Monday, June 28, 2010
Aboard Charlie Six
The soup had another fan in Bob Anderson, who excused himself after a second bowl, taking a bottle off homemade Hefeweizen with him. John and I had a chance to talk in private, catching up on his newlywed status for starters.
“No honeymoon, Colonel. Well, except that night,” Private John Martin, married on Christmas Eve, said.
“You take what you can get, John. And when we’re in private and off-duty, you can call me Rick. Just don’t let it slip.”
“Yes, sir. Should not be a problem sir.”
“Which Battalion are you in? And how is it that paperwork on the replacements didn’t find its’ way across my computer?”
“Fifth Battalion, Lieutenant Colonel Atwood, sir. I’m not sure about the paperwork.”
“Colonel Atwood is a hard-ass. High standards from coming straight out of Helmand Province in the ‘stan. I have no idea why he’s with us and not on a line unit…all of our Battalion CO’s are sharp.”
“I’ve heard you’ve seen some action,” John said. He seemed much older than he’d been a couple months before.
“A little, yeah. Lost some good men,” I said. “You’re a trained infantryman. Nothing more dangerous on the planet than a young infantryman. To others and sometimes to himself. How confident do you feel, Private?”
“I can handle myself, sir.”
“Seen any live fire training? Sounds of incoming rounds smacking the ice and the mud and flesh?”
“A billion years ago, when I was a little older than you, I went through some training probably a little more aggressive than yours. Crawling under live booby traps, live fire over that, mounds of pig carcasses that would be shedding meat and blood and bone, showering us with body parts. Not something you ever forget, especially in summer heat.”
“Yeah, we didn’t have anything like that.”
“That’s only because pork is hard to come by and expensive,” I said. “John, you know I’m not going to intervene in any assignment that your commanders have for you. There’s not a job that I wouldn’t do in this entire brigade myself, or one that I’d hesitate to assign to anyone else. Other than tonight, we all pretty much eat the same food; I take an irregular rotation on with the observation posts on our perimeter, and was working my way through a few other jobs as time allowed, until this pneumonia set me back. I take at least half of my meals with the Brigade, not with Command, or with my officers. It sounds all noble. It’s not really. These men are my brothers, cousins, sons, uncles. I need every man to be able to depend on every other, no questions. I need them to trust me, as well. That includes me, and includes you. We all depend on each other for our lives. That’s the way it is.”
“Not a problem, Colonel. To be perfectly honest, I didn’t want this assignment.”
“Understood. Your Mom’s hand is in this, along with my lovely wife. There is not much though, that gets in the way of Liberty Martin, alone. With assistance, an unstoppable force.”
January First, Year Two
Aboard Charlie Six
I’d managed around four hours of uninterrupted sleep, after sending Private John Martin back to his quarters, on the tail end of Charlie Six. At oh two hundred, I awoke with a start, for no apparent reason. Something felt wrong. I called the communications car on the computer network.
“This is Colonel Drummond. Sitrep,” I said to the communications officer on duty, a second lieutenant by the name of Breitmann.
“Good morning, Colonel. Our sector is quiet, sir. Sporadic contact twenty miles east, heavy ground contact a hundred miles north. Civilians remain at the shelter, no news there. General Anderson’s aircraft departed at twenty three-thirty hours. Supply Eighty-Four is due in around oh nine hundred. That’s about it, Colonel. Something wrong, sir?”
“Don’t know, Lieutenant. Check contact with all perimeter units, Priority status. Notify me immediately if there is anything amiss. And keep me posted if anything out of the ordinary comes up in our sector or any adjoining sector. Clear?”
“Affirmative, Colonel,” the young man said, obviously puzzled.
I was blessed, or cursed with the inability to remember my dreams the vast majority of the time…but over the past year, I did relive more of the distant past than I ever wanted to. I didn’t know if my sudden break from a seemingly sound sleep was because of a dream, nightmare, or ‘what’. I elected to calm my nerves by re-reading our schedule for the next deployment.
We were now scheduled to depart Omaha on January seventh, the next-to-last support unit to move east or north. Leapfrogging along the path of war, Third Washington would trail out of town this time. With five days until we’d pack up for shipment, we were down to fifteen percent of our supply levels for normal operations. Supply Eighty-One through Eighty-Three were supposed to include replacement provisions for Third Washington. They were reassigned and shipped directly to line units, instead, putting our unit on the back burner. Without Eighty-Four, we’d be out of food and basic provisions in less than a week. Command was cutting things close. My repeated requests for fuel and supplies according to Bob Anderson were heard. They just weren’t as high a priority as the mechanized and infantry units. Understandable.
By quarter of three, I decided to try to get some more sleep, rocked by the wind against the converting shipping container that served as my quarters.
“Colonel, you’re going to want to see this,” Lieutenant Breitmann said over the intercom. I’d just dressed, after a quick shower in marginally warm water. “Secure channel nine, sir.”
Rather than look at it in my quarters, I made the quick trip to the Command Car, figuring that I’d be there soon enough in any regard. I was surprised as I pulled my jacket on as I opened the exterior door, by the eighteen inches of drifted snow against the door, drifts almost completely covering the stairs to the ground. The lee side of the train had four and a half feet of drifted snow. I hadn’t seen the windward side. Thankfully, the drifts were solid enough to walk on…and I thought, solid enough to lock us in position if we weren’t careful.
“Colonel, we have flash traffic from the Air Command. Downed Navy crew, our sector,” Breitmann said. “Plastic Bug went down about three miles southwest, ten minutes ago. Ejection notice, and we’re tasked with ground search and rescue. Air Force can’t get a bird in the air for the next two hours—they’re committed to other missions.”
“Plastic Bug?” I asked.
“Sorry, sir. F/A-18. It was coming here after a mission over Des Moines. Pilot reported engine trouble about two minutes before punching out.”
