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Jason Andrew Baldwin

U.S. Army / Silver Star

Soldier’s courage reigns despite being outnumbered and enemy within meters

When Army Spc. Jason A. Baldwin heard anti-aircraft guns erupt at the crack of dawn on Aug. 22, 2007, he thought someone at Ranch House Outpost was just being rude.

He’d only been asleep for an hour after his guard shift at the tiny base tucked in a steep, dense forest overlooking the Afghan village of Aranas.

“I was mad because I thought people were just test firing their weapons,” the soft-spoken soldier said. “Then I heard explosions.”

Next he heard one of his buddies in Chosen Company, 2nd Battalion of the 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment, fire off the full 200 rounds from his Squad Automatic Weapon.

“I knew there was something going on,” said Baldwin, who was 21 at the time. Baldwin, now a sergeant, is a 2004 Foothill High School graduate from Henderson.

What followed was a three-hour firefight that had all the trimmings of a grand finale on the Fourth of July — except the fireworks were deadly real and 20 American patriots were fighting for their lives.

They faced 100 heavily armed insurgents with a leader bent on over-running the outpost in northeastern Afghanistan. The Taliban fired anti-aircraft guns down from the 8,000-foot mountainside above the outpost and used rifles, machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades as they headed along the trails.

Baldwin had been sleeping in his physical training shorts and a T-shirt. He pulled on his running shoes and body armor, grabbed his M-4 carbine and raced to join the fight.

He took fire as soon as he ran outside and had to fall back three times. He tried to reach his squad leader, who was pinned down.

“It pretty much turned into a no-man’s land in between me and him,” Baldwin recalled.

The American soldiers dug in at the north end of the outpost. But insurgents poured into the southwestern side where some 40 Afghan National Army soldiers had fled, leaving behind dozens of rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) launchers that the enemy quickly snapped up.

“Everything was blowing up around us and there were bullets everywhere,” Baldwin said. “I watched these RPGs go past my head and I watched some bullets kick up around me. But they just couldn’t hit me.”

Baldwin managed to find safety in a mortar pit, which also housed the outpost’s ammunition supply.

“We kept everything there. We had crates of grenades, all of our ammunition and there was a mortar tube there,” he said, describing how he took the mortar and targeted an area near where an American soldier was trapped. At the same time, he was worried about his buddy, who was disoriented because a rocket-propelled grenade had blown up in his face.

“I realized that they’re probably going to kill us,” Baldwin said. “I wanted to protect him as much as possible. He was pretty much defenseless. He was sitting there and there was blood running down his face.”

As the insurgents continued to press through, Baldwin saw the medic get shot and his sergeant pinned down. When the enemy got with 10 meters, Baldwin dropped a mortar round within 50 meters.

“It has a 30-meter kill radius, so it was a pretty bad idea, but it worked,” Baldwin said. “I pulled out a crate of grenades and I threw all of them. … A guy ran up about 10 meters from me and we took care of him. I set up a wall of grenade fire. It suppressed them long enough for my sergeant to get back and for my (platoon leader) to call in for air (support) ‘cause he was about to get overrun.”

The insurgents continued to attack, and Baldwin prepared for the inevitable.

“I had a grenade for the ammo pit, for the mortar tube and then one for myself because I was ready for them to be that close,” he said. “You just have to accept death and then ride it out from there. I was pretty sure that was it.”

The enemy’s assault was led by Hazrat Omar, a fiery militant shown in a propaganda video swinging a curved sword to encourage men from the village to join the attack.

Omar charged his location and Baldwin drew his 9mm pistol and shot him and two others. With the insurgent leader dead, the others lost their nerve.

“They were scared in the first place,” he said. “In the video that we took from them, he was sitting there and he was trying to push them forward. I think he finally went forward and then they saw what happened to him.

“Plus I literally had a wall of explosions all around them.”

Baldwin ran to help pull the wounded medic out of harm’s way at the same time Air Force A-10 Warthogs swooped in to strafe the invaders.

“When I was giving first aid to the medic, they missed me by 10 meters,” Baldwin said. “The whole entire explosion went over me because I had a little hill right next to me. Everything turned brown. Everything went dark. My sergeant and another guy in my squad thought I had been killed.”

The A-10 pilots had radioed that they didn’t want to attack because they couldn’t tell the difference between the soldiers and the enemy. But the platoon leader told them to attack.

“He said, ‘Look, right now it doesn’t matter. We’re all dead anyways,’” Baldwin said. “They were pretty nervous about shooting. The enemy was so close to us you couldn’t distinguish who was who.”

As the enemy vanished, Baldwin went back to put on his pants and boots and stuff his pockets with grenades. He ran to a forward post to pull out a soldier who was trapped under debris. “The entire post collapsed on top of him,” he said.

The soldier had three gunshot wounds and his face was smashed in. Eleven of the 20 Americans were wounded in the attack, but only four or five were unable to continue their deployment, Baldwin said.

Looking back, Baldwin said he is frustrated by rules of engagement that prevent American soldiers from using full force to subdue the enemy.

“They know how to play our rules against us,” he said. “It’s not that we can’t fight them. It’s the regulations that they put on us now. It’s just basically like chaining a dog to the ground and letting another dog just run around and bite it freely. Our Army is very powerful and they’re not letting us do what we need to.

“There’s a man standing there shaking your hand smiling at you. But the next day he’s in the hills shooting at you.”

Two days after the battle, the American soldiers went down to Aranas and saw the villagers who’d attacked them. They knew the soldiers would have to aid their wounded under the rules of engagement.

“We had a guy that we had shot in that firefight and he went to one of our other bases a week later and said he fell off a mountain, and he’s full of bullet holes,” Baldwin said. “And they had to give him first aid and then they let him go.”

Baldwin received the Silver Star medal for the battle of Ranch House Outpost. His citation reads: “He acted without regard for his own life but with incredible courage and quick thinking that quickly destroyed a quickly advancing enemy force just 10 meters from his position.”

Keith Rogers covers the military for the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

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Sgt. Jason Baldwin remembers the Ranch House Outpost firefight during an interview, June 22, at the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Photo by Gary Thompson/Las Vegas Review-Journal

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Jason Andrew Baldwin

U.S. Army / Silver Star

Born: July 29, 1986, in Santa Ana, Calif.

Wife, Erika Turetta; daughter, Cassidy Baldwin.

Enlisted in the Army after graduating from Foothill High School in Henderson, Nev., in 2004. After basic training and airborne school at Fort Benning, Ga., he was assigned to the 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment, 173rd Airborne Brigade in Vicenza, Italy. Served in Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan from March 2005 through 2006 and from May 2007 to August 2008.

WHAT HE DID
He threw hand grenades, fired mortar rounds and used his M-4 carbine and 9mm pistol to prevent insurgents from overrunning Ranch House Outpost in northeastern Afghanistan on Aug. 22, 2007. His heroic actions disrupted and destroyed the attacking force, which greatly outnumber the outpost’s 20 American soldiers, all of whom survived.

WHERE HE IS NOW
Assigned to Fort Bliss, Texas with plans to attend the University of Nevada, Las Vegas to study journalism after completing his last Army assignment.

WHY HE JOINED THE ARMY
“I really didn’t have a plan after high school and I never really thought that I would join the Army. Then one day I was in basic training with this drill sergeant yelling at me. … I always loved the history of the military, especially World War II. To me, World War II veterans are my heroes.”


Afghanistan / Ranch House Outpost

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