Sparkle OF Survival
Thomas Calabrese –Trace Sadler loved reading about military exploits going back through time. His favorite period was the Civil War. He knew every General on both sides of the epic conflict and the battles that occurred during this tumultuous time in our country’s history. Although over 10,500 military engagements occurred during the Civil War, it is generally accepted that there were 50 major battles of the Civil War and 100 other significant confrontations.
After graduation from Vista High School, Trace asked his older brother, Spence to go with him to visit some of the historical sites. “I’ve saved a few thousand dollars from my job, plus the money I got from graduation. I’ll pay for everything.”
Spence was hesitant, “I was planning on working out really hard this summer. If I have a good senior year, I might even get drafted by the NFL. Stranger things have been known to happen.”
“We’ll only be gone four weeks, I promise to work out with you every morning and evening, no matter where we’re at on the road. We’ll bring some dumbbells and a jump rope. We can always find an open field to throw the football around. Think about it, who knows when we’ll have this opportunity again.”
Spencer pondered the offer, “Okay, you talked me into it…let’s do it.”
The two brothers meticulously planned their itinerary. They figured it would take two days each way for traveling to the Southern States. Trace made a list of the sites that he most wanted to see and with his brother’s insistence, he whittled the list down to thirty-five locations.
Spence commented, “If you want to see more than that, then you’ll have to come back on your own or bring somebody else.”
The Battle of Shiloh, also known as the Battle of Pittsburg Landing, was an early battle in the Western Theater of the American Civil War. It was fought April 6-7, 1862 in southwestern Tennessee. The human carnage was devastating.
General Grant wrote in his memoirs. ‘I saw an open field, in our possession on the second day, over which the Confederates had made repeated charges the day before, so covered with dead that it would have been possible to walk across the clearing, in any direction, stepping on dead bodies, without a foot touching the ground.’
Trace had his laptop with him and even though he still knew the about the Battle of Shiloh by heart, he occasionally referred to the documented history of the engagement to make sure he was correct about the minute details.” This battle had more casualties than all the other previous engagements…did you know that?”
Spence responded impatiently, “You told me that already…at least a few times.”
“Excuse me,” Trace said, “Some things are worth repeating.”
“Don’t take it personally, this is your thing, not mine.”
Trace reacted, “I thought you were having a good time.”
“Don’t be putting words in my mouth. All I meant was that you’re more into this Civil War stuff than me.”
“In that case, I won’t tell about why some soldiers survived their wounds while others died.”
Trace suggested, “Please don’t…when we’re done here, we can go back to the school field that we passed down the road and throw the football around.”
After finishing their trip, the two brothers returned to California. Spence finished his last year in college and was drafted in the fourth round by the Las Vegas Raiders. Trace wanted to be an Army Ranger and a combat medic and to do so he had to pass five separate stages: Basic Training/Advanced Individual Training, Airborne, Ranger Assessment and Selection Program, Pre-Selection Operations Combat Medical Training and Special Combat Medical Training.
Trace was assigned to the 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment at Fort Benning, Georgia. The Rangers are the U.S. Army’s elite premier light infantry special operations force. Their specialized skills enable them to execute direct action raids in hostile and sensitive environments worldwide.
When President Joe Biden made the announcement that American forces would be withdrawing from Afghanistan, most of the Rangers were angry. Many had served there, some were wounded and everyone had known someone who was killed in the twenty-year war.
Trace served one tour in Afghanistan, which hardly compare to the some of seasoned veterans who had three, four, five or more combat deployments. Being a historical buff, Trace always thought the American military strategy was flawed from the beginning. It did not build Afghan fighting forces as an institution. America also failed to establish the necessary infrastructure. There was the problems of endemic corruption, rampant drug use, abysmal maintenance and inept logistics among the Afghans. American trainers got very proficient at preparing platoons and companies to conduct raids and operate checkpoints, but little worked beyond that. The best units in Afghanistan were the special-forces commandos and that is where America should have placed their primary focus and properly rewarded and supported these courageous fighters.
Officers and senior enlisted personnel were rotated through normal command assignments. The military did not send the right people for the right job. Washington was overly optimistic instead of being cautiously pessimistic and routinely deceived the American people with deceptive reports of progress.
Trace read extensively about the Afghan conflict and also attributed the problem to the chronic failure of logistical, hardware and manpower support. For example, a dozen Afghan commandos were executed by Taliban fighters in the northern province of Faryab after running out of ammunition and being forced to surrender.
