An Elite Athlete. By Tom Demerly.
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
coworkers, 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 Tigris River.
Saddam Hussein is inside, seven floors below, three floors below ground
level, attending a crisis meeting.
Mike's coworker 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
coworkers (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, and then he can go for
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
coworkers. 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
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
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.
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 mph The MH-53J Pave Low III is piloted by another athlete,
also a triathlete, named Jim, from Fort Campbell, Kentucky. He is flying to
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
infrared 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 infrared 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.