Staring through a scope for hours at a time is the hardest part of my job. Patience has always been a challenge for me. Only years of insane training have made it possible for me to sit still with this much adrenaline pumping through my body. When I sit still, my brain goes into overdrive. Mostly, I reflect on my career choice—well, question my career choice might be a more accurate way of putting it.
My next birthday will force my retirement. I will be thirty-two years old. In the world of Navy SEALs, that makes me an old man. I have already received two exceptions to the rule on age, but this is the end of the line. Navy SEALs are ideally commissioned between ages seventeen and twenty-eight. Only snipers and officers receive exceptions. Even so, I’ve been one of the lucky ones. I find it ironic that Navy SEALs and Miss America contestants share the same exit age. I bet there are beauty queens who asked themselves the same question I did when I turned twenty-eight: What am I supposed to do with the next fifty years of my life?
Being back in the chaotic Middle East is adding to my frustration today. It is almost impossible for anyone who lives outside this cesspool of evil to remember which countries are enemies and which are allies. At times, I have to google uniforms and flags to know where to point my gun.
In The Art of War, Sun Tzu warns men of the cost of entering a war they “do not intend to win.” Every time I read the book, I worry about my country. The U.S. has a habit of rushing to provide troops when there is a breach of our definition of “human rights.” As far back as 2017, Russian President Vladimir Putin warned us to stop “forcing our morals on the world.”
That was a big statement—and it caused me to stop and think. Yes, I cringe when I hear the stories of children being raped and sold into slavery. I have nightmares about men and women being drowned in giant cages. I cannot process the level of evil necessary for men to do such things. No matter what I think, until there is a worldwide governing body with more power than the United Nations currently wields, hands are tied. Human rights are at the whim of the nations. Though I do not want to live in a world where such heinous acts go unchecked and unpunished, I have to accept that my thinking is as about as American as it gets. We are always out to correct the evils of the world. The question that begs an answer is, “Who gets to define ‘evil?’”
I will leave that question to the philosophers and theologians. I’m simple. Though I like my paycheck, I mostly come here because I want to do my part in freeing POWs, and to protect citizens who are being used as pawns in fascist governments. Even though I consider my motives to be noble, I have to admit that my reasoning—and many times the reasoning of the United States—does not pass Sun Tzu’s litmus test.
Covert operations such as this one further confuse the issue. I’m not even sure if I am participating in a war with today’s assignment. Most Middle Eastern nations do not consider themselves to be at war. They do not feel the need to register papers with the United Nations or to justify their actions. If they have an army, it usually doesn’t have a clear objective. If they have a government, it usually doesn’t have a definitive strategy.
The thing most of these nations seem to have in common is hate—and hate only goes so far in giving soldiers the motivation to risk their lives year after year. My experience has convinced me the passion necessary for a nation to sustain itself through a long war must be born from the pain of its people. I wonder if the citizens of these despotic nations would be bolder—and rise on their own—if they knew no one was coming to free them from their pain. It’s entirely possible we are hindering them more than helping them. I’m glad these aren’t my decisions to make.
To outsiders, the core cause of unrest in the Middle East is easy to see. The less-enlightened governments spread hate-driven propaganda to their people, often in the name of religion. Since their governments lack definitive objectives, the only thing the people have left is hate. Hate without a strategy for change goes internal and surfaces as erratic terrorism. I smirk at my brilliance. I never have a pen and paper out to write down my deep insights. Kool Killer does not allow for “life footnotes.” I will add this stuff to my war journal when I get back to the barracks.
Though I don’t like to think on it much, my war journal is much longer than I expected it to be. I have been on assignment in sixteen of the twenty-two countries that make up the Arabian World. Some of the countries are in Asia and Northern Africa. The citizens of some of these countries are devastated and weary from war. Many of them are weak from hunger and sick from disease. Other countries here are well armed and connected to the rest of the world through the World Wide Web. Their citizens are free to participate in social media and pursue information at will. These more “enlightened” countries are active in the United Nations and respected by the leaders of Eastern Europe, Russia, China, and even the United States.
