Behind the Cover: Tragedy and heroism in Ganjgal, Afghanistan

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leavenomanbehind

It’s every Marine’s worst nightmare.

Your buddies are pinned down in a kill zone, taking fire from three sides. No help is on the way, and every time you try to assist them, you get turned back by the massive amount of firepower unleashed by the enemy.

Cpl. Dakota Meyer found himself in this very situation Sept. 8, 2009. Caught in a battle in Ganjgal, a remote village in eastern Afghanistan, he took matter into his own hands, braving a hail of enemy fire on foot to reach his buddies. Sadly, they were dead when he found them.

The battle, of course, made national news last year because troops on the ground were outraged they didn’t get the air and artillery support they needed despite pleading for it repeatedly. This week’s Marine Corps Times takes it a step farther, focusing on the bravery of Meyer and his fellow Marines, relying on dozens of jarring, first-person accounts provided by troops on the ground to Combined Joint Task Force 82, which investigated the attack after the fact. Meyer’s is among the most painful to process.

I wrote the cover story after poring through hundreds of pages of documents compiled as part of the investigation. The military has repeatedly refused to cough up the entire report, but I obtained a 300-plus page copy — already declassified, meaning it could have been released — after my own recent return from Afghanistan.

The story also focuses on details not published in a five-page summary report of the investigation in February, and how things turned so sideways on the battlefield.

An example: The three Army officers previously recommended for reprimand due to their negligence that day were with Task Force Chosin, which was based at Forward Operating Base Joyce in Kunar province and spearheaded by 1st Battalion, 32nd Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division, out of Fort Drum, N.Y. The unit’s identity was redacted by the military in the summary.

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About Author

I’m a senior writer with Marine Corps Times, covering ground warfare, manpower, weapons acquisition and other beats. I embedded in Afghanistan in spring 2010, and plan to return at least once in 2011.

18 Comments

  1. Jeni CopodonNA on

    I believe he should be reward for his outstanding honor in at least trying to save those men. It was a Noble and brave thing for him.

  2. This is every Marines nightmare. God bless him and the fallen, he has every right to get the MoH drapped around his neck for his heroic efforts.

  3. I went to school with this man. I was friends with him for a while. He’s such a great person, and this comes as no surprise he would do something so brave. He deserves the MOH. God Bless You Dakota! and God Bless all our troops!

  4. I have known this Marine for years and have heard the story first hand from other Marines that were there. Of course he deserves the honor of being presented the MoH. Not enough of our boys get it when deserved.

  5. This Marine deserves serious consideration for the MoH, and the Army officers that refused to provide fire support to his unit, thus getting 5 Americans needlessly killed, deserve serious consideration for a Courts-martial.

    Clifton Hicks
    (former Army PFC)

  6. Most assuredly Dakota Meyer earned a Medal of Honor…….AND those 10th Mountain Division Idiots deserve one hell of alot more than a mere reprimand, WHAT?? IS IT WITH THE ARMY????….. SEEMS ANY ASSOCIATION WITH THE NAME CHOSIN SEEMS TO TURN INTO A SHAMEFUL MILITARY DEBACLE WITHN THE ARMY INVARIABLY ABANDONING THE MARINES, LEAVING THEM ALONE AND INCREDEIBLY OUTNUMBERED!!!!!!!—- BUT MARINES PREVAIL DESPITE ARMY COWARDICE.

  7. jd hollingsworth on

    Dakota Meyer is a real hero in my eyes. I know him personaly as I was on a seperate Embedded Training team that did training with him in Bridgeport and 29 palms and went to Afghanistan with him. His team was sent to the worst part of the country. He is a humble warrior and a nice person. Every person that has met him would say the same thing. Always out to help somebody out. His actions in combat reflect this person I know. I pray that God can put him at peace with the horrific images that must haunt him. To many good lives have been lost to this senseless war. There is no way to make sense of what we are doing over there anymore. I have been on the front lines of Afghanistan with the Afghan National Army and I will be the first to tell you that we are not making any progress and we are wasting billions of dollars and more importantly American lives every day. We need to demand our troops be pulled out immediately. The Afghan people do not want us there, they prefer the taliban over anything we could offer them. The Afghan Army is a joke, the Afhan government is a joke. They are all corrupt, and are nothing but puppets paid for by American taxpayers. All they want is our money, and once we leave we will have changed absoloutley nothing. Answer me this, who pays for the Afghan govt, the Afghan police, and the Afghan Army? And who will continue to pay for them. They have no way to keep up this scharade once we leave. Its all an illusion that we have created and maintained the last 10-11 years. Its not real, time to pull the plug and let them do what they will with there own country and sort out there own problems. The taliban is of no real threat to us unless we are on there playground. Let them have Afghanistan, Afghanistan was better off with the Taliban, they were better off with the Russians for that matter. We are the ones that had to interfere with there affairs and create even more chaos for them. We got Osama now lets leave on some kind of positive note. If you want to know the real measure of our success in Afhan, watch the documentary outpost Restrepo. That will show you all you need to know.

