Tuesday, February 23, 2010
Never having been in the military, I had no idea how much crap you are responsible for in the way of uniforms, boots, manuals, gear, and stuff that would never realistically be used. By fourteen hundred hours, I had more duffel bags of stuff than any soldier, or anyone in charge of soldiers, ought. Dress uniform (as if there should be an opportunity to wear one) fully equipped with nameplate, colonel’s birds, uncomfortable dress cap. At least the utilities were comfortable, the winter gear seemingly well made, the boots comfortable. I’d never seen digital camouflage in whites, grays and black. I hoped never to see red on any of it.
The surprises were the twin .45 caliber side arms, complete with small Picatinny rails and suppressors. All built around a relatively familiar frame, this one the Colt XSE. And of course the M-16C. I could not get over how light the weapon was, similar to the feeling the first time I picked up an unloaded Glock, versus my 1911. Unreal. Same mag as the standard M-16, which is where the real weight was for the ground troops, hogging all that around, using it a bit at a time.
One of Camp Overbeck’s master armorers walked me through both weapons, as well as general familiarization with many others that we might encounter in the field. I think I surprised him by being able to field strip a half-dozen of the Communist-bloc weapons without instruction, reassemble them, and in the case of the SKS, point out the fact that a spring-loaded firing pin and a recoil buffer would help improve the weapon, especially the firing pin using American-made ammunition. The soft Western primers behave differently than the ‘hard’ Russian primers. It’d be embarrassing for two or three rounds to go off at once with the American made stuff. The spring-loaded pin helped prevent that.
With twenty minutes in the hundred-yard indoor firing range on the assigned weapons, all rounds from the California were in the black, but three of sixteen from the Colt were outside the black or on the edge. If I had time to practice, I might again shoot as well as I did at twenty-two, I thought. ‘Never mind the fact that your eyesight sucks,’ I said to myself.
“Pretty good shooting for a…a newly minted officer,” Chief Warrant Officer Tim Vanhoff commented. “Generally speaking, officers can’t hit the paper, let alone the black.”
“Thanks, Mr. Vanhoff. That rifle is amazing,” I said, ignoring his stumbling for words as I placed the weapon on the cleaning bench. “I haven’t had to qualify on anything in, well, let’s say a long-ass time.”
“You’re not Army trained though. You’ve got some idiosyncrasies in your stance, your form, and your targeting. Too late to make you unlearn it though. It seems to work for you.”
“Let’s just say my training was more, freelance in nature. My form’s a little rusty because I can’t quite move like I did when I was a kid. I’ve been driving a desk for too long.” I didn’t mention the fact that my ribs hurt like heck.
“You’ll do OK with this outfit. God-willing, you won’t have to see much action.”
“Thanks for the instruction. I’d love to spend another week on these,” I said as I put one of the range-room’s Colts, and the empty magazines, on the cleaning bench.
“So, level with me if you would sir, where’d you pick up your background on firearms? That Glock in there, you stripped like you’d been doing it all your life. And the AK, and SKS…”
“Frederick County, Maryland.”
“D.I.A.” Vanhoff said, referring to the Defense Intelligence Agency.
“Yeah, just after the last Ice Age.”
“I didn’t really take you for a spook,” he said, before adding, “sir.”
“I was quite young. I had a very short tenure. I got the Hell out. End of story. And, I never considered myself a ‘spook’, either.”
“Well, a lot of that training stayed with you. It’ll serve you well, Colonel.”
“Thanks, I suppose. Frankly, I’d hoped all that was long-forgotten. And I’ll never feel that I’ve earned that title.”
“Not your choice in getting it, sir. Therefore no point in fussin’ over it. Anything else you need, see me before you ship out.”
“Will do. Thanks, Mr. Vanhoff.”
“Oh, and sir? If you have a chance, pass on my compliments to Annika and Randy Thompson. I’ve got their fifth B.A.R. off the line. I understand you’re neighbors.”
