I'm not really sure what the f•©k happened. The last thing I remembered before coming to in a dingy cellar surrounded by musty vegetables and the smell of goats and my own blood was being on the helo. Weeell, perhaps I should back it up a bit further. I joined up at seventeen. Dad was in the Army. A twenty year vet of Panama, the First Gulf War, and Kosovo before he was smart and got out before the gutting of the military by Clinton got his successor in trouble. I grew up knowing I was never going to be in one place for more than three years before we were going to be sent somewhere else. The unofficial motto of military families is "Home is where the Army sends you," and that is more true than they would probably like to admit. I go back that far to explain how I got to the cellar. I knew before I even got into high school that there was not a chance in hell of my parents being able to afford college for me. Sergeants in the Army don't make enough to start college funds. Sergeants in the Army barely make enough to cover the bills they have every month. Especially these days, when the benefits that used to induce young men to join have been whittled away. So I was either going to have to work my ass off at a job and go to school at night or find somebody else to pay for it. And then 9/11 happened. Dad came really close to seeing if he could get back in the Army when that happened, but mom took him into their bedroom, yelled at him for about an hour before bursting into tears on him. He never could stand to see her cry, so she won.
I was already figuring on joining the Army out of high school, but 9/11 changed my plans. Or rather, it made me decide to accelerate them. I was already bored with school, getting good grades without much effort, so when I saw those planes slam into the World Trade Center and plunge into the Pentagon and heard about what Todd Beamer and his compatriots did, I knew what I was going to do. I did my two and a half years in high school before dropping out at sixteen and getting my GED before working for half a year at a gun range and joining on my seventeenth birthday with mom's grudging support and dad's sad pride. Sad because he really wished he would be the generation in our family to make the next generation well enough off that we would not need to sell our blood for others' freedom and prosperity. I would be the fifth generation of MacShanes to fight for our adopted country. Not that coming to America changed what the MacShanes did. We Irish have been fighting each other or someone else as far back as we can remember. I guess great-great-grandfather Fearghus MacShane thought he could break the chain by coming to the U.S. But me joining in 2004 showed what folly that was. Besides, we are good at our jobs. Only one MacShane has died in action since we got here and he was unfortunate enough to be on Luzon when the Japanese came ashore. He died somewhere between where he had been killing Japs and the first stop on the Bataan Death March. His almost lifeless body had been surrendered with the rest of the near-starved Americans and Filipinos who gave up, already wounded and near death. At least according to one of the survivors of the death camps.
Boot camp was fairly easy given I was already conditioned to obey orders and was in very good shape. I spent more time in Jump School, then Ranger School, then Sniper School before being sent out into the jungles of Central and South America to practice for six months on drug cartels and wannabe terrorists. Another six months in the Philippines helping to teach the Filipinos how to kill Abu Sayyaf. While there, I managed to pick up some Arabic and a buddy got me started on Persian and a smattering of Urdu. Turned out I had a knack for languages he could not believe. That, of course, got me send home for more in-depth schooling in all three languages before I was sent to the lovely hellhole known as Afghanistan as part of the watered down Obama surge.
Six months into my deployment I was sent out into the hinterlands along the Afghan-Paki border with intel that there would be a high value target coming across the border from his safe house in Peshawar for a meeting with Taliban leadership in eastern Afghanistan. The helo set my spotter and me down ten miles out from the meet spot just after dark and we humped to a ridge running just north of the little hamlet in which a Taliban chief lived. Supposedly this was some kind of strategy session between Taliban and al-Qaeda for some big multi-hit attack they were planning for Kabul, Kandahar, Mazar-e-Sharif, Peshawar, Islamabad, and Karachi. The Taliban were getting pissed with the Pakistani government for helping the U. S. Intel was for a lot of soft targets with high casualties. At least that was what CENTCOM and the bright boys in Langley figured.
