12 Escaped Leadville CO - Wednesday

Escaped: Fighting my way home

© Copyright 2009

Written by Banzai Ben and Amazing Anastasia

ben@banzaiben.com

 

 

Chapter 12 – Wednesday 03 October 2007 – Friday 05 October

 

Leadville Colorado – Wednesday Day Thirty-three through Friday Day Thirty-five

 

I woke up early and was enjoying spooning with Jens and listening to her sweet, soft snores. We had more than worked out our differences last night and had broken new ground. A month ago if anyone told me the most memorable night I would ever have with a woman would not involve sex, I would have looked at them with a blank, uncomprehending stare.

 

After the apologies and crying finished, Jens and I spent most of the night talking and cuddling. We formed a bond between us that contained no weak links. All doubts about our relationship were gone and the closeness we shared was better than any sex we were to have when we finally married - and we both knew the sex was going to be just incredible! We had become one but with a deeper meaning than the Biblical sense.

 

The joy I experienced was interrupted by the shrill sound of her mobile phone. I picked it up to throw it against the wall for disturbing us. "My love, give me the phone. This is important." Jens said as she reached for the phone.

 

She sat up in bed and instantly became all business. "Yes Sir, I understand. No Sir, there's no problem at all. We'll both be there in thirty minutes." She hung up the phone, looked at me and smiled, "Get your ass moving Marine, we're going to war. We have thirty minutes to make it to our cabin and four hours before we deploy."

 

That lit a fire under me. I was eager to know what was said, but could get the details on the trip to the house. We both started dressing and Jens looked around the room, "Promise someday when we're married we'll come back to this room? I feel that last night changed us."

 

"I promise we’ll return my love. And I agree last night did change us. We don't have time to waste on chit-chat right now. I hope we still have the Jeep."

 

"It's still where I parked it last night. Are you ready to go?" I looked at her and somehow in five minutes she made herself look beautiful. "I need one thing first - I need a big kiss from you." She ran over, jumped in my arms and planted a big one on me. Then she swatted my butt, "Let's beat feet jarhead."

 

We raced downstairs. I threw the key on the desk and said, "It's an emergency, send us the bill." We ran out the front door and down the street to the Jeep, "I'm driving this time and you're filling me in on all the details." I said as I opened her door. She jumped in, I ran around to the driver’s side, started the Jeep and we were off.

 

Jens didn't know much because Dad couldn't give her all the details. From what she gathered there was a big push planned in Afghanistan and with so many troops returning home there was a shortage of snipers. Jens reached over and squeezed my hand, "I can't believe we're finally going to get to fight. I've been waiting to fight beside you forever!"

 

We approached the cabin and pulled right into the garage. Jens bailed out of the Jeep before it had even stopped and was heading towards the house. I was right behind her and closed the garage door on my way out. Mom and Dad were waiting for us on the front porch, Jens ran up and hugged Mom, Dad shook my hand, "Well you two, it looks like your vacation is ending."

 

I smiled and replied, "Sir, you're wrong. We're just moving the location to… Shit! I don't even know where we're going." Dad laughed as we all walked in the house, "You two are headed to Afghanistan and some of the other 'stans'."

 

"I've heard that things are heating up again in Afghanistan, I wondered if we'd end up going there." Jens said, "I wish I had time to talk but Ben and I have to bust a hump to get ready. Come on jarhead let's move." With that, Jens became a logistical whirlwind. Three hours later we were dressed in our MCCUUs and fully packed. I humped all our gear out to the Jeep and came back into the house; everyone was in the living room.

 

I came in and sat down, Mom looked at me and said, "That's such a nice piano, it's a shame that no one here plays."

 

Jens laughed and said, "M-o-o-m, Ben plays piano very well. Ben, play us your favorite song."

 

I sat at the piano and lifted the cover, and opened the lid - this was a very nice Steinway Baby Grand. I looked over at Jens with a few tears in my eyes and saw her whisper "Only the best for the best." I loosened up my fingers and played a few chords. This was a really wonderful piano. Then I started in on George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue, my fingers flew over the keyboard, especially on the 128th notes. I finished and the room erupted in clapping.

 

"That was beautiful Ben, I didn't know you could play so well. I never see you practice." Mom said.

 

I looked at Jens, "You want to tell her?"

 

"Sure my love; haven't you've always noticed that Ben's fingers are never still, especially when he's listening to music? He's constantly practicing either guitar or piano in his mind. Shit! That reminds me of something that I almost forgot to bring. I'll be right back."

 

She came back in the living room in five minutes and had a guitar case and an amplifier. "Here you go my love; we're taking these to Afghanistan with us." I opened up the case and it was a very nice Fender Stratocaster, black with a white pick guard just like my old one. I put it back in the case and gave her a big hug and kiss, "Thanks my love, it looks just like my old one."

 

"Look at the amplifier," She ordered. I opened up its case and saw a new Mesa Boogie. "I've always wanted one of these, how did you know?" I asked her. "That's my job and I'm glad you like it. Now you can sing me love songs at night in the barracks." Jens smiled.

 

I picked her up and said, "Somehow I'm going to find us a better place to live then in the damn barracks." Then I smothered her with kisses.

 

Liz walked in the living room, "Was that the radio I heard earlier?"

 

Jens pulled away, "No that was Ben playing his new piano for the first time."

 

"Shit! I hate missing the opportunity to tape something like that. I guess we'll have to do it later. Well it was hell, but the whole news crew is ready to go." She looked at Dad, "If we need any more gear I'll let you know. But we're taking two of everything."

 

Dad looked at us, "I'm so proud of all of you! I know you'll exceed everyone's expectations."

 

Mom cried and hugged both of us, she kissed Jens on the cheek and pulled away and looked me in the eyes, "You keep my daughter safe!"

 

I stared back at her, "She will be safer anywhere I am than she is here."

 

Liz laughed, "I know Ben will be. He won't have any bikers to deal with or oceans to swim in." That comment lightened the mood and we were all laughing.

 

"There's one last thing I want to do before we leave our house." I said, "Follow me." We all walked into the kitchen and I motioned for them to sit at the kitchen table. "When I was in Russia I learned a tradition that you never leave on a trip without sitting first and having a last shot of vodka. It's become a tradition for me and I'd like to share it with all of you." I found the vodka, a very nice Russian Standard, and Jens pointed to where the shot glasses were. I poured us all a shot, sat down and said:

 

There are good ships, and there are wood ships,

The ships that sail the sea.

But the best ships, are friendships,

And may they always be.

 

We clinked our glasses and slammed down the vodka, "I look forward to sharing another shot with all of you when we get back." I said.

 

Dad stood up, "Let's light the fires and kick the tires."

 

"D-a-d-d-y, this isn't the Navy and we're not at Top Gun." Jens said.

 

"So do we have to drive all the way to Denver?" I asked.

 

"No, we have a CH-47 coming to pick us up and fly us to DIA." Jens told me. "Then Evergreen air is flying us to Afghanistan." Jens felt me shudder, "You really don't like Evergreen do you?"

 

"Most of the missions where I've had trouble have started with Evergreen flights."

 

"Well, things are going to be different this time - you've got me watching your back." Jens added.

 

It was a short drive to the Leadville airport. Dad drove the Jeep while Jens and I cuddled in the back. I wanted to get in all the cuddling I could now because once we were on the plane and deployed we'd have to be all business. I think Jens must have felt the same way because she was molded tightly against me.

 

As we pulled into the airport I could see the Chinook had already landed, I laughed. "What's so funny my love?" Jens asked. "I was just remembering when I was with First Air Cav for a while; one Cobra Gunship pilot said Chinooks are two palm trees gang-banging a Dempsey dumpster." Dad and Jens started laughing. Mom looked in the back, "Don't you corrupt my little girl by telling her jokes like that." Dad started roaring and almost wrecked the Jeep, "Glen watch where you're driving." Dad simmered down and pulled up close to the Chinook.

 

I bailed out and started humping the gear to the chopper. Liz and the news crew pulled up and started moving their own equipment while taping us. After looking at everything we brought I understood why we had the Chinook. Our stuff didn’t weigh that much but it took up a shit load of room. Besides, even though I make jokes about Chinooks, I liked them way better than Blackhawks.

 

The gear was all loaded and we said a tearful goodbye to Mom and Dad. I had to promise several more times to keep Jens safe. Dad made us laugh by making Jens promise to keep me safe. Then we hopped onboard the chopper and headed towards DIA. In Denver, we humped all the gear to the Evergreen jet and were soon off to the other side of the world.

 

The flight was smooth and lo-o-o-o-ng. One nice thing about flying Evergreen was we didn't have to stop in Kuwait and screw around - we flew right to KBL (Khwaja Rwash Airport) in Kabul. There wasn't anything else to do on the flight so I slept almost the whole time.

 

I woke up about an hour before touching down, did some stretches and some body weight exercises just to get the blood flowing.

 

"Greetings sleepy head, you slept almost the whole flight." Jens smiled, "But I should have expected it."

 

I grinned, "That's right. I'll never pass up a chance to take a good nap. Besides, with the eleven hour time differential I wanted to kick the shit out of any jet lag. How did you sleep?"

 

"I slept some, but not enough." She said.

 

I looked at her, "Are you a little nervous?"

 

"No, I'm a hell of a lot nervous. I've wanted this forever, but now that it's here I'm not sure I want it anymore. I even have an upset stomach."

 

"Don't go giving yourself an ulcer. Things are going to be fine." I tried to soothe her. "Just stick by me and we'll kick butt and take names."

 

"I wish that you could give me a big hug and kiss right now. I really need it."

 

I looked around the plane, "This isn't training anymore and we have to limit romance to after hours when people aren't around. We both knew this would happen. Just remember how we spent last night and know that you're the only one for me."

 

She grinned, "Yeah last night, I guess now it was one night ago, was great. It's going to really help us over here."

 

I saw Liz walking towards us, "Boy you two are sure acting different towards each other. What happened to the loving couple?"

 

"Oh we're still very much in love. It's just that now we're deployed and we have to maintain the esprit de corps that's expected from Marines." Jens interrupted, "But don't worry, we'll make up for it at night."

 

"That is if we aren't living in the barracks." I laughed.

 

"Isn't it hard to turn it off like that?" Liz asked.

 

We both looked at her, "Death Before Dishonor."

 

Jens said, "We both knew this day would come.."

 

I continued, "…and we know we have a job to do.."

 

Jens added, "…and we can't let our feelings cloud or interfere with our judgment."

 

I finished, "…but we can use them to make us an even better team."

 

Liz shook her head, "You two haven't done the completing sentence thing in awhile, I'd forgotten about that. So what's the plan when we land?"

 

"First you and your crew need to gear up in your body armor, because we're going to be taking a convoy about one-hundred-thirty klicks to another city. From there, we'll deploy to our FOB (Forward Operating Base) and I can't tell you where that will be. Make sure whatever happens you and your crew stay close to Ben and I." Jens answered.

 

We started our descent into Kabul, the pilot turned on the fasten seatbelt signs. The landing was a little bumpy, "Sorry folks, the runway's recently been repaired and isn't as smooth as usual. I hope you’re all okay." The pilot announced. "Welcome to beautiful Kabul Afghanistan, thank you for flying Evergreen."

 

He started taxiing and I unfastened my seatbelt, got up and started digging out my combat gear, Jens followed my lead. Liz looked at us, "Do we really need this here? This is a major city!"

 

"Hell yes we do! From what I've heard there are fanatics everywhere just looking for a chance to kill someone - and that someone is not going to be Jens, me, you, or the crew. You and the crew need to gear up on the plane."

 

After she left I looked at Jens, "You make sure that she has her body armor on right and I'll check the two guys. Even though they've been in battle zones before, I don't want any of them getting hurt."

 

By the time the plane had stopped, we were all geared up. We had checked Liz and the crew and made some adjustments in their gear. I looked at the crew, "Just a reminder, you three are not to touch any weapons for any reason."

 

The door opened and we stepped out. It was October and while it was hotter than Colorado, it wasn't too bad. The heat would come in the middle of the summer. I went down the steps first and saw a 7-ton1 waiting for us. Damn! I was hoping for a Stryker2 or maybe a M23. I couldn’t believe we had a 7-ton so I looked it over closely. It even had Plasan4 armor on it! I just smiled. I don’t know how he managed it, but Dad must have pulled some serious strings to get us in this 7-ton.

1 MTVR Medium Tactical Replacement Vehicle – an all terrain six wheel all wheel drive vehicle, looks like a BIG deuce and a half.

2 Eight wheeled armored combat vehicle.

3 M2 Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle – A treaded troop transport vehicle.

4 Plasan – lightweight composite armor manufactured in Israel.

 

Jens was in the National Guard before so she wasn't used to Marine vehicles. "Shit! We're riding in that big truck." I shushed her, "Sergeant Donaldson, STFU5. That big truck is an armored seven-ton and is awesome. I'm sure Dad pulled some string to get it for us. So be thankful for it."

5 Shut The Fuck Up.

 

"If we weren't here I'd kick your butt for that STFU. Remember I'm still your fiancée." Jens whispered.

 

"Remember first that you're a Marine and I have to treat you and talk to you like you’re a Marine. Just know that every swear word I use with you will be followed with an I'm sorry kiss when we're alone." I said.

 

"Goodie, swear at me some more and I'll keep count." She replied.

 

We reached the bottom of the stairs and I met our driver Cpl. Brown and our gunner Cpl White. When I met them, I almost started laughing because Cpl. Brown was white and Cpl. White was black. They saw my grin, "Shit! Go ahead and laugh - everyone else has. It's a big joke that they have the two of us together." Cpl. Brown said. We all laughed, and watched our gear get unloaded from the belly of the plane.

 

When the weapon cases came down the ramp, I went over, grabbed mine, and opened it. I pulled out my Barrett 98 Bravo5, an M46 and my Kimber. "Man that's a sweet rifle. Look at the fucking scope on it." Cpl. White said, "I've never seen anything like it."

5 The 98 Bravo is Barrett's newest long range sniper rifle. Designed from the ground up to be the most accurate long range rifle available. It's modular, fully adjustable, weighs over thirteen pounds and has a ten round detachable magazine.

6 The M4 Carbine is a family of firearms tracing its lineage back to earlier carbine versions of the M16, all based on the original AR-15 made by ArmaLite.

 

 

"Thanks it's brand new. It's Barrett's three-three-eight Lapua sniper rifle and has the Barrett BORS7 sighting system. It's the best rifle I've ever fired." I replied.

7Barrett Optical Ranging system – This is a ballistic computer that works with your scope, it's real and works great!

 

Jen had been gearing up too, "You get us within twenty-five-hundred meters of a fricken terrorist with one of these and they're dead."

 

The ammo cases came down the ramp and we both loaded up with mags for our weapons. "Are you two expecting trouble?" Cpl. Brown asked. "Things have been pretty quite around here."

 

 "I always expect trouble no matter where I am. It's easier to prepare for it now rather than trying to do it in the middle of a fire fight." I replied.

 

"That makes sense. I'd always heard that you were never surprised." Cpl. Brown replied.

 

The corporals helped us hump all the gear in the truck and made sure it was tied down so it wouldn't go anywhere. Jens and I hopped up into the back of the truck and helped Liz and the crew. Cpl. Brown started driving the truck to meet the rest of the convoy.

 

Jens looked at me, "You're not going to sleep?"

 

"Sergeant Donaldson, I never sleep in a troop transport when we could be in hostile territory." I answered.

 

"You certainly are different than I've ever seen you before." She remarked.

 

I leaned over and whispered, "Use a little more formal conversation please."

 

"Yes Sir, I will." She replied and gave me an evil grin. I knew I was going to pay for that one later.

 

Another thirty minutes and we were at the staging area for the convoy and we all jumped out of the back of the truck. I wanted to meet the officer in charge of the convoy and introduce him to Liz and the crew. As we headed out to find him, I realized that this was a huge convoy. I looked over at Jens and she saw the concern in my eyes.

 

"SM Blaine, what's wrong?" She asked.

 

"Sgt. Donaldson, with a convoy this size, we're going to be a big target that's going to be hard to ignore." I replied.

 

I saw the officer in charge of the convoy and we walked up. "Son-of-a-bitch! Well if it isn't SM Banzai Ben. I heard you'd hooked up with a woman and we're living the life of Riley. Then you became some sort of hero for saving a kid. I never expected to see your sorry ass again. It's good to have you traveling with us today." Captain Ryan said as we shook hands.

 

"Sir, it's good to be back. And part of that was true; I'd like to introduce you to Sgt. Jennifer Donaldson my spotter and fiancée."

 

He looked her up and down, "Shit! How did you luck out and find a fiancée that's a Marine and a spotter." He shook her hand. I could tell that Jens put some serious hurt into her handshake. I'm sure that he knew the answer to the next question, but like everybody else, felt the need to ask, "So how does this all work out? She's your spotter and your fiancée?"

 

"Sir, General Donaldson knows all about this and approves. We are Marines first and fiancés second." Jens answered. "But Sir, we don't want or expect any special treatment and I would like it if this stayed between us."

 

I interrupted, "Captain Ryan, I would like to introduce you to Elizabeth Morgan and her news crew from the Truth Network. They are traveling with us and will be taking video of us during our deployment. I personally vouch for them."

 

He looked at her, "You know Ms. Morgan a month ago if you had asked to travel with my convoy, I would have said Hell No! But with the reports you've been doing lately I'm going to give you a chance, but you fuck-up and you walk."

 

Liz shook his hand, I could tell by the way she grimaced that he squeezed pretty hard, "Sir, the biggest fuck-up I ever did was let those bastards at CCCN keep me from reporting the truth."

