Solemn Vow: Chapter 2
The sound of the Hercules J130’s powerful engines rumbled within the confines of the plane’s fuselage. Two six man squads prepared to make the HALO jump under the cover of a moonless night. Joe “T.C.” Canton’s eyes locked with mine in silent understanding. We had grown up together. More like brothers than friends. Both tied to a family history dating back to the 1850s, but that is a story for another time.
His call sign for this op was eagle and mine gryphon. We had been asked by the higher ups if we would like to volunteer because each of us could fly a chopper. It was a strange request but the way I figured, we were the bonus package, just in case things went south. In the event of a shit storm we might be able to fly our way out. But that meant finding a chopper in the middle of the frikkin’ desert. The Army said they wanted a failsafe in case the plan unraveled, or in military vernacular, everything became FUBAR. You know, a cluster, Charlie Foxtrot. Army logic. I never thought at the time there could be even a remote possibility of that happening.
“Hey, Bry,” Canton shouted above the roar of the engines. “You ready for this?”
I flashed him a quick grin and replied, “Let’s get the dance party started.”
An uneasy feeling wormed its way through my gut. I learned years ago to listen to it, but couldn’t put my finger on exactly what was bothering me besides the obvious. During covert missions, people shoot back and a well-placed bullet earns you a one way ticket back to the farm. My stomach churned with numerous thoughts as I surveyed each man’s face. It was not my first rodeo with spec-ops missions. The initial plan seemed good. A quick in and out in a couple hours. But now a premonition washed over me again in a wave of misgiving.
Looking up at the rear of the plane a green light winked on. The jumpmaster signaled for everyone to stand up. “Listen up, people. We’re one minute out from drop zone. Inspect your gear. Be prepared to go on my signal.”
All eyes did a final check of each other’s equipment. Looking back at my team and satisfied with what I saw, I pulled the goggles down over my eyes. Green luminescent markers on the back of our helmets and chute packs added an eerie feel to the fuselage’s interior. The sound of hydraulics came to life and the ramp at the back of the aircraft opened with a roaring rush of air filling the plane. The jumpmaster gave a hand signal as T.C.’s massive frame silhouetted itself against the night sky beyond. Just as quickly, he and his team were out. The jump master shouted again, waving a hand at the same time, “Eagle team Go. Go.”
Four quick steps and I fell weightless into the night sky over the Sandbox, followed by my men. The drop was uneventful, all of us landing without incident. The men spread out in a defensive perimeter as the two senior sergeants, T.C., and myself reviewed details of the plan. The night air was cool and an uneasy stillness hung over Iraq’s barren terrain outside Qa'im, near the Syrian border.
Canton and Sergeants Kyle Owens and Doug Ryan gathered around as we hashed out final details. The red glow of my flashlight fell on the map. “We’re here,” I pointed. “Command says recent intel has the colonel in this compound eight miles out of town.”
“That puts us about two and a half miles off target,” T.C. offered. His finger pointed to the map lit up by the flashlight’s beam as the big man’s dark eyes settled on a particular point.
“I’d say that’s about right.”
Kyle Owens spoke up. “Wasn’t the drop zone supposed to be closer?”
My face filled with an impish grin. “It’s the Army, Kyle. You know. Expect the unexpected and you’ll never be surprised. Besides, an evening stroll along the grounds will be kind of nice,” I quipped, trying to add a little levity to the event. They chuckled in response but all too quickly serious faces replaced the smiles. T.C. was well-accustomed to my sarcastic humor and often played the straight man, but tonight he was having none of it. The big man was all business. Deadly business.
Ryan decided to add to our conversation. “Since this got screwed up, we’ll need to dee-dee out of here pronto.”
“That cuts it close for getting back to the rendezvous point,” Owens added.
“Then we’ll need to double time it. Now aren’t you glad you did all that running?”
Owens did not respond. “Who is this colonel we’re getting out?” he asked.
“Don’t have all the details. Above our pay grade,” Canton responded. “Brass said it was imperative we bring him home. Made it clear we did not need any other details.”
“Supposed to have been working with locals against al-Qaida factions is all we know. None of his team made it but he was taken alive. That was the last report,” I tossed out. “Why is the question? What’s the point in keeping him alive? I got no answer for that.” That gut thing was back and crawling up my spine. “Here’s the other thing. We have no idea what shape he’s in, but we’ll deal with circumstances as they present themselves. If he’s still alive,” I added. “Time to mount up and finish it.”
Owens and Rice headed off to gather up the squad members. All were elite fighters and proven soldiers with numerous clandestine actions under their belts. As I started to follow, T.C. put a hand on my shoulder. “Alright, bro. I’ve known you a helluva long time. That look of yours back there on the plane. What gives?” Canton’s eyes grew even darker than the moonless night sky. “Something’s got you bug fucked.”
The big man’s heritage was part Native American. The modern day war paint he wore did not fully conceal all the skin on his face. The glow from the flashlight caused those patches of exposed skin to take on a reddish cast and I could not help but think of Geronimo or Sitting Bull as his eyes bore into me.
“Gut’s sending smoke signals. Trouble’s brewing. I can feel it.” My words sounded ominous as I spoke them, even to me. “Can’t shake it, T.C.”
“Got a suggestion,” the big man shot back. “Concentrate on the mission and put it aside.”
“See, that’s the problem. Something about this feels all wrong. Didn’t you wonder what a colonel was doing out here when none of our troops were anywhere near this area and you can nearly spit across the Syrian border?”
“Hell, I always wonder about upper command decisions. You never know if you’re getting the whole story or…”
“It’s all bullshit,” I responded before he could finish.
“Yeah, right. But you know SOG teams are all over the place.”
“I get it. We’ve had a few of those dates on our calendar. Still, things don’t jive.” I pulled a long draw from my canteen before going on. “Doesn’t fit. So then I ask myself is this guy really a colonel or is he joined at the hip with some agency?” A breeze kicked up sending a shiver through my body but I wondered if it was more than that. “He could be with any number of alphabet agencies, DIA, or maybe even something deeper. And if he’s a spook why bother saving his butt? The CIA isn’t exactly known for being totally forthright. Christ, they’ve left one of their own hanging on a clothesline more than once.”
Abstract thoughts often swirl around me when trying to unearth puzzling answers to riddles. Had since I was a kid. And now my mind ground the gears like a bad clutch. Revving to full throttle in an attempt to come up with something. The bad part, I kept coming up dry. No answers and the unknown still haunting me like a bad divorce with red headed kids.
“I don’t guess the two of us are going to have a miraculous revelation standing here in this damn desert, Bry.”
“Probably right, T.C. I’ll save my dance card for later.”
The look on my friend’s face told me he wasn’t convinced by what I just said. Frankly, I wasn’t either. The answers were out there waiting to be revealed unless a bullet found me first. Something I was definitely all in for in my wager against the house getting the upper hand.
(To be continued...)
Solemn Vow © 2016 by William Beck. All Rights Reserved