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God, how I do love being cold and wet. And it is lucky that I do, because cold, and wet (not to mention tired, hungry, and suffering from terminal lack o' pussy), is precisely how I have spent a large portion of my professional life. Take my present situation. (Oh, yes indeed. Please, take my present situation. All of it. Each and every molecule. Every single fucking bit.)
And exactly what was my current situation, you ask? Well, to be precise, I was one of four SEALs crammed inside a spherical steel tank built for two -- we're talking roughly eight feet high by five feet in diameter -- in total blackness, squashed atop and against the three similarly chilly and claustrophobic occupants, and clinging to a ladder attached to the side of the cylinder so I wasn't stepping on the head of the man below me. just to make things interesting, cold seawater from several vents was being pumped into the tank. Currently the water was at crotch level, and it was frigid enough to shrink my Rogue-sized balls to hazelnuts, even through a thick, black neoprene foam wet suit, which covered me head to toe.
I waited quietly, patiently, until the tank was completely filled. As the water came in, I could hear the air as it escaped through the collar of the air bubble hood manifold above me. Under what might be called normal circumstances, I could have monitored our progress on the chamber's interior pressure and air gauges courtesy of the two waterproof battle lanterns that are mounted six feet above the bottom hatch cover. But Mister Murphy (of Murphy's Law fame), or one of his Murphyesque minions, had already decided that light was an unacceptable component of the night's activity, and thus he had caused the lanterns to malfunction as soon as the bottom hatch had been sealed, the pressure equalized, and the water begun to flow.
Even so, I might have followed the action by using my waterproof flashlight. But my waterproof flashlight was safely stowed in my equipment bag. And my equipment bag was being transported on the fucking deck of the fucking nuclear attack submarine on which I was currently a passenger, lashed to a cleat behind the sail, where I would retrieve it after I'd completed lockout.
Under normal circumstances, we wouldn't even have been in this particular fucking sewer pipe, which is how SEALs refer to subs. We'd have been aboard one of the retrofitted SpecOps craft, attack subs that have been specially outfitted for us shoot-and-looters. We'd have had the advantage of Mark-V SDVs, or swimmer delivery vehicles, which are carried on the decks of SpecWar subs in bulbous clamshell devices called DSS, or drydock shelters. But there are only three such boats available, given the current drawdown to our 296-ship, twenty-first-century Navy. And so, we'd had to make do with what was on hand. Which was, to be precise, the USS Nacogdoches (SSN 767), a third-generation Los Angeles-class U-boat, equipped to kill other subs, launch Tomahawk missiles, lay mines, wage electronic warfare, and do many other, sundry top secret tasks. But the list did not include the capacity to accommodate and launch eight SEALs and all their equipment on a clandestine mission.
The result as you can probably guess, meant that we'd had to jury-rig everything from our sleeping quarters (we'd hot-bunked in the forward torpedo room with the Tomahawk missiles, Mark 48 ADCAP -- ADvanced CAPability -- torpedoes, and Mark 67 SLMMs -- Submarine Launched Mobile Mines), to having to store our weapons and other gear outside the sub, as the escape hatches were too narrow to allow us to exit with anything more than our Draeger LAR-V rebreathers. Even our method of egress was nonreg. SSNs have two escape trunks. This one (known formally as the stores hatch, because it was where the ship's stores are commonly onloaded) was the most forward trunk. It was located just aft of the control room and abutted the triple-thick insulated, lead-shielded wall surrounding the nuclear reactor compartment.
SSNs modified for SpecWar have enlarged escape trunks so that SEAL platoons, which number sixteen, can lock out quickly. Unmodified SSN escape trunks are, as I have just pointed out, built for two men at a time. But given the parameters of my current mission, which included the necessity of a quick exit, I'd changed the rules. And so, we were locking out four at a time. Which currently gave the escape tank the crowded ambience of a frat-house telephone booth during a cram-the-pledges contest.
Thus, I stood immobile in the darkness, teeth chomped tight on my Draeger mouthpiece, trying not to stick my size ten triple-Rogue foot in Gator Shepard's size normal face, while trying my best to stay out of range of Boomerang's bony elbow (he has a nasty habit of flailing his arm like a chicken's wing when he's under stress), running and rerunning the night's schedule in my head. Oh, yes, it was much easier problem solving than thinking about my iced-down nuts and my other chillpacked nether parts. And so I stood there in the cold and the wet, anticipating everything that can, could, will, would, shall, should, may, might, or must go wrong, so I'd be able to outwit Command Master Chief Murphy who, experience has shown, likes to tag along on these kinds of ops.
Finally, I sensed the water flow had stopped. When I was positive no air remained in the escape chamber, I flexed my shoulders, worked the cramp out of my neck, and then started to pull myself toward the steel ladder bolted to the escape trunk bulkhead. I knew that I had to climb three rungs, then reach above my head in the total blackness to the spot my mind's eye had muscle-memoried as being the first of the six dogs that secured the trunk's outer hatch cover.