 

I interrupted, "Excuse me Sir, but Gunny lets her call him Gunny, she even kissed him on the cheek."

 

"The one from Gunny's in Bethesda?" Cpt. Ryan asked.

 

"Yes Sir."

 

"Shit! I don't want to get him pissed at me! If he approves of you then you must have changed. Welcome to my convoy, stay close to Banzai and do what he tells you." Cpt. Ryan ordered. We were done so we left and walked around meeting some other Marines I knew. At first everyone wanted to kill Liz, but after they heard about Gunny, they all accepted her.

 

We started walking back towards our 7-ton. "Banzai, I didn't realize that Gunny approving of me would make such a difference." Liz remarked.

 

"Liz that man is a walking legend and Marines have more respect for him than any other living Marine. If you ever have any problem with any Marine just let them know that Gunny approves of you." I told her.

 

It was very dark and the convoy was getting ready to roll, somehow we were assigned fourth position - I was sure the general had something to do with it. I was thankful that we weren't right in the front, where most of the danger was or in the back where all the dust would be. The lead Humvee took off heading west on A01 and the rest of the convoy fell in behind. I leaned back with both my rifles between my legs and closed my eyes.

 

"Are you going to sleep Sir." Jens asked.

 

I opened one eye and said, "Jens, you can cut it out now and get your ass over here for some cuddling. No one other than the news crew is going to see us now. And no, I'm not going to sleep, not on this trip."

 

She smiled and scooted right up beside me. "I don't know where my fiancé went, because you're sure a hard-ass Marine."

 

I reached behind her and pinched her butt and she squealed. "I like this hard-ass better," I said.

 

"Hey Marine, keep your grubby mitts to yourself or I'll tell my fiancé when I find him again." We both laughed for the first time in a long time and had a very enjoyable ride cuddling with each other.

 

The 7-ton was bouncing around quite a bit; I was surprised because I thought the road was better. I slipped up front to talk to Cpl. Brown, Liz was riding shotgun and he was trying his best to make time with her. "Excuse me Cpl., but what the hell is going on with this road. I thought they had it all fixed up." I asked.

 

"There have been a number of attacks lately and the road hasn't been fixed since then." He replied. That’s what I was concerned about - I motioned for Liz to follow me in the back and then went back by Jens. I called everyone over in a huddle, "I want all of you to be ready. I think we're going to see some action soon. Liz, you and the crew do your best to stay hidden in the truck."

 

"Like hell we will, if there's a battle we're going to video it." Liz told me defiantly.

 

"I don't have time to argue with you. However if they start using RPGs you'd better either stay in this truck or get the hell away from all the trucks. Don't try to follow us or I'll send you the hell back home." I ordered.

 

We started the climb up to the village of Sorubi and the short hair on the back of my neck started tingling. I double-checked all my weapons, Jens saw me and did the same. "You feel something don't you?" She asked.

 

"Yep, I have the same feeling now that I did when a puma was stalking me years ago." I replied. We made it through the village and I relaxed a little bit. "I figured it was going to happen there." I said.

 

The convoy started the sharp left turn about halfway between Sorubi and Sar Kand ow Baba Zairat when I heard a big explosion that shook the 7-ton and then the sound of automatic gunfire. Cpl. Brown yelled back, the lead Humvee was just hit with an IED8 and is blown to hell in the middle of the road. No one can get around it."

8 Improvised Explosive Device

 

Cpl. White was blasting away with his .50 cal and the brass was raining everywhere. I was getting ready to bail out the back when I heard a yell, "Shit! I've been hit." Cpl. White opened the top and slid down into the truck covered in blood. I jumped up and ran over to him, "Sgt. Donaldson, NV9 and man the machine gun." Jens ran past me, climbed up on the roof, and started letting the .50 cal rip. "Shit! There are snipers out here and one almost got me."Jens yelled.

9 Night Vision.

 

"Sgt. Donaldson go tactical." I ordered and slipped on my tactical radio. I waited until I was sure she was on, "Keep your head down and try to disrupt their fire. I'm going to bail out the back and you're going to spot them for me."

 

Cpl. White was hit in the arm, it broke his arm, but it missed any major veins or arteries. I slapped a field dressing on it and yelled, "Liz get over here and put pressure on this wound." She came over and we switched places. Cpl. White said, "Give em hell Sir." "Orraaahhh," I replied and slipped out the back of the truck.

 

All hell was breaking loose, and I was almost hit the second my feet hit the ground, "Son-of-a-bitch!" I yelled and rolled under the truck. "Ben-uh-SM Blaine, are you okay?" Jens squawked through the radio. "Yes Sgt. Donaldson, a sniper was waiting for someone to come out of the back of the truck and almost got me. He's somewhere at about one-hundred degrees, see if you can spot him."

 

I waited, "That bastard, he almost got me." Jens said. "He's at one-one-five I estimate the range to be four hundred meters. Can you see him?"

 

"Cover me; I need to get to a better position to fire from. On three: one-two-three." Jens let the .50 cal rip and I zig-zagged for a boulder beside the road; rounds were bouncing off the dirt all around me as I dove behind the rock. This was a great position to fire from, the truck blocked all the fire behind me and the rock blocked it in the front, the only problem was I had to rise up above the rock to acquire the target. I was hoping these bastards were not very good or I'd get a round down my scope.

 

I brought the 98 Bravo around, fired up the NV scope, dropped the bipod legs and slowly set the bipod up on top of the rock. "Sgt. Donaldson, fire a burst at the sniper."

 

"Just a minute, I'm busy firing at someone else." Jens replied. "Here you go." I watched as the .50 cal tracers gave me a location. I looked through the scope and could easily see the fucking rat bastard. I lined up, took the shot, and saw him crumple. "One down, Lord only knows how many left." I said. "Come on Sgt. Donaldson move your ass and find me another target."

 

"SM Blaine, I have three targets at forty-eight degrees on the move to the right with what appear to be RPGs." Jens barked. "I'm going to fire at them but you'd better get them." I swung the scope around and saw them just about the time Jens opened up, "Good shooting Sgt. Donaldson, you nailed one." The other two hunkered down but I could see both, two shots later they were both dead.

 

"SM Blaine I have two targets… Shit! They almost hit me! At ninety-five degrees - left is a sniper and right is an RPG. I'll mark them for you." I swung and followed the tracers and could see the targets in my NV scope. I got there too late because the RPG fucker fired, thank God it wasn't at our 7-ton; I lined up on him and took him out. The sniper spotted me and started peppering the rock with rounds.

 

"Sgt. Donaldson, I need covering fire on that sniper. He has me pinned down." Jens laid down a long burst. I slipped my rifle up on the rock, took aim and nailed the bastard. The rock I was hiding behind shook as an RPG hit it; the blast knocked me to the ground. "You rotten bastard, I'm not going to let you do that to my fiancé." Jens yelled though the tactical headset and let loose with a long blast of .50. "Wooo hoooo, I sent that bastard to hell. Are you okay my love-uh-SM Blaine?"

 

"Just a bit shaken up and really pissed off. Give me some more targets." A mortar round hit close to the lead truck. "Shit! Sgt. Donaldson we need to find that mortar placement."

 

"I'm trying my best, give me a minute." Waiting seemed like it took forever, I was hoping that we could even see them. Another mortar round hit, this time it was closer. "I can't see them, I think they're over the hill, but I think I have eyes on their spotter; thirty-five degrees behind a rock. I swung my scope and saw Jens's burst. "I have the sneaky bastard; all I can see is his leg." I lined up quickly and hit his leg, he jumped up and Jens finished him with a burst. Another mortar round fell, this one was further away.

 

"I need to go get that mortar, it has to be somewhere over that hill. Sgt. Donaldson - cover me." I killed the NV scope, put on my NV goggles, slung the 98 Bravo over my shoulder, pulled out my M4 and took off on a zig-zag run up the hill. Jens was laying down ferocious fire sweeping the hills and making sure that almost no one was able to fire at me. There were still some rounds coming close, I figured they must be from the other side of the road. Another mortar round dropped, "Shit! That one hit the first truck and it's toast." Jens yelled over the radio.

 

"If they start walking those down the road, get Liz, the crew and Cpl. White and get the hell out of that truck. That's an order." I was still trucking up the hill and trying not to get shot. I'm thinking, what a huge MCF10 this was. Twang, a round hit the body armor by my right shoulder and I felt some shrapnel graze my arm. "Ben, what the hell was that… that I just felt?" Jens yelled. I tried to run even faster, "Someone hit my body armor and the fragments scratched my shoulder. I'm fine. That came from behind me, how about some cover fire for there."

