Saturday, March 20, 2010
“They’re in retreat, Colonel. S.A. troops are a hundred miles east of their last known and moving east,” the General said.
“Do you have a high degree of confidence in this, General?”
“As good as it gets, Colonel Drummond. It does not appear that your position is being threatened.”
“Thank you, sir. Catch your spies yet, General?” I asked.
“Affirmative. Two survivors, six dead.”
“I’m sure the survivors are being treated with all appropriate care.”
“Indeed they are. Colonel, good luck in your mission. We lost a lot of good soldiers up there.”
“Yes, sir. Tough few days ahead.”
“Take good care of our men, Colonel. Yancey out,” he said, and the transmission ended.
“All right, battalion officers. Sounds like we can lower our adrenaline a little. We’ll keep you in the loop if anything changes. Get your field communications gear on, and pass the word for command-level staff to be wearing theirs while on duty—should’ve done that this time. Oh-five hundred and the Brigade’s up and moving for a long-ass day. Let’s be ready for it. Dismissed.”
The five ‘night-shift’ officers filed out and back to their respective units, scattered along two miles of railroad frontage, three of them providing additional supervision to Dog Six and their continued setup and staging.
I grabbed another cup of coffee and decided to continue my original plan, to go for a walk and check out our Brigade. I needed some fresh air.
Outside, I went for a walk through the staging area for Dog Six’s motor pool, Humvee’s and trucks unloaded and parked and waiting for the day. Several guards noticed me and nodded my way as I passed through the area. Further south, one of Dog Six’s machine shop cars was open for business with stacks of the Texas Guard’s rifles under the watchful eye of two guards. There were thousands of weapons. The Texas Guard had almost five thousand men and women in the field. I decided to visit the local gunsmiths in uniform and see how things were going.
“Good morning, gents. How’s business?” I asked, entering the nearly warm machine shop.
“Morning, sir, is still a matter of opinion,” said a first sergeant from one of the Georgia units, barely looking up, but finally noticing my insignia. “Sorry, Colonel. Thought you were…”
“No problem, first sergeant,” I said, noticing the workbenches and nodding at the other men working on the disassembly, cleaning, refit, and reassembly lines. They were working on a series of M249 SAW’s, the machine gun of choice since the old Browning Automatic Rifle was retired decades ago. I looked over some of the discarded parts, tossed unceremoniously in a series of plastic bins. “This typical wear? These are a mess.”
“No small wonder, sir. This is what wear looked like in the ‘stan after a few months. If we had enough new 249’s to issue to those Tex boys, we’d scrap the whole lot. Lotta field changes messed these up but good. Barrels switched, weapons pieced together. A bunch of these’ve also seen max rates of fire for too long. A thousand rounds a minute. Overheated them. Can’t dissipate that kind of heat.”
“Are the -16’s in this bad of shape?”
“Looked over a couple dozen so far, and some of the M4’s. We’ve got our work cut out for us, no doubt about it. Probably ten percent unusable as-is. We can fix the rest and get them back to spec. Replace the others with new-issue. Not going to mix up the unit with old style -16’s and the new Californias, Colonel….although our Bulldogs could surely make use those C models. Not enough to go around though.”
“I’m sure they’re coming your way, sergeant. I’ll get out of your hair. Thanks, all,” I said as I headed for the door, receiving a ‘sir!’ in unison.
Further south, Dog Six’s perimeter guard units were quietly watching south and east, over the darkened terrain where the last of Sixth Army lay. I turned around and headed back to the command car. I knew that I’d need some rest for our first day in the field.
At oh five-thirty, the alarm on my watch roused me from an unpleasant dream, more so than my current reality. I pulled out my soft earplugs and emerged from the make-shift darkened cubicle into the fully staffed communications car, and smelled burning coffee.
“Somebody trying to convert coffee to carbon?”
“Sorry, sir. Been a little busy.”
“Reason for not waking me?”
“Yes, Colonel. You needed some sleep,” said my deputy C.O., Jim Schaefer. “My orders.”
“You’re almost as bad as my wife.”
“Wait a few days. This duty schedule will catch up with you—you’ll see it, sir.”
“You’re probably right, Jim. Status overnight?” I said as I turned off the coffeemaker, noting the many different types of information on each communication suite screen.
