Archive for April, 2010

 

Yea, though we walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, we shall fear no Evil…for we are the baddest motherfuckers in the Valley.

12121993 1700H Compostela Valley, Northern Davao

I felt a hard tap on my shoulder. I looked up. It was the door-gunner. He held up five fingers and mouthed the words, “Five minutes!” I could hardly hear him over the God-awful racket of the UH-1 Huey’s rotor blades. Yeah. We were in a helicopter, which was rare for us, waiting to be dropped off at our LZ (landing zone) right into an NPA AO. (New People’s Army, Area of Operation, try to catch up with the acronyms.) This was not our typical “method of insertion” (snicker), but this was one of those on-the-fly operations wherein the intelligence is received real-time and immediate action is required. It’s what you call a “time-sensitive op”.

I passed on the five-minute countdown to the rest of the team and looked down at the countryside as it passed by my boots. I was sitting at the door with my feet over the skids.

It was then that for some reason, I remembered that it was my mom’s birthday today. I hadn’t seen her in two years. Damn. I wonder what she would think, if she could only see me now…

Then I put on my headset, cranked up the volume on my player and listened to what I call my “mindset music”. It helped put me into combat mode. And what better soundtrack than “Paint It Black” by The Rolling Stones?

I see a red door and I want it painted black
No colors anymore I want them to turn black
I see the girls walk by dressed in their summer clothes
I have to turn my head until my darkness goes

I see a line of cars and they’re all painted black
With flowers and my love both never to come back
I see people turn their heads and quickly look away
Like a new born baby it just happens every day

I started running the mission details in my head one last time. About a week ago, a large group of rebels had attacked an Army outpost. Five soldiers, three cops and five civilians were killed, and the rebels raided the armory. They ran off with a couple of thousand rounds of ammunition, and…a 60mm mortar. Along with about thirty shells. That caused a big stink.

 

60mm mortar tube with baseplate

 

A few days after, a civilian had come forward with information about where the rebels where keeping the stolen ordnance. He was a rebel sympathizer actually, and had helped dig the bunker where they kept the stuff. So why the change of heart? Well, the rebels had executed a local merchant for not paying “revolutionary taxes”. And get this. You couldn’t possibly make this up: the merchant was the informant’s uncle. Fucked up, right?

So, lo and behold, he showed up at our outpost and practically handed us a map and a sketch of the area, complete with the number of structures and the number of rebels guarding it. There would be twenty of them at the site at any given time, but you always assume there are more.

There would be three main structures: a mess hall where they ate, a barracks for the guards, and the bunker itself, 7 feet underground and topped off with coco lumber with camouflage netting over it.

We were to retrieve the mortar and ordnance if we could, but if that were to prove impossible, then our orders were to “blow it in place”, meaning destroy it with explosives. That’s actually more practical and easier to accomplish. The damn thing’s heavy anyway, around 25 kilos. Plus the 30 mortar shells. The only way were going to be able to accomplish that would be to kill everyone at the site. We’ll damned if we’re gonna run through the jungle lugging the thing while being chased by a platoon of angry rebels.

And one thing you gotta understand about Rangers is this: no matter where in the world you go, we all have one glaring common characteristic. We love watching things go boom. So you already know what our preference was going to be right?

This operation was one of the few ones that had almost all of the elements of what we were trained for: reconnaissance, infiltration, sabotage and assault. This was a “direct action” mission. “No prisoners required.” Those were the exact words used during the mission briefing. Regular rules of warfare do not apply. You can pretty much translate that any which way you like.

It was code-named Operation Red Bull. Don’t ask me why, the Intel guys thought that one up. Besides, your operational name, for security’s sake, should never have anything to do with the nature of the op itself. So don’t expect to hear anything like “Operation Retrieve The Goddamn Mortar” or something like that. Operation: Red Bull was just fine.

But the best part was we got issued new toys for this mission. (Insert wicked grin here.)

So now, in place of our old CAR-15s, we were now packing Colt M4 assault rifles. That’s the nice thing about SOCOM (Special Operations Command), when they have an iffy job that needs to get done, you get the right tools. Usually. Fresh out of their gun cases too.

