First things first. The time is currently 0230, and the situation is currently FUBAR. Now, having given you the complete (yet still Roguishly pithy) sit-rep, I can proceed with the confessional portion of this affair.
Here goes. I have often maintained that Getting There Is Half the Fun. But today, following the presidential example, I can finally admit the truth: I have misled you. It was all mendacity. Lies. Duplicity. Prevarication. After almost a decade of these books, here is the unvarnished, frank, candid, pellucid, and wholly unadulterated acronymic truth: GTINFFAA. Getting There Is No Fucking Fun At All. None. Nada. Bupkis. Zilch.
There is precious little merriment involved in jumping out of a perfectly stable fucking aircraft into minus-sixty-degree-Fahrenheit air, seven miles above the ground, so you can surprise some hostage-holding malefactors unaware. It is not blissful to leave a perfectly fucking sound rigid inflatable boat and insert by wallowing snout-first through several hundred yards of oozy, chest-deep mud, all the while fending off nasty, often lethal creepie-crawlies, so you can reconnoiter a village of no-goodniks and then withdraw without being seen. There is no ecstasy in humping several score miles across hundred-plus-degree desert carrying everything but the fucking kitchen sink on your back to blow up a motley crew of transnational tangos.
Indeed, the sorts of experiences I'm describing here can be summarized in a single, evocative, one-syllable word. I am talking, friends, about PAIN.
Not the cartoon pain of television dramas and Hollywood shoot-'em-ups, either. I mean the real thing. The kind of pain that hurts; hurts for days. The linger-ing agony of a badly hyperextended joint when you smack the water the wrong way at thirty miles an hour. The month of searing suffering when your chute malfunctions during free fall, a nylon line slaps you across the eyes, ripping your goggles off and tearing your cornea loose. The involuntary tightening of sphincter muscles as a ricochet from your own weapon caroms off a metal wall, bounces off the floor, comes hurtling back at you, and slices through your side, just below the brisket half an inch below where your bulletproof vest stops.
Now, let me say that all of the various varieties of pain encapsulated in the above activities: each and every ding, all the blisters, bruises, contusions, and concussions, the gashes, lacerations, and plain, no-frills smacks upside the head, all of them pale when compared with my current situation.
And what, precisely, was my current situation? All you Enquiring minds want to know, huh?
Let's put it this way: my current situation comes straight out of the BOHICA handbook. I mean, I've been cracked, smacked, whacked, and hacked; I've been thumped, dumped, bumped, and whumped; I've been ground, crowned, browned, and drowned. But until tonight, I've never experienced it while greased.
Yeah, greased. Like a cheap French fry. I mean as thickly coated with petroleum jelly as the Herndon Monument the day the plebes at the Naval Academy climb the fucking thing as the last act of their first year. I mean schmeared. Like a bagel. I mean daubed, as with lard. Like Gertrude Ederle on her first attempt to swim the English fucking Channel.
So okay, maybe if you're a Channel swimmer, and you're wearing a 1930s one-piece wool bathing suit, maybe it helps if you envelop yourself in pig fat, or Vaseline (or love-jelly or K-Y, for all I care). But me, I had a little more to carry than Gertrude did. I was wearing a wet suit, which was uncomfortably hot in the tepid water in which I was currently attempting to swim. Over the wet suit was a set of basic black BDUs, which as you all probably know after seven of these books, stands for the oxymoronic Battle Dress Uniform. I was also sporting the ever-popular Point Blank Class III-A Tactical bulletproof vest, with its six-pound ceramic chest plate Velcro'd directly over the ol' Rogue heart. Atop that, I wore my inflatable SEAL CQC vest -- and lucky I did, because with all this extra weight I'd have sunk faster than what my longtime Kraut komrade in arms, Brigadier General Fred Kohler, would refer to as ein Backstein.
Sink like a brick? Oh, yeah -- I was carrying almost seventy pounds of equipment tonight. Cinched around my waist was a tactical pistol belt. Descending from it, and attached to the Roguish right thigh, was a ballistic nylon holster that held my suppressed Heckler & Koch USP-9 and five spare fifteen-round magazines.
To balance things out, my left thigh supported six thirty-round submachine gun magazines loaded with 115-grain Winchester Silvertips. Strapped to my back was a scabbard holding HK's ubiquitous MP5 submachine gun in 9-mm, with a Knight wet-technology suppressor screwed onto the barrel, and a seventh full mag of Silvertips within easy reach. I had six DefTec No. 25 flashbangs in modular pouches Velcro'd to my CQC vest, along with a secure radio, lip mike, and earpiece, twenty feet of shaped linear ribbon charge on a wooden spool, primers, wire, and an electric detonator, a pair of eighteen-inch bolt cutters, an electrician's screwdriver, lineman's pliers, a short steel pry bar, and a first-aid kit. Since I am from the carry-the-coals-to-Newcastle school of SEALdom, I carried a pair of two-liter bladders of drinking water. My fanny pack contained a handful of nylon restraints, and a small roll of waterproof duct tape.
Strapped to my right calf I wore a Mad Dog Taiho combat knife with a nonmagnetic blade. Wound around my waist was twenty feet of caving ladder with modular, titanium rungs and stainless steel cable-rail.
With all that dreck attached to my body, swimming the thousand yards from my insertion point to the target would have been, shall we say, difficult, even under the best of conditions. But I had no choice. Besides, we were all similarly loaded down. After all, once we'd made the swim, there was no place to go for supplies. If there was a possibility we'd need to use something, either we schlepped it with us, or we'd have to do without when the time came.
