For the last
five hours, a group of six men have been trudging through the dark, barren
landscape of the vast Hindu Kush Mountains. The distant
howling of a lone wolf accompanies them as does the cold wind, but the men
don’t seem to feel the sting.One of them stops abruptly. Marc Anderson, captain
of the German KSK Special Forces Commando, raises his hand to his neck and
decisively whispers into his throat mic.
see her. The nose of the aircraft is at eleven
o’clock, the tail at two.”
short, wiry Navy Seal One squad leader from Ohio, folds down
the night vision lens mounted on his helmet.
reason, the fighter jet did not explode, but the debris is still smoldering.
I’ll inform Bagram Air Base.” “Charlie Force from Echo Force – over.” “Echo
Team – go ahead – over.”
“We found the
jet – now searching for the crew – over.” “Roger Echo Team – we’re waiting for
your response – over.”
as it is, the Navy Seals insisted on having German elite soldier Marc Anderson
with them on the mission. He is one of the few soldiers who knows the area,
located deep in the hinterlands of Afghanistan, better than anyone else on
account of a number of earlier missions in the region. At only 27 years old,
the tall, slender soldier from the southern German town of Calw has already
achieved legendary status among the American and British Special Forces.
Together with the Navy Seals, he has succeeded in rescuing and retrieving
American soldiers from behind enemy lines, securing himself a formidable
reputation as both a leader and a team player.
But Anderson refused to
do the job on his own: “Only if I can take my commando brothers with me,” he
told the commanders at Bagram Air Base. “Only with Thomas and Tim.”
know full well what “Band of Brothers” means. Elite soldiers throughout
all the Special Armed Forces are not just comrades, they are brothers. On this
mission – the search for a U.S. fighter jet
gone missing along with its crew – the Seals have three German brothers.
Nationalities play no role, however, only professionalism and unconditional
trust. Marc also agreed to the mission since he and George have worked well
together on previous missions.
made up of U.S. Seals One, Two, Three, and the German KSK soldiers Marc,
Thomas, and Tim, had parachuted in during night. They chose a landing site six
and a half miles from the F-15E Strike Eagle’s last known position in the hope
of not being discovered by the Taliban. There were no exact coordinates of the
crash site. What’s worse, they weren’t able to receive any location
transmission from the crew. The pilot had only managed to transmit “No engine –
Mayday – May- day – Bailing out!” at the last minute as they lost altitude.
A hasty final message, nothing more. Everything seems to have happened
very quickly. The crew must have needed to abandon the aircraft immediately,
there would have been no time for discussion.
successful landing, they spent the next five hours systematically scouring the
possible search site of twelve square miles at almost ten thousand feet
Marc was a
true pathfinder in this unwieldy and perilous terrain. The Americans trusted
him whole-heartedly, and with good reason, as he proved once again. He
immediately found the wreckage of the F-15 in the pitch-dark of night and
undetected in this hostile territory. They operate meticulously together, as
though they have done this a million times before: Marc out in front, checking
the terrain, giving signals, the other five men following, step for step,
crouched down, secure, silent. The stillness of the dark magnifies every word
and any misstep on the gravel is a potential giveaway for the Taliban.
now relays the coordinates to the American intervention force standing by, Marc
scans the crash site with his telescope. The F-15 was not shot down but crashed
due to technical problems. That seemed clear. However, the crash would have
been heard all throughout the Hindu Kush Mountains. It was very
possible that the Taliban has already taken the crew captive and were now
waiting for the Navy Seals. That’s how it typically happened at least.
please report.” “Left is clear.”
securing all sides, the spotter team moves toward the crash site.
“I’ll take it
from here, Marc.”
George, you’re in command.”
the troop within 300 yards of the wreckage. The aircraft’s nose and cockpit are
stuck in the ground like a giant arrow. Bent, but incredibly, still intact.
right there where there’s that tiny patch of earth, he thinks to himself.
“Can you see
anyone in the cockpit?” asks Marc.
can’t see anything through the glass, but the canopy is missing.”
Tim – the two of you to the wreckage and report back. The rest of you wait
here,” whispers George into his throat mic.