The very first thing we did was disassemble them and rubbed a mix of soil and sand on the external parts. (To get rid of the shine and the brand-spanking-new, gun oil smell.)

I looked over at our machine-gunner, Nilo. Fucker had a big grin on his camo-painted face that you wouldn’t have been able to peel off with a carving knife if you tried. In his hands, he was caressing his brand-new SAW (Squad Automatic Weapon), the replacement for his old M-60. It had a smaller caliber, but sometimes you sacrificed firepower for weight. The lighter you traveled, the stealthier you were and you had more endurance when it came to long marches and then having to get into a fight right away. I gave him a grin, then felt a tap on my shoulder.

 

 

M249 Squad Automatic Weapon System (SAWS)

 

It was the door gunner/crew chief again. He held up two fingers. Two minutes. I passed it on again, and we all started checking our weapons and gear. Weapons were locked and loaded, rucksacks secured. I checked the safety line hitched to my belt. I didn’t wanna fall off right when the pilot did what he was about to do. I could already see the valley we were about to enter. Any moment now…

I look inside myself and see my heart is black
I see my red door and must have it painted black
Maybe then I’ll fade away and not have to face the facts
It’s not easy facin’ up when your whole world is black

No more will my green sea go turn a deeper blue
I could not foresee this thing happening to you

If I look hard enough into the settin’ sun
My love will laugh with me before the mornin’ comes

The maneuver is called NOE, or Nap-of-the-Earth. A very low-level type of flight course used to avoid detection and attack by an enemy when in a high-threat environment. The pilot pulled back on the stick and the Huey went into a gut-wrenching 4 or 5-G dive and came up short of just smacking into the trees. Damn, he was good. It’s sort of like a cross between a roller-coaster and the Indy 500. The Huey was hugging the landscape now, about 15 meters off the ground, going at almost 200 kph. If you ever get to do this in your lifetime, I’ll tell you right now: it’s a helluva ride.

I see a red door and I want it painted black
No colors anymore I want them to turn black
I see the girls go by dressed in their summer clothes
I have to turn my head until my darkness goes

The pilot now went into a series of “decoy” landings. He’d make a sudden dip, then “flare” the chopper almost near the ground. If you were an enemy fighter observing from a few kilometers away, it would look like there was an insertion of troops going on. Then he would go back up and do the same thing again about two kilometers away, flaring, hovering for a few seconds, then pulling back up. He did this about 5 or six times. On one of those decoy landings would be the real one. This time it was going to be on the fourth. This way, the casual observer had no idea which of those “landings” was the actual one.

It would of course, be a real bitch if we happened to find ourselves in a hot LZ (landing zone) crawling with insurgents. But that’s part of the job, so you hoped for the best, and prepared for the worst.

I wanna see it tainted, tainted black
Black as night, black as coal
I wanna see the sun blotted out from the sky
I wanna see it tainted, tainted, tainted, tainted black
Yeah!

We went on our final approach, and as the Huey flared, about 7 or 8 feet off the ground we threw our rucksacks overboard and jumped off the skids. No matter how many times you’ve done it, there’s always that cold-feet feeling right before you jump. Eight feet does look a bit high when you’re standing doing it from a hovering chopper. We were only given seven seconds to disembark. After that the crew chief would start kicking people off. Can’t blame him, his priority was the safety of the crew. Everyone else was just excess cargo. The best way to do it is, once you get that dread feeling, you just close your mind to it and jump without thinking. Better to jump out of your own accord than get kicked off the skids.

1730H

After landing on the ground, as the Huey started moving away, we ran to the nearest treeline and laid down on the ground, on our stomachs. Six of us formed a defensive perimeter around the LT and radioman. We stayed like this for about thirty minutes, just to let the jungle settle back into its routine. When we started hearing birds again, that’s when we slowly got back up and headed for our objective, which was about five klicks (kilometers) away. Sunset was in a few minutes , which was good. Because we owned the night.

Normally, we don’t travel this far at night, especially in enemy-controlled territory because you never know when you might bump into an enemy patrol or walk into an encampment. But any delays gave them more time to move the stolen ordnance, so we were really humping it that night.

