Sunday, May 30, 2010
Aboard Charlie Six
A thousand men had worked all night to clear the tracks, strip the damaged cars of anything useful, and monitor overnight action in Omaha.
We were too far away from a highway to mount up an effort to move men and supplies to Omaha, and the weather was working against us in any regard. It was frustrating and heartbreaking, to hear of the fighting in Omaha and the pleas for relief, and to be unable to respond.
The Air Force made a substantial effort to resupply the ground troops with steady flights of C-17’s delivering supplies by air, cargo parachutes landing west of the city, where there was little danger of S.A. retrieving the equipment. There was however, danger of surface to air attack.
By oh eight-hundred, Third Washington’s ‘graveyard’ shift was rotating through the breakfast line, and the ‘day shift’ was in the field helping the rail crews stage the repair operation. I was stuck, with Doc Willitson checking on me, in the Command Car or my quarters—and not liking it one bit. I still had the deep cough, and the pain in my side.
Captain Fillmore had conducted funeral services for the dead rail crewmen, who could not be quickly returned to their homes in the Pacific Northwest. I had watched the brief service, via the helmet camera of one of the men. They were buried with full military honors, despite their civilian status. One day, their remains would be returned to their home cities. One day…
“Sir, we’re getting a skip broadcast from back east. Civilian radio broadcast—our side,” Captain Shand told me, distracting me in a welcome way from my letters of condolence to the families of the crewmen. I’d already read the weather report, which would turn from wet and sloppy overnight to a Canadian cold front. Lows overnight would be in the teens, with subzero wind chills.
“Freq?” I asked.
“Shortwave, sir. Five point niner three five, sir. Haven’t located a city yet, sir.”
“We don’t have a cross reference? Try for Nashville. This sounds like WWCR,” I said, listening in to the news. “We listened to them a lot when things were coming unspooled,” I said.
“…..that Baltimore and Washington D.C. have been formally retaken by the United States of America, despite claims by the Statists that they remain in S.A. control. Our correspondents in the area report that in fact, the Capitol was never within S.A. control, with the heart of Washington in firm control of the United States Navy since the evacuation of the city last April Fourteenth. The current Flag of the United States of America now files in the Capitol, a city with a current population that is a fraction of Pre-War levels. Field commanders estimate that there are less than a hundred thousand residents in the city, although it is impossible at this time to confirm this, as most residents scurry for cover when patrols or vehicles are sighted.
Radiation levels throughout the Chesapeake Bay area, from the bombed cities of Norfolk and Newport News to the location of the dirty bomb in Silver Spring, remain significantly higher than safe levels. Correspondent Larry Malone, west of Bethesda, Maryland, reports.
“Dan, it’s been only two weeks since we even learned of the half-dozen dirty bombs intended for detonation around the Capitol, only one of which was actually detonated. Crews from the Nuclear Emergency Search Team are credited with eliminating the threat of five of the terrorist teams. The sixth, that was apparently moving to it’s target in Washington, it is believed to have originated in Pittsburgh. The enemy managed to detonate their device when a roadblock was set up for an unrelated highway accident. We have no information available on exactly who is responsible for the dirty bomb operation. We do not know if it was domestic or international, although we certainly believe that the United States government fully understands who the responsible parties are.
Cleanup efforts within the Silver Spring area include wholesale demolition of areas within the contamination radius, and the removal of radioactive soil, structures and other material to a landfill. It is estimated that five square miles are contaminated with highly radioactive material believed to include reactor fuel material, materials formerly used in the medical field, and other un-named sources.”
“Dirty bomb?” I asked no one in particular.
“Makes me wonder what else we’ll learn after the war, Colonel,” Shand said.
“History’s written by the victors,” I said, turning my attention again to the broadcast, ‘who may or may not tell the whole story,’ I said to myself.
“…Chicago, with the S.A. President and his Cabinet rumored to be moving from city to city. Propaganda broadcasts still boast of the strength of the State of America, despite common knowledge that their military forces are in retreat on three sides,” the broadcaster said as the signal began to seriously fade. There were only a few more words before it disappeared into static.
The Burlington Northern and Union Pacific crews did all the heavy lifting, figuratively and literally. They’d sent for a massive bridge crane designed to lift railcars and engines, just enough to get them off the active tracks and conduct rail repairs. The damaged or destroyed engines could then be retrieved by other rail-mounted equipment after normal service was restored. The crew boss stated in our first meeting though, that the damaged cars would probably remain in place for ‘a long-ass time’.
Our forward Defensive Car was too badly damaged to either put back on the rails or ever put back into service. All weaponry, useable or not, was stripped out after bulk ammunition, heating and cooling equipment and communications links were stripped. There wasn’t much left after the torches were finished with the car. ‘Black Betty’ was unceremoniously shoved out of the way with a D-9 Caterpillar, after the crane had moved it as far as it could. The Defensive Car crewmen had named the all of the defensive cars and painted on artwork akin to the Second War’s aircraft ‘nose art’. ‘Betty’, ‘Rockin’ Jenny’, ‘Smokin’ Sarah’ and ‘Roxy’ made up the quartet of defensive cars. We would not have a forward Defensive Car on ‘Charlie’ moving in to Omaha, which put us at a significantly higher risk than we would have liked.
