Thomas Calabrese — Definition: Kinetic operation is a euphemism for military action involving active warfare, including lethal force. The phrase is used to contrast between conventional military force and “soft” force, including diplomacy, sanctions and cyber warfare.
The five largest ranches in Texas are; King Ranch, 825,000 acres, Briscoe Ranches, 650,000, acres, Waggoner Ranch, 535,000 acres, O’Connor Family Ranches, 500,000 acres, Hughes Ranch, 390,000 acres. By Texas standards, the McQuade Ranch wasn’t even in the top ten, but at 125,000 acres, it was still a fairly sizable parcel of real estate. To compare it to something of similar proportions, think about Camp Pendleton with all of its Marines, equipment, buildings, mountain ranges and shoreline that stretches from San Clemente to Oceanside and inland to Fallbrook, it is also 125,000 acres in size.
The McQuade spread was more diversified than any other ranch in the Rio Grande Valley. It had fields of cotton, sugarcane and maize as well as groves of grapefruit, lemons, oranges and tangelos. It had five thousand head of prime beef on the hoof and three high producing oil fields. The patriarch of the family and CEO of the ranch was Jess McQuade. Jess came from a long line of Texans going back to 1836, when Texas declared independence from Mexico. In fact, an ancestor, John McQuade, rode with Sam Houston. It was more than a job, it was their heritage. Every McQuade knew that it was their primary responsibility to leave the ranch in better condition for the next generation than it was when it was entrusted to them.
Jess McQuade was old school and cutting edge at the same time. He was as tough as rawhide when he needed to be and as open to new ideas as a wide-eyed impressionable youth. He was obsessed with doing his part in reducing the ranch’s carbon imprint on the environment. Composting and vermicomposting, two of the best-known environmentally appropriate technologies for the recycling of manuresfor the benefits of agriculture and the environment were implemented. Almost every vehicle on the sprawling spread was either electrically powered or a hybrid. The primary energy source on the ranch came from huge fields of solar panels and wind turbines. Jess emphasized this point to his family and workers, “The land will never fail us, but we can always fail it if we let our guards down.”
A full-time environmental engineer was constantly looking for responsible ways to improve efficiency. Jess thought his employees would perform better if they had a vested interested in the success of the ranch, so he offered a profit-sharing program as well and other benefits to retain high quality personnel. Jess didn’t like to micro-manage, he thought it was a waste of his time and energy. He told his supervisors, “If I have to tell you what to do all the time, then this is the wrong job for you.”
It was Elena McQuade’s idea to start a scholarship program for the children of employees. Some of the recipients even brought their skills and education back to the ranch. It was an investment that continued to pay dividends.
Any person who worked on the Ranch could come forward with a complaint or a suggestion and Jess would listen. He’d tell them if he agreed or not and then take the appropriate action. He made sure that they felt valued and respected.
Everybody was called by their first name and Jess reminded those few who wanted a more defined hierarchy of authority, “You earn respect by your actions and not by your title.”
There were a few ranchers who didn’t care for Jess’s innovative leadership style and he responded simply with a wry smile, “We’ll have to agree to disagree. You do your thing your way, I’ll do mine my way. That’s what America and Texas is all about…individualism. When, how I run my spread affects you, then come see me.”
His wife Elena was of Hispanic heritage and was actively involved in communities on both sides of the border. Two of her favorite causes included a McAllen free health clinic and the ranch’s food bank, which contributed to the needy throughout the Rio Grande Valley.
Jess McQuade had three priorities in his life. They came in this order of importance; God, family and country. The ranch fell into the category of family. He wasn’t a religious man, but was definitely a spiritual one. For a man who spent his entire life around the wonders of nature, how could he not believe a far greater power existed than himself?
