Thursday, May 20, 2010
Within the space of a few hours, Lincoln Municipal Airport became again, Lincoln Air Force Base. I wasn’t aware that it had ever been an Air Force installation, until I’d seen an old-timer who’d worked on Atlas ICBM’s when they were stationed here in the Sixties. It had been home to both Army and Air Guard units before the War. They’d been reassigned to Cannon Air Force Base in New Mexico.
True to his word, General Rowe’s C-17’s delivered men and equipment that transformed the wrecked airport to a forward operating base for every type of close air support aircraft in the inventory, no matter what branch.
By seventeen-hundred, Air Traffic Control was up and running, not far from the wrecked Nebraska ANG buildings, despite the forward air controllers not having a place to sleep that night. Crews from both the Washington and Idaho brigades were assembling housing for the aircrews and controllers, from rail-mounted units nearly identical to ours. Two off-load cranes systematically unloaded the converted containers and shifted to flat-beds towed by semi-tractors, moved them to the airport, and then offloaded each unit with another pair of cranes. The creation of the Air Force village would probably take a full twenty-four hours, especially getting the utility hookups made. There was plenty of work to go around. I toured the operations of the Gem State and Third Washington in a very old, but low mileage Chevy Blazer that at one time had belonged to a missile complex up in North Dakota. I’d never seen as many heaters in anything painted olive drab. It was nice to be warm.
At seventeen oh-five I was headed back up to the airport with Jim Schaefer for a last look before I sequestered myself. I didn’t hear them until they were nearly upon us: three KC 135’s in quick succession, perhaps thirty seconds apart, landed and immediately dispersed on the fair-sized apron of the base.
“Nice to see they’re starting to get some aircraft in the fight,” Jim said. “Really packing them in close.
“They’ve probably been in the fight all along, just not where it would do any good,” I replied. “Or at least, any good for us.”
Right after the KC’s, the familiar ‘hum’ of the A-10 Warthog. I gave up counting them after twenty.
“Shee-it,” I said, pulling up to the Air Force security policeman for the second time in an hour.
“Good evening, Colonel. Where you headed this time?”
“Off to see your C.O. with Lieutenant Colonel Schaefer here,” I said.
“One moment, sir, let me locate him,” he said, then stepped away from the truck and spoke into his headset mike. “Should be in Thirty One Oh Seven, sir.”
“Thanks, Sergeant,” I said with a nod, and drove off. “They’ve got their Command and ATC in those six containers behind the three layers of fence.”
“Anti-RPG fencing?” Jim asked.
“You got it.”
“So, Colonel, how long you think you’ll be down?”
“I’ve got a two week supply of antibiotics and the Doc will be checking on me as often as he thinks is prudent. He’s not messing around. Just consider me an office-bot for the duration. Which, by the way, I will hate.”
“I’ll bet. You’re not the kind of guy to sit on your ass, sir.”
“Not so much, no,” I said looking over at the runway. “Fairchild Thunderbolt II’s. Those have to be one of my favorite aircraft, period.”
“The Warthog is one of the best things flying, sir. Every time I meet one of their pilots, I buy them a drink.”
“I hope we have a lot of them left…pilots and Hogs.”
Colonel Mike Kazmer was a bundle of nervous energy in a five-foot nine frame, simultaneously listening to three different attack missions in mid-execution, giving orders to his command staff, and listening to our situation report. He seemed to take it all in, and asked pointed questions that were relevant to air operations. Transport and converted civilian airliners would begin to evac civilians on Christmas morning.
“OK, Colonel Schaefer, that covers the basics: Fuel, food and bullets. How’s security on our approach and departure? How many people with long-guns picking for us?”
I responded for Jim. “Colonel Kazmer, the S.A. disarmed most everyone here. There is no Resistance movement to speak of. There is no civilian presence within two miles of the airport in any direction. There wasn’t before the City was re-taken, it’s been maintained that way. There are no habitable homes from Interstate Eighty north and west of Highway One Eighty.”
“SAM’s? Find any?”
“No, Colonel Kazmer. Spent SA-7’s manufactured twenty years ago, -14’s and -18’s. Hundreds. No live weapons.”
