Total Survivalist Blog: taliban
On Jan. 22, 2002, as Pryor and the other Special Forces soldiers prepared to helicopter into the mountains north of Kandahar, they paused for a prayer at base camp. Sgt. 1st Class James Hogg asked God to fill their hearts with courage. Pryor wore a medallion of St. Michael, the patron saint of soldiers, duct-taped to his dog tag.
The men were “direct action” A-Team members, also known as assaulters, door-kickers or “five-minute wonders.” They are the first to enter buildings, and they use SWAT team-like tactics. Close-in combat skills are crucial.
Pryor, the senior enlisted officer that night, is a bull of a man. Only 5-foot-11, he weighs 235 pounds. At the time, he could bench-press almost twice that. Team members call him a ferocious competitor, the epitome of a warrior.
“He makes you a better soldier just being around him,” says Sgt. 1st Class Steve Ourada, a team member. “He built that assault force into what it was. We were on top of our game.”
From aerial photos, their target looked like a U-shaped building within a walled compound. But on the ground that night, they found it was actually three buildings separated by covered breezeways.
The team charged into one breezeway and lobbed a flash-bang grenade, designed to disorient enemy troops, into the central courtyard. The area was filled with shiny new Toyota pickups and a trailer carrying a dual-barreled anti-aircraft weapon. Al-Qaeda fighters fired back, and the bullets raised clouds of stone from walls of the alleyway.
The troops had to push through the gunfire and cut left and right to clear rooms. Pryor, whose healthy-size cranium has earned him the nickname “Bucket,” led the way. He stepped around a corner and shot a man coming at him with an AK-47 a few feet away.
Night-vision goggles cast everything in a greenish hue and gave the Special Forces troops an advantage. Al-Qaeda fighters, most of them bearded men wearing long dishdashas, floor-length shirts, had only the starlight.
Even so, the al-Qaeda men appeared well-trained and disciplined. Twenty-one of them would fight to the death.
As Pryor entered the first room to his right, he came face-to-face with a second fighter emerging from the doorway. Unable to see a weapon in that split-second, Pryor slugged the man and knocked him down, blowing past him into the room. But the fighter rose with an AK-47. Hogg, still in the courtyard, fired a single round from his M-4 carbine and killed the man.
Other team members had gone on to clear the rest of the buildings, and Pryor faced the fighters in the room alone. If any got past him — or worse, killed Pryor — they could shoot other GIs in the back.
It was Pryor’s fight now to win. As he entered the 25-by-25-foot room, his eyes swept from left to right. Bedrolls littered the floor, and two fighters at the rear of the room took aim through windows at other Americans entering the compound. Both swung toward Pryor, Kalashnikovs in their hands. Pryor fired, the rounds striking so dead-center that the men’s beards fluttered.
As he reloaded, Pryor felt a foot brush up against his boot. At first, he thought it was another American. It wasn’t. An al-Qaeda fighter struck Pryor hard from behind. The blow, possibly from a wooden board, dislocated Pryor’s shoulder and broke his collarbone.
The fighter, bearded with his hair in a ponytail, jumped on Pryor’s back and clawed at his face, tearing off his night-vision goggles.
“He started sticking his stinking little fingers into my eyeballs,” Pryor remembers.
His left shoulder felt like it was on fire. He was winded and weary from fighting at an altitude of 8,000 feet. Without night vision, everything was black.
The battle outside raged on, punctuated by AK-47 and rifle fire and the steady boom of a 40mm grenade launcher from a Special Forces Humvee. The air reeked of gunpowder and the copper scent of blood. Inside that first room, the two fighters — al-Qaeda and American — were fighting to the death.
Pryor had only a single thought: You’re not going to kill me.
“That’s how I attack things,” he says later.
With one good arm, Pryor grabbed his enemy by the hair. But the man’s weight, combined with the 80 pounds of Army gear that Pryor wore, caused the two to fall. They landed on Pryor’s left elbow, and the impact jammed his shoulder back into its socket.
Now he could fight with both hands. In a few desperate seconds, Pryor broke the man’s neck and finished him with a 9mm pistol.
Miraculously, not another American was injured that night.
“There aren’t any widows or orphans because of him,” Ourada says of Pryor.
‘They’d aged about 10 years’
In his 14 years in the Special Forces, Pryor has killed before, but never in hand-to-hand fighting. That night, he worried first, however, about his soldiers, who had shot it out with al-Qaeda inside other rooms.
Jack Gruber, USA TODAY
Master Sgt. Anthony S. Pryor holds his Silver Star.
Around a wood fire at base camp hours later, Pryor offered solace. “I went around and touched every one of those guys,” he says. “Everybody looked like they’d aged about 10 years.”
For him, sleepless nights followed.
He dispelled demons with cathartic heart-to-heart talks with his tentmate Hogg, replaying details of the fighting and dying. “A little bit of defragging of your hard drive,” Pryor calls it.
Three articles of faith got him through, he says.
First was pride in a successful mission: Training had paid off.
Second was seeing the war as righteous. “We didn’t start it,” Pryor says. “They started this fight. We’re in the right.”