Dan, Beth and Jennifer were his children and he told them as they were growing up, “I love you because you are my flesh and blood. Hopefully, the day will come when I can say that if you weren’t family I would still be honored to call you a friend.” The McQuade children took their father’s opinions and guidance very seriously. Two of his favorite sayings were, “It is human nature to fail, so never be afraid to be human. Opportunities don’t always guarantee success, but great effort significantly increases your odds.”
Jess and his wife, Elena had different interests, but when it came to family matters they usually came up with a consensus of opinion. Some families made Sunday dinner a ritual, but the McQuades took a slightly different approach. The family would decide at the beginning of the week on which day and what time worked best for all of them. It could be a Wednesday morning brunch or a Friday dinner, but unless it was absolutely unavoidable, the family always managed to get together at least once each week. If someone had anything to share or needed an opinion, this was the time they usually brought it up.
On one particular family get-together, Beth discussed her track team’s prospects of winning the league championship, followed by Jennifer’s commentary on her new quarter horse, Blaze, and when Dan’s turn came up, he said, “I’ve been doing some thinking about the military.”
Elena said, “That’s a big step.”
“We hired a new hand, Rusty Beaumont, he’s a former Ranger and we were talking about his experiences,” Dan said, “I haven’t made any decisions yet.”
The following day, Jess drove out to the southern quadrant of the ranch where a group of men were working on an irrigation system. Several men greeted their boss with smiles and cheerful greetings.
Jess turned to one of his foremen, “How you doing today?”
“Every day I wake up is a blessing,” Marty Reed responded.
Jess inquired, “I’m looking for Rusty Beaumont…seen him?”
“He’s about a 100 yards down the road.”
When Jess found Rusty, he was in a six-foot trench covered with dirt and sweat, “Rusty…take a break, I’d like talk with you.”
Rusty smiled, “Sure thing,” and climbed out.
The two men sat on the tailgate of the pick-up truck. Rusty took a long swig from a gallon container of water then asked, “Did I do something wrong?”
Jess replied, “You’ve been talking to my son about your time in the Army.”
“I’m proud of my service. Is that a problem for you?”
“You’ve earned the right to be proud,” Jess said, “I’d liked to ask you a favor.”
Rusty wiped the sweat out of his eyes with a towel hanging from his belt, “If I can.”
“When you talk to Dan…tell him how it really was, don’t embellish the good stuff or leave out the bad. Can you do that for me?”
Rusty smiled, then surmised, “If you want your son to know the truth, I’ll do my best to give him my version of it…no holds barred.”
“That’s all I really had to say,” Jess reached into his pocket and pulled out a stack of gift cards, “You like barbecue?”
Jess handed a 50-dollar gift card to Rusty, “Marty’s Barbecue, best in this part of Texas…tell ‘em I sent you… one more thing, thank you for your service.”
Upon graduation from McAllen High School, Dan enlisted in the Army. His family respected his decision because they knew it was a carefully contemplated one. Jess told his son before he left for boot camp at Ft. Leonard Wood, “You’re a McQuade, it’s in your blood to defend what you love…our country…our ranch…our way of life. Like they say, ‘Freedom is not free and not many are willing to pay the price.”
Dan knew how to handle a weapon from the time he was a little boy. He could deal with the harsh elements of nature and was no stranger to hard work. This gave him several advantages over other recruits. As soon as he graduated basic training, Dan set his sights on becoming a Delta Force operator. To do that he had to become a Ranger, after accomplishing that goal, he was assigned to the 75th Regiment. On his 21st birthday and having reached the rank of E-4, both minimum requirements for applying for Delta, he put in his paperwork.
The selection process began with standard tests of push-ups, sit-ups, 2-mile run, an inverted crawl and 100-meter swim fully dressed. The candidates’ next test was a series of navigational treks through the wilderness, including one that was 18-miles in length and took place at night.
When some candidates became disoriented, Dan reached back into his memory about his times on the family ranch. He was used to being in the middle of nowhere in all types of weather and learned how to navigate by a star, the way the wind was blowing or the direction a stream was flowing.
