The Other Tent.
The morale on the Lafia Dole army command center was as high as the temperature inflicted by the Northern Nigeria scorching sun. The previous day had been a tremendous victory for the Nigerian Military. The well-known terrorist sect was using a village southeast of the base as a cover, knowing fully-well that the army will never be able to attack because of the possible casualties a siege could cause. This fact troubled members of my unit. Sending terrorists to their early grave was our job and at that time we couldn’t do our jobs. This made us very sad.
People like to call be Cap, short form for Captain. My men often assembled in small groups to have small talks and occasionally they’d look at me with some expression I can’t really describe.
The Platoon Sergeant finally came to me and spoke with his face down because he didn’t want to appear insubordinate.
“Cap, what are we going to do about these cowards using women and children as shield?” he paused for a few seconds and added “Sir!”.
I couldn’t give any response. I felt inadequate as a leader.
I realized it wasn’t going to hurt to try to talk to the base commander about this again. Getting to his tent, he was calmly smoking his cigar and gently having his scotch like always. I wondered how someone could find so much pleasure in smoking in the weather condition. Wondering why Colonel smoked in a very hot weather wasn’t what I was there do, I was there to tell sweet old Colonel my plan.
At the beginning of my explanation, he already knew where I was taking my speech and he interrupted me promptly
“Hey, Mister man”, you are not the only one concerned about these girls, we all are. I have direct orders from my superiors to stand down for as long as it takes and also as long as there are women and children being used as cover in that village. Just like I am religiously following the instruction of my commanding officer, you will obey mine too. Is that clear?”
“Yes, sir!” I replied putting up an act of a disciplined officer.
I had no intention of standing down. On my way back to my tent I continued talking to myself mocking and mimicking the Colonel
“Hey Mister man, weh yeh weh yeh… ”
Speaking like some toddler just learning to speak properly. Then I replied in my actual voice in response to Colonel calling me Mister man.
“It is not Mister, Colonel. It is Captain” I heard some footsteps, someone was approaching and I was silent, looked around, it wasn’t the colonel and I completed my discussion with myself
“and if you feel Captain is too long you can just call me Cap”
My men were waiting, hoping for some good news. I signaled at the two Sergeants. They gather their men and we met far away from the Colonel’s tent.
They assembled at once, fixing all their gazes on me. It was time to give one of those speeches I have rehearsed alone in my tent.
I began what was going to be the best speech of my life
“I know what they taught you at Depot and I remember what I learned in NDA too, but today is not about our training, today is about our conscience.
Can we really sit on our hands and wait while some people keep daughters and sisters away from their homes just because we were told to stay put?
I imagine having a daughter of mine someday and someone grabs her from her school, then keeps her in some known remote village while I lay awake every night uncertain about the welfare of my girl. There are a lot of parents, relatives and friends of these girls out there laying awake right now, unsure of the fate of their loved ones and here we are, staying put and standing down because we were told to do so.
I will never ask you to do anything that will bring you dishonour. On a day like this, it will be impossible for me to be a good soldier and also a good man at the same time. A good soldier will follow the instruction of his superiors. I am not asking you to be a soldier today; I am begging you to be a father, to be a brother, I am begging to be a man. Join me, let us get these girls back to their homes.
I will not judge you if you step aside because this is what a good soldier would do and believe me this country need a lot of good soldiers.
Today, you get to be just one, either a good man or a good soldier.”
There was no need to ask any questions, seeing their faces I knew these men were ready to send some terrorists to their makers that night.
I gave the final instruction
“We assemble at 03:45hrs gear up and be ready for combat. If anyone asks you any questions, tell them it is just a drill. Is that clear?”
“Yes sir!” The two platoon sergeant with a solid nod.
A good speech won’t bring the girls back home. I needed a plan, not just a plan but a very good plan. A plan that will get my men back at the base in one piece and the girls safely to their homes.
Less than a kilometer away from us, an Airforce Intelligence Unit was stationed to support the army troops with communications and surveillance. I had previously volunteered to fill in for a sick system analyst in the system communications and security unit at the Airforce command center when the young soldier had to be sent home when he was suspected to have a very contagious flu.
I made a lot of friends in the Airforce Comm. Unit and also doubled and while I was filling in for the Systems Analyst, I also doubled as a programmer.
For a few weeks, until the replacement came, I worked day and night with Airforce officers gathering intelligence both for the country and covertly for my team.
I had saved a few pictures from the surveillance feeds just to study the villages nearby. I pulled up these pictures. The abductors were often routinely not prepared for combat between 5:00hrs and 6:00hrs. They were always gathered at some sort of entrance to the village. We will have to go around them, divide the platoon into two. Alpha unit will go and find the girls and Bravo unit will engage the insurgents and prevent them from interfering with the rescue.
It was a simple and clean plan. In my experience, no mission ever goes as planned.
At the Airforce command, someone was my breath of fresh air in the midst of all the craziness. Flight Lieutenant Mary Omali, Drone Pilot. I called her to ask for her assistance by running ops for us from their base. She could do that in her tent alone, all she will need is a drone controller and a terminal to see the feeds captured by the drones.
I asked her how long that would take, she said she already did.
