Sunday, February 28, 2010
I’d stopped at the first car with lights on, figuring it was the command car. I was wrong, of course, but only missed it by one car. Below the car number, One Oh One, was the cardboard label ‘primary command car’, taped on with duct tape. Good to know that someone else needed a map….
I shook off the snow and stomped my new boots free of the snow and ice, and stepped inside, tossing my gear bag in the first available chair.
“Good morning, Colonel,” our logistics officer, Major Gary Ryder said in greeting, rising from his desk and saluting smartly. I returned his salute. An un-natural thing, saluting. At least for me anyway.
“Major, good morning. Managed to find my way through the maze after all.” Gary was a former Reservist, now gone full-time. In ‘real life’, he’d been a lawyer, and ‘sharp’ didn’t begin to describe him.
“They’re making good time getting us put together. Our first train’s maybe half assembled, should be fueling tonight by twenty-two thirty. Heat in the occupied units kicks on tomorrow at oh five-thirty, departure at seven hundred.”
“Thought we were at six?”
“Yeah, gotta remember to factor that in. Major Morrissey in yet?”
“I think he’s in the secondary command car, sir. Car number Two Oh One.”
“Thanks. I’ll be back in a few.”
I headed to the rear of the train, walking along a plowed path, passing the dozens of cars that composed our train, looking for the right car.
Each command car would eventually be closer to the middle of the train, separated by eight or ten cars from the locomotives. I’d seen the floor plans for each type of car, along with its’ capacity and equipment compliment, along with the train’s defensive capability. Six cars in each train held the defensive capability unlike anything I’d ever heard of, let alone seen. Outwardly each was similar to the observation cars of years past, but these had ballistic glass in a few key places and a most impressive selection of weapons. Ports for individual battle rifles which were the lightest weapons available. Four M242 “Bushmaster” Chain Guns, pride of the old McDonnell Douglas, per car. Anti-tank guided missiles. Anti-aircraft missiles. It was a wonder there was any room for the weapons crews in the cars. The plans also included low-boy rail cars set up to handle tank transporting. Tanks would be manned during transit, and ready to fight should the need arise.
The command cars were set up with incredible communication and data suites, complete with encrypted land and satellite links, fully integrated links to armored units and individual ground commanders from squad-size on up. My ‘office’ was housed in the first of the two identical cars. The second unit was at the opposite end of the train for protective reasons. My second in command would be in that car, with command staff split between each. When we arrived at our destination, both cars would be linked together, and remain at whatever ‘post’ we landed at, until we were told to advance.
Morrissey was the Brigade’s personnel officer, who owed me the rest of the staffing plan for Third Washington. We were going out minus a deputy commanding officer, although Jim Schafer would serve there as well as in the XO position; no legal officer; a fair amount of third-tier command structure was in place, but ragged organization throughout the rest of the Brigade, at least according to the file I was provided the day before.
Four cars from the end of the assembled train, the secondary command car sat with a portable staircase running up to the middle of the unit. I saluted a Private guarding the unit. He looked younger than Carl.
Inside, I heard Morrissey rattling around the far end of the car. It was almost five degrees warmer inside the car, which would make it about forty.
“Major, good morning.”
“Morning, Colonel. Report’s on the desk there, to your left, sir.”
“Mind reading your specialty?”
“No, sir. Just knew this’d be the priority of the day.”
“You knew correctly. How’s it look?”
“Yes, an honest one.”
“Patchwork quilt would be generous. A full third of the men are under twenty years old, half of those just out of Accelerated Basic. All the sergeants though, have battle experience, most recent, down south. Junior officers, well, green as grass.”
“I can relate to that,” I said. “Numbers?”
“Total ready to deploy tomorrow should be twenty-nine fifty-five.”
“Better than I thought,” I said. “You’re regular Army, aren’t you, Major?” I couldn’t remember. I’d been reading too many files.
“Yes, sir. Served in Tenth Mountain Division, Fort Drum, deployed to Wardak Province Afghanistan. Eight months there before they pulled the plug. Two months in Mexico. Dinged up twice down there.”
“How’d you end up here, in Personnel of all places?”
“General Anderson figured you’d need somebody who knew what they were doing, to be a little blunt, sir.”