Wham! My action was interrupted by a rude elbow (or other sundry Boomerang body part -- it was dark after all, and who could really tell), which smashed into the right side of my temple. I went face first into the ladder rail and saw goddamn stars. Belay that. I saw the whole Milky fucking Way. Oh shit. Oh fuck. Oh, doom on Dickie. Which, as you probably know, means I was being fuckee-fuckeed in Vietnamese.
My mask came off -- the back strap separating from the clasp and disappearing into the void between my legs. And then the sonofabitch hit me again -- this time smack upside my wide Rogue snout, which knocked my mouthpiece clean out of my mouth. I gagged and snorted, which just about fucking drowned me, because as you will remember I was completely underwater, and gagging and snorting when underwater means inhaling what in SEAL technical language is known as the old double-sierra: a shitload of seawater.
It occurred to me that perhaps I should yell "CUT!" and start this process all over again. But that, of course, was impossible. This wasn't fucking Hollywood, where you get as many takes as you need to Get It Right. Or a goddamn training exercise, where you can take a time-out to regroup, rethink, and reapply yourself to the task at hand. This was for real. And there was a mother-blanking, bleepity-bleeping schedule to keep.
You what? You want to know what that schedule was? And you want me to explain it all now? When I'm in serious fucking pain?
Geezus, have you no sense of timing? Okay, okay -- you paid good money for this book, so I'll be fucking accommodating. To be brief about it, the mission tonight was for me and my seven SEALs to lock out of the Nacogdoches, swim undetected roughly eighteen hundred yards to the northeast, and make our way under half a dozen picket boats manned by armed and dangerous nasties. Then we'd locate die Nadel im Heuhaufen -- in this case it was a certain seventy-five-meter boat -- board it, obliterate any opposition, and then capture a Saudi royal yclept Prince Khaled Bin Abdullah. We would do all of this sans any hullabaloo whatsoever.
The reason for our stealth was that Khaled baby was the forty-seven-year-old scion of the Abdullah family, third cousins of da king, and Saudi Arabia's sixteenth most wealthy clan. Khaled's annual income was somewhere in the $400 million range, which works out to something like thirty-three million U.S. smackers a month. Educated in Germany, England, and France two decades ago, he'd eschewed the lavish single-malt scotch, Cristal champagne, beluga caviar, and hooker-rich lifestyle most of his fellow princes took up. Instead, he'd somehow gotten involved with the campus radicals, e.g., assholes from the Baader-Meinhof gang, the Red Brigades, and others like them. So Khaled wasn't into conspicuous consumption like most of your Saudi blue bloods. Instead, he'd invested his profits from Microsoft, Dell Computer, Cisco, and Intel, his circa 1980 12.5 percent zero coupon bonds, and his ARAMCO oil royalties in transnational terrorism.
Khaled funded Hamas suicide squads, Algerian GIA (Armed Islamic Group) death squads, and Kurdish car bombers. You could say that his money endowed "chairs" in murder and assassination at two of the five "universities" the mullahs have set up outside the Iranian cities of Tehran and Qum to train transnational terrorists. He'd provided financial support and logistics to the Harakat-ul-Ansar's program to assassinate westerners in Kashmir and Pakistan. He'd even given money to American neo-Nazis, German radicals, and Puerto Rican ultranationalists. This scumbag was a real equal-opportunity tango.
And until now, between the reluctant but constant protection of the Saudi royal family (he was, after all, an illegitimate third cousin to the current Saudi ambassador to the United States, which made him a directly indirect relative of da king), and his residence in rural Afghanistan, where he was protected by a brigade of Come-Mister-Taliban-Tally-Me-Banana-clip-on-your-AK-47 gunmen, it hadn't been politically prudent, tactically practical, or diplomatically realistic to lay our hands on him without creating what the State Department tends to describe as "a deplorable, regrettable, and unfortunate violation of sovereign territory involving United States military personnel."
But tonight, his illegitimate ass was going to be mine. Because my guys and I would nail him in international waters, where the State Department has no jurisdiction. Once he'd been properly TTS'd -- which as you know means tagged, tied, and stashed -- we'd turn him over to the proper authorities, i.e., a team of special agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, who were already waiting on a close-but-not-too-close VSV. They'd ferry him to an aircraft carrier cruising off Malta, where he'd be put on a plane that would, through the marvel of in-flight refueling, not touch down until it reached the good old U.S. of A. Bottom line: he'd stand trial for financing the bombing of the Khobar Towers complex in Saudi Arabia a few years back and killing nineteen American military personnel.
Yes, friends, when it comes to terrorists, the United States has a long, long memory. And sometimes, despite the current State Department's best efforts to the contrary, we even act on it.
