by MAJ J.A. Lyons
This first appeared in The Havok Journal on March 10, 2020.
He lay prone on his back looking skyward with collapsing tunnel vision; his pulse was weakening as multiple types of United States rotary-wing aircraft were converging on the rising green smoke encircling him. In the orange and pink twilight of the morning sunrise he squinted his eyes trying to make out the exact type of aircraft were hovering around him. While looking skyward he noticed it was a United States Marine Corps Osprey, Marines began rappelling off the back ramp down toward the ground where he was laying. He deliberately squeezed open his eyes, paused and noticed that his breathing was shallow, and rapid, he closed and opened his eyes again to witness a little bird touching down immediately toward his feet about 50 feet away.
As it touched down he watched as large bearded men stepped off their exterior-mounted seats in Operational Camouflage Pattern (OCP) uniforms and crash helmets not wearing regulation foot gear. Thank god the Army had beat the Marines touching down first onto the objective, he didn’t think he could bare hearing about how Marines were first to provide him support for the rest of his life from his devil dog buddies, as the tunnel of his vision collapsed and he stopped breathing.
Four hours earlier….
It was dark, the room was cool, cement walls surrounded him in a very dorm-like single room, United States Air Force living all the way he thought groggily, and very nice compared to the standard canvas Army tents or trailer barracks he was conditioned to over 18 years of service, “The Advisor” the younger Soldiers and Airmen had taken to calling him. Even surrounded by concrete on the first floor of two stories he was awakened to the unfamiliar sound of the “INCOMING, INCOMING, INCOMING!” rocket attack alarm at this base.
The base at location 594 located near Qatar’s capital of Doha, had irregular base alarm testing and nearly no formal drills prior to recent Iranian attacks in Iraq. Above ground, bunkers were few and far between if at all on the sandy arid base. One was far more likely to duck behind a bus stop or a stack of bottled water warming in the sun, than find any actual defensive positions with overhead cover or with any horizontal protection of flak from the sides.
An alarm at this time of night was odd, he thought, slowly putting on his uniform and grabbing at his helmet and armor that he kept next to his bed. Multiple deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan had trained him to be a light sleeper ready to respond at a moment’s notice, but also made him complacent in a place like 594, so far from any kinetic fight. This was at least until the summer of 2019.
Iran had withdrawn from its side of the nuclear deal emplaced under the Obama administration in May of 2019. In the following weeks, Iran executed a flawless competition phase plan consisting of tactical attacks on maritime ships in the Gulf, proxy raids, and ambushes from Yemen with its special operations Quds forces, cruise missiles, and UAS attacks from Iran on oil refineries inside of Saudi Arabia. All this completed while never crossing the United States threshold for outright conflict. Iran dialed back its competition phase warfare plan at the September 2019’ United Nations week, suing for peace while showcasing to its people that Iran’s Regime was as strong as ever and not to be trifled with as a regional power. This successful test had emboldened their leaders to take a calculated risk.
Summer turned to fall, fall to winter. The hardline sanctions imposed by the United States President remained in place against Iran’s central bank and United States deployments to the region continued to provide high altitude air defense assets in support of Saudi Arabia. After months of the Regime’s financial backers feeling the vice of the sanctions, criminal gang leaders and families began to exert influence over the President, the Shah, and key surviving IRGC commanders. Iran’s conglomerate of religious theocracy backed by criminal activity whose hands were both in the military and the criminal oligarchy that backed a majority of the Regime’s power was finally ready to make a move. Military leaders were persuaded to make another regional show of force against a soft target inflicting just enough damage to be considered a threat and attempt to draw the United States negotiators back to the table to relieve the economic sanctions in place.
The advisor approached the door to the outside world taking in a scene of bedlam he didn’t comprehend at first through its glass. It was something out of the 1980’s movie Red Dawn. Low tech BMP’s were rolling down the streets, the sky was black with smoke covering the night’s stars. Across a dirt and rock court yard a BMP with a 30mm autocannon sat aimed at the top of the dorm building perpendicular to his own dorm housing. It began unloading shells into it… this was the senior officer and NCO billeting. No later had he opened the door than a concussive blast blew him out of the building and onto his face, cutting and tearing it open. As he lifted his head, he realized he was looking up at multiple BMPs now converging to a stop, leveling the housing barracks surrounding him across multiple blocks of the central housing area. There were a few personnel who were as fast as the advisor, running out of their buildings and escaping on foot in multiple directions, but unfortunately a majority of the bases sleeping personnel were being buried in the rubble of their own buildings.
