Marco called over the Apache radio frequency, but there was no response. The common air-to-ground frequency was no better. As a last resort, Penrod gave a call over the air to air frequency, and they quickly got a response from Pedro, the US Air Force Pavehawks. These guys weren't Apaches, but they had fifty-caliber machine guns and mini-guns. Penrod was ready for some well-directed crew-served weapons, given the fact that our 58 support was inadequate. He gave them a brief synopsis of the situation, and they decided to drop their patients at Abad and come help.
Given how grave Swenson's position was, the DUSTOFF crew decided it was too long to wait for the Pavehawks to get on station. Talking directly to Swenson, they were able to determine he was quite a bit further up the wash and very exposed. Penrod made the same dive as he had earlier, a fast and low flight up the wash toward the rising dust of where they believed his truck had made its last stand. There he was, tucked into a smaller tributary wash, with several bodies in the back, along with two ANP pickups that had made it to his location. A hard right, a decelerating turn, and they were on the ground, just feet from the vehicles.
The ground guys and the DUSTOFF crew wasted no time in loading as many patients as possible -- five patients, all ANA, no Marines. It was time to leave, but the Pavehawks were still not on station. They couldn't go back to Abad with these patients; the FST was already overloaded. They had to go to Jbad. As Penrod accelerated down the wash, Pedro checked in. As they tried to reach DUSTOFF, the 58 pilot interjected, "No need. They're all dead."
Penrod was done with this guy. He broke onto the radio and told Pedro to disregard the 58 pilot and listen only to DUSTOFF 25. He explained where the vehicles and patients could be found and that several remained. The Pedro pilot was unclear of where they were, so Penrod made the decision to delay their return to Jbad and link up with him to take another run into the fire. With the Pavehawk in tow, they made another low and fast run up the valley. As they neared the vehicles, Penrod explained to the Pedro pilot he would break hard right over the location, as they were in a hurry to get the patients to the FST. Pedro landed and quickly stated they couldn't find any patients. The 58 pilot came on the radio and scolded, "See, they're all dead." The Pedro pilot summarily dismissed the 58 pilot and stated, "DUSTOFF 25, we've got 'em. A lot of patients here."
DUSTOFF stayed as long as they could and then quickly departed toward Jbad. About halfway there, they saw the Apaches headed up toward Ganjgal. But it was too late.
No Marines were rescued from the ambush in Ganjgal. We later learned they stayed behind in the wash returning fire to ensure the others could escape. Their radio calls for fire support and rescue were the last words anyone would hear from them. Those pleas for help have kept Jason Penrod awake many nights wondering if they should've done more. Should he have gone in after them while they were still alive?
Jason has heard all the justifications as to why they shouldn't have -- the state of Swenson's pickup as the strongest argument against such an attempt. They probably would've become, as LTC Jimmy Blackmon says, "the main effort." This was something he never wanted to be.
Jason Penrod has contemplated all of the rationalization and the risks that justify not even doing what they did. But this does little to drown out the voices of those Marines. They continued to resonate long after the battle was over. The fallout of the ambush at Ganjgal was huge. There have been several different accounts of what happened that day, and several explanations. When the dust settled, three Marines and one Navy corpsman lost their lives in Ganjgal, as well as nine ANA soldiers.
The gunshot victim picked up by DUSTOFF, SFC Kenneth Westbrook, was rushed into surgery at the FOB. The surgeons repaired the vascular injury at the FST and placed a chest tube. He made it back to the United States but tragically suffered a fatal reaction to a blood transfusion believed given in Asadabad. He was the fifth American to die in the Ganjgal ambush.
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Marc Dragony was absolutely livid about what happened in Ganjgal. We had bonded with the 58 guys and were indoctrinated into the Cavalry culture, even calling each other family. But after the 58 pilot declared the battle "his fight" and refused any additional air support, Dragony took off his Stetson and abandoned it in Jalalabad. He had lost all respect and didn't want to be associated with them. Years later, Dragony regretted leaving the Stetson and painting such a broad picture of the Cav. He is, however, still angry about the actions of that day.
Marc had suffered. He recounted to me how he was in Diego Garcia on his way back to the States from the war. He was in that beautiful paradise when he learned that SFC Westbrook had died from that damn transfusion. He struggles with this. To this day, Marc wears a bracelet with Westbrook's name engraved on it.
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Marine Dakota Meyer, who was also engaged in the fight this day, was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions. Other members of ETT 2-8 were awarded Bronze Star with V medals. Two other Marines, SSG Juan Rodriguez-Chavez and CPT Ademola Fabayo, were awarded the Navy Cross.
After years of indifference, Westbrook was posthumously awarded a Silver Star on April 19, 2013. Army Captain William Swenson was nominated for the Medal of Honor, but after his public criticism of the US Army, his paperwork was claimed to be lost.