After the initial stages of training, Dan entered an intense 6-month Special Operator course that included instructions in counter-terrorism, counter-intelligence, firearm accuracy, defensive driving, hand-to-hand combat, demolition and hostage rescue. Of the 120 candidates that started the course, only 14 graduated.
Sergeant Dan McQuade was later assigned to C Squadron and participated in three missions within the first two months of his arrival. The last one was in Somalia where his team rescued two missionaries and killed 26 terrorists.
It was over eighteen months before Dan was given his first leave to return home and see his family. He looked more like a ranch hand than a member of an elite combat team. He had a short beard and a longer than normal haircut.
Delta operators are granted an enormous amount of flexibility and autonomy during military operations overseas. Civilian hair styles and facial hair are allowed to enable the members to blend in and avoid recognition as military personnel. Their Navy counterpart, DEVGRU (Seal Team Six), is also granted the same amount of autonomy and flexibility.
When Jess first saw his son, he immediately knew Dan was not in the regular army. Rather than put his son in the position where he would have to lie or be evasive, Jess told his wife, daughters and ranch employees not to bring up the subject of military service.
Dan and Jess went for an early morning ride along the south fence line. Dan brought up the subject, “Nobody has asked me about being in the Army or what I’ve been doing, you must have had something to do with that?”
Jess responded, “I do my homework. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that you’re in special ops.” “
“I never expect to get anything past you, this only proves my point,” Dan noticed that the fence was knocked down and tire tracks through the opening, “Take a look at that.”
Jess shook his head in disgust, “Damn smugglers…they’re getting worse by the day.”
Dan heard a sound behind a stand of cottonwood trees and pointed in that direction, Jess nodded in acknowledgment. Dan pulled his Colt .45 pistol from his holster and checked the chambers. When he dismounted, he pulled his Winchester 12 gauge, pump action shotgun from its scabbard.
Jess questioned, “Where the hell are you going?”
“A scouting patrol,” Dan smiled, “Stay here…this is what I do.” He went down the ravine and circled behind the stand of trees. He got a visual of five men standing next to two pick-up trucks equipped with off-road tires.
Their beds were loaded with something and covered with tarps. Dan made sure that he had significant cover before calling out, “Put your hands up!”
The men spun around and immediately opened fire with their automatic weapons. Bullets hit all around Dan, but the smugglers were caught off guard and not really focusing on their accuracy. Dan was more precise, he fired twice with the shotgun and two men went down. When Jess heard the gunshots, there was no way that he was going to stay put, especially if he thought his son was in danger…regardless if he was special ops or not.
The remaining three smugglers were caught in a crossfire with Dan to their front and his father behind them. When the gun battle was over, five men were lying dead.
Jess pulled the tarp from one of the trucks and looked inside several boxes. Some were filled with fentanyl tablets, the others had twenty and fifty dollar bills in them. Jess pulled out his cellphone and called someone, “I need your help, I’m on Snake Road, two miles south of Red Butte. Bring four of our most trusted men.”
Bud Speer arrived with the ranch hands and Jess instructed him, “Bury the bodies a long way from here, destroy the drugs and equally distribute the cash among the employees on the ranch.”
“What do you want me to tell them?” Bud asked.
Jess instructed, “Tell them it’s an unscheduled bonus…and leave it at that.”
“What about the vehicles?”
“They’re in good shape…put our logo on them, we can use ‘em on the ranch. One more thing, get some men to repair the fence.”
While walking back to their horses, Dan said, “I told you to stay where you were?”
Jess put his arm around his son’s shoulder, “On the ranch, I still outrank you.”