Adrenaline surged, before he even had time to form another thought, one knee was underneath him, his legs extended and he was in a full sprint in his armor, ducking behind a three-foot tall stack of bottled water, “Thank god a resupply had be dropped by the local contractors the day before” he thought as he used it for concealment. Air Base 594 was in flames and chaos ensued. Personnel who had been fast enough out of the bed scattered in multiple directions. This luckily confused the BMP mounted enemy who focused on leveling buildings at the heart of the base housing district. The running unarmed Soldiers and Airmen weren’t a threat and didn’t distract the BMPs from their task. An uptick in small arms fire could be heard in the slight distance toward the flight line of the air base.
The advisor thought to himself “dismounts are inside the wire, the base was overrun”. Still in a mental fog and shock from a midnight wake up and the noise of cannon fire and unending alarms, United States personnel were running head first into mounted and dismounted troops, who seemed to be mowing them down upon their identification. The advisor waited for a BMP to pass by and ran behind it, slightly under its gun line avoiding observation by being close enough to touch the side of the vehicle. He circled behind it toward the rear of the base clinic, which oddly hadn’t been shelled as of yet. Cannon and small arms fire continued and as he hid behind the clinic. After a few minutes he recognized movement within.
He knocked on what was a patient’s bedroom window of the one-floor brick clinic. Nearly simultaneously an emergency exit opened near him and a Security Force Airman popped his M4 through the gap screaming “Hands Up!” The advisor froze in place, turned around and said “FRIENDLY!” The Airman lowered his rifle and said “get in here quick”. Once inside the small clinic, the Airman began a quick situation report (SITREP), this discipline spoke to his training that in the midst of the chaos he was able to quickly provide an update of the situation within the clinic.
“Sir, you are the highest ranking officer, minus the Doc”, a Lieutenant Colonel medical specialist. “We will default to your tactical commands. We have six ambulatory patients, two staff, and myself who happened to be on patrol near the clinic when the attack happened. One rifle with a standard load of 210, 5.56 rounds and an M9 pistol with three magazines of nine mil.” He had an Ultra High frequency (UHF) handheld radio on his kit. The advisor asked, “Has any reporting come across your net? I was asleep with most of the base when this happened, it looks like the Russian horde came through the fences.” The Airman then laid out to the best of his knowledge the sequence of events of the complex attack as he understood them.
The Airman assumed the Iranian’s were behind the attack both directly and indirectly, based on their rhetoric and recent reporting threat streams he had been privy to up until tonight. The Airman took a breath and then laid it all out. The attack had been nearly simultaneous across communications, the gates, and the crashing UAS, creating an overwhelming effect on the base’s defenses. Complacency over the past 18 years of the Global War on Terror hadn’t stressed the 594 air base system or the bases coalition stationed partner’s response in the way it was hit. Multiple cruise missiles or Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) had struck key nodes across the base all at once, the central hub for command and control of air assets the combined air operations center (CAOC), the flight line, Fuel point, Ammunition supply point (ASP) only to name a few, which could be confirmed by the thick black smoke spiraling out of those points.
At the same time, the Air Force Security Force guard force communications network became over saturated with reports of explosions from all gates that led onto the base. Garbage, sewage, and fuel trucks all normal sights at the gates at night had been turned into Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Devices (VBIED). These enormous and simultaneous explosions had reduced the contracted guard force on the perimeters to nothing and opened multiple breaches in the outer cordon of the base. Following immediately behind the explosions a mad max convoy of old Russian BMPs, stolen military, and police vehicles, and regular vehicles upgraded with weapons converted into a technical type attack vehicles spewed into the breaches.
Once the CAOC was bombarded and communication had been disrupted both internally and externally, the base was a sitting duck. The infiltrators were a mix of Quds force advisor trainers who had conducted recruitment and training in Qatar. These small groups had become sleeper cells in and around Doha. They entered the base and divided it into two isolating the operational side from the personnel housing side. They had known that because of some arbitrary policy with the partner nation government, the Americans individual weapons and vehicles were separate from where a majority of their forces slept.
By attacking in the middle of the night and dividing the base, it made those not on the night hours skeleton shift duty sitting ducks and easy targets without weapons. The infiltrating ground forces simply overwhelmed the inner cordons lightly armed guards with their light armor BMPs and 30mm cannons and then had freedom of maneuver to encircle the personnel housing area and begin the systematic slaughter taking place right now.
The other side of the base was another story, with access to weapons and some vehicles, the on-duty Pilots, Marines, and Soldiers were conducting a defense in place as best as able, having converged together on the flight line close to the weapons issue point. The problem remained that the main means of calling for assistance digitally had been destroyed in the first few seconds of the battle. Fortunately before burning to death or being crushed by debris someone had the wherewithal to hit the base alarm and awake as many personnel as possible giving some a fighting chance.
