March 8, 2015: Snake’s Head
Wow! Things have been a little crazy around here the last few days.
Where to begin?
We have a new “resident” here at the Union Creek farm. She’s hanging on to life by a thread.
We finally “cut the head off of the snake”. Fernando Hernandez is dead.
Levi may just be going off the deep end. I had the “switch” talk with him but it doesn’t seem to have done any good.
First things first, I guess.
Pete joined us in our Reach Out and Touch Someone campaign in advance of the pow-wow at his place. As he was reaching out, he came across another outpost. This place was about five miles west of Pete’s farm. It was a newer house. The other two outposts were in houses built in the early 1900’s. This place was probably built just a few years ago. It had stainless steel appliances, aluminum siding … lots of modern materials.
Pete and his boys managed to take the newly settled “home owners” by surprise (good old Sneaky Pete) and get a bit of information out of them. These fellows seemed quite ready to cooperate, as Pete tells it. They were running low on food and propane for heat. A couple of them were pretty sick – probably from poorly filtered water from the pond behind the house. It didn’t take much convincing to get them to talk.
What they told Pete really filled in a lot of gaps and, ultimately, led to the new resident here at the farm and Hernandez’s death. But, that’s a long story. I’m going to try to get as much of it down tonight as I can. If I have to, I’ll finish it in tomorrow’s entry or the day after.
Pete, through his wily ways, found out that the guys manning the outpost had not been in touch with headquarters for a couple weeks.
That, of course, is because their headquarters ceased to exist back on February 5th. We blew it to smithereens. Any radio equipment that was inside the armory became a million-piece jigsaw puzzle a split second after the first two charges exploded.
This remote Hernandez crew had no idea of what had taken place. Pete told them that the armory had been blown to bits back in early February. He didn’t let on that we had anything to do with the explosion but rather, hinted that there might have been some sort of accident with some of the ammunition or explosives stored at the armory.
Good old Sneaky Pete.
The outpost crew must have really bonded with Pete because they told him about all the other outposts that they knew of – about a dozen, including the two we had already removed from the equation – as well as the location of Hernandez’s home.
Pete was pretty excited to learn about Hernandez’s place. He reasoned that if we could locate Hernandez himself, the remaining outposts would pose a significantly reduced danger to those around them.
None of us felt that we would be entirely safe until every one of Hernandez’s outposts was eradicated but at least they would be no more danger than the “average” looters still running around. No more military-grade weapons, communications and supplies. No more coordinated actions. They’d just be a handful of people with no scruples, a few guns and empty bellies.
Funny how one’s view of the world changes isn’t it? Before the crash, living near a group of people who were willing to rob you, rape any women they found and then kill you would have been terrifying. Now, in the new normal, as long as they lacked military weapons, coms and coordination, they really aren’t that much of a threat.
Just five guys with handguns and semi-automatic rifles? Keep dinner warm, we’ll be home around 7:00.
Ah, yes, the new normal.
But I digress.
After Pete’s return from the outpost, our pow-wow took on a little different flavor. Instead of a pot-luck and a barn dance, Pete pulled out some maps of the area and we took a look at the location of Hernandez’s house.
Based on the information from the outpost-dwellers, Hernandez’s place was about twenty-five miles almost due west of the small outpost where Daniel took refuge before our attack on the armory. Hernandez’s house was straight south of Norfolk and just north of the county road that we followed into town for our raid on the armory.
There were a couple pieces of good news in that information. First, we had been down that same county road before without incident. Second, we knew the road was already clear. The weather had been on a bit of a warming trend for the last couple days, but without the snow plow work from the Deuce-and-a-half, we would still have been slogging through snow. Running vehicles through snow consumes a lot of time and fuel.
By the time we had planned our route and worked out our battle plans, it was after Midnight on the fourth. We headed back to the farm for a couple hours of shut-eye and then fueled up from our underground storage tanks and rode out in the one of the up-armored HMMWV’s and the ambulance around 4:00 a.m. Pete was waiting for us at Outpost 2 (the place where Daniel went) in the second up-armored HMMWV.
By 4:15 we were rolling toward Hernandez’s place. Pete’s crew was in the lead, the ambulance was in the middle and I was tail-gunning in the second Hummer with a .50 cal. We brought Laura along this time as our field medic. We’d taken on far too much without any real medical support nearby. In my opinion, we had pushed our luck much farther than we should have. Granted, with the supplies in the HMMWV, we were much better prepared for medical emergencies than we could have been without it, but we still should have had Laura along – a safe distance away – when we took out the armory.
