Ambush at 80 Knots: Company B, 3/160th SOAR


running up that hill
Jan 3, 2007
in Wonderland, with my Alice
Taken from:
photos inserted by me.

One particular aviation mission during Operation Enduring Freedom proved that all the aviators within the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment are trained to the same high level of competence.

After executing an operation on the Takur Ghar Mountain on March 4, 2002, in which several helicopters from units of the 160th were either damaged or destroyed by enemy fire, the 160th temporarily combined some of the assets of Company A of the 2nd Battalion with those of Company B of the 3rd Battalion.

On March 16, members of the composite unit were alerted that the next day they would fly their helicopters, loaded with Navy SEALs, to intercept a convoy of al-Qaeda forces and either capture or destroy the enemy.


The operation would require MH-47D helicopters from Company B and MH-47Es from Company A. Chief Warrant Officer Gary Black, the MH-47E flight leader, had previously served with Company B. Black had overall responsibility for the mission. He assembled all the helicopter crews and briefed them on the mission, diagramming the procedure on butcher-block paper. Once he was confident that the participants fully understood their tasks and all contingencies, Black told the group to get some rest.

Early on March 17, after attending a quick update briefing, the elements of the combined flight departed, with an MH-47E in the lead and the remaining Chinooks mixed within the flight. Unfortunately, daylight came quickly: A daylight mission increases the risk, both to aircraft and to personnel.

The formation received continual intelligence updates from an observation platplatform that routinely surveyed the battlefield. As the flight raced to intercept the convoy, the SEALs aboard the MH-47Ds asked for permission to remove the windows on the Chinooks. Removing the windows would allow the soldiers to fire on the convoy in case one of the Chinook’s M-134 miniguns failed or jammed. The pilots agreed, and the crewmembers and the assault element jettisoned the windows on each helicopter en route to their objective.


The enemy convoy of three trucks was traveling down a wadi, a dry steam bed that functions as a road, and a fourth truck trailed about two miles behind in the same stream bed. The pilots had expected to be able to see the vehicles far enough out to plan an approach for the assault. However, 30-foot granite cliffs prevented the aviators from seeing the convoy until they were almost on top of it.

Black, executing a gut-wrenching 90-degree right turn with a rapid deceleration, landed his helicopter approximately 20 feet in front of the lead vehicle and forced the convoy to stop. The rules of engagement stated that if the occupants pointed weapons at the helicopters, the gunners could shoot the enemy. The al-Qaeda soldiers aimed their weapons at the helicopters as they exited their trucks. The left minigun on the lead Chinook immediately fired on the first vehicle.

Black’s maneuver forced Chief Warrant Officer Charles Elkenback,3 flying the second helicopter, to bank hard to the left in order to avoid a collision. As Elkenback’s helicopter banked, the right cabin-door minigun, the ramp gunner and the SEALs aboard fired on the convoy. The other Chinooks moved into position to engage their respective vehicles. The enemy scrambled out of their trucks, shot at the helicopters and attempted to run to a nearby ravine. A storm of gunfire from miniguns, M-4s and M-249s followed them.

As Chief Warrant Officer Mark Reagan landed his helicopter, the right-side minigun jammed after a 15-second burst. Staff Sergeant Charles Martin,5 the flight medic and a former squad-automatic-weapon gunner in the 75th Ranger Regiment, immediately began using his M-4. Firing in semiautomatic mode to conserve ammunition, he shot the nearest enemy soldier; then he and Sergeant Walker, the right door gunner, who was also firing an M-4, killed a second foe.


As the crewmembers and SEALs shot through the window holes, the pilots quickly repositioned the helicopter to a new spot just over the crest of a small hill. The new position masked the helicopter and gave the assault force a superb position, overlooking the convoy, from which they could engage the surviving al-Qaeda forces.

Meanwhile, Elkenback and his crew spotted the fourth truck in the stream bed to the north. They rapidly closed on the vehicle and stopped it by executing a 180-degree decelerating turn with the helicopter’s left minigun trained on the truck. There was no place to land. As the helicopter hovered, a woman exited the truck and held up a child; five other people in the vehicle simply stared at the Chinook. The crew maintained excellent fire discipline. After the ground force performed a quick assessment of the situation, the team leader instructed the crew to abort, and Elkenback returned to the main convoy.

The ground-force commander ordered two Chinooks to return to the fourth truck to perform an extensive search. This time, one Chinook hovered ahead of the vehicle as the second helicopter landed nearby and unloaded the ground force. The passengers exited the vehicle, sat on the ground and waited for the team to complete its search of the vehicle. Meanwhile, the two helicopters had departed, but they would return after the search and take the team back to the main convoy.

By now, however, the helicopters were running low on fuel, so the ground commander released them so that they could refuel from a MC-130P tanker that was flying nearby. After refueling, the helicopters returned to exfiltrate the ground force. The operation yielded 16 enemy soldiers dead and two taken prisoner, along with the destruction of enemy vehicles and weapons. Despite moderate enemy fire, the helicopters suffered only minor battle damage.


The mission was a success, and the integrated aviation assets worked well together. The aviators of both companies had demonstrated their professionalism and competence in battle, and the SEALs congratulated the Night Stalkers on a job well-done.

Gary Black and Mark Reagan are pseudonims
*sigh* Memories. I knew those guys. I was there during that time frame. I honestly do miss it. I am truly a Jackass for getting out.