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Package Delivered

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THIS IS FICTION No Information for this article
was obtained from any US or British Special Forces Units.
This Is Fiction.
       I still can't pronounce the name of the town.
       That's a strange word for it, but that's what the brass called it and that's what it was in our mission briefing. But when we got there, what I saw of this place was about six mud brick buildings, a pole barn with a roof made out of God only knows what kind of leftovers, and a handful of other structures that seemed to be what used to be called a 'dugout' covered over with tarps and maybe even animal skins.
       But we really didn't get the Mayor's Tour of the place.
       Especially since we got there just as it was getting light, stayed in one of those mud brick buildings all day, and spirited ourselves out again as soon as it got dark.
       The name of the town doesn't matter. It's unpronounceable to any country boy from the milk cow hills of Ohio, and to type it in English looks like you were beating on the keyboard with a roll of paper towels.
       Our Mission Specialist could pronounce it. He told me it meant 'spring pasture trading post' in whatever language it was. And that was good enough.

       My name is Lucky. Well, at least on missions it is. The Specialist we nicknamed Hotz, for the town he was from in Friendly Territory, a former Soviet Republic. I can pronounce that one, but to type it takes about half the letters on the keyboard, some of them twice, and only uses maybe four vowels, so I won't bother.
       The guy sitting here next to me is Sile. The Silent One. If he ever says more than two words you'd better listen. It might save your life.
       Cal's out to medical right now. He came home with a souvenir from this one. Not a bullet. He ended up with a nasty splinter in his leg that looks to be getting infected.
       Sile's laughing at that one. I called it a splinter. What it looked like was a wooden butcher knife that went right through his pants and into his right thigh. But I'll tell that story in its place later. He'll be fine. They've got first class doctors here on the ship.
       Boris is the ranking officer on our team. But you'd never know it. He seldom gives an order, and has beaten it into our heads to NEVER salute him. On base, here on ship, on a mission. Never. Period. Never. He earned the handle Boris on a mission just after the Berlin Wall came down. They were in deep in what was still the Soviet Union helping some, well, citizens, find their way out before the government finished coming apart. He was dressed as a native and trying to arrange some land transport when a local official asked him his name. They had rehearsed everything else But That. He said the first thing that came to mind with a perfect working class accent. "Boris."
       So he traded in his old code name for a new one. And Boris he was.
       The last member of the team is also the newest. He's Ace. Which is what they call the newbie until they establish themselves and earn their nickname.
       Which brings me to mine. I was Ace a couple of years ago. Then there was a training accident. Our chopper went into the drink without power on a training mission. I walked away, well, swam away, without even a bruise to show for it. That wasn't enough to earn a name. But a few months later in Europe when our truck was run off the road by somebody that thought the narrow road was the Autobahn and I didn't even get a scratch, I was Lucky.
       I know you are wondering what kind of team we are. And that's OK with me, go ahead and wonder.
       If I told you I'd have to kill you.
       No, small joke. I wouldn't kill you. I wouldn't be able to.
       Boris would have probably already killed me.

       So that's the team. The five of us, and the Mission Specialist.
       Our mission this time was simply to deliver a package to this remote little 'town' in Southern Afghanistan, make sure it was received by the right party and accepted as delivered. Then to get out.
       Not with minimal casualties, no, that wasn't good enough in this case. They wanted us in and out, with No Contact. No Casualities. No Nothing.
       We were never there.

