February 6, 2015: Survivors?
It seems like a lot has happened since I was last able to write in this journal. Certainly, there have been some significant events – life-changing and life-ending events.
I’m really not sure how much longer I … we … the human race can continue like this. I know the human race has gone through periods of extreme violence before … and survived. I wonder, can we do it again?
Even with all of our planning, all of our stocking up, all of our defenses … we were still unprepared, I think, for what we have had to do – what we will have to continue to do – to survive. If we do survive, will we still be human?
I’ve said before that I’m not much of a philosopher but I think the events of the last week or so require some philosophical reflection.
What is it that makes us human? What sets us apart from “lesser beings”?
A conscience? A soul? The ability to reason?
What happens if we sacrifice our spiritual being in the interest of the survival of our physical being? Will our souls be lost? Will our humanity drain from our bodies and drench the earth along with the blood of our enemies?
Before my first time in combat, our platoon leader pulled us all aside. He was a crusty old sergeant. He’d survived Viet Nam. He’d survived Grenada. He’d survived countless other missions that most of the world knew nothing about. Sergeant Pantoja was a survivor. He told us that in order to survive combat we needed more than the battle skills that we’d learned. We needed a “switch”. We needed to be able to turn that switch on and off. The switch controlled our humanity and allowed us to maintain our sanity once the fog of war cleared.
In battle, the switch went into the off position. We turned off our feelings. We turned off our conscience. We turned off the humanity that could not withstand the horror of the things we would have to do to physically survive. Once the battle was over, the switch could be turned back on … along with our humanity. The guys with good, solid switches survived. The guys who were unable to flip the switch may have gone home alive on the outside but something inside them was dead. In reality, I suppose something inside all of us was dead. It was just that those of us with good switches could close off the deadness … to some extent.
If the evil nature of humanity brought the human race to the brink of extinction – to the point where we are today – how will we rescue the human race without the positive side of humanity?
Are we doomed? Destined to fail? I suppose I have already answered my own questions. I hope not.
Maybe if I get some of what we have done – what I have done – off my chest it will help me find my way back to humanity.
We knew Hernandez would be coming for us. As soon as Daniel arrived at Hernandez’s headquarters, the wheels would be set in motion … big, military wheels with snow plows and lots of supplies.
I’ve never been good at defense. Not that I don’t know how to defend myself. I’m just not good at waiting for someone to come at me before I do something. I know it’s not that simple. Good defensive strategists are always planning, always trying to stay several steps ahead of their enemy or opponent. I can do that if I have to but I’m much better at going on the attack.
So … in short, we attacked.
We gathered up Pete’s family and my family and we decided to go on the offensive. The big problem, of course, was that we had very little intel. We made some assumptions.
We assumed that the only place that Hernandez could readily obtain military communications equipment and trucks was the National Guard armory.
We assumed that Hernandez would assemble his troops at the armory to stage for the attack.
We assumed that we would be out-manned and out-gunned and that our primary advantages would be speed and violence of action.
We all knew the risk of making assumptions.
We all agreed that regardless of the risk associated with those assumptions that an immediate offensive was our best chance at survival. To wait for Hernandez to attack … to attempt to defend ourselves on our farm, or Pete’s farm … to give up the element of surprise … was far more risky that the alternative.
There were a few other things on our side.
Pete, having owned a business that sold fertilizer, knows a thing or two about mixing chemicals. There are a number of chemicals available to most farmers that, when combined properly, can create some fairly effective explosives. Pete, bless his heart, had spent a good deal of his time – since his “retirement” – perfecting those chemical compositions. As a matter of fact, he was far better armed than I initially thought – despite not having many firearms. Pete had a six pallets of improvised explosive devices in his barn ranging from Claymore knock-offs to hand-thrown devices to a couple of really big charges.
When Pete revealed his stash, I looked at him with a raised eyebrow.
Pete shrugged his shoulders and said, “Ain’t no white man going to take this injun’s land away from him without a fight.”
We laughed the nervous laughter of those about to go into battle.
This is probably going to sound sexist but we left the women behind. First, none of them had any experience in battle. Second, and more importantly, if none of us made it back, we wanted someone to care for the children. All the women and children relocated to Pete’s place just in case Hernandez made it to us before we made it to him.
Everyone loaded out with a full battle load and saddled up around sunset in my Dodge diesel and Pete’s Excursion. We made our way down to the paved county road that the Deuce-and-a-half had used and followed its cleared path to town. We drove slowly with lights out.
Our arrival a few blocks from the armory was about three hours before sunrise. The sky was heavily clouded obscuring the moon and stars giving us one more advantage.
Pete and I made a reconnaissance run on foot to get the lay of the land. The armory was hopping. I would estimate roughly 50 people were inside the armory making obvious preparations for battle.
Pete and I slunk back to the rest of the group. Everyone gathered around the tailgate of my truck for a debriefing and last-minute instructions.
Our objective was to avoid engaging Hernandez’s superior (in terms of numbers) force directly. Pete’s explosives were the key to our strategy.
Pete and his boys cut a hole in the chain link fence surrounding the armory and placed the two main charges on the back side of the armory building itself.
It was almost too easy. I was worried that Hernandez had some sort of trap set that we’d stumbled into. There were no guards. Everyone, it appeared, was inside the armory preparing to launch the attack against us.
Sam and Levi followed Pete’s crew through the hole in the fence and, with some hasty on-the-job training under their belts, set up the Claymore knock-offs about twenty yards in front of the armory on either side of the main gate. They planted four explosives and then pulled wire off of the four spools that Joseph and I had waiting for them on the outside of the fence.
