A true story adapted from an interview Ali Berkie gave recently to a media outlet.
Some 40 years back… things were not pleasing across the country. Rival political parties were fighting one another to grab central power. Secessionist groups in the north and the Somali invading force in the east were fighting against the central government… The then provisional military government had to issue a national call so that every citizen could stand vigilant against enemies… The young Ali Berkie who was born and raised in Assosa area, western part of the country, responded to the national call by being registered voluntarily.
At first a military officer rejected Ali telling him that he was too young to be recruited as a soldier. He was fifteen then. Ali was known in his home village for his bravery on hunting wild animals. He used to kill a buffalo or antelope with a single shot. He took time before he shot. When the animal fell into his aim, he pulled the trigger and hit the poor animal through the head. He was successful in his hunting sport for years. The then district official convinced the military officer that the young man was a sharpshooter and fit for the military service… It was after that Ali was taken with his friends to the famous Tatek military training centre, which was located near Addis Ababa. After months of basic military training, he was given a brand-new AK 47 with three magazines full of bullets numbering about 90.
Days after, a division in which Ali belongs to was transported to Hararghe. Once on duty station, the soldiers were ready waiting for the last command to be given by their leader, a young lieutenant. Then, they were ordered to take positions, dig trenches and respond to the firing coming from the invading force. Though many of the soldiers in his subdivision shot, Ali did not fire a single bullet. He was rather impressed why his partners were firing sporadically without they got the enemy soldier within their sight.
Later at night the commander made a check-up of his soldiers. His unit was taken to a nearby camouflaged fortress where a close inspection was made. All members of the subdivision lined up and were counted. Then every one of them was asked to report in particular the number of kollos (roasted grain as coded for bullet) they had used including the remaining ones kept in their magazines… When it was Ali’s turn, the lieutenant raised his voice as usual and said, “private Ali Berkie!”
“Yes, sir!” Ali stood at attention.
“Say your quick report on your line of duty…!”
“Yes, sir! … Everything is going on well… regarding kollo … None eaten up! Ninety pieces are still in, sir!”
“What?!” the lieutenant glared at Ali.
“No enemy was in my sight, sir! … I want to kill my enemy with a single go… Sir!”
“I can’t believe that, man! … Are you saying you did not give them a single kollo while they were showering us with theirs?” the lieutenant was full of rage.
“No, sir! … No single kollo I did give them the whole day, sir!” Ali, who was on alert, responded loudly.
During the other regular inspection, the next day, Ali reported similarly. He did not fire a single bullet. “None shot out, sir! …Ninety are still kept in magazine, sir!”
“Can you please tell us why, comrade Ali Berkie?” asked the lieutenant.
“I detected no enemy soldier in my sight, sir! … No enemy in my vision, sir!”
The third day Ali announced similar report to his commander who was still very surprised at the time… There was a long silence. Then the lieutenant was determined to do something to check Ali. He got closer to Ali and said, “Young man, I order you to take a firing position by my side tomorrow. Understand?”
“Yes, sir! …Firing position by the side of the commander on the morrow, sir!”
“That’s what I need!”
The next day the two glued their bosom against the earth with the barrel of their guns towards the direction of the invading enemies. Their fatigues and helmets were camouflaged with the surrounding area, which was bombarded by artilleries and cannon fired from afar. Jet fighters were also ploughing the sky with their deafening sounds… A Somali machine gunner who took position behind a boulder did not allow the Ethiopian soldiers to raise their heads and march ahead… The machine gun was popping nonstop like a popcorn being roasted. Terrrr! …. Terrrr… Ta ta ta ta ta …Terrrr! Then suddenly, the gunner peeped out raising his helmet-covered head. Ali nudged the lieutenant and whispered by pointing to the Somali soldier, “sir, please, can you see the machine-gunner scanning over us… Look at him! …Please don’t shoot at him… Leave that man for me. I can take care of him.” Ali took aim and clicked the trigger of his AK-47. The Somali machine gunner was shot through the forehead. Ali calls this kind of hitting, “piercing through the forehead”. Immediately another Somali partner sat on the dead soldier’s body and held the machinegun. Ali winked at his commander pleading to give him another chance. Minutes later the new gunner raised his head which was saluted instantly by Ali’s shot… another “piercing through the head”. Now the simmering mouth of the machinegun has been silenced. Mission accomplished! …Late in the evening… the commander stood as usual before the lined-up soldiers.
“Private Ali Berkie! … Say your report!”
Ali Berkie stood at attention and saluted. “Yes, sir! Two shots! I had two ‘piercing through the head’… right on the forehead, sir! …two shots against two machine gunners and 88 kept in magazines, sir!”
The commander of the division clapped with broad smile in his face. Others roared saying, “Hurrah! …Hurrah!”
The other day Ali was given a command to clamp down three tanks that were sluggishly moving into the commanding areas of the Ethiopian soldiers. He carried several hand grenades and made snake-moving towards the rolling tanks. His partners were watching him. Then he squatted and made a dangerous move. All including the commander stopped breathing. They did not believe what they were watching. Was that Ali or his ghost? They saw him jumping on a tank from its rear side and opened the lid at the top… Then, he dropped a grenade inside. Black smoke was seen gushing out of the tank… In the same way, Ali Berkie destroyed two more tanks that were moving into the fortress.
Commanders of the enemy soldiers were Ali’s target. He knows they are accompanied by entourage and communication aides who carry radios with long antennas. Wherever there is that antenna, there is a commander around. Then after, quite simple for Ali… “Piercing through the forehead”. He hunted and shot many commanders in this way.
Ali likes tej (local mead). Many of his friends extend invitation of beer to him. But tej is his preference. One day he was given two days off duty and went to a renowned tej bet in Harar. The owner of the tej bet, a lady, was very happy to have the war hero, Ali as a customer. She clapped and called attention of all the other customers and said, “…this is a privilege for me to have an Ethiopian hero as a guest in our midst here in my tej bet. I haven’t got the chance to be a war hero like him. But I am very lucky to host this Ethiopian hero, Ali Berkie. This is a special occasion for me and you all Ethiopians. …I want to celebrate this event by allowing you all to take whatever you like for free. Enjoy drinking as much tej as you like on behalf of our hero, Ali Berkie!” The hero received a standing ovation from the customers of that big tej bet…
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