“Pale Horse: Hunting Terrorists and Commanding Heroes with the 101st Airborne Division” is the remarkable never-before-told true story of an Army aviation task force during combat in the Afghan War, told by the commanding officer who was there, Jimmy Blackmon. SOFREP had an opportunity to ask Jimmy a few questions about his experiences and his book.
SOFREP: What particular difficulties did you experience while operating rotary-wing aircraft in an environment like Afghanistan?
JB: The most significant challenge for aviation in Afghanistan is the terrain and weather. Coupled with an indigenous enemy that understands how to use the terrain to their advantage, the terrain is a game changer.
What are some particularly hairy missions recalled in “Pale Horse”?
Since 9/11, 17 Medals of Honor have been earned. Eleven of them were earned in the area where I commanded Pale Horse. I was present for five of them. Certainly, operating routinely in the Pech River Valley and its ancillary valleys was always a challenge. We took over the area on January 6, 2009, and on January 17th our first aircraft was shot down. It was a Chinook conducting a resupply mission in the Korengal Valley. It crash-landed very close to where the combat search and rescue (CSAR) Chinook was shot down trying to rescue Marcus Luttrell and the team made famous in “Lone Survivor.” I guess you could say we were baptized by fire early on, but the real challenge came in the north.
Colonel Randy George and his Mountain Warriors decided to close all the outposts in the Kamdesh River Valley—a very wise move. However, a multitude of things occurred that prevented us from doing it on the predetermined timeline. Private Bowe Bergdahl walked out of his outpost and was captured. We were sent to Barg-e Matal to reestablish control of that village. In the meantime, the enemy attacked Combat Outpost Keating. That was a very challenging fight in literally a slot in the earth. Following that, we immediately began closing the other outposts, but again we had a Chinook shot down doing so. The fights in the Kamdesh were gut-wrenching!
What motivated you to write “Pale Horse”?
I wanted the American people to truly meet their soldiers. I wanted them to understand what we do while they continue living a blessed life in America. It was important that we tell our story, versus a journalist that conducted interviews. We know what those emotions felt like. We understand what it’s like to see the lights go out in a village as we approach, the wind in our face, the sound of a dog barking, the taste and smell of fear on a soldier’s breath. That’s the way it had to be told and only we could tell it in that way.
What airframes were included in the task force you commanded and how were they typically employed?
Pale Horse consisted of AH-64 Apaches, OH-58D Kiowas, UH-60M Black Hawks, CH-47F Chinooks, UH-60L Medevac, a platoon of UAVs, and a specially trained infantry pathfinder platoon. The Apaches and Kiowas escorted every mission our ground brothers executed on the ground. They also provided support and security for deliberate operations. The Black Hawks moved the assault forces on deliberate raids, but also kept the outposts resupplied. At that time, many of our outposts were only accessible by air. You simply could not drive a vehicle to them.
What do you think Americans should know about your mission and your men and women in Afghanistan?
“Pale Horse” tells them everything I want them to know. This is from the book: “They came from wealthy and poor families alike. Their mothers and fathers were doctors, lawyers, mechanics, and mill workers. They had PhDs and GEDs. They were black, white, Hispanic, Native American, Asian, Samoan, and Latino. They were all extraordinary.”
(Featured image courtesy of independent.co.uk)