Archive for July, 2010

Old Battlegrounds Revisited

Posted: July 31, 2010 in Uncategorized

07282010
0300H

Just came back from a week-long vacation, and I had the chance to visit some very memorable places and people from my past.

I had set aside one day for a trip to the southernmost tip of Davao, and the first place I went to was the one where I experienced one of the most up-close-and personal firefights I had ever been in. If you’ve been following my blog and have read my entry “F.U.B.A.R.”, that’s the one.

It is now an Army-controlled area, with helicopter gunships patrolling the area regularly. Which means Echo-1 and I would have no problem explaining the two assault rifles, Benelli shotgun and three semi-automatic pistols in the back of our SUV. (Insert evil laugh here.)

Check out the picture above. That spot where I’m squatting is the exact place where I had lain down in a prone position when we were attacked by members of a local cult, fifteen years ago.  Summer of ’95. It was four Scout Rangers and one police officer against twenty-seven screaming cultists. A ratio of 5 to 1.

The path behind me is the direction they were attacking from. To my right (almost out of the picture) is a tree stump where the cop Shahid, a Muslim, was positioned when he killed one of the attackers who was almost on top of me with a scythe. This was the place where he saved my life.

Out of the 27 attackers, we left 16 bodies in the dust. 7 wounded and 9 killed, of which 4 were mine. The area is now a banana plantation.

The man beside me in this picture is no other than former Police Officer 1st Class (PO1) Shahid Nasser ibn Ibrahim (pronounced “ibin”, ibn Ibrahim means “son of Abraham” in Arabic.), the guy who saved my ass fifteen years ago. And the Vietnamese-looking dude next to him is no other than… some Vietnamese guy. I don’t know who he is, hehehe.

When I told him the reason why I had come back, he volunteered to join me, but I refused because he had a bad leg. A gift from his former comrade-in-arms in the MILF when they ambushed a convoy he was in back in 2001.

The picture is deceptive. The ground I’m standing on is a hill and at an elevation of about  150-200 meters. That field down below is actually about 400-450 meters away.

The grassy area in the foreground is where Roy and I had positioned ourselves during the encounter in my blog entry “Sniper on the Hill (Alpha)”, the one about my first sniper shot.  That was seventeen years ago. This place is now a coffee plantation.

I couldn’t move closer to the edge to get a better picture because the residents said the ground was unstable and that people have been wounded and even killed when the ground gave way, hurtling them to their deaths.

Back in ’93, this area was swarming with MILF and BIAF insurgents. They had come from the jungle in the background of this picture. A whole battalion of almost 500 fighters. I’m facing North when I took this pic. The enemy battalion had split up, one half heading East, and the other South – straight for us.

We were a combined force of Scout Rangers, Special Forces, Force Recon Marines, and regular Army troops. We numbered about 80. This was the place where we held them back for a day.

See that hut near the middle of the picture? To the front of it is that tall papaya tree. To the left, about five meters, is a small clearing. That’s where the female fighter I shot fell. This area has more vegetation now.

You’ll notice that to the left of the hut is a hill. At the very top of that hill was where I had shot one of the insurgents’ commanders and blew his head off.

By the time we had to fall back to avoid being overrun, we left this field littered with around 30 dead and over 40 wounded.

"my safehouse is your safehouse." *cough*

07262010
1720H (5:20pm)

My phone rang. It was Echo-1.

“Boss, good news. We’ve got two in custody. We spotted them leaving town. We waited till we were on the highway, they were on a motorcycle. Had to ram them.” Whoa. Best news I’ve had in the past 2 days.

“Really? Which ones? What’s their status??

“Your old buddy Willy. And Nelson. Banged up, but alive.” (Nelson is the guy who owned the gun that was used in my son’s shooting. He was our aborted “mission” 2 days ago.)

Damn. I had already decided not to touch Willy. But the problem was, I forgot to communicate this fact to the team. Shit! Naturally, they still considered him a valid target. Now what? Goddamn it. A small detail overlooked, and this is what happens. He’s seen their faces. I felt a sudden throbbing in my temples.

“Alright, come pick me up.” After ending the call, I looked down at the marble slab at my feet. A headstone.

Jack Ryan
March 5,2000 – May 6, 2010
Beloved Son
And An Angel With The Lord

I knelt before it, brushing aside some leaves. The whole time I was here, this was the first time I came to visit. It took me that long to have the guts to come here. Six fuckin’ days. I was leaving on the first morning flight tomorrow. There were no other people around in my immediate vicinity,and nearest ones were about a hundred meters away. The silence was eerie. I was surrounded by the dead.

I can’t even begin to tell you what it felt like. There was mostly anger and sadness. The specifics of what I said at his grave, I’ll just keep to myself. But it was mostly asking forgiveness for my stupidity, which was what brought him back here in the first place. Had I been more focused back then, this would not have happened.

And now, after having made my peace, like all missions in the past I had to set aside all emotions and focus on the task at hand.

I can’t make it right, but I can make sure it never happens again. At least, not from these assholes.

Echo-1 arrived at around quarter past 6. He briefed me on the events leading to the capture. He had dropped me off here at the cemetery earlier and went to check on Echo-2 and 3’s progress on the hunt for Nelson. When he got there, that’s when they chanced upon Nelson and Willy riding a motorbike out of town. Echo-2 and 3 did the intercept in a separate car, with Echo-1 as backup in his vehicle.

They did it with a technique we call a “snap-back”. It’s like using your car as a whip. You move to the rear of the bike, then make a sudden turn just enough that the front bumper hits the rear wheel, then snap the steering wheel back. It’s guaranteed to send it flying and/or cartwheeling, which was exactly what happened. Injured, the two men were defenseless as they were Flexi-cuffed and thrown into the trunk of Echo-2’s car.

“Which Checkpoint?” I asked Echo-1. We had four pre-selected “dump sites” where we planned to dispose of any bodies. We designated them simply as Checkpoints Alpha, Bravo, Charlie and Delta. The sea (which we already used) was Alpha.

“Charlie.” He said. It’s a clearing in a heavily wooded area. The rest of the trip from that point was made in silence, as I took a quick nap. It took us about thirty or forty minutes to get there. By then it was already dark. We chose this one for the isolation. Nearest house was about a kilometer or more away, and there was a path big enough for a vehicle that led right through the woods.

We saw Echo-2, with his back to us. His car was also in the clearing. Echo-1 and I got out and came closer. I was wondering why he never even turned around to check on who was approaching.

.38 Super Semi-Automatic, without the extended barrel and suppressor attached...

Before we got out, Echo-1  handed me a pistol. A Colt Super .38 caliber semi-automatic, equipped with a 4-inch suppressor (silencer).

“No need to alarm the neighbors, boss.” he said.

As we got to Echo-2, we saw that he was watching our two captives digging. Both men were shackled at the ankles using dog chains and padlocks. An emergency lamp illuminated the area. I noticed Echo-3 was absent.

“Where’s Echo-3?” I asked him.

“He’s my security, boss. So he’s right where he’s supposed to be. Behind you.” I jerked my head around, and sure enough, he emerged from behind a big tree. He was wearing all-black. Face painted in camouflage, he had an M4 assault rifle slung across his chest.

Echo-3's M4 assault rifle with tactical sight

“Nice. And what about their bike? What did you do with it?”

“Rolled it in a ditch. It’ll be while before anyone finds it.” Echo-2 said.

“Good.” I then went around him. The men’s backs were to me, so I went around them too, then squatted in front of them. I recognized Nelson from the other day’s surveillance. When I looked over at Willy, he looked like he’d seen a ghost. His face was covered in cuts and bruises from the spill he’d taken on the motorbike. Some parts of his jeans were ripped up too, and I noticed he had only one shoe on.

“Hello, Willy. Long time, no see.” I said. He didn’t respond. Instead, he put his head down, and continued digging. He knew what what this was about.

He knew he was digging his grave.

And since he was shackled, with nowhere to run, and men with automatic weapons guarding him, what else could he do? He was fucked and he knew it.

Nelson, however, was a different story. When Willy didn’t answer me, Nelson started talking. And from then on, just couldn’t keep his mouth shut. Behind him, I saw Echo-1 was about to deliver a strike with his rifle-butt, but I signaled him with my eyes to hold it.

Nelson was in the “bargaining” stage, as I call it. It’s like a job interview, where you try to justify WHY you’re the man for the job. Only here, he was bargaining for his life. Not that I was listening. I had tuned him out. It was all just white noise.

I was more interested in what my old buddy Willy had to say. But he wasn’t talking. It seemed to me that he was already in the “acceptance” stage. The moment he saw me, he knew there was no way out for him. We’d known each other since the time I was still a Ranger. I knew his parents, and they knew me. He knew he deserved it. Instead, he just kept digging, head down, avoiding eye contact.

The other guy, Nelson, just couldn’t keep his mouth shut, though. When Echo-1 said, “Okay, stop digging.”, it got even worse. Like as if his life depended on him to just keep on yakking. It’s pathetic, seeing someone reduced to that level. I would have felt sorry for him, except he said something really stupid.