Germans start to move. Just like the old comedians Ole and Axel, or like Laurel
and Hardy, Marc thinks. Thomas, a tall, strapping blonde, built like the Hulk.
Next to him, Tim, also in excellent physical shape, only considerably shorter
and, who with his signature black goatee, looks like an Afghan.
cautiously approach the front section of the wreckage on both sides. The rest
of the group tensely watches every move their two German brothers make. It is
absolutely silent, save for that wolf. The cold wind that tirelessly blows in
this region goes completely unnoticed as they all lie on the ground and watch.
The night is not just dark, it is black. Pitch-black. No stars shine, no light
reflects off the ground. Barren cliffs, a few shrubs, no trees at this
altitude. They see only whatever appears in their night vision devices. The
little bit of light available is electronically magnified as a green image of
the area. They are used to this artificial picture.
says George, “they are still strapped to their seats and then it’ll be a mess.
Option two: one of them is still there and the other managed to get out. Or
option three: they both made it out.”
question is, why they aren’t answering,” Marc whispers in George’s direction.
George whispers back, “which means option one.”
Tim reach the nose.
Seal One: no one in the cockpit, ejector seats missing, the crew ejected.”
good news, do you see their papers?” They shine a light inside.
distance, the three Navy Seals and Marc are blinded as the light from the two
KSK soldiers flash in their goggles like bright strike of lightening.
“Maps and a
kneeboard,” reports Tim.
that with you. Thomas, you prepare an explosive.”
Sergeant Thomas Heinrich, a six-foot tall ball of muscle and the explosives
expert takes off his 80-pound knapsack which belongs to his profile as though
it has grown attached to his back. His comrades have only ever seen him with
either a heavy bag or on a bench press. And always with a combat knife under
While he lays
the explosive, his shorter friend Tim secures the immediate area surrounding
the jet. Neither of them speaks a word to the other. They don’t need to. They
know each other better than any old married couple. That’s also the reason
George sent them to the wreckage site.
In less than
four minutes, Thomas prepares the cockpit with explosives for remote ignition.
“OK men, now
A few minutes
later, the group is complete again. Six men, two nations, one team.
between some boulders and use their night vision devices to establish any other
possible reference points. Cliffs, ridges, gaps. Where could the parachutes be?
And the ejector seats? At least the seats are big enough to spot, if they are
to Marc to come over. “What do you suggest?”
the radar, the F-15 was flying on an easterly course. That means we need to
look for the men to the west. The weapon systems operator shot himself out
first, so we should be able to find him to the west of the wreckage, but the
pilot should be here closer to it.”
in agreement. The person in the rear always activates his seat first, otherwise
he runs the risk of getting hit by the seat of man before him.
to the digital map with a scale of 1:50,000. Mountains, rivers, nothing else.
To these westerners, the unforgiving, cold Hindu Kush Mountain
range is a barren and alien landscape.
“I think we
should go this way” “Okay, boy scout, you take over.” “Affirmative.”
standard procedures are the pre-requisites of a functioning team. One man takes
the lead and the others confirm. It is the case in the cockpit and is no
different in Team Echo Force, currently led by Marc Anderson.
softly to the group.
Two, and Three, you take the left side. Thomas, Tim, and I will take the right.
I will be in the middle. Keep a distance of no more than 30 meters between you.
Everyone has contact with his neighbor.”
position,” each of them confirms one after the other. They now stand in a line
of approximately 160 yards across. Each one by on his own, but they can each
see the soldier on either side of them. Their brothers in times of crisis.
Marc looks at
his compass, 270 degrees. They start to move. After thirty minutes they reach a
long, narrow ridge.
radios quietly to the others. They lay flat on the ground. Marc slowly pushes
himself against a bare cliff. He lifts his head, weighed down by a heavy
helmet, ever so slightly to get an overview. In front of him is an open area
with large, round boulders and steep cliffs, interspersed with deep cracks that
he can barely make out in the almost non-existent light of night. The white
glow he sees above it through his night vision device is the snow at twenty
laboriously searches the area. Nothing. No ejector seat, no parachute. Only
this sea of rocks and sparse vegetation. A wretched green world of artificial
reality through the lenses of his night vision device.
take the straight path, Gentlemen. There is a rift two hundred meters in. The
end of the road.”
continues westward, securing the way as they go. George suddenly stops.
