Monday, April 12, 2010
We’d departed early, earlier than I might have liked. I’d hoped to attend the first worship service in North Platte since July, not long after they were occupied by the forces that became the S.A. Services would be held in several locations, but none of the churches, temples, stake centers, or worship centers were left. Charlie and Dog Six left at 0700, in the near dark, in blowing snow. I’d been up since 0430, and took forty-five minutes to get back into physical conditioning in one of the crew cars. Weights, a couple spinning machines and treadmills helped burn off some of the pent up energy as well as keeping….or in my case, obtaining, increased physical ability. Breakfast was coffee, some biscuits, and more coffee, taken at my station in the command car.
A half hour out of North Platte, we received a radio signal—coded—that S.A. units remained active in the area ahead of us, despite the area being overrun with Marine and Army units. It would seem that the S.A. filled the vacuum after the U.S. units passed through, and pushed further East. Without stable support and ‘occupying’ forces, the S.A. just melted away, and then moved back in. Within a half-hour, were barely moving.
“Colonel, track report coming in from up line,” Greg Shand said. “Still decoding.”
“Sir, we’re also getting some chatter on the S.A. frequencies. Trying to get it cleaned up.”
“Let me know when you have something. Anything from our friends from Texas? They were in Grand Island yesterday, correct?”
“Yes, sir. Expect they’re still there. Weather’s ugly. The Texans and the Marine units are bogged down on one side of the storm front, the S.A. main force is on the other.”
“Sir, we’ve got a blocked track ahead,” Private Kittrick said.
“How far out?” I asked as I stretched my side. Ribs still hurt.
“Town called Cozad. The auger unit cleared to that point and is returning. Said they also took some small arms fire as they reversed.”
“Distance to Cozad, Mister Martin,” I asked.
“Fourteen point two miles, sir. Auger unit will be parked on a siding at Gothenburg.”
“Gothenburg status,” Captain Shand asked one of the other techs.
“Marines report six hours ago said no one alive, sir, within five miles. And IED’s all over the place.”
“Affirmative, sir. Remote sensing coming on line, should have a sat picture any second now,” Corporal Martin said as the screen flashed white and then went to the ‘blue screen of death.’ “Holy crap! Comm failure on the sat link. Kittrick, Get Dog Six to verify uplink status.”
“What’s going on?” I asked as everyone scrambled.
“Bird just died, sir. S.A. just took out the satellite,” Kittrick replied, and then waited for confirmation. “Confirm that, sir. Central U.S. satellite is down…..Sir, San Antonio reports Air Force is tracking multiple launches from S.A. territories. Have to be anti satellite missiles. Dog Six confirms and is tied into Air Force tracking radar.”
“Get the word out to all units ahead. Now,” Shand ordered. “While we can.”
“Yes, sir,” Kittrick said.
“Martin, get a status update to both trains. Might be warm up ahead,” I said. “Tell the engineers to park us five miles outside of Cozad until we’re ready to proceed in.”
“Yes, sir. Could be losing comms with Command pretty quick, Colonel.”
“Things have been going a little too well, Captain. Counteroffensive had to happen sooner or later. Looks like sooner. Gents, get every position of U.S. forces downloaded to the protected server. They pop an EMP this gear’s in a world of hurt.”
“Done, Colonel. Automatic trigger and isolated, protected data storage,” Kittrick said. “Western U.S. satellite down. Dammit. Inbounds heading toward Eastern satellite…..one point five minutes max.”
“Kittrick, where are they launching from?”
“Detroit region, sir. Can’t tell for sure. Two different profiles. Mid U.S. satellite was definitely an airborne launch due to the speed of intercept. Other two were ground launch for sure.”
Nothing that I’d read or seen spoke of anywhere near this kind of capability. If anything, I thought that Command had overstated the case, hammering on the lack of technological sophistication of the S.A.
“Any other ballistic lauches?”
“Can’t tell sir. All satellites within line of site and single point relay are gone.”
“None in range sir. Preservation of assets, I believe the Air Force is calling it.”
“So U.S. forces could be on the receiving end of a ballistic missile attack and we’d have zero warning,” I said.
