50 graduate Fatima Girls High School

Tabasum Sharqi (left) opens a book she received for graduating at the top of her Fatima Girls High School class at a ceremony held at the Kunar Department of Women’s (click for more)

Polish and US Forces bond through weapons

Soldiers from the Polish Army and the Texas National Guard Agribusiness Development Team-IV check their shot grouping during qualification on the Polish AK-74 5.56 mm Mini-Beryl short assault rifle Feb. (click for more)

TF Duke Soldiers volley for peace

U.S. Army Soldiers from Company B, 1st Battalion, 26th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, Task Force Duke, play an impromptu game of volleyball against a team (click for more)

Nurgaram District leaders electrify Nangaresh schools

Dr. Mehirulla Muslim, the Nurgaram District subgovernor, addresses an audience of teachers, government officials and citizens during a ceremony to celebrate a completed solar panel electricity project Feb. 21 in (click for more)

10th CAB Soldiers bring communications to Bagram’s east side

U.S. Army Spc. Raheem Stewart, an automations specialist with TF Phoenix, steps along the rafters of the building his team helped wire for communications. Stewart, from Dallas, was one of (click for more)

ANA, Red Bulls search Parwai during Operation Brass Monkey

An Afghan National Army soldier from Weapons Company, 1st Battalion, 201st Infantry Regiment, searches a pile of rocks in the courtyard of a high-value target home outside the village of (click for more)

Female engagement teams trained to aid communication with Afghan women

U.S. Army Capt. Nicole Zupka of Fair Lawn, N.J., a battlewatch captain with Combined Joint Task Force-Paladin, helps an Afghan child with her writing skills during female engagement team training (click for more)

ANA, TF Storm break trail, make difference in Kharwar

LOGAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan – Afghan National Army soldiers move through Kharwar District to prevent the Taliban’s freedom of movement Feb. 12. U.S. and Afghan soldiers braved more than 3 feet (click for more)

Ky. ADT II begins Panjshir sheep parasite project

Kentucky Agribusiness Development Team II members, U.S. Army Spc. Justin Allen (left), a London, Ky., native, and U.S. Army Sgt. Nicholas Combs, a Corbin, Ky., native, get to know a (click for more)

Engineer Soldiers deliver aid to Afghans

An Afghan carrying a child approaches U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Peter Moeller of Atkins, Iowa, a medic with Task Force Red Bulls, for humanitarian aid at Qale-Mussa Pain Middle School (click for more)

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KUNAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan – U.S. Army Sgt. Nathaniel S. Gray, an infantry squad leader from Tupelo, Miss., assigned to Company B, 2nd Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, scans the mountainside during a recent combat operation in eastern Afghanistan's Kunar Province March 16. Gray is on his third combat tour. (Photo by U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Mark Burrell, Task Force Bastogne Public Affairs)KUNAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan – "I can say that I've led this platoon into more ambushes than any other point man here on this deployment," said U.S. Army Sgt. Nathaniel S. Gray with a toothy grin and slow, southern accent.

"I was point man for the first six, seven months here," he continued. "I walked us into a lot. I can smell it, but I don't know where it's at. I know it's going to happen. Every time we were walking I was looking for my next covered and concealed position. Ya know, I'd look at this rock, then that rock. Oh, there's another rock, that's where I'm going. I just never knew when it was going to happen."

Gray, assigned to Company B, 1st Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment, Task Force No Slack, is now a squad leader and has an uncanny knack for getting himself and his team out of tight spots.

Even before joining the Army, Gray found ways out of potentially hairy situations.

He grew up in Tupelo, Miss., a town about the same size as Asadabad, the capital of Kunar Province, Afghanistan, where he now patrols.

As a teenager, he watched war movies and idolized the men in those action roles who wore Screaming Eagle patches on their shoulders.

"If you see TV or movies, who wouldn't choose the 101st?" Gray said. "If you see 'Hamburger Hill' with those dudes charging up the side of a mountain, who wouldn't want to do that?"

After returning from his first combat tour in Iraq, he quickly joined the 101st Airborne Division and deployed again to Iraq with 3rd Brigade Combat Team for 15 months.

Now, 10 months into a yearlong deployment to Afghanistan with 1st Brigade Combat Team, Gray stares out of his makeshift fighting position into the Shigal Valley.

"You see something?" another Soldier asked. "Ah, it's just dead trees."

"Make sure you know where it's coming from before you shoot, know what I mean?," said Gray to the Soldier. "I expect a rocket-propelled grenade to come from that ridgeline over there."

It was quiet for a few minutes as the Soldiers scanned the ridges with their weapons.

Then Gray said, "Actually, it's my sons' birthdays today."

Jacob and Joseph, twins, turned 5 years old March 16. Gray said he sent home a bow and arrow set for their presents. He started laughing.

