At a brief ceremony at the KOP on June 5, Captain Jim McKnight of 10th Mountain took down his unit's guidon, climbed into the back of a Chinook, and flew out of the valley forever. Battle Company's guidon was immediately raised in its place. In attendance was a dark, handsome man of Samoan ancestry named Isaia Vimoto; he was the command sergeant major of the 173rd and the highest enlisted man in the brigade. Vimoto's nineteen-year-old son, Timothy, was a private first class in Second Platoon, and after the ceremony Vimoto asked Battle Company's First Sergeant LaMonta Caldwell where his son was. Caldwell walked Vimoto over to the wire and pointed down-valley.
'He's down there at Phoenix,' he told him.
Vimoto had requested that his son serve in Battle Company because he and Caldwell were best friends. 'You tell him I said hello,' he told Caldwell before he left the KOP. 'Tell him I came out here.'
There had been some contact earlier in the day, and Second Platoon spotted what they thought was an enemy position on top of Hill 1705. A twenty-five-man element, including two Afghan soldiers and an interpreter, left the wire at Phoenix in early evening and started walking south. They walked in plain view on the road and left during daylight hours, which were two things they'd never do again at least not at the same time. They passed the villages of Aliabad and Loy Kalay and then crossed a bridge over a western tributary of the Korengal. They started up through the steep holly forests of 1705, crested the top, and then started down the other side.
The enemy was waiting for them. They opened fire from three hundred yards away with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades. A private named Tad Donoho dropped prone and was low-crawling to cover when he saw a line of bullets stitching toward him in the dirt. He rolled to one side and wound up near PFC Vimoto. Both men began returning fire, bullets kicking up dirt all around them, and at one point Donoho saw Vimoto open his mouth as if he were about to yell something. No sound came out, though; instead, his head jerked back and then tipped forward. He didn't move again.
Donoho started shouting for the platoon medic, but there was so much gunfire that no one could hear him. It didn't matter anyway; the bullet had gone through Vimoto's head and killed him instantly. One moment he was in the first firefight of his life, the next moment he was dead. Donoho shot through all twelve magazines he carried and then pulled more out of his dead friend's ammo rack. There was so much gunfire that the only way the men could move without getting hit was to low-crawl. They were on a steep ridge at night getting raked by machine-gun fire, and everyone knew the MEDEVAC helicopters would never dare attempt a landing in those conditions; they were going to have to get Vimoto and another man named Pecsek down to the road to get picked up. Pecsek had been shot through the shoulder but seemed able to walk. A staff sergeant named Kevin Rice hoisted Vimoto onto his back, and the men started down the steep, rocky slopes of 1705 in the darkness and the rain.