Semper Fidelis: Force Recon
The lone trail leading to the
remote encampment in the hinterlands of Zamboanga del Sur is covered with thick early morning mist when elements of the Force
Recon 67 of the Philippine Marines Battalion Landing Team slowly snake their way into the heart of the rugged and thickly
The rain that was pouring heavily
the previous night has finally stopped but still visibility was pooralmost nil at two meters, all because of the fog aided
by the dense foliage of the sleepy jungle.
The Marines have been hiking
for hours now from their base some 12 kilometers from where they are now in search of the remnants of the dreaded Abu Sayyaf
bandits earlier encountered by a team from the Light Reaction Company of the Army Scout Rangers the other day.
If the intelligence report
is correct, they will catch the bandits before they could rendezvous with their comrades by boat en route to their hideout
on the Sakul group of islands off the coast of the Zamboanga Peninsula.
The men are tired, hungry and
exhausted by the long uphill climb but alert. You could see it in their eyes. They have been trained and waited for this chance
to fight the bandits in their own terrain. They have been raring to test their mettle against the Abu Sayyaf Group for weeks
now and they would not let this chance pass.
The lead scout, a dusky, battle-tested
sergeant, a veteran of countless Moro campaigns in Mindanao, with eyes as alert as ever and finger ready at the trigger of
his M16A rifle signals with his right hand for the team to halt and drop to the ground.
The normally alive forest becomes
eerily quite. The tension is mounting, the silence deafening. All one could hear were the sounds of their own breathing.
Then the quiet silence of the
early morning is broken by the sudden burst of automatic gunfire and explosions from rocket propelled grenades causing the
birds and other denizens of the forest to scurry and scamper into various directions. The staccato of the M-60 machine gun
and Recoilless rifle are unmistakable.
From the vantage point of Lt.
Salanga, he sees the point man felled by a hail of bullets from the bushes. The enemies are well entrenched and hidden by
the protective cover of the dense jungle. The Marines are outgunned and trapped in the kill-zone.
From their disadvantageous
position, the young lieutenant maneuvers his team into the safety of the giant trees away from the bandits line of fire.
They engage the Abu Sayyaf
in a ferocious battle. The exchange of fire lasts for another ten minutes. Then it stops. Then there is silence as the smell
of gunpowder permeates the dense air. The silence is cut by the sounds of the forest coming back to life again.
The marines slowly emerge from
their positions and quickly scan the vicinity for any signs of the enemy. But they are gonevanished into the deep recesses
of the jungle dragging and carrying with them their casualties. All that have been left of them are the bloodstains and empty
cartridges of various high-caliber firearms.
They recover their lone casualty.
His body will be shipped to the Philippine Marines headquarters in Manila and given military honors while the rest of his
comrades in arms will continue their mission and scour the hinterlands of Zamboanga del Sur for the enemies of the state.
When they took their oath as
Marines, they have sworn to uphold and defend the country from its enemies. Dying is a matter of honor for them and it is
a given. They are not afraid to tread on dangerous grounds in search of enemies. They live it.
The men of Force Recon 67 would
even the score two weeks later when they finally caught up the main group of the ASG near the shorelines of Zamboanga leaving
them in disarray. The final tally was eight ASG bandits killed and a lone Marine Corporal wounded.
The encounter will be recorded in
the rich annals of the Philippine Marines and will soon be forgotten by the people of Mindanao but will be forever etched
in the minds of the ones who were there.
#Bill Mitsuru T. Shimizu (December
*Published in the Literary Section of the Sunday
Times Magazine/ October 19, 2003 "We Strike and other soldier tales."