I, finally, got to the perfect position and I would be able to observe what was happening in the courtyard of the building where our target was being held prisoner. The rest of the SEAL team would arrive in about ten minutes to effect the rescue of our target. My name is Rick Steiger. I am a lieutenant in the United States Navy attached to SEAL Team 12.
My job was to observe and take any action necessary to insure that the rescue mission was successful. I was situated approximately eight hundred meters on a hillside above site. Unslinging the M170A sniper rifle from my shoulder I quickly removed the caps from the high powered scope and dialed in the ranges. As I completed the task I reflected on our mission. The target was John O'Hara, the president and CEO of O'Hara Construction. He had been kidnapped outside his hotel in Kandahar, Afghanistan. He was in the country overseeing the construction of a hospital dedicated to treating women and children in this war torn country.
Apparently, the Taliban insurgents who kidnapped him found this to be unacceptable to their vision of how women and children were to be treated. He was taken to a remote village and held prisoner, along with others who disagreed with them. Our job was to get him out safe and alive.
We had been flown in by Navy heloes and dropped in a landing zone some five kilometers from the village. I went ahead to the site that had been selected during the planning stage of the mission to observe and direct the remainder of the team in effecting the rescue. As I sighted in on the court yard, I wiped what I thought was sweat from my forehead. My hand came back covered in blood, my blood. God, I was tired and wanted to close my eyes and rest, but I knew I couldn't. Focus, Rick, focus, I told myself over and over.
Suddenly there was movement in the courtyard. A man emerged from the building and set up a tripod with a video camera attached. He held another camera in his hand. Two more men emerged with a third being half dragged into the center of the courtyard. The third man I recognized from our briefing photos. It was John O'Hara. With his hands bound behind his back he was forced to his knees. One of the men was holding a curved sword.
Shit! I knew what they were planning to do. Cut his head off and film it for propaganda purposes just like what happened to that Wall Street Journal reporter a couple of years ago. My team was still several minutes out from the rescue effort. I chambered a round and flipped the safety off my rifle.
As the guy with the sword raised it above his head for the killing blow I fired. Without waiting to see the results of my shot I sighted in on the second man. As he reached for the pistol on his waist, I fired again. The guy with the camera, who had been filming the entire episode, dropped to his knees and raised his hands above his head as the first of my SEAL Team members stormed into the courtyard. It would be several months before I would see the results of my shots. The video was focused on the sword wielder face when a small nickel
size hole appeared on his forehead at the same instant the back of his head exploded spewing brains, blood and bone fragments. The second shot was caught on the tripod mounted camera and showed the second man withdrawing his pistol from his belt as my round struck him sending the weapon and three of his fingers flying across the paving stones.
I closed my eyes and thought to myself that I would just rest for a few minutes before rejoining my team. That was the last thing I remembered.
Beep . . . Beep . . . Beep. I awoke to the sound of the machine monitoring my heart rate. Lying in a bed I became aware of my surroundings. A nurse, who had been adjusting the flow rate of one of the several I.V.s spoke to me.
"Welcome back to the land of the living lieutenant. Don't try to talk just yet. The doctor will be along shortly to remove that tube from your throat and answer all your questions."
I closed my eyes and drifted back to sleep. The next thing I knew I was being poked and prodded. Opening my eyes I saw several people standing around my bed. "OK, son. You had us all worried about you for awhile. I am Doctor Taylor and I think you are going to be all right."
He went on to tell me the extent of my injuries. A fractured skull, three broken ribs and multiple lacerations to my arms and legs. I had lost a lot of blood and only the quick action of my comrades saved my ass.
As I found out later two of my team mates found me and rushed me to the LZ, got me on the helo and I was flown to a field hospital where I was stabilized and then flown back to a carrier. From there I received further treatment and put aboard an evac jet. They told me the pilots put the pedal-to-the-metal and flew me at near mach 1.5 speeds to a military hospital in Germany. It was there that surgery was performed to relieve the pressure on my brain from the skull fracture. Then it was decided to keep me in a medically induced coma until the swelling in my brain went down. Ten days later I was flown back to the States and gradually brought out of the coma.
