Snippet Three, Alone and Unafraid

Missed it last week; been up to my eyeballs editing.



Nick swung the HiLux around the corner and gunned it, accelerating rapidly toward the target building. As he did, I heard the snap of shots overhead even over the roar of the engine, and three dim figures in the street dropped. A fourth tried to run, but a flurry of gunfire cut him down, sending him sprawling on his face in the middle of the street, his limbs gone loose in death. Then we were in front of the gate and jumping out of the vehicle.

We had to rely on Mike’s team to keep anyone outside off the trucks. We simply didn’t have the manpower to keep security on the vehicles while the rest went inside. We needed every gun on the assault, so seven of us piled out and stacked on the gate, while Cyrus drove the second HiLux almost directly in front of it. Little Bob grabbed the chain in the back, which was already hooked to the truck’s frame, looped it through the lattice at the top of the gate, and hooked it onto itself. Cyrus gunned the engine, ripping the gate off its hinges with an ear-splitting clatter, and then he was out and running to join the stack as we flooded into the courtyard.

There was no stealth involved in this raid. We’d opened with gunfire and the screech and clatter of sheet metal getting ripped apart and dropped in the street. The ISIS fighters were already up and moving as we stormed through the gateway.

Two were already on the porch; they might have been on guard or they might have just been hanging out there like the ones in the street. They were both armed, so, even though neither of them had apparently made up their minds whether or not to bring their rifles up or just drop ‘em, they were cut down by at least three pairs of shots apiece. They crumpled where they stood, one of them rolling off the porch into the dirt.

Larry was the first one to the door. There were good-sized windows in the front of the building, and we had to stay clear of them or risk getting shot, so it wasn’t a large stack; most of us were spread out, with two on the gate, watching the street, and the others either at the edges of the windows, looking in, or on the door. The ISIS types were smart enough they hadn’t turned the lights on, but with our thermals on, that wasn’t going to matter that much.

Little Bob was right behind Larry. I couldn’t help but think he’d pushed to get there; Little Bob liked smashing in doors. He stepped out, donkey-kicked the sheet metal door in, tossed one of our last nine-bangers in, and rolled out of the way, almost colliding with Jim, who was covering one of the windows. At the same time his boot hit the door, three more flash bangs went in the windows.

The concussion was jarring even from outside, with active earpro in. I’d managed to dredge the electronic earplugs up, even in Basra, after the fight for the Police Station, which had left me even deafer than an adult life full of gunfire and explosions had already made me. Shattered glass flew out on the dirt courtyard, followed by billows of dark smoke. Even before the glass had settled to the ground, we were going in the door.

We’d all raised our NVGs before the breach; trying to fight in close quarters on NVGs is difficult, and on a hard hit it can be a liability. This hit was about as hard as it got.

Brilliant white weapon lights flashed through the smoke, further blinding the men inside as we spread out through the entryway and the first rooms. I caught a skinny man in a t-shirt and loose pajama pants in my light as he tried to pick a flash to shoot at, and dropped him with four quick shots. The suppressed gunfire didn’t make much more noise than the clack of the bolt cycling.

The initial shock of our entry was starting to wear off. Somebody stuck an AK out of one of the back rooms, unaimed, and opened fire, spraying the main room with bullets, most of which went high and smacked dust and plaster off the walls. We were already moving, angling around the room to get a shot at him. I strobed my light through the door, and saw another shooter squinting against the light.

Fuck it. I shot him through the door, then pulled out one of my Swiss grenades out of my vest, let my rifle dangle on its sling while I pulled the pin, and lobbed it through the open door, hard enough to hopefully bounce it around long enough for it to go off before one of them could get their hands on it and toss it back out. Sure, we wanted intel on this raid, but as far as the bad guys went, dead was just as good.

The grenade’s detonation shook the whole house, and smoke, dust, and fragments billowed out of the doorway. We were moving before the dust had settled.

I led the way in, pushing toward the corpse of the guy I’d shot, while Jim, Little Bob, and Nick went in the opposite door. Larry was on my heels, hooking into the room behind me, while Cyrus, Marcus, and Bryan headed for the stairs and the second floor.

