Copyright© 2010 by Terriblethom
We were still sitting in the chow hall and Chung was again teasing Gunny who was giving him hell. The conversation broke off as the Cookie approached our table looking for me.
"Sarge, the Captain just called and he wants you to report to his office ASAP."
"Ok Cookie, thanks."
I told Gunny and Chung I would meet them back at the armory as soon as I was done and maybe I might have some more information for us. I doubletimed it over to command and was surprised to see two MP's on duty. One was outside as usual checking ID's and the other was inside filing papers instead of the usual clerk that seemed to always be there. I was told to go on back as he was waiting for me. I knocked on the door and was told to come in. when I got in the office I got a very pleasant surprise. My old friend Maxi was there, and I was sure glad to see him and the hugs we gave each other had the Captain smiling.
"Damn Maxi when did you get back in country. I thought your spook days were over, and you were going to sit behind a desk till you retired?"
"Don't get excited, I am on my way back in the morning. Sarge because of our unique friendship and history together they called me in to brief you. Your Captain said you didn't want to go back into Cambodia again especially that deep in. We just got some Intel that's hot, and it needs to be checked out and since you know the area I immediately thought of you. When I mentioned it at Langley they put me on a fighter and flew me in to brief you. Remember that old abandoned plantation we run across up at Parrots Beak?"
"Yea and we almost didn't get out of there with our skins. If I remember correct your Intel that time almost got us all killed."
"True and I got payback for it too. Sarge that area we think now has a new railroad linking it with the Ho Chi Minh Trail, and they are shipping supplies in as fast as they can run that train back and forth. Even with the photo's we have we can't be sure that it's a railroad. We want you to take a team up there and observe for a few days and take some pictures. No ambushes of VC or anything like that, but just lay low and watch and see what's going on. The Navy Seals are sending in a team from Dong Tam Seal base there. They have already left as of 0700 this morning and will rendezvous with your team at the coordinance we will provide. You will be watching from up high while they will be north of you watching that way in. We think this is linked up with the main NVA base here. If it is, we need to get current Intel so we can plan a series of attacks. As you probably already know we have been bombing the hell out of all the choke points in that area but this is something completely new. The Seals will stay in the northern part of the A Shaw while you go to the top of the highest peak there and observe from that position. Sarge, you Chung and Ling know that area better than anyone so the important part of this mission is up to you and your team. Get the pictures and get out."
"What about the Seal Team Maxi?"
"They knew the deal and they all volunteered to go in. They will take the heat so you can get those pictures back as soon as you can. Sarge, I can't stress enough how important this is, and its all on your back. We have to stop this massive influx of supplies or we lose on all fronts if it keeps up."
"Maxi, I trust you, but if you think I will stand by if the shit hits the fan, and not back them up, then you better find someone else to go in. You of all people should know better. If we engage to back them up, I will send Chung back with the pictures, and do all I can to help the Seals if they need it. You can either accept it or find someone else to go in."
I sat back watching the play of emotions across his face and when I glanced at the Captain he had a little smirk on his face and I knew he was enjoying the squeeze I had put on Maxi.
"Sarge, have you found a second yet? With all that happened this morning and being on the phone with the General all morning I haven't had a chance to look."
"Yea I have Cap, and if he accepts it's going to take the Generals pull to get it done."
"Shit Sarge, what have you done now?"
I spent ten minutes filling him in and he just looked at me in shock by the time I was done.
"Boy when you dig a hole you dig it deep don't you? Sarge, I don't think even the General has enough pull to do what you're asking. I can't believe you can't find someone from SOG to fill the position for a mission. Christ Sarge, the General is going to have a fit when I tell him about this one."
"Cap, I can get it done, but I don't want to use up a favor a certain Marine General owes me. Besides he is unassigned and ready to go, and with his unique skill I think he will come in very handy on this one if it hits the fan. Maxi, I still have to get my team together, get supplied and make arrangements for transportation so what's it gonna be?"
