Their new tasking turned into an hourlong firefight in which they spent all their ammunition while dodging anti-aircraft guns. The final tally: 18 confirmed dead insurgents; zero injured U.S. or Afghan troops. Zero bullet holes in the Apaches and numerous enemy spoils of war.
For their action, deemed “above and beyond the call of duty,” each of the four received the Distinguished Flying Cross, America’s oldest military aviation award, created by Congress more than 80 years ago.
“My biggest thing is we were there for those kids on the ground,” said Matz, 38, of Slippery Rock, Pa.
The outcome might have been different if not for the Apaches, given the terrain and the overwhelming firepower the Taliban brought to the fight, the pilots say.
The small company of Afghan National Army soldiers and their U.S. trainers from the 82nd Airborne Division called for air cover when their tiny mud-brick base began receiving mortar fire....
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