I’m not sure about the rest of his words, but the one phrase that penetrated my consciousness was “We were just drunk.” Motherfucker. Well, I guess that makes it okay to kill kids, then. It’s all just one big misunderstanding, and we can all just pack up and go home, and forget about it.

Later, Echo-1 would tell me that he saw my gun-hand quivering. I don’t recall noticing it. I just wanted to shoot Nelson right then and there. I was looking at the two of them, but I wasn’t seeing them anymore.

When you know what I knew about these two, personal things about them like how many kids they have and what not, it’s not easy. At least in a battle you don’t need to think about such things because usually, there’s no time. But when you’ve been watching them for days, waiting for the right moment to get them, you inadvertently involve yourself in their personal lives. That can kill your resolve. Willy had three kids. Nelson had one. (It was verified during the past two days. The kid we saw in his house was his, out of wedlock.) I was about to make orphans of four little kids. Ain’t that a bitch? That’s the kind of power you have when you kill. The power to destroy lives.

One of the things I’ve also learned in the past two days is that Willy was heavily in debt. Guy’s a regular at the cockpits. Even back in the day, he’d bring me along, though I didn’t gamble. Yeah, we had history alright. Too fuckin’ bad. I had already come to a decision.

The two of them were still standing in the hole they had dug. I grabbed Willy by the arm and turned him around, facing Nelson. I pulled the slide back on the Super .38 to load a round in the chamber, then let it go. In the quiet clearing, the mechanical snap it made was so loud it made both of them jump.

“On your knees.” I told him. His knees started shaking real bad. Nelson started sobbing like a faggot. Willy wasn’t moving fast enough. I put the weapon on safe, flipped it in the air and caught it by the barrel. Then I used it like a hammer and clubbed him on the side of the head, right above the left ear. That brought him to his knees. The steel butt or the magazine opened a cut on his skin and he started bleeding. At this point, he too started crying.

“Now would be a good time to start praying.”

In my experience, when people are confronted by their own mortality or the prospect of imminent death, there are three prayers they commonly use. The first is The Lord’s Prayer. The second is the Hail Mary. And the third is the favorite amongst soldiers, Psalm 23:4 (Yea, though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death…)

Willy chose the The Lord’s Prayer. Every once in a while, he’d stop as if he’d forgotten the words. Actually, he was just trying to delay the inevitable. Almost everyone does that. It’s a normal reaction, I guess. After all, most people aren’t in a hurry to die. I would encourage him by pressing the pistol’s suppressor against the back of his neck. When he was done, I looked at Nelson.

“Hey, Nelson. We’ll let you go, later. It’s Willy that I wanted all along. Old score I need to settle. Turn around, though. You don’t need to see this.”

You should have been there and seen the look on his face. Like he’d won the lottery, but was trying not to show it because he was afraid I might change my mind. But I wasn’t. I’m single-minded when it comes to this shit, remember?

So, Nelson turned. I placed the suppressor against the back of Willy’s head and cocked the hammer. His body tensed when he heard the click.

Then I took a step back, and squeezed off two rapid shots. Into Nelson’s back. He dropped to the bottom of the hole. Echo-2, who was crouched about a foot away from him, didn’t even flinch. Instead, he moved the emergency lamp nearer so we could see Nelson. Then he reached down, grabbed Nelson by the collar of his shirt, and turned him over.

His eyes were half-closed. But he was still alive, and making a sort of moaning sound. Seconds later his body suddenly jerked upwards, and he started coughing up blood. I hit him right where I wanted: right lung. I forced Willy to watch his friend dying a slow, agonizing death.

“Take a good look, Willy. That could have been you.” I said to him.

“Why don’t you give him  your signature shot, boss?” Echo-1 suddenly said from behind me.

“Now, you get to watch his face explode. Don’t close your eyes or I’ll kill you.” I told Willy. I fired two more shots into Nelson’s face and he got to see just that.

Echo-1 had loaded the bullets in the magazine in an alternating pattern, same way I used to do it: HP’S or hollow-points, and soft-tipped rounds. The HP’s are for destroying flesh and bone. The soft-tipped rounds are for “follow-through” shots, to exploit the damage made by the HP’s. So the results are let’s just say, particularly gruesome. It was bad enough to make Willy scream his head off. Me? It’s nothing new. I’ve seen shit like this over and over again in my nightmares. Not to mention seen it happen to my friends back in the bad old days.

Echo-2 and I dragged him out of the hole, and I handed him a shovel.

“Bury your friend.” I said to him. “By the way, if you talk, you understand what I’m gonna have to do, right?” To which he answered with a somber nod. He’s just glad to be alive. Would you talk if you were given a second chance?

When he was done, the first thing he did was ask me why.

“Someone had to die. You owe your life to your kids, you sonofabitch. I had a choice between making one orphan, or four. So I chose to kill only him.” was my answer.

I just picked the lesser of two evils. As for my friendship with Willy, that was over. As far as I’m concerned, he’s already dead. Which is probably worse than being actually dead.

You see, when I consider you dead, I won’t even give a shit if you walked in front of a speeding bus. I’ll feel about as bad as stepping on a cockroach.

At least when I shoot someone, there’s a chance I might feel bad about it.

From now on, he’ll spend everyday wondering what would happen if I ever changed my mind about letting him live. Every time he sees a shadow, or walk on a dark street or in an alley, he’ll be looking over his shoulder and jumping at every sound. Till the day he dies. That was his punishment.

We made one final sweep of the area to make sure we left nothing behind and camouflaged the grave as best we could. I wasn’t worried about Willy leading anyone back here. He didn’t know where it was, since he was brought here in the trunk of Echo-2’s car. Our plates were bogus (Sorry, there’s no MMDA or traffic cops in this part of the world). And the cops here? They’re a fuckin’ joke. Like Hannibal in A-Team used to say: “I love it when a plan comes together.”

Echo-1 approached me and handed something over. ” ‘Thank you for visiting Davao City. Please come again.’ Here’s your souvenir.” And he dropped the four empty .38 shell casings I had expended into the palm of my hand.

“Hey, chief.” It was Echo-3. “Our boss sends his regards.” He held up his cellphone. On the screen was a text message. Three words in Latin.

“Vitrus et Honor” Strength and Honor. I gave him a thumbs-up and told him to reply in kind.

“Sir,” Echo-2. “It’s been a pleasure working with you. We should do this again. You’re old school, but you’re alright.” He said with a grin.

“Fuck you, very much Echo-2, every day and even on Sundays.” I replied. It’s all just good-natured ribbing between soldiers after a kill. A civilian probably would not understand.

I told Echo-2 and 3 to drop Willy off about 3 kliks (kms.) away from the town. Let the fucker walk. That’s the least of his worries.

As we headed back towards the city, Echo-1 asked “You wanna get something to eat? I know this great place by the sea, just outside the City. And they have ice-cold beer too.”

Beer. It’s been eight days since I last had a drop. “Sure. By the way. Something I want to ask you.”

“What’s that?”

“You mentioned my ‘signature shot’. I never mentioned anything like that to you, and I never taught it to you in the past. Where’d that come from?”

“Well, you know. Just some story I heard.” he answered, looking at me with a sidewards glance. Fucker.

“Right. Put some music on. I hooked up the iPod.” we had similar taste in music.

So it was no wonder when he picked Drowning Pool and turned the volume up as we headed south.

“Let the bodies hit the floor… Let the bodies hit the floor… Let the bodies hit the floor…”

A Viking’s Vengeance

Posted: July 20, 2010 in Uncategorized

Let this serve as my confession if I am killed. Capture is not an option. It’s gonna end one of three ways: Him dead. Me dead. Both of us dead. I prefer option 1 or 3. Some say I’m nuts for doing this. “It won’t bring him back”, they say. Oh, I know that.

But this is more than just about that.

I’m not going to stand by and watch some other father or mother bury their kid because no one did anything about this guy. So why am I doing it?

BECAUSE I CAN.

This goes beyond what I want. Beyond what I think is the right thing to do. And beyond having no other choice. I’m not justifying what I’m about to do. There’s no justification for it.  A wrong act does not correct another.

But I do know this: You do not fuck with la mia famiglia. My family. You will reap the whirlwind.

I didn’t acquire all my skills through all these years just so I can sit on my thumbs when a truly righteous reason for using those skills in expediting another human being’s demise comes along. If there was ever a noble mission, this is it. Hands down.

Aside from my “primary” target, there are four others I’m going after if I have enough time. But I’ve already scratched one off this list. Nope, he still breathes. And for a very good reason.

07192010
1900H-2345H

I touched down at my destination yesterday afternoon, and I made it my business to do a little recon right away. Which lasted well into the night. Paid a visit to an old neighborhood I knew well. A neighborhood where a man I thought was my friend lived.

I sat for four hours in the dark on a hillside overlooking his house. I wasn’t alone. I had someone I’ll call Echo-1 with me. He’s someone I worked with before. Long story. You didn’t really think I was going to do this solo like Rambo or some shit like that, did you? I leave that kind of  Lone Hero bullshit where it belongs: the movies. Sorry. There’s two more, who we shall call Echo-2 and Echo-3. Younger guys. Let’s just say they’re “on lease” from a friend.

