While Part 1 of this story is going to talk about three courageous Paratrooper Staff Sergeants that fought a key battle in Afghanistan in 2005, this series of posts is really about Matthew Blaskowski.
The following information about Staff Sergeants Matthew Blaskowski, Patrick Brannan, and Christopher Choay comes from the US Army.
The Chosen Company of 2nd Battalion, 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment was sent to Afghanistan in early 2005. As staff sergeants, Blaskowski, Choay and Brannan each led squads of paratrooper scouts on missions to find the Taliban and Al Qaeda.
On May 3rd, 2005, 2nd Battalion received intelligence reports that between 80 to 150 Taliban were gathering in the remote Ar-gan-dab valley in Southeastern Afghanistan. SSG Brannan led his scout squad in Humvees along into the Ar-gan-dab valley. They were also operating with a squad of Afghan national police.
As they entered the valley, the came across a man who had been severely beaten by the Taliban. He had a note tied to his body threatening any Afghans that attended the local school. He told the paratroopers where he thought they were hiding.
It wasn’t long before SSG Brannan had located the enemy. He radioed Battalion Headquarters for reinforcements. Brannan’s forces then engaged the Taliban.
Attempting to prevent the enemy from flanking his smaller force, SSG Brannan separated his teams to provide maximum fire power onto the enemy positions. The Taliban began to focus their firepower on one humvee. As RPG after RPG struck the humvee, it burst into flames. SPC Joseph Leatham was in the humvee turret and refused to evacuate the burning humvee until he was sure that the other paratroopers were safe. The burning humvee started to roll backwards. Sergeant Derek Huss got behind the burning humvee and tried to keep it from rolling. Keep in mind that the paratroopers were being shot at all at the same time. Sergeant Nik Pak told Leatham to exit the humvee. Leatham got out, covered by SSG Brannan, set up a new position.
Back at Headquarters, SSGs Choay and Blaskowski got word to move out towards Brannan’s position. They launched in CH-47 Chinook Helicopters and headed towards the Ar-gan-dab valley. Several times, the helicopters with reinforcements tried to land close to Brannan’s position, but due to the intense fire, could not.
SSG Brannan’s men watched the reinforcements be driven back.
SSG Blaskoski’s helicopter was hit by rocket propelled grenades twice before finding a safe place to land. The reinforcements dismounted and began the trek towards SSG Brannan’s position.
After two hours since initially spotting the enemy, SSGs Choay and Blaskowski arrived with their squads of scouts to assist SSG Brannan.
Brannan asked Blaskowski to set up machine gun positions on a nearby hill top to provide a base of fire on the Taliban positions. This would allow the smaller American force to maneuver on the enemy.
The hill top that Blaskowski set up on was covered in shale like rock that offered little to protect the paratroopers. The enemy soon figured out that the American machine gun teams on the hill had to be silenced or they would lose their numerical advantage.
As the enemy maneuvered against Blaskowski’s men, the staff sergeant repositioned his machine gun teams to keep them from being overrun. That’s when Specialist Tyler Wilson was hit three times. Realizing that a wounded man becomes an even bigger target than the machine gun teams, SSG Blaskowski ran to get Wilson. When he got to Wilson’s position, bullets were hitting all around him.
That’s when SSG Blaskowksi was shot. Hit in the leg, Blaskowski evacuated Wilson to a safer position where his soldiers could treat them. Even though wounded, Blaskowski continued to direct his paratroopers until more help could arrive.
While SSG Blaskowski’s battle was happening, SSG Choay was attempting to engage the Taliban in the valley below. The enemy was hiding behind a long wall inside of an orchard. SSG Choay tried to get Apache attack helicopters to locate and engage the Taliban, but the helicopters could not see the enemy from the air.
So, as SSG Blaskowski’s machine guns raked the wall with fire, SSG Choay maneuvered his squad of paratroopers in close to the Taliban.
He saw two Taliban machine gun crews and one RPG crew behind the wall. SSG Choay’s squad charged the wall. Choay himself killed three and wounded another Taliban. His soldiers took care of the others. That’s when Choay noticed a bunker hidden by the wall.
Taking fire from the bunker, SSG Choay threw a grenade killing five Taliban.
After the fight that lasted more than six hours, several paratroopers were severely wounded – Specialist Tyler Wilson was paralyzed and another paratrooper lost a leg. Thirty seven Taliban were confirmed killed , many more wounded.
At this point, I’ll let SSG Blaskowski tell you about his part in the battle briefly from his hospital bed in Lanstuhl Germany (US Army video):
For their actions on the third of May, 2005, SSGs Matthew Blaskowski, Christopher Choay, and Patrick Brannan were awarded the Silver Star for undaunted gallantry and valor in battle.
Silver Stars and Purple Hearts are prepared for presentation to U.S. Army soldiers from the 173rd Airborne Brigade prior to an awards ceremony held Nov. 30, 2005, at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan. U.S. Army photo by Spc. Jon Arguello.
U.S. Army Gen. John Abizaid, U.S. Central Command commander, congratulates Staff Sgt. Matthew Blaskowski, Chosen Company, 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment (Airborne) on receiving the Silver Star for gallantry in combat during a fire fight May 3, 2005, in Zabul Province, Afghanistan. The ceremony was held Nov. 30, 2005, at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan. U.S. Army photo by Spc. Jon Arguello.
The photo above is of all three leaders: SSG Blaskowski, SSG Brannan and SSG Choay. SSG Blaskowski's award reads:
...Numerous times, Staff Sgt. Blaskowski placed himself at great risk while engaging the enemy positions and relaying directions to his machine gun crews. Blaskowski's unwavering valor and understanding of his mission fixed a determined enemy and prevented them from maneuvering in any direction, thereby allowing 1st Platoon to destroy 17 enemy in the orchard, breaking all resistance in the valley. Blaskowski fought with dogged determination even after he was wounded in the leg pulling a wounded solider to safety, maintaining his position for another hour until he was able to help other wounded soldiers to safety.
As 3rd Platoon Weapon Squad Leader for Chosen Company 2rd Battalion (Airborne) 503rd Infantry, Staff Sgt. Blaskowski displayed undaunted gallantry and valor without regard for his own safety under heavy enemy machine gun and RPG fire for over four hours while wounded near Bulac Kalay, Afghanistan in the Arghandab Valley. His actions reflect great credit upon himself, CJF 76 and the United States Army.
SSG Blaskowski, on a stretcher bound for Germany had this to say about the battle “we were put into a situation where something had to be done and we did it.”
Three months later, "Sergeant Ski" was back in the fight...
[Part 2 follows]