Editor's note: Lt. Matthew Spartz, a lifelong Lombard resident, has been writing columns for the Daily Herald since his deployment to Afghanistan. Last week, he was wounded in a battle that claimed the lives of six American troops. He shares the details of that fight in the Pech Valley.
I faced my greatest fear in the sky-scraping mountains of the Pech Valley's Taliban training havens, and now that fear no longer scares me.
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My greatest fear was not death. I've been incrementally inoculated from the physical pains of war with every rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) that blew up within 20 feet of me without harm, and every bullet that has kicked up the dirt next to me, including the one that found a place in my right arm.
My greatest fear has always been that during the crucial time, when another soldier needed me the most, I would fail him.
During last week's battle in the Pech Valley all I did was my job. Part of that job was getting air and artillery support for "Buka" platoon that was cut off from our main position. It was an excruciatingly hard task to get the right helicopters and artillery to their position, while my own position was being lit up by RPGs and with the enemy in hand grenade range. I had to fight my frustrations and instincts that told me to use my M4 carbine and fire on the enemy in front of me. I wished I could have had 100 grenades to throw.
Buka's platoon sergeant, Sgt. 1st Class John Flemming, witnessed his men getting shot and rained with shrapnel. Under fire, Flemming administered aid to his soldiers, including patching an entrance wound in a soldier's back and the exit wound in his chest. Once I gained control of the air assets, I sent them immediately for Buka's position. Flemming guided the aircraft to provide suppressive fires for his position, long enough for his wounded men to be evacuated.
In the end, Buka lost four warriors in that fight, and even more were wounded and won't return to duty this deployment.
Yet the first thing Flemming did when our men were back together was thank me for saving his life, and the lives of the rest of his platoon.
I shook his hand in awe. I told Flemming I wish I could have done more. I wish I could have held my radio in one hand and my M4 in the other, effectively using both.
The antibody to my fear is love, delivered over and over again by the greatest soldiers who've ever existed, who've given their lives for something greater than themselves.
This love also can be overwhelming. After that hard fight, we honored the four Buka platoon warriors and two others who were lost. Just before the memorial began one of the Buka soldiers was standing next to me. Large, blown-up pictures of his friends, whom I barely knew, stood atop wooden easels behind the display of tan boots, upside down M4s with dangling dog tags, topped with a lone helmet.
With tears in his eyes that soldier turned to me.
"Sir, I never got a chance to personally thank you for sending us that air (support) the other day," he said. "Thank you."
My greatest fear is still that I would let a soldier down in his greatest time of need. But this fear no longer scares me. I would run toward this fear 1,000 times if it meant a chance to live up to the example that these men have set for me.
I was just the guy with the radio. Now I'm just the guy with the pen.
The men of Abu Company will never forget them.
Spc. Shane H. Ahmed.
Spc. PC Nathan E. Lillard.
Spc. Scott T. Nagorski.
Spc. Jesse A. Snow.
Spc. Shannon Chihuahua.
Pfc. Christian M. Warriner.