Dan went back to his unit when his leave expired and continued to serve around the world. He honed his already considerable special skills to a razor’s edge of perfection. As the years passed, the situation on the Texas-Mexico border continued to worsen as politics interfered with the enforcement of existing immigration laws. The Border Patrol was understaffed and demoralized by the lack of support from Washington bureaucrats. Human trafficking, drug and gun smuggling had increased dramatically over the most recent three-months period. Break-ins, robberies and muggings affected every town and neighborhood in the Valley. When a car was broadsided and five local teenagers were seriously injured by a human trafficker in a panel truck, Jess had enough, it was time for some old-fashion Texas justice.
He set up a meeting with his fellow ranchers to organize volunteer patrols near frequently used illegal border crossings. Surveillance teams were set up at strategic locations to report suspicious activities. Truckloads of heavily armed cowboys would then intercept the smugglers. In most cases the smugglers would rather fight than surrender and the battle usually ended in a bloodbath. Working with the Texas Rangers and local law enforcement, the Valley began taking back their communities from the criminals.
Jess met with Texas Governor Glenn Abramson in Austin to discuss funding to finish the border wall. Governor Abramson replied, “I’ve been to Washington and the knucklehead politicians have informed me that construction has ceased indefinitely.”
Jess responded angrily, “This is Texas! We don’t need Washington to tell us how to protect our homes and families!”
“You’re not talking about vigilante justice, are you?”
“There’s laws on the books…we just need to enforce them.” Jess said.
“Got any suggestions?” Governor Abramson asked.
“A long list, how about starting a Texas lottery to raise funds for more construction?” Jess answered.
“I’ll give that some thought. Vice-President Harrison is coming to take a look at the border. I’m scheduled to meet her, I don’t expect much, but I’ll go anyway.”
“I’ll give you a list of places where the smugglers and human traffickers are coming across,” Jess volunteered, “Show her those.”
“That might be a little difficult.”
“Why is that?” Jess asked.
Governor Abramson hesitated then answered, “I’m meeting her in El Paso.”
Jess was momentarily dumfounded then responded, “That’s 800 miles away from the problem.”
Governor Abramson shrugged in resignation, at a loss for words.
“Close enough for government work, huh? You do what you can and I’ll do the same.” Jess warned.
Joaquim Barrientos had recently assumed leadership of the Tienaloa del Golfo Cartel. He was very angry that so many of his shipments had been intercepted and that a lot of his soldiers had been killed. He had a meeting with his lieutenants, “If it’s not the Border Patrol, DEA or the Texas Rangers, then who the hell is it?”
“The ranchers,” Nick Galvez answered.
“Give me a name!” Joaquim demanded.
Nick answered, “The main organizer is a man called Jess McQuade. He has a lot of influence in the Valley.”
“Maybe I need to send a message to this McQuade hombre. Nobody interferes in my business and gets away with it.” Like most men consumed by power, Joaquim let his ego get in the way of his common sense.
Three days later, Jess McQuade was driving back from McAllen when two cars approached from behind. One passed him and the other pulled up to his rear bumper. Cartel soldiers in both vehicles opened fired on the truck. Even though he was hit numerous times, Jess had enough strength to drive off the road and through a plowed field. The truck bounced over the rows of loose dirt. Luckily for Jess, the cars couldn’t follow. When a large cattle truck came rolling down the road, the cartel soldiers decided to make their escape.
Holding his hand against his stomach to slow the bleeding, Jess continued driving until he came to a farmhouse. He leaned on the horn until the residents came outside.
Dan was doing urban warfare marksmanship training with his team at Fort Bragg when he got the word that Colonel Jack Beckworth wanted to see him. When he reached the office, he leaned in, “You wanted to see me, Colonel?”
“Come in, I’ve got some bad news for you. Your father has been shot…he’s in the hospital.”
“You know, what condition he’s in?” Dan asked, concern evident in his voice
“They didn’t tell me,” Colonel Beckwith promised, “Remember this, what affects one of us, affects us all. We’re here for you.”
Dan held in his emotions in check, “I appreciate that, Colonel.”