“True enough. My original was handy for them in modeling up the trigger assembly on the computer, so they could re-engineer it.” I then remembered talking with Kevin Miller about the shoot-off between Army, Air Force and Marines, using the first six Brownings. “Were you one of the shoot-off competitors?”
“Guilty as charged, sir.”
“I assume you’ve fired a stock B.A.R. before?”
“Yes, sir. One that saw service in Vietnam. Heavy bastard.”
“So are the new and improved models that much better?”
“Unbelievable. It’s my new favorite classically engineered weapon.”
“Colonel?” I heard from behind me. “You have a call from Walla Walla holding,” one of the office secretaries said.
“Be right there,” I said as I shook his hand. “Tim, you’re a Renaissance man.”
“I just appreciate great engineering.”
“And you probably treat January twenty-third as a holiday,” I said with a grin.
“John Moses Browning’s birthday ought to be a holiday, sir.”
“Can’t argue with that,” I said as I headed toward the door. The secretary, whose name I had yet to memorize, was waiting, a little impatiently.
“Sir, I apologize—it’s not a phone call. It’s actually a teleconference that’s scheduled to start in less than five minutes. Most of your senior staff will be attending, either here or in Walla Walla. Sorry for the short notice.”
“No problem. Lisa, right?”
“Do you have that list of my command staff? I think I left mine in the office,” I said, entering the large conference room where I was promptly saluted by two young enlisted men. I returned it, somewhat awkwardly and added “As you were,” as if I knew what I was doing. I felt like a bad actor.
“It’s in your folder. Your staff should be here any minute. You’re missing your S2 and S6, medical and chaplain. Everyone else should be here,” Lisa said as she ushered me into the room,
I struggled for a minute to remember what the S6 officer did, finally gave up and looked it up in my briefing folder. ‘Communications.’ S2 of course was intelligence.
About a minute later, the room was full, and I rose to meet many of my new staff, informally.
“Please excuse my lack of military protocol. Until this morning I was a chicken rancher, storekeeper, and jack of few trades.”
“Sir, that goes for about a third of your senior staff, up until a month ago or so,” my executive officer, Lieutenant Colonel Jim Schaefer said. “As far as my own career, I left the army after the Gulf War. Didn’t look back until six months ago.”
“I know we only have a minute before this starts, but I’d appreciate your keeping me on the straight and narrow.”
“Sir, we’re ready,” one of the enlisted men announced.
“Seats, everyone. Here it comes,” I said, not knowing of course what ‘it’ might be. The screen was filled with the Pacific Northwest Command insignia, overlaying the ‘new’ United States flag. I thought for a moment, does one salute an officer on television?
“Afternoon, everyone. For those that do not know me, I’m Brigadier General Rodney Howard. This is a briefing across the entire command, regarding the attacks on the United States by S.A. forces,” the General began.
“As has been reported, both military and civilian populations were hit with a neurotoxin delivered through various means. Unmanned aerial vehicles. Manned aircraft, crashed into targets of opportunity. Car bombs. Bombs planted within structures, underground, or otherwise concealed. These weapons were coordinated largely without an extensive communications network therefore, they have been planned well in advance of the attack. We lost more than fifteen thousand civilians. We lost the entire Sixth Army—that alone was more than fifty thousand men. We’ve lost much in the way of airborne capability due to the deaths of more than ten thousand off duty pilots and mechanics, electronics technicians and weapons techs. Our airborne capability has been seriously affected.”
“Within the next few days, you will see a general call up of all former retired military personnel, regardless of age to fill the gaps and train new soldiers. You will also see dramatic clamp downs on movement of refugees—many of the attacks have been traced to transient movement through porous battle lines and those enemy mingled freely in civilian populations…..” I thought about that for a moment. We’d seen a significant inrush of refugees as the weather grew cold. Did we have that element among us?
