An Elite Athlete.
Editorial by Tom Demerly.
the inside story of the elite athlete here.
Notice: © 2003 Tom Demerly -
No portion of this article may be used without expressed
It is dark and Mike Smith's clothing is wet.
Mike Smith is an athlete, an elite athlete in fact.
He is a triathlete, has done Ironman several times,
a couple adventure races and even run the Marathon Des
Sables in Morocco- a 152 mile running race through the
Sahara done in stages.
Mike has some college, is gifted in foreign languages,
reads a lot and has an amazing memory for details. He
enjoys travel. He is a quiet guy but a very good athlete.
Mike's friends say he has a natural toughness. He can't
spend as much time training for triathlons as he'd like
to because his job keeps him busy. Especially now. This
is Mike's busy season. But he still seems very fit.
Even without much training Mike has managed some impressive
performances in endurance events.
It's a big night for Mike. He's at
work tonight. As I mentioned his clothing is wet, partially
from dew, partially from perspiration. He and his four co-workers,
Dan, Larry, Pete and Maurice are working on a rooftop at the
corner of Jamia St. and Khulafa St. across from Omar Bin Yasir.
Mike is looking through the viewfinder
of a British made Pilkington LF25 laser designator. The crosshairs
are centered on a ventilation shaft. The shaft is on the roof
of The Republican Guard Palace in downtown Baghdad across the
Saddam Hussein is inside, seven floors
below, three floors below ground level, attending a crisis meeting.
Mike's co-worker Pete (also an Ironman
finisher, Lake Placid, 2000) keys some information into a small
laptop computer and hits "burst transmit". The DMDG
(Digital Message Device Group) uplinks data to another of Mike's
co-workers (this time a man he's never met, but they both work
for their Uncle, "Sam") and a fellow athlete, at 21'500
feet above Iraq 15 miles from downtown Baghdad. This man's office
is the cockpit of an F-117 stealth fighter. When Mike and Pete's
signal is received the man in the airplane leaves his orbit
outside Baghdad, turns left, and heads downtown.
Mike has 40 seconds to complete his
work for tonight, then he can go for a run.
Mike squeezes the trigger of his
LF25 and a dot appears on the ventilator shaft five city blocks
and across the river away from him and his co-workers. Mike
speaks softly into his microphone; "Target illuminated.
Danger close. Danger Close. Danger close. Over."
Seconds later two GBU-24B two thousand
pound laser guided, hardened case, delayed fuse "bunker
buster" bombs fall free from the F-117. The bombs enter
"the funnel" and begin finding their way to the tiny
dot projected by Mike's LF25. They glide approximately three
miles across the ground and fall four miles on the way to the
spot marked by Mike and his friends.
When they reach the ventilator shaft
marked by Mike and his friends the two bunker busters enter
the roof in a puff of dust and debris. They plow through the
first four floors of the building like a two-ton steel telephone
pole traveling over 400 m.p.h., tossing desks, ceiling tiles,
computers and chairs out the shattering windows. Then they hit
the six-foot thick reinforced concrete roof of the bunker. They
burrow four more feet and detonate.
The shock wave is transparent but
reverberates through the ground to the river where a Doppler
wave appears on the surface of the Tigris. When the seismic
shock reaches the building Mike is on he levitates an inch off
the roof from the concussion.
Then the sound hits. The two explosions
are like a simultaneous crack of thunder as the building's walls
seem to swell momentarily, then burst apart on an expanding
fireball that slowly, eerily, boils above Baghdad casting rotating
shadows as the fire climbs into the night. Debris begins to
rain; structural steel, chunks of concrete, shards of glass,
flaming fabrics and papers.
On the tail of the two laser guided
bombs a procession of BGM-109G/TLAM Block IV Enhanced Tomahawks
begin their terminal plunge. The laser-guided bombs performed
the incision, the GPS and computer guided TLAM Tomahawks complete
the operation. In rapid-fire succession the missiles find their
mark and riddle the Palace with massive explosions, finishing
the job. The earth heaves in a final death convulsion.
Mike's job is done for tonight. Now
all he has to do is get home.
Mike and his friends drive an old
Mercedes through the streets of Baghdad as the sirens start.
They take Jamia to Al Kut, cross Al Kut and go right (South)
on the Expressway out of town. An unsuspecting remote CNN camera
mounted on the balcony of the Al Rashid Hotel picks up their
vehicle headed out of town. Viewers at home wonder what a car
is doing on the street during the beginning of a war. They don't
know it is packed with five members of the U.S. Army's SFOD-D,
Special Forces Operational Detachment - Delta. Delta Force.
Six miles out of town they park their
Mercedes on the shoulder, pull their gear out of the trunk and
begin to run into the desert night. The moon is nearly full.
Instinctively they fan out, on line, in a "lazy 'W' ".
They run five miles at a brisk pace, good training for this
evening, especially with 27 lb. packs on their back. Behind
them there is fire on the horizon. Mike and his fellow athletes
have a meeting to catch, and they can't be late.
Twenty seven miles out a huge gray
92 foot long insect hurtles 40 feet above the desert at 140
m.p.h. The MH-53J Pave Low III is piloted by another athlete,
also a triathlete, named Jim, from Fort Campbell, Kentucky.
He is flying to meet Mike.
After running five miles into the
desert Mike uses his GPS to confirm his position. He is in the
right place at the right time. He removes an infra-red strobe
light from his pack and pushes the red button on the bottom
of it. It blinks invisibly in the dark. He and his friends form
a wide 360 degree circle while waiting for their ride home.
Two miles out Jim in the Pave Low
sees Mike's strobe through his night vision goggles. He gently
moves the control stick and pulls back on the collective to
line up on Mike's infra-red strobe. Mike's ride home is here.
The big Pave Low helicopter flares
for landing over the desert and quickly touches down in a swirling
tempest of dust. Mike and his friends run up the ramp after
their identity is confirmed. Mike counts them up the ramp of
the helicopter over the scream of the engines. When he shows
the crew chief five fingers the helicopter lifts off and the
ramp comes up. The dark gray Pave Low spins in its own length
and picks up speed going back the way it came, changing course
slightly to avoid detection.
The men and women in our armed forces,
especially Special Operations, are often well trained, gifted
athletes. All of them, including Mike, would rather be sleeping
the night away in anticipation of a long training ride rather
than laying on a damp roof in an unfriendly neighborhood guiding
bombs to their mark or doing other things we'll never hear about.
Regardless of your opinions about
the war, the sacrifices these people are making and the risks
they are taking are extraordinary. They believe they are making
them on our behalf. Their skills, daring and accomplishments
almost always go unspoken. They are truly Elite Athletes.
Read the inside story of the elite athlete