When Dan arrived at the Rio Grande Regional Hospital, the waiting room was filled with family, friends and business associates of his father. When Dan’s mother and sisters saw him, they rushed to embrace him. Dan asked, “How’s he doing?”
Elena answered, “He’s in intensive care. He was in surgery for 6 hours and they removed 11 bullets. The doctor was amazed that he survived. The next 24 hours are crucial.”
“Never underestimate the man,” Dan responded.
Beth asked, “How long can you stay?”
“As long as I need to,” Dan answered, “Would it be alright to see him?”
Jennifer answered, “He’s drifting in and out of consciousness.”
When Dan entered the room, his father was lying motionless, with only the sound of a life support machine humming softly. There were several tubes connected to Jess McQuade and his vital signs were continuously monitored. Dan sat next to his father’s bed and bowed his head and closed his eyes, “I’m here, Dad. We’re McQuades, it isn’t how many times we get knocked down, it is how many times we get back up. Isn’t that what you told me?”
Jess slowly lifted his right hand and touched his son’s head to let him know that he was listening. When Dan exited the room, Captain Seth Walker of the Texas Rangers was waiting for him, “Howdy Dan.”
“Good to see you, Seth, “Dan replied, “What do you know so far?”
Seth promised, “This is our top priority. Every Ranger is working on this.”
Dan apologized in advance, “No offense, but that doesn’t answer my question.”
“So far it looks like the Cartel. Your dad has made a lot enemies lately with his efforts to stop drug smuggling and human trafficking.”
Dan thought for a moment, “My dad is a high profile target with a lot of friends. Not many would want to bring that kind of heat down on themselves. In fact, that list would have to be a pretty damn short one. C’mon Seth, I know you well enough to know that you’ve already thought of this.”
“Joaquim Barrientos just took control of the Tienaloa Del Golfo Cartel. He’s a psycho, bloodthirsty and power-hungry. In my opinion, taking your dad out was a big victory for him. In Barrientos’ twisted way of thinking he probably believes that this attack has earned him respect and instilled fear on both sides of the border.”
Dan’s voice was hard and unbending, “Respect is earned and fear is in the eyes of the beholder.”
Seth asked, “Are you thinking about going after Barrientos?”
Dan responded, “Seth, you’ve been a friend of my family for many years, and I wouldn’t want to jeopardize that relationship, but don’t put me in a position where I have to choose between our friendship and going after the people who did this to my father.”
“I was going to say that if you’re going after Barrientos, I’m going with you!” Seth said.
Two days later, Colonel Beckworth arrived at the McQuade Ranch with a dozen Delta Force operatives. Dan was surprised to see them, “What are you doing here?”
Colonel Beckworth replied, “When I found out who was behind your father’s attack, I knew that you would be going after them. I told you before you left Bragg that what affects one affects all.”
Dan said, “Colonel, how did you know that I would be going after Barrientos?”
“Because that is what I would do,” Colonel Beckworth smiled.
Two days later, seventy-five men were sitting in the main barn area. The attendees included Delta Force operatives, Texas Rangers and employees from the ranch. Dan faced the crowd of tough hard men, “First of all, I want to thank you all for being here. This is an unsanctioned mission. We’ll be going south of the border where we’ll have no support from our country or Mexico. Our adversaries are well-armed and willing to fight to the death. That’s a moot point because we won’t be taking prisoners. It is dangerous and illegal, so if any of you want to leave, I won’t blame you and there will be no hard feelings.”
Not one person made a move to leave.
Dan continued, “Thank you…no one speaks of this, not now…not ever. Not in casual conversation or even on your deathbed. We take this to our graves…agreed?”
No one spoke.
Dan reiterated his point, “Repeat after me, I swear never to speak about this mission.”
Every man repeated the statement and Dan warned them of the repercussions, “That is a blood oath that you just took and you will be held to it. It is too dangerous for us and our families if our identities become known. Tomorrow morning, we start practicing for the mission.”