“Not hardly. Russian, Egyptian, Chinese, Pakistani. Manufacture dates of Nineteen Seventy-Nine to three months ago,” Jim said. That raised Kazmer’s eyebrows.
“What’d you find for fixed installations?” he asked.
“Wreckage,” I said.
“Can’t I.D?” Kazmer asked.
“Six radar locations with six launchers each. There really wasn’t enough left of any of them to identify what they were or where they were from, but three Intel officers said they didn’t recognize any of it. Secondary detonations at all locations. It appeared they stored spare missiles well within blast radii of the missiles on the launchers.”
“Amateurs,” Kazmer said, listening to us and his controllers in contact with ‘Gunfighter Six’ who was engaged over Omaha. ‘Six’ was an A-10 that had been hit during a run through the SAM umbrella over the city. I’d overheard that the plane had engine damage and had lost both hydraulic systems and had reverted to manual—meaning cable operated—controls.
“Colonel, it’s clear you’ve got work to do. We’ll let you get to it,” I said as I stood. I was getting tired. Jim stood as well.
“Busy night in a long line of busy nights. Thanks to you both and your men. Good having juice to run these systems, food for our men and a supply line for gas and shells.”
“Merry Christmas, Colonel.”
“And to you as well,” he said, shaking our hands, still listening to ‘Gunfighter Six’ and ‘One’, the stricken crafts’ flight leader.
Jim and I put our parkas back on, and headed outside. Air Force emergency response crews were ready to respond to ‘Gunfighter’.
“This could get interesting,” I said to Jim.
“Yeah, at least. Here he comes,” he said, pointing north- northeast.
We watched as the anti-collision lights flashed and a single landing light wavered on approach, and touched down without incident.
“Uneventful is good,” I said.
“Yeah it is. I’m thinking that pilot’s gonna kiss the ground.”
“At least,” I said as we looked to the northeast, thirty-five or forty miles over to Omaha, where we could hear artillery and see the flashes of explosions.
For the first time ever, I spent Christmas Eve alone. Six chaplains from the Brigade were at several refugee locations for makeshift church services. I’d have been there too, but for doctor’s orders. There was little in the way of traditional Christmas celebrations in Lincoln. I read my well worn Bible, and listened to carols being broadcast through our train, Dog Six, and Lincoln Air Force Base. I wrote letters to Karen, Carl and Kelly; Ron and Libby; Alan and Mary.
I reviewed in my mind the previous year, and how different it turned out to be.
Karen and I had planned on a family trip to San Francisco for Spring Break, staying at our favorite hotel off of Columbus, not far from Fisherman’s Wharf. I didn’t tell her but I’d also planned a nice quiet dinner for the two of us at the Mark Hopkins. I’d made reservations six months in advance. Instead of San Francisco, we finished the roof on the house and slept inside the house and not the barn, for the first time in months.
Summer would have brought around another family reunion with my brothers, probably without Joe. We’d have golfed at Liberty Lake’s south course, water skied behind a friend’s boat up at Priest where we’d vacationed as kids, seen a Spokane Indians baseball game. Instead, we farmed and split wood and built houses and worried a lot.
All the other plans were shelved as well. Building a new deck in the back of the house, adding an above ground pool, finishing the Sixty-Six Mustang for Carl and Kelly to drive to school.
A little before midnight, I shut the lights off and listened as the A-10’s continued their sorties.
I rose early, tired of coughing, and not quite knowing where I was. I didn’t sleep well, with the constant thrum of air traffic and all the noises associated with normal operations of Third Washington.
After showering, I flipped on the monitor and reviewed the imagery currently being viewed in the Command Car. It made me fee like a teacher looking over the shoulders of students, to see if anyone was cheating. Two monitors were reviewing weather inbound to Lincoln, others were working on equipment manifests, personnel assignments, supply train schedules, and sorting through lists of civilians requesting transport out of the city.
The latter, in particular I found interesting, as the tech running that station was cross-referencing the photographs of civilians with known database information from before the War. The database was quite extensive, more so than I’d ever realized. We were weeding through the ‘civilians’, to see if there was a cross reference to any known S.A.
I grabbed my parka and gloves, and headed to ‘work’, making my way through the slush-covered ice.
“Merry Christmas, everyone,” I said to the full Command Car.
