Don’t Mind At All
Thomas Calabrese — Colonel Michael McCallum had been to Afghanistan at least a dozen times over the past seven years since the creation of an elite unit called the Bravo Scouts. He was called upon to go to the most dangerous areas in the world to carry out critical assignments. The Bravo Scouts were a mobile unit and could deploy in a matter of hours if needed. This one hundred man strike force was hand-picked, highly skilled and had seen combat action from the Carpathian Mountains of Western Ukraine to the tropical rainforest of Mindanao in the Philippines.
Over the past three weeks the Bravo Scouts were back in Afghanistan conducting scouting patrols in search of Taliban forces that were crossing over from their safe havens in Pakistan to conduct raids in the Helmand Province. They were escaping back across the border before they could be engaged and regular American military units had not been able to figure out how they were doing it. Colonel McCallum’s orders were simple; stop the intrusion in any way possible. His men were getting restless because they were used to engaging the enemy, defeating them and leaving the area. Despite extensive patrolling along the border, they had nothing to show for their efforts except several piles of discarded garbage in a narrow canyon.
Colonel McCallum called Colonel Carlisle, “Hey Tim, got a good Intel person you can send me?”
“Yeah,” Colonel Carlisle responded, “Having problems?”
“Let’s just say that I’d like a fresh set of eyes to look at the situation. Give whoever you send a heads up on our mission, I don’t have time to brief them.”
First Lieutenant Sami Kyle was an intelligence analyst assigned to Camp Leatherneck. She was a Naval Academy graduate, young, bright and spoke Dari and Pasto, both official languages of Afghanistan. Colonel Tim Carlisle called the young female officer to his office, “Lt. Kyle, I’m sending you to work with the Bravo Scouts. They’ve requested an Intel specialist.”
“Yes sir,” Lt. Kyle responded.
“Colonel Carlisle handed a folder to Lt. Kyle, “Read this and be ready to hit the ground running and remember these guys are the best so bring your A game.”
After leaving her C.O’s office, Lieutenant Kyle stopped by S-1 Personnel and approached Master Sergeant Rob Drysdale, a grizzled veteran who was approaching twenty years in the Corps. She wasn’t really sure how to phrase her question, “I’ve heard stories about Colonel McCallum and the Bravo Scouts?”
Master Sergeant Drysdale responded with a question, “What exactly are you looking for, Ma’am?”
“For starters, it would be nice what part is legend and what part is fact.”
“That might be a tall order, Ma’am,” Master Sergeant Drysdale rubbed his chin and looked around to make sure that nobody was listening, “Command likes to play the plausible deniability card so they don’t get asked too many questions when it comes to the Bravos. They also put as little as possible in writing and greatly discourage speculation and gossip among the ranks. Officially, they called it ‘need to know’ but it’s a lot more than that. ”
“I got it,” Lt. Kyle whispered.
“I do know one thing that might help you; McCallum’s is the ultimate straight shooter, so if you know something, don’t be afraid to speak up, but if you try to B.S. him, he’ll rip you a new one. Oh yeah, one more thing, don’t get hung up on regulations.”
That evening, Lt. Kyle went over the intelligence report, forward and backward and committed most of it to memory. At 0500 hours the next morning, she boarded a chopper and headed to Firebase Condor to meet with the mysterious and legendary Colonel McCallum.
The man she was about to meet grew up in Stillwater, Oklahoma right in the middle of Tornado Alley, hence his call sign ‘Tornado.’ His father was an executive with an oil company and his mother was a commercial real estate broker.
He was the second child and grew up in a strong home environment where his parents encouraged their children to believe that they could be anything that they wanted to be if they were willing to develop their skills and had the determination to succeed. His older sister, Janet was currently a U.S. Attorney with Homeland Security and his younger one, Julie was a paramedic with the Oklahoma City fire department.
Mike’s maternal uncle David Scott was a Sergeant Major in the Marines and whenever he was stationed stateside, which was usually at Camp Lejeune or Camp Pendleton, Mike would spend part of his summer vacation staying with him and his family. Uncle Dave showed his young nephew around the bases and imparted honest insights on the military and life in general. By the time Mike enlisted in the Marines after college he already had a strong foundation on which to build his own military career. He was an overachiever in the Marines and after two combat tours with First Reconnaissance Battalion, Major General James McGonagall called him into his office. “I’ve been authorized to put together a special unit that can by-pass the normal chain of command and conduct highly sensitive and extremely dangerous missions in an expedited manner. I’ve been following your career and I’m impressed. Would you be interested in commanding such a unit?”
