Sucker for the Simple
Thomas Calabrese –The Marine reconnaissance unit was based in Nangarhar, Afghanistan and over the past three years, there had been nowhere more dangerous for American troops deployed overseas. Nangarhar is one of the few places that Americans routinely accompany Afghan forces into battle. One-third of the 21 U.S. service members killed in combat last year died there, more than in any other single spot where troops were fighting in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Somalia and Niger. Gunnery Sergeant Luke Hauser had been in the Marine Corps for nineteen years, the last fourteen in special operations.
The orders came directly from Washington and when that happens, standard operating protocol is usually thrown out the window and it also means, accomplish the mission at any costs.
Senator Andrew Hall’s daughter, Brianne was a surgical nurse working with Doctors without Borders in war torn Syria when she was kidnapped by Taliban fighters. Three days later, the ransom demand was received; the Taliban wanted a prisoner exchange; they would trade Brianne for five of their high ranking captured leaders being held at a CIA detention center in Kuwait. In any other circumstance, there would be extensive planning, but not this time. The fact that Senator Hall was a close friend of President James Marshall only added expediency to the mission. The order was simple; get Brianne back.
The various rescue teams were evaluated; Delta Force, Navy Seals, Air Force Para Rescue and Marine Corps Reconnaissance. They were all extremely qualified, but former Marine Corps General and the current Secretary of Defense James Mattis had one particular man in mind. He had firsthand knowledge of Gunnery Sergeant Luke Hauser’s bravery and professionalism from when he served under his command and received the Navy Cross for heroism in 2011. “Mr. President, I recommend Gunnery Sergeant Hauser.”
President Marshal simply said, “Make it happen.”
“Yes, Mr. President.”
The Taliban wanted to make the exchange in Dera Ismail Khan, a city in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province, Pakistan. It is situated on the west bank of the Indus River, about 190 miles from the provincial capital of Peshawar. It was also a terrorist sanctuary where Taliban fighters would often escape after ambushing Americans in Afghanistan. Luke Hauser was very familiar with this area, having chased enemy fighters all the way to the border, only to be told to stand down.
Colonel Douglas Harvey was a bureaucrat at heart who came from a logistics background and it was just in his DNA to see himself as the top priority. He saw his involvement in this mission as an excellent opportunity to make a name for himself, which in turn would improve his promotion possibilities. Gunnery Sergeant Hauser on the other hand, was the wildcard in this scenario. He was the kind of Marine that should locked be away in a glass cage with the warning; only break in case of war. Colonel Harvey couldn’t help but admire the seasoned combat veteran’s simplistic approach, admire him or not, he was still expendable.
Senator Hall was a very powerful and influential senator and he would be extremely grateful to the Marine officer who commanded the rescue of his daughter. Promotion then retirement and a pay-off of a high six figure income with a defense contractor. Nobody could ever say that Douglas Harvey was short sided.
After the plans had been finalized, Colonel Harvey informed Hauser at the last minute about something that he had planned from the beginning, “I’m sending Afghans with you.”
“That would be a mistake sir, I’ve already picked my team, Gunny Hauser replied.”
Colonel Harvey retorted, “This is an excellent opportunity for us to show the world how well we work with our Afghan partners especially on a mission of this importance.”
“What is your priority, sir…getting the hostage back or publicity?”
“Just what are you saying?” Colonel Harvey demanded.
“I’m saying, why take the risk with people that we don’t know?” Gunnery Sergeant Hauser stated without hesitation.
“Your concern is duly noted, you were picked to carry out the mission and I was assigned to command it. Let’s stay in our own lanes, Gunnery Sergeant.”
“Roger that,” Gunnery Sergeant Hauser did a crisp about face and left Colonel Harvey’s office.
When he got back to his unit, Gunny Hauser notified his twenty person team, “Change of plans, Afghans are going with us.”
There was a collective sigh of disapproval. “What the hell!” grumbled Sergeant Henry Alphonso, “Whose idea was this?”
“Don’t tell us, we know,” Sergeant Chloe Cordova, the team’s interpreter added, “Harvey never met a photo op that he didn’t like.”
“Keep your heads on a swivel, if anything doesn’t look right, let me know,” Gunny Hauser ordered.
The team dropped the subject and focused on the task at hand. Four hours later, they rendezvoused with the Afghans and as soon as he saw them, Hauser felt something wasn’t right so he pulled Sergeant Cordova off to the side, “Listen for any chatter.”
“Got it,” Sergeant Cordova nodded.
A Ch-56 helicopter landed halfway between the exchange point and the American base and the five Taliban leaders were taken off. Hauser caught just enough of a look from the Afghan commander to the Taliban fighters to heighten his suspicions. They were only a thousand meters from the Pakistan border when Gunny Hauser walked over to Sergeants Magnuson and Perez, the sniper team, “When the Afghans aren’t looking, pull away and cover us.”
“I’ve been on enough missions with you to know when something is up,” Sergeant Perez smiled.
“The Afghan commander,” advised Gunny Hauser, “Keep him in your crosshairs during the exchange.”
Once they got to the designated area, everything was in the Taliban’s advantage. If you googled ambush in the dictionary, a photo of this area would pop up. The Americans would be in the open, coming up the trail and surrounded by canyon walls. Hauser called out for Sergeant Cordova!”
Sergeant Cordova walked up, “Yeah, Gunny.”
“Tell the Afghans to take the lead.”
Sergeant Cordova walked over to the Afghan commander and relayed the message and when she returned, Hauser surmised, “He doesn’t want to do it, does he?”
“He said that he was only ordered to provide security and they are going to stay behind us,” Sergeant Cordova responded.
“Taliban to the front, Afghans to the rear, clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right. Here we are stuck in the middle,” Hauser smiled.
“I like that song,” Sergeant Cordova responded.
“You know what the best thing about being surrounded is?”
“Didn’t know that there was anything,” Sergeant Cordova shrugged.
“You can shoot in any direction,” Hauser answered.
The Taliban appeared with Brianne Hall from behind a large boulder and the signal was given for the exchange. Brianne began walking toward the Americans’ position with two armed Taliban fighters on each side of her. Gunny Hauser and Sergeant Alphonso led the Taliban leaders toward them. When they got within ten feet of each other, both groups stopped and stared at each other, tension escalated to a point where it was so thick that you could cut it with a K-bar knife.
“Let’s move,” Hauser whispered and they moved slowly forward in measured steps. When he saw a Taliban fighter to his right, hidden among the rocks, he knew immediately that it was an ambush. He shot the fighter, killed the two guards before him, grabbed Brianne and pulled her to the ground. Sergeant Alphonso sprayed a burst of automatic fire then found cover. Three of the Taliban leaders were killed in the murderous exchange of gunfire and when the Afghans soldiers attempted to catch the Americans in a crossfire the Marines were ready for the attack. The sniper team took out the Afghan leader and when the shooting stopped, Hauser called out, “Check the area!”
Two minutes later, a Marine yelled, “Clear!”
Hauser helped Brianne to her feet and cut the restraints off her wrists, “You’re safe now.” The young woman was shaking and emotional so Hauser put a comforting arm around her shoulder and called out, “Sergeant Cordova! Come get Miss Hall.”
The good news was that the Senator’s daughter was safe, but the bad news was that the Afghan government was screaming for an investigation. The evidence was quickly fabricated to find a fall guy for what went wrong. The court martial was expedited and the verdict was severe; Hauser received a dishonorable discharge and a sentence of thirty years hard labor at Leavenworth Military Stockade.
Six months into his sentence, Hauser received a visitor with the message, “Mad Dog hasn’t forgotten about you.” (Mad Dog was the nickname of Secretary Of Defense James Mattis’)
Two years passed and Hauser was still incarcerated at the stockade and by this time he was assigned to the stockade fitness center. His duties varied from helping other prisoners with their exercises to ensuring that the facilities clean and organized. It wasn’t unusual to see Hauser meticulously doing janitorial chores even though the younger prisoners were assigned these duties. A newly assigned guard questioned, “Hauser, you’re not required to clean up.”
Hauser continued cleaning the floor, “It is not the task that you’re assigned to, it is the quality of the work that you perform.”
The guard thought for a second then realized, “Right.”
Hauser won the heavyweight mixed martial arts championship of the stockade and could have had some additional privileges, but declined them. He was the kind of man who just wanted to do his job and be left alone, but every now and then a few hardcases would make a foolish decision to test Hauser.
While returning to his cell one evening, three men confronted Hauser in the hallway and he responded, “Excuse me, gentlemen,” and when he tried to walk around them, they blocked his path so he repeated, “Excuse me, gentlemen.”
“You don’t look so tough to me,” The biggest of the three snarled, “You think that you can take me? That’s very disrespectful.”
“I have not wasted my time thinking about that possibility, but what I have thought about is what happens if you don’t step aside.”
The man took one step backward, “Be my guest,” When Hauser was one step passed him,he attempted to sucker punch him in the back of the head.
The former Marine instinctively ducked under the fist, then slammed the heel of his hand into the man’s forehead then snapped a vicious left hook to the man’s jaw and he fell unconscious to the floor. Hauser did a leg sweep the second man then punched the third prisoner in the side and broke two of his ribs.
The man grimaced and fell to his knees. “Courtesy is given, respect is earned,” Hauser walked on as if nothing had happened. “Will you let me pass now?”
Secretary of Defense James Mattis set the envelope on President Marshall’s desk, “This is my resignation, Mr. President, effectively immediately.”
President James Marshall was shocked, “This is unexpected, something wrong?”
“I’ve already told you that I wanted a full Presidential Pardon for Gunnery Sergeant Hauser. It has been almost three years now and every day that this American is behind bars is an insult to the Marine Corps, the country and me.”
“A lot of people are pushing hard about keeping him in,” President Marshall shook his head.
“Those are the swamp dwellers, since when did you start listening to them?”
“Now is not the time,” President Marshall replied, “Give me a couple months…promise.”
“Sign this pardon now and tell everyone it was based on my recommendation. I’ll take the heat and deal with the press, no matter how negative they get,” Secretary Of State Mattis vowed, “We have a lot of important things going on right now and if you want me to stay around to help finish them, then you need to let Hauser out…otherwise I’m gone.”
“It is that important to you?” President Marshall asked.
“I talked to the men and the woman on that mission and they all agree that they wouldn’t be alive today if it wasn’t for Gunnery Sergeant Hauser. The Afghans were going to ambush our people. Marines protect Marines…that’s what we do.”
James Marshall knew he was on the losing side of this argument, “Tell them to get the paperwork ready and I’ll sign it.”
Secretary of State Mattis handed a large envelope to the President, “It’s ready, sir.”
The pardon was expedited and Luke Hauser was returned to his previous rank of Gunnery Sergeant, received back pay and his pension by May 15th of that year. He bought a Toyota Tacoma four wheel drive pick-up from a local dealer, and then adopted a badly scarred Pitador dog (half Pitbull half Labrador) from the Fort Leavenworth Army base animal shelter. He got on the road and headed north with no destination in mind and to get away from the media. He stopped for gas at a truck stop in Pine Bluff, Wyoming in the early evening then pulled his truck off to the side and let his dog Henry out to get some exercise after the long drive.
While sitting on the tailgate and casually watching Henry chase a rabbit in an open field, 20 motorcycles pulled up next to him. The rider closest to Luke gunned his engine several times to get a reaction and when he didn’t get one, “You deaf or something?”
Luke continued watching Henry as he ran back to the truck, “Two bikers jumped in front of Henry to scare him and he bared his fangs and growled. When one of the bikers pulled out a knife, Luke stepped in between his dog and the man, “Easy Henry, I got this.”
The biker was momentarily confused as he brandished the hunting knife, but saw no hint of fear in the man before him. Seeing that his friends were waiting for him to do something, the biker reacted out of pride rather than common sense and lunged forward. Luke easily disarmed his assailant, spun him around and choked him out in a few seconds. The limp body fell to the ground and when another man reached for his weapon, Luke threw the knife and hit the wooden sign two inches from his head.
The biker nervously called out, “You don’t think you can take us all?”
“Won’t know until I try,” Luke said simply.
A big man with blonde hair down to his shoulders and an airborne tattoo on his forearm stepped forward, “Stand down! We’ve just had the honor of dealing with a veteran. I was with the 82nd.”
“Serving in the military doesn’t give you a free pass for the rest of your life,” Luke reminded the man, “Is harassing people you come across on the road your idea of honorable behavior?”
The man reacted defensively, “You don’t know what I’ve been through!” then launched into a tirade of profanities and when he was finished, he was equally embarrassed and exhausted.
“You ever hear of the ‘Three V Rule’?” Luke asked.
“Vulgarity, Violence and Victimization; never break the Three V Rule because I have no patience, sympathy or mercy for those that do. No matter how things turn out, you’ve already lost when you start screaming obscenities, threatening me and playing the victim card.”
“Like my friend said, you can’t take us all,” Blonde Man warned.
“Don’t need to take you all, I’ll be happy with you and a few others,” Luke answered.
The blonde haired man may have had his personal issues, but one thing that was still working well was his self-preservation instincts, “Take care,” then mounted his Harley Davidson and rode out, followed by the other bikers.
Luke opened the door to his vehicle and Henry jumped in, “We live to fight another day.”
When retired General Douglas Harvey found out that Luke Hauser was pardoned by the President, he was caught totally by surprise, then realized that he couldn’t take the chance of him going public about what really happened. He had a built his reputation off that mission and needed to protect at any costs. There was only one way to deal with this situation so he wasted little time making the appropriate arrangements.
When he was 40 miles outside East Yellowstone, Wyoming Luke noticed a car in his rearview mirror racing toward him. He barely recognized the SLR McLaren Mercedes as it zoomed passed him at 170 mph. Five miles ahead; the car was smoking and pulled off to the side.
Luke pulled over to offer his assistance and noticed an attractive woman in cowboy boots, faded jeans, blue denim shirt and black cowboy hat staring down at the engine. He walked over with Henry by his side, “Need help?”
The woman barely looked up and curtly replied, “I got it covered.”
Luke did not respond and began walking back to his truck.
“Hey! Wait a minute, are you going to just leave me out here?”
Luke looked at the 1 million dollar car and noticed the Double Bar W ranch emblem on the right corner of the windshield, “You got it covered and I’m not push the issue.”
“Give me a second,” the women reached into her car and took her purse. She dialed a number on her phone, “My car is broken down on Route 46, mile marker 35, send someone to pick it up.”
The woman got in the truck and Henry sat between her and Luke. “Aren’t you going to ask me where I’m going?”
“You saw which way my truck was pointed when you got in,” Luke answered.
“My name is Jess Warner.”
“Luke Hauser and this guy,” patted his dog’s head, “is Henry.”
“Unless I find a reason to stop,” Luke said simply.
“Where are you from?” Jess asked
“Somewhere better left forgotten.”
As Jess looked ahead, she saw a group of men and numerous vehicles parked on both sides of the road, “Aw hell.”
“The Bureau of Land Management has been confiscating land from the ranchers under some eminent domain law ,” Jess said, “It is an old fashion land grab and some of the ranchers are not taking it well.”
A moment later, hell breaks loose as gunfire fills the countryside.
Fifteen minutes later, paramedics arrived to care for the wounded and right behind them was Ben Warner, a white haired gentleman and his son, Kyle, who was in his early twenties. They went over to Jess and she introduced them as her father and brother.
“Are you alright?” Ben asked.
“I’m fine, this is Luke Hauser, he gave me a ride when I broke down,” Jess answered.
“Broke down or blew another engine, my sister was born with a lead foot,” Kyle joked.
“Thanks for helping out my daughter,” Ben said, “I owe you.”
“Right place, right time, glad to help out,” Luke replied. “ It happen, no debt owed.”
“It’s a good thing that you didn’t drive into the middle of this,” Kyle commented, “I’m going to see if any of our guys got hurt, nice to meet you, Luke.”
“Same here,” Luke answered, “I should be moving on.”
“Join us for dinner, you haven’t lived until you’ve had a freshly cooked Wyoming meal,” Jess offered.
Ben liked the way this stranger handled himself so he seconded the invitation, “You won’t regret it.”
“Thank you,” Luke answered.
“I’ll ride with Luke, show him the way to the ranch,” Jess offered.
As they walked back to his truck Luke had no way of knowing that a newspaper photographer caught a very good picture of him in front of the bullet ridden Bureau of Land Management truck.
The Warner Ranch was on 240,000 acres and had been in the family since the early 1900’s. The main house was a custom made log mansion with a river in front and rolling hills behind it. The family ran Angus, Hereford and Shorthorn cattle as well as one of the largest bison herds in Montana.
The meal consisted of the freshly caught rainbow trout, bison and all the trimming with a pineapple upside down cake with homemade ice cream for desert. They ate on the front porch, only feet from the swift moving river.
“We catch trout from our front porch,” Ben said, “can’t get fresher than that.”
“That was truly an excellent meal, thank you” Luke answered.
Luke and Jess were sitting outside and making casual conversation when Ben said, “I was wondering if I could talk with you for few minutes, Luke?”
Luke followed Ben into his private office who offered, “Have a seat.”
Luke sat in the high backed leather chair and while Ben got comfortable behind his desk. Luke noticed the Marine memorabilia and Vietnam era photos hanging on the walls.
“I’m in trouble and I could use a man like you,” Ben confessed.
“A man like me?” Luke responded.
“My older brother served three tours in Vietnam as a helicopter pilot then stayed in the Marines until he was killed in a crash at Camp Pendleton in 1984. I’ve been running the ranch since my dad passed away in 1996 and I lost my wife who died six years ago. I’ve got good ranch skills, but lately things have been escalating and while my men are tough and hard, they’re not trained for this kind of thing. How would you like a job as Chief of Security for the Double W?” Ben explained.
“Once again, why me?”
“You have the same look in your eyes that my brother had; steady, unwavering and ready to go into harm’s way while constantly making the effort to downplay his special set of skills. If I’m wrong about you then tell me right now. I’ll apologize for my error and we’ll go have another slice of cake and forget that this converation ever happened. ”
Luke saw no reason to lie to a man who was playing it straight with him, “You’re not wrong.”
Douglas Harvey was sitting in his opulent office in Washington DC when his female assistant brought the USA newspaper and set it on the desk, “I don’t have time to read the paper!” Douglas Harvey snapped.
“Look at the photo on front, especially with the man who is circled in red,” The assistant suggested.
Douglas Harvey picked up the newspaper and stared at the photo, “That’s Hauser!”
“Find out what’s going on with him!”
“Already started,” The assistant replied.
Luke wasted no time hitting the ground running and while he might not have been an expert in ranching, he definitely knew how to secure a perimeter. The ranch was too large to patrol by horse or vehicle so Luke and the ranch pilot did it by helicopter.
Three days later, Douglas Harvey received a detailed report about Luke Hauser and his mind immediately saw a way to kills two birds with one stone. He met with equally corrupt individuals from the Bureau of Land Management, a lobbyist firm and a government contractor whose goal was to build a multi- million dollar NSA secret facility in the East Yellowstone area, “Ben Warner is your main opponent in this fight and without his opposition, the other ranchers won’t have the guts to stand on their own, what would it be worth to you if I could facilitate that?”
Luke noticed the men while he was in town with Ben and Kyle and his instincts shifted into hypervigilance. He had seen variations of them in combat locations around the world, the good ones followed rules and regulations and had a code of honor, but a few were hardcore mercenaries that would go anywhere and do anything for a price. These men fell into the second category.
It was night and the clouds obscured all but a few stars. The three all- terrain vehicles stopped at the Warner northern fence where the bison herd was located. One of the men stepped out to cut the strands of barb wire when several lights brightly illuminated the area. A burst of well- placed automatic gunfire was a deadly warning to the men that they were on dangerous ground and on borrowed time. “Good evening,” Luke said as he stepped into the open while holding 9mm submachine guns in each hand.
Douglas Harvey pulled into the garage of his three million dollar townhouse in suburban Washington DC and walked into the kitchen. He poured himself a glass of expensive wine and went into the living room, turned on the big screen television and plopped down on the couch. He pulled out his cellphone and checked to see if there were any messages about Hauser and Warner. When there wasn’t, Harvey dialed an escort service, “My usual…I’ll be expecting them in two hours. I want to finish watching the game first.”
Right about then, Douglas Harvey sensed he wasn’t alone so he turned on the lamp and saw Luke Hauser sitting calmly in the corner. He instinctively launched into a profanity laced tirade then realized that he had better change his strategy. “They’ll know it was you if you do anything to me. I’ve got a lot of friends, they’ll come after you. “It hasn’t been that easy for me either. You must think that I double crossed you, but it’s a lot more complicated than you can ever imagine when you’re at my level of leadership. We have to do what we have to do, you know that.”
Luke stood up, “I’ve always been a sucker for the simple. There is no doubt that you’ve had a tough life, Colonel. You can rest now, you’ve finally reached the end of it.”
The last thing that went through Douglas Harvey’s mind was how seriously fatal an error it was to break Gunnery Sergeant Luke Hauser’s Three V Rule.