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A story for Irondad - Wild Boars. 6/18/2007

It was late when we finally pulled out of the base. Probably about 4 a.m. or thereabouts, and we had a 240 kilometer drive ahead of us through winding country roads and across the Karak pass. My driver had been waiting for me, sitting in the Land Rover, in the rain, while the team finished up what they had to do. After that, they were going to hop into a helo for onward transfer to the northern border, while I had to run back to battalion HQ for a quick debrief and report, and then a mad rush right after to rejoin the team. Naturally, when I asked for a helo to bring me up from battalion to join the team, the logistics officer gave me a “who the fuck do you think you are?” look. I had actually considered pulling out my orders to show him the clearance and priority status, but decided not to. Things are usually classified for a reason, and at that time of my life, I treated “need to know” as something very serious.

As we drove along, the tiredness and fatigue I had been fighting for the last 4 days finally kicked in. I told my driver that I was going to crash, and he just nodded his head and uttered a “very good, sir.” I found myself a comfortable position, and promptly fell asleep. The noise of the wipers swishing across the windscreen was soporific, and the rain beating down on the canvas roof made a nice counter point to the rumble of the tyres on the wet road.

I was just about to start dreaming of a world where nothing at all was green, and no one shouted to get things done, and my clothes didn’t permanently smell of cordite when there was an almighty crash, and the Land Rover skidded to halt. I was woken up primarily by being thrown against the dashboard and slamming my head against the windshield. My driver was very concerned, and started asking if I was o.k. I grunted, and muttered a “what the fuck was that?” He replied that he had hit an animal crossing the road.

The engine of the Land Rover was still running, and the lights were still shining straight ahead. There was no smoke or steam, and the engine wasn’t making funny noises. I thought it must have been a dog or civet cat that we hit, but the driver said it was something a lot bigger than that. Which made sense, because the noise when we hit whatever it was was loud, and I distinctly felt the Land Rover shudder and hesitate momentarily.

It was still raining, but we got out to examine the damage. The bumper was a little caved in, and the winch was a little cockeyed, but otherwise there was no real damage. I looked around to see if whatever we had hit was still around. My driver called out from behind the vehicle, and I walked over. In the dim red light, I saw a wild boar, lying on the road, struggling to get up. The impact had broken it’s leg, and it was in some pain.

My driver looked at me, and asked me if we should try and move the animal to the side of the road, to stop it from being a danger to traffic. I looked back at my driver, unholstered my sidearm, pointed it at the wild boar, and put a bullet through its head to end its suffering. My driver then started dragging the carcass off to the side, when I stopped him.

I opened the tailgate of the Land Rover, and we flung the carcass of the boar inside.

When I finally reached the north border, later that day in the late evening, we had a nice barbecue.

A story for Miin - River raid. 3/26/2007

Mangrove swamps are found along many tropical shorelines, usually around river mouths and along the banks, spreading inland many kilometers, depending on how low lying the ground is. They are an essential part of the ecosystem, playing host to many species. Their inhabitants form an essential part of the food chain, and also protect the soil from wave action, stopping soil from being washed away. They absorb pollution from upriver, leaching it out, and preventing it from getting further down the food chain.

They also are great places to hide.

The various tributaries of the river are used by the locals for transport and communication. They do this by the use of small sampans fitted with outboard motors, or speedboats. The many waterways are interconnected, and the proximity of the rivers with 2 neighbouring countries also tends to make it ideal for smugglers to ply their trade. I won’t, at this point, mention piracy, which was another problem in itself.

The responsibility for policing the coastal waters lay with the Marine Police. Understaffed, under equipped, and usually out engined by the smugglers, they had their work cut out for them trying to keep smuggling under control in that area. Then someone had the bright idea of using the teams to assist in patrolling the area.

This wasn’t so bad. We got to sample the wildlife and nightlife in the coastal town where the marine operations were based at, and it was a fairly cushy assignment, all told, because due to a lack of base accomodation, we were billeted one of the local hotels. This was pure heaven. Hot and cold running water, clean sheets, flushing toilets. We even had a choice of catered meals from the nearby restaurants.

