Wednesday Terry Henry Walton Short Story

It's All In The Mission

IT'S ALL IN THE MISSION – from Terry Henry Walton’s private journal.

    “Why in the hell are you here, Lieutenant?” I asked, irked by his presence. My team had trained together for over six months. We worked as one. We knew what each other thought, their strengths, their weaknesses. I was in charge, but only by virtue of rank. We all had our specialty. Mine just happened to be the equipment. I could tear it down and put it back together again. I made this junk work and I knew how to organize the data we collected and send it back to someone who cared. It was more than a job for us. And I was good at killing people.

     I used the equipment for something to do in between the direct action missions. I liked the scent of a man’s fear.

     The lieutenant looked hurt.

     “Well, Sergeant, I came along to observe and supervise if necessary. I can authorize the movement of this unit to alternate locations without the hassle of requesting it over the radio.” The lieutenant seemed satisfied with his answer. He raised his head slightly so he could look down at me, a weak attempt to assert his authority.

     One corporal manned the radio direction finding (RDF) equipment and a lance corporal rolled through frequencies slowly on a radio designed to pick up anything in the VHF spectrum. Both had noticed the friction between myself and the “observer” and watched us closely. A second corporal lay curled up in a ball towards the edge of a rock wall some feet away, sleeping peacefully.

     I leaned nearer the lieutenant and in a soft voice so the others couldn't hear, said, “You stay out of our way. Do you understand? You shouldn't be here and already you've changed our orders three times. I've had it with you. The next time you open your mouth, we're going to pack our trash and we're humping out of here!”

     The lieutenant prepared a retort or a threat or something else that didn't matter. I guess my angry glare kept his words from dribbling out like a baby spitting up its breakfast. I'd probably pay later, but for now, the mission would come back on line and maybe we could get some intelligence that was worthwhile, then move back behind our lines. A hot meal and a rack in the air conditioned comfort of our ship waited for us. But for now, we were stuck in a very small two story building that was heaped with the rubble of a previous explosion.

     We had selected this building because it was one of the few whole buildings standing in this part of Beirut. It had access to the roof where our antennas now stood. One antenna was low profile. Another looked like a typical T.V. antenna, but the third was an obvious Marine green. I had tried to set it up level with the T.V-looking antenna, but I couldn't get in touch with the ship. After raising it another six feet, I could hear higher headquarters, and more importantly, they could hear me.

     My team was set up on the bottom floor. Only one room was habitable and that just happened to be the kitchen. The only thing that suggested it had once been a kitchen were the sink and the counter. There was no water so we simply set up all our equipment on the counter and in the sink. We had been operating all day now after having been inserted late last night. So far we hadn't found any exploitable targets and all was mundane and quiet. That probably accounted for some of the friction between the lieutenant and me.

     “Hey, TH, it's almost three. You wanna wake up sleeping beauty?” The lance corporal took off his headphones and rubbed at the red creases around his ears. He yawned and stretched.

     TH. That was me. They sometimes called me Goldy, too. I had dyed my hair golden blond right before we got on ship. I don't know why I did it, maybe because I thought blonds had more fun. It didn't matter. I guess it was just something to do. Well, anyway, it wouldn't last forever, unlike a tattoo.

     “Come on Stinky, time to rise and shine.”

     A pair of bright red eyes peered out at me from under the protective covering of an arm. “Oh gawdy, I feel like I just fell asleep,” answered a dry voice. He contorted his body into a sitting position and rubbed feeling back into his leg, wincing from the pain of the returning circulation.

     I looked at him and laughed silently. Why had I nicknamed him Stinky? Every unit had a Stinky and he just happened to fit the billet. He was renowned aboard ship for his bodily gases. There was nothing he enjoyed more than sharing his gas with others, usually at the most inopportune time. Stinky reached for a Meal, Ready to Eat (MRE) and began to open it.

     “Come on, Stinky, you can eat that on watch. Give Plants a break; he's been spinnin' and grinnin' all day.” Plants had a degree in Botany and went on to learn Arabic. He enlisted because he didn't want the responsibilities of being an officer, nor did he need the pay. He was happy at the bottom of the ladder. “Plants can go suck himself. I gotta wake up.”

     “Stinky, Stinky. Why do you always have to talk like that?”

     “Leave me alone Goldy. At least my hair's the color God meant it to be.”

     They never forget, do they? I thought to myself. I smiled and turned away. The corporal on the RDF was laughing as he kicked back on a box turned into a chair. His nickname was simply Jonesy. He never got excited. He was a man who could be counted on, no matter what.

     Stinky and Plants changed places. Plants sat for a second, then stood up and began to stretch. Stinky looked at him oddly. “Hey, if you're gonna waste it, I'll take the rack and go back to sleep.”

