Sergeant First Class Joseph Till felt his eyes water against the wind’s caressing breath. Even so, he retained his gaze into the late afternoon sky. The colors resembled a vulgar canvas, as if some poor b*****d had been blown clean open, and some sick f**k had decided to throw his guts into the sky for display. The clouds around seemed to soak the colors into their gray forms like a sponge.
Below the Black Hawk helicopter extended the face of Kenya – showcasing warped patterns of jungles and dry fields like a shabby quilt.
This blasted country had managed to do in a week what usually took months in others: become the bane of Till’s existence. Afghanistan, Kuwait, and even the cluster-f**k of Iraq had nothing on the vast jungles of the African soil. It was a cocktail of s**t mixed in one – starting with the thickest brush that would make even the most hard-core explorer second-guess their passion, tossed in with a barrage of bugs that could turn skin into bubble wrap in under a minute, all blended up with the heat, feeling as if the land itself sat in-between the crack of the Devil’s a*s.
How life even managed here was a surprise in itself. Some people would call it proof of humanity’s ability to adapt and live against all odds – no, stubbornness felt more fitting; the unwillingness to finally throw-in the f*****g towel and die-off already.
F**k it, Till thought. Regardless of how he felt, he had no say in the matter. None did whoever was stupid enough to sign the dotted line for the cause. Nothing like signing away your soul.
SFC Till was in charge of an ops extraction team made up of five men including himself. One of his men even coined the name F.O.X. Tango, which reluctantly became an unofficial one even their higher-ups began to use. Why, was a mystery in itself. They were good at what they did, hell, they were the best – an elite squad of highly skilled soldiers who did what they needed to without the questions. There were no annoying inquires apposing Higher Command, no second-guessing gestures, nothing except the faultless mindset essential for a well-rounded soldier.
The Brass loved that about them. No one liked a nose sniffing in the wrong area unless it was coated with a brown tip. They did their job and in turn, it kept the missions coming and the money with it.
Their new assignment involved a rescue so-to-speak. Apparently, one of Uncle Sam’s choppers was recently shot down by enemy Somalian forces. Somalia was a cesspool for instability even after the intervention of the United Nations in their little squabble of a civil war years ago. It’s never a good idea to break-up two dogs going at it, not if you didn’t expect to get bit yourself, at the least.
The past few months brought up a new faction of Somalian Extremists who began an up-rise against their government. Intel relayed the cowards took their assaults onto the general populace. In defense, the government deployed their military force to intervene but their efforts fell short against them. Word through the vine spread that an “unknown” benefactor was funding the Extremists, bringing in powerful weapons never before seen on the black market.
These weapons were a game-changer and they managed to catch the interest of ole Sam. In response, a team was sent in to extract a few of those weapons, but their airship was targeted. Right from the get-go, Sam f****d up when he didn’t send F.O.X. Tango instead. If you’re gonna do something, do it right the first time. The chopper was shot before crossing into Kenya, ultimately crashing deep within its jungles. It was able to send out a distress signal moments before the crash. Since then, communication with the crew could not be reestablished.
Based off the last known coordinates, Till’s team was being sent in to do what they did best, and what should have been them from the beginning – just another simple extraction, right?
“Hey, Sarge, ETA is five minutes!” a voice yelled out against the wind’s howl.
The voice startled Till, reeling him back from the depths of his thoughts. His watery eyes felt relief upon pulling them from the airstream. They fell upon the would-be owner of the voice.
With squinting eyes, Staff Sergeant Snow peered back into Till’s. Half of Snow’s face radiated from the device in his hand. In the green glow, Till could still see the thin scar extending across his face. It etched from his temple down to the edge of his jawbone like a vandalized car. It served as a visual reminder; a mark received when Snow saved his a*s back in Afghanistan. Had Snow not intervened, the blade of that Taliban s**t wielding it surely would have done more than engrave him like the scorn of a pissed-off girlfriend.
Snow was his back-up when he needed it. He was his voice of reason and a brother if there ever was one. Too bad he was too stupid to get married.
“HQ says to expect a possible delay on the extraction bird!” SSG Snow continued, yelling in combat against the wind.
“What the hell for?!” Till asked, annoyed at the update.
“They said they’re short on birds, three in maintenance and the other two we’re sharing with 75th!”
