"Sergeant, sergeant wake up.  Sarge!" Private First Class Linsey Clarke shook his squad leader awake.  The huge figure of Staff Sergeant Chad Oakland rolled over in his bunk.  His dark hair was unkempt from a night's sleep.

                "What is it Clarke?" he asked the smaller man.

                "Sergeant, they're calling for you to report to Bravo Company's HQ." Oakland heard this, looked at his watch and immediately jumped out of bed.  He grabbed his boots and put them on his feet without tying them.  He quickly placed his helmet on his head, picked up his M16A2 rifle, and threw his LBE over his arm before running full speed out the door of 3rd Squad's barracks.

                "I wonder what's going on." Clarke said softly to himself.

                "A mission, it's gotta be a mission." Clarke's team leader, Sergeant Andrew Haberer, said from his bunk.  Haberer was the veteran of the war.  Over six feet tall, he towered over anybody in the squad.  He'd already served his first year in country and decided to stay another tour.  His claim of a mission aroused the attention of everyone in the squad.  3rd Squad, 1st Platoon of Bravo Company, 2nd Battalion, 46th Infantry Regiment gathered around the veteran's bunk.

                "Why do you think it's a mission?  Could be anything."  Specialist Cameron Hayes, the squad's SAW (Squad Automatic Weapon) gunner asked.

                "They always have a briefing before a mission." Corporal Simon Anaya answered.  Besides Haberer, Anaya had the most experience in battle and was the other team leader.

                "Yep, Oakland was talking about it yesterday to me.  He's a little nervous for his first time out as squad leader."  Haberer added.

                "W-what will we be doing?" Private Seth Brown stuttered.  He hadn't yet been in country a week and before that just finished Advanced Individual Training and Basic Training.  He was as green as you could be.

                "There's no telling.  The only thing I can tell you guys is to get some sleep, we're probably going to head out early in the morning.  They always initiate the greenest squad this way.  They never would give anything too tough or dangerous for our first time out though.  Don't worry."  Haberer's suggestions were taken as gospel to the members of 3rd Squad.  They all went to their bunks for the extra sleep

                                                                *                              *                              *

                Oakland had managed to get his LBE on and only dropped his rifle twice while his squad was discussing their future.  He apologized but didn't slow when he bumped into a soldier coming out of the mess hall.  He received many dirty looks on the ½ mile run to the HQ building.  He checked his watch as he neared the entrance, only 40 minutes late.  Maybe it wouldn't be so bad.

                He shouldered the front door open and ran down the hall to the conference room where his briefing was to take place.  He ran in to find his platoon leader and platoon sergeant sitting there.  They looked up when Oakland entered.  They were not happy.

                Second Lieutenant Paul Ford and Sergeant First Class Robert Owen stood.  Oakland saluted.

                "Sir, Staff Sergeant Chad Oakland reporting as ordered."  He spoke between deep breaths.  Ford returned his salute.

                "Forty minutes late!" Ford screamed as he slammed the palms of his hands down on the table.  He and Owen glared at Oakland.

                "Um, yessir.  Sorry about that, it won't ever happen again."  Oakland stood at a shaky position of attention.

                "You're goddammed right it won't ever happen again!  Your ass will be gone if you ever pull a stunt like this again!  As soon as this meeting is over you'd better pull a complete 180!  Look at you!  Jesus Christ you're a squad leader!"  Ford gestured toward Oakland; his chinstrap was unstrapped, boots untied, LBE belt not clipped and there were streaks of mud on his rifle where it had been dropped.  Oakland was speechless.

                "Sit down."  SFC Owen commanded, "You're getting a mission."  Oakland obeyed immediately.  Owen read:

                "Situation.  Enemy Forces.  The enemy has consolidated at VZ74172121 and have been conducting dismounted 2-3 man size patrols from vicinity VZ7421 to VZ7919 to VZ7230 to VZ7724.  Their morale is high and they are well trained.  Mission.  Your squad is to conduct movement to contact from LZ Escort, VZ70002000 to VZ81743411 in order to regain contact with enemy forces in the area no later than 0500 hours tomorrow." Owen looked up to his lieutenant.  Ford continued.

