Ground zero

A Smok­ing Bul­let in a Bull­dog Bite

Firepower - - QUEL BLADES - FROM COPY­RIGHT © 2016 BY JIMMY SET­TLE AND DON REARDEN AND REPRINTED BY PER­MIS­SION OF ST. MARTIN’S PRESS, LLC; US.MACMIL­LAN.COM PHOTO BY RAPHYE ALEXIUS @ GETTYIMAGES.COM

of ev­ery­thing, and this in­cluded fuel and men. Less fuel meant less hover time. That meant less pro­tec­tion and more chance of be­ing left or leav­ing some­one be­hind to re­fuel. The risks were there.

We sat all morn­ing. The sun broke over and bathed the tall moun­tains in light and heat. This was the not-so-sexy part of be­ing a PJ: wait­ing.

The flight en­gi­neer came run­ning from in­side. “Hey, guys, we’re start­ing to get a nine-line.” That was the warn­ing. Shit was about to get real.

TIME TO ROLL

boys killed in ac­tion; a hero.

The sol­diers in the moun­tains needed help badly, and the air­craft com­man­der re­quested per­mis­sion to pro­ceed with the mis­sion in a sin­gle-ship for­ma­tion with sup­port from other air as­sets. Per­mis­sion granted.

As we ap­proached the bat­tle site, we es­tab­lished ra­dio con­tact with the ground forces. Main­tain­ing vis­ual con­tact with our ob­jec­tive, I no­ticed a loose col­lec­tion of square, adobe-col­ored, sin­gle-story mud huts built into the moun­tain be­neath us. In the pe­riph­ery of my vi­sion, at my 7, sev­eral flashes erupted from a dark­ened door­way. Fol­low­ing the flashes was the un­mis­tak­able sound of gun­fire. There were more flashes and re­peated sounds of gun­fire over the rum­ble of the chop­pers and through my foam earplugs. They were shoot­ing. they were shoot­ing at us. The dis­tance wasn’t more than 400 me­ters.

I tried to iden­tify the threat to the air­craft, but in the frac­tion of time, I couldn’t process how the en­emy was en­gag­ing us with au­to­matic weapons. I saw a bright flash and heard a loud thwack! I felt my­self ris­ing, be­ing lifted and thrown across the air­craft to­ward my part­ner. Dark­ness. Then sear­ing pain.

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