An article about the most beautiful battle rifle in the history of mankind has been published on The Mag Life. How do I know about the article, and how do I know that rifle is worth such praise? Because I wrote it about a rifle I carried: the M14 EBR Enhanced Battle Rifle.

Here’s a sample:

I lined up on a Talib with an AK. The snipers are probably both gonna hit the one with the PKM, I thought. But maybe they’ll let me have one of the others. The range was less than 500 meters, the Talibs had their backs to us, and their leisurely pace pretty much guaranteed I’d hit one even if it took a few shots. My main worry was that the French grunts would hose the whole Talib fire team before I got my kill. The only other opportunity I’d had to whack an identified Taliban had been foiled by a bad call from higher, but this would more than make up for it.

Hell, maybe this was the same guy I didn’t get to kill earlier in my deployment!

I put my trigger finger on the safety of my M14 Enhanced Battle Rifle (EBR), the most beautiful rifle in the entire world. As soon as the team leader gave the word, I’d flick the safety forward, yank my finger back to the trigger, apply the fundamentals, and scratch a 1 into the EBR’s stock. And I’d be the only non-sniper, non-grunt, intel weenie on my block to get a confirmed Talib with an M14…

You can read the whole thrilling, near and dear to my heart, battle rifle saga on The Mag Life: the MK14 EBR.


Guys, I’ve been in a hell of a writing slump. But a couple weeks back I unexpectedly encountered a Marine who served in Vietnam with Gustav Hasford, author of The Short-Timers, which became Full Metal Jacket. That movie drove me and thousands of others into the Marine Corps in the 80s and 90s. I wound up interviewing six of Hasford’s brothers who served with him in Vietnam, and the backstory is even more interesting than his book and the movie it spawned.

If you’re interested in the history of the Vietnam War, or read The Short-Timers, or saw Full Metal Jacket, you might enjoy this article. The intro and a link to the full article are below, hope you enjoy it.

—————————————————-

It was April, height of the COVID crisis. I was cruising a Facebook photography forum, bored out of my skull, and saw a photo posted by Marine combat photographer Dennis Fisher. It was him in Vietnam with a camera and M3 Grease Gun, taken by a USMC combat correspondent named Earl Gerheim in Phu Bai after the Tet Offensive. As a former Marine, Army combat vet, photographer, military history fanatic, fan of the old Grease Gun and “writer, kinda,” I thought, “Wow, that’s cool.”

Dennis Fisher: one of the
Combat Photographer Dennis Fisher with camera and M3 Grease Gun, taken by Combat Correspondent Earl Gerheim in Phu Bai after the Tet Offensive. 

But something about that post burrowed into my subconscious, and later that day dug its way back out.

Gerheim…that’s an odd name. The only other place I’ve seen it was in a Vietnam novel called The Short-Timers by USMC vet Gustav Hasford. The main character was a Marine combat correspondent who winds up carrying a Grease Gun. And they’re in Phu Bai during Tet. And if I recall correctly, the guy named Gerheim was…

No way. It can’t be.

I jumped onto Facebook and reached out to Dennis Fisher. He confirmed that he did in fact serve with Hasford, as did Earl Gerheim. Fisher, Gerheim and I exchanged emails. Gerheim said Hasford used his name for two characters in the book, one of which was “Gunny Gerheim.”

You might know Gunny Gerheim.

The Short Timers, by Gustav Hasford.

The Short-Timers was published in 1979 but adapted for a movie that hit the big screen in 1987. In the movie, Gunny Gerheim’s name changed to Gunny Hartman. As in, Drill Instructor Gunnery Sergeant Hartman, played by R. Lee Ermey, in a Stanley Kubrick flick called Full Metal Jacket. I had somehow stumbled into two of the Marines who helped inspire Gustav Hasford to write the book that became the movie that pushed thousands of ‘80s kids like me into the Marine Corps, and whose characters became icons of American culture.