                "Execution. Concept of the operation is for you to move along a route between LZ Escort and the previously given coordinates.  You are to locate enemy patrols in the area.  If you come upon a patrol element larger than 2-3 men, immediately break contact.  Fires.  You have priority of fires from Bravo battery's guns."  Ford paused to let the simple mission sink in.  Owen finished the order.

                "Service support.  Nothing new.  Command and signal.  You are Bravo 1-3, and we're Bravo 1-6 and 1-7 as per our standard operating procedures and we're following the regular signal operating instructions.  That's it Oakland.  You got it?"

                "Yes, I think I got it all."  Oakland replied nervously.

"Ok Oakland, get outta here.  You move out at 0430."  Oakland rose and saluted, and then he turned to leave.

                "Oh yeah, Oakland," Ford said.  Oakland turned. "Don't fuck this up." Oakland nodded and ran out of the door.

                                                                *                              *                              *

                Oakland and his squad were sitting on the edge of the helipad waiting for their pickup at 0430.  SGT Haberer and CPL Anaya were doing last minute pre-combat checks before they moved out.  Haberer's bravo team, Clarke the medic and Brown the grenadier who also carried the radio, were full on ammo and camouflage and ready to go.  Anaya checked alpha team.  SPC Hayes the SAW gunner and SPC Doria, a quiet soldier who was new in country, were also ready to go.

                Oakland was a brand new squad leader and had just been transferred to B Company.  He was given two strong team leaders but otherwise a green squad.  Besides the team leaders Hayes was the only soldier in 3rd squad who had actually been in a firefight.  Not only that but Oakland was short 3 or 4 soldiers of a full squad.  Luckily, he was given a few weeks to train and work with his soldiers before being given a mission.  Traditionally in Bravo Company, a new leader was given a mission to get his unit combat experience before anything else.

                At about 0425, 5 minutes before everyone expected to be picked up, Oakland stood to address his squad.

                "Guys, listen up," everyone stopped what they were doing and looked to their leader, "I know this is most of your first time out.  This, as you know, is my first time out as squad leader.  Just remember our training and nothing can go wrong."  This was responded to with a loud HOOAH.  Oakland told the squad to line up and then he looked to the sky to see their ride, a UH-60 Black hawk helicopter.

                The chopper landed and the squad was on and in the air in less than 10 seconds.  The half hour ride would be accompanied by artillery bombardment of the landing zone and smaller attack helicopters machine-gunning the edges of the LZ.  The Black hawk was flying in low at a treetop level to prevent detection from enemy radar.

                As they approached the LZ the pilot flared the nose of the helicopter up for a rapid slow before landing.  The wheels came within 6 inches of the ground and Oakland's squad jumped out and moved to a 360-degree security position as they rehearsed.  The Black hawk was up and gone and 3rd squad was alone in enemy territory.

                After about 10 seconds, Oakland gave the signal to move out.  His squad got up with Haberer and bravo team leading and Anaya's alpha team in the read.  Oakland was located in the middle of the two teams.  He and Haberer each had handheld GPS navigators so they could stay on course.

                The soldiers moved along slowly and quietly, each had eyes and ears trained to the environment trying to pick up any sign of the enemy supposedly in the area.

                Then the silence was broken with the sound of someone falling.  Oakland halted the squad and went to check on what happened.  SPC Doria in the left rear of the formation had stepped in a huge sinkhole and was up to his hip underground.  Oakland helped the struggling soldier to his feet.

                "Shit!  I didn't even see that fucking hole!  Sorry Oakland, sorry man."  Doria apologized but Oakland waved it off.

                "Watch out for those holes everyone, I've seen a bunch out here." He whispered just loud enough for everyone to hear.  They all nodded.  He signaled to move again and everyone rose from the prone position they had taken and continued moving.

                After a couple of hours of slow movement there still had been no sign of the enemy.  Oakland checked his GPS to learn they had only traveled 2 klicks.  He signaled to halt so everyone could rest.  Lying in the middle of their secure circle, Oakland strained to hear any sign of enemy.  There weren't even any birds chirping.

                Then there was something!  Oakland heard a low-pitched whistle coming from his left.  It got louder and louder…

                "INCOMING!" Brown yelled.  The call was repeated by everyone and followed with a simultaneous slamming of helmet into the dirt.  Before they could react there was an explosion that shook the ground.  Oakland heard the whizzing of shrapnel over his head and felt the heat of the round exploding nearby.

