9/28/2010, Combat Outpost Nolen, Arghandab District, Kanahar Province, Afghanistan.

Sgt Zavala (L) reflects on the days events on the roof of Strong Point Lugo as his comrades ate dinner nearby, following a heavy firefight that began when Taliban militants attackedtheir position, in Kandahar’s Arghandab River Valley.

Soldiers of Alpha Battery, 1st Battalion, 320th Field Artillery, 101st Airborne Division, have had a hard deployment. Since they occupied COP Nolan in July–taking on the roll of provisional infantry in one of Kandahar’s highly contested districts, they have sustained at least 20 combat casualties to their company-sized force–mostly to Taliban improvised explosive devices causing gruesome amputations for the less fortunate, and sever concussions to the more lucky. Combined with a lack of available replacements, this has stretched their operations to the brink of combat ineffectiveness.

The IED threat, combined with almost daily fighting from the walls of their combat outpost and strongpoint has left many of Alpha’s remaining soldiers with visible combat stress, and morale that at times seems to hang by a thread.