FOB Salerno, Khowst Province, Afghanistan, 19-20 August 2008
LOCATION: FOB Salerno, Khowst Province, Afghanistan
DATE: 19 August 2008
TIME: 0400L-1000L Afghanistan time
CREWS OF THE SCOUT WEAPONS TEAM (SWT):
Lead Aircraft: CW2 Joseph Priester (Annihilator 23, call sign used with ground troops) as the Pilot in
Command (PIC) in the right seat. CW2 Brian Peterson as the pilot (PI) in the left seat
Weapons Configuration: rocket/rocket (2.75inch Folding Fin Aerial Rockets, 2 x 7 shot rocket pods)
Trail Aircraft: CW3 Scott Cotriss (Annihilator 21) Air Mission Commander (AMC)/PIC in the right seat CW2 Brandon Hodge as the PI in the left seat Weapons Configuration: rocket/.50 (300 rounds of .50 cal machine gun and 4-7 rockets)
UNIT: A Troop, 2-17 Cavalry Regiment, Task Force No Mercy, 101 st CAB, 101 st Airborne Division
In the closing hours of 18 August 2008 Fob Salerno was attacked by approximately 15 Anti-Afghan Forces (AAF). These enemy fighters were armed with AK-47’s, suicide vest and bolt cutters. The enemy’s intent was to get through the base defenses and get close enough to US service members and detonate themselves. The base ground defenses became aware of the infiltrators and began to suppress the enemy attack. 2 AH-64 Apaches were launched from Task Force No Mercy to assist in the defense of FOB Salerno.
The Apaches had found 4 enemy fighters in an orchard near 3 local national’s homes. The AH-64’s engaged that area with an unknown number of, if any, enemy killed in action or enemy wounded in action. The AH-64’s were on station for approximately 5 hours that night before they needed to be relieved. In the early hours of the morning of 19 August 2008, 4 OH-58D Kiowa Warrior pilots were awaken at approximately 0300L. Three of the four crewmembers went directly to the aircraft and began preflight while the Air Mission Commander, CW3 Scott Cotriss, went to the Tactical Operations Center (TOC) and got the mission updates for the team. When CW3 Cotriss arrived at the aircraft he briefed the 3 other pilots so they all knew the difficult tasks that was being placed upon them.
The team cranked their engines and departed FOB Salerno under night vision goggles moving to the engagement area, CW3 Cotriss began the Battle Handover with the AH-64 AMC. The Kiowa team was asked to hold off to the West and wait for the Apaches to mark the target. When the Apaches returned to base (RTB) CW3 Cotriss assumed the lead position in the flight and CW2 Priester took up the trail position in the flight. The team moved in and began reconning the area that was the last know position of approximately 4 AAF.
After thorough reconnaissance CW3 Cotriss was giving clearance of fires and the team began to attack the orchard that had the AAF in it. The area that was being engaged was approximately 20ft X 20ft area with the local national’s homes all around. To minimize the possibility of hitting the homes of the local nationals CW3 Cotriss and CW2 Priester took a few extra seconds to ensure their inbound headings would minimize any errant .50 cal bullets or rockets, the team rolled in and engaged the orchard. After 3 passes the team went in for a forth engagement and this time the lead aircraft, CW3 Cotriss, took effective small arms fire. CW2 Priester and CW2 Peterson engaged the sight with all remaining ordinance and egressed with the lead aircraft. Once again, the flight went back in again and engaged the orchard. On that pass CW2 Priester and CW2 Peterson had no ordinance left and went in with CW3 Cotriss and CW2 Hodge to hopefully attempt to make the enemy think both aircraft could and would fire at them. There was no more enemy fire on this pass and the team began to recon the orchard again.
After 15 minutes the team needed to rearm and refuel so the team RTB’ed to FOB Salerno. After refuel and rearming in the Forward Arming and Refueling Point (FARP) the team returned and again began reconning the area. By this time Glory 6, was coming into the area approximately 500-1000m south of FOB Salerno. Glory 6 requested that one aircraft start reconning from his area South to the vicinity of the orchard which was about 2 miles South of FOB Salerno. This area had numerous, high corn fields that could hide the many AAF that had tried to get on to FOB Salerno. CW3 Cotriss’ aircraft began at Glory 6’s position and CW2 Priester’s aircraft remained in the area of the orchard.