Once I regained consciousness my recovery proceeded rather quickly. During my de-briefing I was told how my injuries occurred. Based on the reports of the team members who found me there was evidence of a fierce hand-to-hand fight between me and five enemy combatants. One of them had clubbed me with the butt of his AK-47 assault rifle causing my skull fracture. Somehow I managed to eliminate all five before taking up my position and shooting the two guards who were about to kill John O'Hara.
About ten days after my transfer to Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland a nurse entered my room and announced. "You have some visitors. Shall I allow them in to see you?"
After securing my approval she left and soon returned with my two visitors. One I immediately recognized as John O'Hara. The second visitor was a very attractive woman with red hair who he introduced as his wife Carol.
"I am so very happy to see that you are on the road to recovery and I came to express my heartfelt thank you for what you did and the personal sacrifices you made in saving my life," he said gratefully.
His wife stepped over to my bed and grasping my face with both her hands bent down and kissed me on my forehead. With tears in her eyes she thanked me over and over for saving her husband. "I can't begin to express my gratitude to you for giving me back my husband. If there is anything, anything at all that you ever need or want do not hesitate to ask us."
There was a lot of emotion in that room just then. I know I had tears in my eyes as well as the the two of them.
For the next two hours we sat and visited. I found out that they had two daughters, one of which was married with two small children. Their younger daughter was studying to be a veterinarian at the University of Florida. They lived just a few miles from the school.
"Wow! What a small world. I went to UF as well." I said.
"I know" he replied softly. "Please don't be angry with me but I did some investigating about you. I know that your parents were both killed in automobile accident just before you got your commission and you have no living family. I, also, know you did very well in college and received degrees in civil engineering and architecture. You were number one in your class at BUDS and at SEAL training and the men under your command could not say enough great things about you."
As they got ready to leave, John asked me if they could visit with me again.
"Sure." I replied jokingly. "I am not going any where any time soon and I would really appreciate your company."
Grasping my hand, with both of his, he once again expressed his thanks and reiterated his wife's offer of assistance in anything I might need or want. Carol, once again, kissed me on my forehead as she left promising to return the next day.
Over the next several weeks not a day went by when I did not see John and Carol. I looked forward to these daily visits. They both did so much to lift my spirits and sped my recovery along.
In the middle of November my doctor walked into the room as I was visiting with John and Carol. They were ready to leave to allow me to consult with the doctor but I asked them to stay and listen to what he said.
Essentially, he told me I was ready to be discharged from the hospital but he was at a loss as to where I could go. Because of the seriousness of my head trauma I should not be driving and would need someone to check up on me from time-to-time. Other than that I was fully capable of looking after myself. The BOQ was ruled out as well as any rehab centers, as I did not require any physical therapy.
At that point Carol interrupted. "He will be coming home with us and will stay as long as necessary!" John was quick to echo her statement.
Looking at the doctor he said. "Just tell us when he'll be ready to go and I'll make all the necessary arrangements for transportation and anything else he may need."
Looking at me, he continued. "No arguments. Carol and I have already discussed this possibility and we are in complete agreement. You will come home with us."
Three days later I found myself on board a Gulfstream business jet flying from Washington D.C. to the Gainesville Regional Airport. My uniforms and what little civilian clothing I possessed had been packed and shipped the day before.
Upon arrival, the planed taxied to the north side of the field where the private planes were located and we were met by a Lincoln Navigator SUV. The driver, an older man, along with John, assisted me in exiting the plane and then over to the car. Forty-five minutes later we arrived at John and Carol's home. The house was situated on approximately ten acres overlooking Paynes Prairie, a sixteen thousand acre freshwater marshland.
John had already told me there was a two bedroom, fully furnished apartment just off the pool deck. He thought I would appreciate the privacy it would afford me for my stay. Even though it had a fully functioning kitchen, I would have all my meals with them in the main house.
