“Diamondback 3-2, this is Diamondback 1-1 do you copy, over?” the ever familiar crackle of the radio broke the calming silence, as it tended to do, much to the dismay of Chief Conrad. She found herself lost in thoughts once more as she scanned the jagged rocks of the Afghan mountainside looking for potential enemy targets through the viewfinder of her Apache’s weapon system. “Wake up down there, 3-2.” Her partner’s voice came next, as it often did when she drifted. “Diamondback 1-1, this is 3-2, go ahead with your traffic, over.” she replied. “3-2, you are cleared to engage those recoilless rifles, over.” That was all she needed to hear; she could retreat back into her own little world again, back to that place she needed to be at in order to do what she was about to do.
She’s been doing it for two years now, but it never makes it any easier. They may just be glowing green shapes in her eyes, but the reality is that they are living breathing humans down there. At least, for a little while longer anyway. “3-1, 3-2 do you see those two guys under that brush? I see two more just to the left near the rocks also, copy?” her partner said, again. He seemed to always point out the obvious, though she had to respect his willingness to help out, even though this part was her job. “Roger, I see them 3-1, engaging now.” She set her sight reticles around the first group of two Taliban fighters, the ones operating the recoilless rifle. They appeared oblivious to the fact that in just moments, molten hot lead would be raining down on them and tearing their bodies apart. Or maybe, they just wanted to get their last few shots off on the Forward Operation Base down in the valley before the inevitable.
“Diamondback 1-1, this is Diamondback 3-2, good contact on the first recoilless rifle. We are circling back around to get a better angle on the remaining two targets. Over.” Her response was as steady and calm as ever. “Copy, 3-2, target is destroyed, over.” The Apache made a controlled loop back around so that she could make another visual on the two men still left cowering next to the rocks on the cliff. They had just witnessed their comrades shredded to pieces and could do nothing but wait for their turn. If they got up to run, they would only likely trip and fall down the side of the mountain before being killed. All they could do is sit, wait, and pray to their god. And she knew that is exactly what they were doing. “3-1, can you bring us just a little down to the right?” she asked, knowing that he saw exactly the same angle she was asking for. He complied, and it was just a matter of moments before the next targets were to be dispatched from this Earth like the last were.
She locked on to them and pulled the trigger. It was a perfect barrage of fire that could only be achieved by hundreds of hours of practice and real mission objectives. “Perfect shot, 3-2!” her partner said over the radio. “Thank you, 3-1, 3-2 to 1-1, the remaining targets have been eliminated. Scanning the area for any others. Over.” She was relieved to know that the FOB could finally rest now, for the night at least, without having to worry about incoming rounds peppering their buildings. Though she never relished killing Taliban the way the grunts usually did, she could at least take solace in the fact that she was helping protect the soldiers on the ground. That part always made things a little easier for her once her bird, and her feet, were back on the ground.
“Diamondback 3-1, this is Bushwhacker 6, you are to reroute to the grid location marked on your Blue Force Tracker and assist Diamondback 3-3 and Raptor 2-1 in engaging Taliban forces currently disrupting operations in the Azbuin Valley area. How copy, over?” It came as a surprise to hear the Colonel of the Brigade issue an order directly over the communications channel and even more so in that they had already been on patrol for nearly the maximum allotted amount of time. She figured things must have been pretty bad in order for them to risk potential fuel depletion to assist the other units at Azbuin. “Bushwhacker 6, this is Diamondback 3-1, I copy, we are heading out now, over.” he never came off worried over the radio, she thought. “What is this all about?” she asked him over the private channel. “I have no idea, we weren’t even supposed to be supporting Raptor tonight, were we? Why was 3-3 out there?” now he sounded worried. And suddenly, she was too, and that wasn’t normal at all.
The flight from FOB Reaper to the Azbuin Valley seemed to take a lot longer than she had remembered it being before. The uneasiness of having to manage fuel, ammo, and her nerves while having no idea what exactly was going on was suddenly making things very uncomfortable in that cockpit. Radio chatter wasn’t helping things, as the Battalion radio was filled with what sounded like World War 3. Units on the ground were scrambling and talking over each other with the T.O.C trying to break in and keep control. The Brigade radio was just as bad, if not worse with even more units trying to get a word in. It sounded like the Taliban must have launched an unexpected assault in that region and they were about to fly in unprepared. The flight channels weren’t much better, as they couldn’t seem to even make contact with Diamondback 3-3 or Raptor 2-1 to pinpoint their exact locations in the air.
