Home To Aryaa

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: War and Military  |  House: Booksie Classic

Submitted: July 04, 2019

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Submitted: July 04, 2019

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HOME TO ARYAA

By Scott A. Meehan

I first met Scott (“Scotty”) Brooks in Iraq. The year was 2006. My initial impression of him was that he was a lean, mean, fighting machine, just by the looks of him alone. To all the men, he was a natural leader. Later, his actions against the enemy forces did not prove my premonition wrong.

I was amazed by some of the things he was able to pull off. For example, like the time he took careful aim of a Haji who was about to pull the trigger of a Rocket Propelled Grenade aimed right at us. While we all dove for cover, Scotty held steady and shot the grenade itself. When the ballistic struck, it caused a plasma jet to shoot out in an explosive force from the blast overpressure. This resulted in the immediate liquefaction of the shooters’ insides and of course, his total destruction. The pieces of metal fragments from the blast took care of the other five terrorists that were with him.

Scotty had recently completed two tours in the mountains of Afghanistan before we met. Any casual observer could tell that he was a gritty, seasoned combat veteran. His demeanor was unambiguously bitter to those outside his team members, which was fortunate for all of us since we were on the “inside.” His hair was sandy-colored—long by Army standards—and matched the color of his full-grown beard. His blue eyes pierced intently to those he addressed.

Brooks regarded me suspiciously when we first met on the roof of a two-story villa in Fallujah. I was, after all, the “newbie” just arriving in-country…to replace a fallen brother in fact.

Staff Sergeant Steven Lamb assured him, “Bobby is good people and he’s already completed one tour in Iraq.”

I wasn’t certain whether or not he was impressed by that fact…not that it mattered much to me anyway. It is never cool to say anything about yourself because it comes across as trying to prove your self-worth, and in our world, everybody lives with the maxim, “Actions speak louder than words.”

As time went on, our team worked together to rebuild confidence and structure to the people of Fallujah by forming an alliance with us against Al-Qaeda forces. To pull this miracle off was no small task. We had to win over the hearts, minds, and souls of the tribal leaders, fighting men, women, and children by convincing them that we really were on their side and wanted to help better their lives...in spite of the fact that American forces had all but leveled their city in 2004.

As mentioned previously, actions speak louder than words, as was in this case. During our mission, Scotty and I became close. I can’t pinpoint the exact time or the reason why, but he just took a liking to me. It may have been my ability to assimilate with the Iraqi people so naturally. It helped that I knew the Arabic culture and language, as well as having a natural smile rather than scorn as a key facial feature. The locals referred to me by my full name, “Bobby Burns” without using the rank. “Go get Bobby Burns” or “Here comes Bobby Burns!”

Anyway, our mission in Fallujah throughout 2006 and 2007 proved to be a media and political success story, which was sorely needed for America during that time period. Our team left for home at the end of 2007 and the United States officially pulled out altogether three years later in 2010, leaving a large vacuum in western Iraq.

Fortunately, it was common knowledge to all of us that if anything ever went totally “south” again, attention would turn to the one group of fighting men who the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency relied upon to make a stand against Al-Qaeda anywhere in the world. Those fighting men were the Special Operations forces, otherwise known as the Green Berets.

Unfortunately, with the Iraqi government torn apart by political upheaval, everything did turn for the worse by 2014. That’s when the fractured government of Iraq was defenseless against the swarm of ISIS forces taking over the western half of their country. The only effort made by anyone to take a stand against this evil spread of darkness was the resilient Kurds from the north.

The adjoining Kurdish regions in northern Iraq spanned across Iran, Iraq, Turkey, and Syria. Over time, numerous ethnicities had migrated, settled or natively inhabited the area, making up the population consisting of the Turks, Persians, Arabs, Kurds, Armenians, Assyrians, Chechens, Azeris, and others. All of these ethnic groups had contended for a secure homeland almost their entire existence.

If properly supplied and led, the Kurds would be the strongest force to make a stand against ISIS forces. Thus, it was us, the Green Berets that were called upon for this task to train the Kurds in resisting this fanatical Islamic caliphate.

