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"Harold Coyle is a superbly talented storyteller ... the Tom Clancy of ground warfare."—W.E.B. Griffin
"Nobody knows war like Harold Coyle, and nobody writes it better."—Stephen Coonts
18:05 LOCAL (14:05 ZULU)
By the time the sun began its final swift descent in the west it had been drained of all its harsh cruelty. The great solar orb that had the power to suck the life out of any creature foolish enough to show itself during the day was now little more than a harmless orange ball receding in the distance. Within minutes it would be gone from sight completely, giving the parched desert it ruled over by day a few hours' respite. Sensing the coming darkness, creatures of the night began to emerge from their holes and coveys. Even before the last long shadows of daylight were absorbed by the gathering gray twilight they would be out and about, pursuing those chores that were so necessary for survival in this harsh and most unforgiving land.
Those creatures that were native to Syrian desert could only rely upon natural skills to track prey. When they managed to corner their quarry, they had to employ their own teeth, claws, venom, and sheer brute strength to bring it down and kill it. When times were hard and victims scarce, these same predators had no qualms about turning on each other in order to survive. Under the right circumstances, any animal will turn on its own for self-preservation.
Not all the predators that populated Syria's barren landscape were indigenous. Few of the fourteen members of the U.S. Army Special Forces unit known as Recon Team Kilo thought of themselves as predators. None would have considered themselves to be the most dangerous ones in the area. But by any measure, they were. Unlike the creatures that crawled and slithered in the sands about the laager where RT Kilo's vehicles lay hidden, the Americans conducted themselves in a well-disciplined, methodical manner that thousands of years of civilized warfare had distilled into something of a science. Aided by instructional memory and state-of-the-art weapons that enhanced their own ability to seek, strike, and destroy, RT Kilo was the tip of the mightiest killing machine ever assembled.
Still, it was a fragile tip, one that was in danger of becoming dull due to overuse and prolonged exposure to a harsh and unforgiving environment. Its very existence depended upon adhering to the same laws of survival that all predators live by. The first law is avoiding positions and actions that threaten that survival. First Lieutenant Ken Aveno understood this principle very well, which is why he followed a strict routine when moving about within the confines of the team's laager while it was still light. He began by pulling himself up from the reclining position he had settled into hours before. Using the same cautious, almost hesitant motions that a prairie dog does when emerging from its burrow, the Special Forces officer paused to scan the trackless horizon through the broken pattern of the camouflage net that protected him from observation and the brutal daytime sun. Only when he was satisfied that it was safe to do so did he rise out of the shallow pit he had dug just prior to dawn that morning. He parted a seam in the tan net, stuck his head up through the opening like a swimmer breaking the surface, and continued to look around now that his view of the flat, barren landscape was unobstructed. Satisfied that all was as it should be, he ducked back under the net and started preparing himself for another long night.
Slowly he slipped into the flak vest he had shed during the heat of the day, took up his weapon, and did his best to muster up some enthusiasm. With each passing day he was becoming acutely aware that the amount of effort he needed to motivate himself was increasing. It was as if he had only a finite reservoir of élan, a supply that this mission and his duties were depleting at an alarming rate.
Pausing, he shook his head. "Gotta keep it together," he mumbled as he adjusted his gear and glanced to his left and right, catching quick glimpses of other members of the team as they prepared for their nocturnal labors. To a man they moved in a deliberate manner that was purposeful while at the same time reflecting the same lack of enthusiasm he himself was struggling to overcome.
This concerned Aveno. He knew they were tired. But it was more than simple physical exhaustion that worried the young officer. They had been deployed for six weeks plus with no downtime, no opportunity to kick back and simply rest and relax. Their area of operation and the nature of their mission required that they maintain an around-the-clock vigilance in a harsh environment that was taxing for even the hardiest of them, physically and emotionally. The same fine grains of sand and grit that worked their way into the gears of their vehicles and the actions of their weapons also found their way into every mouthful of food they consumed, breath they took, and bodily opening left exposed. The sand was a constant irritant. It could be tolerated. It could be joked about. But it was always there, like the unseen dangers that added mental stress to the physical duress that the desert inflicts upon any and all who reside there.