Ninety-six hours ago, Khaled, the TIQ, had been lured out of his safe haven in Afghanistan to these here international waters, which happen to be eighty miles due southwest of Akrotiri, Cyprus, by the promise of securing something he'd been trying to buy for the past decade: a ready-to-go, .025-megaton Soviet special demolition munition device, popularly described as a suitcase atom bomb, (even though the goddam thing does not come in a suitcase). The bomb was real -- and the man selling it to him, a former Stasi officer-turned-black marketeer, smuggler, and arms merchant named Heinz Hochheizer, was a bona fide no-goodnik. Neither Heinz nor Khaled realized they'd both been set up in a protracted, complex, and very intricate sting by the CIA, which thought that getting its hands on one of the old Soviet devices at the same time Khaled was being scooped up made an excellent idea.
It had taken more than nine months to get this far, but Khaled had finally nibbled at the bait, and the folks at Langley had allowed the hook to be set -- hard. Still, Khaled was a smart sumbitch. He knew that Fawaz Yunis, one of the tangos involved in the hijacking of TWA 847 back in 1985, had been seduced into international waters by the lure of pussy. But as we all know now, the PIQ (look it up in the Glossary) had been a female FBI agent, an integral part of the FBI's aptly named Operation Goldenrod (sometimes the Bureau actually does have a sense of humor). And Khaled remembered all too well that Mir Aimal Kasi, the wealthy Pakistani who'd killed two CIA employees and then fled to his homeland, had been sold out by his fellow countrymen -- his bodyguards, actually -- and scooped up in the summer of 1997 by a joint task force of CIA officers, FBI Special Agents, and Delta Force shooters.
And so, Khaled was real careful about leaving his Afghan sanctuary, even with the wonderful prospect of securing an atom bomb staring him in the puss. It had taken three months of negotiation before he'd agreed to meet Heinz in a non-Islamic venue. Only the threat that others were interested in securing the weapon had finally brought him out of hiding. And Khaled had insisted on making all the arrangements for the exchange -- arrangements that changed daily, sometimes even hourly, all posted in encrypted messages on the Internet.
But he was being watched by a joint CIA/FBI team. And so, Khaled's progress was noted as he flew in his private jet from a small airstrip southwest of Meymaneh, to Tehran. He was shadowed as he'd driven through Damascus, to Beirut, where his chopper awaited him for the final leg of the journey. It was in Beirut that Mister Murphy showed up and our intrepid American gumshoes lost him. Khaled climbed into his limo and drove to the airfield where his chopper was waiting to take him on the final leg of this nasty odyssey, a 230-mile flight onto the deck of the transatlantic-capable, seventy-five-meter boat I'll call the Kuz Emeq, which had sailed from Cannes to the anonymous rendezvous point Khaled had chosen in the middle of the Med. But when the big Mercedes limo pulled onto the tarmac, Khaled was nowhere to be seen. He'd pulled a fucking vanishing act that would have done David Copperfield proud.
The team panicked -- and with good reason. This op had cost us a bundle -- not to mention more than a dozen assets. The alarm bells went off, and our people combed the whole goddam Mediterranean from Libya to fucking Marseille. But Khaled had disappeared. And then, after thirty-six hours of nothing, they spotted another of his private choppers, a CH-3C with a range of more than six hundred miles that we'd originally sold to the Saudi Air Force. It was flying south, threading the needle between France and Italy. When it refueled at Cagliari, Sardinia, one of our people got a peek inside. And guess what? Khaled was there, sipping on his Evian water and reading the Koran. Two hours later, he was sitting in the main salon of the Kuz Emeq as it steamed eastward toward the rendezvous point, with us, and the USS Nacogdoches, in hot pursuit.
Khaled had arranged for the bomb vendor, Heinz the East German (he had Russian Mafiya ties, worked out of a mail drop in Frankfurt's red-light district, and, as I've just mentioned, was an unwitting accomplice in this little charade), to be brought in by another of his choppers, so even the Man with the Bomb would be ignorant of precisely where the meet was going to be, and therefore unable to bring any of his own hired guns along. For his part, Khaled made sure that his security people, six fast boats of well-paid Corsican Mafiosi, as well as a dozen fanatical Taliban shooters aboard the Kuz Emeq, were handy, and well armed. For a quick getaway, he had his chopper sitting on the Kuz Emeq's chopper deck, its engine warmed up and its pilots ready to go am geringsten Anlass, which is how the scumbag had learned to say "at the drop of a hat" at the Free University of Berlin back in the late 1970s.
