Undisclosed location, US Navy Special Warfare
December 25, 2014/0408 Zulu
December 25, 2014/0408 Zulu
I’ve seen some strange shit in my day, but this one tops the list. Two days before Christmas we were getting ready to stand down and have a nice couple of days off. Christmas was falling on Thursday this year, and the skipper decided to give most of the group liberty the day after. The nice long weekend would be a welcomed break after all the traveling I’d been doing and give me a chance to catch up with my family.
The command staff had planned a big outing today, and our mission would be one that didn’t have us armed with weapons; we would be carrying presents to a few places in town where the kids were having a rough Christmas. Our group would divvy up the work with a Marine Recon group who had recently stood up at a nearby base. My dive buddy and I were in the break room wrapping presents right before the shit hit the fan.
“So what’s the plan for Christmas Day?” Shaq asked.
“Give me a few with the family in the morning, we’ll get Christmas between us out of the way then come on over around noon,” I said.
“Are you finally getting an Xbox One?”
“I don’t have to, you’ve got one. I’ll use yours.”
“Man, you suck. You’re so behind the times. By the time you get one, something else will be coming out.”
“When in hell are you getting a PlayStation 4? Every time you come over that’s all you want to do.”
“Because that’s the only decent gaming system you’ve got.”
“If you lame dicks go any slower, we’ll be delivering these next fucking Christmas! Move it!”
Shaq and I looked toward the door. Master Chief stood there looking like a Christmas nightmare. Since he already had the white hair thing down, the captain decided he could be Santa. There he stood, full white beard in a Santa suit. He wasn’t thick like Santa but the rest came pretty close. The crazy thing about this whole get up was he loved being Santa. I make that sound nice; he begged to be Santa.
“Nice suit, Master Chief,” Shaq said.
I started praying that my dive buddy didn’t get me into some serious shit. I didn’t like the tone he’d used, and any second now his mouth would get us into trouble. Master Chief’s eyes narrowed. Nothing slipped past him, and he’d caught it, too. I looked at Shaq and shook my head and gave him a don’t fucking do it look.
“You think so?” Master Chief asked as he walked toward us.
Correction, stalked toward us. I felt like a rabbit about to be pounced on by one mean hungry wolf, and there’d be nothing left of me when he was done.
“Would you like to be one of Santa’s elves, JG?”
FUCK NO! I’ve been one of his elves before, and I still have nightmares about it.
“Aren’t we? We’ve been wrapping presents for two days straight,” Shaq said.
Master looked the mountain of presents up and down.
“You call that wrapping? I’ve seen better wrapping by blind two year olds. I should tear that shit up and make you two rejects start all over again,” he said reaching for one of the presents.
As hard as I could, I came down on Shaq’s boot with my heel. I’d managed to get Master Chief’s attention. My dive glared at me, but I’d done it to keep Master Chief from carrying out his plan of making us rewrap over three hundred gifts.
“What the fuck’s wrong with you now?” Master Chief growled.
“Hey! You three in the briefing room, now!” The captain said from the door.
Thank God! The captain disappeared from the doorway and left us staring at each other. I dropped what I had in my hands and reported as ordered. When we got to the briefing room, several of us had already arrived. In all there were about thirty people, and while Shaq and I sat waiting, I overheard the captain tell the XO that the Recon Marines were on their way.
A sinking feeling came over me as I waited to find out what the captain wanted. I just knew my Christmas would be spent away from my family, again. Last year, I’d been in Afghanistan and had missed so much. I scanned the room and met a beautiful set of brown eyes across the room. She sat next to Badass and they were huddled talking with their little group. My heart sank because I didn’t want her to miss Christmas at home, too. Over the years, we’d missed too many Christmases together, and this would be a first and very special one. The Force Recon Marines arrived, and the XO went to the front of the room.
“We’ve been tapped to support a mission. I will be your mission commander. Our liaison will arrive shortly and brief you on what needs to be done,” Commander Corbin said.
“What the hell’s going on? Do you know?” Doc asked.
“No clue, captain showed up at the break room and told us to report here,” I said.
“Man, this is not the way I wanted to spend Christmas,” Shaq complained.
“Then get another job, JG. You signed up for this,” Master Chief said.
The XO glanced behind us and waived the person in the back forward. I didn’t turn around but there was something familiar about the footsteps. I shivered and Doc’s jaw dropped, when our liaison passed by.
“Good morning ladies and gentleman.”
Bella? What the…
Could I be seeing this right? I had to be. The tension in the room amped several notches as we waited for the rest. If this was someone’s idea of a joke, I can tell you the humor was lost on the group gathered in the room. The room got unnaturally quiet and no-one moved.
