A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.....the following may have happened

Or maybe not…

John Jackson
By John Jackson


 A beautiful sunny day in the Department of Nariño, Colombia. A normal day would show the area covered to 500 ft with 50-mile cloud banks. These banks move like roving sharks, instantly devouring entire regions. If you happen to be conducting an operation at the time, this shark leaves you stranded in FARC country with no rescue and no air cover. We move thru the blue skies in 4 Huey and 2 Blackhawk helicopters.

 These helicopters carry a Colombian National Police Force (JUNGLAS) as well as me, S/A BB, and Ret. Special Forces Colonel HH. Our force amounts to around 40 men, which in this area of Colombia is only good for 60-minute surgical strikes on targets. To occupy a territory for any length of time requires 200-500 men, and these forces still take losses from snipers and land mines. We also have with us an informant, who is disguised in Jungla gear and will accompany us to the target. This allows for fewer mistakes and discourages any informants from setting us up for an ambush.

 We approach the target and fly up the canyon. Imagine the Grand Canyon in the US, but at altitudes of up to 12000 feet and covered in jungle. That is Nariño. We are informed that the LZ is at 9000 feet with high winds, so the first Blackhawk will drop its load of troops off and come back to get us. Our landing at the LZ several minutes later feels like a controlled crash, and the pilot is straining hard with the controls. When we offload, we are a total of 17 men on the ground. We are then notified that there will be no other lifts for the time being due to the winds and altitude. We are also without the informant and his controlling officer to show us the way. We set off in spite of this, with Col. DD of the CNP leading the way. The gringo patrol is about midway in the line, and we can see Col. DD about 100 yards ahead. We must walk with 10-20 yard spacing between each man, so that any enemy mine or ambush will only get a few. 



As I look ahead, I notice the Col talking with 3 campesinos that have stopped their work to let us pass. When I next look up, one of the campesinos is now walking in the front of the line. The Col. has obviously persuaded him to lead us to the lab. His ability to enlist cooperation was aided by the very steep cliff we had just scaled.


Very appropriate. Because that is exactly what we are scaling.  This route is so steep that a slight imbalance could send any one of us tumbling to our deaths. 

  We are all humping 40-60 pounds of gear, as well as this being a movement behind enemy lines. This means that you cannot simply look at your boots and trudge upward. You are constantly with rifle at the ready, scanning every bush. Doing this in a domestic raid for 10 minutes is nerve racking. Doing it for hours is downright exhausting.

 As we scale the mountain, we pass thru intermittent jungle and prairie, meaning constant threat from snipers. This is one of the FARC´s favorite tactics, because they operate as guerrillas and play hit and run. The other is that the way we are approaching the objective has left the guerrillas nowhere to run. To run down, they run into us. To run up is to meet a closed canyon with 500 ft cliffs on either side. Their only option is to fight or hide within close range. Right about this time the 50 Cal mini guns from the Blackhawk begin their music. This means the Helos have spotted some type of suspicious activity on the ground near us. If you have never heard a 50 Cal mini gun, go off in combat, you should.

-Nothing reminds you of your mortality quicker.

It sounds like the wrath of God spitting mechanical vengeance on the earth.

An hour of humping has put us on a ridge line with an obvious path ahead. We wait as 4 more Junglas come gasping up the hill from another lift that made it to the LZ. Another 300 yards down the path and the jungle is alive with the smell of processing cocaine. Opening up in front of us is one of the biggest, most sophisticated coke labs anyone has ever seen. The lab is spread out over an acre, with 7 different buildings to include 3 for the lab, sleeping quarters, a kitchen, and an electrical plant. The generator is also the biggest anyone has seen, as big as a Volkswagon. The Junglas ask me how did they it up here. Looking at its size and the terrain, it seems completely impossible. The entire lab is covered in a military camoflage tarp, totally invisible from the air. Whoever put this together is good. The surrounding cliffs must be teeming with the escaped lab workers, so we need to do our business quickly.
The Jungla Sappers (Demo guys) set to work rigging all the buildings to blow as we gather evidence. They light the fuse and we all evac to the pickup LZ. As we arrive, 7 more Junglas stagger in, obviously wounded. They explain that the pilots picked another LZ due to the winds and dropped them on the side of a cliff with an 8 foot drop. Adding the drop to the cliff resulted in 4 of them taking bad falls, with wounds to the abdomen, legs, head, and back. Col. DD calls the helos and explains that we have wounded and that that they will attempt a pickup at this clearing. At this point, one of the Sappers calls out 1 minute to detonation, and we go to the edge of the cliff to watch. The lab goes up with such a sonic boom that it echoes off surrounding cliffs and we hear it 3 times. The explosion also catches the surrounding cliffs and sets about 5 acres of jungle ablaze. These explosions continue for the next 10 minutes as surrounding chemical caches catch and ignite. Probably a million dollars in FARC assets alone, not to mention the cocaine.
Here comes the Huey to pick up the wounded. We head for cover in case this Helo crashes here on this mountain top at 10000 feet. A Helo blade flying at my delicate body going 500mph is not an experience I need today. The Gods of War are with us, and the wind allows the pickup. Col. DD then states that we will be the next round of evacuees. Anxious to take advantage of the dying winds, the Helos make several quick pickups, and we are all out. At this altitude the Helos almost thrown themselves off the cliff in a freefall to then catch the air. With our weight and altitude, we are operating on the ragged edge of their capacity.
           An hour Helo ride back to base over the Green Hell and we’re home. 
           “Looks like another perfect day. I love LA.”


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