Having just said all that, I must admit that tonight's conditions were, in the abstract, not intolerable toward me and my men. Many elements actually worked in our favor. The water was warm and calm, with a mere eight-to-ten-inch chop. The current flowed obligingly directly toward my target from our launch point. The cuticle-thin sliver of moon low in the east was intermittently obscured by high wispy clouds, which gave me and the eleven men swimming with me a certain degree of invisibility.
Which is why, I guess, Mister Murphy of Murphy's Law fame, decided that my task was too simple and my goal too easily reached. A twelve-man assault team, swimming roughly one thousand yards, should reach its objective in about forty minutes. We had gone about half that distance in less than twenty minutes -- and were therefore ahead of schedule.
And so, with his usual sense of the ironic, Mister Murphy came up with an additional element of difficulty to layer on the night's events. An unforeseen, unanticipated, and totally unappreciated oil slick coated the water through which I swam tonight. I hadn't seen it until I was six feet into it -- enough time to wave my guys off, but too late for me. We're not talking about a lot of crude here. The scum was perhaps a thirty-second of an inch at its thickest. But let me tell you something about crude oil: it doesn't take a lot to fuck you over, and that thirty-second of an inch of oil fucked me over good. The goddamn stuff stuck to me. It coated all my equipment with sticky, foul-smelling goo. And it weighed me down -- almost doubling the load I had to swim under.
Moreover, oil slicks come under the rubric of what the tree huggers at the Environmental Protection Agency refer to as HAZMATs, which of course stands for HAZardous MATerials. Indeed, according to the EPA's current Rules of Engagement (and I've read 'em), one must not come into contact with oil slicks unless one is wearing: 1: a set of EPA-approved HAZMAT coveralls; 2: an EPA-approved HAZMAT mask; 3: EPA-approved HAZMAT gloves; 4: HAZMAT footwear; and 5: an EPA-sanctioned hard hat (in visibility orange, or bright yellow only, please). Violators will be severely fined. Their names will be put down in The Book.
But since there wasn't an EPA tree hugger within six thousand miles, and since I have devoted my life to operating in spite of whatever mischief Mister Murphy or any of his relatives strews in my path, I just kept swimming. Shit, a few years ago, I took a dip in a fucking nuclear wastewater pool. I cured the resulting luminescence (I'm probably the only Richard whose dick has glowed in the dark) with Bombay Sapphire -- and I haven't noticed any incidences of lighted lizard syndrome since. So, if Bombay can treat the effects of a nuke wastewater pool, I had no reason to think a dollop or two (or three, or four), after this little exercise wouldn't do the trick, too.
Okay, okay, I'm digressing. You wanted to know about the evening's festivities. It's actually quite simple. I was currently attempting to sidestroke through the Caspian Sea toward oil platform 16-Bravo, the main rig of a five-platform operation sitting nine miles from shore, about fifty miles due south of the Azerbaijani capital city of Baku. The rigs were owned by SOCAR, an oil consortium controlled jointly by CenTex (that's the Central Texas Oil Corporation), and the Azeri government, and manned by a mixed crew of a dozen CenTex and expatriate Brit roustabouts.
But that wasn't why I was here. I was here because 16-Bravo was currently under the control of a group of eight terrorists. They'd taken over the rig twenty hours ago, using darkness as cover to slip aboard from a pair of bright yellow Zodiac inflatables that were currently tethered to 16-Bravo's northeastern hull column and bobbing in the gentle waves. The tangos captured the rig, took the roustabouts hostage, then used their own state-of-the-art cellular phones to call CenTex's home office in Houston, Texas. The message, once it had been translated from Azeri into English, was pretty straightforward: we are pro-Iranian Azeris who do not like the fact that you Infidels are exploiting our nation. Get out of Azerbaijan, or suffer the consequences.
By chance, two hours after the bad guys' phone call had been translated, I'd wheels-downed in Baku with a platoon of SEALs, on a stealth-grade training mission q-u-i-e-t-l-y undertaken at the behest of the secretary of defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. But the well-planned secrecy went out the door the instant Americans were taken hostage. The Azeris knew all about my capabilities in the hostage-rescue arena, skills not possessed by any local military or police unit (which was one reason for my coming to Baku in the first place).
So, the government of Azerbaijan wanted me and my guys to do the evening's dirty work. And to be honest, I was more than happy to oblige. The best way to teach, after all, is by example. And taking down this oil rig would serve as a real-life demonstration of hopping & popping & shooting & looting to our Azeri students.
That was the good news. Here's the bad news: someone had told the press I was coming, and there was a big contingent of cameras and lights at the airport. The American networks wanted pictures of me and my guys, and interviews, too. Probably so Christiane Effing Amanpour could use the footage when she charged me with using unwarranted violence of action, nerve gas, or some other illegal substance on the hostage takers.
No effing way, José. I solved that problem by asking the Azeris to throw the reporters out, something they probably had a lot of fun doing. But there were two additional impediments to my merry nocturnal marauding. They were, in order of appearance, Her Excellency, the Honorable Mizz Marybeth Madison, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the United States of America to the Republic of Azerbaijan, and his exalted dweebship, Mr. Roscoe Grogan, Vice President for Security (Central Asia), the CenTex Corp.
