Chasing Alpha – Chapter ONE
It is a trodden cliche’ but still holds true according to the best of philosophers: history is written by the winners. Despite what actually did eventually (d)evolve, they were winners; bar none. It was a group of people who came together under circumstances which were astronomic, and even catastrophic. All with their own reasons, and united. United to become a single-minded group in which they flourished. They most likely would have been written about in the journals of history, if they in fact did physically exist. As individuals and people, the naturally actually existed; possibly even larger than life itself; but not on the same plane in which their exploits exploded much larger than either of them could have individually thought.
If it was the real world which all this happened, military schools in every direction would be forcing disgruntled cadets to memorize random facts about this team. Despite the final outcome, they won and won. ‘Full of win,’ is how some who existed in that realm described this group; more often than not. A phrase resting in the quasi-elite lexicon of which this team of blood brothers was best known: amongst gamers.
As mentioned, each member of this team was real and tangible – even the actual squad, but they took things a step further. Most often people imagine applied knowledge of a soldier amongst civilian life to be a terrible thing. Some could debate as to the effect of if they were amongst the actual society, or assimilated. Maybe in all, they were more a pod. A cocoon to collectively protect this clan, and shield out the things which could have devastated each and every one of them: society, past trauma, and even life itself in some small aspect. When in the heat of the moment, they were of one mind – almost telepathic with their understanding of one another. What they couldn’t communicate with thought, they left to their own cryptic phrases. Seemingly common words of their native tongue, but rearranged to form nothing but gobbledygook when heard by an outsider of this clan. Each and every word could be found in any standard dictionary, but each sentence as a whole made absolutely no sense. It was a perfect code. One which didn’t even have to be encrypted. Their language was a code which hid in the wide open.
The times of each of these men waxed and waned individually; with their own lives, experiences, and lessons learned – some the hard way while others more cushy.
Their singular apex was in unison. In symphonic terms, they were a concerto. Not a cacophony, not any one person vying to be the soloists. They individually had their own shining moments, and there were times each were called up to instinctively take the reins. Bear in mind, this was not the case for the entire regiment. Those being spoken of were the cream of the crop – rather, the richest of that cream.
These men spoken of. They all did start out as individuals. They were assimilated into a multitude of soldiers; who were designated, group by group, into different divisions – basically to be assimilated yet again. Most choose to enter the military, however, the life of the military within seldom affords the luxury of choice as far as the entry level soldier is concerned.
The individuals were lumped into a much larger group, then deployed across the sea – into a battle which has been called everything from a conflict to a battle, and even a modern day crusade – that is, those who are historians or philosophers; cut from a similar cloth who contemplate on who writes the history.
War is not a term often even used for where these men ended up. The word ‘war’ did end up getting lobbed around as casually as a pitcher warming up for a ball game hours ahead of the start. Sticklers for grammar even mused whimsically. Yes, there was the word war. But it was the context; or where it was actually placed within a sentence. It was most often a war geared towards an ideal, not a place or particular country. With the convoluted text in which the word ‘war’ was placed, the only solace was the fact the soldiers themselves were not the target for any scrutiny by large. The soldiers were not the ones in which the blame or hatred was directed. It was almost as cloudy as the term of war. It was politics who took the brunt of such blame. Grammarians reveled in their own circle of joy when pondering this concept: blaming a collective thought or idea, not the people for which the idea itself stemmed from.
Politics were by and large the furthest thing on the mind of most soldiers. They each had much larger things weighing against their brains: self preservation; following orders; sense of duty. It was a microcosm of each and every one. The here and now rather than what could be or what may have been. All of them had nothing more on their mind than having a multitude of versions of the phrase ‘failure not being a viable option’ – drilled incessantly into their shaven heads.
It was from this wide cross-section in which those spoken of came from. They were thinned down, bit by bit. They went from an almost faceless mass into those few dots of light which shone brighter than the rest; whether by performance, personality, or a combination of the two. Bit by bit, people were weeded out – some intentionally, but sometimes involuntary as well. The term ‘casualties of war’ is highly accurate… Even if the term of the word ‘war’ itself is being debated. The world waits for no one; and this includes grammar.