As CW3 Cotriss’ aircraft was reconning and they discovered one AAF KIA. What was also discovered was that the body had 2 sets of bolt/wire cutters near him and he also had a suicide vest on. CW3 Cotriss passed this info up to Glory 6 while continuing to recon. CW3 Cotriss’ aircraft found another body and then requested CW2 Priester to start working North at a faster pace. At about this time an Afghan Commando unit was coming on station to assist, the commandos were accompanied by US Special Forces members. The SF soldiers were beginning to move into the corn fields that were suspected to have numerous AAF in them. At the same time both Kiowa’s were over the corn fields looking for the enemy.
CW3 Cotriss’ aircraft was still more North than CW2 Priester’s, CW2 Priester and CW2 Peterson were over a certain corn field a little West of CW3 Cotriss’ position and began to take fire from an undisclosed AAF position. At the same instance that CW2 Priester was calling to CW3 Cotriss that they were taking fire, CW3 Cotriss was also taking fire. There were 2 AAF that were in a corn field just ahead of the commando element. The AK-47 shots alerted the commando element of the 2 AAF position and began to attack the position. CW3 Cotriss told the Afghan commandos to move back to the North and that the two Kiowa’s were coming in to shot at the AAF with .50 cal and rockets.
The commandos began moving north when they came under heavy gun fire from other AAF positions. The commando element only got about 15 meters away from the 2 AAF and were pinned down. CW3 Cotriss fired his .50Cal; the danger close range for the .50 cal is 100 meters. CW3 Cotriss’ aircraft suppressed the enemy and CW2 Priester followed and shot 3 rockets, the danger close range for rockets is 240 meters. One of the 2 AAF was killed by one of CW2 Priester’s rockets, initially the aircrews thought that both AAF were killed but only one had been killed. As all of this was happening CW2 Hodge was telling CW3 Cotriss that he had been shot in the helmet. The AK-47 round had passed in front of CW3 Cotriss’ face and went in and out of the back of CW2 Hodge’s helmet, going out and striking one of the main rotor blades.
CW3 Cotriss’ aircraft was out of ammo so he returned to FOB Salerno single ship to rearm and refuel, check his aircraft for battle damage, and ensure CW2 Hodge was okay to continue. Now with only CW2 Priester’s aircraft on station as a single ship, the commando element moved back towards the 2 AAF.
When the commando element was near the bodies, the one surviving suicide bomber detonated himself a few feet from the US and Afghan commando personnel causing 6 soldiers to be seriously wound.
Jaguar 3, the JTAC for the commando element, requested that CW2 Priester’s aircraft send up an immediate MEDEVAC 9 Line so they could get their wounded off the battlefield and to the hospital. CW2 Priester knew that it would take at least 10 minutes for the MEDEVAC to receive the mission, takeoff, and get to the location of the wounded; the current engagement area was only 1 mile from FOB Salerno. The 9 Line MEDEVAC request was transmitted to the No Mercy TOC but due to the severity of the injuries, CW2 Priester and CW2 Peterson elected to land in a nearby field and dismount CW2 Peterson and take the wounded to FOB Salerno’s hospital in the left seat in the cockpit of the CW2 Priester’s Kiowa.
After landing, CW2 Peterson got out and began to put the first, the most seriously wounded, Afghan commando into the left seat of the Kiowa. At this time the Kiowa’s began a CASEVAC rotation. CW3 Cotriss was monitoring all the radio traffic while at the FARP on FOB Salerno and told CW2 Hodge to go to the CASH pad (Hospital pad) and prepare to help with the wounded get out of the Kiowas since they
were a very nonstandard aircraft to be transporting wounded soldiers. CW2 Priester took off out of the hasty Helicopter Landing Zone (HLZ) with the first and most seriously wounded.
While on the ground CW2 Peterson was with Glory 6’s Personal Security Detachment (PSD) element and continued to expose himself to heavy enemy fire while creating a Casualty Collection Point (CCP). As CW3 Cotriss landed CW2 Peterson put a wounded afghan soldier into his cockpit and ensured that the wounded Afghan didn’t bump the flight controls. CW3 Cotriss took off and CW2 Priester was again
inbound for the HLZ. This rotation in to the HLZ occurred a total of 5 times.
In total CW2 Priester took 3 Afghan soldiers and CW2 Cotriss took 1 ANA soldier and 1 US SF soldier to the CASH pad. As CW3 Cotriss was coming out of the CASH pad after dropping off his second and final wounded soldier, CW2 Priester was taking off from the HLZ with his third wounded soldier. The UH-60 Dustoff (MEDEVAC) departed with CW3 Cotriss in trail who had unloaded his final wounded soldier and had picked up CW2 Hodge. CW2 Hodge returned to the fight even after being shot in the helmet with no hesitation.