The young Army Ranger discussed the issue with his brother who was now an All-Pro tight end. Spence gave his analogy and pointed out the similarities between both their situations, “We’re both players, although your game is a lot more deadly. “
Somebody else makes the plan, all we can do is be prepared, do our best to carry it out and leave the rest up to God to decide who should be victorious. You need a long term memory to learn from your mistakes and a short term one so you can move on.”
Trace’s unit was rapidly deployed to Kabul, Afghanistan to help with the evacuation of American personnel. It was a chaotic situation as Afghan soldiers were quickly surrendering to the Taliban and civilians were looking to escape the country. The airport was pure pandemonium as planes arrived and took off with people in rapid succession.
A U.S. Air Force C-17 transport plane moved down the runway. Several fear-stricken Afghans ran after it and clung to the side of the jet just before takeoff. As the airplane rapidly gained altitude over the city, the Afghans lost their grip and fell to their deaths.
Captain Paul Gibbons asked for volunteers, “We have Americans that are stranded in the southwest quadrant of the city. Our report is that some are injured. We don’t how many or the extent of their injuries. The Taliban are rapidly closing in and we still don’t have an accurate assessment of how strong their forces are or how long we’ll be able to hold the airport. Basically what I’m saying is if you go after the stranded Americans, there might not be a plane to take you out when you get back. You’ll be on your own.”
Sergeant First Class Josh Beckett commented, “If we don’t go after them, then they’ll have no chance. I’ll roll the dice…count me in.”
Ten other Rangers stepped forward without hesitation. Trace joined the group, “You’ll need a medic.”
Captain Gibbons ordered, “There’s plenty of equipment to choose from, get whatever you need and be ready to go in 30 mikes (minutes).”
The twelve Army Rangers took five Humvees and three trucks and moved out. The convoy made its way through the streets of Kabul as the residents of the country’s largest city grabbed whatever they could of value and left their homes.
Corporal Mick Benjamin was driving one of the Humvees, He turned to his fellow Ranger in the passenger seat and said, “I got lucky last time I was here, I don’t think that’s going to be the case this time.”
Trace responded, “It ain’t over until it’s over.”
In the distance, the Rangers saw smoke and heard gunfire. Sergeant Beckett radioed, “Stay alert…we’re one click from our target.”
The Rangers began taking fire from a building. Sergeant Beckett radioed, “Regan, Walters and Vega, clear that structure. The three men used a light anti-tank weapon to destroy the fortified front door and then rushed through the smoke and debris. There was an exchange of gunfire. A minute later, Vega radioed, “Area clear.”
The three Rangers rushed back to their vehicles and the convoy continued on its way. When they reached their destination, six women and three men heard the vehicles and thought it was the Taliban and hid in a crawlspace behind a wall. The Rangers didn’t see anybody when they entered, so Sergeant Beckett called out, “We’re the military, we’re here to bring you home.”
The group hiding were part of a program to educate Afghan youths. Two of the women suffered bullets wounds, one was shot in the right calf and the other in the shoulder. One of the men had been hit in the head with a rifle butt and had a deep gash on his forehead and a concussion.
Trace wasted no time triaging the patients. He cleaned the leg wound first, wrapped it and gave the middle-aged woman a shot of antibiotics to prevent infection. He then worked on the man’s head wound and stitched it up.
The young woman with the shoulder wound smiled, “I guess I’m next.”
Trace replied, “Sorry to keep you waiting, I was working as fast as I could.”
“Thanks for coming to get us. You’re doing us the favor so I’d never rush you. My name is Amy Carlton.”
Trace began cleaning the wound and replied, “Sergeant Trace Sadler, 75th Ranger Regiment, a pleasure to meet you, Miss Carlton.”
“Where are you from?” Amy asked.
“Vista, California,” Trace answered.
Amy replied, “I’m from Carlsbad… if we get out of this alive, I’ll buy you dinner at Fidel’s.”
“I’ll hold you to that,” Trace smiled, “I’m already tasting that Chile Relleno.”
When Sergeant Beckett radioed in with a progress report that they were returning to the airfield with the rescued Americans, Captain Gibbons reluctantly replied, “That’s a negative…airfield is not secured…proceed to secondary extraction point.”
Sergeant Beckett answered, “Roger that.”