     “Nope! It's my turn and I'll spend it however I like.” He ended by sticking his tongue out and making international rude gestures in Stinky's direction. Needless to say, Stinky broke into a tirade of cursing. I slapped him on the back and frowned my disapproval, which only served to bring his cursing in my direction. At least he was awake…

     It was two in the morning before I finished my report. I had to tally all we had done during the day and send it back to the ship. There wasn't much, but I had to make it sound like we were a four-man army. Only Plants and I were up. I sent the others off to lullaby-land by midnight. No sense in wearing them down when there wasn't anything going on.

     I sat up for another hour before I couldn't keep my eyes open anymore. I had been up for twenty-four hours and that was my limit. I had to get some sleep if I wanted to function when the new day came. I woke Jonesy, then quickly curled myself into the warm spot he vacated.

     “TH, Terry wake up! Hey man, the Lieutenant's gone and Plants says he's got something. Come on, get up!” I was dragged to my feet and shook roughly. I thought I’d been asleep for a grand total of thirty seconds.

     “What? Who's where?” It was now 0530 and my senses eluded me. I was being shaken and I was standing, but that's all I understood. All of a sudden, the shaking stopped. Far off in my mind I thought I heard swearing, then a canteen cup of water rained into my face.

     That was all I needed, because I balled a fist and prepared to punch at the swearing face in front of me.

     “Hey! It's just me. Chill out!” Stinky looked concerned, which was a different expression for him.

     “O.K. I'm up. Sorry, Stinky. What's up?” Stinky told me that Plants had been listening in on a conversation for over an hour and that they repeatedly mentioned “hostages.” Stinky had gotten up only a few minutes ago and noticed that the Lieutenant was gone. He looked around quickly outside the building, but the Lieutenant was nowhere near.

     “Well, Dick Head can fend for himself. Plants, give me a run down and Jonesy, what kind of line of bearing (LOB) do you have?”

     “Just something about the scumbags moving hostages; three, I think, but that's all I'm getting. Those morons can't coordinate what they're doing so they're just swearing at each other.”

     “Yeah, TH, they stay up on the handset for a long time. Real easy to get a good LOB on 'em. They're shooting a 115 true.” I immediately contacted the ship with a short, but clear report. They lost their collective minds and started asking endless, senseless, and unanswerable questions. I cut them off telling them that I would contact them when I had further information. Over and out. I guess they understood that. About ten minutes later, the terrorists came back on the radio, but this time they gave a firm location where they were headed.

     I guess the ship had also been listening in because the radio immediately crackled to life. “Yankee Six Sierra, this is Bravo Niner X-ray, over.”

     “This is Six Sierra, over,” I answered.

     “This is Niner X-ray. We LOB your target at 168, over.”

     “I copy 168. Wait one, over.” I drew a straight line from the ship at 168 degrees. Our line of 115 degrees was already drawn from our building. They crossed neatly in the middle of a block held by the Shiite. RDF was not an exact indicator of locations, but it did give a general idea. I brought the map close to Plants and showed him the possible location. He studied it through his John Lennon glasses, then traced a line along a street from my crossed lines to a point only four blocks from where we now sat. “That's where they're going, TH! I know it. Right there!” He made a gouge in the map with his fingernail. Sweat beaded on his forehead and his hand shook slightly. It was hot outside, even this early, but not that hot.

     I keyed the handset, “Niner X-ray, this is Six Sierra, over.”

     “This is Niner X-ray. Go ahead, over,” The gunnery sergeant's voice came back. The ship knew how important this information was and undoubtedly, everyone who was anyone was jammed into the intelligence spaces, listening in.

     “This is Six Sierra. Transfer of hostages currently underway to grid location 4287 3561. How copy, over?”

     “This is Niner X-ray. Transmission garbled. Say again your last, over.” Before I could answer, mortar rounds crashed into the building across the street, sending stone chips flying in through the window. The entire block was being shelled.

     “Niner X-ray, this is Six Sierra, over.” My answer was static. “Stinky, get upstairs and check the antenna.”

     He hesitated for only a second, then ran for the stairs. At that same instant, a cammie clad figure burst through the doorway and slid face first across the floor. The lieutenant had returned.

     He rolled over, shock and terror gripped his features. Jonesy shook his head and Plants nervously clenched his fist. I grabbed the lieutenant's collar and pulled him up. I wanted to hit him, but he was senseless already. Not only had he compromised himself, he had compromised our position, and now our whole mission was in jeopardy. I let go of him.

     “Hey Goldy, the Two Niner Two is down. The mast is broken in half and the elements are all bent to hell. The other two antennas are O.K., I think. I didn't get too close.”

     I thought for a minute. The shelling was letting up. Well, at least it was going away from us.

