The key to any good trap is to entice the prey. You can’t snap a neck if the animal doesn’t pass over your pit. But what kind of trap do you set for an unknown? Really...please ask yourself. Especially if you are kind of short on time. When you are hunting illegally on someone else's land. When you are poacting, trespassing, a spy and most likely seen as crazy. Crazy because you are hunting a monster. Not by choice.
That is GySgt Ahmad Al-Sagar's problem. And his problem is because of a pissing contest between the US Air Force and the Marines. Back in 2002 some Army Special Forces unit went to recover a lost infantry squad. They came across remnants of the squad and then an 18 foot tall redhead with six fingers and toes attacked from a nearby cave. They killed it and the Air Force shipped it to Ohio. The Dept of the Navy has been pushing to get any info on the incident but it all goes dead after the skuttlebutt. Apparently the conex box that held all the physical shipping invoices took a rocket and no digital record has been found. Of course the details were a red flag. Six fingers and six toes…normally the Marines wouldn’t give a fuck but there is probably some religious fanatic with a bird on his collar thinking he is doing the lords work.
So Ahmad is stuck out here at COB Nail AKA Shamshir Ghar. And ain't that just luck. He was born 1988 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Pretty far from his extended family, his father was a legal liaison for one of the oil companies working in Kuwait. Saddam invaded back in the 90s and his dad became fanatically pro America. Even when all the Baptist kids were bullying him for being a “terrorist” his dad damn near dressed him in stars and stripes everyday. His dad was a piss poor muslim but an amazing patriot to a country he was not yet a citizen of. It was uncomfortable no matter who he was around. It was like being a Mets fan in Boston he would later tell people.
But that changed when his cousin joined the Marines. Ali’s parents had fled to the states when Kuwait was invaded. Ali shipped to boot, September of 1999 after High School. Being the only family in the states at that time, Ahmad’s dad got them a plane ticket to get them to Chaleston and a rental car to Beaufort SC for the graduation. It was the coolest thing ever! At this point he was 11 and had never gone anywhere. His dad flew down to Denton Texas about once a year and allegedly his dad and mom took him to Montreal when he was two. But this was big time.
And everybody there looked tough. Not that relaxed surfer attitude you saw in movies like Top Gun. These were more like the guards at Buckingham Palace. These were Samurai from a Kurasawa film. These were Arnold in the first Terminator. These were every determined face sapper/engineer in Saladin’s Army. And there was his cousin among them standing as proud as any Marine recruitment poster.
It was a pretty powerful message to an 11 year old. He followed his cousin's career as the president of a fan club. And there was plenty to follow. Like any Marine he talked about going Force Recon because “SEALs need a hero to look up to.” Instead he became a Military Police Officer. There he was able to train for special reaction team (SRT) and Embassy duty. By the time 9/11 hit it was a recently promoted to sergeant Kuwaiti that was saluting George W Bush as he climbed onto Marine 1.
Ahmad watched everything military and made sarcastic comments when it was anything but Marines. He wore his hair as a high and tight. He woke early to do push ups, sit ups, run and pull ups instead of sleeping in. He read Battle Cry and Message to Garcia as well as anything involving Chesty Puller. He memorized the ending rant by Jack Nicholas as Col Jessup in A Few Good Men...maybe missing the point of the movie a bit? If he wasn’t certain his father would use a knife to cut it off he would have gotten a Globe and Anchor tattoo. All this was at the cost of his school education. He was unfazed when his cousin was medically discharged in 2004 having never spent time in any theater of combat. By then the family rumor that it was for mental health told him he was weak.
By 2006 he was in the recruiters. 2006 was all about the EOD tech if you had the ASVAB score. So Boot and EOD school. Everyone was getting prepped to get embedded in MARSOC so Jump School, Drive School, HALO, SERE, Mountaineering and so on. So the first two years of his Marine career was just training in one place or another. By 2009 he was being sent to Iraq. It was a nothing sandwich. All the worries were moved back to Afghanistan and he was stuck grabbing a smoke at the Hesco barriers and alone time with whoever was on the cover of Maxim Magazine. Sure there were calls for VBIEDs at the gate and dud 40mm calls at the range. Code H destruct was always something to look forward to and get in trouble because of. But this was nothing like Generation Kill or Full Metal Jacket. Honestly it was more like Jarhead where Gyllenhaal spent a whole war getting robbed of doing the thing that he had trained so hard and so long for.
