"That could have been a really bad situation. But something clicked and Monti knew this car wasn't a bad guy," Krakauer said.
Under the cover of darkness, Monti and his team set out on the night June 17, 2006.
The perilous mission for the 300 members of the 71st Cavalry Regiment was to secure steep mountain passes in southern Afghanistan that were hundreds of miles from their base, leaving them often exposed and far from help.
Monti's 16-man squad was ordered to climb to the top of mountain overlooking the strategic Gremen valley, survey the area, and call in airstrikes on enemy positions.
On June 21, halfway up the mountain, Monti learned over his radio, that the Army had diverted troops and helicopters to another part of the country and the U.S. assault would be delayed by three days.
Short on food and water and left on a ridge, the Army sent a helicopter to deliver supplies so they could wait out the assault.
"But there was bad communication between the helicopter and those of us on the mountain," said Cunningham who was in charge of the team's snipers.
"The helicopter exposed our position. It flew over the enemy and then it flew over us. We knew they knew where we were sitting. We needed to make a decision: climb down or climb up. It was a hell of a climb either way," he said.
"While discussing it, the enemy hit us. I've been through a lot of fire fights and some pretty serious contact with the enemy, but that that was more intense than anything I'd ever experienced. We were quickly overwhelmed and fell back to our position, behind some rocks and trees on the edge of a ridge," he said.
The men were surrounded by up to 80 insurgents, many of them members Hezb-e-Islami, a tribal militia affiliated with the Taliban.
The insurgents split into two groups and began closing in and flanking the Americans.
Monti radioed another squad, gave their position and called for artillery support.
"He was working the radio and I remember hearing him and thinking how can he sound that calm," said Cunningham.
Monti looked up and saw the insurgents closing in fast, some 30 feet away. He threw a grenade to hold them off.
Taking a head count he realized Sgt. Patrick Lybert, 28, from Ladysmith Wis., had been shot under his body armor and was dead, slumped in front of the rocks from behind which the rest of the squad was firing.
Brian Bradbury, a 22-year-old private from Lowville, N.Y., was missing.
Over the din of the fight, Monti called out for Bradbury. From a ditch some 20 feet away Bradbury responded saying he was alive but could not move.
The private was directly in between his comrades and the insurgents, right in the middle of the enemy's line of fire.
Monti dropped his weapon, jumped over the rock wall and ran towards Bradbury.
He came within a few feet, but the insurgents spotted him and began shooting at him before he could reach the wounded private. He ran back to the wall and took cover.
After a moment to catch his breath he ordered the squad to give him cover and jumped over the wall again to rescue Bradbury.
"We laid out as much fire as we could," said Cunningham. "When he came back the second time, he said: 'I think Bradbury's dead. We called out again and Bradbury responded. So Monti said he was going to try to get him a third time."