       "So nobody up there is going to think it odd that five Yankees and their buddy is in town for the night?" Ace asked.
       That's why we liked newbies, they would go ahead and ask the same stupid question the rest of us were thinking but knew better than to ask.
       The Briefing Officer shook his head. "Except for the recipient, nobody in town will know you were there."
       "What if we run into locals?" Cal asked.
       "The Specialist will do all the talking." Boris said and looked toward him.
       Hotz nodded. "I know the people. My father was born near there. I have been there many times before the Taliban became strong. If I say you are with me, they will not say anything." He said with a very stiff Arabic type accent.
       "Are there Talib in town?" I asked.
       "Some. Usually not many." The B.O. answered. "But you should be able to avoid them. They stay in one of the other houses. Our source says they have a great deal of liquor and... slave women... in the house."
       Sile's jaw tightened but he didn't say anything.
       "You are to avoid contact with the enemy." The B.O. said directly to him.
       "What if we can't?" Cal said for Sile.
       "Then avoid capture at all costs."
       There was silence for a minute.
       "Yes sir." Boris answered for us.

       Unfortunately there is never just one 'Mission Briefing' for these things. We have to listen to the Intelligence People and the Military and the Local Experts and the Weapons Guys and whomsoever else wants to make a speech.
       But finally there is the real Mission Briefing. Just us. The four team members and Boris. And this time, the Mission Specialist.
       This was it.
       We all knew that when Boris came in, and locked the door behind him, we were 'Go', and this was the last chance to iron out anything that even looked like it might turn into a wrinkle.
       From here on out, the mission was up to us. It might be tomorrow, it might not be for a month, but it was all ours.
       We sat around a table with some photographs of the town, and printouts of all sorts of details, and other bits and pieces of information and accessories. Including a rather nasty looking but probably actually useless tribal ceremonial knife.
       "My grandfather's. I will take it with me to remember. The Talib desecrated his grave when they came." Hotz said turning the knife over as it lay on the table.
       So this was personal for him. Good. I thought, that might give us an edge.
       We code named the town 'K' and the target building where Hotz's kin would be waiting on us as 'P'. We created a joke without realizing it. We were going to go through all this to end up in KP.
       We talked it out and went through things we had done a lifetime ago during training back in the States.
       It had only been a just over two weeks ago. But it seemed longer.

       We had been hustled out of camp within two weeks of the Attack for training in some of the most rugged country I had ever seen in the US. To tell you the truth, I'm not even sure what state they flew us into. But it sure wasn't in the Old South any more.
       The operation was put together so fast the target buildings were tents with the words 'MUD HUT' and 'BARN' painted on them.
       Out there with the scorpions and very sharp edged rocks, we practiced all sorts of maneuvers and situations against contingencies up to and including the five of us engaging regular army types in an abandoned mine tunnel.
       We were told our objective hadn't been finalized yet. But there were two possibilities under consideration. We'd either be going in to terminate a target, or to extract one. And we had to be ready to do either. Or maybe both.
       Well. The Military being what it is, while we were on our way to the carrier task force, we found out our mission had changed. Now we'd be playing Delivery Boy.
       Taking a package to some locals.
       Well. The way I look at it is like this. Whatever Uncle tells us to do... we say 'Yes Sir' and go do it. If we find out later why, so much the better.

       "You mission just became infinitely more difficult. And important." The Briefing Officer said one day while we were getting ready to hit the bunk.
       We stopped doing whatever we were doing and looked at him.
       "US planes have attacked targets inside the country."
       We didn't say or do anything.
       In a second he turned on his heel and walked out.
       Boris thought about it for a second. "We stay on our timetable."
       And we went back to what we had been doing.

       "Make your final preparations." Boris told us in the morning.
       That meant two things. We'd be shoving off within twenty-four hours, and everything had to be ready to go, no if's, and's, or but's.
       While each of us can do, and had done, every other job on the team, including command. We each had specialties.
       I was the communications man. As you can tell, I can type, better than any of the others in fact. I bragged about being able to make a working two-way radio out of empty soup cans and a dead car battery. I could send semaphore in my sleep, cold-read half the codes used by NATO, and even wrote my shopping list in Morse Code.
       Cal and Sile were the Exterminators of our outfit. If one of them wasn't a black belt in whatever Martial Art you named, the other one was. They sparred and danced like Bruce Lee on speed. Sile threw knives with the precision of a sharpshooter, Cal shot like a precision knife thrower. If a given target could be blown up, they could do it. If a given target couldn't be blown up, they'd still do it.
       Ace was supposed to be a generalist in search of a specialty. He was a blackbelt, a crack shot, decent with the radio, and not a half bad pilot. But his first and last love was armor. He came out of a tank brigade, and still spent time hanging around them when not training with us. He had spent a lot of time studying everything the West knew about Soviet-era hardware and had recently made a study of outdated and obsolete USSR-issue artillery and armored cars and such. Something liable to come in real handy where we were going.
       Boris's specialty was tactics and logistics. He had a keen mind for details and the ability to read a situation before there was even a situation to read. We'd even accused him of being telepathic.
       "I knew you were going to say that." He'd grin.