Kubrick's

Full Metal Jacket is a classic American war movie. Who doesn’t know The Gunny? Who hasn’t shared a meme of Animal Mother? Who doesn’t know that only steers and queers come from Texas? Who hasn’t made a War Face? Who hasn’t said “Me so horny” to their significant other? Who doesn’t know “The first and last words out of your filthy sewers will be sir”?

Let me see your war face!

One of the more frequently used Animal Mother memes.

Actually, that last one tripped me up. I arrived at Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego on a bus one dark night 31 years ago, exhausted from being up a full day and disoriented from riding aimlessly an hour from the airport to the fabled Yellow Footprints – which were, by the way, right next to the damn airport. I watched in terror as a DI approached, and a nervous voice exclaimed: “Here comes Smokey!” The DI walked up the bus steps, gave stern commands, and asked if we understood. We replied in crisp unison, trained by Full Metal Jacket, “Sir yes sir!” The DI, probably exasperated from hearing it a thousand times before, responded, “It’s just yes sir.” And we scrambled off the bus, a little dejected.

A few days after making first contact with Marine combat photographer Dennis Fisher we had a long and interesting phone conversation, and I saw photos he’d taken in country. The next day I spoke with combat correspondent “Crazy Earl” Gerheim, who was likewise fascinating and full of information. Then Gordon “Cowboy” Fowler, a Marine combat correspondent turned successful artist. Then Steve Berntson, a go-to Snuffie known in Vietnam for his ability to round up a quart of gin as well as new jungle fatigues. Then Bob “Ding” Bayer, Hasford’s closest friend. Then Dale “Daddy D.A.” Dye, that Dale Dye, another Marine from that small group.

“Crazy Earl” in Full Metal Jacket.

None bragged about themselves. All were eager to talk about Gustav Hasford, to ensure I understood his service, accomplishments, incredible intelligence, quick wit, and many, many eccentricities. Most of them loved the guy and generally called him Gus, sometimes pronounced “goose.” When I went other directions during interviews they’d often steer me back to Gus, which wasn’t exactly what I wanted. More on that later.

These men were the “Snuffies,” a small, tight-knit group of 1st Marine Division combat correspondents who served in “I Corps,” northern South Vietnam. They earned their pay by being pretty much a grunt with a notepad in line units (combat photographers like Dennis Fisher often went on missions with the Snuffies and remain close to some of them, but were in a separate unit). Their war was a curious anomaly, unique even in a conflict that had a thousand facets. There is no “standard” war experience; everything can change depending on where you are, what you do, and when you’re there. But the Snuffies experienced something far different than almost all other Marines, even those at the same places and same time.

“The Snuffies” celebrating Christmas, December 1967. Steve Berntson is front center, no shirt. Gordon Fowler is middle row with guitar, Dale Dye to his left, Gustav Hasford to Dye’s left. Earl Gerheim is seated at far right, beside the dark-green Marine.

The Snuffies were smart; plenty of other Vietnam GIs were smart, but the Snuffies needed above-average intelligence to get their MOS in the first place and several were college-educated. A couple including Hasford had already worked as writers or at newspapers, and four very bright Marines who’d washed out of officer training were sent to the Snuffies. They were well-read, followed world news, and “had conversations that would have been really unusual in line units,” according to Dale Dye, a prior mortarman. They also had to prove themselves useful so the grunts wouldn’t consider them dead weight. “When we’d get hit, it was important that the grunts in whatever unit I was with thought of me as Fowler and not ‘that idiot from division we have to babysit,’” Gordon Fowler said. “They had to trust me to fight beside them, not just write stories about them.” Simply put, you couldn’t find your own way around Vietnam, gain the trust of the infantry, and write good stories if you were stupid.

Then there was the Snuffies’ freedom. They carried printed orders from the division commander ordering anyone available to transport them around I Corps, and could pick and choose which units to embed with. “If we had a bad experience with, for example, India 3/5,” Steve Bernston said, “we’d say ‘Hey, Kilo 3/5 treated us better, let’s go with them instead’.” As crazy as this sounds to Global War on Terror (GWOT) vets, sometimes they even hitchhiked between outposts to reach their assigned units. “There was a standing order to always pick up a hitchhiking Marine,” Gordon Fowler said. That almost got Fowler killed once when he was picked up by ARVN (Army Republic of Vietnam) Soldiers who took him to what he thinks was a VC village, and he had to walk back to the main road to catch an American ride.

