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Monday, July 09, 2007

National Guard Soldiers Patrol Qarabagh

2 July 07
By Sgt. Jim Wilt

QARABAGH, Afghanistan - “Get down! Get down! Get down!,” yelled Air Force Master Sgt. Jason Davis, an explosive ordnance disposal technician, seconds before shrapnel started raining down on the Soldiers and bouncing off their Humvee.

A day earlier, if not for the warning of a local farmer, the Soldiers’ truck would have struck the double-stacked antitank mine.

The warning enabled the Soldiers to stop before they hit the mine and safely dispose of it, possibly saving their lives and the lives of farmers and children working in the area. Soldiers from Battery A, 2nd Battalion, 138th Field Artillery Brigade, Kentucky National Guard, were conducting a mounted presence patrol in a village outside of Qarabagh when they were warned about mines in the area, June 14.

“[God is] watching over us,” said Spc. Greg A. Race, an artilleryman with Battery A.

Unfortunately for the convoy coming to destroy the mines, they didn’t receive the same warning before they hit a mine on the same road less than a kilometer from the halted patrol. The troopers credit the farmer with keeping a bad situation from getting worse.

“Most likely we would have hit that one and they would have hit the other one when they came in to get us,” said Race, a native of Piner, Ky. It also shows the impact the troopers are having in an area where people have been scared into silence by the Taliban. “A farmer stopping and telling you there is something in the road shows we’re having an effect on the area,” Race said.

The Guardsmen have been patrolling in the area since they arrived in March. Their squad leader, Army Staff Sgt. Matthew Linneman, said they had patrolled the same road just days earlier. The artillery unit, which is acting as military policemen, has been conducting mounted patrols because “more people see you out and about in the area,” Race said.

Most of the Soldiers in the unit prefer a mounted patrol despite the dangers of mines and improvised explosive devices. “The armor [on the trucks] works,” said Spc. Steven M. LaFever, a track mechanic and native of Louisville, Ky. Race also sees several advantages to having vehicles during patrols such as having armor, crew-served weapons, and the ability to cover a lot of ground in a short period of time. “We cover more ground,” he said. “We see a lot more faces.”

Though the men of Battery A have vehicles, they don’t always use them. They are not afraid to get out of the armor and put a little wear on their boots. During their mounted patrols they stop to talk with the people, investigate suspicious activity and check on reconstruction projects in the area.

“I pray every time I go out. I pray every night when I lie down,” Race said. Whether mounted or dismounted, Race sees risk. “I’m a big believer [that] if it’s your time, it’s your time,” he said. “I’ve been like that forever.”

Photo - Sgt. Paul L. Wilkerson, a forward observer with Battery A, 2nd Battalion, 138th Field Artillery Regiment, Kentucky National Guard, pulls security at a school in Mushkay, Afghanistan, June 15. The unit stopped there during a mounted patrol in the Ghazni province. Wilkerson is a native of Lexington, Ky. Photo by Sgt. Jim Wilt.

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