Thursday, April 22, 2010

Tales From The Frontlines: Making The Difference


COMBAT TRAINING. New LTs are given additional combat training based on the actual operational environment of their deployment area.

“The most dangerous man on earth is a 2LT with a map” is a famous line that my PMA upperclassmen used as a reminder during our combat training. I am quite challenged to disprove this. I want to show that a “well-trained, committed and highly-disciplined 2LT can make a difference”. This is one thing that I have to prove among my scrutinizing seniors who jokingly refer to 2LTs as the “dangerous” men in the Army.

It was a sunny day on 14 March 2010 (Sunday), when a reliable informant , Ka Dong, revealed about the enemy presence in Brgy. Buenavista, Caramoran, Catanduanes. I am thankful that we have true friends who want to help us free this island from the influence of the NPA bandits. I am also happy that reliable informants like him make our job easier; we don’t have to stay in the boondocks for longer periods to search for these extortionists.

Ka Dong’s information was confirmed by our contact in the village. “The NPA rebels are watching the Pacquiao-Clottey match here,” says the texter from the village of Buenavista.

Based on these data, the battalion staff and our Commander conducted mission planning as our platoon was alerted for an impending mission. I was very excited. I gathered my NCOs to give my 5-paragraph warning order.

Then came the mission briefing facilitated by my LTCOL BASCO himself. “I am sending the three of you for this mission because I trust on your abilities,” he said, adding that “Your platoon leader, Judy, will take care of you”. I was very proud and willing to be part of the mission. I trust my PL; and, I was happy that I will be working with my mistah, Jay, this time. We had always wanted to experience the real essence of being in the infantry - to engage in real combat!

I can’t help but reminisce our past training experiences. The Platoon Leader’s Course was one of my memorable training. Our previous “missions” in our PLC involved retakes and they were graded. I can recall the reminder of my Course Director when he said, “In the field, there might be no retakes. If you violate the combat SOP’s, it will be Satan who will rate you when you die”. I believe my CD. I must show that our learning does not end in the classroom.

After our mission briefing, it was my turn to brief my team members. We discussed about our contingencies. I reminded them about one most important thing during a combat mission: “Walang iwanan!”, was made clear to them. I don’t want to experience the sad stories about soldiers who “run for their lives” leaving behind their buddies who had paid the ultimate sacrifice. I trust my soldiers especially my NCOs. As a new LT, I seek their advice too.

It was already 9:45pm (Sunday) when we were all set to go. All troops were ready, full of heart, with their combat gears on. I reviewed the basic troop leading procedures (TLP) and applied them. I ensured that I inspected all the troops and their equipment before we leave. We said our prayers and embarked on our 2-hour trip towards our designated line of departure (LD).

It was around midnight when the truck turned off its lights before briefly parking in a dark area by the roadside. Sir Judy, my PL, directed us to proceed to our initial rally point for our dark adaptation. Minutes later, we started our trek through the thick shrubs, carefully avoiding unnecessary noises as we inched our way towards our objective rally point (ORP).

What made our trip much more difficult was the fact that we walked barefooted. Our “friend” in the village warned us from wearing combat boots because the NPA sympathizers who usually roam the farmlands will inform them about the possible presence of soldiers. For this reason, we had unanimously decided to “act like a native”, in the same way as the NPA bandits.

I have seen that well experienced soldiers showed the finest examples on how to observe combat discipline by adhering strictly to the established movement SOPs. We moved tactically, trading self-solace to sacrifices in order to certainly achieve the element of surprise. Deep in our minds, we only aimed towards guaranteeing the success of the mission.

Due to our perseverance, we were able to close-in undetected. It was around 8: 00 am on 15 March 2010. Above our positions, birds were greeting the new day with their distinctive chirping sounds as they playfully fly from one branch to another in search for food. In contrast, we were there to hunt for our prey, the bandits who had made the lives of ordinary Catanduangons more difficult.

While my PL sent out some selected troops for a recon, I managed to entertain myself with some reflections about my adventures here. I can vividly remember my first encounter with the enemy in Catanduanes. Unfortunately, my first experience was an enemy ambush which harmed one of my soldiers. I really want to get even this time.
When the recon teams came back to give the exact locations of the bandits, I can feel the adrenaline rush. All adjacent high grounds were occupied by their “satellite posts” at least 25-50m apart. Our ORP was only about 50m from their most forward post!