Lastly, every other Vietnam Marine had a gigantic, chain-of-command-shaped thumb on their backs; the Snuffies, on the other hand, were semi-volunteers on every mission. They received assignments to go with the infantry on various operations, which didn’t mean they had to be up front, but the Snuffies were constantly up front anyway. “We weren’t walking point or anything,” Bob Bayer said, “but there was pressure from the other Snuffies to get into it with the line units. We had a reputation to uphold.” So they jumped from line unit to line unit in ones and twos but never as a group, and kept getting into firefights, and kept getting wounded, just so they could do a good job telling the line Marines’ stories. Even draftee Gordon Fowler, 23 and married with a child when his lottery number came up, willingly risked it all.

“We were young, intelligent, creative guys who felt it was our duty to tell the story of the kid carrying a rifle and pack, scared to death out in the bush,” Dye said. “There were two ways to do that. You could hang out at the command post and interview grunts as they came back from the field, or get out in the field with them. We all wanted to be out there with them, and hated the idea that anyone would call us a pogue [POG, Person Other than Grunt] or REMF [Rear Echelon Mother Fucker]. We were out so much the grunts usually referred to us as JARs, Just Another Rifle.” Some grunts, upon learning the Snuffies hadn’t been ordered to accompany them on patrols and operations, expressed amazement: “You’re here, and you don’t have to be?”

Dale Dye with M1 Carbine, Vietnam, 1968

—————————————————————

You can read the article in its entirety here.

War face

Chris Hernandez (pictured here making a War Face with one of his boys) is a 26-year police officer, former Marine and retired National Guard soldier with over 25 years of military service. He is a combat veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan and also served 18 months as a United Nations police officer in Kosovo. He writes for BreachBangClear.com and has published three military fiction novels, Proof of Our ResolveLine in the Valley and Safe From the War through Tactical16 Publishing. He can be reached at chris_hernandez_author@yahoo.com or on his Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/ProofofOurResolve).

 


Chapter 4

Six miles west of Fort Davis, Fall 1881

Chief Victorio blew into his clenched hands, rubbed them together and held them toward the flames. Even with the roaring fire, he was freezing; the years of near-starvation, constant movement to escape the encroaching whites, and loss of hunting grounds had worn down Victorio’s physique so much that a stranger might be forgiven for thinking he was a teenage boy. Far from it at 56, Victorio knew, as his equally-withered small band of fighters shivered beside him, that if he didn’t defeat the whites at Fort Davis soon, the opportunity would pass and never return.

Over the cold, blowing wind, Victorio said sideways into the night, “Be strong, my brothers. This will pass, and we will be riding proud and free when it is over.”

The braves huddled around the fire murmured quiet assent, barely discernable against the sounds of the November high desert. Victorio closed his eyes, hearing the silent doubt behind the whispers of “Yes Chief” and “We are with you.” His men were scared. At this point, after years of seemingly endless defeats inflicted by both the Americans to the north and Mexicans to the south, Victorio could almost forgive their lack of faith. Almost.

But when Victorio opened his eyes seconds later, any tolerance of doubt had been forced from his mind. He needed braves, not terrified women. He would have no doubters by his side when he next attacked the white soldiers.

Victorio stood. Orange light danced and flickered over his lean, wiry frame, topped by a face turned old from suffering and privation. He gazed over his small band of warriors – thirteen of his most trusted men at the fire, only 58 more paired in the darkness in two concentric circles for security – held his rifle aloft, and roared in fury.

“ARE YOU MEN? Do you stand in defense of the great Chiricahua Nation? Or are you cowards who have chosen defeat over victory in your once-might hearts?”

Several warriors gasped in shock. A few cast their eyes downward in shame, fearing their brave chief, born without fear, could read their most silent thoughts. But most leapt to their feet, rifles and bows in the air, bellowing their loyalty.

