I’ll Make My Own Decisions
Thomas Calabrese – Mike Balen was a Navy Corpsman attached to the 1st Marine Division. He served eight years in the military from 1984 to 1992,was wounded twice and awarded the Navy Cross for conspicuous bravery during Operation Desert Shield (2 August 1990 – 17 January 1991).
After leaving the military, Mike used his military education benefits to attend the University of San Diego where he met his future wife, Erin Regan during their freshman year in school. They dated for the next three years and married in the summer after Mike got his bachelor’s degree in bio-chemistry and Erin obtained hers in computer science. The wedding took place at a winery in Temecula with family and friends in attendance.
Mike obtained part-time work at the naval hospital morgue on Camp Pendleton while Erin began her new career as an Information Technology (IT) specialist for Finney Medical Products in Carlsbad.
Their son, Ben, nicknamed Benji was born on May, 29, 1997. He was named after Erin’s father, who had been police commissioner of New York City in the 1980’s. The Balen family moved from their cozy two-bedroom apartment in the Shadowridge area of Vista to a new and roomier three-bedroom home in the Rancho Del Oro area of Oceanside. Erin’s income basically supported the Balen household, which allowed Mike to focus his energies and talents on becoming a forensic pathologist. Despite his heavy course load, Mike always made time for his family, especially his son. He had a gift for dealing with stress and multi-tasking was in his DNA.
Erin would often turn over in bed and see that her husband was not there next to her. She would tiptoe to the bedroom door, look down the hall and see Mike sitting at the dining room table, working on his laptop computer with a stack of medical books next to him. Several hours later, her husband would slip back in bed, sleep for an hour or less then start the day looking refreshed and energetic.
The years passed, Ben attended Ivey Ranch Elementary School, Martin Luther King Middle School and began attending El Camino High School. By this time his father had completed his education and residency and was now a board certified pathologist. It didn’t take long for Mike Balen to develop a reputation as the man to call when the cause of death was in dispute or could not be determined. Mike started his own consulting company rather than deal with the bureaucracy of working for a government agency or a hospital administration.
Mike told his son, “Remember, get the facts first then make your decisions. Everybody has an opinion, but there is only one truth. In my business dead men tell no lies.”
“Yes sir, I’ll try to remember that,” Ben said.
Mike was emphatically clear, “Don’t try… just do it. There is no halfway with this.”
During his junior year in high school, Ben was sometimes challenged by classmates and teachers about his conservative point of view. He refused to be intimidated or manipulated into adhering to another’s personal agenda and had no interest in being politically correct or not offending snowflakes or card carrying members of the ‘woke’ culture.
Ben never forgot his father’s advice and eventually came to realize that discussing anything with individuals who were coming from a position of emotion, when he was dealing in facts was a futile endeavor and a waste of energy. Rather than argue and alienate those around him, Ben would either make a strategic retreat or comment, “Just give me the facts, I’ll make my own decisions.” If he didn’t have such a strong support structure at home, he might have been swayed from his position. After getting into several fights and beating his opponents, his fellow students realized that Ben Balen was not going to be bullied, so they learned to leave him alone.
After one of these altercations, Ben came home bruised and slightly battered. His father asked, “Another spirited discussion?”
Ben replied, “I did my best to be non-confrontational. I told them ‘no comment’ but that didn’t pacify their sensitive nature. I didn’t expect them to agree with my point of view, but I sure in t hell wasn’t going to fall in line with theirs, even I was out-numbered.”
Mike pondered the situation for a moment then said, “When a man stands for something, there will always be people that want to knock him over. I suggest we make it more difficult for them to accomplish that.”
Ben responded, “Sounds like you’ve got a plan in mind?”
“Plan in advance and then go with the flow,” Mike touched his son’s shoulder as a sign of his whole-hearted support.
Over the next few days, Mike visited several martial arts studios in the North County to discuss their philosophy and his son’s current predicament. He finally decided that Ricky Chao’s dojo suited the situation perfectly. Ricky Chao was a third generation close combat specialist. His grandfather helped train Marines for battle against Japanese forces in the South Pacific and his father was a tunnel rat in the Vietnam War.
Ricky held a ninth degree black belt in Jujutsu, but also incorporated Bruce Lee’s Jeet Kune Do techniques as well as Karate, Krav Maga and Muay Thai into his training methods. Even though, Ben played football and baseball at El Camino, his real passion soon became martial arts. He developed a close friendship with Ricky and they often discussed the philosophy behind the discipline of self- defense and life in general. “It is not important to show the skills that you possess to your adversaries. In fact, it is to your advantage if they under-estimate you. Be nice until it’s time to not be nice.”