After CW2 Priester dropped off his third wounded soldier he returned to the engagement area and began to pull security for the ground forces. The commando element was taking effective sniper fire from another corn field and requested a Close Combat Attack (CCA). CW2 Priester took the call and after getting all info from Jaguar 3 passed the info to CW3 Cotriss to help verify all info because CW2 Priester
was still single pilot and a single ship because the UH-60 Dustoff was in the HLZ and CW2 Priester was unable to get CW2 Peterson. CW3 Cotriss confirmed all the info and with CW3 Cotriss as the lead ship the 2 aircraft engaged the corn fields 3 times total. CW2 Priester did these 3 engagements as a single pilot.
After the three passes on the corn field there was no more sniper fire from that area. By this time CW3 Cotriss was again low on fuel and had to return to the FARP. CW2 Priester, still single pilot and now single ship continued to pulling security for the UH-60 and all ground forces. As the UH-60 left the HLZ for FOB Salerno CW2 Priester was able to land and get CW2 Peterson. The cockpit of CW2 Priester’s aircraft had blood all over the flight controls, armored side panel, had soaked into the seat cushion, instrument panel and was on CW2 Priester himself.
When CW2 Priester landed to pick up CW2 Peterson he saw the condition of the cockpit and with total disregard got in the aircraft and continued to do his duties as the left-seat pilot. As CW3 Cotriss returned Glory 6 had the SWT engaged all corn fields to rid them of all enemy personnel because the ground personnel was still taking sniper fire. After a few more rotations to the FARP between the aircraft, all as single ships, Glory 6 was requesting that the Kiowa’s use their rockets to destroy the bodies of all AAF.
This request was so the EOD team didn’t have to put themselves at risk to destroy any equipment and prevent the possibility of the enemy getting anything useful from the bodies. CW2 Priester and CW2 Peterson engaged the bodies and rendered them destroyed, which was determined by the EOD team that was on station. CW2 Priester and CW2 Peterson along with CW3 Cotriss and CW2 Hodge stayed on station until all friendly forces had safely returned to FOB Salerno.
During the battle the SWT flew 6 total hours. CW3 Cotriss and CW2 Hodge engaged with 900 rounds of .50 cal machine gun ammo and approximately 20-30 rockets. CW2 Priester and CW2 Peterson engaged with more than 70 rockets. Probably 90% of the ordinance expended was with in danger close of local nationals or friendly soldiers. CW3 Cotriss CASEVAC 2 wounded and CW2 Priester CASEVAC 3 wounded soldiers. After the flight CW3 Cotriss and CW2 Priester were informed by CW2 Peterson, the pilot who was on the ground in the battle, that both of the aircraft had been receiving effective small arms fire/RPG fire while on the ground in the HLZ, on takeoff, and upon landing. CW2 Peterson and CW2 Hodge had to reload the helicopters most times single handedly. At this particular time there weren’t any rockets at the FARP pads to rearm with so they had to get the help of the aircraft refuelers to go to the ammo point to get the rockets and get the aircraft back in the fight. This happened on nearly every FARP rotation and the actions of Peterson and Hodge kept each aircraft out of the fight for the minimum amount of time. During a majority of the FARP rotations the other aircraft was out single ship providing as much support for the ground elements as possible. Glory 6 said,”[t]he heroism and skill at which [the SWT] employed the OH-58D platform is an example of fire support from an aerial platform at it’s best.” The single SF soldier that was CASEVAC’ed by CW3 Cotriss said, ”it was the bravest thing he has ever witnessed from a helicopter crew.”
CW3 Cotriss : Air Medal with Valor
CW2 Priester: Air Medal with Valor
CW2 Hodge: Air Medal
CW2 Peterson: Army Commendation with Valor
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Location: Khowst Providence, Afghanistan
Date: 20 August 2008
Scout Weapons Team (SWT) 1 consisted of 2 OH-58D Kiowa Warriors, both aircraft were armed with a 7
shot rocket pod and a .50 caliber (Cal) machine gun:
Lead aircraft: CW2 Joseph Priester, Pilot in Command (PIC) in the right seat and CW2 Brian Peterson,
Pilot (PI) in the left seat.
Trail aircraft: CW3 Scott Cotriss, Air Mission Commander (AMC)/PIC was in the right seat and CW2
Shawn Wells, PI in the left seat.
