Jennifer Widemire Smith
A Time To Serve
Updated: Sep 11, 2020
GLOSSARY OF TERMS (Feel free to skip them if you're proficient in Military Slang)
SEAL—An acronym. SEa, Air, and Land. A unit of the Navy that conducts missions in the sea, air, and/or land. If you don’t know who they are, or what they do by now, you’ve been living under a rock, in the dark. Time to come out and play!
Frogman—A Navy SEAL, AKA an elite warrior, a badass.
Team Guys—Frogmen operate in teams, often referring to themselves as team guys, shooters, or frogmen. SEAL refers to where they do their work, not their identity of being badass, Spartan-like warriors.
LT—Short for Lieutenant. A commissioned naval officer. Fancy words for “has a college degree” or went through Officer Candidate School (OSC).
QRF—Another acronym. Yes there are so many acronyms in the military that even career, lifelong military personnel can’t keep them all straight. Except this one. In the history of all military action, it might be the most important. For every man, woman, and dog who’s ever gone outside the wire knows it: Quick Reaction Force. The military’s version of 911. "Help I’ve fallen and I can’t get up." Only, help comes with armor and machine guns and Mark 19 grenade launchers and Apaches and Black Hawk helicopters. You get in over your head during a firefight? You call the QRF. If you get injured, you call the PJs.
PJ—Another elite class of warriors. Official designation, Pararescuer, with the United States Air Force. If a brother or sister in arms goes down, they will come. Just like the QRF, they also come with armor, weapons, and a helicopter ambulance—so that others may live.
Mikes—Military slang for minutes. Mikes is more easily understood over radio waves than minutes.
Jefferies scanned his sector looking for signs of movement. A curtain pulled back. Livestock rattled by an unfamiliar presence. There were curtains and livestock, but no people. No dust clouds indicating a car coming up the road. Everything was quiet. Too quiet.
“Think everyone’s at prayer?” Remy asked.
Jefferies started to speak, but his tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth. Remy handed him a water bottle, and he took a swig. It tasted like melted plastic, the water only managing to alert him to how much sand was in his mouth, as he felt it crunch between his teeth. It was too hot to afford to waste a drop, so he swallowed, sand and all.
“Either that or they all know something we don't.” He coughed and took another drink.
The water offered no respite from the suffocating heat of Afghanistan. How anything lived, or thrived, here was beyond his understanding.
He scanned his sector once again. “Alpha Three, Six, Five do you see anything?” he asked the three-man sniper team on the roof.
“Nothing but mud buildings, desert shrubs, and trash.”
Jefferies lowered his binos. No signs of the enemy. Maybe their intel was bad. He grabbed some extra water bottles and climbed the questionable ladder they’d rigged to the roof.
“Hey LT,” they said to him, no one actually looking in his direction.
Jefferies low crawled under the camouflage canopy. “Brought you some water. You need anything else?”
“Frozen margaritas would be nice.”
“With some hot senoritas on the side.”
“I’ll get right on that. Cuban cigars while I’m at it?” he replied.
“Oh don’t tease.”
Jefferies laid down on the roof beside his best sniper and said, “Talk me through the lay of the land.”
Alpha Five, who was spotting, took the lead, “We got these buildings directly in front of us—zero movement so far. The market place is directly behind them." He pointed to the right next, "The mosque is down that alleyway, which we have zero line of sight until they exit. It's maybe only five hundred meters east of us. I’m concerned about that alley, LT."
Jefferies angled his M4 rifle and looked at the alley's entrance through the scope. "The building in front of the alley is a brick wall. ISR can't get a line of sight either.” If the enemy has the right toys? Concealed by that alley? “We won’t see them coming until they’re right on top of us.” He looked around the rooftop. “Do you have enough sandbags?” At least they had the high ground. He prayed that would be enough.
“Yeah boss. Nothing to do but hurry up and wait.”
Jefferies looked at his watch. “My guess is they’re waiting for the civilians to crowd the streets before they launch."
The snipers’ sighs could be heard, but they didn’t actually move. “Fucking bastards. What the hell are they fighting for, a scorched earth? It’s sure as hell not to protect their own people.”