“To the death, Chief Victorio!”

“We will never leave your side, great warrior!”

Chief Victorio surveyed his men, noting whose pledges were sincere, whose were obvious posturing, and whose silence spoke loudest. When the shouts died down, Victorio lowered his rifle and motioned his men closer. All thirteen clustered around his end of the fire.

“Keep your faith, warriors,” he said in a stern, flat tone. “Stay strong and brave. I promise you, the great spirit in the sky will bless us with good fortune soon.”

“Great Chief Victorio!” a voice yelled in accented Chiricahua from behind them.

Victorio and his assembled men spun in surprise. A few feet away a short, thin, black-haired Asian man in an odd grey one-piece suit stood with hands empty and raised, eyes cast slightly downward in respect. As Victorio tried to process what he was seeing, the man made a slow pirouette, displaying his lack of weapons.

“I beg your forgiveness for this interruption, Chief Victorio,” the man said. “But I bring to you a matter of the utmost importance, and time is of the essence.”

Is this one of the railroad builders the white man brought?, Victorio wondered. “Tell me, Asian man, how did you pass through the warriors protecting our camp?”

“Please, great chief, I assure you that your warriors are performing their duties,” the Asian man said. “I was delivered through a means they could not have foreseen, nor could they have prevented me from reaching you. But I assure you that I wish you no harm, and only desire to offer assistance in your struggle against the white man’s aggression.”

“He snuck through our braves,” Victorio whispered. “An assassin, here to kill me. There is no other explanation.”

The warrior nearest Victorio looked up sharply and caught Victorio’s eye. Then he looked toward the Asian man, whipped up his bow, yanked an arrow from a quiver, loaded and drew.

“Please sir, I humbly request that you do not-”

The warrior let fly. The arrow slammed through the Asian man’s sternum and punched halfway out his back. The Asian man gasped, instinctively clutched at the arrow’s shaft, and staggered backward. A second arrow stabbed through the left side of his rib cage. The man shrieked, leaned left and turned in a half circle. A third and last arrow caught him in the lower back. He groaned, staggered away, and collapsed at the edge of the campfire light’s reach. A weak, pathetic death rattle, a sound Victorio had heard countless times, skipped across the howling wind. Then the man’s body went completely limp, almost melting into the rocks and sand.

The men watched in silence, until Victorio grunted approval and turned back toward the campfire. As the men returned to their crosslegged positions on spread blankets, one of the warriors said, “That was…odd.”

“Yes,” Victorio agreed. “It was odd that such a meek, harmless man could somehow sneak through our lines. Those who failed to perform their duties will be punished. Our enemies will exploit such failures, we must therefore never tolerate them.”

“Yes, great chief,” a man answered. “But do you really think that man was an assassin? He seemed to be so-”

“Great Chief Victorio!” a voice yelled in accented Chiricahua from behind them.

“Chingow!” Victorio yelled as he jumped from his blanket and turned toward the voice. An Asian man, who looked like the same Asian man from a few moments earlier, stood in a respectful pose with his hands open and raised, eyes slightly downcast. The man wore the same grey one-piece suit as the other, but without protruding arrows, holes, or blood. As Victorio’s warriors shouted their surprise and drew their weapons, the man spoke.

“Great chief, I beg of you, please do not kill me again. I simply wish to offer you a sure path to victory.”

“Kill you again?” Victorio blurted, and pointed into the darkness. “We didn’t kill you, we killed that man over-”

Victorio stopped mid-sentence. The dead man was gone.

“What the…”

“Please, great chief,” the man pleaded. “I request but five minutes of your time, to explain my offer of assistance.”

Victorio looked sharply at the warriors to his left and right. They returned his questioning glances, equally unsure of what to do.

“Strange visitor, I must confer with my braves,” Victorio announced. “Remain where you stand.”

“As you command, great chief,” the man said, holding his respectful pose.

Keeping one eye on the Asian man, Victorio huddled with his men and spoke in a hushed tone.

“Holy shit, dudes. This is weirding me the fuck out. Anyone have a clue what to do?”