Sometimes new people would join the regiment, but these things made no difference to those who already stepped into the next level. They were still a team as a whole, and each had pride in their own division – just as if each was a separate hometown team which its followers were loyal to: loyal to the death.
In the terms of black and white, combat is about death. Winning and losing; battles and lives. In those times of high stakes; a soldier may learn in a briefing room; but is taught by tragedy. Whether by a superior or by a mistake in combat, soldiers are weeded as the dandelions from the flowers. None of the men in this superlative division were plucked by a man, however.
Raids; battles; trials by the fire of the barrels of guns. These men rose and rose; to any one of numerous occasions. A dozen of them, give or take. And give they did – some more literally, and others by figurative means. As it was previously stated, not all who left the group did it by the volition of a person. Call it what you will: conflict, war, peacekeeping mission. When a bullet soars or a piece of shrapnel hurls with the intensity of a javelin through, it pierces just the same. It is an undisputed situation of a pen succumbing to the sword. What befell these men weren’t from anyone’s inked quill: the dozen, give ore take, mentioned.
They took on what the average enlisted man may not have dared – if that person was of average mind, or had self preservation as a ‘top five’ trait. In all truth, some of what this group did to prove themselves were volunteer missions. As that mental image of a line being drawn and the men symbolically stepping across. It wasn’t really done that way – not in this day and age. It was more like a tap on the shoulder from behind. Tap, question, answer: simple as that. It became customary for this group to not even be asked after a while. Tap; collected; briefed; sent. Slap; cock; fire. Of the dozen, it was not as if they all had the same role. Some covered, some countered, and some went in head first with no turning back. Neither of them has an issue as to who took what role – so long as it ended in their favor. This was a place where the odds were stacked against these men. There is a reason why sports embrace the concept of a ‘home field advantage.’ No amount of preparation can get anyone ready for a situation of a foreign country. There was no room for reflecting or in-fighting when soldiers have these most dire of straits in what seemed to be a continuous basis. This was all volunteer work, after all – whether it always seemed to be or not, it appeared that way on paper.
One of the greatest poets in the world of folk uttered the simple words, “things have changed” in his melodic, almost spoken style of song – which garnered him cinematic laurels. Three words. The shortest sentence in the English language is, II am.’ However, the three words spoke many more volumes. Especially as the theme on the changing landscape of battle.
In the primitive stages of the late twenty or twenty-first century’s warfare, there became a schism. Perhaps because of the world going more global, or just to help ease the burden of public relations people, there was a different direction taken in combat; much of it to the overall chagrin of those placing themselves in harm’s way. The military converted much of their order of business to asking questions before firing shots, even if the person being asked is holding a machine gun. Not the most intelligent of odds when going on a strict logistics standpoint. But it was a peacekeeper mentality which presented the most palpable danger.
The word embedded was never so prevalent outside of video within an internet domain; not until this new ethos on the battlefield. It was not just the journalists and photographers. It was also the time of the ‘tour guide’ as many of the enlisted said about these people. It was similar to the Disney attraction where a trolling jungle boat takes the passengers through an ambiguous tropical region. Through this allegedly unassuming cruise, a hippopotamus lunges out towards the spectator; while the swarthy pith helmeted boat docent fires at the hippo, causing it to descend back into the water: either killed or scared away; depending the generation who partook in the ride. The analogy being how this native embedded with the soldiers was there to protect the soldiers; just as the boat guide. However, this incarnation of the hippo was brandishing an AK-47. The guide was defenseless, and couldn’t retaliate. There was a heavy fear of the unknown. Was their embedded local really working for the same side as the soldiers? A gram of dissension could quickly become a brickload of intense failure. The word tension would be a mild form of the true feeling which hung in the air. Hoping for the best, but anticipating the worst possible outcome in which to defend against. Sometimes the trigger finger was quicker than patience and restraint amongst many squads. Nobody is perfect, and self preservation is an inborn human trait.
