Their squadron was finally going home.
Air Force Lieutenant Josh Logan watched his fellow crewmen begin assembling, climbing into their one-man cockpits as he stepped into his own. After the bombs had been dropped on Kobani, each flight team had returned to the isolated air field serving as temporary headquarters for their hand-picked elite unit. They were in a protected zone, and the Iraqi government had sanctioned the U.S. occupation of the former air base.
“Begin to assemble flight team one,” blasted out through the intercom set up near the run-down control tower. Slightly smaller than usual, the twelve-bomber squadron had been divided into three flight teams for this special mission. Each bomber would be departing from the field in fifteen-minute intervals. Now that their primary mission had been completed, pilots from another squadron would be arriving later in the day to take their place.
“Flight team two be ready,” Captain Jason Matthews called out to his other men.
Manned by Hawk Benton, Team One’s first F-22 Raptor made it down the runway safely and was easing along the short-ragged strip in preparation for take-off before disaster struck. Gunfire echoed suddenly through the air, and the insurgents seemed to be attacking the base from all directions.
Listening through headphones, Zach sat waiting in his cockpit, watching several members of base security rushing across the field as, one by one, they contained each of the five offenders before they could reach the runway. It all happened so fast. In less than five minutes three men were killed and two were taken into custody, although not without a fight.
And then chaos ensued. Fire erupted from Hawk Benton’s bomber that had been ready to depart, and moments later, after hearing another explosion, Zach realized he’d apparently been hit by gunfire as well.
“Hold back! That’s an order,” Captain Matthews roared, as Zach noticed other team members moving away from their planes, everyone ready to jump into action.
Captain Matthews must have decided it was too dangerous of a situation, Zach figured. The last thing they needed right now were more casualties after losing Hawk Benton, the pilot of the raptor that had just blown up.
Airman Luke Bryant, who’d been next in line after Zach to depart, obviously had been unable to hear Captain Matthews’ orders, because after climbing out of his raptor’s cockpit, he was working frantically to open Josh’s cockpit door.
The fire seemed to spread in a heartbeat. As Josh’s bomber became caught up in flames, Captain Matthews came rushing across the airfield while Josh kept attempting to escape from the cockpit.
But the temperature inside the plane was becoming scalding hot, and when the instrument panel failed to work, probably due to the heat, Josh pounded at the door, trying to get the jammed controls to respond.
“It’s the heat,” Luke shouted, continuing to pry at the door with a crowbar one of the mechanics had brought over in his hand.
As Captain Matthews arrived at the scene, Zach heard Luke screaming, “It’s screwing up the instrument panel, and Zach’s stuck inside.”
Excerpt from Two Hearts Unspoken Targets by Tamara Ferguson
Included in Do No Harm
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