“Uh…should we kill him again?” one brave asked.

“That freak would just come back again,” Victorio said. “And that would scare the shit out of me.”

“Chief, are you sure that’s really the same guy?” another warrior said. “I mean, those Asian guys all kinda look ali-”

“Don’t be racist, Juventino!” Victorio commanded. “You know I don’t put up with racially insensitive language!”

“Sorry boss. I didn’t mean it.”

“Alright,” Victorio said. “I don’t know what choice we have. Let’s listen to the guy for five minutes, then talk in private again. And remember, I’m the war chief but your opinions matter just as much as mine, so we don’t make any decisions until we talk everything over. Deal?”

“Deal, chief!” the men chimed in unison.

Victorio nodded and spun around. “Alright, strange visitor, tell us of your offer.”

“Chief Victorio,” then man said, finally lowering his raised hands. “I offer you the help of a hundred brave, experienced warriors from a fierce and proud tribe. These warriors are armed with weapons so powerful the white man cannot possibly resist, and are willing to give their lives to totally destroy Fort Davis. They want nothing in return for joining your fight, desire none of your territory, and after your victory will return to their distant land. Should you accept them as allies, they can be here within moments.”

Without hesitation Victorio blurted, “Hell yes we accept your offer!”

Me Ft Davis

Chris Hernandez (pictured above in the mountains overlooking Fort Davis) is a 25-year police officer, former Marine and retired National Guard soldier with over 25 years of military service. He is a combat veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan and also served 18 months as a United Nations police officer in Kosovo. He writes for BreachBangClear.com and has published three military fiction novels, Proof of Our ResolveLine in the Valley and Safe From the War through Tactical16 Publishing. He can be reached at chris_hernandez_author@yahoo.com or on his Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/ProofofOurResolve).


Chapter 3

“This is it? What, is it the economy model?”

“No, smartass,” Nguyen answered with an eyeroll. “This is literally the highest tech that exists anywhere in the world. You and your boys will walk into it, and walk out the other side into 1881 West Texas. Specifically, you’ll walk out of the Sutler’s store at Fort Davis.”

Vic tilted his head and looked at the machine again. Nothing about it was impressive. The entire device filled only a half-size conex container, painted dull grey, with a complicated network of cables and wires running from the back end to dozens of computers and monitors spread throughout the darkened warehouse. Red lights provided a faint glow over the device and monitoring stations, and the dull hum of cooling units didn’t quite impede normal conversation.

“If this was the only one,” Vic asked, “how did the Chinese get it?”

“No idea,” Pena Rodriguez said. “It must have been a cyber breach. I mean, the only person here with access to all the plans and data is Elsie, our transsexual intelligence analyst. She’s a sweetheart though, she’d never steal the plans and give them to Wikileaks or anything like that.”

Vic looked toward one of the workstations. A skinny, bucktoothed, pink-haired guy in a dress lifted a disc from a computer drive. He saw Vic, froze, dropped the disc back into the drive, tapped his fingertips together and innocently whistled Born This Way.

“How many Soldiers will I have?” Vic asked.

“Ten. Including you.”

“That’s it?”

“What, are you scared?’ Nguyen asked. “Ten is plenty. How many do you expect the Chinese to send, a hundred? At best they’ll put five guys through their machine, then you and the 8thCavalry troopers at Davis will whip their ass in minutes. You’ll have M4s, SAWs, an M-240, AT-4s, grenades, body armor, everything. If anything, it’ll be too easy.”

“I’ve heard that shit before,” Vic muttered. “What makes you so sure it’ll only be five Chinese?”

“Our intel is solid,” Nguyen said. “There’s no doubt. Has the CIA ever been wrong?”

“Well, yeah,” Vic replied. “Remember that whole ‘weapons of mass destruction in Iraq’ thing?”

“Nobody cares about Iraq!” Pena Rodriguez yelled. “That’s in the past! What matters is what’s happening today…and what happened in the past.”

“If what happened in the past matters, doesn’t that include Iraq?”

“No,” Nguyen said. “We’re only concerned with the 1880s. And I guarantee the CIA had no intelligence failures then.”

