Wednesday, March 3, 2010
The morning had gone quite quickly, despite the cold wind and the typical snafus that define military operations in general and this one in particular.
Every soldier’s gear consumed far more space than the space allocated by the designers of the working cars and the transports—winter gear was the reason. A quick meeting with the battalion commanders, and then orders to the men, forced the soldiers to gather the gear they’d need at hand during transit, including their rifle, their day pack, their cold-weather outerwear and a few personal items. The rest of their gear would be stowed in the overheads where possible (not likely) or in a pile at the end of each passenger car.
The tone of the Brigade throughout the morning had changed as the Colorado reports were read per my orders. The reports across the battlefield were provided in multiple copies, included photographs, identification of the victims (as possible), and forensics. By the end of the day, everyone would understand.
Lunch was taken in shifts, although many men ate on the go within the train cars, mowing through the stew, hard cheese, coffee, wheat bread or rolls, and apples while hardly taking a break. I wasn’t used to the schedule or the stress, and decided to head to the mess hall—another banged up warehouse building, this one unheated but at least lit. I was tired, and it was too early in the day to be tired. I shared a table with Frank Bender who I’d met earlier. Frank had also seen me trudging around in my Army-issue cold weather gear, and scrounged up a valuable, insulated Burlington Northern jumpsuit to wear over my Army gear. Bulky but warm. Two of Frank’s Green Line engineers joined us first, then a couple of diesel mechanics, and finally a sergeant from Third Battalion and his squad. His soldiers were not sure what to make of sharing a table with an officer. Only after much prompting did they relax a little.
“Colonel, you’re gonna wanna see this,” an Air Force airman said as he tapped me on the shoulder, placing a laptop in front of me, running streaming video from Fox News. I’d just taken a big bite of the Golden Delicious apple in my lunch.
“Whatcha, got, Airman?”
“L.A., sir. Again.”
“Gather round, all,” I said. “Crank up the volume on this.” The young airman did as asked and then hurried back across the room.
“…-oratory site has been hit by the same type of weapons used over the weekend at multiple theme parks, shopping centers and military installations in the L.A. region and in other critical areas in the United States. The Statists quickly took credit for these attacks, unlike the delayed response over the weekend. It is unknown at this time if Lawrence Livermore was in lockdown mode at the time, or how many casualties there might be at the University campus. Many, if not all buildings, are heavily climate controlled due to the nature of the research, including isolated air-handling systems….”
“Sir, command is looking for you,” the Airman said as he returned to the table. “Is your cell phone working?” he asked as I stood up, the men under my command moving to attention.
“Was earlier,” I said as I fished it out. “Five bars…. Gents, best get a move on with lunch. Sarge, take care.”
I did my best to run over to the command car, hitting the phone’s speed dial along the way, and getting an ‘all-circuits busy’ signal.
“Sir, Walla Walla direct on Suite Four,” one of the techs said as I entered the car.
“Thanks,” I said as I shucked off the top half of my jumpsuit and peeled off the coat underneath.
“Headset’s on the console to the left. You’re on VOX with the green button, sir.”
“Got it,” I said, putting the Bose-manufactured, ultra-light headset on. Once on, it didn’t feel like it was there at all.
“Colonel Drummond here,” I said to four LCD screens with the Division logo on them.
“Colonel, General Anderson will be with you in a moment. He’s currently en route to Lewiston.”
“Colonel Drummond, you on line?” Bob Anderson’s voice was instantly recognizable.
“Yes, sir. Sorry for the delay.”
“Cell phones are crap. You’ve seen the news out of Livermore?”
“Bellingham as well. PacFleet was hit, and there was an attack at the San Francisco Naval Yard, too. Bad.” Within the space of less than a year, a massive construction effort was building a new naval yard to service the fleet, years after all the old bases had been closed, sold off, abandoned.
“None that we know of, but we didn’t know anything about these, either. Consider your location a primary target—every concentration of military equipment and personnel and every major concentration of civilians is a target.”
“Understood. They use the same delivery system?”
“Container ships in the port attacks, aided by favorable winds. The Livermore attack was upwind, outside of the secured perimeter. Multiple releases.”
“So our upwind is our target area, sir?”
“Affirmative. We cannot discount that you’ve been infiltrated. Alerts to the civilian population are going out in about five minutes, although all businesses are closed due to the curfew. This’ll be all over the news whether we like it or not, by fifteen hundred.”
“Understood. We look for anything suspicious upwind of us, ASAP.”
“Correct. Good hunting, Colonel,” General Anderson said, before I heard a click in the headphone. He was gone.