“Good morning, Colonel. Fresh coffee?” Major Pat Morrissey asked.
“Absolutely, Pat. The real thing?”
“Courtesy of the United States Air Force,” he said, pouring me a big mug.
“Mighty nice of them,” I said.
“Considering they’re looking to requisition one of Third’s machine shops, permanent-like,” Pat said, “I’d consider this as part of a buttering-up process, sir.”
“When did the request come in?” I asked.
“Little after midnight, Colonel.”
“How high up the food chain?”
“Bird Colonel, sir. Name of Harris.”
“Anybody from Third comment on this?”
“Charlie’s machine shops are running full steam, Colonel, three shifts. Refits of equipment far and wide, mostly tanks. Dog’s a little slower.”
“Correct me if I’m wrong. They have four shops from ‘Able’ at their disposal, and they want ours as well?”
“Appears that way, sir.”
“Yeah. Not really feeling like Saint Nick today,” I said. “When they put a formal request in, send it, and the messenger, straight to me.”
“I’ll see to it, sir,” Pat said.
“OK, now, what’s the overnight sit rep?”
“Lost three water filtration systems on our train, two on Dog. Pump systems in the waste tanks are having issues, too.”
“I figured the honeymoon would wear off pretty quick. Crews on repair?”
“Twenty-five men on rotation, Colonel. The cold is a bitch.”
“And the boys in blue? They’ve been busy overnight.”
“Flyboys have been hammering on the S.A. in Omaha. Lost one, an F-16. Ground forces are closing in, should be entering the central core within the next six hours,” he said, pointing at a tactical display on one of the monitors. “They’ve basically got everything west of a line from the airport on the north side of town to Papillion on the south. Six more transports came in overnight from Arizona and California, men and gear. Planes are really stacking up at the airport, Air Force says that evac flights will start as soon as the civilian relief forces and ground workers offload—they’re inbound right now, probably an hour out. Most of Dog Six is standing down until eleven hundred, they had a freight come in around oh two hundred and were on alert to offload. That one got shuttled straight up to the Air Force instead—munitions—including some new drones, and the boys in blue took care of the offload. Next train’s not due until fourteen-hundred. Night shift of Charlie should be coming off duty at oh six-hundred. No news there, most of the men were up on campus in the civilian shelters and med centers.”
“Find any S.A. in this vetting process?” I asked, pointing to one of the tech’s working over on Suite Two.
“Five. They don’t know it yet. We have men there. They’ll be removed from the civilian population shortly. We planned on taking them at oh five-hundred.”
“Are they together, or separate?”
“Separate,” Morrissey said.
“If you do this, will you tip off any other S.A. in the lot?”
“Colonel, sir?” the Suite Two tech, ‘Jackson’ replied. “We’re done with the vetting process across the entire civilian population in the next fifteen minutes, sir. Facial recognition programs are running in every Command Car—all eight between the four trains—most on multiple suites. This suite is reviewing some questionables raised by all other suites.”
“You’ve done this overnight?” I asked, quite surprised. Thousands of civilians were photographed, names taken, and other identification given.
“Yes, sir. Captain McGowan’s orders, along with the intelligence officers from the Idaho Brigade.”
“Nice work,” I said. “Pat, proceed per your original schedule.” All civilians had been searched for weapons when they entered the civilian shelters. In the thousands of refugees, the most serious weapon were folding blade knives. No firearms whatsoever.
I reviewed the Christmas Day operational schedule as the time ticked toward five a.m. The S.A. in hiding would be whisked out of the civilian shelters quickly, taken to a secure facility within the perimeter of the Air Force base, and would go through interrogation. Along the way, they’d be strip searched and zip tied.
Christmas breakfast for the civilians would be nothing out of the ordinary, unfortunately. They’d be fed and warm though, and some would evac to warmer climates and safer places. Third Washington wouldn’t be ‘fixing’ much in the way of infrastructure in Lincoln, beyond keeping the University and hospital areas alive for military support.
One of the sergeants from Second Battalion served up breakfast for the Command Car, earlier than we’d expected. Breakfast bagel, with sausage, egg and cheese. Not bad, but not home. I missed Karen’s sausage, egg, bread and cheese breakfast casserole, and ambrosia in my great-grandmothers’ crystal bowl.