“Holy crap on a cracker …” Master Chief whispered.
“What the hell is she doing here?” Doc said.
“Thank you for volunteering for this mission,” she said.
And was Bella Juarez really standing here without the whole room erupting in a riot? Wait a minute… Volunteer? Mission? I hadn’t volunteered for shit! I especially hadn’t volunteered for anything having to do with HER! What the fuck was she doing here, and what the fuck was happening to my world?
“Wake me up, mama. This is a bad dream,” Shaq said in disbelief.
“Shut up dumbass!” Master Chief said.
“Yesterday, at 1652 Zulu, the NSA intercepted a distress signal coming from 89.97 degrees north and 0.0 degrees west. Contact was made with the station and the threat assessed. Information was passed on to the JCS who recommended that the President sign an executive order to take action in the region. The President signed an executive order authorizing action code name Operation WHITE OUT. Our Canadian allies have agreed to assist by allowing us to utilize RCAF Station Gimli …”
Shaq and I exchanged glances because those coordinates were a long friggin’ way from where we sat. In fact, those coordinates were at the top of the world, the North Pole. What the hell kind of distress signal could be coming from there?
“A terrorist group calling themselves the GAC has taken hostages and your mission will be two-fold: free the hostages while securing their compound, and isolate the enemy. Our goal is to attempt to capture as many of the GAC as possible for interrogation. Senior Chief Walsh, your team will be needed for interviewing all captured enemy. Lieutenant Colonel Thompson, your Marines serve as the hostage rescue team. Master Chief Jones, your SEAL teams will responsible for securing the compound and rounding up as many hostiles as possible.”
“Did you say GAC?” Badass asked.
“Yes, I did …”
I couldn’t believe it. Badass and Bella Juarez were having a civil conversation. Captain O’Malley sat as if this were a normal everyday occurrence, and who the hell was the GAC? I felt a little out of the loop here. Had I been dropped into the Twilight Zone? Bella is an NSA liaison? Really?
Oh yeah, I’d landed deep in the Zone.
Our briefing ended, and we went gathered with our respective teams to do some mission planning and determine how to take this enemy down. After several hours I found myself along with my team on a C-130 with Recon Marines heading for one of the coldest places on the planet. The weather forecast for Gimli was twenty-four degrees with snow and for 89.9 degrees north and 0 degrees west, it was negative two with definite snow. We’d be fighting in the dark, and I still wasn’t clear about the enemy they called the GAC, no-one seemed to be talking about that. Our intel had been limited, making our planning broad and our time tables loose. That was the worst kind of mission planning. The intel on the compound and hostages seemed solid, but fighting in the dark against an unknown enemy wasn’t my idea of fun.
Before I knew it, we were fast roping in front of the Recon Marines into a snow covered compound at the top of the world. The icy wind that hit me as I shimmied down the rope and made me quit breathing for a second because it was so cold. When we hit the ground we went around sweeping what seemed like an empty compound. We reached the first building and waited a beat before going inside.
When we poured inside after kicking open, the door the sight in front of us made the six of us responsible for securing that area pause. The long building had three long wide tables with stations that lined the tables on both sides. There were bins behind each one of the stations filled with toys. Several rolls of Christmas wrapping paper, ribbons, and bows were on rolls at each station.
“What …” Friday said behind me.
Passing me, he walked to one of the stations and pulled out wrapping paper that had the old time Transformers images on it. He stared at it for a while. I walked up next to him and asked,
“What is it, man?”
“What about it?”
“It was the wrapping on all of my Christmas gifts until I was ten. No matter what home I went to, it was always the same paper,” he said staring at the wrapping.
Friday had it rough growing up in foster care. He’d never known his mom or dad and had been bounced from home to home until he’d joined the Navy when he turned eighteen.
Before I could look up, all hell broke loose. Something came pouring out from the walls and under the tables but before we could figure out what the hell we were dealing with they’d attached themselves to our legs.
“What the fuck!” Friday said shaking his leg to try and get them off.
“Do we shoot? What the hell do we do?” Shaq yelled from behind me.
When I looked down to figure out what had attached itself to me, I blinked and shook my head. It looked like something out of Lord of the Rings or Gremlins; something out of a fantasy movie. When they opened their mouth to scream, they had pointy teeth. They were greenish gray with very little hair.
“OW! Fuck!” Friday screamed.