“Do we have data on where he ejected?”
“Locating beacon from the pilot?”
“Nothing, sir,” another tech said. “And no radar of course,” he said as Sergeant Major Travis came in to the Command Car.
“Chet, we need SAR operations for a downed Navy pilot, right now. What can you get moving?”
“Second Battalion is on Alert as of twenty-hundred last. Snow’s going to be an issue, sir. It’s bad out there.”
“Worse for the pilot,” I said.
“No argument there, Colonel. I’ll get Second moving.”
“What’s Fourth’s status?” I asked, thinking that another Battalion would not be a bad idea.
“Fourth is scheduled for dispersal for daily operations starting at oh six-hundred.”
“Retask for SAR operations immediately. Third can run dailies again, and Fifth will go to civilian operations, I said to Sergeant Travis.
“Breitmann, get me Air Command,” I said, getting to my desk. “And somebody round me up some coffee.”
Charlie’s primary and secondary communications cars were quickly creating the anticipated search teams, despite an undefined search area; determining transport capabilities; and coordinating normal operations with the search effort. For the better part of a week, one Battalion had stood Alert status, rather than working normal rotations across the spectrum of Third Washington responsibilities. The Alert status had come from Command. I assumed that they had good reason for it.
“Air Command on Secure Twenty-Two, Colonel,” Breitmann said.
“Very good, Lieutenant,” I said as I put on my headset.
“This is Colonel Richard Drummond, Third Washington.”
“Colonel, this is Captain Anderson, Air Command.”
“Captain, can you give us more information on this downed aircraft? I understand that it’s estimated three miles southwest of our location. Can you confirm that?”
“Colonel, it went off radar at latitude forty-one, ten, one point two nine; longitude minus ninety six, eight, fifty-nine point seven eight four. It may be possible that the actual crash site is further west than that location, but doubtful, the aircraft was losing altitude very quickly. We did not have an IFF transponder or any other on-board telemetry for three minutes prior to that time for reasons unknown. We did get a signal of the ejection sequence for the crew right before radar contact was lost.”
“Single seat?” I said as Breitmann punched up the coordinates on our mapping software.
“No, sir. F/A-18F, two seater, from Atlantic Fleet VFA-103, the Jolly Rogers.”
“Understand we have no beacons for the crew, is that correct?”
“Yes, Colonel. Neither beacon has activated. Should be automatic upon separation from the aircraft.”
“OK, Captain. Last question—do you have an altitude for ejection?”
“No sir, other than, less than five thousand AGL.”
“Given the winds we have out here Captain, that’s one Hell of a search area.”
“Sorry, Colonel. That’s all we have from here.”
“Where is ‘here’, Captain?”
“I’m at Nellis, Colonel.”
“Understood, Captain. We’ll keep you plugged into command level communications assigned to the search.”
“Much appreciated, Colonel. The aircrew is of some importance. Can’t elaborate.”
“Got it. Drummond out,” I said as Breitmann waved me over to his console.
“Breitmann, what have you got?” I asked.
“Wehrspann Lake, sir. Looks man-made. The coordinates match.”
“All right,” I said as the rest of my senior command staff flooded into the car, along with Second Brigade commander Trayvon Chappel.
“Gents, we have a downed Navy aircraft, two seat model F/A 18. Last radar contact was over this lake, about three miles from here, and Air Command says that the crewmen ejected right before it went off radar. We have no beacons from the crewmen, no radio calls, nothing. Air Command says the crew is of ‘some importance.’ Take that as you will,” I said, that comment generating some glances among the staff. “Two tasks—retrieve the crewmen, second locate and secure the crash site.”
“Altitude of ejection, sir?” Major Ryder asked.
“Unsure, less than five thousand AGL.”
“Wind drift will have pushed them a fair piece, Colonel.” Ryder stated.
“Estimates?” I asked. “I’ve jumped out of one perfectly good aircraft, and that was not quite thirty years ago on a calm day.”
“Ten miles per hour will drift a canopy a half mile from three thousand feet. Figure they ejected at five thousand plus, add in the thirty mile-per-hour gusts we have, and they could be a couple miles downwind, easy. Assuming their chutes opened, of course,” the Major said.
“I’d buy that. So, an oval-shaped search area, centered laterally due south of us,” I said, pointing at the map. “Nice even grid of quarter sections of farmland, all the way over to Papillion. Colonel Chappel, questions?”
“No sir. We’ll be ready in ten minutes. Have to dig out some wheels. This snow will slow us up.”
“We’ve got maybe an hour and a half before it starts getting light out, and three until sunrise,” I said. “Let’s try to leave no snowball unturned.”
“Snowmobiles sure would be handy right about now, sir,” Chet Travis said.
“Anyone run across any?” I said.
“None in operable condition, Colonel. A few parts rigs, the rest were shot up,” Lieutenant Breitmann said as he looked at an asset inventory of the Omaha area.
“Thanks anyway, Lieutenant,” Chappell said, grinning a little bit at the instantaneous response of the young officer.
Ten minutes later, the Alert staff was ready for departure, assignments for the grid search provided followed five minutes after that by the Fourth Battalion. I’d have liked to have gone along.
“Easy Four to Raptor,” I heard on the headset. The frequency flashed on my computer monitor, designated solely for communications regarding retrieval of Firefly Two-Nine, the call sign of the downed Navy plane.
“Raptor. Go Easy Four,” Kittrick said to the patrol.
“Got the full package, fair condition. Banged up a little in shipment. Two seven east by one one four south.”
“Affirmative, Easy Four,” Kittrick responded, as I punched in the search grid coordinates. Lavista South High School, just south of Highway Three Seventy.
“ETA thirty-five, Raptor.”
“Affirm, Easy. Proceed to Delta Three Three.”