This is it, the skills that I learned in training will be put to test. “You’re battle-zeroed rifle can hit up to 250m by using an adjusted aiming technique,” my marksmanship mentor once said. Now, I am only about 30-50m from my targets. I wonder if I will miss my desired impact points. I can feel the beating of my heart. It’s like I am getting a fever; but, no, I knew that was part of the adrenaline rush. I should put that state of my body and mind into good use. Pag di makontrol, nerbiyos ang abutin.

Now that we have found the enemy positions, our next problem is how to fix them. The terrain is not so friendly. The bandits are also good at terrain analysis and the way to effectively use the terrain to their advantage. “You stay in your respective assault lines,” 2LT OMANDAM said through the radio, “the rebels will see you if you move further”.

Through pre-determined hand signals, I ordered my men to be prepared. My platoon leader will command “fire!” and delivers the first shot as our signal to simultaneously fire our weapons.

The distinctive voice command, “fire!” signaled the simultaneous firing of our weapons. I squeezed the trigger, aiming at the silhouette of an enemy who was carrying what appeared to be an M14 Rifle. He fell instantly but I could not see him anymore due to the thick shrubs that separated our respective positions. Beside me, my SAW gunner continuously delivered burst of fire using his K3 SAW. Our gunner, positioned in a higher ground, never failed to continuously deliver 7.62mm bullets whizzing through the bushes and into the enemy positions. This gave my team the opportunity to crawl forward and prepare for the assault.

Assisting my assault team was the team of 2LT ACLETA and the command group of 2LT OMANDAM. I was very confident that we were at the upper hand. Our well-trained soldiers and capable combat leaders were doing their job greatly.

Sensing that we were already about 10m from the enemy positions, I shouted “assault!” and rushed forward with our guns blazing. Confused and shocked, I can see some bandits fleeing in complete disarray. I saw one dragging a wounded comrade downwards through a deep ravine as we trailed his pathway with small-arms fire.
Seeing that we had gone too far from our support elements, I shouted “LOA” (limit of advance) to halt our advancing troops. The enemy could regroup and stage an ambush against us; I didn’t want to repeat my past experience. It was time to search the encounter site.

As we scoured the area, we found blood trails and scattered human flesh sticking on the grasses. One dead rebel lay motionless beside his M16 rifle. As our soldiers collected the firearms and enemy belongings, I noticed that some PTC (permit-to-campaign) cards were contained inside a backpack. “Indeed, they are still extorting money from local politicians here,” said LT OMANDAM. “We must always be ready to thwart this money-making scheme of the bandits,” he added.

This encounter led to the recovery of of six (6) HPFAs including three (3) M16 rifles with SNs 147582, 1995967, Colt M16 with deface SN, two (2) M14 rifles with SNs 1564282, 1192538, one (1) Carbine rifle with SN 6823966.

Also recovered from the scene of battle were the following: one (1) anti personnel mine with blasting caps for bombs, twenty five (25) backpacks, twenty five (25) hammocks, five (5) bandoleers, three (3) cell phones, one (1) hundred sixteen (116) colored mint-green permit to campaign (PTC) cards, medical and dental equipment, one (1) VHF radio, one (1) pc transistor radio, five (5) magazines with ammo for M14, five (5) magazines for M16 with ammo, four (4) pcs boxing gloves, one (1) sack of rice, ten reams of fortune cigarettes, voluminous subversive documents with high intelligence value and one (1) body that was killed-in-action (KIA) identified to be Sonny De Leon @GENEROSO (OBL), vice commander of KSSI 3, Nerissa San Juan Command.

Rendering our ACE (ammo, casualty, equipment) report from our ORP, our Battalion Commander was so elated upon knowing that not anyone among the soldiers was hurt in this encounter. I can see the proud faces of my soldiers and my fellow officers.

I am lucky to have been mentored by good leaders who had made their mark in their respective endeavors. With my humble contributions in our ISO campaign, I am proud for making the difference.

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