I watched him use the butt of his weapon and bop one of the creatures on the head. The thing released him and ran away. Suddenly I saw stars and felt blinding pain to my shin. Son-of-a-bitch had bitten me! So taking a cue from Friday, I did the same thing rifle butted the little bastard on the top of the head. I couldn’t shoot myself, and our orders were to take as many of them alive as we could.
Throwing the bait we’d been given to the center of the table seemed to get them focused somewhere else. The shiny silver and gold balls bounce around as the creatures tried to catch them. We’d been given nets to throw over them and to catch them but there were too many. I had to think this thing through and stop reacting. Then I remembered during our briefing we’d been told our enemy didn’t like bright lights. I dug out a flare from my vest and threw it at the door so those little fuckers couldn’t get out. It worked, they huddled together shying away from the light.
“Use the flares to get them bunched together,” I called out to my group.
After we’d figured out how to capture them and rounded them up, we met at our designated landing zone or LZ. It was the biggest building at the compound. We walked inside and met Master Chief who was talking to guy in a camo Santa suit. Now that I had time to think about the mission we’d just completed, I realized how surreal this whole thing had been. I went to one of the crates where these little things were being kept to see if this was real. The first word that came to my head to describe them was … goblin.
The Recon Team leader came in with a creature who was human sized but looked just like the little ones we’d captured. I joined Master Chief near a big table in the hall where we gathered.
“Kris, this is our SEAL team leader–“
“Ah yes, red autobot transformer fire truck with a changeable spare tire, 1987. Daniel you’ve grown into a fine man,” he said holding out his hand.
I blinked. The man had just described my favorite Christmas present, ever. I remembered asking for that autobot when I was six years old. My mom had set me up for disappointment because when they went back to get it, the store had sold out. That had been the only Christmas I’d written a letter to Santa Claus begging for that truck. I promised that I would donate all my other toys to kids who wouldn’t get any that Christmas if I go that Transformer. Christmas Eve I had my mom take me to the police station where I gave away all of my toys to Blue Santa. I remembered my mom and dad trying to talk me out of it because they’d told me I wouldn’t have anything to open but I’d seen it through. Christmas morning, my autobot was there and so were all of my other presents.
“Sir,” I said taking his hand.
“Thank you for saving Christmas.”
“I wouldn’t go that far, sir. Christmas was coming no matter what.”
“Not for everyone, Daniel. It nice to see the goodness in some people never changes, you still put others before yourself. You’ll never know how much you impact the world every time you put on your uniform and leave your family. Thank you.”
A lump formed in my throat at the thought of my family at home without me. There was nothing for me to say so I nodded and moved away.
God, how I wanted to be home...
“LT, we need to decide what to do with this one, he’s the leader of the GAC,” the Recon Team leader said.
“Gabriel, why?” Kris asked.
“Why? Why indeed! “
“I don’t understand…”
Kris looked confused and hurt. Gabriel shook with rage, and I prepared to get in the middle. I just knew the green monster would go for Kris’ throat.
“Mother favored you, always giving you all the glory while she banished me to a life in the shadows!”
“It doesn’t have to be this way,” Kris turned to us and asked, “Gentlemen, may I have a private moment with my brother?”
Brother? Holy shit! Something got into that DNA woodpile and went south. We shrugged and gave them some space. We watched as they had a heated discussion then the green guy’s shoulders slumped and he put his face in his hands. Kris put his hand on the guy’s shoulder and Gabriel nodded.
“Master Chief, what’s going on?”
“Family feud. Gabriel is the Goblin king and the leader of the GAC. We still need to take him in and have Badass talk to him to find out if he’s still a threat.”
“Okay, what the hell is the GAC?”
“Goblins against Christmas, a terrorist organization we’ve been tracking since ’89. We’ve been able to contain the other threats. The GAC was the only unknown until now.”
By now I had accepted the fact that I was either dreaming or completely delusional. I knew my Navy career would be coming to an end and I’d be locked in a room with lots of comfy pillows around me. But I figured if I was going totally crazy, I needed to at least have a complete story.
“Other threats? What other threats?”
“Boy, have you been living under a rock?” Master Chief growled.
I knew he was already certifiable so this conversation seemed perfectly natural now. Master Chief sighed and shook his head.
“In 1955, we had a first confirmed sighting of Kris Kringle. NORAD verified that he was a friendly and an ally. We set up a listening post here in 1960. In ‘69, the compound was attacked by the Abominable Snowman, then six years later, by Jack Frost. We’ve been able to neutralize all threats except this one,” he said pointing to Gabriel.
“You mean to tell me Santa Claus, the Abominable Snowman, and Jack Frost are real?”
