From Sas Delta

Sas Delta

One
A Warrior Is Born

You’d have thought modern tech would have stopped the airframe shaking. The Hercules C180 transport. The most versatile cargo plane in the world. ‘The only replacement for a Hercules,’ they say, ‘is another one.’ But they couldn’t stop the airframe shaking. Or maybe, as I prepared for my first combat jump, it was me.
‘Buddy, buddy.’
We were coming in low; could sense the hostile land beneath us and we checked each other’s kit – tightened the straps, pulled the webbing, tapped each other on the helmet. ‘Buddy, buddy,’ we say, but guarded; they – WE – could soon be dead.
I’m a special forces soldier, the elite, the best in the world. Yet I’m just out of training and green. How can I be the best when I’m unproved? How do I know I’m not a coward?
Oh yes, I’ve faced danger under training. I’ve been shot at; been thrown out of planes; been interrogated; climbed mountains. But how do I know that when the time comes I’ll pump my M16 at someone’s gut; how do I know my knife will cross that throat?
The best in the world. Ha!
‘Go.’

The rush of wind as you leave the aircraft is orgasmic. Your hair, your clothes, your skin is a flutter as you head Earthbound at the speed of light. Then a rush of silk, a light tug and an upward lurch as the parachute opens, its mushroomed canopy a friend above, as if a textile angel. And then feet together, knees slightly bent, a kiss of earth and a gentle role. And in seconds you are crouched, your assault rifle your new friend, your saviour, your self.
Straight away comes the crackle of gunfire ahead. You wait, strain your eyes, crouch further down, wishing you were home, in bed, at peace, safe. But that bloody crackle pumps ahead. Then – it stops. Itchy fingers?
An electronic excitement in the ears. ‘The hills,’ comes the command, ‘get to the hills.’
They’re a hundred metres ahead, a darkness sticking out of the ground, monolithic, primeval, omnipotent with the darkened sky. And you rush ahead, zig-zag, crouch, wait, squelch.
Squelch?
I look down, feel sick. Not itchy fingers, but a patrol.
And I take my boot out of the Arab gut.

Finally, the comfort of the hills. Finally, you feel above the action, comforted by the rocks about you, rocks which hide, which deflect the bullets, and you want to cuddle them as you cuddled a teddy in your youth when the Bogeyman was stalking.
But you are no longer young, no longer comforted, for you’re a special forces soldier. And since the towers fell, it’s a new world, and you’re at the front, the spearhead, dicing with death. And suddenly, the action, the activity, the rush – it’s over and a spooky calm descends.

It’s cold on the hills. You know it’s cold for you can feel it, see the frosted breath. But inside you feel so warm, as if burning insects are fuelling the furnace in your gut. Your palms sweat. Your fingers are cold, but the palms sweat and your temples throb and dryness exists in the back of the throat.
Around you there is only silence, yet your heart thumps inside, fills your ears, your very mind and you know you’re with your comrades, but you don’t see them and you feel so very very alone.
And you look upon this darkened void about you, the lack of undergrowth, and the rocks seem like rocks on the moon and you think, will I choke from lack of air, and how far am I from civilization?
But civilization is nowhere to be found. Not in this place.
Not in the near future. Maybe not ever.
And certainly not in your fragile heart.

The night sticks to you as you wait, crouched, still, and eons of time seem to pass. You know your task, but first you must know you are safe. But how do you feel safe in a hell like this? How do you feel safe when the shadows flit and everyone could be a crazed tribesman about to cut you to shreds? But you stay still, crouch, and ready. And time goes by slowly but incessantly. Time goes by as you hear the ‘arrgh! to the front, to your side, but see no one.
And finally, you see a lightening sky, a rising sun, a warming of the mind as you realize you’ve survived your first night of combat unblooded. And as the patrol moves off into the mountains, you know you’ve met the enemy.
Fear.

