The crash in Colombia

Diesel used the wadded up green triangle bandage to mop up the sweat that was starting to form and run down his face as he drove an oversized dark green painted golf cart that someone added a flame paint job and a set of fuzzy dice to hang from the mirror too, towards his squadron’s hanger. It was only 0930 hours and the heat and humidity was already climbing.

Damn it, thought Diesel. Twenty minutes ago he and his crew had just started pulling panels off his VTH-32 to facilitate replacing some parts that were nearing the end of their service life when Staff Sergeant Grover came out to his aircraft to inform him that he needed to button up his aircraft and start to preflight it instead.

Diesel was not on the flight schedule for today and yet, here he was head back to the flight line shack after retrieving one of his flight suit from of his clean laundry.

Diesel was swearing under his breath that he would have one of the other crew chiefs or a mechanic take a good hard look at Brewer’s bird and its supposedly bad engine.

This is the third time in two weeks that son of a bitch Brewer has dropped himself from a flight. Diesel thought as he swung the cart into a wide left turn to avoid a large canopied tree up ahead. Not that the tree was dangerous just that its inhabitants were.

In the tree lived a troop of woolly monkeys that had recently taken up residency. These woolly monkeys had a nasty habit of throwing anything they could get their hands on. Branches, the food they were eating, and of course their own feces, all became missiles. Last week someone drove to close to the tree and it took three days for the smell to finally go away.

A few minutes later Diesel brought the cart to a stop outside the fenced in area that ringed the hanger and flight line for the War Hawks. The guard held out one of his hands for the IDs of the men in the cart the other rested on the butt of his pistol in it drop down holster. The guard took the time to look at each ID and match it to a face in the cart before handing the IDs back.

“You may enter,” said the marine.

“Thanks,” said Diesel as he handed the IDs back and drove past.

A quick look into the guard shack revealed that there were four other marines. Something was up thought Diesel. The normal troop placement was two marines per guard post. From the load out of the five marines this was a complete fire team.

Diesel pressed the pedal down to get the cart moving faster and steered the cart towards the line shack and parked the cart in the rear. Everyone piled out of the cart and headed inside the shack. Once inside Diesel headed for the locker room and changed out of his coveralls and into his flight suit. While he changed, Lance Corporal Andy Bagger came into tell him that his aircraft was ready to be preflighted. Diesel thanked Andy and asked him to make sure that there was plenty of fresh water and food stored aboard. Lcpl Bagger said he would and left.

Diesel finished changing and grabbed his flight bag, helmet and books. On the way out of the line shack Diesel spoke to Sgt. Decker and his First Mech Corporal Summers about taking a look at Brewer’s bird and its bad engine.

Diesel walked across the sweltering tarmac of the flight line to drop off his gear at his aircraft before heading to the hanger. By the time he walked from the flight line and through the wide open hanger the back and pits of his flight suit were already soaked with sweat. When Diesel pushed the double doors open that led to the first floor offices the relatively cooler air felt great to him. This feeling did not last long as Diesel trudged up the flight of stairs to the second floor.

Diesel walked into the ready room to see just a few others had beaten him to the briefing. He walked over to the flight board and saw who else was to be on this mission. Twelve of the twenty four birds of the squadron. What truly bothered Diesel was that this mission was not on the board yesterday which meant that this mission was being thrown together on the fly.

He sat down in one of the government issued chairs with its regulation one inches of padding that really did nothing to make the seat comfortable. He tried to lean the seat back but the mechanism was not working. With a sigh Diesel leaned his head back and closed his eyes as he waited for the briefing to start. Diesel chose this seat because it was directly under an air vent but that did not help. The AC was fighting a losing battle, just like the US marines and the other troops here at the request of the UN.

There were armed forces from no less than seven different nations fighting the rebels and the private armies of the drug lords here in Colombia to El Salvador. In some cases the rebels and the private armies were one in the same.

Missions were giving out daily from the UN High Command to each of the seven nation’s forces. Sometimes these missions were combined with that of another nation, but under the command of a third nation. There were many problems with this tactic. First among them was the language barrier. Then came the fighting doctrines followed by equipment used by each of the nations. Next on this list were the rules of engagement called ROEs imposed by the UN.

Diesel thought about these things a lot when he had time just to himself which was not often. Diesel considered himself lucky if he got six hours of sleep a night. He was always on the move, either on a flight or doing the maintance needed to keep his or one of the other aircrafts up. There was always something that needed to be done in preparation for some mission.

“Hey Diesel, what are you doing here? I have today’s flight.” said a high nasally voice.

Diesel opened his eyes and turned his head to look at the speaker. “Is your bird back up?” he asked Brewer.

“No, I will be taking your bird up instead.”

“That, is not going to happen. The last time you used my bird you left it trashed and then you failed to do the post flight inspection and any maintance that needed to be done. Instead you left that for me to do the next day.”

“Hey I just fly in them, it is for the grease monkeys like you to fix them,” replied Brewer.

The animosity between Diesel and Brewer was not uncommon, recently the Marine Corps restarted a program where just about anyone in the aviation field could become a crew chief after passing a 90 day course designed to teach them the bare essentials. These men were called ninety day wonders or the new breed. Whereas men like Diesel who first went to school for over a year to learn how to maintain the VTH-32, after that they had to work on the VTH-32 for another three years before making the move to crew chief.

Diesel looked down at his old fashioned mechanical watch, he had fifteen minutes till the briefing. He stood up and stretched before walking over to the Duty Officer’s desk and picked up the internal phone. Diesel pressed the button for the flight line shack.

“Master Gunnery Sergeant Simmons please?” asked Diesel.

A moment later Diesel was connected to the master gunnery sergeant. “Master guns, its Diesel. Why is Brewer taking my bird up?” he asked.

