All Things Are Possible
Thomas Calabrese –Jack Briggs was born with a vivid imagination and nothing ever seemed too unrealistic or implausible to him as images and scenarios were constantly appearing in his mind. Creating stories in his mind soon became his hobby and coping mechanism when the world got too much for him to handle. He would take facts and intertwine them with fiction and create characters based on people that he knew personally or casually observed.
While in high school, he showed little interest in math and science, but excelled in English because he could visualize the words in his mind and was fascinated by their origins. History was also one of his favorite subjects because Jack liked to inject himself into events of the past and rewrite the parts to fit his personality and preference. Military history was his favorite category.
After graduating Vista High School, Jack joined the Army and became a Ranger. He had been in the military for seven years when he was captured by the Taliban after his patrol was ambushed and surrounded. They were vastly outnumbered by enemy combatants and Jack was wounded in the right leg. Being unable to run he volunteered to provide cover fire while the rest of his men withdrew from open terrain to cover behind a rock formation. The plan was to re-group and call in air support. Jack figured he could hold out until then because his fellow Rangers gave him some of their ammunition to hold off the enemy. On any other day, this would have been a viable strategy, but there was a malfunction with the catapult on the Dwight D. Eisenhower aircraft carrier. The five minute delay of the jets being launched was just enough for the Taliban to move in and capture Sergeant Briggs.
Jack was taken to an underground cave complex near Torkham, a major border crossing between Pakistan and Afghanistan along the Grand Trunk Road. He was tortured and locked in a cell and would have been killed except for the fact that Taliban leaders thought they could exchange him for some of their fighters who were currently imprisoned in Kabul.
Jack was allowed twenty minutes a day to go outside and get fresh air and stretch his legs. Days turned into weeks, weeks into months and eventually it had almost become one year that Jack was held captive. It would have been much more difficult except for his vivid imagination. Jack was able to detach himself from the harshness of his environment by creating a thousand stories in his mind, one of his favorites was how he escaped. He intricately envisioned each scene in his mind.
Having no idea where Sergeant Briggs was held, the American military targeted this particular underground complex with the GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB colloquially known as the “Mother of All Bombs”). It a large-yield bomb specifically designed for destroying underground or heavily fortified structures.
Luckily, Jack was outside during one of his exercise sessions when he heard the distinctive sound of the C-130 Hercules overhead. Moments later, the world came crashing down around him. By the time, he regained his senses and dug himself out from the rubble, Jack saw a 50 foot deep hole where a big part of the mountain used to be. This was one scenario that he did not imagine, but a sometimes a surprise in a story is a good thing so Jack looked upon the fortuitous event as an invitation to make a quick exit from the area.
While avoiding Taliban patrols, he implemented every one of his survival techniques that he was taught in training and a few of his own to stay alive in the unforgiving environment. When he got thirsty, he saw a tall glass of ice water in his hand and when he got hungry, an abundant meal was set before him. Some people would call his behavior delusional, but now was not the time for analysis or logic, it was the time for survival and if it worked, Jack was going to use it. Four days passed and his mind was doing its best to convince his body that it wasn’t shutting down. Jack sat down next to a large boulder, closed his eyes and thought about an American military patrol. He had no idea how long he was asleep when he heard the distinctive sound of boots moving over hard ground, Jack immediately recognized it, stood up and yelled out, “I’m a friendly, hold your fire.”
As soon he was well enough, Sergeant Jack Briggs was sent back to Fort Benning, home of the 75th Ranger Regiment, where he began the process of being discharged from the Army. After a series of medical tests Doctor Josh Tannehill met with Jack at the Womack Medical Center on base and told him about a proposal he received. “There’s a defense contractor doing research on the stress of being a prisoner of war and they want you.”
“Me? I’ve got nothing to tell them,” Jack replied.
Doctor Tannehill disagreed, “You survived a year in captivity and are one of the few soldiers who was able to escape. How you kept your sanity and strength is valuable information to these people.”
“I can give them the answer in one word…luck.”
“Look, I’m not here to sell you on this, but let me tell what they are offering; first class roundtrip ticket to San Diego and anyplace you want to go afterwards, $350 per diem, a suite at the Hilton Cape Rey Resort and Spa in Carlsbad, a rent a car and job placement service. So when this is over, you might have a job or at least have an idea on what you want to do.” Doctor Tannehill said.
“How long is this particular assignment?” Jack asked.
Jack was surprised, “That seems like a long time and a lot of money just to ask me a few questions.”
“They have a lot of money to spend and they want to be thorough. Look Sergeant, go to California, enjoy yourself and if you don’t like it, you can always quit. The plane tickets are yours, no matter what you decide. I made sure of that.”
“It’s not like I have a lot of offers so I guess California here I come,” Jack smiled.
Jack boarded his flight in Charlotte and found his seat in first class. The flight attendant came over and inquired, May I get you something to drink before take-off?”
