Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Remnant, Chapter 46


December Nineteenth
1740 Hours

‘A’ Company, Second Battalion, Seventy-Fifth Regiment, was at thirty-eight percent strength, with one soldier as Mike stated, suffering from a severe brain injury.  Doctor Willitson had no logical reason why the twenty-six year olds’ heart was beating, with the amount of brain damage.  It would be hours or a day before ‘A’ Company’s number would decrease again.

Early on Thanksgiving morning, three companies, including Mike’s men were dropped at the small airport of Osceola, Iowa by several C-130’s and immediately dispersed per their original mission plan.
They broke down into platoons and squads, working over the pattern they’d been assigned, adjusting sometimes dramatically, based on conditions in the field.
‘A’ Company discovered their first contact as expected, who directed them to several other resistance leaders…but not set up in the ‘triangle’ pattern of resistance cells—but in family lines, unlike Jess Armstrong’s Colorado classically crafted resistance model.  The resistance in Iowa was deep, widespread, and well integrated into the normal fabric of the population, regardless of the S.A. territory and leadership structure.  Mike’s men made further arrangements with the resistance leaders to supply them United States radios, weapons, and supplies. 
The Army and Air Force discovered almost by accident, that once United States forces made it through the tens-of-miles of S.A. force protection, that there was virtually no armed S.A. presence. Getting through the line was interesting, but simple. They posed as an S.A. aircraft, on enemy frequencies, with their IFF codes, on a return mission after inserting S.A. troops in U.S. held land. Pretty ballsy, I thought.
Things went fairly well for Mike’s troops until December Third, when the S.A. took out the satellites and Mike’s communications protocols were lost. At the same time, the eastern-most troops began to be hunted down, with word reaching Mike through the resistance network far sooner than they could have verified themselves. The lone civilian who came back with the survivors was their last contact, and happened to be a second cousin to one of Mike’s lieutenants. Their backup plan, in that eventuality, was to rendezvous near Lenox, Iowa, and proceed west, back through the lines. The hand of the S.A. began to close on them, pushing them further north and west, directing them towards Omaha. The Statists had a sizeable military force at the remains of Offutt Air Force Base.  The Air Force had directed a significant attack on the infrastructure of the base, to mixed effect.  Army Corps of Engineering standards for construction proved to be pretty well thought out. American weapons used against American targets didn’t cause anywhere near the damage anticipated, until specific ‘soft spots’ were identified and targeted, requiring further missions and accruing further losses.
My read of Mike’s mission, without any offense toward my friend, was that it was…stupid. No support behind enemy lines, when the enemy was known for stripping most everything of use. No equipment or transport, for the same reason. Worse yet, no extraction plan or resupply behind the lines. It struck me as all but a suicide mission.  The higher ups just didn’t understand this enemy. I hoped to God that there weren’t many other units behind the lines, so badly supported.  I then remembered the SEALS that were also behind the lines…

Mike’s debrief and the compilation of after-action reports from the surviving leadership—officers and men—ran until a little after 1700, when Doctor Willitson recommended that the men get some rest.  I offered Mike a shot of Scotch in my quarters before he headed off to get some sleep.   While he was finishing his debrief with our staff, including transcription and contact with both Austin and San Antonio, I received his orders.  Along with his men, his unit would be furloughed for fifteen days back in Washington. After that, they’d proceed to Fort Hood to await their next deployment.

“Cutty Sark. Not bad,” he said, sipping his drink. Despite a hot shower and clean utilities, Mike looked awful.

“Medicinal purposes only,” I said, and then paused a little. “Got your orders while you were finishing up debrief. You’ll be home for Christmas,”  I said. “Train heads out tomorrow morning. Two weeks and a day. Then down to Hood.”

“More than I expected, for damned sure,” he said.  His eyes still didn’t have their characteristic spark.  ‘Something in him died out there,’ I thought to myself.

“You need this time, you know.”

“Yeah, I know,” he said before uttering an expletive, and continuing. “You heard the debrief. You heard the sanitary version. Someday, maybe,  I’ll feel like talking about it. Don’t ask, though.”

“Hadn’t considered it. There aren’t many people left in this world, if any,” I said, suddenly considering the possibility that there was  now, no one who knew, “what I saw over in Sudan. What I did over there, what others did on my orders—a kid, giving orders.  I haven’t told everyone the whole story. They wouldn’t understand, and it doesn’t matter anymore, except to me.”

“But it changed you,” he said, staring through the floor.

