82nd CAB Pathfinders remain vigilant in Afghanistan
Red Team pathfinders, 82nd Airborne Division, remain the primary rescue or extraction force for personnel in need during reduction of US and coalition forces across Afghanistan.
US Army, November 13, 2014 - CAMP DAHLKE, Afghanistan by Staff Sgt Whitney Houston - Banter filled the corridors as the pathfinder platoon known as Red Team readied their rucksacks with recovery equipment such as ropes, glow sticks, extraction saws and weaponry to stage at Camp Dahlke, Afghanistan, Nov. 8, 2014.
The Red Team pathfinders serving with Fox Company, 2nd Assault Helicopter Battalion, 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade, 82nd Airborne Division, are the primary rescue or extraction force for personnel in need, standing ready to stage themselves wherever operations within the Train Advise and Assist Command-East area of operations necessitate their recovery capabilities.
Due to a reduction of U.S. and coalition forces across Afghanistan, such planned staging of rescue and recovery personnel is necessary to ensure a quick response should such life saving actions become necessary.
“We have mission-ready aircraft and personnel that can respond in 15 to 30 minutes to a downed helicopter, or to whatever is needed on the battlefield,” said 1st Lt. Kevin Frey, a native of Fort Worth, Texas, who serves as a pathfinder platoon leader for Fox Company’s Blue Team, 2nd Bn., 82nd CAB.
Frey explained there are two pathfinder platoons, the Red and Blue Teams, which make up the pathfinder (Fox) company.
“We are a specialty subset of infantry, like a scout or mortar platoon are specialty groups, and as such have a very specific mission… There are only three pathfinder companies in the Army, one in the 82nd (Div.), and two in the 101st Airborne. Our mission is to stand ready for personnel recovery missions throughout eastern Afghanistan.”
As coalition troops continue to become more and more scarce throughout Afghanistan, the pathfinders will preposition or forward stage themselves somewhere geographically closer to operations that are underway to reduce risk, said Capt. Matthew Hoffman, a native of Limestone, Maine, who serves as the pathfinder company commander.
“Our job is mainly for downed aircraft and we have a lot of specialty equipment for that mission. We have belaying capabilities if the landing zone isn’t safe for the helicopter and we can rappel to where we need to be,” Hoffman said. “We also have the K12 saw that cuts through armor, and a hand-held pneumatic Jaws of Life that really helps if you ever had to get someone out of an aircraft. We can also sanitize the aircraft if needed. Our goal essentially is to get in and get out quickly without leaving anybody or anything important behind.”
The pathfinders have also taken part in the downsizing effort, doing another traditional pathfinder role of sling loading equipment from several forward operating bases throughout TAAC-East with Chinooks.
“We moved millions of dollars worth of equipment to different locations quicker and safer than it would have been if they would have moved it on the ground,” said 1st Sgt. John Ferrante, a New York City native, who serves as the pathfinder company’s first sergeant.
Frey explained that the rescue and extraction mission that is now inherent to pathfinders has evolved over the last few years in Afghanistan due to needs on the battlefield.
Pathfinders traditionally go forward into enemy territory ahead of the main body of airborne forces to find drop zones where aircraft can safely drop paratroopers, as well as designate helicopter landing zones. He said they are basically logistics liaisons between air and ground commanders getting Soldiers and equipment on and off the battlefield safely.
The insignia that embodies the pathfinder mission is a flaming torch with wings. Frey explained that the torch represents leadership and lighting the way forward similar to Olympic tradition where an athlete would lead the way with a torch to an athletic event, and the wings represent airborne capabilities.
Hoffman said that the rescue and extraction teams work very closely with their Army aviation partners and naturally share a special bond with them.
“The aviation companies to our left and our right that we fly around with are not just any aviators, they’re our aviators,” Hoffman said. “So when something goes wrong, those guys are not just coworkers, they’re our friends, and my guys know when we’re dragging them out of bed at all hours it is because we’re doing something really important for them (the aviators).”
As Operation Enduring Freedom comes to a close and troops continue to draw down to suit a Resolute Support framework, pathfinders maintain a vigilant watch to keep what troops are left on the battlefield safe.
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82nd CAB 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade US Army Aviation