But that was the lesson. You can be some banal bravado type using phrases like “lean forward in the foxhole” or “tip of the spear” or call his friends “devil dog” while waiting in line at Subway. You can be the lackluster who only does the bare minimum, 9 to 5 punch card with no additional pay for overtime but plenty of time playing XBox while on duty. Or you can be the “break glass in case of war” Marine. It all has the same amount of paperwork. Just different approaches.
Bravado loves to give powerpoint presentations in front of any sort of senior staff. He spends hours in the gym only to do one set of curls and then spends the rest of the time talking to everyone trying to workout. The great thing about that guy is he was first in line for any tough guy school so you didn’t have to deal with him all the time. SEALs had some training landing with some new boat, you send that guy. Open spot for the National Guards Counter Sniper School; we got your Marine. The “Other Government Agency” hints at having any training going on, you just drop them at the airport and they will kiss ass from the pay phone until orders are cut.
The lackluster are actually a great asset. If there is some crap the unit has to do, they figure out the easiest and quickest way to get through it. Ahmad had to find some other reason to give LCpl Martinez an achievement medal because when the Level One Online Anti Terrorism Training became mandetory for everyone he figured out that only one person needed to pass the course and then just enter whatever names for the certificate of completion. He sat down to knock it out and then turned in a cert for everyone in the unit to the 1SG. Top just made sure that Martinez did one for him and said, “Good job now get the fuck out of my office.” Top of course cut everyone loose a little early for the rest of the week and would send Martinez on “food runs” knowing full well that he was going to spend at least an hour just wandering around the exchange looking at smartphone cases and write in the rain pens.
In case of war Marines, they just need to be shot at. They don’t care if they are in the middle of the Gobi desert eating an MRE or in the middle of Ft Irwin eating an MRE, they are going to be happy because of their misery. Their monkey butt rash is worn more proudly than any meritorious service award. These are the same fuckers that have you drive to every water station in a marathon they are running with a pack of cigarettes and a lighter.
Ahmad was an in case of war Marine but not so much for the war part, not after that first deployment. Ahmad was in case of war because war zones have their own special stupid. There is something about the threat around you that makes your judgement slip. If you filmed every aspect of war, you would have something between America’s Funniest Home Videos and Faces of Death. Self preservation is still at the front of your mind but your priorities to ensure it are all messed up.
Case in point, Ahmad was doing a thing with MARSOC in Cameroon against Boko Haram. The radio guy needed to set up an antenna, nothing more than a long wire really, in the only tree for miles. In this tree was a hornets nest. What type of Hornets? Ahmad had no idea but if Africanized Bees are bad, the safe assumption is that the hornets are worse. This commo guy says, “I gotta knock down that hornet's nest so they don’t bug us later.”
Ahmad, “there looks like plenty of room, just put it on the other side of the tree”
Commo guy, “I gotta get rid of the Hornets”
This went back and forth only a little more. Within ten minutes Ahmad was yelling for the Hospital Corpsman. The Doc kept him alive overnight and he was medevaced in the morning. And as much as he hated himself for it, that shit was funny to Ahmad.
But let's fast forward to 2021. He is at COB Nail. COB Nail was there to support the archaeological dig at Shamshir Ghar. Those Archeologists are long gone. It was also a dust off to resupply some observation points in the area. Those OPs are gone. There was training local forces to fight the Taliban. Those forces are gone. To the best of Ahmad’s knowledge, his was the only US military presence in Afghanistan. He has his two brand new EOD team members, Cpls Chad Curtain and Sarah Tenenbaugh. He has a squad from some combat engineer company, they keep to themselves and mostly just handle security. Their squad leader is a Lt Smith and a SSG Luke Richards (from Trinidad and the only friendly one). They have six MRAP style vehicles, each with a crew served weapon. He has a Harris Satellite radio and a promise that when he is done some choppers will come out of Pakistan. He’s not here as EOD. He’s here because someone thinks that Arab and Pashtuns are close enough? He is secretly wishing that he was the one that crawled up the tree to get rid of the Hornets. America’s Funniest Home Videos of Death.