“What a mess this is turning out to be and we aren’t even their yet.” she said to her partner. She knew he wouldn’t appreciate it, as he never appreciated small talk at times like this. “Let’s just stick to finding our people and doing what we need to do to help those on the ground, 3-2, got it?” right on cue, 3-1, she thought. She scanned ahead in her view finder and began to see flashes of gunfire going in and around the mountains and valley. It was coming from multiple directions, and didn’t seem to be focused in a normal pattern. “Hmmm, that’s odd. Take a look at this, 3-1.” He checked her sights and agreed that something about the battle raging in front of them just didn’t click with what they had come to be familiar with. “Not much we can do about it, 3-2. Just be on your toes with those guns for me.”
The closer they got, the more it became clear that the battlefield was buzzing like a hornets nest. Tracer rounds were flying from the valley floor into the mountains and back, but also scattering the hilltops in all different directions. “Bushwhacker 6, this is Diamondback 3-1, we are on scene and requesting targets.” A long pause came before confirmation from the command T.O.C was given. “Uhhh, roger, we need to provide support fire on enemy positions north of friendly encampments. We need to stop them from advancing further, over.” With a clearer sense of direction, she now focused her attention on trying to locate Taliban fighters among the trees, rocks, gunfire, and smoke billowing through the night sky. Her partner did what he could to position the bird in a safe location while she could zero in targets and start taking out the enemy.
Right away we noticed the unusual demeanor of the Taliban fighters on the ground. They weren’t trying to conceal themselves or hide at all like they normally do when engaging troops on the ground. They were spraying machine gun fire both in the direction of the Coalition forces and at what appeared to be civilians coming up the ridge line from the village down below them. “Oh shit, do you see this Dave, they’re killing civilians down there!” she had seen a lot of messed up things so far in her two deployments but was shocked by what she was witnessing enough to lose her military bearing; she was even more shocked to hear him lose his. “What in the hell is going on down there?” he said with the same level of surprise she had in her voice. She knew she had to target the Taliban fighters as quick as she could so that she could stop them from killing any more civilians. Before she had a chance though, she saw one of the Taliban raise his AK and aim it into the chest of an approaching civilian; he fired multiple rounds into the chest of the person. They fell to the ground in a heap, as you’d expect.
But something happened next that she, nor anyone else, would have expected. They got up. They took a chest full of 7.62 rounds and kept on coming. “Did you just see that? Are they on drugs or something? How is that even possible?” she said in disbelief. That’s when things went from unbelievable to downright inconceivable. The same civilian who was shot and kept on moving towards the Taliban fighter reached the man who shot him, through the sights of the Apache, it appeared like the fighter was terrified and doing his best to get away from the civilian. He was struggling and punching at him with all his strength and looked to be in fear of his life, but couldn’t break the grip of the person now latched on to him. That’s when the civilian reared his head back, opened his mouth as wide as possible, lunged down, and latched its mouth around the neck and shoulder area.
“He just took a bite out of that guy!” her partner’s voice crackled over the mic. His focus now seemed to be more on the ground, as the Apache was swaying slightly, making it difficult for her to line up her sights. “3-1, I need you steady us out, so I can get a shot off.” she needed him to calm down, something she never thought she’d have to think. She couldn’t blame him though, even she found it hard to concentrate on her job in light of what they were watching down there. More and more of the civilians from the village were coming up the hill towards the Taliban position and they weren’t paying any attention to the bullets peppering down on them. Bullets were ripping through their bodies and still they lurched forward up the hill as if it was just a mere inconvenience.
The first fighter who had been bitten had been tackled to the ground and now had a few villagers surrounding him, pulling pieces of his flesh off his body with nothing but their hands, and tearing in to him with their jaws. They were literally eating him alive as she watched through her FLIR camera. And more and more of those civilians were approaching the rest of the Taliban position; those fighters had nowhere to run and seemed terrified by the sight of their fallen brother being devoured. But then again, who wouldn’t, she thought to herself. “Bushwhacker 6, this is Diamondback 3-2, we have a situation, the villagers have attacked the enemy targets at our location, break….they appear to be….eating them, over.”
But before she could get a response back from the Commander, an explosion ripped through the fuselage of their Apache, and sent their bird in a violent tail spin. “3-1, we’ve been hit! Stabilize the tail rotor! 3-1!” she failed to get a response back from her partner though. She switched the controls over to panel, and found herself in a fight with physics. The shock had blown out the tail rotors engine and destabilized the entire aircraft, she would have to fight in order to just keep it in the air, let alone be able to make it safely back to base. And that was if she could even get it out of this spin. The smoke from the engines was making it near impossible to even see and she couldn’t tell where they were even heading. Things were not looking good and she was about to make the last radio call any pilot ever wanted to make. “Diamondback 3-3, Bushwhacker 6, this is Diamondback 3-2, we are hit! And going down! Repeat, Diamondback 3-1 is hit and going down!”