“S.A.’s pulling back east, as well as moving major forces back up the Mississippi Valley.”
“Hmm. How far east of us?”
“Leading edge is U.S. Eighty-Three, damned near a straight line through Nebraska and Kansas, but they’re keeping well clear of the Oklahoma line. Seems like they’re consolidating along an evac route on Interstate Seventy.”
“Reason?” I asked.
“Air Force socked ‘em with a few high yield cruise missiles up in North Platte, seemed to take out command and control for this northern group. They’re running like hot butter on a skillet, sir,” Specialist Ayers said.
“Seems a little dramatic for a little punch in the nose,” I said. “How’s their communications? They still maintaining silence?”
“Not as of an hour ago, sir. They were yelling ‘incoming’ as the second and third wave dropped on their ears.”
“Got a BDA yet?” I said, referring to a battle damage assessment, which drew some looks. I apparently wasn’t supposed know that kind of thing.
“Uh, yes, sir, Colonel. We’re not privy to the ordnance package that the -52 was using, but radar uplinks showed twenty cruise missiles in flight. Single delivery aircraft did that. I’ll pull up the satellite images and put them on Suite Four. The rest of the suites are monitoring their retreats and trying to assess their numbers and capabilities.”
“Monitor two shows the greatest concentration of KIA’s. The wider views show vehicle and equipment kills across a pretty wide area,” Schaefer said. “Fair percentage of their personnel transports are scrap.”
“Hmm.” Jim said, looking at the carnage on the monitor, a ghostly greyscale image. “You sure cruise missiles did this?” Schaefer asked.
“This kind of damage reminds me of cluster bomb impacts,” he said. “There’s an odd ‘shotgun’ look of the impact damage, and the debris scatter. Air Force must have something new.”
“Could’ve been worse. Could’ve been a hyperbaric weapon,” I said.
“Civilians still present in the area, sir. Probably drove the weapons package.”
“The S.A. left them alive?” I asked.
“Yes, sir, although a significant number evac’d before the S.A. pulled in. They’re now filtering back into North Platte. Vehicle signatures, trailers, horses. Following pretty much every road into the area…from the north, that is.”
“What’s Austin saying about moving that way?”
“Airborne units will deploy up there first, probably on the ground within the next couple of hours. They’re deploying from Helena and Cheyenne. Troop estimates, five thousand men.”
That surprised me. ‘Fair number of men,’ I thought. “Enemy headcount?”
“To the nearest thousand, Colonel, sixty-one five.”
“O.K.” I said, while thinking, ‘Damn that’s a lot of enemy.’ “Third Washington ready for the day?”
“Reveille at oh-five hundred. Mess is running full steam with our visitors and light support for Third—our guys are mostly on MRE’s today. Elements of each Battalion will rotate into and out of the field for the day, with obvious support personnel remaining with the trains. First and Fifth Battalions will be first in the field, followed by Third and Fourth. Second will be handling loading of the remains collected by the field crews. Each battalion will have combat engineers ahead of them to make sure there aren’t any surprises, sir. All per the schedule.”
“How’re the other units? They getting everything they need?”
“Could always use more room, sir. About half of the Texas unit spent the night in temp shelters outside, their choice. Got the heaters running in there, and they’re passable. Third Cardinals are mostly down in Dog Six. New Mexico’s going to rotate in when Texas vacates.”
“Our guys keeping up with the load?”
“Laundry guys aren’t, sir. Mess hall’s been running non-stop, but the lines are pretty short.”
“How’re the guys in the armory doing? They had one helluva backlog last night.”
“Not bad. Nowhere near close to being done though. Those Georgia boys are pretty damned good, sir.”
“How long until re-supply is needed?”
“Three days at this rate. We’ve already told Cheyenne to step on it, sir.” Our re-supply train was already on the siding in Cheyenne, packed with non-perishable food, ammunition, uniforms, medical gear, and fuel. We were expecting to need a re-supply every two weeks….we weren’t planning on supplying this level of fighting men, or the levels of depletion we were faced with.
“All right. Battalion commanders can handle the morning deploy. Let’s get senior staff assembled as we can for a look ahead at oh seven hundred.”
“Yes, sir. Not a problem,” Schaefer said.
