Authors: Harold Coyle
Tags: #Fiction, #Suspense, #Thrillers, #Espionage
Courage is often enough to drive a soldier forward, to cause him to climb out of his foxhole and fate enemy fire. But it takes something else, something more than courage to keep him going when every instinct, every shred of reason dictates that he do otherwise.
This hard truth becomes self-evident when the men belonging to Recon Team Kilo, a Special Forces A team operating deep in hostile territory, are overwhelmed by indigenous forces. Stripped of their leadership and unit cohesion, the survivors struggle to stay faithful to a code of conduct in the face of brutal imprisonment and an uncertain future.
Isolated from their brethren, they are each forced to rely upon their own skills and strengths.
Some rise to the occasion with a defiance that is unnerving to their captors and some draw upon an inner grace that sees them through their darkest hours. Others, alone and suffering, find themselves wavering as they are hammered by an unending drumbeat of depraved cruelty.
The challenges faced by those selected to rescue the men of Recon Team Kilo are no less daunting, the catalysts that propel them and see them through no less diverse. For Robert Delmont, Special Ops Plans Officer, a compelling need for atonement colors his recommendations. He steers the army's senior leadership toward a course of action that allows him to become an active participant.
Courage is not a problem for the commander of the unit selected to execute Delmont's plan. A dedicated professional, Lieutenant Colonel Harry Shaddock has no doubt that the men under his command will follow him anywhere--even into an operation designed to save fellow soldiers while putting his own troops in harm's way.
(continued on back flap)
ALSO BY HAROLD COYLE
TRIAL BY FIRE
THE TEN THOUSAND
CODE OF HONOR
UNTfL THE END
AGAINST ALL ENEMIES
ASSOCIATES BOOK New York
This is a work of fiction. All the characters and events portrayed in this novel are either fictitious or used fictitiously.
MORE THAN COURAGE
Copyright © 2003 by Harold Coyle
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book, or portions thereof, in any form.
This book is printed on acid-free paper.
A Eorge Book
Published by Tom Doherty Associates, LLC
18 pounds 99 pence
175 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10010
Forge"' is a registered trademark of Tom Doherty Associates, LLC.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Coyle, Harold, 1952
than courage / Harold Coyle.
"A Tom Doherty Associates book."
1. Special forces (Military science)--Fiction. 2. Soldiers--Fiction.
First Edition: April 2003
Printed in the United States of America
03:45 LOCAL (23:45 ZULU)
Isolated within the tight confines of his aircraft, Lieutenant Commander Kevin Shiflet found it difficult to maintain his focus. The muffled roar of jet engines and the sound of his own breathing accentuated by the mask he wore were the only sounds that broke the eerie stillness. Like his aircraft, his mind seemed to be suspended in a void. Mechanically, Shiflet turned his head this way and that, peering into the pitch black that his aircraft wore like a cloak. The night sky and featureless terrain below offered his unaided eye no clues as to where he was or what lay below. Only the faint light of his instruments, dimly reflected off the interior surface of his canopy, was visible.
The chatter of other Coalition aircraft operating throughout the region offered little in the way of distraction. While the data and mission reports the Coalition pilots rattled off at infrequent intervals were vital, they were not mentally stimulating. The monotone exchange of information between other strike aircraft and an aerial tanker came across to Shiflet as being no different than the canned audio clutter that instructors piped into every simulator scenario he was required to go through back on the carrier.
At times like this, he had to remind himself that the arming switch before him was not a dummy but was, in fact, connected to very real bombs that would, if circumstances permitted, soon be dispatched against very real targets.
When he had opted for naval aviation after graduating from the Naval Academy, Shiflet had envisioned his career as being more akin to the zoom and boom dogfights that Hollywood was 10
so fond of. Though far from being a Tom Cruise, Shiflet always thought of himself as an adventurous sort who had the "Right Stuff." Unfortunately for the naval aviator, the right stuff these days required a pilot to be more of a delivery boy than a swashbuckling brigand. This mission was a case in point.
The run-in to the initiation point had been uploaded into the navigational system hours before Shiflet set eyes on his aircraft.
Likewise, data concerning the target, the ordnance to be used against that target, and the sequence of its release were fed into the F-18's fire control system. If all went well the entire mission would be about as routine and unspectacular as a high-speed ride at an amusement park.
From somewhere out of the darkness Shiflet heard his wing man call out. Equally bored, Lieutenant James Jefferson was picking up a conversation that the pair had started back on the USS Truman. "So, you haven't told your wife yet. I know if my Sally
found out that our deployment was being extended from someone other than me, she'd be fit to tied."
When their rotation had begun eight months before, engaging in such nonessential chitchat in the midst of a mission would have been unthinkable. But like everything else, as their time on station stretched into months and one redeployment date after another came and went without any relief in sight, things had become looser. When senior officers on the Truman described the current state of their mission, they referred to unraveling of discipline or inattention to detail. The truth was, pilots and seamen alike were finding it harder and harder to care about what they were doing. Infractions of standard operating procedures and regulations had become so prevalent that even the most strident disciplinarian in the Truman's air group was now turning a blind eye to deficiencies that would have previously resulted in a written reprimand. If the truth were known, commanding officers considered the ebbing of morale justified because they too were just as angered by the breach of faith that had become routine, as the deployments kept getting extended.
MORE THAN COURAGE
"It's not going to make any difference to Peg who tells her or how she hears about it." Shiflet grunted. "She'll just saddle up that high horse of hers and go on a tear that will make a pornographer blush."
Jefferson chuckled. "I've got to hand it to your wife. She does have a gift for expressing herself."