Diesel held the phone away from his ear as Master Gunnery Sergeant Simmons went off on a sputtering triad of expletives.

“Brewer, I think master guns wants to talk to you about who is going on this flight,” said a smirking Diesel.

Brewer was glaring as he walked up to the desk to take the phone from Diesel. “Master guns, its Brewer. After a short pause he continued, Yes sir, right away sir. Aye aye sir.” with that Brewer hung up the phone.

“I hope you don’t get too dirty,”

“Screw you Diesel,” said Brewer as he stormed off.

The lieutenant giving the brief was droning on.  He first covered the ROEs, followed by assignment of radio freqs and mission parameters. The most shocking item so far in the briefing was the news that six squadrons were taking part in this mission.

“Intel has the rebels moving through this area here and here. Our target is this force moving along the Atrato River towards Panama. Now French troops have been or are being stationed on this side of the border of Colombia to block them while we drop off marines to hem them in as Colombian Army engages them. The Colombian Army has been following the rebels for about a week, but last night they got the break they needed. The rebels were forced to stop and clear a landslide as a result of a earthquake that blocked their path. The rebels were also hampered by the resulting damage to a few key bridges” said the lieutenant.

Diesel just rolled his eyes at this bit of news concerning the French. Several of the others just groaned or shifted in their seats.

“Ground sensors tell us that the rebels have a lot of armor and a lot of foot soldiers. Now your navigational waypoints and landing co-ordinates are being uploaded to your onboard computers now. The first leg of your flight will take you to Marine Base Helena. There you will pickup troops and start your second leg of your flight. It is on this leg where you will meet up with your sister squadrons. It is very important that you maintain your timetable. You must link up with your sister squadrons in order to deliver your troops in mass on the second leg of your flight you will also be linking up with French fighters that will supply your fighter cover. Once you get to your troop insertion point the French fighters will break off and begin their bombing and harassing of the rebel force. After you insert your loads you will remain on station and provide close-air-support. There will be a tanker circling above if the need to refuel arises.”

This is going to be a cluster fuck thought Diesel. He looked over to his pilots. Both of whom were shaking their heads. Diesel listened to the rest of the briefing but with little interest.

With the briefing over Diesel headed over to Ordnance to speak with Sgt. Jacobs. Jacobs met him at the door to the room.

“I heard you were on the today’s mission,” said the tall and lanky marine.

“You did, did you,” replied Diesel.

“Yeah, Steppe was already in and signed for the extra ordnance and Roberts already took you flight gear out to your bird. Wes and I brought out an extra pallet of ammo for your bird. Your crew started stowing it away once we dropped it off.”

“And just what is that going to cost me?” asked Diesel.

“Nothing, the old man ordered it. I do need you to sign for your personal weapon and six full mags,” said Jacobs as he handed over a clipboard.

Diesel signed the paperwork and accepted his rifle and mags. He stuffed the mags into one of his many pockets and slung the rifle over his shoulder before heading out to his aircraft.

The open windows allowed the crisp cool mountain air to flow through the aircraft. To the untrained eye it would appear that Diesel was pacing the deck of his VTH-32, but what he was really doing was checking that his crew and his aircraft were ready for anything.

A VTH-32 was an odd combination of helicopter and fixed wing aircraft.  She carried a crew of five, two pilots who sit in the nose of what looked like a twentieth century Cobra helicopter cockpit that had been attached to the body of a C-130 style aircraft.  Add the sweeping wings of a modern fighter and the tail section from an old twentieth century fighter, the Phantom, and you had the VTH-32. She was a wicked piece of machinery with plenty of pure raw power from her three engines. Well armored and armed, the VTH-32 had two 30 mm chain guns, one slung under the nose and one built into the tail that could pivot straight down and around to face directly aft of the aircraft and had a 180 degree swing from side to side. In addition to the weapons provided by the 30 mm guns, there were four 20 mm chain guns, one mounted on each wing and one mounted on each side of the fuselage.  She was further enhanced with hard points to mount missiles and external fuel tanks. The added weaponry gave the crew the ideal capability of protecting the men during loading and unloading in a hot landing zone, commonly referred to as a LZ.

Diesel took a few seconds to scan the fifty five combat ready marines seated in his aircraft. Some had a nervous look about them while others looked relaxed, as if they did this every day. Some of them just might thought Diesel. He also made sure that they were strapped in to their seats and that their weapons were pointed towards the deck.

Diesel along with his crew were connected to the aircraft internal communications system commonly referred to as the ICS. This meant they and the pilots could talk to one another without yelling. Currently the pilots were expressing their views of the current situation involving the lack of French fighter cover. Diesel as a courtesy brought out an extra hookup for the ICS for the platoon commander, a lieutenant in this case, to use.

The lieutenant for the first thirty minutes would not shut up, and he kept rearranging the seating of his marines. After five minutes of this changing seats and having his men constantly going through their gear one of the pilots had enough and explained that from that moment on no one but the aircrew was to move about the aircraft. One of the other crew members has disabled the lieutenant’s ICS gear so the man could only hear.

Diesel looked out through the opened upper portion of the crew door. The pilots were starting to descend into the valley and follow the river to the LZ were the marines were to be deploy from. Diesel heard and felt the thuds as something was striking the sides of his aircraft.  Diesel leaned back and looked down the interior of his aircraft as shafts of sunlight appeared at random intervals all along both sides of his aircraft. He also saw the bodies of marines being pitched forward against their seatbelts.

The pilots knew what that sound and that sensation meant. They immediately went into evasive maneuvers. Diesel’s VTH-32 was raked again by incoming fire. More bodies for the marines were pitching and twitching as the rounds passed through the armor of the aircraft.

