Heath Trost: memories from the front lines - Part 1
EDITOR'S NOTE: THIS IS PART ONE OF A FOUR-PART SERIES THAT WILL RUN IN FRIDAY EDITIONS OF THE BLADE-EMPIRE NEWSPAPER.
On October 24, 2005, shortly after one o'clock in the morning, a sortie of Black Hawk helicopters landed in a remote field in the Al Asad province of western Iraq. Three assault teams from America's elite Delta Force disembarked from the helicopters and began a seven kilometer infiltration march through enemy territory in the dead of night. Their objective was a small village near the Syrian border. Their target: an Iraqi jihadist waging a war of terror against America.
This terrorist specialized in building explosive vests for suicide bombers. The bombers strap the vests to their bodies under baggy clothing and then detonate the devices in crowded markets, mosques, and at U.S. military checkpoints, killing themselves and everyone around them.
On this night Other Government Agencies (OGA) had provided the Special Missions Unit-DELTA with intel that placed the bomber in a specific house at this remote village.
DELTA intended to permanently remove the threat with a "vote". They give terrorists like this bomber the opportunity to surrender; the terrorist himself then decides - he "votes" - whether to live or die.
Jihadists view their terrorism as a holy war and rarely surrender.
The three DELTA teams covered the seven kilometers in two hours, using night vision goggles to guide them through the thick desert night. When they reached the small adobe house set amid a grove of palm trees, one team climbed on the roof; the second team covered the back of the house; the third team stacked up for an assault entry at a heavily-gated front door. The #4 man on this team placed explosive charges on the door then began a quick, coordinated countdown.
The charges blasted apart the reinforced door. The #1 man rushed through the opening; the other team members flowed in behind him. To their right was an open door to an empty room. They kicked in a closed door on the left and found the terrorist standing against the wall wearing an Arab dish-dash: an ankle-length garment with long sleeves. There were wires extending out the bottom of the garment sleeve to the terrorist's right hand.
The #1 man on the assault team opened fire; the terrorist instinctively turned to dodge the bullets just as he detonated the twenty pounds of explosives wired to his body.
Heath Trost was the #4 man on the DELTA team that night. The last thing he remembered was seeing a ball of fire envelope the entire bedroom. Then the concussive force of the exploding bomb lifted his body in the air and flung it back through the hole he'd just blasted in the front door.
THE MAKING OF A SOLDIER
Heath Trost was born in Concordia on February 7, 1973. He has one sister, two years older than him, and one younger brother. The siblings were raised on a farm east of Concordia with goats, ducks, chickens, geese, cattle and horses. And lots of rural countryside.
"We didn't have internet then, or anything like it," Trost recalled. "We didn't even play video games. We were always outside and I loved it. I find the outdoors so peaceful."
On Sundays, after church, Trost would go on walks with his dad around the fields and along a creek that ran through their property.
"I always thought that creek was mine," Trost said with a laugh. "I loved it when the creek flooded. Trash would come on the property; there was always a lot of bottles. They made for good target practice."
Trost's love of hunting began when he was a child and his grandfather took him out in the fields to hunt pheasant.
"Us kids weren't allowed to shoot birds yet," he said. "We were the walkers."
It was young Trost's job to walk the field and spook birds and deer into the waiting hunters on the other side of the field.
"I carried a .22 rifle," he said, "but I could only shoot at a coyote if I saw one. And I only had a couple rounds, so I learned to make the first shot count."
That childhood training - flushing prey into an ambush - would have a heavy influence on Trost's later life in combat zones. Scouting is key to a successful hunt for wildlife; it's also an integral part of reconnaissance work in the military.
"There are many similarities," Trost said. "Prey like to stay in cover, in terrain with hiding spots. You learn how to track them without them seeing you or hearing you or smelling you. You study the terrain and look for ambush spots where you can force prey into a shooting zone. I always looked at it as a chess match. Tactical maneuvering. I try to gauge the prey's next move and plan a countermeasure. For me, that's the best part of the hunt."
There are hundreds if not thousands of men like Trost in the Midwest - military veterans from the Vietnam War to current combat enlistments - who learned hunting skills in the outdoors and then applied those skills to their military service.
Heath Trost became more than just proficient at this skill. How good is he at stealth? As a wildlife example, Trost has video of a deer cautiously entering a clearing, taking all the necessary precautions with sight, sound and smell, and then moseying over to a hay bale and nibbling on it.
Trost was hiding inside the bale.
By the time Trost graduated from Concordia High School in 1991 he had already joined the Army via its delayed-entry program. When he enlisted he asked to join the illustrious 82nd Airborne Division. With a motto of 'Death From Above', the 82nd Airborne specializes in parachute assaults. The U.S. Department of Defense requires the Division to "respond to crisis contingencies anywhere in the world within 18 hours."
Trost thought the 82nd Airborne was about as good as it got, until the military recruiter asked if he'd like to be an Army Ranger instead.
"He showed me a video of a Ranger unit in action," Trost said, "and I was hooked."
On July 9, 1991 - at the age of 18 - Trost reported to the Military Entrance Processing Station in Kansas City to get his physical and complete his enlistment process.
"At this point I just wanted to do my four years and save some money for college."
Trost was sent to Ft. Benning, Georgia, for eight weeks of basic training, and then six weeks of advanced training.
"I was a little scared at first, you know? Going into the unknown. But I was also just really excited to be traveling somewhere and trying something different like that; something challenging. And I was in with a really great group of guys, so it wasn't bad at all."
That philosophy became one of the tenet's of Trost's personal life: "every door you walk through is a new challenge; see what's in front of you and find your way to the next door".
While in basic training Trost was named his squad leader, and immediately began learning another personal motto: 'find a way for each man to rise to be the best he can be'.
"As a squad leader, the squad's failure was my failure," Trost stated. "The weakest link is all our link. You learn to know the character of each of the men."
After Trost graduated from basic training his top-level performance ratings got him sent directly to airborne training. He made his first parachute jump on Halloween, 1991.
"That was one of the biggest thrills of my life," he said with a broad grin. "I've loved skydiving ever since."
To date, Trost has made 2,782 parachutes jumps from all heights, and hundreds of them have been at night. He has jumped out of a plane at 34,000 feet. That's almost 6.5 miles above ground. The temperature at 34,000 feet is -70 below zero. Only a handful of people in the world have made that jump.
Near the end of Trost's airborne training a unit from the Ranger Regiment appeared at the camp and force-marched the recruits on a two-mile run, in cadence.
"I remember being nervous," Trost recalled, "because I knew the Rangers were watching me; judging me; looking to see if I had what it took."
The Rangers liked what they saw in Heath Trost. He was admitted into the Ranger Indoctrination Program, which lasted three grueling weeks.
"They tried to smoke you every day," Trost said, able to laugh about it now. "Every day they pushed you to the point of utter exhaustion. Think about it: the initials for the Ranger Indoctrination Program are R.I.P.. They're trying to kill you every single day."
Trost thrived in the arduous training. On November 12, 1991, he graduated from R.I.P. and was assigned to the U.S. military's elite 75th Ranger Regiment, 2nd Battalion.
Heath Trost was an Army Ranger.
But at this point in his life he still planned on leaving the military after his four-year enlistment was over.
He stayed another 27 years.
NEXT FRIDAY: WAITING FOR SOMETHING IN THE WORLD TO HAPPEN