Pro Bono Part 1
Songkran weekend is just days away and even though it’s midnight the air is oppressively hot. Not having slept well the last 4-5 days I felt really tired and tried to go to sleep around 2200. Perhaps it was the heat, or a combination of the heat and smells, whatever it was it was bringing back memories I’d kept locked inside the box in my mind for well over a decade. You see, in my old line of work we had to do things we didn’t want to do, things most ordinary people would never understand, things many would think made us monsters. The way you learn to live with such things is to mentally put them in a box in your mind, seal it up tight, and push it to the back of your mind telling yourself you’d open the box and deal with the issues another time. Of course you’re lying to yourself, you never intend to open that box again until you have something else to put in it, but like the U.S. Postal Service life has a way of throwing that box around so hard that sometimes it cracks open and you can see inside. A sound, a smell, almost anything can play on your senses and the box pops open and you’re fucked! I couldn’t sleep, the box was opened, my account is as follows:
Feb 25th 1991. Our seven man team had been inside Iraq since September. We weren’t the only ones, the Army had some Delta teams, the Marines some Force Recon teams, and the Brits had several of their best SAS teams out of Hereford doing almost the exact same thing. We all infiltrated in different ways, at different times, and from different areas. Some parachuted in at night from a HAHO (high altitude high opening) jump close to the no-fly zones, through Jordon via the oldest trade routes in the world, several though Turkey, and several like our team via Pave Low MH-53J/M helicopters. With it’s terrain following radar and ability to fly in the dead of night or darkest storms so low off the ground they were virtually undetectable the Pave Low’s were a favorite of special force teams. I remember the rough ride in country during a storm blowing near 100 knot winds. Everyone was praying to the Lord Jesus or Buddha and one even to Mohammed. Me? I was praying to the god Sikorsky. “Please Igor, please keep this marvelous helicopter of yours from flapping in this storm and crashing in the sands below. Deliver us from power failures, sand in the intake, and of course from terrain following radar computer error and deliver us as close to the ground as possible. And if we shall go down over water please send the Pave Low’s brother the Sea King. In Sikorsky’s name we pray AMEN!” Igor himself may have been a devote Christian, but I chose to honor the man who’s aeronautical designs were currently keeping me in the air.
I’d been in the hide for three days. It took me five hours to crawl the last 200 meters into position, scoop out enough sand to create a hide, cover it with a framework of collapsible tent supports of the type used in small camping tents and burlap, cover it with sand, erase all footprints and crawl inside barely 20 minutes before first light. The desert went from freezing cold to unbearably hot in the space of about ninety minutes. I’d brought as much water as I could carry in one liter plastic bottles and I after three days I was down to my last two bottles. The empties were packed in my ruck filled with urine along with a couple zip lock bags I’d managed to take a dump in during the cover of darkness when moving about wouldn’t be as easily detected. Leave no footprints and certainly no scat. The bitter cold of the night was bad enough, but at least you could move a bit and keep the circulation going, but during the day with sweat coming out of every pore you couldn’t afford to move at all. The best you could do was lightly flex each limb, one after the other, then your chest, back, stomach, and buttocks as you took inventory of your body and made sure nothing had gone numb so if you needed to move you could. Looking through the mil-dot 9x scope at the mobile Scud Missile launcher 700 meters distant I once more counted the Al-Hijarah missiles to make sure all seven were still there. I’d dozed off for a few hours during the night, trying to keep yourself awake for extended periods was futile, you took a few hours whenever you could. Making sure they were still all present I moved the scope across the 142 Iraqi Republican Guards noting the infantry battalion was still there.
The last three Scud launchers we’d taken out only had 12-15 technicians to drop. These were tech types, not trained soldiers. Getting close enough to drop them was nothing to brag about, we did it, attached explosives, and when far enough away detonated. The explosions weren’t spectacular like you might have seen in the movies, after removing a exterior panel all we had to do was place a thermite charge, attach some det cord, move a few hundred meters away and watch the thermite literally melt the entire fire control systems. Once finished the missiles couldn’t be repaired in the field rendering them useless for this war since Fedexing them back to Russia wasn’t going to be an option because the U.S. Navy held a tight blockade on the Persian Gulf.
