Combat Ops | Chapter 11 of 42

Author: David Michaels | Submitted by: Maria Garcia | 2186 Views | Add a Review

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TWO
Neither Ramirez nor I had any children, so there wasn’t that moment when we projected our own kids into the situation before us.
But I’m certain that what we felt was equally shocking and painful.
“Oh my God,” Ramirez said with a gasp.
Before we could take another step, footfalls echoed behind us, and a male voice came in a stage whisper, though I couldn’t discern the exact words.
I turned, crouched, lifted my rifle, and came face to face with a Taliban soldier, his AK swinging into the room. My rounds drove him back into the opposite wall, where he shrank, leaving a blood trail on the wall above him. Oddly, he was still alive as he tipped onto one side and was muttering something, even as a second guy rounded the corner.
My two rounds missed him and chewed into the stone. He ducked back round the corner. I blamed my error on the shadows and not my dependence on the Cross-Com’s targeting system. As I rationalized away the failure, a grenade thumped across the floor, rolled toward me, and bounced off the leg of the guy I had just killed.
Ramirez, who’d seen the grenade, too, lifted his voice, but I was already on it, seizing the metal bomb and lobbing it back up the hallway, only two seconds before it exploded. Ramirez and I were just turning our backs to the doorway when the debris cloud showered us, pieces of stone stinging our arms and legs and thumping off the Dragon Skin torso armor beneath our utilities.
We turned back for the hall.
And my breath vanished at the sound of a second metallic thump. This grenade hit the dead guy’s boot and rolled once more directly into the room.
Ramirez was on it like a New York Yankees shortstop. He scooped up the grenade, whirled toward the open window, and fired it back outside. We rolled once more as the explosion resounded and the walls shifted and cracked.
I’d had enough of that and let my rifle lead me back into the hallway. I charged forward and found the remaining guy withdrawing yet a third grenade from an old leather pouch. He looked up, dropped his jaw, and shuddered as my salvo made him appear as though he’d grabbed a live wire. He fell back onto his side.
I stood over him, fighting for breath, angry that they’d kept coming at us, wondering if he’d been one of the guys who’d perpetrated the acts we imagined had gone on in that room. I returned to Ramirez, who’d gone over to the pool table. That’s right, a pool table. But they hadn’t been playing pool.
A girl no more than thirteen or fourteen lay nude and seemingly crucified across the table, arms and legs bound by heavy cord to the table’s legs. Ramirez was checking for a carotid pulse. He glanced back at me and whispered, “She looks drugged, but she’s still alive.”
I tugged free my bowie knife from its calf sheath and, gritting my teeth, cursed and cut free the cords. Then I ran back and ripped the shirt off the dead guy just outside the door. Neither of us said a word until Ramirez lifted her over his shoulder in a fireman’s carry, and I draped the shirt over her nude body.
I just shook my head and led the way back out.
In the courtyard, I swept the corners, remained wary of the rooftops, and reached out with all of my senses, guiding us back toward the gate without the help of the Cross-Com. Women were wailing somewhere behind one of the buildings, and the stench of gunpowder had thickened even more on the breeze.
Gunfire sounded from somewhere behind me, and the next thing I knew I was lying flat on my face. Before Ramirez could turn, the girl still draped over his shoulder, an insurgent rushed from the house.
The guy took two, maybe three more steps before thunder echoed from the mountain overlooking the town. I gaped as part of the man’s head exploded and arced across the yard. The rest of him collapsed in a dust cloud.
Treehorn was earning his place on the team.
“Captain, you all right?” cried Ramirez.
I sat up. “I should’ve seen that guy. Damn it.”
“No way. He was tucked in good.” Ramirez crossed around to view my back. “He got you, but the armor took it good. Nice . . .”
“And off we go,” I said with a groan as I dragged myself to my feet. I remembered the Cypher drone, darted over to it, and tucked the shattered UFO under my arm.
We hustled around the main perimeter wall, these barriers common in many of the towns and not unlike the medieval curtain walls that helped protect a castle.
It took another ten minutes before we reached the edge of the town, then made our dash up a dirt road rising up through the talus and scree and into the canyons. The gunfire had kept most of the locals inside, and what Taliban were left had fled because they never knew how many more infidels were coming.
We met up with Marcus Brown and Alex Nolan some ten minutes after that, and Ramirez handed off the girl to Nolan, who immediately dug into his medic’s kit to see if he could get her to regain consciousness.
“Any sign of Zahed?” I asked Brown.
Despite being a rich kid from Chicago, he spoke and acted like a hardcore seasoned grunt. “Nah, nothing. What the hell happened?”
I wished I could give the big guy a definitive answer. “Our boy got tipped off. And someone took out our Cross-Com and the drone. Somehow. I can’t believe it was them.” I handed the drone to him, and he stowed it in his backpack.
“So who did this?” he asked. “Our own people? Why?”
I just shook my head.
Brown’s dark face screwed up into a deeper knot. He cursed. I seconded his curse. Ramirez joined the four-letter-word fest.
Three more operators—Matt Beasley, Bo Jenkins, and John Hume—arrived a few minutes after with three prisoners in tow, their hands bound behind their backs with zipper cuffs.
I nodded appreciatively. “Nice work, gentlemen.”
“Yeah, but no big fish, sir,” said Hume. “Just guppies.”
“I hear that.”
Treehorn ascended from his sniper’s perch and joined us, fully out of breath. “Guess I blew the whistle a little too soon,” he admitted.
I was about to say something, but my frustration was already working its way into my fists. I walked over, grabbed the nearest Taliban guy by the throat, and, in Pashto, asked him what had happened to Zahed.