  8. Thomas Robertson on

    “Semper Fi”(ALWAYS FAITHFUL) its not just words
    Dakota is a outstanding MARINE I served with 3/3 kilo co
    from may 25 99-nov 25 03 I’m glad to see Marines still take care of there own!!!!
    Cpl.Robertson Thomas J.

  9. A decade of war and this is the first living Marine to be honored with the MOH!!!! JEEZ!!! You know he deserves it and I bet there are more that deserve the MOH as well. Damn…let’s start honoring some people right now and then get the hell out of that place!!

  10. Sgt. Matthew Sutton USMC on

    this young mans story brought tears to my eyes. I know first hand on how cowards who are no where near the battle feild give orders that they did, and that is why Dakota did what he did. The training takes over and you go on cruise control. one thing that i will always remember from my time in the corp……no soldier dead or alive is left on the feild of battle!! My heart goes out to all families whos loved ones have made the ultimate sacrifice. Dakota if ever in new jersey would love to buy you a beer…ooh rah devil dog!!!!!

    Sgt.Matthew Sutton USMC STA 2/7 echo co.

  11. RP KELLIEY SgtMaj USMC Ret on

    Just another who has pulled the sword from the stone. A breed set apart from all warriors. One that sees only his brothers at his back and the enemy at his front.

    He becomes a hero in our eyes and a failed warrior in his on when the cord of brother hood is cut and he is the only one left.

    As time will hurt, he will learn that he will not be left alone and the scab of his tragedy will last a life time if he cannot handle it.

    He will have to be a hero among heros and as the breed he seems to be, he will be able to do just that.

    GOD BE WITH THIS SPECIAL WARRIOR, AND GOD BLESS THE MARINE CORPS AND ITS TRAINING……FOREVER PRODUCING THE BREED THAT PULLS THE SWORD FROM THE STONE.

  12. Being the new widow (also 2009) of a US Army light artillery officer I need to defend my deceased husband’s division. SNAFU would be the acronym for any battles in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

    My husband had great respect for every Marine out there. My USAF officer friends also remark on the Devil Dogs and their heroism. But please. My husband died. Just because it wasn’t in the headlines, his ashes are still inurned at the National Cemetery of the Pacific. It makes no sense for any of you to trash the Army. You weren’t there! Look at what happened to Pat Tillman. His story may never be known.
    We have respect for the USMC. Return that respect to your brothers in arms..please.

  13. RP KELLIEY SgtMaj USMC Ret on

    The greatest weapon against a politician is a warrior with the MOH. When a MOH warrior makes a statement with facts against the U.S. GOV, the old REMF Senate/Congress are helpless. A man with the MOH that is great of heart is a very dangerous man when he has conquered the Elephant of War and those old men who feeds the Elephant start reading how thier voters respond. It is beyond any american who has any sense how we go on each day without marching into our country’s capitol, cleaning house and starting over. GOD HELP OUR COUNTRY BUT BLESS IT UNTIL WE WAKE UP.
    REMF……REAR ECH MOTHER F
    THE ELEPHANT….OLD SAYING STARTED IN THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION MEANING HAVING TOO KILL ANOTHER MAN IN BATTAL TO WIN AND BECOMING A WARRIO

  14. I saw the CBS Sunday Morning interview. A sad situation. I would like to hear the Army officers’ side. I used to be one. This may be classified at this time. I cannot conceive of their just sitting around willfully letting this happen. Were there any other priorities? Communication problems? The missions of air support and artillery units are to support the infantry. This fine young man deserves the Medal of Honor and our respect regardless of anything he says. He has earned the right. My condolences for the loss of his comrades and friends.

  15. Why havent we heard a story about the officers that refused the fire support and abandoned the Soldiers and Marines on the ground?

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