Vic looked away and shook his head. “Tell me the plan.”

“Nothing to it,” Pena Rodriguez said. “You ten vets go through, make contact with the camp commander, and give him the cover story. There’s one minor obstacle, we can’t send people and weapons through at the same time, so you’ll get the weapons half an hour later. Then you set the defense, kill the Chinese, repel the Apaches, shake hands and kiss babies, and ride off into the sunset back to today. We’ll time your return to the Saturday evening when we knocked on your door. You won’t even miss a day of work.”

“Huh,” Vic said, with obvious doubt. “And we’ll be able to fight right after going through? Time travel isn’t going to mess us up?”

“Not at all,” Nguyen said. “Well, not really. There might be a little digestive and urinary upset, but it won’t affect your ability to fight. Right after the passage you might have a slight stomach ache and need to pee a couple times, then it goes away.”

“Does the Chinese machine do the same thing?”

“Of course,” Pena Rodriguez said. “They stole our plans, so it has to.”

“Quit worrying about irrelevant crap!” Nguyen blurted. “Focus on the mission. All that matters is how you and your troops will defend Fort Davis.”

texas-foot-soldiers

US Army troops at Fort Davis. Photo from TrueWestMagazine.com

Vic rubbed his forehead. “Speaking of that, what makes you people think the other vets will follow me anyway? I was just an E-4 team leader, nothing special.”

“Oh, they’ll follow you,” Nguyen said. “We told them about the heroic way you lost your leg in Afghanistan. They’ll go anywhere with you.”

“God dammit,” Vic said, biting back anger. “Do you people know how I actually lost my leg?”

“Nobody cares exactlyhow you lost your leg,” Pena Rodriguez hissed. “What matters is that you gave a piece of your protective gear to one of your Soldiers who didn’t have his, and it cost you your leg.”

“Well…yeah,” Vic stammered. “Sort of. But that’s not the whole-”

“It doesn’t matter!” Nguyen yelled. “They’ll follow you because you’re a hero. And besides that, they’re all descendants of Apache, just like you. We told them you’re Victorio’s great-great-great-great grandson. That’s all it took. You’re the man.”

“I’m not a freakin’ hero!” Vic shouted back. “And I was only in the damn Army for three years. I’m no tactical genius and was never even in command of nine people, I was just a fireteam leader in charge of three Joes. Now you dickheads think I can go back in time and lead a ten-man squad against Chinese cyberweirdos and an army of Apaches? Really?”

“Yes,” Pena Rodriguez said. “Really. Now if you’re done whining, let’s go to building 8 and meet your team.”

AN8A1472

Chris Hernandez (pictured above at Fort Davis) is a 25-year police officer, former Marine and retired National Guard soldier with over 25 years of military service. He is a combat veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan and also served 18 months as a United Nations police officer in Kosovo. He writes for BreachBangClear.com and has published three military fiction novels, Proof of Our ResolveLine in the Valley and Safe From the War through Tactical16 Publishing. He can be reached at chris_hernandez_author@yahoo.com or on his Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/ProofofOurResolve).


AN8A1458

Chapter 2

 “Here, Hasibullah? You’re sure this is the place?”

“Yes, this is it,” Hasibullah answered. “It’s the same place I met the Chinaman before.”

A hundred freezing Taliban fighters huddled in the pitch-black woods beside a dirt road in the Tagab Valley, in northeastern Afghanistan’s Kapisa Province. Steam rose from the clusters they’d gathered into for warmth, dissipating as it hit the dense overhead foliage. When wind moved tree branches, faint light from the waning moon would glint off weathered AK-47s, PKM machine guns, ammunition belts and RPGs. Hidden from the moonlight under wraps and in ragged backpacks were four hand grenades per fighter, plus a scattering of satchel charges built from fertilizer and aluminum powder. Each team leader, ten in all, carried an iCom radio with spare batteries.

Every Taliban fighter carried a rifle, RPG or machine gun as a matter of course, but the grenades and satchel charges meant something else. This was an assault force, to overrun an enemy camp.

