Staff Sergeant Elias Martinez had just checked the quick release affixed to the bow of the partially-deflated Zodiac for the third time when something made him look up.
There was a towering figure standing at the base of the CH-53’s ramp. Martinez instinctively straightened, then yelled for the rest of his team. There might be plenty of big Marines aboard the USS Boxer, but there was no mistaking the silhouette of the MEU Commander. Colonel John Brannigan cut an altogether different figure. There was something about the way he carried himself that set him apart and made him immediately recognizable.
What was surprising was the fact that the Colonel, with the squat form of Sergeant Major Santelli beside him, was in full kit. Helmet, NVGs, plate carrier, mags, radio, blowout kit, rifle, the works. He looked like he was ready to climb right on the bird and insert alongside Martinez’ Force Recon Team. Which was unheard of, and something that Martinez suddenly found he more than vaguely dreaded. No team leader wants an officer looking over his shoulder on an op, let alone the Colonel.
“Bring it in a minute, gents!” Brannigan boomed, managing to make himself heard over the racket of the Boxer’s flight deck. The team clambered over the soft-ducked Zodiac and the rest of their gear until they were gathered in a tight semi-circle around Brannigan and Santelli. They were a group of dark specters in the dimness of the flight deck, yards away from the superstructure’s lights, already kitted up and cammie-painted for the upcoming op.
“I wanted to meet up with all of the teams before you stepped off,” Brannigan shouted. “You boys are going to be the envy of the entire Marine Corps, you know that? You’ll be the only infantry Marines in the Fleet with an armored vehicle kill to your names, probably for years to come!” He reached out and shook each man’s hand. “I just wanted to stress one more time that we’re all counting on you. Yeah, me included. My ass is going to be on the lead bird going into the target village, so if you gunfighters don’t take those Shilkas out, I’ll be one of the first ones getting burned down. So go get your kill on! Good hunting, gents!” He shook Martinez’ hand last, looking the Staff NCO in the eye as he did so, nodded once, and then turned and motioned to Santelli, jogging toward the next ’53 aft, where Team Two should be loaded up and ready to go.
“Let’s go!” Martinez yelled. “Wheels up in,” he checked his watch, “three minutes!”
As the team clambered back on the helo, Sergeant Frank Able, Martinez’ Assistant Team Leader, leaned in to shout in his ear. “Did you see the Colonel’s rifle?”
“Yeah,” Martinez replied. Brannigan had been carrying an ancient, battered M4, with a lot of the bluing worn off. It stood out in a unit that had already mostly transitioned to the newer M27s. “That’s the way the Old Man rolls. The word going around the Lance Corporal Underground says that he threatened to throw any officer overboard if he caught them with an M27 before all of the shooters had ‘em.”
“Damn,” was all that Able said, before he scrambled up and over to get into the CH-53. He did a quick head count, then gave Martinez the thumbs up. Martinez passed the same signal to the crew chief, and a moment later the big helo was surging up off the deck and into the East African night. Continue reading “The Colonel Has A Plan Part 1”