Solemn Vow: Chapter 6
I turned my head in time to make out the silhouette of two men about forty yards to my right. Kyle’s finger tightened against the trigger of his M4, unleashing thirty rounds of hot lead which shredded Ali Baba, the RPG guy, and his mule carrying the lethal war heads. But not before Ali triggered the device. The projectile roared through the night air and exploded fifteen yards behind us just as Owens’ body slammed into me. The force of his blow sent a rush of air from my lungs and all three of us tumbled to the ground.
My ears rang from the explosion as the disorientation slowly subsided. I felt a burning pain and something wet along my left shoulder. I touched it gingerly with my fingers, rolling over the area to inspect the wound. The furrow across my skin hurt like hell, but as they say in the movies, just a flesh wound. “Nothing to worry about. I’m good.” I barely heard my own words as I shouted at the colonel, checking on his condition.
Grabbing my flashlight, I focused in on the officer, quickly searching for any wounds other than those provided by his benevolent captors. Nothing surfaced which was good news for him. I turned my attention back to Owens. The sergeant now rested on all fours, head hung low almost touching the ground. His breathing came in heavy gasps.
“Think I caught one,” Owens spit out through clenched teeth followed by a thick wad of blood. In the beam’s light, his face looked pasty. My concerns mounted as he grunted, “Hurts like a big dog.” Owens’ reputation for being a tough guy was well known but this sent up a red flag. Moving over next to him, it only took a moment to ascertain a piece of the RPG warhead ripped across his right flank, imbedding itself in his midsection. “What do you think, Mac?” Before I could answer, he finished my thought. “Don’t think,” he paused as a wave of pain rippled through him, “I’ll be making the trip home inside a box.”
“Shut up, Kyle. Lie down.” I worked frantically, tearing apart my medical kit, pulling out pressure bandages to help staunch the bleeding. “You’re too damn ornery to die.” I felt the steady flow of warm blood ooze between my fingers. “I’m going to get your ass home.” I watched as his breathing became increasingly labored, knowing there was little to be done. My friend, Sergeant Kyle Owens, would earn a trip home in a body bag. Sweat poured down my face, stinging my eyes. I have never felt more helpless or unable to do something. “Hang in there, Kyle.”
The sound of running footsteps spurred me to action. Whirling in their direction, the business end of my weapon pointed toward whoever had decided to have a go at me. Out of the darkness, T.C. appeared. “Hold up, Bry,” the big man hollered.
I sank back into the sand as the surging adrenaline in my body dwindled. My jaw slackened and my lungs pumped air in and out like a bellows. T.C. took one look at the situation. “Take a break. I’ve got this.” His meaty hand pressed down on the blood soaked bandages where mine had been and began talking to Owens.
Kyle faded quickly, the draining blood sucking out his life onto the Iraqi sand beneath him. T.C. looked over at me and shook his head. We both knew the outcome. Moving in close to Owens, his eyes fluttered. They took on a hollow lifeless stare. His fist reached up and pulled me close. “Make sure…you get me…home, Mac. Don’t leave me…in this goddamn…hellhole.”
A gurgling sound came from Owens’ throat and I watched his body go slack. I could feel my mouth open in response but no words came out. T.C. rested a hand on my shoulder. A well of moisture gathered in the corners of my eyes. I felt my fists knot with anger and frustration. “Damn it, Kyle. I’ll fucking get you home.” Owens never heard my words. “I’ll get you home.” He died before I could finish. I felt sick and my gut knotted. “Fucking motherfuckers.” I screamed, jumping up and ready to wipe every towel head off the face of the earth. T.C. latched on to me and pulled me back down. The big man said nothing but his eyes spoke volumes. It was enough to snap be back into the moment.
Soon the rest of the guys, along with the shot in the ass Sergeant Ryan, appeared. Fortunately, he could still walk, albeit with a pronounced limp. He and I would both get Purple Hearts for minor wounds. Owens would get one for dying to protect America’s freedom. Or at least that was the catch phrase used to justify all the bullshit and death swirling around our actions in the Middle East. Yeah, I signed on voluntarily. Family tradition. Proud of my service. Does not mean I swallow the hook on every line tossed in the water. Hell, no. And you would be careful not to believe everything you read and see.
One of the guys patched me up as we made hasty plans. Our EXFIL plans had gone south due to the extra time spent sweeping camel dung off the desert floor. My shoulder hurt and pissed is not even close to my feelings regarding the situation as T.C. and I worked over the map discussing options. The big man had radioed in and received a negative for a chopper to get us out. Grounded flights due to a sandstorm. Latest satellite info from HQ sounded rather ominous. Seems someone let the air out of the bag and more hajis were bee lining to our location. Perhaps the few who high-tailed it from the scene or the decibel level of our party attracted undue attention. My thinking anyway. Not only that, sunrise was now only forty minutes away. Regardless, we were on our own.