The Honorable Ms. Madison just plain didn't want me and my dirtbags in her bailiwick. We'd arrived on a JCET, an acronym that stands for Joint Combined Educational Training mission, sans notice, sans cables, sans anything. And as the ambassador put it so...diplomatically, yet firmly, to me: "No one, Captain, not even with your manifest testosterone level, cuts me off at the fucking knees like that and gets away with it."
Since I understand that kind of language, I ex-plained to the good ambassador that JCETs didn't come under her jurisdiction. I wasn't, I explained, heading a diplomatic mission. I was here to train my SEALs, because in point of fact JCETs are training for us, not the Azeris, even though the Azeris might indeed benefit from watching what we did and learning how we did it.
"That, Captain Marcinko, is a double trailer load of horse puckey, and we both know it," quoth the ambassador, shaking her perfectly coifed streaked blond do. "I read the damn papers, and the damn cables too. I know what JCET missions are. No matter what you tell me, you're here to train Azeris, and unless you're gonna do it in Iran or Russia or the Republic of Georgia, or you're gonna fly 'em back to the good ol' Yew Ess of A, you're gonna be infringin' on my turf."
She was correct, of course. But that's never stopped me before. And it didn't stop me now. Indeed, after one phone call from me to the secretary of defense back in DC, and another from the Azeri foreign minister to the principal deputy assistant secretary of state for former Soviet something-or-others (who they finally contacted via cellular during a boondoggle somewhere way out in one of the Stans), Ambassador Madison's fashionable scrawny-assed, Chanel-clad, Vuitton-clutching, perfectly manicured claws were removed from my back.
Security dweeb Grogan, a bolo-tie sporting former FBI Special Agent in Charge (read desk jockey) from Dallas, probably had his last meaningful relationship with law enforcement when Ronald Reagan was in his first term, Ambassador Madison was in grade school, and Tony Lama boots cost a mere two hundred bucks a pair. He was more difficult to deal with than the ambassador. She, at least, finally realized, after some, ah, interface with Washington, that it was the Azeris' country, they'd asked me to help, and I had the backing of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the secretary of defense. While she didn't like my presence here, the other political factors were nonetheless overwhelming. And so, being a realist, she bowed to 'em and stepped aside.
Roscoe wasn't hampered by such political or diplomatic niceties. This was his company's damn awl rig, and he was going to handle things his way.
And what was his way, you want to know. Well, it was Roscoe's considered opinion that if we let a local self-help organization slip the tangos a hundred thou or so in American greenbacks, they'd jump back into their Zodiacs and hightail it outta Bah-Koo, toot sweet.
You say you don't believe me? Hey, let's go to the videotape.
As you can see, Roscoe and I are standing on the tarmac, nose to nose, off behind the greasy ramp of the big, black, unmarked C-130 on which my guys and I had flown in, so the two of us could have some privacy. See how his thumbs are hooked in his belt loops, like some dime-novel cowboy?
Let's listen in. "Yo, Dick, I've been dealin' with all these friggin' assholes over here for the last two-and-a-half friggin' years and three friggin' American ambassadors by goin' through the friggin' Sirzhik Foundation. Turkish friggin' Mafia. Chechen friggin' Mafia. Georgian friggin' Mafia. Russian friggin' Mafia. Armenian friggin' nationalists. Azeri friggin' pistoleros. The friggin' Foundation deals with 'em all. It has a friggin' system, and here's how it friggin' works: I slip the Foundation a suitcase of greenbacks -- it's a 501-C charitable organization back in the States, so everything's on the up-and-up and CenTex even gets a tax deduction. Then maybe the Foundation takes a cut, maybe it don't, I frankly don't give a shit, y'know? Then it pays out however much it wants to as a kinda self-help bequest to the parties in question, after which they friggin' disappear. I've done this a dozen times in the past six months alone, so I know something you don't. Even though these particular friggin' assholes decided to up the friggin' ante by takin' hostages, they ain't friggin' terrorists, Dick -- they're friggin' bidnessmen."
Yeah, right. So, I friggin' explain to friggin' Roscoe in my quaint, Roguish friggin' way that the friggin' Naval Special Warfare technical term for friggin' people who take friggin' hostages, is "friggin' terrorists." I add (somewhat unnecessarily, I thought at the time) that we don't pay friggin' bribes to friggin' terrorists, and we certainly don't go through some friggin' bogus foundation.
See how Roscoe's right hand goes up like a traffic cop's? "Whoa, Dick -- I'm not talkin' about a friggin' bribe. That would be friggin' wrong. In fact, it would be friggin' illegal. This is what we in the friggin' awl bidness call expeditin', and the friggin' ambassador over there, who as you probably know, has been in the friggin' awl bidness for the past twelve years herself, agrees with me."
It struck me as odd that said friggin' ambassador could have been in any business for the past twelve years. She didn't look more than twenty-five. Of course, according to the file I'd read on the way over (I may look the part of the knuckle-dragging Rogue, but believe me, I do more homework than the chief stock analyst at Merrill Lynch), she was thirty-seven, the widow of the twelfth richest man in Texas, and she ran a corporation with more value than the GNP of most of the countries in the Third World. The article about her in Forbes told me that she was tough as nails, just as likely to season her language with F-words as the Parisian-pure French she'd learned at Madeira and the Sorbonne, or the economics-speak she'd absorbed at Harvard's business school.
I should also admit that even the flattering photo spreads in Town & Country and Architectural Digest hadn't done credit to her. Marybeth Madison may have been thirty-seven. But she had the muscle tone and firm skin of a woman who worked out regularly with a private trainer, and so she looked ten years younger than she was.
