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Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Operation Red Wings


The 9/11 attacks forced our military to devise new and innovative techniques to defeat Taliban and Al Qaida Forces operating in Afghanistan. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, Commander, Joint Special Operations Command, (JSOC) developed a “Team of Teams” partnership leveraging the specialized capabilities of various Federal Intelligence Agencies, with Special Operations Mission Units (Seal Team-6, Delta Force, 24th STS, SF and 75th Ranger Regiment). This unique partnership formed the nucleus of the military’s Counterterrorism Task Force.

In 2005 I volunteered for the program. I was sent to Jalalabad for a three-month deployment embedded with the Army’s elite 2nd Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment. In the eighties I had flown helicopters in the Navy. But to say I was unaware of the grueling lifestyle of an Army Ranger is a massive understatement!

I was nowhere near my comfort zone. Thankfully the CO and SGM both welcomed and included me as a team member in their operations planning. At forty-five, I was ten years older than the SGM and the CO, but I was representing the FBI, and kept J. Edgar’s admonishment, “Never embarrass the Bureau,” front and center in my decisions.

In late June, a few weeks prior to our deployment rotation date, Operation Red Wings kicked off. Movies have been made and books written about this operation and the ensuing battle and the tragic loss of life. In it, I had a small part that I never played.

Lying on my rack, fully kitted and waiting for the call out, I was sweat soaked and jumpy. Day dreams of home and family ran through my head. I questioned the sanity of my decision to volunteer to a war zone. After all, I worked violent crime cases in Chicago; wasn’t that enough? Earlier, the SGM had poked his head in my hooch, and told me I was going to be part of the Quick Reaction Force (QRF) that was tasked with the recovery of a downed MH-47 in the Hindu Kush Mountain Range. Almost as an afterthought, he asked me if I had ever fast roped. “Yep,” I lied. Not only had I never fast roped, but I’d never even been inside a MH-47 Chinook. In college I had repelled off buildings and boulders at Devil’s Lake, and 20 years earlier I’d flown SH-3H helicopters. So, in my mind, it wasn’t a complete fabrication.

A bit later, the SGM advised that I had been bumped from the flight due to limited space. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t relieved, but I put on a stoic face and simply said, “I understand.” I took off my kit, my extra ammo and stored my weapons. I changed into dry clothes and tried to get some shut eye.

Later that day, the QRF recovered the remains of the sixteen warriors from the mountainside.

I think of them often, but never so much as on Memorial Day.

P. Araya
P. Araya
Pablo Araya grew up in Naperville and enjoys writing about his experiences in the Navy, the FBI and growing up in the best town around. Contact Pablo at boblow9913@gmail.com.