                "Twelve o'clock, 500 meters!" He instinctively yelled.  He knew the round would be adjusted and bracketed into his position so he ran away from where the adjusting round would land.  There was another explosion farther away in the opposite direction as the men ran.

                "Hug the ridgeline!" He ordered and Haberer led then along the inside of a ridge so the enemy calling fire on them would lose track of where they were.  After about 100 meters of a dead sprint the squad slowed to a quick trot.  They continued in the right direction until Oakland called the halt.  Everyone dropped panting into their security positions and Oakland moved over to PVT Brown.

                "Bravo 1-6 this is Bravo 1-3, sitrep to follow, over" he said into the handset of the radio Brown had on his back.

                "Bravo 1-3 this is Bravo 1-6, go ahead, over." The receiver squawked with 2LT Ford's voice.

                "We have received indirect fire but received no casualties, green-green-green, over."  Oakland reported.  They had been lucky.

                "Roger 1-3, wait one, break."  Oakland moved the handset away for a minute to check his squad.  They had all pulled out their canteens and were catching their breath.

                "Bravo 1-3, be advised there are friendly soldiers in the area.  2 special forces soldiers, break." There was a slight pause, "you are to link up with them and receive further instructions from them, over."

                "Wilco Bravo 1-6, over."  Oakland felt excited.  Why would his squad have to link up with 2 SF guys?  What are they doing out here?

                "Roger, good luck 1-3, bravo 1-6 out." The radio went silent.  Oakland turned and trotted over to the 12:00 position where Haberer was laying in the prone.  Oakland strained his eyes to see out beyond the thick trees and bushes around their position.  He didn't see anything.  Ten minutes passed.  Then Haberer tapped Oakland and whispered to him.

                "I think we've all caught our breath, we can move on again if you want to." He suggested.

                "Oh shit!  I forgot to spread the word.  We're supposed to be waiting for 2 SF guys here.  I'd better tell alpha team, you tell your team."  The two leaders moved to inform the rest of the squad when the crack of an M16 rifle was heard from PFC Clarke's area.

                "Oh no, they're friendly!" Oakland yelled.  He looked to see what Clarke had shot at but there was nothing visible beyond the trees.

                "We're American you fucking idiots!" came a voice from the wood line.

                "Super!"  Oakland yelled the password to the unseen soldier.

                "Trooper!" was the reply and a dark faced soldier appeared from the trees and came toward Oakland.  He was dressed the same as 3rd squad but instead of a helmet he was wearing a boony cap with the rank of sergeant subdued on it.  He was armed with an M203 grenade launcher and displayed the tabs of Special Forces, ranger, and airborne on his left shoulder.  He moved with the squad leader to the center of the perimeter.

                "You shot my team XO you know." The unknown soldier told Oakland.  "His name was First Lieutenant Chris Greeley.  We were the only two out of our team that survived and your fucking stupid kid shot him!"

                "Clarke!" Oakland called, ignoring the SF soldier. "Go get the other guy in here."  Clarke came to the center where Oakland was.

                "I-I'm really sorry, I should have challenged him.  I couldn't tell you guys were American.  I'm so sorry." Clarke stuttered, face pale.

                "You're just lucky I'm holding myself back." The angry soldier said.

                "Clarke, go." Oakland commanded.  Clarke went out and dragged Greeley to the inside of the perimeter.  He was shot once in the chest and once in the neck.  After dragging him in and checking his vital signs Clarke promptly turned and vomited.  When this was done the squad leader turned to his new addition.

                "Ok now, who are you and what are you guys doing out here and what does it have to do with us?"  Oakland asked sternly.

                "Well, you killed my intel officer so I guess I have to tell you," he said cynically, "I'm Sergeant Jeff McCowan.  My team infiltrated an enemy defensive base and invaded their CP.  We killed all the men in charge and stole all these sensitive documents."  McCowan tapped an ammo box he was holding that Oakland had not noticed before.  The noise attracted the attention of the whole squad.  McCowan spoke loudly enough for everyone to hear.  "My team got in some shit on the way out and we basically had an entire battalion on our asses.  Ten guys died and now Lieutenant Greeley," he paused.

                "I'm sorry," Oakland tried to sympathize.

                "Well, it's ok with me cause you guys are in the shit now too.  Your stupid ass squad is the only fucking unit anywhere near here and we have to get these out.  They don't want to just call in choppers because we're in an unsecured area and they don't want to alert the enemy even more than they already are.  Me and the L.T. were to lead you to a more secure area and set up a PZ so we can all be extracted.  We have to move quick."  McCowan's words froze Oakland's blood.

                "An entire battalion you said?" he replied.

                "Yep, and we gotta get going soon.  Someone's got to carry Greeley."  McCowan gestured toward his dead XO with a look of pure anger on his face.

                "I'll do it." CPL Anaya volunteered.  He stepped forward and threw the body over his huge shoulder with a grunt.  He held his rifle and Greeley's, once in each hand.  "Let's get going, I can't carry him forever." Oakland nodded to Anaya and gestured for McCowan to take the lead position.

                "Just don't shoot me."  He said; Clarke turned away.

                They moved out immediately.

                                                                *                              *                              *

                First Lieutenant Greeley ended up being more weight than even Anaya could handle.  The squad had to switch carriers every 500 meters.  The only one Oakland didn't order to carry the body was McCowan.  After Anaya had passed the burden to Hayes he'd taken the SF officer's smaller M4 carbine rifle and slung his M16 over his shoulder.  They also distributed ammo and equipment the best they could but the dead weight was still slowing them down.  Four hours passed in almost total silence except for the switching that took place.  They had only traveled 6 kilometers.

                Eventually, 3rd squad was walking in a single sided small valley.  The ridge to their right was not very tall but it restricted their movement and vision in that direction.  The trees had thinned out a little but there was still enough concealment that they could move close to each other.

                After about 30 agonizingly slow minutes of traveling parallel to the ridge McCowan froze.  He held up his hand to halt the squad and turned with his finger presses to his lips.  The soldiers all froze in mid step.  Oakland made eye contact and McCowan pointed toward the low ridge and gestured with his rifle.  This was the signal for enemy spotted.  Oakland turned to each person in his squad and gestured to get down into security positions.  Brown, who had been carrying Lt. Greeley's body, dropped it silently in the center of their perimeter before setting down in his own position.

                For over an hour Oakland's squad sat alert in their hasty positions.  They listened as the enemy moved opposite their direction of travel less than 100 meters away.  No one moved and no one made a sound.  Brown had turned off the radio just in case it made a loud squawk.  Once the enemy was thought to be far enough away, Oakland made his way to Brown to report to his platoon leader.  They clicked it on and Oakland raised the handset to his ear.

                "Bravo 1-6, this is Bravo 1-3, over." He whispered.

                "Jesus Christ 1-3, where have you been?" Ford's voice boomed, ignoring radio procedure, "What's your position?"  Oakland quickly checked his GPS and reported the coordinates to his PL.  The radio was silent.

                "1-3, stand fast, I repeat stand fast.  The enemy has set up a company-sized ambush in your direction of travel with an extra platoon attached.  You are to dig in hastily in your current position and wait for further instructions.  Remember 1-3, protect those documents at all costs, over"

                "Roger 1-6, request immediate artillery support and pickup, over" Oakland stammered, not anxious to pit his 8 man squad against over 300 enemy.

                "Negative at this time 1-3.  The guns have moved and you don't have fire support at the moment.  If we sent birds straight to your position they'd know where you were in a heartbeat.  I don't want to take that risk.  Just hold fast and stay silent for now.  You should be ok as long as they don't hear you.  Do you copy, over?"

                "Roger 1-6, this is Bravo 1-3, out." Oakland handed the handset back to an ashen-faced PVT Brown.  Oakland patted him on the back and attempted a smile.

                "Don't worry Brown," Then he called everyone in so he could whisper his instructions softly.

                "Ok, we all heard them over that ridge but they're gone for now.  We have a company plus waiting in ambush in our direction of travel so we've been ordered to stick around here for now.  Hopefully this should clear up soon and Ford can send us out some birds to pick us up.  Brown, make sure you monitor the radio just in case the situation changes.  McCowan, give Clarke the ammo box.  Clarke, don't let anything happen to it.  I'm going to reposition you guys so we can cover the most area with our SAW.  Since the company is toward our 12 I figure that will be where any patrols will originate from.  Hayes, you're 12:00."  Oakland continued to position everyone and instructed them all to dig hasty positions as quickly as possible.  For the next 10 minutes they worked as quickly and quietly as possible.  When that time was up he gave them the order to lay in while he assigned sectors of fire.  He also tried to reassure each man that they were ok.  Brown and Clarke were especially distraught.