Joseph and I ran the spools back a safe distance behind the remnants of a charred house across the street from the armory. We left the clickers in the hands of my dad and father-in-law and high-tailed it up to the top of a hill behind the burned house to rendezvous with Terry. Our job was to snipe anyone that escaped the initial explosion and/or the Claymores. The range was about 200 yards – plenty close for man-size targets.
At 7:15 a.m. the sun was just high enough over the eastern horizon behind us to give us shooting light.
I clicked my radio’s talk button twice.
The armory exploded with two thunderous booms about a second apart. Bits of concrete block, furniture, paper and a thousand other things launched into the sky in a giant mushroom cloud of dust.
As the dust began to settle, we heard screams. A handful of charred figures stumbled out into the parking lot in front of the armory a few seconds later.
I gave them a few steps toward the front gate and then clicked the talk button on my radio twice.
I’m not sure where or how Pete learned to make explosives but I’ve never seen a real Claymore do more damage than the ones he made. They were loaded with ball bearings, screws, nails and who knows what else that virtually shredded the few figures stumbling through the rubble that had moments before been the armory.
I spotted a figure moving toward the motor pool.
“Tango, ten o’clock,” I reported to Joseph and Terry. “I’ve got him.”
I picked up the blackened face of the person stumbling toward the motor pool in the twenty power scope of my Remington 700, squeezed the trigger and rode the recoil back down to watch the body tumble forward, a bloody mess where its head had been.
Small arms fire came from the rubble but nothing hit near us.
“Twelve o’clock, low,” Terry intoned as he spotted through his binoculars.
I scanned the rubble 200 yards directly in front of us.
Another blackened face became a red mist seconds later.
Fires were burning throughout the former armory building. A couple secondary explosions rocked the early morning.
From 200 yards away, things seemed to be under control and my switch was firmly in the off position.
That changed about an hour later when we went down the hill toward the armory.
We had to make sure we didn’t leave any survivors this time. If anyone was left behind to communicate to the outposts … let’s just say (again) that we could leave no survivors this time. Finishing the job was up-close and personal. None of these people, with the exception of Daniel who I found barely alive under a line of heavy lockers, had done anything to us, personally, but every single one of them meant us harm.
I lost count. Seven … maybe eight. All still alive after the blasts … barely. All head shots. All looking into my eyes as I put them down like a horse with a broken leg or a dog with rabies. All pleading, if not audibly, with their sooty eyes.
It was some of the ugliest work I’ve ever had to do.
I know Sam put down a few. I radioed Levi when I found Daniel. After Levi showed up, I left him standing there with his Glock pointed at Daniel, his hands shaking. Fury? Hatred? Fear? Probably all three.
I could see that Daniel was crying. His mouth was moving but I couldn’t hear what he was saying. I didn’t need to.
Levi’s Glock barked once and Daniel’s short life was over.
Pete walked up to me as I stood in a spot miraculously clear of rubble.
“We found one who can still talk,” he looked at me with questioning eyes. “You want to ask him some questions?”
“Will you do it, Pete?” I asked quietly.
“Sure, man … sure.” Pete walked away with purpose.
I fumbled around in the rubble for a bit looking to see if there was anything usable left. The biggest treasure that I found inside the building was a key box. It was bent and blackened but it still held nearly two dozen sets of keys.
I tried to fish it out of the rubble but it was still attached to a chunk of concrete wall.
“Firing,” I said wearily into my radio’s mic. “I’m shooting the lock off of a key box.”
“Roger,” came the responses.
The keys, of course, were for the vehicles in the motor pool and what had been the fire station section of the armory.
The fire trucks were beyond useless. The blast and ensuing rubble shower had reduced them to crumpled masses of metal.
The vehicles in the motor pool, nearly 50 yards away, were in better shape. Some of those closer to the building were pretty beat up but they had saved the ones farther away.
I rounded up Sam, Joseph and Levi and went to check out the vehicles. Levi’s face was white, his skin clammy. His eyes seemed vacant. I could see remnants of vomit on his lips. Killing that kid, Daniel, was going to leave a scar that would last for a long time.
We found three HMMWV’s – two with turret-mounted .50 caliber guns and one with an ambulance van – that were in decent shape. Joseph and Sam started working through the keys from the key box to find tags that matched the vehicle’s bumper numbers.
There were also two Deuce-and-a-halfs with canvas covers over the beds that had survived.
As I dropped the tailgate on the back of the first one, I sensed movement inside.
“Down!” I shouted.
Out of the corner of my eye, I could see that Levi seemed to be moving in slow motion. I’m sure he was still shell-shocked from his first kill. I’ve never seen anyone who wasn’t.
Instead of dropping to the ground myself, I tackled Levi to the ground and rolled us both underneath the Deuce.
More movement inside the bed of the Deuce.
“We’ve got a live one in one of the Deuce-and-a-halfs over in the motor pool,” I announced into my radio.
I rolled out from under the Deuce and drew my Glock as I got to my feet.
“You might as well come out,” I called out. “You’re not going to get away.”
More movement. A young woman dropped to the ground off of the tailgate. We surrounded her.
She was about eighteen, maybe a little older, and a little gaunt. My guess is she’d been using Meth for a while. She hung her head low and constantly shuffled her feet. From what I could see, she was unarmed.
Pete walked up behind me, “Where’d you find her?”
“She was in the back of one of the Deuces,” I replied.
“You know what we have to do,” Pete’s voice was somber and more than a little sad.
“Yeah, I know,” I wasn’t relishing this at all.
This poor girl had gotten herself mixed up with Hernandez somehow and now she had to die as a result. Like as not, she had never hurt anyone but herself. That didn’t matter in the new normal. She was a risk to us and risks had to be dealt with.
I really don’t want to talk any more about what we had to do. It doesn’t seem to be helping much.
Are we gradually eroding our humanity – the good in each of us that separates us from animals like Hernandez? If so, why do we deserve to live if he deserves to die?