Between 2007 and 2014, Scotty and I were among a few *SF soldiers who traveled back and forth to help the Kurds establish order where there was no order in Iraq. We worked primarily in the northern sector. After 2010, which marked the end of official military assistance, the Central Intelligence Agency, or CIA as we all know, sought after several members of our team to conduct covert operations in the remote areas of Turkey, Syria, and northern Iraq. Those of us who went along, invested a lot of time equipping and training numerous Kurdish soldiers, both males and females alike…and the females were tough…quite able to hold their own.

Scotty and I were just getting reacquainted with our wives and kids back at Fort Campbell, Kentucky in late 2014 and were beginning to develop a taste for the home life when we received orders that would send us on a detached mission with the CIA.

 We quickly discovered that the CIA had already pre-arranged locations for several 2-man teams to live indigenously amongst the Kurds. I was not surprised when I was teamed with Scotty. The two of us were sent to the town of Qabani in Syria’s Kurdish northeastern region.

On the 13th of September of 2014, ISIS launched an attack on Qabani and had overrun the city, pillaging many of its inhabitants. They had captured more than three hundred Kurdish villages in the surrounding area that led to a wave of more than 300,000 refugees fleeing into Turkey’s Sanliurfa Province.

Two months later is when Scotty and I received our orders. It was right after Thanksgiving—and before Christmas—of course. With the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) backed by well-trained and heavily armed Peshmerga forces of the Kurdistan Regional Government, and US-led airstrikes, the Kurds began to recapture Qabani. ISIS was driven into a steady retreat and the city was liberated by the 27th of January 2015. The battle for Qabani was considered a turning point in the war against ISIS. However, most of the remaining villages surrounding Qabani were still under ISIS control.

This is where we came in, as military advisers. The worse part of the whole set up was that we were not allowed to communicate in any way back to our family members. This was a drag to both of us but the CIA operative, who shall remain anonymous, had us both sign a bunch of blank stationaries so that he could periodically draft letters to our wives, as if the letters were from us, assuring them that everything was fine.

Each team was equipped with a powerful radio transmitter, some burner mobile apps, a medical kit, a crate of weapons, and boxes of ammunition. Although we had been in this area of operations before, we never came here to live as if this would be our new home…for only God knew how long.

I won’t say how we infiltrated or traveled to our location but the first order of business was to meet with the tribal chief, Sheikh Ahmet Kaya, named after a Kurdish folk singer. Both Scotty and I knew the Sheikh from previous operations. It was he who requested the two of us to be assigned to his sector.

"Salam Alaikum!" I said with a slight bow when the Sheikh first approached with a group of fighting men and women. 

“Aleikom Salam!” he replied back.

"Choni?" (How are you?)

"Boshi.” (I'm well).

While our initial exchange continued, the CIA operative headed back to the vehicle that brought us into Qabani. His parting words were, “Remember, this is a Top-Secret mission, and nothing can happen. You are not here and if anything bad happens, I don’t know you. DO NOT get captured.”

“We weren’t planning on it,” Scotty answered.

“Just saying…Oh, and I’ll be sure to write the kind of letters that will keep your wives happy.”

Scotty and I looked at each other and then went about our business. The two of us were alone Americans in the middle of northeast Syria.

“Come on,” Sheikh Kaya said. “I will show you two to your new homes.”

“Homes?” I answered. As in more than one? I had assumed that the two of us would be in the same dwelling.”

“You will each have your own. There is a reason and you will know soon.”

Again, I assumed. “Oh, in case something happens to the house, we both won’t die?” I added somewhat sarcastically.

The Sheikh smiled. “A good reason, but only one.”

“Just as well” Scotty answered. “I can’t stand his snoring.”

When the Sheikh led us to our new homes, Scotty and I looked at each other like kids in a candy store.

“Wow!” he uttered, which were my exact thoughts as well.

We were led through a brick-walled fortress looking building that surrounded a miniature palace-like structure. The outsides of the building were made of brick and the whole structure was built like a ranch house that was shaped in a giant “U” with a fountain and garden at the center. We went inside one of the wings and marveled at the colorful tiled walls and floors with large woven carpets, windows with long drapes, rooms separated by large columns.

“Looks like one of Saddam's’ palaces,” I said.

“I can get used to this…real fast!”