Specialist Radioman Tony Giovanni picked up President Biden’s speech from the White House about the withdrawal from Afghanistan. After listening to the Commander-in-Chief’s assessment of the situation, Giovanni commented sarcastically, “After listening to the head honcho, I’m not worried at all anymore. Actually, I feel bulletproof now.”
Corporal Jimmy Raydor chimed in, “If this is his idea of an acceptable situation, I would like to know what he considers an unacceptable one.”
Sergeant Beckett grumbled, “Too many politicians think they’re military leaders and too many military leaders act like politicians. Let’s get the hell out of here, my life is starting to flash before my eyes and I like it even less now than I did the first time.”
The Army Rangers set course for their extraction point. Back at the airfield, General Leland Salerton nervously informed Captain Gibbons, “My mission is to secure the airfield…everything else isn’t even on my radar.”
Captain Gibbons protested, “Excuse me General, I’ve got men and American personnel out there. They need to be airlifted out. They’re on their way to an extraction site and need a chopper!”
“Request denied. My first priority is to get State Department personnel out of here. Put your men on the western side of the airfield. Shoot anybody who runs on the airfield to prevent them from interfering with the take-offs and landings. Anybody outside the perimeter is on their own.”
“Does that include women and children?” Captain Gibbons asked sarcastically.
“Use your own discretion…just don’t tell me about it.”
Captain Gibbons feared the worse and those fears were quickly realized. Superior military officials were already in damage control. Things had spiraled out of control so quickly that nobody had a grasp of the dire circumstances. These moronic leaders were running around like chickens with their heads cut off. They willing to accept massive collateral damage and unspeakable atrocities for a few soundbites on CNN saying how wonderful things were going.
The Rangers and civilians were on their way to the extraction point when Sergeant Beckett received a radio transmission, “Secondary extraction point is a negative.”
Sergeant Beckett responded, “What are my orders?”
“Find a secure location and await further instructions,” Captain Gibbons suggested.
Sergeant Beckett met with his fellow Rangers and briefed them, “It’s not like we didn’t think this could happen. I’m open for suggestions.”
Trace suggested, “We should head toward Dushande, Tajikstan.”
Sergeant Gibbons looked at his map, “That’s almost 300 miles away.”
Trace explained, “There’s a mountain pass with plenty of places for us to defend ourselves against a superior force. If we don’t make it across the border, then at least we can buy us some time.”
“I like that…live to a fight another day, “Sergeant Gibbons smiled.
Amy asked Trace, “What’s the plan?”
The Rangers encountered a Taliban patrol and eliminated them in a firefight. Two Rangers were wounded, Trace treated them and the convoy continued on its way.
Back at the Kabul Airport, Captain Gibbons knew he would have to bypass the broken chain of command to get his men airlifted out. He saw several Marine CH-53 helicopters surrounded by a heavily armed platoon. He approached the Sergeant in charge, “I need to talk to a pilot.”
Marine Corps Major Herman McKenzie was sitting under a canopy with his fellow pilots watching the chaos unfold at the other end of the airport.
Captain Gibbons stated matter-of-factly, “Some of my men are in trouble and they need a ride.”
The convoy made its way up the narrow, winding road with a sheer drop-off to the right side. A Toyota pick-up filled with several Taliban fighters came from the opposite direction. The lead vehicle with Sergeant Beckett rammed it and sent it tumbling over the side and it exploded as it bounced down the rocky slope.
It was getting close to sunset and too dangerous to drive at night, especially since they couldn’t use headlights for fear of giving away their position. Sergeant Beckett radioed, “We need to find a place to hold up for the night.”
They drove a few hundred yards before finding a trail that was just wide enough for the trucks to navigate. The Rangers went far enough so that they could not be seen from the main road.
Trace remembered something about a battle that was fought in this region centuries earlier. He wasn’t sure if this was the exact location, but it wouldn’t hurt to exercise extra caution. He radioed to the lead vehicle, “Be careful, there could be soft soil up ahead.”
The Mongols invaded Afghanistan in 1221 having defeated the Khwarazmian armies. There were long-term consequences and many parts of Afghanistan never recovered from the devastation. The towns and villages suffered much more than the nomads who were able to avoid attack. The destruction of irrigation systems maintained by the sedentary people led to the shift of the weight of the country towards the hills. The city of Balkh was destroyed and even 100 years later Ibn Battuta was described as a city still in ruins. While the Mongols were pursuing the forces of Jalal ad-Din Mingburnu, they besieged the city of Bamyan.
