Black Ops: Operation Zombie

Posted: October 9, 2010 in Uncategorized

 

Sniper team, moving into position....

Location:
Time:

A phrase you might find useful someday: “I have no recollection of the event, date or place in question.”

Roy and I walked into the room. It was spartan, just one long table and a couple of chairs. Whiteboard on the wall, with a grid map on it. This was used as a briefing room by officers. This was the first time we had ever been asked to enter it. (After officers are briefed about a mission, they brief their platoons either in their barracks or out in the open areas. You know, the old take-a-stick-and-draw-on-the-ground routine.)

Our LT was there. So was Sarge. There were two other sergeants from S-2 (Military Intelligence). But we were surprised to find that present also were our Company (Captain) and Battalion (Lieutenant Colonel) Commanders. Roy and I were the only enlisted men in the room. When you see that kind of brass in a room along with Corporals or Privates like us, you know something monumental was about to take place.

Whatever this was about, it was important enough that it had to be done in the presence of a Company and a Battalion Commander. It was going to be one of those “life-changing moments”.

As Roy and I took our seats, one last man came into the room. His insignia marked him as a Captain, but the patch on his left arm was nothing I had ever seen before: Special Operations Command (SOCOM).

Of course, the Scout Rangers, just like Special Forces, were under SOCOM (unofficially, though, during this time), it’s just that Roy and I had never seen one of these guys up close and personal before.

He had a some brown folders in his hands, and gave one to each of the other officers, LT included. The last one, the captain laid in front of us enlisted men. There was nothing unique about it. No markings. Action movie freak that I was, I was disappointed that it didn’t have Classified stamped in red letters on it. Not even the Armed Forces logo. That would have been something.

It’s called a target package. Our very first.

All specialized units in the world are familiar with a strategy called  “selective elimination”. Anyone trained in unconventional warfare knows it well. During a battle, the unconventional warrior will actively select and eliminate certain HVTs (High Value Targets) such as enemy commanders, radiomen, snipers, machine-gunners, artillery crews. Hence, the term “selective elimination”. In combat, it’s just tactics.

Outside of actual or direct combat, some would call it murder.

So what our instructors once told us, (“What we are going to teach you here will be that grey area between justifiable homicide and cold-blooded, premeditated murder…”) was about to be put to the test.

I opened the folder. And looked into the eyes of pure evil. A black and white photo of a man. They use black-and-whites because images and facial features are sharper. And it gives you that feeling that you are not looking at a human being, but just a target. That’s how I felt.

So there he was. Unsmiling. No emotion in the eyes or corners of the mouth. Broad forehead and high hairline. Flat nose. Nothing prominent about his features at all. Reminded me of a professor I once had. You would have passed him in a crowd and not actually “see” him. Not a head-turner, this one.

But when I studied the face, I kept going back to his eyes. Something about them, and I couldn’t put my finger on it for a couple of moments. Then it hit me. He had Ellis’ eyes. “Serial Killer” Ellis eyes. That’s what I called Ellis as a joke. Anyway, this guy had the same kind of eyes, with an almost reptilian quality to them. The same look Ellis had when he was about to dispatch someone with his knife. Calm. But behind them, a raging storm. But Ellis was not an evil man. This one was.

And so the two sergeants and the Colonel from SOCOM briefed us on him. Classic HVT. Code-named, Beria. I’m sorry I can’t be more specific.  Let’s just leave it at that.

From time to time, the communist leadership conducts purges within its ranks. Similar to the kind Lenin and Stalin did with their own people. Those suspected of being disloyal, of sympathizing with or worse, spying for the government are killed. Sometimes entire families are wiped out. No questions asked, no trials. The methods vary: assassinations, public execution, or in most cases, people just “disappear”.

If you know a bit about the history of communism, you’ve probably heard of a man by the name of  Lavrentiy Pavlovich Beria. He was the chief of Soviet internal security and the secret police apparatus under Stalin. He became the head of what was known as the NKVD, which evolved into the more well-known KGB later on.