“….were made using unmanned aerial vehicles, smaller than a single-engine plane in many cases; truck and car bombs in market areas; or in the case of Sixth Army, the weapons were concealed along a line within a thousand meters of the Army. The Sixth was manipulated by numerically insignificant S.A. forces to be where they were when they were attacked. What seemed like a dominating position for the Sixth Army turned out to be a massive trap. S.A. forces had evacuated the area to a safe distance, calculated to be thirty minutes downwind of the detonation points. The devices were also silent, according to sources who survived long enough to report. Think, compressed air, released in a high volume low pressure manner. It also came when most of the Sixth Army was down for the night.”
“Once Sixth Army was attacked, all units were put on alert. The problem of course was that no one knew what to be on alert for. Within six hours, the entire attack wave had been completed. As a note, we do not know if follow-on attacks are in the offing. There, at this point in time, is no way to know.”
“To our men in the field, there is not enough MOPP gear to go around. There is no warning for this airborne agent. No odor, no sensation, until lethal concentrations kill. No warning whatsoever. No antidote.”
“Elements of the Texas Guard are now on site at the location of the Sixth Army massacre, and will hold this position until reinforcements arrive in the next eight hours. Airborne elements from California, New Mexico, Arizona, Alabama and Georgia are in transit at this time to reinforce the line. The One Seventieth and One Seventy Second brigades will be in place in twenty four hours. Pacific Northwest Command will deploy front line and support personnel in the effort to secure the line and reinforce the front line troops. Two brigades of the Forty First Division will deploy within thirty-six hours. The Fighting First Washington under command of Colonel Todd Hauser. Third Washington Engineers under command of Colonel Richard Drummond. First Washington will deploy in support of the One Seventy Second’s mechanized battalions. Third Washington in support of the One Seventy Second’s combat engineering battalion and other units as needed and as available.”
“Gentlemen, what I am about to tell you will not sit well. Word will filter out in the media, but the brutality of the S.A. attacks is by no means contained to military forces or civilians far behind the lines. The S.A. is taking no prisoners. The S. A. is executing civilians. They are putting them in buildings and burning them alive. They are doing this to men, women and children. Their tactics are to terrorize, to utterly shock their opponents into submission. Anyone who does not comply immediately will either be summarily executed or shipped off to slave labor. Satellite intelligence show mass graves.” The general fell silent for a moment, and took a drink of water before continuing.
“This is what you are up against. You are now being passed more detailed briefing packets on your assignments. I wish you Godspeed in your persecution of justice. That is all. Good day.”
With that, the screen switched back to the flag, and then fell to black. Sealed packets were passed out to everyone at the table. Before we opened them, I decided to address the officers and men in the room.
“Ladies and gentlemen, as I said earlier, until this morning I was a civilian. My most recent employer was Spokane County, where I served as County Administrator. I’ve not served in the military. I have had some government service, quite a while back. I appreciate the confidence that Governor Hall puts in me by honoring me with this commission. I would ask you to indulge my civilian manners as I learn the ropes here. I will do my best to make sure I don’t do anything stupid and get us all killed.” That at least, brought a couple of snickers.
“Now, on to business. We’ve all seen some evil at work over the past year. I think that what we just heard tops it all. How we react to this as a nation will help define us for many decades to come. I might sound like I’m some politician on a stump speech. I’m not. I’m as far removed from that as I can get. My gut reaction is that these bastards need to die, and that I want to help them along that end. I know that we’re a support brigade. I know that we’re not supposed to be on the line. I also know that plans are perfect until you implement them. I want everyone in the outfit fully armed just like a combat brigade. This brigade needs to be ready for whatever shit storm comes our way. Questions,” I stated, not asking. None came, but there were a number of glances exchanged. “Very well,” I said as I stood, picking up my packet as the staff rose to attention. “I want everyone back in here at sixteen-hundred, up to speed on these orders, and no, I haven’t read them,” I said as I slapped the packet down on the table. “And readiness, staffing, and schedule for departure. Dismissed.”
