1 May 2003
Capt. Mike DePolo
By Henry Cuningham Military Editor
In Afghanistan, Capt. Mike DePolo's Special Forces detachment was part of a large-scale operation of Green Berets and Navy SEALs who fought against 200 to 300
Capt. Mike DePolo
helped fight against 200 to 300 Taliban in Afghanistan.
''The overall result was 39 killed in action, Taliban forces, and 14 captured, while our forces only sustained one minor combat casualty, a shrapnel wound from a rocket-propelled grenade,'' he said.
Staff photo by Marc Hall
Special Forces soldiers were responsible for all aspects of the recruitment, training and leadership of indigenous fighters on combat missions and combat patrols along the Pakistan-Afghan border, DePolo said.
The 29-year-old Pennsylvania native has been assigned as an operational detachment commander and company executive officer for Company C of the 2nd Battalion of the 7th Special Forces Group at Fort Bragg.
Special Forces specialize in training and working with foreign soldiers. Soldiers of the 7th Group are trained in the language and culture of Latin America. The group has taken the lead in training local Colombian forces to fight the drug war in northeastern South America. DePolo has been on training missions to Ecuador, Puerto Rico and Panama.
But the war on terrorism has created such a demand for Special Forces that soldiers are operating in each others' geographic regions. DePolo was in central Asia from September through March.
''Language skills was kind of irrelevant,'' DePolo said. ''I don't think any Special Forces unit is trained in Pashtu or Dari or any of the dialects over there.''
Much of the communication was done through local interpreters.
''We adapted real quick and real good, I thought, to the environment, the equipment and the way business is done over there,'' he said. ''It didn't take long at all.''
The war on terrorism has resulted in the crossing of many other boundaries. In Afghanistan, DePolo commanded a 12-man Special Forces A-team and a fire base with 150 men on the Pakistani-Afghani border. The camp was between Orgun-e, Afghanistan, and Miram Sham, Pakistan.
The forces at the fire base included two Special Forces detachments, a few Air Force special operators, some 82nd Airborne Division soldiers and Afghan fighters. There also were psychological operations soldiers who specialize in communications, civil affairs soldiers trained in working with civilians in military areas and soldiers who were trained to gather intelligence through enemy communication.
Special Forces were responsible for meeting with the Pakistani military officials to foster international relations and facilitate combat operations in the border areas.
DePolo was born and grew up in Pennsylvania.
''I was looking for a military school,'' he said. ''I checked out a few. I liked the Citadel the best.'' DePolo graduated from the school in Charleston, S.C., in 1995. He entered the Army as an engineer officer and spent about four years in the 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) at Fort Campbell, Ky. Army engineers do jobs such as keeping friendly troops moving, stopping enemy troops on the battlefield, and taking care of buildings and infrastructure on military bases in the United States.
''I wanted more of a challenge,'' he said. ''The engineer corps was getting broad. There were a lot of career paths I could have gotten caught up in that were away from the combat engineering. It was a crap shoot what you got after the advanced course.''
In 1999, he came to Fort Bragg to attend Special Forces training.
''I wanted to stay in the light-infantry-type, small-unit special operations,'' he said.
He finished the following year and has been in 7th Group ever since.
In Afghanistan, his fire base was constantly attacked by rockets and mortars.
''Those field fortifications really helped out,'' he said. ''We've had zero casualties the entire time we were there.''
The soldiers did jobs ranging from confiscating caches of enemy weapons to demolishing caves. Engineers from the 82nd Airborne Division worked with Special Forces engineer sergeants.
''If it weren't for the conventional forces, we would have spent a lot of time doing security-type patrols that didn't really focus on special ops missions,'' he said.
''We used 82nd as well on a good percentage of missions we were doing over there. They were involved in one way or another. They were a great asset to have.''
Copyright 2003 The Fayetteville (N.C.) Observer
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