“Do you hear
give off a faint screeching that intensifies and then fades again.
signal, George! Gentlemen, we have contact!” The troop knows that this is the
signal pilots activate upon ejecting and is only transmitted for a few minutes
past each full hour, that’s right, just as we discussed. That’s our man,
“Eleven o’clock. The source is pretty damn quiet. He must
be lightyears away.”
The men of
Echo Force can feel their pulse quickening. They’ve made contact with one of
the crew! They keep formation and continue their search. They still do not have
the location coordinates. Unexpectedly, they are forced to stop. A dark and
terrifying 25-feet-wide abyss stretches out before them, like a hungry, open
The tone of
the distress signal abruptly increases its shrill intensity from one second to
George turns down the volume. “He must be right here.”
“Tim to Marc,
I see a parachute in the opening, about 20 meters down.”
round up – go to Tim,” Marc whispers into his mic. “George, you take over!
over to him, very close to edge of the rift, and shine a light down. They can
see something that doesn’t belong there. The remnants of a parachute hanging
from the ledges of two cliffs. The laser device measures 23 meters.
something else. George gasps as he recognizes it in the green light. Not that
someone is hanging lifelessly from the shreds of the parachute, but the
never-ending emptiness that continues below. George knows at once it will be a
challenge getting that poor guy out of there without him falling completely into
“But is he
He shines his
light at the figure. “Are you okay down there?”
Americans?” answers a weak voice from the depths.
friend, we will fly down from Heaven and get you out of there.”
damn time! I’m freezing my ass off here!”
He seems to
be all right, George thinks and calls into the cavern:
“Did you have
to pick this one to fall into?”
rifts, but even this is a bit too big for me!” George proudly looks over to
“That is one
cool dude hanging there. Talks like a real Texan. Let’s get him out!”
at his team. He would likely need two soldiers down there. One to secure
against any further falling and the other for the recovery. Navy Seal One knows
that Tim and Thomas have the most experience in these kinds of rappelling
situations, thus, the German friends are called to take over once again.
Thomas, start the descent.”
A few moments
later, the inseparable team descend into the darkness of the rift. The Navy
Seals secure them from above. Marc and George direct light into the chasm to
allow the two as much orientation as possible. But the light is quickly lost in
the dark. They need to be careful not to touch the parachute or the straps.
Still, the descent lasts less than sixty seconds.
him,” radios Tim.
The Texan is
hanging freely. Completely unhindered. There is nothing there he could have
grabbed onto to slow down his fall. One false move and the shreds of his
parachute would flatter behind him as he fell to his death at the bottom of
this seemingly bottomless pit.
Once he had
stopped falling, he cautiously reached for his flashlight with a haunting
suspicion. A sharp pain in his upper right arm. What was wrong? He touched his
shoulder with his right hand.
It took him a
while until he finally got hold of his flashlight. What he saw underneath
terrified him. He saw nothing.
The beam of
light did not allow him to even faintly guess at the depth of the chasm below.
It was like the secret entrance to Nirvana. Was it 50 meters, 1000 meters? He
would try banging against the wall a few times and then…
Oh, my God…
He shined the
light upward. The parachute seemed to be caught pretty good between two
sections of rock. He had only gradually been able to convince himself that he
can trust the anchoring above him. He talked to his parachute, gently begging
it with loving words to hold strong. Something clipped his head. And again. A
number of times.
matter, don’t move! This damn pain. The cold.
felt like it was dying off under the tension of the straps. Would his rescuers
even hear his distress signal?
As he looked
up through the narrow window-like opening to the sky and saw a few stars, he
started to find hope. They had practiced a rescue mission behind enemy lines a
number of times. He knew that the CSAR team must be on their way. And here they
are! Thank God! They were able to locate him in this godforsaken rift.