Jack said, “I’m a little out of element, this is the first time I’ve ever flown first class.”
“Everything is complimentary,” The Flight Attendant smiled.
“I’m not much into alcoholic beverages, tea would be nice, thank you, Ma’am.”
“Hot or cold?”
“Hot,” Jack replied.
The flight attendant inquired, “Lemon or honey?”
“Honey with a little milk,” Jack said.
After enjoying an excellent meal, Jack reclined his seat and took a nap. He dreamed of California beaches and did not awaken until he heard the pilot instruct passengers to bring their seats to their upright positions.
A man was waiting at baggage claim with a sign, Jack Briggs.
“I’m Jack Briggs.”
The man replied, “How many bags do you have?”
“Just one,” Jack replied.
“We’ll get it and be on the way to your hotel, sir.”
“Just call me Jack.”
Upon arrival at the front desk of the Cape Rey Resort, Jack was shown to his suite. A half hour later there was a knock at his door. Jack opened it to see a very attractive Asian American woman standing before him. She introduced herself, “I am Christine Lee. I work for Omega International.”
“Please come in, Miss Lee.” Jack said.
Christine said, “Let’s keep this informal, call me Christine or Chris. Is it alright if I call you Jack?”
Christine walked over to the sliding door and looked out to the beach, “I chose this room for you, would you have preferred a view of the pool?”
“This is great.” Jack said, “You chose wisely.”
Christine said, “There’s an excellent restaurant in the hotel called Chandler’s. I booked reservation for 7PM. It’s 2PM now, there’s an excellent spa…why don’t you get a massage, just bill it to the room.”
“I might do that, but first I’ll take a run on the beach,” Jack said.
While running on the beach, Jack let his mind soar and by the time he finished his five mile run, he was physically relaxed and his mind was free. After a deep tissue massage, Jack was feeling very good and found himself dozing off during dinner.
Christine asked, “Are you tired?”
“I usually have pretty good stamina, but a short run and a massage and I’m literally wiped out, sorry about that,” Jack apologized.
“When was the last time you had a massage?” Christine asked.
Jack thought for a minute then responded, “Five years ago, we were doing some training in Thailand at the time.”
“Deep tissue manipulation reduces stress and tension, which impacts blood pressure. Some types of massages have positive impacts on systolic, diastolic, and arterial blood pressure. They can also increase production of serotonin, which promotes good feelings and happiness. Because your meridians have been opened up, your muscles have had the “gunk” worked out of them, you can feel either nauseous or sleepy. A good night’s rest and you’ll be fine. Make sure that you drink plenty of fluids,” Christine handed Jack her business card and suggested. “Call me when you wake up and we’ll get started.”
Sergeant Nails Nielsen, a Ranger teammate of Jack used to tell him, ‘If the sun rises before you, then you overslept,’ so even though it was still dark outside, Jack awakened and turned on the television. He found a station that played old television shows and watched three episodes of Leave It to Beaver before calling Christine.
Omega International was located on Loker Avenue in Carlsbad. Christine explained the procedure, “We are going to create a virtual reality that is as close to the one in Afghanistan as possible. When that’s done, we’ll hook up some sensors to you and we’ll re-create the situations and monitor your reactions. Before we begin, are you on any type of medication?”
Jack was quick to respond, “Absolutely not! I was lucky enough to have Doctor Bart Billings as my psychologist after I escaped from the Taliban. He is adamantly opposed to using brain altering medications to treat soldiers with combat stress. I was never a big fan of alcohol or drugs anyway so Dr. Billings didn’t have to do much convincing on my course of treatment, which was diet and exercise. I repeat for the record, I am not receiving any type of medication for physical or mental issues.”
Christine said, “Good to know. One more question, our virtual reality scenarios are very realistic. Do you think that you’ll have any problems going back to those traumatic times?”
“I knew what you wanted before I came here. You have given no reason to doubt my ability to handle this.”
“Hoorah, Rangers lead the way,” Christine said.
When the first stage was done, the sensors were connected to various places on Jack’s head and body. He put on the VR (virtual reality) goggles and leaned back into the plush recliner and the show began. The first day’s testing included everything up to the time that Jack was captured.
Christine consulted with several of the scientists after reviewing the results, then approached Jack, “Is there something you’re not telling me?”
“You might as well be walking on the beach, no discernible changes in your heart rate or blood pressure. The only explanation is that you are on some type of medication.”
“There is another one.”
Christine smiled, “I’m listening.”
After Jack explained how he uses his vivid imagination to control his emotions, Christine pondered the situation for a few seconds then asked, “Let me see if I got this right. We create a virtual reality just for you and your virtual reality overrides ours?”
“Something like that,” Jack said, “Is this going to mess things up for you?”
“I’d need to get a better idea on how this works. Do you have anything you can show me? I know some very creative people, but nothing at the level that you just described.”
I have some stories and screenplays on my computer. I can send them to you. I don’t know how if it will help, but it might give you some idea how my mind works.”