Diesel snapped his head around to look out and away from the aircraft looking for anything that might tell him where the fire was coming from. There just below the ridge line was a series of orange bursts shortly followed by more thudding sounds. Diesel snapped his visor down and ran to the starboard side 20 mm chain gun.  The servos whined as the weapon was whipped into place. Barely had the aiming point settled on the orange blossoms of weapons fire when Diesel returned fire. Diesel raked the entire area with return fire nor was he the only one.

Diesel could see bright lines of tracer fire streaking from various VTH-32’s to different points about the valley. The aircraft started to throb as the other weapons onboard the VTH-32 started firing.

“Missiles inbound,” screamed Lcpl Ryan.

If it was not for the gunners belt Diesel would have been either tossed out of the aircraft or thrown to the deck or the overhead. From his position he could see chaff and flares arching into the sky from all the 32’s in his field of vision.

Diesel switched his field of fire as he realized that a trio of missiles were tracking in on Baby Doll crewed by a long time friend Sgt Muse. Diesel watched as the tracers sliced into the first of the missiles. Without missing a beat he shifted fire to the second missile. Again the tracers looked like a laser cutting the missile in half. Baby Doll banked and dropped denying Diesel a shot at the third missile.

The missile dove homing in on the VTH-32 and detonated just aft engine one. Engine one exploded shredding both the fuselage and the wing. Baby Doll dropped into a nose dive but Diesel’s aircraft was moving too fast for him to see where it went down.

Diesel felt the aircraft shudder again as incoming fire ripped into her again. He heard screaming again but this time it was through the ICS. He scanned over his crew, they were up and firing. That left the pilots, Diesel called out, “Joe, take my weapon.”

Diesel unclipped his gunner’s belt and ran forward as he heard Capitan Fisher calling for him over the ICS. When Diesel got to the cockpit he wanted to puke. Fisher was in bad shape. Missing one hand and shrapnel wounds peppering his face and exposed flesh but fisher was still in control of the aircraft. There was no question that Capitan Devry dead, half of his head was missing and his guts were pooling about his lap.

“Diesel, you’re gonna have to land us,” said Fisher weakly.

“What?” asked Diesel.

“Pull Devry out and take his place.”

Diesel leaned over the corpse of Captain Devry and slapped the release for his five point harness. Next he yanked and pulled with every fiber of muscle he could to get the Devry out of his seat. There was no time for niceties as Diesel dragged the body and the trailing organs into the main part of the fuselage. Diesel slid into the vacant seat and strapped himself in just as Fisher was starting to lose control of the aircraft.

“Diesel, I’m gonna walk you through it for as long as I can. I need you to take the sticks and hold them steady while I tie off my hand.”

Diesel grabbed the sticks and made sure not to move them or the pedals at his feet. He heard Fisher grunting and breathing heavy as Fisher was tying off his missing hand as best as he could. Diesel watched the sky as more 32s started dropping from the sky.

But the 32’s were inflicting a lot of damage in return. Entire sections of the valley was burning and exploding as missiles rained down from above. Secondary explosions went off as vehicles and their crews died.

Diesel watched as a group of ten 32s formed up, side by side. In unison the 32s pitched over to one side and performed a maneuver called plowing the field. Missiles rippled off as the chain guns chewed up the forest below. In awe Diesel watched as the formation banked and turned to repeat the maneuver to rain death and destruction down on the rebels that ambushed them.

A second group was forming up but Diesel had more important things to worry about as the aircraft was struck again. Diesel knew the basics of flying, so he pushed the throttles all the way forward.

“Diesel what the hell are you doing?” asked Fisher.

“I’m getting us the hell out of here!” replied Diesel.

Just then more incoming fire took out engines one and three.

Trailing thick black smoke and raining spent shell casings Diesel banked the aircraft and climbed. The 32 was fighting for every inch of altitude and distance from the attackers. Diesel crested the mountain’s ridge and nosed the aircraft over. The bottom of the 32 brushed the tops of the trees.

Diesel heard the ragged breathing of Fisher before he heard him talk, “Damn this hurts.”

“Sir, do you see a place to land this thing?”

“Diesel I’m gonna blackout soon,” said Fisher’s weakening voice

“Listen up marines, I am going to find us a nice spot to land. I want Parks and Roberts reloading weapons. Ryan and Steppe start checking on the troops and see if any are still alive.”

“Diesel its Parks, Steppe is dead. We have a medic onboard and he is already treating the wounded.”

“I see a spot up ahead that looks clear, you have three minutes to reload and get set for a rough landing. Parks tell that lieutenant I want his surviving men to secure a perimeter around the 32. The armor should protect us from small arms,” said Diesel.

“Forget asking the lieutenant for anything, he is a goner,” said Parks.

“Then tell the surviving marines what I want,” yelled Diesel into his ICS mic.

“I’m on it.”

“Parks make sure everyone is buttoned up. I have no way of telling who might be waiting for us or might come calling once we are down,” said Diesel.

Diesel brought the damaged 32 straight in. He passed over a small river while heading for the small clearing. The clearing was just large enough to land the bird. He pulled up on the collective to slow the 32 down and as he put the 32 in a very unstable hover he heard his crew calling out. Port side clear, starboard side clear, aft clear, all clear.

Diesel tried the best he could to bring the 32 down a gently as he could, but from the way the 32 bounced on the landing he knew he had done some damage to the landing gear. He reached up and shut off engines one and three.

“Parks pop all the circuit breakers for the one and three engines. Ryan drop the ramp and get the troops out,” said Diesel.

Diesel started to shut down the number two engine when Ryan called out, “Contact rear, I say again contact rear. Taking small arms fire from many hostiles.”

About ten seconds later the deep throaty roar of the 30 mm tail chain gun started engaging anything coming out of the woods towards the rear of the 32. Diesel slapped the release for the five point harness and slithered over Fisher to remove his helmet. Fisher’s helmet was the one that controlled the chin mounted 30 mm chain gun.

