All but the first and last paragraphs of my eighth story in the series of those not accepted by journals for publication were written before May 1st, 2011.
First Chance at Osama
The Navy Seals were told of their May 1, 2011, target in the belly of a Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk. Chief Petty Officer Aaron Browning remembered his December 2001, experience in the Tora Bora Mountains.
Five Afghan fighters escorted him just over 5 kilometers, rising up 1000 meters, along a narrow, steep trail. A single shot rang out from below. The round pierced the robe the American wore over his modified uniform and all six men dropped prone on the ledge. After a few minutes, the Afghans stuffed the robe with a tarp and returned down the trail shooting at random into the valley below. They provided a distraction by carrying the stuffed robe as if it were a body to give the illusion that one of them had been severely wounded or killed. Browning crawled the last hundred meters to his goal.
Snow, ice, and earth debris nearly buried the young Seal under a shallow overhang where a cave entrance had been started. He managed to get his contorted body only a half rotation toward the downside of the ledge on which he had positioned himself. His right foot and leg were pinned under the debris piled against the cliff wall.
The sniper evaluated his situation. Tingling in his toes told him that he would soon loose circulation in his buried right leg. There was pain in his knee, but it was not excruciating when he rolled from side to side. He was able to bend up at the waist and pushed against the debris pile with his left boot.
He removed snow and dirt with his gloved hands until he saw the large slab of rock pinning his boot to the side of the cliff. Expecting to be able extract his foot from his boot, he cut the laces as far as his bayonet would reach under the rock. The boot would not give up his foot.
He moved more debris away from the rock and discovered that the part of the rock away from him was farther than he could reach. He tried digging under his boot; its heel was resting on solid rock that formed the ledge.
A gust of cold wind alerted the Seal that he was only warm from the effort it was taking to chip away at the rock around his boot. It would be dark and certainly much colder in less than half an hour and his pack was at least two feet from his reach.
I’ll need the blanket. I won’t survive until radio time if I can’t get covered.
Having thought about the cold, Browning started to feel it.
Half my kingdom for a rope!
He unlaced his left boot and tied one of his Beretta magazines to the lace for weight. After three tries, the magazine fell around the strap, and he was able to pull the pack to him.
If I don’t get loose, it won’t matter if I freeze; I’ll still be stuck. Old Christianson cut off his own arm when that log fell on it; but he could walk out of the woods. I can’t walk on my hands, so I’ve got to find a way to get that rock off. I just need some leverage.
He evaluated his tools.
Browning carried three firearms and two knives – one bayonet and one folding; the folding Gerber was out of service in a pouch on the outside of his right boot. The partly disassembled M24 sniper rifle was strapped to the pack. The M-9 Beretta was tucked safely inside his white parka but outside the minimum weight Kevlar vest. He could not see his stripped down M-4 carbine.
Must have gone over the side or is buried in the slide.
He had already used the bayonet to dig away and attempt to chip rock. His folding enriching tool was not long enough to exert much force, but he knew the M24 was over 40 inches long. Before he was Seal trained and issued the M24 sniper rifle, he was intimately familiar with the specifications of the Remington model 700. His father had taught him to use the civilian model of the M24 for elk hunting and Browning had trained with the police version at the California Highway Patrol Academy.
The 29 inch barrel was his best hope for a pry bar. He just had to figure what to use for a fulcrum and how to get the barrel behind or under the rock. He thought about his high school physics lessons.
Not enough room behind the barrel to get a fulcrum for a type one lever: there’s limited movement for a type two. If the rock shifts and crushes the foot, I still won’t be any worse off. It’s nearly numb now anyway. Wish to God I had the folding Gerber; it’s a lot sharper if I have to do some precision cutting.
He slid the cleaning rod into the M24 barrel so any debris could be easily removed later and worked it into the space he had cleared with his bayonet between the rock slab and mountain. Browning felt the pressure change on his foot and a tinge of pain as he pulled on the weapon converted to leaver. He re-thought the process and found a sliver of rock.
If I can get a little space, I can slip the wedge between the barrel and the wall to get more leverage.
Browning pulled on the stock of the M24 to get maximum force. The slab moved a little more than it had in his first pull and the rock sliver slipped downward. He suddenly realized that if he moved the slab farther, his wedge would slip into the gap above his boot and block its removal.
He realized the need for light to see the progress, but light could compromise his position. He slid the survival blanket out of his pack, checked the surface to be sure the reflective side would be down and pulled it over his back and then extended it over his project. He was not consciously concerned about blocking the cold wind but with blocking the light from his new issue LED flashlight. He pointed it up and used the reflection to check that the edges were as closed as possible before re-focusing on his immediate need.
Need another wedge.
He saw none. He pushed on the M24 again and his rock wedge moved a little more. His foot was tingling again.
Circulation is back so it’s time to slow down and think.
He emptied the Beretta magazine he had used for weight. The magazine would be his new wedge.
Rather have a foot than a quick re-load.
With the entrenching tool for a fulcrum, he pushed against the barrel to relieve the pressure on the rock wedge. He removed it and replaced the wedge with the magazine. He felt the pressure increase on his foot when the slab moved back. He widened the gap again and put the rock wedge beyond his boot the partly crushed magazine disappeared into the gap.
The wedge worked, and his boot was free. He slept.
Browning awoke shivering, thirsty and hungry. He lifted one edge of the tarp; there had been more snow. Before removing the tarp, he ate a nutrition bar and drank a little water.
Now if I could just risk a standing pee.
His immediate predicament solved; his mission could continue. General Franks had strictly limited Army missions to assisting and advising Afghans and calling in air strikes. Seal missions were autonomous.
President Bush said, “…dead or alive.”
He did a quick search for his radio and M-4. He found neither.
The mountain slope across the canyon was well lit with the morning sun. The snow and rockslide had reduced the ledge from two meters wide to just one meter on the edge of the narrow outcropping. The ledge being narrowed was both an advantage and disadvantage to Browning. It better obscured view of the ledge from the suspected al-Qaeda cave entrance just 500 meters away and 500 meters below, but he would have to rise above the certainly unstable debris to get a view of it.
He took the Leopold scope designed for the M24 from his pack and took a position to see the cave entrance. There was no doubt that one of the three men standing just inside the entrance was Osama Bin Laden.
Browning rolled back, picked up the M24, attached the scope, and tried to remove the cleaning rod. It was jammed.
Crap! I bent the barrel. Hope I live to see him again.
The Black Hawk started its decent and Browning evaluated his tools.
As my octogenarianism continues, my mind wanders as I wonder.
Or could it be that my mind wonders as I wander?