But every once in a while the folks at Christians In Action (which is, you recall, how we SEALs refer to the Central Intelligence Agency), get things right. This was one of 'em. The Agency's sneak-and-peekers had managed to plant a beacon aboard the Kuz Emeq so subtly that even Khaled's head of security, a former KGB one-star technical guru, failed to spot it during his twice-daily ELINT/TECHINT/SIGINT sweeps. And by modifying the sub's ESM -- it stands for electronic support measures -- equipment and then glomming onto the beacon's signal, the Nacogdoches's skipper, a bright young Annapolis ringknocker named Joseph Tuzzolino, aka Joey Tuzz, aka Captain Tuzzie, had stealthily slipped his boat to within just over a mile of Khaled's yacht.
Now all that was left was for us to lock out of the sub, swim in, while keeping the beacon signal dead ahead of our position, slither onto the yacht, and perform the actual takedown. There were even a couple of bonuses for us if everything went right: that suitcase full of cash was one -- I like being able to help pay down the national deficit -- not to mention that compact, man-portable Soviet atomic munition device.
And, hey, this was gonna be a piece of cake, right? An easy swim followed by an effortless shoot & loot. Oh, sure it was -- and if you believe that, I have this nice bridge in Brooklyn to sell you. Anyway, so much for background. Now let's get on with the fucking action sequence, shall we?
I bent forward to try and retrieve my mask strap, and was knocked into the ladder again by yet another elbow to my head. What the fuck was Boomerang trying to do, kill me? I reached around and grabbed the offending arm and shook it hard, as if to say WTF.
In answer, I received two taps on my right bicep, and a squeeze back. Which meant he was being properly apologetic -- and would S2, which as you probably know stands for sit the fuck down and shut the fuck up, until I signaled otherwise.
I found my air hose, clamped it back in my mouth, swallowed more seawater to clear the line, and then took a very welcome gulp of oxygen. I bent forward again -- not an easy task, given the thick respirator on my chest -- and fumbled between my legs. Gator reached up, his fingers finding mine in the darkness, and handed me the missing mask strap. I reattached it, pulled it snug, then vented air through my sore-as-a-gangbanger's-dick nose until I'd cleared the fucking mask.
Murphy-time over, perhaps it was time to do real work.
I climbed the ladder, reached up, found the first dog, and twisted until it released. Once I'd cleared the first one, I went on, working my way counterclockwise. The fourth one stuck, but I muscled it free and wrenched until it opened.
Then, the sixth dog undogged, I braced my feet as best I could against the ladder rung and pushed upward with all my strength. The hatch opened outward, and I pulled myself through, and struggled up and along the deck until I found the half-inch nylon line we'd run from one of the midships cleats to the sub's mast so we could find our way in the darkness.
I pulled myself along the line toward the sail. I could sense the current moving against my body as the sub continued on. Nuclear subs are like sharks -- they hardly ever stop moving. And so, locking out is an intricate exercise in which the sub's captain has to keep his boat on a perfectly flat plane while moving at the slowest possible speed -- that's between one and two knots -- so that the swimmers can exit without being swept off into the current, unable to catch up with the sub as it continues onward and out of sight.
In fact, that was one of the potential goatfuck factors of tonight's escapade. Los Angeles-class submarines are built for speed. They do not like to be driven slowly. And so, Joey Tuzz, the CO of this particular sewer pipe, currently had his hands full. Launching me and my guys was going to give him a Rogue-sized headache.
I felt a hand on the knife sheath strapped to my left calf. Good news. That meant my guys were following. I kept moving, pulling myself foot by foot until I felt the rough surface of the mast. I worked my way around until I came upon the elastic netting that held our equipment bags. Reached through to find the outer compartment, where I'd stored my dive light. Found it. Attached it securely to my wrist, then turned it on, so I could see what I was doing. If it had been daytime, we could have seen one another clearly, as the deck was only sixty-five feet below the surface. But it was just after 2100, three hours after sunset, and the only way to describe things was d-a-r-k. None of the phosphorescence you normally see in the water; no hint of light from above. Or anywhere else. Which added to the goatfuck factor. You can easily become disoriented in these sorts of conditions. Down becomes up. Up becomes sideways. Distance, time, and direction get obscured. You can die.
Boomerang's narrow face came close to my own. I put the light on him. Then, using hand signals, I asked him if he was okay. In answer, he gave me an upturned thumb. Behind him, I could make out Gator Shepard and Duck Foot Dewey as they pulled their way along the line.
I took the light and slid past my guys, working my way back toward the escape trunk hatch. I secured it, then twisted the wheel atop the domed steel until it was tight. I paused, counting the seconds off. Finally, I heard the sounds I was waiting for: water was being pumped out. The clearing process would take four and a half minutes. Then, after the pressure had been neutralized, the bottom hatch would be undogged, my final four shooters would load, the chamber would be flooded once again, and the whole process repeated.
Meanwhile, there was work to be done. I crabbed my way back to the mast and checked the big watch on my left wrist. The shine-in-the-dark display read 2113. Fuck me. We were already three minutes behind schedule, and we hadn't even begun.