We walked up a couple of marble steps to a side room and Scotty was told that this would be his. With a clap of his hands, a couple of soldiers moved around busily like a couple of concierges.

Sheikh told Scotty, “I hope you find your accommodations suitable to your satisfaction.”

Scotty smiled big, which was not that often. The last time was when he returned home from our mission in Iraq in ’06 and his young daughter ran up to him. His blue eyes were as wide as frisbees.

“Come, Bobby Burns, I will show you your accommodations.” Scotty followed me.

“I want to see his too.”

I could not imagine it to be any nicer than Scotty’s, but we moved across to the other side of the courtyard into the same building and when I stepped in, the wow factor smacked me for the second time. It was actually nicer than Scotty’s, in my opinion anyway.

“Sheikh Kaya, how can we thank you enough for such hospitality?” I asked sincerely.

“Well, first, you have already, just by being here to train me and my men, and for bringing all of these weapons to fight ISIS.”

“We will train you well,” I assured him.

“Yes, we are very eager to get started. There is another way you can thank me also.” The Sheikh went to the door while his men filed past us hauling in our equipment. Scotty and I both took in our surroundings, noting storage locations, escape routes and other personal quirks. The extravagant spaces were very impressive, to say the least.

When the Sheikh returned, he had a young girl with him. “This is my daughter, Aryaa. She is now seventeen years old. Her name means that she is noble and honored,” the Sheikh beamed.

Scotty and I bowed slightly, reserving an extended hand until she reached her hand out towards me first and then to Scotty. “I am pleased to meet you,” she said in solid English.

“Likewise, it is very nice to meet you, Aryaa,” I answered, as did Scotty.

She was very attractive. Unlike the other Kurdish women, we had met, Aryaa was not in a military uniform. She wore a colorful head scarf that partially covered her long, dark brown hair. Her eyes were like dark almonds, yet with a glint of innocence, which matched her shy, yet wily, smile. Her gown was a typical modern dress for the young Kurdish women of that area and was arrayed in a two-toned burgundy and brown. She wore a golden necklace that gleamed brilliantly against her dress.

“She will keep your living areas clean and will cook for you,” the Sheikh suddenly announced. “For both of us?” Scotty responded.

“No, only for the leader. She will live with the leader—it is our way.”

Before we could say anything else, the Sheikh yelled in front of his soldiers, along with some of the local people, including other women and children. “I am truly honored to give my daughter, Aryaa, as a bride to our Green Beret leader in marriage, today!”

Everyone let out a loud “whoop” followed by yelling, laughing and clapping…except for Scotty, me…and Aryaa, who was looking shyly at the ground. At least she wasn’t crying, I thought. Scotty and I just looked at each other, trying hard not to look shaken by the sudden announcement.

We were both already married. But we could not argue our American point of view at the moment. We would have lost all credibility…and thus the mission. And this just wasn’t our personal mission, but one with National interest in the whole region. We did not have a choice but to go along.

Fortunately, for the non-leader, the Sheikh’s other kids were all boys, except for one, another girl who was too young. This meant that only one of us had the new awkward domestic living arrangements.

“Aryaa is now your wife!” the Sheikh announced. “We will have a grand celebration tonight!” There was more cheering as if their favorite team had just scored a goal in the World Cup.

Sensing our surprised expressions, the Sheikh added, “Don’t worry my friends. We will kill ISIS soon!”

 

The young bride, Aryaa, was not only very attractive, but she was also thoughtful, desired to please, personally took care of the mundane tasks, to include cooking, and best of all, her constant and tranquil smile indicated that she was sincerely happy. The Sheikh and the rest of his family were also very happy as he indicated to us verbally each day.

All the daily tasks by the soldiers were making great progress—the fortifications, weapon, and ammunition storage areas, guard posts—everything. When ISIS forces did come, they would meet quite a resistance, something the cowards were not used to whenever they rolled into an unsuspecting town to wreak havoc amongst the old men, women, and children.

Together, Scotty and I were able to train 360 Kurdish fighting men and women. We divided them up into three companies of 120 and assigned each a Captain, platoon leaders, and squad leaders. Part of our supplies that we brought with us was pin-on insignia. We had a mass promotional ceremony for all of the Kurds after completing six weeks of training. Each one wore their new rank proudly, whether it was captain bars, lieutenant bars, or sergeant stripes. For the Sheikh, we presented him with the silver oak leaf cluster of a lieutenant colonel.