This guy I waited for is not my kid’s shooter. But he was involved. In a bad way. I’ll call him “Willy”. Willy betrayed my friendship. He knew it was my kid. But he came up with the idea to “settle” the issue with money. “Blood money” is what it’s called around here. And from what I’ve learned, he had his cut for helping arrange it. The son of a bitch.

I watched as he came home, greeted by the wife and one of his daughters. He has two, plus a son, the youngest. From all appearances, a happy family. So I told myself, I can’t possibly destroy this. Not after seeing his daughter look at him. The way an adoring child looks at her father. I can let this one pass.

Today, I rest.

Tomorrow, the ball starts rolling. Last night, I might have been just sentimental. We’ll see if I still feel the same way. If not… then he’d better have a real God and he had better be a true believer.

And so it begins.

This will be edited in the coming days, as events progress.

Viking One, out…

===================

07212010
2015H (that’s 15 minutes past 8pm, if you don’t get it)

I can’t believe how fuckin’ easy that was. And there was a chance it wasn’t even gonna happen. It was taking too long. He should’ve been here an hour ago.  I was in an SUV with Echo-1. Echo-2 and 3 were in position about 50 meters ahead of us. Echo-2 in an alley, Echo-3 in a small vacant lot across the street. We had the subject’s house in between us.

The plan was KISS (Keep It Simple, Shithead). Once he passed our vehicle, Echos 2 and 3 would intercept, as Echo-1 drove the SUV, tailing the target. Once they had him, all they had to do was push him into the car. A simple “snatch-and-grab” job.

I got a text from a female friend of mine back in Manila at about 2012H (You know who you are. *wink wink*) She texted something funny that made me laugh. Echo-1 gave me a look.

“Are you okay, boss?” He asked me.

“Huh? Yeah. It’s this friend of mine texting me something about some guy, and…” And at that moment, I just happened to glance up at the rear-view mirror and who do I see? The motherfucker himself. He was walking and was actually about to pass our car. One more second and he would have gone right past, and we might have lost our chance. Dumb-fuckin’ luck. It’s always those little details. (Thank you for texting me, friend, hehehe.)

“Shit, it’s him!” I swore. Then I hit my mike button. “Echo-2 and 3, target in sight. Move in.” Just in time.

“Copy.” Echo-2 replied, and at the same time I saw him walk out the alley next to our subject’s house, intercepting him just at the gate. He later told me he approached the guy on the pretext of asking for a light for his cigarette. I didn’t even hear Echo-3 acknowledge on the radio. And I didn’t even see him move from across the street, until he was right in front of us, taking the target from behind. Damn. He’s good. I was fucking impressed.

Echo-1 hit the gas, screeching to such a sudden halt it threw me against the dashboard. I gave him a look.

“Sorry, boss. I always wanted to do something like this.” He said this with a “kid-let-loose-in-the-toy-store” grin. I just had to grin back.

Echo-3 pushed our guy into the car and got in after him. He had his 9mm Beretta jammed into the guy’s ribs. Echo-2 went running in front and got into the right-hand side, behind me. They had our Tango sandwiched in between them.

Now, I had given the boys very specific instructions about the snatch. Once we got him in the car, any attempt to squirm free, talk, spit, kick or grab at anything… anything at all, that was made by our subject, was to be dealt with immediately with PAIN. Allow me to say that these three guys are all commandos, and have killed before. They were not FNG’s (Fucking New Guys), and definitely not squeamish.

The first thing the little bitch tried to do was scream. (Why do they always try to do that when they’re IN the car? No one can hear you, dude.)

Immediately, Echo-3 whacked him on the zygomatic bone under the left eye with the barrel of his pistol. (Yes, I know what the zygomatic bone is. They taught us some anatomy in combat training. “Cheek bone” in layman’s terms. Some things you never forget.) When his head reared back, and then snapped forward like a spring, Echo-2 on his right gave him a vicious elbow jab to the mouth. It split both his upper and lower lips. All he could manage after that was pathetic whimpering. He started crying, and I could see the snot dripping from his nose. Good. I watched all this from the front seat. Afterwards, they duct-taped his eyes and mouth and Flexi-cuffed his hands behind him. We then headed for our “safehouse”. We got there in under 40 minutes.

It’s an empty vacation house that a friend of Echo-1 owns. Situated on top of a high hill. Nearest neighbor’s about 400 meters away. Isolated, and with open ground about 50 meters in every direction. Kill zones. The owner’s in the military, too.

We stashed the prick in the back, in a shed with Echo-2 standing watch. Then we had dinner, with Echo-1 as our cook.

Allow me to take this moment to give you a little background on Echo-1. Understand that I cannot be too specific, given he’s still in the service. So are Echos 2 and 3. He’s a sergeant. As are the other two. All are commandos. Special Forces types. But Echo-1 and me? We go way, way back.

He may be a sergeant now, but when I got recalled back into active service in ’05, he was a snot-nosed F.N.G. You already know what that means right? If you forgot, pay attention, and scroll up, goddamnit.

I wasn’t assigned to the Rangers. Instead, to a 30-man regular Army platoon. I was the sergeant of Echo-1’s 15-man squad. All were raw recruits, except two. I found out later that he was related to a close friend of mine. I took a liking to him, and he sort of became my protege, if you will.

Which in Army-speak, means I treated him like shit.

So, in the following six months that I was with them, I taught him as much field-craft as I could. How to look for booby-traps, read the terrain for signs of human activity, camouflage, proper weapons maintenance in the field, some sniping techniques, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. So that’s the kind of history we have.

So, we had dinner. Hell, even our “prisoner” had dinner. And mind you, I did not spit in his food. That’s juvenile. Let the man have his last meal in peace. He was trying to ask Echo-2 and 3 some questions, but all he got was a slap and a kick. They did follow my instructions to the letter. Any attempt on his part to establish any kind of interaction, was met with physical violence. No words, not a single one. That will ensure he keeps to himself  as we mulled over the next phase. Throughout this whole time, I never said a word to our prisoner.

Phase One was Intelligence-gathering. Phase Two was Surveillance. Phase Three was the snatch. We were moving on to Phase Four: Execution. It had to be done in the wee hours of the morning. Less chances of witnesses out here.

07222010
0200H (2am)

We woke up our Tango and packed him into the SUV, then we drove to the beach. Took about 20 minutes. The ever-resourceful Echo-1 (I wonder where he got his resourcefulness?) had already gotten us a boat by bribing a local fisherman with two-thousand bucks to lend us his boat. His excuse was that it was for a “special operation”. The fisherman knew what he was, so that wasn’t a problem. Besides, was he going to argue with a soldier with a sidearm? All he had to do was look the other way if he heard any noise coming from his moored boat.

We got to where the fishing boat was moored. Echo-1 and 3 took out the “equipment” we had stashed in the back of the SUV: four cement hollow blocks, a 30-foot length of barbed wire, and two pairs of thick denim gloves which you used when “installing” barbed wire. We got to work right away.

Predictably, our Tango resisted when he realized what we had in store for him. Someone whacked him over the head with a pistol. Oh. It was me. Sorry.

We spooled the hollow blocks using the barbed wire, and wrapped his whole body in it, from chest down to the ankles. We secured two blocks to his back, and two to his legs. And we pulled that barbed wire tight. Enough to pierce skin and flesh. And I mean, as tight as we could. His mouth was duct-taped, so all you could hear were animal grunts of pain. Then we loaded him onto the boat.

We headed out to sea till we were satisfied we were about a kilometer out. Echo-2 killed the engine. What followed next was the only interaction I had with our bad guy. I ripped the duct tape off his eyes and mouth. Echo-1 lit the lantern that fishermen use when they went night-fishing and placed it next to me so the shit-bird could see my face clearly, and I could see his.

He was young. Mid-twenties. No kids that we knew of. All the better. Not that it would have saved his life. This was going to happen, one way or another, no matter what. I’m single-minded when it comes to shit like this.

I never turn back.

His features were bloated from the beating he’d taken from Echo-2 and 3. I touched him only once, remember? He was sobbing intensely now, and I noticed that he’d just pissed in his pants. Now I was going to allow him to talk.

“You can talk, now ask me anything you want.” I told him. He was squirming in his seat, because of the barbed wire biting into all his fleshy parts.

It took a while for him to get the words out, because of his split, bloated lips. I finally managed to understand the words, “Why are you doing this to me?”

Magic to my ears. That’s exactly what I’ve been waiting for all night. I leaned forward so he wouldn’t mistake what I was about to say amidst the noise of the water. I put my face so close to his, I saw his pupils dilate from fear. He probably thought I was going to hit him again. Then, I said it.

“Putang ina mo. Mayo sais. Anak ko yung batang lalaki.” You sonofabitch. May 6. The boy was my son.

His eyes would have gone wide, if they weren’t so bloated. I took a piece of paper out of my jacket pocket. There were names on it.

“I’m going to read some names to you. They won’t be people you know. So shut up and listen. Nod if you understand.” He nodded. So I read them off.

