by Harry Phillips
Jill awoke to the familiar aroma of brewing coffee as her alarm went off. In the dark quiet of her bedroom she muted the alarm then reached for the light on her nightstand. The soft light illuminated the framed photo of her grinning soldier husband. She smiled at his rugged handsomeness which she missed having next to her in their bed. Leaving the warm bed, she shivered as a cold chill passed over her. It was time, she mused, putting on her robe and slippers. She moved to the staircase stepping quietly down the creaky wooden steps as she thought, I cannot wait to hear his voice. He would be calling soon.
In the kitchen, Jill peered out the frosty window to see new snow glowing in the wintery morning light. Five inches or so, she guessed, dropping two slices of bread into the toaster. Trying not to, she found herself missing him desperately. She longed to feel his comforting embrace or the joy of looking into his sky blue eyes. She missed the sound of his voice, especially his laugh. Despite the hour his weekly calls always filled her with anticipation for the few minutes she could speak with him. Yet today felt different. It was as though she had a premonition. She sensed a tinge of dread as the toaster popped.
After pouring steaming coffee into her favorite mug with Army Wife stenciled on the side, she carefully spread homemade jelly onto the golden brown toast. She added a bit of cream from a colorful flower adorned pitcher. After a quick stir breakfast was ready. Sitting at her kitchen island she again looked out into the gray darkness of her back yard wondering what he would tell her this week. Maybe he was coming home early she hoped.
Her forearm leaned on the counter’s gray-black flecked granite. It was cool to the touch. It reminded her of the chilled feeling she had upstairs prompting hidden fears. The kitchen lights reflected brightly in the granite like distant fires, she thought. She became anxious as the time for his call neared. It could not come soon enough.
Nine hours away Staff Sergeant Corey Landon lay in a shallow ditch with six of his men who were sporadically shooting at a well concealed enemy. He quickly checked his watch to see how much daylight was left. His men were running low on ammo as they continued to engage the unseen enemy. The other soldiers from his squad were pinned down a short distance away.
The firefight began when Corey was out on a routine mission delivering supplies to a local orphanage. The village sheikhs appreciated the assistance and provided important intelligence about the Taliban in the area. On this day however, the convoy Corey headed was ambushed as it neared the orphanage. His vehicle passed a tight intersection when an explosion accompanied by gunfire erupted behind him. He and his men had been fighting since the attack began over two hours ago. It was now fifteen hundred hours. At this time in January there were just over two hours of sunlight left.
Damn it, he swore to himself, Today’s the day Jill is expecting me to call home and I’m stuck in this ditch with the Tali shooting at me.
Corey quickly refocused on the fighting. He glanced at his men knowing they were looking to him as their leader. His first priority was to keep them alive. Then pensively he looked over at the body of the dead USAID representative he had pulled into the ditch with them shortly after the attack began. The young twenty-something spent the past four months working to establish good relations with the locals. Her youthful enthusiasm making up for her lack of experience, she was a favorite with the troops. She often shared funny stories of her family back home in Arkansas. Her southern drawl emphasizing key moments always drew a laugh. The young woman was killed instantly when the improvised explosive device exploded beneath the vehicle she was riding in. Everyone in the vehicle was killed.
“Charlie Five, Charlie Five this is Charlie Six,” Corey spoke calmly into his microphone. “What is your status?” There was no answer.
The small outpost Corey was assigned to knew the convoy was in trouble. As the attack on the convoy began a mortar barrage hit the outpost. Several vehicles were destroyed delaying efforts to reinforce the trapped convoy team. The mortar attack made it impossible for the tactical response team to mount an immediate rescue effort.
When the attack on the convoy began Afghan Police Lieutenant Nigara was off duty at home with her husband, a disabled former police officer. She commanded the local women’s police detachment responsible for security in the area south of Kandahar. Their ramshackle house was not much by western standards, but Nigara always looked forward to coming home to her husband at day’s end. Instinctively, she grabbed her personal weapon and protective gear. As she headed for the door she called to her husband, “I am sorry, Ajmal. I must do this. I will be home as soon as I deal with this situation.”
Once inside her vehicle Nigara radioed her station Commander and asked for information as she began driving.
“Lieutenant, there are a number of enemy fighters who have the Americans trapped,” was the response.
“Where are they located?” she asked breathlessly.
“Along the East road near the orphanage,” came the reply.