To gather a force that large, fighters had been pulled from cells all over the province plus the Surobi Valley to the south, Laghman Province to the east, and Parwan Province to the west. No cell leaders wanted to give up fighters, but they understood that these fighters would bring about the defeat of the United States. Not just defeat, but its complete destruction.

The cell leaders didn’t understand quite how these Taliban were going to destroy America, but no matter. Their commander in Pakistan had met the Chinese, gone somewhere secret, and seen something amazing. He ordered the assembly of an assault force that same night, and his only complaint was that he was limited to sending a hundred fighters. Those fighters didn’t ask questions; they were told the Chinese were taking them to meet strange fellow warriors and attack a strange American base, so they prepared to meet strange fellow warriors and attack a strange American base.

Hasibullah pulled his wrap over his head, drew his cell phone from a pocket and checked the time. 1:57 a.m.The Chinaman had been fanatical about punctuality, constantly reminding him that he and his fighters couldn’t operate on “Afghan time” for this operation; they had to be at the right places, at the right times. Since the Chinaman had told Hasibullah he’d be there with trucks at two, Hasibullah expected him to arrive in exactly three minutes.

Even with such a short wait, Hasibullah was nervous. Local Afghan police at the checkpoints had been paid off or knew not to stop them, so the sooner they were in trucks and on the road the better. But if an American drone spotted their heat signatures against the cold background before the trucks arrived, missiles would land among them in seconds. The Taliban never saw or heard the drones at night, their first indication they’d been spotted was an explosion.

Someone tapped Hasibullah’s shoulder. He uncovered his head, and his eyes followed a pointing finger toward dim lights in the distance. Mumbled word was spread, and the shivering fighters crowded the edge of the road. Within a minute Hasibullah heard tires crunching rocks, and at precisely 2 a.m. the first truck stopped at precisely the right spot. The Taliban split up, twenty men to a truck just as they’d been told, and climbed into the open beds. Hasibullah climbed into the lead truck’s cab and squeezed the Chinaman into the center seat.

“Hello, Hasib-Khan!” the Chinaman exclaimed in perfect Pashto. “Are you ready to defeat America?”

“Yes, yes,” Hasibullah grunted in annoyance as he turned the heater vents toward him. “We’ll defeat America soon. But first let’s get out of here before the damn Americans blow us up with their robot airplanes.”

The Chinaman said something to the driver that Hasibullah couldn’t understand. The driver shoved the gear shift forward, the engine whined, and the truck lurched forward. Hasibullah looked in the side mirror and could barely make out four faint silhouettes, all rolling close behind.

In the darkened cab, Hasibullah allowed himself a nearly invisible smile. They were on their way. Within days, he’d been told, his men and their foreign allies would attack a poorly-defended American base protecting a vital highway that fed material wealth to major American cities. When that highway was cut, when American’s sinful commerce ground to a halt and its greedy citizens stopped receiving their whorish clothes, pornography and alcohol, America would fall. Dissolve. Fade away.

Americans, Hasibullah thought. Pigs. Liars. Heathens. Filthy whoremongers. He gave an imperceptible shake of his head. If he wasn’t so cold, he thought, he’d roll the window down and spit to get their imagined taste out of his mouth.

Since the Americans came, they’d somehow managed to offend and repulse him every time he’d encountered them. First they at least pretended to be respectful, but Hasibullah knew better. He’d caught them trying to look through women’s burqas. He watched them talk and joke during prayer calls. He heard them laugh at village elders. He saw them drop trash, even outside the masjid. But most disgusting, vile, and repulsive of all, he heard them fart!

The memory made Hasibullah swallow back vomit. The first time he’d heard it, when American Marines first came to his village, he’d been so stunned he could barely speak. He’d been walking his favorite, most attractive goat through the village when he saw them, and had tried to detour around them like he’d been instructed by older mujaheddin. But as he made his turn, the ragged, staccato roar burst from one of the Marines’ pants.

