U.S. Army Sgt. Shelly Amborn, a native of Atwater, Calif., and Spc. Sonja Prentiss, a native of Peoria, Ill., both with the Army's cultural support team, speak with a young Afghan girl in Darvishan Village, Khakrez district, Afghanistan, June 10, 2011. Photo by Spc. Kaimana-Ipulani Kalauli-Mendoza
In the harsh reality of southern Afghanistan’s Kandahar province, it’s not uncommon for any soldier, regardless of their job, to find themselves in a dangerous situation while operating in the field.
That’s what happened one afternoon when two members of a cultural support team, working with coalition special operations forces, assigned to Special Operations Task Force–South Afghanistan, came under fire by insurgent forces during what should have been a routine mission in Kandahar’s Khakrez district.
Sgt. Shelly Amborn, a native of Atwater, Calif., and Spc. Sonja Prentiss, a native of Peoria, Ill., are both members of SOTF-South’s CST, a team comprised of female soldiers who support coalition special operations forces by engaging the female population in an area where such contact may be deemed culturally inappropriate if performed by a male service member.
On that day, Amborn and Prentiss traveled to a small village in Khakrez with coalition special operations forces to take part in a major clearing operation to disrupt insurgent activity in the northern part of the district.
Amborn and Prentiss would help provide security and once the SOF team finished clearing the building, the CST would go in and search the females, which, according to a coalition special operations forces team member, greatly augmented security.
”This was our fourth clearing mission with coalition special operations forces, and up until this point we hadn’t received any enemy contact,” said Prentiss.
“The CST was taking part in a major clearing operation with us,” said a coalition special operations forces team leader with SOTF-South. “Around mid-afternoon, a four to five man insurgent element engaged us with small-arms fire and [rocket propelled grenades].”
“You know it’s a possibility that something like this can happen,” said Amborn. “But until it does, you never think it’s going to happen to you.”
“We were pulling security when we first heard the shots,” she added. “Right off the bat I didn’t know what was going on, but that’s when the training kicked in and we reacted.”
“During the entire operation, the CST acted very professionally,” said the SOF team leader. “We were able to set up a support by fire and sent a maneuver element to destroy the enemy. Soon after, the enemy broke contact and retreated.”
“When it happened, my adrenaline was pumping, but you just do what you’re supposed to do,” said Prentiss.
For their part in the event, Amborn and Prentiss were presented with the Combat Action Badge at their combat outpost by Combined Special Operations Task Force–Afghanistan commander, Col. Mark C. Schwartz.
The Combat Action Badge is awarded to members of the Army who, while serving in a hostile environment, are personally present and actively engaging or being engaged by the enemy, and performing satisfactorily in accordance with the prescribed rules of engagement.
“To experience that is kind of cool, but at the same time I was very nervous,” Prentiss concluded. Both receiving the award and being involved in the engagement “was a very proud moment for the both of us.”