In late October of 2010, PFC Matthew Permar, along with the rest of his unit, 2nd Battalion, of the 4th Regiment, 4th Combat Brigade, 10th Mountain Division, began their long journey from Ft. Polk, LA to Afghanistan. Their civilian contracted airline made its first stop in Bangor AFB, Maine; then on to Sophia, Bulgaria; finally landing in Manas, Kyrgyastan. In Manas, after being issued plates for their body armor, 2nd Battalion soldiers boarded an Air Force C-17 for the flight to FOB (Forward Operating Base) Shank, about 50 miles south of Afghanistan’s capitol city, Kabul. The landing at FOB Shank was delayed because the base was then under mortar attack. In one bizarre incident, a mortar round landed on a soldier’s foot. Fortunately it was a dud and he survived. The base was mortared again on the following day during evening chow, and Permar was struck by how little warning the incoming rounds gave, no great whistling sound like in the movies. After the stress of the long flight, he slept through the mortar attack on the third day.
Smaller, more isolated COP’s (Combat Outposts), fringe the Forward Operating Bases, and within a week 2nd Battalion soldiers replaced elements of the 173rd Airborne Division at COP Sayad Abad, west of FOB Shank. In that district of Afghanistan, the terrain is somewhat like Morgan, green valley floors dotted with small farms and pastures, surrounded by rocky, mountain ranges. The outpost itself is a double walled fortification backed into a hillside, about 300 meters by 800 meters. COP Sayad Abad housed 2nd Battalion, a few Air Force personnel to coordinate air support, and two platoons of Infantry from a Line Company. Outside, across the road that passes south of the COP, a bazaar, set up by what the military designate, “Local Nationals”.
Life on such an isolated outpost becomes tedious - and quickly. A 12-13 hour workday was normal duty; many work 14-16 hours. Permar was an “Intel Guy”, a trained Intelligence Analyst, assigned to the S2, Headquarters Company, Tactical Operations Center. Intel Guys call their work area, “The Shop”. A typical day in The Shop can be pretty boring, mostly updating databases. But Intel also has to “battle track” – know where friendly forces are and identify where insurgents are making attacks. This is done with an array of high tech unmanned surveillance aircraft, Predators, Reapers, and Shadows. For additional surveillance, COP Sayad Abad had the advantage of a tethered PTDS Blimp. Below the blimp, an array of cameras whose sensitivity is classified, but it is safe to say that they can detect a man walking at an unbelievable distance. Intel personnel communicate with unmanned surveillance craft “pilots” via a chat window or by phone, directing them to the areas needed. Information gathered is analyzed and developed into a “product” - a presentation for field commanders to use in their daily operations.
A Civil War veteran once observed that, “Soldiering is 99% boredom and 1% sheer terror.” For the soldiers in COP Sayad Abad, boredom ended one late afternoon on the eve of the 10th anniversary of 9/11. In his own words, PFC Permar remembered,
The truck bomb hit at around 1700 local time. The blast was about 400 meters away from me . . . Since I was inside [the Tactical Operations Center] at the time, I had no reference for how close the explosion was, so I didn’t know if it was a really close 107mm rocket or a VBIED. Since we were so far away, there wasn’t really too much damage, just some lights falling from the ceiling and a bunch of dust getting kicked up. We ran out into the bunker . . . It was then that we saw the smoke cloud on the other side of the COP and realized that the explosion would have had to be massive. We stayed at the bunker for a couple of minutes before going back into the TOC to start to try to get the situation under control.
An insurgent truck bomb, filled with explosives, had gone off next to the COP, ripping through the 20 ft. high concrete outer wall and an inner 15 ft high, dirt filled HESCO barrier. More than 100 soldiers inside the compound were wounded, but none fatally. Outside, the Afghan civilian population fared worse, five killed, including a little girl, along with uncounted wounded. The blast occurred close to the Chow Hall, destroying it, along with surrounding buildings, but the area was quickly secured and the severely wounded evacuated by helicopter. Within a few weeks of the attack, scheduled replacements, elements of the 1st Armored Division, began arriving to taking over COP Sayad Abad.
Spc4 Permar is home now and safe. This is our soldier’s story, but we will be especially thankful this Veterans Day for all those who served our country.
Thank you to the Permar’s for submitting this story from the front lines to The Morgan County News. At a local level, we thank you for your service to our community and Country!
If any of you have stories from our local service men and women, or past memories if you are a veteran we’d love to hear from our great heroes! Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org or bring it into our office Mon- Thurs.