Kandahar Province: Afganistan
Staff Sergeant Harris took a deep breath as the red light in the back of the C-160 started to flash, indicating they were closing in on their target jump location.
“Mount up!” she shouted firmly over the loud propeller engines. With a twirl of her index finger, she set her Delta Force mission team into motion. In perfect harmony, 5 highly trained Delta Force operatives prepared to jump. Final checks took place as weapons were secured and goggles pulled down into place. Corporal Jake Archer kneeled down and secured two clips to his harness. When he rose, Deacon, the unit’s 113 pound German Shepard was fastened to his chest.
Harris took three strong strides to the back of the plane and pushed the large red button to drop the ramp. The unit moved into a single file line to prepare for their jump and as the flashing red light turned to a solid green, 5 of the most lethal special forces operatives in the United States Military started their free fall through the Afghanistan night sky.
Ali Krieger’s face broke into an easy smile as she stepped onto the pitch at the US Soccer National Training Center. Countless camps later, the feeling was always the same. The immediate adrenaline rush that came with being surrounded by the best soccer players in the world.
She walked out onto the field with Kelley O’Hara on her left and Julie Johnston on her right. This was their year. Redemption. The chance to right the wrong that happened in 2011. The chance to become World Cup Champions.
Ali laid down on the plush grass and started moving through her warm up stretches. A flash of blonde hair streaked by out of the corner of her eye as Megan Rapinoe tumbled through a graceful somersault.
“Hey Pinoe” Ali smiled and leaned over to pull the mid-fielder into a hug.
“How’s my favorite German speaking right-back?”
“Feeling like a champ. Ready to get the hardware that matches how I feel.” Ali’s nose crinkled as her grin spread across her face.
On the other side of the pitch, Jill Ellis blew her whistle to indicate practice was ready to begin.
“That’s our queue!” Pinoe grinned and jumped up, Ali right on her heels.
With that, the 2015 campaign to become World Cup Champions officially began.
2 days later, the National Team was assembled in a conference room within the Westin hotel they would call home for the next two weeks.
Ali’s hair was pulled into a loose bun, still damp from the recent shower. Her navy Nike sweatpants hung low on her hips, paired with a red tank top and completed with a pair of flip flops.
She piled her plate high with food carefully selected by the team nutritionist and took her seat at a table surrounded by Tobin, Alex, Sydney, Megan, Kelley, Abby and Hope.
“So, what’s the deal Kriegs? Still seeing that investment banker?” Sydney asked with a raised eyebrow.
“Who? Lauren? Oh, god no. That’s been over for months. A girl can only hear about interest rates for so long.” The table laughed and Ali patted herself on the back for navigating her turn at the gossip mill so skillfully.
“Kelley? What about you? Wasn’t there a surfer?” Sydney continues her inquiries as she looks for a way to live vicariously through her single friends. When Kelley stumbles over her words and a blush creeps up her cheeks, Ali knows she’s officially out of the woods.
In the back corner of the conference room, a reporter comes onto the tv screen with a breaking news alert. “This just in: The White House is confirming the successful retrieval of 6 Americans that had been held hostage for the past 8 days. While details are still coming in, we’re being told the operation was executed by a special forces division of the Military. No casualties are being reported at this time. We’ll have more details with the 10:00 news.”
Over the Pacific Ocean
Ashlyn Harris ran a hand through her short brown hair. It was her second day of Ranger training when she had traded in her long blonde hair for the functional but dapper undercut hair style she now sported. Years later, the hair cut still served it’s purpose.
Being Special Forces afforded some luxuries over the infantry. The rules were closer to guidelines. For example, everyone in her squadron had at least one tattoo. She, however, treated her body like a canvas. Her one arm was covered with a full sleeve. The other sported badges that mirrored the achievements adorned to her uniform. Special Forces, Ranger, Combat Diver all tattooed down her right bicep as a reminder of how permanent those skills are.
With a heavy sigh, she pulls herself out of her seat and bends at the knees to rummage through her ruck sack. Her muscles are well on their way to voicing their displeasure with her, providing that familiar pull after a mission. After a little effort, she finds what she’s looking for and pulls two bottles of Johnnie Walker out. She makes the short journey to the cockpit of the plane.
“Hey there, boys. Do me a favor? Don’t open this until we’re wheels down, hoo-ah?” She sets the bottle down, wedging it securely in place to stop it from rolling around between the pilots.
“Hoo-ah, Staff Sergeant. Do us a favor? Open yours up now. You and that squad of yours are some of the baddest mother fuckers we’ve ever come across and the way we see it, if those college students y’all saved are enjoying a drink on their plane ride home, you oughta do the same.” The pilot gave her shoulder a soft punch before nodding his head back to the cargo area containing the rest of the Delta team.
“Roger that.” She turned on her heel and ambled back to the group. A lopsided grin spread across her face as she looked over her team:
Corporal Jake Archer. Jake is her right hand. They joke about having telepathy for how easily they communicate with just a look or subtle head nod. He’s 28 and looks every bit the part of a special forces operative. The short cropped hair, the facial hair that isn’t quite a beard but is more than a five o’clock shadow, the tattoos and the variety of scars. Everything about him screams lethal.
Operative Michael Palmer. Mikey is the squadron’s resident sniper and the smallest member of the team, including Ashlyn. At 5’8”, he brags that a guy twice his size still doesn’t stand a chance in a fight if they never get within 1,000 yards of each other. The perks of being a sniper.
Operative Sean Duggan is the team’s field medic. Sean comes from a long line of military men. He’s fifth generation Army and responsible for patching up the team in the field when he’s not busy inflicting injuries on the bad guys.
Operative Travis Brooks excels in all things explosive. The team’s demolition specialist makes sure there’s no wall that they can’t breach. He has that tall lanky frame that reminds you of a surfer but with the additional muscle required with a profession in Special Forces.
As Ashlyn’s eyes take in each member of her team, she’s grateful for each and every one of them. In typical fashion, Jake and her are in unspoken lockstep. He raises a subtle eyebrow in question. She gives an almost invisible nod. A split second later, he’s calling their operatives to attention.
While they snap to, Ash grabs a stack of plastic cups from her ruck and hands them out to her boys. Keeping one cup for herself, she holds the bottle of Johnnie Walker in her other hand and uncorks it with teeth.
“Hell of a job out there boys. 6 in, 6 out. Just like we planned.” While the government considers them a 5 man team, it’s an unspoken rule amongst them that Deacon is every bit a member of the team as those with opposable thumbs. She distributes a hefty amount of amber liquid into each cup.
“De Oppresso Liber” She confidently recites the Army Special Forces motto.
“De Oppresso Liber.” They all repeat back and cheers before taking a healthy draw from the glasses.
“At ease, boys” She takes a seat with her squad and settles in for the long plane ride home.
A few moments of silence goes by before it’s interrupted.
“Hey Sarge?” asks Michael Palmer, a grin tugging at the corner of his mouth.
“Same bet as usual?” Now the grin has broken free and spreads across his entire face.
“Yeah, Mikey.” The other four soldiers are matching Palmer’s grin now.
Just like with any other mission completed: The next time they go to the bar, the last one to get a girl’s number will be buying drinks for the whole group that night.