In a few moments, the room was empty. “Private,” I asked of a young man just outside the door, “Can you find me my office?”
That made him smile. “This way, sir. It’s just this side of Communications.”
“Thanks. Work to do.”
“Yes, sir. There is at that.”
The Communications room was a darkened maze of computer servers, monitors, and perhaps thirty personnel working on a myriad of problems. The room had been carved out of the massive warehouse, with framed in, heavily insulated walls, ceiling, and fat bundles of network cabling behind the racks of computers. I was pretty impressed.
My office was an eight-by-eight square, one high window on the inside wall facing the open cube farm populated by Camp Overbeck’s command staff, desk empty except for my initial briefing packet. My hastily dumped gear bags resided in the two non-matching side chairs. Before I dug into the file in any depth, I thought I’d give Karen a phone call. I actually remembered the last time I called her at home: Friday afternoon, January thirteenth. I always called to let her know when I was leaving the office for the day. I called the new cell number that Elaine had given me.
“Well good afternoon,” I said, pleased to hear her voice.
“How’s it going?” she asked. “I miss you.”
“You most,” I said. “Going OK so far. I have another meeting to get into in a little while, and some paperwork to go through first.”
“You home for dinner tonight?”
“Should be. Probably around eighteen hundred before I get free though.”
“We’ll be ready. Pork sausage and rice.”
“That’ll make me hungry if I think about it long enough. Everything going OK?”
“Weird without you, that’s all.”
“Yeah, I’m in a Twilight Zone episode of my own.”
“And nothing you can talk about.”
“That’s OK. I probably don’t want to know.”
I thought a moment before answering, which was enough of an answer for her.
“Thought as much. Back to your paperwork. Dinner will be ready. And Alan has a nice bottle of wine for us too.”
“Good for him. See you in awhile.”
We finished up with our customary ‘love yous’ and I set about to reading.
The trains that Third Washington would take would be pulled by militarized versions of General Electric-built Burlington Northern locomotives. Militarized, in the form of armor being installed over exposed radiators and hydraulics, with provisions for ballistic glass installed in the cabs, along with shuttered windows. On the railcar immediately behind each engine, an Abrams tank would reside, fully crewed. Once the ‘command’ units, supplies, tanks and bunkhouses were offloaded, the locomotives and empty flats would move back west, be reloaded with the rest of the Brigade and gear, and meet up with the first shipment on the ground. Fifteen hundred men per load.
Our soldiers would ride in lighter armored converted shipping containers. Pre-War, several companies specialized in converting shipping containers into transportable office or disaster relief units, with wide ranging options in their design and construction. Some of the units were set up as strictly ‘transport’ units, with rudimentary seating arranged for maximum capacity with limited passenger comfort. Most were set up as triple-deck bunkhouses. We’d have a couple ‘office’ units, two command and communication units, a pair of medical/surgical suites, laundries, bathroom and shower units, power generation units, two pharmacies, and a substantial amount of supplies, far more than our brigade would need, it was hoped. The occupied units would be stacked on half-height supply cars, cut down from full-height cars. The half-height cars would contain most of our provisions, including fuel, water, food, ammunition and supplemental weapons, and relief supplies. Resupply trains would follow along behind us in theory, carrying more men and gear for ‘the War Effort.’
We’d be second in, after a Marine Expeditionary unit secured the Sixth Army battlefield.
DEPARTURE: 11/23 0700 hrs. depart Spokane for points east. Transit time estimated at four days to destination, Sterling, Colorado. Upon arrival, set up temporary HQ for retrieval operations. Second train containing remainder of Third Washington will arrive within four hours. 249th Engineering Battalion, Company B, ‘Prime Power’ will be on station within twenty-four hours of arrival. Third Brigade will assist in retrieval of KIA, support of Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), and restoration of utilities to Sterling. Further movement east will follow line units in similar duty.
“So much for Thanksgiving dinner,” I said to myself.