“What the hell do you want me to do? Throw you in the Ivan’s cave? After he bites you in the ass, maybe you’ll be convinced. And Santa Claus is standing right fucking there!” Master Chief said pointing at Kris.
“Master Chief, I’m losing my fucking mind right now so you’ll excuse me if I want to hang on to what little sanity I have left!”
“I know, I felt the same way the first time I had to deal with this. But believe me, this is real and you’re not crazy. Ask yourself something, who else knew about your bebot?”
“You know that truck bebot thing Kris told you about.”
“You mean autobot? That’s Optimus Prime! He’s not a bebot–“
“Whatever, the point is how many people know the details of that story?”
No one knew, not even my wife knew and I’d known her since the second grade. By the time I’d come into the SEALs, I’d forgotten all about it until now. I had to admit, he had a point. This was also Master Chief, and he had a way of finding things out. In a very uncharacteristic move, Master Chief put his hand on my shoulder and said,
“Before we leave here, you’ll know it’s real and so is Santa Claus.”
Before I could say anything, Kris interrupted us.
“Jimmy, we’ve worked everything out. Gabriel will be staying here. He and his goblins will run the night crew. Let Gavin know as soon as the rush is over, Gabriel has agreed to meet with him and debrief. But right now, I can’t do without him. Tell Charlie, he has my word that the GAC has officially been changed to the GFC,” Kris said taking out his watch and shook his head, “I’m so far behind schedule. He’ll be making the deliveries to the north and I’ll go south. Line up the men who’ve come so that I can thank each one privately before I leave.”
“Yes, sir, I’ll get right on it,” Master Chief said.
I grabbed Master Chief’s arm before he could move, “Wait a minute, we’re leaving our tango and those … things here? What happened to our orders?”
Master Chief frowned and took out his satellite phone.
“Dixie? Kris says ‘hey’ and he also wants me to tell you that he and his brother have worked things out. Gabriel has agreed to talk to Badass right after Kris gets all of his presents delivered. He’s behind scheduled and needs some help.” He listened for a minute and said, “All right, I’ll tell Kris, Badass will be here on Tuesday. Merry Christmas, admiral,” he said as he ended the call. “Are you okay with that, Lieutenant?”
“Yeah,” I said shaking my head, “Whatever the admiral wants.”
“Come on, boys. Line up, we’re burning daylight!” Master Chief shouted as he gathered the teams up and led us to the back part of the building.
I felt like a kid again standing in line at the mall. Only this time there was no way in hell I would consent to sitting on Santa’s lap. I turned around and looked at my dive buddy behind me. He was surveying the building. By trade he was a structural engineer and whenever we went somewhere he always studied the buildings around us.
“This place is old. Look at the timbers, they’re almost petrified. Early Norse engineering, like the great halls, it’s built to withstand the weather and keep the heat in,” he said.
“Shaq, are we dreaming, or have we gone nuts?” I asked.
Frowning, he asked, “What do you mean? Don’t you believe in Santa Claus?”
“When I was a kid but seriously do you?”
“I never stopped believing. Well I guess I did for a while, and those Christmas’ were the worst ones of my life. They were empty.”
“What do you mean? Like no presents?”
“No, I always get presents, but sometimes they don’t mean anything, its stuff. Real presents come from the heart. The best present I ever got was the scarf the little kids from that tribe of nomads we rescued made. I’ve never gotten anything so valuable in all my life. They didn’t celebrate Christmas, but they understood the meaning. They loved the idea of Santa Claus and unconditional love.”
My dive buddy had a point. I still had that autobot at my sister’s house. Of all the presents I’d ever received, it was one of the few things I’d kept from my childhood. When had I stopped believing in Santa? I was a little ashamed of myself because it had to be about the time I started taking things for granted. Somewhere along the way I’d grown up and had stopped counting the blessings in my life. Before I knew it, I got ushered into a room where Kris sat in a chair that looked right out of the Middle Ages.
“Come here Daniel,” Kris said.
“Sorry Santa, I’m not sitting on your lap.”
Kris burst out laughing, “You haven’t lost your sense of humor. Give me your hands. I want you to think about what you really want for Christmas.”
Reluctantly I put my hands in his. I swallowed hard because all I could think about was being home with my family. That was all I wanted at the moment. He bowed his head and closed his eyes then he suddenly raised his head. Letting my hands go, he reached into a bag beside him.
“Still thinking of others,” he said handing me something small.
I know my jaw dropped when I looked at what I’d been given. It was the diamond bracelet I wanted to give my wife for Christmas.
