Going to ‘Gotham,’ Part 2

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 20, 2007

I stand in my most presentable pair of cammies, free of rips or holes, and watch the cars go by, carrying slain British soldiers, victims of an improvised explosive device. It’s called a repatriation ceremony.

The caravan carrying the fallen will drive to the airport, and they will be flown back to the United Kingdom. There are sniffles and muffled sobs all around me. The weight of their sacrifice is not lost on me.

I didn’t know them. The guy standing beside me did. His name is Cameron. One of the men killed was Cam’s roommate here. His name was Joe. He also went through basic training with Cam. Joe was like a brother, Cam told me. They spent all their off-duty time together. Cam is 19. Joe was, too.

I remember when I was 19. I was stationed in Italy, having the time of my life, chasing every single woman I could. Hey, I was a kid with raging hormones. I never gave death a second thought. At 19, who does?

As the caravan passes me, I salute, perform an about-face, and go on my way. There’s work to be done.

&uot;Mate, Cam’s not going,&uot; says the chief of staff. &uot;He’s not in the right frame of mind, and I wouldn’t let him go, anyway, even if he wasn’t taking his friend’s death as hard as he is.&uot; I can’t say I disagree. Cam needs some time off. &uot;You’re not going either. This doesn’t concern you. This will be an all-British op.&uot;

I’m in no position to argue. I see the reason in his eyes. The bad guys killed Brits. The Brits will not stand for it. The Brits will be rectifying the situation and making sure the bad guys settle their debts to the house. I will be a spectator tonight.

I go back to my hooch for a short nap before the festivities begin. I take off my cammie top, and hear the crinkle of paper in my left top pocket. A letter from a friend at home. I carry it everywhere I go. It’s always in the same place, left shirt pocket, so home is always close to my heart. I pull it out and read it, even though I’ve memorized all the words. To me, it feels like I’m holding a little bit of Franklin.

I actually cry. I can’t remember the last time I cried, but I cry hard. After being up all night, and the adrenaline easing its way out of my system, I let it all go. I suddenly realize how easily it could have been me who was killed last night.

This letter, and what it represents, will get me through this. I know it. I will not die. Not here. There are people who care about me at home, and I have to see them again. I WILL walk out of this place. I push these thoughts aside, and hunker down for a nap. After I wake up, I go back to headquarters and make my way to the Operations Center, grabbing a very large cup of tea on the way. You can get coffee out here, but the Brits tend to make tea more than anything else, and I’m too lazy to brew a whole pot just for myself.

As I walk into the Ops Center, I see that one of the plasma screens shows the assault force, already on the ground. I grab a headset, and listen to the communications.

I watch the shooters enter the first residence. It’s quiet for a few minutes. Then they reappear. &uot;Target acquired,&uot; says the Commander. I see them edge along the building and continue on their way. Five targets are planned tonight, and as I continue to watch, the shooters make their way into each house and manage to get three more. While searching for the last guy, though, gunshots break the silence.

The chief of staff, who controls the operation from headquarters, looks at the plasma screen. There must be about 200 people at the intersection. He makes a call, which is a no-brainer. He tells the radio operator to pull all shooters back to the helos for extraction.

The shooters start to leapfrog in reverse, making their way back to their rides, the bad guys they nabbed in tow.

A half-hour later, I’m at the helipad. The detainees are brought out one by one — blindfolded, ear-muffed and flexi-cuffed. The shooters are all wearing grins. In addition to the guys they nabbed, they also report 22 enemies killed, including three who were emplacing IEDs, like the one that killed Cam’s buddy, Joe, and two other British soldiers.

The shooters feel good. So do I. Though I wasn’t out on the mission, as I watch the detainees being loaded into my snatch-wagon, I feel a difference has been made. These detainees represent a major blow to the distribution network for illegal arms that are killing coalition forces every single day. On a more personal note, one of these guys is responsible for providing rockets to other bad guys, the very same rockets that tend to rain on me while I sleep. I’m going to be very interested in what this guy has to say. It might be a while before he and the others are ready to talk, but I’m a patient man.

Time isn’t really on my side, though. I’m past the halfway point. Three months left to go. Three months until I see Franklin again. God willing, I will.

THOMAS MORE is the pseudonym of an intelligence analyst with the U.S. Navy, who makes his home in Franklin and serves in Iraq. He has been granted anonymity in order to avoid compromising his security or that of his mission or the nation. Questions for More may be sent to res.spears@tidewaternews.com.