There are just too many things to think of. It’s not like any of us have been doing this kind of stuff every day for the last twenty years. We don’t lack the minds or the intellect; it’s more of a matter of frame of reference. Like a lot of things these days, we’re simply not used to operating as we do now.
If I could have assembled a dream-team to survive after the crash, I would most definitely have pulled in some team members from active military combat troops. I mean, that’s about the closest you could get to recent “job experience” that applies to the new normal.
I can only imagine the interview process. How many bullet and IED wounds have you patched up in the last twelve months? What is your survival rate among the seriously injured? How would you treat a patient with an abdominal gunshot wound if normal medical supplies were not immediately available? Have you performed an amputation in the field before?
Those are just the questions for potential medical personnel … I don’t even want to think about the questions for snipers, interrogators, infantry and the like. We’ve really had to harden up in the last few months.
Maybe if we survive a couple more years … this will all be second nature to us. Then again, there may be a new, new normal by then.
What was it that Charles Darwin said? Something like, “In the struggle for survival, the fittest win out at the expense of their rivals because they succeed in adapting themselves best to their environment.”
We must adapt. Unfortunately, before the crash, we were more accustomed to changing our environment to fit us rather than changing ourselves to fit our environment. We rarely have that option these days.
Back on topic …
We rolled up about to the Hernandez estate just before 6:00 a.m. on the fifth. The trip had gone slowly. We were running in fog as thick as pea soup. The temps were in the upper 40’s and a gentle breeze was blowing. The result, with the snow on the ground, was a fog so thick that we slowed our travel to a top speed of about twenty miles an hour. We nearly drove past Hernandez’s place even though we were creeping along.
Pete’s map had given us a pretty good idea of the topography. But, nothing ever looks quite the same in person as it does on a map though. Add the fog into the mix and the whole operation had a fairly high probability of turning into one giant cluster.
Based on the intel from Outpost 3 (the newer home that Pete discovered), we were relatively certain that Hernandez had a skeleton crew – if he still had anyone at all – guarding his place. The outposts had radio contact amongst themselves and no one had gotten a call to come back in from their outpost.
Since they had no idea that the armory had been obliterated, the only thing that seemed odd to them was radio silence from HQ. When Pete gave the Outpost 3 occupants an approximate body count at the armory, they were relatively certain that Hernandez couldn’t have had more than a handful of people left, at most.
I had a relatively high degree of faith in Pete’s intel as it had not been obtained under duress. At the time, he had just shared some food and water with the Hernandez gang members and, as far as the gang members knew, they were just shooting the bull … getting to know one another. Information provided under those circumstances is usually much more reliable than information given out when you’re water-boarding or clipping jumper cables to a guy’s chest.
Hernandez’s place sprawled over hundreds of acres. We knew that a lane, about a half mile long, led from the county road up to the house. We could only see about twenty feet in front of our faces. The night-vision goggles we’d liberated from the armory were all but useless.
The goggles we found are based on image-intensifying technology. Fog disrupts the devices’ ability to focus on images and intensify the light available in the environment.
We were going in the old-fashioned way … blinded by both fog and darkness.
Our original plan was more along the lines of shock and awe. We were going to soften the place up with the two .50’s, dismount everyone but the HMMWV drivers and gunners and follow the Hummers in on foot to finish up the task.
Around Midnight on the fourth, that seemed like a fine plan. As with most plans … this one went to hell in a hand basket as soon as we put boots on ground in the AO.
Originally, we developed Plan B in case there were any friendlies being held at the Hernandez estate. I’ve never really bought into the concept of “acceptable collateral damage”. I’m also not a fan of hampering troops with rules of engagement that treat everyone as a friendly until they shoot a you, but carelessly lobbing .50 caliber rounds down range when you KNOW there are friendlies in the firing lanes … bad policy, in my opinion.
This journal isn’t meant to be a policy debate over rules of engagement. I’ll try to keep on track.
Plan B was based on a soft infiltration. Go in soft. Go in quiet under the cover of dark … and now fog … and selectively engage targets at close range. In a perfect world, one could always engage enemy targets from outside their effective range of fire. If it isn’t obvious by now … we don’t live in a perfect world.