“So let’s send them to their seventy-two virgin hell.” Jefferies replied.
“Hooyah,” they all affirmed.
Jefferies climbed down the ladder into the dark, hotter-than-hades mudroom that was two stories from ground level. His insides felt baked from being in the partial sunlight.
He looked at the four men in the room crouched around their respective perches inside the tiny-as-shit apartment. If you could even call a dwelling structure in Afghanistan an apartment. More like four mud walls, with mud floors, mud ceilings, sticks, and rugs where window glass should be, that all stank of shit, livestock, and body odor mixed with spices.
Waiting was always the hardest part. He looked across the room, each man just as bored, but still at the ready. Time to initiate the new guy a little.
“Let’s play Truth or Bullshit.” Jefferies gave a sideways glance at Remy, his comms guy, to go first.
Remy gave a curt nod as Jefferies took up his position again, ready to go if his snipers made contact. It was still too quiet.
Remy addressed Joey, “The game, Young Padawan, should you choose to play, is simple. Guess which of the following stories is the truth...”
“...And which one is the lie. Got it,” Joey finished.
Jefferies sent a knowing glance at Bones, his chief. In fact, all the men in the room were smiling. Joey walked right into the ambush Jefferies was setting, checkmate kid.
Remy continued, “So, no shit. There we were surrounded on all sides by enemy fighters, bullets popping overhead, completely pinned down. We called QRF, but they were delayed. So we looked around searching for an idea to pull our asses out of the pickle we were in. I glanced to my right, and the sun glinted off this trumpet. It was just sitting there on the rooftop." He laughed. "I swear to God, a fucking trumpet." He kissed his hand to heaven. "The Chief tossed me the thing covered in God knows what, and asked, ‘Didn’t you play in a marching band once upon a time?'”
“A band geek? Really?” Joey asked.
“With braces, and we’ve got the picture to prove it.” Bones winked.
“So, what did you do with it?”
Remy shrugged. “I played the cavalry charge.”
Bones cracked himself up laughing, “The opposing force thought fucking John Wayne was coming and scattered.” Someone mimicked the melody line and chuckles erupted.
“Truth or Bullshit?” Jefferies asked.
“I want to say bullshit. There’s no way you were a band geek in high school, man. I can’t picture it at all.”
Remy wiggled his eyebrows at the kid before returning to watch the screen of the eyes in the sky hovering above the marketplace.
Jefferies looked at Bones, his Master Chief, to go next.
“So, there we were, tasked to provide cover fire for these Guard guys who’d been under fire for days. Aerial terrain footage showed a spot that was inaccessible from the ground that we could insert via helo on top of a mountain about ten feet wide. No shit. The space was smaller than this room we're in now.
As we inserted, the drift from the helo somehow caused the LT’s rucksack to tangle with the lines. The damn thing lifted him fifteen feet in the air. The air crew, not realizing he was still attached, dropped the ropes and down he came.” Bones pointed to Jefferies with an I’m really glad you didn’t die look. “He dropped and rolled right off the edge. Scariest sight I’ve ever seen.”
Jefferies grinned at Joey, not giving any nonverbal cues. “Thought I was a goner.”
“How did you survive?”
“We had this guy, Manny, on the team back then who was crazy jacked. He jumped on the line that was quickly running out, planted his feet, and held on. I was able to climb, sort of. When I got close to the top, he reached down and grabbed my rucksack like it was nothing to lift a two hundred and fifteen pound man, plus gear, from the clutches of gravity.” Jefferies still missed Manny.
“What happened to him?”
Jefferies shrugged. “He retired. Moved back to Alabama. Bullshit or truth?”
“Fifteen feet and off a cliff?”
Jefferies smirked, then nodded at Rodrigues.
Rodrigues was a Warrant Officer—one of those tricky little bastards that could do anything, like sneak up on his commanding officer. Jefferies often had to remind himself to keep an eye on Rod. This time outside the wire, Rod was on perimeter sweep to their six. “I once found a diamond in my boot.”