Unit: A Troop, 2-17 Cavalry Regiment, Task Force No Mercy, 101st CAB, 101st Airborne Division
On 20 August 2008, SWT 1 took off on time, approximately 1000L, and departed FOB Salerno enroute to the North Test Fire Area. SWT 1 completed test fire and was about to conduct a standard recon of the Zanbar area. Prior to the team being able to do that Glory Main contacted the AMC and requested that we maneuver our SWT to the Terrazi area because there was a report that a Taliban element had
attacked and robbed a construction crew.
Upon reaching the area personnel on the ground pointed in the general area as to where the enemy had gone. CW2 Peterson directed my attention to a dust trail off to the North. I informed the AMC that I was heading off in that direction. When we got closer, we could tell that there were 2 white Toyota Corolla hatchbacks doing about 50 mph over an unimproved road. I flew on the left side of the 2 cars and passed in front of the two vehicles, I saw that each car had 6 military aged males in them. I was unable at this time to determine if there were any weapons. The AMC instructed me to come in a little lower to determine weapons.
As I continued my turn back to the North and on the right side of the cars this time, I told CW2 Peterson to take out his M4 and if necessary, suppress the enemy for us if there were hostile actions taken. As we moved along side of the 2 cars the most Southern car had a passenger that pointed an RPG at my aircraft. I broke away before CW2 Peterson could fire his M4. I told the AMC that hostile actions had
As I broke off to the East, CW3 Cotriss began engaging the 2 cars. When I had come around the most Southern car was stopping, and the Northern car was continuing. CW3 Cotriss stayed with the Northern car and I stayed with the Southern car. The Southern car began to stop as I was rolling out, beginning my engagement.
I was going to start the engagement with my .50 cal machine gun, but it wouldn’t fire. I switched to rockets and fired 2 of the 4 I had on board. I missed with those 2 and broke left to begin another engagement. I rolled in again with the 2 remaining rockets, the first rocket missed, and the last rocket landed at the feet of one enemy fighter, and he never moved again. At this time, I instructed CW2 Peterson to begin engaging with his M4. I lowered the helicopter to about 10 feet above ground level (AGL) and kept my airspeed at about 20 knots so CW2 Peterson could accurately engage the enemy.
As CW2 Peterson was engaging with M4, I was re-cocking the .50 cal trying to get it to become operational. After approximately 10 re-cocks of the .50 cal it came to life. I pedal turned and killed 2 more Taliban fighters from a hover. As all of this was happening, I was talking to Hard Rock 5 (the ground unit) giving them a SITREP, maintaining obstacle avoidance, and keeping the aircraft in good
position for CW2 Peterson to employ his M4. I requested that they mount up and move to our position to police up the bodies and weapons. I stopped firing the .50 cal machine gun and CW2 Peterson stopped firing his M4. We continued to search the area for any more enemy fighters but all 6 had been killed. At this time CW2 Peterson began to photograph the dead around the most Southern vehicle.
We then moved up to the Northern vehicle because CW3 Cotriss was off to the West taking care of the remaining 4 of 6 enemy combatants. At the Northern vehicle, the driver had been killed by a .50 cal round and the front passenger on the left side was also killed by .50 cal machine gun fire. As CW3 Cotriss was policing up the enemy to the West he was calling Glory Main (ground unit) and No Mercy TOC (our owning aviation unit) to launch the QRF, AH-64 Apaches from FOB Salerno, because SWT 1 was now Winchester (no ammunition remaining) and there were still 2 enemy wounded that were shooting at CW3 Cotriss’ aircraft.
As CW3 Cotriss continued to secure the west with the 2 wounded enemy fighters, while I and CW2 Peterson secured both vehicles and all 10 EKIA that were between the 2 vehicles. At this time CW2 Peterson took the initiative and began photographing the EKIA and the Toyota Corollas. The QRF finally arrived and killed the final 2 remaining wounded fighters. The Afghan National Police (ANP) were the first friendly ground assets on scene and began collecting up all 12 of the dead enemy bodies. Hard Rock 5 arrived and SWT 1 broke station for refuel and the Bear Cat element (a flight of 2 AH-64 Apache helicopters) stayed on station to provide security.
SWT 1 rearmed, refueled and returned to the engagement area. The QRF departed and SWT 1 continued to provide security for the next 4 hours while Hard Rock 5 conducted operations. Before breaking station SWT 1 reconned the route that Hard Rock 5 was to take back to Terrazi District Center (DC) to ensure their safe return to the DC, this concluded another 6-hour long mission.