“Blunt is appreciated. And he’s right on,” I said. “Now let me be direct myself.”
“Yes, sir. No problem.”
“Can this Brigade defend itself? If called upon, can these men fight?”
“Accelerated Basic covers everything we used to do in Standard, but in six weeks. If anything, if they’ve made it this far, they’re maybe a little too focused. It’s been all they’ve been able to do for a month and change. After the initial shock of actual combat wears off, they’d do fine, sir. Everyone’s been trained in the new rifles, and the old ‘16’s will go to local armories or be used in reserve.”
“Our Guard Armory was stripped out long before we had a chance to really mobilize. We received the California’s right off.”
“Now that there are enough coming out of the factories, consider the unit lucky, sir. By One January, all front line units will have Californias, all older M-16’s will be reserve weapons only, Colonel. Probably, when this all ends, they’ll de-militarize them and sell them off.”
“Coming out of the civilian universe, what do you really think of our capability? Again, be direct.”
“Given the losses that the fighting forces of the United States have suffered in the past ten years, let alone the last ten months, I’d say in last year’s terms, it’s almost up to a three of five possible. Almost.”
“Fair enough. Now, if I remember correctly, your last assignment was opposing force analysis work.”
“Yes, sir,” he said as a courier entered, left some files, and left us. “Extensive experience. They’re meaner, more ruthless, more brutal than I could believe possible out of Americans. That’s the first thing that’ll surprise a newbie. They aren’t your brothers or cousins or whatever. Half a chance and they’ll slit your throat. They’re not badly armed, they’re not great tacticians. We bungle this we can lose. No recovery once you’ve got a boot on the neck and a barrel in your ear, sir.”
“That’s all I needed to hear,” I said as I stood, getting ready to get after the day’s work.
“And sir?” Major Morrissey asked, “Glad to have you. I hear you’re one tough nut.”
“Nut, maybe. Not exactly what I had planned for the year, but none of us is living the life we had planned. And who’s talking about me?” I said with no small amount of curiosity.
“A Ranger. A Lieutenant Colonel Amberson, sir.”
“The Colonel and I go back a ways,” I said. “Thanks, though. Oh nine hundred over at the assembly hall. See you there.”
“Yes, sir. See you then.”
Back outside, the snow had picked up, from flurries to downright heavy snow. One thing I had to give the military credit for, and was quite pleasantly surprised, was in the new grey/black/white digital camo winter gear. Warm, dry, and visually effective. I noted they’d changed the camo pattern to a ‘larger’ scale, based on some comments about the ‘green’ and ‘tan’ versions blending together at distance, eliminating the effect of the camouflage.
I was walking next to the train when I heard a horn behind me, sound twice. I turned to see a patched together crew cab truck slow, and the passenger window glide down. It looked like the pickup was composed of at least a half-dozen donors.
“Need a ride, Mac?” the driver asked.
“Much appreciated, thanks,” I said. “Just up to the other end,” I said as I got into the warm cab. I hadn’t realized how cold it was outside until the blast from multiple heaters hit me.
“No prob. Just going to pick up another crew for the outbound. This’n yours?”
“That’ll be our home for the foreseeable future, yeah.”
“You get back there and kick some ass. I got family down in Nebraska. What I heard from down there ain’t good.”
“Yeah. That’s a fact.”
“Name’s Bender. Frank Bender,” he said. He looked about sixty, maybe older. Deep lines in his face, close-cropped hair under a heavy cap.
“Rick Drummond. Nice to meet you, Mr. Bender.”
“Ain’t you the County guy? The one runnin’ Metro?”
“Not anymore,” I said.
“Well, you did a helluva job while you were. Put together a pretty good outfit. My day job is maintenance on the Lines,” he said, referring to the local train system that was cobbled together from scrap. “Be nice to have rail service permanent-like.”
“You guys did a pretty good job with what little you had to work with. Never ceases to amaze me when I see those trains running, and on time.”
“Lotta good people. Makes all the difference.”
“Yes, it does,” I said. “Thanks for the ride, Frank.”
“Watch your ass back there, Colonel,” he said as I closed the door and nodded.
