A large part of the nation tends to kick back and cut slack during the holidays. Some professions cannot do that by sheer nature of the importance of their contribution to national security. Others will not simply because… they don’t want to.
Such was the attitude of my Special Mission Unit (SMU). It was a year that we felt we needed to train more, but we were just running out of days in the year to do it. It was then that we chose to run our live-fire urban combat training all the way up to Christmas eve. There would be no family-man-of-the-years awards for us that year… or any other year for that matter — worms!
Not even Christmas would compromise our resolve to train to standard.
Our urban combat training site was an abandoned neighborhood just off the far end of the runway of a major American airport. The property values had sunk out of sight due to the constant roar of the aircraft overhead. The houses were pretty old — but I don’t think they were older than the airport. It begged the question: “why would anyone think it was a good idea to build a community so close to the flight path of such a large airport?”
An abandoned hood such as this makes an excellent complex urban target subject.
While some real estate investors had taken a bath on the deal, Delta had gained a 360-degree free-fire city where anything could go into the tactical fight. Our operations cell had worked on the hood for weeks preparing it with modifications: pop-up targets in windows and doors, on roofs, and even behind bushes. Some of the targets moved across streets mounted on rollers that ran along the tops of cables. There simply was just no way to even have an inkling of what to expect.
And it is the unexpected that adds the greatest to the realism of the training venue, on that inculcates you into expecting the unexpected. The whole ambiance of the scenario begged every man to constantly scan overhead and wonder just what might burst forth from out of the ground. Therein lay a formidable test of our true live-fire marksman skill.
The Grinch was our Bravo Assault Team Leader. He was a painfully no-nonsense one-man wrecking machine with combat experience in Lebanon, Somalia, the Iraqi Wars, and Afghanistan. “Asscrackistan,” the Grinch would say, “is no place for a fatherless boy.” Yet, just what exactly he meant by that no sane man knew, but it was his version of humor, and knowing that we all laughed each time he said it.
Another famous Grinch-ism: he was once formally quoted to have said to a man: “Well, that’s your opinion and it’s wrong!” Any attempt to explain the absence of right or wrong of opinion was in danger of being met with a lung-collapsing blow to the chest; that’s just how the Grinch rolled. Ours was never to reason with the Grinch; ours was to accept or die.
We spent half days planning our assaults on our “Slum City” as we called it: methods of infiltrations onto a target, exit strategies, routes of movement to objectives, and contingency plans. During the second halves of the days we executed our assaults on targets.
The support bros who stayed late to repair and rearrange the target, called “re-cocking” the target, were treated like royalty. Indulge me please when I tell you that mistreatment or disrespect shown to a support brother by an Operator could get the Operator put on immediate probation; it simply was not a thing that the Unit was willing to tolerate.
A meeting with the City Mayor’s office and Police Chief was required to secure the used of the abandoned neighborhood that was scheduled for demolition. After presenting a description of the training we planned to do, the Mayor asked our senior officer:
“What guarantee can you give me that your men will not miss some of these targets and send bullets whizzing through my city?” The response: “Because they’ll be told not to.”
The senior officer replied — “sold!”
During the last assault (it’s always on the last assault) the Grinch skillfully maneuvered his pipe-hitters from building to building. The booming of flash-bang grenades and quick staccato double-tap* rifle shots was rhythmic, to the extent that we could pretty much tell how far through the buildings he was.
Then “it” happened…
The Grinch slammed a flash-bang into a room that bounced off a wall and came to rest near the open entrance door. When it exploded it shoved the locked door shut. It was a metal door that did not respond to mule kicks from the powerful Grinch: “put a man on it and the rest of us bypass it!” the Grinch instructed. When they finished clearing the structure it had already become filled with smoke that was coming from the locked room.
“BLOW IT!!” the Grinch called out and a man immediately slapped a full-length high-explosive charge on the door and fired it. With a rocking blast, the door was folded and pushed inside the room, but immense flames shot out of the doorway. With a quick assessment, the Grinch keyed his microphone and called in the situation as structural fire out of control. The Command and Control element had the city fire department dispatched.
It became painfully clear that most of Slum City was going to burn.
The old building was consumed totally and in short order by flames that spread from building to building. Soon an entire block was a raging inferno of flame and choking smoke. The pumper trucks from the local fire department showed up. The boys were there to meet the trucks.
The moral of the story was that we couldn’t let the locals into our target area to see the scenario and all the classified “things” we had strewn about:
“Thanks, we’ll take it from here,” the boys told the fire crews, who stood stunned for many moments, and then ultimately had to concede to the pipe-hitters who bore no grins upon their faces. It was no joke.
“They… they took our trucks…”
The fire crews huddled at our Slum City entrance while the boys fought the fires, knocking them down with high-pressure hoses and water canons. The assault tactics on fire were the status quo for any assault, the only difference was just that water was now being launched. The last of the flames succumbed to the deluge with a small number of structures destroyed that was hardly worth the count. A few pun jokes ranged out as the burn fizzled:
“Be sure and watch for squirters!”
“Let’s flush these terrorists out of their ratholes!”
And so it went.
The brothers knocked down the flames with high-pressure water the best they could.
“Who on God’s Earth is responsible for this madness??” demanded our ranking officer later into the night as he addressed the balance of the men. The mighty Grinch, offering no sugar coating, took a mighty step forward saying nothing as he stood with hands on his hips, and stared the major down, then finally:
“What are your questions, Sir?”
As a spell of bewilderment concluded: “Ok… we’re all tired from a very long day and night; let’s knock it off and get some sleep!” the major conceded.
By Almighty God and with honor,
*Double-tap: two shots of rifle or pistol that are fired very quickly to the chest area of a threat target. Often they are fired so fast as to be barely discernible as two separate shots fired. Double-taps are often fired with a slower third “clean up” shot to the head. The meter of the event will sound like this: “Ba-Bam… bam, Ba-Bam… Bam.”