                Once finished, Oakland laid in his own hasty position and waited.  No sound was made.

                                                                *                              *                              *

                The enemy, of course, know they were coming and knew they had the documents.  As a matter of fact, they knew the American's almost exact position.  The squad that passed over the ridge was ordered to travel 1 kilometer forward and then double back to fix the Americans in place while the company to their 12:00 could send in more soldiers to destroy them.  Soon, they'd be coming upon Oakland's 6.

                                                                *                              *                              *

                All was still quiet.  Oakland had been up a few times to make sure everyone was awake and had them eat a light meal.  Everyone, including the two veteran team leaders, were nervous about battle.  A whole company against one squad was terrifying odds.

                Suddenly, a deafening volley of gunfire opened up close to Brown's position.  He fired his M203 grenade launcher toward the hostile fire but as he pulled the trigger his head snapped back and he fell face first into his fighting position.  Everyone began yelling.

                ""Alpha!  Get on line toward the 6!"

                "Brown!  Seth!  You ok?"

                "Return fire dammit!"

                "I'm pinned down here, shit!"

                "Oh my God, Brown!"

                Finally, Oakland got everyone on line and returning fire.  But just as they were returning on a line in one direction another group of shots started coming from their 10:00.  Finally, Hayes had something clear to shoot at with his SAW.  Oakland noticed the first group of enemy moving to join the others at the 10 so he rotated his squad toward the new threat.

                All of the soldiers were yelled for by Oakland.  Brown and Anaya did not answer.

                                                                *                              *                              *

                Corporal Simon Anaya was pinned behind a tree in between his squad and the enemy.  He was taking fire from both groups.  When Oakland ordered them to get on line, Anaya went the opposite direction.  He figured he could take out the whole enemy squad alone.  He slowly crawled forward.

                He could feel more than hear the bullets flying past him.  One hit the ground in front of his face and blew mud into his eyes.  Still, he was determined and was moving steadily closer to the soldier on the far edge of the enemy firing position.  The enemy didn't spot the camouflaged figure moving slowly closer.

                Unfortunately, Anaya missed the one man who actually was the far edge of the enemy squad.  Anaya crawled slowly in front of a tree and found himself staring down the muzzle of a rifle.

                The man smiled at Anaya before pulling the trigger.

                                                                *                              *                              *

                "Haberer, McCowan, bound back!"  Oakland screamed over the sound of the battle.  Haberer and McCowan immediately obeyed while Doria, Hayes, Clarke and Oakland covered with fire.  McCowan jumped over the body of his dead XO and noticed he had taken about 10 additional bullets while lying there.  They hit the ground unscathed.

                "Ok now Hayes and Doria go!"  Oakland ordered.  The two got up immediately just as the first two had.  However, the concentration of fire was in the center of the line and without the SAW the enemy was more daring and had more volume of fire.  Doria turned and made it about two steps before he was hit just below his neck.  The bullet exited out the front of his throat.  Oakland watched as he began to fall forward silently, and took two more bullets in the back.  His rifle went barrel first into the ground and Doria's weight pushed it halfway in before he fell to the side.

                Hayes had moved about 5 steps before he noticed Doria was hit.  He attempted to make it back to his friend's position to check on him but one of the two bullets that hit Doria on the way down went clear through and hit Hayes in the stomach.  He didn't fall quietly; his screams seemed to reach above the pitch of the battle.  He dropped the SAW and curled up into a fetal position clutching his stomach.  Oakland and Clarke watched in horror.

                "For God's sake, let me check on him!" Clarke begged his squad leader.  He could tell that Doria was dead and couldn't risk finding Brown or Anaya but he knew he could at least try to help Hayes.  Oakland nodded

                Clarke began to crawl toward the screaming SAW gunner, rifle in one hand and ammo box in the other.  When he got to Hayes he set the box down next to his hip and opened his medkit.  To his surprise the ammo box took a bullet and popped about a foot into the air.  Clarke stuck Hayes with some morphine and seconds later the screaming quieted to a soft whimper and Hayes's hands loosened their grip on his stomach.

