Chapter 18: A Thousand Stolen Moments by Connie Ann Michael

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A Thousand Stolen Moments by Connie Ann Michael

Chapter 1 / Chapter 2 / Chapter 3 / Chapter 4 / Chapter 5 / Chapter 6 / Chapter 7 / Chapter 8 / Chapter 9 / Chapter 10 / Chapter 11 / Chapter 12 / Chapter 13 / Chapter 14 / Chapter 15 / Chapter 16 / Chapter 17

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

The line of men wound through alleys so narrow even the smallest of cars wouldn’t be able to fit through. The doors on both sides were locked and there was nothing to provide cover along the smooth walls. Without any firm cover, it seemed impossible to ambush the small cell group Intel predicted was in the mosque. They were walking up to the front door in full view of anyone inside—no surprise there. Doogie felt like they should yell out, “Hey, here we are. Coming to get you.”

Raven walked point. Rarely did the commander lead the way. However, rarely did a team have a leader like Raven. Tahk had rear guard, and as usual, Doogie followed him. She found Fifi’s bouncing head comforting.

The ANA walked along the far side of the alley. Doogie hoped any lingering Taliban would attack their side before the unit’s, which kind of made her feel guilty.

“Thommy, take the point.” Raven moved back and grabbed the hagi, who trailed behind him. Raven kneeled on the ground, spreading a map in front of him. “Where are we? With these walls I can’t figure out where we are.” He looked at their hagi. “We need to get to the mosque. Can you get us there?”

Doogie cringed. There was little doubt he’d led them into the mess earlier.

“Can you get us there?” Raven repeated.

Hagi nodded his head. “Yes, Mosque. I know.”

“Can you get us out of these walls?”

Hagi nodded his head again. “Yes.”

“Take the point.” Raven pointed in front of Thommy.

Thommy waved his gun until the man took the lead.

True to the man’s word, he led them out of the maze of the city and into an open field.

“There’s a group of men crossing the field,” Thommy’s voice whispered through their headsets.

“Don’t shoot. Try to detain them,” Raven whispered back.

Thommy and Ryan took off across the field. The Afghani’s ran off ahead of them. The unit watched the chase, and then one by one, they dispersed after them. The ANA stood staring at the scene in front of them. Tahk took off around the side of the field, Doogie assumed in an attempt to intercept them. She didn’t want to be left with the ANA, so she took off after Tahk.

When Tahk and Doogie reached the far side of the field, they found their unit standing in a group around Ryan.

“The idiot threw a grenade at me!” Ryan yelled, pointing at a grenade sitting beside the wall. “Didn’t go off.”

Raven stepped forward, picked up the grenade, and tossed it over the wall.

The unit moved to reorganize when another click went off.

“You’ve got to be kidding me.” Tahk pushed Doogie behind him. “Get out of here,” he ordered.

Ryan’s foot had sunk into the mud, making contact with an IED buried deep in the slop.

“God no. Please, please, please, please don’t go off,” he whispered a prayer over and over.

“We need Smith,” one of them men yelled.

“No. It’s okay man. I gotcha. “Tahk knelt beside Ryan. Pulling a knife out of his belt, he slid it down into the mud. “Now lift your foot very carefully—slowly.”

Ryan strained against the mud. Thommy grabbed him by the shoulders until he pulled his foot free of the sludge.

Raven moved alongside Doogie. “I think we’re running out of luck. Better get moving to the mosque before it dries up.”

With Ryan free, they moved through another narrow footpath. Raven directed Thommy and Ryan to go to the front again. They had the most experience, after Tahk and Raven. They’d done a few tours in Iraq before heading to Afghanistan. Doogie doubted they believed their experience should put them in the front of the danger, but it isn’t like they could trust a newbie up there, and the hagi wasn’t working out.

Before they’d made it back into the village, grenades landed around them like hailstones. The men from the field were most definitely Taliban, or in some way connected to them. The unit’s position had been compromised and any chance of a sneak attack flew out the window. The crackle and pop of incoming small weapon fire pinged off the wall above Doogie’s head.

Tahk swore and ducked.

A large explosion went off ahead of them.

“Man down. Doogie.” The fear of his words shot through Doogie’s earpiece. She took off.

“Doogs, wait. We don’t know . . .” Tahk followed after her.

She pushed her way through the crowded alley. She skidded to a stop, and then kneeled beside Ryan. He wasn’t moving. His leg took the force of a grenade blast, threads of flesh hung loosely, but the knee was still attached. Blood already began to soak into the sand. She whipped the ruck off her back and grabbed a tourniquet. She wound it tightly around his thigh. His body was peppered with shrapnel. He laid eerily still.

“Doogs. Doogs, is he okay? Is he gonna make it?” Thommy’s voice was near hysterical.

“Thommy hold his head. Let him know you’re here. Talk to him. But do it calmly,” Doogie emphasized calmly.

Thommy’s eyes were wide. He tried to keep his voice steady. “Hey, man. You’re gonna be fine. Doogie’s here. She got here really fast. You know she’s the best. Bet she could operate on you right here. No medevac for you.” He choked back a sob.

