The site is one of the least hospitable places in Afghanistan. Which is saying a great deal. Unlike most bases in Afghanistan, it is devoid of local Afghanis, not part of the assembled force, intentionally so. The reason is quickly apparent when the occupants are seen.
Some of the population is walking across the small open area near a vehicle park. They are uniformly dressed in light grey/green, skin tight, long sleeved polyester shirts and wraparound sunglasses. Protection against the cold of the altitude combined with the excessively bright sunlight associated with the altitude and lack of cloud cover. This is like Camp 1 of Everest but with significantly more personal firepower and purpose.
Under the sleeves, the large tightly confined biceps are easily seen. The pants are a desert digital camouflage pattern finished off with scuff brown desert boots raising small dust clouds as they press on the decomposed granite and gravel that passes for dirt at this altitude and place. Their lips are cracked with numerous bleeding sites despite the heavy application of lip balm hanging in chunks around the splits. The edges of the sunglasses hide the deep fissures of the crows feet, filled with the fine dust endemic to the area that finds a home in every body crevice. Hair curls out beneath a patrol cap on one and a wool watch cap on the other. The sweat and grease on the exposed hair glistens at the edges and catches the dust in a fine brown dew that collects on the tips. These are Rangers, and they are serious people supporting a serious business.
To their left, under a open carport structure, are several other men. They are dramatically different. They have long beards and flowing hair and wear traditional local garb, but a closer look shows a significant difference between them and the native population. There is a group similarity to their obvious upper body strength, relatively unlined faces and near-perfect teeth. No sign of the gross dental rot that afflicts virtually all the Afghan males—the result of a lifetime of drinking super sweet chai tea and the absence of any preventive dentistry. These are what the Department of Defense calls Tier One forces. They are very serious people doing very serious things. Both elements are here to mutually conduct the most difficult and dangerous tasks that can be assigned—hunting armed humans with multi-generational experience in the game.
The hunted and hunters frequently exchange roles depending on circumstances. For hundreds of years, the quarry has practiced its crafts, adhered to Darwin’s thesis and emerged as victors over the most sophisticated and technically armed societies. The latest Nation State to appear has directed the Tiered elements to join in the human version of the Boone and Crockett Club with the trophy game fully armed. In fact, their ability to create local leadership vacuums is crucial to the larger Allied strategy. If they are not successful on a repetitive small scale, the larger engaged elements become irrelevant. Together, they and the Rangers are planning and rehearsing tonight’s hunt. It is never easy. Most of the target rich environment is surrounded by naked terrain or extremely rugged access. Getting there is not half the fun.
The Rangers slowly coalesce into an informal formation. Some with weapons and some not. They gather tightly together with an assortment of watch caps, patrol caps, and warm huggy covers bobbing as they converse. Spit cups are an almost universal accompaniment. Cargo pockets bulge with items essential for maintaining a personal civilization. At a distance, it is easier to see the rise and fall of the white foam cup than the body of the holders. An individual appears out of the closest door and the heads rise. As if on a signal, the Rangers move into a formation and without an order assume disciplined parade ground spacing and look attentively to the leader.
With a firm but modulated voice, the leader speaks;
“Recognizing that I volunteered as a Ranger………..” When he completes his sentence, the unit, in a single voice, not loud but with firm enunciation and conviction repeats his sentence. At the final word of the first stanza, the leader looks at the center of the group and says with the same clear voice “Acknowledging that as a Ranger………….” Again, the group repeats the phrase with strong clear conviction. In this dust-driven, enervating and ambiguous environment, these soldiers have found a lodestone to guide them and a moral compass to comfort them in the engagement ahead. The last words of the Ranger Creed softly roll across the courtyard-“….though I be the lone survivor.” Almost immediately, the entire group exudes a chorus: “Rangers Lead The Way! Hoowah.” With the Hoowah on a waning declension, the group breaks up, and the individuals go about their last-minute preparation for the coming night’s events.
Approximately eight hours later, the same group exits from the various vehicles that have just rolled into the compound trailing a cloud of dust as they deposit their loads.
Several small helicopters deposit their passengers amongst the dirt and flotsam sucked up from the compound yard. It is still dark enough to see the grey-green glow as the particles strike the tips of the rotating blades. Some, Rangers, move purposely toward the hootch where they assembled at the previous dusk. Others, in almost native dress, many with thick beards, amble toward their portion of the compound.
The Rangers, some quicker than others, gather in an informal assembly. Some move slowly, more shambling than erect, bent over with either gear or exhaustion or both. They are now fully equipped with all the killing tools of their combat equipment— night vision devices, commo gear with embracing wires and antennas, Kevlar protection, and with some, butt packs now loosely closed absent their original contents. Their load bearing straps are arrayed with a variety of ammo pouches, lights, grenades and the miscellaneous comfort items soldiers develop. Their heads, now sweat and dust streaked, are either in Kevlar or watch caps, and the movements display the exhaustion of the night’s activities. Rivulets of grimy water course down exposed necks making small streams of exposed flesh. Several Rangers have bandages on arms, legs or necks. It has been a long night. Weapons’ muzzles are coated with a light cast of dust, the twilight still too dark to render meaningful color. An occasional passing light beam activates the Glint tape of a Ranger for a moment before it passes.
As if by osmosis, the group coalesces, dissolving into a reasonable facsimile of a formation. The leader stands in front and begins what has become a daily ritual of recovery from the evening’s program…………. Recognizing that I volunteered as a Ranger…………” On the initial words, the group automatically assumes a tighter formation, straightens up their heads and alignment and repeats the stanza…. Recognizing that I volunteered as a Ranger………….” The voices are somewhat more muted than earlier, but occasionally a Ranger will become particularly loud or concise in repeating a specific set of words as if they were cathartic and an antidote to what he had just experienced.
Finally, the last stanza of the Creed is spoken “…… tho I be the lone survivor!”
The group raises its voice several degrees, spits the words out with a single breath, and without orders, breaks away to their various home stations for cleanup, recovery, and rest. The Rangers are home for another twelve hours. The sounds of the Creed dissipate in the cold, dry wind but are not lost to either those that spoke them or to those that faced the full measure of their meaning. The Ranger Creed is more than words, they are a life: they materially assist those charged with taking it from others.