…Quiet steps. Quick movements to keep their cover and 3 of them moved through the cover of the trees. Was it enough? Could they find the enemy before one of them was killed?
So we crept under cover. As a soldier, you know that your training takes over. You can’t think about your movements. They have to be part of your instinct. If you’re thinking, you’re dead. You move as one group. Reading each other’s minds without talking. That leaves you free to observe the surroundings. Looking. Listening.
Jenkins remembered the days his father would take him squirrel hunting in the woods. Quiet, which was hard to come by in those days. They lived out in the middle of Tennessee, which was remote from the big cities, but not too far away from the struggles of his small town and school. He struggled in school. He was smart, but now by the measures of the classroom. He didn’t act up, but couldn’t pay attention to the details of the subject matter. He struggled to get by. Hunting with dad was a way to get away from that stress. Dad loved him as did his mom. He didn’t want to kill just to kill one of God’s creatures. It was learning a lesson. “If you’re gonna kill it, you better be prepared to eat it”, his dad always said. He could still hear the voice in his head. Snap out of it, no room for distraction, dreams or being far away.
“Pssh” noise on the radio line. They all stopped and crouched instantly. What was that? Who was on the line? Radio silence from the captain. They picked up and started again.
“Phssh, grgrgrgrgrgr”. There is was again. But this time more noticeable but no words could be made out. Was it friend or foe? Everyone waited for a signal from squad leader.
The charred debris still falling from the sky from their lost friend. A brief victory for the enemy, maybe. Always hate to lose someone, but everyone knew the task at hand was bigger than one person.
“Phssh…. Click click. Grrr-echo gggrrr-avo. gggrrr -ictor”. Echo? Bravo? Victor? That was the distress signal. But who and where was it coming from? Was that for them? They kept moving this time. A little faster. Tracking the last rendezvous place agreed upon to meet Johnson for pick up. But he didn’t have a radio.
Hold. The signal from the lead to stop at something interesting up ahead. A noise? A person? Nerves up but also under control. It’s never this way in training. There is nervousness but also the feeling that it’s not live bullets during training. This was no training exercise.
Something on the ground. A foot print. Bare foot. That might be him. The team tracked it to the right between two trees. They stopped. Disappeared. “Hoo, hoo”. They looked up. Quick turn around and at ease. Johnson. Sitting in a tree, like he was playing a game of hide-n-seek back home. Let’s get out of here and radio back to station.
The recovery choppers always came in fast and low for pick up. And they hit hard. Not enough room to land, so it was ascension via a ladder, but worth the ride. Johnson was first. Secure him as the others faced outward watching for anything suspicious. Better hurry. Not much time now, they will see them and fire upon then at any moment.
Two more were nestled into the chopper. One more. When he’s on it’ll be a quick turn and high-tail back to the dock.
“Rubber ducky to the Momma, we have the eggs and headed back to the Nest”. Overheard in the comms from the pilot. Still on guard even though we were headed away from danger, it was still ever present, like a giant weight pressing down.
Getting back from that retrieval the team felt a little bit of victory even with the defeat of losing a friend. The team was not aware of the status on the initial target. “Were we able to get?”, one member asked.
“We got it! Right after you guys hit the ground, we circled back around and blew that thing to the moon. Like putting popcorn in the oven. BAM!”, Stevens was always a bit dramatic, but who could blame him. We all needed a win. And we needed some emotional out. I was comforted by his enthusiasm.
We started packing our gear, which wasn’t much. It was time to pull further out across the border into safer territory. We did our part for today as part of the bigger plan. That was our payment, if anyone was looking for an equalizer.
The cargo trucks were loaded up and everyone aboard. Not much was left behind except the dirt and dry spot from their station. The smoothness of their operation installation and removal would leave anyone impressed. It was a hard place to be and they made it look easy.
Oct 22, 2020
Between a rock and a hard place