Inside the clinic the advisor knew it was only a matter of time before the infiltrators cordon would begin to constrict to consolidate its gains. He figured the attacking force had left the clinic standing because the patients were low risk and could be taken alive and later used as hostages if required, or whisked away to regional VEOs to later be displayed on their knees to be beheaded. He knew he had a short time to get them out. The advisor’s instincts took over, He ordered the Airman to arm the Doc with his pistol, the two armed Air Force personnel would use the final few moments of the BMPs diverted the attention of leveling buildings to the southwest, to make a run for the wire. When outside of the wire, he instructed them to take the patients due east toward the lightning sky and the ocean. Once the group hit the first highway they were instructed to then head due north parallel of the highway toward Doha. If they could steal a car, do it, even better to get them to the city faster. He told them to lookout for a phone line along the highway if found to notify the United States diplomatic mission, the local police, and military and to not trust anyone until they were with other Americans or with the police.
The advisor’s intent was clear and it was a feasible plan, there were highways toward the east between them and the ocean that the group of patients may be able to find assistance, it wasn’t much but it was a plan and gave them a means to escape with a purpose in mind. To enable the getaway, the advisor was going to run in the other direction toward the center of base making as much noise as possible and trying to hold up at the Base Recreation Area (BRA) an outdoor tent and bar at the center of the personnel living area. “As soon as I take off, wait sixty seconds and make a break for it”, he ordered the team. The advisor darted out, and gave the signal to the airmen.
He saw a firetruck sitting canted on the street. Looking like it had not been damaged just moved by someone to act as a blocking instrument. The advisor climbed into the rig. He looked at all the buttons, and flipped on the siren. He had always wanted to drive one of these he thought. He started it up, the rig rumbled to life and he pulled it forward. First heading toward the sound of the most intense BMP fire, and then pointing toward the middle of base slowly until he straightened it out and floored it. If anyone was out there on foot or mounted, they would definitely notice the base’s fire truck streaking through the front areas of the barracks and not on the street.
The small arms fire had died off on the operational side of the base, sitting up high in the fire truck the advisor could now take in the sheer chaos of the scene before him. Black smoke surrounded all areas like walls around the base. Even in the early morning hours the thick smoke made the bases bright street lighting systems seem like distant stars and a night’s sky. He pulled the firetruck past a cement barrier and stopped it smack in the middle of the cement open area pad of the base recreational area. He dismounted the fire truck and quickly made his way on foot to the small outdoor bar where he had purchased drinks just two nights before.
Dying in a bar he thought as he kicked in a plywood door… very apt for a man who lived most of his career one. He immediately turned around and tried to brace the kicked in the door from the inside. Looking at movable objects on the inside of the small room, he managed to prop up a short refrigerator to act as a small reinforcing block; its weight would pass an initial inspection. Passersby may think the door locked if pushed, but if someone noticed the cracked wood at the lock, he would need to be prepared to defend himself. Luckily he had an idea.
A dismounted infiltrator held his rifle at the low ready as he had been taught by his Iranian Quds force instructor at a camp north of the air base. He considered himself a loyal Shia Muslim and patriot trying to usurp a government friendly to the west and. When recruited at his local mosque three years before, he had no issue in assisting. First, it was small requests that were asked of him. He had gotten a job supporting a company that had a contract on base. Because of his unique access he was asked to observe things; guard positions, traffic patterns, and surge hours at the base dining facility. Over the last year he had been requested to collect uniforms from boxes that were sitting around the base and smuggle them out in trash bags. Oddly, no one seemed to notice him at all. He would simply drive up in his work pickup truck, complete with his contractor uniform with his badge on, empty out a container of strange gray, white and almost blue digital camouflage uniforms and load them in a trash sack. He made multiple deliveries of his cargo back to his mosque weekly.
Then a significant week came that evolved his role from supporter to the executor. He was made aware that a cell of folks from his mosque and many others across the region were being asked to assist in destroying the air base with the support of Iranian Quds forces. He agreed and along with around 300 others arrived to a desolate camp. That was almost a year ago now. All of that work before and since culminating in this glorious attack. The loyal base guards were being slaughtered, and the Americans were caught asleep, just as the Quds force commander had planned. He volunteered to be a dismount, starting at the gates and shooting anything not on his side until he reached the designated rally point at the center of the base. He was outfitted in one of the very uniforms he helped to pilfer off the base. Scratchy and uncomfortable he thought as the weight of the rifle caused him to switch hands from right to left.