The communist insurgency has regional commanders, called Supremos. Our target was the Supremo’s Beria. Get it? He was responsible for a lot of these purges. They even have a name for this type of operation: Zombie. If you think Ampatuan was bad, this one was a whole lot worse. He wasn’t doing it for money or power. It was fanatical zeal that drove him.

A Zombie Operation is like a Godfather-style mob hit. You’ve seen “The Godfather” trilogy right? Where the Corleones assassinated their enemies simultaneously? That, my friend, is a Zombie operation.

A recent casualty of one of these purges was an S-2 sergeant, a colleague of these men briefing us. A former Ranger. Whatever the nature of the operation he was running as an intelligence officer, we were never told. All we knew was that he was gunned down in front of his wife and kids by Sparrows (NPA assassins). One of them then blew his face off with a sawed-off shotgun as a finishing touch. So his casket wouldn’t be open for viewing at the funeral.

It was a “statement killing”, meant to send a message.

Then the Battalion CO stood up, and leaned on the table right across from me.

“Your job,” he said, addressing Roy and I directly in English, “is to send that message right back at them. No one will ever know about this. But they will. And you will send that message with all the lethality that Rangers are known for. You two will be the tip of the spear in this operation. And you will drive that spear deep. Do you boys understand?”

He looked at us with hard eyes, measuring us. I found myself feeling very uncomfortable. But I wanted this mission. So did Roy. I did a mental gulp before we answered.

“Yes, sir.”

The SOCOM captain then stood up. He had a couple of decorations on him. Distinguished Conduct Star(3 repeats. That’s impressive. Usually by two, you should be dead.), Wounded Personnel Medal (2 repeats. Equivalent to a Purple Heart), and he also had the jump wings of a paratrooper, and the Marksmanship Badge. A fellow sniper. Yeah. I must say, I was officially impressed.

“Actually, we had a choice between you and another sniper team from Marine Force Recon. But we chose you because of proximity to the target location, and you’re one of the most experienced teams in this area. Plus the fact that one of the Marine snipers was wounded in an ambush a few days ago. And considering that this man’s responsible for the death of one of your own, your Battalion Commander wants you to get payback.” he said.

Only then did it truly dawn on me and on Roy that this was going to be a revenge hit. We’ve done things like that before, but never on so personal a level. Never against just one,  specific individual. It was about us giving the enemy a taste of their own medicine. We didn’t know the dead sergeant personally. We didn’t need to. He was a fellow Ranger. That’s all we needed to know.

One of the things other than combat that a Ranger is good at is exacting vengeance on his enemies with extreme prejudice. And we have long memories.

This was not going to be some chance encounter on a remote jungle trail. Not some random tango picked out during the chaos of a gunfight or some nameless face in your scope. This time, we would be specifically targeting someone who’s name we knew.

After almost three years hunting for him, they finally pinned him to one location. And they knew when he would be there. Again, there were no details as to how that information was obtained, but there only two ways they could’ve gotten it, really: either a traitor, or what we call a DPA (Deep Penetration Agent). A DPA is an “asset” who has managed to infiltrate the organization to a high enough level to acquire that kind of intelligence.

So now we had a “who”, and a “when”. The “where” and “how” was pretty straight-forward stuff. It was the SOCOM captain who briefed us on that, moving to the map taped to the whiteboard in front of us.

In two days, he said, our tango was going to be no more than fifty kliks(kilometers) from where we were sitting, visiting the house of one of his girlfriends. He always came in the dead of the night, but as far as when he leaves, that was unpredictable.

Half a klik to the east, was a hill. It was an ideal spot, for the sun would be behind us.

Roy and I were to position ourselves just below the crest, while the other six squad members would split into two-man teams and set up a defensive perimeter on both of our flanks and the rear. Sarge would be leading the squad. LT was not going with us. Instead, he was going to be leading 2nd Squad on a separate mission which we later found out was in conjunction with ours. At the time we had no need to know, so we were not briefed on it.

Then the SOCOM captain told us to keep the details to ourselves, even from the members of our own squad. They were not to be given any information, other than it was high-priority. Only LT, Sarge, Roy and I would know the exact nature of the operation. As far as the other members of the platoon knew, it was just another recon patrol.

