FireWatch Magazine is a proud sponsor of Wreaths Across America. Listen to Team FireWatch live every Thursday morning at 8:15 AM. New expanded lineup!


Not all of them are heroes. But they are, as we are, human beings with faults who make mistakes, and in the case of this story, people who must live the rest of their lives with a dreadful understanding.

We will get to that….

Let’s begin in September 2009. Our story takes us to the Ganjgal Valley in the Kunar Province of Afghanistan on September 8, 2009. A day that has been analyzed, criticized, prayed about, and cried over. Tears still fall over a pain that is as fresh today as it was then and will be for all tomorrows.

Before we dive too deep, I must admit that there is absolutely no way I, or many of you, can say, “I would have done this, or I would have done that.”

In a theater of war, we have no way of knowing what we would do if not ever in those situations.  What we can do is take the time to listen when the ones who were there tell their story, and then hope and pray that some lesson was learned so that a tragedy like September 8, 2009, never, ever happens again.

I’ve read a portion of the unclassified, 500-page report that is a result of that day’s events. Names, except those of the American Service Members lost, are redacted from the report. But, inside the pages are the voices of those who were there, on the ground, who felt the taste of betrayal and who faced a devasting reality that their country, their comrades, had left them all to die.

These voices include two service members awarded our country’s highest honor, The Medal of Honor, for this battle, service, sacrifice, and willingness to die for brothers in arms.

So, we begin in the predawn hours of September 9.

Imagine two scenes: one: TOC CHOSIN with an overnight (skeleton) crew who had reported to duty the night before; and two: Ganjgal Valley, a small village with some houses, a school, and a mosque.

That morning, an Embedded Training Team (ETT), alongside their allied Afghan forces, was sent into the Ganjgal Valley to investigate and report on the number of military-aged men in the village. A similar mission had been completed days before at a nearby village, Dam Dara, where American and Allied Forces came under fire from a small group of combatants, approximately 10 to 20.

It was likely that the Americans and Allied Forces would come under small arms fire during this mission, and they were prepared for that. What they were not prepared for was a clear, pre-planned, and well-manned ambush that included upwards of 60 combatants and participation in execution by the women and children of the village.

Upon arrival in the area the terrain did not allow for the ETT and Allied Forces to travel into the village in vehicles. Instead, they were forced to dismount and walk into the valley. What happens next is recorded in history as the Battle of Ganjgal. In the aftermath were investigations, inquiries, and news reports on CBS 60 minutes, and now, you can find reports and analyses of the battle on sites like Wikipedia1 and Army.Mil2 with photos and battle graphs detailing the carnage.

For us, we dive inside the unclassified documents of the 15-6 report. The full report consists of more than 500 pages. We were able to review a collection of 71 pages of the report that includes sworn statements and accounts from those involved in the day’s events on the ground, in the air, and at the TOC.

Just prior to this mission in 2009, the ISAF (The International Security Assistance Force), led by NATO, had issued a tactical directive on the use of force underpinned by civilian protection3. This directive would hamper the U.S. Military in any effort to engage combatants if/when they entwined themselves into village homes and civilian populations.

The LTC in charge at TOC Chosin claims this directive was not the reason for denying fire support to the mission, but the 15-6 report shows that the directive held an underlying hold on the decision-making processes and lack thereof, which eventually cost American lives.

The LTC did not enter the TOC until approximately 0800, and engagement at Ganjgal began at 0530 with calls into TOC Chosin at 0537 for fire support.

Over the course of the battle, the Ground Element continuously called for fire support and air support but was denied.


Memorandum For Record, Subject: Interview with Technical Sergeant [REDACTED] USAF, Regarding Operations in the Ganjgal Valley on 8 September 2009

  1. On the morning of 8 September 2009, TSGT [REDACTED] entered the TF Chosin Tactical Operations Center (TOC) at 0555 and became aware of an element taking small arms fire in TF Chosin’s Area of Operations. The TF Chosin Battle Captain, CPT [REDACTED], asked TSGT [REDACTED] to find out what air assets were available at the time. TSGT [REDACTED] was not told that the TF Chosin Scout element over-watching Ganjgal Valley had radioed the TF Chosin TOC requesting Close Air Support (CAS). TSGT [REDACTED] offered to open up an Air Troops in Contact (TIC) but was directed not to by CPT [REDACTED]. CPT [REDACTED} told him, “Not to worry about it for now,” and that TF Chosin would support the TIC with indirect fire.
  2. TSGT [REDACTED] noted that there were no field grade officers in the TOC before 0600 and that the CPT was authorized to request the JTAC to open Air TIC.