"All right Sarge, it's yours but remember the pictures have to get back here even if you end up in a war up there. If you send Chung with them he will get them back, but dammit you're the only one I trust so don't get your head shot off. I still owe you from the last time and I can't repay you if you get killed. Dammit Sarge, why do you have to be so damned stubborn all the time?"
I just grinned at him and we shook hands when I got up to leave. The Captain told me he would send a runner for me when the paperwork on Solly was finished and then he would brief me on the rest of the mission. I went outside and Chung was squatted by the MP talking to him and they were laughing up a storm as I came out. He got up and joined me as I headed for the armory to talk to Gunny. We were halfway there when I heard someone calling my name and looked behind me to see Solly coming my way with his bag over his shoulder. Chung and I stopped grinning when he walked up.
"What are you two grinning at? That damned Butter Bar threatened to have me arrested when I signed out and told him where I was going. Then I got stopped at the gate while the MP's made a call and your Captain cleared me to come in. I'm in Sarge, I can't take any more of this sitting around waiting for the axe to fall."
Chung and I busted out laughing and listened to him bitch all the way to the Armory. I liked him and from Chung's reaction he seemed to have accepted him too. We went inside and Jeffers told us Gunny was in his office and expecting us. Solly threw his bag behind the counter and followed us in. We all grabbed coffee and got settled in. Gunny was glaring at Solly and when I looked at Chung he had that big grin on his face, and I wondered what this one was all about. I didn't have long to wait when Solly turned a little red under his glare.
"Gunnery Sgt. James Sullivan, I think you forgot something didn't you?"
I watched as Gunny set a paper bag on his desk with Solly's name on it and sat back and waited. Solly looked at me, then the bag with a puzzled expression on his face, before Gunny finally let him off the hook.
"I want everything personal including your Dog tags in that bag before you leave my office."
"Why in the world would I do that Gunny? You know we don't take off our Dog tags and the reason why."
"This isn't the Marines. You're with SOG now, and you don't carry anything in the field except your green pass. Everything else is left here in my safe. Solly the rules you're so used too don't fit anymore, especially when you work with Sarge and Chung. They make up their own rules when they are out there in the bush so you better change your mindset when it comes to what you were taught in the Corps. This is a whole new ballgame for you, and they will teach you or you will die. You got chose by one of the best teams I know, and you can learn a lot if you're willing to listen and watch. You may think you know how to survive in the bush but you're an amateur when it comes to doing it the way they do. Just pretend your back in training and listen to everything they say and watch all they do. This is Sarge's third tour and he has lost two men and it was their own fault and not his. Chung here is the meanest little bastard I ever met, but when you're out there he knows more than any of this mans service can teach you. You may have passed LRP training with flying colors, but what they know is for real and not made up. They are responsible for you and the rest of your team, and if you plan on coming back alive listen to them and take all they tell you to mind and heart cause it will save your life. Now fill the damned bag like you were ordered."
I looked over at Chung when Gunny finished and his face showed the same shocked look I knew mine had at his outburst. I had made friends with Gunny when I first came over here, and respected him as well as his advice more than any man I ever knew including my own father. To hear out loud his opinion of me as well as Chung made a lump come to my throat. I in all the time I had known him never knew he respected me as much as he did. Damn I though as I felt moisture come to my eyes unbidden, this was a man's man and one of the best I thought. He was the best of the warrior class, and it was a damned shame he trying to hang on here instead of commanding his own men. I got up to get more coffee and get control of my feelings. When Solly finished with filling the bag including his Dog Tags the Gunny locked the bag in the safe before addressing me.
"Sarge, what are your plans for him?"
"Gunny, find him a Sniper rifle and let him out on the range for awhile. Solly you will be watching our backs as well as another team, and we don't have spotters. I want you to know what your rifle will do as well as be able to make some long shots if it's necessary. You say your good; well on this mission you just might get a chance to prove it. Chung, go round up the men and bring them in. if I can arrange it we will be pulling out tonight for a night insertion. Tell them to bring their sandals and boots and plenty of food."
"You got it Sarge, I be back short time with men."
They all three left at the same time and I sat back in the chair thinking about the last time we went into the area we were going. I was still sitting there sound asleep when the runner found me. For a change the briefing was short and sweet and I got to look at some of the pictures the flyovers had taken and was surprised at the clarity of them. They were so good I recognized the area and some of the landmarks I had on my map. I remembered a small clearing not two miles from the old plantation that was surrounded by dense brush and decided we would drop down ropes and go in there. If my figures were right it was just a mile and a half from where we were supposed to meet the Seals on the second day in. I was given a camera and the rudiments of its operation by someone from Intel. The damned lens was almost as long as my 16. It seemed simple to operate, and came in a custom made case with twenty rolls of film. Fortunately the case was fairly small and didn't weigh much. Since we were going to rappel in it would make it easy to tape to my pack. I was more worried about the Seal Teams safety than ours because they were coming in the long way and stood more of a chance of running into Charley than we did. I knew the VC kept a sharp watch on the ridges for teams coming into the area and hoped the Seals knew it too. Since a bombing run was scheduled for that night I hoped the sound would cover our insertion. It was set to go off at 2400 hrs on the ridge across from where we were going in. I knew Charley had anti aircraft guns on the ridges and I hoped the bombers didn't get hit trying to take them out. The Parrots Beak area was a free fire zone and it caught hell all the time from our side. Because it was in Cambodia they always had night missions to keep the news hounds from knowing where it was happening. After all we weren't supposed to be in Cambodia but Charley didn't go by our agreements and always faded back there when they were getting hit hard.(NOTE: Remember this is fiction and we never violated the truce signed with Cambodia any more than the NVA did.) The Khmer Rouge were equal opportunity killers and would kill anyone if they could get supplies or trade prisoners and information for guns and explosives. The SOG used them to buy information just as much as the NVA did.
I went to the front gate and signed my men in and noticed a new face and pulled Chung to the side.
"Who's the new guy Chung? You know I don't like new faces when we are going out."
"That Cai, he not new, be in village with family for one year. He live in area we go before his village wiped out by VC. I bring him so you can pick brain for information Sarge. I trust him and he good in bush like Ling."
"Good enough for me Chung. Now let's get them inside, so I can brief them and get us all supplied. Don't tell Ling but we go in by rope tonight."
The little shit laughed all the way to the armory and Ling kept giving him dirty looks the whole way. I had trained them to insert this way and Ling had landed on his ass the first time down and broke his tail bone. From that point on every time rope was mentioned he got razzed by the other men on how good he was sliding down them. He still hadn't forgiven me for making him stay at the village until he healed. I knew when they found out how we were going in tonight they would start on him again. When we went inside I locked the door behind us and they went to the tables dumping everything out of their packs so Chung and I could inspect, and replace anything that wasn't up to snuff. I had always done it this way and to a man they all appreciated it. We would leave before dark and fly to one of the forward firebases to be refueled, then wait for the bombers to come over before taking off again flying with a gunship for cover underneath them. While we were dropped the gunship would go to our flank and release a full load of rockets at a known VC village to cover our insertion. If everything went right we would be on the ground and moving before Charley knew they were being hit.
"All right everyone listen up. We are doing a night insertion by rope. We will be taking AK's instead of 16's. I want everyone to carry a minimum of fifty mags and ten grenades of high explosive. Ling did you bring your bag of mix for the CS powder?"
"I always carry it Sarge and why we go by rope at night?"
"Ling if you would rather stay at the village I can send you back."
"Go to hell Sarge, and I get gloves so I don't burn hands again. You and Chung no go without me this time, even if I break leg sliding down snakes in air."
The laughter finally died down and Solly was looking a little puzzled at the exchange. I explained it to him and to my surprise he looked a little white when he realized how we were being inserted.
"Is there a problem Solly?"
