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Eighteen years ago, on March 4, 2002, U.S. Navy SEALs, Army Rangers and air crews engaged enemy fighters on the steep, freezing mountain top of Takur Ghar in Afghanistan. It was almost impossible terrain, covered in at least three feet of snow, making any movement difficult if not deadly.

The battle became known as “Roberts Ridge” after its first casualty, Navy SEAL Neil C. Roberts.

In all, seven U.S. servicemembers were killed in what proved to be the deadliest entanglement during Operation Anaconda, early in the war in Afghanistan.

The battle began when two SEAL teams, including Roberts, were to be inserted into a landing zone near the peak of Takur Ghar. Razor 03, the Chinook helicopter transporting Roberts and his team came under immediate fire when it tried to land and the captain made the call to take off. As the helicopter took flight, Roberts fell out the open ramp and tumbled onto the snow.

Air Force combat controller Master Sergeant John Chapman was with the second SEAL team on Razor 4, inserted onto the mountain. They also came under enemy fire, and two SEALs along with Chapman were wounded.

Actual drone footage taken during the battle shows the harrowing conditions, and the heroism of those who fought on Roberts Ridge 18 years ago.

After the 20-minute firefight, the SEAL team, Mako 30, was forced off the peak, and requested the assistance of a quick reaction force, primarily made up of Army Rangers from the 1st battalion led by CPT Nate Self. The SEAL team mistakenly believed Chapman was killed.

He was alone and wounded, but he was alive. Separated from the others, Chapman fought off the enemy alone. He killed at least two, one in hand to hand combat, before he was finally killed. For his actions, Chapman was awarded the Medal of Honor.

Meanwhile, the first half of the quick reaction force reached the landing zone on Razor 01, and immediately came under fire. Three Rangers, CPL Matthew A. Commons, SGT Bradley S. Crose, and SPC Marc A. Anderson were killed, as well as Army SOAR SGT. Philip Svitak.

Razor 01 on Roberts Ridge 3/4/2002 (photo: Eric Stebner)

The second half of the force with 10 Rangers was inserted at an “offset” landing zone aboard Razor 02, and had to make its way up a 45 to 70-degree snow-covered slope, under mortar fire, in thin mountain air, carrying weapons, body armor and equipment. It was brutal.

The force was able to consolidate, and ultimately prevailed, but not before Senior Airman Jason D. Cunningham, a pararescueman, was killed by an enemy counterattack. The seventh fatality.

Captain Nate Self kneels at the Roberts Ridge Memorial three days after the battle at Bagram Airfield. (Photo: Eric Stebner)

The Battle of Roberts Ridge has already been inscribed in history. It may be mostly remembered for the Navy SEAL for whom it is named, or the actions of MOH recipient, John Chapman. But five others gave their lives on that snowy mountain, and many others risked theirs.

For that is the sacrifice of all who wear the cloth of this nation — that these ordinary Americans would lay down their lives in service.

As the U.S. winds down military operations in Afghanistan, we must never forget that almost 2,400 American families have endured the heartbreak of losing a son or daughter on those battlefields.

We owe a debt of gratitude that can never be fully repaid.

 

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