When the 1st Battalion 504th Parachute Infantry Regiment landed at the Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, they didn’t have much military equipment. Support equipment such as heavy vehicles and machine guns were not there yet, according to Lt. Col. Andy Harris, who was the battalion’s commander. The scene was pretty volatile.
The Taliban sat right outside the airport, sometimes within 30 meters of the U.S. troops. While the U.S. troops did not have any heavy machinery, the Afghan forces did.
One piece of equipment was an Afghan National Army truck with a Russian 14.5mm ZPU-2 anti-aircraft gun mounted to it.
The Afghan soldiers gave the Toyota Land Cruiser to the paratroopers for two cans of dip. U.S. soldiers are not trained on operating the ZPU-2, but one paratrooper had spent six months in the Iraqi military before coming to the U.S.
In his six months there, Pfc. Alsajjad Al Lami, 25, learned how to use the weapon. The Iraqi-born soldier’s father worked as a translator for the U.S. in Iraq and always wanted to serve in the U.S. Army.
Al Lami said, “I always wanted to join, and it felt really good.” He specifically picked a MOS where he would deploy. Al Lami wanted to “do something.”
On August 17, he got his chance. With the keys in hand for the Toyota, he went to work teaching his fellow soldiers exactly how to use the ZPU-2.
Harris said, “So he gave a class to all my paratroopers in Bravo Company on how to use it, how to do barrel changes, how to load it, so all of those individuals that would take turn on the line providing security, they understood hot to use the weapons system.”
A Part Of History
Maj. Gen. Christopher Donahue, the 82nd Airborne Division commander, heard the story of how they came into possession of the vehicle and said he wanted it to come back if there was room, even making a formal request that it come to live at Fort Bragg.
“This truck will sit at the 82nd Airborne Museum so that our Paratroopers, their families and future generations to come will know that when faced with a mission of unprecedented scope and complexity, the Paratroopers rose to meet this challenge.”Maj. Gen. Christopher Donahue