“Afraid so, sir,” Kittrick replied.
“Charlie Six, I want you putting together a work around for distance communications with the field units. Dog Six on analysis of the attack pattern and communications options with Command,” Greg Shand ordered, “With the Colonel’s approval.”
“Don’t wait for me,” I said. “We don’t have time.”
Ten minutes later, we were in mid-conversation with both Austin and San Antonio, when the signal went dead.
“Gone, sir. Not sure we can get them back,” Martin said, fiddling with his computer, as the other techs scrambled as signals disappeared.
A few moments, later, Kittrick stated, “We’re in the dark, sirs. Systems operational, no data out there to collect.”
“Alert all battalion commanders,” I said. “Things will be interesting when we hit Cozad. Bet on it.”
Signals officers from Dog Six prepared the attack analysis against U.S. communications systems, and had it ready for a hurried Brigade briefing at nine-hundred hours. All Brigade commanders were attending either in person or electronically.
The outlook wasn’t favorable.
All civilian and military bands were affected, with multiple small EMP detonations in near space. Hardened military satellites were destroyed through direct impact, with airborne launched anti-sat weapons and several small ballistic missiles.
None of those capabilities were in the capability models created by the Department of Defense. The airborne launch alone proved that the S.A. had high-altitude fighter or other high performance aircraft capable of launching a missile able to target a satellite. The ballistic capability of course proved that they had the ability to drop a nuclear weapon wherever they pleased, assuming advanced targeting capability.
Charlie Six signals teams were testing on-board communications gear, finding no faults, and testing the typical battalion communications gear. Thus far, everything was working. The secondary communications suite was trying to communicate with anyone not aboard either train.
“We’re not quite back in the stone-age, Colonel. We can see it from there, though,” Captain McGowan said.
“Last knowns of U.S. forces. Major Ryder?” I asked.
“Marines are inbound to Grand Island after a detour up north, numbering thirty eight hundred six, down from forty-four hundred. Lone Star is in and around Grand Island, fielding forty-three nineteen, sir.”
“Between them, they’ve lost twelve hundred men. They’re down thirteen percent in less than ten days,” I said.
“Affirmative, sir. No counts on the New Mexico or Arizona units. They’re south of us. Haven’t heard from them since oh three hundred.”
“Georgia. Where’re the Bulldogs?” I asked.
“Due south of Grand Island. Town by the name of Hastings. They’re down to thirteen hundred and twenty, Colonel.”
“Down about two hundred since Sterling. Between the units that you’ve listed, and the known killed-in-action, we’re out of men in a few weeks….or days. All these units have been doing is a harassing campaign as the S.A. retreats. We need reinforcing units. NOW,” I said. “There is not one damned reason that the S.A. couldn’t mop us up right now. All right. Last known on the S.A. forces…Major, headcount.”
Gerry was hesitant to answer. “Well in excess of fifty-thousand, sir. Probably closer to seventy-five thousand. At least forty-thousand are split between Omaha and Kansas City, with the balance in the field against U.S. forces as they pull back east, sir.”
“So our units are down thirteen or more percent, fighting the stragglers,” I said. That comment was met with silence. “We continue on like this, and we’re done. We need serious manpower in this area and we have nothing.”
“Recommendation, Colonel?” Third Battalion commander, Lt. Colonel Hugh Epstein forwarded.
“Absolutely, Colonel Epstein,” I said.
“If we can find a means to communicate to the other Guard and Regular Army units, we need to consolidate in defensive points and stay there, until the U.S. can muster enough manpower to counter the S.A. There’s more men out there, they’re just in the wrong place. In light of our communications breakdowns, continued movement east without reliable intel is suicide, sir.”
“Thanks, Colonel,” I said. “Can’t really argue with that. Once we hit Cozad, we’ll have some time to plan while we figure out how to clear the tracks. Battalion commanders, expect an update on comms enhancements as soon as we get some news. In the meantime, First and Second Battalions, we’re five miles from Cozad and we’re taking Charlie Six in first. Dog Six hangs back a country mile in reserve. First and Second will deploy as soon as we approach the blockage, barring something unforeseen. You will secure the area and we will assess the damage to the tracks. If Cozad is anything like what the Marines said about Gothenburg, there probably aren’t any civilians left, or left alive. And probably IED’s as well as hostiles. Saddle up. Dismissed.” I said and the video feeds to the other railcars went dark.
