After Action Report: Operation Persian Freedom Phase 3 Mission 17: Munitions Factory at Aghar Jan 11.14.04 Page 5

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Dill walked off to get his gear.  In the solemnity of the coming mission, he did so in silence.  Blind and Tickle were already there, getting their MBU-12s checked out and making sure the rest of their gear was in order. Dill double-checked his 9mm to make sure she was loaded up.  15 in the clip, none in the chamber. He didn’t like to have one in the chamber just for safety purposes.  Besides, if he ended up on the ground, the last thing he wanted to do was use the pistol.  It was best to maintain stealth and run for it rather than draw attention to yourself with gunfire and dead bodies.

“Hey, what’s with the long face, man?”  asked Tickle.

“Tickle, you think the skipper’s getting soft on us?”

“What the hell do you mean, Dill?”

“Well, c’mon, man. JSOWs? What the hell sissy way is that to strike these targets?”

“Hey, man,” said a perturbed Tickle. “The boss has lost a lot of good people under his command, and not just in this campaign alone, you know that?”

Dill snapped and answered, “All the more reason to be sticking it to these guys! You  know that! And I know that, and I can’t fight knowing that we’re not hitting them hard. Think of NAZ, man! Think of Pokey, think of Coyote.”

It was not common to see Tickle become visibly angry. In fact it was scary. “I AM thinking of those guys, as well as all of our guys, Dill!  What you want them to be lost for nothing?” He put his hands on Dill’s shoulders and looked him straight in the eye.  “Because you know that that is what will happen if you die, or anyone else dies, because of you. You know that don’t you?”

Dill knocked Tickle’s hands off of his shoulders and shoved him into the locker, making a huge clang that was heard throughout the room and made the petty officer PRs look up. “Get your hands off of me!” snarled Dill. An eternity seemed to pass as the look in Dill’s eyes changed to relative calm as he realized what he had just done.  He said more calmly, “Yes, I do know that. I do. You’re right, Tickle. Hey, I’m…I’m sorry.”

Tickle moved Dill off of him and looked at the PRs and ALSE guys. “As you were, man your stations!” They quickly went back to work.

Tickle looked back at Dill and said. “Hey, it’s alright. We’re all under a lot of stress and pressure. Don’t worry about it.” Tickle smiled at Dill and he returned the smile. “Just keep your head in the game, OK?”

“Roger that,” smiled Dill who extended his hand to Tickle. Tickle took it and shook it. “C’mon, let’s go fly.”

“So, Phinin. What’s the word?” I asked when the area was clear. “Any word from our friends in the op?”

“It’s still on and I need you to be ready at a moments’ notice, Bones. First opportunity we have to extract your boys we’re going to take it, day or night.”

“OK, don’t worry, I’ll do what we gotta do.”

“Good. In the meantime, Major Osborne has been training up and we’re in the process of squeezing out the last bits of useful information from our friend Mohammed so when we turn him loose he will have been bled dry of intel.”

“He still buys it that you are none the wiser?”

“You would not believe. This boy thinks he’s sticking it to his old man and living large at the same time. We got him thinking he’s got it made.”

“Good. Let’s just hope that we can make this work.”

The jets were already armed by the ordies, and the APUs were connected up.  We each did our walk around, checking the control surfaces and fuselage for anything out of the ordinary before climbing aboard.

“Childers!” I said to an old familiar face. “Looks like I’m borrowing your steed again!”

“Yes, sir, but I wouldn’t trust anyone else with her like I trust you, sir,” he smiled as he helped strap me in.

“Even with my track record? I haven’t brought every aircraft back, you know.”

“Roger that sir, but this one… well, you’ve always brought her back alive and in one piece.” Childers’ words dawned on me in an instant. I never thought about it, but he was right. It seemed like this particular aircraft was my lucky charm, and it didn’t even have my name on it. I can’t recall getting so much as a scratch in this aircraft.

“You know Childers, I think you’re right. I hope I don’t break that precedent.”

Childers patted me on the shoulder and patted the aircraft on its canopy frame. “She won’t let you sir. She’s like a horse that knows its rider. She knows you.”  With that he smiled, gave me a thumbs-up and climbed down the ladder, reinserting it into the canard that housed it..

I looked over to my right to see Tickle, Dill, and Blind strapping in and getting ready themselves. Something had changed on Dill’s face since I saw him last, and I saw Tickle smiling and cheerfully giving Dill a thumbs-up. Did I miss something here?  I shrugged and went back into the tasks at hand.

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