2119. The rest of my crew arrived. Half Pint Harris, Nod DiCarlo, and the Rodent led the way. They were followed by a big, burly, eager puppy of an FNG (look it up in the Glossary) named Terry Devine, aka Baby Huey.
No, I do not like operating with cherrys -- in other words new personnel -- especially on jobs as important as this one. But on tonight's particular mission, there'd been no alternative. The shooters I call the Pick and Nasty Nicky Grundle were in sick bay with badly broken bones. It was doubtful they'd ever be able to operate with the same balls-to-the-wall efficiency they'd once been able to. Doc Tremblay'd retired -- he'd had enough of the new, zero-defect Navy. And Stevie Wonder had finally passed his chief's exam. That was good news and bad news. Good news because the Navy needs more chiefs like Wonder. Bad news because the Bureau of Personnel -- BUPERS in Navyspeak -- had in its infinite wisdom, transferred Chief Wonder from his sinecure at the Navy Yard down to Norfolk, and I was going to have a hell of a time getting him back under my Roguish wing. Shit, I was going to have a hell of a time bringing him back long enough to give him the sort of proper, old-fashioned, rocks-and-shoals chief's initiation that he deserved.
All those developments had left me one man short. I'd checked the personnel files and, mindful that one officer's scum is another officer's jewel, selected Baby Huey, who was just about to be tossed out of the Teams for disciplinary infractions. He was my kind of kid. First of all, he'd graduated dead last in his BUD/S class. The training officers had given him a black mark for his low standing. To me, it said that the kid had determination and grit -- he'd stuck things through until the bitter end.
Second, he'd been a SEAL for less than a year -- still a pup -- when he'd been scheduled to receive a captain's mast for off-duty brawling. In today's zero-defect Navy, one bar brawl or DUI is enough to get a chief with fifteen years as a SEAL shit-canned from the Teams. As for Boatswain's Mate Third Class Terry Devine, another black mark was placed next to his name, which meant he was unofficially classified as LTWS by the pucker-sphinctered, holier-than-thou, bean-counting, teetotaling bureaucrats who run NAVSPECWARGRUTWO these days. Oh, and run it they do: right into the fucking ground, so far as I'm concerned.
To the SpecWar panjandrums at NAVSPECWARGRUTWO, Baby Huey's brawling suggested that he might be overly aggressive. Which meant he might actually kill something someday. And that possibility put his future as a SEAL in jeopardy.
That's what they saw. But as we all know, Rorschachs mean different things to different people. What the LTWS blot told me, was that Terry Devine was yes, aggressive, and that he liked to play the kind of up-close-and-personal, body-bruising games that relieve the pressure of being a SEAL. But I saw that as a positive, not negative, attribute. Frankly, I don't think you can ask a man to risk his life every day, train at the very edge of the envelope, and then tell him to go out and relieve the stress by playing tiddledywinks, or sipping cocoa and perusing the New Yorker, although there's nothing wrong with either. Sometimes SEALs need an evening (or a weekend), of full-contact boogie rock 'n' roll, smack 'em upside-the-head, rabble-rousing brawling. Like clearing a fucking barful of Jarheads, par example.
But no matter what my positive instincts about the kid may have been, the reality was that I was about to go shooting and looting with an untested, untried, unblooded, twenty-year-old tyke. A big, contentious, muscular tyke, but a tyke nonetheless. Until this very moment of his life, it had all been training and simulation. He'd never had to Do It for Real. Gone into battle. Been wounded. Killed a man face-to-face.
Well, this was the big leagues. Baby Huey would learn quick -- or he'd be dead.
0 You think that sounds cold? Well, it may indeed sound cold. But it's the fucking truth. The men who work for me are always selected because they can look into their enemies' eyes and kill them dead. Not wound. Kill. Roy Boehm, the godfather of all SEALs, taught me by example that breaking things and killing people is what being a SEAL is all about. I see no reason to modify his operational philosophy even in these politically correct days of nonlethal weapons and touchy-feely military doctrine.
2121. First things first. We lashed ourselves together, and I lashed the line that tied Boomerang and me together to one of the mast cleats, thus assuring that all eight of us were attached to the sub. Under normal OPCONs, SEALs travel in pairs. Tonight, our four pairs of swim buddies would move as one until we reached the Kuz Emeq. Night swims are tough. Clandestine night underwater approaches are even tougher. I wanted to know where each and every one of us was, at all times -- and that meant moving together. We began to unpack the gear and affix it to our bodies. We were traveling light tonight, because it is no fun swimming when loaded down with equipment. Eighteen hundred yards is an easy swim -- if you are on the surface, and you can drag your gear in a flotation bag. It is an easy swim at a depth of thirty-five feet as well, despite being hampered by your rebreather, which has all the hydrodynamics of a small refrigerator. But tonight it would not be an easy swim, because tonight in addition to the Draegers, we'd be encumbered by weapons, ammo, and other takedown equipment. There would be hostiles patrolling on the surface, and crosscurrents to face. No, this was going to be work.