“Bravo Foxtrot Sierra!” Joey said without preamble. He threw his hands up in the air. “No way.”
Jefferies laughed softly.
“So this isn’t a game, it’s, pick on the new guy day, right?”
Rodrigues straightened himself at the outburst.
Remy raised his gaze off the screen. “Don’t be rude, Padawan. You have to wait to the end of the story before making your mind up.”
Joey looked around the tiny room. They were all crouching, leaning, or lying on the dirt floor. He seemed to take in every man’s body language. At least he had enough sense to recognize the line he’d stepped over. “I apologize. Continue please.”
Rodrigues gave a curt nod. “We were pursuing this aid worker, who’d gotten caught up in a snatch and grab. We’d made our way through a river in South Africa when I noticed a rock had made its way into my boot. There was no time to stop and take it out though. Once we found the aid woman, and were on the helo, I took my boots off and out rolled this diamond in the rough rock.” He used his fingers to show how big, exaggerating to four inches the way men do.
Joey’s eyes widened. “How big was it exactly?”
“Oh, about two and half inches or so.” Rod's fingers went to eight inches.
“Bullshit! Total bullshit!”
“No shit. I took it home, turned it into multiple stones, and had a new diamond ring made for my wife.”
“Ex-wife,” Bones reminded him.
Rod hung his head. “Ex-wife,” he corrected. “Then two necklaces for my daughters. I wanted to be the first guy to give them diamonds.” Rod turned back to sweep his corners. The divorce, obviously, was still painful for him.
“There’s no way.” Joey shook his head.
“He went to Jared. What’s not to get?” Bones quipped.
“Hey," Rod retorted without turning, "I earned that motherfucker. It wore a hole in my ankle that’s still there...”
Jefferies suddenly felt goosebumps crawl up his neck. He grabbed his rifle, and looked through his scope at the streets below and beyond. Scanning, looking for something.
He heard the guys fall in beside him. When you'd spent so many hours, days, weeks, months, years honing your instincts, you learned that goosebumps will save your life—if you listen to them.
“Hey boss, we got a lot of military age males here.”
“Yeah, I see them.” The mosque prayer time must have let out, because people were beginning to fill the street.
A father and young son exited a building, the boy kicking a soccer ball.
“I got a bad feeling about this,” Bones said.
Bullets began to pelt the building. “Contact in the alley,” someone said, as the snipers opened fire. “RPG rooftop!”
Jefferies caught sight of the rocket, as it hit right below him. Bits of the wall and sand flew into his face, as his body blasted backward. In a moment, Remy was on top of him. Jefferies could hear the faint sound of the snipers returning fire and felt Remy’s hands on his chest.
“Boss? Boss? You good?”
Jefferies felt stunned.
“Blood check?” Bones asked.
Remy’s hands were already patting him down. “No blood. I think he just got his bell rung.” And then, like a whoosh of air moving in, Jefferies's focus returned, and he pushed Remy off him.
Remy smiled and offered his hand. “Beats working at McDonald’s. Right, brother?”
"Hooyah." Jefferies grunted while he found his feet again. Man, he was going to feel this in the morning.
Back at his position, he pulled his M4 to his shoulder, and began firing. The suppression sang a sweet sonnet in his ears. Then a white pickup truck pulled around the alley with a .50 cal machine gun mounted in the bed. “Technical. Fifty yards east,” snipers said through his cans.
Jefferies swung his weapon in the direction of the technical as a .50 cal bullet lodged into his M4, sending his weapon across the room. “Fucking hell.” He crouched below the window. The jihadists weren't usually this good. “Take that fucking gun out!" he shouted.
"RPG." A sniper fired. Pink midst filled the air as the man who'd launched it fell from the rooftop across the street. The missile was flying over their heads. "Joey, put some lead on that roofline. Remy? You got eyes?"
"Coming up on them now. I count five men. One launcher."
The technical had darted back behind the alley. Ok these were not your average bad guys. They were coordinated. Jefferies radioed, "Alpha Six. Keep their heads down on that roofline. Pin them down."
