Note: This is part of a series. Read part one here. After the first encounter with the coyote/cartel scouts the previous night, we determined that it was time to take the fight to the enemy…sort of. Before we could do that, we had to take in some late shows—two retards who were all about the stolen-valor life. One claimed he was a Ranger/medic and the other had “special operations sniper training.” When I offered to give them a tour of our compound and its perimeter, medic boy decides to inform me that he has been awarded two Bronze Stars and a Purple Heart—only I never asked. Sniper boy couldn’t keep his story straight either.

We set out with the others to a known trafficking location several miles down the interstate. We reached the designated exit and pulled off the freeway. Ski and I got set with our team while one of the dudes briefed us on the task at hand. On the other side of the freeway, up in the shale- and boulder-covered hills, were, according to our local contact, several spotter positions the cartel used to stage lookouts for night drops of drug shipments. Apparently, they would have a mobile runner exit the freeway, load up the drugs and/or occupants, then speed off to their intended destination—a smooth snatch-and-grab routine.

We patrolled under the overpass with haste, reaching the base of the hills. We split into two teams—Ski on one and me with the other—and began moving toward our respective peaks. Several of our new “compadres” fell out of the hike. Ranger boy decided he couldn’t hump his med bag all the way up the hill and had to rest, so Ski picked up the slack. The wannabe sniper said he would cover me and the other guys from the base of the hills. I’ve never seen a sharpshooter cover someone’s advance when they were downhill from them with zero line of sight before. When we finally plateaued, we were guns-up, ready for a fight, but not a soul could be seen except for Ski and what remained of his team coming up the side of their hill adjacent to ours. I walk over to the tip of the cliff/hill closest to the road to discover a five-gallon water jug, cut in half, stuck into the side of a cactus. It was collecting clean water; rather ingenious given the dry climate and the need for cartel spotters to stay in one location for extended periods of observation. Ski found a freshly spilled can of Coke on his side. We had just missed them.

The time one young Marine went hunting drug cartels on the Mexican border (Part 2)

Realizing we were not equipped to pursue them through unknown territory, we patrolled back down to regroup with the rest of the guys who had stood around to watch us—thanks for that. On the way back, I halted the column because a rattlesnake was in our path. I radioed it in and requested to shoot it. J informed me that it would give away our position, as if it wasn’t already compromised. We decided to backtrack and take an alternate route. We were nearing the overpass when a shot rang out. I radioed it in and discovered that J had decided to shoot a rattlesnake. As you can see, a pattern of incompetence is beginning to emerge. We headed back to camp having wasted the day chasing ghosts.

The following day, the “leaders” of the group formed a plan to launch a patrol to set up an observation point atop a large hill roughly 10 kilometers from our camp. The plan would be to set up overnight and observe a known trafficking route below it. We actually had access to proper night vision and FLIR (thermals), so this wouldn’t have been such a bad idea. Some of the guys had brought some nice kit with them. The plan would would be to insert us on the opposite side of the hill via truck using a BLM maintenance road. We prepped our equipment and supplies, then double-checked each other just to be sure. Once that was complete, we loaded into the SUV and set out. We were burning daylight.

Now Murphy and his laws are a sonofabitch. We circled around the area to our designated dirt road that we would take to the base of the hill, and wouldn’t you know it, the road was blocked off. Well, being a Marine, I wasn’t about to give up. This was probably stupid, but I’m all about mission accomplishment, I guess. We decided that we would hike to our planned insertion location. This turned out to be around a 10k walk. This wouldn’t have been a big deal if we weren’t in the Arizona desert, wearing kit and packs. Those 10 kilometers felt like 20. Everybody chose to apply camo paint—not for tactical purposes, but because we had forgetten the sunscreen. Use of a topographical map of the area and a compass got us exactly where we had originally planned to get dropped off by the SUV. The hike itself took the better part of the day given our pace, the weather, and terrain. I’m not trying to make excuses, but give a guy some slack.

The time one young Marine went hunting drug cartels on the Mexican border (Part 2)