“Captain Phillips, get me my battalion commanders, five minutes ago. Conference room in the next car down.”
Three minutes later, the five commanders were crowded around the small conference table in the next unit. I’d been busy barking orders to the command staff, who’d gathered quite quickly once summoned.
“L.A.’s been hit, nerve gas again it looks like, along with San Francisco and Bellingham. General Anderson thinks we might be a lucrative target. I need patrols in the field two hours ago, looking for anything suspicious. We’re closer than the Guard units at Fort Overbeck—Five hundred men are on their way, but it’ll be a while. Here it is: Upwind, up to Greene Street, south to Sprague. Winds are pretty light, so that’d force any gas release to be very close. There aren’t many, if any, viable businesses or factories in that zone. Evac anyone within that perimeter. The only critical transit link of course is the Red Line, which might be a really good way to deliver a weapon, if I hadn’t shut it down a few minutes ago,” I said. I’d called Metro and ordered it off-line, not that there was any real demand, with the curfew in place. “What can you get moving?”
“Five companies, sir,” Trayvon Chappel replied. “One from each battalion. Transport would be handy to have, but ours is loaded. We can get there on foot, nice little run.”
“There’s fifty up-armored Humvees and twenty five Bradleys over on the Havana Street side of the rail yard,” I said, “along with a slew of old M35s that have been refurbed for local use. There’s brand new steel plate armor on the Thirty-Fives for about the same level of protection as the Humvee. Paint’s still wet, I hear. We can have a dozen of Overbeck’s Bradleys here in an hour, but I want boots on ground before then.”
“You got it, sir,” Chappel answered, with nods from the other commanders.
“I want at least a company to go through the yard, too. You’ll have assistance from the yard workers in searching the trains, comparing manifests, the works. We’ve had three inbound trains today. One from California, one from Oregon, one from Montana. Rail cops have secured those trains already,” I said.
“Gentlemen, at best this is a real-life run through of your comm gear and small-unit tactics. At worst, you run into a great big bucket of shit. Questions?” I asked as I stood, triggering the rest to stand. “All right then, let’s move. Dismissed.”
The men filed out quickly and with purpose, and I grabbed my parka from the corner chair, and headed back to the command car. By the time I was inside, I had a hot cup of real coffee waiting for me in the Command Suite, and A Company, First Battalion was checking their equipment and moving double time through the yard to ensure its’ security. In fifteen minutes, all five companies were well on their way to being deployed. Two M35s stubbornly refused to start, along with one of the refurbed Humvees. Typical.
I decided it prudent to make a phone call to Karen, to let her know that the unexpected crisis was rearing its’ ugly head.
“Hi. Guess what?” I said as she answered the phone.
“I know. I’m watching it on the news,” she said.
“You’re going to be late.”
“Not just me, likely.”
“Any idea on when?”
“Not even a little one. Do me a favor though. Just keep your schedule. I’ll get there when I can.”
“We’re planning on serving at seven, just in case you can make it.”
“I’ll try to let you know. Snow let up over there yet?”
“Yep. Carl’s out plowing the driveway and the path over to Libby’s house.”
“Good for him. Bet he’s having a ball.”
“He makes it sound otherwise. I think he’s having fun though. Kelly and Marie have been absolute fiends making apple pies, so the place is a mess.”
“But I bet it smells great.”
“It does. It’ll just make you hungry thinking about it…”
“True,” I said, hearing some commotion from one of the communications suites. “I gotta go, hon. Love you most.”
“You best. You take care of yourself.”
“I will. You take care of yourself and my kids.”
“And the dogs, always underfoot….”
“I’ll call later,” I said as I hung up, putting on the headphones. “Mr. McDowell,” I said referring to a young corporal in Suite Two, “what am I listening to?”
“Sorry, sir, we tapped into one of Division’s tactical channels. They’re in pursuit of hostiles over near Bellingham.”
“Good, but let’s make sure all our players are in our game. Status report in five minutes, every platoon.”
“And keep me apprised as to what’s going on over on the coast.”
“Yes, sir. Done.”
I wasn’t about to cut off the communications link—it got the adrenaline flowing in my own staff as much as the information getting passed along to our own companies in the field. Blood in the water, so to speak. I flipped through the various feeds received by each suite, as well as drilling down through each company to the sergeants. It was like watching the soldiers’ helmet cams in ‘Aliens.’
By fifteen-thirty hours, Third Washington’s field companies had secured the perimeter around the Yardley train yard per my orders, and Guard units were moving up to relieve them. No threats had been found, including through the laborious search of the incoming trains. The crews scheduled to off-load the inbound trains were sent back to their holding areas until the all clear could be given. Any crucial loads needed around town would be loaded later in the day, with military or police escort to its’ destination. Guard units were also securing a perimeter to the north and east. A big slice of the Valley would be within secured perimeters, including air operations at Felts Field, the train yard, and Fort Overbeck.