"Not really Sarge, but the last time I did one of those I landed on my ass and thought I broke my back. Hell it took two weeks before I was able to walk right again. I hate going in that way."
One of the men murmured something in their language, and everyone broke out in laughter again looking at Solly. I was able to catch what was said and started laughing myself. I knew Solly didn't understand their language and waited for the question I knew was coming.
"Somebody want to tell me what's so funny?"
Everyone looked at me when he asked so I told him.
"They said you and Ling are brothers, always landing on your ass and breaking something. They said you two ought to go down the same rope so you can hold each other up when you land."
"Funny, verrry funny." He broke out in laughter along with everyone except Ling who was glaring holes in all of us. I made sure they all changed the strings in their crossbows and ordered all of them to double up on the bolts they were taking. If we got into it I knew we would need all the extras we could carry. I had the heaviest pack until I saw what Chung was loading up on. To this day I still can't ever figure out how they were able to carry so much weight and march hour after hour through the bush. The Seal Team was taking AK's the same as we were, and I figured any extra ammo would come in handy if we stepped in it while we were out there. The nearest fire base to where we were going was three and a half days and we wouldn't be able to re supply until we got there if we could. If we had a running fight we would burn a lot of ammo so the extra weight was worth it to me. I made Ling mix five large bags of dust to use as an extra precaution. If they had dogs we would use it or if a patrol got too close in a running fight we would spread it on the trail for Charley to step in. I don't know what Ling mixed in but if the pursuit was wearing sandals they would quickly be sitting down scratching like mad in a short time. This stuff was more powerful than any itching powder I had ever heard of. One time we stumbled across a pipe in the bush from a tunnel and Ling spilled a bag of it down into the pipe and within fifteen minutes Charley was pouring out different escape hatches scratching like mad at whatever they could reach. We were laughing so hard we didn't even fire a shot watching the spectacle.
We finished by jumping up and down checking for loose gear and then we took turns painting up. I always got painted by Chung but tonight he did Solly and Ling did me as I did him and when we got done I broke out in laughter at Solly. When the rest looked where I was they all lost it including Gunny when Solly turned around. Chung had painted a full tiger face on him and it looked so real I was tempted to ask if he could chuff and growl like one. I remembered when Chief went out with us the first time, Chung had painted him like a monkey and it became his good luck look whenever we went on a mission. He had spent hours with Chung until he got it down and was able to do it himself. Solly gave me a dirty look and ran to the head. When he came out he had a grin from ear to ear before looking at Chung and speaking.
"That is so cool Chung; you gotta show me how to do it."
As they say now the look on Chung's face was priceless. His mouth flew open and he gulped then just shook his head in despair at Solly. I knew he was thinking about Chief and I just had to laugh. Of course Ling didn't let it drop and was giving him hell in their language. I was listening and watching Gunny laughing when Solly asked me a question I almost missed in the laughter.
"Hey Sarge, you think this will blend in, in the dark?"
"As long as you don't forget, and yell in fright when you see your reflection in a stream."
I got the finger and a grin.
"Choppers, line up to load and check your weapons."
When we lined up I noticed Solly was struggling with the Sniper rifle in its case and trying to juggle the AK, so I motioned to Cai to take it. Solly thanked him as we went outside with me wondering why he would carry a hard case into the bush. We loaded up and I sent Solly with Ling to the second chopper. When we lifted off I made a mental note to myself to ask him about it because we would be in dense brush for about an hour and that case was going to make a lot of noise, maybe at the wrong time. When we landed and unhorsed we were quickly hustled into a hut and told to stay there until we lifted off. We were told we would have a ten minute warning before leaving again so I told them to relax and take their packs off. We were in what looked to be a secondary chow hall if the long tables were any indication.
"Solly, you plan on taking that case into the bush with you?"
"Yea Sarge it protects the scope from getting knocked out of whack."
