That day the patrol had already been out for a nerve wracking thirty six hours. Each one of the twelve man team had spent a better part of that time squatting or lying down under cover; eyes skinned, with AKs within arm's reach, watching, waiting for the something, anything. The sun, seen through the trees was up in the sky and the cold of the night had been replaced by neck- itching day and an irritating buzz of mango flies near their facial orifices. They had had no luck and everyone knew that a continued vigil would mean nothing but wasted time, time that could be utilized for a bit of shut-eye or for washing clothes. The patrol leader decided that it was not only pointless but also asking for trouble, after all even bad guys got lucky sometimes. The time was already nine in the morning and he felt that if they started now and kept a good pace back to their operating base, they could be back for lunch. Running a hand over his unshaved chin, he gave himself two minutes to reconsider the thought process and was able to convince himself of it altruistic origins and tactical appropriateness.
His mind made up, he turned to his head to the right he gave a low hiss, aimed in the direction of his senior NCO, just a smudge on the forest floor, who had been listening with his ear tuned, waiting for just that signal. He knew his officer well, to be the kind who would not follow orders just because they were given, but the kind who could suitable modify them to suit the situation and meet his requirements, as long as he could justify the change to his own conscience, and to his CO. He turned his head towards the officer to receive his instructions. Not that it was necessary. In a jungle of relative calm, any sound, particularly a human hiss, is bound to reach more than a pair of ears simultaneously. The other men of the patrol heard it, and considering the present situation knew what it implied and welcomed the expected change in plans. After having survived for fifteen to eighteen months or more in an environment which gave no quarter for even an hour, each man knew precisely what the sound meant. For them it spoke, "Ok, that’s it. No more buggering ourselves out here, I have a better idea, let’s head home. Get up slowly, without too much noise and for God's sake, make your weapons safe before budging. Your numbed hands wouldn't know the difference between the trigger and your shoe lace. I don’t want you guys letting off one into your buddy's ass. Move!" Still they waited, knowing well that assumptions were the mother of all fracases. Torsos lifted half off the ground, heads turned and eyes moved in their sockets, looking towards the officer and NCO, seeing the hand signalling "Lets move it.”
One by one the men got up, picking up their weapons, silently stretching their limbs, looking about and bringing their brains to a heightened level of sensory awareness. Twigs snapped underfoot, leaves crackled and sighs became audible. The creak of bullet proof jackets and the ripping sound of Velcros being readjusted signalled preparations for a move. The scouts approached the patrol leader with questioning eyes, half knowing the destination but requiring confirmation.
"Route back for the post, careful, eyes peeled, ok?" Knowing nods to each other, they knew it. These two men were used to being slightly superior to the others, except the Machine Gunner, their butt- saver. After all, they had accepted the chances that in the event of a contact, at least one of them was sure to catch a piece of copper jacketed lead. Both of them knew that their lives and that of the others behind them depended on their keenness and experience in leading the patrol. Hefting their rifles, they looked back to see if the entire group was ready to move. The officer looked back, made eye contact with the last man and saw the slight nod; he turned to the scouts with the go ahead.