View Full Version : CO B 5/19 in Afghanistan

03-12-2004, 09:28
TRIAL BY FIRE (http://www.reserve-nationalguard.com/articles/trialbyfire.htm) by JENNIFER G. WILLIAMS

Only one percent of Army National Guard soldiers belong to Special Forces units, yet they constitute nearly 30 percent of troops with U.S. Army Special Forces Command. The Guard operates two of the Army’s seven elite SF Groups, and drilling soldiers sometimes travel hundreds of miles each month to belong to either the 19th or 20th Group. With today’s military depending more and more on Reserve and National Guard troops in conflicts, these specially trained soldiers are seeing more than their share of action.
The 19th Group, headquartered in Salt Lake City, Utah, and with units in California, Colorado, Ohio, Rhode Island, Washington and West Virginia, primarily takes responsibility for Pacific and Central areas of operation, but currently has several hundred troops in and around Afghanistan.
In March 2002, Capt. Doug Paul found himself the senior officer in the middle of Afghanistan’s Paktia province, with about a dozen allied soldiers and roughly 800 Afghans under his command. Only a few months before, the 33-year-old donned a business suit and worked hard to bring in new accounts for Charles Schwab near Denver, Colo.
The 14-year guardsman admits it was a little overwhelming. “Talk about a change,” It was a huge responsibility,” he says. “We got there and they basically said, ‘you’re in charge now, goodbye,’ and that was it. I didn’t think they’d give a Guard guy that much responsibility so soon, but I’m glad they did.”
Capt. Paul and other members of Colorado’s 5th Battalion lived up to their high Special Forces expectations while in Afghanistan, running operations and missions alongside their active duty counterparts with little or no distinction between the two. The impressive thing about this group, says one National Guard Bureau official, is that its members were trained specifically for Southeast Asia operations, yet they went to the Middle East with little advance notice and immediately were put into battle situations, where they integrated seamlessly into the mix.
About 100 personnel from Colorado’s B Company left for the Middle East in late 2001, says Company Commander Maj. Jeff Cercy. They joined another 300 19th Group troops from West Virginia and Utah units in a composite battalion under the West-Virginia-based 2nd Battalion, and returned home late last year. The remaining 300-plus soldiers from Colorado’s 5th Battalion are currently in Afghanistan helping to, among other things, train that country’s fledgling army.
Capt. Paul says he and others from the 19th expected just to support the active duty 5th Special Forces Group when they arrived overseas last year. “We thought our teams would be broken up and our personnel would be used to backfill positions as needed,” he says. “But we ended up taking our teams intact and getting right in the thick of things.”
Once B Company was activated, they went through Fort Campbell, Ky., over to Germany, then were sent to a country neighboring Afghanistan to receive their assignments. “Once you’re there, nerves start going a little,” says Capt. Paul.
According to officials at the National Guard Bureau in Arlington, Va., two National Guardsmen from the 19th Group were subsequently killed in action. One of the two soldiers was in B Company of the 5th Battalion from Colorado, which recently returned from a nearly year-long deployment to Afghanistan.
“There were no televisions, so you’re getting first-hand reports of what’s going on, and then when you see them carrying bodies through the camp from some battle downrange, it hits you that it’s for real,” Capt. Paul says.
Most of B Company’s teams stayed busy while in Afghanistan, says MSgt. Ben Bitonel, who spent six years active duty with the 5th Special Forces Group before joining the 12th Special Forces in the Army Reserve and finally coming to the 19th Group in 1994 when the 12th Group was inactivated. “We weren’t just sitting around,” he says. “We were constantly patrolling the city [Kandahar], checking out areas where enemy cells had been reported.”
One advantage the Guard’s Special Forces troops have over their active duty counterparts is the length of time most teams have trained together, says MSgt. Bitonel, a 42-year-old nuclear plant security officer from Amarillo, Texas. “It definitely helps,” he says, explaining that when teams have been together for a while, members can anticipate what others need in stressful situations, and react more quickly.
Staff Sgt. Marco Hernandez drilled twice before being activated with B Company, having just left active duty after six years with the 7th Special Forces. He says his recent experiences on active duty benefited him as a guardsman. “Modern-day warfare is so complex,” says the Brownsville, Texas, civil engineer. “In the Guard, you try to stay relevant with equipment and terminology. Even so, some of the radio and demolition equipment we used in Afghanistan was new to a lot of guys.” Active duty troops usually get equipment months or even years before it filters down to
Guard units, officials say.
Hernandez also said he felt that coming from active duty helped prepare him for the constant alertness required of troops in Afghanistan.
“If you maintain your awareness, you’re much less likely to be involved in skirmishes,” he says. “The enemy is opportunistic; they’re pretty much waiting for you to let down your guard. The threat is always there, so you have to stay on a higher state of alert at all times.”
Cercy admits that keeping troops motivated and alert during down times was one of the tougher aspects of commanding in Afghanistan.
“You’d go for periods of time when nothing was happening, and guys would start to relax a little,” he says. “But it’s not like other wars, where you had a clear definition of who the enemy was. Taliban and al Qaeda soldiers meld back into society, and
could be anywhere.”
But commanding in the desert was actually easier than commanding part-time at drills, says Cercy.
“The difficult part was really at the beginning, getting everyone prepared to go with all the paperwork involved,” he says. “Once we were there, everyone had their specific missions and knew what they had to do. During drill, most of your time [as commander] is spent on administrative stuff, but this was real. This is what they’d all trained for.”