His eyes bulged, and his foul breath came at me from between rows of broken and blackening teeth.
I shoved him back toward his buddies, then pointed at the girl. “Did you do this?” I was speaking in English, but I was so pissed I hadn’t realized that. I shouted again.
One guy threw up his hands and said in Pashto, “We do not do that. I don’t think Zahed does that, either. We don’t know about that.”
“Yeah, right,” snapped Ramirez.
Nolan got the girl to come around, and she began crying. Ramirez went over and tried to calm her down; he got her name, and we learned that she was, as we’d already suspected, from Senjaray, the town on the other side of the mountains from which we operated. We had conventional radio, but even that had been fried, and Hume suspected that some kind of pulse or radio wave had been used to disrupt our electronics.
We hiked over the mountain, keeping close guard on the prisoners and taking turns carrying the girl. We eventually reached our HMMWV, which we’d hidden in a canyon. The radio onboard the Hummer still worked, so we called back to Forward Operating Base Eisenhower and had them send out another Hummer to bridge the eleven-kilometer gap. We set up a perimeter and waited.
“You know, this place makes China look good,” said Jenkins, who lay on his stomach across from me, his normally hard and determined expression now long with exhaustion. “Those were the good old days. That was a straight-up mission. Pretty good intel. And good support from higher. That’s all I ask.”
“I don’t know, Bo, I think those days are gone,” I said. “No matter how good we think our intel is, we can wind up like this. And I know it’s discouraging. But I’ll do what I can to find out what happened.”
“Thanks.”
No matter how careful we’d been in leaving our FOB, no matter how secretive we’d kept the mission, all it took was one observer to radio ahead to Zahed that we were coming. We’d taken all the precautions. Or at least we’d thought we had.
And at that moment, I was beginning to wonder about our “find, fix, and finish the enemy” mantra. I still wasn’t buying into the whole COIN ideology (let’s help the locals and turn them into spies) because I figured they’d always turn on us no matter how many canals we built. But I wondered how we were supposed to gather actionable intelligence without help from the inside—without members of the Taliban itself turning on each other . . . because in the end, everyone knew we Americans weren’t staying forever, so all parties were trying to exploit us before we left.
The second truck arrived, and we loaded everyone on board and took off for the drive across the desert. My hackles rose as I imagined the Taliban peering at us from the mountains behind. My thoughts were already leaping ahead to solve the security breach and tech issues.
Treehorn, who was at the wheel, began having a conversation with himself, offering congratulations for his fine marksmanship. After a few minutes of that, I interrupted him. “All right, good shooting. Is that what you want to hear?”
“Hell, Captain, it’s something. I got the feeling this whole op will go round and round, and we won’t get off the roller coaster till higher tells us.”
I considered myself an optimist, the never-say-quit guy. I’d been taught that from the beginning. Hell, I’d been a team sergeant on an operation in the Philippines and lost nearly my entire ODA unit. My best friend flipped out. But even then, I never quit. Never allowed myself to get discouraged because the setbacks weren’t failures—they were battle scars that made me stronger. I had such a scar on my chest, and it used to remind me that there was a larger purpose to my life and that quitting and becoming depressed was too selfish. I’d be letting everyone down. I had to go on.
If you join the military for yourself, then you’re setting yourself up for failure. Kennedy had it right: Ask what you can do for your country. I’ve seen many guys join “for college” or “to see the world” or “to learn a trade.” Their hearts are not in it, and they never achieve what they could. Perhaps I’m too biased, but in the beginning, there was an ideal, an image of America that I kept in my head, and it reminded me of why I was there.
Kristen Fitzgerald, standing among acres of lush farmland, her strawberry-blond hair tugged by the wind. She smiles at me, even says, “This is why.”
Pretty cliché, huh? Makes it sound like I do it all for a girl. But she represented that ideal. A high school sweetheart who told me she’d always wait, that she was like me, that we were not born to live ordinary lives.
My ideal was not some jingoistic military recruiting commercial or some glamorous Hollywood version of war. I didn’t join because I wanted to “get some.” I wanted to protect my country and help people. That made me feel good, made me feel worth something. And as the years went on, and I got promoted and was told how good I was, I decided to share what I knew. I loved teaching at the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center at Fort Bragg. I couldn’t think of a more rewarding part of my military career.
In fact, that was where I met Captain Simon Harruck, who’d been a fellow trainer despite his youth and who was now commander of Delta Company, 1st Battalion—120 soldiers charged with providing security for Senjaray and conducting counterinsurgency operations.
I knew that when we got back, Harruck would try to cheer me up. He was indeed ten years my junior, and when I looked at him, oh, how I saw myself back in those days.
But as we both knew, the ’Stan was unforgiving, with its oppressive heat and sand that got into everything, even your soul. I threw my head back on the seat and trusted Treehorn to take us home, headlights out, guided by his night-vision goggles.
By the time we arrived at the FOB, Harruck was already standing outside the small Quonset hut that housed the company’s offices, and the expression on his face was sympathetic. “Well, we got three we can talk to, right?”
I returned a sour look and marched past him, into the hut.

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Alice
Great book, nicely written and thank you BooksVooks for uploading

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