We figured it was days in some cases before the missing radio check times were investigated, long enough for us to move on to the next location on our list. Our mission was to remove as many Scud sites and find as many of the underground fiber optic communication network junction boxes as we could and destroy them as well. These networks allowed command control of both the Scud’s and the anti-aircraft missile batteries. With several SF teams doing their job across the country we were surprised it took so long for the Iraqi’s to get smart and move Republican Guard battalions in place to protect the remaining sites. How my team was going to take out this particular site with an entire battalion guarding it I didn’t yet know. Each missile had the potential to kill thousands if armed with biological warheads, or hundreds with HE (high explosive) conventional warheads. These Al-Hijarah’s were cement buster HE missiles, designed to go through reinforced buildings and bunkers. These were the ones used to target important government buildings, troop barracks, and command centers. The government buildings within the roughly 600km range of the Al-Hijarah’s were sure to be evacuated, but the military barracks and command centers of the coalition troops would of course be overflowing. The Republican Guard buildup at this site told us that’s exactly what they intended to do. When? Probably when Iraqi spies posing as immigrant Iraqi workers inside Saudi Arabia were able to detail exact locations through their sources so they had targeting data. American and British troops were billeted well within range of this particular site.
Four of us were in place, snug in our hides, the only contact in the last three days were hourly squelch breaks as we tapped the “press to talk” buttons on our encrypted radios praying this unit didn’t have the newest French made radio scanners and DF (direction finding) kits the frogs illegally sold them despite the embargos. Hell, I wouldn’t be surprised to find “MADE IN FRANCE” on half their gear. Still, with three manning the OP and the other four of us in hides, it would be certain suicide to try taking on 142 troops. I knew there were exactly 142 troops because I’d personally counted them over the last three days, and noted them in the pages of my kill book. I even assigned the leaders names. Ahab was the commanding officer, Mohammed the head missile technician, and the four sergeants I named the Beatles, Paul, George, Ringo, and John, anything to provide some entertainment while keeping track of the command personnel we’d drop first. Remove the leaders and hopefully the rest of the troops would be so undisciplined we could continue dropping them from our hides until we could contain them and destroy this site as well. We’d already decided which of the four of us would drop who, I had the four Beatles, the other three Ahab and Mohammed and some others. It would still be suicide, but if we had a reasonable chance of removing the Scud site we’d do it.
Man was it hot, my clothes were soaked again from sweat and I drank half of one of the remaining two liter bottles of water. We’d been rationing water for over 36 hours, in this heat this left us in a weakened state but hopefully not bad enough to mentally affect us, not yet anyway. Jerking to attention I saw a cloud of dust off in the distance and slowly moving my scope on the cloud I made out a six-pack military open stake bed truck heading this way. As it got closer I could make out the driver and noticed armed guards in the back. Something was different, waiting a while longer and looking closely I saw what looked like prisoners laying in the bed of the truck. As the truck got within 1500 meters I almost gasped, through my 9x mil-dot scope I could now clearly see 12 young girls and from their dress I could tell they were Kuwaiti’s. The driver and guards wore civilian garb. Slavers! I knew the other three in their hides could see what I was seeing, and hoping this wasn’t what we thought it was.
As the six-pack rolled into the makeshift camp the four Beatles tried to keep their men in check, but they crowded around the truck regardless, chanting and calling and looking like a pack of hungry wolves. The girls looked terrified, we could now see they were probably 12-14 years of age, probably lifted from a school near the border and brought to the first troops they could find. The four Beatles did the negotiations. Arguing with the guards for all of ten minutes they finally paid them and we watched the guards literally push the girls out of the back of the truck onto the sand. One girl tried running away and we watched in silent horror as Ringo took aim with his AK-47 and dropped her before she’d gotten 50 meters. The other girls huddled and cried and the men roared in laughter as the slavers drove away.
