HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. (Night Flyer News Service) - When the first airplane struck the World Trade Center, Staff Sgt. Matt watched the events unfurl from a training sight in Kansas.

The 26-year-old Air Force Combat Controller was attending a close air support proficiency training course when America came under attack. Though he'd completed the academic portion of the exercise, he would not get to conduct the practical portion - at least not in Kansas.

The sergeant, who does not wish to release his last name for security reasons, returned to his base station here within days of the bombing. A few short weeks later, Sergeant Matt would be among the many Air Force Special Operations Command professionals forward deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.

Fresh from this stateside training and only two rucksacks on his back to carry only the basic of gear, Sergeant Matt would conduct close air support proficiency under real-world circumstances in the heart of Afghanistan.

"I was charged with supporting Northern Alliance forces in their fight against the Taliban," said Sergeant Matt. "I infiltrated Afghanistan in early October, working as part of an Army Special Forces team."

For this mission, the Combat Controller's duty was to provide close air support against Taliban targets. Throughout his nearly three-month deployment, Sergeant Matt estimates he made hundreds of calls to U.S. aircraft to stop and destroy advancing enemy forces to bring the air campaign to bear against the terrorists.

The ground-to-air support the Controller provided during one incident in early November, took place during a decisive battle dubbed the Battle for the Balk Valley.

"After about a week of traveling on horseback with the Northern Alliance, we had made our way to the valley area about the 5th of November. From our observation point, we could see a stronghold of Taliban troops," he said.

According to Sergeant Matt, he and his Army counterparts had taken up an observation position along a mountainside looking down at the enemy troops and began assessing the situation.

"Our charter was to assist the Northern Alliance in their advance toward Mazir-e-Sharif. My specific role was to bring in the air assets to reduce the enemy threat and minimize the ground resistance," he said.

Dug in along the mountain ridge of the Darye-Suf Valley, the Controller was responsible for bringing the air power to the fight.

"The Taliban had established bunkers and basically settled in prepared to fight and maintain control of the territory. There were vehicles, armored tanks and personnel carriers stretched across the valley. They were holding their ground and weren't about to relinquish to the Northern Alliance," he said.

Using "spotting scopes" - similar to a high-power, high-tech binocular -- the Controller identified the targets and began plotting positions using global positioning systems and maps.

"I had to prioritize the targets to ensure we put the bombs on the right targets first. Once I positively identified the targets, I passed the coordinates back to our headquarters element to request air support," said Sergeant Matt, who has been in the Air Force nearly 8 years and a Combat Controller for about 4 years.

Close air support calls are a key mission for Combat Controllers. Using various technological equipment, a Controller can pinpoint the exact location that an aircraft commander needs to put bombs on target. The type of target and various contributing factors - such as surrounding structures - will help the Controller determine what type of bomb and aircraft are best suited for the mission. When passing the CAS request to the headquarters element, the Controller will caveat the request with what airframe can best make the mission happen.

"Different types of munitions are better situated for different targets. In this case, what was needed was an F-18 with precision-guided bombs," said Sergeant Matt. These bombs can work in conjunction with the Special Operations Forces Laser Marker. The marker provides a Controller with the capability to locate and designate targets.

With the U.S. Navy Hornet overhead, Sergeant Matt marked the target - a bunker -- and cleared the pilot to fire.

"He put the bomb through the front door," said the Controller.

Making a few more passes, the F-18 pilot took coordinates from Sergeant Matt and continued the bombing campaign against the Taliban troops.

"It was then the Taliban began a counter-attack," he said. "They started firing rocket-propelled grenades at our position and the fire became pretty intense. I called in for additional air support and within minutes had a B-52 en route. The (rockets) began hitting our position, exploding over our heads and impacting the berm in front of us."

Admittedly afraid, the Controller said he fell back on his training to stay focused.

"I knew what our objective was and the consequences of retreating from our mission. I knew the only choice was to hold out as long as we could," said the sergeant. "Our training -- whether Air Force Special Tactics Operators, Army Special Forces or Navy SEALS - may have slight differences, but ultimately is designed to build an individual able to think and react under stress.

"You have to stay focused, and our specialized training helps us to think out the problems while maintaining flexibility to get to the right solution," added the sergeant.

Less than 5 miles out, the B-52 pilot made contact and the Controller passed the coordinates. Within seconds, the bomber made an initial pass over the attacking force dropping eight JDAMS bombs. The bombing gave the team enough of a break in firing so they could pull down the mountain toward a ravine. The Controller knew he needed more air power, and called in for fighter support.

As an F-14 pulled on the scene, the pilot radioed the Controller that Taliban troops were moving in toward his new position toward the west and south.

"After we verified our location, I cleared the pilot to come in hot - to begin firing on the troops moving in our direction. He made several passes and gave us enough support to move toward a rocky outcrop a few meters down the mountain for cover," said Sergeant Matt.

Looking back up the mountain, the Controller could see where Taliban forces had now overrun the entrenchment he and his Army counterparts had just left. Pulling out his GPS, the Controller recalled his last coordinates - the numbers that indicated that exact location - and passed it to the B-52 pilot still circling the area.

