We brothers knelt in a circle around our winding up Black Hawk taxis. It was fairly early evening, but fully cloaked in darkness by this hour. We faced in toward the choppers, as the rotor wash pushed hard against our chests and faces. I chuckled as I busted the men to my right and left, as they flared their bodies and leaned into the stiff wind, enjoying a mock free-fall experience. All the brothers did it, including myself; it was just too irresistible.
Through the chopper cargo compartment a red light circled several times. The boys slapped each other on the back or arms, indicating that it was load time. We piled into the mercilessly small cargo compartment, and fought to find a comfortable posture, for once the chopper was full, there would be no possibility of adjusting your position for the duration of the ride.
The destination: Brasseaux, an approximate 40 minute flight—not bad! The target: a hijacked airliner with 150 hostages, and rumored six crows (enemy) from the Ba’ad Salat Iddhur terror faction. Great, a linear target; a ‘tube room’ objective. This is a mission charter shared by no other organization in the United States.
Our troop leadership scribbled on slates bathed in soft red light, and passed the slates around the helo. I got my turn; it was a schematic of the Brasseaux Municipal Airport, indicating where on the flight line the airline was held up, and where we would land, such that we would avoid detection by the crows on the aircraft. I awarded an internal chuckle to Sam’s cartoon sketch. Well, after all it didn’t need to be pretty, just accurate.
Our birds flared hard for touchdown, as our assault boots clapped onto the tarmac. We spread around the helo in a defensive security posture, as our helo hardly bounced long enough for us to exit. Our three hawks bored off into a dark horizon, followed by a swarm of AH and MH-6 Little Birds.
To our flank, a row of (no kidding) dump trucks pulled up and halted. “Climb in, guys! If we had had more frequent flyer miles, we could have gotten you something nicer!” We clambered up the sides of the trucks and packed in, standing with gun barrels bristling over the sides. Our trucks chugged at a decent speed to what obviously was a hangar—home sweet home countless times.
Once the convoy stopped and the order to disembark cried out, my bud Cos leaned out and hollered to the driver: “Hey… can you pull the lever and just dump us out the back?”
That actually sounded like fun, but Cos was a jokester, as he fancied himself.
We quick-stepped to keep up with our troop leaders who marched us into the hangar, looking like a sound ass-whipping was in store for somebody, somewhere. We would deliver to anybody, it didn’t matter, so long as a delivery would be made. It was an anticlimactic insult to come this far and turn back; all kitted up and no place to go!
We took on a quick intel dump and and began to configure ladders for the assault. How the ladders magically appeared, I have no clue; they must have been transported over land. These were no ordinary ladders; these were highly sophisticated ladders that were designed specifically based on our requirements.
They were made of sturdy aircraft aluminum. They were adjustable to increments of as small as four inches at a time. They were padded on all rungs and top extremities, and they had spikes on the feet to prevent slippage. Some were single-wide, and others were double wide, to allow men to position two abreast, closer to the aircraft entrances.
Our A-team specialized in the main entrance, the left front passenger door. For that I was thankful. My team would be going in over the wing exit. For that we used a simple static ladder that we would lay against the wing and climb on over the flaps, to approach the exits.
Sam and I helped our other teams configure the ladders. Another internal chuckle rocked me as I looked up at Sam working on the ladder. I was put in mind of the time I drove by his house one weekend to see Sam two floors up painting his house… perched on a high-tech aircraft ladder. I stopped my car and stared until he looked at me, at which point I just grinned and shook my head in disbelief. Sam grinned and shrugged, and continued painting. Big boy rules, right?
Our target aircraft was a Boeing 737 with 150 passengers on board. Based on the cargo, the passengers, and the amount of fuel weight calculations, we gave the ladders a preliminary height adjustment. With hope, they would reach to a decent distance from the door thresholds. If not, the ladder would have to be lowered and adjusted at the aircraft, something none of us wanted to do.
Reports came in that the aircraft was NOT pressurized, meaning we could effect a simple mechanical breach. That was good news. Breaching a pressurized fuselage meant more sophisticated and ‘energetic’ means to gain entry.
It was summer. The aircraft’s Auxiliary Power Unit APU was running to keep the interior cooled and air circulating, as well as lights and other electronics functioning. It actually was in our favor as well, as the whine of the APU would drown out the sound on any incidental noise we created, something we trained like lunatics to prevent.
All white lights on weapons were covered with a red filter, or an Infrared (IR) cap. White light was absolutely forbidden on night operations. An Accidental Discharge (AD) of white light, a ‘White Light AD’ was treated as harshly as the accidental discharge of one’s firearm, an error that meant immediate discharge from the Unit. Thought there was potential to return for a relook after one year, it was not guaranteed.
Our force lined up for movement in the dark, lined up in order of door teams, facing the target aircraft, and down on one knee. All was quiet. Nobody moved. Nobody spoke. Everybody stared forward waiting for a red light signal to move.
And then it came.
A red light rising three times from our front. We all stood together, teams shouldered their ladders, and we crept steady toward the rear the dark target silhouette. All window blinds were closed, and there were two crows in the cockpit with the flight crew. This our long gunners reported to us from their positions on the tarmac, 45 degrees to the left and right front of the bird, peering through Leupold sniper scopes.
“HALT” came a command over our earbuds, and the entire formation froze in unison. The main passenger door had been thrown open, and a crow was yelling something unintelligible, save the profanity. Only a very few minutes went by, when our snipers bade us clear to move forward. The red light set us off forward again.
Our two columns converges as we moved smoothly under the giant tail of the aircraft. Here, the APU’s howl was deafening. As the front teams neared the nose of the aircraft they diverged outward again, to avoid moving directly under the radio altimeters on the belly of the aircraft. All of the metal we carried could cause the altimeter in the cockpit to suddenly jump, potentially compromising our position to a vigilant crow there.
Maintain station in the sweet spot along the sides of the aircraft, all teams halted and took a knee under their assigned door. The sweet spot, is a distance that you did not exceed out to the sides of the aircraft, where someone looking down from one of the passenger windows could potentially spot you. All eyes were to the front, waiting for that puckering command: ’RAISE LADDERS’.
And then it came.
We went to work. Six teams with six sets of ladders went up slowly. Our wing ladder was a piece of cake to employ. Just keep it close to the skin of the aircraft, and the flat angle made it easy to climb, almost without hands, if you were in a spirited mood. Everyone was in just that, after all.
With all ladders up, we knelt waiting for the second most puckering command: ‘CLIMB’.
Oh, and I did hate it for them so, our E team’s ladder slowly came down to the tarmac; it had come out to short. E team worked swiftly and smoothly. Not so much as a pin dropped.
And then it came: ‘CLIMB’
(continued in parts II and III)