I’m a SOF man, or at least I fancy myself one. I spent 18 years of service in the U.S. Army’s special operations community, culminating my final 10 years within 1SOFD-D. The opportunities I have been granted have been incredible, and although I’m grateful for them, I was ready for a different mission. With a skill set like mine, opportunities to make real money were not scarce, but I was challenged in finding something that fulfilled the sense of mission I was so accustomed to. I was once again looking for important work.

By fate, I answered a call from an old colleague who I had served with at Delta. He began sharing, with tremendous enthusiasm, work he had been exposed to regarding counter human trafficking. “Counter trafficking?,” I asked, “You mean anti-trafficking?” I had heard of organizations providing care to victims and thought that was noble work, but didn’t understand how that would apply to us, as operators, and couldn’t grasp his excitement about this new unit. He went on to explain that counter human trafficking is different, and that my skills in counterterrorism and intelligence operations would directly apply. This work, he explained, was being piloted here in the United States, and actually had a detachment in “Metropolis” (name altered to protect author’s identity), the city I was currently living in. After expressing some interest, he passed my contact information on to the commander.

Shortly thereafter, I received a call from the unit commander, who, after vetting me, provided me with a grid and a time for a face-to-face meeting. The interview process was short, as my reputation within the community was solid. After being read in to the mission—leverage our skills to combat human trafficking networks—and the rules of engagement—we conduct the intel and surveillance, law enforcement makes the arrest—I began to realize that I wanted to be a part of this unit, and to execute these missions. The commander asked if I wanted to join the unit and I quickly accepted.

My first official act with the unit was to accompany the commander as he debriefed a source recruited from the city’s underworld, a heroin-addicted prostitute named Michelle. The commander explained that Michelle was first trafficked when she was 14 years old, and she was sold repeatedly for sex. Heroin and violence were the tools her traffickers used to control her. After seven years of repeated rape and abuse within this industry, she had many stories to share with us and she was far from alone. In Metropolis, over a 12-month period, there were 15,942 online ads for sex. Michelle was the lens through which we now viewed the figures that controlled the city’s human trafficking markets.

The commander and I drove to a position of overwatch to the designated car pick-up location. The drive to the location was mostly freeways and high-speed avenues of approach that offered no appreciable surveillance detection as they were primarily red roads. As we neared our operational area, the commander suddenly buttonhooked and drove a short measure of looping route and returned on course in the opposite direction. I recognized he had executed a counter-surveillance maneuver known as a “provocative corridor,” designed to flush out or identify any deliberate following entities. It was comforting to know that I was working with trained professionals.

In our overwatch position, the commander continued to identify and point out suspicious vehicles in our vicinity. If we were going to protect ourselves and our assets, counter-surveillance would have to be done right. We also carried low-profile equipment appropriate to the mission and communicated with other assisting agents via encrypted voice and text. In the asset pick-up location was another unit agent, Chris, who is a retired Metropolis undercover and SWAT police officer with a remarkable career and reputation behind him. He had launched from our FOB 45 minutes ahead of our element to get eyes on the link-up site and gather atmospherics.

Our asset was running 15 minutes behind schedule, but he texted the commander, “She is late, but at least she is telling us she is late. That reveals to me that she values our relationship.”

“Here she comes”, the commander noted out loud, spying her vehicle in his side-view mirror. I too made visual with her vehicle, running much too fast along the route to our north. “Speeding… she values the relationship,” the commander reiterated. I get it now. Michelle emerged from her beat-up car. She was 21 and essentially a beautiful young lady, but the ravages of her heroin addiction were blatant in her face. Her hair was disheveled and her clothes looked to be an afterthought. Michelle expected a stranger (me), but even still, there was obvious discomfort with my presence. The commander made introductions and we shook fingers. She smiled dutifully, looking anywhere but my face. “(The author) will be meeting with you from now on,” the commander explained. “From now on, all your communication will be with him.” She nodded and slung a glance back at me. The turnover was complete.