0230 hours, February 3rd
The Blackhawk helicopter circled the carrier once before it touched down on the darkened ﬂight deck. As the ship’s ﬂight-deck crew hustled to tie it down, the side access-door slid open and a large man stepped into the doorway. When the crewman gave him the all-clear signal, he crouched a little and stepped down onto the steel non-skid deck.
He was dressed in black rip-stop fatigues; his shirt and bloused trousers bore no emblems, nametags, or other identifying insignia. On his right hip, he wore a holstered nine-millimeter Berretta pistol, with extra magazine pouches attached to the belt worn around his waist. Slung across his back he carried a sawed-off pump shotgun, modiﬁed with an eight shot magazine and laser sight. He had a large bayonet on his left hip and a razor sharp dive knife strapped to the inside of his left forearm. In his left hand, he carried a medium-sized black-nylon equipment bag. As always, his right hand was empty—a by-product of readiness training.
As he moved away from the door, he turned and motioned to the interior of the chopper. Immediately, ﬁve similarly dressed shadows hopped down onto the deck and made their way to the ﬁrst man; each of the ﬁve armed with a different type of automatic weapon or shotgun. They carried two large equipment boxes, as well as individual bags similar to that of the ﬁrst man.
Once they were a safe distance from the rotating blades, they stopped and placed their cargo on the deck beside them. The ﬁrst man stood erect and stretched a little to loosen the kinks accumulated during the ninety-minute ﬂight.
His physical appearance was as impressive as the equipment he carried. He was tall at six-foot three, but weighed a trim two-hundred twenty pounds. His features were hard and chiseled, typical of his Native American ancestry. Straight black hair, a little too long for regulations, was combed back from his face. Instead of standard issue dog tags, he wore a narrow leather strap necklace on which hung a bear’s claw and two owl feathers. The talisman was the source of his spiritual strength and he was never without it.
Strong gray eyes glanced around at his immediate surroundings. He waited as a ﬂight-deck crewman in a long-sleeved yellow sweatshirt approached to guide him to the brieﬁng room.
The sailor stopped, offered to take the bag and said, “Lieutenant Lonetree?”
Lieutenant Edward James (E.J.) Lonetree nodded but indicated that he preferred to carry his gear bag.
“OK, sir, if you’ll follow me, I’ll take you to the Ready Room.” With that, the sailor turned and started toward the ship’s superstructure, unofﬁcially called: the Island.
The Lieutenant turned to the dark shape standing next to him, “Find a safe spot for our gear, Jones and stand by until I return.”
“Aye aye, sir.” With that said, the dark shape barked an order at the others and immediately the gear was moved to an area behind the island. The Lieutenant followed the ﬂight-deck crewman toward a hatch.
Once inside, they started down the ladders to the next deck. They passed few people on the way, which suited Lonetree ﬁne. He always seemed to create a stir when he walked around dressed for a mission. It was something he accepted but preferred not to exploit like some of his friends in the Teams, who enjoyed perpetuating the mystique created by Hollywood. There were actually very few who acted like the character portrayed by Charlie Sheen in the movie, Navy Seal. Mostly, they were just above-average men who lived for a challenge and enjoyed being part of a dedicated group. The chance to work together during a mission was exciting and challenging. It bonded the guys like a family.
During his twenty years with SEAL teams, there had been quite a few missions, but this was his ﬁrst one in command. He was looking forward to getting started, and his men were ready for action. The only problem was the thought of working with someone he did not know. The brieﬁng he received on Warrant Ofﬁcer Turner told him a lot about the man; a top-notch EOD tech, no question, but E.J. was still apprehensive using someone with no actual combat experience.
They made their way through the narrow passageway aft until they entered Ofﬁcers’ Country. The change was immediately obvious. The tiled deck was inlaid with squadron logos, command names, the “knee-knockers” were buffed to a high shine, and all handrails and hatch handles had been wrapped with decorative knotted line. The boatswain mates kept themselves busy here.
At the end of the corridor was the Carrier Air Group Ready Room. The crewman opened the door for Lonetree and then departed. The Lieutenant stepped in and set his bag down on one of the seats on the front row.
This space was decorated to give the illusion of comfort. The steel bulkheads were covered with walnut paneling; the overhead, with all its piping and valves, was hidden by a suspended ceiling of acoustic tiles. On the bulkhead to his immediate left were the ofﬁcial photographs of the Commanding Ofﬁcers and pilots of the helicopter squadrons onboard, as well as the Admiral and his staff. There was a map of Ras al Faylakah and a chart of the current operating area on the chalkboard at the front of the room. He was inspecting the former when the door opened and Lieutenant Commander Hazslip and an Army Major entered.
Lonetree smiled at the Major and extended his hand for a ﬁrm handshake. The Major returned both gestures and the two exchanged an exuberant greeting.
“Goddamn, Tonto, it’s good to see you again!” Major Stevens remarked as he released his grasp on Lonetree’s hand. He had called him Tonto ever since they met and E.J. did not mind. “How long’s it been…four…no, six years. Panama wasn’t it? Boy’d we have a great time or what?”
“Slow down, sir; one question at a time.” Lonetree smiled at his friend. “You’re right, it’s been six years; and, yes it was Panama, but I don’t exactly remember it being all that much fun, at least for you. And I don’t remember you as a Major. Congratulations.”
“And to you as well, I understand,” Major Stevens said.
“Yeah; I guess they’ll make anyone an ofﬁcer.” E.J. joked.
He liked Major Pat Stevens, a Mustang ofﬁcer from the Rangers who had proved himself in Vietnam many times over. Like him, he had fought his way up through the ranks to fulﬁll a personal goal and to get his commission. E.J. could relate to that.
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