We trained Aryaa to lead the women and children in sanitary practices, basic veterinarian care for their livestock, and basic first aid. Despite her age, she was considered one of the leading women of the town. The only exception was her mother, one of the Sheikh’s three wives. Scotty had asked him once why only three when his religion permitted four.

He laughed and said, “Number three would have…” then he quickly leaned forward and whispered something in Scotty’s ear. Both laughed together hardily.

When I asked him later what he said, Scotty replied, “Let’s just say he would never be the same man had he taken another after her.”

I got the picture.

 

By the end of February, with our tactical training guidance and advanced weaponry, the YPG forces recaptured over 100 surrounding villages that they had lost to ISIS during the previous year. Whenever their forces returned, they were quick to report about their successes.

“There was no resistance today," the Sheikh would say. “They are only fighters against defenseless women and children. They run from us when we come.”

This turned out to be only partially true. When YPG forces fought against ISIS near Aleppo, they met heavy resistance. One of our airstrikes targeted a local ISIS command center in al-Shuyookh Gharbi that killed several prominent leaders on one occasion.

One month later, the CIA guy, which is what I’ll call him, unexpectedly arrived with four PF-98 unguided anti-tank rocket launchers that were made by the Chinese.

“Where did you get these?” Scotty asked.

“Need to know. Enjoy them.”

 “Aren’t these the ones they call Queen Bees?”

“Yep. For good reason. Here are 100 rounds to go with them.”

Next, he handed us a bag of mail, some “pogey bait” and a footlocker. It was like Christmas.

“What’s in the footlocker?”

“Everything in here is for the ladies.”

We both gave him an incredulous look.

“What, you think I don’t know? I know everything. She and her mother will enjoy these stateside treasures.”

Pointing to the mailbag, the agent said, “This should keep you busy for a while…but burn them when you are finished reading them. We can’t have any inkling of Americans being here.”

Scotty grabbed the bag while I appointed some of the men to haul the rockets to our arms room.

“By the way, Emma gave you a very specific list of items that she wanted the kids to have for Christmas.”

“What did I get them?”

“I said it would be no problem. The agency made sure it got everything, including something very special for Emma.”

“Well, I certainly appreciate that.”

“And we appreciate what you guys are doing here. Hang in there. Hopefully, we’ll be done in another four to six months.”

My heart sank a bit because I knew there was no telling how much time was actually left. I had been told one or two months—max, on a previous mission, and it turned out to be seven months. I knew Emma was losing patience with me and I had promised her that this would be my last tour.

Our “contact” didn’t stay long, so both Scotty and I ate some of the goodies and read our mail from home. Aryaa didn’t seem to mind the diversion but did seem curious as she watched.

 

Weeks later, our scouts informed us of an ISIS convoy that made routine trips between Sarrin and Al-Mumbteh. Scotty and I decided to plan an ambush with the YPG fighters. They were excited and chomping at the bit to take out more ISIS forces.

Taking two companies with us on patrol through the ravines, hills, and otherwise desert terrain, we set out on our mission. Our scouts had chosen an ideal location to set up an ambush from higher ground, and an area with some cover and concealment.

When we left Qabani, we were in high spirits, even though it was at eleven at night and set out to our Objective Rally Point. Our trek to the ORP was uneventful and fortunately, the Kurds maintained noise discipline, just like we taught them. About an hour before dawn, we arrived at our RP, dropped off our packs with some guards, and moved to the ambush location with all the weapons we needed, arriving to the chosen site just before dawn, and plenty of time to set up the ambush.

Each company covered one hundred yards of the road at the beginning and at the end. We placed two “L’s” (the shape of the ambush) of the machine gunners stretched fifty yards back of the primary for secondary fire in case ISIS tried to escape, rally, and outflank us.

The two assigned commanders positioned themselves at the extreme ends of the ambush and controlled the burn phones. The Sheikh insisted on coming so he, Scotty and I were positioned at the center of the ambush. We allowed him to give the initial signal, at our command.