As Diesel’s hands clasped the helmet the chain gun opened up. The trees exploded into a mist of splinters and sap. The weapon sweep left and right and back again. Diesel looked up as the weapon ripped the trees back from in front of the 32. Diesel watched as someone popped up with a missile launcher. The man never got the missile off. The launcher and the man just exploded into so many pieces and disappeared from view.

The double thunder for the 30 mm chain guns was joined by the twin higher shriek of the two 20 mm chain guns. Diesel looked outside the cockpit to see the marines taking up positions around the 32 and adding their fire to the battle going on around the 32.

“Diesel get ready to take the helmet,” said a very weak sounding Fisher.

He leaned forward again as the 30 mm chain gun fell silent and he took the helmet and put in on. Diesel slid the eyepiece in place and depressed the trigger as he saw men jump up and rush the 32.

Diesel started firing short controlled bursts whenever the cross hairs in the eyepiece crossed over an enemy soldier. The ammo counter in the upper right corner told him he was down to 2750 of his 5000 rounds.

“Diesel it looks like they are falling back,” said Parks.

“Same here,” added Ryan

“Conserve your ammo and reload your hoppers, I need that medic up here asap, Fisher is in bad shape.”

Diesel took a long drink of water as he sat down on one of the crates of MREs, the medic assigned to the unit that was flying on the 32 sat down next to him.

“I’m sorry I didn’t catch your name earlier when we last spoke. My hearing was a little fuzzy from all the shooting,” said Diesel.

“The kids call me Gramps, and I have heard the others of you crew call you Diesel. This is just for your information but the senior non-com is more than a little pissed at you. He thinks you are lying to him about your date of rank,” said Gramps.

Diesel took another long drink of water before he turned to reply. “I really don’t care what he thinks. How is the captain?” Diesel asked as he handed the water back to the medic.

“I just got done looking at your Captain Fisher again, he is in real bad shape. Besides the loss of his hand and the resultant blood loss, he has several broken ribs, and his right heel is missing. All that and some massive soft tissue damage from the rounds his armor stopped,” said Gramps before he too took a long drink of water.

“What about the rest?” asked Diesel.

“Out of the sixty-two that boarded this flight twenty eight are dead. I have eleven critical and fourteen walking wounded leaving a total of nine at full combat readiness. And before you say it I have already handed out the ammo and food, the water has also been shared.”

“Where are the bodies?” asked Diesel.

“Your man Parks got a few guys to load them up in their body bags and move them outside. I lost count of how many times the rebels charged this place.”

“Seven times, there is only about 400 rounds left in the tail gun, and about 824 rounds for the chin mounted gun. We the sun goes down Parks and I are going to take the ammo from the wings to reload the tail and chin. That will give us 10,000 rounds for each. The twenties have about 4000 rounds each plus one reload of 5000 left.”

Diesel was interrupted from talking any further by the arrival of two marines coming into the downed aircraft.

“Sgt Burke take a load off and have a seat, where is Sgt Casabon?” asked Diesel.

The man named Burke stripped off his combat harness and pulled out his camelback to refill it.

“Casabon is out setting up a few surprises for any unwanted guests that might be call on us tonight. He took Gellar and Zal with him, they should be almost done. Green and myself have been digging a few shallow fighting holes,” said Burke.

Green sat down beside the medic Gramps and showed him his hands, the palms were almost one large blister. Gramps took one look and damn near screamed at the young man. Instead he counted to ten and asked “Where are your gloves marine?”

“They got shot up Gramps and no one has hands as small as mine.”

“They got shot up,” repeated Gramps.

“They were in my pack as I was instructed to put them,” said Green.

Diesel looked over to Gramps and then the marine’s hands. “Gramps you treat his hands and I will get him a set of gloves.”

Few minutes later tossed a set olive drab green flight gloves into the young marine’s lap.

“You are going to want to cut the first finger off both gloves and then just the tips off the rest,” said Diesel as he started to rummage through his crew box for something.

“Hey Gramps how are your supplies?” Diesel asked as he tossed a large double sided bag down at his feet.

“Getting low, what is this?” gramps asked as he finished up with Green.

“I was a boyscout and I asked our Flight surgeon and our medics to make me a first aid kit just for situations like this. I hope it helps.”

Diesel headed aft and slipped over the raised ramp and low crawled over to where two marines were trying to get a signal out back to HQ.

“Its Glenn and Matheson right?” he asked as he closed on their position.

“Yes sir,” replied both of them.

“I’m just a sergeant, marines. What is the story with the radios?” replied Diesel.

“Either every radio is broken or they have one huge jamming device they are using because I can’t get shit on any of them.” Diesel thought it was Glenn that had spoken.

“Okay, give the radios a rest and I want you two to join up with Sgt Burke and Green and help did some fighting holes and make sure you wear your gloves.”

“Aye aye sergeant,” replied both men.

When the sun finale went down and not just behind the mountain ridge Diesel and Parks unloaded the chain guns mounted in the wings. Ryan and Roberts where lying on top of the aircraft’s fuselage using their night vision goggles to see if anyone was sneaking up on them. The infantry marines were doing the same with their scopes. For now all was quiet as the moon started to slowly creep its way across the starry sky.

Diesel was holding a meeting with Captain Fisher, Gramps, Sgts Burke and Casabon, and Corporal Parks.

“Diesel, you are going to have to leave us here. You need to get what men you can out of here,” said Fisher forcefully.

“With respect sir, no sir. Marines do not leave their dead or dying behind ever. We just need to hold on and wait till the marines or the Colombian National Army come to get us. We have food for three day or if we ration it a week. We have fresh water and shelter. Now at the same time I am not opposed to sending out a small group to have a look around and see what we are up against,” replied Diesel.