“Will do, Raptor. Easy out.”
“Mister Kittrick, get me Air Command, and recall those teams not within the search area for the aircraft.”
“Air Command will be on Nine, sir. Kellison is already placing the recall, Colonel.”
“Kittrick, that’s why you get the big money,” I said, pleased that his crew was on top of things.
“I’ll take that in rare metals, anytime, Colonel. Or, maybe a steak.”
“I’ll make a note of that.”
“Air Command is ready, sir,” he said as I switched the frequency.
“This is Colonel Drummond. Your crew has been found. A little worse for wear I understand. Should be back at our location within the hour.”
“Damned good news, Colonel. Compliments to your unit. This is Admiral Hendricks, joint unit commander. Have you located the aircraft, Colonel?”
“We have it narrowed down to a couple hundred acre area, sir. There’s a very good chance that it went down in a reservoir. I’m not willing to put my men on the ice to find a hole the hard way, Admiral. I’d prefer to have a helo take a look at the surface.”
“How deep is that reservoir, Colonel?”
“Around thirty feet or so, Admiral, from what we can ascertain. Something aboard that plane that makes it worth diving on?”
“We’ll let you know if that’s the case, Colonel. Depends on what the crew says in debrief. Please contact me immediately when the crew reaches your location.”
“Will do, sir.”
“Air Command out.”
“Sir, we’ve got three more civilian transports scheduled, then we’re bingo on evacs,” Major Ryder said. “By eleven hundred, our civilian relief efforts are pretty much done. Civilian organizations will be in charge.” Which meant, we wouldn’t be feeding them anymore, either.
“What’s the status on our resup?” I asked, noting his suddenly uncomfortable expression.
“Just heard. Eighty Four has been expressed east.”
“Major, we cannot expect to go much longer without a resupply. That includes fuel. We have maybe three days left to keep our water flowing and heat on, if we’re really, really damned lucky. We have five days food. Maybe.”
“I understand, Colonel, believe me. This decision…”
“Kittrick, find me a commanding General,” I said, cutting Gary off. “Dismissed, Major.”
“Sir,” the Major said, saluted, and left.
Ten minutes passed before I was informed that General Anderson was unable to take my call.
“Kittrick, get me Air Command.”
“Did you not hear me the first time, Lieutenant?”
“Sorry sir. Yes, I heard you Colonel.”
Less than a minute later, I was speaking again to Admiral Hendricks.
“Admiral, I’d like to ask a favor of you, if you don’t mind….”
Friday, June 25, 2010
Thank you all for your patience this month....life has been exceptionally busy and occasionally difficult! We've been running a bachelor household for half of June, which has meant untold discoveries within the refrigerators, freezers, store room, and throughout the kitchen; canine management; garden/yard/tree work; as well as working ten to fourteen hour days at the office....My wife and daughter return from their short term mission trip next week, and within a few days, life should return to a semblance of normal....and, I'll have some Costa Rican coffee to fuel my days again.
I should have the next chapter up within the next couple of days, and plan on having Chapter 60--the last--posted on July 4th. You'll know why when you read it, if I've done my job.
I should have the next chapter up within the next couple of days, and plan on having Chapter 60--the last--posted on July 4th. You'll know why when you read it, if I've done my job.
Posted by Tom Sherry at 9:45 AM
Wednesday, June 16, 2010
University of Nebraska Medical Center
My second major task of the day was to meet with several hundred civilian survivors and to outline relief operations after the Army moved east. We didn’t have long, and Omaha was as damaged as any city I’d ever seen, mine included. It would be years to rebuild in a perfect world. In our imperfect world, decades.
“Ladies and gentlemen, if you would take your seats, we’ll begin,” Lieutenant Kittrick announced to the assemblage. Kittrick was my audio-visual geek today, running a PowerPoint presentation on a salvaged laptop. The communications crews had salvaged a couple hundred computers in Omaha and had set them up to run DVD’s of our resource library. During their salvage operations, they found only a handful of working AM/FM radios, and no shortwave receivers or transceivers. The computers would be distributed to community centers, shelters, and surviving libraries, and more radios would be shipped into the city.
“Good afternoon. I’m Colonel Rick Drummond, Third Washington. Thank you for attending today,” I began.
“I’m not career Army. A year ago, I ran a consulting business in Spokane. On the fourteenth of January, that changed. The Domino earthquake hit the Pacific Northwest, the subduction quake probably also triggering the eruption of Mount Rainier. We lost hundreds of thousands of people. We were also thrown into a situation that most of the population were completely unprepared for. I’m here to help you with some information that we found crucial in getting through a pretty bad year,” I said as Kittrick punched up a map.
“So far, one hundred locations more or less, have been identified as potential community centers where these library resources will be located,” I said as the map was joined by a list, and the attendees rapidly took notes, I suppose finding locations nearby.
“In Spokane, these locations included pre-Domino community centers and centers and shelters set up after the quake; fire stations, hospitals, and neighborhood schools. In our city, National Guard units were also usually co-located in each neighborhood,” I said, hearing some displeasure at that comment.
“Please recognize, that we, like Omaha right now, didn’t have enough civilian law enforcement to go around. There was looting. There was theft. Home invasions. People died because they had food. Most of Omaha is disarmed, meaning that it’s likely that the people that have weapons aren’t necessarily the good guys. The Army will be re-arming you with weapons and ammunition captured as well as new weapons brought into the area. Security forces will train you on their operations, and you’ll have to demonstrate basic safe weapons-handling and be of age of course,” I said, getting a few chuckles from many of the grey-hairs present, “before you’re provided a weapon. As a civilian, my family and some friends sort of adopted our military units watching over our neighborhood. It was a good way to get inside info, take care of the men who’re taking care of business, and make friends. You’d be surprised how much influence fresh-baked bread and fried egg sandwiches have, not to mention fresh coffee or hot chocolate.”
