A soldier assigned to Company B, 2nd Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment, Task Force No Fear, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, TF Bronco, pulls guard while watching storm clouds roll in over Observation Post Coleman outside of Combat Outpost Monti in eastern Afghanistan's Kunar Province May 5. The soldiers stationed here at the mouth of the Pech River Valley and the Kunar River Valley, live in some of the most dangerous terrain in Afghanistan.
This is a great story form SFC Burrell about a PFC and his team leader...
'Restrepo' soldier returns to Afghanistan
Story by Sgt. 1st Class Mark Burrell
KUNAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan – Less than six months ago, U.S. Army Pfc. William A. Swaray's drill sergeant at Fort Benning, Ga., gathered soon-to-be infantrymen in a small room.
U.S. Army Pfc. William A. Swaray, an infantryman and native of Monrovia, Liberia, assigned to Company B, 2nd Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment, Task Force No Fear, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, TF Bronco, scans for insurgent activity at Observation Post Coleman outside of Combat Outpost Monti in eastern Afghanistan's Kunar Province, May 5. Swaray joined the Army at 38 to fight for a country he has adopted as his own.
The drill sergeant wanted the young soldiers to watch the movie "Restrepo."
"He said, 'OK, this is what you guys have gotten in to, so watch it and see,'" said Swaray, now assigned to Company B, 2nd Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment, Task Force No Fear, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, TF Bronco.
"When we watched the movie, some of us became afraid," Swaray said. "We started to see reality from that day on."
Now, Swaray, a native of Monrovia, Liberia, is living at an observation post outside of Combat Outpost Monti in eastern Afghanistan's Kunar Province. The reality is he is not far from where the documentary 'Restrepo' took place.
Not only is he a few miles from the Pech River Valley, but his team leader is U.S. Army Sgt. Misha Pemble-Belkin.
"Surprisingly, when I came to this unit, the very guy that was in the movie is in the same platoon and my team leader," Swaray said. "I remember him in the movie shooting the MK-19 (automatic grenade launcher), and I remember him when he was being interviewed by the reporter. He's like a hero, man."
Pemble-Belkin, a native of Hillsboro, Ore., laughs when people treat him different than other soldiers.
"It's just a movie, that's the way I look at it," said Pemble-Belkin. "It's no big deal to me, it's cool, but I've done cooler stuff than that, I feel like."
On his second tour, U.S. Army Sgt. Misha Pemble-Belkin, an infantry team leader from Hillsboro, Ore., assigned to Company B, 2nd Battalion, 27th Infantry Regiment, Task Force No Fear, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, TF Bronco, stands under camouflage netting at Observation Post Coleman outside of Combat Outpost Monti in eastern Afghanistan's Kunar Province May 5. Pemble-Belkin, who was in the documentary 'Restrepo,' during his first deployment to Afghanistan is focused on training and teaching his troops all he knows about Afghanistan.
Some of the “stuff” Pemble-Belkin is referring to is snow boarding, hiking and photography. In fact, he said he wanted to join the military as a combat cameraman.
He tried to join the Navy, but they told him it would be at least five years before he would be able to do photography in combat.
Then he went to an Army recruiter and was asked what his hobbies were.
"The recruiter said, 'Well, I know the perfect job for you - Airborne Ranger. Sit down and watch this movie,'" said Pemble-Belkin.
The recruiter showed him a video of soldiers jumping out of planes, blowing things up and firing weapons.
He left for Army basic training three weeks later.
Through all the attention the documentary recently attracted, the speaking engagements he attended and even attending the Oscar Awards ceremony, Pemble-Belkin remains amazingly humble. At heart, he said he is a genuine Soldier who loves his job.
After redeploying from Afghanistan in 2008, he married his childhood sweetheart, Amanda, and trained soldiers in Fort Polk, La., for war. Yet, he felt the need to deploy again.
"I had to come back here. I had to do one more tour. I had to at least lead a team," explained Pemble-Belkin, now a team leader in charge of a small observation post called OP Coleman.
"I felt like if I got out, then it's like I'm kind of failing cause I have the experience of being out here," said Pemble-Belkin. "You know, 15 months of walking these mountains."
Living at OP Coleman, the days are filled with guard duty and passing on his knowledge to new soldiers like Swaray.
As Pemble-Belkin methodically dissembled a .50 caliber machine gun, he pointed out every piece and explained what he is doing to the Soldiers gathered around him at the small bunker.
Most of the Soldiers are in their early 20s and on their first combat tour. They have been in Afghanistan for only about a month and it's been unusually quiet in their area. But the lull in combat at the observation post isn't a relief for Pemble-Belkin. Instead, he said it adds tension to their mission.
The soldiers are eager to hear about combat, but more eager to react and prove themselves. Pemble-Belkin doesn't blame them. He's lived through some of the worst fighting in Afghanistan and is back for more.
But if they see combat, “In a way it'll change them," said Pemble-Belkin. "I just tell them, don't get scared when you get shot at, just hunker down and shoot back."
His wife isn't too happy with the prospect, but understands it's his job. On the other hand, he said he believes he hasn't done enough compared to his peers.
"There's been guys that have been deployed five, six times now," said Pemble-Belkin. "I've only been on one 15-month tour. I (feel) I haven't even deployed yet. My grandpa did three years in World War II. Once I hit his mark, then I've been deployed. I still feel like I haven't done a full tour yet until I catch up to my grandpa."
Before deploying this time, he had mixed emotions and said he felt like there was still something he needed to accomplish over here.
"I came back here in that mindset - I need to go back ‘cause I have some unfinished business," said Pemble-Belkin. "But now I'm just here to protect and try to teach these guys something."
The mission of this unit is different from what Pemble-Belkin grew accustomed to. He said his company is really focusing on the counterinsurgency fight and trying to win the hearts and the minds of the locals.
"I hope what the (commander) is trying to do right now, push the COIN fight, I hope that works," explained Pemble-Belkin. "But I don't know, we're in Taliban country up here, so I don't know …. It'd be nice to see them laying down their weapons and turning them into the Afghan National Police and the Afghan National Army and going and farming their lands."
With 11 months left in Afghanistan, Pemble-Belkin and his soldiers have plenty of time to find out.