“Nice to meet
you!” Tim calls to him and grabs his straps to latch him on to his own. But the
Texan can only stare at Tim, whose fuzzy, black goatee sprouts out over the
chin strap of his helmet.
“You are not
an American, you’re a Taliban!” Tim laughs.
“No, I am
your friend Tim from the German Mountain Rescue Team!”
looked dubiously at Tim’s face.
joins in. “And I am Thomas, old friend! You can call me Tom, but just for
today. Nice place you got here.”
“I’m going to
free you now from the parachute,” says the suspected Taliban, “and then I’ll
hook you to the elevator going up. Hold on to me. Are you ready?”
downward and lets out a scream so loud it must have woken up all of Hindu Kush.
something’s wrong with my shoulder, watch out.”
Texan clings to Tim’s slender frame, his face is twisted in pain.
George, dislocated or broken right shoulder. No blood.”
Tim grabs him
by the hips and uses his feet and back to repel off the walls of the cavern.
Cowboy! Bringing you up to mama!”
arrive at the top only a few moments later. As Echo Force secures the area
behind them, George and Marc welcome the rescued man.
Navy Seal. You are among friends. Are you the pilot or the weapon systems
WSO. Have you found my pilot Buddy already?”
How much time was there between you each ejecting?
at the most.”
thought for a moment. Buddy was not at the wreckage, at least not in a direct
line with Les.
must be here in the vicinity. We need to search again.”
Force from Echo Force. We have Les.” “Copy that, Echo Force – we are standing
by.” “Can you run, Les?”
“How fast do
you think you could run after having your balls crushed for the past seven
hours?” He casts an eye at Tim: “Watch your Taliban there, I don’t trust him!”
He then pulls
a clump of something out of his pocket and gives it to his new friend from the
German Mountain Rescue Team.
“What is it?”
shoulder, Les? Do you think you need a shot?”
what you plan to do with me. I certainly can’t crawl on the ground.”
Buddy McAllen is not far
away. In fact, they almost trip over his ejector seat. The wind fills his
parachute, causing it to pull away from the long, slender body of the American
pilot and then deflate again. Buddy is shaking. The right side of his head
along with his short blond hair is covered in blood. George sees a large dark
stain on Buddy’s olive-green flight suit just above his right hip and,
underneath him, a rather large pool of dried blood on the ground.
look good,” George signals to Marc, “he must have hit against that sharp rock
in the dark.”
you hear me?” George jiggles him. Thomas takes a water bottle out of his
knapsack and carefully pours a fine trickle of water over his neck. The
American does not move. Marc smacks him gently on the cheek and tries talking
are your friends, can you hear me, you are almost home. I will just take a look
at that leg.”
Force from Echo Team. We have Buddy – need a medic – ASAP!”
off the coordinates from his mobile GPS and waits for confirmation.
lucky day, boys! We have both men, secure radio communication, and Charlie Force
will be here in fifteen minutes.”
He looks at
Buddy, who is badly hurt, then adds: “But we’ve got a real bad situation here.”
The troop is
highly-visible from the front. There is no natural protection. Behind them is a
hill with an unobstructed view of them from above. Buddy is sitting out in the
open, propped up against a large rock as though he were a Thanksgiving turkey.
It’s a miracle he hasn’t been discovered already.
The rest of
the squad lays flat on the ground while Thomas attends to Buddy’s wounds. He
inspects the deep wound on Buddy’s thigh, dresses it with a compression
bandage, and wraps him in a thermal foil blanket. He’s lost a lot of blood and
could suffer a circulatory collapse. Thomas is a medic, but Buddy needs more
than Thomas has in his first-aid kit.
“His pulse is
very low, George.”
fall asleep. What is your wife’s name?” George asks.
his eyes slowly. For the first time. “Linda…my girlfriend.”
Linda live, Buddy?” “New Jersey.”
lights up. Buddy is pale, moaning, and breathing heavily.
that I love her,” he whispers.
“You can tell
her that yourself when you see her at Bagram, Buddy, do you hear? What do you
think about that, Buddy? Buddy, say something!”
at George with blank eyes. His lips start to make a shape. George put his ear
to Buddy’s mouth.
