IN AFGHANISTAN: Memories of the Deadly May 16th Attack in Kabul from 2 Guam Guardsmen Who Survived It


CAMP EGGERS, Afghanistan – Guam Guardsmen continue mission after near-death incident — Physically and yes, mentally, Staff Sgt. Peter Crisostomo and Spc. John F. Chargualaf have recovered.

It’s been more than three months since the soldiers from Echo Company, 1st Battalion, 294th Infantry Regiment, were in the confines of a massive blast that killed 15 and injured 39, marking the deadliest attack in Afghanistan in 2013. Six killed were American citizens.

Memories of a May 16 attack in Kabul that killed two Guam Army National Guardsmen are still vivid in the minds of two who survived.  

[U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Peter Crisostomo, left, and Spc. John F. Chargualaf shake hands and smile in Kabul, Afghanistan, Aug. 23, 2013. They recovered from a fatal suicide bomb attack more than three months ago that killed two of their Guam Army National Guard Soldiers. (U.S. Army National Guard photo by Sgt. Eddie Siguenza/Released)]

Physically and yes, mentally, Staff Sgt. Peter Crisostomo and Spc. John F. Chargualaf have recovered. It’s been more than three months since the Soldiers from Echo Company, 1st Battalion, 294th Infantry Regiment, were in the confines of a massive blast that killed 15 and injured 39, marking the deadliest attack in Afghanistan in 2013. Six killed were American citizens.

Crisostomo and Chargualaf survived. Two of their brothers in arms, Sgt. Eugene Aguon and Spc. Dwayne Flores, didn’t. Crisostomo and Chargualaf were in a non-tactical vehicle following Aguon and Flores’ 5-ton Chevrolet Suburban that was hit by a suicide bomber’s vehicle deep in the city.

The explosion, according The New York Times, “left a deep crater in the road and cracks in the mud-brick shops that line the street.” FOX News declared the incident “the deadliest attack to rock the Afghan capital in more than two months and followed a series of other attacks against Americans that has made May the deadliest month for international forces this year.”

Aguon and Flores never saw it and died instantly. Crisostomo and Chargualaf saw the vehicle but couldn’t stop it in time. They, too, absorbed the impact. It was hard enough to uplift their vehicle and momentarily daze them, and strong enough to shatter windows of buildings two blocks away.

“It’s better if we talk about it so it doesn’t build up inside,” said Chargualaf, the driver whose vehicle also contained three civilians. “It’s best if I put it out there. Everyone knows what happened that day, what we went through. I’d rather put it out and get help if needed than to hide it. It’s harder if I hold this in.”

“I remember it like yesterday. I can still relive everything,” Crisostomo added. “It was like a regular work day for everyone. Shops were opening. It was like any other day. For me, I just have to tell the truth. I got to talk about what happened so people will understand.”

The pair resumed their duties a few weeks after the incident. They were medically and mentally cleared for missions and have been able to put this in the past. But it’s an unforgettable past; to a point, remembering what happened makes them stronger.

“The car, I still have memories of it,” Chargualaf said, noting the suicide bomber’s green Toyota Corolla. “I remember seeing a bright light coming from the bottom of the car, like fire. Then all I heard was this loud bang, and then feeling something hitting my chest. It was like getting a football kick in the chest. And then all I saw was smoke. Lots of smoke.”

“I saw this big flash, and then it was like I was unconscious for a little bit,” Crisostomo added. “When I came to, when I regained consciousness, it was dark from the smoke. I started yelling out ‘IED, IED.’ I checked Chuggs (Chargualaf). I asked if he was OK. And then I just kept saying ‘Where are the boys? Where are the boys?’ And that’s when I saw Gene’s (Aguon’s) vehicle on fire.”

Crisostomo and Chargualaf were pinned in their own vehicle. Their windshield partially shattered, their doors fully jammed. In the back seat, the civilians were just as helpless. So many things went through their minds.

“We were stuck. I’ll be honest. I was just waiting for the Taliban to start spraying us,” Chargualaf, 26, said. “I told myself I’m going to fight as much as I can. If I die, so be it.”

Chargualaf paused.

“But then, this happened,” he continued. “I started to see my girls, I started to see my children. And that’s what hit me. That made me want to LIVE.”