"So, Jimmy, what do you think it's going to take to get shore leave in Athens?"
"Hey, you're going to have to find another dupe this time around. Do you know how much money I blew the last time we were there?"
The navy lieutenant commander chuckled. "As I recall, you managed to lay waste to a fair arhount of my own disposable income."
"Well, you know what they say, Kevin. A fool and his money are soon parted."
As the attack aircraft continued to cut through the darkness that offered little real protection, the pair of aviators exchanged their views on how, exactly, they had managed to waste as much money as they had during their last shore leave. Back on the Truman, the personnel manning the ops center charged with monitoring the activities of their air group, heard the banter but didn't pay attention to what was being said. Like the pilots flying the mission they struggled to maintain the high state of vigilance that active air operations demanded, but the mind-numbing routine and long months on station made that difficult.
The first warning of imminent danger to the flight of F-18s being led by Lieutenant Commander Kevin Shiflet came from an officer aboard an E-3A Sentinel slowly orbiting Saudi airspace.
"SAMs, SAMs, SAMs. All aircraft in Echo Seven, SAMs have been fired. I say again, all aircraft in Echo Seven, SAMs have been fired."
Startled, Shiflet blinked twice as he scanned his radar warning receivers. As if on cue, they lit up. Not knowing just how close the enemy missiles were and having no desire to waste any time 12
finding out, Shiflet snapped, "Jimmy, we're it. Pop countermeasures, and break right on my count."
Without waiting for acknowledgment, the lieutenant commander triggered his chaff and flares and began counting. "On three--two--one--break."
With a violent jerk Shiflet threw his aircraft into a hard bank as he increased his airspeed and began to dive. He didn't bother to look back to see if his wingman was following, or search the night sky for the surface-to-air missiles that were in pursuit. He didn't pay attention to the excited chatter as the E-3 AWACs issued vectors to a flight of air force aircraft assigned to SAM suppression.
The naval aviator was focused on fighting the effects of the G
force that was pushing him back into his seat, while doing his best to put as much distance as possible between himself and the countermeasures that he hoped would spoof the Syrian missiles.
Time, which moments before had seemed to be plentiful, was now as much a foe as the SAMs dispatched to kill him.
18:05 LOCAL (14:05 ZULU)
By the time the sun began its final swift descent in the west it had been drained of all its harsh cruelty. The great solar orb that had the power to suck the life out of any creature foolish enough to show itself during the day was now little more than a harmless orange ball receding in the distance. Within minutes it would be gone from sight completely, giving the parched desert it ruled over by day a few hours' respite. Sensing the coming darkness, creatures of the night began to emerge from their holes and coveys.
Even before the last long shadows of daylight were absorbed by the gathering gray twilight they would be out and about, pursuing those chores that were so necessary for survival in this harsh and most unforgiving land.
Those creatures that were native to Syrian desert could only rely upon natural skills to track prey. When they managed to corner their quarry, they had to employ their own teeth, claws, venom, and sheer brute strength to bring it down and kill it.
When times were hard and victims -scarce, these same predators had no qualms about turning on each other in order to survive.
Under the right circumstances, any animal will turn on its own for self-preservation.
Not all the predators that populated Syria's barren landscape were indigenous. Few of the fourteen members of the U.S. Army Special Forces unit known as Recon Team Kilo thought of themselves as predators. None would have considered themselves to be the most dangerous ones in the area. But by any measure, they were. Unlike the creatures that crawled and slithered in the sands 14
about the laager where RT Kilo's vehicles lay hidden, the Americans conducted themselves in a well-disciplined, methodical manner that thousands of years of civilized warfare had distilled into something of a science. Aided by instructional memory and stateof-the-art weapons that enhanced their own ability to seek, strike, and destroy, RT Kilo was the tip of the mightiest killing machine ever assembled.
Still, it was a fragile tip, one that was in danger of becoming dull due to overuse and prolonged exposure to a harsh and unforgiving environment. Its very existence depended upon adhering to the same laws of survival that all predators live by. The first law is avoiding positions and actions that threaten that survival. First Lieutenant Ken Aveno understood this principle very well, which is why he followed a strict routine when moving about within the confines of the team's laager while it was still light. He began by pulling himself up from the reclining position he had settled into hours before. Using the same cautious, almost hesitant motions that a prairie dog does when emerging from its burrow, the Special Forces officer paused to scan the trackless horizon through the broken pattern of the camouflage net that protected him from observation and the brutal daytime sun. Only when he was satisfied that it was safe to do so did he rise out of the shallow pit he had dug just prior to dawn that morning. He parted a seam in the tan net, stuck his head up through the opening like a swimmer breaking the surface, and continued to look around now that his view of the flat, barren landscape was unobstructed. Satisfied that all was as it should be, he ducked back under the net and started preparing himself for another long night.
Slowly he slipped into the flak vest he had shed during the heat of the day, took up his weapon, and did his best to muster up some enthusiasm. With each passing day he was becoming acutely aware that the amount of effort he needed to motivate himself was increasing. It was as if he had only a finite reservoir of elan, a supply that this mission and his duties were depleting at an alarming rate.
MORE THAN COURAGE
Pausing, he shook his head. "Gotta keep it together," he mumbled as he adjusted his gear and glanced to his left and right, catching quick glimpses of other members of the team as they prepared for their nocturnal labors. To a man they moved in a deliberate manner that was purposeful while at the same time reflecting the same lack of enthusiasm he himself was struggling to overcome.
This concerned Aveno. He knew they were tired. But it was more than simple physical exhaustion that worried the young officer.