"Come on let's get you settled in and then we can relax in the main house before dinner. I want to introduce you to my daughter, her husband and my grand children." He said getting out of the SUV.
It wasn't too long before I was comfortably seated in his library/office with a glass of fine single malt scotch in my hand.
"Rick, I would like you to meet Patricia and her husband Scott O'Brien. And these two little ladies are my granddaughters Catherine and Barbara." He said.
Both little girls were just adorable, hiding behind their mother and father, just barely peeking out at me. Dropping to one knee from my chair I asked, "and how old are you, Catherine?"
"I'm five," she replied.
"I'm Barbara and I'm three," the little one said holding up three fingers.
"What are all those pretty things on your coat" Catherine asked pointing to the ribbons and medals on my uniform jacket.
Oh.... they are something pretty to look at aren't they?" I replied and went on to explain what each of the campaign ribbons symbolized.
"Ohhhh. I like The heart ones. Did you get them for 'Valtine' Day?" She asked sweetly.
"No, honey" her daddy interrupted with a chuckle. "He didn't get them for Valentine's Day. Sometimes when men and women go to war they get hurt fighting bad guys. Those medals are called Purple Hearts, and they are very special."
"Wow! Were you shot? Can we see the bullet holes? Barbara excitedly asked.
"Not today sweetie. Maybe one day when you come over to swim in the pool and I'm in a bathing suit you can see them." I responded.
"What about the ones with stars?" Catherine asked me.
Again Scott answered his daughters. "This one is the Bronze Star and this one is the Silver Star. They are both awarded to someone who was very, very brave."
With the curiosity of the little girls somewhat satisfied, Carol ushered them from the room with promises of cookies waiting for them after dinner.
" I am so sorry for my daughter's questions." Patricia said apologizing to me.
"They didn't mean to embarrass you. They are just so curious."
"Please, no apology is necessary. I think your little girls are adorable and I wasn't embarrassed in the least. Besides how else will they learn if they didn't ask questions?" I replied.
Our conversation continued for for the next quarter hour or so. They wanted to know about my past and how I ended up in the SEALs. I told them about my time here at the University of Florida and that my commanding officer of the NROTC unit was a former SEAL and his influence on my decision.
At that point Carol announced that dinner would be ready in ten minutes and we should wash up and come into the dining room.
John looked at his watch and asked, "Where is Susan? She promised me she would be here for dinner."
"Oh, she called a few minutes ago. She is running a little late. Tyler was late picking her up after her last class," Carol answered.
The look on John's face told me he definitely was not happy with the news. I heard him muttering something about "that damn kid" but passed it off as something between father and daughter.
Just as we were sitting down to dinner, a younger version of Carol entered the room, expressing her apologies. She was a green-eyed, red head with just a sprinkling of freckles across her nose. She kissed her father and I could see she had him wrapped around her finger.
"I am so sorry daddy. Tyler was late picking me up and then we ran into all that horrible traffic leaving campus. Please forgive me, please," she asked sweetly.
At the mention of his name, my gaze left her and focused on him. He was shorter by about two inches and didn't appear to be as physically fit as me. He, also, had a annoyed look on his face as Susan interacted with her father and mother. It was if he wanted to be anyplace but here.
After introductions were made we sat down for dinner. Susan was bubbling and animated as she spoke with her family, especially her nieces. Of course, both of them had to tell their aunt all about my ribbons and medals. In talking about my two Purple Hearts, Barbara had to tell her that she couldn't wait to see my 'bullet holes'. Everyone had a good laugh about that. All except Tyler. I think he felt threatened by my presence for some reason.
After dinner we adjourned to the library and the children went upstairs to watch a Disney movie with their grandmother. I excused myself after ten or fifteen minutes to use the bathroom. As I returned I had to pass down through the hallway next to the living room.
Susan and Tyler were standing in there and I overheard him say "I don't care. I want him out of here. I don't like him staying in the same house with you."