10Mongolian Cluster Fuck

 

I was almost to the top of the hill and needed to drop and slow. I hit the ground behind a rock and some rounds bounced around me, "Sgt. Donaldson, you'd better do something or I'm going to be shot." I don't know what the hell she did but the firing stopped. I crawled up to the top of the hill and saw the mortar and four men. Shit! I wished I had a grenade or two. I pulled out a second double mag for the M4 just in case and started firing short bursts. The four men ended up being eight and they started firing at me. So I switched to full auto and let it rip, I emptied the first mag flipped it and slapped the new one in and emptied it, dropped the dead mag and jacked in the new one and waited to see if anyone or anything moved.

 

"SM Blaine are you okay?" Jens asked.

 

"I think so, the mortar placement is toast. There were eight towelheads up here. Since I'm now on the high ground let's get busy and do some sniping. First how do things look on my ridge?"

 

"It's pretty clean but the other side is giving us hell. There must be twice the number of bastards over there."

 

I thought, shit I have a mortar and I can give them a taste of their own medicine. "Sgt. Donaldson, I'm going to use the mortar against them. Let me get in position and then range me."

 

"I'm not sure where you are - flash your light so I can see." Jens replied. I went to the top on the ridge and flashed my light. "Got you Honey-uh-SM Blaine, let me figure some stuff out." I went back to the mortar, kicked the dead rat bastards out of the way, and waited. "SM Blaine, let's try this, two-four-six degrees angle fifty-five." I used my red light to reposition the mortar, "Fire in the hole."

 

"Short and right, reposition two-three-five degrees angle fifty." I reset and dropped another round. "Good shot, you took out a whole group. Two-two-five angle same." I adjusted and took out another bunch.

 

Bullets started splatting around me and I dove for cover, "Sgt. Donaldson, I think I have some shitheads close to me."

 

"Son-of-a-bitch, sneaky rat bastards. They're about two-hundred meters to the north of you."

 

I grabbed Bravo, fired up the NV scope and set the bipod on the lip of the foxhole, "Light them up for me." Jens's fire located them for me. Shit, there were at least ten of them. I lined up, started firing until my mag was empty did a reload, and the rest were running away. It didn't matter, it just made them easier to hit. "Good shooting Marine!" Jens yelled. "Sgt. Donaldson, sweep this side for me to make sure it's clear, I'm going to drop a few more random mortar rounds. I just started dropping rounds and slightly moving the mortar, I was now more interested in disruption than death. "SM Blaine, you have two Marines coming up the hill to relieve you at the mortar. Make sure you don't shoot them." Jens barked.

 

I saw them coming and they were moving fast - sure is funny how fast you can run when someone's shooting at your ass. They rolled in the foxhole beside me. "Good job taking out the mortar position Sir, they'd nailed two of our trucks. I'm LCpl. Riggs and this is Cpl. Carroll what are your orders."

 

"You two take over with the mortar, I'm going to start using my rifle." I ordered.

 

Riggs crawled to the top of the hill and spotted for Carroll, shouting back azimuth and elevation. Carroll started dropping rounds hot and heavy on the south hills and they were kicking butt. "Damn! You two know what you're doing."

 

I crawled up beside Riggs with my rifle. I could see that we were just one little skirmish in the middle of this fucking battle, there were Marines all over the place working their way up the hills; so far we were the only ones that had made the top. Riggs and Carroll would bracket a position, the fucking terrorists would go to take off, and then I'd shoot them.

 

I'd never seen this many towelheads that were this tenacious, something didn't feel right. "Sgt. Donaldson, report." "Yes Sir, we are still under heavy fire. They've called for gunships and they should be here soon."

 

We kept up the barrage on the south hills, had them pinned down and some were even retreating. Finally, two gunships showed up. They flew up the road and started mowing down the terrorists on the south hills. The ones that were still alive started retreating. They turned and came back over the north hills. Manpads11 started arcing up towards the cobras. I scoped the area and saw a shitload of towelheads just over the top of the north hills. "Sgt. Donaldson, I see a very large group of terrorists just over the top of the north hills. Please advise the captain that this isn't close to being over."

11 Shoulder launched SAMs (Surface to Air Missiles)

 

"Yes Sir!" Jens replied.   

 

The Cobras were running their disco balls12 and doing a good job of evading the missiles, but one hit the ass end of one of the choppers and it started going down. It was going to hit just on the truck side of the hills and about three-quarters of a klick from where we were. I watched as it corkscrewed in and slammed into the ground. The other Cobra started flying erratically; it must have taken some rounds and boogied before it was shot down.

12 Slang for the IR jammers

 

"SM Blaine, I can see the pilot in the Cobra moving. He's still alive but looks to be trapped. The gunner looks dead." Jens said. I scoped the crash site and I could see the pilot, he was trying to get out but couldn't. I also saw that the fucking towelheads were heading towards the chopper trying to get to the downed pilot. "Sgt. Donaldson. It looks like the terrorists are trying to get to the downed chopper, we need to keep them from getting that pilot."

 

Shit! We needed to do something; if the fucking rat bastards got the pilot he was dead. I cranked the BORS knob on my Bravo to 750 meters dumped all the .338 mags and said. "Riggs! I'm going to get that chopper pilot. Take my rifle and cover me. The scope should be ranged well enough that all you need to do is line it up and let it rip. Don't lose this rifle or your ass is going to be mine!"

 

"Semper Fi and God speed Sir."

 

"Sgt. Donaldson! I'm going after that pilot." I heard some complaints on my radio but ignored them. I grabbed my M4, jumped up and started running my ass off towards the chopper. I heard cracks as the .338 bullets Riggs was firing past over my head. Mortar rounds started dropping past the downed chopper; Damn! I guess Carroll moved the mortar. So far, I'd been lucky and the rat bastards hadn't seen me - that didn't last because some illumination rounds went off and lit up the whole area. I took off my NV gear and shit, there were a crapload of rat bastards. "Sgt. Donaldson, who lit up the sky?"

 

"None of our men did. The terrorists must have some more mortars." Jens replied.

 

"Well, tell the Captain that I estimate over one-thousand terrorists are just over the top of the hill and he'd better get the convoy moving or get some more help."

 

The bastards saw me and started firing, I was juking like an NFL running back trying to avoid being tackled; moving from cover to cover, popping up and returning fire. I had about 250 meters to go and I was much closer than the terrorists.

 

I made it to the downed chopper, the closest rat bastards were still a couple hundred meters away, I ducked behind the chopper and started picking them off. I banged on the canopy and the pilot yelled, "Damn! I'm glad to see you. Both legs are broken, I've tried to get out but I can't."

 

"Let me take care of a few of these rat bastards then I'm going to get you out of there." I picked off the closest ones. "Sgt. Donaldson, see if you guys can hold these rat bastards off long enough for me to get the pilot out, he can't move on his own." I threw the M4 over my shoulder, "I'm moving back, blow your canopy." He yanked the t-handle and the det cord blew the canopy, I climbed up on the weapons pylon. I checked the gunner, he was dead. "Son of a bitches killed your gunner. Let's get you out of here." I said. "If you get a chance, please come back and get Glen, my gunner's body." The pilot requested.

 

I pulled my Ka-Bar and cut his harness, "This is going to hurt like hell." About that time some rounds rattled off the downed cobra. "Shit! Just a minute," I said. I pulled up my M4 and emptied a mag killing a bunch of terrorists that were about 100 meters away. With that taken care of, I reached down and grabbed the pilot by his flight vest and pulled, he let out a yell and passed out but I was able to get him out of the chopper.

 

"SM Blaine, the convoy's getting ready to roll and we're starting to pull everyone back. You'd better get your ass back here." Jens ordered.

 

"Tell the captain to hold off leaving, I have the pilot and I'm coming right down." I grabbed him in a fireman's carry and started booking down the hill, I could see that the rest of the Marines were starting to pull back too. Word about me having the pilot must have gotten around because the covering fire protecting us was intense. I was close to the convoy and help arrived, a couple Marines came out to help me, and more air support finally showed up. This time they didn't fuck around with just two choppers, they had a shitload of jets. They came in low, fast and FAE13 bombed the shit out of the top of the hill, and then kicked it in the ass to get the hell out of there before the Manpads got them. I guess the south hills had heated up again too, because they made a couple runs on that side.

13 Pronounced – Fay - Fuel Air Explosive – thermobaric bomb better than napalm 

 

It was a beautiful sight to see sky lit up with explosions and fire. I ducked behind a rock, watched wave after wave of jets and explosions and thought:

 

The hills are alive, with the sound of FAE Bombs.

With bombs they have used for over forty years
The bombs fill my heart with the sound of music
My heart wants to sing with every bomb it hears

 

All that was left for us was some clean-up work for the few terrorists that were lucky enough to miss the fireballs. Dawn was breaking making our job even easier. I decided to run back to the chopper and bring down the body of the gunner. I ran into a couple rat bastards on the way up and sent them to hell to be with their god. I reached the chopper, cut the harness on the gunner and started the fireman carry bringing the body to the convoy.

 

Riggs and Carroll ran up with my rifle, "Here you go Sir we took very good care of it. That's a great rifle." Riggs said. "Let us help you carry the gunner."