“Wally, Del, Lea, Zen, Kate, Gaki, James, Carl, Manny, Eeza, Jian, Kane, Joseph, Rod, Imee, George.” I ripped the list up when I was done, and threw it in the water.

“Those are friends of mine. There are maybe two dozen more of them, but I only chose some. You’ve got fans. They don’t know that I’m here doing this. But they all have one thing in common. They all want to see you dead. Me? I prefer that you live forever, so you can live with the nightmares. But that’s impossible. So, I’ll have to settle with killing you. By the way, they all wish you a happy trip to Hell. You’re lucky. I never get to have that many people wish me well on a trip.” I gave Echo-1 a look. He moved beside the guy, and we both propped him on the gunwale (That’s the side or edge of a boat’s side to you landlubbers.) He tried to fight, but the pain of the barbed wire digging into him just burned through the adrenalin rush he was having. It took us two minutes of struggling, but we finally got him sitting on the edge. Then I gave him my final words.

“Kita na lang tayo sa Impyerno. Para uulit-ulitin natin ‘to. Habangbuhay.”

“I’ll see you in Hell. Then we get to do this over and over again. Forever.”

Then I pushed him over the side.

Echo-1 brought the lantern up, and we watched him sink into the abyss. The last thing I saw were his wild-looking, wide eyes as he sank into the darkness. It’s a horrible thing to see under different circumstances. But his face is not going to be one of those that will haunt me. I’m not gonna lose sleep over him, that I already knew.

Do you think this is overkill? He’s getting off easy. He’ll be dead in under 3 minutes, as his lungs fill with seawater.  My son lived for almost 2 hours on a lung lacerated by a 9mm bullet. At least he won’t suffer as long as my son did. This is me being nice.

Am I not merciful?

I turned to Echo-2 and told him to turn the boat around. Echo-1 tapped me on the shoulder. “What?” I said.

“Boss. You’re the most cold-hearted son of a bitch I’ve ever known. But Echos 2 and 3 agree with me on this: it’s a righteous kill. We’re with you all the way on the next ones. Don’t you worry about it. We’ll kill ’em all. And let God sort them out later.”

I just had to smile. Most cold-hearted son of a bitch he’s ever known? He should’ve met MY old sergeant. Echo-1 was seeing me in the same light that I saw my sergeant. Full circle.

You’re wondering if I’m satisfied, aren’t you? Nah. This isn’t about my satisfaction. I said it before: you don’t fuck with any of mine.

I’m just warming up.

Viking One, out…

===================

07232010
1500H
(3pm)

The hunt for the Number Two Bad Guy on my list was on. He’s a friend of the shooter, the guy we gave the “swimming lesson” to. This one’s the actual owner of the gun that killed my boy. He was drinking with “Aquaman” and some other friends that fateful night of May 6. And when they got drunk and got into a fight, it was this one who brought out the guns.

It was the bullets from his gun that went flying down that street and took the lives of my son and a girl, and destroyed the life of another young man. The only survivor of that incident, he got his hip shattered and will forever walk with a bad limp. That’s what a hollow-point bullet does, you see. It’s designed to destroy tissue and bone.

And yet this guy was still breathing free air.

So I killed time surfing the net on the laptop in the backseat of the SUV. Yeah, I know right? It’s the kind of shit you never see in the movies. Anyway, Echo-1 was in the driver’s seat. 2 and 3 were out there, doing what they do best. Blending into the background. Out of all of us, I was the only one who actually had short hair. They all had non-regulation haircuts, so they won’t stand out in a crowd. Typical for guys in their line of work, which included surveillance and infiltration. That’s why I had them doing all the footwork. Besides, they needed the experience. Part of the reason why they all volunteered for this was to put into practice all that stuff they were taught in their counter-terrorism training. And being such a nice guy, I let them do most of the work. I had only one condition.

I get to have all of the trigger-time. At no time, I made it clear, were they to fire their weapons unless I said so. Or unless they felt their lives were in danger. If this whole thing goes south, I take full responsibility. That’s how I roll.

And here we were again. We call this part of an operation “The Game”. It’s a waiting game. The side that fucks up first, loses. In a big way. Even as I was surfing, my eyes were constantly on the move. Checking the mirrors, watching my peripherals. I played a little mind game too, to keep me occupied. I tried my best to spot Echos 2 and 3. For the life of me, I couldn’t. That’s scary. Because I know WHAT they LOOK like, right? But I couldn’t spot them. Kudos to whoever trained them. They were taught well. And this was how we spent the first three hours.

Right before 1800H, I started turning around in my seat, just to rest my eyes from all that looking at the laptop screen. Jesus, there were a lot of people out on the street. This is gonna be tricky. I would hate to have a shootout here. I mentioned this to Echo-1.

“Yeah, it’s always like this. This place actually has a lot of drug activity.” That surprised me.

“Really? I thought the DDS (Davao Death Squad) took care of most of that.”

“Yeah, but you know how it is. ‘When the cat’s on the prowl, the rats go away. Once the cat’s gone…'”

“‘They come out and play.'” I continued. It’s an old saying we had about insurgents and terrorists. The same applies to common criminals.

“Speaking of which, boss…” He started to say. “I heard this little rumor about you once.” He was looking at me in the rear-view mirror.

“Yeah? Not another one of those, again. What about?” I asked, watching him closely.

“Well, someone told me once that back in the day, when you were in S.W.A.T., you were also doing some time on the mayor’s protective detail and he said that you also did some extra work…”

“Yeah?” I interrupted. “Well you know how stories are. Someone told your friend, who heard it from some guy who knows a guy…That’s all it is, Echo-1. A story. Know what I mean?”

He looked at me in the mirror for about two seconds before replying. “Yeah…I guess that’s all it was. Some crazy story.” He stopped talking after that.

At about past 1800H, the Motorola radio next to me came to life.

“Viking One, Echo-2. Check your 6:30. 20 meters.” It was like waking up from a semi-conscious state. It took me about a second to analyze what he said. I turned in my seat, and sure enough, there he was. I just barely made him out in the throng of people coming our way.

“Got him. By the way Echo-2. Where are you?”

“Hehe. Operational security, boss. Can’t tell you. We’re on un-secure comms.” Fucker had a point. Damn, I’m gettin’ old. I looked back again at our tango. Shit, he had a woman with him. And she was holding a little boy by the hand. What the fuck?

“I thought you said he wasn’t married? What’s this?” I asked Echo-1.

“Hey, I know he’s not married for a fact, chief. I checked him out thoroughly. ‘If you can check something twice, that means you can check it one more time, just to be sure.’ Remember? Who taught me that?” He said.

Of course, I knew who taught him. It was me. Well, I’m sure there’s a reasonable explanation for this…

So, we watched him go into his house with his friend, and in the next hour watched as one, then another guest arrived. Both females. Fuck. Not good. By 1900H, I knew it wasn’t gonna happen. I got on the radio.

“Echo-2 and 3. Fall back. Abort. Say again, abort.” Echo-2 replied first.

“You sure, boss? I have visual inside the house right now. I’m looking right at them through the window. They’re all in the living room. We can pull this off without any Two-Charlies (Civilian Casualties).”

That made me re-think the abort. I didn’t know how he was doing it, but Echo-2 was “eyes on”, and could see and judge the situation better than I could. “Tell me their placements.” I said, meaning I wanted to know where each individual was in that living room. I closed my eyes as he told me. I can visualize it better that way.

“Okay, once through the front door, the tango is sitting on the sofa, with his back to the door. Girlfriend is sitting to the left. Little Boy is to her left on a single-seater sofa. There’s a low table in front of the tango, and across is another long sofa with the two other girls seated shoulder-to-shoulder. Boss, if we do this, it has to be simultaneous entry from the front and back doors. You and Echo-1 can take the front. Me and Echo-3 will come in from the back. It’s KISS, pure and simple. You can take him out, then we just leave. We can use the panic outside to get away, fire some warning shots in the air, too, if you want. What do you think?”

I took my time answering. I could see it all in my head, now. It would be easy, really. I knew the house had no surrounding walls. It’d be just the front door right away. On signal, we’d come bursting through the front door, Echo-1 and I. Once in, I’ll just double-tap him in the chest, finish off with a shot to the face, then out we go. It was indeed, very doable. Zero collateral damage or “Two-Charlies”. Except for one thing.

The kid. I don’t know how he fits into all this. He could be a nephew. He could be a child out of wedlock (and this I’m familiar with all too well.) In the end, he gets to see Uncle or Daddy get his head blown apart. I was not comfortable with that. Echo-1 interrupted my thoughts.

“Chief, if it’s collateral damage you’re worried about, don’t worry about it. The shock factor alone of us barging in there will paralyze everyone. If you want, I even brought this. Smuggled. It’s untraceable. I’ve got a box of these.” He showed me a Russian-made flash-bang grenade. WHERE IN FUCK DID HE GET THAT? Jesus. It was then that I made my final decision: we abort.