Inside the command car, I’d barely opened the door when I noticed the car was nearly full of workers. A team of communications workers was running diagnostics on the multiple flat panel multi-function displays.
“Ten-hut!” someone said from the rear of the car.
“At ease,” I said, thinking that I’d never get used to the protocol.
“Colonel, good morning. I’m Captain Greg Shand. Communications.”
“Nice to meet you, Captain. Just back from Walla Walla?”
“Yes sir, as of about ten minutes ago. The inbound train.”
“Welcome to the primary command car. I understand that you’re in charge of all this gear?”
“Yes, sir. It’s a beauty.”
“Run me through what I’m looking at. My briefing packet was conspicuously missing this section.”
“Code-word classified, sir, and the files weren’t to be distributed until everyone’s been briefed. All these techs are cleared, as is the rest of the command staff. First suite over there on the left is dedicated uplink to central command. Second suite is assignable, but both it and third suite are set up at the moment to link real time with our own field units. Every unit commander will have direct real time link back to us, as well as links to each other, air assets, whatever they want that we can give them. Every squad sergeant has a helmet cam. We can see what he can see, maybe more depending on how we enhance the uplink.”
“Impressive doesn’t begin to cover it,” I said, pondering the network, the technology, the problems that could crop up.
“That stuff’s all pretty standard, sir. The really impressive breakthroughs are in suites five and six.”
“Suite four?” I asked, noting he’d skipped it.
“Redundant, but really serves as the master coordinator between all others, as well as links to the second command car, for increased capability.”
“All right, so, suites five and six.”
“Suite five will be set up to track friendly and enemy forces, including location, speed, real time. Suite six tracks disposition of friendly equipment including equipment that may have been captured, sir. I forgot your suite, sir, down on the end. The Command Suite can monitor all of the battleground information real time, and you can direct assets and adjust tactics either from there or direct the communications officers to execute your orders.”
“How do you track the individuals, and separate between friendlies and enemy?”
“Friendlies have RFID chips in their dog tags, MRE containers, weapons, uniforms, boots, you name it. The RFID’s are trackable and programmable on the fly, and each chip links to each other as well as to the assigned soldier, unit, group, or command. There are common ‘calls’ between friendlies as well, so if gear gets swapped, that doesn’t necessarily trigger an alert. RFID’s update once every hour in standard deployment. In battle once a minute. The ‘California’ model of the M16 reports rates of fire and ammunition levels as well, although without more capability on this end, some of the more detailed data are only useful for after-action tactical analysis. Thank God we’re changing out all the front line units to the California’s, and retiring the old rifles. If gear is captured, we can track it based on proximity to enemy. If we get confirmation from a field commander that he’s lost troops or gear, we can track that gear, find out it it’s been captured, track it, and assign an enemy tag to it, and then track it, sir.”
“What if the enemy has no RFID equipped gear, Captain?”
“Even easier, sir,” McGowan said. “We track their heartbeats, if we’re close enough, or close enough for a transmitter and bounce unit to pick them up. Five mile range, narrow frequency that picks up on heart rate and the electrical frequency of the human heart. Can also be adjusted to discriminate between animals and humans of course. If a bird is in range, we can uplink to satellite for a broad view of the battlefield and adapt accordingly. Combined with RFID protocols, we can also determine if friendlies have been captured and are among enemy, sir,” he explained. “Questions sir?”
“No, that’s about enough mind-blowing information for one day, thanks,” I said. “Although, I’m curious to know if this has been tested in battle.”
“Yes, sir. Black ops for the past five years at least, all over the globe. They used it in taking back the lower Mississippi Valley. And secured the Mexican Frontier with it.”
“Cross it and die,” I said aloud, not really meaning to.
“Incredible,” I said, thinking of adding, ‘frickin’ video game.” “Thanks, Captain. Although I don’t really look forward to seeing it in action.”
“Way of the future, sir. “
I spent the remaining time before our oh-nine-hundred assembly by reading and studying. Far too much material to cover and too little time to take it all in. Too much info too much detail. That weighed on me as I was driven over to the Assembly Hall. I decided to improvise my portion of the morning.
