The flight profile matched the pattern of a Chinese diplomat visiting a remote corner of the world. However, the passengers of this private jet had no allegiance to Beijing.
“Chief, have you ever experienced a ride on one of these aircraft before?”
With his eyes shut, he addressed the interruption without opening them.
“Yeah, I’ve been on them quite a few times, but on those occasions, I wore a tailored suit and accompanied by some arm candy. Wearing this army kit ruins the mood. Sergeant First Class (SFC) Meadows, have you ever traveled on a jet like this?”
Meadows’ lineman physique and Chief’s wiry frame anchored by the weighty kits made it difficult to get comfortable in the leather seats designed for executives instead of elite warriors.
“I am disappointed with the amenities of this bucket. They pale in comparison to those found on my uncle’s private jet,” Meadows said.
Chief opened his eyes to glower at the newest member of the team.
“Haha, gotcha there, Chief! Nah, just pulling your leg. Truth is, I grew up in a trailer park down in New Orleans until hurricane Katrina foreclosed on my family estate. I Had no clue the Army had access to these kinds of airplanes.”
A change in altitude alerted Chief. The flight plan on the mahogany-framed digital screen showed they were off course. His brow furrowed in response—they were falling behind schedule.
There's another side of the Army you haven't seen. Be quiet or you'll return to a line unit. You already cost me ten minutes of valuable sleep, Warrant Officer 3 (Chief) Talo King said.
SFC Meadows shuffled to the back of the aircraft. The extra gear made for a tight fit in the passenger section of the Gulfstream jet.
“Hey, Chief, ever jumped from one of these planes before?” Meadows asked.
To an untrained eye, the interior appeared like any other private jet. Meadows ran his hand over the modifications to the bulkhead, admiring the ingenuity of the craftsmanship.
Why am I stuck chaperoning the new guy’s first mission? I work better alone, Chief thought.
The counterfeit Chinese tail code allowed them to enter the foreign airspace undetected until a fighter jet intercepted them before they reached the intended High Altitude High Opening (HAHO) insertion point for their parachute jump.
“Pick up the pace, Meadows. We are behind schedule. We need to establish the observation post (OP) before sunrise,” Chief said.
For an old timer, Chief could ruck faster than most of the younger soldiers and he was carrying an extra 25 pounds of gear, Meadows thought.
The two-man crew navigated through the rugged terrain with ease.
“Chief, did you notice the signs of vegetation damage?”
Meadows knelt down, pointing at the flattened foliage. He surveyed the nearby ridge lines using his advanced night vision equipment affixed to his helmet, toggling between infrared and thermal modes.
“Looks like a giant bowling ball made its way through, flattening everything along the riverbank,” Chief said.
The soldiers halted, listening for any unnatural sounds before continuing towards the objective.
“Whatever caused the destruction had considerable mass and momentum behind it. I doubt it was a bolder rolling down from the ridge,” Meadows said.
As the two-man reconnaissance team edged closer to the river, they maintained proper distance and heightened awareness to prevent any unwanted detection.
“I never saw damaged vegetation like this while patrolling with the regiment’s reconnaissance unit,” Meadows said.
The night sky was clear, with countless stars unobscured by light pollution.
“I am going to send a situational report (SITREP) to higher,” Chief said.
With Meadows providing over watch in a crouched position, his team leader transmitted an encrypted message to their higher headquarters.
“Roger,” Meadows responded through his secure radio headset.
I don’t recall his personnel file indicating he was part of the regimental reconnaissance unit of the 75th Ranger Regiment. Perhaps I overlooked that detail. You see one ranger, you’ve seen them all, Chief thought.
“Hold off on sending the SITREP for now, Chief. You really need to see this.”
Meadows pointed at the human limbs and military gear scattered among spent ammunition brass casings.
“They were firing in every direction. This country might be on the edge of a civil war,” Meadows said.
The serene camera view captured a stark contrast as the objective came into view. Tunnel construction marred a pristine wilderness at the base of the mountain.
“Looks like the agency missed the mark again. We’ve been in this camouflage hole for days and have spotted no activity on the objective,” Meadows said, stowing his camera.
Chief shifted his gaze to the advanced signals intelligence equipment (SIGINT) he was monitoring and jotted down a note.
“Give the agency some credit. Their analysts stumbled upon something and we confirmed it was not an operational weapons facility, like they briefed,” Chief said.
Meadows scanned the banks of the river and the tunnel openings in the mountain with his binoculars.
“Perhaps they were constructing a hydroelectric power plant and underestimated the cost,” Meadows said.
Chief ensured his carbine rifle was ready and took a sip of water.
“Makes little sense to tunnel into a mountain to build a power plant. The closest population center is over 350km. They were building something else inside the mountain.
Chief parted a section of the camouflaged netting concealing their OP above the tunnel complex.
“Where are you headed?” Meadows asked.
Chief surveyed the surrounding terrain from their position, looking for any movement before responding to Meadows.