The captain, along with a four-man Special Forces team, would set up a command post in the jungle no more than five kliks away from where we were going to be.

Once we were in position and had spotted our target, we were to report it to him (call-sign: Voodoo 6) through a different operational frequency. He also told us not to take the shot until we received the kill order or green light. Later, we would find out why.

But initially, I thought that if they really wanted this guy dead, why make us wait? Why not just give us the “weapons-free” authorization, so we could take the shot the moment we had one? Naturally, we didn’t ask. I had a feeling there was a Bigger Picture involved here. And all Roy and I had was a dinky little 1×1 ID photo compared to it. That’s the way things are in Spec Ops, I figured. Besides, if they wanted us to know, they would have told us. In military black ops, you have to believe that there’s a reason for everything.

In any case, once it was “mission complete”, we were to extract and rendezvous with the captain and his SF team, and head for our extraction point 2 kliks from where his command post was. We would then evac via two Huey gunships. The plan was that K.I.S.S.-simple.

Once the briefing was over, we were reminded not to discuss any details with our platoon-mates. We were also not allowed to leave the perimeter of the camp, for security reasons.

One and a half days later…

The Stalk…

0430H

I was the third man in the column formation. Ellis, on point, signaled for a stop with Sarge right behind him. We all came to a halt, then sat on our haunches and each man covered his designated sector.

It was highly unlikely that we would encounter an NPA patrol out here. They didn’t like messing with Rangers in the dark because when it came to fighting in low-light conditions, they knew we owned the night. Sarge came up to me in the darkness.

“Castillo,” he whispered, then pointed, “there’s your hill.”

Silhouetted against the setting moon, I could see it in front of us, about 300 meters away. I gave him a nod, then turned to Roy who was next in the formation. I signaled him by tapping the top of my head with my right open palm. “On me.” He acknowledged this with a nod, then we peeled off, separating ourselves from the squad.

I was the one with the NVGs (night-vision goggles), so I took point. People make a big deal out of these things, but they do have disadvantages. First of all, there’s no depth perception. Everything looks fuckin’ flat, like a greenish 2-D cartoon.

And since it relies on ambient light and magnifies it, when you fire your weapon, you can get blinded by your own muzzle-flash. And it can’t in any way, help you out when looking for booby-traps.

The one good thing I like about it though, is that if someone’s out there and looking at you, you’ll see their eyes. Like dogs’ or cats’ eyes caught in your headlights when you’re driving at night. The enemy can’t hide those. You can use those two points of eerie green light as reference when shooting at tangos in the dark. Guaranteed head-shots. Insert evil grin here.

 

Waiting to take the shot...

The Hide…

0500H

We finally got to the base of the hill and made our upwards trek. We had to find a nice spot for our nest before sun-up. From time to time I’d remove the NVGs so I could reference the hill against the moon and get my bearings. It took a while, but I finally found the right elevation and started walking along an invisible line just below the crest.

I looked westwards and saw lights from the soon-to-awaken town. There was a nice depression on a ridge that was heavily overgrown with vegetation. When the sun came up, it would be nice cover that would minimize the chances of sunlight glinting off the barrels and scopes of our rifles. Perfect. This was the spot. This was our hide site.

We geared-up in our Ghillie suits as quickly but quietly as we could. Roy first, while I stood watch, then it was my turn. We buried ourselves in the underbrush near the ridge’s edge. Just in time too, as the sun started to peek over the horizon. It was almost 0530H.

And we stayed hidden there for the next five hours.

The Waiting Game…

1015H

When you’ve spent hours stalking a target, it gives you a lot of idle time to think. I never fully realized that till now. Before, we got to do this only during combat, looking for HVTs to take out. A foolish enemy commander who decides at the wrong moment to show his head around a tree, or over a wall. A machine-gunner blasting away at our troops from a window. An enemy sniper on a rooftop or up in a tree. Targets of Opportunity was what they were called.