Once the dozer cleared ‘Betty’, it made quick work….meaning, three hours…of filling in the bomb crater. With the BN/UP crews serving as foremen, Third Washington lay new railroad ties and rails.
“Three hours, max, Colonel Drummond, and you boys’ll be back in the fight. We’re buttoning up the last of the rails now, we backtrack to the first siding, which is about five miles up the line or so. You get two patched up engines hooked up, and you’re good to go. We’ll follow you and that second train back into Omaha,” the crew boss, a largish Puerto Rican named simply, ‘Mario’ told me.
“Thanks, Mario. It’ll be good to get back in the fight,” I said.
“Plenty o’that where you boys’re headed. Smoke’s thick over Omaha. Not much left I’m thinkin’.”
“Maybe not. We still have work to do though,” I said.
“Yeah you do. Best letcha get to it, Colonel,” he said, shaking my hand and heading out the door.
“That was one big dude,” Kittrick said to no one in particular.
“Yeah. Damned near crushed my hand,” I said, making a fist to get the blood flowing again.
Five miles southwest of Omaha, Nebraska
Another deployment, this time with small arms fire on three sides of the train as we disembarked, and artillery and tank fire due west of us. Smoke was everywhere, veiling the massive fires to the northeast. From the maps, it appeared that there was an industrial strip south of Interstate Eighty, which appeared to be ablaze. Downtown Omaha was further east, shrouded in smoke. Offutt Air Force Base was south of that, and also covered.
Third Washington deployed on two rail sidings south of the Interstate, due south of the small Millard Airport, and some brainchild had assigned us the place name of ‘Infield Double.’ To the south, the small Papillon Creek, not visible to us from the train. We were ‘parked’ in what appeared to be a failed business park, with a burning ‘call center’ building not far away. Further north, bedroom communities. We’d proceeded as far as the rails allowed—the tracks were blocked not more than six hundred yards to the west of us. I thought as I reviewed the deployment zone, that we looked like a good target for a hit-and-run mortar attack. There were dozens of abandoned, burned out cars in the parking lots not far away. Most looked as if they’d been shot up and burned many months before.
A third of the Brigade was tasked with establishing a defensive perimeter and observation posts around the trains and the access roads to our location. The remaining men quickly went to work setting up large scale staging operations for the supply trains now stacked up behind us, and setting up a mile long string of tents and shelters between the trains. There wouldn’t be rest for a long while, now that we were back in the game. I was doing my best to do my job and attempt to follow doctors’ orders, which seemed mutually exclusive ninety percent of the time.
“Raptor Lead, we’ve got numbers that impact Infield Double operations,” Fourth Brigade commander Jesse Casselis—‘Hollow-Point One’--told me over secure radio. “Think five large, Raptor Lead.” Five thousand of our men, wounded.
“Majors Ryder and Morrissey, my office three minutes ago,” I said after punching their radios into the internal comm link separate from my conversation with Lieutenant Colonel Casselis.
“Hollow-Point One, you’re south of location Castle?”
“Affirm, Raptor. Steady stream of dismount friendlies met along the way, ETA staged location two units.” ‘Castle’ was Interstate Eighty; a ‘unit’ was thirty minutes. Casselis and a fair number of his men were traveling in a convoy of our Humvees, looking to meet up with Army units deployed along the Interstate. Major Morrissey appeared in my doorway, followed a moment later by Ryder.
“Understood, Hollow-Point One. Proceed to designated objective. Raptor Lead out.”
“Boys, we’ve got a problem,” I said. “Casselis says we’ve got five thousand wounded and walking wounded headed here, starting in an hour, probably less. We’re not ready for them.”
Both looked at each other for a half a second before responding. I was looking for answers, not excuses.
“Colonel, we can pull most of the men assigned to the perimeter. Small arms fire is quite a bit farther away than we anticipated on arrival. Cut the deployment to five hundred men. If it stays quiet, cut that again by a third for the next watch. That frees up half of the men in the territory around Infield Double,” Major Ryder responded.
“Still short-staffed of course, Colonel, but every man in the Brigade has had trauma care training to Advanced level, Morrissey added.”
“Task some of your men on where we’re going to house them until they can evac. We have a cold front moving in tonight. Expect every square inch of both trains, every tent and shelter, everything we can muster to be dedicated to the wounded and getting everyone fed. If we have five thousand now, you can bet we’ll have more soon enough. Expect Third Washington to be outside tonight, or caring for these wounded men. Anyone’s that not doing that will be assigned to Supply Fifty-Seven. We’re going to need the gear on that train ASAP, and need the train to send back with wounded. Not to mention the food.”