“Dispatch the target folder to headquarters and coordinate for an early ex-filtration. I’ll find out why this site has been abandoned,” Chief said.
The valley was too quiet in the remote mountains. Meadows observed strange fires inside cave openings on the side of the mountain. These caves were far above the tunnel complex entrances they were tasked to monitor.
“Meadows, I’m en route back from the objective,” Chief relayed over the secure communications (COMMS) channel.
As Chief made his way back to the OP, a full moon emerged above the ridgeline.
“Are we a go for the ex-filtration?” Chief asked.
Following orders, Meadows shared the grid coordinates of the mysterious fires above the tunnel complex with higher command before responding.
“Negative. Higher-ups want us to maintain our presence on site for a few more days. I put in the request for the ex-filtration, but the ovulating office denied it,” Meadows said.
Chief removed his helmet and massaged his temples before addressing Meadows.
“Show respect for the Office of the President. I don’t care about your political leanings or your thoughts on the acting commander-in-chief. It distracts from our mission. Clear?”
With a down-cast gaze, Meadows offered Chief a cup of purified water.
“Yes, sir,” Meadows said.
Chief’s thoughts drifted to a steaming cup from Dancing Goats Coffee in Olympia, Washington — a comforting warmth to combat the chill of the night.
“What did you discover on the objective?” Meadows asked.
A new cave fire ignited above their observation post. Meadows keyed in the new grid coordinate while gesturing to the location to alert Chief.
“We’ll delve into those details soon. But why did the Secretary of Defense (SecDef) deny our ex-filtration request?” Chief asked.
Meadows brushed crumbs from an earlier dinner of protein bars off his beard.
“The SecDef wants us to gather more intelligence,” Meadows responded.
Chief confirmed the new fires were man made with a thermal imaging device.
“More intel! I seized a computer and some files from one trailer on the objective. I’ve transmitted the data via the site exploitation channel. With this treasure trove of data, the site exploitation team will have their hands full for weeks,” Chief said.
Meadows relieved Chief of the thermal imaging device and noted the fires were extinguished.
“An elite mountain unit is en route to our location. The SecDef believes it’s connected to the earlier ambush and the lack of activity at the tunnel complex. Our new task is to gather information about the mountain unit,” Meadows said.
Audible tones chirped into their headsets, indicating active radio frequencies within their area of operations.
“That would explain things. The military dispatched the mountain troops because the objective is strewn with human remains —severed limbs everywhere, but the bodies are nowhere to be found,” Chief said.
The SIGINT equipment locked onto the radio frequencies, and decrypted the message traffic.
“A faction against the tunnel complex might be ambushing the workers from the caves,” Meadows said.
The communications traffic from the mountain unit yielded a front-line trace that matched the locations of the soldiers the OP had received from their superiors.
“Perhaps, but if the intention is sabotage, why leave the site intact? There were generators filled with fuel and food left on the chow hall tables. The only destruction was the savage massacre of the construction crew,” Chief said.
Small arms fire echoed through the canyon in the early morning hours before dawn.
“Given that rate of fire, those machine gun barrels are going to be melting soon. I thought this unit was the best this country could field,” Meadows said.
Both occupants of the OP scanned the ridge line for any movement around their position.
“Something doesn’t add up. Did you intercept any communications between the company and the platoons"? Chief asked.
Meadows switched to the company frequency network and waited for the algorithms to decrypt and translate. The customized female Italian accent was more soothing than the pre-loaded John Wayne voice option.
“The company headquarters (HQ) element has ordered all immediate units to converge on the tunnel complex,” Meadows said.
Imagery requested by Chief from satellites or drones arrived on the handheld tablet and depicted 300 soldiers converging on their location.
“Do you think we compromised our OP?” Chief asked.
Meadows shook his head in disbelief, listening to the radio traffic between the company HQ and the subordinate platoons.
“The communication is erratic. They are pursuing something with a sense of urgency and there are elevated stress levels in their voices. Two soldiers from the Army of Northern Virginia have instilled fear in 300 foreign soldiers. Not a bad day’s work for America’s finest,” Meadows said.
After Chief handed him the tablet, Meadows noted the unit icon graphics displayed on the satellite images.
“They fear us without even knowing we are here? Look at their unit formations in the images. They don’t expect contact with another opposing force and they are taking the quickest route to the to the tunnel complex,” Chief said.
With his optics, Chief scanned the caves and the tunnel complex, searching for any activity since the last radio transmission from the company.
“The leading edge of the unit is following the river. We should witness their approach soon,” Meadows said.
Standard military tactics dictate a deliberate and cautious advance towards the objective to avoid alerting the enemy. This unit sprinted as if on the last stretch of the Boston Marathon.
“We’re exposed here like sitting ducks, if they decide to conduct reconnaissance before securing the objective,” Chief said.
Both soldiers within the OP watched in disbelief as the mountain soldiers huddled together in the tunnel entrance instead of securing the objective and dispatching patrols in the surrounding area.
“The company HQ ordered the units to search the tunnel complex before an airstrike package arrived on station to obliterate the caves,” Meadows said.
