Sometimes life does imitate art. After the military and during my time as a contractor, our hires in support of Iraqi and Afghan operations did some incredibly difficult and excellent work in support of military objectives. But that doesn’t mean there wasn’t some fun involved.

Once, we had “The Predator”—yes that one—attack some Air Force guys one summer day.

As the temperatures reached sweltering levels, I was approached by an Air Force training officer. He was part of the Air Force’s Office of Special Investigations, known as OSI. Some of his people, assigned to protective service operations and getting ready for their tour in Iraq, wanted a final tune-up before kicking off their tour. They wanted to know if we wanted to get involved with some training—have some of our Iraqi nationals acting as role-players (villagers, protestors, insurgents, etc.). Naturally, we were delighted to be of service.

The Air Force guys were using Simunition, not paintball guns, which added to the realism and the pain when you got nailed with one. Their Simunition fired from either a 9mm SIG Sauer or Glock, or a modified M4 with a paintball attachment. They’d leave a nasty welt on your skin if it wasn’t protected. Our AF liaison warned us to dress with thick layers and issued everyone a full-face helmet.

Despite the temps in the morning already pushing beyond the century mark, I erred on the side of caution: I wore my only thick jacket—a black winter coat—a heavy scarf, and winter gloves. I had a river of sweat running down the crack of my fourth point of contact that looked like the Nile. But the first time one of those sim rounds cracked into my shoulder, I wasn’t complaining.

Everyone had to wear the full-face helmet as a safety precaution. One of the Iraqis’ helmets kept fogging up and he kept lifting it up to clear it. Both our AF liaison and I told him he was playing with fire. The Iraqis eschewed the thick clothing as well. Maybe it was a macho thing; I don’t know. But what I do know is that they would soon regret it.

Just before the shooting started.

Our scenarios ran the entire gamut of different things the teams might encounter: peaceful villages with a friendly populace or with a mix of friendlies and unfriendlies, ambushes of the teams, and running into a firefight with multiple insurgents in a small town.

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The AF OSI teams did very well as they cycled through the little town; they were well trained and had obviously worked together as teams for a while. Our liaison training officer began to insert some different scenarios into the exercises. I decided to blend in with the Iraqi villagers and get as close as possible to get some pictures of the training. My heavy winter gloves made the manipulation of the camera too difficult, so rather than going back to my vehicle for my Mechanix gloves, I opted for the gloveless look.

As soon as the shooting started, a Simunition round fired from an insurgent skipped off the hood of an AF vehicle and smacked my knuckle squarely. Did I mention before that those things hurt. As I was taking a shot, it hit right between my index and middle finger. Picture ruined. I tried to play it off really cool by just shaking my hand a bit, but I wasn’t fooling anyone. And our Iraqi whose mask kept fogging up? He was inside one of the buildings, theoretically out of the line of fire. He lifted up his mask—just as we’d advised him not to do—and caught a round that came through the window and blasted him in the jaw. Ouch.

Before one scenario, one of the guys in our company had an idea. He wanted to know if he could have two M4s for the next scenario. He was going to go, in his words, “All gangsta mode” on the OSI. His plan was to fire with each hand while rushing the convoy of vehicles as soon as the troops dismounted.

“Are you sure about this?” I asked him. “These sim rounds hurt, and they’re going to be firing point blank.” I looked at the AF liaison, who shrugged. “Let him try it,” he said.

Peaceful scenario…for now.

The double-gun insurgent was a tall, slender African-American with dreads, and he had just been hired. He was up for anything and everything, and had the boundless energy of someone who is in his mid-twenties. He lined up behind one of the buildings and waited for the convoy to stop in the village square.

“C’mon, let’s go to the mosque,” our AF officer said. “We should get a bird’s-eye view from above.”

We watched as the convoy of Chevy Suburbans rolled into the village. As soon as they began to dismount, our double-M4-toting insurgent raced around the side of the building, screaming and shooting his weapons, dreads flying everywhere as he sprinted right toward the middle of the convoy.

From above we watched it all unfold almost in slow motion. As our guy blazed away with his M4s, the amount of fire that came in return was astounding. The building he ran beside was peppered with sim rounds. Bright splashes of green paint erupted all around him.

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But, like Captain Spiers at Foy, he didn’t suffer a scratch. It was amazing. After passing through the entire formation, he made it into a building across the street, where the sim rounds blasted all around the doorframe.

The AF OSI team regrouped and unassed the area, as they were supposed to. They took out several insurgents with several well-aimed shots. It was easy to determine who wasn’t wearing thick clothing when a sim round found its target.

When the team came in for their after-action review, the team leader was asked about what went right and wrong. The first words out of his mouth were, “I’d never believed in sci-fi until today. But then I watched the f***ing Predator run right through us without a scratch.” He said it with a deep, booming voice. “I couldn’t believe we didn’t hit him once.”

The author bundled up despite the heat.

The OSI guys wanted to meet The Predator, who came out and removed his helmet with a big smile. “I half expected to see that face with the huge fangs,” one of them said. They were still amazed they didn’t hit him once.

In our final scenario at dusk, a sniper tried to take out a driver as his passenger opened the front door. The round just missed him and hit the door lock as he jumped to the ground. The door swung shut, locking them out. In a combat situation, things would be different, but they weren’t going to smash any windows in training. So they had to pile in another vehicle.

After the scenario was over, they tried to no avail to jimmy the lock. Then, The Predator jumped up on the roof and got it open for them in about 10 seconds. That was a perfect ending to the day.

Jimmying the lock on an Air Force vehicle.

The commander of the AF guys came in to thank us and specifically asked to meet The Predator. He’d heard he was impervious to bullets. With a laugh, our guy showed him his jacket, which, after a day of shooting scenarios, was full of green paint. That just lent an even more realistic tinge to things.

The things we did for our country—and got paid for.

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