I put on the headset and microphone, and listened to the tactical frequency as the S.A. in hiding were taken, forgetting that there was probably headset video from each squad. None put up a fight, but exiting the group sleeping area was a little tense. The civilians wanted the S.A. for their own. Within a few minutes, the S.A. were on their way to their new, limited future.
A second cup of coffee later, Pat placed in front of me a stack of recovered S.A. documents that were being scanned and transmitted up to Command. They were an interesting glimpse into the Other Side. Although cryptically written, the gist of the ‘Priority Directives’ included these choice thoughts:
Doctors, nurses, scientists and engineers were to be captured and shipped East to Pennsylvania, where the S.A. was establishing research and development centers for medically enhancing the soldiers of the S.A. and dramatically increasing the immune systems of the senior members of the S.A. hierarchy. Simultaneously, anyone deemed to be of inferior ‘stock’ would be conscripted into the S.A. ranks and ‘fully indoctrinated into the Sacred Mission of the State.’ The ‘inferior stock’ would be used as front-line soldiers, and were fully intended to be expendable. Those with ‘superior social value’ would of course be spared.
“Eugenics at it’s finest,” I said to myself, as I continued reading.
The capture of breeding-age females of course was part of the process, where either they would be selected for breeding based on ‘pre-determined genetic superiority’ (which seemed a contradiction in terms to me). Those with ‘acceptable prime factors’ would be directly bred; those without would be artificially inseminated. The report was incomplete, only part of their ‘Statistically Superior Creation Effort’ was here for me to read. It was sickening.
“Pat, has Captain McGowan read this?”
“Yes, sir. I was reserving passing on his responses until you’ve read the documents.”
“These people are barking mad,” I said. “They’re getting soundly thrashed on all fronts and they’re talking about breeding the next generation from ‘genetically superior’ people?’”
“So it appears, Colonel.”
The rest of the documents paled in comparison to the ‘creation effort’. Machinery and tooling, all identified by location, type, capability and capacity were present in a thick, three-ring bound document. Someone had put significant effort into inventorying, documenting, and locating all of this equipment. All of it was to be seized intact, disassembled by ‘Relocation Teams’ and relocated to designated R&D centers, mostly in Pennsylvania and in northern Indiana. There was no specific information on ‘what’ was to be created from the assembled equipment, only that it was ‘necessary to ensure the dominance of the State in the prosecution of the War against all enemies.’ Many of the directives were signed by their ‘president’, with the intended recipient being an S.A. General by the name of Arnold Slocum. I saw hand-written notes, I supposed in the hand of this general, outlining occupation and elimination of ‘resources not directly beneficial to the supremacy of the State.’ The document appeared to be a rough draft of orders to his army.
Any equipment that could not be removed was to be destroyed so that ‘enemy’ efforts could not ‘exploit the equipment for use against the State.’
For the first time, I saw in print, the specific instructions to destroy anything and anyone left behind in any ‘offensive’ that could be ‘used against the State and allow the enemy to mount a recovery. Recovery would be dictated by the State on the State’s terms, only after the destruction of enemy population centers.’
I sat there and thought about that for a long time. Only after a second request, did I respond to one of the duty officers requesting that I take a call on one of the secure channels.
“Colonel, you OK?” Major Morrissey asked.
“Yeah, thanks Major. Just thinking,” I said as I put the headset on.
“Colonel Drummond,” I said into the mic.
“General Garcia, Colonel. Merry Christmas.”
“General, to you as well. What can we do for you?”
“You can get to Omaha, pronto. What kind of ETA can you give us?”
“Probably six hours to break down both trains for transit. After that, just best possible time to get to a terminal point, General. Clear tracks, an hour or so.” I’d anticipated a move like this, and asked for realistic break-down and ready-to-move schedules from the entire Brigade. These were updated daily. I didn’t like surprises.
“I’m putting in the request with Austin right now. I would expect an answer back within an hour.”
“Understood, General. We’ll be waiting.”
“Garcia out,” she said as the line went dead.
Morrissey let out a long, descending whistle. “Into the fire, Colonel.”
“Maybe so. Get the duty officers up to speed. Not really how I wanted to spend the day,” I said, thinking, ‘Americans. Killing each other on Christmas.’