We did the normal routine of patrols, usually in the pre-dawn hours. We were on a 2 month rotation, and we were 2/3rds of the way in, without having spotted a single unauthorised vessel in our patrol area. We stopped a lot of fishermen in their sampans, but since everyone knew the fishermen were probably also doing the smuggling as a supplementary income (or vice versa), we didn’t manage to arrest anyone. I guess the smuggling activities stopped suddenly when word got around town that there were a bunch of newcomers carrying some really heavy weapons and wearing no nonsense faces were moving up and down river.

Some of the rivers were shallow, and had a lot of debris in them, usually floating logs. This meant that for most patrols, the team travelled in RIBs, or rigid inflatable boats. You would have probably seen them in some movie or other, 2 rubber pontoons with a rigid fiberglass hull, and an outboard hung on the transom. Or in our case, twin 200hp outboards with high speed screws.

One particular early morning, we were heading upriver. It was cold and somewhat misty, with the first tendrils of the rising sun beginning to colour the sky. I looked up at the sky, and pulled my boonie hat a little closer down to my ears. I looked up ahead, and saw a vessel coming down river towards us.

To be continued…

A story for someone. 11/16/2006

It is common for the national carriers, i.e. airlines, of various countries to have special arrangements with the government with regards to the transfer of personnel on short notice to various destinations around the world. In many regards, flying commercial for special operations teams has certain advantages. It allows them to fly undercover, so to speak. People take notice of large planes landing at deserted air bases in the middle of the night, but no one takes any notice of yet another Airbus flying into a commercial airport in the middle of the day.

There are of course, certain obstacles to this. First and foremost is that teams tend to travel at zero notice. Experience has shown that the powers that be, which is basically the government, tend to waffle about committing terminal force, until it is almost, but not quite, too late. This has the effect of having teams turn up very suddenly at the airport, laden with gear bags that look extremely heavy, making muffled clanking metallic sounds, and no one is allowed to look into them.

Airlines understand this, and usually go out of their way to be accomodating to teams. They get to charge full whack for the seat to begin with, and load other “miscellaneous” charges on ticket, all of which goes back to the government, and gets pushed back to the tax payer. The airline usually gets a notification from base, and are informed that they should be expecting a team to be boarding a specific flight. This is done with as little notice as possible, in order to preserve security.

However, as is always the case in operations of this sort, miscommunication and fuck-ups occur on a regular basis. You can practically count on Mr. Murphy making his appearance every time someone whispers the word “assignment”. As it turns out, one day, in the depths of the rainy season, the phone in the X.O.’s office finally rang, and we got a green light. We were packed, the gear was stowed away, and all we had to do was to get our arses into the van, and head down to the airport. We were told that there was lots of time, and the van driver was in no hurry, considering that it was raining heavily.

Until we approached the airport, and the driver told us the road was jammed with traffic that was not moving. So we inched along in the traffic, in the pouring rain. By the time we finally reached the airport, we knew we were terribly late. A ground officer met us at the security gate, and escorted us to the plane in his car. We stepped out of the van, in the pouring rain, onto the tarmac carrying our gear, and ran up the staircase to the skybridge connected to the plane.

We entered the door of the plane, dripping wet, and the stewardesses, who were informed of our arrival, were waiting at the door to usher us in. The leading crew came up to us, and asked who was in charge. The sarge nodded his head at me, and she came over to me. She whispered in my ear, very apologetically, that the flight was full, and that it wouldn’t be possible to seat us all in close proximity to one another. I asked her what she meant by that, and she said she would have to split the team, with some of us in business class, and the other half in coach. I grimaced at this. I prefer the team to be fairly close together, wherever and whenever possible. Not that we wanted to hold hands or anything, but more for the mental and moral support.

I shrugged my shoulders, and muttered an O.K. I wasn’t in any mood to argue, because we were all standing there dripping wet, and gear bags get heavy when you’re not moving. What I wasn’t prepared for was what happened when we got on the plane. Our late arrival had delayed the departure of the plane considerably. Walking in on the skybridge, I could see the plane captain looking at us through his cockpit window with an impatient look on his face. This was nothing compared to the looks we got when we started walking down the aisles, dripping rain water.

The plane was packed with families and children, this being the height of the school holidays. There were kids getting restless and asking daddy why the plane wasn’t moving yet. I could feel laser stares at me. It didn’t help when we started looking around for space in the overhead to stow away our gear. People were muttering and grumbling all around us.