     It seemed like we were in the eye of a hurricane, and that's how I felt; we were surrounded by a storm. “Pack it up. We're leaving.” My team seemed only too eager to comply.

     Despite our haste, it still took over half an hour to load the radios and the two remaining antennas into our packs.

     We were set. The lieutenant had regained most of his awareness and was standing, loaded down, just like the rest of us. I had the PRC-77 set up and on, the tape antenna protruding from my pack and the handset clipped to my H-harness. “O.K. stud muffins, here's the deal. Jonesy, you got the lead, then Stinky. I'll baby-sit the LT and Plants, you bring up the rear.”

     I laid the map on the counter and showed our route to Jonesy and to Stinky.

     “We go fast, understand?” All heads nodded in agreement. “We have to get those eight numbers back to the ship, then it's their ball game.” 4287 3561. Those numbers were burned in my mind. I had to get them to someone who could do something with them. The ship had both Snakes (AH-1W Cobra attack helicopters) and Frogs (CH-46 Sea Knight medium lift helicopters). They could get in, grab the hostages, save the day, and get out in a matter of minutes. That was their job.

     We had done ours. All that remained was to give them the grid coordinates.

     “Rock and Roll, Jonesy.” He turned and stepped out the door. Stinky watched him go, waited about ten seconds, then followed. I did the same, the lieutenant beside me. We walked quickly down the side of the street, staying close to the buildings. A couple of houses ahead, Stinky walked at the ready, a thirty round magazine locked into his M-16. Jonesy was a ways up ahead, looking everywhere, yet moving forward at a fast pace. I turned around. Plants was a couple buildings behind the lieutenant and me. Plants smiled at me, then checked to his rear and gave me the thumbs up.

     We had only covered two blocks when automatic weapons opened up in front of us. Jonesy dove into a bomb crater in the street. Stinky broke into a run and dove into the same crater. I stepped through a doorway near me, the lieutenant right behind me. I heard the steady tread of a Marine running and an instant later, Plants barreled headlong through the doorway.

     I stuck my head out and gave Stinky the “wait” sign. He waved back “O.K.” I keyed the handset, knowing my chances of getting through were about zero. Transmitting from inside a building was rarely successful. “Bravo Niner X-ray, this is Yankee Six Sierra, over.” I called twice more, then clipped the handset back to my harness. I looked out the doorway once more and waved to Stinky and Jonesy to come over to the building. Jonesy aimed his M16 over the edge of the crater in the direction of the weapons fire. I added a few rounds of my own to cover the repositioning of my point man.

     Stinky jumped up and ran straight to the doorway. When he was in, Jonesy popped up and sprinted for us. As he neared the doorway, a machinegun sprayed the face of our building. He dove through the opening and rolled behind the wall.

     “Stinky, look for a back door!” I peeked out a nearby window. A number of ragged militia ran from behind a building across the street. Plants and I fired at the running targets, causing them to scatter. Two jumped into the crater Jonesy had just vacated and the other five ducked into the open building directly across from us.

     “No-go, TH. This is the only way in or out.”

     “Don't they make back doors in these places? I'm beginning to severely dislike these people.”

     “O.K. What can they do? They can call in mortar fire on us. They can blockade us. They can call up some reinforcements. What can we do?” I thought out loud. There didn't seem to be much that was in our favor.

     The longer we waited, the worse it would get.

     As they say, no time like the present. “Dump your packs. They're staying.” We organized our packs into a neat little pile. I took out our one Thermite grenade, pulled the pin, then set it on the packs. We watched as the radios and antennas melted under the extreme heat of the burning thermite.

     “TH, something's going on.” Plants had been keeping an eye on the building across the street and it seemed that indecision was also gripping our adversary.

     “Stinky, you have the best arm. Put one grenade in the crater. Jonesy and I will send a couple more across the street and by the time the smoke clears, we better be around the corner and setting a new team sprint record.” The three of us pulled the pins together.

     Stinky launched his first, then jumped to the side as Jonesy and I sent our grenades skittering across the street. The explosions came quickly and we dashed out the doorway. As Stinky and the lieutenant were turning the corner towards freedom, the sound of a rifle crack echoed down the empty street behind. Then more shots followed. We had been seen.

     We stopped behind the corner. I grabbed the lieutenant’s harness. “You get these men back to the ship. Do you understand?”

     “What are you going to do, Sergeant?” the lieutenant of old demanded.

     “I'm gonna distract them. I'll catch up with you, but for now, get those coordinates back to the ship.” I leaned around the corner and fired a couple rounds. There was a brief shuffle behind me. I fired another round. Not wanting to look back, I listened as my team moved out.

Then, I was alone. I had the scumbags right where I wanted them. There was no one to slow me down…

Learn more about Craig Martelle and his other books at http://www.craigmartelle.com