It was freezing cold, winter having long ago locked the hinterlands of Central Asia in its grip. There wasn't any snow on the ground around the hamlet yet, but weather reports were expecting some and so Jimmy (Cpl. James Cagney Riccelli-my spotter) and I were loaded down with cold weather gear, Afghan terrain ghillie suits, weapons, ammo, observation gear, provisions, and snow camo, just in case we were still here when the flakes started coming down. As we walked over the broken terrain, we collected withered foliage and twigs to weave into each other's suits until we were satisfied that we would be invisible when we found our spot.
The walk up the ridge was a slow, nervous one because the Taliban warlord was known to be twitchy. The hamlet was rumored to be booby trapped for a half mile around and more than one of the village's kids lost limbs before the villagers sent them to live with relatives. We made the crest of the ridgeline easily enough and began inching our way down as the sun was beginning to come up. We made one last inspection of our suits and then settled down for the day. We had drawn cards before leaving the FOB and so I got to doze while he kept watch. We switched off a couple more times before dark and then grabbed our gear and began inching our way around the hamlet. The warlord's house was on the southwestern side of the village, according to the Intel weenies, so he could be closer to Mecca than anyone else. We slipped through a couple of roving patrols closer to the village and a third nearly walked right over us just after we set up once more for the day.
Sipping water from our camel packs and chowing down on MREs set us up for the long wait for dusk. Jimmy dozed whilst I watched. Intel said the meet was supposed to take place today at dusk with the players all arriving in time to do evening prayers together.
I was about to wake Jimmy up when I noticed movement on the eastern road into the village. I used my scope to get a quick peek, making sure of the sun's angle before doing so. On the far side of the village a convoy of six SUVs had stopped at the four Taliban watchers set on the road. After a few minutes of chit-chat, the guards let them drive on into the village. They drove straight towards the southwestern quarter of town and parked outside the sprawling house that was probably the former residence of the town headman. It was also the house I had been keeping an eye on all day, marking who came and went and when. I had counted seven men so far and all seven boiled out as the SUV doors started opening. Three more men that I had not seen also came out and I smacked Jimmy on the side. Target Beta, the Taliban chief, was the last to exit the house.
As Jimmy was rousing himself fully, I started looking at the guests and finally spotted Target Alpha. He and the Taliban chief kissed cheeks ritually and I centered the scope on Alpha's chest. Jimmy had gotten his scope up and was rattling off distance and wind numbers for me. This was not going to be an easy job and we knew it when we accepted it. One shot was hard enough to hit and get out. Two was going to be harder and these guys were even twitchier than the Intel weenies had led us to believe. Every single guard was scanning the countryside and the village streets as if the 1st Infantry Division was going to come crash the party.
"Get ready to hop, Jimmy," I said as I took a breath and held it, squeezing the trigger. Even before Alpha was going down I had exhaled, resighted on the chief, inhaled, hold, and squeeze.
"Alpha down, Sarge. Center mass," mutter Jimmy. "Beta down, center mass. Time to skedaddle!"
I popped off a few more shots as Jimmy slowly started squirming his way up the hill and northward. I made sure to take out the engines of the SUVs and got two more of the al-Qaeda thugs when they popped their heads up before snapping the scope closed and following Jimmy. I heard shots hitting behind me but it had taken them too long to pinpoint where my shot had come from. We were out of there. Mission accomplished.
It was nearly ten miles to the pick-up LZ and within the first five hundred feet I knew we were in trouble. Qaraqul-wearing, AK-toting goons started popping up out of the barren mountains screaming at each other in very unflattering terms regarding Jimmy and me in nearly illiterate Pashto. These boys were mixed groups of Pakis, Afghanis, and those nigh-legendary "foreign fighters" you hear so much about from Pentagon briefings. I told Jimmy to start jettisoning any of his gear that would identify him as a sniper, making sure to conceal it as best he could. I began doing the same with any gear I could afford to lose while keeping my rifle and ammo. We were not going to get out of this without me creating some diversions.
.... There is more of this story ...