       There was no way we could pass for locals on close inspection. At least not Ace who was a blond-haired, blue-eyed All American Boy. And certainly not me and Cal, who were black. Cal didn't have as dark a complexion as I do, but he was certainly darker than your average Afghan. We'd have to hide behind our outfits and hope for the best. And a dark night.

       Under our robes and rags and turbans and the rest of it, we weren't your average Afghani, not by a long shot.
       On the surface we had the ancient rifles used by the Talib, and a couple of us wore swords indicating we were fighters of some status.
       Underneath, we had some of the latest and greatest toys Uncle ever put in the field.
       A lot has been made about US Special Forces using Night Vision equipment. And I've seen the TV pictures that show everything kind of greenish and maybe a little blurry.
       OK, yeah, our gear did give everything a rather eerie glow, and it may blur the outline a little if things were moving. But the picture I'd see would be sharp enough that I could read a newspaper by starlight.
       Sile had a hand held rocket launcher that could take out an armored car or a light tank. Cal's unit was heavier and could disable a main battle tank before it knew he was there.
       My communication array could place a collect call to the Pentagon from anywhere in the world. I could talk, in real time, to any US base or ship I wanted to, or needed to, without any enemy listening in. And if it had to be in total silence, I could tap out a message on the miniature keyboard or even send Morse just moving my finger to do it in total darkness and complete silence, receiving messages either in the earpiece or on a screen almost too small and dim to read. And each member of our team could communicate to each other member, or to all at once, over our headsets and belt packs.
       Ace had enough explosive on him to take out everything from some mud hut up to a major industrial complex.
       Boris had a thing for very small caliber but very high rate of fire machine guns. His current favorite was a thirty-two caliber full auto with a magazine so big it was almost comical. But it could lay down a field of fire that was simply awesome.
       In addition to those items each of us had a little of this and little of that, and we all knew how to use it. I even had a couple of kilos of plastic explosive in my pack, and the detonators in my pants pocket. I wasn't comfortable with the detonators and explosive in the same pack. Even if they were in different pockets of it.
       But this trip in and out, we weren't even supposed to take the safety off our side arms.
       "No guns, no knives, no killings." I had joked trying to sound like an old western.
       Sile simply took out one of his knives and checked its edge. Then he put it back in its sheath.

       It was starting to get dark when our specially rigged helicopter took off from the ship.
       It'd drop us off away from the town and we'd have to hoof it in and do our job.
       We stopped briefly someplace that looked rather forbidding on the way in to refuel the chopper. The only words spoken were by a ground crewman.
       "Everybody OK?" He said as they gassed up the bird.
       A couple of us gave him the thumbs up. And he closed the door.
       In a few minutes, we were air born again.

       Even though it was a long ride, it was over before I was ready for it to be.
       The chopper never sat down, or even come to a complete stop. And we were bailing out and sliding down the ropes just like you see in the commercials.
       "Check." Boris said quietly as the helicopter roared away into the night.
       We all said our names and 'Check'. Which meant we were there, had our stuff, and hadn't broken an ankle on landing or something.
       "Bravo Able." Boris said into his radio telling the helicopter we were 'go' and didn't need picked up because something had gone very wrong and the mission was aborted.