2127. I finally strapped all my gear on -- the last step was attaching my suppressed MP5-PDW -- when I received a hand signal from Boomerang that everybody was packed up and ready to launch. Good news. I undid the half-hitch that secured us all to the mast cleat. just as I turned us loose I sensed the current intensify. The fucking Nacogdoches was picking up speed -- three, maybe even four knots right now. Not good. Like I said, speed is not a plus when you are trying to launch swimmers.
I grabbed for the long line I'd used to pull myself from the escape trunk to the mast. But now the fucking sub began to roll counterclockwise, and the line was nowhere to be found. What the fuck was Tuzzy trying to do -- drown us?
I kicked as hard as I could. But it is impossible to keep up with something moving at four knots, especially when you are tied to seven other bodies by five-yard lengths of nylon rope.
Relentlessly, inexorably, the big boat slid away from me, a receding shadow in the blackness. And then, as if snapped up by a huge grappling hook, I was whipped around, turned topsyturvy, and -- wham -- slammed against the sub's hull.
I reached out to grab something, but there was nothing to take hold of -- just smooth hull beneath my fingertips. Now the fucking sub rolled another four, five, six degrees away from me, and the current slammed me up against the hull. Oh, terrific. If Joey Tuzz kept this up, he'd roll us right into the path of his goddam screw, and we'd end up as SEALburgers. What the hell was he doing? There was no way to ask -- and no way to find out. Once we'd left the escape trunk, we had no comms. Oh, this was not the way I'd fucking conceived this mission.
My instinct told me the sub's speed had just increased again. Maybe up to six, six and a half knots. Yes, I know that six knots is just about the speed at which most joggers jog. But underwater, when you're being bounced against a fucking submarine hull, six knots is enough to get you fucking killed.
Well, I wasn't about to get myself -- or any of my men -- killed tonight. This mission was too important. There was too much at stake. I clawed at the hull, my fingers seeking any goddam purchase they could find. They found nothing. And now, the combined weight of my seven men started to pull me aft along the hull. I was slipping farther and farther astern -- toward that goddam lethal screw.
Fuck. I would the lifeline around my left arm, stretched my right arm as far out as I could reach, summoned every particle of energy left in my body (and more importantly my soul), and kicked, trying to propel myself in the direction of the sub's roll.
I kicked again, and again, and again, and again, until the muscles in my calves, my thighs, my back, and my chest all caught fire.
I hurt like hell. But I made progress. My hand brushed against the rough surface of the narrow, nonskid safety track that runs almost the entire length of the sub's hull. I knew that two feet from the track , a parallel line of fixed cleats runs along the spine of the hull. I kicked, kicked, kicked. Every atom of my body fought against the water, the current, and the sub's movement. Every particle of my mind willed forward progress. I bit through my mouthpiece, but I didn't give a fuck -- I was going to get us out of this. I WOULD NOT FAIL.
And then, the fingers of my outstretched left hand found a fucking cleat. I muscled my big paw around it, joint by joint, holding tight, my arm clenched as tight as it was when I did the last fucking pull-up in the last fucking rotation during Hell Week at BUD/S, when you are so completely fucking exhausted that you know that you can't even draw one more fucking breath -- and then the fucking instructor tells you to give him another twenty pull-ups or you are gone from the program.
Yes, I gave him twenty fucking more back then -- and another, just to show I could fucking do it. And the lesson I'd learned has stayed with me my entire career: when you believe it is over, it ain't over. When you think your body cannot do any more, it CAN do more, and it WILL do more. And you WILL NOT FAIL in your mission.
And so, yes, I held on to the cleat, clawing, clenching, grasping, clutching, until I could wrap the safety line around the cleat and secure us to the boat once more. With the line secure, I hung there suspended, hyperventilating, expended and sweating into my wet suit, as the sub moved steadfastly on through the dark water.
I was totally spent. I was emotionally drained and physically exhausted -- completely burnt out. And we hadn't even begun the night's work yet.
2129. Just as inexplicably as it had accelerated, the Nacogdoches now dropped its speed and eased back to vertical, barely moving placidly through the water at the proper one-knot velocity. What had the problem been? Had Captain Tuzz been evading something one of his multiple warning systems had picked up? Had the sub started to take in water -- foundering because of its slow pace? Had the boat simply begun to stall out and he'd had to act to save it -- even if it meant losing us? There was no way of knowing. We were out here on our own.
