(You can read part one here)
(Dedication for this article goes to my SOFREP sister Ms. TXAZZ)
Correction from part one: the Brigade commander Colonel “Rodriguez,” it rather named “Velasquez.” I was able to dig up some documents on this subject that I had holed away that allowed me to make the correction.
To further clarify, in-country I went by the name Carlitos, and my squadron brother went by the name Ricardo.
After weeks of inactivity due to the excruciatingly indecisive Colonel Velasquez, we began to live by the fragile premise that if you banged your head against a wall in the same spot enough times, a hole will form. The rumor flavor of the day was that the Colonel was on the cartel’s payroll. I didn’t buy that because it was too easy to blame all woes on the cartel payroll.
It puts me in mind of a three-day bout of non-stop rain showers during the monsoon season there. I stood outside of our shelter, just under the overhang of the roof smoking a Colombian Mierda cigarette. Momentarily I was aware of the (large) presence of Ricardo standing next to me, also sucking one, frowning at the downpour.
“This weather must be on the cartel’s payroll,” he remarked.
“Good one Ricardo… and I’m pretty sure Candelaria our cook is also on the payroll; the food sux so bad.”
“Heh heh… and all these mosquitos, these mosquitos are all on the payroll!”
And so it went.
To a point, we were near desperation trying to get Velasquez to let us move on targets. The rumor of cartel payroll held fast, purely for lack of a better explanation. We continued to kick the commandos in their Colombian asses to try to get them to exercise and train, sucked down Mierda cigarettes, and ate crappy food prepared by our cartel-funded Candelaria.
And then it happened…
From an excursion to town, the cover of a local magazine, Semana (week), equivalent to America’s People magazine, caught one of our commando’s eye. He brought it back to the FOB and showed us. On the cover was a flattering picture of our dapper Colonel Velasquez, next to him was a sketchy frame grab from a video of him in bed with a prostitute.
The lead article in the magazine was a nearly ten pages long outlining an in-depth interview with him and how he was set up and blackmailed by the Santiago de Cali Cartel. He was approached and propositioned by a woman, Mery de la Vega, who was of course on the cartel payroll. She took him to her place where they had intimate relations in a bed with a hidden camera in the ceiling overhead.
The magazine Semana cover: (translation) The Colonel, the woman, and the video. Semana reveals the true story of the commander of the Search Block who gave into the charm of a cartel spy; was filmed and later frustrated by blackmail. “She proposed to me that we play around as lovers and I like the game.”
At that time the Colonel had a pretty young wife, some 20 years his junior, and an infant child. That too, I thought sensational and too easy to sling out there as a cliché rumor, said of a Colombian army officer. However, on my very next flight from Cali to Bogota on our twin-engine nine-seater aircraft, I would change my mind.
Thankfully there were only six of us so as not to jam the aircraft. Next to me sat a charming young woman in her early twenties. She sported an infant child. To break the awkward silence I mustered a benign conversation. Cutting to the chase, mother and child turned out to be the wife and child of the clay-footed, bad decision-making, Colonel Velasquez.
That discovery promptly squelched any further conversation between me and the charming Mrs. Velasquez. Well, hadn’t this turned out to be such a fine kettle of fish? I stared at the clouds below through the window and wondered how on Earth we were ever going to conduct counter-cartel operations. And speaking of how on Earth… how would Velasquez remain in his present position with such a compromise? Would there be a new commander? What would be the new commander’s motivation be toward the mission?
I spent my time off at the American Embassy like the rest of my guys, rather than resting, relaxing, and enjoying myself. I ate great food in the embassy cafeteria though, and that was worth the entire trip back to Bogota to recuperate. It was cool too, to have time to hang out with our unit intelligence analyst and get caught up on the real story regarding activities in the cartel.
Late on a particular day, Ricardo and I went to the embassy to make phone calls back to the States using the STU III secure telephone. Ricardo peeled off to the bathroom closest to the room assigned to our mission. I pushed open the door to find the in-country Commanding General seated at our conference table… waiting for us!
Stunned, I realized that I had nothing clever to say. He stood, as I snapped to the position of attention and bid him good evening, Sir.
“Be at ease, soldier… are you Sergeant First Class (SFC) George Hand or SFC Ricardo W.”?
“I’m SFC George Hand, Sir.”
“Well, I’m here to tell you and SFC W. that you are both promoted to Master Sergeants (MSG).”
That was cool of him to come here to do this. It was the most amazingly informal event. He didn’t even hand out the tradition first pair of MSG rank for our uniforms. We shook hands, which was as much as I wanted. I hoped Ricardo would hurry in so I wouldn’t be stuck trying to make small talk with a General.
“Where’s Ricardo?” the General questioned.
“Well Sir, he just stopped off at the…”
The door to our room flew open and slammed hard against the wall.
“THERE’S NO GODDAMNED PAPER TOWELS IN THE FUCKING BATHROOM!!” Ricardo roared as he barged in.
He locked up when he saw the General. He stood there stunned, with nothing clever to say. His hands were both held up like a doctor’s, freshly scrubbed sterile for surgery, water dripping off onto the floor.