He had approached the centrally located cement pad on the housing side of the base. He noticed the base fire truck… sitting oddly out of place in the middle of nothing. It was this area where the Americans and British regularly made fools of themselves and proved that they needed to die, drinking to excess and dressing in all forms, worshipping their sports and TV programs. The fire trucks siren wasn’t on, but the headlights and its red and white emergency flashers were spinning on top. The pulsing light making the cement pad and bar look like one of the dance parties he had observed several times over the last few years. He was familiar with that sight from counting the attendees consolidated in a major area to report back to his handlers at the mosque.
As he looked around he noticed the outdoor bar’s door slightly ajar, he yelled out in Arabic and then in English, “if anyone is here, come out and no further harm will come to you”. He waited, nothing, not a sound. He made his announcement again, still nothing. He stepped forward, rifle suppressor slightly breaching through the crack and then pushed the door but met resistance about seven inches open, yet dark inside.
That was when he heard a small metal on metal noise from the dark, a small spark of fire became a ball of fire and suddenly he was entirely engulfed… not only engulfed but smelled of the dirty liquor drinks the Americans had engorged themselves on daily. He screamed once with no noise. He found himself reaching for his radio at his belt and simultaneously falling to his knees to roll on the pad in an attempt to put himself out. Minus the sensation of his hair and skin crackling, his knees touching the ground was the last thing he felt.
The advisor had made a Molotov cocktail out of the Bacardi 151 he paid six dollars a shot for on his Friday evenings off. He slugged one back. He found a lighter under the bar, and hid in its darkest corner, eyes on the door. He gave himself the angle to both light and throw his fire bomb before someone could turn the corner of the door to fire at him. His trap had worked, and a single infiltrator pushed in at the door, announcing his intent to enter and while fumbling with the weight of the blocking refrigerator, he had caught a face full of exploding rum.
As the infiltrator fell to his knees the advisor emerged quickly and kicked him as hard as possible in the head, immediately knocking him out and leaving him unconscious face down to burn. The smell was terrible, and the advisor noticed a UHF radio, still attached to a belt at the back of a burning United States Army UCP (Universal Camouflage Pattern) uniform.
UCP was an outdated pattern the Army foolishly selected years before during the GWOT and it was thankfully retired in October of 2019. As the body burned the veteran stripped him as fast as possible of anything useful. He gathered the infiltrators magazines of ammunition and stuffed them in his cargo pocket, and relieved the corpse of a green smoke grenade also still on his belt. Finally, the advisor picked up the rifle the infiltrator had dropped when kicked into unconsciousness. “Now I have a machine gun, ho-ho-ho” the advisor said out loud, quoting one of his favorite Christmas movies, Die Hard.
The advisor assumed that as soon as the CAOC went dark, the United States and partner military forces would begin establishing a response. Local partner forces most likely encircling the base with its police and military first to isolate the infiltrators concurrently while the Americans would be establishing an air mobile response from its various contingents in the Gulf. Those forces would be a few hours away if launched immediately when the attack started and he just wasn’t aware if a call for help had gone out. If this was an isolated attack and other US bases in the region were facing the same hell that he and his compatriots were, hours might be days and unless he could also find a way to run off base, survival wasn’t likely.
He brought out the UHF radio, slightly charred and smelling of burnt hair and flesh and began broadcasting on the emergency network he remembered from his time working with special operations in the area. An American voice came through, Air base 594 this is Gulf 22, what is the situation on the ground over? The smoke is too dense to tell. “Call me Able 26”, the advisor replied.
The advisor clearly and concisely laid out the situation to the pilot overhead and identified all known observed threats as the platform continued circling above. Apparently at the first strike on the air base, the pilot and crew of an AC 130 had been on the flight line having just refueled and coming off a mission preparing to head back up. Recognizing the incoming fire the pilot was able to rally his crew and the flight line support to get him and the aircraft back into the air.
Unfortunately, he had a sky view for all the carnage taking place below him and was trying to make his presence known to any survivors to give them hope. The aircraft could see dozens of targets but couldn’t recognize friend or foe in such tight quarters. The advisor began requesting close air support attacks on the armored personnel carriers he could see, and pointing out which heat signatures based on their location were friendly. He identified the group of signatures heading due east outside the inner cordon were friendly. The advisor made his way to a large pile of rubble that used to be a base library. He laid out a plan to use the AC 130 pilot in the air to relay targets to inbound aerial reinforcements, but in mid-sentence, a request came in.
