Those fears were confirmed when the Chinooks deposited them on a snow-covered mountaintop shortly after midnight. The soldiers were equipped with night-vision goggles, but the terrain was steeper than they thought. Men were falling everywhere. Spc. Angel Ramon, from Brooklyn, N.Y., recalled that "when we first started to attempt to walk down at night, I almost fell down the mountain in the first 30 minutes."
Soldiers joke that no military plan survives the first minutes of battle and Ramon's company commander, Bankston, was quickly finding out how true that is.
"With the heavy loads we had, with the amount of personnel we had, it wasn't feasible to move down the mountain at night," he said.
The descent wasn't much better at dawn. Sgt. Mendez remembered that "basically you had to hold on to a tree or a root or some kind of shrub just to stand up as you go down."
Across the valley, on another mountaintop, Cougar Company decided to press ahead under the cover of darkness. They knew there was a significant force of Taliban insurgents near their landing zone. They just didn't know how close.
As he moved down the mountain, Spc. Bret Kadlec noticed something wasn't right.
"I heard a couple of Afghanis talking," he said. "Real quiet, just a couple of whispers and they were right in the trees above us. And I asked Sgt. Burgess, 'We don't have no Afghan Army next to us do we?' And he said, 'No.' And as soon as he said no I heard them flip their weapon to fire and started to open up on us. And we immediately jumped down. We started shooting up in the trees because they were directly above us. It was all pretty much chaos from there."
Kadlec's squad leader, Sgt. Brian Burgess, and Spc. Dustin Feldhaus were mortally wounded in the opening seconds of the night battle.
The squad's medic, Brit Jacobs, didn't need to be told to run into enemy fire to help his buddies.
"I heard the radio go on and someone [sounded hurt]," he said. "No one told me there were casualties. I knew because of that. They were literally in the trees firing down at us. What kind of crazy crap is that?"
A late enlistee in his 30s, Spc. Eric Matheson was a father figure in 3rd Platoon, Cougar Company, who call themselves, "The Bastards." He knew the younger soldiers were watching him.
"I really felt I was going to die down there -- either shot from above or all it would have taken is one rocket-propelled grenade placed right and we'd of all been dead," he said. "I stayed there even though my instinct was to get the hell out of there, but I stayed tree for all my group, my squad, my platoon. I stayed there for 'The Bastards.'"
The medic, Jacobs, recalled that in the worst of the battle he was fighting only for his buddies to the left and right of him.
"It was amazing to see out of that chaos that it could at least be a little bit organized," he said. "Everybody [was] doing their part to help out. You could really see a fraternal love between everybody, even though there was a enemy out there and chaos.
The 3rd Platoon, outnumbered, kept fighting on and, within an hour, prevailed. The Taliban, who weren't killed in the gun battle, climbed down from their trees and retreated.
Sgt. Burgess's squad began Operation Strong Eagle 3 with seven men. In the first hour of the Operation, two had died and a third was injured. A fourth soldier, PFC Jeremy Faulkner, would die in a separate battle late that morning. The squad would end the day with only three soldiers still in the fight. And theirs was only the opening battle.