Captain Rick Norton crouched near the edge of the dirt road. Ears still ringing from the intense firefight, the smell of gunpowder burning his nose, he looked around, counting team members. Gerald "Jerry Maguire" McBride and Daniel "Pot Pie" Swanson came out of their hidden and elevated sniper-spotter positions. They both threw him a silent thumbs-up.
Travis "Trout" Fisher crouched nearby with his carbine pointed downrange and his radio rig tucked away. He also offered a thumbs-up. Jorge Peña "Colada" and Bill "Drumstick" Sanders glided backward toward his position with rifles at the ready. "Up!" they said in unison.
Rick scanned the jungle around him. "Ozzy, position?"
His gut tightened, and he motioned for the men to regroup. Tension flowed through the team like electricity, then came a measure of relief when they found their combat medic, Phil "Doctor Oz" Osbourne, lying under a banana tree. He was trying to patch up his own thigh with a surgical clamp and a threaded needle below his hastily applied field tourniquet. Rick slid on his knees toward him and took the clamp from him.
"Caught one, Cap," Ozzy said, his voice hesitating as shock started to overtake his body. "No way I'm getting out of this jungle on my own two feet."
Wordlessly, Rick clamped Ozzy's artery despite its best efforts to worm up and out of sight, then wrapped a fresh field dressing bandage around his thigh, securing the clamp and protecting the wound.
"You don't know that, Doc," Sanders said. "I'd want Daddy patching me up if you were otherwise occupied."
Despite his tension, Rick internally rolled his eyes at the "Daddy" nickname. Sanders had drawled the words in an Alabama accent just to make them sound sweeter. Rick would address his mockery in a more appropriate manner, maybe with a bucket of ice water in some idyllic moment of downtime. For now, he let it slide and listened to Fisher calling headquarters for their extraction. He looked up expectantly as Fisher ended the radio call.
"They can pick us up twenty klicks from here, azimuth 26."
Twenty kilometers? With a quick calculation, Rick translated that distance to just over twelve miles. He scratched his beard, estimated the amount of blood already lost, observed the rate it continued to soak into the field dressing, and concluded that Ozzy wouldn't make it two miles, much less twelve. He would lapse into hypovolemic shock before they could get halfway there, and he would undoubtedly expire soon after.
The team's military intelligence asset, First Lieutenant Peña, retrieved and studied the laminated map that hung from a snap ring on his pack. In his fascinating mind, Peña carried all their mission details. He had an olive-green bandanna tied close around his head but kept his curly black hair uncovered, and his heavy black beard was shaved close to his face. "There's a village two klicks east. Near the river. They have an American doctor, Cynthia Myers, in residence."
Rick pressed his lips together, knowing that his lightly freckled skin beneath his red beard had just turned a few shades paler. He knew all about the American doctor. At least, he knew all about her father. "Any other options?"
"Drop packs," Peña said. "Four-man carry to the exfil LZ. Bounding overwatch. Rotate out every five to ten mikes."
Rick considered how long it would take for them to carry Ozzy through the jungle. Even after dropping their heavy packs and rotating in shifts, they would move too slowly. "It would take too long."
"Have them move up the exfil time or relocate the LZ. This is a PR, after all," Sanders said. Personnel recovery missions merited an elevated priority over routine combat operations and could require a more accessible landing zone.
"No-go on that one, Daddy," Fisher said. "Limited resources. Politically sensitive area and such. Azimuth 26 is the best we got."
Rick glanced at the blood-soaked bandage and nodded. Making his hand into a blade, he gestured toward the tree line. "Village it is. Maguire, Colada—fashion a stretcher. Trout, tell HQ to save their fuel for now. Pie, go collect some visibility on the AO until we're ready." He turned to Sanders. "You're on point with me, Drum. First leg."
"Check," Sanders said.
"Go get yourself a little recon while we partake of this incredible good fortune."
"Medals, Cap," Ozzy interjected, his tone dry. "Thanks of a grateful nation, for sure."
"You concentrate on stopping yourself from bleeding so much, Doc. I will take this time to plan our exfil, secure in the knowledge that this mission will doubtless earn us all legendary chest candy and fruit salad."
His team snickered. They did not do their jobs for recognition. Green Berets had a reputation as the "quiet professionals" for a reason.