“It changed me. No going back. Not for you, either,” I said. “Just don’t let it destroy you. People ask about my testimony. Why and how I became a Christian. Well, you are the first to know. I didn’t have any other place to go. Nothing to look to. I was, well, utterly destroyed. God was there, because there was nothing else. No one else knows that, not even Karen.  Too tough to talk about, no one else, except maybe you, would understand. Others, I’m sure, tried to find solace in booze, or women, or some other faith. For me, though, for what was missing in my life, for the forgiveness that I could not get anywhere else, that was the choice I made.”

Mike didn’t have anything to say, and I understood perfectly.

“Go get some sleep. You’re going home to your wife and twins for their first Christmas. You have a lot to be thankful for, despite the Hell you just went through.”

Mike just nodded, shook my hand, and left.  ‘It’d be a long time,’ I thought, before he would ‘be the same.’’

Five minutes after Mike left, Private Ayers handed me a packet as I returned to the Command Car.

“Here’s your mail, Colonel.”

“No shit?” I said before thinking, looking at Karen’s handwriting on several thick letters.  I’d written several…and not sent any back westbound with any of the ‘official’ correspondence.

“No shit, Colonel. Ten big bins of it came in on the Thirty-One.”

“Any packages?”

“No, sir. Just letters.”

“Many for the men?”

“Well, the bins were pretty damned big, sir. Cubic yard apiece, so I’d say so.”

“Excellent. Thanks.”

“Sir, Troop Nineteen expected arrival at twenty-three hundred and change,” Captain Shand said.  “Just came in.”

“Swell. You and Major Ryder and his men figure out where in Hell to put them?”  There was precious little space in Grand Island that could be called ‘habitable.’

“Not yet. They weren’t expected for three days yet.”

“We’re running out of room to park trains. Anyone down south figure that out yet?”

“Not likely, sir.”


“Three thousand, sir.”

“I wish, just for a minute, that I had a glimpse into the thought process of Command, or some fricking clue as to a battle plan. Too much to ask for, I suspect,” I said.

“Above our pay grades, Colonel,” Shand replied.

“Already spread the word down through Third?”  I asked. I’d finally gotten it through my head not to go through the minutiae Third Washington’s standing mission.

“Fifteen seconds ago. Automated notification, sir.”

“All right. Good work,” I said, thinking, ‘damned Command idiots.’

I decided to read my mail, later, in private. It was tough for me to not just rip them open, but I still had work to do.

1930 Hours

“Jeff, how’re those Rangers?” I asked Doctor Willitson, both of us grabbing something to eat in the mess tent.

“Shot to Hell, Colonel. Three in critical condition, and we lost one—that head wound. Fifteen with gunshot wounds. Three with compound fractures. Almost all of them dehydrated. Couple with viral pneumonia.  Several with intestinal issues. Patched up as well as we can here.  We’ll evac the worst of them tomorrow, if the birds are ready.”

“Should be, unless the weather goes to crap again,” I said, noticing a Ranger and a stocky brunette at his elbow coming our way.  “Three Blackhawks and a couple of Chinooks were going through overnight service in anticipation of evac tomorrow. No one’s got more than an eight-hour look ahead on the weather right now.”

“Excuse me, are you Colonel Drummond?” the Ranger asked, an older second lieutenant.

“Guilty as charged, Lieutenant,” I said, standing. His name stripe said, ‘Van Hook’.  ‘Good Dutch name,’ I thought.

“Sir, there’s someone you ought to meet. Colonel Amberson asked me to make the introductions, sir.”  

“I’m guessing that it must be time to meet our civilian. Am I close, Lieutenant?”

“Yes, sir.  Colonel Drummond, this is Mrs. Klasena DeJong, or Clara for short. She’s my second cousin, sir.”

“Mrs. DeJong, quite pleased to meet you,” I said. She looked to be in her early forties.

“You as well, sir. Thank you for taking care of these young men,” she said, shaking my hand firmly.

“It’s an honor, ma’am.  This is Jeff Willitson, Third Washington’s head doc.”

“Doctor, thank you very much.”

“Tough men, Mrs. DeJong. I’m confident that most of them will make a full recovery.”

“Clara, please have a seat. Can I call you Clara?” I asked.

“That’s fine, Colonel, thank you.”

“Call me Rick if you like.  I’m not exactly regular Army,” I said. “I hear that you were part of the Resistance in Iowa.”

“Yep, when we weren’t hiding in a storm cellar or trying to keep from being looted,” she said, looking at the men around the room.

