Pale Riders return home to Fort Riley

By Paul Harris

FORT RILEY — Members of the 4th Squadron 4th Cavalry marked their return from Afghanistan with a ceremonial uncasing of the unit’s colors Friday on post. Representatives said the 4-4 Cav made significant improvements in the Zhari district, including pushing the Taliban out of the area and establishing the area’s first police force.

The unit, known as the Pale Riders, also built two schools during a tour in which nearly all members of the 517-member squadron faced gunfire.

The uncasing precedes by a few days a similar ceremony in reverse. Next Wednesday, members of the division’s Headquarters unit will formally case their colors in preparation for their own departure for Afghanistan.

Members of the returning squadron have actually been stateside for several weeks; they took a 30-day leave to reconnect with family and friends prior to the Friday ceremony.

The Afghan duty was perilous. Even the squadron’s cook received a purple heart. One soldier received three of them.

A medic, specialist Skyler Shipley, saved an Afghan man’s life after he stepped on Intermittent Explosive Device or IED. The man was placed in a wheelbarrow and rolled toward a gate where Shipley was stationed. The man had both of his legs and his arm removed. Though he saved the man’s life, Shipley does not know whether he saved a civilian or a member of the Taliban.

“It’s possible that he was a local national, who just happened to step on an IED on the farmlands,” he said. “Or he could have been a bad guy that was actually planning something. We don’t really know. They said he was a civilian, so we worked on him and saved his life.”

Like many of the returnees, Shipley spent his recent time at home, in his case with his wife and newborn child.

“One of the biggest joys was seeing my family,” he said.

Another big joy for Shipley was eating. “It’s kind of silly, but it was really good to have fast food,” Shipley said. “Having home cooked food like a steak or some pork chops. Anything, really.”

Pfc. Andrew Carrillo spent his leave visiting family in California and his dad in Idaho. Like Shipley, Carrillo enjoyed just being around loved ones.

“It’s a surreal experience,” Carrillo said. “You expect to come back, but at the same time you’re focusing on your job. When you see them for the first time, you’re like, ‘Is this really happening?’”

The squad is now in a “reset phase,” ramping down operations from their mission in Afghanistan, according to LTC Michael T. Katona, commander of 4th Squadron, 4th Cavalry. Soon the squadron will step into a “training phase and then in to a ready phase, where we are ready to deploy anywhere in the world,” Katona said. As of now, Katona said he is unsure where the squad will deploy.

According to CSM Charles S. Cook, the Taliban hopes it is not back to Afghanistan.

“The Taliban doesn’t like the Pale Riders very much,” he said. “They hate the Pale Riders and I’m ok with that.”

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