(This is a completely fictional story.)
What I’ve come to learn is that it’s in our nature to kill.
Survival of the fittest.
If it’s between me and him, I’m coming out on top.
They put us on our own Chinook. Me and my squad. All 6 of us. Wheels up at 0300.
As fire team leader, I was first out. The squad leader was last.
We were early.
My 249 felt light. The fresh morning was penetrating, far colder than anticipated.
I took point.
Hand signals and silence were all we had.
The village wasn’t far off and we had clear instructions: assault through the village, take out the hostiles, and escort the inbound politicians through the safe streets later this evening. We were tasked to hold down the village until then.
We were lying in our bunks the night before, me and my team, sharing stories about the ones that got away, as many did when they were trying to pass the time as well as possible. We had shared this tent for three weeks now, 21 days exactly. We had been on 12 missions in that time span.
We were tired. Late nights and early mornings were our forte as Night Stalkers, the army’s most elite transportation regiment. We flew in, did our missions and were out in about a month with minimal casualties. In my squad you either slept hard or not at all, cards and dominos were always on deck in our tent and the folks that had computers were pirating movies that were never in English.
These were the soldiers you made bonds with because accepting they might not make it home was harder to swallow.
The enemy grew to fear the night worse than the day. How do you kill an enemy you can’t see? You don’t–you’re forced to wait until they’re on you, until it’s too late. And that’s how we operated, quiet.
We marched through the fields until we were on the edge of the village, quieter than the surrounding darkness. Our designated scout came forward to my position, a few meters ahead of the wedge formation.
Thermal binoculars, that’s how we got our eyes on the enemy.
“What are we workin’ with, Richardson?”
“I’ve got nothing. There’s nobody in any of the windows or doorways.”
“Can you see the northern end?” I spit my tobacco at the ground.
“I’ve gotta peak the corner. You got me?”
Richardson laid his chest to the ground, removed his kevlar helmet, and peered around the corner. I had my hand on his belt loop and my 249 was propped up on its bipod ready to return fire.
“Nothing. Wait, there’s two running around the rooftop to the northeast of here, about half a click away. Not holding anything, just moving from one end to the other.”
I pulled him back behind the building we set our perimeter at and hit the radio hotkey twice. Our squad leader, SGT Vera, came jogging forward to me.
“Two on the roof to the northeast, half a click.”
“Take these first couple of buildings and see what they do.”
We stacked up on the first door. Valdez came forward and cleared the doorway and threshold, searching for ambush traps.
I grabbed the knob, twisting quietly, and the door swung gently open.
With our night optics on we swept; me from left corner to back left, Valdez from right corner to back right, and the rest followed behind searching hallways and connecting rooms. From the other room there was a rustling and soon after a single radio hotkey.
First floor clear.
The two assault gunners moved up the stairs. They fired six shots through silenced M9s.
Single radio hotkey.
The squad moved upstairs and set their gear on the wall.
SGT Vera gave us our commands from there.
“Sandoval, take your two, clear the east side buildings. We’re lucky this village is small and it’s the only one between here and the embassy. Nobody sets foot in any religious buildings.”
“Roger.” I replied and spit again.
“When your team is done with those three buildings, return here. Richardson, go up to the roof and keep eyes on those people moving around on the northeast side. Let Sandoval’s team know if they do anything you think is suspicious. That’s the last building on that side so just be careful with that one, Sandy.”
“Copeland, and I will be here watching for any movement on the roads. Hot mike once after each clearance then get your asses back here. We’ve got about an hour before the convoy comes through, and the sun’s peakin’, so let’s fuckin’ move boys.”
Valdez, and Lavictoire turned to me.
“Leave your rucks here, put your gear on, let me see your first aid kits and camelbacks.”
We moved downstairs, green on water and ammo, peered out the doorway and stacked up on the door to the next hut. Valdez swept the threshold again, and in we went.
We gunned down two men in the first room, reaching for their weapons. The other two cleared the rooms in the rest of the house. Five minutes and another cleared building.
I hit the hotkey.
“Sandy, those two moved down into the building and I don’t have eyes on anymore.”
“Thanks, Rich homie, let me know if anything else transpires.”
In similar fashion we entered the second building. A group of women and children were huddled together in the first room, and a man bolted around the corner.
Valdez marched upstairs slowly, Lavictoire kneeled down in the doorway, away from windows, and I whipped around the corner in pursuit. At the end of the hallway was one room with an open door, no movement.
Step by step I closed the distance to the room, I could hear nothing. I pushed my back against the wall next to the opening, my heart was in my throat.
My eyes fixed to the part of the room I could see from my position, there was a faint rustling, somebody was searching the rotted wood floor for something. I moved my shoulders forward a bit and began to scan the corners of the room. Before I could raise my weapon completely, the man lurched forward with a knife into my chest.
It takes far more than a shit knife to pierce armor plates.
I grabbed his wrist with one hand, fingers with the other, allowing my sling to bare the weight of my weapon across my shoulder, ripped the knife from his hand, breaking his wrist, and plunged it into his throat with force. He slumped against the wall.
I turned the corner to the room and buried a 9mm round in the head of another. I hit the hotkey before his rifle even touched the ground.
Two down. One to go.
We were inside the next building quick, no limitations. There wasn’t a soul to be found. From behind us we heard the sound of a canister hitting and bouncing off the ground. Two men ran inside from the back door and up a set of stairs. Smoke filled the room.
Valdez took off up the stairs, his weapon ready. Two shots sounded, and his weapon fell to the ground. Lavictoire and I moved up the stairs, pulling Valdez to the wall.
A fire fight seems more intense when there’s only a few people involved.
I pushed a needle between Valdez’s 2nd and 3rd intercostal ribs to relieve his lungs from the mounting pressure, but he was already gone.
Lavictoire caught a bullet to the arm but managed to take out a hostile.
“It’s just a graze, I can still fight.”
“Sit your ass down.”
I moved up past the landing and into a room on the right. Slapping down the bipod, I set up the 249 and held the trigger down, riddling the upstairs with holes, pulled out a flash grenade and tossed it into the room across the hall.
Without hesitation, I rose up, and moved into the room.
Buried another 10 rounds or so into the last enemy. I radioed SGT Vera.
“Valdez is gone, those two were setting up an ambush. Lavictoire has a wound but he can still fight. East side clear.”
“Grab Valdez and get back here. We’ll handle the rest. And hey, good work.”
I shouldered Valdez in a fireman’s carry, and with Lavictoire at point, we made it back in one piece.
“That was the last time I saw you. You fuckin’ bastard. You know, you could’ve just stayed alive. I could’ve told you that story face to face and we could laugh about it. It would’ve been the war story we tell the junior enlisted to put the fear back in them. And they would’ve looked up to us, the same way we looked up to our superiors who told their crazy war stories. The squad goes back overseas in a week or so. Lavictoire misses you. I miss you. SGT Vera and Richardson got shot down on their chopper back to the FOB (Forward Operating Base). Rich lost a leg, he’s back home now, refuses to use a wheelchair so he’s been crutching around for the last couple months. SGT Vera got treated for a TBI but he’s shipping back out with us anyway. Copeland went on orders to South Korea, he sends his regards. The ground looks cold. I’m going to plant these flowers here for you, so you have something beautiful to look at. This place really needs a better groundskeeper. I’ll be back tomorrow to pull these weeds. Love you buddy.”