The orphanage, she thought. Nigara knew the orphanage was a potential target. She herself lived there as a child before attending university in England. She immediately feared for the lives of the innocent children living there. “Captain Amir, we must get everyone ready,” Nigara pleaded. “We must help the Americans. Everyone in the station must respond.”
“Inshallah,” her Commander replied his voice quaking. “We will do what we can.”
“Charlie Five, this is Charlie Six. What is your status?” Corey repeated into his squad radio microphone.
“Charlie Six, this is Charlie Two. Charlie Five is down. I say again, Charlie Five is down.”
“Roger Charlie Two. What’s your status?” Corey asked.
“Two KIAs and one wounded. Ammo is running low. Tali has us pinned down at the southwest corner of the intersection.”
“Roger Charlie Two. Will try to get to your location now,” he breathed.
As his men watched, Corey signaled them to advance. He was giving the signal to move when suddenly there was the roar of truck engines. There was more than one.
Not knowing what was happening, Corey scrambled to the top of the ditch with the other men staying low to the ground as they moved. He was in disbelief at what they were seeing. As the fighting continued two trucks of Afghan National Police pulled into the Taliban’s line of fire shielding the men trapped at the other side of the intersection. Corey and his men laid down suppressive fires as the trucks slid to a stop. A cloud of dust shrouded the vehicles as figures emerged. Astonished, Corey saw the police in the trucks were women. Eight Afghan Police Officers, all women armed with light assault rifles, quickly moved from their vehicles and took up fighting positions behind their vehicles. The Taliban began firing at the police officers in earnest.
Seeing his opportunity, Corey signaled his men to move. “Let’s go, Bravo Team,” he yelled as he led his men behind a burned out vehicle to mask their movement. “We need to flank the Tali. Follow me!” he ordered.
Bravo Team sprinted across an open alley way, taking fire as they did. They took cover behind a low wall to the left of the Taliban who continued engaging the police. The return fire from the female police was relentless in an effort to dislodge the Tali from their position. Then as suddenly as the fighting started, it stopped. The Taliban had abandoned their position.
Corey glimpsed movement to his right and brought down a Tali fighter with one shot. The man fell mortally wounded into the same ditch Corey and his men had fought from earlier. As the firing stopped, Bravo Team moved to Charlie Two’s position. The police officers were treating the wounded soldier who had been shot in the leg. They stopped his bleeding giving him time until he could receive medical attention.
Within moments the tactical response team arrived with a medic who called for a medevac helicopter to evacuate the wounded soldier and the dead. Corey personally recovered the body of the dead USAID worker. He looked at her face one last time as he lifted her lifeless body into the helicopter.
“We could have used you guys two hours ago,” Corey yelled to the response team’s Sergeant who had just handed a dead soldier’s body to the flight crew. The helicopter’s rotors were deafening.
“Base got hammered just as you guys got hit. We lost the Captain and First sergeant in the barrage along with four vehicles,” the Sergeant replied.
At that moment Corey spotted Lieutenant Nigara. “Hold on Sarge. I need to see the Lieutenant. ”
“Ma’am, that was the bravest thing I’ve seen since being here. Thanks,” Corey stated as he approached the Lieutenant.
“We were not fighting to protect you,” Lieutenant Nigara replied. “We were fighting to protect them,” as she gestured toward the orphanage. “I knew if the Taliban killed you, they may very well have attacked the orphanage. I thank you for fighting for us, but we must fight for ourselves, for our homes. I hope you return to your home soon.”
With that Lieutenant Nigara gathered her officers together and walked them toward the orphanage in the fading light.
Jill was disappointed she did not hear from Corey. She always knew he might not call and prayed nothing bad happened to prevent him from calling. She went about her day running errands and volunteering a few hours at the local Red Cross office. When she arrived home, she opted to warm up some of the morning’s left over coffee. As she took her first sip, the phone rang.
“Hi honey, I miss you,” Corey said wiping dirt from his forehead.
“Are you okay?” she asked, noting the exhausted tone in his voice.
“I’m fine,” Corey answered. “It was a long day today. I cannot wait to be home with you. I really miss you today.”
As she listened to his voice a single tear streaked down Jill’s face. She blushed when she realized she was crying. “You just get home safe to me,” she whispered as she held the warm cup in her hands.
An Army veteran who served for more than twenty-five years, Harry Phillips worked and lived in many places to include the Persian Gulf, Haiti, Bosnia, Kosovo and Darfur in the Sudan. Harry takes his inspiration for writing from his life experiences as the world has given him a large reference library from which to choose the themes he writes about. He is a graduate of the US Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania where he now lives with his wife Mary.