Over on the coast of Washington, three hundred plus miles away, we listened to the pursuit of three groups of suspected Statist agents, who’d been traced to the Bellingham Naval Yard through their vehicles and video surveillance. The pursuit down Interstate Five ended just north of Burlington. The first two vans tried to shoot it out with the Navy units pursuing them. An air unit took out both in a single pass. The third suspect vehicle, took a few pot shots, and sped straight into a concrete bridge abutment. No one survived the crash and subsequent fire.
While all of this excitement was going on, the loading of the train continued, with sentries keeping watch over the entire yard as their fellow soldiers finished the task of the day. By seventeen-thirty, everything except the day-of-departure materiel was loaded. The numerous engines (I didn’t take time to count them) would be fueled just prior to departure. At eighteen hundred, the balance of the Brigade was either back at the rail yard, electing to spend their last night near their gear (this seemed to apply to the communications geeks), or just north at Felts Field, in one of the barracks. I made a pass through inspection of the entire train, surprising more than a few soldiers who were settling in, and finding little amiss with the load-out. What little I did find, was quickly brought right at the command of a senior master sergeant, who I found pretty intimidating. A few of the privates were shaking in their boots.
Mike was waiting for me when I hit my command car, a few minutes shy of eighteen hundred.
“How’s the first day on the job, Colonel?” he asked.
“In spades. Third Washington ready to roll?”
“Damned close. Last minute stuff goes on two hours before departure.”
“You ready to get out of here? Advice, though, before you answer: Get out while you can. Let your staff handle things.”
“Sage advice,” I said, before turning my attention to the overnight duty officer, Captain Gerry McGowan. “Captain, you good for the evening?” I asked as I gathered up my parka, gloves, and a new mil-spec backpack for the inevitable crap to haul around.
“Yes, sir. Take the Colonel’s advice.”
“I’ll do that. Have a good evening. You have my number.”
“I’ll try not to use it, sir.”
Outside, Mike’s new-to-him Humvee was running, with a sentry keeping an eye on it, I thought.
“Corporal, get in if you would, and quit freezing your ass off,” Mike said.
“Sir!” the young man responded, and quickly climbed into the back seat. Mike climbed in to drive, and I joined him up front.
“Corporal Cory Burrus, meet Colonel Richard Drummond, C.O. of Third Washington.”
“Sir, pleased to meet you,” the young man replied. I could hardly see him under the big Kevlar helmet.
“Likewise, Corporal. You assigned to this man’s Ranger unit?” Mike threaded his way through the yard and barricades, towards the exit.
“Do me a favor and keep is ass out of trouble. I won’t be able to do that like I’ve been doing for the past year.” That caught him off guard. Mike just laughed.
“I’ll, um, do my best sir.”
“I invited the Corporal to dinner for the evening. He’s from out in the Palouse. Where is it, Burrus?”
“Endicott, sir. Just outside.”
Who did I know from Endicott? Something clicked. “You know any of the Morasch family?”
“Yes, sir. You know them?”
“Dan Morasch and I went to W.S.U. together. Roomed next door to me freshman and sophomore years. I don’t think I’ve thought of him in twenty-five years.”
“He’s been pretty busy, sir. Eight kids if I remember right. Big farm west of town.”
“Good for him. Ag Econ major, if I remember right,” I said. “Mike, those your units?” I asked, forgetting they weren’t Mike’s units any longer. There was literally a new sheriff in town. Four Sheriff’s Department Suburbans were headed east, strobes flashing no sirens.
“Used to be. Wonder what’s up?” he said. “There’s a lot of firepower in those four rigs. That can’t be good.”
“What’s the freq for dispatch?”
“Won’t matter—those four are on tactical and won’t respond except on the scrambler, and dispatch won’t respond to us, unless we have the daily code key. Too many contraband police radios out there. Had to change procedures to keep false traffic from messing with us.”
“No way to find out?”
“Nope. Not until whatever is going on is all over.”
“If they respect protocol, yeah.”
“Well, damn. I liked getting inside info.”
“You’re going to miss that Metro radio, aren’t you?”
“Almost as much as the ‘all-access’ driver pass and the company car.”
“What’s Karen going to drive while you’re away?”
“She’ll have the Expedition, sporting a new flat gray paint job, a newer grille, nice brush guard, and steel wheels. Looks like Hell.” It was a little too risky I thought to keep it in the original color scheme after last summer’s aborted attempt to get me killed while driving it.