Rapid machine gun bursts began singing.
On cue, the truck pulled out for round two only... "Boss, the motherfucker tied a kid to the gun.”
Jefferies didn't skip a beat. "Send two rounds into the engine block.”
“Signed. SEALed. Delivered.”
Jefferies looked through his scope. The technical was a dead duck in the crosshairs and the kid was the one with the soccer ball. Shit. He'd wet himself and tears were streaming down his little dirt-streaked face.
.50 cals pelted the building again, but Joey didn't let up on bursting his machine gun fire at the rooftop to keep the RPGs from reloading.
The gunner stopped to reload the .50 cal belt. Everyone stood and returned fire at the men around the truck. Jefferies watched as the boy's father, oblivious to the fight, stood beside the technical, begging the gunner to release his kid. Jefferies watched and tried to formulate a plan.
He could hear the gunner shouting at the dad, and looked up to see the prick shove the kid's face into the orange hot metal, all the while remaining hidden behind the boy's body. Jefferies felt helpless as he watched the kid throw his hands up to push off the barrel, only managing to burn his hands and chest further. The dad dropped to his knees and pleaded.
Jefferies felt for the guy. "Snipers, do you have a shot? Can you take out the shooter without killing the kid?" Another technical from their left started firing on their position. Fucking hell.
"Negative, LT." They fired on the second technical promptly taking it out. "They're hiding behind all kinds of civilians out here, boss."
"We're about to get fucked-up the ass too!" Rodriquez said, as Bones joined him at the rear.
“What do you want to do, LT?” Bones asked between bursts of gunfire. Bits of concrete, dried mud, and dust were pelting his guys with each belt of fire the .50 cal expended. The sandbags and walls wouldn't hold much longer.
Jefferies made his decision and grabbed his long gun. He dialed his sights on the kid. His heart pounded. If he smoked the boy, this would be over now. His men would live. He couldn't ask any of his men to do what he was about to do, nor could he see any way around it.
Bones joined his side. “Back door is clear for now," he said with deep sadness, knowing what was about to happen.
Jefferies placed tension on the trigger and closed his eyes. God forgive me. He took a breath, and listened to his heart beat. He opened both lids. The kid and his shot-up M4 simultaneously came into view. He instantly released the trigger. His body shook ever so slightly. "No one shoots the boy,” he ordered through the coms.
"What are you thinking?” Bones asked. Jefferies reached for the busted weapon. He took out the full mag and replaced it with an empty one. “Remember when we played paintball in the Ozarks that one time?”
Bones got a knowing look on his face, “Yeah?”
“Let’s do that.”
Bones’ eyes darkened, and a devilish smirk crossed his features. “Hey boys,” he said through the coms. “Play dead.” Bones gave him a toothy grin. “This is going to be fun.”
Jefferies hoped it would just work, please God let this work. The adrenaline of what he had almost done, coupled with the knowledge that his plan could go disastrously wrong, rushed through him.
Jefferies could hear the boy's screams of agony over the cacophony of gunfire, as the enemy continued to pelt the building.
“Alpha Four—I’m down.” Remy started the countdown.
“Alpha Three." Rod fired through the window and fell silent in the room. "Admit one to Valhalla,” he whispered as the .50 cal stopped to reload a new belt.
“Alpha Five—I’ll avenge you, brother,” as he shot off rounds avoiding the technical. Small arms fired back.
“Alpha Two—see you on the other side, boys,” Bones said as he popped off a few. The .50 cal opened fire again. Bones ducked, winking at all the men crouching low.
Jefferies moved across the windows, “Alpha One" I'm drawing fire, drawing fire... He rolled to the ground as shots rang out against the wall behind him. He stood up against the wall next to the windows and carefully extended his weapon out the window, pretending to be lining up a shot, which drew fire again. I’m "shot," my weapon goes out the window... he dropped his M4, selling the rouse. The enemy knew they never left weapons. "...And I’m down.” He whispered, then low crawled to Remy so he could watch the ISR screen.
“All right Alpha Six, put up your last stand. Go full retard,” Bones said to Joey.
“Aloha snack bar!” Joey yelled out over his rapid-fire machine gun which came to an abrupt halt, “and I’m down.” Joey stopped firing.
Jefferies whispered so silently that even if you'd been in the room, you couldn't have heard it. "Remy, call the PJs, the kid is going to need them." If he survived this.
Remy began coordinating their extraction. Jefferies could not hear Remy's voice with a naked ear, but through his coms, he came through loud and clear.
“Frags ready,” Jefferies spoke through his mic. He watched the screen following the enemy’s movement. They were being cautious. The technical put a few more into the building.
Then they heard, “Yalla yalla.” Men in uncoordinated movement walked toward the building from their hidiholes and civilian covers. The civilians scurried indoors. The streets were finally filled with dead men...they just didn't know it yet.
“Come and get it, motherfuckers,” Jefferies said.
Each man stood at the ready with their grenades in hand, M4s at the ready along with a few 203 grenade launchers.
Jefferies counted it down, “Three, two, one.” He and his men stood up as a single wall.
“Look out below!” someone said, as they all dropped grenades and ducked. The blasts went off, the shockwave shaking their building, sending more dust and sand into the air.
“No movement yet. Hold," the snipers ordered.
Jefferies looked at his watch. The fight had started just under two minutes ago. Three days it took them to walk into this village, clear the house, and wait for the enemy to show their faces. Then, it was over in the blink of an eye. That’s war for you.
"One shooter left. The bastard is still holding onto the boy."
Shit. "Do you have a shot?"
Jefferies turned to Remy. "How far out are the PJs?"
"Shouldn't we wait until this is over to call them in?" Joey asked Bones.
"Nah. PJs are hard as fuck," Bones replied.
"PJs are five mikes out, Boss."
More .50 cals hit the building. I'm so fucking tired of this. He's got to be almost... Jefferies popped up in front of the window and rolled, making the gunman fire again. Jefferies waited, ticking it down inside his head. The belt fed machine came to a halt. Alpha Mike Foxtrot, you sorry sack of shit.
Jefferies stood up in time to watch. The snipers, now free to focus on the gunman only, opened fire, as he reached down to reload the belt.
The dad scrambled to the truck to untie his son.
“ET phone home please,” Jefferies said.
Rod was already clearing the back door in anticipation of their exit. Jefferies and Bones fell in behind into the alley.
They stopped at the corner to the street, silent as the grave, with guns drawn, scanning for movement. Rod was lead, Jefferies in the middle, with only his side arm, and Bones in the rear. Jefferies felt Bones squeeze his shoulder, so he squeezed Rod's, and off they went to the next cover spot. The street was a ghost town.
Nobody was moving, not even the air. Jefferies didn't see the dad. So they kept going forward until they passed a window and heard something. They'd gone inside.
Rod dropped to a knee in front of the door, scanning the streets. Jefferies and Bones crouched around the doorway. Bones checked the latch. It was unlocked. They silently entered the house with guns drawn. A woman was coming around the corner at the end of a short hallway. She gasped, dropped the bowl of water and cloths she was carrying, and threw her hands up in the air.
Bones charged ahead and got to her first. Jefferies went right and found himself in a living room with the dad and boy.
Bones forced the woman onto the couch as Rod went farther into the room that led into a kitchen.
The dad looked at Jefferies and began frantically speaking in his native tongue. Jefferies couldn't understand it, but he could hear fear lacing the words. The boy's feet scissored back and forth in agony.
Rod came back around from the hallway and stood guard.
Jefferies holstered his sidearm. "Hey hey hey," Jefferies said calmly to get the dad's attention. "We just want to help." He motioned toward the boy, who was now hyperventilating. The dad stepped back, but not too far away, just enough to give permission.
Bones immediately unpacked his med kit and tossed an IV bag to Jefferies. Getting the needle in with the kid thrashing was going to be hard without breaking a bone.
Jefferies heard the rest of the team arrive. Remy came over and wordlessly began to help. He held the boy's arm down, as Jefferies stabbed the needle in. The boy screamed out in pain. Burns covered most of the arm. I know, kid. "It's going to be better in just a moment. Stay with us." He knew the boy didn't understand, but Jefferies hoped his voice sounded reassuring.
Bones was applying bandages. "This is really bad, LT." Bones reached into his kit and handed Jefferies a syringe of morphine.
"PJs are three mikes," Remy said from behind.
Jefferies plunged the drug into the system, making eye contact with the child he'd almost killed. The boy couldn't be more than seven years old. If he survived, the kid would forever have scars from this day. The boy held eye contact.
Jefferies saw the drug hit the kid, instantly calming his breathing. Bones was applying the last bandage to the worst wound, but as he did, part of the skin slid off the muscle tissue beneath it. Jefferies looked away and fought the urge to hurl. Wounds didn't usually get to him, but on a kid, all bets were off. "OK, he's ready to move." Bones said.
The PJs would be arriving any second now. Jefferies placed the saline bag on the kid's abdomen and scooped him up into his arms. He weighed next to nothing. Although the boy whimpered in pain, he was unconscious. Thank God.
The helicopter's whoop whoop broke in. The dad looked up. Yeah. They're here for you buddy. "Dad comes with us, guys. Let's go."
His men cleared the exit and the street ahead as Jefferies, Dad, and the team booked it to the LZ. The PJs came running with a stretcher to meet them.
Bones gave the lead corpsman a quick rundown of the situation and what had been administered.
Jefferies grabbed the stretcher and helped load the kid into the helicopter ambulance. The medic went to work, checking vitals and listening to his heart. Jefferies hopped off the bird and glanced back at the kid's mostly covered face. God I hope I did the right thing. Sometimes surviving was worse than death.
He turned around and came face-to-face with the dad—eyes wide with fear, yet determined. The man pulled him into an embrace with surprising strength and spoke words Jefferies didn't understand.
"He says thank you for sparing his son," a PJ said.
Jefferies nodded, then placed his hand on his heart. "Peace be with you both," he said. It was the only phrase he'd learned of the local language.
The PJs loaded up and Jefferies waved to the pilot. The team's ride arrived at the same spot seconds later. The helo lifted, and Jefferies watched as Joey surveyed the shrinking street down below seeing all the dead bodies they were leaving behind. It was Joey's first time in combat, according to his file.
“Which stories were true?” Joey asked.
“What makes you think they weren’t all true?”
“The game was Truth or Bullshit.”
“Which implies that one or more is bullshit.”
“There’s a big difference between implying and lying. One is misdirection. The other makes you unreliable.”
“You fell fifteen feet onto a cliff, rolled off, and lived to tell the story?”
“Foxtrot Alpha,” Jefferies affirmed.
“I don’t believe it.” Joey shook his head, sending dust into the air.
“Well, believe it. This is SEAL Team Three. Alpha Platoon. We are your brothers. We speak the truth, always. Never doubt us. And never give us cause to doubt you.”
Bones placed a hand on Joey’s shoulder, joining in. “Son, you don’t want to know what we’ll do to you if we ever catch you lying to us, even if it’s just a white lie. There ain’t a single part of your person,” his eyes went south, “or your life, we’re afraid to touch. Payment for misleading our merry band of misfits makes hazing look like a birthday party for a ten-year old. You feel me?” Bones asked.
“I feel ya,” Joey said.
Bones tapped his helmet. “Good man.”
They had three more months to break the new kid in before returning home. Speaking of home. "Joey, when we get back stateside, you’ll live with me and Remy for a year. Think of it as an unofficial probation period.”
“I have my own place, LT.”
“You did. My team, my rules. Just for a year. Remy will fill you in on the details when we get back.” Joey acquiesced and Jefferies leaned back against the unforgiving metal that felt like heaven to him.
Bones grabbed his ruck. "You forgot something, LT," and tossed over Jefferies's shot-to-hell M4 rifle.
Jefferies smiled. Damn, he loved his life, and he knew just what to do with his new paperweight when he got home. Thank you for reading! Buy it on Amazon here.