PART III – Back To The Sandbox
The music stopped and Troy’s ears were grateful. An hour straight of Rage Against the Machine was a bit much.
Troy turned around in the driver’s seat, “What’s next? My ears are ringing so maybe we can go somewhat lighter. We still have forty minutes till Dukan Lake.”
“You want some sissy music, a little Elton John maybe?” cracked the Jackal from the back seat.
“No, Sarge is in the other vehicle,” retorted Troy with a wide grin.
“Let the mademoiselle decide,” replied the Jackal.
“Whoa!” exclaimed Troy. “You’re letting the newbie pick songs already?”
“Of course not,” answered Troy as he shook his head with a faux surprised expression and an imperceptible roll of his eyes. “I don’t make the rules, just enforce them. Besides, it’s not my fault the Jackal has the hots for you. He’s only letting you pick because he’s trying to earn brownie points.” Troy adjusted his rearview mirror and the Jackal’s reflection was squarely in view. As the two men locked eyes Troy said, “He must feel he has a real shot at rounding the bases,” he uttered with an audible laugh.
“Man, I’m still standing next to home plate!” replied the Jackal as he shook his head.
“Without a bat,” added Harry who sat next to the Jackal.
“No way dude, you got to first already,” countered Troy. “Don’t you remember when you got your ass kicked in Virginia?”
“Oh yah that,” answered the Jackal as he threw his head back.
“First is as far as you’re getting,” answered Sam as she glanced back at the Jackal and gave him a not-to-subtle wink.
It was the highlight of the Jackal’s day.
Jesús’s voice interrupted the back and forth. He and the three other members followed behind Troy in an identical black armored Mercedes SUV.
“We’ve got company Cap, and they’re approaching fast,” said Jesús on the comms.
Troy looked into the rearview mirror of the expensive German vehicle they had borrowed from the spooks. He then glanced towards the side mirror but didn’t see anything.
“Roger that. How far back?”
Jesús, who was behind the wheel, consulted with Digger who sat behind him and had his optics trained on the vehicles that approached from the south.
“Five miles. They appear to be in a four truck convoy,” said Digger.
“Any chance they’re friendly’s?” asked Troy. “Iraqi army possibly?”
“Negative Cap, two of the pickups appear to have .50 cal’s mounted to the beds. It’s hard to see clearly, but at least one of them has an insurgency flag waving above the cab.”
“Copy that,” came the reply from Troy.
The Omega Group had left Camp Unity just east of Kirkuk and traveled towards Bazain. The drive was uneventful, actually it was boring as hell. Music filled the void. They had seen more camels than humans since they left the base. Violence in that region of Iraq had died down as the fighting shifted to the west.
Just past Bazain the two vehicles turned north towards Dokan. Their destination was the secret facility on the southern tip of Dukan Lake which had contained the two nukes until 2001.
Jalal al-Majid, the son of Naseefa, was in the middle of another interrogation session when they arrived earlier in the day from the United States. It would be many hours before they could question him. Troy decided to take the opportunity and drive out to Dukan Lake. He wanted to see the abandoned facility with his own eyes. In his opinion it was the reason this whole mess had started in the first place. Several of the members saw no point to the expedition, but rarely did they question Troy. His experience had brought them through so many impossible situations that they trusted his judgment without question.
The road towards Dokan was smooth, in fact it was newly paved courtesy of the United States taxpayers. Who had pretty much re-built parts of Iraq, with not much to show for it. Mountains in the distance and rolling hills on either side of the road. A desolate landscape with little to see besides the frequent reminders of constant warfare which littered much of the Iraqi countryside.
Troy looked ahead, the road remained flat for many miles. They were driving through a valley. He knew if these four trucks were coming for them they needed cover. He followed his instinct and dropped the pedal to the floor, the powerful SUV responded immediately, the RPM’s jumped as he accelerated. Jesús mirrored the acceleration as he followed.
“Let’s put some distance between us and them,” Troy said over his comms as he increased his speed to almost 100 km/h.
“You gonna try to outrun them?” asked Jesús.
“No, I’m just looking for our opportunity to strike where we can level the playing field.”
Troy glanced at Sam, “Welcome to Iraq,” he said in a sarcastic tone, “I really hate this hell hole.”
“Me too,” she said and nodded her head. “For some reason jihad isn’t big in Bora Bora, so here’s where we earn our stripes.”
“True that,” answered Troy. He then looked towards the floorboard near Sam’s feet, “Grab the optics down there and see if you can find us some cover up ahead.”
The voice of Jesús came over the comms once more, “They have increased their speed Cap to match ours, clearly they have hostile intentions.”
