“Hold your fire, Gabby,” Danny shouted above the loud mayhem of weapons firing as we worked our way back toward our pinned-down platoon. “If we kill any more, our position will be exposed. The remaining Taliban don’t know we’re here yet.”
Deadly bullets were raining down on our patrol, and all Danny could say was don’t shoot? “Screw that, Danny,” I told him as I took aim at the nearest enemy soldier. “They need our help.”
“No, Gabby. The two of us are outnumbered and cut off from our platoon. If we continue returning fire, they’ll know our position. I have a better idea.”
The sounds of war were both frightening and captivating. There were screams, as bodies received terrible wounds from their flesh being ripped open by rifle rounds or shrapnel from exploding mortars. Nothing quickened you to the importance of life until you realized it could be snuffed out like a stepped-on bug--forever.
In this wild madness, people died on both sides, as whistling rifle rounds pierced the air and each soul questioned as they fought, was the next bullet headed directly for that vulnerable spot between the eyes? The surviving combatants would later swear the thought of catching that fatal piece of metal never crossed their minds in the heat of battle. It was the warrior’s code to claim nothing less.
“Okay, what’s this plan of yours, Danny?” I asked after I took aim at the head of a Taliban gunman pursuing our platoon and then lowered my rifle. I was never one to rationalize a battle situation with a weapon in my hands. My solution--kill the enemy.
“Instead of holding their position and fighting, I think the cowardly lion has ordered the platoon to retreat, leaving us here alone. If we circle around that hill on our right, I think we can get in position to help them without getting ourselves cut off and becoming a target.”
Danny’s words did have a ring of truth to them. We were a platoon, but not a close one. Certain branches of the army swore to never leave a man behind. Those were trained to rely on their brother soldiers. But your basic army grunt was only looking out for his own ass, not that of a friend, like Danny was trying to do for me. So I followed him as we circled around a hill to our right until we were in position.
“Okay, Gabby, it worked. Look,” he whispered and pointed to a hill across from us.
From the bushes we were hiding under, I spotted at least twenty of the Taliban soldiers that had ambushed the platoon when our rookie lieutenant, the cowardly lion as Danny called him, disregarded Danny’s warning and led us into this suicide valley. The Taliban troops were moving to encircle our platoon, preventing what they called “infidel American troops” from escaping.
Earlier, we were approaching this strange valley that wasn’t on our normal patrol route and, when Danny noticed, he made a point of informing our green lieutenant. “Sir?”
“I believe we missed our assigned waypoint and are approaching the wrong map position.”
“Waypoints? What the hell is that? You sound like you were the one that graduated West Point--boy. Did you also attend West Point, ah...Corporal Washington?”
Ignoring that slight from the lieutenant, given to the delight of some of the other soldiers listening, Danny tried again. “Surely anyone who squeaked by graduating that illustrious academy can see that valley ahead isn’t on the map coordinates that we were given--sir.”
I watched as the WP grad’s face became flushed at that put down. Danny had a way with words without being obviously defiant. And then stupid me let slip a chuckle.
“I tell you what, map reader, why don’t you, and Private First Class Chuckles over there, take point and lead us through that valley ahead, since you are so sharp at knowing...ah...waypoints.”
Danny stood there, shaking his head at the freckled-faced lieutenant, before nodding at me and picking up his weapon. Private First Class Chuckles grabbed her rifle and reluctantly joined him.
“You...boys...be careful out there now, and don’t get your peckers shot off,” that jerk the platoon had nicknamed Rockhound, because he has bad teeth like that always-horny actor in the movie Armageddon, shouted for all to hear. “Especially your big one--Private First Class Chuckles...ah...Sumpter.”
I turned to curse him out when Danny stepped between us. The laughter from Rockhound and some of his buddies made our useless rookie platoon leader stick his skinny chest out. The fact escaped him that Rockhound was just sucking up and trying to get Danny’s corporal stripes. Danny had earned them in a fair competition, proving he was the best soldier in the platoon before this green lieutenant was assigned as our leader.
Most of rural Afghanistan was a collection of steep hills and deep valleys. Many of the hills were bare of foliage and others had patches of forest. Those were the most dangerous, offering hidden positions for an ambush. That required Danny and me to risk life and limb, dutifully scouting each one, to prevent the platoon following us from being ambushed. Little did we know our rookie lieutenant had committed another grievous mistake. He allowed too much distance between Danny and me, scouting this valley, and the platoon. A large force of Taliban gunmen, hiding behind one of the many hills, waited until they had them trapped in that valley before opening fire. When the shooting started behind us, by the time we raced back, there were dead men from both sides lying in pools of blood on the ground.
From our position behind the ambushing Taliban troops, and in the loud madness of soldiers firing at each other, we were able to kill a half dozen of the enemy before we were exposed, giving our platoon time to reorganize and put the enemy in a possibly deadly crossfire. What we didn’t expect was for our platoon to, instead, haphazardly retreat, leaving us exposed. That was when Danny pushed me under some bushes and ordered me to stop shooting. “What now, Danny?”
He took a deep breath before speaking, and I could tell his mind was racing. But this was when he was at his best--why he wore those two stipes on his sleeve.
“I think our subterfuge worked, and the Taliban doesn’t know we’re here. Let’s work our way around them and see if we can save our comrade’s asses. What do you think?”
“As an American hero once said, ‘Let’s roll!’”
Danny shook his head at my egotistic play on words, but he was right, as usual. We did catch up with what was left of our platoon and found them cornered behind some rocks with no way out and about to be overrun by about a dozen remaining Taliban troops firing down on their perilous position.
“Okay, this is where we decide who is the better shot.”
“Oh, I thought the ribbon they gave me already answered that question,” I said. He had caught me off-guard with that. Then I realized he must have seen my hands shaking and was trying to distract me.
“That was just target practice, and I let you win,” he boasted as we took up position and got ready for...war.
“You let me? So, people are dying down there, and you want to have a competition?”
He just smiled and took aim. From our position, above and behind the enemy, we had them in a crossfire. As we were trained, we waited until one of Taliban would stand and fire from their hidden positions before we shot them. That helped shield the sound of our firing and kept us from being discovered until we had killed seven or eight of the enemy. The rest figured out their tenuous position and fled. Two of those died before the others disappeared behind a hill.
“Danny, Gabby, you guys saved our bacon,” Tommy Jacks announced when we signaled the coast was clear to get out of here.
“Yeah, man, Tom’s right. We radioed in our position and gunships are on their way, but we might have died by the time they got here,” Jake admitted, voicing all of their opinions.
Not surprising, we were now welcomed as heroes by those who’d shunned us. The realization that came after seeing the Angel of Death close up, beckoning that dead boney finger at you, made close brothers of all--who survived. There were a few, including our lieutenant who was wounded, who later wanted to blame the death of those in the platoon who died on us. But the one question that none of them could answer, was why were we in the wrong location?
Lieutenant Cowardly Lion was still in charge of our platoon, but now most of the men put their confidence in the big brown man who was the last to board the helicopter for the ride back to camp. As the vehicle of our rescue winged its way south, others aboard plotted ways to break up the dynamic duo.
© 2017 by E. Lessly Taylor