Twenty-five degree rolls in twelve foot sea swells kicked morale in the ass while upping the level of nervous anticipation. Most of us had been in these waters before, during our expedition to south-west Asia for the coalition's liberation of Kuwait from Iraq, but this was different. For some of us, this watery grid in the north-west corner of the Indian Ocean, a door to a place that has known many conquers, was a door we wished to close, but knew we never could. We knew the AO (area of operations) was hot. We had heard all the news reports and had read most of the official message traffic from the DOD, CIA and other reporting government agencies. This place was NOT good. Tribal war had broken out between all three clan factions. These factions made up approximately 90% of the population of Somalia. The tribal war was the result of a failed bloody coup of one clan leader over the ruling clan.
Because the leadership of the military junta was responsible for many atrocities, the US had revoked all diplomatic ties and established strict import and export sanctions on nearly all commodities except for some food and medical aide. Ours would become a mission of futility. We were to make peace by covertly taking the side of one of the warring factions. The problem lay in the fact that all of the factions were guilty of atrocities against man.
Everyone on board knew some would be hurt or perhaps worse, but no one talked about it. We occupied ourselves with card games, porno magazines and letters home. These repetitious time users wore on the brain. For laughs, we improvised what we called the "puke meter". The "puke meter", a sado/masochistic device, was no more than a stencil of a protractor with the individual degrees marked with numbers and affixed to a common bulkhead. A nail, tethered to a portion of twine, hung independently from the center point of the stenciled protractor. The nail would swing to the degree of pitch the ship would roll in heavy seas. The more dramatic the roll, the higher the degree of pitch. The object was to lay odds on people watching the meter and then to bet money on who was going to blow chow from making themselves sick focusing on the ship's motion. We watched the meter as well, anything to take our minds off our continuous thoughts of home. Anything, even if it made us sea-sick.
The "Mog", Mogadishu, capital city of Somalia, was the first sight for landing ashore. The majority of our unit was to report to the Unified Command Headquarters of all UN Forces in Somalia, located in the skeletal remains of Mogadishu University. My counterintelligence team of four, along with the complement of 1st Squad, 3d Platoon from "Charlie" Company, were to make liaison with the established Belgian contingencies in a port town on the southern boarder of Somalia just north of Kenya.
Landing from our night time helo insertion into the port city of Kismayo, located two degrees south of the Equator, we could sense the hint of smoke from the small individual fires of the wretched populace in town. The fires, incessantly nursed, and the only means of illumination during the hours of darkness, were hubs for each of the beleaguered families who could afford to trade for wood. There too was another taste of a reminiscent foulness that only some of us had experienced before. It came upon us, like when passing seven-day old road-kill, the stomach turns as the brain becomes conscious of the smell. We were more than certain that the paste filling our nostrils was the radiating funk from rotting corpses, the results of the warring tribal clans.
As we bedded down for the night, two Belgian officers appeared at the door of our hootch. They had brought each of us a cool beer from their mess. I'd heard the Belgian troops were very well respected throughout the world. Of all the international forces in Somalia, the Belgians had been here the longest; three years for some. I leaned back on my ruck, took a long pull from my bottle, closed my eyes and tried to remember events of last season's World Series. Here's to you, gentlemen. Your reputation precedes you.
While preparing for our first daylight patrol, no one spoke. There was an extraordinary air of impendingness over us. What was coming? What was happening? Each knew his role. Each was very aware of himself and the others. We ate a little breakfast and that seemed to settle us down. We had a patrol brief and someone made a wise crack. We laughed and the weight on our necks was slightly readjusted. We were more at ease now, but we were to head out in ten.
For the most part, the day was uneventful. Earlier, Sgt. Karger had his sunglasses ripped from his face as he drove us through a small, dirty market in a borough of Kismayo. A dry, little black hand simply reached through the driver's window and snatched the shades from his face. It happened so suddenly we didn't see the thieving child disappear into the throng of the bazaar.
Winding down the patrol, we turned down a small street in our attempt to return to our temporary headquarters for debriefing. Passing an alley, I caught sight of a man walking with his back to me. He was carrying something. I couldn't see. I was hoping it was not a weapon, because all weapons had been outlawed by the UN and violators were to be arrested on sight. "Stop!" I yelled at Sgt. Karger. The vehicle came to a rest as I continued to watch this man walk away. Cpl. Morris, riding in the shotgun seat in front of me said, "Can you see it? There, near his pant leg." As I looked to see the muzzle of a rifle pressed against his leg, the man stopped, turned, and brought the weapon to bare. Before I could shout a warning, Karger accelerated forward as a swarm of AK-47 rounds ripped through the rear canvass of our Hummer. Once out of the vehicle and the line of fire, the shooting stopped and we heard the bastard start to run. Clearing my line of sight, I stepped from behind the corner of a building. I yelled, "JOOGSO! JOOGSO!" ''STOP! STOP!" Instantly, the Somali glanced at us over his bony shoulder. At that same moment, a stone tripped him as if it reached up and grabbed his big toe. Seeing him fall, and fall hard, I lead a running advance toward him. Realizing we were closing on him, the Somali scrambled to regain his dropped rifle. Again I yelled, "JOOGSO!" "STOP!" Now it was my turn to bring my weapon to bare. With rifle in hand, he aggressively lifted the barrel toward us. Without hesitation, I let loose with three rounds from my pistol.
The first two bullets popped his chest, the third struck his head. A "double tap". I had practiced this shot a thousand times. I could do it in my sleep, but I wasn't sleeping. The first tap crushed his chest with two jacketed 9mm slugs and left him standing just long enough for me to recover my aim and catch him with the second. The second tap hit him near the upper lip at the corner of his left nostril. This caused his head to whip back violently as the hollow-pointed shell blew out pieces of skull and gray matter from behind his right ear.
In the fading echoes of the firelight, Morris, Karger and the others circled the bloody heap to confirm the kill. "You got that fucker, Rob!" "Sure as shit, you got'em!" I immediately barked, "Fuck him! Get up there and check the rest of these Goddamn buildings! NOW! Morris! Grab shit-head's rifle and let's boogie outta here! MOVE! NOW!" Leaving, I looked at the blood painted face. This person, who just seconds before was spitting fire and hate in the protection of his homeland, was a boy. His beautiful young face released its grimace of pain as death took over. I had seen him without face. "C'mon, let's go!"
Port-of-call Toulon, France. Karger, Morris and I rented a VW GTI for a road trip to Lake Geneva, Switzerland. I now had five days away from all of the bullshit inquiries and every schmuck on-board asking how I was doing and what it was like. As it stands, I'm not mad at my Somali friend for trying to kill me and I'm not mad about killing him. I hold contempt for the system that pits people like me against people like him. I find it odd that the only thing that's changed in our world because of my actions that day is me, and I'm the only one who knows it.