The stewardess gets on the cabin P.A. system, and announces that the “technical difficulty” had been resolved, and that the flight would be departing shortly, and could everyone please fasten their seatbelts and return their seats to an upright position. I sat down in my seat, after making sure the team were in place. We were scattered all over the plane. And the other passengers were still giving us dirty looks and muttering under their breath.

I got into my seat, and the stewardess came over to me with an updated passenger manifest, showming the team’s seat assignments. I nodded thank you, and wondered if I had time for a drink before take-off. As the plane rolled back from the bay, my passenger, a middle aged businessman from his dressing, looked at me and said, “how come they delayed the flight for you?” I cringed inwardly. This was not a question that had an easy answer.

I thought for a second, and then turned to him and replied, “I work for the Devil. God makes special arrangements for us when we have to travel.”

A story for Gary - Final Part. 10/6/2006

“Alpha Base, Alpha Base, this is Team Charlie, we are taking fire, and have one man down, over.”

I jumped out of the helo, and landed up to my boots in mud. I ran out and knelt down, scanning the treeline. Everything seemed normal, except for the noise and wind blast from the chopper. I could sense the rest of the team jumping out very quickly behind me. A couple of troopers took positions to my left and right, weapons at the ready. I was still fairly relaxed. Soldiers who have spent time in combat tend to have a sense of when things are going to go terribly wrong, and their lives are in danger. I didn’t get that feeling here.

Until I heard an all too familiar “crack”, and saw the trooper on my left go down. I yelled for everyone to take cover, and brought my weapon to my shoulder, looking at the tree line and scanning for movement. The helo lifted off very quickly, I guess the pilot must have heard the gun shot as well. I knew what the pilot was going to to do. He would go overhead, out of small arms range, and loiter overhead until I told him we had secured the area, and he would come down again and evac the casualty.

I motioned the R.O. over, and got in touch with base camp to give them a situation report. As I was doing so, the rest of the team had fanned out into defensive positions in a circle around me. Until I noticed that the only 2 team members not to have done so were the Sarge, and the nugget. I was still on the radio to base, and could hear a voice on the other end asking me if I wanted the response team flown in for back-up, and if they should mobilise the air support.

“Wait one,” I replied.

I walked over and saw the Sarge laying into the nugget with his fists. As in beating the crap out of him. One of the troopers had gone over to his team mate who had been shot, and was tending to him, it didn’t look serious, because I could hear the trooper cursing and swearing and trying to get up.

I tapped the Sarge on the shoulder, and he paused in mid beating. He had the nugget grabbed by the collar in one fist, and the nugget was already sporting a swollen eye. I raised an eyebrow at the Sarge, and he said to me, “Fucking nugget didn’t safe his weapon in the chopper. He tripped and fell as he exited, and discharged his weapon.”

This had now become serious. All military operations have a set of procedures which are followed to the letter. Not because someone wants to make a soldier’s life difficult, which it already is, but more to ensure that dumb fuck accidents like this didn’t happen and result in someone’s parents or wife getting a visit from the C.O. and having their entire lives turned upside down.

One of the procedures we had, after much discussion with the guys running the air side of things in the Battalion, was that weapons would be safed in the helicopter. And this nugget had just violated this procedure, and managed to shoot a team mate in the process. Which is exactly what this procedure was trying to avoid.

I shook my head at this, because I was now probably going to be hauled up in front of a court martial to testify, and might be held responsible for not ensuring that procedures were followed. I was tempted to give the nugget a kick in the balls, but refrained from doing so. I motioned the R.O. over, and asked the helo pilot to come down for an evac.

We loaded the nugget and the injured team member into the helo for return to base. While all this was happening, a couple of the team had gone into the tree line, and were walking a bunch of guys out at gun point. I could see shotguns slung over their shoulders, which were probably confiscated from the guys they were walking out.

I walked over to them, and asked one of them who they were, and what were they doing in a restricted area. He said they were loggers. Illegal loggers. I sighed. More reports and hearings were in my immediate future. I called base, and updated them. The X.O. came on the line, and asked me if I wanted to turn them over to the civilian authorities for action, or whether we should settle the matter there and then. The loggers saw the murderous gleam in my eyes, and to a man, they fell to their knees, begging and pleading.

The Sarge walked over to them, and told them they had till sunset to get out of the A.O., otherwise he would come hunting for them.