"Last time I was home, one of them was walking around the gas station we were at singing the Pledge of Allegiance," Gray said. "I thought that was pretty cool."

One of the main reasons Gray has stayed in the Army is because of his two sons. He is able to care for them, but they also look up to and admire him for being a Soldier.

"They want camouflage stuff, ya know they're 5," Gray said with a smile. "They want the G.I. Joe backpack, and I think that's pretty cool."

Then he explained the difference between being a squad leader and a father.

"Over here, a squad leader is more difficult than taking care of kids," Gray explained. "Here, you have to check to make sure their magazines are full, their (combat optics) are tied down, you have to check everything. Small things have bigger consequences over here."

Since joining the Army, Gray has learned that it's the little things that count.

"The Army changed my life a lot," Gray said. "It kind of distilled something in me. I started doing the right thing. I respect myself more and I respect others more."

After dodging as many more ambushes as he can in his three years left in the military, he plans on going to college and walking into one more ambush: being swarmed by children.

"I want to be a kindergarten teacher," Gray said.

The fighting position on the mountain was quiet for a moment, and then erupted with muffled laughter from his troops.

"Everybody laughs, but that's what I want to do," added Gray. "I love kids."

A few days later, back home in Mississippi, Jacob and Joseph got a phone call. Their dad was on the line, far away from them but reassuring them that he found a safe route off the mountain. Gray has a certain knack for that.

KUNAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan – From behind his makeshift fighting position, U.S. Army Sgt. Nathaniel S. Gray, an infantry squad leader from Tupelo, Miss., assigned to Company B, 2nd Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, uses his combat optics to search for insurgent fighters during a recent combat operation in Shigal District of eastern Afghanistan's Kunar Province March 16. Gray is a single parent with twin sons at home. (Photo by U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Mark Burrell, Task Force Bastogne Public Affairs)KUNAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan – Taking a moment to check on fellow Soldiers, U.S. Army Sgt. Nathaniel S. Gray, an infantry squad leader from Tupelo, Miss., assigned to Company B, 2nd Battalion, 327th Infantry Regiment, Task Force No Slack, walks to different fighting positions during a combat operation in eastern Afghanistan's Kunar Province March 18. Gray joined the Army Reserve and deployed to Iraq before going active duty with the 101st Airborne Division. He is currently assigned to the 1st Brigade Combat Team, 101st Abn. Div., from Fort Campbell, Ky. (Photo by U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Mark Burrell, Task Force Bastogne Public Affairs)

Last Updated on Monday, 28 March 2011 15:54


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Coalition forces engage insurgents in Kapisa

BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan – Coalition forces killed seven insurgents in defensive operations in the Alah Say District, Kapisa Province, eastern Afghanistan, March 29.

Coalition forces and aircraft responded to an insurgent attack. Four insurgents were killed by air strike and three were killed by direct fire from coalition forces.

All rounds were reported safe and on target. There were no reports of injuries or damages to civilians in the area.

ANSF, ISAF begin major operation in Laghman valley

LAGHMAN PROVINCE, Afghanistan – The Afghan National Security Forces, partnered with U.S. Task Forces Red Bulls and Phoenix and French Task Force La Fayette, began operations in Galuch Valley, Laghman Province, March 25.

Soldiers of the Afghan National Army’s 201st Corps, Afghan National Police’s 202nd Shamshod and the U.S. Army’s 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 34th Infantry Division, TF Red Bulls, supported by the 10th Combat Aviation Brigade, TF Phoenix, conducted an air assault into the valley to remove enemy forces. Battle Group Richelieu, TF La Fayette, provided artillery support from Kapisa Province.

While conducting operations, the forces found multiple weapons caches including assorted rocket propelled grenades, mortar rounds, Russian rockets, materials to make homemade explosives, various other ordnances and communication equipment.  

While moving through the valley, unit leadership met with village elders to discuss the security situation and to allow them to give up insurgents still in the area.

The operation will assist the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan in establishing the valley as a new district giving the Afghan people in the area freedom from the insurgency.   

President Hamid Karzai approved the creation of the additional district and hopes the new district will help improve the security of the area and support the reconstruction effort.

Mohammad Iqbal Azizi, Laghman Province governor, held a press conference March 7 announcing the establishment of a new district located in the valley.

ANSF, TF Bastogne continue operations in Kunar


KUNAR PROVINCE, Afghanistan – Afghan National Security Forces and coalition troops from Task Force Bastogne continued operations in the Shigal District March 18 after clearing the village of Lawsin and the surrounding area.

Afghan leaders, coalition forces look forward

PAKTYA, Afghanistan – Leaders from across eastern Afghanistan attended a security conference March 9 at Forward Operating Base Thunder, the home of the Afghan Army’s 203rd Thunder Corps.