As they continued on their rampage, the Mongols passed through this same mountain pass where many died while trying to navigate their way through a swamp located on the side of the mountain that was fed by several underground springs. Some call it the ‘vertical bog’ and many tribal leaders believe it is haunted and avoid it at all costs. The reason that so many thought it was possessed by the spirits of the dead was an eerie blue glow that covered the swamp at certain times of the year.
Trace flashbacked to his trip to the Civil War sites with his brother. Is it possible that the same phenomenon that happened at the Battle of Shiloh was occurring here? Photorhabdus luminescens is a lethal pathogen to insects. It secretes enzymes which break down the body of the infected parasite. When this happens the insects begin to glow with a blueish tint.
The weather conditions in Afghanistan were similar to those in Tennessee at this time of year. Trace explained his theory to Sergeant Beckett, who replied, “Interesting…I guess we’ll know if you’re right when its gets dark.”
A large Taliban force moved closer to where the Americans were located, but stopped their advance when they saw the blueish tint hovering over the vertical bog. They were very superstitious and refused to advance any further.
Sergeant Beckett saw the enemy force in the distance from his vantage point and sighed in relief, “I don’t know why they’ve stopped…they could easily overwhelm us.”
Trace gestured to the vertical bog and the blue glow, “That’s why…the real question is, will they still be so hesitant once the sun comes up.”
Sergeant Beckett radioed their current location and situation, “We’re safe until daylight…after that, who knows.”
Marine Corps aviator, Major McKenzie violated standing orders and took off at zero three hundred hours from Kabul for a rescue mission. He set course for the vertical bog and when the CH-53 helicopter got close to the mountain range, he saw the blue glow.
Co-pilot Neil Vaughan asked, “What the hell is that?”
“Warrior glow,” Major McKenzie smiled.
The Rangers destroyed their vehicles so that they wouldn’t fall into the hands of the Taliban and were airlifted out with the rescued Americans from certain death. The evacuation eventually concluded and it was a total disaster. The military did their best in a chaotic situation while elected officials continued to spout misinformation and divert blame to each other and the previous administration.
Sergeant Josh Beckett left the Army and returned to Texas to run for Congress. During one of his campaign stops he told his audience, “I’m not a politician, but somebody has to go to Washington to fight the knuckleheads in the Capitol. Our government flew refugees from Kabul to Mexico so that they could sneak across the border without being properly vetted. That is a disgrace!”
Aspiring artist, Hunter Biden’s stick-like drawings of the evacuation sold for millions of dollars at a chic Los Angeles art gallery. The proceeds would be used for the Taliban Woke Re-Education Program and would be administered by the highly respected Clinton Foundation.
While signing autographs for the Hollywood Elite at George Clooney’s Studio City mansion, Hunter smirked, “A major catastrophe should never go to waste.”
Sergeant Trace Sadler was on leave in Vista, California. He drove over to Amy Carlton’s parents’ house in Carlsbad. He knocked on the door and her mother answered it.
The Army Ranger said, “Excuse me, Ma’am, I’m Sergeant Trace Sadler, I met Amy in Afghanistan.”
Mrs. Carlton smiled broadly and embraced the Ranger, “I’ve heard about you. Thanks for bringing my daughter home!”
“It was a team effort,” Trace responded modestly.
Amy came walking down the stairs and her pace quickened when she saw Trace.
“If I remember right, I think you owe me a Chile Relleno,” Trace said, “Is now a good time to collect?”
“None better!” Amy exclaimed.
After dinner at Fidel’s, Trace and Amy took a leisurely walk along Carlsbad Beach. There was an orange glow in the sky as the sun slowly set behind the western horizon.
Amy commented, “Not quite the blueish hue of the vertical bog, but with you standing beside me, it still looks like warrior glow.”
“Maybe it’s just the reflective glory of those that I’m honored to serve with,” Trace said.
“So what are your plans now?” Amy asked.
Trace hesitated, then answered, “I’ll probably re-enlist.”
Amy was baffled, “Seriously…after what we witnessed, why would you want to do that?”
Trace answered, “Maybe I love my country more than I mistrust politicians. Besides, the failure of others to do their duty doesn’t exempt me from doing mine.”
A single star shined brightly above the young couple. It was the sparkle of survival.”
– Work of fiction. Names, characters, business, events and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual person