Jim took his hand off my mouth putting a finger to his and said a soft shhh. 6 of us were laying low on the ground and every sound was intensified. I had read about and heard stories of your senses becoming acute when the adrenaline kicks in. Jim had carried along my rifle and ammo can. I noticed the others had various types of weapons none of which were to be underestimated. I quietly chambered a round in my 308 and the others were checking weapons and ammo as well. Jim motioned a few signals and 4 of the guys slithered off into the woods.
Gunfire and mortars were still raining down on the range although everyone capable of leaving had already. The wounded were now muffled cries and I suspected someone was ordering them to remain still and quiet. I moved into position and viewed the area through my scope. I could see 6 bodies in various stages of death or injury. The scene was surreal with writhing arms and legs, dancing about the landscape. Bullets skipped off the dirt showering the area with particles of lead and dirt. Almost with the rhythm of an ancient tribal beat. Jim had maneuvered into a spotting position and was glassing the area. Unbeknown to me, he was looking for targets for my 308. We slowly turned to the south watching for the muzzle flashes and mortars sound waves.
Within minutes, Jim was giving out ranges, wind and I was confirming his directions. I saw one mortar crew 600 yards off in a brush line. A crew of 3 were firing mortars at anything that moved. With the brush and us hidden within the wood lot, I could fire a minimum of 2 rounds without being detected. I noticed movement to the right of the crew and it was one of the guys who left earlier. He was belly crawling through the brush towards the mortar crew. Jim whispered to take a shot. I took a few deep breathes and calmed myself. I could hear my heartbeat and nothing else. I set my scope sights accordingly to the wind and yardage, slowly squeezed off the round. Jim whispered I was right 2 feet and high 6 inches. Obviously I hadn't squeezed the trigger but jerked it. I chambered another round and settled in for the shot. The man crawling was only 20 yards from them now and if I didn't want to hit him, I must be accurate from here on out. I slowly let out my breath as I squeezed off another round. Jim whispered...1 down Lone Ranger. The mortar went quiet and time seemed to stand still. The gunfire continued from a distance beyond our sight. Now gunfire was being returned and it was quite obvious a fierce firefight was quickly gaining momentum.
The woods suddenly came alive with movement. Jim and I laid low and as still as a dead stick. We couldn't tell if they were friend or foe and never of us said a word. I was not trained for this type of soldiering. Snipers took years of highly specialized training and controlled scenarios. And here I was right in the middle of a worst case scenario, sniper team alone and behind enemy lines. Or were we? I could feel the ants crawling on my legs and I imagined other insects and creatures of the woods were rejoicing the feast! As long as a snake didn't come along I think I could maintain composure. I was sweating profusely now and I could smell myself. Or was it the corpses starting to decompose. But not so soon right? Doesn't it take like days for decomposition to begin? My mind was running 100 mph with all kinds of thoughts. FOCUS!
And as quickly as the woods were alive with movement, they became still once again. Jim whispered they had moved onto the range area and we could continue. Just about that time the mortars started again with the ominous thump thump. I quickly regained my scope of the area which I had dropped one rebel. I saw the shock waves of the mortar as it was fired once again. I spotted movement just behind a bush. The figure leaned forward a bit and the mortar reported again. I squeezed off another round and the figure lurched backwards and fell to the side. Our man sprung into action and dove into the third man and killed him. 1 mortar team eliminated.
The gunfire from our side intensified for minutes until another sound entered into range. Two sounds to be exact, one reminding me of a blackhawk and the other made the ground shake. A low rumble that intensified with each passing moment. A couple of Blackhawk helicopters broke over the treetops and laid down fire to our south. A few moments later 2 M1 Abrams came into view. Machine guns blazing and we popped smoke to not incur friendly fire. After about 15 minutes of tank and helo gunfire, the rebel gunfire ceased and according to the Captain the rebel forces had retreated.
Jim and I walked over the gun range to survey the damage. A mortar crater and taken the place of where my competition had been. His rifle still lay there, charred and contorted from the mortar blast. I can only assume he died and his body scattered about the area. 15 minutes earlier and that would have been my crater. Funny how fate rears its ugly head at the most inappropriate time. Feeling a bit dizzy and disoriented, I sat on the ground and tried to maintain my composure. Thoughts of the days shooting event, eliminating a mortar crew (taking two lives) and the thoughts of my family flooded my mind. Tears began streaming down my cheeks dropping inconspicuously into the charred surroundings. I wept quietly hoping no one could hear or see me.