The rising of the sun brought along the increased heat. Signals from the assigned commanders indicated that the convoy of white pick-up trucks, mounted with machine guns, had entered the ambush. When the signal had been relayed indicating that the last of the line of trucks had entered the kill zone, we gave the Sheikh the go-ahead to launch the attack.

Beginning with the “Queen Bees” that we had recently received to coincide with automatic fire from our positions, ISIS didn’t know what hit them. Those who somehow escaped the initial barrage were swarming in confusion and shooting each other. Even though there were at least fifty radicals in the trucks, the ‘fight,’ if you could call it that, was over in less than half a minute.

Our trained members moved through the kill zone rapidly to conduct searches of the ISIS fighters and their vehicles, while the rest repositioned their weapons. This was to be a quick in and out so although we collected the available intel, we did not take any prisoners. After gathering everything, including the guards, at the ORP, we hastily made it back to Qabani. The mission was a success.

 

More time went by when our CIA contact arrived at our location again.

“You’re back so soon?”

“Yeah, unfortunately with bad news.”

“What’s up?” I asked.

“It’s your dad. He had a stroke and it’s not looking good. I’m here to bring you home.”

“Are you serious?” Scotty asked.

I was speechless. My dad was always a picture of health, and my pillar…in more ways than one.

“I’m afraid so. Scotty, you’ll have to hold the fort until he returns. We’re still counting on you. Oh, and by the way guys, good work with the ambush.”

Scotty walked over to me. “I have everything covered. Go! I’m really sorry to hear about your dad.”

I nodded my head, still stunned. “Thanks, Scotty. I know you have it covered. I’ll try to get back as soon as I can.”

 

While I was back in the US making funeral arrangements for my father, the YPG and ISIS forces battled back and forth for control of Qabani with attacks and counterattacks, almost on a daily basis. It was during one such attack by ISIS, that began with a dawn raid on our sector of Qabani, that Scotty, one of the greatest leaders I had ever known, was killed in action. When I heard the news, I did not believe it. Nobody, I mean nothing, could ever kill Scotty. He was, as they say, invincible.

But it was true. He left his fortified position to rescue Aryaa who was left in a vulnerable area exposed to the initial bombardment. By doing so, he paid the ultimate sacrifice for her. I had just lost two of my closest confidants in one month. I was not going to lose a third…not if I could help it.

 

Early on the 29th of May 2015, the last of the Peshmerga fighters stationed in Qabani returned to Iraqi Kurdistan…because the city had been secured. Iraqi Kurdistan announced that no more troops would be sent to back to Qabani.

Although our mission was officially over and our CIA contact got a message to me that I could stay home and did not need to return, I knew in my heart that I had to do the right thing. I had to go back, at least one more time if nothing else. Emma did not understand why, and I chose not to tell her everything—not at that time—anyway.

On the plane back towards northern Iraq, I opened my Bible and read a lot of scripture, trying to justify or make sense of my thoughts and actions. I read about King David during his lifetime of battles and what he must have been thinking. I read many other stories as well, looking for some vindictive justice in a decision I had made—a decision that affected so many lives other than my own. I read, and I prayed—and I read again and—prayed again. I am not sure if I heard from God or if I came to my own conclusion, but I knew that I had to go back and do the right thing.

You see, although Scotty was a great leader, I was the selected leader…by virtue of the U.S. Army ranking system and the fact that I was a commissioned officer. Scotty was my senior non-commissioned officer who had always worked under me. He once confided in me by saying, “Sir, you’re a good officer and I’d follow you anywhere in the world.”

I felt bad about leaving him in Qabani…even worse that I left him to look after and take care of Aryaa. Why? Because when the Sheikh gave his daughter in marriage to the leader, I was the leader he was referring to. It was strange, really, and certainly not planned, but in that short period of time, I had fallen in love with Aryaa and when she looked at me with those deep almond-colored eyes, there were tears running down her cheek. I placed my finger against her smooth face to stop it. Then, she looked up at me and said, “You will come back to me, won’t you, Bobby Burns? Be—because I really do love you.”

I will never forget that moment when I looked at Scotty who said, “Don’t worry sir. I will guard her with my life.” And he did. He died for my wife.


© Copyright 2020 SCOTT A. MEEHAN. All rights reserved.

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