Master Sergeant George Hand US Army (ret) was a member of the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta, The Delta Force. He is a now a master photographer, cartoonist and storyteller.
(Featured cartoon: The unfortunate Christmas fire started by the Grinch here is likened to the great Chicago Fire of 1871, when a cow being milked by owner Catherine "Cate" O'Leary kicked over an oil lantern that started a hay fire in the barn they were in. The fire killed 300 people and destroyed over 17,000 structures)
Quite a lot of the nation tends to kick back and cut slack during the holidays. Some functions cannot do that by sheer nature of the importance of their contribution. Others will not simply because...they don't want to.
That was the attitude of my Special Mission Unit. It was a year that we felt we needed to train more, but were just running out of days in the year to do it. It was then that we ran our live-fire urban combat training all the way up to the 24th of December.
Not even Christmas was a candidate to compromise our resolve to train to standard.
Our urban combat training site was an abandoned neighborhood just off the far end of the runway of a major American airport. The property values had sunk out of sight due to the constant roar of the aircraft overhead. The houses were pretty old, but I don't think they were older than the airport. It begged the question: "why would anyone think it was a good idea to build a community so close to the flight path of such a large airport?"
While some real estate investor had come up bust, Delta had gained a 360-degree free-fire city where anything could go into the tactical fight. Our operations cell had worked on the hood for weeks preparing it with modifications: pop-up targets in windows and doors, on roofs, and even behind bushes. Some of the targets moved across streets mounted
on rollers that ran along the tops of cables. There simply was just no way to even modestly know what to expect.
The keyword there is what lends the greatest to the realism of the training venue — not knowing what to expect; to be coaxed into expecting the unexpected. The whole ambiance of the scenario begged every man to constantly scan overhead and wonder just what might burst forth from out of the ground. Therein lies a formidable test of our true live-fire marksman skill.
The Grinch was our Bravo Assault Team Leader. He was a painfully no-nonsense one-man wrecking machine with combat experience in Lebanon, Somalia, the Iraqi Wars, and Afghanistan. "Asscrackistan," the Grinch would say, "is no place for a fatherless boy." Yes, just what exactly he meant by that no sane man knew, but it was his version of humor, and knowing that we all laughed each time he said it.
Another famous Grinch-ism: he was once formally quoted to have said to a man: "Well, that's your opinion, and it's wrong!" Any attempt to explain the absence of degrees of right or wrong of an opinion was in danger of being met with a lung-collapsing blow to the chest; that's just how the Grinch rolled. Ours was never to reason why with the Grinch, ours was to pop the snot bubble and move out.
We spent half days planning our assaults on our "Slim City" as we called it: methods of infiltrations onto target, exit strategies, routes of movement to objectives, and contingency plans. The second halves of the days we executed our assaults on targets.
A meeting with the City Mayor's office and Police Chief was required to secure the use of the abandoned neighborhood that was scheduled for demolition. After presenting a description of the training we planned to do, the Mayor asked our senior officer: "What guarantee can you give me that your men will not miss some of these targets and send bullets whizzing through my city?"
The response: "Because they'll be told not to," the senior officer replied — sold!
During the last assault (it's always on the last assault) the Grinch skillfully maneuvered his pipe-hitters from building to building. The booming of flash-bang grenades and the quick staccato of double-tap* rifle shots was almost rhythmic, to the extent that we could pretty much tell how far through the buildings he was.
Then "it" happened...
The Grinch slammed a flash-bang in a room. It bounced off a wall and came to rest near the open entrance door. When it exploded it shoved the locked door shut. It was a metal door that did not respond to mule kicks from the powerful Grinch: "put a man on it and the rest of us by-pass it!" the Grinch instructed. When they finished clearing the structure, it had become filled with smoke that was coming from the locked room.
"BLOW IT!!" the Grinch called out, and a man immediately slapped a full 80-inch high explosive charge on the door and fired it. With an Earth-rocking explosion, the door was pushed inside the room...but immense flames shot out of the doorway. The Grinch keyed his microphone and called in the situation as structural fire out of control. The Command and Control element had the city fire department alerted.
It became painfully clear that most the the neighborhood was going to burn.
The old building was consumed totally and in short order by flames which spread from building to building. Soon an entire block was a raging inferno of flame and choking smoke. The pumper trucks from the local fire department showed up. The boys were there to meet the trucks:
"Thanks, we'll take it from here," the boys told the fire crews, who stood stunned for many moments, then ultimately had to concede the pipe-hitters who bore no grins upon their faces. It was no joke.
"They... they took our trucks.
The fire crews huddled at the hood entrance while the boys fought the fires, knocking them down with high-pressure hoses and water canons. The assault tactics on fire were the status quo for any assault, just that water was now being launched. The last of the flames succumbed to the deluge with a small number of structures hardly worth the count.
The brothers knocked down the flames with high pressure water the best they could.
"Who on God's Earth is responsible for this?" demanded our ranking officer later into the night where he addressed the balance of the men. The mighty Grinch, offering no sugar coating, took a mighty step forward.
Saying nothing as he stood with hands on hips, and stared the Major down.
"Ok... we're all tired from a very long day and night; let's knock it off and get some sleep!" the major conceded.
*Double-tap: two shots of rifle or pistol that are fired very quickly to the chest area of a threat target. Often time they are fired so fast as to be barely discernible as two separate shots fired. Double-taps are often fired with a slower third "clean up" shot to the head. The meter of the event will "sound" like this: "Ba-Bam... bam, Ba-Bam... Bam."