Rattlesnake Flats Road
Thomas Calabrese — Kyle Masterson only seriously began to think about a career in the Marine Corps once he reached the eight year mark. If you had told him that he would have made it this far when he was a brash eighteen year boy who had just graduated from Vista High School, he would have said ‘No way’. He had no direction and no plans and if his family wasn’t selling their house because his father’s medical supply company was moving to Texas, he would probably still be working minimum wage jobs in the area. Rather than move to the Lone Star State, Kyle thought that by joining the Marines, it would give him time to figure out what he wanted to do. It was only supposed to be a stopover and not a destination.
Less than a year passed before Kyle realized that he had an aptitude for military life. He enjoyed the physicality of training and the regimented lifestyle gave him stability. Once he started receiving high performance marks and two meritorious promotions, Kyle requested a transfer from regular infantry to Reconnaissance. This is where he really began to excel and from there he applied and was accepted into the Fleet Anti-Terrorism Security Team. (FAST)
Kyle was currently deployed with the 5th Fleet in the Persian Gulf. The primary duties of his specialized unit was to respond to high risk situations and perform covert operations. The strike force had just returned from a tough mission in Somalia where they engaged members of the Al Shabaab Islamist terrorist group after they ambushed a detachment of United Nations peacekeepers. The unit sustained a dozen casualties, but the terrorists were neutralized and the United Nations personnel were rescued.
This was the unit’s fifth mission without a break so Centcom decided to give the Marines of Delta Company a much deserved rest. Once their ship docked at Juffairare, the Navy base located five miles southeast of Manama, the capital city of Bahrain, the Marines would be given twenty days leave. Kyle considered flying back to the states to visit his parents in Texas and friends in California but was convinced by Sergeant Bethanson to go somewhere else.
“Remember when we did that joint mission with the Greek 13th Special Operations Command six months ago?” Sergeant Bethanson asked.
“Yeah,” Kyle answered.
“I’ve been keeping in touch with one of the Greeks and he told me that he could get us a hell of a deal on a villa on the island of Mykonos. In case you don’t know, that is the number one island for partying. I e-mailed him and told him about us getting twenty days leave and he set things up with his uncle who operates a hotel. Now all we have to do is show up and enjoy ourselves.”
“I’ll need more details,” Kyle said.
“What’s the matter…don’t you trust me?”
“Sure I trust you, just give me the name of the place where we’re staying and how much it’s going to cost me, then I’ll give you my decision,” Kyle said.
Kyle Masterson, Clyde Bethanson, Chris Conley and and Brian Melley caught the 1760 mile flight from Manama Bahrain to Athens,Greece and were met by Alesandro Galanis, a member of the Greek military special forces unit, “How was your flight?”
“Good,” Clyde responded, “I think you know everybody.”
The Marines exchanged greetings with Alesandro and then headed to the port and boarded the ferry to Mykonos. They checked into the Avaton hotel located on Elia Beach and were shown to the plush surroundings of their villa with the panoramic view of the Aegean Sea. The Marines were thoroughly enjoying themselves and ten days into their vacation, they were sitting on the restaurant balcony of the hotel, having an early dinner as the sun set over the water.
“Well, what do you think, was it worth coming?” Clyde asked.
Brian sipped on his glass of ouzo, “Not bad.”
“Not bad…is that what you said?” Clyde snapped back, “When was the last time that you were ever in a place this nice, Mr. Understatement?”
Kyle noticed three men walking toward their table and their demeanor caught his attention. While everyone else was focused on their meals and socializing, these three individuals were more concerned with what was going on around them. They kept looking around and when they got to the far end of balcony, they went in different directions; this aroused Kyle’s suspicions. If that wasn’t enough, the three men had the same type of canvas bag hanging over their shoulders.
“What are you looking at?” Chris asked.
“Nothing,” Kyle responded as his eyes moved from man to man.
“What do think of this place, it’s more than not bad, isn’t it?” Clyde demanded.
Kyle had other things on his mind, “Yeah, yeah, it’s wonderful, you did a great job setting this up. You should have the Marines change your MOS to travel agent…satisfied?” then quickly got up from the table and walked off.
The three men nodded to each other and reached into their bags and started to pull out weapons, Kyle came up on one of them, twisted his neck and grabbed his weapon and shot the second man before he could fire. The patrons on the balcony panicked at the sound of gunfire and began running for safety. This allowed the third shooter time to draw his automatic pistol and begin firing. Kyle tried to take aim at him,but there were too many people running back and forth for him to get a clear unobstructed shot.
There was only one option left, Kyle ran at full speed and used as a table a springboard to catapult himself at the shooter. When he hit the man in the chest with his feet, they both went over the railing. The shooter absorbed the full impact of the fall when he landed on his back on the pavement below and was killed by the impact. Kyle was athletic enough to do a forward roll to minimize the force against his joints, but unfortunately he hit his head against a wall and was knocked unconscious. The injury was severe enough that Kyle had to be placed in a medically induced coma to minimize the swelling in his brain. When he was well enough to travel three weeks later, he was flown to Landstuhl Regional Medical Facility in Germany for surgery to remove a blood clot. Afterward he was sent to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center for rehabilitation.
While going through therapy, Kyle developed a friendship with Troy Kowalski, a physical therapist, who had graduated from the University of St. Augustine for Health Sciences in San Marcos. After several conversations Kyle decided that this would be a career that he could get into once he was medically discharged from the Marines. Kyle thought he could use his first hand experience as a patient and a combat veteran to help other men and women who were injured in the line of duty.
Kyle contacted Dennis Jarrett, a friend from high school and told him about his plan to return to California and attend school. Dennis had gone through a rough few years after high school. He was arrested for drunk driving and had a couple felonies on his record for dealing in stolen property. He served six months in jail, but once he got out, Dennis turned his life around. He began attending a support group and went to a vocational school to become a welder. He had a well paying job at a metal fabricating plant in Oceanside, had recently married and only had six weeks until he finished his probation. When he got the call from Kyle he was elated, “Hell yes, we got a one bedroom in Vista,but if you move back, we’ll get a two bedroom and we both can save some money.”
Kyle had almost completely recovered from his injuries, physically and was almost back to full strength and seldom had headaches or episodes of dizziness anymore. He was awarded a small disability pension and was eligible for educational benefits. By the time Kyle returned to California Dennis only had one week left until his probation was over and Kyle was due to start school in ten days. The two friends decided to go out and celebrate their good fortune.
“I know the bartender at O’Sullivan’s Irish Pub in Carlsbad. Why don’t we go have a couple cold ones?” Dennis asked.
“I’m not much of a drinker,” Kyle replied.
“Neither am I, that’s why I said a couple.”
It was a picture perfect Southern California evening, calm, clear and with just a slight Santa Ana breeze to keep everyone comfortable. Kyle and Dennis decided to sit outside on the patio and drink their beers. “If you had told me when we were in high school that I would have a steady job, a great wife and be this happy, I would have asked what you are smoking,” Dennis smiled.
“You’ve done well, I’m proud of you,” Kyle answered.
“You haven’t done so bad yourself,” Dennis lifted his bottle of beer to toast his friend.
Just about that time, there was a commotion coming from inside the pub. Several moments later, three couple came walking outside. One of the men was drunk and pulling hard on his wife’s arm.
“Ouch, you’re hurting me,” The woman yelped.
“Shut the hell up,” The man growled then yanked the woman into a table and she fell to the floor. Dennis rushed over to help her and told the man, “Take it easy.”
“Mind your damn business!” The man ordered Dennis then reached down to pull the woman up by her hair.
Dennis aggressively knocked the man’s away and the other two men moved in to help their friend as Kyle did the same for his friend. When the man threw a roundhouse punch, Dennis ducked under it then threw a punch of his own, his fist landed squarely on the man’s nose and blood gushed out. The man screamed out, “You broke my damn nose!”
The other two men decided to enter the fray, but a well directed punch by Kyle to one man’s solar plexus sent him to his knees gasping for air,then gave the other man an open handed head slap that disoriented him. Sirens could be heard in the distance so Kyle warned Dennis, “You’re on probation, you can’t be here.”
Dennis hesitated but he knew that Kyle was right so he left the drinking establishment. Kyle was arrested and when he went to trial, he chose to represent himself rather than use the money he saved for school and living expenses to pay for a lawyer. The man whose nose was broken was a wealthy businessman and he had a high priced attorney representing him. The woman who had been abused at the bar lied under oath, swearing that it was Kyle and Dennis that initiated the confrontation. She also emphasized in a very convincing fashion that she had a loving relationship with her fiance and he had never been violent or aggressive with her.
Judge Darren Sebastian asked Kyle, “What is the name of the man who was in the bar with you?”
“I just met him there, never got his name your honor,” Kyle lied.
“Is that your final answer?”
“Yes sir,” Kyle responded.
“You leave me no other choice then, Mr. Masterson,” Judge Sebastian, “If it wasn’t for your exemplary military record, I’d be much harsher in my sentencing. Six months at a detention facility to be determined.”
Kyle was assigned to the California Institution for Men, a male-only prison in the city of Chino, in San Bernardino California. As soon as he arrived , Kyle applied for the inmate firefighting program. The fact that Lt. Armando Garcia was a former Marine had a lot to do with Kyle being accepted. When he finished his required training, Kyle was assigned to Prado Conservation Camp #28 in Chino.
Prado Camp has a design capacity for 80 male minimum custody inmates and has four inmate fire crews. Kyle was assigned to Bravo Crew, which was kind of a coincidence, considering he was with Bravo Company when he was with the Marines. The fire crews can be dispatched to anywhere in the state as determined by CAL Fire.
On the first day of fighting the deadly Northern California wildfire that destroyed the city of Paradise, Kyle’s crew was setting a back burn to stop the blaze when erratic winds suddenly shifted and they were overrun by flames. The crew tried to escape by running down a steep ravine when they ran into a barbed wire fence. Several of the firefighters got entangled and Kyle worked feverishly to extricate them and they escaped just moments before being burned to death.
When they awakened the next morning, Bravo Team knew that today was going to be a bad one. It was very dry with humidity in the single digits and everything that could burn was potential fuel. By the time they reached Rattlesnake Flats Road at 0900 hours, the fire was consuming 7 square miles an hour. Driven by gusts up to 35 mph it marched 15 miles in 12 hours with spot fires blowing a mile ahead of the fire lines. Treetops were close together and heavy manzanita and oaks were ripe for burning.
As Kyle moved down the dirt road protecting homes, a 250 gallon propane tank exploded and three firefighters were injured by shrapnel and debris. He pulled them to a place where they could be taken to the medical aid station. Kyle then went back on the property with several other firefighters where they were met by three armed men, “No trespassing…we’ll fight our own fires!” The man leveled his gun at Kyle’s chest, “Get out!”
The other firefighters quickly backed away and Kyle responded, “No problem,” and started to follow his comrades when he heard the faint sound of a woman’s voice through the roar of a fire, “Help us…help us.”
When Kyle reached the road, he turned to his unit commander, “I think somebody is trapped in there.”
The commander looked at the massive fire around them, “That’s their problem, but if you go back in there, you’ll probably get burned to death or shot.”
“I know,” Kyle responded and ran back on the property.
“Come back here, Masterson!” The Commander yelled out.
When he came through the smoke, men with professional firefighting equipment were watering down a group of structures. This was the only safe place as flames flew overhead so Kyle hunkered down behind a truck and watched the five men. They were obviously committed in protecting their property so there must be something very valuable on the land worth dying for. When the major part of the fire passed, Kyle moved in for a closer look and heard the woman’s voice again. It was faint, but he determined that it was coming from a small building on the southwest part of the compound.
Kyle was able to get to the structure without being noticed and when he reached it, he saw that it was fortified with metal bars on the windows and a padlocked door.When he looked in the window, a head popped up, “Help us, we’ve been kidnapped.” Kyle saw two more women inside so he reassured the lady at the window, “I’ll be back for you.”
He was outnumbered five to one and his adversaries were armed and were willing to kill firefighters to keep them off their land. This would have been enough to deter a lesser man,but Kyle was a former Marine and the kind of man that routinely ran into harm’s way. When people were in danger he didn’t count the odds or consider the personal risk. While he didn’t have a firearm, he had his Pulaski Axe, hand tools and deadly combat skills. One thing that was in Kyle’s favor was that the thick smoke and debris obscured the visibility enough for him to move about without being noticed. He saw the five men enter a large metal building so he followed them and slipped through the open door without being noticed. Kyle was not an expert on drugs labs, but this sure looked similar to one that his unit raided in Mexico.The propane tanks had fittings that have turned blue, bags of pills and stacks of coffee filters were sitting on a table and there was a strong chemical odor that smelled like urine.
When a man walked by with a rifle slung over his shoulder, Kyle came up from behind and put him in a sleeper hold and exerted enough pressure so that the man was unconscious in less than nine seconds. Kyle took some rubber tubing from a large roll and cut two pieces off to secure the man’s ankles then rolled him over and tied his hands behind his back. Kyle picked up the 30.06 rifle and made sure it was loaded then checked the man’s pockets for additional ammo. He found a place by the door in preparation for a quick exit then called out, “Police! Put your hands up!”
The other men reacted instinctively by shooting toward the door,but they didn’t have a clear target and their bullets never got closer than a few feet to Kyle. He shot two men and as he ran out the door, then fired his remaining shots into a propane tank and dived for cover. Kyle waited until a series of explosions stopped before he picked himself off the ground and headed to the small house. He swung his axe with such force that he broke the padlock and the door sprung open. The three young girls were cowering in the corner, fearful of what awaited, until Kyle reassured them, “You are safe now.”
They rushed to embrace him and they walked down to Rattlesnake Flats Road where Kyle flagged down a passing CAL Fire truck. It was later determined that the men were operating a meth lab and had kidnapped the women over a period of time. The first one was kidnapped while pumping gas one evening three years ago, the second one was abducted 18 months ago as she left a convenience store and the third one was returning to UC Santa Barbara three months ago as she left a Carl’s Jr. restaurant.
When the story of the rescue was made public, the woman from the bar fight who testified against Kyle, recanted her testimony and said he did not start the fight. After the proper paperwork was filed, Kyle was released and his record was expunged. There was an unexpected windfall; the families of the abducted girls had started crowd funding pages and there was $600,000 in them, which was given to Kyle. Six months later, Kyle was enrolled at St. Augustine and was studying in his room when Dennis called out, “Somebody at the door to see you!”
When Kyle walked out, a tall athletic woman, wearing white slacks and a bright blue blouse was standing in the living room. She had long shimmering brown hair and distinctive green eyes. She smiled and Kyle was momentarily caught off guard as he stared at the stunning woman, “Can I help you?”
“You don’t remember me, do you?”
Kyle didn’t know how he could forget someone who looked like this, “You do look kind of familiar.”
“ I’ll give you a hint, Rattlesnake Flats Road,” The woman said.
“ You’re not.”
The woman nodded, “Kaitlyn Fuller, I clean up good.”
“That’s an understatement,” Kyle marveled, “How are you holding up?”
“I’ve got my good days and my bad days,but I’m hanging in there and taking it day by day.”
“More often than not, the emotional trauma is rougher than the physical injuries, but I’ve got faith that you’ll make it,” Kyle said.
“I wanted to thank you in person, may I buy you dinner?” Kaitlyn asked.
Kyle and Kaitlyn went to the Yellow Deli in downtown Vista for dinner where they talked for several hours, although it only seemed liked minutes to them. As time passed whenever Kaitlyn needed a friendly and encouraging voice, she called Kyle and he was always there for her. She eventually returned to U.C. Santa Barbara to finish her senior year, achieved All-American honors on the school volleyball team and was accepted to the master’s program. At the same time Kyle was putting the same dedication and hardwork into his studies as he did when he was in the Marines.
By the time Kyle and Kaitlyn finished their education, it was obvious to anyone who saw them together that they had fallen deeply in love. Some said that Kyle was destined to find Kaitlyn on that fiery day, while others simply called them soulmates. After their wedding , the couple went to Mykonos where the owners of the Avaton Hotel were happy and honored to welcome the former Marine and his bride back to the island. In gratitude for his selfless act of courage that saved so many lives years earlier, they gave the couple first class accommodations with every amenity they could hope for.
As they sat in their bridal villa, Kyle turned to Kaitlyn and thoughtfully presented his opinion with a sly grin and a tender embrace, “The path wasn’t smooth or straight but if they had told me beforehand that I would have to go through a raging inferno on Rattlesnake Flats Road then fight drug dealers to end up on a Greek Honeymoon with you; do you know what I would have told them?”
“What?” Kaitlyn asked.
“Sign me up!”