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Local soldier on front lines

Posted: February 17, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: February 17, 2011 1:55 a.m.

Pvt. Michael Landis, 24, of Saugus, front right, patrols near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border with his Army unit. He has spent the last six months serving as an infantryman and weapons specialist with the U.S. Army Company C, 2nd Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, the same unit portrayed on the ...

 

Like most guys his age, 24-year-old Michael Landis settled in with a group of friends recently to watch the Super Bowl.

But unlike many of his former classmates at Saugus High School, Landis caught the big game in the wee hours of the morning from a U.S. Army base in Afghanistan’s Paktika province.

The lifelong SCV resident has spent the last six months serving in Afghanistan as an infantryman and weapons specialist with the U.S. Army Company C, 2nd Battalion, 506th Infantry Regiment, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 101st Airborne Division, the same army unit portrayed on the popular World War II miniseries “Band of Brothers.”

Sitting down to watch a taping of the Super Bowl with his present-day band of brothers was a rare respite for Pvt. Landis, who has spent much of the past six months outdoors on the isolated mountain terrain along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

It’s not uncommon for the 24 year-old and his fellow servicemen to spend sleepless nights patrolling in the snow, catching sleep when they can against a tree or on a snow-free patch of rocky ground.

There are no tents to shelter these troops during their field missions, and fires are strictly forbidden, explained Landis’ father, Tim Landis, a longtime Saugus resident.

But these daily hardships paled in comparison to the onslaught Landis and his unit faced on Oct. 30, 2010.

That night, clouds darkened the sky above the mountainside Combat Outpost Margah, making visibility even murkier than usual where the C Company men patrolled.

Earlier that day, the soldiers had received reports about a potential attack from local Taliban insurgents. But no one had anticipated the ambush to come.

After Landis received word from a guard who spotted movement below the outpost, rocket fire began to hail down on the mountainside and groups of insurgents fired on the soldiers.

Landis returned fire as his fellow troops escaped their combat vehicle.

In an interview with Soldier of Fortune magazine, the Saugus native described how he and five other soldiers laid down protective fire against a cluster of insurgents that quickly swelled to 120 men.

With enemy combatants within 20 feet of the combat outpost, and after countless rounds of ammunition were fired, Landis and his fellow infantrymen killed a total of 92 insurgents and captured two, according to Soldier of Fortune.

Back in Saugus, Landis’ parents, Tim and Mary Landis, went about their daily lives, heading to work at a local utility company and a medical device firm, respectively.

Days later, Tim Landis got a call from a family friend who said he’d seen Michael on CNN talking about a major attack from Taliban insurgents.

“(Tim) calls me at work and tells me to watch CNN — I just couldn’t believe what I was seeing,” Mary Landis recounted.
“It was so surreal.”

After being separated from their son for three months and enduring a nerve-wracking month without any word from him, both parents said they were overwhelmed with relief at the sight of him on TV.

“After three months without seeing him, you’re not thinking about the danger,” said Tim Landis. “You’re thinking, that’s my baby.”

Prior to the Oct. 30 attack, Combat Outpost Margah wasn’t equipped with Internet or telephone services. These days, Landis is able to chat with his parents via Facebook and call them every few weeks.

The Landises have also kept in touch with their son by sending weekly care packages filled with essentials such as socks, cigarettes, beef jerky and ChapStick.

A few months ago, the parents began sending packages to some of the soldiers in Landis’ company who weren’t receiving anything from home.

“It broke our hearts,” Mary Landis said.

Now, the Landises say they assemble six care packages every week for their son and other troops there.

The weekly ritual is something neither parent would’ve imagined 15 months ago, when Landis first announced his decision to enlist.

“I was against it,” Tim Landis recalled. “Those are real bullets — there’s consequences to those actions.”

Mary Landis said she was proud of her son’s decision to join the Army, as generations of men in her family had done before him. But, she said, she never expected deployment to come so soon.

For now, the couple looks forward to Landis’ scheduled 10-day visit home in April.

Among their son’s big plans during his homecoming, said his mother: “seeing his friends, showering and sleeping in a bed.”

These and other creature comforts should help sustain the local serviceman as he prepares to spend another four months in Afghanistan’s insurgent territory.

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