CHECK POINT KARIM, HELMAND, PRESENT DAY.
I lay in bed, eyes wide open. I had just woken up from a long sleep, my dreams disturbed by thoughts of Leeanne, my girlfriend and soon-to-be fiancée. The ring was already ordered. It was just waiting for me to pick it up upon returning to England. Fuck all had happened for the last few days, Karim had been fairly quiet, a few skirmishes here and there. The Taliban weren't stupid; they knew when we were vulnerable. Any fire came from small arms and we'd return fire with our .50 calibre machine gun which was mounted on a sandbag-wall in the sangar. They'd eventually lose interest and piss off.
I slowly rose from the comfort of my bunk and reached for my boots and t-shirt, I heard my shoulder crack, must've slept on it funny. I did up my boots and slipped on the shirt, at that moment Gary Fletcher or 'Fletch' walked in. He was short – at 5’7, but he was stocky and a very fast runner, the 50 pounds of kit didn’t seem to slow him down much at all. He was 28, slightly older than me. At 26, I had been in the Army since I was eighteen. I joined the Princess of Wales Royal Regiment and had spent four years there, having done three tours of Iraq.
“You alright mate?” He inquired, probably because I was usually out and about but to him I probably seemed dejected these last few days, which was true, the thoughts of home had been on my mind a lot more now as the 'end of tour' feelings crept up on me. I’d been here for six months. Six long months of operations had taken their toll. I was ready to go home now.
“I'm fine mate, just been thinking about home, you know? There are so many what ifs creeping around up there. I’m just trying to keep my head in the game for the next week or so, then I can finish the tour and go home.”
“I understand mate. Oh, shit.” Fletch said, as the sound of rounds coming downrange broke the silence of the CP. Yet another contact with the Taliban – the contacts were always frequent but short, both sides sustaining minimal to no casualties. It was when we were out on patrol that they really hit us, ambushes and IEDs were common.
I got to my feet, picked up my C8 rifle and reached for a ration pack, taking out some boiled sweets, lemon, yummy.
My stomach wasn't so much growling as roaring with hunger. Gary and I walked out of the tent, only to see the tracers of 7.62 whiz overhead; they were aiming high. Then came the oh-so-sweet sound
of .50 calibre machine gun fire. Complementing the raucous of the machine gun was a single crack every few seconds. This was the pull of the trigger from the lone sniper who always accompanied the
gunner in the sangar whenever there was a contact front.
The contact lasted for perhaps two minutes, the last of the tracers flew overhead and then there was silence. Life in Karim was incredibly boring; a week ago we’d stormed a Taliban compound and brought home yet another commander for interrogation. I’d been hit in the arm by a round, thankfully it had just grazed it and all that was required was a bit of rest, which I got plenty of anyway. After a few days I could finally get back to my regular gym visits. The gym of course was makeshift, a few poles propped up for a chin-up bar, using mortar shells for weights, etc.
We’d been briefed on another takedown op that was due to take place tomorrow. The lads of the Special Reconnaissance Regiment, or SRR had been out gathering intelligence for a few days, and would remain in their reactive observation posts until the assault and reserve teams were dropped in. Intel from SRR indicated that there was a meeting due to take place in what we’d known as “Compound 99”, between several high-value targets, Taliban regional commanders who were about to acquire the materials to make IEDs. There was also one individual in particular who was going to be there – Khaled Al-Masouwari – whose operational codename was “Target Alpha”, he was one of the men who distributed weapons and ammo to the smaller factions of Taliban. According to word from Bastion, he was the big fish. The man was a ghost, he came and went and nobody knew a damn thing. Word was that he had plans to bring in more heavy weaponry into their AO – PKMs and more RPGs. Finally, we’d gotten a fix on when and where he was doing his dirty work, ‘capture or kill’ those had been the words that Major Forsythe had used.
We’d be dropped in at night, about ten kilometres from our destination: “Compound 99” which unfortunately was set in the middle of approximately nine other compounds. To the south of the target, there was a large field and around the eastern side of that was a treeline where the assault team would lie in wait. There were two irrigation ditches running along the east and west sides of the field, and on the other side of that was a steep incline of about thirty metres. Our lying-up position, or LUP would be set-up on that incline, about 600 metres from the target compound – within easy firing distance of my L115A3 Long Range Rifle – its effective range was just over 1000 metres.
To add to the advantage of height, located just behind our LUP position was an old compound.Which according to SRR, a local farmer called Hassan was using to store the food for his goats, they also said that he had two children, identities unknown. The old compound would provide us with a bit of extra cover. Tonight would be a tough night for sleeping as the excitement mounted before the off. We were due to leave in the early hours of tomorrow morning at 0300. It would take us about an hour to fly to the Landing Site. From there, we’d then tab the extra kilometre to the LUP. At midnight, the assault team, and reserve team would be dropped in the field to the south and make their way up to the treeline, before the operation commenced at 0500 hours.
