Company clerk Corporal Sparks stuck his head through Captain Barnes' office door and said proudly, "I found him, Captain."
First Sergeant John R Daniels entered and stepped around the corporal. "I didn't know I was lost, sir. What's up?" He grinned as he approached the captain's desk.
"You know any reason why Senator Creel would personally request you, of all people, to lead a two car victory parade into a newly tamed town? Since when have you been on friendly terms with any politician, especially that one?"
"Say what?" Daniels looked at the captain in squint-eyed disbelief. "What would that clown want with me? My people are an assault team, not lace panty baby sitters for that piece of shit I can't stand."
"That will be enough of that, Sergeant," a voice barked from the doorway behind Sergeant Daniels. Major Delmar Randall shoved his way into the small office. "Senator Creel and the president are the staunchest of friends. You should be thankful you'll have a chance to observe greatness in action."
"Begging the major's pardon, sir, but my private remarks weren't meant to be disrespectful of the senator, but rather highly contemptuous. I will be more than happy to answer any charges the Major may wish to bring against me, sir."
The major's face became a mottled study of red on white as he suppressed his anger and struggled to control his temper in front of witnesses. The major bit off his angry retort. "You will meet the senator when his plane lands. You and your men are ordered to escort the senator where he wishes to go and when he wishes to go. That is a direct order, Sergeant." The major, well aware he would be on the losing end of a face down with the intractable sergeant, turned heel and beat a hasty retreat.
First Sergeant Daniels turned back to his company commander. "Captain, this stinks to high heaven. We're scheduled to raid that Tally hideout up in the hills and put paid to..." He got no further.
Captain Darrell Barnes interrupted, "Follow all legal direct orders, Whiskey, and get your ass and your men back here safe." The captain waved toward the direction the major had taken. "Those sons of bitches will still be up in the hills waiting for you when you get back."
As he watched his favorite noncom stomp away in anger, he looked skyward and said, "This is a total load of bull shit. Why would Creel request Sergeant Daniels, of all people... ?"
Two hours later, Jack and his crack squad of assassins were gunned down from ambush...
The small scout vehicle rolled forward at a slow crawl. The sergeant took point and the corporal brought up the rear. "Keep a sharp lookout," Jack ordered in a terse voice.
"This place stinks of those damned Tali-humps. The photographer in the lead vehicle alternated his camera between shots of the senator in the second vehicle and the men on the ground that all walked at full alert. The air was electrified with tension.
Without warning, the day exploded and the whole patrol was gunned down. The photographer, true to his profession kept the camera rolling. He took pictures of the downed soldiers, turned his camera on the senator as two last shots rang out. The senator's left sleeve jerked as if two fingers had plucked at it and the major slumped back with a bullet between his eyes. No one noticed the sergeant was still breathing, just barely.
A year and a half later ex-Sergeant First Class John R. "Whiskey Jack" Daniels remembered the ambush that had been set up and executed in a supposedly "clean" town. His angry eyes darkened as he dwelled on each memory as if it were a photograph in a scrapbook. He had argued with the kiss ass major they should proceed with caution.
The major made it clear they would not wait. The brown nose only knew this was a wonderful chance to get his picture in the papers and on TV riding next to a supposed "great man." Now all the men in the squad were dead. Here he was, in a lousy VA hospital bed paralyzed and useless as tits on a tuna...
A year ago the army docs said he would never walk again. They told him his chances to ever walk again, even with crutches, were somewhere between slim and none. Whiskey Jack Daniels believed it was all because of one useless desk riding major and his ambition to make it one more rung up the military ladder. He remembered...
"First Sergeant Daniels, this is a direct order, "You will, with pride, lead the way for our triumphant entry into this pacified village. Senator Creel did not come over here to report back to his constituents our men are afraid of a few cowardly sheet heads. You have your orders, now go." The fat, deskbound major tried to sound like a battle hardened combat officer. Instead, he came off sounding like a pathetic wannabe, which he was.
Again and again Jack remembered how only minutes later the impromptu "victory parade" was cut short as he and the six men in his squad were cut down. The ambush was executed with precision as hundreds of rounds poured into the loose grouped squad of soldiers. All seven men, the sergeant, the corporal and five privates lay in the dusty unpaved street near the edge of the small town, bleeding and motionless.
For some reason Senator Creel was only tagged in the shoulder as he stood upright in the jeep and used the front seat to steady himself. He was the perfect target. Yet he received one small graze, while the major riding next to him in the back seat of the open Jeep caught one right dead center between the eyes. Only the accompanying photographer who recorded the whole event was untouched.
Later Sergeant Jack Daniels figured the photographer was spared on purpose. After all, why shoot the one who was recording your glorious victory? The four Iranian Muslims had completed their assignment and left. They escaped with ease, as they strolled out of a town filled with Sunni sympathizers and disappeared into the arid Afghan foothills.
Hours later, Jack awoke in a world of pain, riding on a gurney. As he opened his eyes and tried to look around, he asked, "Where's my men?" A negative, tight lipped headshake was his answer. He saw the answer in the expression on the corpsman's face.
He closed his eyes and retreated down deep into his own mind, unable to face the reality of why his men were dead.
A month later, in a military hospital back in the states he began to respond to the people around him. A month after that he had a relapse. Another month passed and the new nightmare began. He made next to no progress slowly until that day when he was summoned to a special inquiry scheduled to be held in a hospital conference room...