|Publisher:||Morgan James Publishing|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.70(d)|
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FLASH FORWARD: DOWN
Iman wrapped his fists around the buttstock of his standard-issued M-4 assault rifle. He stared distantly into the iron and plastic of the gun. The weapon's muzzle rested between the heels of his desert-tan combat boots. His gun barrel rattled lightly against the equally hard floor as the transport helicopter vibrated in the air. He sat, shoulder-to-shoulder, with men he knew as friends despite a strange distance between them. He was with like-minded warriors, called to carry out the same mission, but he was alone. He was not of their tightly run, hardened, and ready brethren. He shared their toughness to the harsh desert, but he was softer in heart to what they must do. He worried, not for himself, but for her. Iman held his weapon in hope. He held onto his thoughts in faith. He held his fear with resolve.
Iman broke his distant stare for a moment to look upon his brother, Hasim. They glanced, one at the other, wanting to say something. They exchanged their silent pleas of hope, but they knew any words spoken would be drowned out by the blasting sounds of the helicopter's propellers. Even if they could hear each other, their condoling utterances would have come to no value. There was nothing they could say to each other that would repair the damages done in blind faith, in love, and in war. There was nothing to be done that might reverse the mechanisms of warfare amassing to destroy their target. One person, friend or foe, would yield little difference for the sake of defying the machine put into motion.
Hasim nudged his left shoulder into Iman's right. That was the last of what could be said on the matter at hand. Iman returned his absent gaze to the rear portion of his rifle. Hasim was worried for his brother's heart as he looked the weary warrior over. Uniform. Hasim considered the irony of his immediate situation. He was on the back of a military helicopter, dressed identically to the other men aboard, carrying the same issued equipment, moving with the same purpose, and wielding the same sword. The only thing that separated Hasim and Iman from the rest was the Koran tucked neatly into the tops of their packs. They were, without a doubt, part of the small Marine unit selected to seek out and destroy a high value target. He grinned at the irony. He was not cynical. He was simply amused in spite of his fear.
Iman continued to look away, unable to mask his feelings of remorse. Hasim knew his brother well. He knew that Iman was questioning their purpose. He knew that Allah had set a path for Iman, but no man among them could explain the complex call to serve. Hasim knew that Iman was questioning many things, but the one thing that would not be questioned was Iman's undying faith. Hasim knew his brother was steadfast and strong. In that strength, Hasim found the courage to do what he must. He leaned on Iman well beyond a brotherly nudge of reassurance.
A faint voice could be heard from the front of the troop compartment on the Super Stallion helicopter. "Two minutes!" was a whispered scream as the onboard crew chief held up his index and little fingers. Every man aboard bumped his fist against the knee of the next man and repeated the call with the same hand signal. Everyone was informed.
Iman became lost within his inner monologue. Two minutes. Two minutes until touchdown. That means we will be on target by tomorrow morning. This is going to be a very long night. His mind raced in the timeline of the events to come. The well-orchestrated, over-briefed plan was to set the team down in the open desert on the south side of a steep and rocky hill. It was the only place the team knew their enemy to be weak. The armed opposition, arrogant in their homeland advantage, assumed that no army could ascend the loose rocks. No infringing force of tanks and equipment could climb through the unforgiving land so deep in Afghanistan. The Russians tried and failed. The British were met with the same results. The assumption was then made that the Americans would realize a similar fate. Iman laughed to himself. The enemy never fully understands Americans. If we can't send an army to win with civility, we will send twenty-six Marines to win by any means.
Iman was right to grin. The militants imbedded in the mountains of Afghanistan became complacent to their weak side. They took for granted their false sense of protection in the hillsides. Slope-dwelling terrorists were correct in their knowledge that America could not send tanks or equipment against broken mountain trails and loose desert stones set on steep pitches. The rocky cliffside provided too strong of a natural defense to be defeated by machine. The United States also knew it to be true, so Command opted to send a unit of hardened war-fighters to do what tanks could not.
Once on the ground, the Marines would move in from the south. Yet their approach from the open desert into the broken mountains would not be completely unabated if they moved during the day. Sporadic defensive positions were set at the peaks of the hills surrounding the wide valley. Hasim knew where each of the positions was placed, each set into new holes beneath ancient stones. Every man on the helicopter knew where the light machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades were staged. The Marines had undergone so many intelligence briefs before the mission was authorized that they could find their target blindfolded.
However, Hasim knew the defenses intimately. He knew who among the guards was a heroin-addicted gangster with nowhere else to go. He knew who was a true believer. Hasim knew the depths of the fighting holes, what amenities could be found for comfort in the immediate areas, how the soil felt beneath him, how the rocks impeded the view, and how the call to prayer went ignored. He knew because only days prior he was among them.
