BANGOR – Back in late June, as I awaited my helicopter ride out of a remote military encampment hard by Afghanistan’s rugged border with Pakistan, Maine Army National Guard Capt. Paul Bosse and I had what was for the time being a very off-the-record, very sobering conversation.

It was about the many dangers still facing the 148 members of Bravo Company, 3rd Battalion, 172nd Mountain Infantry at Combat Outpost Dand wa Patan — right smack in the middle of a region where the Taliban and other insurgents can be here, there and everywhere yet simultaneously nowhere to be seen.

Less than halfway through its nine-month deployment, Bravo Company had yet to lose a single soldier. But summer was now upon them — and with it, a widely expected uptick in insurgent activity.

“Think your luck will hold out?” I asked Bosse.

“I hope so,” he replied. “But there’s no way I’d guarantee it.”

Thursday afternoon, as the last planeload of Bravo Company’s soldiers disappeared into a wave of wives, children and other well-wishers at the Armed Forces Reserve Center, I sat down with Bosse in a quiet side room and, first and foremost, congratulated the 37-year old company commander on getting every last one of his men home.

“You did it,” I said. “You didn’t lose a single guy.”

Suddenly, tears of relief welled up in Bosse’s eyes. He nodded, but for a few seconds, he couldn’t speak.

“Yeah,” he finally replied. “I wouldn’t have ah guessed it. I mean we had a lot of stuff happen after you left.”

Some of it was relatively easy.

Back in July, 50 or so Taliban fighters tried to overrun the Shapulah Fire Base. Located directly between COP Dand wa Patan and Observation Post 13 — a mountaintop position manned by rotating platoons from Bravo Company — the fire base was manned completely by Afghan forces who, on that day, were having trouble repelling the Taliban attack.

Shortly after the Afghan soldiers called Bravo Company for help, more than two dozen 120mm mortars rained down on the attackers from both Bravo Company’s home base and the observation post.

Was it effective?

“Yeah,” Bosse said. “Pretty effective.”

Then there was the reconnaissance mission to the village of Sultak — well beyond the protective range of Observation Post 13.

As a 150-man force made up of two Bravo Company platoons, U.S. special forces and a small Afghan special forces unit pushed into a valley in the previously untested area, the insurgents lay in wait in hills above. The firefight lasted four and a half hours.

“It was a very coordinated attack,” Bosse said. “They kind of had us surrounded — and I was ready to get out of there before nightfall.”

Helicopter gunships and an Air Force fighter jet helped repel the ambush long enough for the U.S. and Afghan forces to get out — but only after an Afghan special forces solider was killed. He was one of nine Afghans who died serving alongside Bravo Company.

Throughout the long battle, Bosse said, “I didn’t hear one nervous voice on the radio. In fact, I saw guys looking around smiling.”

All told, Bosse, said, only five soldiers from Bravo Company were wounded in action over the entire nine months. None of the injuries was life-threatening.

“It would be arrogant to think that 99 percent of that was not by the grace of God,” he said. Still, “not losing anybody allows you to come home with a pretty good perspective, you know?”

So does an infant daughter — her name is Caroline and she was born while Bosse was home on leave in mid-July. Bosse’s wife, Loriann, said new motherhood was actually the perfect antidote to having your husband in a war zone.

“I tried to stay calm — and with her, I needed to stay calm,” said Loriann. “She was a good distraction.”

Added Caroline’s proud father, “She’s huge! And she’s eating cereal already!”

As Bosse spoke, dozens of other young families reveled in similar reunions. Some soldiers lit up like Christmas trees as their kids climbed all over them — others, to be honest, looked a little dazed by all the excitement.

“For the most part, the guys are doing pretty well,” Bosse said. “But it’s hard to say. I don’t think you realize how much you’ve changed until you get home. And sometimes it takes a couple of weeks of settling in and then you realize that you’re not quite the same.”

Bosse, who will return in late January to his job as full-time Guard trainer, said above all his men should be proud of the work they did in Afghanistan, where progress does not come easily.

“What we did start to see is that people who were in villages that were very much under the influence of the Taliban — whether they wanted to be or they just had no ability to defend themselves — started to admit that there was a Taliban problem,” he said. “We didn’t see that early on. And they really wanted us and the Afghan forces to do something about it.”

But that’s all behind them now. As they made their way home over the past few weeks, Bosse encouraged his men to take the necessary time to re-acclimate, to reach out for help if they need it and to “really take advantage of the blessings we all have as Americans.”

“They did an awesome job,” he said. “I think they’ve earned the right to have good lives.”

Every last one of them.

Columnist Bill Nemitz can be contacted at 791-6323 or at:

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