In a battle things happen fast. Sometimes you don’t even realize you’ve shot someone until you actually see them writhing in the dust, clutching a chest wound or dropping lifeless to the ground after taking a shot to the head. That’s because there’s no time to think, only to react. This was different. This was our first long wait. And it made me look back on some of the things we were taught in Sniper School. The things I didn’t pay much attention to, or hoped I never had to do.

Like the time Staff Sergeant Romero told me, “The day will come when the man you see in your scope will not be some random target, but someone who’s name you actually know. It won’t be easy. You’ll see him in a way you’ve never seen others before. You’ll witness those unguarded moments. They might be smiling, laughing, or even crying. Everything that makes them human. That will be the moment when you will hesitate. DO NOT ALLOW THAT TO HAPPEN.”

He had taught us the art of superimposing. At close quarters, you have this mind-set where every tango is like a silhouette on the firing range. You see them as paper targets or falling plates. Not the same when you’re looking through a scope, specially in a situation like this. So what you do is you think of someone else. Someone you despise, maybe, and superimpose that person on your target. In my case, it was my stepfather. And that was the mind-set I brought with me that day. That I was gonna kill the prick.

S/Sgt. Romero was also the one who constantly reminded us that “The reason why people sleep at night without having to worry that armed men might kick down their doors, drag them out of their beds, and execute them, is because there are men like you. Men who are willing to do violence in their name. So, always, ALWAYS… remember your duty.”

Roy and I both wanted to do this. To us, this was a real mission. By our definition, a mission is something that would have an actual impact on the enemy. We were all tired of being sent somewhere to take real estate from them, only to pull back and have them retake it. Then get sent back in all over again and the vicious cycle would be repeated. To us, it made a mockery of our friends who had lost their lives. It was getting old.

Normally, Roy would have been the shooter on this one. But since I wanted to do it too, we settled it in the military-prescribed, fair-and-square manner: we tossed a coin for it. And tails won. It was rather fitting that Beria‘s  fate was to be decided that way.

By the third hour, we were already feeling the strain of the wait. Shoulder muscles were starting to knot up, eye muscles ached, and your head starts to throb as the sun got higher and higher in the sky.

We took turns looking through the scope. Thirty minutes is the absolute max you should spend looking through it, or you risked impeding your eyesight. By the fifth hour, you’re ready to kill something. Anything.

Though we were rarely more than five feet away from each other, Roy and I almost never talked on a stalk or during what we call The Waiting Game. There was no need. Everything you need to talk about, you talk about before leaving base.

Other than thinking about the job, you kept your mind free of everything else. Never think about loved ones. Not when you’re about to kill someone. That road leads nowhere. It was right before or right after 1000H that things came to a head. It was Roy’s turn on watch.

“Heads up. Movement.” Though he said it in a low voice, he might as well have shouted it in my ear because it caught me off-guard, and almost made me jump. My blood was up instantly and I felt the adrenalin surging through me. I picked up my rifle and instinctively held the scope about three inches away from my eye. Initially, the cross-hair bobbed up and down as I reoriented myself to acquire the target house.

And sure enough, there he was. Beria. My stepfather (In my head, that is. Superimpose, remember?). He stepped out from the backdoor and into the backyard. White shirt, brown shorts. I wasn’t sure it was him at first, until he turned towards me, stretched, and yawned. He looked like he just woke up.

“He must have had one hell of a night.” Roy commented. He looked like it. Who wakes up at ten in the morning around here, anyway?

“Yeah. Maybe. Call it in.” I said. And he was instantly on the radio.

“Voodoo-6, Viking-2. We have eyes on the tango. Repeat, eyes on the tango.” The reply came in about five seconds later.

“Viking-2, Voodoo-6. Is that verified?” Roy and I looked at each other. He was kidding, right? What did he think we were? Amateurs? Naturally, we let that one slide. Roy just shook his head.

“10-4, Voodoo-6. That’s one hundred percent verified. It’s Beria, sir.”

Just as he said that, our tango turned around and walked back in. Shit. He would’ve been dead by now if we were weapons-free. Whatever it was that Voodoo-6 needed to sort out before giving the order, he’d better get it done or I might not have another chance.

