Monday, May 2, 2011

One less shadow to be chased

Today stands as a victory for the thousands of men and women, both civilian and military, who worked seven-day weeks and 18 hour shifts in places not likely to be found on any map. Their job was to ultimately tell us where bin Laden was. But their job was also to tell us where he wasn't.

It was more often their role to choke off the adrenaline pump, to stand back and to stand down when a flag proved false. To say no. Not today. Not this time. Not on this watch.

This is the covert culture of the special operations underworld, a place where the grind of the machinery goes unheard and unheralded. In this place, success is frequently paced off in negatives proven, shadows chased and young lives not needlessly spent. This is not him. He is not here. Abort. Repeat. Abort.

We have been told bin Laden's death was brought about by a small team of operators. CIA, SOCOM, JSOC. SEALs. They were the heroes at the tip of the alphabet spear.

Within the next few weeks we can expect a short notice presidential trip to publicly rally the troops back home. Maybe Langley or Pope or McDill or Offutt. Amid the bands playing, the crowds cheering and the flags waving, the Leader of the Free World will quietly slip to the side.

His absence will go unnoticed. The private gathering will be brief. A few words of thanks and praise for those whose names and faces are strictly Need to Know, an elite few who destroyed a national bogeyman and gave new life to a presidency. One shot to the back of the head. One less shadow to be chased.

In a remote Forward Operating Base east of Kandahar another anonymous face will sort through the electronic clutter comprising the day's traffic. The chatter this morning will be about bands and generals and Air Force One. Mission accomplished. Again.

But there will be no medals here today. No commendations. Just dust, sand, heat and war. There are shadows to be chased.