“If the General thinks I’m the right man for the job then I serve at your pleasure,” Mike McCallum answered.
“That’s what I hoped you’d say.”
Captain McCallum received three battlefield promotions since he assumed command and was currently the youngest ‘full bird’ Colonel in the Marine Corps. Despite his reputation as an officer who always got the job done, Mike had no qualms about going outside his own command if he thought it would help him accomplish a mission. With every assignment his two top priorities remained the same; accomplish the mission and protect his men. It was never about glory, accolades or promotions.
When Lieutenant Kyle landed at Firebase Condor she was directed to a section where the men could not have looked any less military if they tried. Most of the men were wearing shorts and t-shirts and playing sports or lounging around. Nobody was wearing rank insignias so it was difficult for the young female officer to know how to address the men she encountered. She approached a group playing horseshoes, “Excuse me, I’m looking for Colonel McCallum.”
A young Marine took aim and threw a ringer then responded, “Follow this path about 25 yards and ask for Mike or Tornado, he answers to both.”
The young Marine threw another ringer and smiled, “Stick around; you’re bringing me good luck.”
Lt. Kyle walked down the path to an area where weights and exercise equipment had been set up in a tent. She didn’t feel comfortable asking for Mike so she stayed formal, “I’m looking for Colonel McCallum.”
Nobody answered for several seconds until the man doing the bench press finished his last repetition then stood up. “I go by Mike.” Colonel McCallum dried the sweat from his face and sat down at a wooden table and pointed to the bench across from him and Lt. Kyle sat down. A Marine set two bottles of water before them.”
Lt. Kyle’s first impression was how young this legendary leader was, maybe no older than thirty-five. She found herself staring and momentarily looked away.
“Tell me what you have,” Mike took a long swallow and saw that the Lieutenant was somewhat disoriented by the lack of military protocol and sought to reassure her, “We do things a little differently than most units. We focus more on performance than perception. What’s your first name?”
“Sami,”” Lt. Kyle responded softly.
“How do you spell it?”
“S.a.m.i” Lt. Kyle replied
“Okay Sami with an ‘I’, tell me what you have.” Lt. Kyle hesitated and Colonel McCallum warned her, “I told Colonel Carlisle to make sure you were ready when you got here, so if you’re the kind of officer that needs to be micromanaged then you need to catch the next chopper back. Wasting time isn’t on our agenda.”
Lt. Kyle answered by opening her folder and pulling out a map and photos and set them on the table, “It is my assessment that the enemy forces are using a tunnel complex in this canyon for their ingress (entry) and egress (exit).”
“Good job Sami, that’s what I wanted to hear! Now get some rest and chow and we’ll head out in the morning to see if you’re right” Mike called to one of his men, “Johnny, take care of Sami; she needs chow, a place to crash and gear for a patrol in the morning.”
“Roger that,” Johnny replied.
Johnny took the young female lieutenant to get something to eat and then to a private tent, “I’ll be back with your equipment and kickoff time.”
Sami dozed off in a matter of seconds once her head hit the cot, but awakened quickly when she heard Johnny return with her patrol gear that included a pistol, rifle and ample supply of ammunition.
“I’m an Intel analyst,” Sami protested, “I usually don’t go on patrols.”
“You can take that up with Mike, he told me that you’re going out and that’s what I’m going by. You got any problems with that, talk to him,” Johnny responded simply, “Boots down at 0500.”
There was no way that Lt. Kyle was going to be late, so she kept waking up during the night and by 0415, she decided to get dressed. Sami sat nervously on her rack and at 0440 she exited her tent. She decided hours ago not to bring up the issue of staying behind. The entire 100 person team was standing in two columns of fifty men each when she approached.
Mike casually commented, “I hope you were able to get some sleep.”
I came to the same conclusion as you did about two days into this mission,” Mike admitted, “I currently have two problems; first one is finding the entrance to the tunnel complex. I’m hoping you can help me with that. Have you ever fought underground, Sami?”
“No, I’ve never fought anywhere.”
“Things have to go perfectly because there are strategic options once you’re in a tunnel. It is straight forward, close quarters and usually hand to hand. Even when things go perfectly, good men still die. That’s the main reason that you’re here, I wanted as much Intel as I could get before I make the decision to go in.”
“I’ll do my best,” Sami promised.
“That’s all I ask of anyone in my unit.”