“She’ll love it, not because of the price tag but because of the sacrifice behind it.”
At just past two am, I walked through the front door of my house. Before doing anything else I went to the room down the hall from mine and knelt next to my son’s bed. I watched him sleep for a little while before I kissed the top of his head. This was why I wanted to be home. This Christmas was the first one he’d understand. I couldn’t believe how incredibly blessed my life had turned out. I was proud that I had career that allowed me to protect the future of my family. I curled up next to the love of my life and wrapped my arms around her. Cuddling next to her warm body after being so cold was heaven. I realized that since she’d come back into my life, I had everything I’ve wanted every day.
I must’ve woke her with all my moving around.
“Go back to sleep, babe.”
“I’m so glad you made it home in time.”
“Me too,” I said kissing her shoulder.
As much as I wanted to enjoy being close to her, I passed out before taking another breath. When I woke up the next morning, my bed was warm and so was my soul mate lying next to me. Her eyes opened and when she smiled at me I leaned forward and kissed her good morning. Before I could even think of getting the Christmas present I really wanted, I heard little footsteps running down the hall. Then …
“Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!” My son screamed as he jumped in the middle our bed.
Before he could really do some damage with all of his jumping, I lifted him so he could go into his Superman pose.
“Take me to my presents,” he said squirming.
“Is today Christmas?” I asked him.
“No! Not yet. I think its tomorrow.”
That statement made him go still and disappointment crossed his face. He looked to his mom for reassurance.
“Danny! Stop it. Come on mijo, let’s go open your presents,” his mom said getting out of bed.
I remembered that feeling. I’d be up before anyone and itching to open all my presents. No-one had to tell me it was Christmas; I knew. While I followed my wife and son down the hall, I wondered when I’d lost that excitement. This last mission had changed the way I see Christmas and why it was so important. The gifts didn't matter but the thought and love behind them did. This needed to be a time when everyone took a time out and just enjoyed being close to the people who mattered in their lives. Mostly I learned it was about reconciliation and starting a clean slate for someone who is lost. While I watched my son drink in the magic of Christmas I knew I had a new mission, and it would be to make sure that he always believed and never lost his way like I had. After he’d opened all of his presents, I dug into my ready bag that I’d left by the breakfast bar and took out the present from Kris.
“This one’s for you, babe.”
“Wow! Did you wrap this?”
I laughed and said, “Na, I had some help.”
Kris had his crew wrapped it so beautifully that the box could’ve been used for a decoration. When she opened it, her eyes widened and her jaw dropped. She’d told me not to get that bracelet because it had been a little beyond our budget.
“Why?” She whispered.
“Because you deserve it.”
“We have to pay for school –“
I leaned over and kissed her before she could finish.
“Don’t worry, it’s paid for.”
My wife quickly wiped away a couple of tears. That was something to see because my lady is strong. When I saw the gift had touched her that much, I knew Kris had been right and it really was special to her.
“Daddy, yours,” My son said pushing a box toward me.
My wife giggled when I picked up the heavy box.
“What’s this?” I asked before opening it.
“It’s something Mikey and I picked out for you and the real reason I didn’t want you to get me the bracelet. I’d already bought this.”
When I opened the box, I swear my heart must’ve stopped for a minute. It was something I’d wanted so bad when it had come out a couple of months back. During my single days, I wouldn’t have thought twice about going out and getting it. Now with a mortgage, a kid, and paying for her to finish college the almost seven hundred dollar Xbox One collector’s bundle had been out of the question. When my heart started again, I said,
“Jeez, babe, this is a seven hundred dollar gaming bundle. We couldn’t afford it when it came out, remember? What about paying for school?”
“I found one in the original wrapping at a Game Stop, the person who ordered it never came for it so the store called me. The gift cards I got from my family covered some of it and I’d put aside the money for the rest–“
What had she just said? I remembered what Kris said about sacrifice. And yes this gaming system no matter how old and outdated it got would stay with me. Running my hands over the box, I realized she’d spent the most of we’d set aside for our presents and used her gifts from her family on me. To say I was overwhelmed would be an understatement.
I couldn’t do that to her… she deserved a nice present and I was so glad he’d given me that bracelet. Now I understood why it had touched her so much. She’d given up a lot to give me something I’d wanted but had put aside.
Putting her finger to my lips she said, “You deserve it.”
What did I tell you at the beginning? Think I’m making this up? Nope, not one word. I don’t think even Bella could make this one up… and she has one hell of an imagination…
It really happened that way – Lieutenant's honor – it really happened that way.