HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. (Night Flyer News Service) -The frontlines between
Taliban and Northern Alliance forces had been drawn for nearly three years
along the Panjshir Valley, with the Taliban holding areas in and around Kabul.
Military planners expect the fight to reclaim the capital would go well into
What planners didn't predict was the pinpoint accuracy of the close
air support called in by an Air Force Combat Controller. What others thought
would take six months happened in 25 days.
Tech. Sgt. Calvin, who does not want to release his last name for
operational security reasons, was the sole Air Force member on a U.S. Army
Special Operations team supporting Northern Alliance forces. Sergeant Calvin
was the first Air Force Special Tactics operator to be embedded with an Army
Special Forces team during this operation. Special Tactics operators frequently
work with Navy SEALS, Army Rangers and Army Special Forces teams.
"We arrived in country around mid-October and were the only team
operating behind enemies lines for the first two weeks," said Sergeant Calvin.
"I have worked with Army Special Forces in the past and knew several of the
Special Forces team members from previous scuba training, so we came together
quickly as a unit."
The Air Force Combat Controller said there was no question about
the team's mission.
"We knew what our mission was - to help the Northern Alliance break
through the Taliban lines and liberate the capital," he said. "Being the
Air Force guy on an Army team wasn't an issue. We had all been called on
to do a mission for America."
And called on they were. The first day of the operation would signal
the start of what is reported to be the longest sustained close air support
operations conducted by an Air Force Combat Controller.
"We set up observation in a mountain ridge overlooking the Taliban.
Working with the Northern Alliance leadership the target was selected - a
command and control building," said Sergeant Calvin. "I called in the first
CAS and a (U.S. military fighter) arrived over the area. He dropped ordnance
and hit the building.
"I turned to my teammates and said, 'We just made history. We just
made the first strike," he said.
That first strike not only made an impression on the Americans, it
made an impact on the Northern Alliance forces working with this SOF
"I wouldn't say they mistrusted us initially. But, there was a certain
sense they weren't sure how we could help them," said Sergeant Calvin, who
has been a Combat Controller for 10 years. "After that first CAS run, the
wall was broken and they seemed to realize we were there to help
The CAS calls continued, virtually non-stop day and night, and used
nearly every bomber and fighter in the U.S. military inventory.
"The valley was literally filled with enemy tanks, personnel carriers
and military compounds," said Sergeant Calvin. "We probably made hundreds
of CAS calls during those 25 days."
As Sergeant Calvin and his team continued the CAS calls the resistance
from the Taliban forces waned and Northern Alliance troops gained ground.
Then, as Northern Alliance began its offensive move, the enemy struck
"We were on top of a two-story building when they began attacking,"
said Sergeant Calvin. "The gunfire was intense. Then, they turned the
(anti-aircraft) guns on us. It was like large, flaming footballs flying at
our position. The buttons on my (uniform) were getting in the way of me getting
low enough. All I kept thinking was I need aircraft. I grabbed the radio
and called for immediate CAS."
As the SOF team got down on the roof for cover, a Northern Alliance
officer moved over to the Controller's area. The officer pushed in front
of Sergeant Calvin, shielding him from the attack. Later, through an interpreter,
he told the Controller why he did it.
"He said if something happened to him, he knew someone else would
step in to take his place in the fight," said the sergeant. "But, if something
happened to me the planes could not come and destroy the targets."
The aircraft did come - U.S. Navy and Air Force fighters and bombers
- and the offensive continued. The next day, 25 days after the first call
for ordnance, the Northern Alliance moved into the capital. After ensuring
the city was secure, the SOF team headed to the American Embassy that had
been evacuated in 1989. Before fleeing the city, the Taliban had used the
building as a staging area.
"We gained access and one of the first things I saw was an American
Flag. It was on top of a pile of straw. Someone had tried to destroy it;
the straw was burnt and there were ashes all over the flag," said Sergeant
Calvin. "When I picked up the flag, it was untouched - not a burn mark on
With help from a teammate, Sergeant Calvin secured the flag by carefully
folding the Stars and Stripes. After returning to the United States, he presented
the flag to his unit.
"It was amazing. It was a great feeling knowing we'd made the mission
happen, and made it happen in 25 days," said Sergeant Calvin. "I've trained
what seems my whole life for the chance to do a mission like this, one that
tests your skills and training. I said it before, we did this mission for