And frankly, it didn't matter. We'd survived. We were locked, loaded, and ready to go -- and it was way beyond the time to go to work. I released the hitch tethering us to the sub and peeled away, checking the lighted dial of the underwater compass strapped to my right forearm to get our heading. I looked at my depth indicator. We were at fifty-five feet right now. Yes, I realize that according to the current NAVSEA operational manuals, our Draegers should not, and here let me quote, "be used at depths greater than six fathoms under any circumstances without the express authority of NAVSEA."
Now, it doesn't matter than no one at NAVSEA has ever used a fucking Draeger LAR-V anywhere but in one of the fucking swimming pools in which they certify the goddamn things. That's right, gentle reader: the nitnoy, pus-nutted paper pushers who are charged with buying these items for the Teams are not the selfsame salty-balled SEALs who have to use 'em. The result is that those deskbound bean counters don't give much of a rusty F-word whether equipment works or not, or whether it's suited to the SEAL mission profile or not, or much of anything else.
This sort of shit-for-brains U.S. Navy institutional mind-set is nothing new. When Roy Boehm created the first SEALs back in 1962, he was duly and properly authorized by the powers that be to carry M-14 rifles and .38-caliber pistols, because those are what the desk-bound bureaucrats at BUWEPS -- the Bureau of Weapons -- decided that he needed. Roy, to his credit, went out and bought .35 7 Magnum pistols, and AR-15 assault rifles for his shooters. The M-14 is a terrific rifle at a thousand yards. And the .38 Special is a good target round. But even as far back as 1962, Roy realized one of the places his new team of merry marauders would be sent was Vietnam. And Roy had studied enough war to know that the SEALs would have to be capable of disabling the Viet Cong's motorized sampans and junks with their pistols -- which is something the .357 round can do. He also knew from his experience of working with the Philippine guerrillas in World War II that most of the rifle work his men would do they'd do from ambush positions -- a hundred yards or closer.
Knowing all of this -- and unable to convince the apparatchiks at BUWEPS that he was correct -- Roy simply went out and bought his men Smith and Wesson .357s and AR-15s without going through the system. And the Navy tried to court-martial him for doing so. In fact, if it hadn't been for President John F. Kennedy, the Navy would have succeeded in keelhauling Roy's horsehide-tough ass, and we SEALs would have been much worse off today.
Anyway, the rebreathers we were currently using weren't Navy-certified beyond forty-one feet of depth -- in fact, the Navy doesn't want 'em used any deeper than about thirty-five feet. It didn't matter that I have been using them at depths up to sixty feet for more years than I care to remember. I've just never bothered to tell the folks at NAVSEA what I've done.
2145. We moved ahead in the darkness. I felt a crosscurrent, coming from starboard to port. Now it took 50 percent more effort, as I kept my eyes focused on the underwater compass's dial, to keep us on course. Behind me, Boomerang was counting kicks (two to the yard), so he could guestimate how far we'd come, and how far we had to go. I checked my depth gauge: twenty-three feet. Maybe there'd be less current a bit deeper. I angled my body down slightly, and kicked forward into the blackness, gently bringing us down to a depth of thirty-two feet. After eighty or ninety seconds, the crosscurrent subsided and I began to make decent progress once again. I began to sense a dull ache in the forward portion of my brain -- I'd probably been so intent on swimming, I hadn't been breathing deeply enough. I sucked a big gulp of 02 to clear my head and swam on.
I checked my depth gauge as my legs kicked rhythmically. Steady as she goes at thirty feet. I liked that depth: it gave us a big safety margin. Highly unlikely we'd be spotted. Shit, with the night this dark, we could come in at six feet and they'd never see us. But as my old platoon chief, Everett Emerson Barrett, used to tell us tadpoles, "Never assume, you worthless, pencil-dicked geeks: assume makes an ASS of U and ME." And so, I wasn't about to assume anything. A whole bunch of agencies had actually come together and worked their butts off putting this op together, and I wasn't going to screw things up for any of us.
2203. There was something above my head. I couldn't see it. But I could feel it, as if, despite swimming in the darkness, a shadow had loomed over me. The sensation was completely and absolutely palpable. Instinctively, I angled myself downward, slowing my pace. From the angle of the safety line attached to my waist, I noted that the SEALs behind me did the same. I fought the urge to turn the light on and go take a look. Instead, I kicked on single-mindedly, moving in the heading my compass was pointing. And I prayed to the God of War that whatever was up there didn't have a sonar system deployed, or any other detection device for that matter. I didn't need any more fucking problems than I'd already had.
I swam on another 150 kick strokes, then paused long enough to let Boomerang and the rest of the team catch up. My head still ached -- in fact, it now felt as if a vise was tightening down between my ears. Well, fuck it -- I had work to do. We all hung suspended in the water, nose to nose, and conversed with our hands.
"There was something up there, right, Skipper?" Duck Foot gestured.