I was a bit puzzled “So, you have a mini command Operational Command Center in your room, Lieutenant?”
“We are the eyes in the sky baby and I always watch you. I saw you gather your men a few hours ago after speaking with the Colonel; I figured you grew some balls and you were going to need me.”
I was speechless and when I finally found my voice I said
“You are going to be my ears and eyes tonight then?”
She replied and I could tell she was smiling when she said
“No, Captain. I am going to be your guiding angel!”
Flight Lieutenant Mary Omali is one of the most brilliant ladies I have meant in my entire life, military or civilian. Believe me, I have met a lot of ladies. She wasn’t shallow, she was smart and beautiful. If I was normal, I would say I was in love.
04:00hrs Rendezvous location
If bravery had a smell, it smelled just like us. I relayed my plan to my team, everyone knew where to be and what to do. Going over the plans again because some of my men can be a little slow at times, we were distracted by the sound of a truck coming from our rear. I signaled for everyone to split into their units and take cover.
Emerging from the dust raised by the vehicle was Lieutenant Omali.
My men recognized her because she has been on our base more than a few times to see me. We would write some C codes in my tents for the drones and discuss a lot about trends in Computer Science and Programming. She often teased me about how often I couldn’t read most of her Assembly Language codes. That was all we did. Talk about computer science and coding. My men refused to believe that all I did was write computer codes for long hours alone with a pretty lady in my tent. I am not obliged to convince anyone what I do in the other tent.
My men stood up in one accord and saluted her as she approached, she saluted back told them to be at ease. The men continued giggling, I gave a scolding stare and they stopped at once.
I dragged her aside
“Jesus good Christ, what on God’s green earth are you doing here Lieutenant, you are supposed to provide support from your base. You shouldn’t be here”
She seemed to have a good response for me.
“And why shouldn’t I be here oh Mister?”
I knew this was going with all the sarcasm. So I told her like I have a thousand times
“First it is not Mister..”
She interrupted and continued my sentence in an attempt to sound like me
“…it is Captain and if that is too long you can call me Cap.”
We couldn’t resist but to laugh then.
She had a rifle with her, I knew if I had told her she is to support the men from the safety of her base because she is a lady. I’d probably get shot, so I kept my opinion to myself.
She is a very fast speaker. She started with a detailed explanation why she could be with us dressed for combat too and not staying in front of a computer to monitor movement in the villages and give us updates in real time.
“Remember that day I came with my laptop to your to your tent ?”
A nodded to confirm.
“and we wrote a script to automate the processes and tasks a drone pilot will have to do to keep drones in flight and at the same time maintain focus on subjects under surveillance”
She paused, waiting for me to confirm that I in fact remember. With some sort of grin on my face, I replied
“Oh, I remember that”
She hit me to whisk me out of my thoughts.
All we did that day wasn’t just code.
She handed to everyone a communication device and said
“With these little babies, we will all be able to hear ourselves try not to talk all at once so we can hear ourselves properly”
Everyone was in position before we could advance, Lieutenant Omali was alerted by a beep on her PDA and she saw a footage showing that the insurgents splitting into two groups for no reason at all. The other group decided to have their prayers at the far end of the village.
Mary suggested another plan.
Alpha Team (Lead by Flight Lieutenant Omali)
Went in to get the girls. Bravo and Delta Teams from cover from two opposite ends.
Bravo Team (Lead by Capt. Musa Adamu aka Cap)
Engaged the terrorist close to the front entrance of the village, cutting them off and allowing the Alpha team to safely evacuate the girls.
Delta Team (Lead by Staff Sergeant Olusola)
Attacked the terrorist at the back entrance preventing from interfering with the rescue.
At the end of the mission, most of the terrorists were shot and killed while others fled the village.
Everyone got out in one piece except for Lieutenant Omali, she used her body as a shield to prevent one the girls from getting shot. She was just twice.
The high morale and celebration at the base didn’t get to me, I am lost in my thoughts and I can’t clear the picture of Mary covered in blood in my head. It is as if the whole world is at a still.
She is in surgery; the medical staff at the base are trying to revive her. She’s lost a lot of blood. I lay awake wondering what is going to happen to my girl.
The room is becoming blurry because of the tears in my eyes. It’s been days.
Finally, the doctor came to my tent and said she is going to be fine, that I can go see her in the morning when she wakes. I went to stay at her bedside immediately. I waited for her to open her eyes like a watchman waits for the day.
When she did open her eyes, I felt like I was walking on water. I couldn’t hold back my ear-to-ear smiles and neither could I do anything my tears dropping from my eyes.
After been unconscious for days, I’d assumed she won’t have the time to still pick on me and all she did was to say
“Don’t cry, Mister”
Then and there I knew I was going to do anything humanly possible to spend the rest of my life with her.
I was scheduled for trial on the counts of disobeying my superior’s orders and also falsifying the order of a superior. I told the jury I had lied to my men and Lieutenant Omali telling them that I was acting on the instructions of the Colonel and the will of the president.
I emphasized that my men as far as they were concerned thought they were carrying out the instructions of the Base commander.
I was discharged from the army and stripped of my ranks.
My men and Lieutenant Omali were awarded medals of honour for gallant acts in combat.
She never called me Mister again, she calls me husband.