The room I’d fragged was a mess. Those Swiss L109s were just as good as our M67s. There had been four men in the room, all now dead or dying. Quick shots finished off the dying and made sure of the dead. None of us took chances anymore. Too many times, the jihadis had played possum, trying to get a soldier, Marine, or contractor close enough to either shoot them or detonate a grenade. So, unless we were trying to take somebody alive, it was headshots to clean up.

Something bounced down the stairs. It was a distinctive enough noise that, bad hearing and earpro notwithstanding, I still picked it out. I’d heard the same sound moments before Bob was killed.

“Grenade!” Cyrus bellowed. All three who had been heading for the stairs came barreling through the door, still with weapons up in case we hadn’t taken care of all the resistance, but fast. A heartbeat later, the building shook again, and we got slapped by the shockwave and the debris flying through the door as the grenade detonated with a bone-jarring thud.

Bryan was starting to go back out into the slowly dissipating smoke, but I reached out and held him back. Just as I grabbed his sleeve, I heard another grenade come bouncing down the stairs. These fuckers weren’t playing around.

“Well, we can sit here until they run out of grenades and half the neighborhood comes down around our ears, or we can do something else,” I half-shouted. “Outside. Up to the roof.”

While there was an interior stairway, a lot of the houses in Iraq have exterior stairways leading from the second floor to the roof. There wasn’t another one from ground level here, so we’d have to get creative. Fortunately, we weren’t wearing that much gear, so we weren‘t as heavy as we might have been.

Cyrus and Bryan, it turned out, were the lightest of us, even though Bryan was over six feet. They’d be the first two up. Larry and Little Bob braced themselves against the porch pillars, hands interlaced into stirrups, while Nick covered the gate, Marcus stayed inside the front door to cover the stairs, and Jim and I stepped out into the courtyard, grenades prepped.

As soon as Cyrus and Bryan were ready, Jim and I stepped back and lobbed two L109s through the upper windows. It was a tricky throw in the dark, since the top floor was terraced on top of the first story. Both of us made it, though, and Larry and Little Bob hoisted Cyrus and Bryan up to the ledge even as the grenades went off, their twin booms rolling across the neighborhood. For damned certain there was going to be some unwelcome attention to all the noise we were making. The PPF wouldn’t interfere—we’d told Hussein Ali what was going down—but the PPF was a long way from completely controlling the city. We were running out of time.

Jim and I were next; I wasn’t willing to send just two guys up into that top floor. I stuck my boot in Larry’s cupped hands, slinging my rifle to my back, and jumped upward, catching the lip of the balcony and heaving myself up. That felt like it got harder every damned time. With Larry pushing up on my foot, I got my elbow up over the lip and dragged myself over.

I stayed flat for a second, which probably saved my life. Gunfire crackled through the open window, where my head might have been if I’d stood up as soon as I was on the balcony. Bryan was against the wall next to the window, staying low, and as soon as the shots stopped, he popped up and fired three times, the suppressor spitting almost silently after the noise of the hajji inside spraying half his mag out the window.

I got my rifle off my back and scrabbled along the balcony to get behind Bryan. Off to my left, Jim was doing the same, prepping another grenade. We were going to bring this whole fucking house down at this rate. Fuck it. As long as they were dead and we were still standing at the end, I’d bring the whole fucking neighborhood down.

Bryan ducked back from the window and nodded at Jim. Jim pulled the pin, let the lever fly, cooked the grenade for what felt like forever but was only three seconds, and chucked it in the window.

The whole building rocked with the flash and concussion as the grenade detonated, throwing smoke, dust, and whickering shrapnel through the windows and part of the walls. I felt something smack into my soft armor just behind my shoulder, which had been pressed up against the wall. Those cinderblock walls weren’t the best for ballistic protection sometimes.

Bryan was moving as soon as the detonation was over, vaulting through the window. I followed as fast as I could, my boots hitting the floor inside as soon as he’d cleared the opening. He went right, so I went left, getting out of the window as fast as possible. Jim and Cyrus opted to come in through the door, which damned near hit me as Cyrus kicked it open.

All four of us were intermittently flashing our brilliant weapon lights into the corners of the room. There had been three men in the upper room. Two were unmistakably dead. They were lying crumpled and bloodied in unnatural positions. The third was stirring and moaning until Cyrus put a bullet through his brain.

Several more shots popped downstairs, followed by the sound of a falling body, audible in the sudden quiet. “Tango down on the stairs,” Larry called up. “Lower floor clear.”