But all that bidness experience, all those advanced degrees, all that ability to use the F-word, and all that muscle tone did her absolutely no good when it came to dealing with hostage situations. In fact, it had worked against her. Because, for some reason -- maybe it was the fact that they were fellow Texans; maybe she was just incapable of making tough choices when it came to dealing with human lives -- she'd allied herself with Roscoe Grogan and Roscoe's friends at the Sirzhik Foundation, whatever the hell that was (I made a mental note at the time to check it out). And Roscoe, as you have seen, was a government-inspected, Grade-A, Ruby Red, size extra-large Asshole of hufuckingmongous proportions.
Now, I could give you a blow by blow of my reaction to this RRA's chop-logic, but that would waste both my time and yours. Suffice it to say that the ambassador and Roscoe went back to her embassy in a huff (actually they traveled in her armored limo), and I went to work.
Over the next eight hours, my men and I moved fifty miles south of Baku. With the help of the Azeri Army, I quietly set up a base of operations on the awl platform closest to 16-Bravo. While my two sniper teams (and the four Azeri Spec-Ops wannabes I allowed to observe the situation close-up) began to assess the situation through their night-vision spotting scopes, I got on the secure cellular and jump-started my intel network back in the States.
It didn't take long for me to discover that the TIQs (look it up in the glossary) weren't Azeri at all, but Iranian no-goodniks. They belonged to an over-the-edge splinter group from the Revolutionary Guards and called themselves the Fist of Allah. According to DIA, they had infiltrated from Iran -- in point of fact their strike emanated from the old American CIA listening post in the mountains above the Iranian town of Astara, which sits just south of the Azeri border. Who says fundamentalists ain't got no sense of humor?
I do -- at least when it comes to murdering West-erners. Because the FAs had, over the past sixteen months, assassinated seven Americans, three Brits, a German, and a Frenchie. They hadn't limited themselves to action in Europe and the Middle East, either. One hit had come in Japan; two others in Canada.
Anyway, shortly after nightfall, we confirmed that there were eight bad guys on 16-Bravo. Not a huge force of hostiles -- but enough to cause both us and the hostages considerable damage. We also knew from what the Azeris had told us, and what we discovered through our own monitoring of the situation, that these tangos were efficient, professionally trained, and well equipped.
And oh, yeah: unlike me, they weren't coated with crude oil.
I flicked goo from my face mask (I was swimming virtually fucking blind), released most of the air in my SEAL vest, dropped under the surface like the aforementioned brick, and kicked and twirled, trying to shed as much of the sticky, viscous crude as I could. I don't think it did me much good at all. In fact, it was kinda disorienting. But it was still better than swimming through the goo. I breaststroked underwater, in what I thought to be the general direction of 16-Bravo for about thirty yards, then rolled and headed toward the surface for air, my fins kicking and my arms sweeping the water to break up the surface slick.
That was when Boomerang, who I thought had been swimming ten meters off my port side and six meters astern of my position, kicked me square in the face. My chin got in the way of his heel -- and he got me good.
Smaaack! Oh, it smarted. Belay that. It fucking hurt. The blow knocked my mask off, and all the air out of my lungs. I breached better than most whales, sucked air -- and in the process swallowed about a gallon of oil-soaked seawater. I retched the water back up, then dove again, clutching and snatching vainly for the mask -- and got another extra-large, extra-stiff, extra-hard swim fin blow, this one right across my big Slovak snout. Instinctively, I grabbed the offending appendage and struggled back toward the surface.
Immediately, the fin wrenched out of my grasp and Boomerang's long, narrow face appeared in the periphery of my blurred vision, my mask in his gloved right hand. He held me steady as I washed the glass off as best I could, slipped the strap over my head, fixed the mask back in position, vented it, then seated the fucking thing properly on my big, hairy face. His eyes told me he felt my pain. My eyes, which were smarting like hell from the effects of crude oil and polluted Caspian, told him he had...no idea.
I settled into a vertical position, trod water, blew some air into my vest to keep me afloat, and took bearings. We were about three hundred meters from the platform, well outside the ring of ambient light from the amber sodium work lights, catwalk incandescents, twinkly rail safety lights, red and white flashers atop the derrick, and a greenish fluorescent glow emanating from inside the modular living quarters.
There were twelve of us making the assault tonight. The four remaining SEALs in Echo Platoon were on one of the other four platforms in this cluster of five, protecting our six with suppressed, 50-caliber sniper rifles capable of making a two-thousand-meter shot with their hand-loaded, 750-grain Hornady projectiles. Tonight, they'd be shooting at roughly half that distance.
0232. As long as I'm catching my breath, let me take a minute or two to explain what we're about to do. There are only three ways to take down an oil rig. You can swim in, climb up the skeletal frame, and swarm the bad guys. You can chopper in at wave-top height, then suddenly flare above the platform, fast-rope down, and swarm the bad guys. Or, you can jump HALO (high altitude, low opening) from a plane, fall five miles, pop the chute at four thousand feet above the water, parachute onto the platform, and swarm the bad guys.
