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Special Troops Support The Buffaloes

1-17 IN Afganistan

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Lost in the deafening sounds of firing howitzers, helicopters on the LZ, and heavy machinery is the quiet buzzing of a small, remote controlled aircraft.  Although it sounds like an angry lawnmower, this is no ordinary remote controlled aircraft.  The aircraft, affectionately called the "Shadow" is equipped with a state of the art camera with night-vision capability and quickly proved itself to be one of the most effective tools on the battlefield in Afghanistan.  Although the Shadow is not armed, it has proved its worth time and again by providing real time video and intelligence to ground commanders, allowing them to target the enemy and protect American troops.

On FOB Frontenac, in the Shah Wali Kot District in Afghanistan the Shadow is controlled by a platoon of Soldiers from D Co, 8-1 Cavalry Squadron referred to as the "Shadow UAS Platoon."  UAS stands for Unmanned Aircraft System and is the official name for the Shadow.  The platoon has 4 aircraft that are launched by a hydraulic slingshot, can fly for hours at a time and up to 80 miles away before landing on a dirt runway constructed for it at FOB Frontenac.  This range capability allows the Shadow to support multiple units within the BDE, and even though it is based at FOB Frontenac with 1-17 IN, it routinely flies missions in support of both 2-1 IN and 4-23 IN.  Throughout the fall and early winter fighting season, however, the Shadow supported the Buffaloes and their  fight in the Arghandab.  As the Brigade main effort, 1-17 IN worked with the Shadow UAS platoon on a daily basis.

The Shadow aircraft has an advanced camera on board that takes high quality video during day or night conditions.  This video is transmitted back to the UAS platoon at FOB Frontenac.  The platoon has set up a command center, where its pilots control where the airplane flies, while another Soldier controls what the camera looks at.  The video from the camera is then broadcast over satellite, so that any unit with the proper decryption, password, and frequency can display the video live in their operation centers.  The Buffaloes at FOB Frontenac have a big screen TV in their Tactical Operations Center (TOC) where they display the live video for the Battle Staff to see.  Each company in the battalion also has this capability for them to see the battlefield live.  This capability is crucial to providing commanders with the ability to understand the tactical situation and make informed decisions without being present at the site.  It is also an invaluable tool for watching the enemy without his knowledge.  Using tips provided by the battalion's intelligence section, the Shadow is often used to watch houses, compounds, and roads where we suspect insurgent leaders may be hiding.  The Shadow platoon has followed insurgent leaders as they travel around the battlefield, allowing us to identify possible IED locations and cache sites.  It is also used every day to check routes for possible IEDs, and scan the terrain ahead of patrols to find insurgents who may be lurking.  In one instance, the Shadow observed two individuals acting suspiciously near a road often travelled by the Buffaloes.  The battalion leadership in the TOC watched the individuals while a patrol was dispatched to investigate their behavior.  The TOC was able to give the patrol up to the minute updates on what the suspicious individuals were doing.  When the patrol arrived and searched the individuals, IED making materials were found that the individuals had been just about to emplace.  In another incident, the Shadow was following a tip about an insurgent meeting received from the 1-17 intelligence section.  A group of insurgent leaders was gathering in a compound, oblivious to the fact that the Shadow overhead was allowing the leaders of 1-17 IN to see their every move.  1-17 IN was able to guide in helicopters to the site, and then fire a precision guided munition at the group of insurgents.  All of this was done through the observation abilities of the Shadow, miles away from the nearest friendly ground Soldier.

Another group of Soldiers has been instrumental in helping the Buffaloes take the fight to the enemy.  The Soldiers of the 562 Engineer Company, who prefer to be called Sappers, have been fighting alongside 1-17 IN since Task Force Stryker arrived in Afghanistan.  When the Buffaloes fought in the Arghandab River Valley, the Sappers from 1st PLT, 562 ENG Co led by 1LT Kelly Leaverton, were present on almost every patrol, more often than not out front clearing mines and IEDs.  They fulfilled the crucial route clearance role, using their special equipment and expertise to drive the dangerous roads and find IEDs.  1st PLT 562 ENG found and cleared dozens of IEDs. During the course of this dangerous work, 1st PLT alone struck over 10 IEDs and continued on, undeterred.  The Sappers also provided their demolition knowledge to augment the Air Force Explosive Ordnance Disposal team assigned to Task Force 1-17.  With the frantic pace and constant combat operations going on in the Arghandab in the fall, often there were more IEDs to be cleared than there were EOD teams to clear them.  The trails in the Arghandab River Valley were not safe to walk on, and Soldiers had to find new routes.  The Sappers used their breaching expertise to blow holes in walls and through thick orchards, clearing the way for the Buffaloes to attack.  The Sappers stepped right up and did whatever was asked of them, including the dangerous task of preparing explosives to clear the IEDs.  The Sappers used other facets of their training to help with vehicle recovery as well.  When Stryker vehicles hit IEDs, they were often unable to drive back to FOB Frontenac to get fixed.  The Sappers unselfishly took their equipment and went out to conduct the exhausting and dangerous task of pulling the damaged Strykers out.  This task often took multiple days and the enemy made a habit of attacking while the recovery was ongoing.  The Sappers did an outstanding job every time, and always returned the damaged Stryker back to FOB Frontenac. 

When the Brigade received their change of mission in December, one of the biggest changes was the addition of an additional Engineer platoon to FOB Frontenac.  When 3rd PLT 562 ENG arrived, their company headquarters and company commander, CPT Ernest Urquieta came with them.  Since their arrival, the Sappers of 562 ENG CO have continued to go above and beyond, working tirelessly everyday to support the Buffaloes.  The Sappers have done everything from build new firebases to improving the FOB and helping build and fix the runway for the Shadow UAS platoon, even repairing parts of Highway 617 damaged by IED blasts and weather.

Both the Shadow UAS platoon and the Sappers from 562 Engineer Company have provided integral support to the Buffaloes and are a huge part of Task Force Buffalo's fight against the Taliban.  None of the gains from the past year would have been possible without their contributions.

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