We had nowhere near enough medical expertise to go around, nor enough shelter. The five thousand men rapidly turned into six, and then seven thousand plus. Despite the ‘heads up’, there was just not enough time to prepare for this kind of influx. Every available man from Third Washington was involved and over tasked almost immediately. My quarters were ‘doubled up’ with other command officers. I had about five minutes to secure my personal belongings before Captains McGowan and Shand hauled in their gear. A second bunk could pull down from the ceiling. Irregular watch schedules meant that a couple of the command staff would probably be trying to get some sleep at any given time.
The medical cars were all handling surgeries, tents outside of each were trauma and critical care areas, and triage was going on everywhere. The trained medical staff—including our surgeons, corpsmen, and medical staff from other units, worked relentlessly on the wounded. The small airport north of our location was unusable, but the parking lot of the business park made an acceptable landing zone for the string of evac helicopters. Once the seriously wounded were stabilized, they were to be shipped out to points west by air. I had no idea where they’d end up.
In the command cars, Third Washington’s communications suites were providing additional capacity to the overall ability to analyze communications throughout the Omaha theater of operations. ‘Dog Six’ was working on decrypting enemy transmissions, which kept two of the suites busy. The rest of the S.A. communications were ‘in the clear’ with no codes, phrases, or attempts to disguise locations or place names. All of that information was then fed to the Theater Commander, General Robert Anderson, formerly of Pacific Northwest Command, now located twenty miles northwest from Omaha. General Angela Garcia reported to Anderson. Bob had almost certainly had a hand in getting me ‘drafted’. I’d have to think of a way to repay him someday.
At my desk, real-time inventories of supplies from ‘Charlie’ and ‘Dog’ were ratcheting down, and back up again, as new material was logged in from the supply train, parked just behind us. Three more trains were waiting to move in, parked miles back on the only available sidings. Once Supply Fifty-Seven moved out, we’d need to task the correct train to move in. We were going through cold weather gear, shelters, food, and medical supplies as quickly as it could be resupplied by Fifty-Seven. Fifty Nine and Sixty were carrying ammunition, weapons, food and limited medical supplies. Fifty-Eight was geared toward civilian needs: Food, clothing, medical, with a small percentage of the freight being weapons and ammunition.
I took a two-mile long walk along and through both trains, reviewing the overall operation, and thoroughly breaking doctors’ orders for my pneumonia. The mess cars were running full steam, with fresh supplies coming in one end of each car and going out with to the men through the other. On the far end of ‘Dog’, an area had been set aside for those who had not survived long enough to receive medical care, or had not survived surgery. There were dozens of dead. Four men stood guard over the body bags, set in rows. Our Brigade flag and the new American flag were at half-staff on two makeshift poles. I spotted one of our chaplains as he rose from prayer near the dead.
“Chaplain Rodriguez. Thank you for your time with these men,” I said.
“It’s my honor, Colonel. I’m afraid we’ll have many more soon,” he said.
“I am afraid you are right. Where are these men from?”
“Most are from Tennessee and Alabama, Colonel. Their captain—I think he’s in recovery right now—said they moved up from the south, straight through Topeka. The rest of their men are tied up in the Kansas City fight.”
“How many strong?”
“Company level, sir.”
“Thanks, Chaplain. Where’s that Captain?”
“Forty three oh-two, sir. Captain Mayfield.”
“Thanks. Take care of yourself, Chaplain.”
“God’s hands always, Colonel.”
Medical tent forty three oh-two held more than a hundred men in various stages of recovery. The tents housing the wounded or those needing shelter, were double-walled affairs, an inner tent that was heated, an outer weather-shell, staked and weighted against the winds. Heat for the tents—inadequate, but better than nothing—was basically waste heat from engine coolant from the generators, circulating through double-walled insulated hoses. Rows of cots filled the tents, with four rows of small but bright LED lights illuminating the general sleeping areas.
I noticed some of our intelligence gatherers were conducting interviews, a couple of them carrying laptops, pointing to map locations and I guessed, trying to determine opposing force capabilities and tactics.
“Sir, may I help you?” a bespectacled medic asked.
“Captain Mayfield is here, I believe?”
“Seventh Alabama? Yes, he is Colonel, but I’m afraid he’s sedated at this time. Might be better in the morning, sir.”
“Well, no actually sir. Some second degree burns, but the worst news he got today is regarding his heart. He has severe cardiomyopathy. Without a transplant, he’s, well, gone. The surgical medics found it first, consulted with a heart doc, and there it is.”
“How old is he?”
“Twenty-eight, Colonel. There’s a fair chance, the cardio doc said, that it was an infection that did the damage—it could be a side effect of the G-Flu,” he said, referring to the engineered Chinese influenza.
“Damn. All right, I’ll try to get by tomorrow. I was just curious on how his unit managed to get through.”
“Understood, sir. The intel guys have been having a field day.”
“Thanks, anyway,” I said, not shaking the medics’ hand…he was gloved up.
“No problem, sir.”
For twelve more hours, the rumble of artillery and aerial bombardment continued as wounded kept arriving. There was little sleep for anyone that night.