“Please send them to me,” Christine said.
That night, Christine read seven short stories and three screenplays and was amazed how imaginative they were. She went to her team and shared her insights about Jack and they made the necessary adjustments to compensate for Jack’s unique gift and they eventually developed a program and got what they needed.
Three days before Jack was to finish his contract with Omega International, Christine told Jack, “Omega is also involved in video game development. I sent some of your stories to a Project Manager that I know. He believes that you should consider a career as a developer.”
I have minimum experience with computers,” Joe said.
Christine explained, “There are numerous teams involved in the development of a video game, your skills and talents would be especially valuable with plot, dialogue and storyboarding. Developers have to be able to visualize events in their minds before anything can proceed. You can make a lot money if you’re successful. Are you interested?”
“I am, appreciate your help.” Jack Briggs said.
Jack accepted a position as video game developer and once he got a feel for what was expected of him he became successful. His team manager, Lori Hollins was amazed that the former Ranger was never at a lost for an idea and sometimes had to remind him that they could work on so many things at one time.
What separated Jack Briggs from other developers was that he was an American warrior and patriot. He realized that for a game to be successful, it had to be entertaining, but there was something else. Jack had the unique gift of creating a moral universe where the power to know, love and fight for good and righteousness was the catalyst for the action and the central theme. It gave game users an adrenalin high they didn’t feel with other systems.
With his military skills, imagination and ability to improvise on short notice Jack was a perfect candidate for covert operations so when he was approached by individuals from the government about doing some part-time work to help protect his country, Jack eagerly accepted. Using the cover as a video game developer, he was able to inconspicuously travel the world doing black ops missions for American intelligence agencies.
Jack was sad to hear that his friend and comrade, Sergeant First Class Russell Ryerson was killed in the line of duty while on a mission in the country of Mali, West Africa. He attended the funeral at Arlington National Cemetery and envisioned something during the ceremony. When he got back to California, he met with Lori Hollins about his idea.
The video game was called Rampaging Ranger and it became a best seller. From his share of the profits, Jack set up a trust fund for Rusty’s two children. Malpaso Productions, Clint Eastwood’s company, the same one who made American Sniper approached Jack about doing a screenplay based on the story of the video game. Following a similar approach of Top Gun Maverick of avoiding wokeness and political correctness, Jack wrote an epic tale of action, patriotism and honor and it also became a blockbuster. At the end of the movie when Sergeant Ryerson saved his men and sacrificed his own in the process, there was his strong and reassuring voice speaking as the final scene slowly faded to black. These were those memorable words, ‘They call me the Rampaging Ranger, but I’m not gone…I’m simply enjoying the next stage of my journey, so please be happy for me and trust we shall meet again.’
In every video game that he helped developed or story that he created, Jack was living proof that all things are possible in the right man’s imagination.
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.
The Veterans Writing Group of San Diego County invites all writers to join us at our monthly meetings. Veterans and Non-Veterans are equally welcome For more information go to our website: www.veteranswritinggroup.org
I enjoyed this story as I do with all your stories. Keep up the good work.
That’s my kind of story Tom, thanks.
Tom the 1st paragraph sounds a lot like the author of the story. The remainder was just a good yarn.
What makes Tom an excellent short story writer is his American warrior and patriot background.
He has the gift of creating a moral universe where the power to know, love and fight for good and righteousness are the central theme.
It gives readers an adrenalin high and patriotic feeling.
The woke crowd should read his works
No one writes a story with the intensity that Mr. Thomas Calabrese does as story in the Vista Press on this Sunday. His research and facts are phenomenal and detailed. His creativity goes beyond anyone’s comprehension. When we think a subject in his story is coming to a conclusion, it is the beginning of a journey.
Rampaging Ranger is a classic example of my comment. When one would think a wounded Army Ranger is captured and held for a year by the enemy one would not expect such a miraculously escape and a life after semi recovery. Outstanding story and positive for anyone that has served in the military especially those that have faced the dangers and confrontation with the enemy.
Another interesting story Tom. Somehow, I think it is a bit biographical. But anyway, it kept my mind moving.
My only complaint is that I always wish Tom’s storied were longer. This particular tale was just as much about the what happens after military life when Jack Briggs was with the Rangers.
You continue to amaze me. Reason: You write weekly stories that continually give me hope in moral and God-living examples. Tom, I will forever be thankful for you and your glorious stories of constant salvation for us all. Amen.
Interesting story and interesting concept. I liked it.
Tom, I love this story. I absolutely love how insightful and how creative you are. But you love what you do and it shows. Every time I read one of your short stories, I can actually picture every single detail, as if I were there myself and that is very difficult to do. You definitely know how to bring your stories and the characters in them, to life. I wish you were a screen writer. God has given you a gift. Keep on writing my friend!
On Oct 2, the Padres are holding a tribute to POWs that I was invited to in the owners box. I’ll share your story with them.