Chief sent a situation report back to his higher headquarters, updating them on the intercepted communications about the airstrike.
“Did they mention who they are fighting?” Chief asked.
Meadows pressed the earpiece closer to avoid missing any details.
“Negative. There’s an excessive amount of radio traffic for an elite unit. They could have Chinese military observers in their ranks. That might be why the radio traffic does not mention the threat they are in contact with,” Meadows said.
The mountain troops began firing at the caves above them with all their weapons.
“Oh shit, they are rappelling down from the caves right into the mountain troops. Wait, correction, they’re descending without ropes. How is that possible?”
Chief watched in amazement, witnessing a feat no sane human would dare attempt.
“Reports overwhelmed the company HQ as the outlying platoons continued to converge on the tunnel complex. The translation algorithm struggled to translate a certain phrase. It sounds like they’re referring to colossal bears attacking?” Meadows said.
Chief examined the real-time transcript of translated communications between the mountain units while recording the ongoing firefight on the objective using advanced surveillance equipment.
“Oh shit, what the hell are those? Small arms fire seems to have no effect on them. Are you recording this, Chief?”
The video equipment recorded footage across both visual and electromagnetic spectrum.
“Could they be wearing some type of armor? They’re wiping out the mountain troops without weapons, and only using sheer strength and speed,” Meadows said.
The entrance to the tunnel complex became strewn with dismembered soldiers. Chief and Meadows stared in shock as lifeless bodies were piled like firewood and transported up the mountain without the aid of ropes.
“Did you send the footage to higher?” Meadows asked.
Chief scratched his beard and furrowed his brow.
“Negative, I am still attempting to make sense of what we’ve recorded,” Chief said.
Meadows peered through his binoculars as the rising sun cast light upon the valley.
“This is unbelievable,” Meadows said.
A sudden movement alerted Chief to scan the objective through his own binoculars.
“Are those human bones falling from the sky?” Chief asked.
Additional objects hurled from the caves littered the objective.
“I remember hearing similar stories in Afghanistan, though I never believed them. Sometimes we stumbled upon human rib bones during raids. What we’ve witnessed today aligns with those reports,” Meadows said.
An audio tone alerted Meadows to incoming radio traffic.
“At least American soldiers will not be accused of these atrocities,” Chief said.
Message traffic from higher headquarters arrived via the secure communication channel.
“Communications intelligence (COMINT) has intercepted news of a strike package from the host country en route to the tunnel complex. They’re also dispatching helicopters to extract survivors from the mountain unit. The SecDef’s directive is for us to remain and provide a battle damage assessment (BDA) of the airstrike on the caves,” Meadows said.
The old-fashioned paper map rustled in the breeze as Chief performed a terrain analysis.
“Sanitize the site. We need to put as much distance between the tunnel complex and our ex-filtration point before the strike package arrives on station. I doubt they possess precision weaponry,” Chief said.
Somewhere, aircraft armed with ordnance were en route to obliterate the tunnel complex.
“Where are you headed, Chief? Our orders are to stay here and report BDA.”
Chief scurried out from under the camouflaged netting and crouched close to the OP.
“I think the mountain unit killed a giant. I’m off to gather proof. The OP is too close to the target. I’ll meet you at the ex-filtration point,” Chief said.
The blast concussion knocked Chief to the ground before he made it to the fallen giant. He low crawled into the ravine and wedged himself against a boulder to shield himself from further bombardment. The objective was incinerated, destroying anything organic.
The Airstrike is too early; he thought.
A sickening feeling churned in his stomach as he waited for the airstrike to cease.
“Looks like your golf game might take a hit for a while,” someone said.
Chief drew his weapon at the opposing figure standing above him.
“Easy there. I’m not here to cause you harm,” the man said.
Clad in civilian clothing and unarmed, the figure extended a hand to the injured soldier.
“Take my hand. Once we are in town, my medic will attend to your shoulder.”
The sound of a helicopter engine spooling up resonated through the valley.
After a moment of hesitation, Chief extended his hand, accepting the offer.
The cave entrances and the tunnel complex lay obliterated under tons of debris. Chief turned his attention back to the OP, his nostrils flared as he aimed his pistol at the man who aided him.
The figure stepped to the side of Chief’s pistol but otherwise did not react.
“I am sorry, Talo. They killed Sergeant Meadows in the airstrike.”
Chief re-holstered his pistol, rubbing his temples and shaking his head.
“Is that you, Hugh? We witnessed your helicopter going down during an op in Iraq,” Chief said.
Hugh draped an arm around Chief, supporting him as they made their way toward the awaiting helicopter.
“Its me, Hugh Smilodon. Your government declared both you and Sergeant Meadows as casualties in a training mishap. I’ll fill you in on the rest of what you witnessed today over a round of golf at Goat Trails Golf Club,” Hugh said.
Thank You for Reading,
Please leave a comment/rating
Subscribe to Go Beyond the Normal
3 Pooches Publishing
Private Jet Image from Reddit