"In seconds, the bomber dropped two large bombs on the spot we just left. The combined effort of the B-52, F-18 and F-14 pilots cleared out the resistance and allowed the Northern Alliance to gain the ground," said the Controller. "The next day, as we've making our way down the mountain the resistance was very light.

"There is no doubt in my mind that the air power allowed the Northern Alliance to move through that valley virtually unimpeded. CAS actions helped cut down the amount of time it would have taken for the Alliance to advance. Additionally, it helped reduce the loss of life that would surely have resulted in direct action," said Sergeant Matt.

Glad to be back in the United States and off horseback, the Combat Controller is taking time to regroup and regenerate.

"Initially, I was a bit nervous about what we were facing as we headed to the area. Since I've never been involved in combat, I didn't know how I would react. But, looking back it helped build my confidence in my abilities and how I'd fare under similar situations," he said.

"Though I'm glad to be back, I'm ready to go wherever needed to continue the fight."


"Bonus Story"

A story from the internet that may be a bit exaggerated or "stretched", but parallels the truth.  I've been accused of a little embellishment myself.  I find a bit of humor in this, but when faced with impossible conditions, I often try to comfort myself with humor.

Afghanistan As Told By Saucy Jack

It's (expletive) freezing here. I'm sitting on hard, cold dirt between rocks and shrubs at the base of the Hindu Kush Mountains along the Dar 'yoi Pomir River watching a hole that leads to a tunnel that leads to a cave. Stake out, my friend, and no pizza delivery for thousands of miles. I also glance at the area around my ass every ten to fifteen seconds to avoid another scorpion sting. I've actually given up battling the chiggers and sand fleas, but them (expletive) scorpions give a jolt like a cattle prod. Hurts like a bastard. The antidote tastes like transmission fluid but God bless the Marine Corps for the five vials of it in my pack.

The one truth the Taliban cannot escape is that, believe it or not, they are human beings, which means they have to eat food and drink water. That requires couriers and that's where an old bounty hunter like me comes in handy. I track the couriers, locate the tunnel entrances and storage facilities, type the info into the handheld, shoot the coordinates up to the satellite link that tells the air commanders where to drop the hardware, we bash some heads for a while, then I track and record the new movement. It's all about intelligence. We haven't even brought in the snipers yet. These scurrying rats have no idea what they're in for. We are but days away from cutting off supply lines and allowing the eradication to begin. I dream of bin Laden waking up to find me standing over him with my boot on his throat as I spit a bloody ear into his face and plunge my nickel plated Bowie knife through his frontal lobe. But you know me. I'm a romantic.

I've said it before and Ill say it again: This country blows, man. It's not even a country. There are no roads, there's no infrastructure, there's no government. This is an inhospitable, rock pit (expletive) ruled by eleventh century warring tribes. There are no jobs here like we know jobs. Afghanistan offers two ways for a man to support his family: join the opium trade or join the army. That's it. Those are your options. Oh, I forgot, you can also live in a refugee camp and eat plum-sweetened, crushed beetle paste and squirt mud like a goose with stomach flu if that's your idea of a party. But the smell alone of those "tent cities of the walking dead" is enough to hurl you into the poppy fields to cheerfully scrape bulbs for eighteen hours a day. And let me tell you something else. I've been living with these Tajiks and Uzbeks and Turks and even a couple of Pushtins for over a month and a half now and this much I can say for sure: These guys, all of em, are Huns. Actual, living Huns. They LIVE to fight. Its what they do. Its ALL they do. They have no respect for anything, not for their families or for each other or for themselves. They claw at one another as a way of life.

They play polo with dead calves and force their five-year-old sons into human cockfights to defend the family honor. Huns, roaming packs of savage, heartless beasts who feed on each other's barbarism. (Expletive) cavemen with AK 47's. Then again, maybe I'm just cranky. I'm freezing my (expletive) off on this stupid (expletive) hill because my lap warmer is running out of juice and I can't recharge it until the sun comes up in a few hours. Oh yeah! You like to write letters, right? Do me a favor, Bizarre. Write a letter to CNN and tell Judy and Bernie and that awful, sneering, pompous Aaron Brown to stop calling the Taliban "smart." They are not smart. I suggest CNN invest in a dictionary because the word they are looking for is "cunning." The Taliban are cunning, like jackals and hyenas and wolverines. They are sneaky and ruthless and, when confronted, cowardly. They are hateful, malevolent parasites who create nothing and destroy everything else. Smart. Pfft. Yeah, they're real smart. They've spent their entire lives reading only one book (and not a very good one, as books go) and consider hygiene and indoor plumbing to be products of the devil. They're still figuring out how to work a Bic lighter. Talking to a Taliban warrior about improving his quality of life is like trying to teach an ape how to hold a pen; eventually he just gets frustrated and sticks you in the eye with it.

OK, enough. Snuffle will be up soon so I have to get back to my hole. Covering my tracks in the snow takes a lot of practice but I'm getting good at it. Please tell my fellow Americans to turn off their TV sets and move on with their lives. The story line you are getting from CNN is utter (expletive) and designed not to deliver truth but rather to keep you glued to the screen through the commercials. We've got this one under control. The worst thing you guys can do right now is sit around analyzing what we're doing over here because you have no idea what we're doing and, really, you don't want to know. We are your military and we are doing what you sent us here to do. You wanna help? Buy some (expletive) stocks, America.