Frankly, the HALO approach is the most risky, because HALO doesn't assure that you'll put enough shooters onto the rig simultaneously to do the job, e.g., control the platform and kill all the bad guys before they have a chance to waste the hostages. Fast-roping from a chopper is perhaps the most effective. In fact, if you combine a chopper assault with a waterborne (combat swimmer) operation, you can put a shitload of shooters on the platform all at once. But tonight, fast-roping was not an option because I'd been given to understand there wasn't a single chopper capable of holding more than four people anywhere in the whole fucking country. And so, we were going to have to do this the old-fashioned way, a technique I call HP/SL. In other words, we'd Hump our way in, and then Pump our way up, so we could do what SEALs do best: Shoot & Loot, i.e., kill our enemies before they could do any damage to the hostages.
0234. Finally clear of the oil slick, I kicked off and started sidestroking toward the platform. Boomerang kept pace with me, his long, narrow head bobbing in the gentle current. Fanned out behind us swam the rest of the assault team. The core of Echo Platoon -- Boomerang, Duck Foot Dewey, Nod DiCarlo, Half Pint Harris, Piccolo Mead, Gator Shepard, and the SEAL smidge I call Rodent -- have been with me for years. Terry Devine, who I named Timex, because he can take a licking and still keep on kicking (butt), busted his cherry status with me in Germany last year.
The rest of the team is new -- but they're capable. Digger O'Toole, of Hollywood Beach, Florida, for example....
Hey, just who the fuck is that out there making all that goddamn noise? Oh, it's the fucking editor. And he wants to know why I have a bunch of newbies on this mission.
I have two words for you, ed. No, not FUCK YOU -- although the thought occurred to me. The two words are retention and reenlistment. Both are down in this politically correct, zero defect Navy. And so a lot of my old shooters have gone civilian. But there are still a handful of WARRIORS left for me to pick from. And these guys were the crème de la brouhaha.
Like, as I was saying, Digger O'Toole of Hollywood Beach, Florida. Digger's the kind of can-do dirtbag you need on ops like this one. There's nowhere he won't go, and nothing he can't climb. Rotten Randy Michaels and a wiry little Brit I call Nigel (his real name is Rupert. But who the hell is gonna call anybody Rupert these days of don't ask don't tell?) round out the assault group. Rotten Randy is built like a defensive linebacker -- e.g., big and burly, and he can move like lightning when he has to. We call him Rotten Randy because he spent ten years as an Army Ranger -- and if that ain't a rotten existence, I don't know what is. Then, he made the right decision: he realized that life should be an adventure, not just a job, and he joined the Navy. He went through BUD/S, where they retooled him to shout HOO-YAH instead of HOO-AH, at the ripe old age of twenty-nine. Currently, he's an E-9. That's a master chief for all you cake-eating civilians out there.
I shanghaied him from SEAL Team Eight after I saw him operate. Randy, friends, is the kind of Warrior you want to put your back up against when the merde hits the ventilateur and you're outnumbered eight to one. It took him about half a second to volunteer for my Roguish band. His only demand was that I also take his E-5 swim buddy, Nigel, who weighs in at a mere 115 pounds. Nigel was born Rupert Collis in East London, down the Old Kent Road -- and you can tell it from the way he talks. He is living proof that the only thing that separates us from the English is our common language.
Anyway, Nigel came here at the age of eleven; became a citizen at eighteen, and the first thing he did was join the Navy. He can run thirty miles in five and a half hours. That's not a lot you say. You're right. But Nigel can do it in the desert. While carrying an eighty-pound load of combat gear. And after he's run his thirty miles, he can whip your ass no matter how big and bad you say you are.
Back on the platform I was using as a forward base was my four-man sniper/intel unit. Mustang, the lead spotter, is a half-Sioux (I think the other half is mountain lion) Warrior who grew up in Montana. He's built sorta like a mailbox, which leads people to believe that he's clumsy. Big mistake. Mustang is teamed with Hammer Johnson, who learned his nasty craft in the Marine Corps before he decided to leave Uncle Sam's Misguided Children and become a SEAL. Hammer once made a twenty-six-hundred-yard head shot with the 50-caliber sniper rifle he helped develop for Desert Storm. The weapon he's shooting tonight is a fourth-generation rifle that's twice as accurate as the Mark-1, Mod-0 original.
Sniper Two is made up of Butch Wells, a smart-ass kid from Reading, Massachusetts, with a New England accent as broad as the fucking Haavaad Yhaad, and Goober. Goober (if he has a last name he's never told anybody, and if I ever knew what it was I've forgotten) is Echo Platoon's other sniperman. Goober is a boatswain's mate first class from Georgia, and he can shoot the fucking eye out of a housefly at a thousand meters.
0245. My dirty dozen secured to a long, tubular member that ran between the thick, vertical hull columns. We were fucking exhausted already -- and we hadn't even begun the night's work. Timex and I unhitched the pair of two-liter bladders of water. I passed one of my containers to the Pick, and the other to Duck Foot, so they could drink. Timex handed one off to Digger, and drank from the other. I lay on my back in the water, trying hard to breathe. It wasn't easy. The water temperature was in the low eighties; the air was perhaps ninety-five, and the heat sapped what little reserves I had in the way of energy.
I waited until everyone had taken on water, then took one of the bladders and drained it. I'd sweat buckets during the swim -- and as heavy as the water had been, I was glad I'd insisted that we carry enough to make sure each man got about two-thirds of a liter before we made our assault. Something I've learned over the years is that a dehydrated Warrior doesn't perform as well as a hydrated Warrior.
0249. The platform towered above us, skeletal, gigantic, and imposing; a mélange of brightness and shadow, all mechanical angularity. Sixteen-Bravo sat in perhaps 180 feet of water. It was what's known as a fixed rig, which means it was secured to the Caspian's bed. If the water had been, say, a hundred fathoms deep here, the platform would have been a semisubmersible, which floats on huge pontoons and is kept in one position by long anchor chains.
You may indeed be wondering how we could swim in with such impunity, knowing that the bad guys were on their guard. The answer is simple. First, the platform itself is huge, bigger than a twenty-five-story building. It is also virtually impossible to see directly down into the water unless you're hanging off one of the catwalks suspended below the main deck. The arc lights play tricks on your eyes. The water's surface, eighty to ninety feet below that decking, is indistinct. It's damn hard to pick a swimmer out, even in becalmed conditions like tonight.
Second, there's a lot of ambient noise on an oil rig. The metal creaks and groans; the platform itself moves in the water. The modular sheds and housing units shift as the currents below change. And then there are all those generators that power the electrics, the derricks, and the drilling units themselves. Even when 90 percent of the fucking rig is shut down -- like this one was -- it is still a noisy, distracting, environment. It is an environment that I can and do use to my advantage.
0251. Time to move. But first, I had to deal with the oil. Since I practice the credo of Roy Henry Boehm, Godfather of all SEALs, I'd hit the slick first and hence suffered more than the rest of my guys, most of whom saw what happened to me and swam under it. My BDUs were almost entirely covered by crude. So was my SEAL vest. But layered below, my modular body armor was pretty clean. So was the wet suit. I shrugged out of the vest, body armor, and BDUs. Then I pulled the body armor back on over my wet suit, peeled the modular pouches off the CQC vest and rigged them onto the Velcro surface of the body armor, reattached my pistol belt, thigh holster, mag holders, and combat knife. The scabbard that held my sub-gun was totaled. But the viscous goo hadn't penetrated to the compartment holding the MP5.
0256. We plugged earpieces and lip mikes into our waterproof radios and checked to make sure they were all working. Well, I guess eight out of twelve isn't bad, although I tell you, I'm gonna have some nasty things to say to the folks at Motorola when I get back to the States about the alleged waterproofness of their products.
I raised my snipermen, sitting in the darkness a thousand feet away, and told 'em we were going over the rail.
"Aye, aye, Skipper," Mustang's voice came back into my ear. "I can see you through the night vision. We're on the case. The catwalk above is clear. I can see one tango on top of the doghouse. He's got a weapon with night vision. Goober's got another target on top of the monkey board -- he's got NV too. Looks like he's holding a detonator."
I flashed on the sketch I'd committed to memory earlier in the day. Okay: one bad guy had command of the high ground, because the monkey board is where the derrick man sits. That put the tango about seventy feet above the deck. From that position, his field of fire could control access to the chopper pad, modular living quarters, and the majority of the platform deck areas. From what Mustang said he also controlled the explosives.
A quartet of tsk-tsks in my ear signaled message received.
0303. We swam under the rig and I silent-signaled for the assault to begin. Digger secured the twenty-meter length of thin, nylon rope he'd been carrying over his shoulder, hoisted himself onto a thick vertical brace, and began the long climb up. He was followed by Duck Foot Dewey and Rotten Randy Michaels. I watched as they wormed their way up the slippery brace. I do not like taking down oil rigs. I lost a man during an oil rig operation in the Gulf of Mexico a few years ago. But, as the SpecWar Commandment says, we didn't have to like it, we just had to do it. My climbers made steady progress. But I could see the energy they were expending to do their jobs -- visible heat waves were radiating off their bodies.
As Digger, Duck Foot, and Randy climbed, Boomerang, Nod, and Rodent perched, their sub-gun muzzles pointed up toward the catwalk fifty feet above the water, scanning for targets. If one of the tangos decided to take a cigarette break or a piss, it was their job to neutralize the sonofabitch before he could raise any alarm or injure the climbers. We were real vulnerable until the first three shooters reached the catwalk. Then, with Duck Foot and Randy protecting his six, Digger would lower the line, bring the caving ladder sections up, link 'em together, secure the ladder to the rail, and lower it, so the rest of us could make our way onto the catwalk. Caving ladders are no fun. But they're less painful to climb than the vertical braces my trio of shooters had just scaled.
0311. Eight minutes is a long fucking time when you're vulnerable, and that's how long it took us to get up the ladder. I went up last. Yes, I always lead from the front. But I've got a bit more age than my shooters, and they can scamper up a caving ladder, while I have to fight my way rung by rung.
I waited until Nigel's narrow butt was ten feet above the water, then raised myself as high as I could, took hold of one of the narrow titanium rungs, pulled myself upward ounce by ounce, until I could get the toes of my right Rogue foot through the narrow opening. God, that hurt. And, yes, I press 450 pounds, 155 reps, every fucking day, rain, sleet, snow, or shine, on the outdoor weight pile at Rogue Manor. I have superior upper-body strength. In fact, I am one bodaciously strong motherfucker. But all of that doesn't mean shit when you have to muscle your way up a twisting, narrow, slippery, wet caving ladder under combat conditions.
It has been said that the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. And for me, tonight's journey would only begin when I took that first step up. I fought the fucking ladder as it twisted away from me; used my shoulders and upper arms to get some leverage on the contorted metal and cable, and -- finally -- thrust my fucking foot onto the rung.
Have I mentioned, friends, that I'd been swimming through an oil slick? You say you remember that fact. Well, good for you -- because your memory is better than mine. Me? I'd forgotten that the bottom of my neoprene bootie was as slick as deer guts. My foot went skidding out from under me, my leg slid through the ladder, my hands lost their grip on the rail, and I dropped about two and a half feet, wedging myself -- ooooh -- up to my crotch on the fucking rung.
Let me be more explicit. All of my own weight -- every stone, every kilo, every pound, ounce, gill, and gram, not to mention the combined weight of everything I was carrying -- was now resting squarely on my right nut. The selfsame nut that was being squeezed into peanut butter by the titanium rung. Oh damn oh shit oh doom on Dickie, which as you probably know, means I was being fuckee-fuckeed in Vietnamese. Fuckee-fuckee indeed -- if I didn't do something soon, I was going to perform the rest of this fekokte mission as a goddamn countertenor.
I uncrossed my eyes, gulped air, and struggled to pull one hand over the other until I was able to extract myself and start moving upward once again. Except now, each step of that painful climb was accompanied by the tom-tom throbbing of my right testicle. Oh, let me tell you, by the time I finally pulled myself over the catwalk rail, I hurt in every molecule of my body and from the way my wet suit felt, I'd probably lost another four or five pounds of water weight. I'm not as limber as I was when I started playing the lead role in this series, friends, and it is climbs like this one that make the fact painfully obvious.
But as I have said in the past, and will say again, pain exists to ensure that I know I'm alive. And since I was very much alive, I unsheathed my MP5, loaded a mag, and dropped the bolt. It was about to be Show Time.
Our insertion point was the small catwalk at the flare tip end of an oil/gas separator line. Most platforms have two such flare devices. The catwalks, with one vertical and one horizontal gas nozzle, are affixed to the end of a seventy-foot arm similar to the long jib of a tower crane. In the "at rest" position, the flare catwalks sit about three yards below the lowest part of the platform. That made 'em accessible without exposing our flanks. And because it is possible to shinny along the jib, my shooters could remain invisible to anyone on deck until they reached the shelter of the tanks in the oil-processing area.
If you looked at this particular platform head-on, which is to say, with the helipad in the "twelve o'clock" position, one oil/gas separator flare cluster was at five-thirty; the other one was at eleven o'clock. We had swum under the rig and climbed at the little-hand-on-eleven position because it was completely shielded by the huge derrick superstructure and main engine heat-exchangers from the aforementioned tangos who were manning the monkey board and the doghouse roof.
Now that we were aboard, all that remained was to stay out of sight until we'd made it to our assault position, while praying that the rest of the bad guys -- the ones we hadn't seen yet -- didn't have night-vision equipment, infrared sights on their weapons, or thermal-imaging range finders like their two buddies.
The unfortunate and nasty truth, friends, is that these days tangos can obtain just about every techno-goodie that is used by Delta Force, DEV Group, or any other cutting-edge special-operations unit. Maybe not the absolute latest generation, but still better than most of the world's armed forces carry on a day-to-day basis.
The good news was that given the heat -- it was still in the high nineties -- all the metal on the rig was just about as hot as our bodies. And that would help mask us as we moved into position if the bad guys had some techno-backup.
0313. Time to move out. We were real bunched up on the eight-by-twelve-foot platform, and crowds make me nervous under conditions like this.
I rubbed the soles of my booties against the nonskid flooring of the platform until I was satisfied that I'd removed all the oil residue. Then I silent-signaled to disperse.
Boomerang and I, accompanied by Nod and Duck Foot, would balance atop the four-foot rail of the flare platform and pull ourselves up onto the rig's main deck, sheltered from discovery by a red-and-white-striped crane housing. From there, we'd scamper across thirty feet of unprotected ground, up a steel ladderway, around a corner, and along a narrow length of decking that led to the back side of the modular housing unit.
As we did that, the rest of the platoon would make its way along the jib. When they reached the end, Timex, Gator, Randy, and Nigel would move to port. They'd crawl under the oil storage tanks, slip behind the explosives locker, then secure the front end of the modular housing unit and wait for my signal to hit the main force of tangos and free the hostages. As they did that, Half Pint, the Pick, Rodent, and Digger would head to starboard, where they'd thread the needle between the outermost storage tanks and the modular drilling equipment sheds, then separate into two-man hunter-killer groups to neutralize any tangos in the commo shack and stowage areas. We had eight bad guys to deal with. We had pinpointed two -- the lookouts. I knew from experience most of the rest would be in close proximity to the hostages.
Boomerang scampered around the vertical flare nozzle to the corner of the rail. He looked up at the platform bed, which was about ten feet above his head and perhaps two feet distant. He vaulted up onto the rail, and with the athletic balance of a ballet dancer, then jumped vertically, about eighteen inches, straight up.
His fingertips caught the steel edge of the deck, and he began to haul himself up, as if he were doing the last pull-up of a very long string. Then his left hand slipped. His gloved fingers lost traction on the platform surface and slipped off. He tried to regain his grip, but it was impossible. And he was wearing too much equipment to pull himself up one-handed.
I watched as he dropped back into space and fell. Yes, the vertical distance between the bottom of the deck and the top of the rail was only about eighteen inches. But there were two feet of horizontal space to consider as well. If Boomerang didn't thrust himself backward at the same time he dropped onto the flare platform rail, he was going to fall about eighty feet into the water. And with all the weight he was carrying, falling eighty feet into the water was going to be like hitting fucking concrete from the same height.