The top floor was only one room, so that made it easy. “Top floor clear,” I replied. “Now let’s search this place real quick and get the fuck out of here. Five minutes. Marcus, Little Bob, you’ve got exterior security.”

It didn’t take even that long. There were three laptops and a bunch of loose-leaf papers in Arabic that got shoved into an assault pack. Abu Tariq was quickly identified; he’d been shot through the upper chest about four times, but his face was intact and helpfully staring sightlessly at the ceiling. We took quick pictures of the rest of the corpses, in case we’d inadvertently bagged somebody else of some import, then we were moving to the door to exfil.

“Just in time,” Little Bob said quietly as we came downstairs. “We’d better find another way out. Four technicals just rolled up to the gate, and we’re going to have company really soon.”

“Up,” I said, without hesitation. “Onto the roof, over to the next building, and out that way. Rendezvous at Point 559.” We hadn’t driven the fighting vehicles on this op, so we weren’t worried about abandoning the trucks.

We pounded back up the stairs, lugging our weapons and the intel we’d gathered. I started to pause, but Jim grabbed me by the shoulder. “I’ve got it. Go.” I nodded, then got out on the roof. It was a short jump to the next house, though the homeowner was probably awake and wondering about the heavy footfalls on his ceiling. Come to think of it, after the explosions next door, he might not be wondering that much.

We got down to the ground, one at a time, holding security for each other as we went. As pairs hit the ground, they scattered, heading into the warren of streets that was the local neighborhood. Single and in pairs would be harder to spot, and evasion was our best hope of survival. A stand up fight in the streets was not going to end well, especially as the local militias descended on us en masse.

I waited around for Jim. Thirty seconds after Little Bob and Cyrus had disappeared into the dark he arrived, slithering down the side of the building. He hung by one hand for a second, then dropped, landing on all fours with a faint grunt. “I’m getting too old for this high-speed shit, man,” he whispered.

In spite of his old-man grumblings, Jim was on his feet quickly and smoothly. “Ten more seconds,” he whispered, as I peered out of the compound gate, trying to see if the street was still clear. I just nodded, and led the way, sprinting across the street and into a narrow alley.

Ten seconds later, on the dot, there was another explosion from the direction of the target house. By then, we were moving down the street a block and a half away, SBRs hidden under our coats, trying to walk as normally and as much like Iraqis as possible, in case anyone was looking out their windows.


Snippet Two, Alone and Unafraid

The first draft was finished on Saturday, and editing has commenced.  Meanwhile, here’s the next snippet:


Jim and I were waiting at the RV point, two blocks from the target house. We were both dressed like locals. Jim had gone more traditional, wearing a light dishdasha and a brown coat. I was wearing jeans, shoes, and a t-shirt with a leather coat. I was still a little big for a local, but in the dark it made less of a difference. First glance was all that mattered at the moment; if it went beyond that, both of us had our .45s hidden under our coats, along with soft armor. The long guns were in duffels in the HiLux.

Cyrus and Marcus approached us, similarly dressed, and we made a great show of greeting each other, embracing and shaking hands. From a distance, it would look like any group of men meeting on the street. We moved to the HiLux and drove around the block to an abandoned construction site where the rest of the team was waiting.

Cyrus and Marcus hadn’t been part of my team before. They’d been Mike’s boys, but with the casualties we’d taken over the last few months, with Bob, Paul, and Juan going down, after Malachi had been medevaced, we’d had to even things out a little. Mike was down one already, so he gave me Cyrus and Marcus. Both had been Rangers with RRD, so I’d picked them for the R&S element for this particular raid.

The rest of the assault element was gathered in the shadows of the partially-constructed building. It looked like it was supposed to be another residential house, but when or if it would get completed was anybody’s guess with what was going on in Basra. Granted, I’d seen these people carry on with an almost inhuman disregard for the chaos around them before. It was entirely possible that the workers would be here in the morning, continuing to build. We should be long gone by then.

Larry and Little Bob were waiting at the unfinished doorway, both of them looming out of the dark. Little Bob got his name as a sarcastic comment on his size, as well as the fact that we’d had two Bobs at the time. Bob Fagin was almost two months dead, but Little Bob he remained. Larry, like me, was one of the founding members of the company, and was just big—barrel-chested, tall, and with an enormous, balding head and what he’d started calling his “scary murder hobo” beard.

