OP DEVIL STRIKE
“One Minute, hustle! We’re waiting.” I left the tent splashing my MOAC yelling at Arnie. MOAC stood for Mother-Of-All-Coffees. It was a Green Bean special that was available 24 hours a day on the boardwalk; the ideal motivational drink for a late night/early morning mission. It was a twenty-eight ounce dark roast coffee boosted with four espresso shots – my staple when Timmy’s wasn’t open.
A few minutes later Arnie stumbled out to the van, the other seven waiting patiently for him as usual. He was never early nor late – perfectly timed to the second; and still half asleep from an early evening nap.
“Arnie, how many times I gotta tell you, if your not ten minutes early…” I was interrupted by everyone else in the van who finished him in mocking chorus “…your late!
“Gotta relax man, your too uptight…ease off the coffee man.” Irish took the opportunity to critique my vice.
I glared back; tired and stressed. Zorg was flying with the team today; refreshed and adding levity.
“Oooow….clear left boss!” He crawled through the van over the seats and people to be annoyingly funny; smartly deflating tension as his feet flailed past all our heads. Each person retaliating by grabbing and twisting his flesh for punishment. Answered only by Zorg’s laughs of defiance.
“Zorg, what the fuck?” individuals bickered at him as they hoisted him over their shoulders to the third row. He just laughed away the pain and the comments.
I liked being early. The guys did not; but they tolerated it. The seemed to respect my need for an extra half-hour on the operational side to psychologically prepare. Conversely, they slept for the 20-minute transit a I drove.
I reported to Operations and started completing the standard risk assessment. A protocol required for each mission to attain launch authority. It was a pitch-black night and thus a high-risk mission; not from enemy fire but from the complexity of precision landings with NVGs in brownout obscured conditions. More aircraft crashed in Afghanistan from the environment than to Taliban fire, so the threat was duly noted. The Skipper was there.
“Hi boss.” I stated with a smirk forced through the fatigue.
“You guys ready?” He asked.
“Well, let’s hear it. Over to the briefing room.”
In the briefing room, the mission coordination team were present as well as the operations officer, Scrappy. They went through an organized sequence of briefings that started with weather.
The weather briefer talked about the wind forecast and night illumination. The Skipper immediately asked me how I was applying this information on every aspect of the mission. We discussed the timings to coordinate with lack of lunar illumination, the angle of the moon and how it would shadow the mountain landing. The winds favoured a certain direction of flight. They were light, which would increase the intensity of the dust ball.
The Int Op briefed recent activity within the AO; then focused on the applicable FOB reports. Then he had special maps produced depicting the angle and jaggedness of the terrain based on actual satellite imagery for our intended landing areas.
“So where are you landing?” Skipper enquired as he looked at the entire map which showed no suitable landing spot available.
“I’m not sir, I’m putting one skid on and holding it right here; Prof will follow once I clear.” I pointed to the map. “This spot is my primary. It’s closer to the top for the snipers and this is our back-up.” I pointed to a ledge about 100 meters away and 100 feet lower on the jagged cliffs. “It’ll be a right skid-on landing and we’ll hold ‘er there until the boys deplane…I checked it out yesterday and the references look adequate for the hover-deplaning.”
“Alright.” He agreed raising a brow of concern. It would be a 50/50 success plan; but he had confidence in me. “Please continue,” he gestured to the briefer.
Scrappy and Ricky finished briefing all aspects that could affect the mission: enemy, friendlies, lighting, timings, ammo, known activity, artillery and all other aviation flying in the area. They covered it all. Overall, It was a simple task. Pick up some snipers and drop them off.
“Sir, the Lord Strats are running a concurrent deception plan to mask the noise of the helicopter.” Ricky pointed to the map. “They’ll be running their tank logistics convoy along this route at precisely the same time as the intended landing sequence of Shakedown 25. The intent is to create a sound screen to prevent anyone from the area from noticing the landings.” He concluded.
“Very well, I’m satisfied. It won’t be easy, but fly safe.” Skipper stated. “It will be tricky so take it slow out there.”
I nodded, picked up my maps and proceeded to the flight line. My mind was full of various contingencies plans and potential emergencies, fire-fights that could occur. I looked up at sky which was clear and pin-pricked with stars. No moon. It was dark. The air was still. The dust had subsided and it was breathable. I loaded my 85 pounds of go-gear on my back and wobbled towards the helicopter as silhouettes of my team members moved in their rituals.
I noticed a figure stealthily disappeared behind the tail boom of a chopper – Arnie. He was continuing with his urination ritual. Shortly after his first time under the tail boom weeks earlier, he went on an over-watch mission. The infantry reported shots being fired at the helicopters. He and the right gunner heard the crack of the bullets passing by…fortunately missing. Ever since then, he hasn’t changed a single action prior to his departure. He figured the freaky universal magic associated with that piss routine was somehow associated with redirecting the bullet from hitting him. He was not about to change fate and screw with the gods.
Snapshot noticed. He liked to make little rhymes to add cheer:
“If you gotta go, pee in the snow,
but there’s no snow, so just go-go-go.”
“Poetry is not your fortay, stick with the photography,” Zorg critiqued then went back to his rest position, seated with legs draping over Betty, his gun.
I subtly walked around the griffon, rubbing the helicopter nose in contemplation. The gunners were in their seats in the middle of my ritual path so as I walked by, I rubbed their foreheads too in jest. I reviewed the entire mission in my head before we flew it. I climbed into the left seat. We departed proceeding to the Reg Dessert to test fire weapons and lasers. I looked far ahead across the valley. I could see the mountain we were to land on, MASUM GHAR where the sniper team was, and the towns where the high value targets were to be observed. I played it all in my head as I tended to the silence beyond the engines and rotor noise. Well, I played it out as I thought it would go…