 

"No, I've got him. I promised the pilot I would bring his body down. Please carry my rifle." I said.

 

They had CH-46's14 coming in to transport the dead and the wounded back to Kabul and it looked like they were real busy. Too many Marines died or were wounded last night. I was finally off the hill and headed to the staging area for the dead and wounded.

14 Marine version of the Chinook.

 

Jens ran up to me, "Where have you been SM Blaine, you've worried the hell out of me. I've been calling you on your radio."

 

"Sgt. Donaldson! Damn! It's so good to see you! I don't know why I didn't hear you on the radio, I've had it on the whole time." I replied.

 

"Is that the gunner?"

 

"Yeah, I promised the pilot I would bring the body down. After this I'm going to take a rest." I answered.

 

She looked at me, "I hope all that blood isn't yours."

 

"All I have is the shrapnel in my right shoulder so the rest must be theirs. Sgt. Donaldson, I'd like you to meet LCpl Riggs and Cpl Carroll, they're the Marines that did such an excellent job with the mortar."

 

Jens smiled at them, "Thanks guys, you really kicked butt."

 

They looked at Jens then they looked at me, "Shit! I know you two. You guys have been all over the news for over a month now. You're the general's daughter and you two are engaged and aren't you the one that saved the Senator's daughter?" Riggs asked.

 

I just looked at him. Jens answered, "That's us and him in the flesh."

 

I scowled at all of them, "It was nothing any Marine wouldn't have done and I don't want to talk about it. I hope I don't have to make that an order."

 

I was at the staging area and was relieved of the body. "Can anyone here tell me how the chopper pilot is?"

 

"He was taken out earlier; they think he'll be okay." One of the Marines told me.

 

I took my rifle from Riggs and we shook both their hands and headed back to our 7-ton. I stowed the 98 Bravo in the 7-ton and kept the M4. Jens looked at me, "Okay SM Blaine, let's look at that shoulder and see why your radio stopped working." She was pissed when she saw that the radio had been shot to hell and the body armor had stopped the bullets. "I guess I was lucky," I said. Jens leaned over and whispered, "I'm going to chew your ass for saying that when we are alone."

 

I stripped off my gear and shirt so Jens could look at my shoulder, "You son-of-a-bitch! Little piece of shrapnel my butt! You're going to need that wound cleaned out and maybe some stitches. Let's get you to a medic."

 

We wandered over and found a medic. He irrigated the wound and put in a few stitches. He was getting ready to give me a shot of antibiotics in the butt. "Do you have any really big needles? He's such a hard ass you're going to need one." Jens and the medic laughed. The medic was done and told me, "Make sure you change that dressing and keep it dry. Check with the doctor at your next base and get the stitches taken out in two weeks." We thanked him and headed back towards our ride.

 

"So where the hell are Liz and the crew. I haven't seen them since I bailed out of the truck. Have they been hiding the whole time?" I asked.

 

She walked up and said, "Hell no! We've been staying out of the way, but were with Jens or you for most of the battle. We sure were not crazy enough to run up the hill to the mortar with you, but did get some great shots of the action. The best was the helicopter rescue, wait until you see it - it was so awesome!"

 

"I hope you got some footage of other soldiers. All we did was fight one little skirmish in this battle."

 

"We certainly did. I think tonight's footage might win us a Pulitzer prize. It was incredible seeing all the heroic feats that took place. I wish we had more than three cameras." She answered.

 

"Where did the third camera come from?" Jens asked.

 

"Once a medic relieved me with Cpl. White, there wasn't anyone for me to interview, so I ran a camera too. I guess one time I got a little too close to the action." She turned and we saw a mark on the body armor where it had stopped a round.

 

Jens was pissed off, "What the hell do you both think you're doing!" We looked at each other and then at Jens and both answered, "We're just doing our job." She walked away shaking her head, "You two are impossible." I was going to go after her but Liz pulled my arm and stopped me, "Let me handle this, you'll just make her more upset." Liz took off after her.

 

I didn't have anything to do so I went over and sat on the back of the truck. Cpl. Brown came over, "You hungry?"

 

"I'm starved." I replied.

 

"Let me see if I can find a couple MREs." Brown took off, came back in a couple minutes and tossed me a MRE and a heater. "Knock yourself out."

 

I fired up the heater and in a couple of minutes the MRE was ready. Liz and Jens came walking back. I jumped up and went over, "Sgt. Donaldson, it's good to see you again. Here's an MRE for you."

 

She looked at me, smiled and even had a few tears in her eyes, "You'd give me your MRE?"

 

"You look like you need it more than I do." I answered.

 

She took it and seasoned it up some, "How about we share?"

 

"No I'm fine. This one is all for you." I replied.

 

"Hold it a minute for me." Jens asked and she went in the back of the truck. The MRE smelled really good and I was very hungry. I was drooling by the time Jens jumped out of the truck and handed me a couple big squares of Hudson Bay Bread. "Here you go SM Blaine, now we can both eat together." We set as close as we could on the tailgate and shared dinner…, no breakfast…, well whatever meal this was. Stealing occasional glances at each other and even blushing when our eyes met.

 

Liz walked over eating another MRE, it was cheese tortellini. "Hey these things aren't half bad."

 

"Does that mean that they're not half good?" I teased.

 

"You haven't had the hotdog MRE it's nasty." Jens added.

 

"It's not as bad as the cheese and vegetable omelet, that one's inedible." I countered.

 

"Well this one is very tasty." She claimed.

 

"Wouldn't you know she conned some poor Marine out of the best tasting MRE." I griped. "I hope that you kissed him, because he sure got screwed."

 

Jens happened to be taking a drink of coffee at the time and started laughing and it came out through her nose, "Don't make me laugh again while I'm drinking, I almost choked."

 

"I never kiss and tell so you'll never know." Liz teased.

 

"Does that mean you screw and …" I started to say and Jens elbowed me in the side, "Be nice to her! If it wasn't for her I'd still be mad at both of you."

 

Word came down that we were bugging out in ten minutes, Jen and Liz both finished their MREs and went off to do woman things, Cpl. Brown came back and sat by me. "You and Sgt. Donaldson have a good relationship."

 

"Yes we do." I hesitantly replied.

 

"Someday I hope that my fiancée and I will be so lucky." He said, "Yes everyone knows that you two are engaged. We spent all our free time this last month watching you two on TV. The whole convoy has been talking about how professional you two have acted towards each other."

 

I looked at him and he was grinning, "It looks to me like there is more to this story than you've told me."

 

"Yes Sir there is. There's a pool on when you two will have your first kiss on this convoy." He answered.

 

I laughed, "Damn! Marines will bet on anything. Tell me Cpl. what time did you choose?"

 

He said, "I'm the only one that chose never. I thought that you two would wait until you were at FOB and alone."

 

Jens and Liz came strolling back, the Cpl. got up to leave. "Stay Marine, don't leave yet. Sgt. Donaldson, you know what I just found out?" I said and grinned at her.

 

"SM Blaine, with the look on your face I'm not sure I want to know." She replied.

 

"Cpl. Brown has informed me that the whole convoy knows that were engaged." I answered.

 

"Duh! Of course they do. That's not new news."

 

"But did you also know there's a pool as to when we will share our first kiss on this convoy?" I rebuffed.

 

She laughed, "I bet you asked the Cpl. what time he chose."

 

"You're right again." I answered.

 

She looked at the Cpl. and he was blushing, "Cpl. what time did you choose?" She ordered.

 

He swallowed, "Sergeant, no offense, but I choose never."

 

"I guess you're going to become substantially richer Cpl. because I can guarantee you that we will not kiss on this convoy." Jens replied.

 

He smiled real big, "Thanks, the extra money will help my mom back home. I'd better go and get the truck ready."

 

"I'll take over as gunner." I said. "Sgt. Donaldson, see if you can catch forty winks, it's been a long night."

 

"You think that's safe?" She asked.

 

I looked around at the carnage and the cleanup, "I would hope so."

 

We loaded up and started out again. I was glad I was riding gunner where no one could see me. With the battle being done I finally allowed myself to privately mourn the many good men that had died or been wounded today. What a fucked-up war in an even more fucked-up country.

 

China Northeast of Khudabah, Pakistan  – Day Twelve

 

Driving through the night gives me time alone with my thoughts - something I haven't had since coming to Afghanistan! No, something I haven't had since my loving Jens came into my life! How long ago was it? Shit! I can’t remember how long it's been. It feels as if she has always been there!

 

The anxiety I feel about getting home is because I sense that something has happened to Jens. She is constantly angry and upset but, I'm not good enough at sensing her feelings to know what's going on.

 

This truck is certainly better than our old truck. It's bigger, faster and doesn't bounce as much. The cab is even bigger and we have more room for weapons and the girls. They've taken most of the seat and have been sawing logs for hours. They look so cute and innocent sleeping together. But they're both little schemers and I have to watch out all the time.