Nick and Bryan were further back in the darkness of the unfinished structure, watching the other openings. Hassan was crouched against a wall. He wasn’t really a team member, but had sort of attached himself to us, first as our interpreter, but increasingly as a partner. He still had some weird cultural habits when it came to combat, but he was turning into a good shot, a halfway decent fighter, especially compared to most of the militia-turned-Provincial Police Force we worked with in Basra, and had way more knowledge of the tribal, ethnic, and sectarian dynamics of the area than we ever would. Add in that he was far more fluent in English than I would be in Arabic, even if I had another five years to study the language, and he was turning into a hell of an asset. None of us necessarily trusted him to the point of a teammate, of course, but at the moment, we trusted him more than we did Black.

Black wasn’t there. He was back at the Basra Police Station, which had become Hussein Ali’s headquarters for the PPF, under guard. We didn’t want to try to do the hit and keep an eye on him at the same time.

Cyrus and Marcus went straight to the middle of the room and knelt down. Cyrus pulled out a small camera that they’d used to take all their surveillance photos. Jim reached into his duffel and pulled out the small tablet that held our imagery. We had laminated hard copies as backups, but this was simpler for the moment; we could mark the points of interest and concern, then pass the tablet around.

With Cyrus holding the camera, Marcus took the tablet and started pointing things out. “They’ve got security out all the time, even at night. The night post looks like it’s only about four guys for the block, but they’re definitely there. They tend to cluster together and smoke most of the time, so their night vision’s going to be shit, but they do occasionally wander out to the street corners. There isn’t really a pattern to their roving; it just happens as they feel like it.”

Cyrus flipped through several photographs, showing at least ten different individuals entering the green gate. “These are the guys we saw go in, but did not see exit.” He looked up at me. “Is Mike’s team in place?”

I nodded. “They have been since just before you guys pulled off. They have eyes on the street; they’ll let us know if anybody else comes or goes.”

He nodded, satisfied. “From what we could see, there are at least fifteen people in the house and grounds. They’re not showing a lot of weapons on the outside at the moment, especially since a PPF patrol passed through about four hours ago. They looked like Daoud’s men, and they were armed to the teeth, so nobody fucked with them, even in here.

“No signs of IEDs set up in the street, and believe me, we looked. Usually in setups like this, if they do have an IED screen, they don’t have them hooked up during the day. We didn’t see anybody do any sort of hookup or shutdown, either yesterday or today. My guess is, from what Black told us, that this guy’s relying on family connections and the threat of his security goons to keep the unwanted away.”

“These guys rarely have IED screens in cities, anyway,” Larry pointed out. “That’s usually a rural thing. The ones living in cities still have to live with their neighbors, and there comes a point when fear no longer outweighs blown up local kids.”

Looking at the overheads, it was apparent that this was going to be a tough hit, even without the heightened resistance. Getting to the target fast was going to be paramount, as well as timing the hit with Mike’s guys, four of whom had climbed onto nearby rooftops with their rifles. No sniper rifles this time; the distances weren’t such that the .338 Lapuas would be in their element. But they were placed to sweep the street just before we moved in.

Most of the time, in these sorts of urban situations, I preferred to move in on foot, converging from multiple directions, keeping the footprint small until it was time to breach. The sentries on the street were kind of fucking with that model.

I ran through how we were going to make the hit. This involved going over it with the four of us in the middle of the room, then going over to each of the four guys on security at the doors and empty windows, and going over it with them, trading off so they could look over the tablet and the pictures. It took longer than I would have liked, but I told myself that the later at night it was, the less likely the bad guys would be expecting anything.

We finished prepping what little gear we had, which was mostly belt kits, plate carriers, lightweight helmets, and NVGs with thermal attachments. This was probably going to be the last raid we made that we used the .300 Blackout SBRs. Ammo was becoming a problem. We’d been able to resupply earlier, but it was next to impossible down here in Basra, and the .300 BLK wasn’t a caliber commonly found outside the US. NATO standards were, thankfully, more and more common in the Third World, especially in the wake of US “nation building” efforts in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya, but the more specialized cartridges were still plenty rare.

We were about as ready as we were going to get. Time to dance.