The result was an attrition that could not be stopped. Efforts to lessen the stress and gradual but steady erosion of each man's health could only do so much. Each member of the team had sufficient opportunities to rest, plenty to eat, and medical attention as soon as it was required. But nothing short of removing them from this milieu would restore both their full mental and physical well-being. That this would not be happening anytime soon only served to accelerate the ebbing morale and growing strain that was becoming more and more evident with each passing day.
When originally conceived, the plan allowed each Special Forces recon team three days to infiltrate along a predetermined route to its designated sector in Syria. Once it was in place the unit would spend two weeks gathering intelligence, observing known terrorist training camps and, if necessary, employing their laser designators when someone thousands of miles away decided that a target required immediate attack. At the end of this two-week phase, when a new team was en route the deployed team would extract itself. All of the preceding ten recon teams dispatched as part of Operation Razorback had started out following a schedule that placed them in harm's way for just under three weeks. But like RT Kilo none of them, Alpha through Juliet, had been able to stay within this schedule. Each team had its deployment extended time and time again by unforeseen operational requirements as the war on international terrorism siphoned off already scarce special operations resources to deal with other, more pressing needs. The days when a recon team's deployment in Syria was extended by a mere two additional weeks was now nothing more than a memory. Six weeks in place had become the norm, with eight not being unheard-of.
It was not knowing when they would receive the word to disengage and head back to The World that Ken Aveno suspected was most wearing on them. As he finished tending to his personal chores and prepared to turn to his assigned duties as the team's executive officer, he wondered just how much the other members of the team were being affected. Though part of being on a Special Forces A team meant that rank was often ignored, Aveno was still an officer. There were conventions within the United States Army that even the camaraderie and professionalism of an elite unit could not overcome. As with any other officer, he depended upon two things when it came to judging the combat effectiveness of those entrusted to him: his personal observation of the men and his own physical and mental state. While not quite at the end of his rope, he could feel himself slipping and he suspected that the motivation and endurance of the others was ebbing as quickly as his own. Still, he remained confident that in terms of materiel, they were more than capable of executing their assigned duties as when they had begun their tour of duty.
Kilo was basically a reinforced Special Forces A team, armed to the teeth with the best weaponry the lowest bidder could provide them. Most carried the venerable M-4 carbine, which was nothing more than a modified M-16A2. Those who had connections sported an MP-5, the weapon of choice for special ops types around the world. With a cyclic rate of eight hundred rounds per minute and a muzzle velocity of four hundred meters per second, the German-designed Heckler & Koch MP-5 fired 9-mm para-bellum, full-metal-jacketed rounds, with a surprisingly high degree of accuracy due to its action, which fired the first round from a closed-bolt position. In the hands of a highly trained professional it was a most effective instrument. Rounding out the category of individual small arms were 9-mm pistols as well as one good old-fashioned Remington 870 pump-action shotgun.
To augment these personal weapons, RT Kilo's arsenal included a number of heavier weapons. Among the more impressive was the Beretta M-82A1 .50-caliber sniper rifle, capable of firing standard 12.7-mm cartridges. With a ten-power telescopic sight this rifle had a range in excess of 1,000 meters, or a tad over .6 of a mile, allowing a good marksman to reach out and touch his foe long before that unfortunate soul became aware that he was in danger. The sheer size of the slug, .5 inch in diameter, ensured that even a glancing blow was more than sufficient to ruin someone's entire day.
The crew-served weapons mounted on the unit's vehicles were the real heavy weapons. The Hummer that gave them the mobility to range far and wide also provided them with platforms for weapons that their Vietnam forebears could never have imagined humping on their backs.
Kilo Six, the Hummer used by the team commander, sported an M-2 .50-caliber heavy-barrel machine gun. Based upon a German World War I 12.7-mm antitank rifle and classified in 1921, it was fast reaching the century mark with no end to its useful military career in sight. Like the Beretta, it fired 12.7-mm balls or armoring-piercing rounds. Unlike the sniper rifle, the M-2, known affectionately by its operators as the Ma Two, had a rate of fire that was 450 to 500 rounds per minute. Newer by a full half century was the M-19 40-mm grenade launcher that graced the ring mount on Kilo Three, which was Aveno's Hummer. Capable of chunking out sixty baseball-sized grenades per minute up to a range of 1,600 meters, its only major drawback was the limited number of rounds that could be held in its ready box.
Range was not a factor for the crew-served weapon affixed to SFC Allen Kannen's Hummer Kilo Two, which was the only allenlisted humvee. Kannen, the team's senior NCO, fully appreciated what was probably the most unusual weapon for a Special Forces team--the tube-launched, optically tracked, wired-guided missile, or TOW. The decision as to whether or not to include this long-range antitank weapon had been an issue hotly debated at every level of command that had a say in the organization, deployment, and operational control of the recon teams. In the end the choice had been left to the individual team commanders. Captain Erik Burman, Kilo's commanding officer, explained his decision to use the TOW by telling his people that when one goes wandering about in bear country, it's not a bad idea to take along a bear rifle even if it's not bear you're looking for.
The only RT Kilo Hummer that did not have an oversized weapon protruding from it was Kilo One, which belonged to the two-man air force team headed by First Lieutenant Joseph Ciszak. Instead of a ring mount and crew-served weapon, Kilo One's hard shell was adorned with an array of antennas and a small satellite dish. Ironically, it was this innocent-looking vehicle that was responsible for all the devastation that RT Kilo had managed to rain down upon their foes during the past six weeks. The members of RT Kilo were hunters in every sense of the word but they did not do any of the actual killing. None of them had fired a single round since they had crossed the Turkish-Syrian border. Rather, it had been Lieutenant Ciszak and his collection of high-tech radios connecting him to his fellow aviators that did all of Kilo's killing. Using all the wonders of modern electronics and his trusty handheld laser designator, Joe Ciszak was able to employ the full spectrum of conventional munitions available to the United States Air Force. Were it not for the need to provide security and locate hard-to-find targets, the Special Forces A team would have been totally superfluous.
In and of itself this impressive array of weaponry and comms equipment had no real value. The most accurate firearm in the world is worthless unless it is used by someone who possesses both the training and the motivation to use it. Military history is replete with accounts of lavishly equipped armies being humbled by ragtag forces that won through a triumph of will and courage. The United States Army itself has seen both sides of this coin, once at its birth when it faced the best-trained army in the world, and later in Vietnam when opposed by a foe who refused to yield to logic and the cruel mathematics of attrition. It is the willingness to soldier on and do one's duty in the face of daunting odds and seemingly insurmountable difficulties that often determined who is victorious and who is vanquished.
So the question of a unit's morale, even when made up of elite warriors, is always of the greatest importance. Lacking a definitive means of measuring this critical element and suspecting that the other members of RT Kilo were suffering from their protracted deployment in much the same way as he was, Ken Aveno found himself worrying how his state of mind was impacting those around him. Perhaps one day, he told himself, he would find a surefire away of steeling himself against the slow, subtle corrosive effects of sagging morale. Perhaps when the twin silver bars of captain were pinned to his collar they would shield him from that demon and give him the strength to be the sort of soldier that everyone expected him to be. Until then he would have to muddle along, executing those duties that were assigned to him as best he could and keep morale from robbing him or his unit of its ability to carry on.
