The Congo, Africa

The sun was just setting on the thick canopy of trees and bushes surrounding their position. It was a long day of humping through the dense growth, but it had been productive. The Rangers were able to track down a criminal and effect an arrest. Now, they would escort him back to the nearest village to stand trial. Major Fils knew it would take many hours of walking to get within comms range, so he had his men set up camp off the foot trail and a little way into the thicket. They’d spend the night here and step off before first light tomorrow. This spot might provide some cover from the local Mai Mai militiamen if they were being tracked. The men set up a patrol base with interlocking fields of fire, grabbed water, and started preparing chow for the night. Fils marked down his grid position and tried to radio in his location to the base. Unfortunately, his Thuraya couldn’t pierce through the dense vegetation; tonight they would be alone. If they were to make contact with the enemy, they could only rely on themselves to fight off the force. Fils, wearing olive-drab fatigues raised his canteen to his lips and sipped some water. He took a deep breath through his nostrils, inhaling the smell of goat meat and vegetables being prepared for dinner. The Major waited for his men to finish eating before taking chow; the men always eat first, then the commander takes his rations. He slung his AK-47 over his back and ripped a chunk of meat off the bone with his teeth. As he grabbed for a carrot, he heard a twig break 70 or 80 meters away. He looked over, scanning the tree line, trying to find the source. The bushland got quiet. Fils’ pupils dilated as he looked into the dark growth. He began concentrating on a small, unnatural-looking spot. It was white and reflected a bit of light from the moon. Everything became eerily still, until… it blinked. “ENEMY,” Fils screamed! Then, all hell broke loose.


Fire erupted from different sides of the patrol base. The Rangers threw down their chow, grabbed their weapons, and engaged the enemy. Major Fils had his squad leaders directing fire on the element, and tried, on the off chance it might work, to reach headquarters to let them know the situation. Bullets zipped by his head as he returned rounds, unable to raise communications with anyone. The 18-man force, low on ammunition, was able to lay down gunfire with their only PKM (7.62 caliber general purpose machine-gun). Their gunner, Corporal Delongolas, laying in the prone behind the weapon, pressed the butt-stock deep into his shoulder pocket and courageously rained fire onto the Mai Mai positions; after a sustained engagement of nearly an hour, the enemy forces realized they could not win against the Rangers, and retreated into the darkness.


Corporal Delongolas with a PKM squad machine gun


The smell of burnt gunpowder filled the air. Slowly, the silence dissipated, and sounds of woodland creatures returned. Fils ordered his men to remain in position, with 100% security, while he checked each man. Making his way through the patrol base, he realized some of his Rangers had been wounded during the engagement. As Fils crouched down to make his way to the last group of troops, he could hear crying from one of the men. Under the small amount of light emanating from the campfire, he could see that one of them was not moving. He approached the troop, slowly realizing it was Kaloba – a tall, wiry young man who grew up in a small village not far from this spot. Once the Major saw the extent of his wounds, and the blood-soaked earth beneath him, he realized there was nothing that could be done – Kaloba was dead.

Major Fils of the Congolese Rangers


As a veteran of the Second Congo War, Fils was no stranger to seeing death first-hand. He ordered his men to collect Kaloba’s weapon and ammunition, divide it among the squads, and put a blanket over the body. Kaloba’s closest friends carried out the orders, while the rest of the Rangers pulled security, ready to fight off any further attacks. Fils had multiple troops in need of medical attention, as well as the remains of one of his men that needed to be transported. Moving Kaloba, and evacuating the wounded now, would mean crossing steep mountains, thick vegetation, poisonous wildlife, and traversing a pitch-black forest. It was impossible. “The wounded stay here, with first squad providing security. Second squad, we need to get to the top of this mountain to get comms,” he told the men, pointing at the crest. “We move now.” The squad grabbed their gear and headed up one of the many peaks in the Upemba National Forest.