I looked at my C8 rifle – it was an excellent weapon, Canadian-made, and it hadn't been cleaned in a couple of days. I decided that I'd do that now and then have an hour on the PS3 and then hit the hay for a couple of hours. I turned to Gary.
“I'm off to give my weapon a clean mate, I'll see you later.” He was busy chatting and playing some cards with John, he turned around.
“See you later.” I went back to my bunk and sat down, setting the rifle beside me, I took out my rifle cleaning kit
from under my bed, this contained a string and a small piece of cloth, the 'toothbrush', which was really a hard wire brush that looked like a toothbrush, a paint brush, and rifle oil. I rammed the
toothbrush through the barrel a couple of times, applied a little rifle oil – too much, and the dust would stick to the oil, good luck cleaning that out.
I placed my rifle down, and lay back on my bed. At that moment, Gary came back in and unpacked the PS3, which was sitting in the corner still in its 30-pound ruggedised case.
“Wanna have a quick game of FIFA? Seen as we didn't finish earlier?”
“Yeah sure, I call dibs on United.” Gary and I both shared a love of football, and of Manchester United. We had booked tickets to go and see them play at Old Trafford two weeks after we got home, but for now, we'd have to recreate their brilliance on FIFA, or at least, I would.
“Bastard," he muttered, for some reason, he always wanted to be United, "come on then, let's see what you've got.” And so we played for about an hour, a best-of-five series. It might not have been Old Trafford, but I jumped up and down like a madman when I scored in the 90th minute. I managed to win the series 3-2.
“Right,” I said, “now that I have kicked your arse, time to get some sleep.” I went over to my bed, and plunked down,
I was asleep within minutes.
I wasn't sure how long I'd been out... but suddenly, Gary tapped me on the shoulder.
“It’s 2AM mate, time to get packing!”
“What? Get out! It's 2AM already? Jesus H. Christ." I groaned. With an exasperated sigh, I sat up, rubbed my eyes and reached under my bunk to pull out what I'd be wearing. I put on my Multi-Terrain-Pattern trousers and under-body-armour-combat-shirt, or UBACS, I then hauled Black Hawk knee pads up my legs, slipped on my patrol boots and then put on my bandana, this would stop the sweat from running into my eyes as I stared into a scope for hours on end in the sizzling desert heat.
I then slipped on my body armour; the regular Army was equipped with Osprey armour which covered more of their body –
lucky bastards. Ours however, allowed us to move better, as it wasn't as heavy and covered less surface area, better to be quick on your feet than heavy and slow in my opinion.
I then put on a leg holster and slid in my Sig P226 and a spare magazine, then picked up three extra magazines for the sniper rifle and put them in the double-holder pouches in my body armour. I hooked a large climbing karabiner to the upper-right part of the armour, this would be used to haul me to a helicopter in case of injury.
I put on my webbing, this contained parts of my rifle cleaning kit: a small bottle of rifle oil, pull-through and barrel rods. I put two fragmentation, smoke and flash grenades into the other pouches. I filled the remaining pouches with a bayonet, a med pouch which contained very basic medical materials: field dressings, tourniquets, chest seals and Celox gauze. The last pouch contained a map. There was also an emergency beacon which gave our location via GPS feed.
I then hauled my daysack onto my back, this contained a Camelback Water Carrier System – three litres of purified water did just the treat while out on operations. It also carried my PRR, or personal-role-radio which connected to my headset. Enough emergency rations for a day or so, our standard night-vision-sight for the sniper rifle and spare batteries for the radio. I stood up, put on my helmet and mounted my PVS-22 night-vision-goggles, and then saw that Gary was swapping his Sig for a C8 and was also packing a “fires net” - a radio which allowed him to communicate with air assets. He looked ready for the off. It was 2:50AM. A Dauphin was coming from Bastion to take us in. One of the lads shouted over to me and Gary.
“Helo is inbound! ETA: five minutes!”
“Roger, we're coming out.” We exited the tents, and began walking toward a field to the east of us, that was our makeshift helicopter-landing-site, or HLS.
There were already six men crouched, weapons drawn and eyes darting around, looking for any movement through their NVGs. Adopting all-round defence was the SOP for any helicopter coming in. I heard the blades of the Dauphin about thirty seconds before I saw the shape through my night-vision-goggles, it landed and the ramp lowered. One of the men then motioned us to get on the chopper, we leapt in and a crewman closed the door, twirled his finger at the pilot thus giving the signal for takeoff. Within seconds we were in the air, 'the off' had happened.
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