Third was his children and the future. “I remember him saying,” Hogg recalls, ” ‘You know, it’s an ugly business, it’s a terrible thing for us to do. But hopefully our kids won’t have to cope with it.’ ”
In addition to Pryor’s Silver Star, seven Green Berets in the unit received Bronze Stars for valor in that fight. Pryor sent letters to their fathers. “I would like to thank you for raising a fine young man,” he wrote. Many of the letters wound up framed and hung in living rooms.
Including Pryor, 19 soldiers have received the nation’s third-highest decoration for fighting in Afghanistan. One soldier received the second-highest award, the Distinguished Service Cross.
This year, 86 additional Silver Stars were awarded by the Army for fighting in Operation Iraqi Freedom. And one Army engineer, Sgt. 1st Class Paul Ray Smith, made a last stand with a .50-caliber machinegun against dozens of attacking Iraqi soldiers during fighting in April at the international airport outside Baghdad. He is being considered posthumously for the Medal of Honor, the military’s highest decoration.
‘No idea of the toll it takes’
“The thing that kind of boggles my mind,” says James Bradley, author of Flags of Our Fathers, the story of the fighting and flag-raising on Iwo Jima during World War II, “is that (the nation is) sending out these guys who would rather be whittling and spending time with their kids. And they’re sending them out to kill. They have no idea of the toll it takes on humans to do something like that.”
Maj. Gen. Geoff Lambert, a former Special Forces commander, agrees.
“In all wars, there are certain circumstances like this that happen to good men,” Lambert says. “We try to train them the best we can to have them ready for these moments. We hope that they are few.”
To cope with killing, Pryor says he lives two lives: one consumed with training for and fighting war, the other immersed in family.
“Two different lifestyles, two different on-and-off switches,” he says. “If you’re Johnny on the spot, focused on destruction, destruction, destruction all the time, where do you have time for compassion in a relationship with your wife? We’re dedicated to our job. But there has to be a time to turn that off.”
It is not easy for him to explain how he flips this switch, though he says that one way is to simply not discuss work and war when he leaves the base.
It bothers him that civilians might see him and his troops as Rambo-like soldiers.
“People look at people who do this stuff and it’s always, ‘They’re killers, and that’s what they live for,’ ” Pryor says. “That is so far from the reality.”
Certainly, they don’t shrink from the task of taking life if necessary. Pryor is a student of Sun Tzu’s classic The Art of War, and a favorite topic is the legend of the Mongoday, the elite warriors of Genghis Khan. He and his troops train exhaustively in spotting the enemy and withholding fire.
The night of the assault, members of a farming family armed with a rifle in a building that was searched nearby were left untouched because they offered no resistance. And at the height of action, with adrenaline raging, an al-Qaeda fighter chose to surrender and was taken unharmed.
The control seems as ingrained as the reaction.
The other GIs tell of a firefight weeks earlier during which Pryor entered a room that was ablaze and spotted movement under a blanket. He didn’t shoot. Pausing to search, he found a baby girl, pulled her free and passed her to a team member.
Off the battlefield, Pryor has a gentle reputation. For security reasons, he declines to discuss immediate family, but he says he forbids toy guns in his home.
Ourada remembers finding “Bucket” in his garage once nursing a newborn raccoon with an eye dropper. “The wives just think he’s a big old teddy bear,” Hogg says.
‘It never goes away’
Raised in the logging town of Toledo, Ore., Pryor grew up admiring perseverance and hard work. A strong influence was his father, Jerry Pryor, who started out as a timber man and became the town chief of police.
The first movie Pryor saw in a theater was The Green Berets with John Wayne. He says the image of these soldiers stayed with him when he enlisted in the Army out of high school in 1981.
Though he was earning straight A’s by the end of high school, college held no appeal. Like other young men from rural towns, he longed to escape. In 1988, he was accepted into the Green Berets, one of 79 chosen from an entry class of 429.
He has been on missions in Haiti, Somalia, Kuwait and other locations that remain classified. Early this year, he led a team in Iraq. Next year, he attends the Army’s Sergeants Major Academy at Fort Bliss, Texas, on track to attain the highest enlisted rank.
He has also started working toward a business degree. After retiring from the Army, perhaps in three years, he hopes one day to manage a sawmill.
He has had two reconstructive surgeries to repair damage from that battle in Afghanistan. A chunk of his collarbone, removed during an operation, is kept in a jar as a souvenir. That, and the violent images, are what he has left.
“It never goes away,” Pryor says. “It just gets put further back in your mind.”
Hogg, the teammate who helped Pryor exorcise his demons from that night, says these are the prices they pay for lethal work.
“I wouldn’t wish it on anybody,” Hogg says. “But there are a few of us who are called to it. So that’s what we do. Maybe people should at least keep us in their prayers.”
TOR here: A couple real quick thoughts. First I am really glad we have men like this in our Army. It is honestly difficult to comprehend the bad assery of these men. Second I think this goes to show that no matter how well trained you are things can all go to hell in a hand basket.
Also this is a reminder to all the people that say if you learn this system or obscure ancient art strength and fitness don’t matter that they are totally wrong. Sure skill matters a ton but if you can have skill AND STRENGTH that is best. Had MSG Pryor been 5’4″ and 130 pounds of sinewy ultra marathoner (instead of a huge bear of a man) I fear this could have been a very different story. Remember there is no such thing as too strong, just too slow.
Lastly in closing I want to thank MSG Anthony Pryor for his service to America.