It was not often that my Unit pager went off with a real-world mission alert, but every time it did it was as middle-of-night as it could possibly be, almost to the extent of being cliché. The numerical indicator on my pager only told me what to do — never why. In this case, I was to report to work immediately. I also never knew if it was just me, my whole squadron, or the whole Unit.
Since the streets were largely devoid of all traffic at that hour my chief concern was to not run into my Delta brother Patrick Arther McNamara. He lived literally just down the street in the same hood. If he got the same alert, he would also be exiting like a hell-departed bat, one escaping from the fourth ring of the ninth circle of the inferno, as Dante described it.
Strolling into my assault team’s room so as to appear cool and collected, I quelled the temptation to blurt out: “What’s going on? What’s happening?? WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON???” like a rookie. Nobody wanted to hear that annoying question in the first place, and secondly, if any of my mates had ANY information they were going to pass it on to me immediately.
“Hi there, would you like to be my neighbor?” I joked with Guido.
“Good morning Mistah Sinatra,” he responded in his mafioso voice.
Our Team Leader, pushing his way into the room, holding a notebook and sporting a very wide-awake expression, stated the following in a matter-of-fact voice:
“We’ve got an airliner hijacking situation.”
That was, as I judged it at the time, a pretty good opening line for a holy hell moment. Again the brothers and I held the temptation at bay to assault (no pun) the TL with a salvo of jabbing questions about the situation. We waited and gave him a respectful silence to finish his data dump:
“There’s a Boeing 747 on the runway at the Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, Holland… it’s got its flaps all the way down (an international sign of distress) and there are some odd sporadic transmissions coming from the cockpit.”
“What constitutes ‘odd sporadic transmissions’ in this situation, boss?”
“Uh, well there was a message from the cockpit: ‘It’s really dark and spooky out there.’”
“Oh my God… what the hell does that even mean? This is the weakest case for a highjack situation ever; this is totally a non-starter — why are we even here?”
“Yeah, I don’t know guys. That is all the info I have right now and we are all going to the War Room in 45 minutes to get an update and marching orders. For right now keep working on a full loadout.”
The load-out activity was typical in terms of testing and packing everything we planned to take to the fight. Quick saws got gassed and run up for a few minutes to prove they were ready to cut. Then doors to shipping containers slammed shut as they became filled with everything we needed to fight with anywhere on the planet for the next 72 hours, with no expectation of resupply; that included food and water — everything.
When the time came we all piled into the war room in anticipation of an intelligence summary; space was at a premium so we flopped on the floor. The senior intelligence officer stepped into the room and took position behind a podium, and in the most anticlimactic fashion announced:
“This situation has been the result of a comedy of errors and misinformation on so many fronts it is untenable to adequately decipher even a modest segment of where the faults lie. You are released back to your squadron commander.”
As quickly as he came, he was gone.
Satisfied with the state of readiness in our squadron loadout bay, we all scattered to head home.
“See yooz tomorrow, Guido.”
(mob voice) “Thank yooz, Mistah Sinatra.”
On Manchester Road just behind the Unit compound, I noted a pair of tire skid marks in the opposite lane that told the tale of a classic over-steer situation. The tire marks lead off of the road and across the ground where they terminated at a car that had squarely collided with a tree. It couldn’t have been more than a few minutes ago. The hour was still quite early and other traffic was all but non-existent.
For that reason, I felt obligated to investigate. When I pulled near I saw that the car was being driven by a woman in hospital scrubs probably headed in for an early morning shift. The force of the impact of the car against the tree had broken the door away from the car frame at the hinged side of the door. The woman was wedged between the door and the frame on her way to being thrown out of the car until friction had taken over.
She was squeezed in there pretty hard and in distress, clearly in much distress.
“Lord, mama! Look what you got your poor self into!” I exclaimed as I assessed the situation.
“I can’t breath, I can’t breathe, oh please help me I can’t breathe!” she lamented in earnest.
“Ok, so she can definitely breath,” I concluded. As for bleeding she had red splattered on her blouse, though it really didn’t look like blood. Just then Tony C. from my own assault team pulled up in his car. He too was on his way home, when he saw me and pulled off to help. He mentally took in the crash site as I dumped everything I had gleaned from my few minutes ahead of him.
“Tony, she isn’t going forward any farther, so maybe we can get her to go back instead. I’m going to crawl in there and see if I can get the car seat to release and free her; can you go ahead and call 911?”
As I wormed my way into the car first from the back seat trying to observe under the seat, there were a brazilian little cubes of shatter glass, as all of the car windows had been compromised in this decidedly high-velocity impact. With no headway from the back seat, I crawled up, over, and down into the passenger’s seat head-first with my legs over the seat. More glass, and:
“My God, Tony… the carnage here is hideous! Flesh and more flesh. Plenty of blood too! Good Christ her blood smells like Barbecue sauce — mother of pearl how much BBQ sauce must this sister have eaten to the point that even her blood smells like it. Oh, the humanity! Wait a minute, this IS BBQ sauce and all this flesh is chicken!”
I observed a large plate of BBQ chicken wangs partially contained in aluminum foil, and chicken wings scattered all over the floor. I sat up sharply staring at the sister’s back pinned there in the door jamb. Why… why this woman was driving along and reaching over to the platter on the passenger’s seat to snack on some cock-a-dooty chicken wangs and here I was risking my life to save her. And now I had BBQ sauce smeared all over where I didn’t want sauce smeared. So that “blood” on her blouse was buffalo wang sauce — crapezoidal rhomboid! Jesus, Mary, and Joseph! Mother of flippin’ pearl!
“Hey Geo,” Tony began, “want me to dash back and get the quick saw? It’s fuelled and run up!”
That was a brilliant idea and I was gear-turning over it. He had called 911, so they would probably arrive before he got back — albeit they would be some badass bragging rights were we to cut this poor soul out of her car ourselves.
Then I started distinctly hearing the sound of sirens. Ft. Bragg had been arguing with Pope AFB over who had jurisdiction over the crash site and now sirens were coming from two directions.
“You know Tony, when these humps get here they are going to majorly lock this whole area down and we are going to be stuck here for hours if we don’t get out of here right now!”
“I can’t breathe, Lord help — me I can’t breathe!”
“Yeah, yeah…” I acknowledged tersely.
I finished with Tony by shaking his hand soundly and thanking him, then sent him off scrambling. I waited until I was positive that the rescue vehicles were turning into the crash site; Bragg was first to arrive at the scene.
“God bless you, my sister — you’re going to be fine now!” And I raced off to my car.
Traffic appeared again as the hour approached work time-thirty. On the final five-mile stretch of road to my neighborhood, I recognized Pat McNamara’s vehicle coming toward me as he headed to work himself. I waved a hearty wave as we passed each other; but it was greeted only by a puzzled expression from Mac. He was going to hear all about the highjack farce soon enough; it was sure going to be the rage at the breakfast table. If not, I could give him the whole frustrating skinny when he got back to the hood that evening.
By Almighty God and with honor,