Snippet One, Alone and Unafraid

“That’s him.”
Amos Black was sitting in the center back seat of the black HiLux, with Bryan and Hassan crowding him on each side. Bryan was there to quietly kill Black as soon as he showed any sign of treachery. Hassan was there to help coordinate with the team of Hussein Ali’s finest that was running overwatch. Hussein Ali had suggested that his boys should take this, but I’d declined, and Mike had backed me up. This was our hit, for very special reasons.

The man Black had fingered looked nondescript as hell, especially in southern Iraq. Short, skinny, short black hair, neatly trimmed beard, black dishdasha, talking on a cell phone. There was nothing in his appearance to suggest that he was anything special.

Not that that was in any way odd in this strange, shadowy war. Some of the nastiest opponents were the ones who looked like frail businessmen. And according to Black, this guy was one of the top commanders of the Abdul Qadir Brigade, a sub-unit of the Islamic State in Iraq and as-Sham.
Right now, this skinny, inoffensive-looking motherfucker was walking down a still-crowded street in a primarily Sunni part of Basra. There weren’t a lot of majority Sunni areas here in the south these days; in fact, until things really got nasty between Moqtada al Sadr’s Jaysh al Mahdi and Zarqawi’s AQI, much of Iraq’s Sunni and Shia lived pretty intermixed. Not anymore.

The street was narrow and increasingly dark as night descended. A few of the streetlights flickered to life, but with the fighting that had been going on in Basra for the last couple of months, things like power had gotten pretty hit-or-miss. Trash and sewage had always been secondary (or tertiary, or lower) priorities; there was standing water in the street—and it wasn’t the rainy season yet—and trash was piled against the dingy buildings.
I lifted the mobile phone to my ear. It was a cheap, local throwaway job, that kept hitting me with Arabic text messages from the local cell provider. I hit the speed-dial and after a moment, Jim’s voice scratched over the circuit. “Go.”

“Our guest is coming at eleven,” I said. “I told him to wear black. He says he’s running late, just getting out of the Laundromat now.” It sounded like ordinary chitchat if anybody was listening in, but I’d just sent a description of his dress, his direction of movement, and identified the point he was passing in those three short sentences.

“I see,” Jim replied. He had him. I nodded to Nick, who put the HiLux in gear and turned us onto another side street, pushing ahead out of sight of the target.
“You can move to the safe house now,” Black said quietly. “I told you, that’s where he’s going. We can get set up to hit it as soon as he goes in.”

I half-turned to look at him out of the corner of my eye. “That’s assuming a lot of things,” I said. “One of the biggest items on that list is assuming that they didn’t change all the safe houses and procedures once you didn’t show up again.”

“It’s possible,” he conceded, “but I doubt it. This isn’t a Project safe house. This is one of Abu Tariq’s hidey-holes. It’s his cousin’s place, I’m pretty sure. He comes here regularly, even before ISIS started moving in down here to start killing Shia wholesale. He’s vicious as hell, but his tradecraft sucks; he’s a blunt instrument. Relies more on fear and heavy security than finesse for survival.” The most vicious of Islamist militias in Iraq had started calling itself simply the Islamic State a while back, but most of us still called it by its earlier name—ISIS, the Islamic State in Iraq and al Sham.

There was a long silence, as Nick continued to follow our leapfrog pattern to pick up the alleged Abu Tariq a few blocks down. Black just sat back in the seat. He’d apparently resigned himself, for the time being, to our distrust. Considering how we’d picked him up, that was probably wise.
After all, it isn’t every day you find yourself working with an American clandestine operative who’d been mentoring and supporting a former Al Qaeda affiliate. And, they were only “former” because they’d managed to get kicked out of AQ for being too savage even for that band of cutthroats. Think about that for a second.

Of course, he’d had a good story about how he and several of his fellow contractors had been suckered into it. It was even a fairly plausible story, given what we knew about the guy he’d claimed was coordinating the whole mess. Collins had come after us under the guise of a State Department bureaucrat, trying to force us out of Iraq, probably because he was afraid we were going to stumble across his little Project.

Black had been more than willing to cooperate with us since he was captured after the taking of the Basra police station about a month before. Fingering an ISIS command cell was one of the first juicy nuggets he’d offered. Of course, our company, Praetorian Security, was getting a bit of a rep in certain circles for not fucking around. He knew that the possibility of a bullet in the brain and a shallow, unmarked grave was hanging over his head. I suspected that that threat had more to do with his cooperation than any idealism or disgust with the black project he’d been a part of for the last year or so.

