During the first year of the War on Terror, a group of four women missionaries asked me to accompany them as security on a mission trip into Algeria’s Sahara Desert. I was speaking at Oklahoma State University-Tulsa when they approached me. They had apparently checked and learned I was a former Green Beret soldier, ex-cop, pro-kickboxer, and a combat journalist stringing for a number of publications. In other words, I had kicked around in the world’s war zones for years.
Of course, I accepted.
The mission entailed delivering relief and school supplies to a remote Saharawi refugee camp near Tindouf. The Saharawi people had fled Spanish-occupied West Africa when Morocco invaded. Now, under the auspices of the UN, these nomadic-like people occupied “temporary” settlements in the desert, each a cluster of primitive baked-mud hovels on the sand full of goats, camels, kids and sand fleas.
The “governor” of the Saharawi was a squinty-eyed man in desert robes whom I distrusted, but my missionaries were at his mercy. As first night fell over the desert settlement, the women were assigned a hut with a door that actually locked. They retired for the night, exhausted after the long flight from the U.S. to Barcelona, to Algiers, to Tindouf, and then by Land Rover across the desert to the camp.
I saw them to bed. A one-armed man named Zorgon, with whom I soon became close friends, advised me that he suspected terrorists had infiltrated the camps from time to time to kidnap women and foreigners to hold for hostage. Of course, I didn’t tell the missionaries that.
My quarters was a one-room mud hut near where the missionaries slept. I hunkered in the night shadows outside and watched for suspicious movement.
Finally, I entered my hut and spread my bedding near the open door where I could keep an eye on things.
The hut must have been a way-stop for itinerant travelers. Movement disturbed me as the shadows of an Arab, preceded by the stink of camel, entered. Alert for danger, I kept careful tabs on him as he bedded in a corner of the room.
Soon, another stranger entered. I watched him too.
Then another, and another, until we were all crammed inside the room almost head to toe. They slept. I watched most of the night, working out a defensive plan in my head to protect my missionaries. . .
The African sun was a long time coming up.
The drama series SIX, based on SEAL Team Six counterterrorist missions, is currently showing on the History Channel on Wednesday evenings. Watch the series and read the novelizations accompanying it. SIX: Blood Brothers by Charles W. Sasser is now available most everywhere that books are sold. The second of the series, SIX: Retribution, will soon be available.