Rollback to Previous Morning - SRU HQ - Gym
"Hey Samo, you're late" Ed called as Sam walked into the gym.
"Morning Ed, Wordy, Sarge" Sam replied with a solid smile and walked to the heavy bag taping up his hands. "Sorry boss, won't happen again. I'm not sure how, but I fell asleep early last night before setting my alarm."
Wordy, Greg and Ed, shared a quick glance with one another. Sam was smiling! He was late, so out of character and he had a real smile on his face. What is up with that they wondered?
Sam looked well rested and relaxed too; as if he was comfortable. Sam was never comfortable. He always had a bit of defensive edge to him. Something had happened, changed. It was good to see. So they all smiled and got back to their workout.
As he started his bag workout Sam was silently musing. He was actually very shocked when he awoke this morning at five am to find that he had slept so soundly and for so long. No nightmares had woken him in the wee hours of the morning.
The team had ended their shift on time yesterday, a rarity, and he'd gotten home around seven-thirty pm after grabbing a pizza and some beer. He'd sat down on the couch and turned on a hockey game, opened a beer and the box of pizza. He didn't remember falling asleep but was sure he didn't see the end of the game.
In fact, when he woke on the couch his bottle of beer was only half gone and two slices of pizza were eaten. He figured he had gotten nine solid, uninterrupted hours of sleep. Totally unheard of for him, usually he survived on four to six with a catnap here or there.
Their shift officially started today at seven am, but the team always showed up two hours early for workout. So technically he was twenty minutes late when he arrived at five-twenty. When he'd looked at the clock he'd been so shocked at the time and being late that he ran to the bathroom, brushed his teeth, then grabbed his keys and ran to his truck.
He'd gotten to the truck when he happily noticed he was dressed. Good thing he had fallen asleep fully dressed not even kicking off his boots. Otherwise it would have been a bit embarrassing to end up at his truck in only boxers or less.
Sam stopped his silent musing and realized that Jules, Spike and Lou were not in the gym. "So it looks like I'm not the only one late today. Where are the others?" Sam asked.
"Jules had a problem with the Jeep. Spike and Lou, well it's their day for coffee run so they must be stuck there." Greg said. "So Sammy you're the only one without a good excuse" piped up Wordy from the treadmill. "Does that mean he gets extra cleaning duty" he continued.
Ed smiled and cocked his head as he continued to lift weights. "Maybe, depends."
At that moment Spike, Lou and Jules all rounded the corner into the gym. "Morning guys. What depends on what?" Jules said as she smiled at them.
"Well, you see … all you young pups are late on the same day. None of you could get your butts in here on time. No one respecting my authority as team lead. So I have to decide what punishment to dole out" Ed sternly said.
Although the effect of Ed's stern voice was totally ruined by the amused smirks on Greg and Wordy's faces. "Aw guys, you two are worthless, thought you'd have my back on this" Ed chuckled.
"It is a unique situation for sure though. Don't think it's ever happened before. It is extremely rare that anyone is late and I don't think we've ever had more than two late on the same day but I know we've never had over half the team late. Ed, we might be slipping. Might be worth instilling a little more discipline, everyone who was late scrubbing the floors, what ya think?" Greg laughed as he ran his hand over his head with a towel.
Before Ed could reply Spike's excited voice cut in "Maybe it's an omen that today will be totally awesome and unique. Could be something so profoundly different and life altering than we have ever experienced? How cool would that be?"
Lou just shook his head and asked "Who wants their coffee?" He passed out the coffees to everyone and there was a collective sigh as they took their first drink. The team happily bantered with one another as they continued their workout.
The discussion was light and fun and everyone offered up suggestions on how a day could be profoundly unique for a SRU team. Spike was currently on a rant about maybe aliens popping up and babycakes saving the day.
Sam smiled. For him, something profoundly different had already happened today. For the first time in, oh so long, he was truly and deeply happy. This was his chosen family and he felt accepted and cared about. He belonged. It felt good, no it felt GREAT. He had slept, REALLY slept for the first time since before his first tour.
He attributed that to the feeling that he was making a difference, no longer just a point and shoot guy. This was good. Sleep was good. Family was good. Here, this place was definitely good. He was profoundly happy.
Greg, Ed and Wordy shared a knowing glance with each other. Their unvoiced conversation conveyed that, YES today was a unique day. It was a GOOD day. They all recognized that something had finally changed in their rookie this morning.
An actual light was in his blue eyes this morning. There was a genuine smile on his face. There was subtle shift in their team too. Their family had grown and everyone had finally accepted a very talented young man into its fold. He was now and forever a valued and loved member of this family.
Fortunately it had finally happened. Unfortunately it had taken a lot longer than it should have and that was their fault. As leaders of this team they shouldered that responsibility.