Climbing from the shallow hole that he had spent much of the day in, sleeping when the heat permitted, the executive officer of the small A team stretched his five-foot-ten frame for the first time in hours as he continued to look around. There was not much to see. Each of the team's humvees was hidden under tan-and-brown nets. It never failed to amaze Aveno how the squiggly strips of material laced through the squares of the knotted nylon nets managed to hide something as large as a Hummer and those who operated it. Yet he knew that from a surprisingly short distance, a net that was properly set up blended in nicely with the surrounding nothingness of the desert. From even farther out, the nets and Hummers tucked underneath them simply disappeared, just like Team Kilo.
Shaking off his lethargy and anxious to get started before the faint light of early night was gone, Aveno chugged forward. As the XO he was charged with the maintenance and logistical affairs of Team Kilo. This required that he check each of the team's specially modified Hummers on a daily basis to ensure that they were being maintained in accordance with established standards and ready for that night's operations. Unlike unit morale, this task had established standards and procedures that could be measured and relied upon. In the process of overseeing maintenance, he was also expected to keep track of current levels of ammo, food, fuel, and water. After six weeks this drill had become second nature, as routine as the setting sun. In fact it had become so routine that the young first lieutenant found he had to guard against complacency.
Each member of Recon Team Kilo was a professional in every sense of the word, men who had been in the army long enough to appreciate the reasons behind Aveno's precombat inspections. Yet it still irked some of the enlisted men to have someone poking and prodding every nook and cranny of their vehicle and equipment day in and day out. They were after all the crème de la crème, the best of the best, professional soldiers who expected to be treated as professionals, not rank recruits. Only through quiet diplomacy and an occasional threat was Sergeant First Class Allen Kannen, Kilo's senior NCO, able to keep their tongues in check. Still, not even he could stop their every effort to let Aveno know just how much his daily inspections irritated them.
On approaching each Hummer, Aveno would call out to its driver, who was usually tearing down a camouflage net or checking out his humvee. The men assigned to the Hummer would greet him with whatever subtle sign of resentment they thought they could get away with. For his part, Aveno ignored this as he set about following a script that had been burned into his memory from repeated use. The routine never varied.
First, he unscrewed the cap of all water cans hanging on the side of every vehicle in order to check their contents. Then he'd crawl inside each door, pulling out any opened cases of MREs tossed in the rear and counting the number of meal packs remaining inside. After inspecting fuel gauges, and drawing dipsticks during his examination of the engine compartment of each Hummer, Aveno would drop to the ground and crawl under the vehicle checking the suspension. Everything had to be touched by him to confirm that every Hummer was functional and in order. Only the crew-served weapons, inspected by the commanding officer himself were ignored during this obsessive daily ritual that caused Kannen to secretly nickname Aveno Captain Queeg.
If Aveno reminded the enlisted members of the naval officer who commanded the USS Caine, then their commanding officer was without question the team's Captain Ahab. It had been the only other officer assigned to RT Kilo, Lieutenant Ciszak of the U.S. Air Force, who had graduated from Notre Dame with a B.A. in English, who first made this comparison. One night, while he was waiting to direct an air strike, Ciszak turned to his driver, Airman Jay Jones, and commented that Captain Burman's single-minded dedication to duty, aloofness, and drive to accomplish every mission regardless of difficulty or danger reminded him of Melville's fictional captain, a processed man who prowled the seven seas on an endless quest. Amused, Jones shared this observation with his fellows, who immediately started using nautical terms whenever possible, including calling out "Thar she blows!" whenever they located a target they had been dispatched to find.
Ignorant of its origin, Captain Burman joined in on what he took to be a harmless attempt to liven up their harsh and monotonous existence. It was three weeks before Aveno discovered, through a slip of his driver's tongue, the true story behind the adaptation of seafaring clichés. Unsure of how Burman would take this piece of information, Aveno decided to keep that knowledge to himself. With the irritating sand and stress already eating away at Burman's nerves, Aveno knew that it wouldn't help to tell his commander that he was the butt of a collective joke.