“Copy that,” responded Troy.
“Can we call in air support?” asked the Jackal from the backseat. “Get a Reaper to drop a few hellfire’s on their ass and take out the convoy?”
“Negative, it’s all on us,” replied Troy as he shook his head. “OIF is in drawdown, and not many drones are tasked for this region.”
A few seconds later Sam found what Troy requested, “I got a structure on the side of the road about seven clicks ahead. It may be an old roadside checkpoint. It’s pretty rundown but appears to be concrete. Looks to be about ten meters long.”
“Perfect cover,” stated Troy. He paused, and the plan came together in his mind within seconds. He activated his PTT switch on the left side of his chest and spoke to the whole team at the same time. “We’ll pull off the edge of the road near the structure ahead. Follow my lead, spin the SUV’s around and place them in a V-formation. I want Sarge’s Bravo on one hood and Digger on the other with his long rifle. The rest of us will scatter amongst the structure and the vehicles for cover. Let them take the first shot so their intentions are clear. Then we unleash hell on them. Understood?”
He received seven responses which indicated everyone acknowledged the command. Even the Colonel who rode in the vehicle with Jesús ceded tactical command to Troy while on operations. He had hired the best and trusted Troy knew the course of action needed when it hit the fan.
“How many grenade launchers do we have?”
“Two,” responded the Jackal from the back seat. “I have one always on my HK and Jesús has one he can attach to his.”
“Ok, use them when the convoy gets close,” said Troy.
“Copy that,” said both men.
“Zero in, shoot straight, show no mercy,” said Troy, “And remember the three F’s!”
The other five Omega Group members responded with a, “Hooah!”
Sam looked towards Troy with a puzzled expression on her face but didn’t say anything.
Everyone fell silent as they geared up mentally in their own way for the coming assault. Time slowed down for each of them and visualization was a common tool utilized by the team. They might see the events play out in different ways internally, but the end result never varied.
Two minutes later they approached the dilapidated structure. Sam was right, it looked to be an old, abandoned military checkpoint. Several walls remained upright and there was enough rubble to provide excellent cover for an entire squad. More than enough room for the eight soldiers that comprised the Omega Group.
Troy waited for the last second before he slowed down fast and cut the wheel hard to turn the Mercedes back towards the approaching convoy. Jesús made a similar move and came to abrupt stop just off the side of the road with the front corner of his vehicle next to Troy’s. Everyone bailed and grabbed the gear and ammo needed. The Omega Group had learned from constant Middle Eastern missions to always roll heavy and expect the unexpected when their boots hit the ground.
Less than a minute after the two vehicles stopped the team was in position.
Digger had the bipod down on his M24A2 SWS sniper rife within seconds. He leaned against the side of the Mercedes and started to sight in his optics on the approaching vehicles. The first thing to slow down was his breathing, he took measured, deliberate breaths. Next, he focused on lowering his racing heartbeats. As was his normal custom he flexed his right index finger several times to get it ready.
Next to him on the opposite hood Terrance had the M240 Bravo setup. An ammo can in place delivered the 7.62 belt-fed rounds with another can in reserve if it became necessary.
The four Toyota Tundra pickups were less than a mile away.
Sam naturally assimilated into the team. She was at the far left side of the structure and had her weapon ready to fire, the butt of the rifle snug against her shoulder. While in her left hand she held the optics. As the vehicles moved closer, she relayed on comms what she saw.
“Lead vehicle has two in the cab, one in the rear. The passenger looks like he has an RPG. The second vehicle has a mounted 50 cal while the last truck does as well. I count a total of thirteen ... no wait, possibly fourteen hajis between all four vehicles.”
“Like shooting fish in a barrel,” responded the Jackal as he racked his weapon.
Harry reached into his t-shirt, removed his silver cross, kissed it, then made the sign of the cross with the fingertips of his right hand.
“Everyone ready,” said Troy, “Let’s do this by the book. Take the shot once they engage us Digger.”
Digger focused on the second vehicle, and in particular the head of the man who stood behind the machine gun. He waited patiently until the man fired his first burst. The shots were erratic and high. They hit nowhere near the Omega Group. The poorly trained man knew little about firing a heavy machine gun from a moving vehicle. His loss. Digger exhaled and at the end of the breath squeezed off a round. The bullet went just to the left. Considering the speed of the approaching vehicle it was not unlikely. Few could make that shot.