No matter how successful we were going to be, it will all boil down to trauma for the boy. Plus, there’s the Murphy factor. It was just too high. Something could still go wrong. I could just feel it. Taste it, even. I’ve seen too many kids die. Most in cross-fires. And our tango had to be considered most definitely armed. Traumatizing the kid would be just as good as killing him. No go. I turned to Echo-1.

“We abort. One of the things I taught you, remember? ‘When in doubt, bug out.’ Well, I have doubts. Not in your skills, but just something. We abort, okay?” I had to do this now, before I changed my mind. Otherwise, I’d be making a monumental cluster-fuck out of this situation. He gave a nod.

“Okay, chief. Your call.” I toggled the mike button.

“Echo-2 and 3, pull out. Abort, abort, abort.”

“Echo-2, copy.”

“Echo-3, 10-4.”

Shit. Even if I didn’t consider the kid, I’m not sure whether I made the right decision or not. This could be the only shot I have. But I’ve always followed that rule of mine: when in doubt, bug out.

Maybe tomorrow I’ll get lucky…

Three-man recon patrol, Scout Rangers...

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I can not shoot,

The courage to shoot the things I can,

and the wisdom to hide the bodies…

12231993
Time: 0900H
Location: Southern Mindanao

After suppressing the sniper on the marketplace rooftop, we pretty much stayed where we were, just waiting for new orders. By default, our only function at this time was to hold on to whatever real estate was under our feet. To “defend it against enemy incursion”, so to speak.

Eddie, the shutter-bug had linked up with an Army platoon that was supposed to go around the town’s western-most flank. Good riddance.

It’s not that I didn’t like the guy. It takes special kind of guts to run around in a warzone with nothing but a camera to protect yourself with. I admired that kind of shit. Even in a civilian. Or even an enemy, for that matter.

Supposedly, the fact that you have just a camera marks you as a media man and therefore immune to the harshness of mortal combat. Sure. Civilians with nothing at all get shot around here. What makes you think a camera’s gonna stop an AK round? Fuck that sideways, right? And most vigorously, if you please.

We had just enough time to grab some breakfast and rest up a bit when at 0900H, new orders for us came: we were to proceed to the middle of the town, and clear any and all structures. We split our squad into two 4-man teams. Me, Roy, Sarge and the FNG (Again, Fucking New Guy) Reuben in Red Team and the LT, Nilo, Randy and Ellis in Blue. We moved down what was the main street on opposite sides. Ours was the left side. The idea is for the team on the left to cover everything on the right and vice versa. Our target was northwards, the marketplace, which was at the town’s center. We could hear the loud chatter of machinegun fire in the distance.

And we were headed right for it.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t scared shit-less, walking into the unknown.

MILF troops preparing for their offensive...

It’s eerie, walking down an abandoned street where usually at this time of day should have been bustling with activity. You feel naked. Every window is a potential sniper’s perch. Every alley or sidestreet a potential ambush point. We pushed on, heading towards the sound of gunfire.

We were about half a block away from the market when we started encountering civilians. The first ones came bursting out of an alley to our left. They came out so suddenly we almost gunned them down because they were all men and some were wearing camouflage jackets (Common clothing out here. Almost every other guy owns one).

And when it started, it became a deluge. Like someone turned up the fuckin’ tap. Pretty soon we had about 100-150 or so men, women, children just trying to run past us. A lot of them had their belongings wrapped in bedsheets and pillowcases. It’s always a pathetic sight.

When we questioned some, they said they had been holed up in the church behind the marketplace and had decided to make a run for it when the firing started to get heavy behind them.

A man and his daughter, running away from skirmishing insurgents and government troops...

The main concern here was that some guerillas may have infiltrated this large group of civilians. It’s a good way to gather intelligence on our movements, actually. Mix in with them, gain access to homes or buildings we had already passed and cleared, where they could observe but be unseen. Typical infiltrator skill-set shit, know what I mean?

And indeed, one man did catch my attention. Short guy, 5’4” or 5’5″. Black over-sized jacket, jeans and combat boots. It was the boots that caught my attention. Dried mud-spatter. Well broken-in and weathered. Like he’d been hiking mountain trails with it.

The same way mine were broken-in.

Combat boots were normal footwear here too, except this was a town of traders and fishermen. NOT farmers, who had to walk long distances to get to fields they were tilling for some landowner. Even then, most farmers lived on the lands they were working, along with their families. It’s always the little things, that minute detail that could have been easily missed that gets you caught.

It did him no good too, that he had shifty eyes. When I intentionally made eye contact, he evaded. He had what I call “prison-yard-snitch eyes”. Sonofabitch’s an infiltrator. I confronted him.

“YOU!” I yelled. From his reaction, I’ll know right away whether I was right or not.

He broke and ran back into the sidestreet. Fuck it. I was right. The whole of Red Team went after him, with me in the lead. As I turned the corner, I saw that he was trying to unsling a machine-pistol he had hidden under his jacket. I aimed my rifle at his head.

“Put that down, NOW!” He complied immediately, seeing there was no way he could get his weapon out in time. He raised his hands. I approached and him and ripped his jacket off. I took the machine-pistol from him. An Ingram Mac-10. With a short suppressor attached to it. Damn. He also had about five extra magazines, and a radio.

Ingram MAC-10 in 9mm Short, with installed silencer...

We then dragged him to a wall and had him kneel two feet in front of it, ankles crossed. Then I leaned him  forward until his forehead was placed firmly against it. It’s a form of corporal punishment. Ten minutes of this, and your head starts to hurt something fierce.

Our lieutenant walked over and I briefed him on what had just taken place. He got on the radio to report the capture to Battalion. When he was through, I saw him walk over to Sarge. Roy and Reuben were on both ends of the street, on the lookout for threats, while I was left watching the prisoner. We could now hear gunfire coming from our west flank. The fighting to the north seemed to have intensified. With nothing else to do, I realized that aside from taking his weapon, I had forgotten to thoroughly search the prisoner. I started patting him down. When I got to his right backpocket, I felt something. Taking it out, I found it to be a pouch, like the kind used for sunglasses. I poured the contents out onto my hand and found myself looking at rings. Gold and silver ones. Motherfucker’s a thief, I thought. Till I found a ring that got my attention.

A Philippine Marines batch ring.

No fuckin’ way a Marine would part with that willingly, unless he was unconscious when it was taken.

Or dead.

Then I noticed some of the rings had dried blood on them. The sonofabitch probably had to cut a few fingers off to get the rings off stiff, dead fingers. That’s fucked up. We got ourselves a vulture. A cadaver robber. Sure, it’s normal practice to take personal belongings from dead enemies. But severing digits just to get them’s fucked up in the head. And I think some of these rings came from civilians. There were even four womens’ rings here. I showed it to the LT. The moment he saw the Philippine Marine ring, he went livid. He called over the Battalion net once more. When he was done, he turned to me.

“Corporal”, he said.

“Sir?”

“Kill him.” LT said. Looks like we were taking the Swift Justice route on this one.

“Yes, sir.” And as I was walking over to the guy to do him, I remembered Sarge’s instruction regarding the new guy, Reuben. Good. One less unpleasant thing for me to do. I called him over, out of the prisoner’s earshot.

“It’s time to earn your money, Private.” I said to him.

“How?”, he asked me.

“The prisoner. Put a bullet in his head.” I watched his reaction closely.

“What? What do you mean?” He looked flustered. Ellis, intrigued by our little convo, started sidling up to us.

“What do you mean what do I mean? Kill him. Walk over to him, then shoot him in the head.” I felt sorry for him, really. But if you’re gonna teach someone how to kill, you don’t do it nicely. Be as blunt as you can be. There’s nothing fancy about it.

I wondered if this was how Sarge saw me during my first time. He was pale. I’m sure he was expecting his first time to happen in the heat of combat, just like I did back then. He looked at the prisoner, who till this point still had no idea that his existence was about to end. Reuben took a deep breath.

“Okay. Sorry about that. I just wasn’t expecting it like this.”

“I know. It was the same with me. You can do it. Base of the skull. It’ll be quick.”

He walked over to our prisoner until he was about six feet behind him. That’s when he botched it. To my shock, he pulled the charging handle on his M-16, which naturally made a loud cracking noise as he chambered a round. Shit, he didn’t have his rifle loaded! All this fuckin’ time he was carrying an unchambered weapon. Fucking barracks gun-safety bullshit.

When our prisoner heard the sound of a weapon being loaded, naturally he freaked. The little shit started crying.

“Please, don’t kill me! Don’t shoot!” he whimpered. Gutless fuck can’t even die like a man. Reuben pointed his M-16. I noticed the barrel quivering. Don’t lose your nerve now.

The man started turning around, just as Reuben fired. He took the bullet in the side of the neck. What a clusterfuck. It was supposed to be easy. Walk up to him, then shoot him unawares. This was sickening. The guy went down, gurgling away as he started drowning in his own blood.

“Goddamn it, Ben. Shoot him again. In th head, go!” This was getting frustrating, fast. Ellis was right beside me shaking his head and tsk-tsking like a fuckin’ brothel matron. Roy, who was fifteen feet away, turned when he heard the shot. He looked down at the still live Tango who was by now thrashing about and grabbing his throat, trying his damndest to live just a little bit longer.