Crisostomo recalls going into military mode once he was alert. He remembers an Afghan civilian, in broken English, offering his help. Crisostomo backed him off and told him to stay away. When they finally got out of the vehicle, he directed Chargualaf to guard the civilians while he pulled security.

“I told Chuggs to find a safe haven for the principals,” Crisostomo said. “I knew I had to pull security first. But I also had to check Gene and Dwayne.”

Crisostomo, 39, couldn’t get near their vehicle. The heat from the fire was too intense. The fire also caused bullets to indirectly fly, causing another barrier. He had no other choice but to get Chargualaf and the civilians to safety.

“Believe me, I tried. I tried,” he said, slowly, about saving Aguon and Flores. “In my heart, I tried. I couldn’t go in. I can still feel the heat today.”

“There was nothing anybody could have done for them,” said Capt. Joey San Nicolas, Echo Company commander. “Pete and Chugs had to protect their principals and they did the right thing. They got them to the right location.”

They ran into an alley where Crisostomo radioed his command. He briefed them on what just happened. Crisostomo and Chargualaf were directed to proceed to another location where they will be met with friendly forces. They had to run through public streets to get there.

“All the training from all my years in the Guam Guard kicked in that day,” Crisostomo explained. “What we were taught at Camp Shelby (Miss.) became real. If there’s nothing you can do to help your buddies, you got to protect your principals.”

“I owe a lot to sergeant Crisostomo. I thank him a lot,” replied Chargualaf. “I didn’t know what to do. Everything happened really fast. If he didn’t act like a leader, I don’t know what would have happened. But when he took charge, that gave me strength. Right there, I had so much faith in my skills and knowledge in the military.”

“In any traumatic event, it all comes down to training and instinct,” added San Nicolas. “That’s why they say you train as you fight.”

The incident happened less than 15 minutes after the convoy left Camp Eggers. According to The Guardian, a media outlet, the attack was claimed by a Taliban-linked group. A spokesman for Hizb-e-Islami, Haroon Zarghoon, said “The cell had been monitoring the movement and timing of the American convoy for a week and implemented the plan Thursday morning.”

Four American civilians perished along with Aguon and Flores. Two Afghan children died as well.

Mushtaba Patang, Department of Interior minister, publicly stated, “We strongly condemn this incident.” (Source: Afghan President Hamid Karzai condemned the attack as a “cowardly act of terror … [that] brutally targeted a residential area.”

Although Crisostomo and Chargualaf have resumed missions, they’re no longer paired together. Crisostomo continues his roles as squad leader, tactical commander and convoy commander while Chargualaf drives for another team, one he’s happy with.

“They’re a bunch of characters,” Chargualaf laughed.

The Soldiers credit the support they’ve received from fellow Guam Guardsmen. They recovered quickly thanks to the bond and humor of the Soldiers, and culture of the Chamorro people (Guam natives) when faced with tragedies.

“Oh yeah, I’m still the same,” said the tough yet mildly mannered Crisostomo. “Once in a while I’ll think back to what happened. I’ll get angry, but that’s when I’m by myself or in my room. But when I’m with the soldiers, they keep me focused. I’m still their leader. We got a lot of missions ahead.”

“That changed me. I’m more alert than I ever was,” added Chargualaf. “No matter how hard things get out here, I know I have these guys. My alertness is so high, I’m more alert than the DUKE (security) system.”

“I give them so much credit,” said San Nicolas. “They’re very resilient. They know why they’re here. They know the mission has to go on. We know they’re getting their strength from their other battle buddies.”

Of course, they’ll never forget Aguon and Flores. Nobody will in the Guam Guard. Crisostomo and Chargualaf were the last two who witnessed the Aguon-Flores tandem performing their duties to Guam and the United States. This, along with other great memories, will never be forgotten.

“I will always remember my brothers loved doing what they did, and that was going out on missions with us,” said Chargualaf. “I’m out here because my brothers died stepping up to the plate. They fought till their last breath, and that’s what I’m going to do for them.”

“There’s nothing here that’s going to make us forget them,” Crisostomo stated. “We’re not stopping. Gene and Dwayne are still with us.”

In fact, the entire Guam Guard is with them – anywhere, anytime.

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