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in 1999, I was contracted to install security equipment for a large American gas supplier in Aceh Province, Indonesia. Apparently, the GAM guerrillas, fighting to establish an Islamic state, were terrorizing the base camp.

A company of Indonesian marines provided armed security but the military simply attracted attacks. Two weeks before I arrived with my team, the guerrillas had shot dead four Indonesian soldiers near the perimeter fence. Tensions were high between the local Acehnese and the Indonesian military.

The Americans picked up my team and me in a private aircraft and we landed at a forward airfield. From there, we took off in two helicopters to the base camp. Instead of lifting off and nosing forward, the helicopters spiraled vertically, reached 10,000 feet before heading forth.

‘To avoid rifle fire from the trees,’ called out the pilot. Great! Thank you for telling us after we boarded!

Mike, the Security Manager, whom I knew from years earlier, briefed us. He went over the routine:

‘Sleep fully clothed with passport and wallets strapped around your waist. Socks on and shoes next to your bunks. The two helicopters will be manned 24 hours a day and ready to take off within seconds. If the GAM breaches security, the perimeter triggers will go off…dash for the helicopters…the crews will not wait for stragglers.’

My team and I were scheduled to spend 23 days in fun country.

Mike then took me on a tour of the perimeter fence and the spot where the four soldiers were killed. We looked down from a steep cliff. Through the thick cauliflower canopy of green, thin smoke tendrils curled lazily into the blue sky.

“Villages,” said Mike. He pointed out salient features of the landscape and all the while kept glancing at his watch. Then he said abruptly,

“Times up, let’s scoot!”

I skidded down the slope after him, wondering what the rush was.

“Two minutes, that’s all it takes for their lookouts to alert the guerillas.”

“Two minutes?” I panted after him, my hand reaching for my side arm in a futile gesture.

“Yes!” Mike replied as he pulled up at the bottom of the slope and I almost ran into him.

“Then the turkey shoot starts as anyone on that cliff made an inviting target. The four Indonesians who got killed, they took a smoke break, two and a half minutes.”

********** Copyright @ Eric Alagan, 2012 **********