Navy Chief David McAtee was alive when the jihadists moved in. They were Chechens. Foreign fighters who had over run the hide site he had occupied. With three teammates, he had tried to escape and evade down the side of the mountain. There were simply too many of them for him and his recon team to successfully break contact and escape.
Chief McAtee was alive when the enemy started picking over his body, beginning to strip him of his weapons and equipment to divide amongst themselves. Shot through one lung, both legs, and through his cheek, he was in no condition to defend himself. His arm was limp; he couldn’t even feel any sensation in it as one of the Chechens undid the clasp on his wrist watch and then let his arm flop to the ground.
Chief McAtee was alive when the Chechens cut the gear off his body and yanked away his M4 rifle off by its sling. He struggled to breath. His three comrades were dead, that much he knew for sure. He had watched them die one by one. Now, he knew that they were better off.
Chief McAtee was alive when the knives came out and they began the cutting.
Wind howled down the side of the mountain. Snow-streaked crags of rock poked up from beneath the white ground, forcing the team to negotiate their way around them. The windswept mountain was an even bigger obstacle than the enemy, the terrain slowing them as they moved uphill through knee-deep snow.
Master Chief Bill Geddes saw the world through a green-tinted lens. The PVS-14 Night Optical Device limited both his depth perception and his field of vision but he was walking point and needed to be able to see the enemy before they saw him. Although the wind was blowing snow drifts off the side of the mountain, the night was clear with a full moon hanging over their heads. The added illumination would make it easier for the Master Chief to spot the enemy, but it would also make it easier for the enemy to see his team.
For what seemed like the hundredth time, he wiped snow off the lens of his NODs so that he could see.
The word to describe their current mission was anger. As members of Naval Special Warfare Development Group, commonly known as SEAL Team Six, they had been assigned to lay up in a hide site over a valley and watch for suspected enemy activity. Intelligence indicated that large numbers of foreign fighters were moving from Pakistan to Afghanistan through the valley, and the brass up at the Joint Operations Center in Bagram wanted a heads-up as to what was coming their way.
A second reconnaissance team, led by Chief McAtee, had occupied another overwatch position where they had a vantage point over a section of the road running through the valley that Bill’s team couldn’t cover. Four hours ago, McAtee’s hide site had been compromised. From what they could gather from the radio transmissions, the team had been on the run ever since. Two hours ago, they had lost radio contact with McAtee’s team altogether. Bagram couldn’t get them on comms and neither could Bill.
A Troops in Contact call had been sent over the net, but higher said it was a no-go. There was a storm moving in and they could not risk flying in close air support or the SEAL platoon that had been standing by as a Quick Reaction Force. Last month a CH-47 filled with Rangers had been shot out of the sky by the Taliban. It had turned into a big fiasco on the news networks back home and now the commanders were risk adverse about sending in helicopters on another rescue mission.
They could write off a small four-man recce team, but another downed CH-47 could cost some Colonel his star.
Pissed. That was another adjective that described how he felt, Bill thought to himself.
Since the cavalry wasn’t coming and they had no overhead surveillance, Bill decided to take the initiative. His four man recce team abandoned their hide side and began trudging through the snow towards the last known location of McAtee’s team.
Bill and his men had hardly slept since occupying the hide site several days prior. Now they were dehydrated from snaking their way up the side of the mountain. Most of them were big guys, weight lifters with a lot of upper body strength. Now they were paying the price as those large muscles required a lot of oxygen during exertion, oxygen that wasn’t available at high altitudes. They were exhausted, but Bill knew that as SEALs, there was no way they would turn around, no way they would quit, not without bringing their comrades home with them.
His legs dragging trails behind him, Bill was perhaps the most tired of all as he was up front breaking through the thick snow and making their route selection. Time seemed to standstill in the night, their faces having gone numb from the cold wind, their heads beginning to hang as sleep deprivation set in. Maybe it was another forty five minutes, maybe an hour and a half. During the after action review, Bill was unable to recall with any clarity when he saw the four silhouettes in the night.
The Master Chief could see them clearly through his PVS-14s from several hundred meters out. They wore thick jackets and Afghan pakol caps on their heads. The four of them had AK-47 rifles slung over their backs as they squatted, huddled around something. There was no camp fire. Adjusting the focus on his night-vision monocle, Bill could see their long ratty beards blowing in the wind.
The firefight was nothing spectacular. The SEAL Team Six operator had his men get on line and they opened fire as one, cutting down the four enemy fighters in half a second. No fancy tactics were going to be applied with the men exhausted and in such difficult terrain, and none were needed. Their M4 rifles cracked through the night. Two of the jihadists dropped like marionettes that had their strings suddenly cut. Another was struck in the shoulder, then tried to get back up and run until Bill emptied the rest of his magazine into the jihadist’s back. The last fell face-first into the snow. At first he tried to push himself back up, then thought better of it, laid back down, and promptly died.
Bill dropped his expended magazine, inserted a full one, and dropped the bolt on his M4 to chamber the first round. The other three SEALs on his team did the same.
Moving forward, the mountain planed out into a small ledge. As they grew closer, the SEALs put a few insurance shots into the Chechens just to make sure they were well and truly dead. Closing on the bodies, the SEALs were able to see what the enemy had been crouching around. Bill slung his rifle and ran to the prostrate form. Laying face down, the snow around Chief McAtee had been stained a dark shade of crimson.
The seam down the back of McAtee’s fatigues had been sliced open with a knife. His ass was bloody where the enemy had been sodomizing him. Bill took a knee and rolled his friend over on to his back. Reilly, the team medic, dropped his aid bag and began digging through its contents.
As Bill rolled McAtee onto his back, his blood ran colder than the wind blasting down the side of the mountain. McAtee convulsed in his arms, in a deep state of shock. He was not conscious but still technically alive. When Bill cradled his friend in his arms, the SEAL’s head hinged backwards with a jagged second mouth opening at the neck. McAtee was shaking in his arms.
Reilly crouched over him with bandages, but there was nothing he could do. He was a Special Operations trained medic, but felt utterly useless as his comrade’s condition was beyond anything he could begin to treat in an emergency room much less on the side of a mountain during a blizzard. They could hear McAtee gurgling as he struggled to breath.
Finally, the ravaged SEAL convulsed for the last time and lay dead in Bill’s arms. The four SEALs stared at the ground in shock. Each of them was a veteran of countless battles. Ship seizures in the Persian Gulf, covert operations in Somalia, targeted killings in Colombia, and direct action raids in Afghanistan, but none of them had ever experienced anything like this. This was different. This was crossing a line from which they could not return.
Bill laid McAtee down in the snow. Digging into his kit he found a space blanket that he used to cover the remains with. He then began camouflaging the body under snow with the other SEALs joining in. Reilly got out his GPS and wrote down a ten-digit grid location, marking where the body was cached. A snow storm was quickly blowing in from the west.
Getting to his feet, Bill slung his rifle in front of him and looked up the side of the mountain. They had three more SEALs to recover. They were up there, somewhere. With the Chechens.
Bill looked over his shoulder at his recce team. His gaze cut right through them.
“From this day forward,” he shouted over the wind. “It is an eye for an eye.”
The SEALs nodded.
“Every single day. For McAtee and the rest.”
Master Chief Bill Geddes ground his teeth and stepped off in search of the others.
“Its blood for blood,” he yelled up the mountain at anyone who would listen.
Three SEALs followed close behind their team leader, walking in the footprints he made in the snow.
Soon, the four operators disappeared into the snow storm.