A story for Gary - Part Four. 9/24/2006

The helo came over a clearing in the jungle. We looked down, and saw nothing amiss, just a clearing in the jungle. The thing was, the road lead right to this clearing. I motioned to the crew chief to ask the driver to do a slow recce of the place. The pilot did so, and I sat there for moment, looking down at the clearing. The sarge and I were really curious, but cautious at the same time. This was not a good place to be if things went pear shaped, which they could do very quickly.

Everything looked above board, and I asked the crew chief if he saw anything amiss. Suddenly, the sarge tapped me on the shoulder, pointed to his eyes, and then pointed out towards the edge of the clearing. I could make out some figures standing in the shade under the trees at the edge. They didn’t seem to be doing anything, just standing there, looking up at us.

I made a decision, and gave everyone the signal for arming their weapons. I told the crew chief we were going to make a “touch and go” exit from the helo, and wanted the pilot to stay overhead. The crew chief relayed the request to the pilot, and gave me a thumbs up. I signalled the sarge, and he got everyone ready for a quick exit from the doors of the chopper.

The pilot rolled in, and I stood at the door, looking down. I looked back into the hold of the helo, and saw that the guys were ready to roll. Except the nugget. He seemed to have managed to make a right mess of getting out of his ruck sack, and unslinging his weapon. For a “touch and go”, we would dump everything, except weapon and a light ammo load, and maybe a canteen. The R.O. would have his radio. Everything else stayed on board, and if we needed anything else, the crew chief would quickly bring the helo into a low hover overhead, and kick out anything we needed.

I sighed, and made a head motion to the sarge. He looked, and sighed back at me. He shouted to me whether we could leave the nugget behind, and I said to the sarge whether he wanted to have the nugget sitting thinking he was in charge of our only quick way out of here. The sarge smiled, and said the crew chief would probably give him flying lessons.

A story for Gary - Part Three. 9/8/2006

The jungle canopy was beautiful, stretching out to the horizon. From my vantage point, with the air blasting past, it was almost a comfortable place to be. For a single fleeting moment, I could forget who I was, and what I was, and exactly what it was we were supposed to be doing there. I was rudely awakened from my reverie by the Sarge. He tapped me on my shoulder, and pointed out where we were on the map.

We had learned to do this, double checking our co-ordinates every so often. Not that we didn’t trust our colleagues in the front seats, but we had had, on more than one occassion, touched down in entirely the wrong landing zone. The boys back in brigade had finally come to the conclusion that in order to minimise this error, they would minimise the number of LZs in a particular AO. Unfortunately this had the unpleasant effect of allowing the bad guys to guess fairly well where we were going to be on any particular day.

The guys in front knew their business this time, and the Sarge went back to fussing over the team. And the nugget. I looked over to him, and could see that he was flushed with adrenaline from going out on his first survey. I wondered if he really had any idea what was going to happen out there. You can go through any number of exercises and training ops, but, like every virgin knows, there is only one first time, and it is never anything like you expected it to be.

As we were heading along, skimming the trees on our merry way, the chopper’s crew chief nudged me, and pointed out and downwards. He drew my attention to something that shouldn’t have been there, a cut in the jungle, almost like a road. I gave the cut a closer look, and it was a road! Someone had come into a place where no one should have been, and in the process had made a road big enough for a fair sized vehicle to move through. The crew chief got on the horn to the driver, and then he passed me a spare headphone set and plugged me into the intercom.

The driver asked me to confirm the sighting, and I did so. While the pilot was speaking to me, I motioned for the R.O. to raise brigade. The Sarge raised an eyebrow, and moved over to have a look. If this was what I thought it was, it warranted a change in orders, and further investigation.

A story for Gary - Part Two. 8/17/2006

It was raining the next morning when we attended the briefing for the D.T.O. I stood in the command tent, trying to ignore the fact that it was cold and wet and I was hungry. No matter. If the survey was going to be where it was, we could always get some food from the native villagers. They were always happy enough to see us, since I always made it a point to leave our excess medical supplies behind with the headman.

As the X.O. was giving the team leaders the daily briefing, we heard the tent flaps rustle behind us. And the nugget walked in. I looked at him, wondering what it was he wanted. Probably wanted to ask me about about which way the straps on his Alice pack did up. What he did next surprised all of us. He grabbed a chair and sat down. Some of my colleagues looked at me with raised eye brows. And the X.O. shot me a “get him the fuck out of here” look.

(more…)

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