Hasibullah froze in terror. For a moment he thought, prayed really, that it must have been something else, maybe someone stepping on a duck. But no, it was definitely a fart. It had to have been a fart, because the other Americans laughed. Tittered and giggled like little children. Then another American did it, and they burst into loud guffaws.

Hasibullah stood frozen in shock. Then he forced his eyes down, to check on his goat. She was already staring back at him, rectangular pupils full of terror, practically shaking in panic. Then the wind blew the American evil toward them, and his loving, beautiful, passionate goat said one word:

BLEEEAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH!”

Hasibullah’s jaw clenched in fury at the memory. That goat had never recovered. And he’d never forgiven himself for not protecting her from such shame.

Before that day, Hasibullah had heard one fart. It happened during a shura,a meeting of local village and tribal elders. The men were sitting on a rug around a collection of sweets and hot tea. One elder leaned forward to grab a biscuit, and it happened.

The assembled men froze and stared at him. He blanched, sat back, seemed to hope in vain that it hadn’t been noticed. Nobody spoke. Then the smell hit. Men gagged, dry heaved, glared angrily at the horrified elder. And the elder did the only honorable thing a real Afghan would do if he farted in front of others: he stood without a word, grabbed his AK, walked outside and shot himself.

Hasibullah had heard several American farts since then, each worse than the last. Every time it happened, he had to restrain himself from rushing home, grabbing his rifle, and mowing the insolent Americans down. Such an act would get him killed, of course, and maybe lead to the destruction of his entire cell. Even so, he’d been tempted to give his life just to kill one of these farting demons.

Hasibullah would get his revenge during the coming assault. Revenge for god. For Afghanistan. But mostly, for the life-changing trauma his goat had suffered at the hands of a gassy, disrespectful American.

He accepted that he might die; he would be in the forefront, as always, but no matter. He would be happy to die, if he could drag America into the grave with him. He’d go to paradise, while America would go to hell where it belonged. A noxious, putrid, fart-choked hell.

You devilish, filthy Americans, he silently sneered, will fart no more.

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Note: the fart thing comes partly from an experience I had in Afghanistan.

My team was hanging out on our firebase with our Afghan-American translator, “John,” a cantankerous old Pashtun originally from Kandahar who’d emigrated to California. We all loved the guy (even though I wound up having to fire him later because he was such a hardhead). Anyway, as we were BSing he loudly farted. Of course, my team and I burst out laughing. Our terp was horrified and apologized profusely. We shrugged it off, but he kept apologizing and acted thoroughly ashamed. We tried telling him, “It’s nothing John, don’t sweat it,” but John still looked like he’d been caught rummaging through a fat old lady’s panty drawer.

His reaction was really odd. So we pushed him for an explanation of why he was so ashamed, and after he calmed down he told us a story.

When he’d been a kid in Kandahar, farting in front of anyone was practically considered a mortal sin. But one man who lived near him had farted on accident in front of several other people. The man, John said, just disappeared. He abandoned his wife/wives and children, said nothing to anyone, didn’t take any property, and disappeared. Everyone in the community assumed he’d killed himself, which they also thought was the proper thing to do. Years later he turned up somewhere far from Kandahar. It turned out he’d started life elsewhere under a different name, hoping nobody would ever know he’d farted once.

That was the only time I ever heard of the Afghan attitude toward farting, and after I came home I forgot about it. Then, several years back, I read this article, about some Marines being banned from farting around Afghans in order not to offend them. One guy on another website commented, “I remember my Terp telling me how [farting] was the worst thing you could do. He told of a guy whose grandfather had farted in public and how his grandson now had to bear the shame.”

Hence, my Taliban protagonist is motivated by desire for revenge against farting Americans.

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AN8A1472

Chris Hernandez (pictured above at Fort Davis) is a 25-year police officer, former Marine and retired National Guard soldier with over 25 years of military service. He is a combat veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan and also served 18 months as a United Nations police officer in Kosovo. He writes for BreachBangClear.com and has published three military fiction novels, Proof of Our ResolveLine in the Valley and Safe From the War through Tactical16 Publishing. He can be reached at chris_hernandez_author@yahoo.com or on his Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/ProofofOurResolve).