I shrugged, giving him the universal sign for, "Your guess is as good as mine." But I think we both knew we'd passed under one of Khaled's picket boats. Well, whatever it was, Duck Foot had sensed it, too. It was the hunter in him.
I asked Boomerang how far we'd come. His hands told me we were almost halfway there. Hmm, I realized my thigh muscles had lied to me. From the way they were burning, I'd have guessed we'd have made a lot more progress than that.
2257. On the target, my ears were was now ringing like Big fucking Ben, and my head was pounding like I'd just been kicked by a steel-toed boondocker. WTF was causing it? There was no time to ask or answer that question. Too much else to think about. Like the Kuz Emeq. We were, to be precise, twenty-nine feet below Khaled's vessel. Not that we could see anything. But there was ample evidence that we'd hit the spot.
Boats, you see, make a shitload of noise -- much more than you might expect. And this one was no exception. We could hear the ship's generators and pumps working; I could discern the ebb and the flow of the crew as they moved around the ship. Even make out the reverb from some rock and roll someone was playing up above. We knew it was the right vessel because the homing device told me that I was dead on. And, to make our lives easier, Khaled's crew had obligingly deployed a pair of sea anchors to keep the yacht's movement at a minimum. Indeed, I was currently hanging on to one of the anchor hawsers.
Time to make ready. For those of you who have been through the process with me before, think of this as a refresher in Roguish SpecWar philosophy. For those of you who haven't, pay fucking attention, because you will see all of this material again.
Okay. Here's a fundamental SpecWarrior truth: whether you are taking down an aircraft, a train, a bus, a car -- or a luxury yacht, the three elements most crucial to the success of your operation are, one: surprise, two: speed, and, three: violence of action.
And here is another vital but essential rudiment of SpecWar. At its core, each special operation pits a small but highly trained and motivated force against a larger but less well-motivated unit. The specoperators achieve their victory through achieving something called relative superiority, or RS.
Simply put, relative superiority is when that small, elite force achieves a swift tactical advantage over the larger body of defenders. The obvious truth of the matter is that if you do not overwhelm the bad guys quickly, ruthlessly, and efficiently, they will overwhelm your shooters before you can kill enough of them to achieve RS.
That's where the speed and the violence of action comes in. There can be no hesitation, no doubt, no restraint. You must balls-to-the-wall ATTACK. And when you do ATTACK, you go in, as my old shipmate, Colonel Charlie Beckwith, the godfather of Delta Force, used to say, to "kill 'em all and let God sort it out."
Now, the most critical period in a special operation has come to be known as the Area of Vulnerability, or AV. The AV in an aircraft hostage takedown, for example, starts when the assault group begins its approach to the plane. Because if the shooters are spotted before they Get There, the hostages will be killed before a single rescuer makes it into the cabin. When you go over the rail of a ship under way, you are most vulnerable as you are making your climb up the caving ladders. There's a thin line of shooters, spread out as they muscle their way up and over the rail.
Oh, sure, you may have a security team in the boat below, but the fact of the matter is that the defenders hold the high ground -- ie., the deck and superstructure of the ship -- and if a tango decides to take a cigarette break, spots you, and calls for reinforcements before you can neutralize him with a head shot from a suppressed weapon, you're dog meat. Even so, tonight's assault was marginally easier for us than if we'd been tasked with boarding a ship under way.
Obviously, it is much simpler to clamber onto a craft that's not moving than it is to have to factor in all the myriad components of current, velocity, wind, waves, and other Murphy-prone elements of underway assaults. Second, the size of the Kuz Emeq made our job getting aboard less problematic. Oh, the boat may have been over a hundred feet in length, but it had the sort of shallow draft common to pleasure craft, with the happy result that its custom teak side deck and ebony-inlaid gunwale wasn't ten feet above the water's surface.
Moreover, there was a diving platform suspended from the transom, and since the crew had obligingly set out sea anchors, we now had lines to climb.
2301. We jettisoned our fins, lashed all our extraneous equipment to the sea anchor lines, and made ready to hit the Kuz Emeq. Each man knew exactly where he had to be, and just how he'd go over the rail.
Our final assault plans had been assisted by satellite surveillance photographs of Khaled's yacht courtesy of a specially diverted National Reconnaissance Office Lacrosse/Crystal/Flagpole satellite, which provided us with thermal simulations as well as 0.039-meter imagery, which comes out to be a resolution of about 1.5 inches from a constant trajectory of 287 miles above Earth. And when the intel squirrel wonks and photointerpretation dweebs at NRO and DIA's labs had finished playing with -- read computer enhancing -- those satellite snapshots into the two-thousand-pixel-per-inch range, we'd been given a bunch of real Kodak Moment-quality pictures from which to work. Ain't science grand, folks?
Copyright © 1999 by Richard Marcinko and John Weisman