0045H

Our trek was uneventful. We finally got to where we needed to be, after a six and a half hour forced march. It was past midnight. I was bushed. Not only that but i think I had some new blisters on my feet and they were fuckin’ killing me. My shoulders were raw from the rucksack straps biting into them. Each of us had at least 40 pounds of gear and weapons. And to think we hadn’t even started yet. We ate some of our rations and prepared for the next phase of the mission.

This spot was to be our “rallying point”. We were to split into two teams and go in two different directions. Once the mission was completed, this was where we would link up again. We were going to leave all our non-essential gear and bring ammo only from this point on.

It was also time for a “re-touch”. The camouflage paint on our faces had mostly been washed off by sweat, so we re-applied using camo sticks we carried in our pockets. Black for the spots that would shine (forehead, chin, cheekbones, jawline), and olive green for the dark areas (under the eyes, hollow of the cheeks, neck, back of the hands).

We split into two teams. Red team (Sarge, Roy, Ellis and me) made our approach from the East, where there was a trail leading from the enemy camp, to the river. Our job was to be a blocking force if anyone tried to make it out of there with them. But if Blue team was forced to engage, we were to move in and provide them with fire support so they could plant the explosives.

The other half, Blue team (Our lieutenant, Nilo, Randy and Alex) would be coming from the North, where they would be nearer to the side where the bunker was. They were going to infiltrate the camp and Randy, being our explosives expert, would plant the charge and blow that bunker to kingdom come. So, they were the bunker-busters.

The rebels had picked the spot for their camp well. It was double canopy here, even triple in some areas. It can’t be spotted from the air.

As our team made our way slowly to our designated sector, we came upon a clearing that was about 10 meters across, and a hundred meters from the edge of the treeline, where we were planning to post ourselves so we’d get a good view of the trail leading to the river and the encampment itself.

And right in the middle of it was a tent. Rather, a military poncho converted into a tent. Probably an FOP (Forward Observation Post). A sentry. But where was he?

Sarge tapped me on the arm and signaled me to move in closer and check it out. I got up slowly and made my approach from the back, taking each step very carefully. Now was not a good time to step on a dry twig.

Just as I reached the rear, I heard movement coming from inside. I froze in place. Some guy came out, walked about ten feet in front of the tent, unzipped his fly and proceeded to take a piss. Damn it. What do I do now? Kill him? Shit, I did not relish the prospect of killing someone with a knife or my bare hands. I’ll prefer to blow off any tango’s head any day.

Slowly, I reached for the combat knife that I had strapped to my vest. As I was starting to slide it out of its sheath, my earpiece came alive. Three rapid clicks. Must be Sarge. That was the stand-down signal. It meant for me to stop whatever I was about to do. You won’t believe the great relief I felt. So I just stayed right behind that tent until I heard the sentry re-enter it. Then I slowly made my way back to our position.

0125H

It was almost 1:30 a.m. Sarge told us we would take the sentry out right before the attack started at around 4:30 a.m. That’s why why he decided not to let me kill the guard. He most likely would have a radio in the tent, and had instructions to check in every one or two hours. If I had killed him, they might wonder what had happened to him and send a patrol out to investigate. So, he would live for another two and a half hours.

We spent those hours just lying there in the brush. No talking. No noise. Even the radio was silent. The only time that radio silence would be broken was if anyone got into any kind of trouble. All our watches were synchronized on the dot.

So at exactly 4:30 a.m., we would make our move. We would attack at dawn.

0400H

Ellis tapped me lightly on the shoulder. I looked at him and he gave a slight nod in the direction of the FOP. The sentry had come out once more and was hunched over something on front of the tent. It was time. Slowly we got up. Ellis made his approach from the right, and I made mine from the left. Looking around the tent, I saw that what he was hunched over was a cooking fire he was trying to set. I heard him flick the match and I averted my eyes so I wouldn’t ruin my night vision, but he would ruin his. There was a pot next to him. Coffee. He placed it over the fire on some rocks he’d made into an improvised oven. Peeking over his backpocket was the antennae of a hand-held radio transciever. Good thing I didn’t kill him earlier, then.