“And just who would you send on this suicide mission?” asked Casabon.

“I would ask for three volunteers to join me. I am not about to tell someone to do something I’m not willing to do myself,” replied Diesel.

“I’ll go with you,” said Burke.

“Same here Diesel,” said Parks.

“I need you to stay here with the bird and keep thing under control here Parks.”

“Then who else would you take?” asked Fisher.

“Who is you best night fighters Burke?” asked Diesel.

“That’s an easy one, the boppsie twins, Keaton and Hopkins. They are sneaky, quiet and damn good with a knife or a rifle.”

“Would you please be so kind as to pass the word that I would like to have a word with them.” said Diesel as he moved over to the crew box and pulled out a plastic box that held a set of Marpat Digital Cammies and started to change into them.

“I’ll get you a combat harness and help you set it up when I get back with Keaton and Hopkins,” said Burke.

“I will draw you a map of where we put the defenses and a route that will get you past them the quickest,” said Casabon.

Fisher coughed before he spoke, “Diesel, you sure about this. Your idea about going down the river was a good one.”

“Sir, they have to have someone watching the river, and if we head straight to the water they will cut us down. Now all I plan on doing is finding out where they keep coming from and maybe get a head count but if a way to get us all out presents itself I mean to take it.”

In the past seven attacks the small clearing had been enlarged by the explosive effects of the 20mm and the 30mm chain guns ammo. After getting ready Burke lead the four man team out to the edge of the standing tree line. They slipped over and under the fallen trees. It was a common occurrence to come across the grisly remains of the fallen rebels.

Diesel tapped Burke on the foot and Burke stopped crawling forward and slowly spun around to face Diesel.

“What?” whispered Burke when his face was right next to Diesel’s.

“I want to talk to one of the wounded and see what he can tell us.”

“Okay,” replied Burke before he turned back around and started moving towards one of the few moaning men.

It took Burke about ten minutes to work the team in close to the wounded man. It was another two minutes before they located the man in the dark. The four men surrounded him and checked him over. Burke was worried that the wounded man may have been booby-trapped.

The man was delirious with blood loss and shock, Keaton leaned in next to the man’s head and softly spoke to him. The wounded man moaned and mumbled a response, but the response was not a simple one. The man continued mumbling for several minutes before he slowly stopped breathing.

“What did you ask him and what did he say?” asked Diesel in a weak whisper.

“I asked him his name and he asked me to save his kids. He said that they were taken by rebel soldiers and he was forced to fight.  He kept talking about a cave or tunnel where others like him are being held and forced to work. Before he died he said they were forced to attack us or die. Check his weapon and see if there any ammo,” said Keaton softly.

Diesel reached for the weapon and slid the bolt back, the chamber was empty. He pressed the magazine release and pulled the mag out. It too was empty. Next Diesel checked the spare mags they too were empty. “Let’s find another one and see if we can get some answers instead of more questions.”

A few more minutes later they came across another wounded man, he was different. He was bigger, bulkier, white and his weapons were loaded. After a few minutes of listening to this man’s refusal to talk they stripped him of his weapons and left him to die.

Burke started to follow the bodies of the fallen. Every once in a while he would stop to bring up a set of NVGs to scan ahead. The bodies had thinned out but now they could follow the trampled ground.

Diesel slipped the cloth cover off his watch to look at the time. The watch read 11:40 pm, he and the marines had been on the move for more than an hour and a half. In that time Diesel was not sure how far they had moved but if he had to guess he would have to guess somewhere around 800 yards. Burke was leading them through a shallow gully filled with thick brush but the ground was clear and easy to move through.

Voices and the thumping of booted feet could be heard and they were coming closer. The sounds pasted right by them and continued down towards the down VTH-32. Moments later gun fire erupted and then the answering roar of the chain guns replied. Fiery explosions and flares lit the night sky as the assaulting force set off the booby traps that Casabon had setup. Diesel did as the three other marines did, they made themselves as small as they could and hoped that a stray round did not find them. The fire fight was not a long one but Diesel could tell from the way the chain guns were firing the assaulters were coming at the 32 in waves like they were probing for a weakness.

Burke did not start moving until the shooting stopped, when he did move it was to the edge of the gully to see if anyone was returning. They waited there at the lip of the gully for at least 10 minutes but no one came back.

The four marines were slowly working their way out of the gully and up the trail when the light flare of someone lighting a cigarette appeared off in the distance. Burke started to slowly veer a little up slope from where the flare of light was.

Diesel’s heart was pounding in his chest, he could hear his blood roaring in his ears. He was sure that anyone nearby could hear him as breathed. Burke came to a stop and signaled for the rest to join him.

“Diesel,” said Burke.

“Yes,” replied Diesel.

“First, I want you to control you breathing, you are breathing so hard you’re going to give away our position. Just think that you are on a nice slow stroll in the woods. Slowly breathe in and slowly exhale. The next thing is if you have to pee now is the time to do it.”

Diesel looked back to see both Keaton and Hopkins were still prone but pissing away off to the side. Diesel followed suit and shifted his body and unbuttoned his fly and let loose as Burke was on watch. When Diesel finished it was Burke’s turn.

Diesel could hear voices and smell food, there were other noises that he could not identify but they were nowhere near where they saw the light flare. Burke could stopped moving and just pivoted his head to localize where the sounds and smells where coming from. Diesel, Keaton and Hopkins did the same. After a few seconds Burke along with Keaton and Hopkins looked at him.

“So where is it coming from?” asked Burke.

“The breeze is carrying the smells from up slope, so we need to move up slope, but the sounds are coming from both up slope and ahead of us. I say we head up slope. first and check it out and then continue forward, if it doesn’t pan out,” said Diesel.