"This is my father's home. I don't know why he invited Lieutenant Steiger to stay with us and I can't tell him who to invite or how long they may stay. If you don't like it. You tell him," she replied with an annoyed sound to her voice.
"You know I can't do that. He'd take my head clean off. Besides, I don't think he likes me that much," he responded angrily. "Come on let's go. I don't want to stay here a minute longer."
When I got back to the library, John informed me that Susan and Tyler had just left. "Something about a movie they wanted to see or something." He didn't sound too pleased about it but refrained from saying anything else.
The rest of the evening was spent in pleasant conservation about Scott's job with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE). He had some interesting stories to tell and I found him to be a really nice guy. Patricia worked part-time for her father and was a full time mom. About ten o'clock I excused myself as it had been a long day and I needed some sleep.
The next morning I left my bedroom and was surprised to see Susan sitting at the table of the apartment's small kitchen with a cup of coffee, a textbook and her notebook. She did not look happy. She looked up from her book and pasted a slight smile on her face.
"I guess daddy forgot to tell you that I use the other bedroom in the apartment. It is easier for me with my comings and goings and it affords me some peace and quiet to study," she explained.
It now became clear to me why Tyler was unhappy about my presence. But, that was his problem, not mine. "Ok. I'll try to stay out of your way as much as possible," I responded.
"I am sorry that I had to leave so early last night. But Tyler wanted to see a movie and last night was the last showing." She buried her nose in her textbook and said to help myself to some coffee on the counter top.
As I poured a cup of coffee I heard her talking softly to herself. "I just don't understand this. What am I going to do, what am I going to do?
I turned back from the counter and asked. "What are you studying?"
"Calculus II, and I am completely lost. I have put off taking this class for a couple of semesters and now I had no choice but to take it. It is the only thing keeping me from my degree and if I don't pass it I don't graduate. It's just so hard. Right now I am failing it big time." She said almost crying.
"Yeah. I know it's hard. I had to take it for my degree too. Maybe I can help you," I offered.
"Oh would you? I have a test tomorrow and I just have to pass it."
"Sure," I said pulling out a chair and sitting next to her.
For the next three hours I explained to her how to solve some of the problems in that chapter and showed her some tricks for deciding what she needed to do in order to pass the test. When we finished she told me she thought she finally understood what was going on.
I offered to continue helping her until the final exam if she wanted.
"Would you? Please. I really need the help." She said with a smile. "I've got to go. I promised Patricia I would go shopping with her and the girls this afternoon."
Later that day as John and I were talking he said to me. "It is hard not to be able to tell my kids and my friends why you are staying with us and what you did to save my life. Both Carol and I were sworn to keep it all secret until the Pentagon unclassified the operation."
"I know how disruptive my being here is for you and your family. Maybe I should find someplace......." I began.
"NO! Don't even think about it. You will do no such thing. I am so very proud of you and what you did that I want everybody to know all about it. You are more than just my guest you are my friend and you will have a place to stay until you have fully recovered or longer," he stated forcefully.
About that time Carol and her daughters and grand daughters entered the room. "Look what we got" the two little girls shouted at the same time.
The next day I got up early and started in working out. I started by alternately walking and jogging to regain my previous level of fitness. By the time I returned, Susan had left for school and her dreaded calculus test.
Later in the afternoon, after I had finished swimming laps in the pool, Susan rushed out on the pool deck shouting. "I passed it...I passed it. Thank you so much, Rick."
When she calmed down she told me that not only had she passed the test she got all the problems right. After class, her professor stopped her and asked her how she managed to go from not passing any of the previous tests to getting a perfect paper on this one. She told him that she had some help. He told her he would like to meet her helper.
Ten o'clock Wednesday morning, Susan drove me to the university campus to meet her calculus professor. After finding a space in the student commuter parking lot, we walked over to Little Hall where the Mathematics Department offices were located. Finding his office Susan walked to the reception secretary and asked to see Professor Paul Jaeger. I said nothing as we were admitted to his office and Susan informed him that she brought her tutor to see him.