Memorandum For Record, Subject: Interview with SSG [REDACTED] USA, Regarding Operations in the Ganjgal Valley on 8 September 2009

  1. SSG [REDACTED] remembered asking for corrections to the previously fired missions but did not receive them. The ground Scout element leader was the only individual he had communications with from outside the TOC. He remembered CPT [REDACTED], the Afghan Border Patrol Mentor, calling for fires and reporting he was pinned down. SSG [REDACTED] made the decision not to shoot because only a field grade officer could approve a fire mission at the time. There was no field grade officer present in the TOC.
  2. SSG [REDACTED] characterized the tactical situation at 0600 as “serious” and “bad” and that he knew some elements were “pinned down.”
  3. SSG [REDACTED] said that no one could give permission for any fire mission [REDACTED] in a position that close to the village and civilian structures.


Memorandum For Record, Subject: Interview with CPT [REDACTED] USA, Regarding Operations in the Ganjgal Valley on 8 September 2009

  1. CPT [REDACTED] assumed his duties as the Day Battle CPT on 8 September 2009 from CPT [REDACTED] at 0800. CPT [REDACTED] stated he did not have a clear picture of enemy or friendly locations in Ganjgal, but he did know there were casualties who needed to be evacuated. CPT [REDACTED] knew there were communications between the ground element and TF Chosin and between TF Chosin and the Brigade. Close combat aviation (CCA) was already present in Ganjgal when he arrived for his shift. An aerial medical evacuation (MEDEVAC) had already been requested. CPT [REDACTED] told CPT [REDACTED] that there were issues with some requested fire missions because they were plotted too close to Ganjgal Village.
  2. No one expected 30-60 enemy fighters that were being aided by women and children in the village.
The Ground Element

In a recorded statement from a member of the Ground Element, it is clear that communication between the Ground Element and the TOC was convoluted. Initial fire requests were questioned and analyzed as to ‘distance and direction,’ the statement reads: “[REDACTED] or a reason you don’t need distance and direction. So, it was irritating, but we like [REDACTED], that’s why we have [REDACTED]. Don’t ask me twenty-one questions. They finally fired, but then they realized that we were not getting effective fire.”

The Ground Element realized this was not going to work and needed air support.

“It was close to 40 minutes to an hour after the first contact. Time was something that was compressed. To give you accurate time is very difficult.”

After waiting for air support for some time, “We were like, where is the air that’s coming in? He (the CPT) was like, oh, we are not getting any. This was disheartening because that was not what the plan was. … They just said it was unavailable, and we were not getting it. We were sitting there stunned and surprised because we were not getting effective fire support and were not getting air. … I don’t think they understand how much fire we are getting. They are probably sitting in the TOC thinking this is some—I don’t want to use the wrong words. I don’t know what they are thinking; they think maybe we are making it up; I don’t know.

“One thing that we noticed was the fires started to shift. The enemy starting to notice that we were not getting any support, so they shifted fires.

“It was such a high volume of fire. The people trying to suppress were getting attacked as well, with RPG, Mortars. I don’t know how many RPG landed that day.

“Out far” ambush became a close ambush. They started to maneuver around us while we tried to withdraw. Every time we shift positions, the machine guns will fall. … It was not something that was amateur, that they were just shooting machine guns. It was effective fire, they know how to shift fire effectively. Also, supporting guns, because once one side stops firing, the other side starts firing. It was not something that was a bunch of amateurs; at least they knew what they were doing.

“We began to receive fire from the town….You see women and children running between houses, helping them carry ammo, things like that.

“I heard Gunny say, we are held up in this house. We need to take cover because these guys in this house might kill us.

“The Taliban leader got on his radio telling us to give up.

“We started toward the village to get our guys. We had so many casualties that before we could make it back to the town, we were picking up guys. I mean blood everywhere, guys shoot everywhere, it was turning into a mass casualty situation.

“Our vehicles were getting hit—I don’t know how we didn’t get hit. By that time, it didn’t matter; we were not going leave our guys behind, we are not leaving any Soldiers behind.