       I know you've heard about the tunnel vision people get in these kinds of situations. The thrill, the adrenalin rush, the 'jazz'. Whatever they call it. That edge from being in an extreme situation of life and death from one minute to the next.
       Well, it's true.
       I could see everything in the countryside without the night vision equipment.
       The night was slightly overcast, but I don't think it was the three-quarter or so moon that did it.
       I think it was knowing that we were in an hostile country carrying the firepower of an entire World War Two platoon, carrying out a mission that would surely have us tried as spies if we were caught. Doing something like that might make anybody a little high.
       And this time, I was the veteran, and Ace was the Rookie. This was my third mission with the team. So it wasn't brand new. But then again, it wasn't routine either.
       We found the road we were after and started toward the town at a fast march pace, single file, spaced about five paces apart, American weapons at the ready, local guns loaded, but hanging off our packs. We thought of them more as props than weapons.
       Road. Town. In the Real World it would have been called a moderately rugged hiking path toward a village some distance up the valley.
       The real danger was tripping over the rocks or stepping in a hole instead of running into an enemy patrol. Even though I didn't want to, I had to put on the night vision goggles so I could see where I was walking.
       We hiked on as fast as we could for several hours, then took a break. And did it again.
       "There it is." Hotz whispered through his radio to us.
       I looked where he was pointing.
       I could make out a few buildings on the side of a hill across the valley. Only one showed any lights at all. The road followed a serpentine path toward it. It might have been faster going cross country, but the area had been mined in the past. There was too much of a risk of finding one that way. We'd have to stay on the road and take our chances with running into somebody that way.
       Several times during the night we heard American jets far overhead. And once we saw some flashes as they launched ordinance at targets further away. But our little village wasn't on the list of primary installations. In fact, it wasn't even named on most maps. Just a wide spot on a winding path up one of innumerable identical valleys in the mountains of Afghanistan.

