Part 3: Conclusion
For a moment I thought about the conversation I had earlier with the Team Leader, but pressure on my shoulder from the hand of the person behind me instructed me to go. I didn’t think about it twice and kicked the door, threw a flash bang and waited for it to go off, then entered the room, rifle at the ready. Suddenly, I felt a hand on my face and another one grabbing the barrel of my rifle. I could smell his warm, repulsive breath and knew he was a large man. I unconsciously let go of my rifle and reached for my hip. The straps of the holster that carried my side arm guided me to it. I felt the cold steel in between my thumb and index finger and placed my index finger in the trigger as I drew it from the holster. As the weapon was becoming horizontal, I started firing shots – six to be precise. I felt his lifeless body stumble at my feet.
I took a deep breath and yelled, “CLEAR!” Before we could form a stack in the next room, we all clearly heard a sharp metallic noise bouncing towards our direction. We ran outside as fast as we could, and shortly after heard a small explosion in the hallway. After we gained composure, the Team Leader said to me, “Level this fucking house. This time I am not kidding!”
As we moved back to the collection point, I started instructing the fighter jet pilots to take the place out and they were eager to contribute to the mission. The same team member who had praised the previous engagements from the gunship yelled, “Man, this is going to be awesome!” Once at a safe distance, I cleared the pilots to drop two 2,000 lbs. bombs.
At the collection point the rest of the team members had detained a few more individuals who had attempted to flee the area. The now agitated Team Leader asked if one of them was our target. Someone said, “Don’t know.” From the crowd, someone else yelled, “Look at their head and fingers.” The individual we were after had a few digits missing as a result of mishandling explosives. In addition, he had a large scar going from his forehead all the way to the top of his head. The team member trying to ID the wanted individual, pulled a male out of the line of detainees. He held a photo against his face, inspected his hands and said, “We got him.” Everyone cheered! By now, the gunship and the fighter jets were long gone. I looked down at my watch – it was time to go home.
With impeccable timing, the lead pilot of the helicopter detail reached me on the radio. I directed him to an alternative extraction zone that would facilitate the loading of the detainees and the members involved in the mission. The detainees were blindfolded, which made it very difficult to load them into the helicopters because they were terrified by the wind and engine noise produced by the flying machines.
On the flight back to base, I felt an unusual, nonchalant calmness within me. The cover of darkness was almost gone and daylight was rapidly approaching. We landed in the same place where everything had started and the detainees were taken away for processing. There was this radiant sense of accomplishment that everyone seemed to be enjoying. The team members were exchanging high fives and making the rounds around me, rapping me on the back. I just smiled back with sealed lips. The Team Leader approached me to ask if I was okay. I casually replied that I was fine and he commended me on the good job that I had done.
The sun was once again at my back. As I was gazing into my shadow, the Iraqi soldier who had earlier given me a cigarette approached me with his crumbled paper box of cigarettes in hand. Accepting his gesture, I pulled one out and he immediately lit it for me. He pointed at the sky and looking at me with a huge smile on his face, just said, “Ehhhhhhh!” I chuckled. Then he shocked me by hugging me. I hugged him back. He pulled away, looked at me, placed his right hand over his heart, bowed and waved to the air.
My silhouette was smoking a cigarette. Looking down at my watch, I saw it was six o’ clock in the morning and the mess hall was about to open. As I took the last drag of that cheap unfiltered cigarette, I couldn’t help but notice that my pants were stained with urine, dirt and blood. I frowned and said to myself, “Well, I guess I earned breakfast today.”