I watched transfixed. This was one of those moves in which time seemed to stand still. Boomerang was suspended in space. But he didn't descend. Instead, he turned his whole body 180 degrees. Then, like one of those goddamn circus trapeze geniuses, his body, facing the flare platform, kinetically impelled itself forward. Only then did he actually drop. He landed on the balls of his feet, right atop the two-inch rail. The only sign of exertion I could see was the tension on his face.
His lips moved. No sound came out, but I could read his lips as he mouthed, "Sorry, Boss Dude."
He reversed his position, gauged the distance one more time, removed his Nomex gloves and stowed them in his belt, then leapt. The second jump was a lot higher than the first. Boomerang's long hands wrapped around the edge of the decking. He drew himself up, up, up, and finally one-handed the support railing at the edge of the deck. Then he swung to his right, which allowed his knee to catch the edge.
He pulled himself up and over the rail, dropped to his knees, crawled under the bottom rung of the railing, and held his arms out wide. His expression said, "C'mon, Boss Dude -- I'll catch you."
My expression told him, "Yeah -- right." When I was but a tadpole, the nastiest feature of the obstacle course at the Little Creek Amphibious Naval Base was a series of telephone pole sections, cut into different heights, and stuck in the sand dunes. We called it The Dirty Name. You had to jump from one pole section to another without falling onto the sand. But that was easier said than done. Because if you could make the vertical jump, the horizontal distance seemed too far to achieve. If you could make the horizontal leap okay, the vertical seemed too high.
Now, the grizzled, war-tempered UDT chiefs who first built the fucking thing long before I ever made it into training had done their jobs well when they put The Dirty Name together. They designed it, you see, with the high goal of making us stinking trainees realize that nothing is impossible. They wanted to construct the physical embodiment of a philosophical tenet basic to SEALdom. That concept is: if you set your mind on a goal and your spirit is the spirit of a Warrior, the word impossible DOES NOT EXIST.
And so, we assaulted The Dirty Name until we overcame it. Conquered it. Vanquished it. And, just as the chiefs wanted, we tadpoles finally came to realize by our victory that when we came up against an obstacle, whether that obstacle was in WAR or in life, we could make ourselves triumph over it by sheer will, pure tenacity, and absolute determination.
You don't have to like it, they told us -- you just have to do it. So these days, whenever I come up against an impediment, whether it is a physical challenge, a bureaucratic roadblock, or a tactical obstacle, I hearken back to The Dirty Name, and I know deep in my Warrior's bowels that I CAN win the battle, and therefore I WILL NOT FAIL. NOT EVER.
And so, although I can honestly say that I do not like balancing on slippery metal railings, I Just Did It. I clambered up, balanced on the balls of my feet as best I could given my throbbing right nut, bent my knees, raised my arms high over my head, and launched myself into the void. My eyes were locked onto Boomerang's; my concentration was total. I fucking felt myself approach the deck; sensed its bulk and physical mass. And then Boomerang's hands clasped my wrists, like a trapeze catcher traps the flyer, and he swung me, a big Slovak pendulum, upward, toward my right.
I used my bulk to help, adding to my speed and angle of trajectory. I shouldn't have. I should have let Boomerang do what he was doing, because he was doing it very well. But I couldn't leave well enough alone. And so, as I propelled myself up, the point of my right knee -- the tender ball joint known as the patella -- caught the metal edge of the steel deck.
How hard did I hit my patella? Hard enough to bring tears to my eyes. Hard enough so that I couldn't feel my toes. Hard enough so that I forgot how much my right nut hurt.
I started to fall back. I kicked and twisted involuntarily as I did so. Bad move, because Boomerang lost his grip on my left wrist.
Oh, fuck, oh, shit, oh, doom on Dickie. He was one-handing me, now. And even that was fucking tenuous. It was a very, very long way down. I didn't want to hit that water. Remember: you drop eighty feet, and hitting water isn't much different from hitting concrete. More serious so far as I was concerned: I really didn't want to make the fucking climb a second time. I gritted my teeth, swung my left arm up, and grabbed his left wrist -- which was still clamped viselike onto my right wrist -- with both hands.
"Gotcha," Boomerang said through clenched teeth. The fingers of his free hand wrapped around my wrists, and, straining, he swung me, the selfsame big Slovak pendulum, up toward the deck once again.
This time I let him do the work, and allowed my body to go where he wanted to put it. My knee caught the lip of the deck correctly. I put my weight on the leg, extricated my right hand from Boomerang's grasp, reached out and up to the support rail, hauled myself up, and pulled myself under the dark tubular metal.
I rolled over onto my back unable to breathe, bathed in sweat, my vision clouded by phosphorescent blue and orange spots. Oh, fuck. Not only was I hyperventilating, I was in the goddam HoJo Zone. I fought against it; made myself breathe steadily. Concentrated on overcoming the pain. Slowly, I regained control over my body and my mind.
By the time I sat up and began to massage my sore knee, Boomerang, Nod, and Duck Foot were all staring down at me. I gave them the kind of dirty look battle-weary veterans reserve for smart-assed youngsters who've kicked ass all day, and want to chase pussy all night. I groaned audibly, and grimaced up at them through my pain.
Nod pointedly ignored me. "Now that the Skipper's had his nap," he stage-whispered to Boomerang and Duck Foot, "maybe he'll be ready to come out and play."
"Negatory," Boomerang shook his head. "He probably wants milk and cookies first."
I struggled to my feet feeling each and every year, month, and day of my event-filled life. "Fuck you all very, very much."
Copyright © 2000 by Richard Marcinko and John Weisman