Adding to the strain of their protracted deployment and the stress that living in the desert placed upon them was a gnawing doubt Aveno had concerning the value of their efforts. Like the cold war that his parent's generation had endured, the current war on terror seemed to have no end. To many of his fellow countrymen, people to whom 9/11 was just another news story that was little more than a bad memory, the war on terror had become a distraction, a drain on national resources that some felt would be better spent on social welfare programs, education, or new roads. To them the idea of chasing terrorists and eradicating the threat they posed was a quixotic notion, a foolish dream that could never be achieved. Even Ken Aveno found himself wondering from time to time if it made sense to dispatch a group of highly trained professional soldiers like those belonging to RT Kilo to chase small cells of terrorists and call in bombers to drop high-tech precision-guided bombs on their tents when they were found.
This point was driven home every time a nation that was supposed to be an ally took a step to undo those small successes that RT Kilo did manage to achieve. In truth, Aveno could find little fault in what the French and others were doing. He believed that if his own national leaders were not prisoners of their own rhetoric, they would be seeking some way of getting out of an openended policy that was only costing American lives. Of course, such considerations were well above Aveno's pay grade. His personal mission was to follow orders and finish his current tour of duty with some degree of pride and sanity.
These dark troubling thoughts were in Ken Aveno's mind as he approached Kilo Six, Captain Burman's Hummer. Through the camo nets were still draped over the vehicle, he caught sight of Burman perched on the hood. This was a bad sign, for it had become something of a ritual for his commander to assume this particular posture when translating orders he had received during the day into detailed instructions. It was his way of announcing that the team had been tasked to go out into the gathering darkness once more and find something that a cabal of staff officers, ten thousand miles away, had suddenly taken an interest in. While most of these forays resulted in the discovery of targets that were subsequently bombed into oblivion, more times than Aveno cared to count, the forays had turned into a snipe hunt, but one in which the snipe had sharp teeth and long, deadly claws.
Stopping a few meters away, he watched as Captain Burman pored over maps and scribbled notes on a pad lying next to him. It didn't seem right to the young officer that in this age of computers and high-tech wizardry success and failure in combat still depended upon illegible scribbling on a page made by a human being. It was as if they were insulators placed within an increasingly high-speed system to keep it from overheating or spinning out of control. That there were fellow officers sitting in the Pentagon and at Fort Leavenworth trying to figure out how to eliminate those insulators was no great secret. Rubbing his irritated eyes, Aveno thought that the sooner those guys finished their work and made him obsolete, the sooner he would be free to pull pitch and turn his back on Syria, its people, and its fucking desert.
It was several minutes before Burman noticed that his executive officer was standing off to one side watching him. Determined to finish what he was doing before he lost the last bit of useful daylight, Burman ignored Aveno.
The task his team had been given that night was another routine mission. A Syrian ADA missile battery had become active some sixty kilometers southwest of where they were. As far as anyone knew there was very little in the region where the battery was located, and nothing of military value. The small villages scattered throughout the area relied on camels and goats. Half of the population was still nomadic, real Lawrence of Arabia stuff, as SFC Kannen put it. Hence the reason for curiosity and concern by various intelligence agencies.
Though the operations order he had received made no mention of it, Burman knew that someone back in Washington, D.C., was hoping that the barrenness of the area was an indication there was something worth defending hidden among the sun-dried brick huts and seemingly innocent expanses of nothingness. So Team Kilo was being dispatched to find out if it was just another cluster of terrorist training camps, or something more significant, especially installations involved in the development, testing, and manufacture of special weapons, the modern catchall phrase used to describe unclear, biological, and chemical weapons. Everyone knew that facilities dedicated to this purpose existed somewhere in Syria and that the Syrians were doing their best to hide and protect them. But not everyone agreed on where they would most likely be found and how best to go about finding them. So even the relatively simple mission of locating and designating the Syrian ADA battery for aerial attack carried with it the implied task of uncovering any evidence of unusual or suspect activity that other intelligence resources had, to date, failed to detect.