There was all of the talk about the proverbial thinning of the herd. The cream being separated from the rest of the stock; and the herd being thinned from any combination between fate, poor planning, or choosing the wrong path when presented with a split second fork in life’s path. The dozen, give or take a few, were not immune to these same odds. However, it was far from a confrontation gone wrong. Sadly it was a bizarre recipe of bad luck, coincidence, and being in the wrong place at the entirely wrong time. It was a split second which later became a split as major in their lives as the delineation which separates recorded history’s ‘Before Christ’ and ‘Anno Domino’ – depending on one’s point of view.
As a whole, that moment is largely unspoken: an imprint of the psyche which no amount of dialogue may be akin to healing it. Nevertheless; it happened, it was a shared experience and ‘the incident’ forever transformed each of the soldiers in their own way. Whether it was one dozen or two dozen; that blindingly quick flash of a moment whittled an entire division down to five. They are five who are labelled as either lucky or unlucky, depending on who the person is referring to- Towards any one of the five who remained.
What happened afterwards transcended what anyone else could foresee. It was a world in which nobody had ever cracked in such a constant and consistent way. It was not something that came easy, or came overnight. Yet it was a similar ethic of hard work, persistence, and determination – along with their applied knowledge from within training and out in the trenches. An tale which had many peaks; which propelled the spirits of this team beyond their emotional stratosphere. It also had its own fleeting moments of valleys: however, those in some ways were the worse. Not only feeling like a pernicious plunge on a roller coaster, but a furrow cut deep into the hearts of all the meritorious men who served in that special squad.
Each of the five men who survived the ordeal touched upon in the previous passages took it upon themselves to put this tale into their own words; an account of events told from the vantage point of five separate individuals. Not just five random people or historians looking from an objective standpoint. This is from the five who saw the tale of shooters from a first person perspective. These are their stories. What they remember, even what they don’t recall with such crystal recollection. They are not naturally born linguists.
They are the every man who represent a more accurate sampling of those who enter the service. They hold a mirror to themselves, their endeavor, and the dirt and grime – and sad – which made up the collective good intentions in which caused the men and women of nations to travel to the inhospitable region amongst the sand, mountains, and rock. The dirty villages and nomads doing nothing more than trying to survive. The common people who are oppressed, and their oppressors. The loyalists, the turncoats. Even those who straddle the fence between what is referred to as ‘or’ and ‘their’ side. How can a reader know words such as those splayed across the page can be held as such; pure of intent? Because I am one of these very five.
All of the words are as unadulterated as possible, and each chapter is from of the five who went through this story. Their own words; to let the mood shines though as genuinely as possible. The idea is not to focus as much on the techniques, geography, or elements of combat. Rather it was the idea of the eyes behind the scopes of the weapons. The triumphs and casualties of the human condition are far more interesting and insightful; if not even inspiring; than tales of death, destruction or fleeting moments of victory – always subject to which side one was on. To see history or actions through the eyes of a participating party is what captivates more oft than cold, hard facts. Knowing a time or location of a skirmish in the Civil War is nothing compared to reading about from the trenches: one man’s opinion or viewpoint while recanting what he witnessed to his family, or loved on back home. The human condition is what tugs at the collective heartstrings of humanity; not who took the most lives when.
Speaking of life over death is almost a paradox when speaking of what this group did. They were not trying to take lives, or slay. Not in the service. And the lives they did seize; quenching their post-war’s team thirst for victory- As laid out before, those were tales from another realm. Some of them died as heroes. None of them died as cowards.
If the highs and lows of the human spirit and unimaginable odds are not the type of story to hold a person’s interest, then this is the point of the train in which such passengers are strongly encouraged to disembark. To the contrary… Those who enjoy following a group of people into a world unseen by most of the population. Those who have a sense of intrigue and a genuine interest in rooting for people who have the best of intentions… This would be the time to hold onto that shiny, metallic pole of the subway; bracing as best as possible while watching everything in the periphery blur to oblivion. Ride the light, and try to keep up.