Neither of these groups of nations are the ones I worry about. The independently operating renegade nations are the ones that keep me looking over my shoulder. Rumors abound that two of these rogue countries have nuclear weapons. From what I have seen, it is not conjecture. They have nukes. I doubt there is anything more threatening to the future of our planet than the combination of nukes and unenlightened hate.
Within the last decade, the nation of Yemen has become problematic for the rest of the world. It is one of the poorest nations in the Arab League. Fifty-four percent of its population lives in poverty. If things do not improve soon, starvation will follow. Heavy in debt to One World Bank, Yemen’s government only affords its citizens eight hours of electricity a day. If this were happening in the United States, I am guessing millions of X-boxers would march on Washington and rally for change.
Yemen does not have much of a government to rally. A deadly civil war threatens its stability. Because of its vulnerability, this tiny nation makes money by agreeing to be a hideout for leaders of Al-Qaeda, the new ISIS, and other terrorist groups.
Though the country’s limestone plateaus are poor for growing vegetation, the Karstic Caves, located just beyond them, are excellent for hiding terrorist leaders. In 2011, the U.S. government built an Air Force base in Yemen for testing its classified war weapons—mostly, massive drones for spying operations and sinking battleships. The newest drones are the size of hummingbirds, untraceable, and programed with face recognition to seek out and explode the heads of their targets. It won’t be long until drones replace most snipers. Drones are reinventing the entire weapons industry based on research done here, in a nation that cannot afford to pay its light bill.
While the U.S. is constantly redesigning the future, the twenty-two Arabian countries seem frozen in time. They largely ignore the scientific and social advancements of the world. Most insist women remain in their traditional roles. Not much changes day-to-day. Their preferred idleness adds to their underlying resentment of the Western nations that constantly push the world forward. Conversely, from a Westerner’s perspective, the Middle East is a gigantic landmine that is unpredictable and deadly to navigate—mainly because its “mines of religious prejudice” were set centuries ago and have yet to be detonated.
Some say I am oversimplifying the problem. Many think this entire mess is a holy war between the Judeo-Christian and Islamic religions. They say it traces back to the days of Abraham and his two sons. They also believe this friction will not end until life on Earth is over. If this is true, I picked a lousy career, but one with infinite job security. There are endless opportunities for me to contract as a sniper in the Middle East after the SEALs kick me to the curb on my next birthday.
Hired assassinations are the new weapon. Sniper hits can remove corrupt leaders with a single shot and send strong messages to the other side. A one-man hit squad is discreet and doesn’t incite wars and international conflicts. Most modern-day Americans have little experience with extended conflicts of the past. Today, when we invade foreign lands, we take what we want, and repair a miniscule amount of invasion damage on the way out. Meaning, we do only what is necessary to stay on good terms with our allies.
When my grandfather was a soldier, the United States would restore hospitals, schools, major roads and leave behind “peace-keeping” troops for a decade or so after a conflict ended. Times changed when the Millennial generation assumed leadership. We no longer leave troops in foreign nations after conflicts, and we have relieved ourselves of the responsibility of policing the world. We also shifted our policies in the Middle East. We have not been an enthusiastic participant here since we stopped buying crude oil.
These days, we are a reluctant ally at best. We only come when we need to support Israel or ensure terrorism remains on foreign soil. The decreasing military budget in America encourages the Brass at the Pentagon to keep our troops at home. In the past, we participated in wars we did not intend to win, and the cost was mounting. Now, we put our military money into specialized forces like scientists, engineers, computer hackers, and snipers. My mission today called on the talents of all four specialties. Working together, they located the prisoners, devised the plan to get us in and out without detection, broke the code to scramble the unit’s communication, and positioned stealth drones for surveillance of the entire operation. After we leave, they will be erasing our digital and literal footprints. Later, they will send a follow-up crew to retrieve our scuba equipment. They are running the entire operation from a conference room in the Pentagon—over 7,000 miles away. This is the warfare of the future.