Burke looked from Diesel to his men, “How would you grade him guys?” he asked in a hushed voice.

Hopkins was the first to speak, “I would give him a eight point five out of ten.”

Keaton looked at Hopkins with a quizzical look first and then looked to Burke, “I would say his instincts are right on, so I would give him a ten unlike my friend the German judge.”

Burke took a moment before moving out again to scan upslope with the NVGs. He pull the way and looked into the dark then put the NVGs back up to his eyes before passing the goggles over to Keaton. “What do you make of that?” Burke asked as he pointed towards something off in the dark.

Keaton held the goggles to his face and said, “I have no idea,” and passed them on to Hopkins.

“Can I buy a clue?” Hopkins asked after taking a look.

Diesel took a look through the goggles and off in the distance was an odd shape, low to the ground and shaped like an over large mushroom. “It’s a vent,” Diesel said.

Burke took back the goggles, “Hopkins why the eight point five?”

“He’s a wing nut and he made it look way to easy,” said Hopkins.

Burke and Keaton just shook their heads for a few seconds before Burke got up into a crouch and headed for the vent. Diesel, Keaton and Hopkins followed closely behind. Diesel found that moving in this crouching walk even the short distance was burning his thighs. His elbows and knees were already rubbed raw. By the time he got to the vent his legs were cramping.

Burke and the others were kind enough not to bust his chops when he asked for a few minutes to rest after getting to the vent to ease the cramped muscles of his legs. While Diesel worked on his legs the others took a look at the vent and worked the top off of it.

With the top of the vent off the sounds and smells became more pronounced. Burke, Keaton and Hopkins took a look inside. They could see people passing below them.

“How far above them are we?” asked Keaton.

“At a guess I would say maybe fifty feet, not much more than that,” replied Hopkins.

“If you would like I could go down there, find a tape measure and tell you,” said Diesel as he got off the ground and took a look for himself. A forklift past underneath carrying a pallet of crates with Cyrillic lettering. A second forklift carrying another pallet of crates but one was open, inside the crate were RPG rounds.

“How much do you want to bet those are for the next attack on the aircraft? We need to stop the next attack.” said Diesel.

“And How do you suppose we do that?” asked Burke.

“I don’t know but we have to try. Lets head towards where we saw that flare of light and see where that leads us,” replied Diesel.

Hopkins and Keaton replaced the top of the vent before the foursome moved out again with Burke on point. They moved slower the closer to where they thought the light flare came from. Burke paused more often this time looking with the NVGs for anything out of the ordinary. His diligence paid off when he spotted two men sitting in the dark leaning against some trees just relaxing.

Burke pointed this out to Keaton and Hopkins and lent them the NVGs to take a look at their targets. Both men went prone slowly crept forward towards the men approaching them from the side. Burke gave Diesel the NVGs to watch the men’s progress as he switched to his rifle and its scope with internal night vision.

Diesel watched as both Keaton and Hopkins closed to within 15 feet at with point they put two rounds into each man’s head from their silenced pistols. With the death of the two men Diesel and Burke joined up with Keaton and Hopkins.

“I don’t see where they could have come out of the tunnel from. They would not wonder to far from it. Burke, Diesel come and take a look at these guys, you are not going to believe this,” said Hopkins.

Burke and Diesel edged closer for a look the dead men, Hopkins was right these men were different. They were dressed in Colombian Army uniforms. Keaton tossed Burke two wallets. Diesel hands back the NVGs so Burke could take a look at the men’s ID. Burke fished out a military ID from one wallet and looked it over. He did the same with the second wallet.

“These are real ID’s and guess what, they were sergeants. Hopkins, Keaton hide the bodies. Diesel and I will look for the opening to the tunnel.”

As Hopkins went to grab the ankles of one of the men they heard voices coming to them. Burke and Diesel moved to interpose the trees between the voices and themselves. Keaton and Hopkins stayed in front of the bodies and waited till the approaching voices came closer. The voices turned out to be two more man coming from up slope. The two men mistook Hopkins and Keaton in the dark for someone else.

It was over in the blink of an eye. Hopkins and Keaton struck so fast that the two men never had a chance. Keaton struck his target in the throat with a solid punch that first crushed the man’s windpipe. He hit the ground struggling to breathe and flailing for his weapon. Keaton was on him in a flash trying to restrain the man’s arms.

Hopkins caught his target with a vicious right hook the connected with the man’s jaw. Teeth and blood went flying as the man sailed backwards with a broken jaw. He landed in an unconscious heap. Hopkins raced over to the man, knelt down, and grasped the man’s head in both of his hands. Hopkins gave the man’s head a sharp twist and snapped the man’s neck.

“Do you think those uniforms will fit us?” asked Diesel.

“That’s a good question, what have you in mind Diesel?” asked Burke.

“Wolves in among the sheep,” replied Diesel.

“Let’s strip the dead and see if the uniforms fit first,” said Hopkins.

Hopkins and Keaton went wide to the right as Burke and Diesel went wide to the left.  Using the scopes on their rifles the men leap frogged their way up slope where as Diesel had to rely on using the NVGs. They had cleared about 150 feet when Keaton and Hopkins located a way into the tunnels. The only problem was the way in was guarded by four men.

Diesel took a prone position beside Burke and watched through the goggles as Keaton and Hopkins did the same. When Burke started to slowly low crawl forward Diesel did the same. Burke worked his way forward by probing the ground in front of him with the palm of his hand to make sure that nothing was going to make a sound or snap and give away his position as he passed over it. Diesel started to do the same.