       Evidently the Taliban didn't think it necessary to post a guard in this tiny speck of a settlement.
       We waited crouching next to what was supposed to be a stone wall near an abandoned stable just beyond the first house while Hotz took off his American-issue equipment and gave it to Ace. He had to look like he belonged there. And now he did. Wearing rather ragged clothes, carrying a rifle older than he was, and shuffling like his feet were killing him.
       Now it was make or break time.
       If he walked into the house and told the Taliban he had five Americans out there just waiting to be made an example of, we'd be in for it. I was pretty sure we could take out a dozen or two of their best fighters before Ace had time to spit out his gum. But it'd only take one of them to pick up a phone... if they had a phone in this town... or shout over a radio... ditto... and we might be up to our armpits in enemy real quick.
       But he didn't betray us.
       It was only a couple of minutes and he was back.
       "Follow me." He whispered and led us off around behind the first house toward an out building behind the next.
       "This is it." Boris said over the com.
       We had planned on spending the daylight hours holed up in what appeared to be a storage building near his family's place. And, this was it. It looked even more run down and dumpy in person than it had in the pictures.
       But since it was getting light out, we didn't have any choice.
       "There are three Talib fighters in that house." Hotz pointed out the hole that was supposed to have a door on it. "But my uncle says they don't come out before prayer. Maybe not till noon."
       Cal picked a corner and made himself comfortable, his weapon pointed at the door. "Would suit me if they didn't come out at all."
       "I'll be back." Hotz said.
       We settled in. Taking turns watching the enemy. Ignoring the small ugly goats that wandered through the building at will.
       Once Hotz and his uncle came out, just walking around the farm. And they happened to stop in. His uncle was delighted to meet us. He told us how sorry he was for what had happened in America to cause all this. Then he said he hated the Taliban, and wanted to raise his tribe to help fight them. At least that's what Hotz said he said. Since I don't speak whatever language he did, I'll never know for sure.
       But since he didn't give us away, evidently he meant it.
       "So I'll stay and help. I'll speak for America. They will know you will help us. And Afghanistan will be good again." Hotz said. "Thank you."
       Boris shook his hand and nodded. "Our pleasure. As soon as it's dark we'll be out of here."
       He nodded to each of us and we wished him various kinds of good luck. Then he was gone. Later we saw him with his uncle walking up the road toward another dot of a village even further up the valley.
       "OK. We sleep in shifts. Lucky. First watch. Send the signal. 'Package Delivered.'"
       I made the call, and got the confirmation, then I sat just inside the door. Sweating. And watching.
       A Talib fighter came out, carrying a rifle that looked even worse than the ones we had as props. He walked around for awhile. Then he went back inside.
       During Sile's watch we woke up to the sound of a truck. We were all instantly ready for a fire fight with a horde of Jihad Warriors.
       Except there wasn't a horde of anything. Unless you count ugly goats.
       The truck, if you could call it that, had come down the valley and stopped at the Taliban house. They took some stuff off, and put some stuff on. Then it groaned and rattled and continued on down the valley toward a slightly larger town far below.
       It was just getting dark when we heard planes overhead again.
       "We move out in an hour." Boris said. He looked at me. "Request pick up at the drop point on time."
       I made one more trip to the back of the shed and used our improvised toilet. A hole in the dirt floor that we threw a couple inches of dirt on when we were finished. Actually, after one of us relieved himself the shed didn't smell as bad as it did when it was just filled with its normal 'eau de ugly goat'.
       And what was in the hole in the back of the shed was the only evidence we left that Americans had ever set foot in the town.
       Moving out of town was the tensest we'd been all day except for the truck's passage.
       The Taliban fighters had been out in the street a few minutes ago firing into the air and shouting about something (later we found out that a drone had either crashed or been shot down over Talib territory). But we moved out anyway about ten minutes after we had planned.
       But again. We were unquestioned and unchallenged.
       The people we saw in the fields ignored us, and we ignored them like we'd been taught.
       Then we heard trouble coming long before we saw it.
       The 'truck' was coming back up the valley.
       Not wanting to risk being questioned by any Talib officers and not being able to answer now that we didn't have Hotz with us we took cover.
       Cal never even said 'ouch'.
       The truck shuddered by and we stayed put until Boris gave us the all clear.
       We saw the gash in his outer robe and the blood all over him. But Cal said he'd make it.
       "Call for hot pick up. Location Tango." Boris said.
       "Sir." I answered and put my pack down to make the call.
       "You make it that far?"
       Cal winced as Sile, the second string medic, inspected the hasty bandage he had put on his own wound. Cal was our primary medic.
       It was less than a kilometer to the pick up site. But by the time we got there we were taking turns about half carrying Cal.
       The chopper was coming in just as we got close to the site.
       Considering we weren't all that far from the town, I'm surprised we didn't set off whatever they had as an air raid siren. But before they could have done anything about it, we were moving high and fast out of there.
       On the helicopter we got a good look at Cal's leg and heard the story.
       "Man I didn't see it at all. And I DIDN'T feel it until the truck went by." He said through clinched teeth.
       We had left the road so fast you'd thought we'd never even been there and became part of the landscape. When Cal had bailed over an outcrop of the ever-present rocks, he found some sort of broken piece of lumber sticking up. The jagged point of the thing had gone through his Afghani robe and US Pants like tissue paper to stab him several inches into his thigh.
       None of us felt qualified to extract it, so the air crewman loaded him up on painkiller and re-bandaged it.
       Since we had an injured man they flew us right to a US Carrier after the gas stop.
       Cal was in surgery for some time. And then a day or so later we transferred back to our ship.
       He kept the wood that got him as a souvenir.
       The only piece of Afghanistan we took with us.
       And the only piece of America we left in the country was a couple of used pieces of Ace's gum...
       And some of Cal's blood.

       God Bless America

THIS IS FICTION No Information for this article
was obtained from any US or British Special Forces Units.
This Is Fiction.

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