Shouts, previously unheard through the mind-consuming depths of thought and the resounding chop of the helicopter, overcame the inside of the metal bird. Iman and Hasim looked to the caged red light flashing its panicked call into the darkness of the troop area. The universal sign of a red flashing light came with reasonable despair.
"Alfonso! We're hit!" the pilot screamed into his headset microphone. He jerked and retched with the helicopter controls in his fight to stay in the air. The young captain broke Marine protocol and yelled his copilot's first name into the radio. The copilot, Lieutenant Sanchez, looked back to the crew chief through the open area between seats separating the cockpit from the troop compartment.
"We're going down!" Alfonso screamed rearward to the crew chief. He yelled to be heard rather than out of fright. Then he turned back to the controls and did what he could to assist. Alfonso flicked a switch and spoke plainly into his microphone. "One Alpha, One Alpha," he called to Command and continued. "One Juliet is hit. We are going down," Alfonso broadcast to anyone listening fåor the radio call. He had no time to wait for recognition or reply. No one would be able to talk the helicopter gently down from a tailspin out of the sky.
The foot pedals rattled uncontrollably at the captain's feet. He tried to remember his training. He tried to fight physics. He tried to keep the helicopter in the air even without the use of the tail rotor. Then, hope was lost.
The tail rotor crashed into the helicopter's hull, leaving a large dent in the metal body before falling free into the depths of the desert sand. The Super Stallion, unstable without a tail control, spun freely to the power of the main propeller. The captain repeated over and over, "We're going down. We're going down." He repeated the call until the cockpit dug into the desert floor. Dirt, blood, and chaos erupted into the front of the aircraft as pieces of metal and windshield ripped through the captain and Alfonso. The pilot's valiant effort to remain in the air was thwarted by gravity and fate. His fight ended with his life, half-buried and mangled, in the floor of Afghanistan. Alfonso, calm and strong to his last breath, died instantly with the crew chief and his friend.
What remained of the helicopter, the hull full of Marines, was twisted and broken. However, the aircraft's fuselage remained intact. Remnant pieces of metal, plastic, and copper wire were scattered about on the ground. Stumps that once served as propellers continued to rotate before choking to a halt. The Marines inside were alive, coughing in clouds of dust and groaning against the pain; but they were alive.
Iman gasped for breath. His chest fought for shallow sips of air. Hasim and several others were thrown forward from the force of the crash landing. The helicopter's near-vertical position put a collective weight of bodies, weapons, and gear atop Iman's chest. He was not sure if the pile of people or his broken ribs prevented him from taking a full breath, but he fought for air nonetheless.
"JP8!" someone screamed through terrified moans of broken bones and anguish. "Get out!" the voice called again. "Get off the bird before it burns!" the voice screamed again.
Despite all turmoil inside the helicopter, and in the face of whatever dangers lurked outside, someone had the presence of mind to incite an immediate evacuation. The team was still very deep in a war zone and slowly being covered with fuel. Any number of incoming rounds could set the entire group ablaze within a destroyed American aircraft. Those not lucky enough to die instantly would have to evacuate the downed helicopter and pray to fight on without burning alive.
Marines who could move helped others who could not. Living and able fighters assisted their wounded and broken brethren out of the helicopter. Iman finally felt the immense weight of men and packs slowly lift from his chest. For the first time in an eternity without air, he breathed in a deep and full breath of relief. A sudden flood of oxygen was enough to hoist him to his feet.
Iman, trained and ready to fight, was present. He looked upward. Harsh beams of sunlight glared against his eyes through the open hatch of the overturned aircraft. He watched Hasim's boots leave the hull of the helicopter. Iman was alone with the dead. He looked down to see the pilot and copilot lying in pools of blood and raw meat. The crew chief was mangled and soaked red. Iman didn't wince. He didn't have time to be reverent. He just respectfully tried not to step on the fallen as he grabbed packs, equipment, and rifles. He threw pieces of military equipment out of the helicopter one by one.
"Get out of there, man!" someone screamed from the other side of the metal wall separating man from certain fire. If the helicopter ignited, Iman would be consumed. Yet he remained.
Iman wanted to climb out and be free of the crash. He wanted to be free of his duties. He wanted to be free of the war. Yet he knew that their necessary weapons and equipment were precious. Surviving the crash would mean nothing if they were captured or killed because the men were unarmed. Iman knew this to be especially true of him and Hasim. Their enemy would show no mercy toward men returned to undo a cause of hate and destruction.
