By Mark Rountree
STILLWATER, Okla. —
What was going through the mind of Army National Guard Capt. Morgan Ashworth as he was lying on a valley floor in northeast Afghanistan with bullets whizzing over his head?
“Sometimes when things are happening and there’s the fog of war, the details aren’t always as clear. In the fog of war, we rely strictly on our battle drills,” said Ashworth, commander of C Co., 179th Infantry Regiment.
Ashworth, a graduate of Oklahoma State University, had been deployed overseas during Operation Desert Storm in 1991, then to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. But it was his 2011 deployment to northeast Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom that Ashworth found himself taking Taliban fire on that valley floor.
Ashworth’s troops had encountered a “kinetic” valley where there was much Taliban activity. The mission was to get security under control.
Ashworth led two platoons into a small village, where they were warned by a village elder that a large number Taliban fighters were preparing an ambush of Ashworth’s troops.
“At that point I had to make a decision,” Ashworth said. “We had to get back there and bring security back there, and so we moved forward.”
Ashworth ordered a platoon to high ground on a ridge line, moving parallel to Ashworth’s platoon on the valley floor.
“You could tell the tensions were high. I just didn’t know where they were going to ambush us at,” Ashworth said.
Ashworth ordered a machine gunner to set up a forward support by fire position that would allow him to suppress enemy fire.
More than 200 Taliban fighters in two separate positions set up an L-shaped ambush.
Ashworth and seven others were pinned down by Taliban fire from a Soviet-made machine gun.
“We were pinned down for a good two to three minutes,” Ashworth said. “And the guy that I had sent forward, he was able to open up with his machine gun and start suppressing the position immediately. That allowed us to regroup and get behind cover. We were in a place where there wasn’t a lot of cover. There was so much fire in the air, it looked like Star Wars. The tracers were going back and forth.”
Ashworth’s troops and the Taliban fighters fought until dark before U.S. mortar systems and aircraft dropping 500-pound bombs on the enemy ridge line began to have devastating effect.
Ashworth said that of the 200 Taliban fighters who attacked them, U.S. forces killed 55 and wounded another 30.
“We stayed there overnight and pushed forward the next day to show the villagers that we are here to bring security to your village,” Ashworth said. “Just because we are engaged by an extremely large force we’re not going to back out of there.”
Ashworth said the mission was completed the next day, much to the delight of the villagers.
“They just felt safe when we were down there,” he said.
Ashworth said throughout his military career, he has been in numerous combat situations, and sometimes wonders how he survived.
“Being pinned down on the ground with that much fire, sometimes you just wonder ... how we got out of that,” Ashworth said. “God’s watching us. I think there was some divine intervention on our part. ... We were able to inflict serious damage to the enemy without taking too many casualties. I’ve had many situations like that, and I don’t know how we always came out on top.”
Ashworth said that the bond created with fellow soldiers in combat is unlike any other bond.
“Once you develop a combat bond with your brothers there is no other bond that I could ever make with anybody, including my family, that is that type of bond,” Ashworth said.
Ashworth said his latest deployment was rewarding for many reasons, but he was particularly impressed how his young soldiers worked with and mentored soldiers from the Afghan National Army.
“Our primary mission was to patrol the sector and bring security to the population,” said Ashworth. “That’s coupled with working with the Afghan National Army and teaching them how the American infantry patrols, how we secure the sector. ... I had soldiers at all levels mentoring their Afghan counterparts, so for me, that was really great to see.”