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Cultivating Afghanistan: Attack on FOB Salerno

  • MRAPs

    Image 1 of 8

    Photo: Douglas Wissing

    The ADT has a full compliment of heavily armored MRAP (Mine-Resistant, Ambush-Protected) vehicles. Though the 37,000-pound trucks are designed to protect soldiers from bomb blasts, IEDs can still destroy the $1.5 million trucks.

  • ADT Soldiers and Humvee

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    Photo: Douglas Wissing

    The ADT seldom uses Humvees in Khost Province, as the armor is too light to withstand insurgent Improvised Explosive Devices.

  • Base Address

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    Photo: Douglas Wissing

    The ADT compound is located at the corner of Anderson and Artillery roads on Forward Operating Base Salerno. The compound includes a hardened masonry headquarters building, as well as a motor pool and various plywood huts. The ADT also has an olive orchard and a small experimental farm, where a herd of cossetted goats live in relative luxury.

  • Taliban Mountains

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    Photo: Douglas Wissing

    Seen from the roof of the ADT compound, the nearby mountains of Pakistan are insurgent-controlled, providing a haven for them launch attacks

  • Live Fire Training

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    Photo: Douglas Wissing

    Both Force Protection soldiers and Agricultural Specialists maintain their shooting skills with firing range time.

  • Staff Sergeant James McCool

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    Photo: Douglas Wissing

    Staff Sgt. James McCool led a unit during the insurgent attack on Forward Operating Base Salerno.

  • Specialist Thomas Cobb

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    Photo: Douglas Wissing

    Spc. Thomas Cobb, seen here standing guard in the mountains of Khost Province, was on guard duty the night of Taliban attack. Finding beauty amidst the combat, he likened the incoming rockets to "shooting stars."

  • Base Howitzer

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    Photo: Douglas Wissing

    The artillery crew provides both defense for FOB Salerno and support for operations many miles away, in all directions.

Though the Indiana National Guard’s Agribusiness Development Team is posted to Forward Operating Base Salerno, a hot spot in eastern Afghanistan, it’s seen relatively few casualties. But there are still insurgent attacks on the base where the team is stationed.

At some point in the night, the explosions and small arms fire began. Then the siren — not the familiar Giant Voice that announces incoming casualties and controlled detonations, but a sharp shrill tone which didn’t end. Someone started hammering on the metal doors of the hardened barracks. But despite the alarms,  the ADT was expecting the attack.

“We’d been told there was a possibility of another attack coming in,” Staff Sergeant James McCool said. “We didn’t know if it’d be complex or just another rocket attack or what it was.”

On this remote base just a few miles from the Taliban-controlled tribal regions of Pakistan, the ADT is often tasked with security duty. This night was no different, as the soldiers manned guard towers, and Sgt. McCool and his unit patrolled in a Humvee.

“We’d run two or three laps, stop, lights out.”

But then there was a blast. At first the team thought it was a base howitzer shelling Taliban targets; then the thought that it might be an incoming rocket — that the attack might be starting.

“Pretty soon we heard the sirens letting us know it was incoming for sure,” McCool remembers.

Then more rockets. The base artillery began returning fire, thumping the ground with enormous power.

“Fifty meters off to the driver’s side of the truck, we had a blast come in, and sparks flying,” the Sergeant said.  “We were doing what we were supposed to be doing, but the whole time we just were just talking in the truck, talking about how Thanksgiving was coming up, personal lives, the family, can’t wait to get home, things like that. Then when something like that happens, everybody’s mindset just changes so fast.”

When a guard tower reported small arms fire, McCool and his men headed there.

“We’re hollering up at the guys in the tower and at that point another one comes in right by the tower and throws sparks all over the place again.”

Specialist Thomas Cobb was in another guard tower under attack. He said there was beauty in the violence.

“Well, we heard the boom, and seen a rainbow silhouette going through the air; it looked like a shooting star, it did, going from east to west,” said Cobb.

More guard towers were calling in attack reports, and McCool had to make a decision.

“At that point, you’re getting pulled four different directions, and it’s like, ‘Why do we always run toward the stuff?’ But that’s what we do.”

When the firing ended, soldiers reported the Taliban fired off four rockets and attacked with Kalashnikov assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenades. But that night there were no casualties on FOB Salerno, so McCool said the soldiers only had to deal with the adrenaline rush.

“After I got back, it was probably only a couple of hours, I started to calm down,” he said.  “Unfortunately, it happens enough the adrenaline wears off pretty quick and you go back to bed.”

Next week: A look at war and the toll it can take on relationships.

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