'They Were Hunting and Killing Us': ABC News' Mike Boettcher Caught in Taliban Firefight With U.S. Troops in Afghanistan

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'Make Stuff Blow Up'

Sgt. Arrechaga hung on until the medivac arrived and was even talking to Mendez and Sizemore as he was lifted to the helicopter in a rescue basket. Mendez and the rest of the platoon would not learn for two more days that he did not survive his wounds.

A soldier watches as an Air Force jet drops a 2,000-pound bomb on a Taliban position during Operation Strong Eagle 3. Photo by Mike Boettcher

"I couldn't explain in words how I felt after helping them out," he said. "Having to run down there, all that effort and the only thing I could do is question myself: Could I have run faster? A piece of me falls when you see your men die, when you see your men hurt. I can't explain. It's just like your heart kind of just drops."

Everything changed when Capt. Bankston gave the order to his fire support officer. "Make stuff blow up" was the blunt order. And it did.

The weather had cleared and attack helicopters and fighter jets re-entered the battle. The three-day operation would stretch into nine days, but the 101st Airborne kept fighting as their predecessors had more than a half century earlier in Bastogne at World War II's Battle of the Bulge. They took Barawolo Kalay and wounded Qari Zia Rahman, who barely escaped into Pakistan.

For their valor, No Slack's soldiers were awarded a basketful of silver and bronze stars. Gen. David Petraeus pinned medals on Mott, Bankston, Sizemore, Mendez and a host of other soldiers -- awards they would gladly trade for the lives of their brothers.

And then they went home. There was no send off, no brass band. Without a word, they walked to a chartered helicopter and got the hell out of Kunar and "The Heart of Darkness."

ABC News's Mike Boettcher is an award-winning investigative journalist currently embedded with U.S. troops fighting in Afghanistan. He is the only journalist with the 101st Airborne. Boettcher is also a professor at the University of Oklahoma. His students host a website called Afghan101, covering the wars from the home front.

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