….“Zorg, we gotta carry on with our task, we’ll talk later!” I was concerned due to his tone.
“Too many people dying for stupid reasons here.” He stated quietly.
“Shakedown 25, this is SLAYER TOC, I copy your report and it has been passed up.” His tone was the same. To him, it was a routine report to file and pass. I was amazed by the lack of intonation. He had probably received so many inhumane reports that he was numb to the lack of humanity witnessed each day.
“Airspace Update Report.” Slayer continued seamlessly. “No change to the airspace but WILSON is HOT. TIC in progress. Two times enemy mortars have been shot into WILSON. SHAMUS Flights are continuing operations south of WILSON with rockets and 50 cal. All effects are east-west, approach from north and contact LZ controller in WILSON to de-conflict your arrival. I say again, WILSON recently under mortar fire.”
“25, roger copy that, are you in need of our support at this time?” I asked.
Irish’s eyes got big. He realized I was asking to get into the fight. Zorg yelled a huge battle cheer from the back.
“We gotta straighten these fuckers out!” Zorg hollared.
“The General has to be picked up, he’s expecting us.” Irish stated.
“Yup, your right. I’m sure the General will tell the FOB Commander that he can use us if they need us.” I added. “He wont mind waiting.”
“Well boys, be prepared for anything.” I said in nervous anticipation of Slayer’s Fire Mission; directing us into battle.
Slayer responded after a short delay, “Negative, Shamus has got it, they have too many choppers in that location as it is, thanks but proceed on task.”
A quiet filled the cockpit. Not sure if it was relief or disappointment.
“I guess I can put my gun away and pick up my camera again.” Snapshot joked.
“Do you think that girl is okay?” Zorg dwelled in a concerned tone.
“What did you see?” I asked quickly.
“She took a bunch of stones to the body, hunched, then a big one directly to the head and fell over.” His voice stated flatly. “I didn’t see her move.”
Everyone was quiet. We were about to go into WILSON; it was under attack.
“Focus Zorg.” I raised my voice. “We’ll talk after.”
The crew was quiet except the radio filled with combat activity near WILSON. Again, the landing zone was jammed. We were able to approach into the same place where the General was dropped. There was a medevac. DUSTOFF, a Blackhawk helicopter was inbound, five minutes after us to extract casualties. This was being orchestrated while four Kiowa Warriors were rotating in and out of battle only 400 meters away. GUNSMOKE was also still high above using 30 mm cannon to augment the SHAMUS teams. The radios were blaring with activity to the point that the crew couldn’t even talk on the intercom. It was confusion and the air was congested with choppers all within a one-kilometer radius.
We were just landing in the FOB when a plume of smoke rose a few hundred meters in front of us on the south edge of the FOB.
“All call signs. Rocket attack. Rocket attack.” The WILSON LZ coordinator called. “A mortar just landed on the south wall of WILSON.”
This was all happening as the General was approaching the helicopter. He was poised and taking the appropriate time to share hand-shakes with the person he was visiting. Slightly ducking as he heard mortars explode a few hundred meters south. His pause, grip and grin was aggravating both myself and Irish. He looked over his shoulder to watch the rising black smoke of the Taliban attack and turned to watch the kiowas release their rockets adding to the smoke in the valley. He seemed to be enjoying the stroll while we just wanted to get the fuck into air where we felt less vulnerable.
He boarded, smiled from the back seat and gave us the thumbs up. He yelled to communicate over the noise of the helicopters, mortars and rocket war just a quarter-mile south.
“Got ourselves a bit of a war going on here. Didn’t think you’d make it!” He smiled.
“No problem sir, that’s what were here for.” I yelled back faking my extreme confidence. “We’ll be off in a second.”
“Ahh, we should go now, the General’s on board,” Irish directed.
“We’ll stay together as a section, it’s best.” I trumped. “Wait for Prof, we’ll go together.”
Prof’s aircraft was still loading the General’s entourage: a Chief Warrant Officer, Staff Officer and a guard. They were shaking hands, doing their final good. They were almost ready to go. Nevertheless, our section couldn’t split up and go independently with all the other helicopters in the air, it would have added too much confusion. All the players expected two helicopters to move for one radio call. There was always higher risk of crashing from confusion than from the enemy.
Another plume rose across the base from our location, 400 meters away. Our eyes enlarged, pausing to look at each other to share the SNAFU excitement.
“Those mortars are getting a but close, don’t ya think? We gotta get going!” Irish insisted in a slightly elevated voice of concern.
“Yup. What the fuck’s taking them so long out there.” I looked as they shook hands and jocularly smiled in what appeared to be non chalantly at the plume of rising mortar smoke.
Irish looked out towards them, eyes grew enlarged with palms up gesturing the “let’s get the hell moving people” signal. They moved towards Prof.
“We’re good. They are aboard, we’ll be outta here right away.” I encouraged faking a smile. Moments later, 26 called ready and we departed as the Dustoff Medivac arrived.
The General put his headset on. “Thanks for coming back and getting me guys.” He said cheerfully. “It’s getting a bit exciting down there but the RCHA (artillery) are doing well and getting some business today – it was a good visit. Bit of a change gents, you can take me over to the Lord Strathcona’s now at Masum Ghar.” He informed.
“No problem sir, I told you we’d be back. Have you over there in a jiffy.” I answered. Irish was quiet sorting through his paperwork as there was now a change in timings and location.
“Shakedown, this is Freedom Ops.” Scrappy’s voice came over the radio breaking our silent tension.
“Go for Shakedown 25.” I answered.
“After you drop off the General, escort Blowtorch to Senjeray. He’s just loading and will meet you north of Senjeray in twenty five minutes.” Scrappy stated.
This was the norm: changes, add-ons and re-routing. This is what I liked. No paper, no extensive wasted planning. Just fill with gas, bullets and Redbull and make it up as you go along.
“Roger that.” I responded and continued on the intercom. “Guys, we’re walking the dog to Senjeray.” It was followed by the normal acknowledgements. I smiled. I knew this was the straw to break the camels’ back of the time table.
As we approached MASUM GHAR, Irish shook his head and threw his papers beside his seat surrendering to the changes. He smiled with his palms raised mouthing silently the familiar words: “What the Fuck.” I felt vindicated; for now.