AK-47 fire suddenly broke the silence as the four Beatles ordered their men back to their areas assuring them they’d get their turn. Unfortunately some order had been restored, if I’d been thinking about my job and not the girls I’d have realized I missed a great opportunity to take advantage of most of the troops separated from their weapons! Mentally kicking myself I laid there looking through my scope hoping for another chance. Ringo, what an asshole. He selected four of the youngest girls and herded them over to the command tent for the brass to play with. He stood outside the tent with a wicked smirk on his face while even 700 meters away we could hear the girls screaming out, pleading, and then crying out in pain as they were beaten. The troops now back with their weapons waited with a hungry look on their faces. I had Ringo ranged and in my sight, I’d never wanted anything so badly in my life.. but not yet. Just then a naked young girl, breasts not even developed yet, ran from the tent and I could see through my scope that her face was all bloodied and so was between her legs. She only made it 20-30 meters when Ringo raised his AK-47 and dropped her. The watching troops actually cheered! I knew my men were watching, waiting, just as eager as I was to take action, but our main mission was to wait until we had a chance to remove the Scud site.. not save young girls. I almost didn’t care about the mission, but consoled myself that if I was smart and waited then I’d be able to drop more of these bastards than by reacting out of emotion and committing suicide in the process. Inside the tent three shots from a pistol rang out and a half naked officer spoke harshly to Ringo who immediately ordered three men inside the tent. They came out with three naked young female bodies, carried them to the area where they’d been dumping their garbage and just dropped them on top of the garbage.
I’ll never forget the next two hours. Right out in the open the other girls were gang raped by over 100 men, only a few soldiers hung back and appeared to be praying. Stripped of their clothes, beaten to a pulp, and systematically raped over and over again I watched for an opening, any opening like I missed before when they were away from their weapons. None came. When the Republican Guards were finished they killed them, some beaten to death, some shot, and a few ran through with fancy swords. It was all I could do to keep from firing, standing up and taking my backup M16 and running down there to finish the job. I knew my men were feeling the same way, helpless, impotent, even castrated. We’d never forget these last three hours. Breaking radio silence I squeezed my throat mic and said “down the rest of your water, we’ll do this right before last light!” Angry squelch breaks acknowledged all around.
Three more hours till last light. I could feel the excitement, I knew we’d probably die but this was our best shot and I really didn’t care. With our water running low and noticing the Scud technicians getting busy in their trailer I knew we didn’t have much time left. All we needed was a reasonable chance of success, and with last light came evening prayers and less visibility for them to see our hides before we could inflict maximum damage. Last light couldn’t come soon enough. Taking note of the wind I made slight adjustments to my windage knowing the others were doing the same. Opening my ammo bag I carefully placed all ten magazines within easy reach, five cartridges per magazine, the most you could fit and still keep our specially modified Springfield M14’s low enough to the ground to operate from within our hide. I had four 20 round mags on my belt in case I need to stand up and go full auto in direct combat but I hoped it wouldn’t come to that. We waited.
Still one hour to go before last light. The commanding officer calls out to the Scud technicians and one runs over and taking the paper runs back to their trailer and I can see them entering coordinates. The generator fires up and the hydraulics start lifting two of the Scud’s into firing position. We weren’t going to make it to last light and as I weighed our chances of success the four Beatles started yelling at the troops and they scrambled to their feet and took up defensive positions. We knew this was SOP (standard operating procedure) from our intel, but we’d been counting on them not adhering to protocol out all alone in the middle of the desert. It figures the only disciplined Republican Guard units would have been deployed to guard the Scud sites.
There was nothing we could do. For the second time in six hours we felt helpless and I began to wonder what good we were, what good I was. It was my team and I was making a decision to not engage to save my team from certain suicide, taking the gamble that only 1 in 20 Scud’s even got close to their targets. I felt sick in my stomach as the first Al-Hajarah left its launcher followed by the second, contrails following the red/orange glow from their rocket motors into the darkening desert sky. At their maximum speed and range they’d be on target right at last light. I remember closing my eyes and praying harder than I’ve ever prayed before for these missiles to not find their targets. I wasn’t praying to Igor this time, but to my lord and savior Jesus Christ. Please Lord, don’t let these Scud’s find targets. Almost immediately, as per protocol, the camp broke up and started moving to their next location. I watched the convoy drive past my head less than 20 meters away, for the first time I could clearly see the faces of the four Beatles with only my eyes.
Until next time..
On February 25th 1991 a Al-Hajarah Scud missile with a cement HE warhead slammed into a barracks housing more than 100 American troops on Monday night, killing 28 and wounding over 100.
That's a bit different!