0200 hours GMT Bagram Air Base Afghanistan mission brief, March 2003.
The smell of burning shit from the diesel latrine fires hung in the air. Walking out of the AC it hit you like the hot African sun and gave you a hangover-like headache. For all the advancements in defense technology, some things saw no innovation. There is just nothing sexy about digging holes in the ground to shit and piss, or maybe it was the KISS rule. Either way, nasty business, and no tech industry disruption here.
The “Agency” (CIA) had new information for the Tactical Operations Center (TOC).
There was a healthy distrust of anything the Clowns In Action had to say to the military. To be fair, most in the CIA were extremely smart civilians hired from industry but most think their military counterparts still swing from branches in the jungle.
Mutual distrust and disdain led to a lack of intelligence-sharing which was a major reason that 9/11 happened in plain view.
All the signs were there but nobody was willing to share intelligence. The fall of the twin towers in New York was a rare occasion that brought the military and alphabet agencies together in harmony. But they soon fell out of tune and we ended up with careerism and information moats. Benghazi, Libya 2021 comes to mind.
The SEAL platoon commander, “Wedge” briefed his team on the night’s hit.
Intel came in that a known Taliban leader, a real nasty fucker named, Ghani Bardhar was in the area.
Bardhar became both feared and famous in Afghanistan for cooking and eating one of his rival enemies and was rumored to have acquired a taste for human meat. He was meeting one of UBL’s top terror captains to discuss the insurgency against the American and Coalition occupation.
The mission was to kill or capture, grab onsite intelligence, and RTB (Return to Base). But, everyone knew there was no capturing that fucker if they could help it.
Since Torch’s death, the platoon had been fueled by a limitless rage that burned inside them like tiny nuclear reactors. GOLF platoon was putting up some serious kill numbers on the scoreboard and they hoped to add a few more on this op.
It was a sniper initiated direction action hit.
The small red-lighted briefing tent smelled like gunpowder, a battery acid-like smell that burned your nostrils if you inhaled too deeply. Mixed in with the musty odor of post-workout sweat and secreted adrenal glands pumping out sweat from anticipation.
“Snipers will position themselves just down from this ridgeline, and initiate the hit with two targets down. We still don’t have Castor’s replacement so no dog tonight.”
“The assault team will divide into two sections and split the target down the middle. Squad alpha and I to the west and Randy will take squad bravo on the eastern side,” said Wedge.
“Fuck me sideways,” Julia muttered under her breath.
Everyone knew why. The military working dogs were incredible in the field. They feel an ambush coming, and also smell out any explosive booby traps, and there were always many. Not having a dog with them was one less card stacked in the squad’s favor. Plus, Julia had a soft spot in her heart for dogs and had a direct debit set up, $100 each month, from her pay that went to her local animal rescue charity back home.
“Problem JJ?” Wedge said while looking her way.
“No sir, just glad to be here,” she replied.
“And good to have you,” he said.
The brief continued.
After the sniper shots, the platoon would wind their way through the target like a deadly boa snake, tightening around the enemy’s neck until there was no breath left.
They had done this many times. The enemy knew most of their playbook by now but like the game of chess, some opening strategies are so difficult to counter, even if you know what’s coming. And most of these small villages were laid out in the same box-like shape making it an easy target to plan against.
However, few plans survive first contact with the enemy.
The Taliban and AQ terrorists were fearsome fighters and light on their feet. Most fought in sandals with burly blackened snow-gnarled feet.
Person to person it was a close match but with night vision, drone tech, and violence of action on the SEALs side, it was a contest tipped in favor of the house. And the house always wins. “At least the battles if not the war. God, I have to piss so bad,” JJ thought to herself.
“We walk in 15.”
The squad loaded the twin-rotor choppers and strapped into the bench seats for the 55 minute morning commute. The static light of the rotors was visible to the naked eye as it bounced around from tip to top like a light show at Burning Man.
Inside the helicopter smelled like a greasy car mechanic’s shop. Most of the hydraulic lines were exposed for ease of maintenance.
Some slept, some jammed out to music, some prayed, some wrote letters. Everyone had their own routine.
JJ turned up the volume on her iPod to compete with the steady whir of the rotor blades. She selected her “Stack the bodies to God” playlist and punched up South of Heaven by Slayer.
“Good fuck shit up music,” she thought to herself.
“Five out,” Wedge signaled to the platoon.
Randy signaled that he was ready to roll with eye contact and a nod of the head.
Randy “Bang Bang” Chang was a first-generation Chinese American immigrant who believed in God, the American dream, and was obsessed with the movie character Indiana Jones. Because of this, oddly enough, he became a collector of whips and could use them with deadly precision.
He took a lot of shit for constantly streaming Jones movies. However, nobody fucked with Bang Bang, when he brought out his whip to practice, for fear of what he could do to them with it.
Chang’s family was dirt poor and like most immigrants, the journey to America wasn’t an easy one. His mom had him three decks below on a dirty container ship full of rubber dolls destined for toy shops across middle America. He popped out just outside of Los Angeles harbor.
They cut out a good life for themselves. Once they paid off their sponsor fees (the whole family worked) their father ended up getting a work visa, green card, and then bought a small wine shop in Queens borrowing from friends and family.
They went from sharing a small studio apartment as a family of four to a decent two-bedroom. Even though Randy shared it with his older sister they both had their own space and it seemed enormous.
His father was so grateful for the American life that he burst into tears when Randy said he’d been accepted to the U.S. Naval Academy. These weren’t tears of joy, he was sobbing in disappointment. “Why no doctor?” he said.
Thankfully, Randy’s mom helped explain how important this was to their son and she was able to smooth things over. A reluctant father began to accept his son’s decision and came around to see how the American dream was helping their family.
Randy finished in the middle of his class, mostly because he was running a small online tambourine business to help pay off his sister’s college debt for medical school. That’s how he got the nickname “Bang Bang” in the Academy.
The SEAL candidate review and selection board actually found this out and put his name on the shortlist. Only 16 billets a year went to the Academy for SEAL training.
Sometimes it’s not all about the grades, it’s about what’s on the inside they had said to him. Bang had never forgotten that.
Tonight Bang Bang would lead Bravo squad as Golf platoon’s AOIC (Assistant Officer in Charge) under Wedge.
Unlike the movies, everyone was already locked and loaded. Night vision on was important to ensure that nobody had any white light discharges that could flash-blind anyone on Night Optical Devices. They all had high lumen grip mounted lights, but those were for close up wet work inside the target.
“One minute. Watch your light discipline,” Wedge reminded everyone.
They moved into position and waited 20 minutes just looking and listening, ensuring the insert was not seen or heard by anyone. Mikey sent up the drone and once he gave the all-clear they started the 20 click (one thousand meters=1k) patrol to set up on target.
It was the clear starlight start of a spring night. With no light pollution, the stars seemed almost fake as they danced and shimmered in the night sky.
It was just above freezing at their 7,500 feet elevation.
Afghanistan, once a beautiful cultural center of trade, was bleak. Domestic animals had replaced the wild ones. And centuries of war and conflict had turned the surface into a lunar landscape. This was the reason most called it a deployment to the surface of the Moon.
Time to go.
“Character matters,” Chang thought to himself as he signaled his point man, Mikey, to move out. They vanished onto the dark side of the moon.