He Owned It
Thomas Calabrese — Top Tier or Tier One are black elements, which are national-level assets that comprise the highest-level of the Special Operations Force. The chain of command for these units bypasses traditional military bureaucracy. They are directed by heads of government/state, commanding generals, defense ministers or secretaries. These top tier operators include Delta Force, US Air Force 24th Special Tactics Squadron and the US Naval Special Warfare Development Group (NSWDG) commonly known as DEVGRU or Seal Team Six.
Clint Shepherd had been with Seal Team Six for five years after serving thirteen years with various teams around the world. He stood six foot one and weighed one hundred ninety pounds and was as physically conditioned as a man could possibly be. He had faced a variety of brutal conditions during his military career from sub-zero temperatures in the mountainous ranges of the Hindu Kush to the searing heat of the Sahara Desert. It wasn’t his physical attributes that set Clint Shepherd apart from ninety-nine point nine per cent of other men. It was his mindset; he refused to give up or accept defeat despite any overwhelming odds that he faced. The mission was always his top priority. Some people froze with fear when faced with life threatening situations, but not Clint, he didn’t walk, he sprinted into harm’s way without hesitation. He gave orders with supreme confidence, accepted responsibility when things went awry and diverted praise to his team members after every successful operation. He lived by the philosophy that his next mission was the only one that mattered to him. He did not rest on his laurels, but used his past experiences to become a better operator. Clint maintained the same extreme intensity and dedication to duty that he had from day one in training. He never took anything for granted and always led by example. Secretly he admired his team members who had families and when they weren’t on duty could go home to a normal life. He even envied a little bit those men that could date a variety of women while maintaining their emotional distance. Clint could not do either effectively; he was an operator, 24 hours a day, this was his curse and the country’s blessing. Clint specifically stated in his will that if he was killed, he wanted to be cremated and have his ashes scattered over the ocean. This way nobody would ever feel any obligation to visit his gravesite.
Foreign Service Officer Bradley Hunter was taken hostage while stationed in Mumbai, India. Terrorists took control of several government buildings and the Oberoi Mumbai Hotel and threatened to execute their captives if their demands weren’t met.
National Security Agency Director Jason Brennan was briefing Clint’s team, “You are under my command now and your orders are to rescue FSO Bradley Hunter. Intel is currently developing a plan and the next briefing is at 1600 hours”
“Copy that,” Clint replied and prepared to leave with his team.
“Hang back, Master Chief, I need to talk with you,” Director Brennan said.
Clint turned to his men, “I’ll catch up.”
After everyone had left the room, Director Brennan said, “For the record, I wanted Delta for this mission.”
“Good men, you wouldn’t go wrong using them,” Clint replied.
“They were pinned down by the weather and your team was closer,” Director Brennan grumbled, “I would have waited, but we don’t have the time.”
“And you’re telling me this for what reason?” Clint asked.
“I know your record, you like to freelance and take too many risks,” Director Brennan commented.
“This is a risky business.”
“I run a tight operation, you do exactly what I tell you to, nothing more, nothing less or there will be hell to pay,” Director Brennan threatened, “Do you understand?”
“Copy that, sir,” Clint replied, “Permission to be excused.”
Clint had been on enough operations to know something was going on behind the scenes for Brennan to get in his face. Top Tier Operators were given considerable flexibility to make decisions on their own if the situation warranted. He couldn’t worry about that now, he had a mission to do.
During the final briefing, Clint and his team were looking at satellite surveillance of the area. One of the photos showed four armed terrorists on the roof of the hotel. Director Brennan spoke, “The team will do a HALO (high altitude low opening) jump from 10,000 feet. You will open your chutes at 500 feet and while descending, you will neutralize the guards and enter the building.”
Chief Petty Officer Rob Tremaine laughed out loud, “Let’s see if I got this straight; you want us to do a night jump then land on top of a building and take out four targets as we’re coming down. Maybe we should bring a barbecue grill and cook hamburgers and hot dogs so that when we land, we can have a party.”
“That is why I didn’t want you guys, you’re already looking for excuses to fail,” Director Brennan snapped back.
Chief Petty Officer Tremaine started to reply, but Clint intervened, “It’s alright, we can handle it.”
When they got back to their area, Rob confronted Clint, “You’re not going along with that plan, are you?”
“Hell no, the guy is an idiot, but it isn’t going to do any good to argue with him.”
“So what is your plan?” Rob asked, “And I know you got one.”
“He’ll tell us how he wants it done and then we’ll do it our way,” Clint answered with a sly grin.
The Navy Seals parachuted out of the Lockheed C-130, but instead of landing on the hotel roof as they were ordered, they landed on the building next to it at 0400 hours. Chief Petty Officer Eric Hanna immediately pulled out the high powered grapple gun and fired a zipline that hit the wall just above the 26th floor window of the hotel. The Navy Seals secured the other end and pulled it taut.
Clint went over the plan, “My guess is they’ve got the main entrance and roof guarded and the other exits booby trapped. FSO Hunter is on the west side of the 27th floor. We make our way to his suite, eliminate the guards then get to the extraction point, any questions?” No one answered, then let’s get this done.”
Senior Chief Marty Beale, the team sniper set up his 300 Win Mag (M91A2) rifle to provide cover for the team. Clint was the first one to hook on to the zipline and go across. While dangling, he cut the window with a glass cutter, and pushed it in, then signaled for the rest of the team to follow. One by one the trained operators made their way to the hotel. Clint pulled out the infra-red heat detector and led the way down the hallway. When he picked up two images, he held up two fingers. He handed the detector to Chief Petty Officer Eric Hanna and peered around with his HK MP5N 9mm submachine gun. He fired two quick headshots and shut down the two men’s central nervous systems in an instant. The Navy Seals dragged the dead bodies into an empty hotel room and continued on their way. Clint looked out the window and saw a group of hotel guests on the patio below being held by more terrorists.
When they reached the hallway door of Foreign Service Officer Bradley Hunter, they determined from their thermal sensor device on how many terrorists were in the room and their exact locations. Clint gave the countdown from the number ten and when he reached zero, Chief Petty Officer Griffith blew the lock off the door with his sawed off shotgun and they burst in. Everyone instinctively knew which target was theirs and their aim was deadly and lightning fast. The Navy Seals untied FSO Hunter, “Time to check out,” Clint said.
They encountered three more terrorists in the hallway and quickly dispatched them. When they made it back to the zipline, they connected FSO Hunter to it and he was propelled across where Senior Chief Beale disconnected him from the device and put him behind a wall. The Navy Seals were engaged a vicious gunfight with terrorists who were rushing up from the lobby and down from the roof to assist their comrades. Where Eric Hanna hooked up, Clint ordered, “You’re in charge, get to the extraction point.”
“What about you?” Hanna asked.
“Once they find out we’ve got Hunter, there’s a good chance they’ll kill the rest of the hostages,” Clint replied, “I’m going to stop them.”
“That’s not part of the mission,” Hanna warned.
“Get going,” Clint ordered.
While Hanna was pulling himself across to the other side, Beale shot three terrorists with pinpoint accuracy that came into view. Clint made his way to the stairwell and walked down to the lobby while keeping his finger curled around the trigger of his weapon. He shot two men and engaged another one in hand to hand combat before throwing him down three flights of stairs. Once he got to the lobby, Clint saw seven very agitated terrorists screaming at each other and understood enough to know that it was about the loss of the American hostage. There was only one thing left for them to do now and that was to execute as many people as possible before they were killed. The hotel guests were crying and screaming for mercy as they shared a collective realization that death was only moments away. Just as the first terrorist raised his weapon, Clint stepped out of the doorway and fatally shot nine terrorists so quickly that it almost seemed that they fell at the same time.
Eighteen days later, Clint Shepherd was standing before an official board of inquiry. Judge Advocate Norman Reeves presided and was flanked by two men on each side of him, “You disobeyed orders and jeopardized the safety of the hostage and your own team. Do you have anything to say in your defense?”
“No, I’m good,” Clint replied.
“If you show remorse for your actions, the board might be inclined to be lenient.”
“I have no remorse and I’m not asking for leniency,” Clint responded with calm defiance.
“In that case, your clearance to operate as a Top Tier Operator is hereby revoked and we will recommend that you be removed from Special Operations.”
When Clint exited the room, Admiral Thomas Chandler approached Clint, “Sorry, that was more about me than it was you. Brennan and me have been at each other’s throats for a while now. I didn’t think that he would go after my best Top Tier Operator, but apparently I underestimated his vindictiveness. You’ve got about eighteen months until you make your twenty, I’ll get you a good assignment until that time comes. You’ve earned the right to take it easy.”
“Thanks, but no thanks; I was never in this for the money or the benefits. Hell, I never expected to live long enough to retire anyway. I did it because it was the right thing to do…at least for me it was. I’ve had the honor to serve with the finest fighting men in the world, so I’m completely content to have that be my last memories of my military career,” Clint walked off without waiting for a reply.
Admiral Chandler turned to his aide with determination etched upon his face, “If it’s the last thing that I ever do, I’m going to get justice for the Master Chief.”
Clint returned to Oceanside, California, found himself a small studio apartment by the Home Depot on Vista Way. He got a job as a construction laborer to pay the bills then joined several fitness centers that included a CrossFit and a mixed martial arts studio for recreation. Clint had spent so much of his life being focused on training and missions that he didn’t know what to do with free time and relaxation.
When he saw an advertisement in the local section of San Diego Union Tribune that the city of Oceanside was looking for qualified men and women to become police officers, he decided to apply. After going through the screening process, Clint began the 25 week police academy course and after the first week, he quickly realized that he needed to dial down his abilities to avoid bringing attention to himself. Clint had to make a constant effort at being average and for a man that was used to being the very best, that was not an easy task. He was an expert marksman with a variety of weapon and putting every round in the bulls-eye was second nature to him so he had to force himself to hit the target in just the right places to barely qualify. When the martial arts instructor showed him different moves and techniques, Clint pretended to be a novice.
After graduation, Clint reported to duty at the Oceanside Police Department. Captain Moyer was looking over his file as Clint stood motionless before him, “You passed all your courses, barely. From my initial observation, you seemed to be glaringly average”
“Yes sir,” Clint replied.
“Being an average police officer is a good way to get you and other people killed,” Captain Moyer commented.
“I’ll do my best to not make that happen, sir.”
“You were in the military for eighteen years, why didn’t you stay for your full twenty?” Captain Moyer.
“The time came for me to move on,” Clint answered.
“What was your job in the Navy?”
“I was a cook, just a lowly cook,” Clint replied.
“No transferable skills from Navy, average in the academy and you came close to getting your retirement, but decided to move on. You know what this tells me?”
“No sir,” Clint quickly responded.
“That I’ll need to keep my eye on you because you have not impressed me at all,” Captain Moyer shook his head in resignation, “You are on probation and my advice is this; impress me because you can be terminated at any time if you fail to measure up.”
Clint was told to wait in the Officer’s lounge so he sat patiently in the corner of the room. Sergeant Sasha Regan had been with Oceanside Police Department for 15 years, after majoring in criminal justice at Cal State, San Marcos. She was a highly qualified and dedicated police officer and was only three years younger that Clint, “Shepherd!”
“Yes ma’am, “Clint stood up to answer.
“Follow me, I’m your training officer.”
Sasha instructed Clint on what to check for before getting in their police cruiser, “Any questions?”
Sasha got behind the wheel and Clint got in the passenger’s seat. They drove around for twenty minutes before Sasha said, “We usually don’t get men your age from the armed forces as rookies unless they were in the military police. The captain told me that you were a cook.”
“A lowly cook,” Clint replied.
“Wouldn’t you rather have gotten a job in a restaurant?”
“I thought it was time for a career change,” Clint answered.
“And you picked police work,” Sasha shook her head, “I hope you stay alive long enough to regret your decision.”
Over the next two weeks, Clint listened to what Sasha told him, answered questions when asked, but basically kept his eyes open, his mouth shut and shared nothing about his life, past or present. Finally Sasha’s curiosity got the best of her, “Why don’t you tell me a little about yourself.”
“Nothing interesting to tell.”
“Let me be the judge of that,” Sasha replied.
“I joined the military after I graduated high school and when I got out, I applied for the police department.”
“What about family?” Sasha inquired.
“No, not really,” Clint said.
“What do you do for recreation when you’re off duty?”
Sasha pursued the issue, “You a sports fan…got a favorite team?”
“Not really… I’m more of a casual observer, in-between channel surfing.”
“What about movies…like those?”
“Some, a few, actually not that many,” Clint said.
Before the conversation could continue, they received a call over their radio, “Got a report of shots fired, 337 Camino Del Allegria.”
Sasha responded, “29 Delta, responding to call at 337 Camino Del Allegria.”
When they reached the location, both police officers heard gunshots coming from the house. Sasha ordered Clint, “Stay by the car, I’m going to look around back,” then drew her service revolver.
“Yes ma’am.” Clint calmly replied.
Sasha didn’t see anything behind the house and had just returned to the front of the residence to see a male shooter, holding a gun to the head of a panic stricken female hostage. The shooter screamed out instructions, We’re leaving, don’t try to stop me or I’ll kill her!”
Sasha was in a position to see everything, but knew if she came into view, she would be an easy target for the shooter and probably startle him into doing something stupid. Shepherd was on his own on this one and she could do nothing to help him. Clint slowly turned to the side to provide a smaller target, but when he didn’t move out of the way, the shooter fired a warning shot that missed Clint by several feet and shattered the window of the police vehicle. The former Navy Seal barely flinched.
“I won’t miss next time,” The shooter vowed.
“You probably will,” Clint answered.
The shooter slowly took aim at Clint and Sasha couldn’t shoot for fear of hitting the hostage. Her heart was pumping out of her chest in fear for her partner. Suddenly, in almost a blink of an eye, Clint drew his weapon and fired a shot. It barely grazed the ear of the hostage and killed the shooter instantly. Sasha stood there dumfounded for she had never seen such an amazing display of marksmanship in her life.
Clint calmly holstered his weapon as if nothing had happened, never realizing that Sasha had seen the whole thing. When he did see her, Clint calmly explained, “He came out the front door, I didn’t know what else to do.”
There was an official inquiry and it was determined that the use of deathly force was warranted. The shooter was a career felon with outstanding warrants and a history of violent and predatory behavior. Clint’s official statement was that he returned fire only after being shot at. He was returned to full duty and Sasha never mentioned what she saw, but had a completely different opinion of the middle aged rookie. She began to pick up little behavioral traits that led her to believe that there was much more to this man that she originally thought.
Two months passed and Clint had done everything that was asked of him while earning the respect of Sergeant Sasha Regan in the process. Just up the coast, The Norwegian Bliss left the Port of San Pedro for a seven day cruise of the Mexican Riviera. As the ship made its way south, a group of armed terrorists took control of the ship. They stopped the vessel dead in the water ten miles off the coast of Oceanside while waiting for a reply for their demands. A dozen Middle Eastern men had been apprehended crossing the border near Tijuana with bomb making materials in their possession and the terrorists aboard the ship wanted them released or they would begin executing the passengers.
First responders from over a dozen federal and state agencies were staged at the Oceanside Harbor when Clint and Sasha drove up. Clint recognized the Navy Seals, “Can you give me a few minutes, I see some people that I know.”
“Sure, I’ll wait here,” Sasha replied.
When Clint approached the Seals, they exchanged greetings, this is the first time that Sasha actually saw her rookie partner smile. Her curiosity got the best of her so she walked up to the group of men. When Clint saw her, he quickly introduced her, “This is my training officer, Sergeant Sasha Regan.”
The Navy Seals tried not to laugh. Sasha responded sarcastically, “Clint told me that he was a cook in the Navy. Are you cooks too?”
“No not us, Clint had unique culinary skills and you haven’t lived until you’ve tasted one of his omelets,” Chief Petty Officer Mason answered.
“He is a true eggbreaker,” Lieutenant Nathan Makin added.
Sasha pulled Clint aside and looked him directly in the eyes, “You don’t have to tell me what you did in the Navy, but for the record I know that you were no cook…lowly or otherwise.”
Before the conversation could continue a helicopter landed nearby and Admiral Chandler exited and walked over to where the Navy Seals and Clint were standing.
“Good to see you again, Clint,” Admiral Chandler extended his hand.
Clint shook it, “Same here,” Then introduced Sasha, “This is Sergeant Regan.”
“Nice to meet you Sergeant Regan. I’m Admiral Thomas Chandler.”
“Are you going to tell me that Mr. Shepherd is a cook too?” Sasha asked.
“Only if that’s what he told you,” Admiral Chandler smiled, “You don’t mind if I talk to Clint in private, it’s a matter of national security.”
“Sure, why not. I’m not doing anything important anyway,” Sasha walked off.
“Seems like a nice lady,” Admiral Chandler commented.
“Very nice,” Clint answered.
“I got a problem.”
“From what I hear, you’ve got an ocean liner that’s been taken over by terrorists,” Clint said.
“It’s a little more complicated than that, Julie is on that ship.”
“Your daughter Julie? Is the Julie that you’re talking about?” Clint asked.
“Affirmative, She is with three of her friends, they’re celebrating one of the girl’s birthday.”
“Have you told anyone?” Clint asked.
“Just you,” Admiral Chandler replied.
“Have you been in communication with her?”
“I gave her a special phone whose signal can’t be jammed to use in case of emergency,” Admiral Chandler responded then added, “This mission is being handled by someone else up the chain of command. I have no authority to order any military assets to neutralize the threat or affect a rescue.”
“How bad is it?” Clint asked.
“Julie told me that they already killed a lot of the crew. The passengers have been ordered to stay in their cabins or be shot.”
“I’ve always wanted to take a recreational cruise, this might just be my opportunity. Since I’m not in the Navy anymore, you wouldn’t have the authority to tell me to stay or to go. This would be entirely my decision and I would own it. The terrorists will be looking for a counter terrorism team to make an attempt to get on board so they’ll be ready to repel boarders, but one man might be able to slip in.”
Clint was meeting with the Navy Seals when Sasha walked over, “What’s going on?”
“I won’t be able to finish my shift,” Clint replied as he placed two Sig Sauer P220 pistols with noise suppressors, a dozen flashbang grenades, combat knife, binoculars and some miscellaneous equipment in a waterproof backpack.
“If you leave, you’ll probably get fired,” Sasha warned.
“You’ve already told me that I’d probably be better off working in a restaurant. I’ll take your advice”
“Are you going out to the ship?” Sasha asked.
“You’re going to need a ride, I’ve got a friend that has a high speed ocean motor boat docked at the harbor. I’m sure he would let us borrow it.”
As Clint and Sasha prepared to leave, Admiral Chandler approached, “I told Julie you were on your way. Her cabin in on the port side, look for a white sheet hanging over the balcony.”
“Copy that,” Clint replied
The boat slowly exited the harbor before Sasha pushed the throttle down and raced out to sea. When they got within a half mile of the cruise ship, Sasha slowed down and Clint pulled out the binoculars and scanned the port side for the sheet. Once he spotted it, he told Sasha, “Get within five hundred yards and I’ll drop off.”
Sasha got in position and raced by the cruise ship at 50 knots, Clint smiled, “Keep the ship in sight, I’ll signal you when I need to be picked up,” then fell out of the boat and disappeared under the surface and swam to the ship. Clint placed special suction cups on his hands and knees and began climbing up the hull of the ship. When he reached the balcony with the sheet on it, Clint climbed over it and Julie rushed over to embrace him. “Are you alright?” Clint asked.
“We’re fine,” Julie replied, “My dad says you’re the best, but there might be too many even for you.”
“I’ll just reduce the odds a little bit, how many is too many?”
“I saw fifteen on deck, but there could be more,” Julie warned.
Clint took off his wetsuit, slipped some casual clothing over his swimsuit and put on a pair of shoes. He took out the two pistols, checked the magazines and placed them in his waistband, one in back and one in front. He gently slipped the razor sharp combat knife into his pocket and slung the pack over his shoulder. Julie gave him a kiss on the cheek, “Be careful, I know this is what you do, but be careful anyway.”
Clint opened the door and looked up and down the hallway before exiting. Since he didn’t know how many terrorists were on ship, his plan was simple, kill them all or as many as he could find. He heard footsteps and pretended to be a drunken passenger. When the two armed terrorists got close, Clint pulled out his knife and stabbed both men in the heart, killing them instantly. He pulled their bodies out of site and continued topside. Three more men were standing guard at the entrance to the main dining room as a group of passengers huddled on the floor. Clint shot all three in the head and continued on his way. He needed to take control of the bridge so when he stabbed another man in the upper spine, he took his hat and vest and pretended to be one of the terrorists. Once he got to the door of bridge, he knocked while keeping his head down and face hidden from view. A terrorist opened the door and Clint shot him in the face and three others in quick succession. The Captain and his staff stared in shock and disbelief, “Call in and tell them, you’ve regained control of the ship. Do you know where there are more of them?” Clint asked.
“They sent three to the engine room,” Captain Harrison Wells answered.
Clint picked up the weapons from the dead terrorists and handed them to the crew, “Shoot anyone that tries to come in after I leave.”
Clint shot two terrorists in the hallway then made his way to the engine room where he tossed two stun grenades in to disorient the occupants. Quickly following the explosions, Clint entered and shot three terrorists before they could recover their senses and the crew resumed control of the engine room. He returned topside and waited until he saw the helicopter of first responders approaching. It was up to them now so Clint made his way below deck to Julie Chandler’s cabin. After a brief farewell Clint fired a flare off the balcony as a signal to Sasha, then jumped into the Pacific Ocean below.
Admiral Chandler kept his word and when Director Brennan was implicated in a high level corruption scheme and found guilty of undue influence concerning the inquiry of Master Chief Shepherd, Clint was recalled to active duty and reinstated to his previous position. Since it was a matter of national security, he still had the option to return to the Oceanside Police Department when his Navy career was over.
Clint had no regrets on how things turned out, the detour in his life plan was not without its unexpected rewards, and one was Sasha Regan who was sitting next to him as he enjoyed Sunday dinner with Admiral Chandler and his family in Coronado.
Clint Shepherd faced danger, adversity and accepted responsibility with the same level of tenacious determination and dedication. Why? you ask, because he was a Top Tier Operator and He Owned It.