                Clarke checked the wound.  Without an immediate medevac Hayes would bleed to death in less than an hour.  Clarke felt helpless.

                "Clarke, we've gotta get away, the enemy is moving closer.  Take the SAW!" Oakland commanded.  Clarke put the pistol grip of his M16 in Hayes's hand and placed his finger on the trigger.

                "Get some of those bastards."  Clarke grabbed the SAW and the extra drum from Hayes and moved toward where Oakland already was.  Already the volume of fire from the enemy was decreasing and Oakland decided to take advantage of that fact. 

                "Ok here's the plan.  We each throw two grenades and let the SAW rip.  Then while they have their heads down we'll move toward that ridge for some cover."

                "What about the other two?"  Clarke asked.

                "We'll be at a better covering position there and then they can join us until we get pulled out."  They both were silent, neither really believing what Oakland had said.

                "Ok, let's do it then."  Clarke agreed.  They each pulled out 2 grenades.  Oakland nodded and they each pulled the pins, threw, pulled, and threw again in rapid succession.  Clarke opened up with the SAW for about 5 seconds while the grenades shook the earth.

                "Let's go!"  Oakland yelled.  The two men got up and ran blindly toward the ridge.  Their escape was done without any enemy return fire.

                                                                *                              *                              *

                The enemy squad leader was pushing forward.  His men were walking silently toward the American position.  There had been no fire for a few minutes so he felt safe flanking straight into their area.  Then one of the men to his left yelled.  There was an explosion near there followed by three more in close proximity.  He saw one man shred to almost nothing and flung up into the air.  Another caught some red-hot shrapnel in his eyes and fell to the ground, blind and yelling.

                As the leader took cover a machine gun opened fire on them.  His radio operator was hit before he could get all the way down.  He was gurgling and bubbles of blood were escaping a chest wound.  The squad leader reached over the dying man to the radio in order to call for backup.

                The fire stopped.

                                                                *                              *                              *

                McCowan and Haberer were on opposite sides of a thin tree.  The tree had already been hit once and McCowan caught some splinters in the face.  Every few minutes he wiped the blood away from his eyes.  A few minutes ago Haberer had spotted the enemy walking through Oakland and Clarke's old position.  They saw the grenades and heard the SAW.  Then they observed the enemy squad move in between them and the ridge.  They could hear no more gunfire.

                "Ok, time to go."  McCowan said as he pulled himself to his knees.

                "What?  Where?"  Haberer asked, still lying prone.  McCowan glared at him.

                "We're going to save the day.  C'mon."  He stood and began stepping lightly away from the tree walking away from the ridge, the enemy squad, and Oakland and Clarke.  Haberer rose and followed close behind.  He led them out for a while and then looped back so they were matching the enemy's travel route through Oakland's old position.  McCowan saw the aftermath of the grenades with the legless man hanging in a tree.  There were a few other dead soldiers in the area, some killed by shrapnel and some by bullets.

                Hayes woke up briefly.

                Haberer stood to the right of McCowan as he kneeled to check a dead soldier for ammunition.

                With all his remaining strength Hayes rose up on one elbow.  He aligned the sights on the blurry image of a soldier.  Twice he faltered and almost fell back into unconsciousness.

                McCowan rolled the enemy so he could check the rear ammo pouch.  Haberer scanned the horizon and saw nothing.

                Hayes pulled the trigger.

                                                                *                              *                              *

                Clarke and Oakland heard a single shot ring out from where they left Hayes.  Then they heard an explosion.  Then once again silence.  They had crawled up onto the top of the ridge and hid behind two small berms, just enough cover for the two men.  Meanwhile, they could hear the enemy creeping in to the edge of the ridge on Clarke's side.  He was waiting for one to move into the open.  He was down to part of a drum, about 50 rounds.  Oakland checked and only had 7 rounds for his rifle.  Clarke had left his last magazine in his rifle with Hayes.  Oakland also had a pistol and two magazines full sitting next to his rifle just in case the enemy came up the small hill.

                Oakland had almost forgotten about the ammo box he gave to Clarke.  The medic hadn't forgotten to carry it throughout the rest of the battle.  Now it sat in between Oakland's legs.  He decided to save the 1 grenade they had left for the documents and the last two bullets for himself and Clarke.