“Able 26, this is Gulf 22, inbound rotary and attack wing request that you make your position known to de-conflict fires and request assistance in identifying an HLZ to land some immediate ground reinforcements.” Sigh… “Roger that’s a good copy” he replied. The morning dawn was about to break and the initial black haze of smoke was clearing with a slight ocean-bound breeze. I wonder if the Doc and the Airmen were able to get those patients to some kind of safety, outside of the pilot in the air, and whomever had put up a fight at the CAOC, he hadn’t seen or heard from an American for hours.
“Advise inbounds HLZ will be identified with colored smoke, will announce color upon request at arrival. HLZ will be 1500 meters to my current southwest identified with a basketball court to the east, base Chapple to the south, over.” “Roger, sit tight Able 26, close air support is coming in hot, after the first wave, make your way to the HLZ.” “That’s a roger Gulf 22… also tell my rotary wing shooters coming in that these ass clowns didn’t know the Army retired the UCP uniform, they thought they had camouflaged themselves to look like troops on the base, these idiots must have stockpiled old uniforms to blend in, tangos are all wearing UCP. Over” “Acknowledged, ass clowns are in the old UCP Army uniform Able 26”. That brought a slight smirk to his face.
He lay flat and motionless in the pile of rumble using it as concealment. The first gun runs came in, and he heard the fire and concussion of American firepower tearing apart metal and flesh. The first runs lasted around five minutes. As soon as they culminated he heard from the radio, “Now, Able 26!” he stood up from his position and ran toward the empty sand lot that had generally acted as overflow parking for non- tactical vehicles for events at the recreational area. He pulled the smoke grenade from his belt and prepared to throw it, just as he went to cock back he was thrown in the air.
A surviving BMP gunner had him dead to rights, but had simply missed short. The miss still blew out his hearing and the shock wave hit him so hard picking him up and then smashing him down into the ground that his nose immediately bled, his vision started to darken, he rolled onto his back, ears leaking fluid and not able to hear anything, he pulled up the hand held radio, “Smoke is popped, green is color”. He dropped his arms to the ground flat, just as the BMP that had shot at him exploded in a ball of flame, one last secondary explosion finished the work the close air support had started silencing its gunner before another round was fired.
The sun began to rise, and the smoke began to curl overhead. Helicopters were so close to being right above him. Even bleeding and unable to move, straining to keep his eyes open and conscious until aid could treat him, he thought to himself “How did it all come to this? Will this surprise and complex attack mean anything strategically to our leaders? Why hadn’t the base been more prepared? Why hadn’t this type of attack on such a forward base ever been considered?” It didn’t matter now, on an Air base in a foreign country lying flat in a sandy secondary parking lot he felt his life leaking out of him.
The concussion of the missed shot had most likely caused internal bleeding that he knew he was incapable of stopping himself. “This We’ll Defend” he thought, as he looked skyward and noticed the first wave of reinforcements arriving. He had made it this far with the help of the Airmen and Marines around him, but he was a Soldier and competition ran deep, even when deaf and dying.
He lay prone on his back looking skyward with collapsing tunnel vision; his pulse was weakening as multiple types of United States rotary-wing aircraft were converging on the rising green smoke encircling him. In the orange and pink twilight of the morning sunrise, he squinted his eyes trying to make out the exact type of aircraft that was hovering around him. While looking skyward he noticed it was a United States Marine Corps Osprey, Marines began rappelling off the back ramp down toward the ground where he was laying.
He deliberately squeezed open his eyes, paused, and noticed that his breathing was shallow and rapid, he closed and opened his eyes again to witness a little bird touching down immediately toward his feet about 50 feet away. As it touched down he watched as large bearded men stepped off their exterior-mounted seats in Operational Camouflage Pattern (OCP) uniforms and crash helmets not wearing regulation foot gear. Thank God the Army had beat the Marines touching down first onto the objective, he didn’t think he could bear hearing about how Marines were first to provide him support for the rest of his life from his Devil Dog buddies, as the tunnel of his vision collapsed and he stopped breathing.
Major Joshua A. Lyons is a graduate of Indiana University Class of 06’ where he was commissioned as a United States Army Air Defense Officer. He holds a Master’s in Military Operational Arts and Science from the United States Air Force Air Command Staff College. He serves as the Active Defense Chief at the Army Air Missile Defense Command level within the Combined Air Operations Center.
He additionally served a three year tour as an Operational Advisor with the U.S. Army Asymmetric Warfare Group as a Troop Commander and the Group S-3. His other works include Defining Cross-Domain Maneuver for the 21st Century, the U.S. Army Travel Awareness Handbook and multiple articles within the Small Arms Review and the Asymmetric Warfare Journal.