Author note: This story takes place roughly 20 years ago.
Military intelligence. What an oxymoron that phrase was sometimes. The Army preaches OpsSec – that’s Operational Security for those not familiar – saying we need to stay quiet on things like movement, mission dates, and the like. What do they do though? Publish results of top secret missions if the target taken down is of a high enough value. Sure, the names are redacted. But do they really think it can’t be figured out if they say one minute “We took down the Jack of Diamonds!” while the next press release talked about an award for valor to members of the Special Forces.
So why am I writing about something like this, you ask? Well, in case you haven’t read my ambush story, Doc recommended it. Evidently writing about events that cause PTSD can help treat PTSD. That’s the theory at least. I figure it’s worth a try, I’m a grunt anyway. I’m used to having to follow orders, even if they don’t necessarily make sense to me. Personal opinion, the story I’m about to tell you sounds like something out of one of those Delta Force type movies with Chuck Norris or something. Unfortunately though it isn’t a movie script. It’s what actually happened. So I suppose it’s time I get to telling you.
I hadn’t been out of training long at this point. The first four years of my Army career were a very memorable two year stint in Japan (see my background story for more on that), followed by another two years of training. Infantry training to start, then after Japan it was Airborne, Air Assault, Ranger, SF, and finally sniper training. Let’s just say I excelled in Army training and the Army invested a lot of money into my training. There was something about sniper training that just clicked, whether it was the stalking or taking the shot it just felt right. At times it even felt as if I could “zoom in” on the target even without a scope. I wouldn’t find out why until almost 20 years later though.
My first deployment was with 7th Group. I was still relatively new as a Sergeant with four years experience at the time but most the guys accepted me quick based on skills and performance, minus a bit hazing – but that’s Group for you. It was 2004 when I first got to Afghanistan. Most of our first missions were fairly basic, protection details, intelligence gathering and the like.
It was about two months into our six month rotation that our biggest tip came in. This was back in the early days where some creative pencil pusher decided to treat the enemy big wigs as a deck of cards to be dealt with. We’d received word through intelligence of movement the “Jack of Diamonds” was doing and ways that would make him susceptible to be taken. I couldn’t pronounce his name then and don’t remember how to spell it here, so you guys are stuck with just knowing he was a high value target.
Our first priority was to try and capture him alive if possible. But the safe house he was going to hide out in might not make that possible we knew. Sure, in movies when they go after a big wig only his personal guard dies and you find him asleep in bed despite the AK47s going off all around him. The reality? I for one expected every haji we ran into would be armed with something and ready to die before being captured.
The plan was to go in on Blackhawks with several Apache flying support cover. Fairly typical strategy and could be highly effective. Each bird would come in as silent as possible, the Apaches would secure the area of threats and then we would fast rope (in other words repel) in. It’s a common attack strategy to come in during the early morning hours. The theory is that at 3 am even those awake are feeling tired and those asleep have been out enough they’ll be groggy waking up.
As we neared the drop zone we readied our gear. NVGs, silenced M4 carbines, and me with the addition of my sniper rifle on my back. There was one other I got some grief on from the guys: a combat knife I carried modeled off a wakizashi blade. At the time I couldn’t explain why, it was just a blade that felt comfortable and smooth in my hand for any close quarters work.
Hovering above the target building the deadly whirring of the Apache cannons could be heard briefly. Evidently there had been a rooftop sentry who was now most likely a bloody mess of red mist. It was a disgusting thought but also comforting to know that if an Apache had to light someone up you knew they were out of the fight.
The biggest thing to know about combat like this: it was violent and quick. If you hesitated you might not have the chance to survive that mistake. Fast rope down quick and spread out to secure our area as we headed for the rooftop door. As still being the FNG (fucking new guy) I drew the “honor” of being first in the stack line. You’ll note the quotations there. First in also made you the first target.
Bursting through the door time seemed to slow as my eyes swept the room. Heat blooms showed up on the NVGs we had along with the red dot scopes we used. It made firing from the hip easy. Stepping left I put dot on target and a let out a quick 2 round burst. It was a fine line between ammo conservation and also making sure your target was down. I’d found in early missions it wasn’t uncommon for the person on point to lose trigger discipline and empty a full mag into someone – 3 rounds to kill them and 27 more to waste into a dead body. That just meant not only did you waste ammo, you also had to take time to reload. At the time I just trusted my aim, somehow knowing that the second round into the haji punched a hole through his heart, no 3rd round necessary. Quickly moving left I gave room for the men behind to come in and back me up. I had found through our first few missions that I was kept on point because I’d proved to be damn good at the job. In the first sweeps I’d made of rooms it had been very rare that those behind me had to do mop up, not that our Chief let that even be a thought to be entertained.
We moved room to room with a quickness that showed our training and lethal effectiveness. Resistance put down quick as we advanced. Getting to the hallway that led to our “Jack” a figure was seen in the doorway, AK trained center mass. My next movement was instinctual. Sights shifted left to his firing hand and a quick three round burst was fired. I knew with certainty my first round disabled his trigger finger and went into his hand and possibly forearm while the second and third disabled the weapon itself, two 5.56mm rounds wrecking the action of the larger weapon.
While the HVT shook his injured hand I moved forward, shoving him against the wall and clearing the room behind him. While I did that the Sergeant at my back was securing his wrists together with the zip tie cuffs we each carried for just that purpose before patting him down. I heard a single yelled out “clear” come from his room before checking my watch, slightly startled to see that from rope to now the entire process had taken less than 4 minutes of time. Over the earpieces we each wore I heard the Chief’s voice. “Friendlies coming out the roof. Jack secured and ready for evac in 30 seconds!”
First in now meant last out – FILO we called it. I was now in charge of watching our asses while we headed back up to the roof. With evac now the Blackhawk had to come low enough and hover in place that we could all step up or jump in. It was definitely something that wasn’t for a new pilot and was an advantage we had in SpecOps versus regular units; we got the best troops and best pilots to support us.
2 minutes to load and shove Jack into the middle and we were heading airborne again. As we flew I heard a click in my ear indicating a private channel before hearing Chief’s voice. “Jensen, what the hell were you thinking back there???”
I could only pause for a second as I thought back to the specifics of what happened before taking a guess what he meant. “Sir, our mission was to get Jack back in one piece if we could. I could, so I did.”
I could hear the frustration in his voice as well as see it from where he sat a few feet away. “Jensen, he had you in his sights. All he had to do was pull the trigger and we’d be pulling his corpse and yours out of there.”
I shook my head vehemently in response to those words. “Negative, sir. He still had his safety on. So before he could switch it I took his hand out so we could bring him out.”
“Dammit, Jensen! There’s no way you could have seen his safety was on through NVGs from 10 feet away. Not possible.” He shook his head in disbelief.