Seal Team 666
By Weston Ochse
St. Martin's Press Copyright © 2012 Weston Ochse
All rights reserved.
KADWAN. SIX MONTHS EARLIER.
The evisceration of the woman was majestic to behold. He'd delighted in her screams, relished the way her mouth opened so wide that it could have eaten the world. Her pathetic gestures as she begged for her life had almost spoiled it. Not that it had evinced any empathy on his part, but it had marred his journey to the spiritual plateau he'd been striving to reach in order to prepare himself for the transformation.
It was at once funny and sad that he'd been living such a life of somnambulant grace, pitifully ignorant of the creatures and beings that coexisted in their shared universe, kept at bay only by a paper-thin film of civilization and ignorance. If he'd only known sooner, maybe he wouldn't have wasted half his life pretending to be someone who cared about his fellow man.
CORONADO ISLAND. MORNING.
Petty Officer First Class Jack Walker felt like the crap had just been beaten out of him. Then again, he'd felt like that for the last twenty-one weeks. Since the first moment of Indoc, when Instructor Alberto Reno had slammed the door and commanded them to their feet, through the ten thousand push-ups, the twenty thousand flutter kicks, the one hundred and twenty continuous hours of training in Hell Week with only four hours of sleep each night, to the bone-numbing cold of Coronado Bay, his body had been beaten, cracked, and remolded. The pain was there when he got up in the morning. It was there when he drank his coffee. It was there when he went to bed at night. Walker pretended not to notice it, but the pain was persistent.
Which was what it was doing now — being persistent.
Instructor Kenny ran up to him. "What is it, Walker?"
"Nothing, Instructor Kenny. It's just pain leaving the body."
"If you're going to scream, then do it standing up. Get on your feet, Walker."
Walker crawled out of the sand and onto his feet. He'd just completed the final timed four-mile run. He and the other members of SEAL Class 290 had come in under twenty-nine minutes, and for the first time, they'd all made it. Part of it was that those who couldn't make it mentally and/or physically through the training had either been rolled back or had rung the bell — Dropped on Request, or DOR. Another part was that they were working together as a team. Several of his mates had seen the way he was pulling up and had helped him as the shin splints soared with the pain of running seven-minute miles. And then there was the fact that the end was in sight. He had four weeks before he could finally graduate. One week more of training, then off to San Clemente Island for the final live-fire exercise.
Instructor Howard ran up and got in his face.
"How'd you make it this far, Walker? Did you have sex with the president or did we collectively just forget what it takes to be a SEAL?"
"I didn't have sex with the president, sir."
"Why not? Isn't he handsome enough for you?"
"No, sir. I mean yes, sir."
"Make up your mind, SEAL."
"So answer my question, Walker. Do you know what it takes to be a SEAL?"
"Yes, sir!" The pain laced up and down his legs, digging through his shin and scoring the bone from beneath. He'd lived with it for weeks now and would live with it for four more.
"I don't think you know. I don't think you know anything. I think your body is ready to give up, isn't it Walker?"
"No, sir. This SEAL candidate is fit and fine!"
Instructor Howard leaned in and whispered violently. "What do you think I'm going to say next, Walker?"
Walker paused, then in a voice that was eerily calm said, "You're going to say Hooya, sir, because this candidate is going to be a damn good SEAL."
Howard hid the smirk that flashed across his face. "I don't think that was what I was going to say."
Instead of continuing the conversation, Walker hit the sand and pushed out twenty fast push-ups. When he completed them, he popped back up and said, "Petty Officer First Class Walker requests permission to rejoin the class!"
Walker eyed the others, who were already forming on Stumpy, the seventy-pound log with four handles that had become their classmate, never to be forgotten, never to be left behind. Despite the pain, despite the agony, he wanted nothing more than to stay with his class and put his arms around his best friend, Stumpy.
"Permission granted," Instructor Howard barked.
Walker ran over to the others, happy to be out from under the watch of the instructors.
"Take ten," Kenny called as he turned to Instructor Howard. Three visitors were walking down the beach toward them, including a tall red-haired woman, impeccably dressed in a gray business suit.
"How are the legs?" Meyers asked, kneeling and unlacing his own boots so he could adjust his socks.
Walker knelt to do the same. "Hurts like a big dog."
"You gonna make it?"
"Is the pope Catholic?"
"Try and stretch the Achilles tendon more and it'll give you some relief at least."
Walker nodded at Meyers, who was a Navy corpsman by trade. If anyone knew how to get more from the body, it was him.
With his shoes retied, Walker stood and stretched, grabbing the bottoms of his boots with his hands and planting his face on his knees. While he was there, he took a moment to pray. He only had four more weeks. If they'd leave him alone, he could do them on his head.
If they left him alone, that is.
CORONADO ISLAND. MORNING.