“Okay, Viking-2. Stand by. Wait for green light.” Roy acknowledged, then put the mike down. He was looking through the ranging scope the whole time and I could tell that he too was frustrated by that missed chance.

“I hate this waiting game. Let’s just go kill something.” He was saying it more to himself than to me.

It was another excruciating ten minutes before Beria stepped out again. He had a newspaper in one hand and a cup of coffee in the other. In the backyard was a small gazebo. Big enough to hold maybe up to four people. You don’t get to see a lot of those around here. There was a table and four chairs. As luck would have it, he chose the one facing me. Roy went on auto-pilot, calculating distance, elevation and wind.

“Four-two-five meters. Two-kilo west-bound wind. You’ll have to compensate for drop. I’d say two mils.” There was no need to make any adjustments on my scope. I had it zeroed for five-hundred meters. The bullet would hit him slightly above my aim point, but I would still compensate for the slight drop since I was on an elevated position with the wind behind me.

And so he sat there for the next few minutes, sipping his coffee and reading his paper. Not knowing that more than 400 meters away, a sniper’s rifle was pointed at him, with its cross-hair planted squarely on his chest. I observed him doing his thing and at some point, he put the paper down and took a sip. At this range, I could clearly see this far-away look he had on his face. He was looking directly at me. Then he smiled. Shit. My blood went cold, and I remembered thinking: what the fuck was that? I knew it was impossible for him to have seen me, of course, but that didn’t make the experience any less eerie. I wonder what he was thinking about? If there was a “time-out” on this thing, I’d probably go down there and ask, what the hell.

As if that weren’t enough, the backdoor opened again, and out stepped his girlfriend. With a little boy in tow. Double-shit. He was a cute little thing, probably older than my own boy, whom I’d never seen. He would be about a year old by now. This one looked like he had just woken up too, hair all frazzled and disheveled. Fuck me sideways.

This was exactly the kind of thing I was warned about. No one said he had a kid with this woman. Just that she was a mistress or something. FUBAR. To make it even worse the little one ran to him in that cute way only kids can. You know, when they teeter forward and it seems like they’re gonna fall? He took the boy in his arms and sat him on his lap. The kid’s head ended up right in my cross-hair where I had my rifle aimed at his father’s chest. Oh, man. This was messed up.

“Kid’s in my line of fire. Shit.” I said distractedly.

I tried my best to close my mind to it. I could feel that even Roy was distressed by this, and he expressed it.

“Goddamn, bro. I’m glad I’m not you, right now.” he whispered. This, coming from a man who once shot dead six insurgents from 500 meters, in under fifteen minutes during one engagement. That’s how screwed up it was.

A “Fuck you” was all I could muster in reply. When your skills are put to the test in the most unexpected way, you fall back on your training.

One of our instructors taught us to use what he called “The God Complex”. It’s a bit more extreme. Imagine yourself a god bestowing punishment on a lesser being. Pretend that that person is deserving of Death and that only you have the power to “smite” him. Pretty powerful stuff. It was the kind of thing someone like me appreciates. I’m not religious, but if I was, I’d be an Old Testament, eye-for-an-eye kind of guy. So that was my next approach to the dilemma.

Out here, I am God.

The Messenger....

The Shot…

1015-1030H

The next fifteen to twenty minutes were tense. After a few minutes, he put the kid down. Then, the boy ran around the gazebo and came out the other side riding one of those little three-wheeled bikes. And he did that for about ten minutes. My concern was, what if  Voodoo-6 came back on the net and gave the kill order? What then? Was I supposed to murder a father in front of his son? Because, make no mistake about it, that was what I was about to do. Kill a defenseless man in cold blood. It is what it is. And knowing what I knew about the target, this had to be done. In a rare moment of frustration, I turned to Roy.

“Get on the radio with Voodoo-6. Tell him the situation. Ask him if I still have to wait for green light, or if I can take the shot the moment the boy leaves the scene. Any thing can happen the moment he finishes his coffee or his paper. He might go inside, or he might leave. And we don’t have an angle from the front of the house.” I said.

“Okay. But he was very specific about – “ I cut him off.

