If It Wasn’t For the Bad Guys

The jungle is a fascinating place. It was never one of my chosen vacation spots, but because I had to be there, I was able to see the jungle in its entirety, so to speak, from an objective point of view.

From a distance, like from 1,000 feet up in the sky sitting in a helicopter, the place is a paradise. I remember watching a movie where one of the main characters said the same thing. The only difference was that I was actually there in person, not in front of a boob tube.

Being there in person had its ups and downs. For starters, you feel the weather. The humidity, heat, the rain, the wind (if there were any). Then there were the foliage. Lots of foliage. There were walls of foliage. Unbelievable amount of foliage. In some places, it was so thick it was totally impassible.

Then there were the inhabitants, not the human kind. The creepy crawly kind. They were everywhere. For instance, if you had to cross a pond on foot, you had to check yourself for leeches. The best way to get rid of them, as it was shown to me, was to light up a cigarette and burn them off your skin.  I hate leeches. They give me the creeps.

We were also told; if you were going to take a drink from your canteen under a tree, keep the opening covered. Why? There are parasites that would fall from the tops of trees and fall onto you, and might fall into your canteen without you knowing. Some of those bastards that feed off you, believe it or not, were the very leeches that I hate. They follow you, moving like a slinky through the trees. Then there were those damn centipedes and the millipedes. If one of those ever bit you, well, good luck. There were times we’d be near a body of standing water and we’d be there for a couple of days. We hated that, too. The jungle mosquitoes are something else. I swear they can suck a pint of blood out of you before you realize you’ve been bit.

If the insects weren’t bad enough, you would move up the animal hierarchy onto creatures like cobras and snakes that can fly. I actually saw one of the old timers shoot one right out of the sky as it was flying from a tree to another tree with a shotgun. That’s how I was introduced to them. Fortunately, my unit and I never came across the man-eating big cats that were known to inhabit the region where we were.

There was a time when I mistook a bullet flying by my ear with a mosquito until I realized that it was daylight and hell broke out right after. I had questioned my own sanity when I started to get confused between a bug and the start of a firefight.

I went to my X.O. to see if I was losing my mind, like in shell shock or something. He reassured me, “Yup, you have lost your mind, but not to worry, we’ve all been there and if not, you’ll get there soon enough.”

I walked out of Scepter’s office with a bitter-sweet taste in my mouth. Then I realized, we were intruding in a world not our own, but one ruled by Mother Nature. We didn’t belong there. If it wasn’t for the bad guys, we would never had to be there in the first place.

Silence Isn’t Golden

I often reflect back and reminisce my time in the jungle and realize how much of what I developed into is still with me here and now. By that, I mean all the habits I brought back with me. The habits that I didn’t know I had developed.

One of the loudest sounds one hears in the jungle is the sound that of a twig breaking under one’s foot. It usually happens at the worst possible moments. It happens to almost everyone. It’s a sound that is always followed by a look that says, “What the fuck? Are you trying to get us killed?” kind of look from the rest of the crew.

The old timers were completely used to finding the twigs that would make those sounds. They were also experts in finding the best camouflaged booby traps, too. They would even show us how to spot them by making those damn fishing line traps that would have killed the unknowing. Every time I’d go out on a walk and unintentionally step on a twig and break it, a chill runs down my back, even today.

The worst sound that I remember is the one that will haunt me for the rest of my life. It is a sound that some would prefer over the other kinds of noises. I didn’t know that I had developed this anxiety causing phenomena until it was brought to my attention by my wife.

One would assume that the jungle is a very noisy place. I’ve heard that open ocean divers say that under the water is a very noisy place and I assumed that the jungle would be very similar. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

If a predator was nearby, all the animals in the near vicinity becomes silent. When we were out on a job, I expected the local animals went silent to escape detection from us, the presumptive predator.

Every so often, we’d find a suitable place to settle in to wait for the bad guys to come our way. Eventually, the birds would start to sing again and other noises would come up reassuring us that everything was ok, that nothing bad was near. Until all the noises stop.

When all the noises stop, the lack of all auditory sensation is absolutely deafening. It is so loud that it hurts your entire body. It was the sign that said something bad was out there, close.

You wanted to maintain that silence, just like the birds and whatever else that was nearby. That just made it that much harder to tolerate the deafening silence. You’d hear your heartbeat in your ear and that was pretty loud, too, but even if it exploded inside you, you kept it silent.

Only after the first shots rang out, only after your body jerked from the loud explosion from one of the weapons you realize everything went back to normal. Then all the tolerable shouting and the yelling and all the sounds of a firefight finally releases you from the grip of the deafening silence.

I can’t find the strength to keep my house totally quiet like how my wife wants it to. I have to have some sort of ambient noises coming from somewhere. My wife knows the need I have of some sort of noise in our home and I appreciate that. I do my best to return her understanding of my needs, but I know she’ll never know how difficult it is for me to tolerate silence.

Four Hours

We had four hours to get the job done. From the time out hot rod airplane’s landing gear touched down to the moment the wheels lifted off: we only had four hours. So all of the homework needed to be done, and was done.

The SUVs were waiting for use when we landed, with engines running. We ran down the ramp and jumped into our respectable Mekongs (SUVs). We sped through he virtually empty streets, but heavy for the 4AM local time. We arrived at our destination and we got our update: “Increase your alert level all the way up. He’s expecting us.”

“Great”, I said. I was on point.

We move. Two three-man teams surrounded the multistory building. My team and I entered the building. We went directly to the target’s apartment.  French designed building, ornate decorations, and long hallways.

We arrive at the door.

We take places.

I nod and the #3 man opens the door. I walk into a long corridor. A door to my left and the entry way into the living area to my left, two more closed doors at the end of the corridor. Is top and clear the living area, then I proceed to the end of the hallway. I sense something. The target is in the room behind the door directly ahead.

My finger automatically slips inside the trigger guard or my Sig. I motion to go directly/straight to the this door and to skip the other one. Not procedure. I motion anyway and we go ahead. I make my place. #2 man opens the door. There he is: sitting in a chair facing the door with a smile on his face and holding a gun to his own head.

I take aim and hear a band. My gun has a silencer… not the right sound. I had shot his pistol out of his hand. #2 and #3 rush in and take the target into custody. One of them said “nice job, Spooky”, as we exited the apartment.

The rest of the team cover our departure and rendezvous at the plane.

At 1 hour and 56 minutes, the wheels lift off. Once at cruising altitude, I hear guys talking about how I broke procedures but somehow I knew where the target was. I hear one of them say: “That’s why they call him Spooky”.

One Last Mission

I’m not a writer. Never wanted to be. What I experienced allows me to put my thoughts on paper. At least I’ll try. I’ll do my best to express the emption that went through people I made contacts with. But what it boils down to is my perspective of the people I met, and how I ended up feeling inside.

I’m hoping that the words that I used and how I use them might ring a bell to those who have had similar experiences. To those who are having a difficult time adjusting to the world: I feel for you. It’s impossible to change what happened, but let me tell you, your former enemies do not hate you. They know why you were there. They don’t blame you. They want to be your friends now.

Remember your DI telling you why you had to train so hard? Respect. Respect your enemies because they’re training as hard as you are so that he can kill you. Remember that? Well, the killing has stopped. It’s been done, gone for a long time now. But respect is still there by the ton. From those who were there, at least. So we have to respect them as well. Now I don’t care what you saw, because they lost way more than we did. Atrocities you say? Remember what you were told: “use extreme prejudice”. They had to use it, to. IT WAS WAR. But it’s over now. Stand down. And I know, it still continues in your mind. Sometimes it goes on in my mind as well.

I have a suggestion, go back in your mind and respect your enemies. The enemies didn’t fail you. They did what they had to do and you did what you had to do. – That should allow you to respect yourself, too. Although the military and your government may have failed you, don’t fail yourself. You did what you had to do. And more and more people of your country are starting to realize what a FUBAR they had created. People are starting to get embarrassed because they realize it was a mistake.

For those who spat on you and called you names, they known know what went on, they weren’t there. They weren’t facing a formidable enemy that commanded respect at the end of the your rifle. They were stupid. They’re starting to realize that.

You need to go on your one last mission: Go collect yourself, get all your gear, get all your shit in one bag, and get your act right and go seek the help you need. Share your stories when you can and don’t let your legacy die in vain.


It was near the end of our training. We were going through an exceptionally grueling section of the specially created course. We were having all the hell beaten out of us. We were so exhausted that we thought we couldn’t pull ourselves up, much less help our buddies next to us.

That’s when I remember hearing our trainer, DI in military terms, yell and spit profanities at us at the other end of our group and slowly coming over to my position, bent over and yelling. He finally gets to where I’m at on my hands and knees. I looked up and catch him turning his head towards the back, where he’s been. He straightened up as he did that. Then he knelt down and put his face to my ear.

He whispered “I know what you’re made of, and I know what these men here are made of. You don’t need to prove to me a god-damned thing. But you need to suck it up and show your men that you’re made of. Now get the fuck up and show them, NOW!”

As if by magic, I was no longer exhausted. Not even tired. I pulled myself up, helped the guy next to me and went down the line helping anyone who needed it.

We made it back to the barracks before sunrise. We were in platoon formation and marched back to our huts. We must of looked like a bunch of homeless orphans, but I don’t think anyone was more proud than our DI.

I sometimes forget how hard it was. Occasionally, I remember it. I remember how I decided to suck it up and go on. I remember that magical moment when I was no longer exhausted.

Never would I have even imagined that learning how to suck it up back there would have such an impact on me now.