I sit, isolated in a crowd, on the Special Operations base in Incirlik, Turkey. I am the home to Special Operations Team 7 under the command of Captain Adam Dalton. The rest of the team is made up of Sgt. Jasmine Kahn, Sgt. Joseph McQuire, Chief Petty Officer Ezekiel Carter and former CIA agent Amir Al-Raisani, and Patton but he’s unofficial. I’m also unofficial, but I have a very specific and very important job – I provide shelter from the natural elements and the weight of their jobs. Shelter, protection, home, and I take my job as seriously as they do theirs. By the very nature of my existence, I see and hear everything that happens here (one day they will learn that). It offers me extra insights to their individual stories, the fabric that weaves them together and makes this a family. These are the stories of our home here in Turkey.
This deployment was the roughest I have seen for my team. It seemed that every time they left for a mission, they came back a little more daunted, exhausted and empty. I guess that is the nature of what they do, but for a team this elite, the stakes seem to be even increasing. It makes me more committed to sheltering them as each mission is completed. It started with the bombing.
Just the day before my team had returned from a successful mission. Dalton had managed to complete multiple objectives, saving an American doctor, and ridding the planet of a terrorist within the same evening. I am always in awe of this group, their effective nature, their fastidious commitment but mostly, their humanity. I can hear other teams around here and it just isn’t the same. These folks are special.
I guess that is why my heart broke so much for them after that bombing. They had just gotten the team reset after losing Elijah *sighs*, I miss him too, but Amir was a good addition. They returned from the mission having successfully executed as a team and spirits were light on the surface. Every single one of them carries the weight of their jobs around and it weighs on them some after each mission, though it is their job, none of them likes taking lives. So, they manage it the best they can, a few beers around a fire and the horseshoe pit. They shoot some pool and they enjoy the fun they have together. This mission was so successful, they were given a day off and decided to go to Karatas and spend time on the beach.
As with the missions, I wasn’t witness to what happened, but I gather the information during daytime and late-night conversations around here. I’m always privy to the aftermath of the missions. I knew they were playing soccer with the children on the beach. Adam saw the truck (of course he did) and ordered everyone to get the kids. As usual, they were amazing, but still 4 servicemembers were lost, and 21 people were injured. That 21 didn’t count the small injuries to my team: Preach with a cut over his eye, McG with an injury to his wrist, Jaz with taped up fingers. The casualty count certainly didn’t include the injury to each of their hearts. What started as a wonderful day with the smell of sunscreen, the sound of laughter and a family off to enjoy a day off, ended with a heaviness that was nearly more that I could take.
They returned so sad, so broken that I felt like I might collapse under the weight of it.
They each tried to handle the aftermath in their own way. McG, who looks the part of the “pretty friend” is our combat medic who always rushes in to help and often emerges from helping folks with a soul that is a little tattered. It is well known that he doesn’t engage in lengthy relationships, preferring a quick evening and moving on. I suspect that he isn’t ready to show the scars that he bears within his heart from the injuries that he has seen and the times he was not able to help. The night of the bombing, Joseph was quiet as a sank down on the couch with his face in his hands. He let the day’s events wash over him and sat in it for a few minutes. Preach walked by and gave his shoulder a squeeze as he moved to call his family. As McG heard someone enter, he rose from the couch, not ready to discuss any of it and went to shower. He slowly and carefully walked to his room, avoiding anyone else. That night, Joseph let a scant few tears escape his eyes before he slept. Never have I wished to wrap my walls tightly around someone more.
Preach unloaded items from the Humvee and watched the other members. He is the wisdom of the team and is always ready to offer a kind word or an obscure reference if he finds it necessary. On this night, he has no words for the team, just a hole in his heart that can only be filled by his family. He gave McG a reassuring squeeze on the shoulder as he passed by to make the call. He knew Joseph would carry this deeper than he would let show, but McG was strong, and he would be okay. Preach knew that to be mission ready he needed only chat with his wife and daughters to remind him of the purpose of his being here and a good night’s sleep. So, he set out to do those things. He paused at his door, thinking of the other three team members. He knew they would each wrestle with things differently than he and McG. Adam and Jaz lacked a family foundation from childhood. Amir, well he had gotten quite good at hiding himself, but that meant he could be left adrift if he couldn’t find his anchor. Preach sighed and knew he couldn’t fix it tonight, not when he was so weary himself. He turned the knob on the door and quietly entered his room and started the call to his family. I knew he would be fine, he’s Preach.
