We were stationed in Kandahar AFG, 2010-2011, leaving COP Terra Nova, and headed deeper into the Arghandab River Valley (ARV)…further than any US troops had been yet.
Taliban resistance is heavy in the ARV, it’s an IED alley every direction out of Terra Nova and every village along the river is infiltrated. We have been at a tiny outpost for the first 90 days, and get the word we are to take and hold a compound in a small colache (village) and start rooting out the Taliban that are using this side of the river to harass our COP’s and FOB’s on the Kandahar side with direct and indirect fires, IED’s and all around asshattery.
2nd platoon “Spartans” of “Blackhawk” company 1-22 INF has a great base of combat- hardened NCOs and a good bunch of FNGs that are ready and looking for a fight.
We rally at Terra Nova and rack out on the hoods of MAT-Vs and pallets of MREs.
Everywhere you look there are pallets of ammo, cases of water, counter-IED backpacks (name redacted for OPSEC by the author), and 5590 batteries by the dozen. I spent that night in a restless sleep on the hood of my MAT-V, and let me tell you, it was anything but comfortable.
It was early October and the nights were Getting colder but that wasn’t why I wasn’t sleeping. If you have ever been “in the shit” you know when higher is giving you little to no WARNO or FRAGO information, it either means the shit is about to get real, or they have no intel. Well in this case, it was both.
There was a small COP about 1.5 clicks from Terra Nova, called COP Nolan.
Nolan had been having a hard go of it lately. Snipers, mortars, rockets and the constant harassing and effective fires from the Taliban warriors made dismounted patrols an almost impossibility. 101st 1/320th held the COP, they were Field Artillery and were doing a pretty good job of handling business, but they didn’t have any luck getting deeper into the ARV. A town close to Nolan had felt the effects of 1/320th’s commander, COL Flynn’s, superior firepower. He basically blew the town to dust and rocks, but we can save that for a future story.
Back at Terra Nova, we were awoken by the sound of MICLICs clearing the road between Terra Nova and Nolan (like they did every morning) because the Taliban would emplace multiple IED’s on that 1.5km stretch every single night under the cover of darkness.
We got moving that evening around 1500; the mission would be for us to stop at Nolan and pick up a FAST and Sappers from the 101st and push forward 1100-1800 meters to establish a new COP in a small village right off the river.
Our EOD team was 1st platoon 62nd EOD out of Carson, just like us. It was headed up by SFC Mike Mednansky, with SGT David Guyette and another guy, SGT Fiori, but he wasn’t really part of my platoons missions.
I had been deployed a few times already and had my fair share of time with EOD, and let me tell you a finer team of EOD guys, you can not find. He was always willing to teach us Grunts, and always willing to pull guard duty or walk along side us on every patrol that we did. These guys were top notch…knowledgeable on all types of explosives and IEDs deployed in the area, fluent in tactics and movements, and even able to speak and understand “Grunt Speak”. These guys were a much-needed asset on the ARV for us.
Establishing a new COP
The movement from Nolan, to where we ultimately established COP Durham, was about 1400m. It took us over 4.5 hours to push that far down the small mud wall lined road, because there was an IED every 30-75m. Most were blown in place by SFC Ski and his team; a few were removed and disarmed. At one point we held an intersection while Ski and team went with the Command group and part of the FAST team to figure out which compound would give us the tactical advantage in the area. I sat across from the remaining members of the FAST with my M240 gunner SPC Serrano. Unknown to us at the time, the FAST was sitting on top of a command wire IED made up of a few 60mm mortar rounds and some Det cord, with a wire run along the mud wall to a location around the corner to attach the battery to detonate it. Luckily nobody detonated it that night, and they were able to find and disarm it the following week…or this story would be told by someone else.
To say we over utilized SFC Mednansky and SGT Guyette would be a gross understatement and a blatant dishonor to their unwavering service. These guys were walking one or two 5-7km patrols a day while the platoons walked one, plus or minus a short R&S patrol at night. Chow and water were hard to come by, with us normally getting one First Strike MRE to stretch to 1.5-2 days, and a case of water per 24 hours for two soldiers to share. We had all the pomegranates we could eat, so that supplemented our diet fairly well.
SFC Ski and his team spent all of October and November with us at COP Durham, and helped us stay in the fight by disarming and (blowing in place) BIP, countless IEDs and other munitions. Ski found a few “anti-tamper” device that targeted anyone that attempted to remove or disarm the devices. They helped with clearing trees, a wall, and other debris to make a legit LZ at our new COP. They taught us how to set up and deploy APOB’s and even volunteered to take a turn or two at night low crawling out and setting in Claymores and trip flares as we set up our outer perimeter.
Anyone who has helped establish a new COP or FOB knows that the work is endless.
Driving T-Posts, running Concertina wire, building piss tubes and shitters, increasing security, and keeping the place clean is a never ending job. We were so far forward that all support and resupply had to be air-lifted in. Ski and his team never sat down and let “the Grunts” handle it.
I think I did see SFC Ski lay around one day in “Ranger Panties” and work on his tan, but I am sure no proof of that exists.
From KP to guard duty; from shitty chow to burning shit, he was always there with a quick joke or a lesson to teach…up to and including how to correctly obliterate an Afghan ant nest utilizing a thermite grenade and a hastily made dam around the ant holes. We lost SFC Mednansky and his team some time in late November, and we were very unhappy with that. But 1/22 HQ needed a top notch EOD team to plus up the fight at ANCOP.
We got word mid December that he was injured disarming an IED on Route Hyenas.
Word around the campfire was that it was another new anti tamper that was targeting him and his team personally, but Big Army would never validate that. Mike lost three fingers off his left hand, and a large portion of his right forearm. He makes it very clear that he can still hold onto a 12oz or a brandy snifter, so all was not lost. SGT Guyette was always there for Mike, and this time he did a large part of saving Ski…by applying tourniquets and bandages while the Medic just sat there. The worst part of the injury was that it ended his active duty service, as any injured leader/Soldier will tell you, but he still shares his knowledge and lessons learned in the Counter Terrorist/ counter IED community. He still lives in Colorado and I am proud to have served with him, and honored to call him friend. Mike is a true hero, and a large part of why our scrawny asses made it out of the ARV alive.
SFC Mike Mednansky is my Throatpunch Thursday Designated Hitter for this month.
A consummate professional, unafraid of the enemy, and quick to stick his face in a IED and and disarm or BIP the hell out of it.
Never once did I hear him or his team say “That’s not our job”
So if you are attached or tasked out….learn from Iron Mike Mednansky and “Do Work” don’t just pop a squat and let everyone else handle it. Lead from the front.
Thanks SFC Ski. You and Guyette are both worthy of a spot in my ORP anytime.