 

This road, if you can really call it a road, winds all over hell and back and it seems that for every mile we go forward we're going four miles sideways. Uh-oh, I can see a little village ahead. This will be the first one we've ever gone through.

 

I reach over and shake Zarika, "Wake up my devy-voina, you have work to do."

 

She yawns, "What is it Ben?"

 

"I can see some lights and I think we're coming to a gorodok1."

1 Small village – sort of derogatory.

 

She wakes right up, grabs her AK and slides next to the door, "Yasmeen, wake your lazy butt up."

 

Yasmeen says, "Why did you wake me up? It is not yet daylight."

 

"Don't complain, there is a village ahead and we might need to protect Ben." Zarika replies.

 

Yasmeen flies into an upright position and grabs her rifle, "Sorry, I thought you were teasing me again."

 

I suppress the laugh about them protecting me since there's no need to upset them about their outlook. Besides, they did a great job at our last stop.

 

Yasmeen tumbles into the back of the truck and yells, "I am ready!"

 

"Don't go shooting or do anything else unless I tell you what to do. I'm hoping we can just drive through this gorodok." I order.

 

"Aye, aye Captain." Zarika and Yasmeen echo.

 

"Where the hell did you two learn that?"

 

"Do not be mad at us Ben, Zarika taught me. She said it was from some old movie she saw." Yasmeen sniffles.

 

"My dove, I'm not upset at you. It just surprised me. And I'm not a sailor so you wouldn't use those words - you would say, 'Yes Sir.'."

 

Both laugh and say, "Yes Sir!"

 

"Okay, pay attention now.We're just starting to enter the town. Remember don't shoot unless I tell you to." I say.

 

"Yes Sir!"

 

I slow up some as we enter the gorodok.  Unlike most of the villages we will go through, it's so small it's not even on the map. Someone must have a generator because there are lights at one of the buildings. "Ben that's a bar," Zarika tells me.

 

There are men in front of the bar and they look at our truck as we get closer and start pointing. Shit! I think they're going to shoot at us. We pull closer, they see the red star on the side of the truck and they all take off running.

 

Zarika laughs, "Look at those chewchemek cowards running away. They look like a bunch of chickens."

 

"What is going on up there?" Yasmeen shouts.

 

"The chewchemeks saw the truck and thought we were Chinese so they all ran away." Zarika is still laughing.

 

"I want to see." Yasmeen comes back up front but they are all gone. She pouts, "Zarika next time you go in the back, because I want to see this."

 

Zarika bristles, "Are you forgetting that you are the number two wife and that makes me the boss!"

 

"Hey! What's this wife stuff? Neither of you are my wives, you're my little sisters. The next one that says ‘wife’ will have her mouth washed out with soap. And that's about as much fun as the spankings were." I grump.

 

"We won't say that again Ben, please don’t torture us again." Yasmeen whines.

 

"Yes Ben I will be good. It's just that we forget sometimes." Zarika says.

 

I'm thinking if these two call me their husband when I get home, all hell is going to break loose and Jens will be right in the middle. I rub my head remembering the time she attacked me with the bamboo practice katana. I bet this time it would be a real katana and when she was done with me then Mom would take over.

 

"Listen both of you. You know that I love you both as my sisters, but that's all. In America you two are both too young to be married to anyone. If you kissed me there like you did yesterday the police would come and take me to jail." I explain.

 

"We would fight the police and would not let them take you!" Zarika announces.

 

"Trying to fight the police would be like trying to fight a sandstorm. You can never win. I want both of you to think about this."

 

They both get quiet, "I am going back to sleep." Yasmeen says. "So am I," grumps Zarika.

 

They lie down back to back and fight over the blankets until they both fall asleep, then they roll over and face each other. I reach over, tuck the blankets around them and start thinking again about Jens.

 

It is going to be real difficult when I get home. I have no idea how the three of them will act together. Zarika is liable to try to fight Jens and that would be a big mistake. Yasmeen might get her feelings hurt and start crying. Perhaps I could request assignment to Thule or the South Pole until the women work it out.  I decide I'm not smart enough to figure this one out and when I get home I'll drop the girls in Jens's lap and go for a long, very long, perhaps a Forrest Gump long run.

 

My mind wanders some more until I notice some lights in my rearview mirror. They're pretty far away and don't seem to be gaining on us… I bet someone is following us. Damn! I hate being followed. I bet they're some of the rat bastards from the last town. I think we need to take care of this.

 

"Time to wake up and earn your devy-voina name," I say and shake them.

 

"Uh, we just got to sleep," Yasmeen complains. "Leave us alone," adds Zarika.

 

"Okay, I'll take care of the chewchemeks myself - have a good nap little girls." I tease.

 

"We have chewchemeks? Where are they?" Zarika is instantly awake and looking around.

 

Yasmeen is still sleeping, Zarika pokes her in the side, "Wake up you lazy butt. Ben is not kidding."

 

She sits up and stretches, "I had such a good dream about living in America and you ruined it."

 

"If we don't stop these chewchemeks from following us, we won't get to America. Here's what we're going to do." I tell them our plan and they both smile.

 

The next wide spot in the road, I turn off the lights and turn the truck around. I bail out one side of the truck and Zarika bails out the other. We run around back and grab some weapons. I open the door, "Be careful Yasmeen, I don't want you to get hurt."

 

Zarika and I take off for our positions and Yasmeen waits. It doesn't take long for the vehicle to show up - it's a beat up old car. When it gets close enough, Yasmeen turns on the truck lights and starts backing up the truck. The car slides to a stop, the doors open and the dome light comes on; I can see a bunch of chewchemeks with guns and fire my RPG. Zarika fires her RPG at almost the same time and the car erupts in a huge fireball which lights up the whole area.

 

"Let's get out of here!" I yell as Zarika and I run towards the truck. When we get to the truck, Yasmeen is waiting for us and pouts, "You two get to have all the fun. I want to learn to use that rocket thing."

 

"That's an RPG Yasmeen and I will show you how to use one tomorrow." I reply. "Let's go before the light attracts more people."

 

I whip the truck around and we take off again. "You two need to try to get back to sleep, I'm going to need you to stand guard tomorrow while I sleep."  Once again they settle in and finally fall back to sleep. This has been a hell-of-a night for their sleep. I'm glad they're young and I hope this won't bother them too much. I begin thinking about how the chewchemek villagers started acting when they saw this was a Chinese truck - they were scared shitless. I wonder if it would be safer for us to travel during the day and rest at night. The bastards only chased us because they thought they could sneak up on us. I wonder if Yasmeen has any opinion on this.

 

Damn! It's another gorodok. I'm not going to wake the girls this time and I'm just going to see what happens. I do move my rifle where I can easily reach it. This village is a bit larger than the last and there are two buildings across the street from each other with lights on - they must be competing bars.

 

As I approach the bars, a couple fools start trying to cross the street. I've seen this shit too much in Afghanistan and Iraq to fall for it. If I stop their friends attack the truck or an IED goes off. I floor it, the truck lurches and I hear their screams as I run the rat bastards over. The noise triggers a mass exodus of chewchemeks from both bars. I speed past them and they start firing. The racket wakes the girls, "Ben what is going on?" Zarika mumbles half asleep.

 

"You two need to wake up, we're under attack." I answer. It's just like giving someone a hot foot, the girls jump instantly awake.

 

"I'm going in the back." Yasmeen says and hops in the back of the truck.

 

Zarika rolls down the window and starts firing and anything and everything. "Remember to choose your shots," I admonish her. She slows up and starts hitting things.

 

I hear AK fire from the back of the truck, as Yasmeen joins the fun. I roll down my window, bring up my pistol and start firing. The whole gorodok is awake because the lights are now on in most houses. I see the power lines and start shooting at the transformers. "Zarika, shoot those big metal cans on the poles." I order. We start knocking out the transformers and the village starts descending into darkness.

 

"Oh Ben that is fun, I like to see the sparks when I shoot the big metal cans." Zarika tells me.

 

We come around one corner and the road is blocked with cars, I yell, "Hang on tight!" I slam on the brakes and jerk the wheel first right and then twist it hard left. The truck slides around and we're now facing the other direction. "Hey, quit that! A bunch of stuff fell on me!" Yasmeen yells. Zarika starts laughing, "Quit crying like a baby and start shooting the chewchemeks."

 

I floor it and head the other way, another couple idiots try to stop the truck and they get run over. The car trick did get me concerned, I don't know this town and we could get trapped. I decide to head out of town the way we came in, "Keep shooting those cans. I want to make this whole town black." I order.

 

We hightail it back out of town! I keep it floored for about ten klicks until I'm sure no one is following us. Yasmeen crawls up front and is sniffling, "My arm is very sore."

 

Zarika looks at her, "Can you move your arm?" Yasmeen moves her arm, "It hurts when I move it but it moves just fine." Zarika looks closely at her arm, "Ben, I don't think it is broken, but you need to look at it."