The men gathered round. “Listen up. If anyone’s black on ammo grab an AK from one of the beach boys. Should be plenty to go around. We’re stuck out here and it is up to us to get ourselves out.” A grumbling crescendo rose and quickly died down. We all knew the risks and any on mission at any time the unexpected could rise up, as in this case. “We’ve got a small window before sunrise so here’s the skinny. We head southwest along this road and then west.”
“Wait a sec, Cap,” one of the guys said. “That’ll take us toward Syria.”
“Exactly,” Canton replied. “We’re counting on our friends to figure we boogied east.”
“No one sending a bird to get us out of this shit hole?” another happy grunt asked.
“Major sandstorm happening,” I remarked with a shrug. “Choppers are grounded and right now no one has an answer on when they’ll be up and running. Nearest coalition force is a hundred miles east. Units of Iraqi militia are scattered all over the area. Remember our friends in the truck convoy?” A number of them nodded in response. “We were told from HQ there’s an even larger force headed our way. Don’t know about you but I’d like to call it a day. So get your gear and your asses in those trucks and let’s get the hell out of here.”
Fortunately for us the camel club had modern transportation so we piled into two pickups. Canton drove one and yours truly sat behind the wheel of the lead vehicle as we sped down the dirt road ahead of the coming dawn. We passed a few fields farmed by the locals but most of the terrain was rocky and desolate in this part of the Sandbox. Fifteen minutes later, I spied a scout truck blocking the road junction ahead.
No instructions were needed. We all had a keffiyehs covering our faces to blend in. I believe this guy’s name walking toward the truck happened to be Samir or maybe raghead. Really didn’t matter. I could not make out what his buddy said. But as soon as he stepped to the truck’s window, I welcomed him with the traditional Arab howdy. “Lick a lot of ass-um.”
My first impression was I thought I got it right, but from the look on his face, I must have been just a bit off the mark with the traditional greeting. Offering my sincerest apology, the Sig came up in my fist and I capped him on the spot with a well-placed .45 caliber slug. The round created a perfect third eye which would help him find all those virgins. The rest of the boys lit up the other three guys and ended the situation in short order. Their bodies and truck got moved behind a rocky formation off the roadside. Not a great hiding spot, but it would do.
We made a right turn and headed west toward the Syrian border not knowing who might be waiting for us. The sun rose quickly in the morning sky along with the temperature, and after five or six miles we drove off road into an area of rocky hillsides.
“Ok, boys. End of the line for the moment.” Canton’s team moved out to set up a perimeter while my guys got some rest and grabbed a bite to eat. They would get their turn soon enough. “T.C.”
He looked up while chewing. “Yeah?” he said.
“Crazy idea. Want to hear it?”
“Not sure I do,” the big man grinned. “Whatever you’re thinking I’m sure it involves something not in the regs.” Canton pointed a fork in my direction and continued, “But after all the crap we went through, why not?”
“I’ve got a plan. It’s only in the conceptual stage at the moment,” I add, setting down the MRE and unfolding the map.
“Really?” T.C. shook his head. “I know better than to try and talk you out of it.”
“Now you’re catching on, big guy. We hole up here. Move out under cover of darkness and make our way across the sands. Lawrence of Arabia would be proud. Peter O’Toole aced the part. Great movie. Ever see it?” The last remark evoked no response so I went on. “There’s a small Syrian outpost.” I quickly pointed to the spot. T.C.’s eyes took it all in and he remained silent so I continued. “It’s roughly twenty some miles the other side of the border, give or take. We’ll sneak in and grab a chopper.”
“Have you had this ace up your sleeve for a while?” the big guy asked.
“Just covering the bases and all that.”
“So you didn’t think of telling me, why?” T.C.’s jaw dropped in disbelief.
I reached up with a finger to close his mouth and he swatted my hand. “Figured I’d tell you when the need arose. Take a page out of your book. Don’t say anything that isn’t necessary.”
“So you’re saying it’s necessary now?” His head shook back and forth while he chewed at his lower lip.
“It’ll be easy. We’ll head northeast back across the Euphrates into Iraq. I hear the water’s lovely this time of year.” I felt a smirk coming on and made an unsuccessful attempt to stifle it. “And on to Incirlik Airbase in Turkey. We’ll be home free. Simple.”
“Humor me. I think I know but why Turkey?”
“My gut. I told you something about all this bothers me. The last thing I want to do is debrief with the folks back at HQ. Besides, it was the Army’s idea to have a couple guys who could fly choppers. Remember?”
“Thanks.” A beaming grin swelled on my face.
“Aren’t you forgetting a few things?” Canton’s brow narrowed in concern.
“Like what?” I professed innocently.
“How about this region is crawling with al-Qaida for starters. I’m thinking maybe they might want a piece of us. Logistics are an issue. And the Syrians may get upset that we commandeer one of their aircraft. Not to mention getting across the border before their air force comes calling. How are you going to do all that? And one more thing. We’ll be flying on fumes by the time we make the airbase. Cutting it real close, Bry.”
“What the hell, T.C. It’ll be a blast, Think of it as a great adventure.”
(To be continued...)
Solemn Vow © 2016 by William Beck. All Rights Reserved