Thursday, March 16, 2006, was a beautiful sunny day in Paktika Province, eastern Afghanistan -- the front line in a half-forgotten war. It borders a lawless region of Pakistan that is home to some al Qaeda and Taliban forces. Snow in the mountain passes along the border had melted giving them access again to Afghanistan where they came looking for American soldiers. They soon found them.
At dawn, the 10th Mountain Division's Alpha Company headed out on a mission. Lt. Billy Mariani, the unit commander, noticed something about his troops.
"There was definitely a sense of uneasiness. There was an air about them of, you know, maybe something was going to happen," he said.
The convoy included some two dozen 10th Mountain Division soldiers mounted in five armored Humvees and a handful of Afghan National Army troops riding in a pickup truck. Their mission was to visit a remote village to meet the tribal elders. No roads existed in this no-man's land and they had to drive through waddis, dry narrow river beds with high, dangerous ground on either side.
Four hours into the drive and just miles from the village, gunfire broke out. They'd been ambushed from above. Twenty-three-year-old Pvt. Channing Moss, the gunner, said it sounded like rattling spoons.
Then came the big guns. Volleys of rocket propelled grenades rained down. The Afghan National Army pickup exploded. Two of the Afghan soldiers died.
One RPG skidded past Lt. Mariani's vehicle. All of the vehicles had to quickly get out of the "kill zone." But before they could get to safety, two rockets hit Pvt. Moss' Humvee.
Staff Sgt. Eric Wynn, 33, the soldier in the front passenger seat, felt one slice through his face. Moss remembers the truck practically lift up. He was thrown up against the Humvee and then moved to return fire.
"I smelled something smoking and I looked down ... and I was smoking," he said.
Wynn turned to tell Moss where to fire and saw the tail fins of the RPG sticking out of Moss' side.
Roughly the length of a baseball bat, an RPG travels at the speed of a bullet. At the front end is the warhead -- a large grenade. The detonator and fuel are contained in the shaft. On the back are its fins, pieces of metal that stick out like legs on a camera tripod. The RPG is the weapon of choice for many of the world's guerillas.
Luckily for Moss, the company medic Spc. Jared Angell, 23, who the soldiers call "Doc," was in his Humvee. With Alpha company still under fire, it would have been nearly impossible for Angell to get to Moss in time if he hadn't been close by.
The RPG that had plowed into Moss' lower abdomen stretched from one hip to the other. If the RPG went off, it would kill everyone within 30 feet of him. Yet Angell stayed close, bandaging his wounds and stabilizing the weapon so that movement wouldn't cause it to explode.
Moss was still fully conscious, so Angell ordered him to not look down at the injury. He didn't want Moss to panic.
"I'm gonna do everything I can," Angell said to Moss. "You keep fighting with me and I'll keep fighting with you."
Wynn held his wounded face together with a bandage and reported their casualties over the radio while he also reached for Moss' hand.
"He was squeezing my hand ... making sure I was staying alive," Moss said.