Nick circled us around two blocks, coming out to the main street, where a few food kiosks were still open, hawking somewhat fresh food for the evening meal. Especially with the power being as intermittent as it was, most Iraqis didn’t rely on refrigeration, but bought their food a day at a time, sometimes a meal at a time. We were planning on taking advantage of that.

Nick brought us to a halt on the side of the street, and Hassan got out, going over to one of the booths that looked like the proprietor was about to close up shop and go home. It was getting dark, and few Arabs like to be out and about after dark, even in the cities.

I had my hand on the short-barreled .300 Blackout AR that I had next to my leg, a shirt thrown over it for concealment. Hassan was armed; even when he couldn’t carry his beat-up old Tabuk rifle around, he had a Beretta that he was never separated from. But it never hurt to be ready, especially in a city that had seen as much chaos and violence as Basra had in the last couple of months.

Hassan started talking to the vendor and bickered and haggled long enough for the target to come into view. He quickly paid the man for the food, then came back to the HiLux.

We watched Abu Tariq cross the street, moving with more of a purpose now that he wasn’t talking on the phone anymore. There was no communication, but I spotted the white Bongo truck that Jim and Little Bob were driving as it leapfrogged forward to pick Abu Tariq up farther down the line. It was risky running surveillance with only two vehicles, but we still hadn’t replaced the losses we’d taken over the last few months. We definitely had to “do more with less.”

Abu Tariq, assuming that was indeed who he was, crossed the street at something close to a trot, since what traffic there was wasn’t always inclined to stop for pedestrians. Nick waited until he was almost out of sight, then eased the HiLux across the street and after him. We actually passed him, making sure not to stare as we drove by, and parked half a block further down the street.
I was already seeing what Black was talking about when it came to Abu Tariq’s security. We had barely turned onto the street when we were getting the stink-eye from several young men with “jihadi fighter” written all over them. They were stationed in little clumps up and down the street, and appeared to be centered on one two-story house with dingy, whitewashed walls rising over the plain cinderblock exterior wall.

“Fuck,” I muttered. “This looks like damned near a platoon.”

“There are going to be more inside,” Black said. “Like I told you, he likes his security heavy.”
This was going to suck. Close quarters was already enormously dangerous, even when the opposition was only a couple of people. The more resistance, the nastier it got, and if you added in reinforcements coming from outside, it got even worse.

We stayed in place long enough for Hassan to get out, fiddle with something in the bed, and get back in. In other words, just long enough to see Abu Tariq—I realized I was thinking of him with that name, though more for the sake of convenience than anything else—go through the green-painted metal gate to the whitewashed house. As soon as Hassan was back in, and before one of the small groups of young, hard-eyed men could come and investigate why we were stopping, we were moving again.

“We need to get surveillance on that house,” I said. “I don’t want you exposing yourself in this neighborhood any more than necessary, Hassan,” I added, as he opened his mouth to say something. “We’ll go back to the base and find one of Hussein Ali’s boys to come back in. He can find a house that’s either abandoned, or the family has some bad blood with the ISIS types. Then we’ll slip two of us in there in the wee hours of the morning.”

I twisted around in my seat to look at Black. He was sitting back, his face blank. He did that a lot. “What, no protestations that you’ve already filled us in on everything?” I demanded. That wasn’t entirely fair; Black had been cooperative and had never given us the least reason that he was trying to push us toward any particular course of action. He had given every sign that he knew he was dealing with men who had become deeply paranoid about anything outside of the company, and he valued his own skin enough to avoid giving us a reason to indulge that paranoia.

He just shrugged. “I haven’t been in there in months; Abu Tariq accepted some support from the Project, but he made it plenty clear that he didn’t trust us, didn’t like us, and would have happily beheaded all of us on camera, one at a time. There were a few meetings there, but they were short. I can’t say that I’ve got all the details for you. Surveillance for a day or two would probably be a good idea even if you did trust me.”

I didn’t say anything, but just faced forward again as Nick drove us out of the target zone. I didn’t like Black—none of us did—but it had less to do with his personality than with what he’d been involved in. He was working hard to try to redeem himself, but it was an uphill battle.