A while back, I wrote a story about five US Airmen who were awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for their actions on August 4, 2012 in rescuing wounded and dead New Zealand and Afghan coalition troops from an ongoing firefight in the Baghak Valley of Central Afghanistan.
The Medivac had been called by the New Zealanders of Kiwi Team 1 who had been ordered to go into the valley to aid Afghan forces who were under attack. A total of 4 Kiwi patrols were involved in the rescue mission. Along with one of the patrols was a New Zealand Army nurse, Major David Foote.
My original article was seen by one of the New Zealand veterans, Kit Boyes, a squad leader and doctor (Flight Surgeon) with the Royal New Zealand Air Force. He had been there at the Battle of Baghak as a medical officer with Task Unit CRIB 20, a Provincial Reconstruction Team. He contacted The Veterans Site to compliment us on the article written about the American airmen who had rescued the wounded and KIA Kiwi and Afghan troops that day.
He wrote of the airmen saying, “We owe them a great debt for their bravery, which goes beyond what is covered in your previous article. Those crews also winched the casualties off the cliffs while taking fire themselves. They have the gratitude of both New Zealanders and Afghans they helped to save.”
He also wanted to share with me the story of what happened there from the perspective of the Kiwis on the ground, and about what New Zealand Defense Forces Nurse, David Foote, did that day for his Kiwi brothers and their Afghan allies. That story follows.
The Kiwis of CRIB 20 were stationed at Kiwi Base, which was the headquarters for 160 New Zealand Defense Force soldiers outside of the town of Bamiyan in central Afghanistan. Among them was a New Zealand Army nurse, David Foote, part of the medical personnel with Kiwi Team 1 (KT1). Bamiyan, you may remember, is the town where the ancient Buddhist Statues carved into the face of a mountain had been blown up and destroyed by the Taliban back in March of 2001.
On August 4, 2012, Kiwi Team 1 got word that Afghan forces had sustained casualties in the nearby village of Do Abe. Four New Zealand patrols were immediately sent out to aid the Afghans. The patrols consisted of a half dozen LAV Stryker vehicles and a half dozen armored Humvees.
KT1, with nurse Foote along as part of the medical team, was instructed to go to the village of Baghak in the steep sided Baghak Valley and to await further orders. The order came in to move forward into the valley because other New Zealander patrols were now in a fire fight. On the way in they, too, began to receive intense small arms fire.
The terrain was hellish. They had a river on one side of the road, both of which ran along the bottom of a very narrow and very steep sided valley. The slopes on either side were almost vertical. When Foote’s mounted patrol pulled up into the firefight, they immediately spotted a wounded Kiwi, Pvt. Dion Taka, lying in the road. When Taka was originally hit, he had rolled under one of the Stryker vehicles, but the driver had been unaware and had pulled away leaving Taka exposed.
At that point Foote and the KT1 commander, Sgt, Johnny Duncan, leapt out of their vehicle and headed for Taka. Foote was able to get to Taka and to get him back into the LAV and started to work on his serious wounds. But Duncan and others who went out for Taka had themselves been wounded in the effort.
Foote’s vehicle fell back a few hundred meters to set up a casualty collection point. Foote would spend the next 20 minutes caring for the wounded. But then the casualty collection point came fire. Again Foote would take a lead role in identifying a new casualty collection point behind some buildings. He then began helping to carry the wounded on stretchers across open ground under fire.
There was one more wounded man to get, a very badly wounded man who might not survive his very severe wounds. But Foote was not going to leave a brother out there.
He rushed out to the man, again under fire. When he got there, he found another New Zealander laying up against the wounded man, protecting him with his own body and body armor. Foote later said of that day, “People really did do themselves and their service and their country proud.”
It was at this point that the American part of the story came to play. The Air Force Medivac/rescue helicopters came on scene and, under fire themselves, were able to winch the wounded and dead, including some off of the steep slopes where Kiwi dismounted foot patrols were. The U.S Air Force rescue helicopters had their own issues in terms of the remaining fuel. They had to dump some of their fuel to be able to get into the area to lift up the wounded, which meant that they would not have sufficient fuel to get the wounded back to medical facilities.
As I wrote in the original article, they had to be refueled by tankers after collecting the wounded, in order to make it back to those medical facilities. That had its own dangers as it was done at altitude and in strong winds. It was a nail biter for a while, but in the end, they were able to complete the rescue mission successfully.
The Battle of Baghak Valley, like so many battles, had more than one story to tell. My original story about the heroics of the five U.S. airmen was only part of the story. On the ground that day, in the narrow confines of the Baghak Valley, our New Zealand (Kiwi), coalition brothers and our Afghan partners were in a fight for their lives. What they did that day on behalf of each other, and, in particular, what Army nurse, Maj. David Foote did to save so many lives was consistent with the highest traditions of military service. The New Zealanders lost two of their own that day, Lance Corporals Pralli Durrer and Rory Malone.
Baghak Handheld Footage from Radio New Zealand on Vimeo.
I am indebted to Kit Boyes for sharing the New Zealander side of the story with us. We can not thank our coalition partners enough for their sacrifices and determination over the last decades. We are brothers all. We promise to never forget the sacrifices of our Kiwi brothers-in-arms, and those of all our coalition brothers-in-arms.