Nebraskan survives ambush

Apr 28 2004
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Ken Blackbird – LTC Thomas R. Brewer, c, is seated by his son Travis, L, and daughter after he was awarded the Purple Heart and Bronze Star for wounds he received while serving his tour of duty in Afghanistan with Nebraska Army National Guard. Brewer was also awarded a special Lakota Warrior Award from the Lincoln Indian Center during ceremonies being held at guard headquarters at 1300 Military Ave. in Lincoln, NE on Wed. April 28, 2004.

Kevin Abourezk/Lincoln Journal Star

The moonlit Afghan night erupted.

Lt. Col. Tom Brewer and his five-man unit were returning to their base in Kabul from an unsuccessful ambush attempt on Taliban soldiers when the firefight began.

Only seconds before, the men had been driving along a meandering dirt road past abandoned Soviet tanks and armored personnel carriers. It was a place U.S. soldiers had come to know as the “Bone Yard.”

It was a place Brewer and his men would not soon forget.

Oct. 12, 2003: 12:58 a.m.

Brewer was the first to see the enemy gunfire.

The Nebraska soldier ordered the men in his convoy’s two sport utility vehicles to get out and take cover among several burned-out vehicles near the road.

Brewer, along with Master Sgt. Thomas Siter and Maj. Thomas Hanley of the first vehicle, made their way toward a stone wall, where they could better see the enemy firing from inside a large, three-story building within the Bone Yard.

The building once had served as a vehicle storage and maintenance facility for the Soviets during the 10-year war and occupation in Afghanistan that ended in 1989. Now it served mainly as a home for vagrants.

And, on that night last October, it was a redoubt for enemy Afghan troops.

As Hanley, Siter and Brewer fired back, Lt. Col. Kevin Gouveia and Sgt. 1st Class Donald Longfield left the second SUV and took positions near the vehicles.

Brewer worked his way toward the building to get a better view as Siter and Hanley stayed near the wall.

Behind the three men, Longfield feverishly worked the radio inside one of the SUVs, trying to get help.

The men thought they were engaging only a few enemy soldiers.

They later learned they were facing nearly 40 troops.

1:01 a.m.

He had learned to shoot while hunting on South Dakota’s Pine Ridge Indian Reservation.

Brewer, a half-Lakota, and his five brothers would play a game:Whoever shot the fewest animals had to carry home all the carcasses.

Brewer became an expert marksman.

Now, as he made his way toward the building, enemy soldiers fired a heavy burst from the second floor toward the SUVs behind him.

All five U.S. soldiers opened fire on the building.

Inside an SUV behind them, Longfield finally reached friendly forces in Kabul and asked for help.

As Hanley, Brewer and Siter continued firing, they saw SUV headlights approaching from several hundreds yards behind.

They feared they were about to be straddled by enemy reinforcements.

1:10 a.m.

The men breathed a sigh of relief:The approaching headlights were on two vehicles driven by friendly coalition troops. The six men inside got out and took positions behind a berm that ran parallel to the road and was littered with old armored vehicles.

1:12 a.m.

As Brewer worked his way back toward his men, gunfire rained down from the building.

Then, more gunfire and the rest of hell broke loose.

Several enemy soldiers had made their way down to Brewer.

They shot him three times in the chest, and he went down. He would later be shot three more times. His body armor saved him from deadlier wounds.

As Hanley and Siter prepared to move forward to retrieve Brewer, the injured man’s voice – cracked and faint – came over the radio.

Brewer told Hanley and Siter he would fall back and told them to do the same. They listened.

“I cover, you move!” Hanley shouted to Siter as he fired his assault rifle at the building.

Under Hanley’s supporting fire, Siter made it to a wrecked armored vehicle near the SUVs, where Gouveia and Longfield were still positioned. Finding a good firing spot, Siter then shouted to Hanley: “I’m set – you move!”

With that, Hanley tried to run back. Gunfire poured down from the building. He shouted for more covering fire, and this time he made it back to the SUVs.

With Hanley and Siter back at the rear, the soldiers’ attention turned to Brewer.

Stumbling, then climbing, Brewer made his way over the stone wall that Hanley and Siter had just left. Unsteady, hunched over and head down, he began running back, swirling to return fire along the way.

Gouveia and a Gurka soldier rushed to help Brewer, who finally made it back to safety.

Brewer didn’t want to give up command, but he was hurt, bleeding from his ribs, a leg and an arm.

Seeing that Brewer was too injured to continue fighting, his men told him to monitor the firefight by radio in the SUV.

He did.

1:33 a.m.

The earlier radio call to the Kabul Military Training Center brought three military police troops and a sergeant major to the scene.

Hanley, who took command of the situation from Brewer, ordered one of the newly arrived team members to fire an illumination round from his grenade launcher.

The light from the round revealed the enemies’ positions in the building, giving Hanley’s men better targets for a blanket of heavy gunfire. Only sporadic fire came from the building after that.

The coalition soldiers then hunkered down to wait for the 10th Mountain Division’s quick reaction force.

1:48 a.m.

A 19-member force arrived, .50-caliber machine guns mounted on their vehicles. They quickly ended the fighting.

When morning came, the force scoured the buildings, capturing 17 Afghan prisoners and volumes of ammunition and assault rifles.

And Brewer, who spent much of the next six months in military hospitals recovering from his wounds, found himself headed home.

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