                Night was approaching fast.

                                                                *                              *                              *

                After Haberer was hit in the chest he stumbled back and fell over McCowan.  McCowan instinctively released a high explosive round from his M203 toward the shot.  He saw a body fly up and heard a loud SNAP as it hit a tree.

                Haberer was gasping for air.  Tears rolled down his cheeks and wet the ground on either side of his face.  Every beat of his heart brought another gush of blood out of the dime-sized hole in his chest.  McCowan watched Haberer take a long gasp of air and let it out.  He didn't inhale again.

                "Well, I guess I'm going to save the day now."  McCowan checked Haberer's rifle.  5 rounds.  Along with his three and the 2 he found on the ground that made a whopping 10 bullets, and no grenades left.  He decided just to throw the useless M203 away.  So he pulled out his pistol with one emergency magazine.  Then he leaned down and closed Haberer's dead eyes.  Once again he followed the trail of the enemy toward the ridge.

                                                                *                              *                              *

                The enemy's request for support was immediate.  The platoon in the ambush position moved down to cover the rest of the ridge and block the Americans in.  They had heard the shot and explosion just before dusk and placed rear security elements around their perimeter.  It was now pitch dark, there was no moon tonight, and they knew there were only 2 tired, battle-worn men on the ridge above them.

                One of the rear security guards was lying in the prone looking out for any American support.  He had heard no helicopters and Americans were too lazy to do anything without those so he wasn't too worried.  As a matter of fact, he thought this was stupid to waste good people as rear security guards.  He also didn't believe the stories that 12 men had killed all of his battalion's staff.  So he dozed, half awake and half asleep.

                He awoke with a start.  He'd dreamed a dark figure had walked right up to him.  What a weird dream.  He stretched and rolled over to one side.

                The dark figure's hand darted forward.  The knife penetrated the guard's temple.  He never even knew how he died.

                                                                *                              *                              *

                Oakland was struggling to stay awake.  He kept checking on Clarke in order to keep himself alert.  Now that it was pitch dark they could hardly see anything.  Only shadows and flickers of movement.  They did know that they were now surrounded by at least a platoon, maybe even that whole company.

                All of a sudden there was a hand covering Oakland's mouth.  He screamed but the sound was muffled.  Clarke turned to see McCowan smiling at them both.  He released Oakland.

                "Goddamit, you scared the shit out of me!"  Oakland whispered shrilly.

                "Sorry, I figured you guys were up here since that's what they were surrounding.  Still got the box?"  McCowan asked.

                "Of course," Clarke answered eagerly, "How'd you get up here?"

                "Well, let's just say there's 8 more bodies out there." He held up the blood stained knife. "How're you guys on ammo?  Not good I'm assuming."  They showed him the 1 drum and 7 bullets.  McCowan shook his head and got to work.  He picked up the grenade next to the ammo box.

                "That's for the box." Oakland protested.

                "Not anymore.  Don't worry, we won't need it."  McCowan pulled the pun and jammed it under the SAW's butt stock.  He then threw dirt over the grenade to cover it.

                "That's my only weapon." Clarke said.

                "Here, take this." McCowan absently handed Clarke the pistol and moved over to Oakland's M16.  He propped it up so the enemy could see it.

                "What are you doing?" Oakland demanded.

                "We have to leave.  The first motherfucker who touches that SAW is in for a surprise."  Clarke and Oakland nodded.  McCowan took stock of their situation.  He was armed with only a knife and the other two had pistols only.  He'd been in worse situations.

                "Ok, I'll get us out of here.  Follow me."  McCowan slipped over the berm silently.  The other two quickly followed.

                                                                *                              *                              *

                30 minutes before dawn was the time for the attack.  One squad would quickly assault the position the Americans held on top of the ridge.  The time to attack came.

                The first soldier into the position was ready to bayonet an American.  He was surprised to find 2 weapons and no men.  He walked to the SAW.  He couldn't believe what cowards the Americans were, abandoning their weapons.  The rest of his squad consolidated on the hilltop, just as confused.

                In anger of their trickery, he kicked the SAW over.

                                                                *                              *                              *

                Two hours later, after the 5 dead and 6 wounded soldiers were moved out, the enemy platoon leader was pissed.  He decided, with a blessing from his commander, to sweep the immediate area to find the Americans.  He led the patrol himself of course.