“We went to get a truck with a Mark 19 and a 240. We saw the [REDACTED] platoon, and we were like, US QRF are here. We saw them one of their vehicles was rolled over. CPT [REDACTED] jumped to the truck with the TOW and asked, ‘You have to come in here with us! We know that there is no IED on this road because we have been driving it all day.’ We were like, ‘Come in with us and provide security because we have four Americans that are missing, and we don’t know where they are!’ CPT [REDACTED] went to do that. I jumped into the new truck to get the weapons ready to roll in. We turn around and start going in.

“This has to be the saddest thing of my life: NO ONE followed us.

“We were two clicks away from a major U.S. base. They do things for us, but fire support has always been an issue. I am not blaming the battalions. It’s not about the blame game. Let’s focus on ROE because there is no reason you can’t level a house if they are shooting from it.

“They always teach you that you always have the right to defend yourself. … Let the commanders on the ground make decisions. I was taught as a junior officer that commanders on the ground were able to make the final call. If you make the wrong call, then you pay the price for it, or you have the right to stay alive or keep your guys alive. That’s what we did; we failed them by not keeping them alive because we didn’t provide them what they need to come out alive.”

CPT [REDACTED] Statement Under Oath

“We were up with the ANA and ABP moving up towards the village and taking increasing fire. We got pinned down by effective fire. The four marines were in the lead element, the heavy weapons element. They were the lead element that was going to push up to the ridgeline and provide overwatch as the ANA did search for search block one. There was a PKM that they were watching for. They were fine. The enemy didn’t have an acute fire on us, but their spectrum of fire and our delayed action with artillery allowed the enemy to move into advantageous positions where they had obtuse geometry of fire (where they had fire on us from three sides). And because our [REDACTED] because we decided to break contact were completely unmasked because someone didn’t want to fire near a village. An absolute byzantine clearance process.

“(There was) a lack of willingness to push down to the ground commander the ability to call fires where he feels they need to be. A politicized chain of command. The political and strategic no longer exist; now it’s the political and tactical. I absolutely contribute to the ability of the enemy to maneuver. I don’t think they expected us to put up such little resistance.

“Quite frankly, we met their fires effectively at first, but without those fires, our plan was to mitigate their ability to maneuver on our eastern flank with fires. Whether to block, disrupt, or destroy, either way, was an effect that would have kept them from maneuvering. We didn’t get those fires on target fast enough to prevent them from maneuvering. When we needed to break contact because we were under effective fire we had to wait for the politics of the [REDACTED] to be shaken out before we realized we were going to get [REDACTED] and by then we were covered on three flanks.”

The Air

“We got a call on the [REDACTED] at the tail end of our first [REDACTED] from [REDACTED] we were in [REDACTED] at the time; it did appear to be urgent based on the stress in the voice of the radio operator.

“This would be an example of a typical call [REDACTED] during an emergency from a ground unit over the [REDACTED] in order to be re-tasked, higher HQ must approve. [REDACTED] get this approval enroute over [REDACTED], but on that day, we were already tasked to a deliberate operation with troops in contact.

“On hearing the call, I recommended to the AMC that we get over there and try to help immediately. The AMC then called [REDACTED] and told him to get us in there he would need to clear it through our TOC. A few minutes later, [REDACTED] called again and said they had gotten our TOC to approve it, and we could go, but then I heard the AMC say that he had just received a BFT message stating that we were NOT to move into Ganjgal, that we were instead to continue to support the operation in the Shuryak and the [REDACTED] would support Ganjgal.”

Question: “Did you witness any valorous actions by Soldiers engaged in the TIC?”

Answer: “Yes. The crew of that lone Humvee was completely exposed in an active kill zone under near-constant fire from enemy positions on dominant high ground situated in a rough horseshoe with a closed end on the village of Ganjgal. Their gun had broken while fighting; they had no friendly ground support in a position to help them (despite a handful of very brave ANA who managed to get almost (unreadable) of where the Marines had fallen before they were completely pinned down).

“There was no artillery support and no CAS. They knew it, and they stayed in there to recover their comrades anyway. They moved up and down that road, dismounting to check bodies and collect them. The dismounts couldn’t talk to us while dismounted and often would just look up and point in the direction they were taking fire from so we could try to suppress it. They took extraordinary risks to recover their Brothers, disregarding their own personal safety in order to get them back. That sort of dedication is a shining example for the rest of us to follow and should be recognized.”

