“30 seconds, 30 seconds.”
I hear the time hack called through my ear protection and helmet as our Suburban rolls at high speed, locked and loaded through the desert. Terrain is sparse and bare: undulating hills with block houses and dirt patches as far as the horizon. The city is the desert and the desert is the city; There is no distinction in terrain or color. We’re moving fast, the sensation of speed magnified by proximity to the ground. This and the fact that I’m standing on the extended running board at the rear right position outside the suburban has my heart rate elevated and a broad smile across my face.
“10 seconds, 10 seconds.”
The call is repeated by the mission team leader in the lead vehicle of our two-vehicle assault element. Other team members and I have just enough time to do final gear checks— press checking rifles confirming they’re “hot,” re-verifying that optics are on and working, and a quick visual re-check that no mission-essential gear has fallen during our trip to the target. Not that it would matter. Time’s up.
“Go, go, go.”
The team leader didn’t need to say it. The rapid deceleration and sudden stop of the up-armored Suburban served as an easy and simple indicator. Step off the board. Hit the ground running. We’re on target and it’s time to move. My boots hit the ground as I hop from my spot at the rear of the lead assault vehicle and I make my way toward our initial breach point. In front of me, my team members bring up their rifles and scan the area of the surrounding rooftops and pathways—areas meant to serve as streets and thoroughfares, but that are no more than alleys and cart paths. I can see people on the objective. Are they friendlies? They’re focused on what we’re doing with a casual observance—a tilt of the head and an expression of wonder and disbelief. It reminds me of when you’re driving through the heartland of America past miles and miles of crop land and come across a random piece of abandoned farm machinery, baked by the sun, derelict, sitting in the middle of a field. You look at it, recognizing it for what it is but also registering that it’s not supposed to be there but you say to yourself anyway, “why wouldn’t it be…”