"Then leave it when we pull out. Where we are going in at the brush is so thick we will be crawling a lot, and the noise it will make could give us away if Charley had a patrol out or a listening post. I can't and won't put us in danger if I can help it."
"But Sarge, you said I might get a chance to use it to protect our backs and the other team. This is one sweet shootin iron Sarge."
"Solly, does it have a quick release scope?"
"Then take the scope off and wrap it in a towel and put it in your pack, but leave the case here. Cai can carry the AK until we get in the clear then you have to carry them both or leave one behind. We are all loaded down Solly, but your responsible for what you bring, not my men. Either leave one or take both but make a choice before we pull out."
Before he could say anything else there was a knock at the door. I answered it and to my surprise there was an MP with the rank of Lieutenant standing there.
"Why would they have an LT standing guard if you don't mind me asking?"
"I am the only one here who knows SOG protocol. I worked with the teams for awhile and when I heard you were coming in tonight I took over so you wouldn't end up crippling one of my men because he was stupid. Cookie wants to know what you guys want to eat before he shuts the chow hall down. We had hamburgs and fries, but I didn't figure you would want that if you are going into the bush tonight."
"LT, you are right on that one. Umm ask cookie for some plain donuts and lots of black coffee before he shuts down. Think he can find that?"
"Knowing Cookie, he will make it if he doesn't have it on hand. I'll knock before we bring it in Sir."
"Thanks LT, we appreciate it."
He nodded and closed the door behind him.
"Ok, we got about three hours before we shove off so relax and catch a snooze if you can. This is gonna be a rough one for a couple of hours after we hit the ground so I want all of you up and ready."
I sat my pack and leaned my AK next to me putting my head on the table padded by my ole boonie cover. Somehow I dozed off thinking about the mission and running over in my mind the area we were going into. If the pictures hadn't lied the area hadn't changed at all from when Maxi and I had been there before. We had been following up on some Intel of the area, and he had set a meeting with a high placed source. If Chung hadn't been scouting we would have walked into an ambush headed by the VC he was supposed to meet. Maxi shot him as soon as he stepped out of the trees where he was waiting. Since we had already surrounded the ambush my men killed them all when the first shot was fired by Maxi. If it hadn't been for Chung we would all have been killed? From that point on our presence was known and it took almost three days of running to get to the AA base so we could get a lift back to Saigon. I had heard later Maxi went to a bar and shot the owner dead in the back room so I guess he got even. It wasn't too long after that he got shipped stateside and gave me the map I now carried before he left.
My thoughts were jarred back to the present by a loud knock at the door which I opened. The LT was there with three men carrying trays that were loaded down. They came in setting up a huge coffee pot with all the extras and left leaving two huge trays of sugar coated donuts on the table where I was sitting. I thanked them and got nods in return. The LT said we had another hour before the choppers would be loading and would give us plenty of warning so we could load up when they touched down. By the time I got the door closed half the donuts were gone with Ling holding a big armful eating them as fast as he could stuff them in. I quickly grabbed four and a fresh coffee sitting down grinning at him and Solly as I watched them stuff donuts down. I knew about Ling's sweet tooth and had bought many boxes of sugar cubes for him but to me it seemed like Solly's was just as bad. I looked over at Chung and he was watching them with a shocked look on his face. Between looking at Chung and glancing back at the two of them they were both stuffing the last donut into their mouths. Both of them were eyeing what was left on the trays.
"Just hold it you two. If anyone else wants some more get them now before these two hogs get there first."
I got two dirty looks and a chuckle from the men as they went to the table. They took what was left and broke one in two leaving half on each tray. Ling got there first and I thought for a moment him and Solly were going to fight over the two halves, but they each took one and it disappeared before they went to the coffee pot. Ling filled a cup handing it to Solly then one for himself. They grinned at each other and toasted the grins by sipping the hot brew making smacking noises as they did. It was a disgusting display, and Chung gave Ling hell saying he didn't have any manners and would not get first chance at any more treats in the future. Then the two of them went around with Solly watching with a big grin on his face.