As Greg peddled on the exercise bike, his thoughts slipped to when the rookie joined. It had not been an easy transition. Actually it was like walking through hell. They had all made mistakes, every last one of them.
But Greg and Ed felt theirs were the biggest being the leaders of the team they owned setting the tone and they had failed big time. Unfortunately, they had made assumptions about the ex-soldier. They had been pissed that he had not joined the team in the usual manner; they did not get to pick him. They felt that if he had gone through regular selection he would not have made it onto Team One, let alone any other SRU team. He was cocky, self-assured, he swaggered. He was army, shoot first, and ask questions later if at all.
He just didn't fit. He was a privileged, spoiled army brat. Hell what else were they to think when Sam got his position on Team One because his father the General spoke to Commander Holleran. Greg still did not really know the facts about how Sam actually got the job. All they were told was that he was ex-JTF2 and a qualified sniper.
Maybe he was, maybe he wasn't. Perhaps his father had gotten him in to JTF2 the same way; all prestige no substance. Holleran never felt it was necessary to explain the kids' past or qualifications beyond being a sniper. He just told Greg and Ed he was on the team and that was it, end of story.
That first call with Sam had almost been a complete disaster. Sam had thrown a proverbially lit match in when he sent up the heart. Based on how he joined and that first call the team did not give him a chance and came down relentlessly on him for every single mistake however minor.
He cringed thinking, never had they ever treated a rookie like this. Yeah rookies make mistakes but they had always mentored them and helped them understand the whys of the actions. With Sam they just berated him and treated him like an outsider.
Looking back, Greg could clearly see how Sam had reacted to their harsh treatment. Firstly and most unexpectedly, the harder they were on him the harder Sam tried. He never gave up. He was a quick learner and didn't seem to make the same mistake twice. Not that the team ever gave him credit for that. He tried so hard to fit in and do what was expected.
Sam was good at following orders. Well except for putting himself in dangerous situations, Ed believed he still had too much soldier in him. Ed was constantly pissed about that; had thought that Sam was playing at being a hero or showboating. But Sam never failed to have their backs, even when it risked his own life.
Greg now saw that it is a core element of who Sam is, he is a protector. It is so deeply ingrained in him, it is instinctual. To change that would be to change who Sam is in essence and Greg would not want that. Sam is a good man. He wished he'd been open-minded at the first and recognized that.
The second thing that he, Ed and Wordy all noticed, the thing they most regretted, was that a mask had begun to fall into place. When the team, especially Ed would come down on him and berate or belittle his actions, Sam would just sit and listen with this blank look on his face. When they were done harping on him he would simply and emotionlessly say 'I'm sorry sir' or 'Yes sir, won't happen again'.
The first few weeks Sam did try to defend his actions but that would cause the team to just dig in harder against him even when it was not logical. Greg can now distinctly recall when he stopped. In the debriefing of a call where Sam had disobeyed a direct order and put himself in harms way to save a seven year old girl he had quietly listened to everyone's criticisms and then tried to offer his explanation for his actions.
He was rudely cut-off at every turn. After about fifteen minutes of trying to get us to listen he finally said in a soft defeated voice 'I'm sorry sir, my fault, won't happen again sir'. As Sam turned his chair to stare out the window, Greg distinctly heard him mutter very softly and sadly under his breath 'I just thought that SRU was about saving people that can't save themselves'. He said it so softly it couldn't be heard by the others and it did not register fully with Greg at the time because he was still upset at the risk Sam had taken.
After a few months, in addition to no longer offering any defense to our criticisms Sam stopped offering any input to tactics. No matter how minor, he just followed orders. His blue eyes held no spark; he rarely smiled or showed any emotion, more like an empty shell just going through the motions of life.
Except for when he trained with the heavy bag. That thing took a lot of abuse from Sam. The bag had to be replaced three times in two months. Sam would come in, do his job and leave, never hanging out with the team, not that anyone had ever invited him.
It was sad that it took the death of a civilian and the event afterwards to get Greg and Ed to pull their heads out of their asses and recognize that their actions had set the team up for failure and seriously hurt a member of their team.
Serving the warrant on the drug dealer started with good preparation. It all went to hell when Ed allowed a cryptic comment from a Special Forces training liaison to plant the seed of doubt and question the loyalty and ability of Sam to cover the team's back.
Ed has still not forgiven himself for this, it is a sin he has etched on his soul. He cannot for the life of him understand how he allowed an unsubstantiated comment to get under his skin in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Ed still needs occasional reminders that it was from those events that we were able to recognize the bigger error and begin the process of making amends before we lost a team member.
Sometimes in Greg's darker moments of recrimination he thinks that Sam quitting the team is not how he would've lost him if it had continued. How long could someone live without cracking when they constantly gave of themselves but got only indifference and callousness in return? It was worrisome that Sam seemed to be able to operate in that kind of world, and made Greg question what had happened in the kid's past to enable that.
The horrible scene still plays out in Greg's mind. There was friction as the team got ready to execute the warrant. Ed changed up the tactical plan at the last minute and relegated Sam to third instead of point for entry.
Sam chafed at the change and Ed told him 'When you're the democratically elected leader you get to make autocratic decisions.' The quick flash of anger in Sam's eyes that was just as quickly squashed was telling. He didn't feel a part of the team and did not know why Ed did not trust him. Especially since only two hours earlier Ed had given him rare praise and told him he was staying on point.
Then the civilian entered the apartment and totally blew the entry plan out of the water. In the end they had to do a hard entry and Sam did not stay in formation and went in without a shield. The civilian was shot by the drug dealer and died in Ed's arms.
Ed's emotions were raw and mixed. He was angry a civilian died. He was angry that Sam didn't follow orders and put himself in harms way. AGAIN! Damn that rookie did that too often.
When Ed saw Sam standing near the EMS truck he lost it. He slammed Sam against the truck, hard. Not his finest moment; later shamed that he got physical with a team member under his command. But he was so damned angry. The one thing that worried Ed most was the safety of his team and when they behaved in a manner that put them in jeopardy, he saw red.
Greg had been focused elsewhere but his attention was drawn when he heard Ed yelling "I don't know, but that is not your call! And maybe I was wrong, Sam. Maybe. But I need to know that my team is on my side."
Sam's anger had flared red hot and he could no longer contain it as he yelled back "Then treat me like I'm on your team."
Ed stepped closer to Sam and menacingly postured "What?"
Then with slightly less heat Sam said "You wanna know what happened in Afghanistan? Is that what this is about?"
Sam's tone dropped the heat and changed to one of giving a report, just cold hard facts, no emotion. "I was taking out targets in a stronghold, 1500 meters away. The reccy was done, I was cleared to fire."
His carefully controlled mask slipped a little, sadness started to show in his eyes and voice "We went down to do the id's."
Then in a fraction of a second the mask completely fell and it looked like it shattered into a million pieces slicing Sam deep to the bone. Every emotion was laid open for viewing. The intense pain, the unrelenting guilt etched deeply into his soul, the pure unadulterated grief shown in his eyes and his voice cracked with raw emotion "One of them … was my be..best friend Matt. I was sn..sniping with a .50 cal."
It was clear as day to anyone listening that his next words were said more to try and convince himself rather than anyone else. Trying desperately to justify his actions to himself, knowing it would bring no real solace, breaking hoarse words said softly "He …sh.. shouldn't have b…been there. I was … was cle…cleared to fire."
Sam's final words were what slammed home that we had unfairly judged him. Caused him untold pain. Reinforced his belief he wasn't a member of the team. That we didn't deem him worthy. That we hadn't even bothered to listen or try to connect with him. Sam's mask started to slide back into place, it was frightening to watch how quickly he reconstructed it, as he softly and with just a hint of sadness said "You just had to ask."
Five simple words 'you just had to ask' condemned our treatment of Sam. That night Greg, Ed and Wordy stayed after everyone left for the day. Wordy was first to speak and said what we each felt. "We treat subjects with guns to hostages better than we treated Sam. Shit, we yelled at him at every opportunity for not adequately following the SRU motto Connect, Respect and Protect. What fucking hypocrites we are."
Ed spoke next, rage filled his voice. Rage directed at himself. "When did we ever try to connect with Sam? Never, not once did anyone of us try. He was just the teammate that was forced on us. We were so busy blaming him for how he arrived on the team. We FAILED, we seriously and utterly failed."
They all agreed and sat stewing for a long time. Each consumed by a sense of guilt and personal recriminations of actions they either took or failed to take. Finally, Greg spoke up "So, how are we going to fix this? It is up to us."
Ed stared at Greg then Wordy "Is it possible or is it irrevocably broken? Have we broken him?"
Wordy softly said "We can fix this, we will fix this. Sam has been incredibly hurt by us but he is not broken. It will take time though; it won't be a quick fix. We have to show him, demonstrate to him that he can trust us; that we care about him and we have his back. I have no idea how long it will take, but if anyone can do it, it is this team."
It had taken longer than they had anticipated. It still burned to know they had caused someone so much pain. But as Wordy pointed out to them over the past months, pain that deep and walls that thick and impenetrable were not the result of a few months of mistrust. Those walls took years to build and reinforce.
But today Sam had come in smiling, really smiling and more relaxed and rested then they had ever seen him. Had they finally breached the walls?All thoughts were interrupted as the sirens went off and Winnie called over the loudspeaker, "Team One hot call, shots fired."