“The information provided on these DVD’s includes thousands of topics. A lot of this stuff I used myself. Some stuff I added to the resource library where I noticed a gap--consider these interim survival resources after most of the military moves out. Basics like shelter. Water. Heat. Food. Cooking and heating with wood, field expedient housing, insulation, air locks and mudrooms, food preservation, communications, and self defense tactics. You’ll want to formalize neighborhood patrols with both your civilian and military forces. You’ll need to work out communications systems. Radios are hard to come by, probably will be for some time, but we’ll see that portable radios are shipped in and distributed. Cellular system is toast. Omaha might be a decade in rebuilding, maybe longer, and the rebuilt city will not resemble the old. We are not what we were a year ago; you will not be in a year, what you are today.”
“We have fifteen men from Third Washington to give you some guided tours through the information, and we’ll be here until three p.m.,” I said as I wrapped up my remarks. “And I commend you all for making it this far.”
I spent the better part of an hour talking about various topics, from cooking in a cast-iron Dutch oven to water filtration, improvised insulation to creation of observation posts and neighborhood militias. My voice was starting to go, and I needed a break.
I almost made it to the coffee pot before I was met by a young man, perhaps twenty-five or so, with a young woman, I assumed his wife, trailing just behind, cradling a very young child.
“Excuse me, Colonel? Do you have a moment?”
“Absolutely. Call me Rick.”
“I’m Danny Seifert, this is my fiancé Susan. We’re originally from Federal Way.”
“Nice to meet you. Sorry about your hometown,” I said. Federal Way was south of Seattle proper, and was equally devastated. I’d seen the aerial and satellite imagery. “Did you still have family there?”
“Yes, sir. We haven’t heard from them since last New Years. We were students here, until it hit the fan.”
“What can I do for you both?” I asked.
“We’re wondering, sir, if there’s a chance we can evac back home. We know that there’s probably not much left back there, but we can’t stay here and go through much more. It’s either west or down to Texas,” he said. “We haven’t seen much of what was left back home. I might still have family back there, up in Everett. Sue had some cousins in Omak and out near Republic. Can you tell us how things are there?”
“Colonel, er, sorry. Rick,” Susan said. “Things happened here that we cannot live with. We have to leave,” she said as the baby started to fuss a little, looking at Danny with some expectation on her face. The child could not have been more than a few weeks old. The more the woman talked, the more I could see the trauma just behind her soft, brown eyes.
“Let’s go find a little private place to talk. Short answer is, ‘probably’. Might be a roundabout path to get you there though,” I said as I caught the eye of Kittrick, nodding that I was heading into a tiny office off of the larger conference center. It had two chairs and a small desk, and nothing else.
“Have a seat. Let’s talk,” I said.
Susan and the baby entered and sat in the larger, more comfortable chair behind the desk; Danny in the more utilitarian chair. I stood against the doorframe.
“OK, this is a little more private. To answer your questions about back home, well, they’re messed up of course, but we haven’t had a civil war raging about us full-time. The S.A. is still there, or was when I left, using hit-and-run tactics, assassination, intimidation, and out-and-out terrorism. I don’t know what the progress is of cleaning them out. I’d suspect that most of them are, or will be ambient temperature if they try anything overt. Everyone of age is armed, and quite a few folks that aren’t of age, my kids included,” I said. “Boy or girl?”
“Little girl. We rescued her,” Danny said.
“Oh. I’d assumed you were her parents.”
“No, well, we are now. The S.A. was going to kill her,” Susan replied, as she pulled a blanket away from the little girl. The baby appeared healthy enough.
“Why in God’s name would they do that?”
“After the crash, classes were pretty much done. Susan worked as a volunteer at the University hospital. I was in food service,” Danny said. “And God had nothing to do with it. The Statists identified her parents as subversives, and less than an hour later killed their whole family. The parents were Susan’s professors in the teaching hospital before the War. Caitlyn here was their youngest. They killed her older brother and sister as well. Examples to be made. They killed babies because of things their parents did. We need to leave this place, sir.”
“What did her parents do?” I asked, ever wanting to know more.
“We have no idea, Colonel. There was never a reason for anything they did.”
“All right. I’ll see what I can do about getting you out of here. We will have some evacuation abilities, by air and rail. Rail’s a bit tougher due to the cold, and we’re working on ways to keep standard rail cars warm enough during the trip back to civilization.”
“What’s it like, back home?” Susan asked. “I mean, really?”
I thought about it for a moment before answering. “A lot of work. Good though, I guess. My family and I lived in a barn for a fair amount of time after the quake, just to stay alive. I didn’t want to evacuate south, and am glad I didn’t. We farmed a bit, bartered for things, adapted,” I said. “Bellingham is a naval port now, because Bremerton’s down for the count. The North Sound area—Everett was hit hard, all the way up to Vancouver—will recover far quicker than anything in the Seattle area. The nature of the area has changed that much. The floor of Puget Sound was lifted up in the quake—it’s much shallower, and there’s massive amounts of debris and ash filling it in every time it rains.” I didn’t say that he debris included human remains.
“The Governor’s a good man. My most recent ‘job’, if you can call it that, was the administrator for Spokane County. That put me in touch with most other counties in the state. Republic’s still there, tough little town,” I said. “Phone service was just starting to come back when I was drafted. Electricity has been irregular at best. Took us months to get even irregular power back, but that’s a long story. Once you get out of the war zone, it might be possible to forward the names of your relatives to their last known locations, and try to inform them of your status. I’d caution you though, there really isn’t a single community out there that takes all that kindly to rootless refugees. They’re viewed with suspicion or outright distrust, and have a tough time fitting in when those prejudices are heaped on them. Having ties to the community, even distant relatives, is crucial.”
