UnlessYou’ve Got a Good Reason For Living
Thomas Calabrese — The day started off the same as any other one for Marine Sergeant Wesley Cole of First Reconnaissance Battalion. His internal alarm clock awakened him at 0430 and he walked over to the other side of the hooch and shook Corporal Ronald Gibbs and PFC Anthony Andretti’s cots, “Reveille, dogfaces.”
The three Marines put on shorts, t-shirts and laced up their boots and were outside in fifteen minutes. They had previously marked off a course through the sprawling firebase and three laps equaled four miles. After an exhausting run, they showered and went to chow. Sergeant Cole’s squad was scheduled to go out with Ninth Marines on a routine patrol at 0700 hours and they were already on their way to meet up with the infantry unit when First Sergeant Harrelson intercepted them.
“Hold on Sergeant Cole, got a change of orders.”
“What’s up Top?”
“They got a documentary film crew traveling through the province and the old man wants them to have extra security and you’re it.”
“News team travel with private security,” Sergeant Cole commented, “Even when they need help, they never use Recon.”
“Maybe he’s worried about the negative publicity if they get wasted in our sector and he wants the best to make sure that doesn’t happened,” First Sergeant Harrelson said, “That’s just my guess, but feel free to diddy-bop to the CP and express your opinion.”
“That’s alright, I’m good,” Cole responded, “For the record I’m more into sashaying than diddy-bopping.”
Megan Faulkner had been working on the documentary for almost two months and most of that time was spent being imbedded with combat units. It was rough and life threatening, but the film footage she had been able to obtain was well worth the risks. This last part would be the most precarious of all; she would be going into the most dangerous area in Afghanistan, the Barmal Valley to interview a unit that had sustained significantly high casualties during its deployment.
Lieutenant Darrin Tyler served two tours with the 82nd Airborne, one in Iraq and the other in Afghanistan and it was during his second tour that he became disillusioned with the bureaucratic quagmire after his platoon was nearly wiped out due to poor leadership and bad Intel. He was medically evacuated to Landstuhl Hospital where he received several surgeries for bullet and shrapnel wounds. He knew who was to blame, but when the official report came down, it had a completely different story. In fact the story was so politically motivated that the President was deceived into decorating certain high ranking officers for actions that never occurred. It not only dishonored the men who died on that day, but misled the American people.
After returning home to San Marcos, California Darrin brought his concerns to retired Marine Corps Colonel, Rocky Chavez, California Assemblyman who responded, “Let me check into it.”
His inquiries must have rattled some cages because it was only three days later when Darrin was visited by two men from the C.I.A. who warned him about the risks of pursuing the issue any further, “You’ve got the chance to move on with your life, why cause trouble, it’s too late to change anything now,” The man then added, “It can only turn out badly for you.”
After coming to terms with his rage and frustration, Darrin changed his outlook and applied for a job with a private security company and exhibited all the qualities they were looking for and when he went back to the Middle East it was with a completely different perspective. He was no longer a naïve individual who was unaware of the harsh realities of the world and war. Over the next three years Darrin basically became a hired gun who didn’t care who or what was right or wrong, he was only in it for the money now or so it seemed.
“You and your men will travel with the news team to Firebase Vulture then catch a chopper back here,” First Sergeant Harrelson said.
“Roger that,” Cole replied.
The five Humvees pulled out with Darrin Tyler and his team in the rear vehicle. Cole and his Marines were in the first and second Humvees and the news team was between them in the third and fourth vehicles. The journey was forty miles through rough terrain and Cole kept his head on a swivel. They were about halfway to their destination when he saw a glint about 500 meters ahead and radioed, “Hold up.”
The convoy stopped and everybody disembarked their vehicles. Darrin walked up to the front of the convoy, “What’s the problem?”
“I saw something at two o’clock,” Cole replied.
“Do you know what it was?”
“Negative,” Cole replied.
“I had an advance team scout the area two hours ago, they didn’t find anything.” Darrin said.
“I don’t know what to tell you, it might not be anything”
“We need to get to the Firebase before dark,” Darrin said.
“Roger that,” Cole answered, “I can’t tell you what to do with your team, but I don’t want to lead my men into an ambush.”
Megan Faulkner walked up. “Is there a problem?”
“This Marine thought he saw something.”
“I think it’s worth checking out.” Sergeant Cole said.
“What do you think, Mister Tyler?” Megan asked.
“I agree with Sergeant Cole,” Darrin quickly interjected, “We should scout the area.”
“I can radio back to my unit and see if they can launch a surveillance drone,” Cole offered.
“I was hired to protect Miss Faulkner,” Darrin interjected, “My team will go, but if something happens then make an immediate one eighty and get the hell out of here. Don’t be a hero, Sergeant.”
“Affirmative,” Cole answered.
Darrin waved to his team and they got back into their vehicle and headed west, planning to make a wide turn and come up from behind the area that Cole pointed out. Ten minutes later, a radio transmission came back, “It’s all clear, proceed ahead.”
Cole ordered one of the Humvees to move to the rear of the column and they moved out. When they reached the area in question, Darrin stepped out from behind a rock and waved them down.
Suddenly twenty five armed Taliban fighters and their leader, Akhtar Rasul appeared.
Cole got out of the Humvee as a dozen guns were aimed at him, “What the hell is going on?”
“The difference between you and me is that you still believe that you won’t be betrayed by your government. I no longer possess such unrealistic expectations; they were washed away by the blood of my fallen comrades on the battlefields of oblivion and hopelessness”
“I trusted you!” Megan screamed.
“I know,” Darrin replied. “That was my intention; you’re a well-known journalist, that’s why the Taliban is paying me 10 million dollars for you. As for the rest…have you ever heard the term collateral damage?
“What are they going to do with us?” Megan whispered to Cole.
“I’m not sure what they have planned for you, but I’m pretty sure they’re going to cut my head off and post the video on the internet,” Cole answered matter of factly.
The Marines and news crew were tied up and placed in the back of a large truck and the caravan moved out and traveled for two hours until it reached a group of buildings in the village of Shkin. The hostages were placed in one structure and kept under armed guard.
Darrin was in another building with Akhtar Rasul, “I got your reporter just like I promised.”
“I will execute all of them in the morning,” Akhtar Rasul said.
“I don’t want to tell you how to do your job, but why waste an opportunity like this.”
“What do you mean?”
“I know that you don’t like the stories that Faulkner has written about you, but you got her. Do an interview and get yourself some publicity, you can always kill her afterwards.”
Asktar Rasul thought about the suggestion for a few seconds, “You make a good point.”
“One more thing,” Darrin said.
“Our deal was for Faulkner, not the Marines, they’re mine.”
“Why is that?” Akhtar Rasul.
“They may come in handy later when I make my escape,” Darrin responded.
Rasul ordered Megan Faulkner to set up her camera and after a lengthy interview with the reporter, he ordered, “Do the editing and I want to see the finished product.”
Darrin and his armed team went to the other building to get Cole and his Marines. The pushed passed the Taliban guards, “We’ll take them,” Darrin growled.
When one terrorist refused to step aside, Darrin smashed his rifle butt into the man’s face and pushed him aside. Cole and his Marines were led in the distance until they were obscured from view by a hill and lined up for execution. Darrin and his men stood before them with their weapons at the ready, “Any last words?”
Cole smiled, “Shoot me first and make sure that you don’t miss, because if you do, I’m going to kill you.”
Darrin and his men fired their guns into the air then handed the Marines some weapons and ammunitions, “Head due east,” Darrin ordered and when they hesitated he strongly emphasized his point, “Move out!”
The Marines raced off and disappeared into the distance, but when they got 500 yards away, Cole stopped and turned to Corporal Walton, “I’m heading back.”
“What! Are you crazy?”
“Probably, I’m putting you in charge, I’ll see you later.”
Corporal Walton started to protest, but knew from past experiences the futility of arguing with Cole. He shook his head, “You are one crazy Marine.”
When he got within 50 yards of the buildings, Cole got on his stomach and began crawling to avoid detection.
After reviewing the interview tape, Rasul smiled, “I am pleased…it is a shame that you cannot record your execution.”
“Actually I can,” Megan replied, “I can operate it by remote and also put it on a timer.”
One of Darrin’s men was on his laptop and called out, “The money has been transferred.”
“Our business is concluded,” Darrin said. “We’ll be on our way.”
As the Americans turned to leave, they pulled out their weapons and shot Rasul’s men. The next thing the terrorist leader knew was that he was staring down the barrel of Darrin’s pistol.
When he heard the gunshots, Cole got up and took off at a full sprint toward the structures. He shot one of the guards standing near a vehicle then took cover behind some crates. He saw Darrin leading Rasul out of the building with a gun to his head with Megan Faulkner behind him. They were followed by the camera crew and Darrin’s men.
The rest of Rasul’s men didn’t know what to do, they couldn’t open fire without killing their leader, but Rasul also didn’t care about being shot as long as the Americans did not escape. He screamed out, “Kill them! Kill them!!”
Rasul’s men opened fire and Darrin and the others retreated back inside the building and took cover. Darrin turned to his men, “We knew we might have to fight our way out, so let’s give them a body count.”
Suddenly they heard firing from outside, “What’s going on?” Megan asked.
“I wish I knew,” Darrin and walked over to the door, opened it several inches, looked out and saw terrorist fighters going down.
“What is it?” Megan responded nervously.
“We’re about to find out,” Darrin answered.
There were several more exchanges of gunfire before a voice called out, All clear!”
Darrin slowly led everyone outside as he kept his assault rifle at the ready and saw dead bodies to the left and right of him, “Sergeant Cole!”
Cole stepped into his view and Darrin growled, “I told you, don’t be a hero and get out of here and you disobeyed both.”
Cole nonchalantly shot a wounded terrorist who was reaching for his weapon then calmly answered, “You’re not in my chain of command so I don’t take orders from you.”
Megan walked over and gave Cole a hug, “Good to see you, Sergeant.”
“Same here Ma’am.” Cole said then added, “I’ve got a pretty good idea of what’s going on, but there’s still a few blanks that I need you to fill in for me.”
Darrin took a deep breath, “Five years ago I was on a joint operation with the 82nd Airborne and 5th Marines to take out Rasul. I don’t know if somebody leaked the Intel of our mission or if it was just bad planning, but we were caught in the most murderous crossfire that you ever saw. Every guy, wounded or not who could hold a weapon was firing and when we ran out of ammunition, we fought hand to hand, with rocks and knives. The officer in charge of the Marines was wounded four times before he was captured, tortured and beheaded.”
Megan interjected, “That Marine was the son of your commanding general and my fiancé.”
“So you put together this scheme to get Rasul?” Cole assumed.
“We would have told you, but if things went south, we wanted you to have plausible deniability,” Darrin said. “This was an unsanctioned operation.”
“One more question, why was I picked in the first place?” Cole asked.
“Even though I wanted to go through with the plan, the General would not sign off unless he could send his best Marine,” Megan answered.
“So now you know, it’s up to you what you do with it,” Darrin said.
“My official report is; you were gone by the time I made it back here,” Cole continued, “I found Miss Faulkner and her team and escorted them back.”
Ten minutes later, Darrin put a noose over Rasul’s neck, then looped the other end over a beam and lifted the terrorist leader off the floor. While looking directly into his eyes, Darrin waited until Rasul stopped thrashing then released the rope. He left the murderous terrorist lying dead on the dusty floor and exited the building. Cole and Megan were waiting outside by the vehicles when he approached and softly said, “It’s over.”
Cole, Megan and her news team got into two Humvees and Darrin walked over to the driver’s side window and extended his hand in a sign of friendship and respect to the Marine, “I’ll look you up when you get out of the Corps, just in case you need a job… I can always use a good man.”
“But you’ll take me until one comes along,” Cole joked, “Stay safe out there.”
“You know what they say; Survival is overrated unless you’ve got a good reason for living.”