Alexis Billings strode behind Navy Lieutenant Commander Scott and Marine Major Benitez. She'd been smart enough to wear closed-toe shoes; there was nothing worse than sand getting into the inside of Donna Karans. Still, she took high steps and placed her feet in the packed footprints of the two officers who'd been assigned as her escorts.
She spied the class and the instructors about a hundred meters farther down. They all wore the ultrashort UDT shorts, which looked like khaki versions of 1960s basketball shorts, and boots. The instructors wore black T-shirts and black baseball caps. The students wore OD green T-shirts and no caps.
This visit was pro forma, but it had to be done. Senator Withers had made it clear that he didn't want her or the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI), more commonly known as the Sissy, to be a faceless government organization. He wanted the Sissy to have a face, and in her case, a pretty one, especially when it had to do what it was about to do.
That her attractiveness was one of the things that had gotten her this appointment irked her. A graduate of Bryn Mawr and Princeton, she'd entered the working world with brains and a cache of connections.
"Don't take it personally," her friend and former classmate at Princeton, Lauren Rhodes, had told her shortly after her appointment. "Not everyone can have beauty, brains, and the family connection like you do."
Who knew that her father had parlayed his success and social prominence at owning eleven car dealerships into a personal friendship with the senior senator from Pennsylvania? When his daughter told him she wanted to get into politics from the ground up, she was given an interview and an appointment as a permanent staffer for the Sissy, all at age twenty-seven. The Sissy commanded oversight of all intelligence and special-ops training and operations, from the CIA, the Department of Defense, and agencies in between. Not only were they charged with being good stewards of the American taxpayer's hard-earned dollars, but they were also concerned with ensuring that all operations were conducted with the proper scrutiny. That's where she came in. Her job had been to become the expert on all things special operations. If a vote was coming up on a new program or a budget cut, it was her job to advise the members of the Sissy regarding the efficacy, loss, and possible repercussions, if any, that might affect current and future special operations around the globe. She had a staff of six, consisting equally of Ivy League graduates and former special operators. Although she had been inexperienced when she took the job, hard work, an ability to remember facts and figures, her determination to get things done right the first time, and her constant respect for those she served had made her a known entity in the community, as well as someone to whom senior flag officers showed respect.
Then, of course, there was her role as the administrator. Very few knew of this position outside the Sissy and the cabinet. She'd held that position for two years now. She'd had to make this walk three times, and on each occasion it was because a member of her team had been killed.
When they neared the instructors, she allowed the officers to step forward and deliver the letter from Admiral Franklin, commander of Naval Special Warfare Command. She watched as the instructors turned and saluted the officers. She noticed their postures and how they changed when they exchanged greetings, when they learned that they were going to lose one of their candidates, and finally when they learned it was because of some uppity broad in a business suit.
It was at the point when they turned rigid with anger that she stepped forward and introduced herself.
"Master Chief Kenny, Senior Chief Howard, I'm Alexis Billings. The Sissy wants to thank you for your cooperation."
"Cooperation?" sputtered Howard. "The Sissy?"
"Master Chief Kenny, Captain Pastora of DEVGRU speaks highly of you. Likewise, Captain Vitale speaks highly of you as well, Senior Chief." She held out her hand. "It's a true privilege to meet both of you."
She counted on the professionalism of the instructors. It always worked. They each in turn accepted her handshake. They might not like what she was about to do, but they were not going to disobey the orders of the admiral. She also didn't have to shove it down their throats. At the very least, she could let them know that although she was a woman who was stepping into a man's world, she was doing it with the utmost respect for their mission, tradition, and way of life.
"I apologize for being the bearer of this request," she said, softening the verbiage in the letter, which was far from a request.
"We get it," Instructor Kenny muttered. "Enough with the reach-around."
She nodded and clasped her hands in front of her. "Then let's get to it, shall we?"
"One question, ma'am," Instructor Howard said. "Why Jack Walker? No offense to the boy, but he's not our best."
"He's also not our worst," Instructor Kenny interjected.
"No, he's not our worst," Instructor Howard agreed. "But if the Sissy wants a SEAL for a special mission, why not just go to the teams? We have plenty of qualified SEALs out there."
"We don't want to disturb the organization of the teams," she said, offering him a firm smile.
"Then why not one of the other candidates? What about Marshall? Or Rosen?"
She leaned forward slightly and gazed at the memo. "I believe you'll see that Admiral Franklin authorized the release of Petty Officer First Class Walker. I don't believe there are any other names on that list, but I will take your recommendations under advisement."
Instructor Kenny looked pointedly at Lieutenant Commander Scott. "Sir? Anything to say about this?"
The Phase Three instructor couldn't know, but she'd already had the same conversation with the lieutenant commander and the major. Neither had been happy with her responses.