“Yeah, yeah, I know. But do it anyway. Roy, I am not gonna shoot this guy in front of his kid. Make that clear to him. Do it.” This guy ordered his Sparrows to kill that Ranger sergeant in front of his wife and kids. If I did the same, then that made me no better than him.

Roy had no choice. I ripped my earpiece out as he hailed Voodoo-6 on the comms. I didn’t need the distraction. I looked through my scope once more.

The kid was still there, going around in circles on his frickin’ trike. Roy caught my attention.

“Voodoo-6 says LT is almost mission complete. Until he is, stand down. But if Beria seems like he’s about to leave your line of sight, take him out. With or without the kid present. Final word.”

Crap. Well, at least I tried. If there’s such a thing as Judgment Day, then let me be judged based on that. That was my only consolation. I replaced my earpiece.

I never took my eye off the scope as Roy relayed this information to me. And the kid was still there.

It was to my great relief when I saw the backdoor open. The girlfriend stood there, calling and gesturing to the boy.

Come on, kid. Go to mommy. And as an afterthought: I have to kill Daddy. I know that’s horrible, and it is as bad as it sounds, but that was what I thought at the time. I can’t deny that. And I wasn’t joking.

The kid stumbled off his bike, got up, then ran to his father again, just as he was taking another sip from his cup. He ran into his father’s knee, causing his arm to jerk upwards as he tried to get the hot cup out of the way, and he spilled some of the coffee on his own shirt.

At 10X magnification, I saw all of that in crystal clarity. I could even see the coffee stain on his shirt. He just laughed, then picked up his son, and gave him a final kiss before sending him off with his mother. But the kid seemed to want to stay a bit longer. He gestured to his woman to give them a few moments.

Well, at least he got to kiss his kid goodbye. The Ranger sergeant didn’t have that luxury, I reminded myself. It changes nothing.

He still had to die.

I saw him reach into his pocket and take out a pack of smokes, took one out, and lit it. You just had to be me to understand the morbid irony in all of this.

Not only does he get to kiss his son for the last time, but he gets to smoke a last cigarette as well. He was doing exactly the things a condemned man would normally ask for: say a final goodbye to a loved one, and a last smoke.

God must be laughing his ass off right about now.

He wasn’t halfway done when our comms came to life.

“Viking-2 or Viking-1, Voodoo-6.”

“Voodoo-6, Viking-2. Go ahead. Viking-1 has the tango. We’re clear.” Roy said, indicating that the boy was out of the picture.

“Copy, Viking-1 has the tango. Be advised,  Viking-6 is mission complete. Terminate your tango. You are Green Light.”

Welcome to the world of Black Ops.

Finally.

As if on cue, mother and son walked hand-in-hand, back into the house. I felt a lump in my throat that wouldn’t go away.

This was it. The Point of No Return.

With my rifle placed on top of my rucksack (serving as my firing platform), I planted my cheek firmly on the wooden stock, I placed the cross-hair in the center of his chest. Then I moved it slightly to the left and held it there. This was going to be in compliance with the final instruction we were given before we left camp: he was not to die quickly. The captain’s exact words were: “We want him to know that he’s dying and that nothing is going to save him. How you do that, I leave to your discretion.”

“Send a message”, they said. So be it. I’m the messenger, and my message is Death in a 7.62mmx51mm NATO round.

So, here we are. Men like you deserve men like me, Mr. Beria.

He had the cigarette in the corner of his mouth, and he opened up the newspaper, blocking my view of his torso. No matter. It’s not like it can deflect a .308 Winchester round flying at 2,800 feet per second.

I took a deep breath, exhaled slowly, then halfway through it I stopped and held it.

I was in my own bubble, now. I placed the ball of my index finger on the trigger and slowly pulled back on the slack. My target hadn’t moved.

Then I applied that final pressure, almost a caress.

You don’t really hear the shot. Or it’s like coming from somewhere in the back of your mind. It’s like that when you’re “in the zone”. You just feel the rifle buck, pushing into your shoulder pocket. Just take it. Brace too hard, and you’ll end up with a sore shoulder.