The ‘Assembly Hall’ was a converted warehouse that had held a pole building manufacturing center, before the War. The enormous, unheated volume was large enough to hold the Brigade, many of them spending the time in heated tents, within the building shell. Hundreds of non-matching folding chairs, mismatched light fixtures, and a makeshift presentation screen and podium spoke to the state of our infrastructure. I knew that our gear at least matched, more or less.
The brigade was brought to attention. I was introduced by a senior staff sergeant and took the podium, along with the rest of the brigade staff.
“Please join me in the Pledge of Allegiance,” I said, before leading them through the pledge. Our ‘new’ flag hung from the steel rafters above us, as well as on the plywood stage on an unfinished pine pole.
“At ease,” I said to the ranks, before beginning. “Thank you all for your service to our nation. Be seated,” I said, scanning the collection of men, young and old, all in grey camouflage fatigues and outerwear. All, I noted, armed.
“If you’ve had the opportunity to see the morning news, you men are all over it. In less than twenty-four hours, this Brigade departs for eastern Colorado. You have all been briefed to the nature of what Third Washington’s operational mission is supposed to be. I’m here to tell you that there is more to it than that. Our first mission will be less than conventional.”
“It is now becoming common knowledge that Sixth Army has been wiped off the map. More than fifty-three thousand dead remain in the field. More than were lost at Gettysburg. Total losses in the past few days surpass the American casualties in Vietnam by a sizeable percentage. Attacks on Air Force facilities nationwide have crippled our air capabilities. A new draft, quite widespread, will be starting within days. Many units across the country are moving in to fill the void caused by this massacre, including units from Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California and two brigades from the Fighting Forty First. Third Washington will be first tasked with the recovery of the remains of Sixth Army, and transporting our dead from the battlefield. Our follow up task will be support of line units and recovery of civilian infrastructure, utilities, and transport.”
“You are obviously now aware that there are no women in the ranks within Third Washington. All women line soldiers have been reassigned after events in Colorado, across the entire United States military, effective twenty-two hundred yesterday. These women are now running training units and responsible for a large amount of basic and advanced training. It should be known by all, and you will be briefed on this in more detail today, that numerous patrol units and more soldiers in forward observation posts were captured prior to the attacks on Sixth Army. The male soldiers were executed. The female soldiers were tortured beyond any recognition over a two hundred mile long front. This was not an isolated incident, nor the result of a lone group. It is systemic. Every soldier in this room will review the recon reports. That is an order.”
“Most, if not all of you, know that I’m not a regular soldier. Most of you until a few days or weeks ago weren’t either. In this part of the country, for most of a year now, we’ve been living in what could best be described as primitive conditions, and yet we’ve prevailed. Despite fears to the contrary, we didn’t tear ourselves apart. We adapted. We’ve survived. There is though, a real danger that we could lose this war, that the Statists will prevail, that we will be at best enslaved, doomed to live under the heel of a fascist dictatorship. That more women and children and the helpless would be burned alive as the residents of Siler, Colorado were. That places like Sunrise Springs, Colorado not have the mutilated bodies of that farm community piled in front of their City Hall. Our troops have searched across entire counties, where farms ought to be, where people ought to be and have found burned out buildings and bodies. This is what your enemy does, how they operate, and what they believe in. We’re assuming that they’ve captured at least a portion of the civilian population and transported them East. That assumption might be optimistic. They may have just killed everyone instead.” I paused for ten or fifteen seconds, to let all of that sink in. The things that I’d read in the recon reports and scouting reports from Colorado made me sick to my stomach.
“We, all of us here, we citizen soldiers, all of our families, all of our futures, are at risk. Everything is on the table. I say this not to strike fear, not to be a pessimist, but to show you that I believe that, and that knowing that failure is possible, to do everything you can do to ensure that we do not fail. There is too much at stake.”
“This Brigade is labeled a support unit that was four months in the planning and assembly. Don’t bet on staying a support unit. Plan on using your weapon. Plan on working in fire teams. From squad to platoon on up the brigade chain of command, including the command company,” I said, looking over at the Brigade command unit, “plan on doing your job and learning the job of the guy next to you, above you, and below you. This train ride we have will take a couple of days if we’re lucky. Use that time wisely. We just might find a hot zone on the other end.”