“Ayers, what’s the civilian chatter today?”
“Sir?” he asked, a little surprised.
“Mister Ayers, don’t tell me you haven’t been keeping an ear and eye on the civilian side,” I said with a little smile.
“Yes, sir. Didn’t think it would matter all that much to be honest,” he said. “Specialist Briggs has most of that, sir.”
“Briggs. Give me the skinny.”
“Some shortwave, bunch of traffic across the all amateur civilian bands, mostly family members looking for each other from behind the lines, no civilian AM or FM radio broadcasts within three hundred miles. I got the impression that the S.A. had been hunting down people that were broadcasting…what I picked up were short bursts of talk, some primitive codes, some foreign languages, but the S.A. didn’t pursue them this time, it seemed. Outside the zone, more chatter on the S.A. attacks around the country. Nothing we don’t already know, sir.”
“Any word on our arrival?” I asked.
“No sir. I doubt anyone in the local area has broadcast anything.”
“Very well. Thanks, Briggs. Now who’s handling weather?”
“That’s me sir, Private David Kittrick,” the young man said. I looked at him in some surprise. He looked as if he’d been playing video games, rather than a multi-million dollar communications suite.
“Private, good to meet you. What’s incoming?” I asked as he pulled up the weather imagery for North America.
“Weather front…the bulk of it, sir, is passing south and west of us. We’ll get arctic air within eight hours, holding for at least thirty six hours. We’ll probably get some snow, but from the east, not the southwest. We’ll be in single digits every night, maybe up to the high teens if we’re lucky. Second front is heading east and north of us, we’re between systems, sandwiched. That eastern system is the one that could give us some snow.”
“How about further East? What’s coming in on the S.A.?”
“That second system, just crossing into North Dakota, will hit them in the next twelve hours. The cold of that system, when it hits this warm front coming up from the south, could really bury them, sir.”
“Bottles them in, with luck.”
“Thanks. Back at it,” I said. “I’ll head down to the mess for breakfast, and back here before oh seven hundred. Jim, where are we meeting? Our conference car is now a dorm, right?”
“We’ll be in one of the big tents, Colonel. Setting it up as we speak.”
“You are nothing if not a mind reader, Colonel Schaefer.”
“Just forward thinking, sir.”
“Good. Figure out a way to bottle that and you’ll be a millionaire.”
Outside, the eastern sky was growing lighter, with sunrise in an hour or so. I headed ‘down’ the train to the southwest toward the mess car, passing many men along the way, and a few women, who were the targets of some attention. I met General Garcia on the way, she’d already taken breakfast.
“Good morning, General. Did you get some rest?”
“Yes, and thank you, Colonel. Thank you for the hospitality. I’ll be out of your quarters shortly.”
“Not a problem, General. I’m heading down to the mess for a bite. Lieutenant Colonel Schaefer can give you a full update on the S.A.’s current position.”
“Coming at us or running away?”
“The latter. Air Force whacked them up in North Platte not quite two hours ago. They’re running hard, east.”
“Back to the chase.”
“Yes, ma’am. Looks like.”
“Thanks, Colonel. I’ll see you after breakfast,” she said as we exchanged salutes in the near-dark. “I’ll be over in Lone Star command, that a’way,” she said, directing me toward a tent south of our command car.
I took my place in line, heading into one of the mess cars, again receiving some looks from the men on my presence in the chow line.
“We must be screwed if the officers are eating this stuff,” I heard from behind me.
“To the contrary, soldier. I figure if we eat this stuff, nothing’s gonna kill us. It’s done wonders for y’all,” I said, getting some laughs. The breakfast was actually pretty good, with scrambled eggs, bacon, bread and canned fruit. As I ate, I chatted with several of the Guardsmen from Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona. Only about thirty percent of them were Guardsmen a year ago. All had lost family and friends in the flu and in the invasion from Mexico. Virtually all had been in battle in both Mexico and against the S.A.
Our senior staff meeting was brief, all of twenty minutes. My staff got the point that I liked short meetings, and we all had a mountain of work to do. With our crowded quarters, we had to rotate staff through, releasing some to get back to work a little ahead of the others. The big surprise was coming from the west, not the east. Civilians by the hundreds were coming east, according to intel provided by the Colorado National Guard. The CNG was trying to pick up the pieces after the occupation of the heart of the state, first by what seemed to be the legitimate United States government, then, what became the S.A.