Then you hear the shot’s echo, as the sound travels away from you and into the valley below.

I reacquired my target, but all I could see at first was a wild flurry of paper. He had flung the newspaper upwards as he took the hollow-point slug in the chest. The impact threw him back, toppling the chair as he flew head-over-heels and ended face down on the ground.

The next thing I remember was the backdoor flying open, and the girlfriend was standing there. She probably didn’t hear the shot, just the sound of him being thrown violently to the ground.

She just stood there for a few seconds, stunned. Then she ran to his side and cradled his head in her arms. At that point, another man ran out of the house, pistol in hand. He ran to her, eyes and head moving around, scanning for threats. And he was doing it in a professional, trained manner. Could be a bodyguard, he was said to sometimes travel with one or two. Roy was suddenly alert, letting go of the spotting scope and switching to his rifle.

“Stand down. He could still be a civilian.” My instinct said differently, but I didn’t want to make a mistake now that we had accomplished what we came to do. As far as I was concerned, one death was enough. “Call it in.”

“Voodoo-6, Viking-2. Tango is X-ray. Repeat, Tango is X-ray. Mission complete.” I heard Roy say over the net.

“Roger, Viking-2. Verify that, then extract and proceed to my 20 (location).” Roy acknowledged it, then turned to me.

“Is he dead?” he asked.

I didn’t answer right away. I was still looking through the scope. Looking at her. It could have been just my imagination, but I swear I could hear her screams all the way up here. She still had him cradled in her arms. She probably knew enough that he wasn’t going to make it. I had shot him through the right lung. If I could see a coffee stain at this distance, there was no mistaking the blood that had all but soaked his white shirt now. The way his body was convulsing, I could tell he was choking on his own blood. I waited for the convulsions to stop. It took about two minutes.

“Now, he is.” I finally replied. “Let’s move out.”

POST-MORTEM

One week after returning to our barracks, Roy and I were once more summoned to the briefing room. The same one where all of this started and was planned. We were instructed to remove our name tags from our battledress uniforms, which were Velcro-strapped above our right breast pockets. We did so before we entered.

Inside, we found the SOCOM captain. We stood at attention by the door. He had with him a woman and three sad-looking children ranging in ages from about two to eight. He said something to her, and then walked up to us.

“Someone wants to meet you.” he said. “She doesn’t know your names, and she never has to. You will say nothing, is that understood?” We nodded, not really understanding what this was all about, and replied with the cursory “Yes, sir”, then he gestured us towards her.

Roy and I had barely taken a few steps, when the woman herself came up to us and gave each of us a hug and said “Thank you”, then hesitantly moved back to sit with her kids. That was it.

I didn’t know what to make of it, until the captain told us that she was the wife of the sergeant we had just avenged.

Then our Battalion CO walked in. He talked to the woman for a few moments, then he and the SOCOM captain stepped outside, leaving us with her and the children.

“You know”, Roy whispered. “He said ‘say nothing’, but he didn’t say ‘give nothing’, right?”

“Your point, being?” I asked. He put his left hand in his pants pocket, took something out and showed it to me. I smiled. That will do. I reached into my pocket as well, taking out a similar item. Roy gave me what he had in his hand, then we walked over to her.

“Ma’am”, I said, giving her what I had in her hand. I then reached over to my left shoulder, and ripped off my Scout Ranger patch which was Velcro-ed to the sleeve. Roy did the same, and we left both patches on the table, in front of her.

I remembered there was something I’ve been carrying around ever since we got back, and took it out, placing it on the table as well.

Then we both gave her a salute, did a smart about-face, and left the room.

What I had placed in her hand were two name tags. One said “Castillo” and the other “Cristobal”. And beside the two Ranger patches we left was a shiny brass shell casing. I imagined when she picked it up, and turned it over, she would have seen “.308 Winchester” stamped underneath it. It was the casing from the bullet I’d put in her husband’s killer.

She would never know the full story, and that would leave her with more questions. But at least she would know that his brothers took care of business.

For the wife of a fallen Ranger, sometimes that’s all you have to offer: the fact that though he may be gone, he was not forgotten.

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