“Pardon me asking, but did you leave family behind?” I asked.

“No, actually. My husband headed up to Pennsylvania in early November on…well, business. Resistance business, that is. Our boys are in the Marines.  Last we heard was quite a while ago, but they were in Virginia.”

“We haven’t heard anything solid about operations in the East, unfortunately.”

“We haven’t heard anything, period. Anyone caught broadcasting either disappeared or was just outright shot,” Clara said. “Real news is hard to come by, and we didn’t know what was real or faked, even on the radio. Oh, and possession of a radio is either a death sentence or hard labor, which is usually a death sentence.”

I’m sure I looked surprised by that, although I should not have been.  “I’m finding it hard to figure out how to ask this question, but how did you decide to stay, when you could see what was going on with the S.A?”

She paused for a moment. “Pre-collapse, I helped teach courses in critical thinking….mostly for home schools in the area, and of course running the farm with my husband.  Our own boys were taught in the government schools, but by the time our youngest was going into high school, we could tell that they weren’t teaching them how to think. They were teaching them what to think, and to go no deeper. We began to realize that most, if not all people, once conditioned through years of sameness, display an abundant lack of ability to see a new danger bearing down on them because they just can’t recognize it.  A fatal consequence of not being able to think, but bandaged over by the warm and fuzzy feelings of what to think. They look to the past to inventory and analyze, and usually dismiss a new and critical threat because they just don’t see it for what it is.  They don’t have a basis of understanding of what the threat can mean to them,” she said. “So they naturally dismiss it.”

“It gets more complicated of course, because proper recognition of a new threat isn’t enough to protect one from the threat.  They have to have the right response in reaction to the correct identification of the new threat.  People are not geared to do both well. One, maybe. Not both.  Combine those two problems with the binds that we place upon ourselves to meet our past obligations, and the responses are usually both too late and inadequate or just plain wrong….,

“And of course the sooner you recognize a threat, the sooner you can respond…”

“And the less you will be affected by it. We stayed, because most of the younger generation, and a small percentage of the older folks, still know how to think.  They know right from wrong.  Those people are the core of the Iowa Resistance.”

December Nineteenth
2200 Hours

                                                                               November 27

Dearest Rick—

It’s been only five days, and its an eternity. I can’t tell you how much I miss you because you already know….so I’ll not write of it.
The big news at the moment is that they’ve rounded up your four ringleaders of the Samuels gang who’d been released back to the Feds…and then to the S.A.  They were caught down in Tekoa, moving north in a stolen Whitman County pickup truck.  They did not give up, according to Elaine Cross. She didn’t go into it, but said that they would no longer be bothering anyone on this Earthly Plane. She gave me the impression that they were expected.
Things are going O.K. here, and the curfew is still in place, and random, so we never quite know when the stores are supposed to open and close until an hour or so before the Army wants them open. Alan and Ron and the new guys are keeping up with demand, but there are more shortages coming without more goods coming in to the area.  Alan hasn’t said anything much about it, but I can tell he’s concerned.
Mom is doing better than we thought she would, but her mental acuity is not what it was before she fell.  Sarah and her nursing manager Reba think that only part of it is related to the meds…part of it is almost certainly an age-related condition.  Ron has been splitting his time between the stores and supervising more work on what we’re calling Serenity House….he’s putting in a fence around the front yard today, and has plans to create a fenced back yard for the residents—one has Alzheimer’s and wanders. When weather is better, hopefully we’ll have a garden space outside for them to enjoy.
Our kids are being pushed hard to get back into their studies…these curfews seem to be a good reason for them to find other things to occupy their time, and I’ve had to raise my voice more than once. Libby is more persuasive than I am with our kids, and I seem to be more persuasive with Kelly….go figure.
We saw your unit on television yesterday…but couldn’t tell if you were in the picture.  They talked about the recovery of the Sixth Army and that a Washington State unit was in charge…and we saw a shoulder patch insignia. The tape was from a civilian helping with the work.  We then saw the tape of what happened in North Platte. I think we all understand now, why you said you’d volunteer if Governor Hall had not drafted you.

I cannot imagine you in such a difficult place among such tragedy. I do hope that you are taking care of yourself as you should.

Come home to me.
All my love forever,

I read the letter three times, then carefully folded it and put it back in its’ envelope.  I had three more letters from Karen and two from Carl and Kelly. Rather than rushing through them, I decided to take them one at a time. I thought they could soak in a bit more that way.

I made my way over to the Command Car. Troop Nineteen was coming in early. 

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