“Hey, kid. What are you waiting for? Kill him already! Sonofabitch…” Roy said.

We all just stood there waiting for Reuben to regain his nerve. Took about two seconds. He braced his M-16 to his shoulder and fired three rapid shots dead center of the guy’s chest. I walked over to him, and looked down at our now dead Tango.

“Nice grouping. Tight. Next time Ben, I don’t want you carrying around your rifle unloaded, you understand? You leave that barracks gun-safety crap AT the barracks. Out here, you’re always locked and loaded.” I looked him over. He looked like a vampire just drained him.

“You wanna puke don’t you?” I asked.

“I think I’m gonna…” he started to say, but I interrupted him.

“Go right ahead. No shame in that.”

He hadn’t taken more than three steps when he hurled. I looked at the others and saw Ellis smirking. Roy shaking his head. Sarge just standing in the middle of the street, watching Ben puke. Blue Team was nowhere in sight, except for LT who was waving us over to continue our patrol. Like nothing happened. Unreal.

What a way to spend the holidays. One kill before breakfast, another one before lunch.

Situation Normal, All Fucked Up…

Sniper On The Hill (Omega)

Posted: July 8, 2010 in Uncategorized

Me (left) and Roy (right), waiting for a victim...

Sniper On The Hill (Alpha) was about the first time I ever fired a shot as a sniper. This one is about the last.

June of ’97. Southern Davao. Joint military and law enforcement operation. Roy, Nilo and I had just finished training for S.W.A.T. Only Roy and I were here not as part of the raiding team, but as snipers.

Our SWAT unit already had a dedicated sniper team. But the mission required two teams. The other two would cover the front of the house the raiding team was going to hit. Roy and I were right where we did our best work. On a hill, about 100 meters from a river across from the house that was about 100-120 meters wide.

A platoon of Army soldiers had created a perimeter around the house except the rear and set up roadblocks on both ends of the street.

M21

Our job was to cover the rear. We were both issued M21’s (M14 with sniper scope) and we’d been practicing at the range for the past week before the operation to get back up to speed because it had been about 4 months since we had last functioned as snipers. You lose the edge.

The Tangos we were after was a husband-and-wife team. A former “Sparrow Unit” commander. The woman who became his wife was a member of his “cell”. A Sparrow unit is the New People’s Army equivalent of an al-Qaeda sleeper cell. They usually operated in 5 or 6-man teams (but there’s always at least one female member).  They embed themselves in a community, conduct intelligence operations, then ultimately assassinate government officials. It could be the chief of police, a councilor, or anyone who was considered a High Value Target. These guys were cream of the crop types. The best they had.

Until this guy fucked up. He broke the number one rule: never involve civilians or members of the target’s family. On one such hit, an eight-year old boy and his mother, just bystanders, were killed when his men opened fire on a police convoy. As for his target, (a police colonel) his bodyguards were able to engage the hit team, killing three of the Sparrows. He had been on the run ever since. And this was the end of the line.

Their particular cell alone was responsible for more than a dozen kills. And the military intelligence service had been hunting him for the past two or three years. He and his wife were the only ones in his team left alive.

People are creatures of habit. And like all people, he had his. He liked taking early-morning walks. He was always armed, but he still went for those walks. It was that simple. Some civilian asset (informant) spotted him, reported it to his handler, and long story short, here we were.

We had been in position since dawn, just waiting for him to come out. If you’re wondering why didn’t we just hit him while he was in his house, that was because the way he built it represented a special challenge. He built it to be defensible, like a bunker.

On all sides, he had about fifty meters of open space. That’s a hundred and fifty feet. In military terms it’s called a “kill zone”. No cover at all. No trees or anything to hide behind. Windows on all sides. But the unique feature of the design was on the ground. He must have poured a truckload of gravel all around the house. Big ones too. Smooth stones that made a racket when you stepped on them. Like a natural alarm system.

Try going across ground like that, plus the fact that he’s a known light sleeper…well, you’re fucked. All he has to do is determine where the sound’s coming from, go to that window then open up with any of his arsenal of assault rifles and grenades. So it had to be done as he was leaving. The wife could be dealt with later.

Hopefully, with her husband in custody, she would just give up. But she was not to be underestimated. She was a former “Amazon”, a  female fighter tested on the battlefield. Yeah, she’d killed men before. NPA women are more ruthless than their MILF counterparts. And being a Sparrow meant she had the balls to walk up to a man, point a .45 cal at his head and pull the trigger, no problem.

A lot of times it was the women who did one-on-one hits, like when the target was isolated or was walking out in the open. You’d never expect some petite, pretty woman to walk up to you and blow your face away. Trust me. A lot of them were pretty, I shit you not.

American Special Forces "operator" training with us in marksmanship and perimeter defense...

The mission was also unique in the fact that we had two Americans with us. “Observers”, as they’re called. Special Forces-types. Nowadays, we call them “operators”. They wouldn’t tell us which Unit they belonged to, but if I were to venture a guess I’d say Delta. I’d seen their “Ranger” tattoos. That’s where Delta Force took most of its recruits. Non-regulation haircuts, deeply tanned, 6-foot-five motherfuckers (I mean that as a compliment), and built like fuckin’ tanks.

They were supposed to be here to do some cross-training with our Special Forces and Scout Ranger troops and show police officers and SWAT some new close-quarters combat tactics. Naturally, in no way were they to interfere or involve themselves in the operation. They were just here to watch the show.

So one of them, a guy we’ll just call “Ben”, was with Roy and me. He was the bigger of the two. A friendly, easy-going Staff Sergeant from Fort Worth, Texas. All three of us were lying on our stomachs just under the hill’s crest so we wouldn’t be highlighted against the morning sky. We were spaced about five feet apart. Ben would act as our impromptu spotter, so he had the spotting scope on him. I had a short conversation with him as we waited.

“What if the woman fights?” he asked. Those were his first words.

“I hope she doesn’t, sarge.” I replied.

“You ever shot a woman before?” Did I mention the bastard was friendly or what? I contemplated that question for about five seconds before answering. I don’t feel comfortable with “how many” questions.

“Yeah. Four. You?” I decided to bounce the Q back at him.

“Jesus, no. I hope I never have to.” Then a slight hesitation. Don’t ask me what it’s like, please.

“So…what’s it like?” Damn it, I knew it. Sometimes I miss those days when noise discipline was strictly reinforced. Because talking can get you killed.

“Well, it’s kinda like shooting your sister or your mother. Sometimes it might seem like a good idea, specially when you’re in an argument with them, but you really don’t wanna do it. Know what I mean, Staff Sergeant?” I addressed him by his full rank. I hoped that even in the States, when an enlisted man calls you by your full rank, it indicates a form of mild displeasure. It worked.

“Sorry about the questions… I just hope she gives up, though. I heard these ‘Amazons’ are tough bitches.”

“They are. They say this one already killed five men on her own. Those were solo hits, with one guy as back-up. So, if she decides to fight… we’ll see. I never think that far ahead.” And that was the end of that conversation as we heard on the radio that the male subject was spotted coming out of the house.

The first phase went off without a hitch, actually. The moment the subject walked out of his gate, he was pounced upon by rest of the the SWAT team who were inside a delivery van bringing supplies to the store next door. It had been commandeered just up the street an hour earlier. The operation was that detailed, that we knew when it was due to deliver goods. He was on the ground before he could go for his gun. Now came the hard part. The wife. No way she didn’t hear the commotion when her husband was being taken down. We heard it. And we were about 250 meters away, on the hill. I imagined she already had a gun in her hands by now.

“Hey, someone’s movin’ in the house.” Ben said, looking through the spotting scope. I focused on the window on the left of the backdoor. I could see a shadow moving inside.

“Yeah, I see it too.” I said. I relayed this information to the team below. I called our team leader over the net.

“Oscar 6, Viking 1. Someone’s moving inside, copy?”

“Copy, Viking 1. We’re getting ready to move in.”

Just as he said that, Ben called my attention again.

“Alright, somethin’s happenin’ boys. I just saw her makin’ for the door.” And sure enough, the back door started opening.

The woman stepped out into the open. When I saw her, I tensed.

Beside me, I felt Ben do the same. It was an almost physical force coming from him that seemed to hit me.

I was so stunned, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Ben voiced it out even before I could.

“Sweet Mary, Mother of God…”

She was standing there with a .45 caliber Colt 1911 automatic pistol in her right hand.

I could see it clearly, just as if she was only 30 feet away. 250 meters might as well be point-blank when your scope is at x10 magnification. But none of those things I mentioned was the problem. This was not the first time I’ve laid cross-hairs on a woman. She was not the first I was going to shoot if I had to. And not the first one I ever killed if it came to that.

She was about five or six months pregnant. That was what triggered Ben’s blasphemy and my sudden feeling of dread.

She was now standing just behind the left rear corner of the house. Which made her my target, not Roy’s. He was responsible for the right side. Shit.

