The U.S. military has been taking inventory of the culverts, identifying their exact locations, and documenting them with photos and maps. The military has embarked on a program to place barriers on culverts over which our troops cross on any regular basis. The enemy tries to remove or circumvent the barriers, and so night and day we have SKTs (Small Kill Teams) who move from place to place watching culverts. The SKTs frequently call fire that kills men who come to place bombs. When more enemy comes to collect the bodies, we kill them, too. But the SKTs can’t be everywhere all the time, and so this wily adversary lands hard blows every day.
The main route west from Kandahar is Highway 1, the jugular for ground transport in Afghanistan, which also connects to major cities like Kabul. Donor nations have invested hundreds of millions of dollars to construct and attempt to safeguard this crucial passageway. Yet the enemy is always there, leaving convoys smoldering and bullet-riddled bodies slumped over steering wheels or crumpled on the road.
Between Kandahar and just east of FOB Tombstone most of the culverts have been blocked with obstacles such as concertina razor wire, yet ten remained open.
And so on Tuesday, 9 February 2010, Charlie Company from the 4th Battalion 23rd Infantry of the 5/2 Stryker Brigade Combat Team from Fort Lewis, headed out to conduct “culvert denial.” The Soldiers know the risks of approaching the culverts, yet they do it anyway.
Staff Sergeant Christine Jones from the 4th Combat Camera Squadron was along on the mission. Company Commander Captain John Weatherly was away at a meeting when 3rd Platoon arrived west of Maiwand, just off the south side of Highway 1, near the village of Yakhchal, a Taliban stronghold.
The unreleased combat photos show that the morning was clear and bright. Soldiers can be seen unwinding concertina wire at the mouth of one side of the culvert. Specialist Adam Ray walks across the road to the other side of the culvert, down in the drainage area, and a photo catches dust in the air. A flock of birds can be seen taking flight. The meta-data on the image indicates it was 9:30 AM. A white 4-door car sped away, over the culvert, and Sergeant Jones quickly snapped to get the plate. Subsequent investigations indicated the car was not involved. The soldiers’ discipline speaks for itself; nobody shot at it.
Adam Ray was among the three soldiers who had been wounded by the small explosion. Captain Weatherly got the radio call and headed over, as did Army medevac helicopters. Adam’s feet and legs were fine; the explosive was buried higher up, near the road at the side of the culvert. He had been hit in the neck. The other two soldiers had arm wounds that were not severe. Despite the danger of more bombs, the photos show soldiers and medics diving straight in to help. Adam was patched and put onto a litter, and soon an Army helicopter with a red cross landed in the dust. The wounded were loaded and flown to Camp Bastion where Adam Ray, the third of five children, beloved son of a minister and a devoted mother, a soccer player and a flirt, who tutored dyslexic kids and was known to ask less popular girls to dance at school events, died. He was 23 years old.