AN ELITE ATHLETE
By Tom Demerly
It is dark and Mike Smiths clothing is wet.
Mike Smith is an athlete, an elite athlete in
fact. He is a triathlete, has done ironman several times, a couple
adventure races and even run the Marathon Des Sables in Morocco a 152
mile running race through the Sahara, done in stages.
Mike has some college, is gifted in foreign
languages, reads a lot and has amazing memory for details. He enjoys
travel. He is a quiet guy but a very good athlete. Mikes friends say he
has a natural toughness. He cant spend as much time training for
triathlons as hed like to because his job keeps him busy. Especially now.
This is Mikes busiest season. But he still seems very fit. Even without
much training Mike has managed some impressive performances in endurance
Its a big night for Mike. Hes at work
tonight. As I mentioned his clothing is wet, partially from dew, partially
from perspiration. He and his four co-workers, Dan, Larry, Pete and
Maurice are working on a rooftop at the corner of Jamia Street and Khulafa
Street across from Omar Bin Yasir.
Mike is looking through a viewfinder of a
British made Pilkington LF25 Laser Designator. The crosshairs are centered
on a ventilation shaft. The shaft is on the roof of the Republican Guard
Palace in downtown Baghdad across the Tigris River.
Sadam Hussein is inside, seven floors below,
three floors below ground level, attending a crisis meeting.
Mikes co-worker Pete (also an Ironman
finisher. Lake Placid, 2000) keys some information into a small laptop
computer and hits Burst Transmit. The DMDG (Digital Message Device
Group) uplinks data to another of Mikes co-workers (this time a man hes
never met, but they both work for their Uncle, Sam) and a fellow
athlete, at 21,500 feet above Iraq 15 miles from downtown Baghdad. This
mans office is the cockpit of an F-117 Stealth Fighter. When Mike and
Petes signal is received the man in the airplane leaves his orbit outside
Baghdad, turns left, and heads downtown.
Mike has 40 seconds to complete his work for
tonight, then he can go for a run.
Mike squeezes the trigger of his LF25 and a
dot appears on the ventilator shaft five city blocks and across the river
away from him and his co-workers. Mike speaks softly into his microphone;
Target illuminated. Danger close. Danger close. Over.
Seconds later two GBU-24B two thousand pound
laser guided, hardened case, delayed fuse bunker buster bombs fall free
from the F-117. The bombs enter the funnel and begin finding their way
to the tiny dot projected by Mikes LF25. They glide approximately three
miles across the ground and fall four miles on the way to the spot marked
by Mike and his friends.
When they reach the ventilator shaft marked by
Mike and his friends the two bunker busters enter the roof in a puff of
dust and debris. They plow through the first four floors of the building
like a two-ton steel telephone pole traveling over 400 m.p.h., tossing
desks, ceiling tiles, computers and chairs out the shattering windows.
Then they hit the six foot thick reinforced concrete roof of the bunker.
They burrow four more feet and detonate.
The shock wave is transparent but reverberates
through the ground to the river where a Doppler wave appears on the
surface of the Tigris. When the seismic shock reaches the building Mike is
on he levitates an inch off the roof from the concussion.
Then the sound hits. The two explosions are
like a simultaneous crack of thunder as the buildings walls seem to swell
momentarily, then burst apart on an expanding fireball that slowly,
eerily, boils above Baghdad casting rotating shadows as the fire climbs
into the night. Debris begins to rain; structural steel, chunks of
concrete, shards of glass, flaming fabrics and papers.
On the tail of the two laser guided bombs a
procession of BMG-109G/TLAM Block IV Enhanced Tomahawks begin their normal
plunge. The bombs performed the incision, the GPS and computer guided TLAM
Tomahawks complete the operation. In rapid-fire succession the missiles
find their mark and riddle the Palace with massive explosions, finishing
the job. The earth heaves in a final death convulsion.
Mikes job is done for tonight. Now all he has
to do is get home.
Mike and his friends drive an old Mercedes
through the streets of Baghdad as the sirens start. They take Jamia to Al
Kut, cross Al Kut and go right (south) on the Expressway out of town. An
unsuspecting remote CNN camera mounted on the balcony of Al Rashid Hotel
picks up their vehicle headed out of town. Viewers at home wonder what a
car is doing on the street during the beginning of the war. They dont
know it is packed with five members of the U.S. Armys SFOD-D, Special
Forces Operational Detachment Delta. Delta Force.
Six miles out of town they park their Mercedes
on the shoulder, pull their gear out of the trunk and begin to run into
the desert night. The moon is nearly full. Instinctively they fan out, on
line, in a lazy W They run five miles at a brisk pace, good training for
this evening, especially with 27 lb. Packs on their backs. Behind them
there is fire on the horizon. Mike and his fellow athletes have a meeting
to catch, and they cant be late.
Twenty seven miles out a huge gray 92 foot
long insect hurtles 40 feet above the desert at 140 m.p.h. The MH-53J Pave
Low III is piloted by another athlete, also a triathlete, named Jim, from
Fort Campbell, Kentucky. He is flying to meet Mike.
After running five miles into the desert Mike
uses his GPS to confirm his position. He is in the right place at the
right time. He removes an infra-red strobe light from his pack and pushes
the red button on the bottom of it. It blinks invisibly in the dark. He
and his friends form a wide 360 degree circle while waiting for their ride
Two miles out Jim in the Pave Low sees Mikes
strobe through his night vision goggles. He gently moves the control stick
and pulls back on the collective to line up on Mikes infra-red strobe.
Mikes ride home is here.
The big Pave Low helicopter flares for landing
over the desert and quickly touches down in a swirling tempest of dust.
Mike and his friends run up the ramp after their identity is confirmed.
Mike counts them up the ramp of the helicopter over the scream of the
engines. When he shows the crew chief five fingers the helicopter lifts
off and the ramp comes up. The dark gray Pave Low spins in its own length
and picks up speed going back the way it came, changing course slightly to
The men and women in our armed forces,
especially Special Operations, are often well trained, gifted athletes.
All of them, including Mike, would rather be sleeping the night away in
anticipation of a long training ride rather than laying on a damp roof in
an unfriendly neighborhood guiding bombs to their mark or doing other
things well never hear about.
Regardless of your opinions of the war, the
sacrifices these people are making and the risks they are taking are
extraordinary. They believe they are making them on our behalf. Their
skills, daring and accomplishments almost always go unspoken. They are
truly ELITE ATHLETES.