A chill ran through her. Did they seriously think she was some miraculous medic who could re-attach extremities in the field? Doogie blew out a breath, said a quick prayer, “Please guide my hands.” And started to assess the situation.

“We gotta move him to where I can work without getting shot.” She looked at Raven for direction.

Raven looked around, grabbed Ryan by the shoulders, and dragged him a few feet ahead into a doorway.

Doogie grabbed her bag, moving in behind him.

“We’re gonna need a chopper. I can stabilize him, but he needs to get out of here.” She stared at Raven, trying to send him a message of the severity of their situation.

He barely nodded. “Roger that.”

The abrasions on Ryan’s face were superficial and could be dealt with later. The potential of his leg injury killing him increased with each minute they sat there. If the tourniquet stayed on while they waited for the medevac and through the flight to the hospital . . . best case scenario, he’d lose his leg. She needed to stop the bleeding while keeping the circulation going for there to be any chance. Last thing she wanted to do was jeopardize his life or leave him with one useless leg.

Thommy repositioned himself at Ryan’s head, talking up a storm. Doogie searched the room for Tahk, but couldn’t find him. “Tahk!”

Raven kneeled beside her. “He’s clearing the field for the chopper. What can I do?”

Her thoughts froze when she looked into his eyes. Somewhere during this mission, the feeling that Raven disliked her had shifted. His pissed off stare had softened.

“Tell me what to do.” Raven’s voice was like velvet floating over her.

She shook herself out of the trance he put her in and gave him directives. “I’m going to cut the material away. I need you to pour alcohol over the wound slowly so I can see what’s going on.”

His fingers brushed against hers when he took the alcohol from her. Doogie’s stomach jumped. She drew in a calming breath. Not the time for butterflies.

Raven licked his lips nervously, and then shifted his gaze to hers. “Ready?”

She cut the remnants of his pant leg away, grabbed a handful of gauze, and nodded for Raven to begin pouring. When the alcohol touched his broken skin, Ryan’s body contracted.

“Hold him still, Thommy.” Doogie clenched her teeth, feeling his pain.

“It’s okay, Ryan,” Thommy said over and over.

With most of the blood and debris wiped away, she could see what she had to deal with.

“Hold this tight against his leg.” She traded Raven the alcohol for more gauze.

The floor lurched and buckled as the structure took the impact of a mortar. Doogie dove to cover the freshly cleaned wound. Raven fell over her, his weight pushing her down.

He swore into her ear. “Get out there and clear the area. They got a chopper coming in,” he yelled to the remaining men.

The men didn’t move. The mortar explosion and the injury of one of their most valued men left them in shock.

“Get out there!” Raven yelled again.

Within minutes, the squad reorganized and ran out under heavy fire to secure the area. The Black Hawk would be coming soon.

Raven sat back on his heels. Doogie mimicked his crouch.

“I want to save his leg. They won’t be able to if the tourniquet stays on too long.” Another mortar went off. Raven and Doogie moved at the same time to cover Ryan’s leg.

“Tell me what to do,” Raven said.

“I need to reach into his leg.”

“What the . . .” Thommy cringed.

Doogie rolled her eyes. “Thommy, you have to hold him tight. I need to feel what’s ripped open and what’s still good. He’s losing blood too fast. I’m afraid it’s his main artery.”

“Can you fix it?” Thommy’s voice shook.

“I can try.” She wiped the back of her hand across her forehead.

Raven reached out and squeezed her hand.

She only hoped she had as much faith as he did. Doogie had assisted with this operation in the hospital, but the field was different.

She removed the gauze. Using one hand, she spread the wound open and reached into Ryan’s leg. She closed her eyes, using her mind to envision what it looked like compared to what she felt, where each vein and artery should be. Her finger trailed along splinters of bone, but it didn’t seem to be broken. Then her fingers brushed past a warm gush of blood. His femoral artery was gone.

“Okay. The shrapnel severed his artery. Raven hand me a clamp.”

Raven gave her a blank look.

“Small scissors with a flat head,” she instructed.

“Can you save it?” Thommy asked.

Doogie looked up and shook her head. “I want to save him.” She could stop the bleeding, but she didn’t have any way of re-attaching the artery.

“Raven, I need you to hold his leg open so I can get both hands in.”

“Oh my God.” Thommy’s face turned white.

“Don’t you dare faint Thommy. I can’t do this without you. Pull it together.” She pushed her hands into his leg in an attempt to secure the artery.

The unit took on heavy fire for the last hour. They’d worked to secure a safe landing zone for the Blackhawk. Each time they swooped in, the Taliban directed their mortar attacks at the helicopter. Luckily, they hadn’t been hit . . . yet. Ryan still hadn’t regained consciousness. Thommy had calmed down and sat with Ryan’s head on his lap, rocking slowly. Color returned to Ryan’s cheeks when Doogie stopped the bleeding, but his foot already turned cold and black.

Without any warning, a huge blast rocked the building again. When the debris cleared, an eerie quiet surrounded them.

Raven pulled his radio out. “This is Bravo company. Confirm drop.”

“This is Charlie Tango Two. Cleared for drop on location undisclosed to eradicate Taliban hot spot. “The voice echoed through the silence.

“Roger that.” Raven turned to Doogie. “Air Force dropped a bomb. Chopper will be down in a few. We can get him out.”

“Grab him carefully.”

Raven rolled his eyes at her.

“I don’t want to dislodge the clamp,” she said weakly.

“Gotta go, gotta go!” Tahk ran in.

“I got him. Lead the way.” Raven hoisted Ryan over his shoulder.

The Air Force Hawks sat in the field, waiting. PJ’s from the Air Force ran out to meet them. Doogie gladly turned him over to their care. Within minutes, they strapped Ryan in and headed to Deitz.

Before Doogie could recover, Tahk took her by the arm and dragged her back into the building.

The entire unit shoved into the small space to regroup. The ANA pushed to be a part of it.

“Doogie, we need you back here,” a voice drifted from the shadows of the room.

She pushed her way through the crowd. “Who’s down?”

“Boyd and Rudy,” Pvt. Callahan said.

The men parted, letting her through. Boyd and Rudy were sitting against the wall. Rudy held a scarf to his bloody nose. Boyd’s ears dripped blood. Usually not a good sign.

Doogie squatted down next to them. “So, what’s the deal boys?”

Callahan answered, “They were on the roof. Providing cover for the medevac. Missile hit. Blew ‘em off.”

“Okay.” She handed Rudy some gauze to subdue the bleeding nose. “Let’s start with you.” She turned to face Boyd.

“Can you hear me?” she asked.

Boyd didn’t answer, only nodded. Doogie wiped the blood from his neck with a wet-wipe. “Is there ringing in your ears? Pounding? Pain?” She continued to barrage him with questions.

“Do we need to call the bird back?” Raven came up behind her. His legs brushed her back.

“I don’t need no stinkin’ chopper!” Boyd continued to pepper Doogie with profanity, and then threw up.

Doogie looked over her shoulder. “I’d say he has a concussion.”

She turned back to Boyd. “Do you know what month it is?”

Boyd used the back of his hand to wipe his face. “No. But I never have.”

“Okay. What’s your unit?” she tried again.

“Infantry. Ravenscar is my commander. I’m married to Lynn. Blah, blah, blah.”

Doogie turned and raised her eyebrows at Raven. He shrugged.

“Callahan, sit with him. Don’t let him sleep,” Raven instructed.

Doogie pivoted to look at Rudy. Carefully, she moved his hand away from his nose. “Any headache, ringing . . .”

“No,” Rudy interrupted. “Boyd landed on me. Took an elbow to the nose. I’m good, but I think it’s broken.”

She touched the bridge of his nose with her thumb and forefinger, moving it slightly. “Yep, it’s broken.”

“Well, boys, you’re stuck here. We won’t call the chopper back,” Raven told them.

“Not a good idea to have them out here,” Doogie disagreed.

Raven glared down at her. “Sawyer, we don’t have time to get them back and get to this position again. We don’t have enough ammunition.”

“It isn’t in their best interest to be engaged in combat with a concussion.”

“Only Boyd has a concussion,” he stated flatly.

“Well yeah . . .” She didn’t finish her thought. “I’m simply giving my advice. I do, however, know the situation. I’m not expecting the unit to extract them.” She stood to face him. “Call the bird back.”

Raven didn’t retreat from her close proximity. She stood her ground looking up at him. The familiar look of irritation in his eyes.

“Call it back.” She hoped her words sounded stronger than she felt.

Resigned, Raven gave the order. “Tahk call the trailer back.” He met her stare. “I don’t want to risk Ryan. We’ll bring back the trailer. “The Hawks traveled in pairs with one always watching out for the other.

“Good job, boys. Ryan will be fine. Doogie got him taken care of.” Raven attempted to regain the men’s’ attention. A few men gave halfhearted “OORAH’s” for Doogie’s work.

Soaked with Ryan’s blood, Doogie tried to fold her sleeves up so she wasn’t a walking reminder of a fallen comrade.

“What’s our status?” Raven questioned Tahk.

“If hagi isn’t full of bull, then we’re fairly close to target. We don’t have enough ammo to take another ambush and take the mosque.”

Raven rubbed his chin, contemplating their next move. “Well, they certainly know we’re coming, so my guess is it’s gonna be a fight when we get there.”

Tahk nodded.

“Do we have enough for a full frontal?” Raven asked.

“The ANA blew most of their ammo, so we have to share what we have. Makes us light.” Tahk’s voice was strained.

“We were supposed to be in and out of here yesterday.” Raven spit in the sand.

Doogie heard the thump, thump of the returning helicopter and went to retrieve Boyd off the floor.

“Doogie. I’m not . . .” Boyd swore then threw up again.

“You get a purple heart for a concussion,” she tried to entice him.

“Okay, okay.” He climbed to his feet. Doogie wrapped his arm around her shoulders.

“You got him, Doog?” Tahk asked.

“Good to go.” She waved him off.

“OORAH!” the unit yelled after them.



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