Their progress was slow but steady. Sweat started running down Diesel’s face stinging his eyes. His elbows and knees felt like they were on fire, but he continued forward. The distance to the opening and the four men was slowly dwindling. To Diesel’s surprise three of the men just stood up and went back inside leaving one man at the opening. The man just sat on what appeared to Diesel through the goggles to be a small crate of some kind. They were now within 20 feet of the man when he too got up and went inside.

Hopkins and Keaton were the first to make it to the opening. Burke slowly got to his feet and walked over to his men. Diesel was only a step behind him. Burke leaned in close to his men and whispered to them. He them leaned into Diesel and told him he was to follow him in but from this point Hopkins and Keaton would have point as they had silenced pistols and Diesel did not.

Through the goggles Diesel watched as Keaton parted a think heavy cloth curtain for Hopkins to move forward through. Once Hopkins moved forward Keaton was a step behind him. Diesel did the same for Burke and followed him in. The four men passed through another set of curtains before they came to a red lighted earthen tunnel. After a short distance the earthen tunnel gave way to a finished tunnel with red bricks for the sides and a precast concrete ceiling and a poured concrete floor.

The tunnel was wide enough for two men to walk abreast in and more than high enough for Diesel to stand up in. along one wall of the tunnel were two hoses. One was a four inch hose and the other was a two inch hose. The strong smell of fuel was everywhere and was getting stronger the further into the tunnel the men went.

The tunnel started to gently slope down. It was at this point that the lights went from red to regular clear light bulbs. They now could hear machine noises and people shouting to be heard over it. Hopkins and Keaton slowly made their way to the corner at the end of the tunnel. Keaton got down on his knees and slowly inched his head past the corner to get a glimpse of what the room held.

Keaton eased his head back from the corner and held up four fingers, indicating that there were four people in the room that he saw. Keaton then mouthed the words “far side of the room”. Burke moved up to the corner to have a look. Burke looked at Diesel and asked him twice if he remembered how to breach a room just to be sure he was heard over the noise from the room.

Both times Diesel nodded he did. Just to be sure Burke placed Diesel in the last position. Diesel’s responsibilities were to cover the far end of the room and then once the room was cleared he was to cover the rear. Burke took the number one position and Keaton and Hopkins and the number two and three positions respectively.

Each man held their weapons at the ready with fingers on the triggers and safeties off. When he was ready Diesel placed his free hand on Hopkins shoulder who in turn did the same to Keaton. Keaton passed the signal that the rest of the stack was ready by placing his hand on Burkes shoulder. The moment Keaton touched Burke’s shoulder Burke smoothly walked around the corner and broke to the right heading for the corner of the room. Keaton was right on his heels but went to the left instead and headed for that corner. Hopkins was half a step behind Keaton and he went to the right to clear the way for Diesel.

When he came through the opening his weapon was already up the two men at the far end of the room were looking the wrong way when Diesel pulled the trigger twice. Each pull of the trigger sent three rounds down range to strike their intended target center mass. At a range of less than 50 feet both men were dead before their bodies hit the ground. Diesel did not even hear the shots that dropped the other two men in the room over the noise.

As the men advanced deeper into the room Diesel guarded the rear. In just a few seconds the room was declared clear of all hostiles. This room had three huge electrical generators running and two more that looked like they were in the process of being worked on. Diesel looked about the room for the first time. The room was more like an overlarge Quonset hut that was close to 40 feet wide 20 feet high at its peak and 60 feet long. The roof was heavily over engineered to support the corrugated steel covering and the tons of dirt and rock above.

The exhaust of each generator was connected to a metal tube that feed into a larger pipe that led out of the room. There was another room just off to the side of the one the marines were in and a tunnel at the far end at headed off to other parts. Keaton and Hopkins came from the other room as Burke watched the unexplored tunnel and Diesel watched the one they came through.

“What’s in there?” yelled Burke.

“Diesel fuel tanks, five of them and they are huge. There is also pumping equipment in there also. The pumping equipment is gasoline driven. So there has to be more fuel around here somewhere,” yelled back Hopkins.

Burke looked around to find Diesel taking the pants of one of the men. “What are you doing?” he asked.

“Changing pants, these are crushing my nuts.”

Burke did not quite stifle his laugh as he watched Diesel changing pants with the dead man. His laughing stopped when he saw the ripped open blisters on knees. He stopped Diesel and dropped his small fanny pack. He fished out a small first aid kit. He poured peroxide on the blisters and then dried then. Next he applied a painkilling and anti-biotic cream before he wrapped the blisters in gauze.

“I’m sorry about this,” said Burke.

“Sorry about what?” replied Diesel.

“I should have gotten you some knee and elbow pads.”

“Too late to worry about it now. I will be ready to go in a minute.” said Diesel.

The four marines slowly went down the tunnel. They cleared each room they came to. Some were occupied and some were not, in each case where the room had an occupant he or she was killed. So far they found nothing note worthy except five more fuel tanks with the marking for gasoline and few for liquid propane.

The four marines came to a heavy steel door. Very slowly Diesel opened the door as Burke, Keaton and Hopkins took up firing positions encase someone was on the other side. No one was, but the door opened onto a set of stairs going down.

Burke once again took point and headed down going the stairs. The stairs dropped them down about feet. Another steel door was at the bottom of the stairwell but located on the opposite wall. Again Diesel opened the door as the three others stood ready.

The opened door revealed a wide corridor with doors on both side. The foursome moved out of the stairwell and down the corridor. Burke tried the first door, it was open. He stepped in saw a man leaning over an older model communication suite. The man did not even turn around to face him. In a quick and fluid motion Burke brought his rifle up and smashed the butt of the rifle into the base of the man’s neck. The sound of the man’s neck vertebra breaking was loud in the small room. Burke hit him again to make sure the man was down for good before he reopened the door to admit the others.

“Diesel, I want you to grab all the papers and books and put them in my pack,” said Burke in hushed voice.

