October 26, 2008
By Kyle Martin, Benton, AR

It seemed as if they had been running forever through the night-covered city. Dodging lights as they ran from shadow to shadow in the vast maze of alley ways in Baghdad, Chris Verdagio and the rest of his Special Forces squad slowly made their way to their target. So far, they had managed to avoid detection by the many armed soldiers patrolling the streets and roof tops. They navigated through dark and seemingly deserted city. They passed through alley ways full of dumpsters, and littered with refuse.
They climbed up and down cracked and sandy walls. This was the type of mission that they trained for years for. Nothing could stand between them and their target.

They came to a sudden halt as Capt. Mitchell held up a balled fist in the sign for the squad to stop. He crouched and slowly peered around the corner. Chris could see all of the captain’s gear, the same as his and the rest of the squads’, in the faint moonlight. The man looked like a moving weapons cache with his large arsenal spaced all over his covert operations suit. The moonlight glinted off of the grenades at his waist, the Dessert Eagle in its holster on his lower back, the hilt of his combat knife, and it glinted, most noticeably, off of his silenced SOPMOD in his hands. As he turned around, Chris took note of how alien Capt. Mitchell looked with his night-vision goggles that glowed with a very faint and eerie green light that gave his large mustache an interesting shade of mossy brown. He motioned with his hands, holding up two fingers to his eyes and pointing at the roof of the building across the street, saying “Two guards on top of the target building.”
He motioned Chris forward and whispered, “Take out the contact on the left on my mark.”
Chris lifted up his rifle and, looking through the scope, he put the reticule on the head of the silhouette of the guard designated to him as his target.
The captain quietly counted down. “Three… Two… One!”
Chris pulled the trigger of his rifle and heard a quiet “thwap” as his silenced gun fired a bullet at the guard. Chris next saw the guard slump down behind the small wall on the roof. He had hit his mark.
Capt. Mitchell then motioned for the rest of the squad to set up a defensive perimeter around the target door. It wasn’t a very significant looking door. But U.S. intelligence had somehow found out that behind this ordinary, cracked wooden door, there was a group of men holding Corporal Pacton of the 51st infantry regiment hostage. He had been taken prisoner by these men after his team had been surrounded in an ambush and killed. Capt. Mitchell and his squad had been sent to get him out.
Capt. Mitchell tried the door. It was locked of course. It couldn’t be that easy. He told the group to split up. Half of the squad was to stay with him at the front door waiting for the second group, led by Chris, to grab the attention of the people inside.
Chris made his way around the back of the building listening carefully for any sign of danger. As he arrived at a window, he told his squad mates to halt using the same gesture he’d seen Capt. Mitchell use earlier. He slowly moved his head around the corner of the window to see inside. After lifting his night-vision goggles, he could see his reflection staring back at him. Looking at his reflection, you would never guess that underneath all of that technology, steel, and black clothing, there was a regular light haired, fair complexioned and gauntly faced man, who, six months ago, had been living with his parents in a small house in Massachusetts.
After reflecting on how alien he, himself, looked, Chris refocused his attention to the mission on hand. He looked around the small room, and there was Corporal Pacton, tied to a chair at the end of a table. Chris had seen his profile when his team had received the mission. He was appalled at the stark contrast between the picture he had seen of Pacton in the mission briefing, and the man he saw slumped in the chair in front of him. When he had been looking at the picture before they arrived, he saw a young man, who couldn’t be older than twenty-five. He had blonde hair and strangely green eyes that gave off an air of innocence. He had a big smile in the picture. Just from looking at the picture, Chris could see how proud this man was of being a soldier.
That image was completely gone now. His head was drooping down in fatigue so Chris couldn’t get a straight look at him, but occasionally he would catch fleeting glimpses of his face, if you could call it that. A swollen, blue, black, and red mass was now residing where his face once was. He was bleeding everywhere. His once fair hair now dark and matted with the blood.
Chris managed to wrench his attention away from the pathetic heap of a man in the chair to the rest of the room to assess the situation. There were five other men in the room, there were two guards at the door to the room, two others at the door that led to the back of the house, and one man sitting in front of Pacton. The man who was sitting in front of Pacton was terrifying. He was the most cynical-looking man Chris had ever seen. His dark, calculating eyes seemed to be glistening with delight in his bearded and scarred face as he told Pacton, in rough English, what he would do to him if he didn’t tell him who the informant was that had been filtering information to the U.S. military. Poor Pacton didn’t know who the man was, but the man wouldn’t listen. Every time Pacton said he didn’t know, the man would punch him. Watching the gruesome scene was making Pacton grow angry.
Pacton was turning to his squad to give orders when, all of a sudden, the scarred man grabbed Pacton’s slumped head by the hair and jerked it up. He jammed a gun underneath Pacton’s jaw and screamed that he would shoot him if Pacton didn’t tell him what he wanted. The man was not bluffing. The cold light, which had shown in the man’s eyes that had displayed how much pleasure he had received by torturing the poor man in the seat in front of him, now grew colder.