Pete and I reminded everyone that concealment and noise discipline were the keys to successfully executing Plan B. Heads nodded all around.
We did a radio check with throat mics and ear-pieces. Everyone’s radio gear was five-by.
Our biggest disadvantage was a lack of any eyes-on intel on Hernandez’s place itself. Pete’s map showed terrain and roads but it wasn’t like we could zoom in on Google Earth and take a look at how the house was situated on the property, where the out-buildings were or anything else that would give us an idea of available cover and concealment.
See: Going in the old-fashioned way (a few paragraphs above).
Pete and his boys were the experts when it came to sneaky infil. Pete, of course, was the king … or should I say “chief” … but his boys were pretty darn good too.
The Olsens led the “charge” with the Johnsons bringing up the rear.
It took us nearly an hour to work our way up the lane to within visibility-distance of the house. The area around the house was heavily wooded providing decent concealment and some degree of cover.
As we approached the house, we fanned out and flanked it on either side. Pete was going to check the back of the house for easy ingress.
As he worked his way toward the house at what felt like a snail’s pace, I thought I saw a person moving in the back yard. The fog was playing tricks on our vision, but the dark spot was person-sized and remained relatively consistent in shape.
“Pete, I think we have a bogey to your south,” I whispered.
“Roger that,” Pete responded. “Location?”
Before I could respond an engine roared to life off to the west. I could feel the hair on the back of my neck start to prickle.
The engine revved a few times and then seemed to move in our direction. I could just make out beams of lights in the distance.
“Team 2, watch your six,” Pete was on the radio this time. “You have a tractor coming up behind you.”
“Roger,” Pete’s son-in-law, Nate, responded.
Nate was leading Team 2 over on the west side of the house.
I spotted movement again along the back of the house.
“Pete, I’ve got movement near the hedges to your one or two o’clock,” I warned.
“Got it,” Pete affirmed.
The tractor roared northward for a moment and then turned back to the south directly behind where I assumed Pete was.
“Pete, you got that tractor on your six?” I was speaking at a normal level by this time to be heard over the roar of the big diesel engine.
“I’m good,” was all Pete said.
The tractor crashed through the back row of hedges headed straight for the house. I couldn’t figure out what was going on. The lights illuminated the fog and threatened our night vision. I shaded my eyes while trying to get a read on what was happening.
I heard Pete over the radio, “I’ve got one person in the hedges at the west edge of ….”
Pete’s transmission was cut off by the noise of the tractor crashing into the back of the house. Nearly half of the rear wall crumbled and a good portion of the roof caved in. A figure jumped from the cab, waving what appeared to be an AK-47 and cackling like a hen that had just laid an egg.
The nutcase, whoever he was, shouldered his rifle and started firing on full auto in the direction of Team 2. That was enough for me. I moved around the tractor to ensure that the members of Nate’s team wouldn’t be in my line of fire and lit up the guy with the AK with two three-round bursts from my M4.
I was used to my semi-automatic AR so the three-round bursts surprised me a bit. My first burst hit center-mass, where I was aiming, but my second burst was a little higher than I’d anticipated. The barrel of the rifle climbed more than I expected. The second burst caught the top of the guy’s head. He went down like a box of rocks.
On the other side of the hedges, I heard Levi call out. His voice was loud enough that it came through in stereo – through the radio and direct.
I crashed through the bushes and found Levi on the other side with his boot on the head of a second individual – a woman.
Levi put his rifle against the skull of the woman on the ground. I could see blood already pooling beneath her.
“Hold on, Levi,” I shouted.
He didn’t look at me. He stared at the back of the woman’s head. I could see him applying pressure to his M4, pressing it harder and harder against her skull.
“She might be a friendly,” I said as I got close enough to put a hand on his shoulder.
“Are we going to let another one of these bastards go?” Levi whirled and screamed into my face.
“If she’s a friendly, we are,” I replied as calmly as I could.
By this time, the rest of the group had gathered around.
We were sitting ducks if Hernandez or any of his crew were still around.
“Let’s get into the trees,” Pete cautioned.
“Now!” I agreed.
Tate and Joseph picked up the injured woman as gently as they could and we slunk off into the trees.
That’s about all I have in me today. I’m going to catch a few winks and finish this entry tomorrow.