 

I stop the truck; turn on the dome light, and Yasmeen crawls up in my lap. I look at her arm and press on it some. "Yasmeen, I think you have a bone bruise and it's going to be very sore for many days. What happened back there?"

 

"One of those big boxes fell on my arm. It hurt so bad and I was scared. But I still kept shooting my rifle at the chewchemeks." She sniffled.

 

I held her close and stroked her head; Zarika came over and cuddled up by her. "You were so brave my little sister. I am proud of you."

 

"And I'm proud of both of you my devy-voina." I add.

 

They smile at me and then each other. Yasmeen slides off my lap and she and Zarika hug, "Thank you big sister. I was just trying to be like you."

 

I was enjoying the blossoming relationship between the two. I hate to break it up, but we need to develop a plan. "Hey my sisters, we have a problem. We need to get through this gorodok and it doesn't look like they are going to just let us drive through. What do you think we should do?"

 

Yasmeen answers first, "I think we should try to find a way to go around it."

 

"No, I think we should go back right now and shoot everyone in the whole town." Zarika counters.

 

I look at both of them, knowing that these were the answers that I would get. "Well, I don't think there is a way around this gorodok, I think it is a trap and any truck that comes this way is attacked and robbed. I do think that we are lucky that we got back out of the village without being trapped. I don't think we want to try to drive back through the gorodok and shoot everyone, it's too dangerous and one of us might get hurt. Do you have any other ideas?"

 

I have a plan but I want to see if they can come up with anything. They start talking to each other in Arabic and it develops into quite a little argument. Finally, Zarika says, "I think that one of us should sneak back into this tiny gorodok and start setting it on fire - many of these villages burn completely to the ground when they catch fire."

 

"Why is that?" I ask.

 

Yasmeen answers, "I know, it is because the buildings are all connected, and they make the roofs out of wood and other things that burn."

 

I smile at them, "That was my plan and I'm so proud you two could think of it too. It shows me that I don't just have beautiful sisters, they are also very smart. One more question, would this work in a big city?"

 

They talk for a while and finally Zarika says, "Neither of us have been to a big city so we don't know."

 

"It won't because many of the roofs in a big city are made of stone." I answer.

 

They start fighting over which one is going to sneak into the village and light the fires. "Shhh, it's not going to be either of you, it's going to be me."

 

"Oh no Ben, you can not do it, you might get hurt." Zarika says.

 

"Ben, please do not go - I would worry the whole time." Yasmeen adds.

 

I look at both of them, "I've already made up my mind. I'm the best warrior and the fastest runner. I don't want any arguing from either one of you. Zarika, you will drive the truck about two klicks from the gorodok and I will get out, then you will come back here where it's safe. You two need to guard this truck!"

 

"Ben, how will we know when and where to pick you up?" Yasmeen asks.

 

"Come back down the road at dawn and I will meet you." I answer. "Now I need to get some gear ready. Yasmeen come and help me. Zarika, start slowly driving towards the town."

 

Yasmeen and I crawl in the back of the truck and I start loading up with AN-M14s and ammo. I take my Ka-Bar and cut a blanket in half, put a hole in the middle and throw it over me like a poncho. It hides all the weapons very well.

 

"Ben what are those funny cans you are taking?" Yasmeen asks.

 

"Those are AN-M14s that make things catch on fire instead of blowing them up. They are called incendiary hand grenades." I answer. "Just remember that everything back here is very dangerous and you shouldn't play with it."

 

Yasmeen giggles, "Especially Zarika's cooking - it is the most dangerous of all."

 

"I heard what you said and I am going to kick your butt when I am done driving this truck!" Zarika yells from the front.

 

"I know you will not because I am hurt." Yasmeen teases.

 

Zarika gives Yasmeen a raspberry and I almost fall over laughing. "Ben, I think we are at the place you want to get out." Zarika announces and stops the truck.

 

Yasmeen and I jump out the back and Zarika meets us as we walk around the side of the truck. I give them both big hugs. "Zarika you take care of your little sister and be good to her. Yasmeen don't annoy Zarika too much and listen to her as long as it isn't something crazy. I want to make sure that you do not come into town for any reason at all. Do you understand?"

 

"But what if you do not come back out of the gorodok in the morning?" Yasmeen sniffles.

 

"Then Zarika will drive back to Aamir's and Ivan's and they will come and rescue me. But I'm not worried about these chewchemeks because they are like stupid donkeys." I tell them knowing that I'm lying to them. If I don't come out of the town in the morning, it will be because I am dead.

 

Yasmeen giggles and begins braying like a donkey, it's a great impression and makes Zarika and me laugh.

 

I hug them each one more time and start jogging for the village. I turn and check that Zarika is driving away in the truck. Shit! I'm more worried about them than I am about the mission. If someone finds those two it could be bad for them. I need to get my mind off them and back on the mission otherwise I won't make it.

 

I guess we destroyed enough of the power grid that the village is totally black. Damn! I wish I had a set of night vision goggles. I'm not worried about the chewchemeks seeing me, but their damn dogs are a different thing. As I approach the gorodok, I hear the dogs barking already. This is really good and relieves some of my concern. I stop to gauge the wind - there's a slight breeze in my face. Shit! I guess I can't always be lucky. If I had a breeze at my back I could just set this edge of the gorodok on fire and it would spread by itself through the town. Now I have to work my way through the town and start at the far side.

 

As I enter the gorodok, I slow to a walk, slightly bend my back, pretend to limp and pull my pistol. I want to appear as an old man in hopes that no one will bother me. I'm about halfway through town when I hear a bunch of commotion and see a fire - it sounds like a fight. I amble closer to the edge to see what's going on and see about twenty men. They caught four women, have taken all their clothes off and are raping them. What I see them doing to the women almost makes me puke.

 

I slip past them and try to figure out how I can help without getting myself killed. I remember, two of the grenades are M7A2 CS teargas grenades. I move as far away as I can, yank the pins on both and throw them into the middle of the scene.  Well that sure stirs up some things! The men are coughing, yelling in Arabic and scrambling for their clothes and weapons. They're mostly blind from the gas and are stumbling around and running into each other. With all the confusion I figure I can add to it so I bring up my AK and start picking them off. One of the women grabs a knife and starts going after the rat bastards. She not stabbing them, she's castrating them! After a few minutes they are either dead or fixed. I don't want to inherit another woman, especially one that is very good with a knife, so I start running away. I hear her calling after me, but I ignore it.

 

The time for stealth is over, I don't stop running until I reached the far side of the town, I even run past a couple of people that start shouting at me, that is until I introduce them to a 9mm bullet. That shuts them the hell up real fast. I start running along the edge of the gorodok, chucking AN-M14s up on the roof. I turn and check, and many of the buildings are already on fire. This is going to be a huge inferno. It reminds me of the time I threw our old Christmas tree on a campfire. I damn near burnt down the whole forest and Dad beat me so hard that I had bruises for a month. The chewchemeks are running around trying to throw water on the fires, but there are too many fires, too little water, and too few people.

 

Someone decides I am to blame because they start shooting at me, I drop to the ground, pop back up and decide to shoot some of the rat bastards. I finish off this mag, jack in a new one and take off. I still have another 6 grenades. Since I am setting this side of the gorodok on fire, I think it I might drive the survivors towards the girls so I beat feet through the town shooting any chewchemeks I see. I was going to use the last six grenades on the side closest to the girls, but after seeing the women being assaulted, I can't be so ruthless.  There might be women and children that need to escape. I move a short distance away to the top of a little hill and start watching.

 

The town is really starting to cook and it's driving the chewchemeks like rats off a sinking ship. I don't like being judge, jury and executioner, but someone has to do this job. I watch and if it's a man by himself that comes out of the town I shoot them even if they're old. They don't deserve to live if they can't help the women and children. If it's a man helping women or children and they aren't being abusive to them, I let them live. One bastard is dragging a woman by her hair, I am so pissed that I shoot him three times.

 

The town is fully engulfed now and there can't be any survivors left in the inferno. There's a small group of a few men, many women and many children standing at a distance and watching their town burn. I feel some remorse for destroying their houses and homes, but they all had to know what was going on and they didn't do anything to stop it.

 

I watch the crowd and notice one man bothering a woman so I shoot the bastard. The rest of the crowd falls on the ground. They slowly get up and start trying to see me. But the way the sound echoes in the desert it's hard to determine direction from just one shot. Everyone else looks like they're behaving themselves.

 

Daybreak will be here soon so I need to get back to the truck. I slip off the back side of the hill and start running up the road. I've been so busy I haven't had a moment to think about the girls. Now that my mind isn't occupied with the mission, concern creeps in and I double my pace. It's much slower than before my capture and I curse Hussein for stealing my strength and endurance from me.