By the time the Bravo Scouts reached a mountain range that was 1000 meters away from the opening of the canyon, it was early the next day. High powered state of the art telescopes were set up along the ridge. Camouflaged tarps that perfectly color matched the terrain of the landscape were tied to metal stakes that were five feet in length and pounded into the rocky soil. In a matter of minutes, every man in Bravo Scouts was under the tarps and undetectable by the enemy.
Mike turned to the man next to him, “Joe, I want those scopes manned twenty fours.”
“Affirmative,” Joe answered.
The men of Bravo Scouts got situated as some extracted deflated air mattresses from their packs and blew them up and laid down. Others began preparing chow while a few card games started popping up along the vertical encampment. It may have looked casual, but every man remained ultra- vigilant especially those manning the six telescopes. Mike and Sami were in the middle of the group and leaned back against their packs. They barely said a word to each other even though they were less than a foot away from each other for the entire day.
When night came, Mike passed the word, “Switch half the scopes to NVD (Night Vision Devices that gather existing ambient light from starlight and moonlight to amplify images) and the other three to FLIR.” (Forward Looking InfraRed, a thermal energy detection technology used for recognizing distant objects in fog and in the dark.)
“If they’re not moving during the day then they’re doing it by night,” Sami stated.
“Let’s see if you’re right?” Mike smiled and pulled a laptop and entered an access code. The high tech telescopes had the additional capabilities of transmitting their images to the laptop and they were viewed on split screen or individually. “Ever work one of these?”
“Yeah,” Sami responded.
“Let me know if you see anything,” Mike said
Three hours after sunset, trucks and men began moving in and out of the canyon and Sami detected them on the laptop screen and nudged Mike who had his eyes closed, but wasn’t sleeping, “ I got something.”
Mike was alert and focused in less than a second and after viewing the thermal images, “Looks like you were right, good job.” then passed the word to his men, “We’re breaking camp,” and in less than 15 minutes the Bravo Scouts were already moving down the mountain slope using their night vision goggles to navigate in the darkness. They got within seventy five yards of the canyon then disappeared into the terrain with their skills of camouflage before the sun came up. It was another long day and the Bravo Scouts kept their movements to the minimum as the hours passed. When night fell, there was a sound of an engine starting that grew increasingly louder. Sami listened more closely, “What is that…a tank?”
“Sounds more like a piece of construction equipment,” Mike looked through his binoculars and saw a boulder being pushed away from the canyon wall.
Sami recorded the coordinates of the boulder and deduced, “They block the opening during the daylight to avoid detection then open it up at night to conduct business.”
“I guess we’d better go in while it’s open,” Mike said.
Sami made a move to follow, but Mike stopped her, “I appreciate your enthusiasm, but you’re not trained for this.”
The word was passed down the line and that half the men would follow Mike into the cave while the other half, including Sami would stay outside and provide cover. When the assault team got close to the cave entrance they eliminated four Taliban guards with precise headshots. Their weapons were fitted with special noise suppressors and each time they fired, the only sound emitted was a slight popping one, similar to the noise of opening carbonated beverage cans.
Mike led the way into the cave and was prepared to pull down his night vision goggles, but the cave was lit with generator power so he did not need them. Three Taliban fighters were sitting at a table. Mike killed them in quick succession and his men pulled the dead bodies into the shadows. Each member of the Bravo Scouts was a skilled marksman so every shot they took was a confirmed kill and twenty enemy fighters were killed in less than two minutes. Outside the cave the Scouts eliminated seven more Taliban including one that Sami shot through the heart.
Mike passed the word to his men to search the area. A few minutes passed before several men reported back, “Clear!” Mark was the last to return with his team and commented, “You’re going to want to see this.”
Mike followed Mark to a large open area that was filled with historical and religious artifacts; that included pottery, statues, paintings, scrolls and evidence of past civilization. “What the hell is all this?” Mark asked.
“Blood treasure that the Taliban stole from churches and museums.”
When the cave was deemed secure, Mike radioed for Sami to enter. When she saw the artifacts she walked over for closer examination, “I took a couple courses in archaeology back at the Academy and while I’m no expert, I’d say these items are worth millions, maybe even tens of millions.”
“We were ordered to destroy this sanctuary,” Mike reminded Sami.
“You can’t destroy these things, they are irreplaceable!” Sami protested.
Mike pondered the situation for a minute then called out, “Greg, find any vehicles that are still operable and load up these irreplaceable items. We don’t want to be culturally insensitive.”
“Roger that,” Greg answered then double-timed to complete his assigned mission.
“Eddie, you’re in charge of finding any Intel, go over every inch of this place. I want cell phones, computers and any paperwork, you know the drill.”
“I’m on it,” Eddie was gone in an instant.
By sunrise, six trucks were being loaded with the artifacts while other members of the Bravo Scouts set explosive charges inside the cave. Mike received a radio transmission, “We got company, looks like the whole damn Caliphate is headed our way.”
“How far?” Mike asked.
“About five clicks (one click equal 1000 meters) and closing fast,” The Lookout answered.
Mike turned to his men, “I want four men on each truck. The rest of us will stay behind and deal with the Taliban,” then turned to Sami, “There might not be a good option for you; if you go with the trucks, you could get ambushed along the road and if you stay here we might get overrun…it’s your call?”
Sami didn’t hesitate to respond, “I’m pretty good at calling in air support, I’ll stay.”
“Move out.” Mike ordered and the trucks raced out of the cave and when they got to the end of the canyon, they headed west, in the opposite direction from the large Taliban force that was approaching from the east. When they began receiving small arms fire, they immediately fired back.
Outside the cave Sami got a visual on the enemy and called in the coordinates for artillery and air support. She expertly adjusted the support fire for maximum destruction. Mike knew that escaping the same way they came in was no longer possible so he turned to two of his men, “There must be another way out of here, find it.”
There must have been 2,000 Taliban fighters racing to regain their mountain stronghold and stolen loot. American jets came in low and strafed the enemy as some of the Taliban broke off from the assault and pursued the escaping trucks. One of the Bravo Scouts in the last truck dropped a green smoke grenade to signal an A-10 Thunderbolt, affectionately known as the ‘Hawg’ or essentially called a ‘flying gun’ It came in low over the escaping Americans with its seven-barrel 30 mm Gatling gun blazing away at the enemy trucks while firing 65 rounds per second. By the time the A-10 pulled up, it had obliterated the vehicles.
Back at the cave, two Scouts found an escape route that was like a vertical chute with hand and footholds that led to the top of the mountain range. Mike sent his men up first with Sami then followed while firing back at the Taliban. He dropped two smoke grenades to obscure the view of his pursuers. When he reached the top, Sami was waiting to a give him a hand up. Mike didn’t notice that he had been shot in the right calf until he saw blood dripping on his boot. There was a five foot crevice over a two hundred foot drop that the rest of Bravo Scouts jumped over to continue on their escape. Sami was the next to make the leap then looked back at Mike who was limping. She held out her hand, “Do you trust me?”
“Affirmative,” Mike replied.
A Taliban fighter popped his head up and Sami shot him and he fell back down the chute. “You better hurry up.”
Mike tried to push off with one leg and barely made it to the other ledge and was hanging on with his fingertips. Sami grabbed his wrist to keep him from falling. Taliban fighters were starting to make it to the top and started firing in their direction.
“The detonator is in my pocket,” Mike grimaced, “Press it and let me go!”
“I can only follow part of that order,” Sami said and while holding Mike’s arm with one hand, she reached down with her other. When she felt the detonator she pressed the button and the charges went off; the cave and escape chute collapsed into a pile of rubble trapping the Taliban fighter and preventing their pursuit. Just as Sami lost her grip, she reached over at the last instant with her other hand and caught Mike. Luckily two Bravo Scouts returned to help because Sami had consumed all her physical strength and her grip was weakening. Together they were able to pull Mike over the ledge and save him from certain death.
Struggling to their feet, they stood across from each other on two small rock cropping’s as the sun broke through the clouds and illuminated their images against the sky. Their rides hovered overhead and five CH-53 Helicopters dropped ropes. Everybody hooked up and Sami connected to the same Carabiner as Mike and they were quickly lifted off the mountaintop.
Three days later, Mike was eating in the messhall at Camp Leatherneck with his crutches next to him when Sami walked over with her tray of food and sat down. Her right wrist was wrapped with an ace bandage and they ate for several minutes without speaking.
“How’s the leg?” Sami asked.
“That’s good to hear,” Sami replied.
“How’s the wrist?” Mike asked.
“We found valuable Intel about several individuals that were helping the Taliban sell ‘Blood Treasure’. We’ll be going after them.”
“Mind if I come along?” Sami asked
“Don’t mind at all,” Mike smiled.
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