The well-trained Marine reached down for the last piece of equipment he knew they would need to accomplish their mission. Iman's arm ached as he gripped the handle of a heavy field radio and tried to pull it free of the carnage. A chunk of handle and the entire top of the radio tore from the mechanism with a pop of broken rivets and shredded wires. It was useless. Iman dare not burn to death for something that could not be saved, so he finally reached up to grab the top of the hull. He pulled upward and was jerked clear of the crash by Hasim and another Marine waiting for the final man's exit.
"You are crazy, brother," Hasim laughed to Iman as they stood on the upended side of the smoking aircraft.
Iman turned and simply answered in reference to the radio, "We're going to need it." They smiled, happy that the other was still alive, and leapt from the helicopter.
Hasim and Iman's boots struck the earth simultaneously to the sound of "Head count!"CHAPTER 2
Years quickly became decades in war. Centuries of armies moving to conquer ancient lands had long since passed. Causes for conflict shifted from land expansion to reasons of resource and protection of liberties. One authoritarian ruler was cast out for another, over and over, in an undying effort to fight for those who were either unable or unwilling to resist tyranny. Lessons learned in the Great War, and accounts of atrocity when the world fought, were being expressed across the globe. People no longer had a taste of tolerance for those who would oppress and maim the people of any country.
The United Nations, once impotent in the cause of a globalized economy, grew in strength. The United States of America was at the forefront of the movement to remove dictatorship from any table. The Human Rights Council was filled with men from places like Saudi Arabia and Sudan — places where women were publicly beaten or stoned to death for being raped — until the United States began defunding partnerships with the United Nations. The world's population watched monetary allowances to many nations dwindle as Americans withdrew from UN involvement. The people of the world then demanded a change to that which makes sense over that which was politically correct. The people's demands were answered.
Less autonomy and political control was surrendered to countries that would allow harm to its citizens. Government-sanctioned attacks and regime-funded terror organizations fluttered to minimal numbers because America took a stand against the continuation of central control by tyrants on the world's stage. The world's people felt slow but steady relief from policy changes. Aid was being allowed beyond the reaches of warlords and gun runners. India and China continued to prosper. The walls of communism in China weakened to successes realized in economic growth through capitalism. The euro recovered despite Greece and France continuing their slip into socialism. America was once again at the helm of the United Nations, and liberty began to spread worldwide. Regimes dissolved. Tyrants fell. Countries stabilized in peace and prosperity.
Despite prosperity, Afghanistan remained the last stronghold for enemy resistance. America's attempt to establish democracy there went without success. However, one president after another ensured that the United States would not repeat errors committed in the Vietnam War. American lives would not be lost in vain. There was a fight to be had, a puzzle to be solved, and an outcome suitable to support freedom for all in the war-torn country. America had no intentions of withdrawing from the belly of Afghanistan until a final knockout blow was delivered. America would not leave until the enemy was destroyed and the people of Afghanistan were given a true opportunity to thrive in a life without Islamic Sharia law.
America and her allies stood with strict tenacity. The prime ministers of Britain, Germany, France, Australia, Portugal, and Spain remained with their pledges to fight terrorism. However, alliances were tested when the United States finally ended its arbitrary approach to the War on Terror. The United States no longer pursued a fight against ideologies, but set to target tangible foes. American leaders openly identified enemy groups and their financers by name. On several occasions, the secretary of defense and the American ambassador to the United Nations stepped to the world's podium only to announce specific names of Islamo-Nazi terrorist organizations. Additionally, they provided evidence of paper trails tracing the organizations' finances to Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Turkey, Cameroon, Ethiopia, and the Philippines.
Deeply supported evidence, presented in front of a watching world, was not well received by the accused. Countries that trickled gold, oil, cash, and weapons to terrorist organizations were identified in the open and left for unabated review by every United Nations Council. The nations identified as state financers of terrorism tried to retort that America had terrorist organizations of its own, such as the Ku Klux Klan and the Black Panthers. Feeble attempts to divert attention from reality were laughed down by the remainder of the United Nations. Responses were harsh.
Those funding terrorism did not hold enough votes at any table to sway or thwart sanctions. Enemy countries felt the full force of America's positive influence in the United Nations. Worldwide support of American action shifted, and people stood against their oppressors. To the dismay of a few, many came together in a cause of peace. The world watched as leaders set aside political correctness to denounce true heads of terror organizations. Leaders who took a stand for liberty overtly opposed those who would pay for murder. Then the world waited for backlash.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Operation: Jerico"
Copyright © 2017 Jonathan Ball.
Excerpted by permission of Morgan James Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Flash Forward: Down,