At 8 a.m. Andrew reported to the captain’s office, along with Hitu, as instructed the previous evening, for a final briefing.
They would head out together, each leaving one team of one sergeant and eight men behind for emergencies and to look after the camp, and taking the rest of their companies with them. Once they reached the border, they’d turn east and west and start to look for trails leading back into the country. Once found, they could map them by sending a small team down them, while setting up the surveillance equipment that would tell them if that particular track was being used. Once at the border they’d also need to listen out for the helicopters which would be sent. It was important to know for sure how far they could take the troops without being heard by anyone using the trail. This would determine landing and ambush sites.
The mission seems easy enough, and Andrew left in high spirits, leaving behind one of the inexperienced teams under the command of Sergeant Johanssen. He didn’t think he’d need the experience the new team had to offer, but he had placed them mainly under the control of Sergeant Flynn, so this was a good opportunity for him to get to know them a bit better. Not being billeted with them, he’d see them a bit less than the team he was billeted with, and already knew from their weeks of training.
They marched up the trail towards the border, and made good time. The route was narrow, so they had to travel in single file, but would probably have done this anyway. It was good practice of what they’d been taught, and having someone on point at the front, and keeping a check on the rear, made a lot of sense. They weren’t expecting trouble, but if it came they should be ready for it.
Andrew was mildly surprised at how clear the trail itself was. No doubt it had been made many many years earlier, and constant use kept it relatively free of the encroaching undergrowth and vines. He was careful to avoid touching these wherever possible, and had ordered his men to do likewise. It wasn’t likely, certainly was hoped, that the ‘ bad guys’ wouldn’t make it this far, but he wanted to leave as little evidence of their passing as possible.
A few hours march brought them to the border, according to the GPS readings that Hitu had taken, and he left Hitu to set up the first of the monitors that would tell them when the trail was being used and took his company west, to find more trails to plot.
Progress now was much slower. There was no trail to follow, as no one usually needed to be heading across the terrain, using the route instead to get access to the villages and towns that ran along the road that more or less echoed the man-made border. Many of these habitations would actually be closer to the villages and farms on the other side of the border than their own, so much of the traffic would be ‘legal’. Man-made borders would mean little to people keen to trade their excess food for other harder to obtain goods such as clothing, metal tools, and the like.
He tried hard not to make too much of a trail, for the same reasons as earlier, preferring instead to take the usually longer routes around particularly thick patches of jungle. Sometimes of course this just wasn’t possible, or would involve too much of a detour, so inevitably their machetes had to be used to cut through that particular patch. This made progress still slower, as well as quickly blunting the sharp edges they’d started out with.
They hadn’t yet found another trail when he decided to stop for the night. The jungle was less dense here, and it would soon be getting dark. He didn’t let the men build fires to give away their position to anyone watching from afar who might see the smoke, but didn’t object to their lighting cigarettes. He, himself, was longing for one, not having risked lighting up while they had been marching. Their dinner was necessarily cold again, and he was a bit disappointed to find that he had chosen the same ham and vegetable salad as he’d had before. The light was fading now, and he hadn’t read the contents stamped on the lids properly. There had been no need to set up tents – there probably wasn’t room here anyway. The nights were relatively warm and the surrounding jungle meant there was no breeze to lower the temperature. Nevertheless, it became a bit chilly once the sun had disappeared and he appreciated the warmth his sleeping bag provided as he snuggled up inside it. His pack didn’t make a particularly comfortable pillow, but better this than having yet another thing to carry around, on top of all the equipment. He was quite lucky in this respect. Being an officer, he didn’t have much to lug around, except his own personal items – food, camping equipment, and the like. His men also had to contend with the radios, medical packs, monitoring equipment they needed to take along, and of course their rifles and machine guns.
The sounds of snoring coming from the various mounds that surrounded him told him that carrying all of this gear had taken its toll. The occasional glow of a cigarette told him that the men he’d set to take the first watch were still active though. Hardly surprising, as this would be their first watch on their first proper mission. They were no doubt keen to impress their new sergeant major as well as their sergeant and lieutenant. The couple of hours they had to serve, before being relieved by the next batch, would soon pass, and they had it easier than those men following them, who would have to cope with only having a couple of hours sleep before having to be awake and alert again, then trying to get back to sleep.
The sounds of the surrounding jungle seemed louder than during the day. Maybe they were just magnified by the darkness. Maybe sound had replaced vision for these nocturnal creatures?
He had read somewhere, or heard, that people thought of frogs making the same ‘reddit’ noise the world over, because the Hollywood sound guys had recorded the local Californian frogs and used this for the backgrounds of all of the films needing that kind of track. He certainly couldn’t hear that particular noise here. The squawks and grunts were all very unfamiliar to him, and would probably be quite disturbing if he was one of those people who were afraid of the dark. It was a fear he’d never really had, even as a child, feeling instead as his parents had told him that there was nothing there that was not also there with the lights on. He fell asleep with these thoughts still rattling around his head.