The man on the truck heard the bullet whiz by his head and felt the velocity of the lead pierce the sky mere inches from him. As he looked to his left, which was purely instinctual, Digger recovered from the missed shot, adjusted and fired a second round. With a loud thwack the bullet struck the side of the man’s head. It sounded like a baseball bat striking a watermelon. A red mist of blood exploded into the dry air as did most of the man’s skull. The force of the round pulled him from the truck bed and flung the lifeless corpse off the back. His body landed on the hood of the Tundra that followed. The driver of the third vehicle, startled by the body that landed on his windshield jerked the wheel and over-corrected. This sent the truck careening to the right, off the pavement, and into the desert landscape. When it hit the ditch, the Tundra lurched to the side then rolled over. The drivers compartment crumpled and crushed to death all four men inside.
A helluva shot.
One bullet, five kills.
Terrence held his weapon tight. Sweat dripped down the side of his head from the hairline and towards his broad shoulders. The lead vehicle was now close enough for him to open up the fully automatic weapon he firmly gripped. He pulled back on the trigger. The five-pound, eight-ounce trigger pull was nothing for him and bullets flew out of the barrel faster than his eyes could see them. Spent shell casings made a metallic clang as they came in contact with the hood of the Mercedes. Trails of smoke sneaked out from the empty brass as the smell of cordite filled the air. Bullets shredded the front of the Tundra within seconds as round after round hit the engine block.
Somehow two of the occupants dove out of the vehicle, including the man with the RPG. A third man leapt from the rear of the truck and landed on the dusty ground. Troy, who stood toward the back quarter panel of the Mercedes closest to the road stepped out and unloaded a hail of bullets into the driver. The first round struck the man in the throat. As he involuntarily reached up to the gaping hole that opened in his windpipe the next round struck him in the forehead. He dropped to the ground dead but not before the next few rounds found their mark.
The passenger hit the ground hard and rolled while still holding onto his RPG. No small feat. Startled, he raised the grenade launcher towards the two black Mercedes vehicles fifty feet before him, but before he could depress the trigger Harry had him sighted in and sent a three-round burst into his forehead. The RPG fell to the ground harmlessly.
Troy swung back behind the SUV for cover as fury of bullets from the third man bounced off the side panel where he had just stood. As he moved to his left, he saw his team in full battle mode.
It was a cacophony to the ears and a sight of beauty to behold with the eyes.
Each person fulfilled their role and worked together as a well-oiled machine. Troy believed the movements of his team were like a piece of music with the crescendo being death to whoever attempted to bring the fight.
About twenty feet away from Troy, Sam stood from her position and unloaded a volley of bullets at the last man from the lead truck. Her arms, while certainly feminine, displayed distinct, toned muscles as she flexed and fired off three-round bursts from her assault rifle. The man collapsed as Sam’s bullets found their mark. She took cover before she acquired the next target. Her technique perfect, her poise something to behold. It didn’t hurt she had a body that made it hard for a man to divert his eyes.
Troy watched as the sun cast her silhouette across the structure. The provocative shadow moved and swayed in an intoxicating fashion. He knew at that moment with the skill Sam possessed she was a perfect fit for the team. The look of an angel but the grim, efficient marksmanship of a hardened warrior. Just like her namesake Sekhmet, Sam moved like a lioness and pounced upon her prey with lethal force.
The two remaining Tundra’s came to a screeching halt on the pavement side-by-side behind the lead vehicle. Digger easily dispatched the man who stood behind the second machine gun on the fourth vehicle. In unison Jesús and the Jackal stepped away from the structure which shielded them and each shot a 40 mike-mike into the front end of the two vehicles. The engine blocks exploded as the two high-explosive rounds hit their intended targets. The fighters dove for cover out the truck doors. Several of them survived the explosions, but it was short lived. The Omega Group picked off the remaining fighters one-by-one. The insurgents stood no chance against the clearly superior fighting force.
Even the Colonel who rarely saw action anymore, raised his weapon and fired off a deadly burst that neutralized one of them. Each of the members had scored a kill in the firefight. The fourteen insurgents never had a chance against the Omega Group. Their fate sealed the moment they decided to engage the team.
After surveying the battle scene Troy gave the all clear signal. The team came out from behind their cover, searched the vehicles, and checked each body to make sure everyone was dead.
Troy was near the two vehicles struck by the grenades when Harry called out to him. “Cap! You better come take a look at this.”
Troy hustled over to the vehicle which was furthest away. Harry had pulled the bodies out when he made a startling discovery.
As Troy approached Harry handed him a packet.
“Found this in the center console, not good Cap, not good at all,” remarked Harry.
Troy took what Harry gave him and looked it over. His face contorted as he flipped through the eight glossy pieces of paper and shook his head, part in disgust, part anger.
“How’s this possible?” asked Harry.