Screening and Selection for SEALs was filled with both mental and physical rigor. The psychological interviews and screening process lasted several days, so it hadn't been hard to sprinkle in a few questions here and there to ascertain those who could best fit the needs of the Sissy. Of the candidates currently in phases, Jack Walker was the only one whose answers and background made him a fit. But Kenny and Howard didn't need to know that. All they needed to know was that a military officer senior to them had made the order to release this particular candidate.
Major Benitez's frown said it all. She had to give Lieutenant Commander Scott credit, however. He definitely had a sense of humor and treated the entire event as some Douglas Adams training program. He kept looking at her as if to check and see when she was going to give them the punch line.
But there was no punch line to give.
SEAL Team 666 needed a replacement sniper and Jack Walker was that person.
"Aw hell," Instructor Kenny said. "Walker! Get your ass over here!"
CORONADO ISLAND. STILL MORNING.
Petty Officer First Class Jack Walker felt like the crap had just been kicked out of him ... again. As his instructors explained that he had to leave training, all he could think about was the wasted time. He glanced pleadingly back and forth between his instructors and the woman.
"But I have four weeks left. Can't you all tell her to leave me alone?"
"It's not just about her, son. The admiral has made his decision."
The blue sky seemed to sway above him as the sand danced across his vision. Strong hands caught his shoulders.
"Steady there." Howard held him tightly.
Walker turned toward where the woman stood five yards away. "What does this all mean? I've made all the events. Are you kicking me out? Because I'm not going to ring the bell."
"I'm not going to kick you out," Howard said.
"He doesn't have to," the woman said, approaching. "You've graduated early. Come with me, Petty Officer Walker. We have a lot to talk about."
Howard whispered in his ear. "Don't know what's going on, Jack, but do as she says. You want to come back here and finish, we'll roll you in the last four weeks, no problem."
"Really, Senior Chief?"
"Maybe give you some time to take care of those shins."
Walker stared at the aging instructor and let out a laugh. Well, of course he'd known about the injury. Trying to keep anything from the cadre seemed impossible.
Howard let go of him. "He's all yours, Miss Billings."
The woman, who turned out to be as tall as Walker, spun and headed back down the beach.
Walker took one last look back at his mates in Class 290, gave them a wave, then hurried after her.
After about a hundred meters, they stopped. She pulled a cell phone from her pocket and spoke into it for a few seconds before jamming it back into her jacket. The onshore wind had teased a few hairs free from the bun at the back of her head. She stared into the surf as if waiting for something.
"What is this all about?" he asked finally.
"We need you to be a part of a special team, Walker."
"I was going to be part of a special team. As far as I know, the most special team in the free world. The U.S. Navy SEALs."
"There's a team more special than that."
He'd believe that when he saw it. Ever since he'd grown up in Subic Bay as a Navy brat, he'd watched the SEALs come and go from mission to mission, untouched by the rigmarole of the rest of the Navy.
Suddenly the sound of a helicopter rang over the surf. He spied it about a kilometer out. It was a Blackhawk from the 160th. It came close and flared.
She put a hand on her hair and turned away from the landing.
When it hit the sand, she ran toward it, low, her eyes down, as if she'd done it a hundred times.
He followed and climbed into the seat beside her.
The helicopter rose and pitched to the right, as if heading for downtown San Diego.
After smoothing her hair and brushing the sand from her clothes, Billings reached into her bag and handed him an envelope.
"Here. Sorry there's no ceremony. We were going to wait until you finished but there's a mission that has to be conducted now."
He accepted the package. It was just a plain manila envelope. He slipped his finger under the flap and tore it open. Inside were four things. The first was a letter of commendation from the president of the United States, congratulating him for becoming a SEAL. The second was a graduation certificate from the Naval Special Warfare Command announcing that he was a graduate of BUD/S Class 290 and a U.S. Navy SEAL. The third was a SEAL trident pin, freshly minted and as shiny as he was dirty. The fourth and final object was three brass 9s clumped together.
He stared at these for a long minute. He even let his fingers rub the gold trident of the SEAL BUD/S logo. He'd wanted this more than anything. He'd bled for it. He'd cried for it. But somehow, now that he actually held one in his hands, it felt less than what it should have.
He glanced up at her. "I guess there's something to be said for a little ceremony, huh?"
She gave him a tight smile. "You're a SEAL inside. No ceremony will make it any different."
He was struck by the raw truth of what she said. It sounded like something Instructor Kenny or Instructor Howard would say. It was very odd to hear it from a person who wasn't a SEAL.
"And the three nines?" he asked.
"The what?" She turned knitted brows toward him.
He held up the badge. "This brass thing with the three nines."
She reached out and turned the object in his hand 180 degrees. "Those aren't three nines."
He looked at them in the new configuration. "Three sixes."
"Six Six Six," she said. "That's your new team." (Continues...)
Excerpted from Seal Team 666 by Weston Ochse. Copyright © 2012 Weston Ochse. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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