Despite 100 Attacks, Unit Leaves Afghan War With No Casualties

Beleaguered Afghan outpost earned the nickname "Camp Hell."

ByMike Boettcher
July 18, 2009, 4:06 PM

COMBAT OUTPOST LOWELL, Afghanistan July 18, 2009— -- Over the past year, the several dozen U.S. troops hunkered down in Combat Outpost Lowell have seen more firefights than any unit in Afghanistan.

The outpost is situated in rugged Afghan territory in Nuristan Province, close to the Pakistan border. Its job has been to disrupt al Qaeda and Taliban smuggling routes through the area.

Located on the northern part of Afghanistan's border with Pakistan, the troops in Combat Outpost Lowell did not see any reinforcements from the U.S. surge, which has been concentrated in southern part of the country.

But the Taliban has had a surge of its own, making July the bloodiest month of the Afghan war so far for U.S. troops. Part of the Taliban offensive was a determined effort to erase Lowell from the map. The Taliban attacked the outpost nearly 100 times in the past year.

But the men of Apache Troop, out of Fort Hood, Texas, are now heading home with a basketful of medals and the best victory they can think of -- they haven't lost a single soldier to enemy fire.

The outpost comes under mortar and rocket attack so often the local Afghans have referred to it as hell.

"It has a very fitting name. Very fitting name. It's beautiful up here ... just beautiful, but it is so deadly," Staff Sgt. Caleb Fletcher told ABC News in the final days of the unit's deployment.

"There's not too many people who are going to understand what we did out here over the past 12 months, except for the 65 men who were out here," said Capt. Frank Hooker, the troops' commander.

Armies crave high-ground, but Lowell sits at the bottom of a mountain bowl. The Taliban pours it on from the high ridge lines, while Apache Troop send lethal barrages back up the mountainsides.

The camp endured its stiffest test on May 9 when the Taliban concentrated fire on the base and tried to overrun it, and Lowell's troops battled back.

Specialist Michael Rodriquez, from San Jose, Calif., says on that day he fired 320 grenades at the attackers in 30 minutes.

"Something kind of happens. A switch gets turned on. I just go into a kind of kill mode, I guess," Rodriquez said.

4th Infantry Division Taking Over at Combat Outpost Lowell

This was a family fighting for its life.

"It really is me and the guy next to me. That's really what it is," Rodriquez said. "It's just you and your boys. That's really what it is."

For the new guys coming in -- the 4th Infantry Division based at Ft. Carson, Colo. -- the common advice is to remember you have someone back home.

Back home seems a world away to the soldiers leaving Combat Outpost Lowell.

"After experiencing this, what I will say ... if I ever do a job interview again and they say have you ever found yourself in a stressful situation, I'll try not to smile," said Sgt. Matthew Bertran of San Jose, Calif.

On the night they were due to rotate out, their outpost was marked by the roughhousing and laughter that comes from relief. There was also pride.

They quieted down when First Sgt. Douglas Terrell addressed them one last time in the outpost as he congratulated them on a job well done.

"Nobody is going home in a body bag. Everybody is going back with all their limbs ... all their sight," Terrell said. Every soldier in the room was silent.

Shortly after, Apache Troop boarded Chinook helicopters for the ride out. They were leaving a place they'd like to forget, but never will.

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