When I last left off my (fictional story based on true events), I had gone to operations to chat with Scrappy. We had a discussion over his lack of sleep and taking up residence in the TOC. He brushed it off and rewarded me the an ‘almost daily’ pull up competition; his usual response when he did not want to discuss things. Zorg and Hawk were having a heart-to-heart discussion on the smoke patio. The culmination of previous tours in Afghanistan, loss of colleagues in battle combined with observing the girl getting stoned was appearing to take affect on Zorg’s psyche. The reach of the Task Force Freedom helicopters was expanding to the west in Helmand Province and to the north to Qalat and Tarin Kowt. The fight with the enemy was low paced but the threat was very real. Scrappy was about to school me on the Devil’s Belly Button….
In the TOC…
“I need to tell to you about the mountains, the Devil’s Belly button and your mission coming up.” He stated seriously.
We walked inside to the operations room and pulled out a map of the area.
“You guys have been operating in this area for a month now transiting without problem.” He pointed to the map as he alarmingly stared in my eye. “I worked here as a UAV operator two years ago and this area…” he pointed to the map,“…is the Devil’s Belly Button. It is a major transit route for insurgents from the north and from Pakistan that come into our AO.” He paused. “Right now they are transiting out for the winter. However, there will be enemy strongholds here, observing us; waiting for an opportunity to strike.” He sat down in his chair and raised his brow. “Remember, if you crash here, you’re done! No one, not even ANA (Afghan National Army) are in that area to assist you. Take that in consideration and I further suggest you plan flights along this route!” He returned to the map drawing his finger along a safer route circling around the Belly Button.
“This is at least occasionally patrolled by ANA and is a logistics route for vehicles going north; this meant there may be a chance of getting some support if you get shot down,” he advised.
“Hmmm!” I exhaled absorbing the brief wide-eyed. “Alright.” I pointed to some FOB locations marked on an old map. “Are these FOBS still active?”
“They are former patrol bases; they were when I was here a couple years ago but I have spent the last 2 days trying to contact other nations and higher headquarters to find out. They are probably closed now, so let’s just say no.” He stated adamantly. “Like I said, your on your own.”
“Make sure the other pilots know about this. I’ll ensure I brief them during Ops briefs but get people thinking about it,” he warned. “We are starting to do more work up north.”
“Now about your Operation.” He segwayed.
“Whatcha got for me?” I asked enthusiastically.
“Operation Devil Strike. Your job is to insert a Sniper detachment onto this mountain on the north side at zero two hundred hours in two days. These snipers could be up in the hills for days providing observation for the battle group into the valley below. There is lots of activity including some suspected IED (Improvised Explosive Devise) manufacturing. They figure they need to watch everything covertly and watch for any HVTs (people designated as High Value Targets) that may be transiting into the IED factory.” He set the stage sternly.
“Snipers, they’ll be able to hear us put them in.” I said with concern.
“Yes, but there is a deception plan. The Battle Group Commander will be putting in some sort of noise screen to mask or detract from your landings.” Scrappy briefed.
“Noise screen? What the fuck is a noise screen?” I reeled back.
“It will be coincidental with a major armored tank and APC road move.” He informed.
“Your job is to go in on the darkest night of the month and at the darkest hour in red illum (indicating no moon), blacked out, and get the guys in there?” He ordered. It was more of a question as to whether I wanted to accept it rather than an order. He knew it would be very challenging; almost offering me to bow out if I wanted to.
“Professor is your wingman with Arnie. He has already gone to Int (the Intelligence Section) to get a terrain analysis of the mountain to find the most ideal landing spot. On your next task tomorrow, maybe covertly fly by and look at the recommended landing spots to see what you think.” He suggested.
“Good idea. I’ll go chat with Professor.” I started to depart.
“Remember what I said about the predictability and the mountains, it applies. The Taliban aren’t stupid, look for any caves or hidey holes near there as well!” He closed with sincerity but maintained professional stoicism. “This is a high risk mission, Skipper and the Wing Commander will want to be personally briefed before they allow launch authority.”
“Okay, thanks,” I paused as I departed the room. “By the way, I purposely stopped at fourteen.” Referring to the pull up competition. Scrappy’s necked tightened and eyes enlarged. I expedited my departure smiling.
Professor already had a detailed terrain analysis and had chatted with Skipper about the task. I was excited about it. I never cared for planning the big large-scale operations; but I loved the small specialist missions. I saw Professor who showed me the maps.
“The terrain in this analysis looks like shit!” Prof snarled while looking down my nose. He had an enlarged lower lip indicating he was enjoying the flavors of red chief tobacco between his lips and gums. He spit into his coffee cup
“That’s disgusting.” I retorted ignoring his map comments. He smiled; he seemed to like to put people off balance with his gobby, black spit.
He continued, “…but I think we can fly by and check out these two locations on the ledges, what do you think?” he asked spitting again into his coffee cup.
“That’s gross boss.” I said twisting my face dry-heaving. “I think you need to get a new vice.”
He smiled. “Yup, but it’s ‘my’ vice so grow some skin! Enjoy your coffee, Red bull and pull-ups…I’m chewin’.” He defended. “Let’s check these ledges tomorrow while flying enroute to the west…There is no place to land otherwise. This analysis shows no level ground! We are going to have to hover deplane or get a skid on in the dark on a cliff — maybe here.” He pointed to the map.
“Okay, Let’s not slow down though,” I answered. “Just zip by; non-chalantly.” I added referring to the need for covert flight behaviour. We had to ensure the enemy didn’t suspect our intent.
Professor nodded, then spit.
I continued: “I also want to head here and practice some night mountain landings.” I pointed to an entirely different area on the map. “A little practice before we do the mission can’t hurt…practice single skid-on hover work too, just in case we don’t find anything suitable on the fly-by.”
“Good idea, I’ll get the CO to approve.” Professor acknowledged. We had an plan. “Sniper’s sure picked a shitty place to get to,” he mumbled walking away.
Our remaining crew arrived for briefing later that afternoon. Hawk came into the operations center. As the senior gunner he wasn’t allocated a specific crew, he rotated giving his gunners a break. He loved flying, as most gunners did, they wanted to help their brothers on the ground by being an eye in the sky.
“Sirs, Zorg’s taking the night off.” Hawk advised Professor and myself.
“He alright?” I enquired.
“Lotta shit on his mind right now. He’s alright. He’s gonna chat with the Padre and let off a bit of steam.” Hawk informed. “I’m with you for now.”
I nodded and gave him a quick outline of the task. “Pretty simple mission guys. Drop off a few passengers, look at possible landing spots here…” I pointed to the map as Prof showed pictures. “…then refuel and look for Taliban insurgents planting bombs in the dark, then do a mountain practice landing, and return. It should be a fairly calm night…” I concluded with a sarcastic smirk. Hawk nodded, reflecting the smirk.
to be continued…