Chris knew that this was his only opportunity. He reached down and pulled a flash-bang grenade from his belt. He pulled the pin and lobbed it through the window. He looked away from the window and sheltered his eyes with his hands. A noise, like the sound of a bomb going off next to his head, erupts into his ears. In his anger over what was happening in the room, he had forgotten to cover them with his hands. He could hear nothing but an incessant ringing.
Regardless as to whether or not he could hear, however, he had to take advantage of the condition of the enemy in the room. He ran around to the back door and kicked it in, shattering half of it. The men were all on the ground clutching their ears and eyes. They looked like they were screaming, but Chris couldn’t hear them. He still couldn’t hear anything. He quickly dispatched the guards at the door at the opposite side of the room. He then pulled out his knife and skillfully and quickly killed the guards next to him at his door. His squad mates ran in and jumped on the still-screaming, scarred man, and quickly subdued him. Chris walked over and began to untie Pacton. When he finished, Pacton, free of the ropes that had been the only things supporting him, slumped forward onto Chris.
“The mission was a success,” thought Chris relieved.
Pacton pushed away from Chris to try to support himself. He started mumbling incoherently, almost crying, that he did not know where the informant was. Chris told him to relax. “You are safe now.”
At that point, Capt. Mitchell burst in with his half of the squad and secured the room. Seeing that everyone was ready to move out with Pacton, he radioed the helicopter to meet them at a plaza a couple blocks away. With that done, Capt. Mitchell gave the command to move out. Chris, his hearing slowly returning, heard the command and slung his gun over his shoulder and picked up Pacton with his now empty arms. The remaining squad members formed around Chris and escorted them out back out into the night. They took less priority in stealth on the return trip than they had on the way to the building because now, since the noisy conflict was in such contrast with the quiet city, the whole military knew they were there. Sirens screamed their shrill alarms, and sounds of commanders shouting at their troops to assemble sounded in the night. The squad was going to have to battle its way to the comforting solace of the helicopter.
Sure enough, when they rounded the next street corner, gunfire erupted from down the street. Debris from the wall peppered the squad as they returned fire and detoured down an adjacent alley way. As they neared the end of the pathway, the captain turned and commanded that the team was to hide wherever they could. Chris wondered why he said this, but he obeyed. He drew into the depths of the shadows in a doorway and tried to make himself and Pacton as small as possible.
All of a sudden, a whole regiment of soldiers came running down the alley way at full sprint. Chris held his breath. He heard his heart pounding in his ears. If they found him, he was dead.
But, luckily, the soldiers didn’t give as much as a glance into the shadows in the alley. They were bent on accosting the Americans they thought were on the street. The captain motioned for everyone to continue on once the soldiers had passed, and they continued on to the landing zone in the plaza. This time, they stuck to the alley ways to avoid confrontation.
They weren’t far from the landing zone now. It was just one more block away. There was a problem though. In order to get to the plaza, they had to cross one more street, which was bound to be crawling with soldiers and snipers on the lookout.
The captain looked back at his squad and said with all of the charisma and courage he could muster, “We are going to have to just sprint it, men. Good luck.”
The road was a mere thirty feet across, but every man knew this wasn’t going to be easy. The squad burst out of the alley all at once like a swarm. Every man was sprinting as fast as he could. Chris could hear the sound of guns firing. “Just twenty more feet.” He could hear bullets whistling past his head and all around his body. “Just fifteen more feet.” Pacton was like a lead weight in his arms. He seemed to grow heavier with every step. “Just ten more feet.”
Then, all Chris feels is pain. He feels the sheer agony of a bullet ripping through his shoulder. He stumbles and nearly drops Pacton. The world seems to slow down as Chris is blinded by pain. He feels warm blood seeping onto his chest. Slowly looking up, he can see the helicopter at the end of the alley. There was his freedom from this pain. That was his goal. He had to get there.
The adrenaline pumping in his veins nulls the pain to a dull annoyance and urges him to go on. His squad mates are astonished to see Chris, who is covered in blood, stand up and begin to run down the alley again as if nothing had happened.
The last few minutes pass in a haze to Chris. He and the squad emerge from the opposite end of the alley into the plaza and run towards the open bay door of the helicopter. Bullets were flying everywhere, but Chris didn’t notice. He didn’t notice anything then. His body was in flight mode and he knew nothing except to get into the helicopter.
Upon the arrival of the squad inside the bay of the helicopter, the pilot prepares to take off. Chris is the last one to make it in. He stumbles in as the doors to the helicopter close behind him. When his body realizes that it had reached its destination, the adrenaline surging through his veins gets shut off. He drops Pacton and falls to the floor in a bloody heap next to his companion. The helicopter medics rush to his aid.
Looking around, Chris sees the worried looks on everyone around him. The captain was taking instructions from the medics on what to do and everyone was doing what they could do to help. But Chris knows that all of their attempts at saving him were futile. He knows that he is in trouble. He can feel his life ebbing away second by second. As the relieving darkness surrounds him in its comforting embrace, Chris takes one final glance at the man he came here for.
He sees the swollen face of Pacton, contorted in what the man could manage as a smile, and the mouthed words, “Thank you.”

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