Oct. 21st, 2011

You know the drill. Start writing without knowing where I'm going. Write at least 1000 words and look for an exit. Repeat until done.

It is four AM in northern Italy. The sky is dark and the city of Milano is still asleep. I'm still mostly asleep myself. But there's a lot of activity on the American airbase where we're stationed. Also, the unit I'm embedded with never sleeps. I drink coffee and rub the sleep out of my eyes. This is no time for snoozing. It's Go time.

We are moving out. A mission has come down from somewhere on high. The Green Berets are completely unsuitable for this kind of action. The Navy Seals are too weak, probably doing things like eating and breathing and sleeping at unreasonable hours of the morning. Only one branch of the armed forces has the skills, training and personnel applicable to the task at hand. That branch does not exist.

It's going to be a six-man strike force. I make the seventh. The Chiefs are totally fine with a relatively green reporter riding along during fairly extreme missions. I've flown with military units of all sorts, and most of them display an extreme reluctance to expose civilians to danger. The Chiefs are completely opposite in this regard. They want me to come along. I have come to believe that this is because they want me to get killed. The Chiefs would find this amusing.

Delano is already in the chopper warming it up. Apart from the rotors spinning above me, there's no way to tell the craft is on, let alone occupied. The thing is black, slick and angular, makes absolutely no noise, and has no lights on. I'm not certain it even has any lights.

Teddy and the rest emerge from the hangar with their kits. Teddy is burly with massive arms and shoulders, a bodybuilder's physique completely at odds with his thick wire-frame glasses. Teddy takes my coffee cup away and drops the butt of his cigar into it.

"Don't want to drink too much of that, boyo," he warns. "Can't have you needing to pee mid-flight. Might jeopardize the mission." He grins, slaps me on the shoulder and hands me back my coffee.

I throw the cup on the tarmac and wait my turn, boarding the chopper behind the other Chiefs. Easy for Teddy to talk about peeing. Teddy peed his last almost a hundred years ago, a decade after leaving office as President of the United States.

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