6/1/2010 - BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan -- The early morning attack on Bagram Airfield May 19 may seem like a long time ago to some. After all, the airfield is one of the busiest in the world and the nerve center for much of what moves in and out of Afghanistan.
But for members of the 455th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron both on and off duty it was a day for which they trained and prepared, but hoped would never come.
"We hope for boring days," said Staff Sgt. Curtis Wynn, 455th ESFS, element and fire team leader. "We actually look forward to them."
Sergeant Wynn, deployed from Misawa Air Base, Japan, was on a mobile patrol on the western perimeter of the airfield the morning of the May 19 attack, when enemy combatants tried to breach the perimeter of Bagram Airfield.
"When I heard the initial explosions, I began to do a sweep around the sector," he said. The Detroit, Mich., native was looking for a potential point of impact and indirect fire attack. He stopped his vehicle in a position to gain a clear view of his local area.
Then he called one of the tower guards who notified him of individuals moving towards the perimeter fence. "The Airman asked me if he could engage the enemy positions and I told him to go ahead."
After giving his Airman the green light to fire, Sergeant Wynn proceeded up the tower to give his Airman support and gain a better view of events unfolding on the fence line.
"Once I got in the tower, I immediately began to engage targets," said Sergeant Wynn. He saw three individuals on the fence line and three individuals providing support fire with rocket-propelled grenades.
Both were firing at U.S. Army Apache helicopters that had arrived on station and he added, "We engaged until we were sure all of the targets in the area were neutralized."
Sergeant Wynn was on duty, patrolling the area when the attack occurred, but many of the responders were not.
Senior Airman Andrew Van Arb awoke to the sound of gunfire in the early morning hours.
"Originally, I thought it was the aerial gunnery range." Said Airman Van Arb, deployed from Beale Air Force Base, Calif. "As I listened, I realized it was a little too close to be the range."
Shortly after Airman Van Arb, a Desert Hot Springs, Calif. native, heard an Airman run down the hallway of his dorm yelling, "Get up, and get out of bed. Let's go. We have been recalled. We are under attack."
Airman Van Arb and his roommates all threw on their personal protective equipment and took off downstairs to a bunker area where other ESFS Airmen were meeting to organize and assist the perimeter defenders.
"The first sergeant came around the corner with an M249 machine gun and asked, 'who can use this?'" said Airman Van Arb. "I replied that I could and he handed me the weapon and it was already loaded, so we came around the corner and they began splitting us into teams to get out to the perimeter."
Once Airman Van Arb was split into his team they grabbed an up armored vehicle and took off to the northern perimeter of the base to render assistance to their fellow Airmen.
"As we proceeded around the north end of the runway the sun was cresting over the mountains," said Airman Van Arb. He spotted four individuals rising from a prone position and getting ready to run. "When they saw our High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle, one of them turned and fired at us so I sent two three round bursts in their direction and saw one of them go down.
"We turned around after we had engaged and passed the remaining three individuals who had fired at us before," he added. Airman Van Arb engaged them again.
Once his team got to a nearby tower, Airman Van Arb provided over watch as the others moved up the steps into the tower. They then provided cover for him as he moved into the tower and set up his M249 preparing for another attack.
For Tech. Sgt. Joshua Behm, 455th ESFS, assistant sector flight chief, the scene on the southern perimeter was much like those on the northern and western perimeters of the airfield, busy.
"We had just completed our change over," said Sergeant Behm, deployed from Andrews AFB, Md. "It was probably about 3:30 a.m. or 3:45 a.m. when we heard the initial RPG attack."
Once they heard the initial attack and some additional small arms fire in the area, Sergeant Behm, a Reading, Pa. native, and members of the section who were in the area grabbed their gear and moved to a rally point near their operations center.
"When we got there, we began breaking into small fire teams," said Sergeant Behm.
"Once we were broken into teams, we began to push out to support our towers and sweep the area."
Sergeant Behm and his team moved towards a nearby tower to support the Airman there who had a visual of four enemy combatants in the area. The Airman in the tower had already engaged two of the enemy combatants and as Sergeant Behm and his team moved into the tower, they gained a visual on the second two combatants and engaged them, neutralizing both.
With the threats neutralized, Sergeant Behm scanned the area for about an hour and moved to two other areas of the airfield to assist and provide security.
At the end of the mornings activities 16 enemy combatants were neutralized and the 455th ESFS had only received minimal injuries.
"I believe this was the first time a complex attack has been attempted on an airfield since Vietnam," said Capt. Jason Williams, 455th ESFS sector officer-in-charge. "They (enemy combatants) were a well armed force coming to do business and we eliminated them."
Captain Williams, deployed from Keesler AFB, Miss., added, "They tried to hit us from all sides and we showed them we (ESFS) could defend the airfield."
A native of Asheboro, N.C., Captain Williams said he was most impressed with his
young Airmen, most of whom are under the age of 23, for performing their duties under fire and his noncommissioned officers on scene who stepped in and controlled their areas and ensured the Airmen were engaging the right targets, in the right areas, at the right time.
"We train constantly," added Captain Williams. "We conduct battle drills all the time so our guys know what to do when a threat like this arises.
"Our guys did an amazing job," said Sergeant Behm. "Although I think our Airmen do their job and do it well, everyone really came together and everything seemed to flow." He attributed that to personal experience of some of the 455th ESFS personnel, but emphasized that training was a key part to their success.
"You can train for this all the time," said Airman Van Arb. "When it happens for real, the training and preparations make everything second nature and you just do what you need to, sometimes without thinking about it."
The experiences shared by these Airmen are only a microcosm of the events of the morning of May 19, 2010, but the 455th ESFS had a base defense plan in place, they were trained, and understood the very real threat facing Bagram Airfield.
Airman Van Arb added, "I sleep comfortably at night knowing there are 'Defenders' on the perimeter and they are going to do the right thing."
by Staff Sgt. Richard Williams
455th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs
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I am so grateful my son returned to American soil safely, following this attack.
My heart is filled with gratitude for the brave 'Defenders' of Bagram Airfield.
May Almighty God protect each and every Airman, Soldier, Sailor and Marine.