They pondered that for a moment, and then I continued. “Where are you living?”
“Sub-basement. There’s a storage room that no one knows about,” Susan said, before turning her attention to Danny. “Danny, you need to tell him about the others.” He nodded, and looked down toward the floor before meeting my eyes with his own.
“Colonel, there are three other couples and sixteen infants and toddlers.”
I was surprised, of course. “That’d be good to know,” I said.
“Sir, some had birth defects. The S.A. kills children with birth defects.”
I supposed I should have known that, based on what I’d read previously, but I was still stunned by the reality of it. “We’ll get you out of here,” I said, feeling rage growing in me at the thought of what had been done here. “Any more secrets?”
“No sir. We are though, short on food.”
“We’ll get you taken care of,” I said. “Stay right here for a few minutes. I have some contacts to make,” I said, turning out of the room to get one of our secure radios.
“Red Leg Five to Red Leg Lead,” I said into the headset.
“Go, Five,” came the reply.
“I need to speak with Bulldog.”
“Understood, wait one.” Bulldog was Gary Ryder, who was coordinating evacuation efforts for the critically ill or wounded.
“Bulldog, Go Five.”
“Bulldog, we need to confirm this, but I have two adults and one infant here at the U Hospital, who report that they have six adults caring for sixteen orphaned infants and toddlers, close by. Can you break anyone loose and get them over here?”
“Does it sound legit, Five?”
“It does, but it needs to be double checked. There should be third party confirmation of this story from other witnesses. We’re not doing Delta One Three again.”
“Affirmative. We’ll dispatch to your location.”
“Send some food along as well. Five, out,” I said, and then picked up a pad of paper and a pen and headed back to the little office.
“OK. I have some additional staff coming over. I need you to list the names of the children and the adults you have in your group, and the circumstances of each child and each adult. We need to verify your story.”
“Colonel, is that really necessary?” Danny asked.
“Yeah. Required. We had a bad experience with people posing as folks desperate for evacuation, who were S.A. plants. Lost a plane two days ago. Sixty-five people dead, a hundred and six injured. We’re not taking chances, sorry.”
Fifteen minutes later, three Army investigators and three civilian aid workers arrived, and I directed them to our guests. Within an hour, all of the children and caretaking adults had been moved to the meeting room, and the other hospital staff was questioned about the S.A. and the children. The children’s murdered families were listed as best as possible, which was sketchy in some cases. Food arrived, including a fair amount of kid friendly food. I realized that these children had probably would never have some of the foods that we’d grown used to, in the old America. None of the caretakers were older than Danny, who was twenty-three years of age.
“Colonel, we can’t find anything linking these people to the S.A., and we have verification on thirteen of the children,” Major Ryder said. “Helluva deal,” he said, looking at the kids, huddling with the adults in a corner. Both civilian and uniformed adults were holding some of the younger children.
“Yeah. Ain’t it though,” I said, still pondering the events that put these children in this room.
“We can get them out at sixteen-hundred, Colonel. Of course, that’ll mean with the clothes on their backs and precious little else.”
“I don’t think that’ll be that big of a deal. Airliner?”
“Yes, sir. First stop will be DFW. Spend the night there, catch military transport to Salt Lake, then Walla Walla. Civilian network is looking to find relatives of the kids—which will be a nightmare—and try to find surviving family members of the adults.”
“Great job, Major. Maybe they’ll end up with a happy ending.”
Later that afternoon, Danny, Susan and a parade of adults, some walking wounded and a few nurses carried the children aboard a 757.
They were on their way out of the War.
Supply Seventy-One was empty of the incoming load, and would travel west with an honor guard and more than three thousand fallen.
One, I learned while reading the manifest in a spare moment, was the son of Governor David Hall. First Lieutenant Jake Hall was one of the last graduates of West Point, pre-War. The personnel file was classified, covering young Hall’s mission status in clinical detail. He had achieved a field promotion, distinguishing himself by saving his unit from being overrun before an organized retreat could take place. That particular fight was near Des Moines. He had been killed by a sniper, while moving between positions that his platoon held, near the Interstate Eighty Bridge over the Missouri. The shot that killed him had come from behind him, an S.A. sniper in hiding, behind the lines. The sniper had not been found.
Before Seventy-One departed, I took a few minutes to write Governor Hall my condolences. No matter what words I used, I felt they failed to express my thoughts. I placed the letter inside the file that would be sent to his parents, a non-classified file, blew my nose, and went to meet the next incoming train.
“Excuse me, Colonel. General Anderson has requested a meeting with you at eighteen-hundred,” Lieutenant Kittrick said.
“Confirm that, thanks. Staff invited?”
“General Anderson requested a private meeting, sir. Over dinner.”
“Hmm. Thanks,” I said, wondering what Bob had to say next. I’d find out soon enough, the meeting was in a half hour. I sat down at my desk, reviewed the status report and dispersion plan for Third Washington, and then the weather. The rain would change again to snow; the moderate temps again would change to bitter cold. By the time we would leave, four days or so out, we’d be in the heart of an arctic outbreak.
Charlie Six Conference Room
“General, good to see you again,” I said, shaking his hand.
“A little less formal, Rick. I have surprise for you from home. Karen asked that we bring you this,” he said as he signaled to one of his men at the doorway. He brought in a large cardboard box, taped up with strapping tape.
“Seriously,” I said.
“I had a hand in getting you here, so it seemed fair enough,” Bob said. “Late Christmas present, or early New Years, your choice,” he said, dismissing the young man who brought in the package.
I cut open the top of the package and peeled away many layers of packing paper and plastic.
“You have got to be kidding me,” I said, lifting out a quart jar of tomato soup, then another.
“She said you’d say something like that,” he said with a smile. “Soup?”
“Oh yeah,” I said. “Taste of home. We should break one open,” I said.