After Action Reports

Subject: AR 15-6 Report of Investigation into Operations in the Ganjgal Valley, Konar Province, Afghanistan, 8 September 2009 (Excerpt)

Information suggesting a dangerous and worsening tactical situation was available soon after the initial enemy contact at 0530.

(3) at 0537 SSG [REDACTED], a scout squad leader overlooking the battlefield and in direct communication with ETT leaders forwarded requests for indirect fires to suppress enemy positions engaging U.S. and Afghan troops in the Ganjgal Valley. At 0550, he requested immediate helicopter support and close air support, an indicator of a worsening tactical situation…..

(CPT [REDACTED] declined to open the ‘air TIC’, and the request to retask SWTI was denied by 7-17 on procedural grounds). A 0625 report received in the 1-32 IN TOC reported friendly elements taking fire from the north, south, and east.

(4) These events demonstrate that an understanding of the seriousness of the tactical situation existed in the [REDACTED] operations center early in the fight. SSG [REDACTED] stated that he clearly communicated the dangerous and escalating nature of the battle to the TOC. He is supported in these statements by SGT [REDACTED] a scout NCO co-located with him in the field, by SSG [REDACTED], by CW2 [REDACTED], and by leaders in the valley who intermittently monitored SSG [REDACTED] radio transmissions to the TOC.

(5) CPT [REDACTED], by his own admission, did not continuously monitor the battalion command net used to relay updates and requests for support from the ETTs in the field; instead, he relied on junior enlisted soldiers serving as radio telephone operators (RTOs) to pass him information. The failure to monitor a rapidly degenerating tactical situation by the commander and all commissioned staff officers in the [REDACTED]  TOC prevented timely supporting fires in the tactical early phases of the operation and ensured that higher headquarters did not grasp the tactical situation.

Those We Lost

Marine Gunnery Sgt. Aaron M. Kenefick, Marine 1st Lt. Michael E. Johnson, Navy Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class James R. Layton, Marine Gunnery Sgt. Edwin W. Johnson Jr.

The Aftermath

Two were awarded the country’s highest military honor, the Medal of Honor, CPT William D. Swenson and Marine Corporal Dakota L. Meyer.

Other members of ETT 2-8 were cited for valor with several Bronze Stars.

Captain Ademola D. Fabayo and Staff Sergeant Juan Rodriguez-Chavez were awarded the Navy Cross for their actions during the battle.

The Mom

Many moms lost their sons that day. The mother of Marine Gunnery Sgt. Aaron Kenefick, Susan Price, lays out a series of photos and awards of her son across the table we are sitting at one February day.

She tells me, “On my son’s death certificate, it states the cause of his death as a homicide. My son was murdered.”

As I look into her eyes, wet with tears, she tells me this story, the one I’ve just shared with you. From a mother’s perspective, I see helplessness, anger, and pride all mixed together in a bundle of emotions I can’t even imagine.

Her only son was abandoned and left to die huddled beside his teammates while bureaucracy and indecision killed them. One photo shows Ms. Price present at the Medal of Honor Ceremony for Marine Corporal Dakota L. Meyer, who intended to die, if that is what it took, to get her son and the others out of that valley.

For those who were determined responsible for the failures of that day, we get to that dreadful understanding they must live with everyday. To know there is one or more Gold Star mother who holds you responsible for the death of their child is something I can only imagine carries as heavy as the burden of the Wandering Jew in John 18:20-22.

I asked Ms. Price if anyone from TOC Chosin had ever reached out to her to say they were sorry. “No, they have not,” she reports.









“The actions of key leaders at the battalion level were inadequate and ineffective, contributing directly to the loss of life.”

“The absence of senior leaders in the operations center with troops in contact in the [REDACTED] battlespace, their consequent lack of situational awareness and decisive action, was a key failure in the events of 8 September 2009.”

“SSG from the TOC-“Unless the ROE (Rules of Engagement) is adjusted, nothing would have helped…The really effective fires were coming from the houses….They know we can’t and won’t shoot up their houses…They use the ridiculous ROE to take away every advantage we might have…Americans are getting slaughtered…”


Social Media

Current Edition

No spam, notifications only about new editions, events & monthly top articles.  Our digital edition is FIRE!