Spokane native, Lone Airman at combat outpost recounts enemy attack - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

Spokane native, Lone Airman at combat outpost recounts enemy attack

FORWARD OPERATING BASE BOSTICK, Afghanistan. - Being the only Joint Expeditionary Tasked Airman assigned to an Army Combat Outpost on the outskirts of Afghanistan-Pakistan border can be a little intimidating and scary.

Being assigned to COP Keating while under attack by hundreds of insurgents armed with assault rifles and rocket propelled grenades is absolutely frightening and exactly where Staff Sgt. Matthew McMurtrey found himself on the morning of October 3, 2009.

Sergeant McMurtrey is a JET Airman from the 755th Air Expeditionary Group, based at Bagram Airfield, and was attached to the Army's 3rd Squadron, 61st Calvary, 4th Brigade, 4th Infantry Division at COP Keating. His job there was to set up and maintain a satellite system used to provide Soldiers with internet accessibility. While under direct enemy fire, he overcame his fear, performing his assigned duties admirably according to Army and Air Force supervisors.

The large, coordinated attack began with rocket propelled grenade and machine gun fire at approximately 6 a.m., rocking him out of a sound sleep.

"Basically it knocked me out of bed, it was a pretty big hit," said the 9-year Air Force veteran deployed from Barksdale Air Force Base, La. "The room was covered in dust and I started to hear more explosions... figured OK, this is an attack," continued the Spokane native.

Sergeant McMurtrey grabbed his M-16, put on his individual body armor [IBA] and just as he had practiced in a battle drill a week ago, he ran out of his sleeping quarters, turned left and went to his battle position at the COP Keating's aid station.

As he arrived at the aid station, Army Capt. Christopher Cordova, a medic from the 3-61 Calvary, 4th ID, Fort Carson, Colo., told him to get into the back of the aid station as far back as he could go.

"I usually push people to a safe position," said Captain Cordova. "The safest place was back away from the door, behind a wall."

This turned out to be an accurate assessment as approximately 30 minutes into the firefight an RPG exploded on the corner of the aid station's front door, showering shrapnel on everyone in the aid station except Captain Cordova and Sergeant McMurtrey.

"It ricocheted off one of the side walls and hit [a soldier] - he was a couple of inches from me - it hit him in the calf and peppered a couple of the other medics with shrapnel and [also] hit the front of his IBA and started firing off some rounds that were in his vest," said Sergeant McMurtrey.

Sergeant McMurtrey and the medics moved quickly to remove the Soldier's vest and other gear and treated his injuries, putting him in a side room in the aid station. At that time Sergeant McMurtrey was given an M-4 instead of his M-16 and posted behind a table as security at the side door of the aid station.

"I just pointed the red dot at the opening of the door and waited," he said.

Wounded U.S. and Afghan soldiers arrived shortly after the RPG attack. The first to arrive at the aid station were Afghan National Army soldiers brought down from the main entry control point who bore the brunt of the first wave of RPGs.

"They [the ANA] started coming in pretty beat up ... with a lots of [bad looking] wounds," said Sergeant McMurtrey.

According to Captain Cordova about five to seven ANA soldiers came in all at once taking up most of his medics' attention. After they were treated and stabilized they were moved back to where Sergeant McMurtrey was posted as security.

"We didn't have a lot of medical personnel on hand so we utilized Sergeant McMurtrey by having him keep an eye on IV [intravenous] bags, checking on patients to make sure they were still conscious and making sure they didn't require any more treatment," said the captain.

As the day progressed, RPG and small arms fire increased, as did the casualties coming into the aid station. Enemy attacks soon took out the power in the building and the medics had to treat patients with only emergency power to work with.

Soon afterwards the first U.S. casualty was brought into the aid station. Sergeant McMurtrey was ordered to clear his weapon and place his body in a body bag, which ended up being placed only a few feet next to where he was pulling security duty.

"I monitored and changed out a few IVs that were low and if anybody looked like they were not doing too well I let the medics know. About that time we heard reports that the enemy was in the wire ... and basically I was waiting for someone to come through the door at that point. It was pretty hairy the whole time," said Sergeant McMurtrey.

A short time later Air Force aircraft were on scene and engaging the enemy, according to Army 1st Lt. Cason Shrode, COP Keating's fires support officer.

"We received a heavy volley of fire," the lieutenant said referring to the initial wave of enemies. However, "we had so many different assets up in the air . . . they were stacked on so many different levels...we had everything we needed."

From his perspective on the ground, Sergeant McMurtrey believes that the close air support was what turned the tide of battle.

"Once air support showed up, they started bombing everything... the blasts through the door from the bombs being dropped almost knocked me over," said Sergeant McMurtrey.

After more than 10 hours of bombing and strafing from an Air Force B-1B Lancer and F-15E Strike Eagles, nearly 100 militants were killed by the combined response that included Afghan soldiers as well as U.S. air and ground units. Eight Americans and three Afghans were killed, while nine Americans and 11 Afghans were wounded, according to CJTF-82 officials.

"There is no doubt that without the incredible air support we received, it would have been a much worse day," said Army Lt. Col. Robert Brown, 3-61 Cavalry commander from the 4th ID. "Your ability to keep a steady flow of aircraft and ordnance on the enemy turned what could have been a terrible defeat into a hard fought victory."

Despite claims from the Taliban, COP Keating was in the process of a scheduled re-positioning as part of a security strategy to focus more on populated areas, according to Combined Joint Task Force-82 officials.


By: Tech. Sgt. John Jung
455th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
(Capt. David Faggard from the 455th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs Office contributed to this story.)
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