Bullet shell casings fell from the sky as the sun peeked through the clouds, raining brass on our camouflaged Kevlar helmets like a hailstorm on a sunny day—a peculiar sight to see. I looked up in the sky and saw the outline of the black AH-6 little bird helicopter and thought, “this is what they meant when they said, death from above.” The little bird shot skyward; building up enough elevation so when they dipped the nose could get off their machine-gun bursts of grenades and burp the minigun. All this before ending their gun run with the swoosh of rockets. The pilots zeroed their guns with grease pencils on the windshield of their cockpits, an X marking the spot where rounds would impact. What a glorious sound they made as they devastated the burning structure that held the remaining terrorist hold out. I glanced over at Jason underneath my Night Vision that was still mounted, and we just smiled at each other—no verbal communication needed. For the first time in my life, I knew this was exactly where I needed to be.
The morning started as usual with a 4 pm wakeup. Dinner was breakfast and breakfast was dinner. We were on a reverse cycle. That’s how we operated, because that’s when the bad guys were up and active—moving, staging, operating, doing standard terrorist shady shit. They were smart to take advantage of the night but little did they know, we owned it and were watching their every move. I sat up and Jason was sitting on the edge of his bunk with the red lens on his headlamp, and he was pissing in an Iraqi water bottle. Far from the bottled spring water in the States, it probably came straight out of the Tigris. Walking to the pisser would take you ten minutes in the sunlight, so pissing and stacking water bottles was standard—so was occasionally mixing the ones you pissed in and the ones you drank. I walked by Jason and whispered Bula, he replied with, “Bula-Bula.” This was our good morning greeting, courtesy of the Fijian guard force that inhabited our base. I walked carefully to the door, making sure I didn’t wake anyone up. The boys could be grumpy in the morning; and bunking with six of the most senior Snipers in 3rd group, I knew my place in the tribe.
I walked in the kit room—a small room made of plywood walls and tidy cubby spaces where we would stage our kit for missions. It looked like an explosion of guns, ammo, grenades, and flashbangs. The snipers had a separate room from the assaults' because of the amount of shit we carried. Also, because the assaulters kit rooms stored protein and Rip It energy drinks—standard operating procedures for the assault side. We had a myriad of options depending on the mission, and every weapon system had its standard day and night accessories that made my job as the accountability guy in weapons and accessories a large pain in the ass. Kevin was already in the room prepping his guns and lasers with new batteries—a normal daily practice that turned SureFire 123 batteries into a million-dollar business overnight. Kevin, known as “Irish Bula,” was my small unit tactics instructor in the Q, which is 18 months of unconventional and small unit tactics that prepared you for guerrilla warfare and unconventional operations. He was a master tactician; and prior to serving as a Special Forces Sniper, he was a respected member of the Irish Ranger Wing. Kevin and I were inseparable because we were 18B’s (Special Forces Weapons Sgts) together, but also the best of friends. Kevin was my senior in rank and experience, and I did my best to learn from him every opportunity I had. This included taking teatime and listening to Kevin’s experiences, which I thoroughly enjoyed.
I shot the shit with Kevin and started my daily prep. First, I checked my M4 Carbine, racking the bolt and ensuring it rode clear with no impediments. I’d give it a light coat of oil and finish it off with a functions check to ensure that the firing pin fired, went on safe/didn't fire, and I heard the trigger reset when the bolt was cycled. Next, I’d go over lasers and lights. This included swapping out batteries, turning on aim point optics, flashlights, and visible lasers. After visible lasers were checked, I’d dawn my helmet with my night vision down to confirm all infrared lasers were good to go. I’d refocus my night vision to a depth-focus around 25m. This ensured a reasonable start point, so I could see bad guys in focus when I got on the ground. After my M4 was complete, I’d do this same check on all my guns, which included my .300 Win Mag bolt gun, my .308 SR-25 gas gun, and both my Glock pistols (Glock 19 and a Glock 22). Every time I did these checks, known as a “pre-combat inspection or PCI,” I would do it the same every time, so I would never miss a thing. In this environment, with the number of operations we were conducting and the number of people being killed and injured on both sides, there was no room for complacency, no take back or second chances—you had one time to get it right. Getting it wrong could cost you your life. After all the guns were checked, it was time for Frags and Bangs. Fragmentary grenades had two safeties. Most of us ran them with the thumb safety unlatched and obviously the pin safety in but taped down to avoid a catastrophic 5-second count down. Bangers were plentiful and a staple to our survival in initiating call outs. They also acted as a diversion and distraction for armed bad guys. It was a great way to flush out the intent of the people in the house. Throw a banger and its fight or flight, or flight or die for a bad guy, so in a way, it was like a fuse igniter for terrorists. We also carried explosive charges by the plenty. This included charges for gates, doors, and even walls… We looked like walking time bombs with all the gear coming off us. One of my worst fears was running charges prepped/primed and getting shot or blown up. Having a secondary detonation on a charge I was carrying was not my preferred method of checking out. After all the equipment checks, we still had to get our personal things together; like, water, chem lights, maps, medical kits, and the list goes on. The amount of gear we carried every night was a huge undertaking, to say the least.
As I was finishing my prep of equipment, Kevin looked at his watch and said, "gym time." As always, Kevin was right on time. Kevin was a dedicated practitioner of martial arts, including kung fu and boxing. He was as deadly with his hands as he was with his rifle. Not particularly tall, with a medium build and shiny bald head, you would think the Irishman was an easy target for the jokes. However, those who knew him knew his capabilities. They kept it cordial, and Kevin was greatly respected in the community. Kevin and I headed to the gym—a large tent with the appearance of an open clamshell. It was a dusty tent right next to the massive concrete flight line where Task Force 160th staged their fleet of operational and mission-ready helos. We would often roll tires, swing sledgehammers, and do wind sprints up and down the pathway next to the flight line in front of the gym. It looked like a prison gym for spartan warriors—buff guys with beards doing work. The equipment was decent in the gym, and it included some elliptical machines, rowers, and the standard free weight package. There was a small dojo in the same building where Kevin and I would work the pads. After working the pads for a bit, Kevin and I then spent some time on the kick bag. Physical training was a part of life in Special Operations and rarely was anything done for esthetics. We mastered the art of shocking the body without routine and depended on functional fitness to ensure we were building the proper combat chassis. In war/combat operations, your strength and endurance are imperative, and it is evaluated every night. The beach bod wouldn’t last long in a combat zone.
After our workout, Kevin and I climbed a small tower that overlooked a T-wall barrier—a concrete wall that was the typical white picket fence surrounding all coalition forces. I swear, if I owned stock in T-walls, I’d have retired a millionaire years ago. Once we climbed to the top, we looked off into the distance. The heat and humidity were so intense you could cut it with a knife. The sun pierced and dispersed through the heat that settled like a wave of heavy fog. The smoke from a trash pit next to our camp looked like black clouds adding color and contrast to our sunset. It almost looked like a beautiful tropical oasis. The outline of distant mud walls and palm trees made you feel like you were in some romantic Arabian fairy tale, but the smell of locals burning their rancid trash reminded you this was definitely not paradise. As we watched the sun bleed its remaining life off into the earth, the call to prayer started at a local mosque. A reminder followed with a laser beam of AK-47 tracer rounds; reminding us of the truth, we were at war and the enemy was a rocks throw, or at least a rifle round, away.