One of ranch hands was puzzled, “Practice what?”
The men traveled to a secluded area of the ranch. Dan had a large bulletin board set up with a dozen of photos of the Barrientos compound. “This is where we’re going. Familiarize yourself with the photos. I’ll be leading the team that goes into the main structure. The Rangers will secure the exterior and the rest of you will take up defensive positions along the road and the main gate.
After six hours of intense rehearsal, Dan called out, “Practice is done, day after tomorrow is the real thing. Get some rest.”
Colonel Beckworth walked up, “It’s a good plan.”
“You outrank me, you should be calling the shots,” Dan said.
“Not this time,” Colonel Beckworth responded, “I’m just along for cover your ‘six’.
That night, Dan was lying in his bed, staring up at the ceiling, He heard a knock, “Come in.”
His mother entered and said, “I love you, son…please be careful…whatever you’re doing.”
Dan responded, “I love you too.”
A convoy of 30 vehicles, some filled with men, others carrying weapons and ammunition approached the border crossing. Captain Seth Walker nodded to the border patrol guard and he waved them through.
Joaquim Barrientos’ heavily fortified compound in Reynosa had ten-foot high-walls, metal gates and three dozen armed cartel soldiers, as well as roving patrols and fortified guard posts. Dan and his assault force stopped a half mile away where two surveillance drones were launched to get a visual of their target.
At twenty minutes before sunset, the Delta Force snipers eliminated the exterior guards. The rest of the men took their positions and the special force operatives put on their night vision goggles and moved across the darkened landscape with the Rangers right behind them. The Texas Rangers took their positions outside the compound while Dan scaled the wall and killed two guards with his knife and then opened the gate for the rest of the team.
Inside the compound, Barrientos was enjoying his five-course meal with his three female captives. The women were too scared to do anything except try to look like they were there out of choice, and not under the threat of death.
One by one, the Delta operatives killed every guard inside the building with a proficiency that few possessed. Barrientos was still unaware that his compound was no longer under his control. Dan entered the dining room and sat at the table where the drug kingpin was stuffing his face. Barrientos’ first reaction was to reach for the pistol under the table. Dan impaled his hand against the wooden table with his knife.
Barrientos screamed in pain, “Who are you?”
Dan wanted the drug kingpin to know who he was so he pulled down his mask, “Dan McQuade, my father sends his regards.”
“I’ll give you whatever you want…don’t kill me,” Barrientos pleaded.
“No mercy for the merciless,” Dan shot the drug kingpin through the forehead and he fell backward. He turned to the three woman who were trembling in fear, not knowing if they were next. Dan reassured them, “You’re safe.”
One of the women spit on her dead captor’s body and cursed him out in Spanish. The team took everything of value, including guns and cash and loaded it into the trucks.” One of the Rangers asked, “Are we going to burn it down?”
“Nope, somebody can use it.”
Each woman was given 50 thousand dollars and told to keep their mouths shut and disappear. They took one of the cartel vehicles and vanished into the night. The Americans returned to Texas by the same route they came. The cash from the Barrientos compound was divided and the men returned to their regular routines. Dan stayed three more days until his father’s medical condition improved from critical to stable. He was at the hospital saying good-bye. “I’ve got to get back to work.”
“I heard you found something to keep busy while I was in here,” Jess commented.
Dan responded evasively, “I was just trying to keep my mind occupied.”
“A little trip to Mexico always helps calm me down,” Jess smiled.
“I wouldn’t know about that,” Dan lied then quickly changed the subject, “I won’t be gone as long this time, see you in about a month.”
Dan never told his father about the kinetic operation, but when Jess heard rumors about the death of Joaquim Barrientos he surmised what happened, but never asked for confirmation or details One thing was made emphatically clear by this incident; When elected politicians don’t do their jobs, innocent people will suffer, and others have to fill the void. In this case it became McQuade’s War.
– This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, business, events and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.