Keaton grabbed the laptop computer and was stuffing it in Hopkins pack.

When the marines finished grabbing what they could, Diesel dump the man’s coffee into the radio’s air vent shorting it out in a shower of sparks. Diesel took point this time and led the men out of the office and into the next.

The door opened into a semi-darkened room, Diesel walked in and reached out to the wall looking for the light switch, but the sound of a struggle stopped him for the briefest of time. He found the light switch and flipped it on.

The lights revealed a man about 30 to 35 naked to the waist but his pants were open. Lying on the floor was a girl no older than 13 years old. She was bleeding from her mouth and her face was swelling from a beating. Her arms and legs were covered in bruises.

The man turned to face Diesel and told him and the others that would have to wait their turn. Diesel smiled as he strode forward and looked down at the now whimpering girl. Burke and his men stepped into the room and shut the door but took no other action. Diesel still looking and smiling down at the girl pulled out his Ka-bar knife and in the blink of an eye he buried it in the man’s throat to the hilt. The girl was too stunned to scream.

Hopkins was the first to react, he rushed over and started to talk to the girl as Keaton was moved to gather her scrapes of clothing that littered the floor. Burke pulled out his pistol and waited by the door encase someone else came in. The girl now looked terrified as she looked up at the four men through her tear filled eyes. She was babbling about how they will think she killed the man and the others will kill her brothers and sisters.

After a few minutes Hopkins and Keaton got her calmed down enough to answer some questions. The four marines found out that they were in a huge underground complex. She did not know the layout but she did confirm that the local people being forced to work and fight were not in the complex but kept at camps at the southern end of the valley.

While Keaton and Hopkins cleaned up the girl and got her ready to move, Burke and Diesel cleared the rest of the rooms. They found the restrooms, break room of sorts, a room filled with different chemicals. The last room was filled with building supplies and tools. They found a wealth of Intel on the drugs and weapons smuggling. This they crammed into the pack Diesel was using after they emptied it of everything.

Before Diesel and Burke opened the next steel door they could hear a riot of noise coming from beyond it. The two men opened the door and calmly walked through it and into a hive of activity. Diesel quickly counted three forklifts moving crates. Men were assembling weapons. Burke spotted something and grabbed Diesel by the arm and hustled him off to the side.

“We need to get out of here,” said Burke.

“I know that but why the rush now?” asked Diesel.

“Max Kline, he and I served together, and he is right over there.”

Diesel looked around and said, “You stay here out of sight, I am going shopping.”

“What?” asked Burke.

“We are going to need a few things if we are going to stop these animals. You say he knows you, so that means I get to go.” Diesel turned and went about looking around. He watched as Max Kline headed out. He grabbed a few items while looking about. Diesel was amazed that no one stopped him or asked him what he was doing. He returned carrying a small crate and a few odds and ends.

“What are you thinking?” asked Burke.

“I’m going to blow this place to hell and you and your men are going to help me.”

Diesel outlined his plan in less than five minutes. Burke was helping to set up the timers and plastic explosives as Hopkins and Keaton were connecting the hoses to all of the pumps. Diesel took one block of C4 and set it aside along with a timer. He then ran back to the room with the building supplies and came back with a fair sized cardboard box filled with nails. Diesel scooped some of the nails out and set the timer and pushed the timer and the detonator into the block. This he covered with the nails he scooped out. Then he went to work on the other blocks of C4. All the timers were set for ten minutes accept for two. They were set for two minutes and were going to be placed in the tunnel that the men came in through.

Diesel walked back into the cavern with all the activity and placed the box of nails down on one of the lower shelves of the nearest work benches. He next pressed the timer and left. Diesel pulled the steel door closed behind and did not engage the locking mechanism. Instead he tied the door closed with some 550 cord.

Burke, Hopkins and Keaton along with the girl waited upstairs in the generator room, When Hopkins saw Diesel he ran to turn on the pumps and open valves as Keaton engaged the timers for the C4 that had been attached to the fuel tanks underside. The hoses for the gas and diesel fuel ran out of the rooms and into the tunnel leading to the stairs. In a matter of seconds the fuel was spilling out of the hoses and flooding the generator level and flowing towards the stairs.

Diesel led the way out at this point. He allowed the others to pass him when the tunnel went from the concrete and brick to bare dirt. He mashed the timers on both blocks of C4 and tossed then down and ran as fast as he could after his fellow marines and the girl.

Two minutes passed and the loud report of the two blocks of C4 went off. They effectively blocked that part of the complex. Minutes later the ground shook and multiple fireballs erupted into the night sky from many different points along the valley. The marines took turns stripping out of the rebel uniforms and back into theirs before heading any further down into the valley.

The sun was coming up over the crest of the mountain as Diesel and the other marines made their way back to the downed 32. They stopped long enough to drink some water and to make sure the girl was doing okay. As they approached the tree line they tossed out their one red smoke grenade someone fired their rifle twice. Burke fired his weapon twice in response. One more shot was fired from the 32 and burke fire once more.

Diesel, Burke, Keaton and Hopkins sat in the shade of the 32 as Gramps looked over the girl first and then them. Parks came over to report as to what happened in his absence. Captain Fisher had died during the finale human wave attack as had Ryan. Gramps informed him that four of the critical cases also died, and four more men were wounded.

Diesel did the math in his head, out of 62 people that were aboard the aircraft for the mission 32 were now dead, and 7 were in critical. That was 39 people or 63 percent loss. Factor in the wounded and the percentage went to 92 percent dead or wounded.

“Parks, please have someone check the radios and see if the jamming has stopped,” said Diesel.

A few minutes later a ragged cheer went up from the men hunkered down around the fuselage of the VTH-32.

Diesel nodded off to sleep after Parks came to tell him that they were going home.

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