Troy didn’t answer for a moment, “Finish your sweep.”
He walked straight to Mercedes closest to the road where the Colonel hung up his phone as Troy approached.
“I called in the attack to the command center at Camp Unity,” said the Colonel before he recognized the upset look on Troy’s face. “CO dispatched a cleanup crew to gather the bodies and see if they can I.D. any of them.”
Troy held the eight black and white photos and pushed them into the Colonels' chest. “The DOD has a leak Colonel, and it could have gotten us all killed today.”
Colonel Marshall reached up to his chest and pulled down the photos. As he flipped through each one his mind raced. There was a photo for each member of the team which included himself and even Sam. At the top of each photo it said in Arabic, The Omega Group, Kill On Sight. He heard what Troy said but his mind went in a different direction. He nodded but said nothing.
“I don’t like being hunted,” remarked Troy. “Especially when we have such a critical mission. It’s awfully hard to keep up an effective fight on two fronts.”
The Colonel ignored the statement, “There’s others besides the DOD that know we’re here.”
Troy looked into his eyes and read his thoughts, “So what are you going to do about it?”
“I’m not sure yet,” replied the Colonel.
“And what do we do in the meantime?”
“We continue on to Dukan Lake as you planned. Then when we head back to Camp Unity and you will personally question Jalal. This incident changes nothing. So stick to the plan.”
“Our team being hunted changes everything!” exclaimed Troy. There was no hiding his emotions. A pissed off Troy meant trouble for anyone who stood in his way. The Colonel knew Troy had every right to be livid.
“Leave that to me,” replied the Colonel as he reached out and put both hands firmly on Troy’s broad shoulders. “Keep on mission. Stay on task. Let me take care of what occurred today,” as he held up the photos.
Troy had reservations, but he also had implicit trust in Colonel Marshall. He reluctantly nodded his head, “As you wish sir,” he said as he began to turn away.
The Colonel grabbed his arm.
Troy turned back.
“And son … watch your six.”
“I sleep with one eye open sir,” replied Troy as he nodded.
Troy walked towards the structure where Jesús and Terrence stood huddled together deep in conversation. Troy joined them and they all bowed their heads for a moment.
Sam watched from a distance unsure what the men said.
When the discussion ended Troy walked back to the vehicles and Sam approached.
He smiled as he saw her, “You did well out there. Division S has some skills!”
“No, not really. I knew you could hold your own.”
“Can I ask you a question?”
“Sure,” replied Troy.
“Before the firefight you said to remember the three F’s. What’s that all about.”
“Faith, Family, Freedom. The reason we do what we do.”
She had a quizzical look upon her face, “Freedom I get since most soldiers proclaim that one in spades. Family is a little more curious, I thought all of you guys were single except the Colonel?”
“Sure, but we still have family, even if none of us happens to be married. It’s always good to remind oneself why you stay in the fight. And besides, the six of us are like family. In some ways our bond is tighter, and the brotherhood is stronger. Blood isn’t always thicker than water.”
“Ok, I’ll give you that. And faith?”
“What about it?”
“Um well,” Sam paused for a moment as she considered her words, “Not all of you strike me as very religious.”
A smile formed at the corner of Troy’s mouth, “I tend to think religion is the antithesis of faith at times. Over the years I’ve made it a point to not confuse the two. Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Religion is man’s attempt to explain God, and I honestly think man gets it wrong more than he gets it right. God cares about the inside, not so much the external.”
“That’s kinda deep,” replied Sam as she raised her eyebrows.
“Now, I can’t speak for everyone but the guys all have faith in some measure. Not to say we all believe the same way, but that’s not for me to judge.”
“Even the Jackal?” she asked with a wide smile.
“The Jackal is a complicated guy, and his faith might be buried a little deeper than some of us. He can be a hard nut to crack, but there’s a lot more than his crass, immature exterior. Inside his heart is true, his motives just.”
“Interesting,” replied Sam.
“Let’s load up, we’ll have countless hours to discuss philosophy, religion, or you name it while in Ghana.”
They climbed into the vehicle. The Jackal and Harry were already waiting for them.
“Can we even discuss your love life?” questioned Sam with a laugh as she settled into her seat.
The suggestion surprised Troy. “You like brief, boring conversation's, huh?”
Sam’s eyes narrowed, “I think there’s more to you then you let on Troy.”
From the backseat the Jackal jumped into the conversation, “Better call him Cap, only one woman calls him by his given name and that’s Cate.”
“Ahh, so the plot thickens,” replied Sam.
Troy turned around and pointed his finger, “Shut it Jackal!”
The Jackal winked, “Love you too brother!”
Up next ... Part IV