Even so, the evening's mission was pretty much routine. As such Burman saw no reason to make a big fuss over the way it would be executed. When all precombat checks and briefings had been completed they would move out in a dispersed column. He would lead out with Kilo Six, followed by the team's senior NCO in Kilo Two and the air force liaison officer, or LNO, in Kilo One. Aveno, who was still patiently waiting, would bring up the rear in Kilo Three. Once they were within striking distance of their objective the team would find a concealed spot from which Burman and Aveno would sally forth, either mounted or on foot, to sniff out the exact location of their target while Kannen stayed back with Ciszak. How they would proceed depended on what they discovered during this preliminary recon. So other than mapping out their route of march, Burman saw little need for any additional detailed planning.
Having finished jotting a few notes just as the last modicum of light waned, Burman laid his map and pad aside and looked around. When his eyes finally turned toward the dark shadow of his executive officer, he acted surprised. "I didn't see you standing there, Lieutenant Aveno."
Burman slowly eased his way off the Hummer's hood. "I imagine you're waiting for me to vacate this spot," he quipped, "so you can finish your appointed rounds."
"No rush, sir. I knew you were in the midst of putting together an order." When Burman turned to walk away without saying a word Aveno called out, "Anything exciting, sir?"
"Nothing to be concerned about, Lieutenant."
Aveno remained where he was, struggling to suppress the anger he felt welling up in him. The bastard was fucking with him. He was always fucking with him. It was as if they were still back at the Point, and Burman was still a first classman and Aveno was still a plebe. Since they were in different units and first classmen seldom took the time to bother with plebes who were not in their own company neither man had known the other then. Still, after all these years the psychological gulf remained.
There wasn't a man in the team who hadn't taken note of the "Me Tarzan, you Jane," attitude that Burman showed in all of his dealings with his number two. Aveno knew it wasn't personal. As best he could tell, he had never said or done anything that could even remotely be considered improper or offensive to his commanding officer. Yet from day one the two had never really clicked. In Aveno's opinion Burman's policy of keeping him at a distance and his insistence on using proper military titles instead of establishing a more amiable relationship did not prevent the two from working together professionally. But it did create unnecessary friction. Like the fine grains of sand that he could taste with each bit of food and feel every time he blinked his eyes, Burman's manner was irritating and wearing. All Aveno could do was to endure, just as he endured the harsh and uncompromising desert. The same could be true for the rest of Team Kilo. For better or worse the fourteen men had to keep functioning and surviving until such time as the Fates smiled upon them and their circumstances changed.
Copyright © 2003 by Harold Coyle
Posted May 3, 2003
Harold Coyle should do better research about Special Forces and ABN units before focusing a novel on them. In the past I have toughly enjoyed his novels, but this one was annoying. 1st LTs are not XOs on A teams. Warrant officers fill this role. You have to be a 1LT (P) to even apply to Special Forces. Spec 4s are not on A teams either. These oversights may seem minor to some but Coyle lost his credibility in first 20 pages. The rest of the book was painful with more technical oversights and failures in proof reading.
2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted December 2, 2003
I'm a vet who loves Coyles novels !! Team Yankee and all the following Novels got me hooked because he knows what 'were picking up his books for' - ACTION!! Besides action though, its all beleivable!! He changes certain things (like rank structure, command and tactics etc..) but not as to make it not work!! especially for us former Vets!! GREAT BOOK!! DON'T HAVE ANY COMPLAINTS!!
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Posted March 23, 2012
Almost got a headache from all of the constant details. Only toward the end of the book did I understand why all of the details. Does not matter how accurate or real, its a fiction book. Its the way of the new generations wars will be fought.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 28, 2003
lots of flaws as far as rank in the Spec Ops team,and the 'Ranger' team that is sent to rescue them was totaly not in accordence with military rescue ops. But above all good read, and good one on one feeling for each member of the Spec op team.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted August 13, 2011
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Posted June 21, 2010
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Posted March 3, 2014
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