“Your wife sent instructions. Dinner will be served shortly. I had to give them the specific instructions, but the galley car is working on it now. This batch,” he said, patting the box, “is for later.”
“General you know that I only eat what the men eat, right?”
“You’re ordered to make an exception. And I’ve heard a lot about this soup via many channels, so I’m exercising command prerogative and joining you.”
I gave in. “Fine. I’ll take an order,” I said.
“And I’ve heard that you’re recovering from pneumonia. Probably acquired through a few too many nights checking on your men out in some far flung OP. Correct?”
“Three nights in ten days, not consecutive, not much chance of anything bad happening. In other words, I was out there to, yes, check on the men, but keep them awake as well. Doc said that I’m susceptible to lung problems due to the scarring from the flu.”
“He’s right. You through your regimen yet?”
“Getting there. Halfway through.”
“Rick, you didn’t have any business running the kind of schedule you did today. I looked over your calendar. You need to ease off or you’ll end up ambient.”
“You sound like you have experience with this, Bob.”
“I wrapped up mine ten days ago, so affirmative. Hated every damned minute of it. And this is my second round,” he said as a knock on the door announced dinner, as a young man brought it in. I didn’t really take note, as I was wondering how many more of us had the makings of a chronic or fatal disease.
“Cornbread, tomato soup, and what appear to be micro beers, sirs,” the young man said, snapping to attention, a moment before I recognized him.
“Private John Martin,” I said, finally buying a clue. “What in God’s name are you doing here?”
“Fresh out of Basic, Colonel. Assigned to Third Washington as a replacement, sir.”
I stood and shook his hand. “John do you know General Anderson?”
“We’ve met, Colonel,” John said as Bob started laughing.
“Happy New Year, Colonel Drummond. Between your wife and Private Martin’s family, I’ve had little peace concerning this man’s assignment. My wife, it so happens, relocated to the Spokane Valley last month. It being a small town, word travels fast.”
Saturday, June 5, 2010
Strauss Performing Arts Center
University of Nebraska, Omaha
Omaha’s remains were now firmly in the hands of the United States but our forces in Council Bluffs, just across the Missouri, were still under sniper and mortar fire with random RPG hit and run attacks.
Since arriving in western Omaha, Third Washington had served tens of thousands of meals, filtered hundreds of thousands of gallons of water, and treated more than ten thousand combat injuries of all kinds. Along the way, we’d learned that Idaho’s Gem State Engineering Brigade had lost ‘Able’, a sister train of Third Washington’s ‘Charlie’ and ‘Dog. Idaho’s ‘Baker’ was damaged, and would be stationary north of Omaha until the brigade could be reconstituted. Idaho had lost nine hundred men in the coordinated attack on ‘Able’ as it pulled into the northern suburbs of Omaha, in areas thought to be secured. Numerous IED’s under the rails were detonated simultaneously, derailing and setting fire to many of the cars, and quickly killing a substantial number of the men aboard. The survivors were then attacked in force as they scrambled from the wreckage before friendly forces could arrive.
We were lucky, again.
University of Nebraska, Omaha presented an intact venue for a major face-to-face briefing of field commanders and support staff of all branches. Before the battle, the performance hall appeared to have been set up for a concert. Outside the building, enemy and civilian dead were lined up on the sidewalk, waiting for burial. I found myself viewing what should have been a disturbing sight as…routine.
A few blocks north of the building were two piles of wreckage that had at one time been Airbus airliners. One appeared to have been converted a cargo carrier, filled with SAM’s and RPG’s. Many had cooked off in the fire after the crash or forced landing. The second had at least a hundred people aboard. Their remains were still strapped into their seats, the top of the fuselage burned away, starboard wing sheared off. No one knew how they were brought down.
I hadn’t seen many of the men and women up on the stage of the concert hall since we’d left Spokane, seemingly another world ago. Bob Anderson noticed half of Third Washington’s senior staff, and waved us over to the stage before the briefing began.
“Good morning, General. Good to see you,” I said. “It’s been awhile.”
“Colonel Drummond, I hear good things about your unit,” he said before turning his attention to the other men, shaking their hands and then mine. “Good to see you’re representing our state well.”
“We’ve had our moments, sir. We’ve had an interesting run so far.”
“You’ll have more challenges tossed your way in the weeks to come, Rick,” he said quietly, being called to start the brief.
More than two hundred men and women were in attendance, including a fair number of Navy personnel. Other than the occasional F/A-18 and a few encounters with SEALS, we hadn’t had any contact with blue-water personnel. Marines, regular Army and Guard officers, dozens of Air Force officers, all ranks, shapes and sizes. Most of us wore dirty uniforms, coming straight from the field. The smell of burning Omaha was embedded in our clothing.
“Good morning. I’m Major General Robert Anderson, formerly of Pacific Northwest Command, of late, assigned to the Joint Chiefs. I have been assigned command of the drive to the east against the S.A. Four other field generals are under my command, including General Angela Garcia of the Texas National Guard; General Bill Monroe, regular Army; General James Wilkerson, regular Army, and an outspoken Razorback; and United States Marine General Kenneth Daily, commanding Marine Expeditionary Units now covering three states. Please be seated.” A map image of eastern Canada and the United States appeared on a screen behind the officers on the stage.
“S.A. forces are in collapse across fifteen hundred miles of battle front and are concentrating their defenses on the southern Great Lakes area, stretching from west of Rockford, Illinois to north of Indianapolis, and east to Pittsburgh,” he said as the map image showed U.S. progress over the past few weeks, a line of red moving against the ‘blue’ of the S.A. “We have no idea why they are reinforcing this line, to be frank, and further, don’t really care. The United States military, along with our Canadian troops, have now completely encircled the S.A. on all sides; with the Northeastern states now back in U.S. control. We have everything from Maine to Maryland, all of eastern New York State, parts of eastern Pennsylvania. Quebec and Montreal were sidestepped, and aren’t worth at this time, investing men and materiel in. Ottawa, everything north of this line,” he said pointing to North Bay and Sudbury, “are in U.S. control.”
