Hanging out of the side of the helicopter, the pressure of the wind from the blades threatening to topple me out before the signal, I watch as my teammates descend to the ground before me. They are figures of black against the dark sky, if you weren’t looking for them, you wouldn’t know they were there.
I get the tap on my shoulder and grin, before leaving the relative safety of the chopper and starting my own descent, Ethan to my right, Seb and Chris covering us from the ground. To the left of me, I know another two helicopters follow, dropping their own teams into enemy territory.
So much can go wrong at this moment, we could get shot at, the chopper could go down, the rope could snap... but none of that comes to mind as I hang in mid air, the wind blowing a gale, blocking my senses to any danger that may be lurking in the shadows. No, at this moment I enjoy the feel of the adrenaline that runs through my veins, the fear that energizes into such an addictive feeling, and as my feet touch the ground and I cut the rope, I have never felt more alive.
This is what I live for, this moment, and these mates who have my back no matter what. This makeshift family that’s stronger than blood.
Dropping to the ground, my rifle in front of me, I make my way to where Seb and Chris lie ahead, keeping my body close to the ground as I lug my heavy pack. Ethan stays by my side and I take a moment to look in his direction, just one moment before continuing to scan my surroundings. The grin on his face tells me everything I need to know, he loves this just as much as me. He’s an addict like I am, who has just received his next high.
We make it to the rest of the team and await instructions from Seb, a silent instruction given with a series of hand signals, telling us to move out.
We move two by two, creeping through the night, a silent but deadly force infiltrating the enemy.
To our left I know that alpha team is in position, further across would be bravo, to our right sits charlie and echo teams, and right in the middle is us, delta team, leading this mission, a mission personal to everyone who steps foot on this ground, but none more so than the three men with me.
It’s been almost five years since Drake, the former leader of delta team, died. It’s been almost five years since these three men came out of this god forsaken hole, nothing but skin and bone, it’s been almost five years, and finally, finally, we have the bastard responsible for the scars on their backs and pain in their hearts.
Seb signals us to stop and we take a moment to scan our surroundings. A small, seemingly abandoned and dilapidated compound lies ahead, although we know looks can be deceiving. A spy within the enemy forces has told us this is where our target is, and the evidence suggests the spy is correct.
We sit tight, waiting for the other teams to get into position before we start our assault, the energy surrounding us is one of calm excitement. A strange, yet so familiar feeling, one I only feel just before the heat of battle.
We get the signal that everyone’s in position, and with well practiced movements, we storm the compound.
Our team has gone straight through the front door, while the other teams have come in from each side, there’s no escape, except for any tunnels that could have possibly been missed, though our infiltration points should have all of those covered.
Moving with stealth and fluidity, we kick in doors, detaining those we find inside, shooting those who try to shoot us. I never liked going for the kill shot, though I know that sometimes it’s the only choice. Its me and my mates, or them, and I will always choose my mates, every time.
It doesn’t take long before we have complete control of the compound, our attack seeming to take them by surprise. The man responsible for Drake’s death, captured by alpha team. There was no mistaking who he was, the reaction from Seb, Ethan and Chris giving him away. I have no doubt his face has played a role in many a nightmare in the past five years. I was surprised when Seb turned around and led us away from him, surprised he didn’t take the opportunity to get a bit of revenge. But, then again, that’s not Seb. No amount of violence will bring back Drake, no amount of pain inflicted on that man will give him back the first two years of his daughters life. Seb knew this, he is the bigger man, the better man, and always will be.
Following after Seb, we continue to search the compound, making our way through narrow hallways and solid doors.
Opening a door at the end of a long hallway, the stench that permeates up a dark flight of stairs almost puts us on our knees.
A look of recognition and fear passes between the three men around me. It doesn’t take me long to clue into what they already know.
I take the lead, walking slowly down the steps, my rifle at the ready as my eyes scan the dark surroundings, night vision goggles making it clear and easy to see.
At the bottom of the stairs lies a long hallway, door after door along the left hand side. The smell is overpowering, one of human excrement, sweat and blood. I know I’m not going to like what I see in here, and I have a fleeting thought of getting my teammates out of here and having another team come down. But that’s not my decision. A look between the three men, a consensual nod of the head and the decision has been made. We will do this.
Seb opens the first door as I quickly scan the room for danger, only to find a withering and shaking man in the corner, nothing but skin and bone, with long unkempt hair and dirt caked to his naked body.
Seb radios in to the other teams, it doesn’t take long for echo team to join us, putting a blanket around the man and giving what little first aid they can before we move on to the other doors.
6 doors, 4 prisoners. None were in a good state, but hopefully they will survive.
It was the last door that we opened, the same as every other door before it, that broke him. The room was empty, though you could tell it was recently occupied. The walls were littered with scratch marks, the floor covered in human waste. When I found the room empty, I turned around to see him standing frozen in the doorway. His eyes glazed over as he stared unseeing into the room. His body was present, but his mind was not.
I took a hesitant step closer, though he never acknowledged my presence, and laid a gentle hand on his arm.
“Hey, you right?” I said softly, concern for my mate evident in my voice. He didn’t respond, he continued to stand frozen, as if in a trance.
I squeezed his arm and called out again, but received nothing in return.
I turn my head quickly, trying to catch the eyes of my other teammates, when an ear piercing scream called out, followed by a loud sob. I looked to my mate before me, quickly taking his weapon as he collapsed to the floor, bringing his knees to his chest and rocking as he heaved wretched sobs.
I dropped down beside him, not knowing what to do as the rest of my team joined us on the ground. We shared a look between us before gently moving him to his feet and carrying him out of that room.
We didn’t waste time getting him to one of the evacuation choppers that were here for the people we rescued, the medics seeing our mates state, made room for our team.
As we strapped ourselves in, I watched as my friends sobs disappeared, leaving only a trail of tears and snot on his face and the occasional quiver of his chest as evidence of what had occurred.
The rest of the team shared a look, we knew what this was, it shouldn’t have come as a surprise to us, but it did.
A soldiers fate, the scars of war. We all wear them, we are all affected by them, one way or another. Sometimes they are physical, an obvious scar for people to look at, comment on. But more often than not, the more damaging scars are those that can’t be seen. The scars that often don’t show themselves for weeks, months or even years after the trauma had occurred. The scars are always there, for every soldier, no one comes out of war unchanged. The only difference is, is how those scars affect us in the end, and they will affect us, in some way or another. It’s a soldiers fate, the price we pay.
And it looks like Chris has come face to face with fate.