                An hour of patrolling yielded nothing.  He knew they couldn't have gotten far and wouldn't give up.  He walked along in a rage.  He kept checking his men to make sure they were paying attention.  They patrolled in concentric circles.

                To his surprise he found himself hip deep in a huge sinkhole.  While looking around he forgot to watch his own step.  He set his rifle down and braced to pull himself out.  Again to his surprise he found himself looking into three dirty American faces.

                McCowan's knife went into the platoon leader's throat before he could utter another sound.  Then Oakland and Clarke pulled him all the way into the already cramped sinkhole.  McCowan grabbed the rifle.

                "We can't stay here, they're right on top of us."  Clarke said.

                "What do you suggest?  We just jump out of this hole in the middle of a platoon all guns a blazin'?  All two pistols we have?  We have to just chill here with the dead guy and pray no one else steps in here."  McCowan whispered angrily.

                10 minutes passed and McCowan peeked his head out slightly.  The rear guard for the platoon was lazy and was looking straight ahead.  The entire platoon had passed the sinkhole.  McCowan jumped out and moved quickly away from the patrol.  He and the others moved into a clearing.  There was about 50 meters with no cover until the next tree line.

                Just as they walked into the clearing they once again came under fire.  Luckily, the trees absorbed most of the bullets.

                "What now?" Clarke yelled as they hit the ground.

                "Run!"  McCowan and Oakland screamed at the same time.  The two squad members shot back with the pistols and McCowan used the rifle he stole from the enemy PL.  Oakland's helmet flew off his head as they ran.  Clarke's pistol ran out of ammo as they ran toward the other tree line and he dropped it.  Oakland reloaded and continued to fire.  They all saw enemy soldiers maneuvering right inside the tree line.  They had a clear shot on the Americans.

                They there was a roar of rotor blades.  A gunship helicopter buzzed low across the clearing in between the Americans and the enemy.  Rockets followed the mass of machine gun fire; a second gunship with the same armament followed the first.  The three surviving Americans froze, amazed at the sudden support.

                A Black hawk buzzed in low toward the three soldiers with the door open and 2LT Ford sitting on the edge with a medic and the crew chief.  They were waving frantically at Oakland, Clarke, and McCowan.

                Just another 10 meters to run and they'd be in the clear.  They ran as fast as they could.  Suddenly, Oakland stumbled and fell.  He felt the back of his head and found it soaked with blood.  Clarke and McCowan quickly grabbed him and hoisted him the last few feet into the helicopter with the help of the crew chief and their platoon leader.

                Oakland felt numb.  As he lay in the chopper Clarke and the platoon medic tried their best to stop the bleeding from his head.  A bullet had barely grazed him but he was bleeding badly.  He stared back into the woods and saw nothing but death.  The choppers made another machine-gunning run to take care of the rest of the enemy.  The survivors dropped their gear and ran blindly away.

                "We've been flying overhead for a while waiting for you guys to make an appearance," Ford said, "is this all that made it?"  Oakland tried to nod and winced.  The crew chief tapped Ford on the shoulder.

                "We're heading back now, sir!"  He yelled through the noise of the chopper.  Ford gave him a thumbs-up, and then he directed it toward Oakland.

                McCowan had sat down in the back of the helicopter with his head in his hands.  Clarke was covered in blood, both Hayes' and Oakland's.

                Oakland was limp against the floor of the helicopter.  He stared as the ground got farther and farther away.  He thought of the men that weren't in the chopper with him.  Doria, Hayes, Brown, Anaya, Haberer, and of course 1LT Greeley whom he had never had a chance to talk to.  He had lost them all, failed them all.  He'd felt he'd exchanged their lives for one box.  He heard Clarke's voice, it seemed far away.  He and the platoon medic were yelling to hurry up because they couldn't stop the bleeding.  Oakland felt tired.

                "I guess I can take that from you now."  Ford pointed to the ammo box.  Oakland's bloody fingers had gone limp against the handle and Ford took it and placed it under his seat. 

                "Good job Oakland," Ford told him, "You did great.  You'll get a medal for this." He smiled.  Oakland couldn't smile back.

                Clarke reached down and closed Oakland's eyes.