“You will spend the rest of today, until seventeen-hundred hours, with your battalions, reviewing your assignments, and training. You will also read the same after action reports that I’ve been reading for many hours. You will not like what you read. If there remains any question as to the nature of the enemy, there will not be after you read those reports. Tomorrow, we hit the rails. The next portion of this briefing will be presented by Major Gary Ryder, covering load out of the Brigade. Major?” I said, giving the podium over.
“Thank you, Colonel. All right, First Battalion, commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Shawn Miller….”
Each battalion was trained with more or less identical skills in terms of supporting the needs of the overall Brigade, rather than assigning a single battalion to specialize. The Army apparently decided that specialized battalions and brigades weren’t the way of our future, and tapped the ways of the past in this reconstituted military force. Perhaps the reality of doing what really worked, rather than what merely sounded good, was finally starting to permeate. So, we had, at least on paper, the ability to generate power, clean water, work to restore damaged civilian infrastructure, supply medical care, and many other capabilities. In addition, we’d defend ourselves, feed the front line troops or civilians….an endless list.
Our battalion commanders all had ‘line’ experience, and recent at that. Many were junior officers who’d been promoted one or two grades within the year, all up to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. Most had been decorated in the Mexican War. First Battalion, with Shawn Miller in command, a newly minted light colonel, had also served in Afghanistan. The Second had the six foot-four Trayvon Chappel, a tank of a man, ramrod straight but with an absolutely disarming smile. Chappel had played on the defensive line for Grambling State before going into the Army right after graduation. Six years in Iraq, two in Afghanistan, with specialty schooling on top of that, and messy work in Tucson. Third Battalion was headed up by Hugh Epstein, who’d served in Germany, Iraq, and Korea, along with major action in the Yucatan. Jesse Casselis, a proud product of South Philly, was Fourth Battalion’s top dog. Casselis served at Fort Bragg, in Kosovo, and Kuwait before numerous battles in Los Angeles and on south. Bryce Atwood was Fifth Battalion’s commander the lone command officer with Pentagon experience, although he’d redeemed himself of that unpleasantness with cave searches in Afghanistan, roadside bombs, and urban and rural warfare. Atwood was from Ocean Shores, on the Washington coast. He’d only been in Spokane for two days, after visiting his remaining family at home, his first trip home in three years.
The briefing for each battalion covered final loading of equipment and men, duty schedules, training schedules, and final assignments of unit commanders down to squad level. By the end of the hour, each battalion was ready to get moving and get some work done. I had my own list of tasks ahead of me, and precious little time to get through it.
Back in the command car, I found myself in the way and the place too busy to get anything meaningful done. Right behind that car though, was the car that I’d be billeted in, along with one of the command staff. Peace and quiet at last…until my cell phone rang.
“Hello?” I answered.
“Hiya, lover. How’s your day?” Karen asked.
“Uneventful so far, which is a pretty good thing. What’s going on at the homestead?”
“Alan and Ron have the house next door powered up. There’re about twelve people working over there. Heat will be in this afternoon.”
“Wow!” I said. “I’m more than a little shocked.”
“Me too. Things are coming together.”
“Your Mom know she’s moving tomorrow?”
“Not yet. We’ll tell her this afternoon,” she said before pausing.
“Everything OK?” I asked.
“Yes. I had to sneak upstairs and into the bedroom. I need to know if you’re going to be on time tonight.”
“Yeah, barring the unexpected crisis. Got something planned?”
“Keep it a secret and act surprised, OK?”
“Sure. I’m good at that. Had to be with your family,” I said. The Bauer’s were always trying to keep little secrets about birthdays, parties, and presents. Most with little success. “Now, what’s up?”
“Thanksgiving dinner a couple days early. Ashley and the twins are here, along with a houseful of help.”
“That sounds perfect,” I said. “Hon, I’m missing you already.”
“Don’t get me started, or I’ll be bawling.”
“Sorry. We going to be able to fit everyone in the house?”
“It’ll be a tight fit. We’ll make do.”
“Nice. I don’t know what to say.”
“Then don’t say anything. I’ll see you tonight,” she said quietly. “I love you.”
“You most,” I said in reply, hearing her click the phone off just after.
I’d already forgotten that it was Thanksgiving week, caught up in my new future.