WSO Les to come to him. “Keep him awake, Les, and encourage him.” Les’ brawny
stature leans over his pilot.
don’t give up, Linda needs you. I need you in our fucking F-15. You aren’t
going to leave me hanging, are you, Buddy? How do you want your hamburger when
we get back to Bagram, Buddy? How about a big Texas burger with
cheese and peppers and Mexican toppings? Do you want mustard on it, or
his eyes again slightly and softly smiles. After all, Les, whom he has been
flying with for the past six months just described his absolute favorite dish.
Then his eyes
close again. Thomas and Marc nod to each other. His condition is critical.
Buddy must get an IV within the next thirty minutes, or that’ll be the end of
goggles wander over the horizon from right to left, left to right.
“We are not
in a good location, not good at all.”
move,” whispers Marc, “Charlie Force is expecting us to be at these
coordinates.” Marc additionally scans the area which appears more like the ugly
landscape of an alien planet through the infra-red residual light amplifier.
Marc is not
interested in the regular green hue of his night vision device. He is looking
for a glaring green, the white of clothing, and black. People.
“Oh man, we
are not in a good location, not at all. Like sitting ducks,” Tim repeats
“Taliban at ten o’clock!”
In the telescope
he could see the outline of a group of men approaching. Five, six?
They seem to be searching for something and were gradually coming closer.
lull of voices could be heard through the hazy early morning sunrise.
Force – Tangos in the area,” George radios quietly to the approaching troop.
“Roger – Five
minutes to go – Stay where you are.”
Force lies as flat on the ground as possible, partially protected by a handful
of small boulders. Thomas pulls Buddy down, he groans loudly. It can start at
any minute. The Americans are individually equipped with rapid-fire weapons
from the Navy Seals’ secret weapons arsenal, the Germans with G 36KA2s.
Encounters with the enemy are practiced a thousand times. But it still causes
their blood to race through their veins, and their pulse to increase, the
adrenaline runs high.
one of the Afghans throw his arm in the air. A sign?
shouts. More Afghans!
contemplates when it’s the right time. “Fire only at my command!”
like long-distance fighting. The others don’t either. They all nod to their
at three o’clock, behind the
rock, thirty yards,” Seal Two radios.
“Okay, I have
at ten…,” adds Seal Three.
cracking sound of a missile being shot from a rocket-propelled grenade breaks
the silence. It misses Echo Team by only a few feet. George studies the
situation. That was close. Really close! A moment later, Taliban fighters
abandon their concealment positions and charge the men.
soldiers systematically take aim at each individual enemy fighter.
Bull’s eye! A
blotches appear in Marc’s night vision goggles 20 meters out.
is black. Aim. POP!
Tango at three o’clock! The information is conveyed through hand
signals and head movements.
drumfire. The casings rattle out the right side like a waterfall.
the front, on the side, upright, crouching, jumping.
Just like in
the training room. Only now with short screams. The team acts with clockwork
between them and the enemy fighters is becoming shorter and shorter. There are
too many, many too many…
they want us use up all our ammunition,” Marc says. But a guy like Marc always
with Tim and Thomas, are regarded as best sharp shooters in Calw, the hometown
of the German Special Forces. And he never wastes magazine cartridges with
sustained fire. Even if thirty men were attacking him. That would cause his G36
to overheat and lose accuracy.
Marc does not
One of the
Taliban kneels against the side of a rock. He’s looking for a target. Through
his night filter 80 attachment, Marc only sees the warhead of the bazooka. An
ugly, spiked, green tube. About a hundred yards out.
artillery fire from the bar magazine. Directly to the head. The Afghan whirls
through the air. In the green visor, black blotches. His head is gone.
He knows that
killing people is a very disconcerting legal problem for the Germans. Germans
do not shoot to kill suspects. But this is a fight for survival! The rules of
engagement are fulfilled – and they are alone among themselves.
and tries to sit upright. Thomas forces him back down.