As he started to come up to stretch, Ellis seemed to come out of nowhere. He was fast, I didn’t even see him make his move. He was right behind the guard and grabbed him from behind in what’s known to WWE and MMA fans all over the world as a “sleeper hold”. All the guy managed was a muffled grunt as Ellis clamped his left arm over his neck and applied pressure on the carotid arteries on the sides. You can’t scream when you’re in this hold. This kind of hold, when done right, renders you unconscious in under 8 seconds. Ellis pulled him to the ground and wrapped his legs around his victim’s thighs to keep him from thrashing about and making noise.

I moved to the front of the tent, now covering the entrance with my rifle because I really had this feeling there was someone else in there. I made the mistake of looking over my shoulder to check on Ellis’ progress with the tango when I heard the unmistakeable rustling of fabric.

Someone was stepping out of the tent.

Adrenaline surged into my veins and blood rushed to my head in that moment of panic. By the time I snapped my head back, it was too late.

What happened next is that moment when time seems to slow down. Your adrenaline heightens your awareness of things, that’s why you get that slow-motion feeling when things are actually happening real fast.

For from the tent came out another guard. I was tempted to shoot, changed my mind, and decided to rush him. I went for my knife, moved two steps forward, until I realized… it was a woman. Fuck me. A goddamn civilian, I thought at first. And the striking thing about her was that she was pretty, in that country girl kind of way. I could see her face clearly in the glow of the fire. Young too, maybe in her early 20’s. Until I saw that she was wearing combat webbing. You know, those military-issue canvass suspenders with magazine pouches at the waist. And she had a friggin’ Israeli-made Uzi submachinegun slung over her shoulder.

That changed the rules.

I was committed now, no turning back. She started to walk backwards, away from me, trying to un-sling the Uzi as I advanced towards her with my knife. If she screams, it’s game over.

 

 

Israeli-made Uzi submachine gun

 

Then from behind her loomed our sergeant. She was small, maybe 5’3″. And he was about 5’10”. He looped his left forearm over her throat, with his hand gripping her right shoulder. His right hand clamped over her mouth as he gripped her jaw. I knew this move only too well. It was not going to be a sleeper hold.

Her eyes bulged as he used all his strength to heave her her upwards. Now, he’s a big guy, and weighed about 150 pounds. She couldn’t have been more than 110. The camp fire’s glow just made the sight more ominous. I didn’t want to see it, so I looked down and focused on her feet instead. She was bare-footed. Her feet quivered as Sarge applied terminal force. I heard the soft crunch of vertebrae. It’s not a loud, dry-twig snap like you would expect. It’s more like when you put a brittle potato chip in your mouth and bite down on it slowly. But that doesn’t make it any less sickening.

Her face is one of many that have never left my memory. If only she wasn’t wearing the webbing and didn’t have a weapon. We would have just tied her up and gagged her. That was all that decided her fate.

What a fucking waste.

I turned my attention back to Ellis. He had paused for a moment, mesmerized probably by the sight of our sergeant killing the pretty girl. When Sarge started laying her gently down on the ground, he went back to the business at hand. The guard was unconscious, but still alive. Ellis drew his combat knife and slashed the carotid arteries on both sides of his neck. This would bleed him out, but he wouldn’t feel a thing. A merciful death. I think he was luckier than the girl. As I watched him bleed out, I reflected on the fact that in civilian life, Ellis had been a butcher. He always said killing people was like killing pigs, only pigs were noisier. So killing people was easier, he said. Good for him.

0405H

All this took place in a span of only 2 or 3 minutes. We killed the fire with the water from the pot, then proceeded to our observation point. We reached the edge of the treeline and laid down, waiting for the minutes till the start of the mission itself. T-minus 25 minutes.

0430

Our radios crackled as our lieutenant came on the air. “Viking 6-Alpha, Viking 6.” Viking 6-Alpha was our sergeant.

“Viking 6, go ahead. Viking 6-Alpha.”

“We’re moving. Stand by.”

“Copy.”

So, we waited. By now, Blue team would be moving in on the bunker. The minutes ticked by. It’s frustrating waiting like this, but like I said, no one was going to break radio silence unless it was ABSOLUTELY necessary.

0435H

Five minutes is a short period of time. But when you’re waiting for something, or someone, it can drive you nuts. I know that’s how I felt as I lay there in the underbrush. Sheer fucking frustration. Plus, it was so damn cold out here that my hands were getting clammy.

I turned to Roy to ask or tell him something, when the still morning air was shattered by a single gunshot. A pistol. In this terrain where you’ve got hills around you a pistol shot might as well be  grenade blast. It was instantly followed by a burst of automatic rifle fire which was even louder. Then before we knew it, it was like fuckin’ New Year’s Eve as more and more weapons were added to the din.

Our radios came alive with our LT’s voice.

“Red Fang! Red Fang! Red Fang!”

Red Fang is the code we used for “mission has been compromised.” Like we needed to be told, right? Now the whole goddamn valley knew we were there. If we were to succeed, the only way to do it was to be more aggressive than the enemy. Either kill them all, or make the prospect of fighting us a very distasteful option. We’ve lost the advantage of maximum surprise somewhat, which left us with the other two components for a successful mission: maximum speed. And maximum violence.

“Sonofabitch.”, cursed Sarge. “Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go!”

We all got up real quick and started crossing the trail that was in front of us towards the direction of the encampment. It was less than 50 meters away. Ellis was on point, followed by me, then Sarge with Roy taking up the Tail-End Charlie position at our rear.

We moved fast but did our best to maintain stealth as much as possible, crossing over to the other side of the trail and into another thicket of waist-high grass and bushes. I could see the enemy barracks now. It was to our left, with the mess hall on the right. Those two structures might give us good cover and possibly a good vantage point so we could assess the situation a bit more.

There was still some firing going on, mostly to our left, where Blue team was supposed to be. And from the front of the two enemy buildings. When the shooting started, the sleeping rebels in the barracks must have just started pouring out of it then began pumping lead at our guys over at the bunker.

We finally got to the back of the barracks. Sarge told us to split up, so I joined Roy over to the right rear corner while he and Ellis went to the left rear corner.

Roy poked his head around the corner then pulled back in. He turned to me and whispered, “I can see three of them, firing towards the left. One of them’s got a machinegun. Let’s cross to the back of the mess hall.” I answered with a nod. There was an open space of about 20 feet in between the two structures, and Roy went first, moving fast but not too fast. When he got to the other side, he stayed at the corner pointing his rifle in the direction of the threat so he could cover me as I made my crossing.

I started crossing once I saw he was in position, with my rifle up and pointing in the same direction. The shootout between Blue team and the rebels was still going on in earnest. I saw the three guys Roy was talking about. The one with the M-60 machine gun was crouched behind a sandbag emplacement. I could see the long muzzle flash spitting from the barrel as he fired on our guys. The other two were standing up behind him, firing over his head.

I was almost two-thirds of the way over when one of them, while changing the magazine on his weapon, inadvertently looked over at me. Now, the camp was lit mostly with torches and gasoline lamps. I was standing in the unlit area between the mess hall and barracks, and dressed in all-black fatigues. To him, I was a shadow. But something caught his attention. Peripheral vision, after all picks up movement better than direct vision. I froze. He squinted. I took a deep breath. He squinted even more, trying to pick me out in the darkness, all the while still putting the magazine into his weapon. It was an almost comical game, and I would laugh about it now. But back then it was deadly serious business.

Then he came to the realization that what he was looking at was not one of his guys, but an enemy. I could see it when his eyes bulged and his mouth opened as he was about to yell a warning.

I shot him in the face. Just one shot. He fell back, and the other guy with an M-16 turned as he saw his buddy fall. Just as he looked up in our direction Roy took him out with a headshot. Now the machinegunner noticed there was trouble from his left and he suddenly turned and pulled the trigger.

 

 

M60 machine gun Caliber 7.62 mm

 

I fired once and missed. It was followed by the loud pop-pop-pop from the M60 machine-gun as he tried to get a bead on me, and before I could shoot again I saw the winks of light heading for me as he fired. Tracer rounds. These are used so the gunner knows where his bullets are going. Every tracer round you see will have ten other non-tracer bullets behind it. I saw three pass to my left. He was firing blindly. Roy and I fired almost at the same time. The gunner was kicked back by the impacts and the gun was silenced.

Three down.

We started moving towards the front. I was against the barracks wall and Roy on the mess hall side, on my right. As I reached my corner, I poked my head around it. I saw a small sandbag position on the opposite corner. There was one man in it with his back to me, firing in the opposite direction at the bunker. There was another guy beside him who seemed to be dead with a lot of blood on his shirt front.

To the right of that was another sandbag wall maybe 3 feet high and almost 20 feet long. Behind it were about nine rebels with their weapons over the top of it, firing. on the ground I saw three other rebels. Two looked dead while another was writhing on the ground, screaming his head off clutching his stomach. Gut shot. That’s the most painful of all wounds.

I did some quick math. 3 guys Roy and I killed, 4 dead and wounded here, the 2 we took out at the FOP, plus the 10 who were firing at Blue team right now. nineteen so far. There might still be more. My radio suddenly came to life.

“Viking 6, Viking 1! Viking 5 is down! He’s hit!”

The original Viking 1 was Nilo, our machine gunner. The plan called for Nilo and Alex (Viking 5, designated medic) to stay back and provide cover for our lieutenant and Randy (Viking 2, demolitions), as they approached the bunker and plant a satchel charge.

Later on we learned that the LT and Randy had managed to get to the bunker undetected, but had surprised a guard who was inside and had just woken up. That was when the shit hit the fan.

Our lieutenant replied immediately, “Viking 1, what’s his status?”

There was no immediate response. And mind you, everyone was still shooting at at this point, except for Roy and me, and the atmosphere was very chaotic. Along with the firing was the screaming of wounded and dying men and yelling from men responding to others who were yelling at them also above the sound of gunfire.

That was all it took for Roy and me. We were going to have to take on these ten tangos. We both took out grenades and pulled the pins.

Then I heard our sergeant’s voice. “Watch out, I’m throwing a grenade!”

Roy and I released the safety spoons on our grenades, counted to two, then heaved them at the rebels bunched up at the sandbag barrier. We took cover behind the barracks wall. The mini-bombs went boom-boom-boom one after the other and you could feel the ground shake after each one.

Roy and I broke cover and slowly approached the enemy position with him on my left. There was thick smoke in front of us and the very string sulfur-like stench of cordite. Just then, the LT’s voice broke over the net.

“Viking 1, what’s Viking 5’s status?” Still no reply.

A lot of things go through your head in combat. Strangely, as we walked into that smoke, I remembered playing Dungeons & Dragons as a kid and how the smell of sulfur was associated with the presence of the Devil. Well, the Devil definitely came to this valley in the wee hours of the morning on December 13, 1993.

As the smoke cleared, I started seeing bodies. And again that awful smell of freshly spilled blood, exposed intestines and loosened bowels. The signature of sudden, violent death.

Then Nilo’s voice came over the frequency. He sounded different, as he said in an emotionless tone:

“Viking 6, Viking 1. Viking 5 is gone. Alex is dead.”

Alex was Nilo’s buddy during Ranger training. Just like Roy and I were buddies. You get paired up, you see. So losing your buddy is practically the same as losing your twin brother.

I felt my heart stop. It’s always the first sign of denial when you’ve just been told that someone close to you is dead. More specifically, when they’ve been killed. You can’t believe it… then it’s followed by a cold, white rage.

The first live one I saw was lying against the now ripped-up sandbags. His face was a mess of blood and ruptured flesh. He must’ve been real close to one of the blasts. Both legs were gone below the knee. I aimed at his head from 5 feet away and fired. The lieutenant’s voice came over the radio again.

“We’re planting the charges. Kill them all.”

Shit.

Suddenly, Roy yelled.

“DOWN!”