03-12-2004, 09:30

Each Special Forces Company typically is divided into six A-Teams of 12 soldiers. Each A-Team has specific, as well as SF-general training. Since Guard units recruit and train their own volunteer soldiers, they can have fewer people on each team. Capt. Paul’s team had 10 members total. After leaving Germany, the teams received their assignments in a unique Special Operations fashion.
Assignments are given during isolation time, in which each team is brought to a facility cut off from the outside world. Teams are then given information about their mission and a timetable to figure out how they will do it. They are left alone for a period of time, then are asked to present their plan, along with a list of supplies they’ll need to accomplish their mission.
“We kinda self-deployed from there,” explains Capt. Paul. “We coordinated with pilots to get to Gardez.” His team then joined British Marines in the mountains to conduct Battlefield Damage Assessments following Operation Anaconda.
“Overall, it was an ideal Guard experience,” he says. “We went down there as an A-Team and searched for bad guys on a daily basis. We were able to put into practice all that we’d been trained to do.”
But the deployment was not ideal for the 5th Battalion.
On April 15, 2002, 30-year-old SFC Daniel Romero of Amarillo, Texas, and three soldiers from the San Diego-based 710th Explosive Ordinance Detachment — SSgt. Brian Craig, SSgt. Justin Galewski and Sgt. Jamie Maugans — were killed when they set off an enemy booby trap while attempting to destroy a cache of 107mm rockets in Kandahar, says Cercy. The soldiers from the 710th lived with B Company and “were really a part of this unit,” he says.
“Three days later, we had a rocket attack at our camp,” says Cercy. Two days after that, B Company’s Lt. Greg Miller of College Station, Texas, was shot in the face and wounded while on patrol in Kandahar. “All in one week,” says Cercy. “That was really tough on a lot of people.”
In May, another 19th Group soldier, 2nd Battalion’s SSgt. Gene Vance, 38 of Morgantown, W Va., was killed in action while taking part in Operation Mountain Lion, when the vehicle in which he and other soldiers were patrolling in was struck by enemy gunfire.
The losses hit home for the guardsmen and their families, all of whom were already dealing with the company’s exceptionally long deployment.
“A lot of us have gone overseas a lot, but usually for a month or so at a time,” says Capt. Paul, who has spent 10 years with the 19th Group. “This was the longest we’d been deployed anywhere that I can remember.”
For most soldiers, the hardest part about being away is being separated from family. MSgt. Bitonel left for Afghanistan when his wife was approximately six months pregnant with their fifth child. The Red Cross woke him in the predawn hours a few weeks before his wife was due to tell him his third son had come early. MSgt. Bitonel was especially busy during that time, but was able to use a satellite phone to call his wife in the hospital two days later.
And while loved ones have to deal with the emotional pains of missing Guard soldiers, employers have to deal with the temporary loss of their employees. Most employers are supportive, and some even go the extra mile.
“I’ve been very fortunate,” says MSgt. Bitonel, whose employer called his wife to check on her and to see how he was doing overseas.
And while soldiers are always glad to get home, it does take a little time to re-acclimate to their old lives.
“We had about 16 rocket attacks, one suicide attack and mines planted for us everywhere over there,” says Capt. Paul. “It took me about a week to unwind and get used to being in the civilian world again.”
But B Company soldiers know they shouldn’t get too comfy at home. Based on the downsizing of today’s military, Guard and Reserve troops are playing a larger role in military actions all over the world, says Cercy.
Cercy adds that the B Company is currently awaiting the return of the remainder of the 5th BN from Afghanistan.
“We are always in preparation for deployment if called upon to support...any conflict that may break out in other parts of
the world.”

03-12-2004, 09:32
There's some pics on the link at the top of the thread, if you're interested.

03-15-2004, 11:35
Good article, pics are good too. Thanks.

Those were the guys I worked with over there. Good guys, Marco gave me a pretty good demo class, and let me blow some shit up. :D

12-21-2007, 11:11
Not the 1st up there huh..:D

05-20-2008, 02:54
Nice article. Dan Romero was my junior for all of 6 weeks before he was killed. By the way, the guys didn't set off a booby trap. It was command-detonated as they were walking up to it.

08-04-2008, 15:01
Do you know my father SSG Gene Vance who was KIA?

08-04-2008, 15:35

I didnt know your father but wanted to thank you for the sacrifice your Father made as well as your family's sacrifice.

Repose en Paix SSG Vance...


08-04-2008, 16:47
Do you know my father SSG Gene Vance who was KIA?

Daddy'sgirl, I knew you father, and I served with him in the Shkin Firebase. My team rotated out about 1 month prior to the ambush where he lost his life.

He was a good man, and I am glad to have met him.

09-30-2009, 23:41
I finally found were I had put this picture. It's SFC Romero's cross that the team 18C and I put together. He did the art work and I wrote the words. It wasn't much but it was the best we could come up with at the time. No one, including Dan, it turned out, knew Dan's widow was pregnant and miscarried until she told everyone at his funeral. When we heard about that back in A-Stan we agreed to give him credit for being a dad and so put it on there. The team carried his cross up and placed it on top of "Prudential" which overlooked Camp Gecko (that was the name when we were there). The cross has since been recovered by some of our brethren, from which group I don't know, and returned to B/5/19 down at Fort Carson. It's a bit weathered but now stands at the armory entrance along with a portrait and small statue of Dan.