My team leader peered through the scope of the rifle at the objective. His position was backed away from the cinder block-framed window and surrounded by a spider’s nest of mosquito netting. Our radio operator sat under a hole in the concrete wall as he spoke in hushed tones into our 119 Alpha radio. His right hand never left his M16 rifle. I lay in a pile of debris as I pointed my rifle into the only avenue of approach into our hide; a wide staircase blocked off with smashed furniture and garbage from the empty building we occupied. A claymore mine had been emplaced and camouflaged at the base of those stairs, and the clacker (triggering device) lay next to my non-shooting hand.
Three military-aged males in man-dresses and shemaghs were walking toward our hide site, firing AK-47’s into the air. I heard their muffled voices suddenly become clear as they entered the bottom floor of our building. I glanced at the two other members of my team. I knew that they heard the commotion, and that they knew what would happen of those men discovered us, but neither betrayed so much as a muscle twitch of tension.
None of us moved. We had occupied the third story of that structure in the middle of the night after four days of continuous missions and movement. We had little to no sleep, and we had one MRE to share between the three of us for that entire time. Despite the weariness, my team leader never looked away from the scope. The RO had stopped radio traffic. I held my breath as the voices drew closer and closer. My right hand slowly inched toward the claymore clacker.
Suddenly, next to my head there erupted a sound like sandpaper being dragged across a cheese grater. It was so loud it seemed to echo through the concrete walls of the building, and it came from the pile of rubble blocking those stairs.
I should probably mention that this was not in combat. It was the week-long final exercise of a very long training package in the Marine Corps. This week was designed to test the culmination of skills we had learned up to that point, and to do it in a way that would closely reflect the brutality of combat. Each team was given just one meal for the week to share, and we were given a mission to accomplish every day. There was no sleep.
If you were compromised, there was no lecture on the wrong-ness of your actions. There was no pat on the head, or an instructor saying, “You can do better next time.” The instructors knew that the best way to train for combat was through serious, intense pain. They would throw a CS gas grenade into our position. Why? Because God loves/hates the infantry.
If you don’t know what CS gas is, imagine the suffering of the ages distilled into a dense fog and weaponized. This little jerkface grenade releases a gas that will not kill you, but makes you feel as if your eyes, nose, throat and lungs are being raped by a rabid porcupine soaked in Tabasco.
My team decided that we didn’t want to experience that twice in a week (it had already happened once), so we took our time to make sure we did everything right. There were no tracks leading to our position. There was zero evidence from the outside that three men with guns had been sitting there for hours. All avenues of approach were either watched or barricaded to make any curious passers-by channelized into our multiple sectors of fire. This was the very last day, and we were not going to get CS gassed. Again.
The scratching noise continued. It got louder. Our nerves were stretched so tight that it sounded like Freddy Krueger was having a record-scratching contest with Wolverine inside a megaphone. The TL kept his eyes on the objective, but whispered, “Dude, what is that?!” I inched my way closer to the pile of furniture and garbage we had piled into the stairway. The noise came from inside an old blue Igloo cooler buried under a desk and two chairs. Without making noise, I switched positions with the RO, and began taking down the barricade as quietly and as quickly as humanly possible. Finally, it was on the ground, and I opened it.
TO BE CONTINUED…