FORT RUCKER, Ala. (March 14, 2018) - My Scout Weapons Team was in Afghanistan supporting a convoy delivering supplies from north of Asadabad to Forward Operating Base Bostick in the Konar River valley. We'd finished refueling in Asadabad and were en route back to the convoy, which was about halfway to FOB Bostick, when Mad Dog 16 called for immediate air support for troops in contact. Mad Dog 16 was a security element posted along a road that was a known enemy hot spot. Their location was on the west side of the Konar River, which runs down the middle of the valley.

After conducting our fighter check, Mad Dog 16 reported they were in a two-way firefight. The enemy was using machine-gun fire from the rocks at the bottom of the hill on the east side of the river. Mad Dog's convoy consisted of four Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles, and all friendly elements were secure inside the vehicles. We immediately confirmed the convoy's location and asked Mad Dog to mark the enemy location with a single .50-caliber tracer round because each vehicle gunner was firing at a different location on the hill. He responded, "Target marked with a 20-round burst."

I was in the lead aircraft and identified the target. The air mission commander in the rear aircraft cleared a suppression mission on the enemy location. As lead, we rolled in for our first inbound run and engaged the enemy at about 1,500 meters and fired two high-explosive rockets and about 150 rounds of .50-caliber ammunition. We broke left off the engagement at about 800 meters, placing my trail aircraft in perfect position to fire just as we broke. As we broke left, Mad Dog told us the enemy fire had shifted from his position and he thought the fire had directed toward the aircraft. Seconds later, our trail ship called, "Taking fire … taking fire!"

Coming around, we barely picked him up as he broke. We called inbound to cover his break and fired our last five rockets at the enemy as fast as we could. As my right-seater switched to fire .50-caliber rounds, two incoming tracers flew by the right door, missing us by 10 feet. I then saw three tracers strafe left to right about five feet above the left side of our rotor disk. I yelled, "Taking fire, taking fire!" and my right-seater broke immediately. I got on the radio and told trail we had just taken fire, but we had not been hit and were pushing off the target. I knew we had gotten too close trying to cover trail as he was taking fire. I estimated we were only 400 meters from the target when I observed the tracer fire.

We were then flying trail behind our air mission commander, so we executed a lead change. Back as lead, we set up for another engagement. This time, before turning inbound, we made sure to brief the distance we would break to remain outside the enemy's range. We knew we were running low on ammunition and had about one engagement left. Mad Dog 16 reported he was still taking fire from the same location, but the volume of fire was significantly less. I told him we had only enough ammunition for one more engagement, and he requested we go "Winchester" before going to the FARP. We set up for our final engagement and briefed that we would engage at 1,800 meters and break at 1,000 meters. Both lead and trail conducted the engagement without observing fire from the enemy. Mad Dog 16 reported all enemy fire had stopped. We then broke station for refuel at Asadabad.

While at the FARP, we looked for battle damage and, thankfully, found none. After refueling and rearming, we departed north to check on Mad Dog again. He reported he had not taken any more fire since we left. We continued the mission with the convoy to the north and then departed.

Lessons learned - No matter what situation you find yourself in, you must always conduct an analysis of risk versus reward. Mad Dog 16 was in danger, but did we put the aircraft in more danger than necessary? What was the convoy's risk level when under fire from 800 meters with all its troops mounted in their MRAPs? These type questions must be addressed before you choose a specific course of action. Preferably, you have already discussed possible situations like this and others in pilot, mission and team briefs before you pull pitch. Risk and reward analysis should be a deliberate current mission focus of every brief. Granted, every situation is different and may present new risks, but I believe a foundation in risk analysis will enable the individual to make better on-the-spot decisions.

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