“Thanks. I’ll remember that you think that, when Karen sees it.”
“She hasn’t seen it?”
“Nope, but she knows something’s going on. She’ll get it tomorrow after I head out. Hoped to have it delivered today, but the guy doing the work for me didn’t think he’d have it done in time.”
“You actually farmed something out? Didn’t do it yourself?”
“Nope, dang near killed me. Kidding. Guy down on the next block needed some work, I didn’t have time then, don’t have time now. Worked out.”
“Fire up ahead,” Mike said. We could see the glow, more than a mile away.
“Big one. They don’t have fire flow up this far. This’ll be a burner,” I said. We could see the fire department’s collection of trucks around the site as we pulled closer. “They’re just gonna contain this, not fight it,” I said as we pulled to a stop. The Sheriff’s Suburbans—two of them anyway—were holding traffic. We were the first in line.
“That’s Deputy Schmitt coming our way. You remember him?”
“Yeah, been a long time,” I said. “Paul, right?”
“Yeah,” Mike said as the Deputy came up to the driver’s door, and Mike unbuckled his harness and got out.
“Deputy, what’s our holdup here?”
“Boss, good to see you again so soon,” he said. “Mr. Drummond, as well. Arson fire. Seventh one this afternoon.”
“Even with the curfew?”
“So they’ve pre-placed materials or they’re carrying them in on foot,” I said.
“Yeah, we’ve got two other units in pursuit, heading up the hill. In the old days we’d be tracking them with the helo. Now it’s four by fours, guys on horseback and tracking dogs.”
“Wish we could send you some help—got our own issues right now,” Mike said.
“Paul, you get the word out about these fires on the radio?” I asked.
“Yeah, every fifteen minutes. They’re hitting any target of opportunity. Houses vacant or not in the first two fires. Number six was a warehouse down by Gonzaga. Now this one,” he said as the fire flared in an orange, then gray mushroom cloud above the store site. The roof had collapsed. The firemen were stationed around the block, hoses ready but little water flow available, in case they needed to knock the fire down as it spread. With the snowfall, that wasn’t likely.
“Then you’ve got quite a number of suspects operating, coordinated attack, with an unconventional communications network,” I said.
“Pinned that right,” the corporal said, before adding, “sir.”
“Something to add, Corporal?” Mike said.
“Yes, sir. Up until the curfew, civilians had unrestricted access to just about anywhere. Easy to set up a network, schedule, coordinate placement of weapons, whatever, sir. You’re just reacting at this point. Nothing you can do, sir, unless you cap the enemy.”
“No argument with that,” Mike said. “Paul, you watch your ass. This feels a whole lot like an ambush.”
“Yes, sir. Like they’re sizing us up. We do have men in the shadows, sir, but they’re only going to be able to react. You should be able to proceed as soon as we get that hose line secured,” Deputy Schmitt said. I was wrong, they did have water up this far.
“Paul, one thing…” I said, thinking it over. “Are the fires getting further from town? Further out on the edges of the Service Area?” The service area was the limit of water, power, and municipal support. We’d been forced to ‘contract’ the suburban area after the Domino. We had neither money nor materials to fix all the damage.
“Well, now that you mention it, they seem to be.”
“Then pull your guys back, and deploy only a minimal firefighter effort. They’re drawing you out for something. Concentrate in the service area. Don’t take the bait,” I said. I saw the hose line that was blocking us go flat, as a firefighter disconnected the line from the hydrant.
“Works for me. I’ll pass it on to the Sheriff,” Paul said. “With of course, appropriate attribution. Looks like you’re good to pass.”
“Take care, Deputy,” I said. “Buy you a beer after the war.”
“I’ll take you up on that.”
Mike started the engine, closed the door, and we steered around the pumper truck.
“Nice call, Corporal,” I said.
“Thanks, sir. One more thing, if I may,” he said.
“Go for it.”
“Further out they get, easier they are to pick off in a big way. IEDs. That kind of thing, Colonel.”
“Hmmm,” I said. “We’ll pass that analysis on up the food chain.” ‘What were they planning?’ I thought to myself as we drove on along the darkened street. ‘Who is the, ‘they?’’
Ten minutes later, we arrived outside the gate, where Carl had just finished clearing the road in front of the house and the driveway.
“See you in the morning, bright and early,” Mike said, unaware of the dinner plans obviously.
“Not hardly. Your lovely family is inside. Be surprised,” I said.
“You, too, Mr. Burrus.”
“What’s going on?” Mike asked.
“You like turkey, right?”