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By Robert Doherty
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2005 Robert Doherty
All right reserved.
Jungle surrounded the Philippine army firebase, a dark wall of menacing sounds and shadows in the grayness of evening. The sounds of men preparing for battle -- the clank of metal on metal, the grunts of rucksacks being lifted, the murmur of quiet talk between comrades -- was muted compared to the noise of the jungle.
Major Jim Vaughn turned to the man at his side, his top noncommissioned officer and his brother-in-law, Sergeant Major Frank Jenkins. "What?"
Jenkins nodded at the wall of trees. "Field of fire is too short. You could get RPGs right there and blast the crap out of this place."
Vaughn had noted the same thing as soon as they landed. "Let's be glad this is our last time here."
"Damn civilians," Jenkins muttered.
" 'Ours is not to question why -- ' " Vaughn began.
" 'Ours is but to do and die,' " Jenkins finished. "Not the most cheery saying in the world, Jim."
Vaughn shrugged. "Okay. But this beats taking tolls on the Jersey Turnpike."
"Not by much," Jenkins said. "And maybe I'll be one of those toll takers next month. I'm so short -- "
Vaughn held up a hand while he laughed. "Not another 'I'm so short' joke, Frank. Please. My sister knows how short you are."
Jenkins frowned. He reached into one of his pockets and retrieved a worn photograph of a young woman, tenderly placed it to his lips and gave it a light kiss. "You ain't so young anymore, babe, but you still got it."
He said the words to himself, but Vaughn could hear. He had seen his brother-in-law enact this ritual five times before with his older sister's photo, and it always made him uneasy. Jenkins slid the picture back into his pocket, technically a violation of the rules requiring they be "sterile" for this mission, carrying nothing that indicated in any way who they were, but Vaughn didn't say anything.
Jenkins turned to Vaughn. "Let's get ready."
Both reached down and lifted the MP-5 submachine guns lying on top of a mound of gear. Made by Heckler & Koch of Germany, they were the standard now for most Special Operations forces. These were specially modified with integrated laser sights, and had telescoping stocks allowing the entire weapon to be collapsed to a very short and efficient length or extended for more accurate firing. The worn sheen of the metal indicated they had been handled quite a bit.
Like warriors throughout the ages, the two men geared up for battle. The process was the same -- all that had changed was the actual gear. In some ways, with the advent of advanced body armor technology, soldiers were harkening back to the days of knights, when protection was almost as important as weapons. It was a constant race between offense and defense, an axiom of military technology.
Vaughn was tall, just over six feet, and slender, wiry. The uniform draped over his body consisted of plain green jungle fatigues without any markings or insignia. Over the shirt, he slid on a sleeveless vest of body armor securing it tightly around his torso with Velcro straps. It was lightweight but still added noticeably to his bulk. On top of that went a combat harness festooned with holders for extra magazines for the submachine guns, grenades, FM radio, and knife. He wrapped the thin wire for the radio around the vest, placed the earplug in his left ear, and strapped the mike around his throat.
Vaughn slid an automatic pistol into a holster strapped on the outside of his left thigh. Two spare magazines for the pistol went on either side of the holster. Two more spare magazines were strapped around his right thigh in a specially designed holster. He then pulled hard composite armor guards up to just below his elbow, protecting his forearms from elbow to wrist, followed by thin green Nomex flight gloves. Whether handling hot weapons, forcing his way through thick jungle, or simply for protection against falling, he had long ago learned to cover the skin on his hands.
For the final piece of weaponry, he used a loose piece of Velcro on his combat vest to secure a set of brass knuckles that had been spray-painted flat black to his left side.
"You can take the boy out of Boston, but you can't take Boston out of the boy," Jenkins commented.
"South Boston," Vaughn corrected his team sergeant. Jenkins had grown up on a farm in Wisconsin and always found his wife's and brother-in-law's stories of big city life strange. As strange as Vaughn found Jenkins's stories of farm life.
"If you got to use those," Jenkins said, pointing at the brass knuckles, "you're in some deep shit."
"That's the idea." Vaughn looked over at him. "You carry that pig sticker everywhere," he said, referring to the machete Jenkins had just finished securing behind his right shoulder, the handle sticking up for easy access.
"It's for firewood," Jenkins replied.
Finally came a black Kevlar helmet, not the same distinctive shape the rest of the United States Army wore, but simply a semiround pot with a bracket bolted to the front. Out of a plastic case, Vaughn removed a set of night vision goggles and latched them onto the bracket, leaving the goggles in the up and off position so they wouldn't obscure his vision. The amount of gear he wore limited his exposed flesh to a small patch between his eyebrows and chin, which was already covered with dark green camouflage paste. The entire effect was greatly dehumanizing, making the men seem like machines, not flesh and blood.
A third, similarly dressed figure walked up in the dimming light. "Sergeant Major, don't you think your wife knows how short you really are?"
"Shut up," Jenkins growled, but without anger. The same jokes now for months -- it was almost a ritual. One that Vaughn wished would end.
Excerpted from Section 8 by Robert Doherty Copyright © 2005 by Robert Doherty.
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