It’s all about trust. When your buddy says “Down!” you do it without question. A civilian would have frozen, or remained standing, lookin’ around like an idiot till he got popped in the head. So I dropped and ate dirt. Roy fired a burst right over my head. It was so close I felt the muzzle blast since he was only 5 feet away from me. I looked up just in time to see a bad guy drop to my right. He had been on my blind side, so I didn’t catch him in my peripheral vision.

As I was standing up, another one popped up right in front of me on the opposite side of the sandbag barricade. I almost jumped. His face was right in front of me, so I swung my rifle laterally and smashed the butt right into his jaw. Roy came over and fired right into the top of his head, splitting it open like a melon. We found ourselves surrounded by the dead.

Someone fired a burst. When we turned, we saw Sarge finishing someone off as well. Then we saw LT and Randy come out of the bunker. The charges were set. As they were coming out, they came across another live one, trying to crawl away. Randy turned to the lieutenant with an inquisitive look. He was also a trained medic, like Alex. LT ignored him. He walked over to the man, raised his Steyr AUG assault rifle and fired two shots into his back. He did say “Kill them all.” and meant it.

 

 

Austrian-made Steyr AUG A1 5.56mm assault rifle

 

“HEY!!!”

It was Roy. I turned to see three men, two who had rifles, exiting from the mess hall. Shit, we forgot to clear it before we attacked. Goddamn it, they could’ve shot us in the back. They must’ve decided to stay in there, cowering like the cowards they were while their buddies were being slaughtered. That made me even angrier.

I’d rather die with my friends than leave them to be killed.

Roy and I gave chase. They ran into the trail that we were supposed to have watched over earlier, which led to the river. When we made the turn, we could see them right at the bank, and they starting to wade across. Damn those fuckers were fast. One of them saw us and fired a wild burst in our direction. We knew he wouldn’t hit us.

Shit. We didn’t even bother ducking. We just stood there watching them as they got halfway across, wading like ducks.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Why weren’t we shooting them or going after them?

That’s because, dear reader, we know something that you don’t.

I mentioned at the very beginning that this was a Direct Action mission. Which is always handled by the Special Operations Command. That includes Scout Rangers, Special Forces (Green Berets), Force Recon Marines, and the like.

 

 

SWAG (Special Warfare Group) Philippine Navy SEALs

 

And here we had a river. Any operation that takes place near bodies of water are called “riverine operations”. And riverine operations fall under the jurisdiction of one particular unit. They’re called SWAG (Special Warfare Group). Our version of the U.S. Navy SEALs. We conducted operations with them lots of times. On this op, they were our back-up. They were listening in on all our transmissions the whole time, but were to strictly keep out of it unless someone got past us, or if we all got killed. This was after all, an Army picnic, and they were just guests.

If there was a body of water involved, or anything near one, they were in it.

The sun was rising, giving the sky that red-purplish hue.

All three of them finally got across. They headed for the treeline, towards relative safety. One of them even turned back to look at us.

We just stood there with our rifles slung across our chests. He had that bewildered look on his face.

That was the last look on his face.

The treeline in front of them suddenly exploded in a violent maelstrom of angry red-yellow muzzle-flashes which lasted no more than three seconds, and the three of them lay on the shore, dead.

The team leader of these SEALs was a friend of ours. Master Chief Roberto Dano.

I pressed my radio mike button and said into my mike, “Mako 6-Alpha, Viking 7.”

“Viking 7, Mako 6-Alpha. That was it?! You brought us all the way here for small fry? How disappointing.”

“Sorry Master Chief. That’s the way it goes. Good to have you with us though. Thanks.”

“Ten-four, Viking 7. Any time. I just thought there’d be more, that’s all. My boys have been chomping at the bit ever since all the racket started. Mako-6 Alpha on standy.”

Roy and I headed back to the camp, where we wanted to watch the fireworks. The only damper on this whole thing was the loss of Alex. We all accepted the risks, and that’s how the dice rolled.

From that day on every December 12th I would greet my mom a Happy Birthday, and on the next day the 13th, I would make sure I would drink in memory of Pvt. Alexander Racho, 10th Light Reaction (Recon) Company.

Welcome to the world of Special Operations. Mission complete.

Viking One out.