“All right, communications boys, let’s have you work some magic,” I said to the staff in the communications suite. “Sergeant Travis, double our crews in the defensive cars. I want a dispersal map for First and Second with real-time positions plotted on the last satellite maps we have, uplink feeds from platoon leaders and leaders on up to battalion level. Got it?”
“Yes, sir. No problem,” Private Briggs replied.
“You say that now, Briggs. Shooting hasn’t started yet.”
At eleven-thirty hours, Charlie Six began the advance into Cozad. The Defensive cars were fully manned and weapons-free, and both assigned battalions were in full gear ready to deploy.
Within a half-mile of our intended stopping point, both the engineers and the communications teams said that they could see the blockage ahead. Almost simultaneously the train came under scattered small-arms fire. The command car was better armored than much of the train, and we could hear the occasional rounds ‘spang’ against the superstructure of our car.
“Briggs, any word on damage to the train?”
“None so far, sir. Small arms at significant distance, according to the crew in the forward D-car,” he said, just as the resounding ‘whump’ rattled through the train. Briggs answered before I asked.
“Ours, sir. Abrams just let one off,” he said to me before directing our defenders to other likely targets.
“Shooters atop the grain elevators, right above us to the north and east on the other side of the downed bridge,” Briggs said, quickly switching video feeds to serve as spotter for our crews. “Sir, forward Abrams just targeted another tall structure just south. That one’s gone, sir. Screen feed sixteen,” Brigs said.
With a few keystrokes, I could select any one of two dozen video feeds from aboard the exterior of the train. Most were fixed view, but some had the ability to zoom in on the image. Feed Sixteen showed the collapsing remains of a five or six-story concrete tower, hit mid-way up by a round from the rail car mounted Abrams tank. Feed Ten showed, with a pan-and-zoom camera, small arms fire from the grain elevators. Our own trigger-pullers in the defensive cars—D-cars—were waiting for the right moment. First Battalion began their scramble out of the train and moved for cover. Second Battalion was waiting for their “go” signal from the rear command car.
Within a few moments, I could see the enemy start to fall systematically as Third Washington engaged them in some force. I knew though, that there weren’t more than a half-dozen of our men doing the shooting. Feed Five had the rear defensive car, along with audio. I watched, my heart pounding, as the cry came in from the rear command car.
The shouts and pandemonium in the rear defensive car, and through the open audio feed of the rear command car only lasted a moment until the rocket-propelled grenades hit.
The defensive car took five hits before the rear Abrams and the chain guns found the shooters’ locations. The rear command car took one grenade, severing our link with the rear of the train. A moment later, Private Martin yelled, “incoming!” as the forward portion of the train was targeted. Three violent shocks later, I picked myself up off the deck. Several of the video feeds were blank, I saw, but the remaining feeds showed First and Second Battalions streaming out towards Cozad to our north and south, into the industrial side of the tracks, leapfrogging with fire-and-cover as they went. The D-car chain guns were making hay.
“Men down! Men down! Medic!”
The RPG fire ceased, but not soon enough.
“Dog Six, back it up,” I heard Briggs order the engineers aboard the second train. “Med Team Five, standby for deployment.”
“Colonel, you ready?” Jim Schaefer asked.
“Yep. Let’s move,” I said. Four battalions were in the field in Cozad, eliminating the S.A. in their entirety. Lieutenant Colonel Schaefer and I were heading east to survey the blockage on our tracks.
“Sir, make sure your comm link is active, please,” Briggs asked before I put on my helmet.
“Done,” I said. “Thanks, Briggs.”
“No problem, sir. Battalion commanders are on Three-Echo, with subroutines programmed to contact smaller units.”
“Haven’t read the manual, Briggs. If I get in trouble, I’ll just holler,” I said, Briggs of course knowing that I had read the manual on the complicated communications headset, and had tried it out earlier.