As I’m typing this, a black-and-white reel is running in my head. World War Two. Nazi death camp. A lab-coated Kraut standing in front of a line of naked prisoners. He points left, then right, as each one passes in front of him.

Right is Life, left is Death. That was what it felt like. She took a left, and she was mine. It wasn’t her fate that was sealed, really. She already did that once she picked up her weapons. I’m talking about Roy’s and mine. Who would get to carry the memory of her face for the next few decades.

I had my cross-hair on her head initially. but it just didn’t feel right. How do you put a bullet into a pregnant woman’s head? It felt almost evil. Like I was about to murder an innocent civilian, even though I knew she wasn’t that. In my head, I was willing her not to do it. I really did not want to do this.

Don’t do it bitch, don’t you fuckin’ do it… Here we go again.

To add to the pressure, I could see an assault team of two SWAT officers and two uniformed police officers moving down the left side of the house, covering windows as they passed each one. I knew that it was Nilo leading them. That was the plan.

And they were headed right for her.

Please, don’t. I was almost begging her in my mind.

There was no time for me to reach for the PTT (Press To Talk) button on my radio mike to warn them. I saw her turn a bit and I got see the left side of her body.

And just when I thought things couldn’t possibly get any worse, it did.

Fucking Mister Murphy.

In her left hand, she held what was clearly a hand grenade.

And I couldn’t tell if the pin on the grenade was already pulled. It’s just too damn small to see even if it was still in place. For this, I would have to make the worst assumption: that the grenade was armed. Ben wasn’t helping much except add to my sense of panic.

“Oh man, better warn them off. They’re gonna smack right into her. I think the pin’s pulled. Warn ’em off, warn ’em off!” he exclaimed. The Americans’ radios were UHF. Ours was VHF, that’s why all he could do was tell us to abort the assault.

Roy was on it already even as Ben was saying it.

“Viking 3, Viking 3, Viking 3, abort abort abort! Nilo get -” And that was all he got out. It just happened too fucking fast. And there was no room for error.

Initially she was facing me. Then she made a sudden turn to her right, grenade still held tight in her left hand. To me, her posture seemed to be that of someone about to lob the grenade around the corner. She came out of the corner pistol first. The cross-hair was now at the center of her back. My last thought was, “Forgive me.”

I fired.

The force of the 7.62mm hollow-point round flying at the speed of sound just slammed her into the corner as if she was a rag doll. Like she was nothing human. A split second later, Roy fired a shot too, but I didn’t know it until it was over. I never heard it.

When I saw her go down, I laid my rifle down and took off my earpiece. Then I rolled over on my back, looking up at the clear morning sky. I was waiting for the explosion. I didn’t want to watch her get blown apart. But it never happened. The pin wasn’t out, after all. Goddamn it.

Roy told me later that he’d fired that second shot to make absolutely sure she was dead before the grenade went off, to spare her any pain she might feel in case mine was not a kill-shot.

But I knew. I knew I’d killed her outright. Even though Roy was the better shot, I had enough confidence in my own skill to know that I was just too good at it not to have killed her with that first one. Roy I think, was just trying to share responsibility. What a friend.

As we were walking down the hill, Ben put a big hand on my shoulder.

“I saw the whole thing, Corporal. For what it’s worth, it was a clean shoot. If there’s an inquest, I’ll stand witness. You had no choice, man. She made hers.”

Yeah. It helps to know you had no choice. Right.

After the incident, Roy and I were placed on a form of “Paid Time Off” which lasted about two weeks while the shooting was investigated. It wasn’t really so much the death of the woman that was questioned, but more on why it was necessary to shoot her twice. In the end we were exonerated, but we never served as snipers ever again even when we were “requested” to.

I’m the kind of guy who likes to think that in every bad experience, there has got to be something good that you can walk away with. This was not one of those.

During that time, my ex was two months pregnant with our second son. When she was on her fifth month things started changing between us. I found myself spending more time outside the house. More time drinking (If you know me, it was a hell of a LOT worse back then).

Every time I looked at her (if I could even look at her at all) I was reminded of The Amazon. Every single time. It put a strain on the relationship until eventually things just fell apart.

Not only did I see that woman in her, but everywhere I went. Whenever I see a pregnant woman I can’t help but think of her, even to this very day. It didn’t help I guess that I never told her about it no matter how relentlessly she asked me about what was bothering me. That was my fault, of course.

However, in the past year or so, I’ve come to slowly realize something: there is one good thing that I’ve managed to get from it.

Because of it, I can now do anything.

Riiight…

Man Down!

Posted: July 3, 2010 in Uncategorized

“Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” John 15:13″

Practicing a 3-man dynamic entry and assault. Roy, with the battering ram...

I’ve been having the same dream over and over again for the past two weeks. Today was the sixth time. Don’t know if it means anything, or if it’s because the death anniversary’s just around the corner. 18th of July, 1999. Corporal Roy Cristobal. It’s a dream about his death.

We were both PO2s (Corporals) in the DCPO (Davao City Police Office) S.W.A.T. team. Roy had just gotten back from an almost month-leave because his wife had just given birth to their first child, a girl. The week before he came back on, he got me as the godfather at his daughter’s christening.

It’s called a “high-risk warrant arrest”. That’s what you call it when the suspect is known to be violent and has a weapon or weapons in his possession. In this case, it was an ex-Philippine Marine. Definitely high-risk.

Dishonorably discharged from the Marines and combat veteran, and with about five years in the service under his belt, men like this sometimes use the only skill they know for one of two things: they become bodyguards, or they become hired guns. Assassins. He chose the latter. The money’s better. But to top it off, he also resorted to gun-running and drug-dealing. When that Jason Ivler incident happened, this guy was the first one that came to mind. The scenario was pretty much the same.

On that day, I was supposed to be the “number one man”. First through the door once it was breached by the “doorman” or “breacher”, who would use either a sledge-hammer/battering ram, explosives or a shotgun to break the door down. You took turns doing that kind of thing (because it takes a psychological toll on you). It’s the most dangerous position to be in, because when the breach happens, you’re the first in the line of fire. Everyone gets their turn. That day was supposed to be mine.

We were riding in a police mobile unit, on the way to the target area, and as usual, engaging in senseless bullshit and joking around just to get the jitters out of our system. We had done this kind of thing so many times, we knew it better than we knew our girlfriends.

Somewhere along the way, he just said out of the blue, “How about I take number one today?”

I think my response had been, “Nah, you just got back, bro. Why are you in a hurry? You have a death wish?” Our sense of humor was always morbid, even back in our SR days. It was just a ritual we had to help us desensitize ourselves from the things we had to do. We brought the practice over to S.W.A.T. Sometimes even our own teammates (who all started as regular street cops, with the exception of Nilo, who was our machinegunner in the SR) would act appalled by our jokes.

“You’ve been having all the fun lately,” he said. “Besides, it’ll keep me sharp. Come on, gimme your helmet.” He had forgotten his helmet at the barracks. We didn’t usually wear them anyway. Too heavy. I was only wearing mine because of the nature of this op, and I was gonna be the first one in.

“Alright.” I said to him. “Cheater.” I handed him my Kevlar helmet.

When we got there, we stopped about 30 meters from the target house. And since we’ve been through the briefing over and over, and like I said, we’ve done this many, many times, no words were needed. Most, if any conversation takes place, goes through the radio comms now. Everything else is restricted to hand signals and watching the body language of the man in front of you.

No rest for the wicked: even in the rain, training continues. Approaching a target house in a 3-man stack. I've forgotten which one of these guys is me because we did this kind of training session hundreds of times. It doesn't help that we all look alike...

We broke off into two 4-man teams, each one configured in a formation known as a “stack”. One team (Alpha) would take the front door (Me, Roy and two others including our team leader) and the other team (Bravo, with Nilo in  it) would cover the rear of the house. It was going to be a simple simultaneous front and rear dynamic entry. The two teams would make entry at the same time. The objective is to dominate the area with as many guns as in the shortest time possible.

We approached the house from it’s blind side, along a next-door neighbor’s wall. We stopped short of the window on the left side of the door (so as not to give away our presence), and waited for the Go Order as Bravo Team maneuvered into position at the back of the house.

Ron was in front, with the battering ram. I had my hand on Roy’s shoulder, and at some point he turned to me and said, “Bro, your hand’s too heavy.” I hadn’t noticed that I had inadvertently started leaning too much into his back. So I adjusted, to take the pressure off him.

“Sorry, bro.” He gave a thumbs-up, turned to me and gave me a silly grin then flipped me the bird. The dirty finger.

And those were the last words I exchanged with him.

A few seconds later, our radios came alive and the Bravo Team Leader’s voice came on the net. “We’re in position, ready to go.”

Alpha’s Team Leader was in overall command, and he was right behind me. He keyed his mike and gave the order: “Strike. Strike. Strike.”, after which he tapped me hard on the shoulder. I passed it on to Roy who passed i to Ron. The minute Ron got the tap, we all quickly moved towards the door.

Ron crossed over to the right side of the door while Roy, me, and our TL were stacked up on the left. Ron swung the battering ram, smashing it right above the doorknob. It gave a bit. He swung one more time before the door finally flew open, then he got out of the way. The moment that happened, Roy followed through with a flashbang grenade. So did the rear entry team as they too, initiated their assault.