 

Finally I see the truck headed my way, Zarika must see me as she starts honking the horn. I see a waving arm out each window. I step to the side of the road and wait. She pulls the truck up, slams on the brakes and she and Yasmeen are out of the cab and on me in a flash. With tears running down their faces, they both hug me.

 

"Ben, we missed you so much and were so worried about you." Yasmeen says.

 

"We saw the fire from where we were and I knew you were okay." Zarika says bravely.

 

"You did not; you were more worried than I was." Yasmeen counters.

 

"Well, I'm here now so we don't need to argue about this. We still have one big problem." I tell them.

 

"What is that?" Zarika asks.

 

"There are about thirty survivors that we need to help - most are women and children."

 

They both looked at me, "Are you taking more wives?"

 

"Hell no! But we just can't leave them or they will die. We need to make sure they have some food, water and a place to get out of the sun." I answer. "We will have to be very careful as we drive up to them because they might have weapons. Yasmeen, you drive, Zarika you ride in the passenger seat and I'm going to ride on the roof. When we get close to them drive very slowly. If some of them run towards us I will fire into the dirt in front of them as a warning. Don't shoot unless they shoot at us. Do you have any questions?"

 

They don't have questions, so we walk around the truck and gear up. I need more ammo and I also grab a couple of RPGs, just in case we run into something more dangerous. We take our places and Yasmeen starts driving. Thank God, she didn't dump the clutch and spill me off the back of the roof. Dawn gives way to morning as we drive up. The crowd is still pretty much where they were when I left because it's too hot for them to go back into the gorodok. I see one shit that's trying to molest a girl - she's fighting like hell to get away. I pull up my Dragunov to blast him when I hear a shot from inside the truck. Zarika beat me too it. The whole crowd falls to the ground and then they see the truck.  Several of them get up and start running towards us. I pepper the ground in front of them with some rounds and they fall back and stay where they are.

 

I bang on the roof when we're about 75 meters away and Yasmeen stops the truck. "You two get out and cover them, if they try to stand up fire over their heads." I wait until the girls are in position. "Zarika, tell them we are here to help them. Tell them to stay on the ground and not to get up. And if anyone has any weapons or gives us any problems we will shoot them." She yells at them in Arabic.

 

I get off the roof, "You two need to stay far behind me and cover me." We approach the group and stop at about 50 meters, "Zarika tell the woman closest to us to stand up and come over here. You two watch the rest of them." She walks up to us very slowly. I put down my rifle and have my pistol in my hand. I have her assume the position and search her - she's clean."

 

One guy jumps up and starts to run, the girls both fire and he goes down in a heap. The rest of them start shaking as the lay on the ground. "Zarika and Yasmeen - good job! Please tell them that if they run they die. Let them know we are here to help them get water and food and make sure they have a place to stay." Zarika speaks to them in Arabic and they calm down some.

 

I finish the search, finding multiple knifes, an old dangerous looking pistol that I didn't even recognize and a couple of old bolt action Mauser 98s. I collect all of them and put them in the back of the truck. If the men behave themselves I might return them when we leave.

 

"Zarika, please tell them we're headed into the town with the truck and they need to follow us. You will both need to keep your eyes open just in case there are survivors in the town."

 

I drive just in case we run into another roadblock, Zarika rides shotgun and Yasmeen is in the back. I start slowly, not wanting to go too fast for them. We enter the town and find most of it devastated. There are only a couple of big houses on a small hill left standing. I stop the truck. "Zarika, ask them what those houses are. She jumps out and comes back in a couple of minutes, "Those are the houses of the bad man that controlled this town. They all hate him because he treated them all like slaves."

 

We carefully drive closer to the complex and I stop and pull out the binoculars to scan the houses. They're damn nice houses and didn't burn because they are far enough away from the other houses, plus they have different types of roofs. "Zarika, let's go talk to the survivors." We both jump out of the truck and walk around back. "Tell the men that I'm looking for a volunteer to go up to the house and see if anyone is inside." She talks to them and they start talking between themselves. A couple of the women get involved and finally one of the younger men walks up to Zarika and volunteers. "The women say you killed the owner of the house when he was attacking them." Zarika spits on the ground and continues, "This man will go because he thinks his wife is there and hopes she is still alive. He asks if we will guard him with our guns."

 

He takes off towards the houses and we watch closely. When he gets to the yard, the door opens and a woman runs out and starts hugging him - it must be his wife. We patiently wait for the reunion to end and they walk back towards us. Some of the crowd runs out to meet them. They walk up and talk to Zarika and she translates, "The woman is his wife and says that no one else is in the house. All the men left last night when the city was black. And the other woman, the one you saved from the bad men, says they are the men that were attacking her. She thanks you for killing them."

 

"I still want to make sure the house is empty, you and Yasmeen stay here and guard the truck." I check my weapons and slip into the house to make sure it is clear. This is a very nice house and looks like a palace inside. I continue through the house checking each room, I find one door that is locked, I start shooting the lock area and that brings Zarika running, "Ben I heard a bunch of gunfire what is wrong."

 

Looking at her, "Who's watching the truck and the people?"

 

"I left Yasmeen to do that."

 

We heard the sound of gunfire from outside and Yasmeen yells, "Ben, help!"

 

I run past Zarika knocking her down and fly out the front door! Yasmeen's rifle is on the ground and some bastard is wrestling with her. Shit! I can't shoot or I might hit her. I run up and pull my Ka-Bar; the bastard sees me coming and takes off running. Throwing the Ka-Bar with all my might, it buries to the hilt in his back and he falls screaming and twitching to the ground. We walk up to him. He's paralyzed from the waist down and is trying to crawl away. Yasmeen pulls my knife out of his back, hands it to me then she starts kicking the shit out of him swearing in Arabic the whole time.

 

Zarika makes it out of the house and comes over, "Ben, I am sorry that I left, but I was worried about you."

 

"Zarika, I am very upset at you. You disobeyed an order and Yasmeen almost got hurt. I should make you ride in the back of the truck for the rest of the trip."

 

She looks down with her eyes, "Please forgive me, I will listen to your orders from now on."

 

"You still need to be punished but I will let Yasmeen decide what your punishment is to be." I reply

 

Yasmeen's anger is spent and she comes over to us, "That chewchemek tried to take my rifle and then tried to take me."

 

"Yasmeen, I am proud that you fought him so hard and that you remembered to call for help. We need to talk to the survivors."

 

We walked over to the group, "Zarika, tell them that I am very upset they didn't try to help Yasmeen and that they didn't tell me about the bad man that was with them." Zarika translates and the group looks worried and they start replying to her.

 

"They say that they are sorry and they didn't think he was that bad." Zarika says.

 

I look at them and spit on the ground as a sign of my disgust, "You two watch them this time, I'm going to see what's in that locked room and then we're leaving."

 

"Yes Sir!"

 

Heading back into the house and the locked room, I shoot the lock a couple more times and kick the door open. The room is full of supplies, I see crates of food and medical supplies, I check and there are no weapons. Walking back out to the crowd, "Zarika, you and Yasmeen take any food and medical supplies that we need from that room and put them in the back of the truck. Then we are leaving."

 

Thirty minutes and four trips later the girls come over, "Ben we are done, they are very good supplies and we made sure we left them enough to survive on." Yasmeen says.

 

"Great, let's leave. I was going to help them, but after they didn't help you they don't deserve it." And we start getting in the truck. The man that went up to the house first came over and said something to Zarika, "Ben, he's asking if you will leave their rifles." I think for a minute knowing that if we don't leave him something that they will be killed, "Tell him we will leave one rifle for him at the far side of the town." Zarika tells him and he thanks us profusely and then gives her directions through the town.

 

We load up and start driving, his directions are excellent, but seeing all the carnage in the town puts us in a somber mood. "Ben, many people died in this fire." Yasmeen says.

 

"Yes they did."

 

"I feel bad about it, because I don't think all the ones that died were bad." She remarks.

 

"I wish it didn't have to happen the way it did. But I didn't see any other way through this town. I'm hoping that the people that are left will make this a better place."

 

We make it through town with Yasmeen sniffling most of the way. I stop the truck, run around back and throw out the Mausers, one extra AK and several boxes of ammo. Yasmeen smiles and gives me a hug, "I knew you would help them some. Can we leave just a little more ammo?"

 

I consent and give them a couple more boxes - it's worth it to see the smile on Yasmeen's face. "Okay, let's find some place far away from here so that I can get some food and sleep." I yawn.

 

We hop back in the truck and Yasmeen is grinning, "It is time for Zarika's punishment."

 

Zarika gets a sad look on her face, "Okay little sister tell me what my punishment is to be."

 

"I was going to make you ride in the back of the truck. But I don't want a box to fall on you like it did to me. So I think that I will make you feed me tonight and wash my hair." Yasmeen says.

 

I think that Yasmeen lets her off pretty easy, but it's her choice so I don't interfere.

 

We find a great canyon to hide in and I get an excellent meal before I quickly fall asleep.