The Colorado Guard, before the War, had maintained a company-strength unit in Sterling, part of the One Hundred Forty-Seventh Brigade Support Battalion. The battalion was based in Boulder, and from what we were able to glean from the advance units, the local installation was largely intact. A recon team would assess the condition of the facilities and any other structures that might be used to house the current military needs. We expected to meet with someone from the Joint Force Headquarters, as they advanced east from their base in Centennial. One of the many intelligence briefs that I’d read recapped the re-assignment of many of the Colorado units to the Mexican War, and then quiet reassignment and evacuation out of the state as the intentions of the ‘Federal’ government became clear to the military leadership. There was little left for the S.A. to gather from the military as far as supplies and equipment went…at least as far as the intel knew.
At oh seven-thirty, anyone not working on an essential function was ordered to stand at the perimeter of the Sixth Army battlefield, as all the chaplains led a brief prayer service. Along with my senior staff and five battalion commanders, I stood at attention as the twenty-seven star Guidon flag was raised, then lowered to half-staff, on what was left of a utility pole, stripped of wire. From somewhere east of us, we heard Amazing Grace, on bagpipes. Our senior chaplain, Captain Adam Fillmore, had organized this, along with men from each brigade and from the other state units.
I dismissed the senior staff to their duties, quickly changed into ‘work’ wear in my quarters, and headed over to General Garcia’s command tent.
“Ten-hut!” a lieutenant said as I entered. I’d never get used to that.
“As you were,” I said. “General Garcia available?”
“One moment, sir,” the lieutenant said.
It was more than a moment, but I was OK with that. The Lone Star command staff was pretty busy. It was good to see a well-organized, smooth running operation. That perception always hid the complete chaos lurking just under the surface. I noticed that everyone in the command tent had an M-16 or M-4 within arms’ reach.
“Colonel, you may come in now,” the lieutenant said. She was a stocky young woman, maybe twenty-three or so. I could tell by the look in her eyes that she’d be tough in a fight.
“Thank you, Lieutenant,” I said as I entered the second bay of the tent.
“Colonel, thanks for coming by. I’m going to cut to the chase if you don’t mind. I want to get my unit reprovisioned and back in the fight. Honest estimate. How long until your crews are done with our gear?”
“Just got out of our staff meeting, General. Weapons refit will be done by twelve-hundred hours. Your crews are working as hard as ours are, across the board. Provisioning for the individual soldiers is taking probably more time than it should. We’ll be done with Lone Star by fourteen-hundred. Late in the day to be making an advance, my opinion, especially with weather moving in.”
“Don’t really care about the weather, Colonel. I do care about picking up some mileage for our Texans, and getting us up to North Platte. Which is why I need a couple of your locomotives….and slug of those boxcars coming in.”
This surprised me, it was probably obvious. “We had intended those to be used for transporting the Sixth, ma’am,” I said. The transport trains would be around a hundred cars apiece. In theory, we could load the remains of the Sixth Army in two trainloads…in theory.
“Understood. But I know that you have more cars than you’re going to need before your resupply unit gets here, and I’ve already arranged to have more cars sent up ahead of the supply train from Denver. I don’t believe this will change your operational plan or schedule at all. Two trips up to North Platte and back and the personnel are done. A hundred and forty miles.”
I thought for a moment. “OK, General, then we’ll spin up the schedule. Some of the refit work can be done in transit, we can make up some time on the provisioning side. The crews have been re-supplying each soldier’s packs assembly-line style….we can just toss the bulk supplies in and have your troops do it themselves. Probably pick up a couple hours.”
“No argument. I appreciate that, Colonel Drummond.”
“I’m beyond arguing. The sooner the last S.A. sonofabitch is under the sod, the sooner we can all go home.”
“Agreed. Thanks for your cooperation, Colonel.”
“No problem, General,” I said as I stood to leave.
“And Colonel? Thanks for the use of the iPod. It’s been a long time since I had a chance to listen to a little Stevie Ray Vaughn.”
“Pride of Texas, that one,” I said. “Magic with a Stratocaster.”