Till sighed in discontent. “Aren’t we out here to clean up 75th’s s**t in the first place?! And yet, they can’t even guarantee a f*****g bird?”
“Afraid so, Joe!” Snow replied.
“That’s great! No f*****g surprise!” Till replied. After a quick glance at his watch, he gave a gesture towards Snow.
Snow understood it. “Alright everyone, look alive! We’ll be hitting the drop zone in about three Mikes!”
At his command, the other occupants of the cabin began to move – helmets straps were tightened and magazine cartridges loaded.
Immediately sitting across from Snow was SSG Tinsley. His hulking figure counteracted to the calm scrutiny in his eyes. The giant quietly double-checked his ammo packs before returning his gaze off into the sky. His weapon sat across his lap – a M240B, a rather sizeable machine gun believable for the hands of a giant. Yet in Tinsley’s, the massive weapon’s appearance was more trivial. Tinsley was a man of few words, but was one tough son-of-a-b***h in the eyes of Till.
He was nicknamed GL because the John Stewart Green Lantern was his favorite Superhero. Ironically, he seemed to share the same attitude of the character.
Next to him sat SGT Ryder nicknamed Gerber for his young, baby-like face. Facial hair was not in the kid’s future, at least not for a while. Despite his innocent appearance, he was a sharp kid, very intuitive and calculating – almost like a younger version of Till.
Ryder was aggressively jotting into a notebook, pausing only to adjust the strap of his weapon.
Leaning outside, opposite of Till was none other than SGT Jones, the wise-cracker of the team. Jones was a f*****g idiot, but he was a hell of a marksman as well.
His cocky demeanor in Sniper School which involved – insulting his instructors, or pulling childish pranks often at remarkable distances, resulted in his eventual dismissal. However, his talents granted him a spot on F.O.X. Tango and a nickname as Crackshot. If not for that, he would’ve had the shortest career.
The idiot quickly hocked a wad of phlegm into the wind, watching it concede to gravity. If there ever was a wonder for the nicknames, he was it. Somehow, Jones became the unofficial creator of them, believing everything needed one. Despite the annoyance of them, the names managed to stick – except for Till. The last time Jones tried to honor Till with one, he gladly bestowed a strong nut-shot to shut him up.
The only names Till wanted to hear for himself were: Sergeant, SFC Till, or best Sarge.
“Hey, Big Sarge?!” Jones called out.
A*****e, Till thought, biting his lip. He already knew Jones had a smart comment. He glanced over to meet his goofy half-cocked smile.
“Word of mouth says you’re joining the club for forties,” he said, tossing a thumbs-up.
“Is that what’s going around?” Till replied, glancing over to meet the guilty smile of Snow.
“So… I was wondering what you had in mind?” Jones continued. “What’s Big Sarge gonna do on his special day?”
The question seemed to draw the attention of everyone else, even Tinsley withdrew his mind from the clouds.
“Don’t know, might just spend the night with a bottle of Jack,” he replied reluctantly.
Jones issued a groan of disappointment. Surprisingly, everyone else complied with the same notion.
“Come on, Big Sarge, you can do better than that. Look, hear me out,” he said, leaning in close for everyone to hear. “We all got leave coming up after this mission. I say we do it big and hit up a great spot in Brazil called Muy Loco Calientes. They got the best drinks and most importantly, the best female strippers.”
“Nope, forget it,” Till quickly shot back. “I’m not hitting up a t***y bar for my birthday. Most importantly, I’m not going to any of the ones associated with you.”
Everyone groaned in discontent.
“Come on, Sarge,” Tinsley interjected. “I can’t lie, that doesn’t sound like a bad move. You gotta do something fun for your birthday. You’re only forty once and in our line of work that means a lot.”
Several other agreements followed around. Till’s gaze slowly went around the cabin, peering into all the eyes trained on him.
“I’m game,” Ryder replied when he met his.
Jones was nodding still housing his goofy smile across his face. Till felt a hand on his shoulder from Snow, who issued a nod as well. After another minute, he gave a long sigh.
“Fine,” he conceded. “But under one condition…”
In praise, everyone passed around high-fives and fist pounds. The cabin gave a minor shake when the helicopter halted in the air, hovering above the ground.
“… I want to hear less s**t from your mouth today, Jones. Got it?”