“Simultaneously, we are seeing violent attacks on U.S. forces in recently taken territory. The Iraq insurgency. The Afghan firefights. The attacks on soft civilian targets carried out by Mexican agents and cartel operatives. Ruthless, ladies and gentlemen, and we’re sending all of you into territory where this is a daily or weekly occurrence. We never did find a way to defeat it in Asia within the rules of engagement we were operating under at that point in time. Those rules of engagement do not apply here. You identify a threat, you take it out. There will be no chain of command to run up, approve, and filter back down slowly, while viable targets escape. I repeat. You find a viable target, you engage and destroy.”
Anderson outlined projected paths for each of the major military groups, coordinated with Air Force and Army air support units, with the overall objectives projected on the screen. Each units designation was shown in motion, ours in support of fifty thousand troops moving east and north, followed by supply and reinforcing units. Wisely, no timelines were shown—things would happen as circumstance allowed.
The map display showed of course, a smooth, fluid motion of armed units across the fields…nothing ever, ever ran smoothly though. There would be inevitably, attacks on the rails, bridges, roads and the ever unexpected.
The briefing wrapped up in forty-five minutes, allowing us to get back about our business. Third Washington would be one of the trailing support units moving out from Omaha, allowing our depleted resources, and tired men, a slightly more leisurely pace that the frantic pace we’d had for days on end.
I had my own ride back to the command car, and the rest of the staff split up and headed to their various destinations. One of General Anderson’s men had flagged me down asked for a few minutes of my time with the General, in private. As I waited in the hallway, I helped myself to a couple of shortbread cookies and a Coke, the first I’d had in more months than I could remember. I couldn’t remember anything tasting so good.
Our logistics staff was putting together a supply plan for the residents of Omaha, after our departure, not unlike the plans we’d executed for smaller towns, but much more complex due to the damage done in the fighting and the larger population.
Medical staff—greatly supplemented by skilled civilians, doctors and nurses, flooded into the city not long after the last of the major battles ceased. Our staff was now back to a more manageable number of routine military injuries, rather than catastrophic triage, field hospital surgery, and evacuation. The survival rates of wounded were now much better than at the onset, and there were far fewer cases where nothing could be done, rather than pain management.
“Rick, c’mon in. Have a seat,” Bob Anderson said from a small office not far from the main auditorium.
“Thanks, Bob. You think the war will progress that smoothly?” I said, skeptic tone in my voice.
“Nope, but it’s good to be optimistic. We have the upper hand.”
“I didn’t hear anything about the S.A.’s ballistic capabilities. I’m hoping those are no longer an issue.”
“Can’t talk about that, sorry,” he said, saying of course that they were probably still in play. “Impressions overall. What’d you think?”
“From a civilian-as-Army-officer point of view?”
“Depending on how they consolidate their lines, and what they have behind them, you could be fighting this war for a very long time. They had time, before the war really started; they had a LOT of time to stockpile fuel, food, weapons, whatever. We don’t know what they’ve got…or, more properly, I don’t know. I don’t know what exotic hardware and weapons they might have. We’ve seen French, German, and Russian armor, and very, very capable commanders. We’ve seen a ton of Russian, Chinese and Egyptian SAM’s, and some stuff that my Intel guy can’t identify. We had a thousand mortar rounds fired at us in seventy-two hours. They have deep pockets,” I said. General Anderson nodded, leaning back in his chairs, fingers interlaced above his chest.
“Go on,” he said. There didn’t seem to be any new information that he was hearing, nor should there have been, I hoped.
“To look at the S.A. moving into the future, they cannot ever overcome the stigma of what they have done to the people in their paths, unless they are absolutely confident of complete victory and complete control of all people, media, education…essentially having to re-write the history of the war, and kill anyone who posits a different story. Stalin revisited. For them to continue along the process of war fighting they have used to date, that has to be their ultimate end, there is no other possible goal that makes sense. That brings two possibilities to light, for me. First, they still have some unknown and devastating capability that they will use on the United States to destroy us; or second, this is the only thing they know, and even as they collapse, they continue this process because there is no alternative. The latter is more ultimately more dangerous.” Bob leaned forward on the desk toward me
“Hmmm. Why do you think that—that some massive attack will be actually less devastating than the continued scorched-Earth strategy?”
“Not more devastating—more dangerous,” I said, correcting him. “If they had the ability to attack us in a decapitating manner, they would have done so by now. Maybe that missile attack back at the beginning of the month was their last big shot, I don’t know. Now though, we, the United States, is mobilized fully. I don’t know their numbers. For that matter, I’m not sure I know ours. But if feels like the math is on our side, and math always wins,” I said. “I believe that the ‘fight-as-we-die’ approach is far less predictable and more dangerous in terms of threats to our, well, our freedom. The true believers strike at any target, viable or not. As things collapse, they spread out through the lines, blend into far-flung society, and become centers of terrorist attacks far and wide. Then they start indoctrinating the ‘disenfranchised’ and a hundred years from now, here we are again.”
“Fair enough. Now, take a few minutes to read this,” Anderson said as he slid a file across the desk to me. “I’ll be back in about ten minutes. You’ll have the gist of it by the time I get back,” he said as he stood, and I stood as he did per protocol.
I opened the folder, and found a partially destroyed report, from the State of America. Many pages and halves of pages were missing, some burned, the rest of the document water damaged and unreadable. What remained was still quite enlightening. The heavy hardback cover was embossed in gold. The total report was perhaps three-eighths of an inch thick in the original form. I had perhaps ten to twenty percent of the total report in my hands.
