KAPISA PROVINCE, Afghanistan — As the soldiers of Headquarters Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division, begin to wrap up their rotation to Afghanistan, they can look back at some of the defining moments of the deployment. Some of those are moments of happiness, some of terror, and some are both.
Though they don’t happen as often as they used to, rocket attacks are still a tool of choice for insurgents. Once the rocket reaches its target, shrapnel flies everywhere, ripping through whatever or whoever is near.
On Dec. 23, 2012, a few minutes after noon, Staff Sgt. Gregory Roush and Sgt. Margaret Hammond were working in Forward Operating Base Naghlu High’s dining facility. Hammond stepped out of the room for a moment, when less than a minute later a rocket pierced through the ceiling, narrowly missing Roush. It then continued on breaking a hole through an adjoining wall before detonating in the kitchen.
Roush serves as noncommissioned officer in charge of the base’s dining facility. He was in his office when the rocket fell through the ceiling and exploded in the next room.
“I was sitting behind the computer, when next thing I knew I’m on the floor next to the desk,” Roush said. “I got up and grabbed my flashlight because the lights had gone out.”
The rocket hit a water heater in the corner of the kitchen. Roush said water was everywhere and he tripped over the mess on the floor trying to find the water cut-off valve.
Roush said he felt lucky the wall the rocket had gone through was made of inexpensive materials.
“If it hadn’t been for that wall, the rocket would have exploded in the office, then, I’d have been screwed,” Roush said.
Hammond recalled stepping out of the back office when 20 seconds later she heard the explosion.
“I got really worried because it was a loud sound,” Hammond said. “I wondered if Staff Sgt. Roush was all right.”
Another soldier, Spc. James Young, was also in the building at the time.
“At first I heard a loud click sound,” Young said. “Next thing I knew I felt a force hit me on my left shoulder, pick me up and toss me up against the wall.”
His immediate thought was that a water heater blew up in the kitchen. He got up and proceeded to shut off all the kitchen equipment. Young said he was initially confused when he noticed the kitchen walls and ceiling were black and the door had a lot of damage to it.
‘Pretty shaken up’
Young said he is a big guy and can really take a hit. “But after the blast knocked me off of my feet, I was pretty shaken up.”
“My first instinct was to get everybody out of the (dining facility) and into the bunker,” Hammond said. “After we all were inside the bunker, we heard another rocket hit.”
A short while later, the “all clear” message was announced over the loudspeakers and everyone emptied the bunkers and some soldiers walked to the troop medical clinic for check-ups.
While Hammond was being treated at the aid station, she said another rocket hit the base and everyone immediately returned to the bunkers. It was inside the bunker that she rememberd telling her fellow soldiers, “Wow, I get fireworks on my birthday.”
Everyone in the bunker sang her their best rendition of “Happy Birthday.”
“I thank God I’m alive, he protected me that day,” she said. “I think about the incident at least once a day. It is pretty memorable, I will never forget it.”
The incident brought the cooks and dining facility workers closer together.
They even have nicknames for each other. Hammond calls Roush, “Grandpa Roush.”
Following the rocket attacks in which no one was seriously hurt, the cooks were given 24-hour quarters and a chance to rest in their rooms. Roush, a self-proclaimed workaholic and said he tried to go back to the dining facility but was sent back to his room. He couldn’t help but think about all the preparation that needed to happen prior to the Christmas meal, just two days away.
After being cleared to return to duty and after eight hours of work replacing lights, mopping the floor and changing out tables, the facility was again up and running.
Hammond says everyone on the base loves the cooks. “I love to see everybody smile when they eat here,” Hammond said. “I love what I do; I love cooking.”
Two days after the attack, with information provided by local residents, coalition forces captured an insurgent believed responsible for the rocket attacks.