“SFC Ricardo W., you are hereby promoted to Master Sergeant,” commented the General as he stepped toward Ricardo with his hand and arm extended. Ricardo looked at the general’s hand, then at his dripping hands, then with full resolve, wiped his dripping hands thoroughly back and forth across his shirt. He thanked and shook hands with the boss.
Ricardo glanced my way to a wink and nod that he had done well.
Back at the FOB we were met with shock that Colonel Velasquez had authorized the assault force to enter mission planning based on fresh intelligence that Gilberto and perhaps Miguel were going to be present for lunch with ‘clients’ the following day at a specified location.
The air went damned near electric with bustling activity that frankly was an exquisitely amorphous mess. Ricardo and I formed the men into groups with a measure of hierarchy. There was a leadership cell for the planning of actions on the objective, then the senior enlisted cell responsible for directing the subordinate enlisted men in mission equipment preparation.
The leaders planning cell was no different than any other Unit counterpart: everyone wanted to be the smartest guy in the room. There was butt-hurt pouting, sniping, walking away mad, fist-to-table pounding, knife hands in chests, cursing… everyone involved had to have their plan be the chosen one; it was like being home again.
We did though, somehow arrive at the point of organized brief-backs. We did several, then dispersed for the evening to stand down and rack out. We would have plenty of time the next day to run through another couple of brief-backs prior to load out and hit time. Me, being the ye-of-little-faith guy, felt I was just going through motions, as I expected nothing to come of the hit the following day.
Back in the bunk room, the Colombians had been nice enough to give Ricardo and I bunks nearest to the latrine. Ricardo and I engaged in our nightly bedtime ritual of dousing the pisser with buckets and buckets of river water to quell the powerful ammonia odor of urine that kept us up at night.
“So, what do you think the odds are the mission will execute tomorrow, Ricardo?”
“Mission…shcmission,” he replied as he slung another bucket of aqua del rio in the piss trench. He had summed it up rather wisely by my estimation, I felt. He was a kind man, he was a wise man, he was a ridiculously strong man, and I was glad he was there.
The next day brief-backs ran very well. The commander of the assault team, Major Peña, told of a special reconnaissance asset on his way to our FOB to receive instructions. Minutes later the ASS-et showed up piloting a totally black motor scooter. He wore: a black helmet with tinted face shield, black shoes, socks, pants, long-sleeve shirt, and black leather gloves.
“Does the circus know one of its clowns has escaped, Carlitos?”
“I don’t know Ricardo, but all he’s missing is a top hat and cane.”
When he pulled his helmet off to chat with Major Peña he revealed a smooth-shorn shiny bald head. Far be it for us gringos to ruin the spectacle that the Colombians were piecing together. I was of the mind to let them run with it and follow it out of sheer curiosity, rather than step up to the wall and make that hole bigger.
“Carlitos, we can’t let him send that idiot to go driving by the target where the brothers might be there to see him. He would be less conspicuous if he flew a camera drone up Gilberto’s ass.”
“Ricardo, I agree… but you need to go look at the map on the wall in the TOC and read what country this is.”
Off buzzed James Bond on his sub-caliber motorbike. Ricardo and I resumed our customary perch under the roof overhang of the barrack building, sucked a Mierda cig, and chirped out a couple of stanzas of Goin’ Back to Cali.
It would be lunchtime soon, and we would feast on no meat, yucca root, green something, and way-too-sweet coffee. We would pass on the food, favoring another Mierda cigarette, and bitch for the umpteenth at Candelaria for putting too much Goddamned sugar in the coffee.
“Candelaria, no echas tanto asucar en el cafe—coño!”
Loadout in the fulgone assault trucks was a drill not of this planet. Albrecht friggin’ Einstein couldn’t venture a mathematical equation that would reason the events that were unfolding before our eyes. Ricardo and I were assigned the task of standing under the roof overhang letting the occasional oath tumble out of our mouths between puffs of our Colombian Shit cigarettes.
Then it happened again…
One of the truck drivers started his truck, then jumped out for a moment to grab his own pack of Mierda cigarettes that he had left sitting on the gas tank. He stuck one in his mouth and bent forward at the waist cupping his hand around his cigarette and lighter to shield from the wind. Slowly the truck rolled backward, picking up speed as it rolled down the hill toward the Jarmillon river.
The clueless driver literally turned around and reached for the truck that was no longer actually even there. He looked at us; we pointed down the hill toward the river, to which point the driver now sprinted.
It was with great fortune that the truck slammed into some rocks before it made it down to the river. With the back doors open most of the assault force came tumbling out the back like paratroops with no parachutes, scattering and rolling on the ground. Ricardo and I didn’t even bat an eye or miss a puff of shit.
“What’s hit time again, Carlitos?”
“Well, Ricardo… I guess it’s whenever they get there.”
We lost a single assaulter to a broken arm, otherwise, we were back in convoy lineup ready to roll to the objective. The trucks rumbled off leaving Ricardo an I at our battle stations under the roof overhang sucking shit. Ricardo’s head began to bee-bop rhythmically and I grinned knowing what was coming:
“Goin back to Cali
Going back to Cali…
I don’t think so.”
By God and with honor,
All photos courtesy of the author and Wikipedia