Mission Afghanistan: Training for dangers - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Mission Afghanistan: Training for dangers

Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan - August 19, 2010

On a convoy outside of Bagram Airfield, armored MRAPs maneuver though villages where Afghans live in mud huts. The roads are narrow and hard to pronounce. So some Vermont Guard soldiers, who travel these roads regularly, like Sgt. 1st Class Tony Fletcher, nicknamed them after Vermont towns. Like the so-called Hardwick Road.

Renaming the roads helps Vermont Guard soldiers remember home and provides a bit of comic relief. But there's nothing funny as the convoy turns down Gladius-- a road that's name has not been changed. It's where Specialist Ryan Grady lost his life.

"He's our hero. Our mountain hero," Sgt. Maj. Forest Glodgett said.

A massive roadside bomb targeted Grady's MRAP in July. The West Burke guardsman was killed, two other Vermont soldiers were seriously wounded; one suffered a fractured spine, the other lost his legs.

"Going down that road, knowing the series of events that happened on that road, it does make you focus and puts everything into perspective," Fletcher said. "You know, it does. It does make it real."

"Losing a soldier for us is not easy," Glodgett said. "It's hard. It's hard."

Roadside bombs are the biggest threats to Vermont Guard soldiers in Afghanistan. The best defense against IEDs is the watchful eyes of soldiers in convoys.

"I think we all know there's always a threat," Fletcher said. "We need to stay focused."

MRAPs face other obstacles on Afghanistan's poor quality roads, too.

"Unfortunately, as I was going through the spot the ground gave way about six foot patch," Sgt. 1st Class William Godfrey said.

A washed-out road sent Godfrey's vehicle down a 120-foot bank and into a river. The Essex Junction man managed to escape as water started filling the MRAP's cab. He had to rescue his gunner who was seriously injured in the rollover. Godfrey says it was no amusement ride.

"For you folks back home who have gone to the Champlain Valley Fair, there's nothing there to compare to what I went through that day," he said. "Just the horror and looking back. It was probably the most horrific thing I've ever been through."

Godfrey credits MRAP rollover training with saving his life and the life of his comrade. The training is required of all soldiers at Bagram and is run by Vermont Guard members. It teaches soldiers what to do and how to get out if their armored vehicle flips.

"I'd have to say it was paramount to my survival," Godfrey said.

Traveling across Afghanistan is safest by flight because the insurgents don't have any fighter planes. But military aircraft like the Chinook helicopters do take small arms fire and there's always the threat of ground to air missile attacks by the insurgents.

Soldiers also face gun fights on the ground. And Vermont Guard soldiers at Bagram make sure every single soldier's weapon is properly sighted before they leave the airbase. Vermonters even designed the shooting range which is now the military standard for testing weapons. An average of 1,400 weapons are tested there weekly.

Sgt. Matthew McGalliard said that all soldiers will leave Bagram better prepared for war than when they arrived.

McGalliard says a well-tested weapon could mean the difference between life and death.

"They can hit what they're aiming at," McGalliard said.

Staring down the dangers guard soldiers face.

"Our mountain warriors are precious to us and we will work harder and harder everyday to get them back... back home," Glodgett said.

Darren Perron - WCAX News

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