And then there is the Giant. Some biblical cryptozoological waste of taxpayer money because some silver oak leaf needs a bird or some bird needs a star. Some nut in uniform wants to prove a point for his bible study group. Wants to make his mark proving that all his mythology isn’t crazy. Wants to say God isn’t dead and Biden is the antichrist. So lets send the secular Arab Marine because he’ll fit in and talk muslim to the Taliban. Hell, they'll probably have some tumpeng and fufu and laugh the world's problems away. Make some daisy chains and the giant will come out and join them for tea. Can’t see any flaws in that plan.
“Uhhh, Gunny?” It was Sarah. She was watching the monitors. She watched nights, Curtain watched days. Ahmad napped on and off as needed.
Pretty simple. They set up security video cameras on car batteries with little solar panels and passive infrared. Solar mostly keeps the cameras charged through the day and as a heat signature pops up the camera starts broadcasting to a repeater on a high spot and then to the COB. No heat signature and the camera is in sleep mode. So if some mountain goat should happen in the field of vision the camera will start broadcasting. Just a mil-spec version of a trail camera hunters use. Mil-spec sadly does not mean better, simply more expensive.
Ahmad leaned over to watch whatever Sarah had on the tablet. “Damn, that is big. Which camera is that?”
“Delta 8 west”
“Ok, let me know if it trips 7, 4, 12 or an Echo camera.” The cameras were placed in a grid pattern. Four cameras at each location. 4 by 4 locations around a kilometer apart for a total of 16 spots or 64 cameras per grid. Grids A, B and C had been up for a while but D and E were put up over the last two days.
Amhad grabbed his log book, looked at the time and started writing. He could tell it was a person. It was a person at a distance from the camera. More just a green blob but a blob moving more human than camel.
“Gunny, its running toward the Delta 8 cameras”
He was able to watch just as the prior blob slammed a large rock into D8 west, then D8 north turned on and instantly went dead, D8 south and finally D8 east. He wrote down the time in the log book, “play back the video for me?”
She called up the recorded file and dragged it to the last minute on D8 west. All the cameras were at least at shoulder height. It showed a man running what had to be a four minute mile pace up grabbing a rock without breaking stride. He vanishes from D8 west field of view. Wham! The camera tweaked out to dead air.
“Gunny, is it me or were we looking at his nutsack?”
“Yeah. Was there any discrepancy in elevation for the Delta 8 cameras?”
“I think so, I don’t remember seeing anything flat here in Afghanistan but even then that guy is Marjanovic tall”
Ahmad went to the pallet of water and pulled out two bottles. Tossed one to Sarah and opened his. He downed it and went for a second.
“Gunny, I got him on Delta 12 north and closing”
He moved over to the screen again in time to watch 12 north, east, west and south go out the same way as the D8s, “Hand me the tablet”
He toyed with the various files: playing and pausing, playing and pausing. On D12 east he paused and held the tablet so that Sarah could see again, “How many fingers is that?”
It was pretty clear that the left hand holding the rock did actually have six fingers. She didn’t say anything. She just held up her two hands showing six and mouthed the word like she was teaching kindergarten. He handed her back the tablet and started to write.
It's funny, the military has its own myths. Certain equipment doesn’t work. Eating certain things in an MRE is bad luck. A whole lot of haunted barracks from suicides and hazings and training accidents. Even leaving gifts to the ‘range gods’ in hopes of currying favor to pass the practical tests at EOD school. Superstition is a fun way to pass the time. It's just difficult to come to terms with any confirmation. At any given stipclub outside any given base there is a service member giving a ‘no shit, there I was’ story that everyone else knows is utter bullshit but nobody stops them because...because they just want to be entertained.
“Yes Corporal?” He didn’t mean to sound annoyed but he was trying to figure out the best way to word this in the log book.
“Remember how we didn’t use Delta 16 cameras because we are parked at roughly where Dee 16 would be?” just a hint of urgency in her voice
“Yeah?” a little more urgency in her voice coupled with an incredulous look on her face
“Oh shit, get everyone up and on the guns!”