How will I know when that is?”
Ricky laughed, “I’ve been asked that questions many times.”
“What is your answer?”
“It’s a personal judgment call, but you’ll know when the time comes, ” Ricky said, “Let’s get some sparring in.”
The mentor and protégé engaged in a spirited and exhausting one hour session of kicks, punches and acrobatic moves. When they were finished, Ben and Ricky leaned against wall and slowly drank their bottles of Aloe Vera juice. After showering and putting on their loose fitting clothes, they did 30 minutes of yoga and 15 minutes of meditation before calling it a day.
Ben was brought up to appreciate the sacrifices and the risks involved for those who serve in the military, law enforcement and other first responders His dad had a knack of putting things in context that made it easier for him to comprehend the accompany, complexities that accompanies dangerous situations.
Mike explained, “It’s been called the ‘fog of war’, among other things. Not everyone reacts the same way when facing the enemy. Some feel the uncontrollable urge to charge forward into harm’s way, others hunker down as fear overwhelms and paralyzes them. Most don’t know what to do, so they have to rely on others to tell ‘em. We live in a world of few true leaders and many followers.”
Ben pondered for a minute what his father told him, then responded, “Let me see if I got this right. While the quest may be noble and pure, it still must be carried out by humans who are imperfect by nature. While we sometimes fail, that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try. Life is irony wrapped inside an oxymoron. Kind of like the song, The Impossible Dream, about a person who is consumed by doing something far above their natural capabilities.”
Mike beamed with pride, “A keen analogy, I’m impressed.”
“How does this fit in with your other advice about facts first and decisions later?” Ben asked.
“Fallibility is a harsh fact and success is never guaranteed,. Nothing of value comes without risk or sacrifice,” Mike elaborated.
By the time Ben graduated from high school, he had the physical, mental and emotional skills to turn the page and start the next chapter of his life. He was offered a baseball scholarship at Pepperdine University and seriously considered it, but decided to take a different path. When Ben told his parents that he wanted to join the military, they weren’t totally surprised by his decision.
Mike told his wife, “We raised Ben to be an independent thinker and an honorable man. We got what we wanted…we should be proud, not sad.”
Erin sighed, “You know what they say, be careful what you hope for, you just might get it. Right now, I’m wishing he was one of those safe space commandos, who is threatened by weather changes and cartoons and is afraid to leave the basement.”
Ben joined the Navy because that was the service that his father was in. He was undecided about becoming a corpsman or using his martial arts skills. He eventually decided to combine the two and become a SEAL.
Mike warned his son, “You picked a rough one.”
Ben shrugged, “You set the bar pretty high…might as well see if I can walk the walk.”
After finishing Basic Underwater Demolition/Seal (BUD/S) a 24-week training course that develops the SEAL candidates’ mental and physical stamina as well as their leadership skills, Ben was sent to Special Operations Combat Medic course for 27 more weeks of training.
He was assigned to a team that included; Mark ‘Mark of Death’ Geary, Brad ‘Kid Broccoli’ Bergen, Larry ‘Cowboy’ McGee and Steve ‘Duke of Earl’ Whittington. By some twist of fate Ben’s nickname returned to what he was called as a boy, Benji. His teammates added the Dog’ to it, and officially his call sign became Benji the Dog.
On a clandestine operation to Sierra Leone, Ben and his teammates were assigned the hazardous mission of capturing Abu Samir al-Tasri, a high level ISIS leader responsible for multiple attacks in Africa. A rogue Liberian Army general was facilitating a meeting between Tasri and members of Boko Haram, another violent terrorist organization operating on the continent. The combination of these two organizations would pose a significant threat to the region.
After successfully completing a high altitude, low opening (HALO) jump from a MC-130 Combat Talon at an altitude of 10,000 feet, the SEALS made their way to the building.
Senior Chief Mark of Death was the team leader and gave the order to breech the door. Moving in single file through the darkened hallway while using their night vision goggles to see, they observed a guard standing outside a door. Kid Broccoli took careful aim with his HK 416 5.56x 45mm carbine, equipped with the state of the art noise suppressor. It barely made a sound as the guard took a round to his cerebral cortex that shut him off like a light switch.
Upon entering the room, the SEALS found Andrea Needham, a female aid worker. The mission had suddenly changed from a routine capture of a high value target to a rescue of a civilian.
Larry the Cowboy radioed in, “This is Green Team, we’ve just located a hostage.”
The response from Command was clear, “Green Team, the mission is Tasri, leave the hostage behind.”
The members of the SEAL team looked at each other and knew that they couldn’t follow that order.
Command emphasized the order, “This is not a rescue…acknowledge.”
Mark of Death responded, “Confirmed last transmission, over.”
Ben opened up his medical pack and began taking care of Andrea’s minor cuts and bruises, while she nervously asked, “Are you leaving me behind?”
Mark of Death responded impatiently, “No, we’re not leaving you.”
“What about your orders?” Andrea asked.
“You let me worry about that.” Mark said.
Mark of Death ordered, “Benji, take care of…ummm, what’s your name?”
The young woman responded, “Andrea Needham…they call me Andi.”
“Well Andi…stay close to Benji and we’ll get you out of here.”
As the covert team searched through the building for Tasri, they encountered heavy fire from enemy fighters from various positions. Without the benefit of surprise, the Navy Seals knew that the mission had been compromised so they made a strategic retreat. Kid Broccoli placed a powerful C-4 explosive charge near the door as they exited. When the team was a safe distance away, he remotely detonated it and the building collapsed on the terrorists.
When they got back to the Command Center, Admiral Lloyd Dinken was livid. He tore into Mark of Death, “Just who in the hell do you think you are! I specifically told you to leave the hostage behind! Are you an idiot? You compromised the mission. We needed that Intel to stop future attacks. Blood will be on your hands now!”
The rest of the team was standing there in silence until Ben interjected, “We are all responsible, sir. We all agreed that taking the hostage was the right thing to do.”
This made Admiral Dinken even angrier, “Is that supposed to mean something to me? This isn’t a democracy, it’s a dictatorship and I’m the dictator. The high-ranking officer rambled on for a few minutes then closed with this final threat, “I’m going to hang you from highest yardarm! (A yardarm is part of a mast from which sails are set and a person could be hung from.) It was an old pirate term, but nowadays it meant severe punishment.
Admiral Dinken kept his word. When Benji and his team got back to Coronado, they were placed under arrest. Since Mark of Death was in charge of the mission, he faced the most serious charges of dereliction of duty, disobedience of a direct order and the most serious charge, murder. The rest of the team were charged with conspiracy and conduct unbecoming a member of the armed forces.
It was very strange how much effort the Pentagon was putting into prosecuting this case. Someone in the chain of command continuously leaked faked information to the media until it eventually evolved into a narrative where the Navy Seals went into the wrong building and killed innocent civilians to cover their error. The unscrupulous bureaucrats in the administration began attacking Andrea Needham’s motives for being in the region. A story in the Washington Post, citing unnamed sources accusing her of being a terrorist sympathizer. No doubt, this had to do with the fact that her father was a wealthy industrialist and contributor to various conservative causes and candidates. As the motive for the propaganda materialized, Mike Balen became extremely angry. There was no way in hell that he was going to let his son and his teammates be thrown under the bus while he stood idly by. This was a rigged game, but Mike had a few tricks of his own.
Mark Geary was placed in solitary confinement at the Miramar Brig and the other team members were placed on administrative legal hold and told not to leave the base. Mike called in several favors and eventually got Ben, Kid Broccoli, Larry the Cowboy and the Duke of Earl released from base confinement, but Mark of Death remained in the brig.
The team was having dinner at the Balen home. Mike had a dossier in front of him, “The prosecution is dotting all their i’s and crossing their t’s. They are leaving nothing to chance.”
Kid Broccoli questioned, “How did you get a copy of their strategy? I thought it was confidential.”
“Never under estimate my dad, when it comes to evidence, he’s the wizard,” Ben said proudly.
Larry the Cowboy interjected, “What are our chances, sir”
“From my years of experience dealing with courts and various jurisdictions, I have come to the conclusion that when you play it straight and the other guy doesn’t …you’re always at a distinct disadvantage. If they want to bring a knife to a fistfight then we’ll bring a gun.”
Duke of Earl said, “So what are our options?’
“We’re going on the offense,” Mike answered.
Kid Broccoli smiled, “I like the sound of that.”
Ben met with Andi at her father’s home in Rancho Santa Fe. She felt guilty and was quick to apologize for the problems that the Navy Seals were going through, “If you had followed orders and left me behind, you wouldn’t be in this predicament.”
“You know that everyone in the military is obligated to disobey an unlawful order. The order to leave you behind definitely fell into that category.” Ben sought to ease the young woman’s guilt, “They’ve been saying in the media that you’re sympathetic to the…
Andi smiled, “To the terrorists…do you believe that?”
“They are making a very compelling case against you.”
“You as well, “Andi said, “Go ahead and ask?”
Ben was momentarily confused, “Ask what?”
“If I was working with the terrorists.”
“No reason to,” Ben said, “We’re trained to make judgments in the field. We would have never taken you out if we thought that.”
Several weeks passed and Mike used his extensive connections in the government and around the world and found out that several State Department political appointees and high ranking military personnel at the Pentagon were involved in an illegal arms sale to the Iran regime. This was part of the same agreement where billions of dollars were given to Tehran as an incentive to stop their nuclear enrichment program. Millions of that money was then diverted into politicians’ secret bank accounts.
When Abu Samir al-Tasri reneged on his part of the agreement to attack Israeli settlements along the West Bank, the Navy Seals were sent to bring him in, They were under the impression that it it was a national security issue, instead of the ‘Deep State’ efforts enforcing its rogue foreign policy. When the explosion detonated by the SEALS killed Tasri, it caused a rift inside the chain of command at ISIS that caused unforeseen problems for the conspirators.
Admiral Dinken was on his cellphone answering to his handlers, “How was I supposed to know that Needham was there. Our Intel indicated she was in Yemen.”
The unknown voice on the other end was cold and direct, “We pay you a lot of money to know. If you aren’t up to the task, Admiral, we’ll find somebody else.”
“I’m up to it,” Admiral Dinken quivered, “We’ll blame everything on rogue Special Ops going off the rails.”
“You need to move quickly, public opinion is starting to sway in the wrong direction. There is a strong rumor that some people are looking for the truth. If they get too close, we won’t be able to wait for a trial…we’ll have to call in a clean-up crew and do some serious damage control.”
Admiral Dinken responded, “Understood.”
The 36-year veteran of the Navy had been ‘on the take’ since he was a Rear Admiral and the Cabal began depositing $1,000,000 a month into his numbered bank account in Zurich, Switzerland. Dingen had risen to the rank of a Vice Admiral and was now earning 3 million monthly for his complicity in various nefarious deeds. For that amount of money, ‘Dastardly’ Dinken, as he was called by those who had the displeasure to serve under his command, would do anything including treason and murder to maintain that exorbitant income stream.
The heinous plan continued on course. A dozen fabricated stories were released to an easily manipulated and complicit media. The one headline that got the most attention was, Special Operations and Aid Worker Fund Conservative Groups with Massive Drug Profits. (AID or USAID). The leadership in the Deep State were experts at taking problems, making them worse, then turning them into valuable assets.
The assassins were part of a Columbian para-militia unit who hired themselves out to anyone who could pay their fee. They flew from Bogota to Tijuana and came across a porous border that had been recently flooded by migrants. The border patrol had been overwhelmed so their Mexican ‘coyote’ had very little trouble finding a sector that wasn’t patrolled. It was so open, they might as well have been walking down Broadway Pier on a Sunday stroll.
Once they were on American soil, they went directly to a warehouse in Otay Mesa where a large motorhome, driver and computer tech were placed at their disposal. The computer tech was sitting in the back of the motorhome at a makeshift workstation, “I’ve been keeping track of the SEALS through their GPS and credit card purchases. They’ve rented a secluded house in Rainbow to stay out of the public eye. What makes this even easier is that the woman is there too.”
While the driver drove north on Interstate 15, the hit squad prepared their assault weapons. Once they identified the house, the ten men exited the motorhome and made their way to the two-story structure. Using high-tech binoculars, the leader of the hit squad observed five images sitting at the dining room tables. He gave the hand signal to move forward for the kill.
As they came up the trail, the Columbians were intercepted by Benji the Dog, Kid Broccoli, Larry the Cowboy and the Duke of Earl. It took less than 15 seconds for the Special Operatives to eliminate the threat.
Not long afterward, Admiral Dinken retired from the Navy and moved to Lausanne, Switzerland. Two Mossad agents paid him an unscheduled visit one night and when morning came, Dinken was found dead in his bed. The local coroner determined the cause of death was sudden cardiac arrest. Mike Balen had no reason to dispute the findings of his fellow pathologist. Of course, nobody was asking for his opinion either.
The charges against Mark of Death Geary were officially dismissed. The Deep State considered extending the assassination contract against the Navy SEALS, but decided against it. Once they were identified and could no longer fly under the radar, the last thing these global miscreants wanted was a high profile war with the Special Ops community. They crawled back into their holes for the time being, but like any infestation of rodents and insects, there would still have to be routine exterminations to keep them from destroying the country.
Mike and Erin organized a party at their home for their son, his teammates and Andi Needham to celebrate the fortuitous turn of events that all claimed to know absolutely nothing about. Ben proposed a toast, “To those I am honored to serve with, to the family that I was honored to be raised by, to the woman I was privileged to be of assistance to, I have only thing to say, “Just give me the facts…I’ll make my own decisions.”
***This is a fiction . While it may have some facts in it, the reader should realize that the story was created by the writer for entertainment purposes.