State of America Report on Progressive Element Actions, Midway through the Twenty Year Plan
Three or four pages at the start of the report were missing, with the text beginning I guessed, in mid-chapter or mid-section.
Currency actions throughout the history of the Movement have always been directed toward the singular goal of gaining initial, and then complete control through individual monetary systems. With dramatic cascade-like action initiated by the Movement over the past decade, including the engineered destruction of three major currencies, the Movement was perhaps a year away from global financial domination. The Caliphate aberration has slowed this progress, but alternative actions are being initiated to overcome this delay. Once that level of control is achieved, Movement authorities have complete control of all meaningful economic transactions and therefore, complete control of all elements of society. The Movement can then continue unabated to shape the future of society as necessary.
Five more pages were missing from the report, printed on a fine linen-style paper with exceptionally good graphic design and layout. I noted in an odd way, the beautifully designed report was in perfect contrast to the words printed therein.
I moved on to another partial paragraph, part of a page clipped into the document, with notes from an Intel analyst on its probable location within the whole and overall context.
Successful influence by the Movement on Western ratings agencies throughout European and American investment industry resulted in the aggregation of power to eventually control the global finance system and achieve the goals set by our predecessors. With the ratings agencies cooperation, major investment houses fell into Movement influence, and then control, quickly allowing universal control of the financial system………
Another ten pages torn out. It was frustrating to see bits and pieces of this report, stating some of the deepest conspiratorial theories as fact, and yet not having a full picture.
Re-direction of technological advancements through means of government regulation has been successful in restraining advancements that might otherwise negatively influence Movement progress. Control of many industries in the developed world, Pre-War, was firmly under covert Movement control. Losses through the Third World War and the current American operations have regrettably resulted in the loss of Movement control systems, and post War, we project a period of innovation that the Movement must gain control over. Movement representatives within industry have been responsible for monitoring, redirect, and acquisition; and as often, for control of advancement until managed release benefits Movement goals and objectives. Where these operatives have been lost, new Movement influences must be put in place immediately to quickly regain control and re-establish determined paths to the future……….
The governmental collapse in Europe and the dramatic spread of the radically fundamentalist Caliphate has forced relocation of key parties in the Movement to the United Kingdom, Canada and the State of America. After the defeat of the United States, it is projected that within five years, an invasion of the Continent will consolidate Movement objectives within the State of America, Europe, and the former Soviet Union. Progressive elements at this time are active in China and are aggressively organizing the people into the Progressive Movement system, rapidly identifying candidates for Organization and consolidation of surviving key industries. Further infiltration into Chinese held corporations abroad is also a stated goal, but resources have not been allocated to pursue this objective.
Destruction of information systems that did not directly benefit the Movement, has largely been through acquisition of competing media outlets, then consolidation and elimination, and resulted naturally in managed output of information.
Control of commercial broadcast frequencies, and the planned elimination of all but digital radio and television broadcasts, was partially complete by the onset of the Third World War. Movement operatives are systematically addressing remaining analog broadcast transmission equipment, with the obvious goal of meeting the Movement’s requirement. Amateur equipment presents a larger challenge that will be addressed in the field by operatives on a case-by-case basis.
Having had some direct experience in Spokane County with sniper attacks on our television and radio transmitters, it was chilling to see how the S.A. would pursue our future, given the option.
There was little in the report that held as much gravity as the limited bits of text related to health care.
Central planning and management of medical care Pre-War, began to achieve the stated goal of providing staged care to designated patients who had become vested in society; who had remaining years or decades of productive contribution; who exhibited superior traits identified by the Movement, etc. Conversely, those who had not achieved full productive vestment in society (fetuses, children up to the age of 18, or those identified with physical, genetic or mental abnormalities) were provided alternate management, naturally resulting in separation from what was internally identified as Prime Care Management. The alternative, widely publicized and implemented in the former United States, was called Natural Care Management, and was successfully marketed and implemented across the lower-tier of the population, with beginning results illustrated in a dramatic “savings” in terms of gross costs. Projected implementation rates over a twenty-five year look ahead would have reduced the lower tier population by up to seventy percent across the United States, similar to performance in other Movement nations over the past ten years.
I closed the report, not reading it completely, but thinking about what I’d just read, and took a sip of the Coke on the desk. Bob Anderson came back into the office, and I stood by reflex.
“Still think that there’s an ‘either or’ in terms of threat?”
“No sir, I don’t believe that I do.”
“Good try, though. The point I need you to understand Colonel, is that the people that wrote that report are not all that different than a whole lot of other people now in the United States. When the FBI analyzed the S.A. leadership and structure, and then put together the connections between the S.A. and surviving United States leadership, well, let’s say the white board was a mess of connections. There’s a generation and a half, maybe two generations of people that have this type of acceptance of Government Being In Control ingrained in them so deeply that it may well be two generations to get some balance back in the system. Central command economy. That whole health care debacle. The financial control and the destruction of what the Founders defined as ‘money,’” he said. “No, this war won’t end at when the S.A. is defeated. It will end when the people are educated, and not until then. You won’t be a soldier forever. You’re one of a handful of people that seem to have a perspective that goes beyond rank. Start thinking about what you’re going to do after the War. We’re probably a couple months away from the end of it.”
“Bob, what are you suggesting? I can be thick when it comes to taking advice.”
“Once you wrap things up with your Brigade, I think you should consider running for office in your state. You have a lot of what this country needs, and you’re young enough to make a difference.”
“General, I’ve been drafted twice in the past year. First to help run Spokane County, and then by Dave Hall for Third Washington. I can’t say that I would have chosen either, had I the choice.”
“Sometimes, Colonel Drummond, things happen not of our choosing that are exactly right, but cannot be seen as exactly right, until they are viewed from many years distant. Think about it.”