Two – First Blood

Do they know I’m out here? Do they know back home? Do they know I’m here, in these freezing mountains, saving their freedom? Do they know I’m here, putting my life on the line for THEM!?
Do they care?
It’s a week into the mission now. We’ve no real intelligence; no real battle plan. We just keep buggering on in the hope that we’ll find something to kill. That’s how war goes, much of the time. But it doesn’t stop my feet getting cold.
It bites into you does the cold. I know, we’ve got all the equipment to keep it out, but you’re out in these conditions, in these altitudes, day after day and night after night; it creeps in through the mind. And no clothing – and no equipment – will keep it out.
Variation would help a bit, I’m sure. But for nearly a week now it’s been the same. Join the special forces and guarantee an exciting life, we were told. And we swallowed it, thinking we could break the mould of war, of 5% action and 95% boredom. But war is war and the unwritten rules hold and my feet are cold.
Do they know I’m out here? Back home?
And on we yomp – and on. Over that rise and through that valley in a never ending up and down up and down world. And so silent, so surreal, so uninviting. Of course, the 5% will come. It has to. You can’t invade a country for a week, forever on the move, forever breaking cover, without eventually being seen and intercepted. Not if it is a real army we’re fighting.
And finally that moment comes.

It’s only a small village we spy from the top of the rise. It’s about a mile ahead, down in the valley, peaceful and warm, the odd puff of smoke from some cozy and warm house. But those trucks don’t look civilian. They look military, don’t they?
The first indication of action came ten minutes later as we moved imperceptibly down the slope. Honed to notice the slightest movement ahead, the forward scout crouched instinctively and fired as the head popped up from the rock and took a shot. He was dead before his bullet whizzed harmlessly past our position.
I’d wondered how I’d perform when it came – that first firefight. I’d feared the time with the same intensity that the adrenalin pleaded for it to come. But now that it was here, and I was in the action, I don’t think I thought about it at all. Maybe all the discipline, all the shouting, all the stupidity and pettiness of our training pays off.
I went straight into an instinctive roll down that slope, controlled and headed straight for the cover of the rocks. In position, I came up to a crouch, brought the M16 to the shoulder and looked to my front. There must have been a dozen of them out there, firing and charging and rolling and crouching as they attacked.
Always aim for the biggest part of the body, we were told, then you’re guaranteed a kill, and my weapon spat, thudding its butt into my shoulder with its recoil. And I saw one fall in a fountain of blood, followed by another.

It was an intense firefight. It seemed to go on forever, but I doubt it was more than twenty seconds before they began to retreat down the slope. Controlled, always covering each other, we descended after them, hoping to catch up before they reached the cover of the buildings in the village.
Most of them we got before they reached it, and I never thought once about the morality of shooting fleeing people in the back. After all, they WERE fleeing to gain better positions to kill me. But to the village, some of them escaped.
There is always an added tension when it comes to moving into an enclosed, man-made area. The instinct of the wild plays tricks, for in so many parts of the battlefield are signs of humanity, and it confuses. But nevertheless we moved in, forever covering each other’s backs, forever spying this way and that and behind. And occasionally the light crackle of the quick burst as an enemy is spied and popped.
And then my turn. It seems no more than a pile of rubble to my front, but I hear the unmistakable sound of movement behind. With a roll, I traverse the gap between one wall and another, coming to my feet with my weapon prone. Just a few metres more and I’ll be round and ready to fire. And instinctively, so instinctively I move, see flesh and fire ….
… and cry.
The mother and child look so peaceful in their eternal, bloodied sleep.

Three – The Big Battalions

When you’re laid out on a night, trying to sleep, a pebbly ground for a mattress and a hard rock for a pillow, you tend to think a lot. It helps to forget the cold, forget the things you may be called upon to do tomorrow.
Being a special forces soldier can be no joke; the body is battered and the mind is scarred – scarred by what it sees, and scarred by what it doesn’t; by the demons that trouble you on nights like these.
The other night I remember God coming into my mind. Oh, it wasn’t a religious experience or anything like that. I didn’t go all Bible-bashing, or see angels, or feel some ecstatic delight. No, it was simply a question: who’s side, I asked myself, would he be on in this campaign?
Politicians of both sides claim to have God on their side.
It always was the case. Ever since our ancestors created gods of war to bolster morale and induce a rampant fanaticism, gods have been used to justify what we soldiers do. But none of it is really God. No, it’s just us, using God as an excuse. And I suppose if God really does exist, he’s on neither side. Rather, he’s above it all, crying.
At least, that’s what I decided. And the following day I was to have proof that God was nowhere around – or so I thought. For the next day was perhaps the most bloody battle I ever witnessed …

Sas Delta

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