Arriving home, his meeting with Abda Afridi had triggered a fresh wave of inner conflict. His, sweats and nightmares returned with a fury unleashed. No matter how hard he tried to escape to his secret place, all he found was an uncontrollable shivering. His hair-raising escape from the Syrian farmhouse, played back like a horror video, leaving him crippled with fear. As he experienced it all over again, his eyes darted everywhere looking for any perceived threat. When he glanced down at his hands, he saw again the little boy’s blood. For years he tried to scrub it away, it was indelibly imprinted in his memory.
The sights, sounds and smell of the moment when he took that young life, panicked him. Guilt, like a firestorm, raged within. ‘What if I waited one minute longer,’ he thought? ‘Why didn’t I stay still right where I was? The kid would be alive today. Who knows, he could be using one of our computers. ’ When he lay down for a nap once more he lived the repulsive odor of blood drying in the sun and he retched. The bodily tremors and sweating took his breath away as he again confused a dream with his present life. He feels like he is straddling a timeline where the past is pulling him in one direction and the present another.
Once his flashback began to roll with vivid realism, there was no stopping it. It ran its awful course unchecked. It had taken Joker some time to encourage Tank to stand up and move away from the boy’s body. Motivated, Two Six Romeo, moved west from the farmhouse. Safely away, they stopped for a rest. It had been a long tiring day and Tank never spoke all afternoon. With every bend in the dusty trail, they met with more activity. Forty kilometers into their mission they had called in 12 airstrike’s, marked eight Sunni and five Shia encampments, with a total of 364 combatants.
Four new Syrian bases with battalion strength and heavy equipment they marked on their map. They were on the way to their extraction coordinates near Tiyas. The area they needed to move through to reach their extraction point, Sunni and Shia fighting forces held the ground in their control. Those people always shot first and asked questions later. The Alawite Sect of Shia Islam was part and parcel, of the Assad regime. The Sunni’s opposed to ISIS are the founders of Al Qaeda. At the heart of the survival of ISIS was the Shia-Sunni rift, which ISIS exploited.
The flames of animosity between the two sects burned with intensity. Over the years, tens of thousands of Sunni and Shia Muslims had brutally murdered and tortured each other. Each group feared being dominated by the other. Russia was bombing with impunity. They also had a base in Iran from where their bombing runs originated. It was in that gloom, Tank led his men. Reliving it all, he heard his voice ordering Joker to use the blower and tell the Forward Operating Base that they were thirty Mikes from their extraction grid. “82 Tango One FOB this is Two Six Romeo.
Over. ” “Two Six Romeo. Go. ” “82 Tango One, we are 30 Mikes from extraction. Over. ” “Roger that, Two Six Romeo. Out. ” He was no sooner off the radio than an explosion and gunfire about 500 meters away to the west, flared up. Joker called off the inbound chopper until they assessed the situation. Again, they devised a plan to circle around it. “Sounds like someone is having a war, let’s see if we can find it,” shouted Snake. Crawling along the ground, they made their way towards the action. It was obvious that ISIS was engaging in company strength.
Those hateful ISIS black flags flew in the wind. The dust flying around was not just from the breeze but from grenade explosions. Two other groups in civilian clothing joined the engagement. Tank assumed that they were the Sunni’s and the Shia Militias battling each other. Without a hit and run tactic, it would prove impossible to move around the mess. The risk presented was, if they hit and run in the midst of the confusion, someone will be on their tail. Tank calculated that if he clobbered ISIS, the Sunni’s would notice it and come to their side. It was a calculated risk.
Still, it was the only option for escape open to him. He ordered the squad to hit the black-flagged vehicles. His command declared open warfare and all hell broke loose. Joker was the first to open fire. His goal was to take down command and control. To that end, he wasted those giving orders and others with communication devices. The rest of the squad blazed away with automatic fire. Every second round in their magazines was a tracer. They frightened the life out of those who had no stomach for a fight. It was one thing to take a hit from a weapon.
It’s another when they watch as a flaming bullet races towards their chest, face or head. Tank scanned the field and their planned escape route. As hoped, one group joined in bringing their weapons to bear on ISIS. He watched as one of his new allies took a hit. An RPG slammed into the side of a vehicle. A young man fired his machine gun from the back of the truck. His face took a hit from searing shrapnel and his fingers suffered severe lacerations. He couldn’t hold his weapon any longer. As he tried to dismount from the truck, more shrapnel hit his chest.
Again he took hits from small arms fire. Rounds hit his stomach, and back, knocking him off the vehicle. He lay there bleeding and in a state of shock. Tank felt helpless. He wanted to aid the young man who had helped them. The intense fire in every direction made it impossible. Instead, he spotted the man responsible for the lad’s injuries. He was preparing to fire a second RPG. Tank dropped him with a short three-round burst and watched as pieces of his face fell away. Looking towards his squad, he saw that Snake was in trouble.
Two ISIS fighters had leapfrogged from boulder to boulder. Snake couldn’t see them, he was engaging other targets. They were almost on him. Tank rose up from his position, just enough to have a clear shot at them. He concentrated his finger pressure on the weapon back to full machine gun mode. The weapon obeyed and launched a hail of bullets. ‘Splash two,’ he thought as they went down. The squad finally made it out in one piece. Every face was his to remember for the rest of his life. During the war, he had personally greased 127 and relived the moment that each of them died.
He had watched hundreds of his allies fall in the field and he couldn’t help them. It was impossible to save his fellow soldiers whose blood so often covered his uniform. He couldn’t help Shogun. What more he could have done eluded him. He wished that Calvin Singleton, the man who led him to the Lord was around to talk to. He felt alone and helpless. There was no point in speaking to the people at church. As far as he knew, he was the only veteran in the bunch. He spoke to the Lord but saw no immediate answer’s to his prayers. Every day he searched for a word of comfort in the Bible.