Outside, the transportation crews had unloaded most of Charlie Sixes Humvees, with the last one off the train parked near my command car. This particular unit had a manned top-mounted gun and was up-armored. The gunner, and a following support truck were weapons ready. All eyes were looking for targets, weapons ready.
“Care to drive, sir?” Jim asked.
“Hell, yes,” I said. “Tired of sitting around.”
“Should be a couple hundred yards up the line….the first blockage that is, sir.”
“Multiples?” I asked. “Thought we only had the highway bridge down on the tracks. Saw it on the enhanced monitors.”
“Oh, more than that, sir, from what the point men out west are saying.”
“Great,” I said. “No IED’s spotted yet?”
“Sir? I can field that one. Sergeant Kinlin, First Battalion, Delta, er…sorry, D Company,” he said, correcting himself. The more modern phonetic alphabet, Alpha-Bravo-Charlie-Delta was widely used by the S.A. The U.S. forces reverted to Able-Baker-Charlie-Dog. “We cleared a hundred meter swath on either side of the tracks and about two hundred meters down the line. Couple squads from Easy Company are clearing further out.”
“Thanks, Sergeant,” I said. “I appreciate your work out there.”
“Years of experience, sir. Three tours in the Raq and two in the Stan. Could really used a Short Bus out here.”
“Short Bus?” I asked.
“MRAP, sir. Mine Resistant Ambush Protectant. Look like a short bus, Colonel.”
“Pretty much guarantee we’ll never have one of those handy when we need it, Sergeant.”
“Universal truth of combat, Colonel.”
We headed east several hundred feet beyond the lead engine, where the first blockage stopped us cold. The S.A. had detonated an IED and took down a concrete overpass, blocking the rail line with an impassable barrier thirty feet wide and five feet thick. I headed south of the blockage, around the downed bridge and down the embankment, which was easier said than done with the Humvee side-slipping on the icy slope. A few hundred yards east of the overpass, they dropped one of the rail bridges into the river…the Platte River, I assumed. The Interstate 80 bridges though, were intact, or at least, hadn’t been blown, yet.
“This is gonna suck,” I said. “Have any bridge engineers handy?” I asked Jim Schaefer.
“Nope, we sure don’t, Colonel. Nor any bridging equipment or heavy equipment to clear any of this.”
“Resupply to any unit east of here depending on rail service on this line just ended from this point until we get this figured out,” I said just as a rifle round hit the Humvee.
“Not quite secured out here, sir,” Kinlin said.
“Ya think?” I said. “We’ll get back toward the train and get into town. Sounds like our boys have a few areas swept out.”
“D Street by the hospital, as far north as their middle school, everything west of that. East and north of there, well, the civilians are kicking ass up there Colonel, ahead of our men. One of the squads said they were killing the S.A. with shovels and axes.”
“Whatever it takes, Sergeant,” I said. “Any guess as to civilian headcount?”
“Three thousand if there’s a one, sir. Probably more.”
“Probably no way to get them to let us do the job,” I said.
“Not one chance in all of Hell, Colonel.”
I drove south, slowly, along D Street, passing dozens of dead S.A., one face down in the snow with a pickaxe buried in his back, his blood soaking the snow and ice. To a man, or an animal, as my opinion of the S.A. line fighter was now defined, the dead appeared to have been beaten to death by a mob. I noticed there appeared to be no civilian bodies.
“Sergeant, the S.A. ran out of ammo, I’m thinking.”
“Probably so, sir. Civilians lit out after them and killed who they caught.”
“Victor Two,” I said into my headset after switching to the right frequency.
“Two,” I heard in my ear.
“Estimate enemy remaining,” I asked.
“Six hundred plus. Civilians and Dog Company are in pursuit.”
“Rendezvous at location Sugar after you secure the area. Victor Five out,” I said.
“Jim, how long you think mop-up will take?”
“Two to three hours. First units in are about a third through the building sweep. No completed IED’s so far, except at their airport, but a shitload of material to build them, sir. Excavations all along the Interstate, and three arterials. Didn’t have time to finish them.”
“All right, enough of my sightseeing. Let’s see how this hospital looks.”