I heard two loud bangs as the grenades went off, my body and mind bracing themselves as we prepared to go in. This is the moment known as “the pucker factor”. Because you pucker your asshole and peehole right before you move into a highly dangerous situation. I’m not kidding. Look it up. It’s defined as “Tension caused by high stress during a difficult or dangerous situation. So named because your sphincter tends to tighten up or ‘pucker’ involuntarily during such times.”

Our TL had his hand on my shoulder, and I had mine on Roy’s. Ron would be the last one in. I felt our TL tap my shoulder hard. The signal for us to rush in. I passed the tap to Roy. He moved. I moved. As his body crossed over from outside the doorway and into the house’s interior, that was the last thing I remembered. That was the last thing I saw. Never heard the shot. Never saw the flash.

I don’t know how many seconds I was out, but the first conscious thought I had was when I was being dragged across the ground. I saw the roof of the house, then the sky and trees. It was my TL who was dragging me, and I saw Ron at the doorway firing his M4 into the house. My TL released me and let me drop to the ground as he took up a position at the front window and started firing his MP-5 as well. I remember feeling the broken glass from the window sprinkling down on me, but I couldn’t hear anything. Like a silent movie. I remember looking up at my TL, and I could see the individual shell casings being ejected from his rifle as he was firing in bursts. Everything was in slow motion. When I saw the movie Band of Brothers, where Lt. Winters was urging Private Blythe to fire on the Germans, there was a scene just like this: brass casings flying in the air in slow motion. I’ll never forget that.

My hearing started coming back, but it was like swimming in soup. I remember only bits and pieces. Our TL screaming into the radio (I still had my earpiece on), “Man down, man down! I have two men down!”

I saw Ron throw a flashbang in. It wasn’t loud to me at all. Just a dull thud. Then he screamed “There! Get him! Shoot him!”

Then I felt this salt-rusty tang in my mouth. I knew what it was. Blood. I turned my head to one side and spat it out. Only then did I look down on my body to inspect myself. I had blood all over me. And specks of pink-gray flesh spattered all over my body armor.

It took me a while to realize that what I was looking at was Roy’s brains. Blood was getting in my eyes, so I raised my left hand to wipe it away. That’s when I felt the worst pain I had ever felt in a long while. It just shot up from either my shoulder or chest, and went straight into my brain in what I can only describe as “white pain”. That’s because my vision just turned blinding white for a few seconds. I knew then that I had been hit bad. I looked around for Roy.

I saw him just a few feet away from my boots. He was on his back, with his head tilted slightly towards me.

To my horror, I saw that his face was caved in. His eyes, nose, upper lip, all that was just one big bloody hole in his face. One of his eyeballs was on the ground right next to him. His head looked smaller because most of the back was gone and the rest that wasn’t on the ground was on me. I felt sick.

Then all the shooting died down, as if nothing had happened.

It seemed like minutes, but it was actually over in less than twenty seconds. Our Team Leader and Ron had killed the suspect. It would turn out later that he had somehow seen our approach (probably the 2nd floor window) and had prepared himself. He was waiting for us to come in, positioning himself at the top of the stairs. So when Roy threw the flashbang in, all he had to do was duck, and close his eyes with his hands over his ears. The guy after all, was a combat veteran so he knew his shit.

After the bang, he just braced an M-14 assault rifle (the same kind that I had used for sniping back when I was a Ranger. It’s capable of going on fully-automatic)on top of the rail, then just blasted away at Roy and me as we came in. Roy had taken three hits. The first was to the center of his chest, then the collarbone and the last was the one directly to the bridge of his nose.

Since the shooter was elevated, the round went downward and exited the base of Roy’s skull and continued on its path until it hit the ceramic strike plate I had inserted into a pocket in the middle of my body armor’s chest area. It’s supposed to be added protection against internal injuries.

A bullet might not go through a vest, but it can still cause internal bleeding or even stop your heart. In my case, it had stopped the bullet, but it still fractured two of my ribs. It had hit the leading left edge of the plate. It took the brunt of the force but the lead core (it was a hollow-point round) stiil had enough power to pierce the Kevlar padding and bury itself into the vest.

Nilo showed up. He knelt beside me and went about helping me up so they could load me into the mobile unit and bring me to the hospital. He had tears in his eyes. Nilo, Roy and I all started in Army Basic. We went through Ranger School together, undergone combat together in some of the shittiest places in Mindanao. Trudged through mud and rain, ate in the same plate, shared fear in the same foxholes, slit trenches, ravines and ditches.

We all face the prospect of death, but in a small, tight unit you were always confident that the guy on your left and your right was there, facing it with you. We’ve killed and bled together.

And now Roy was dead. It’s hard to believe someone like him was actually mortal.

When I got to the hospital ER, everything was a blur. I was probably still in shock at the time. I didn’t even pay much attention to the doc who was using forceps to pull copper shrapnel from my face and neck (from the bullet’s copper jacket. It bursts into like a cauliflower on impact and disintegrates). It got my attention though when he started pulling out some hard, white stuff out of my skin. I asked him about that. He gave me a hesitant look before answering.

“I understand there was someone in front of you when you were shot?” he asked.

“Yeah. My buddy, Roy? Why?” and just as I said that, there was this sickening realization that came over me. I knew it, and I didn’t want to hear it but it was like I was just frozen, waiting for his answer.

“Well, the bullet from what I was told, entered him first. It sort of exploded inside and continued until it hit you. These are bits and pieces of his skull that got embedded in your face and neck along with pieces of the bullet.”

I felt nauseous. Then I remembered the blood in my mouth. None of the blood that was on me was mine. Except for my fractured ribs, I didn’t have a single scratch on me. That was Roy’s blood too. This is where the dream always ends.

As for Roy, he was given a military burial. When you’re a Scout Ranger and move on to a different brach of the military or law enforcement, you can still be buried as a Ranger.

So, he got the 7-man squad that fired three volleys (21-gun salute). Followed by the somber, haunting notes of “Taps” played by a bugler. The folding of the flag. Then the burial detail’s team leader approaching the seated widow, handing over the folded flag and saying (the Tagalog version of):

“On behalf of a grateful nation, I present this flag as a token of our appreciation for the faithful and selfless service of your loved one for this country.”

Then followed by raising his white-gloved hand, to render the oldest of military traditions. Presenting the perfect military salute to the soldier’s widow.

For a long time, Celina (Roy’s wife) never knew the full circumstance of Roy’s death. Never knew that it was supposed to have been me that had gone through that door first. Never knew that just as a joke of all things, her husband and I had switched places just as we had many times before. It was just a thing that we had.

That’s what happens I guess when you forget how serious Death is. We weren’t careless. Or reckless. Far from it. It’s just that all those years of violence and seeing friends die has an effect on you. It makes you understand your own mortality, sure.

But it also places you in that state of mind where the attitude becomes, “No matter how careful you are, if you’re gonna get hit… you’re gonna get hit.”

No one on the team told her about it. They all knew and understood the kind of history Roy, Nilo and I had. They therefore knew that if there was anyone who should tell her, it would have to be me. And no one ever talked about it.

For almost a full year I struggled with that. Trying to work up the courage to tell her. Many times, I thought I had found it only to falter at the last moment. Then, a few weeks before the first death anniversary, I finally found the guts to tell her.

I went to their home, held his daughter, and had lunch with Celina. Then I sat her down in the living room and told her about that incident. I couldn’t have gotten a worse reaction if I had slapped her. The color just drained from her face and I knew I was going to regret this day.

“Do you mean to tell me, I lost my husband and Cristina is without a father because he changed places with you?” I didn’t answer.

“Are you saying that if you hadn’t changed places, my husband would still be alive? He would still be alive if you hadn’t let him talk you into it? Do you understand what that means to me?” Again, silence was my only answer. What can one say? It won’t take the bullet back. And it won’t make it any easier for her. Perhaps hating me would somehow give her some kind of peace…

She told me to leave. I walked out of there, and never saw her or her daughter again. That was eleven years ago.

Sometimes, doing the right thing might not feel right at all. Sometimes it might leave more questions than answers. Sometimes it’s easier to pretend that everything’s alright. But if you value your friends, you do it anyway. Anything else is hypocrisy. It dishonors your friends, both the living and the dead. I can’t stand that shit. Nor the hypocrites.

We left the Rangers because of hypocrites. The ones who send you into that hell called combat, and ask you to take ground from the enemy. Only later to give what was gained back to the very enemy you spilled blood for in the first place. And then pretend that everything was in order, so they can go on with their priveleged lives. Bastards.

Hopefully, when I die I won’t have to go under such circumstances. Unlikely that I’ll merit a military burial since I’m a civilian now. But that’s okay, they’re too depressing for me anyway.

I want everything, including the headstone to be just as simple as can be:
August 14, 1972-(insert date of death here) “Here lies Ace. The Bastard.”

And make my final request be that they bury me face-down.

So the world can kiss my ass.