Milford-based New Hampshire Army National Guard mountain infantry unit receives Valorous Unit Award

MILFORD – Three years ago, Charlie Company spent the month of December being trucked, flown, and bused from a remote outpost in eastern Afghanistan back to New Hampshire.

This December, the New Hampshire Army National Guard mountain infantry unit, part of 3rd Battalion, 172nd Infantry Regiment, stood inside their home armory of Milford to receive the Army’s second highest award for valor.

Charlie Company received the Valorous Unit Award from Gov. Maggie Hassan and Maj. Gen. William Reddel, the adjutant general, for “extraordinary heroism in action against an armed enemy” during its 2010 Afghanistan deployment. It was the first time a New Hampshire National Guard unit earned the award (52 soldiers from 2nd Battalion earned the VUA in 2004 as part of a combat task force in Iraq). More than 100 people attended the Dec. 14 ceremony including the state’s congressional delegation.

“This award means a tremendous amount to the soldiers of Charlie Company,” said 1st Sgt. Glen Drewniak, who was the company first sergeant during the deployment. “Even though it’s been three years since we returned, receiving this award reminds us all that what we did there was important, and that we did make a difference.”

During the 10-month deployment, the 140 soldiers of Charlie Company were based in the Zormat district of Paktya Province. The eastern province, which juts out into Pakistan, was a constant hotbed of insurgent activity.

“There was a high level of danger the entire time we were there, the most significant being from improvised explosive devices when our soldiers went on the road,” Drewniak said. “But even at the COP (combat outpost) you never knew what would happen; we received indirect fire, rockets and small arms fire on a regular basis.”

The insurgents’ determination was met by a group of infantrymen who took their operations in Paktya seriously.

Charlie Company performed more than 700 hundred patrols, capturing and killing numerous insurgents. They also confiscated weapons caches and intercepted munitions ranging from machine guns to anti-tank mines, including the largest cache of weapons found in the area at that time.

All of which crippled insurgent activity in the Zormat district.

“When we arrived, we had a sphere of influence of about 1 kilometer,” said Capt. Dan Newman, then the company commander. “By the time we left, there weren’t IEDs on the routes we traveled and we weren’t getting ambushed. Villagers came to the COP to seek help, and in the shuras (traditional Afghan meetings the soldiers attended) it was ‘we’ not ‘you.’?”

In addition to daily patrols, Charlie Company participated in the first combat air assault for its battalion and the New Hampshire Guard. They also spearheaded the largest combat air assault in eastern Afghanistan since Operation Anaconda in 2002.

The soldier operated out of two remote Afghan outposts with Afghan National Army soldiers in extremely austere conditions. With fewer than 30 soldiers, they also built a third outpost from the ground up using scrap lumber and filling dirt fortifications all while receiving incoming fire almost daily.

At one of the outposts, Capt. Allen Corey, then a platoon leader and current company commander, recalled receiving incoming mortar rounds when one of his soldiers scrambled from protective cover to his mortar position. With the help of his spotter, he returned fire and the enemy mortar stopped almost immediately.

Charlie Company soldiers also rescued pinned-down squad mates in the midst of enemy machine gun fire, and moved from behind cover to drag an Afghan National Army soldier to safety during an ambush.

By the end of the deployment, 14 Bronze Star Medals, five Purple Hearts, five Army Commendation Medals with Combat Distinguishing Valor Devices, 92 Combat Infantry Badges, 40 Combat Action Badges and four Combat Medical Badges had been awarded.

While the VUA was awarded to the entire battalion, Newman said it does not diminish the company’s achievements.

“This is not a nameless, faceless award,” Newman said. “This was earned by the soldiers in their formation, these are their team leaders, their squad leaders – this is the guy to the left and to the right. This award was won on their shoulders.”

Whitney Hughes is a staff sergeant with the 114th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment.