If Diane heard the reference to "Boots on the Ground" one more time she was going to spit as hard as she could but being careful that it wasn't into the wind and she got it right back in her face.
It was bad enough that she got hit with the assignment to the training component heading into harm's way up in Northern Iraq but she was also told to keep a "low profile" and not broadcast it to one and all. Of course, her mom knew she was heading out of country but she didn't know it was to a combat Zone. At least she was able to tell her aging grandfather all about her new job in the long range reconnaissance unit that was tasked to guide in the all-important air strikes on the rapidly moving enemy. Her job would be to help train the local militia units in correct procedures for fighting a war of attrition against a cunning foe.
Diane assumed it was the fact she was number one in the fitness testing they conducted at the West Coast training camp that pushed her into the dismaying job of being an actual pair of "Boots on the Ground". Just when the American public was being promised that such a mission would never happen again in the Middle East after a nasty decade war of vicious fighting and mounting losses.
Her grandfather impressed on her the two rules that helped him make it through four decades of military service as an enlisted man. The first one he proposed to help her survive her stint in service was "Never volunteer for anything no matter how much you want to." The other one was "Never talk to or involve an officer in enlisted personnel problems under any circumstances." She thought his rules were both strange and funny sounding because that was not the way she generally thought about things.
She was under the armored car fixing a leaking line when a pair of shiny boots kicked her in her ankle and she heard a definite local accented voice ask,
"May I have directions to the tent of the Commanding Officer?"
It pissed her off no end because she was certain even without seeing him that the raghead was most likely an officer because the local enlisted folks didn't give a shit about how their footgear looked unless they were in a parade. Of course, they hadn't been having too many parades lately unless it was to line up and get out of Dodge fast enough to avoid the Islamic Terrorists who took no names and didn't take many prisoners.
She scooted out from under the well-maintained vehicle and gave an intentionally sloppy salute to a young officer with shock on his face that he was actually talking to a foreign female wearing an honored military uniform. It went against his entire way of life and was counter to his culture that insisted all women belonged in the home wearing clothing that covered everything except their eyes so they could see where they were going. She could tell that this guy had never met a female that could drive a motor car much less actually get down on her back in the dirt and the dust and fix it when it broke down.
There was no doubt in her mind that the young untrained militiamen would fail to listen to a word she said in the training classes because they had all been indoctrinated from birth to consider any advice from a female to be grossly impertinent and unwelcome to manly ears. Some of the "old hands" of desert fighting had tried to explain the cultural differences to the team trainers back at the training camp but it just fell on deaf ears. Obviously the need to show that women were equal to males on the battlefield had paramount importance for some of the civilian policy wonks in the Pentagon. The obscure political reasons had more to do with voting patterns and had no relationship to military fact or just good common sense.
One thing that Diane knew for sure was that it didn't make any difference to her because she was already a set of boots on the ground and when the shooting started those slugs didn't care what her gender was when she was lined up as a target.
"Yes, sir, the Commanding Officer's tent is the last one on the right. Don't go past that barbed wire marker because that edge is mined with "bouncing Betties" and they will cut your balls off quicker than you can say your prayers."
The young officer was confused because she was speaking fast and he wasn't quite sure if she was being polite and helpful or disrespectful and sarcastic. He decided to leave it rest because of the translation problem and just moved briskly to the tent at the end of the row.
Diane got back down on the wooden sled and got back underneath to finish the job.
They had told her in the training camp that there were only a half dozen females in the contingent of some two hundred "trainers" to help the militia fight off the Jihadists invading their country. It was difficult for her to tell the difference from one group to the other because they all wore beards and tended to treat her like she was a slut for not wearing a burka and a veil over her face. The entire group was on high alert for the possibility of some turncoats in the militia who were just itching to blow away some Americans whilst on their quick route to paradise and claiming their allotment of 72 virgins. At least she thought it was 72, the number seemed to be changing every time someone told that story.
She had managed to make it a well-kept secret that she was technically still a virgin despite her amazing figure and natural good looks.
Her grandfather knew and her mother hoped it was true but really didn't think it was possible. She knew that the rest of her friends and relatives all assumed she was getting it regular from the many dates and boyfriends that pestered her non-stop for closer contact.
One of the things they had told her in the training camp was that if she got captured to do her best not to aggravate the enemy and to cooperate up to the point of just short of actually revealing vital classified information. They told her that since she was a female about all she could do was to delay giving up such information right up until she was reasonably certain it would be of no value to the enemy.
That made a lot of sense to her and she had initially thought it was because they would use the threat of rape to make her talk. It was surprising to her that the instructor just told her point blank that she was going to get raped if she cooperated or not, it was just a matter of how often and how many of them decided to use her. She always got a little nervous when they used the "R" word in training because she felt the male instructors were all looking at her in particular.
Needless to say, that was not overly reassuring and she wondered why they had decided to include a handful of females in this risky assignment fighting an enemy that seemed almost invincible and that were reputed to be ruthless in their treatment of prisoners.
The first sergeant had been unusually kind to her when she joined the unit and she was immediately suspicious because her gut reaction was that he was looking for something in return. When he entered her tent that first night she knew right away he was looking for a bunk buddy with an ability to keep her mouth shut but it was just not in line with her self-esteem and her principles of right and wrong. She had been putting him off with excuses of poor health but she was certain that he sensed her reluctance and was willing to play her game and not make an issue of it without knowing the lay of the land. That was good news for her because none of the male officers were interested in throwing away their career just to get a piece of ass in a combat zone and they were circumspect in their interactions with her. In fact, she was promoted to corporal shortly after arriving at the new base and it didn't cause any jealousy with the others because she minded her own business and everyone generally knew she wasn't giving it out to anyone in the unit.
The patrols ran out of the main guard shack every night just after sunset when it was difficult for the outside watchers to see exactly who was leaving the base and how many of them were in the group. The patrols usually split up into four person cells with each one heading to a different quarter of the compass to give them a heads up if something was brewing in the night. They had been lucky so far but that was because the enemy was biding their time hoping that the more numerous local militia would tire of the field work and eventually go on leave and never return because it was far too dangerous in that isolated region.
That had been the same cycle of desertion that had plagued the local commands ever since the war had begun and it was not likely to change just because the enemy was more adept at evolving into an effective fighting force. In the early years, the sheer weight of numbers gave the foreign coalition the edge but now with the decree from above that "Boots on the Ground" was not the answer because of internal American politics, the strength of numbers was generally on the side of the enemy and there was little they could do about it.
She hid her fright about being captured and just did her job hoping that they might get reinforcements from some other coalition forces before very long. Diane didn't have much confidence in the staying power of the militias because they just didn't have that sense of country and religion that the enemy had in great abundance.
Some of the enlisted militia told her that they were basically farmers from out in the country and had never been interested in politics or anything to do with the government but the recruiters came to their villages and towns and told them that it was essential for them to fight off the dangers from the outside interlopers who wanted to take over their country for their own profit. Diane had no doubt that was fairly close to the truth but it was not her job to indoctrinate or to preach the wisdom of the central government. In fact, she was doubtful that the central government had any clue on how to rid themselves of the horrible curse that was slowly stealing their country away from them.
Her patrol was hunkered down in a gully or wadi to the north and they just sat there looking at each other trying to hear the sound of anything that seemed out of place in the dark. The moon was only a sliver and there was not much light. To make matters worse, banks of clouds ran across the sky obscuring even that meager ray of moonlight from the blackness of the night.
The all heard the clicking sound at the same time.
None of them seemed to recognize the sound and that is what worried the leader enough that he made an emergency transmission back to patrol control to report an unusual set of circumstances. The message was relayed to the operations tent and the runner waited while the sergeant decided it was not important enough to even wake up and inform the Captain that one of the patrols was encountering an anomaly in the northern sector. That was a mistake and what happened afterward could have been avoided just by sending up some flares to highlight the terrain around the patrol hideout spot.
The quick take-over of the small depression in the ground was accomplished in a matter of less than a minute and certainly not enough time for anyone to warn the headquarters of their impending capture. They were all trussed up like Thanksgiving turkeys and frog marched across the desert to the relative safety of the foothills in the distance away from the militia encampment at the crossroads. Diane had the suspicion that some of the militia was in on the ambush but they just melted away into the darkness and left their weapons behind to evade accusations of working for the central government if they returned to an area that was in mixed control.