Amir entered next, looking wild-eyed and caged in. I could feel the weight of the events on him as well, but he seemed action ready, as if he were spring loaded. He put his water bottle in the sink and made several laps around the kitchen, seemingly not knowing what to do with himself. Though it wasn’t an appointed time, he decided that maybe a prayer would help. As he started to his room, he met the gaze of Jaz. She looked broken, but he couldn’t manage to find words. He wasn’t sure she would want them anyway. He glanced around for Top but didn’t see him. He gave a slight smile of comfort and a nod to Jaz as he went to his room. He shut the door behind him, laid his prayer rug out. As his face touched the floor he stilled. The internal war was raging in him. Those children were innocent children, Muslim children, and he choked back a sob as he realized they would never again pray in a Mosque. He was smart, he understood the complexities of the geopolitical climate, but this wasn’t that. This was a heinous act because they were socializing with the American soldiers. He knew how ISIS and others felt about the American soldiers, three years undercover had given him plenty of knowledge. In his heart though, he couldn’t reconcile the targeting of children. He stilled himself with several breaths, gave up on his prayer and wearily climbed into bed. He laid awake for hours, though, plotting how to render justice.
Jaz with a backpack shouldered, entered, and saw Amir. Irrationally, she huffed to herself as if he were the enemy. She immediately squelched the thought but replaced it with an “he doesn’t fit here” directed toward Amir. She looked around for McG, he gives the best hugs as she had found out after losing Elijah and she thought that might be just what she needed. She sighed to herself when she didn’t see him. Instead Amir caught her eye. He gave her a small smile and nod as he headed for his room. “Ugh” she said to herself under her breath. He was beginning to make it difficult for her to dislike him. He was breaking down that wall she had built. She didn’t believe her heart had a place for him. She wasn’t sure what her heart was capable of after losing Elijah.
Unsurprisingly, Jaz refused to succumb to those messy feelings yet. Jaz always tries to hide her feelings more, I’m sure it is because she is a woman. Top never mentions that, none of them do, but you can tell that people have underestimated her for years because of it. I saw the look in her eyes and I was glad to be me and not the heavy bag. As I suspected, Jaz donned her gloves and started pounding away on the bag. She stayed at it for 30 minutes or so and grew bored of the punching not relieving her pain. So many times, I wish I could just create a new isolated space, a space that was completely protected to let Jaz be her complete and authentic self. She wasn’t one to put up fronts, but she did try to hide her feelings in front of the guys, except anger, that one she lets fly. She headed toward the shower. This is where Jaz is most herself. She knows that the guys will not interrupt her during a shower. Yes, they’ve all seen each other in various states of dress on missions, but here at home, they dared not cross that line. She pulled her hair down and as it cascaded over her shoulder, two tears slid down her cheek. She tried to stop them but when kids were involved Jaz found it difficult to get past it as quickly. She didn’t pause to think what that meant for her life, no tonight was for wearing the weight of losing comrades and seeing innocent lives permanently altered. The tears turned into sobs that only I heard, until Adam caught the sound as he walked by. She finished her shower and made her way to bed. The sobs had stopped but the tears flowed as she tossed and turned. Finally, she fell asleep. Don’t worry Jaz, I will keep your secret.
Top purposely unloaded the Humvee slowly and loitered outside with Patton. He was great at the mission planning and debriefs but this wasn’t that. This was a terror attack on his team and the children with whom they were playing. HIS TEAM!!! Who would target them? He grumbled to himself and realized that it wasn’t his team that was targeted, it was just US Soldiers in general. When Top entered, everyone else had moved to their rooms. He fell into his desk chair as if he weighed 3x his weight. I don’t want to hug Top, I want to lift this weight off him, he carries too much. He looks exhausted but even more, he looks haunted. He scrubs his hand through his beard and looks over his desk. He knows he should write up the report but he just doesn’t have it in him tonight.
Tonight, he needs to be sure his team is ok. Top is always watching everyone and feels entirely responsible for each of them. The injuries that they incurred are weighing on Adam as he wondered if he could have moved 5 seconds faster, if he missed something, should they have just stayed on base today? The thoughts run together as he starts down the hall to check on his team, his friends, his family.
He hears Preach on the phone and knows that his wife has better words to offer so he moves along.
He pauses at Amir’s door, there is no light and the room is silent. He thinks of knocking to be sure his newest team member is ok, but knows from his file that Amir is used to being alone. Perhaps that is what he needs tonight. He makes a mental note to spend some time with Amir in the coming days.
He stops at McG’s door and smiles to himself as he hears the snores emanating from the room. His heart hurts for McG, he had taken Elijah’s death hard and he was always tending to everyone. But he knew McG would tell him if he needed him, so he let him rest.
Adam passed by the bathroom hearing the shower running and knowing it was Jaz. He didn’t slow down until he heard the sob escape her throat. He stopped. His head fell, and the weight returned. Adam had a special relationship with Jaz but aside from that, he knew that she was missing Elijah even more tonight. They would have been on the couch together talking about anything other than the events of the day until they felt sleep would come.
Adam wasn’t built that way, but he knew he needed to check in on Jaz and offer whatever he could as her team leader, of course.
Adam made his way to his room, closed the door, and pulled his grey Army shirt over his head. He sat at the edge of his bed willing the tears not to come. He was successful, but the weight of the turmoil inside threatened to pull my roof in on him. He rolled to his side and drifted to sleep.
I looked and listed carefully, yes, they were all asleep. Sleep well team, I will stand in the gap tonight. You are safe here, sheltered and loved. Rest now I thought, tomorrow we start again.