“He needs an
IV, George, or he’s gonna die!”
he’ll be on his way home to Linda in five minutes.” Shots scream over their
“Did you hear
that, Buddy? We’re gonna be on our way in a few minutes, just hold on. Linda’s
waiting for you.”
his two Seals fire to the front, the Germans cover the hill behind them.
surrounded. It’s getting pretty damn close!
fear creeping up inside of him that his troop won’t make it out of this
goldfish bowl. He has no solution. They need help immediately.
FORCE – ECHO TEAM IS UNDER HEAVY FIRE!” “ROGER ECHO TEAM – WE ARE…”
gets swallowed by noise. The sound of a helicopter! The most beautiful noise an
elite soldier can ask for in a desperate situation. From out of nowhere,
two AH-64 Apache attack helicopters appear in the sky over the valley. They are
rather more heard than seen. Air-to-ground missiles whoosh out of the missile
pods on either side of the helicopters at the small groups of Taliban fighters,
followed by bursts of fire from the 30-millimeter aircraft cannon. George’s
anxiety from a moment ago instantly disappears now that his fire-spewing
dragons have arrived. Special night vision sensor, target acquisition system –
don’t look directly at it or you’ll go blind!
A new roar of
silhouette of a monster appears and comes closer. The Chinook transport
helicopter hovers heavily some feet above the ground. Rattling bullet fire
percolates from the behemoth. Fifty life-saving yards away from the elite
soldiers. Each yard is one too many! There are still too many Taliban. The pull
of the tandem rotors kicks up stones and dirt in the air.
these huge machines? Marc wonders, I hope this works out.
lowers itself to the ground, first landing on its rear wheels, then the front.
It hits the
ground, bounces, and finally comes to a halt on the lightly sloping, rocky
ground. Charlie Force troops immediately jump out of the Chinook equipped with
their night vision devices.
They kneel on
one leg and take aim.
rotate toward the target like remote-controlled robots to provide Echo Force
cover from the fire.
onto his back and assesses the situation for the forces. Next comes the most
dangerous endeavor among all this pandemonium for them and the helicopters as
this is a potentially perfect opportunity for an extraordinary ball of fire
from only one of the Taliban rocket launchers.
Seals carry Les and Buddy, who in the meantime has lost consciousness, to the
Chinook amidst the fire from the Apache helicopters.
rushes to Buddy with an IV and oxygen mask in hand. Buddy now has a chance of
One of the
Americans outfitted with a wire waves hectically at the door of the Chinook.
“GET IN, GET
help him. His brother is standing directly in the line of fire.
as a cat, Tim shoots from the hip. The Taliban throws up his arms as he falls
to the ground. His AK-47 flies into the air like some grotesque circus act.
Tangos on all
sides. Echo Force runs, bent over, toward the helicopters.
shoot, new magazine, go!
Each of them
secures a radius of sixty degrees.
Six times sixty.
No sector is left unsecured. One for all and all for one.
Only more ten
yards to the Chinook.
and Navy Seals One and Two are in and give cover to George and the three
Germans, with assistance from the two death machines hovering nearby.
down under the protection of the helicopter and activates the mobile device. In
the distance they hear a massive explosive and the entire valley quakes. The
echo reverberates for a long time as though the entire Hindu Kush is about to
was hidden must be destroyed now. The U.S. jet fighter
would be reduced to only a heap of metal shards.
HURRY UP!” one of the Americans was still waiting in the door of the Chinook,
wildly waving his arm. The giant monster is in danger. It wouldn’t be the first
time soldiers had to be left behind.
Thomas make it in with a powerful leap, George and Seal One are right on their
Marc is still
on the ground. As always. First his troops, then him.
helicopter starts to ascend. George waves to him in desperation.
his weapon over his shoulder and sprints to the door, George grabs hold of his
arm and pulls him in. Half hanging in the doorway, Marc shoots his last
rounds of ammunition in the direction of the muzzle flash from the
helicopters with Echo Force and the rescued F-15 crew disappear through the
proudly slaps his German friend on the shoulder from behind in acknowledgment.
is currently at the zenith of his career, albeit unaware that his biggest
challenge still lies ahead of him and that his luck as an elite soldier has
now, as of today, just run out.