Friday, July 2, 2010
January First, Year Two
Aboard Charlie Six
“No, Admiral, I don’t like having to ask another command to see if they can help us out. Stepping out of chain of command isn’t right. But I’m also not about to deploy this Brigade without fuel or food, and that’s what I’m faced with. I have five days worth of food for three thousand men, if I’m lucky. I have three days worth of fuel, with conservation measures. We haven’t had a full resupply in weeks. We will cease to be a support unit without in days, Admiral, and that sticks in my craw.”
“Colonel, this is a damned unusual request,” Admiral Hendricks said, sounding cold and irritated.
“Admiral, I’m not regular Army. Or Guard. I’m used to getting things done with whatever tools I have at hand, and having to make something from nothing. Well, I’m bordering on nothing here. I’m not going to wait for what isn’t coming. If I have to go and get it, I will. So, I’m on the phone. If pulling supplies forward to line units is advancing the war effort, great. But eventually the support units that keep those line units on the move need to catch up to the line, or you end up with a very fragile link back to the world. Shit breaks. The enemy takes advantage. It snows. Would you suggest otherwise, sir?”
“Colonel, you’re going to get a royal ass-chewing for this.”
“You know, sir, I’m OK with that. I’m not going to see my men go hungry or freeze. If the line units need to slow their advance in order for us to be resupplied, then so be it. It’s not like we’re the only rear area unit that this is happening to, because I know for a fact that three other support Brigades are in the same shape or a little better than we are. If units like ours don't see resupply, then we have no business advancing out of Omaha. We’re done, then, Admiral. Frankly, without units like ours up near the line, I have no idea who is offloading and distributing supplies. For damn sure the line units will not do it without massive waste. I’ve already seen that here. Figure thirty percent losses, sir. That’s inexcusable, sir. We don’t have that kind of excess to waste.”
“I know that you must have made these same points with General Anderson.”
“And most every other officer up the food chain of the United States Army. I’m tired of making the case, Admiral. Either they don’t give a shit about what will happen to the line without support of the line units, or they don’t give a shit about what happens in the prosecution of the war. It will drag out, we’ll lose men in a senseless counteroffensive, tired men and worn out equipment will falter and lengthen the war, and for no reason whatsoever. Am I wrong here?”
“Colonel Drummond, I’ll get back to you in an hour on this.”
“Thank you, sir. I appreciate that,” I said as Kittrick handed me a note. “Admiral, your aircrew just passed our perimeter patrol. Should be at our location within ten minutes.”
“Excellent, Colonel. Hendricks out,” he said as the secure channel clicked off.
“Mister Kittrick, there are days that this job absolutely sucks,” I said as I flung the headset on the desk and grabbed my parka. “I’m heading over to receiving.”
The receiving area consisted of two of our converted shipping containers, dismounted and set up in an ‘L’, with a massive tent that covered both units as well as the space between. Behind one leg of the ‘L’ were the medical tents for general care; the other was one of several galley tents, both had seen a significant effort to keep the snow from collapsing them overnight. As our work in Omaha wound down, the only two containers that hadn’t been re-loaded for shipment down line were these two—without the thousands of refugees or soldiers to feed and tend to, we were running out of things to do, along with our supply stocks.
“Colonel, a little cold to be out here in your condition, don’t you think?” Doc Willitson said, looking over his magnifying glasses at me, as he stitched up a soldier’s forearm.
“Probably so, Doc. We have some Navy fliers coming in for eval. Thought I’d drop by. What happened here, soldier?” I asked. His arm was a mess. Five inches of sutures from just below the elbow on the inside of the arm, a jagged mess.
“We were on patrol downtown, sir. Caught a hunk of a storefront that was falling over. Lieutenant Carroll said that he thought the wind caught it. Hunk of metal went right through the roof of our pickup.”
“Lucky it didn’t take out an artery here, Private Lewis. As is, you’re done running any weapon for a long while. Another half inch and you’d have been in serious trouble.”
“Southpaw, Doc. No problem.”
“Not for a week you’re not. Neither this arm or it’s partner are doing anything but resting. Got it?”
“Yes, sir,” Lewis said.
“Best take his orders, Mister Lewis. It’s futile not to,” I said.
“And yet, here you are, Colonel Drummond, ignoring them.”
“Not for long, Doc. Although it does cramp my style,” I said as I heard the muffled sound of a Humvee approaching. “Sounds like we have guests.”
“Ehrlickson, see to our new assignments if you would. I have about ten more minutes with this. Jacoby, see that Mister Lewis is set up on antibiotics,” Willitson said to his staff.
“Colonel, ten minutes or so, and you ought to get back to your quarters. It’s maybe fifty degrees in this tent, despite the heaters, and a summer-like ten degrees outside. Not good for you, sir,” Willitson said, not taking his eyes off of his work.
“No problem, Doc,” I said as the inner tent door opened, and two very banged up Navy airmen entered, tended by four of our corpsmen. They were walking at least, but both looked like they’d been on the losing end of a bar fight. Both came to attention when they noticed my rank, and saluted.
“Colonel Drummond, Third Washington,” as I returned the salute. “You boys have a seat. You look like Hell.” Both had significant facial bruising, the younger a black eye.
“We’ve had better days, sir. Lieutenant Commander Michael McAllen, sir. This is Lieutenant Peter Shaw.”
“McAllen?” I asked.
“Yes, sir,” the Commander answered. “Eldest son of Ryan and Kay McAllen, late of Texas, sir.”
“No wonder the interest in your disposition, Commander. I expect your parents are quite relieved you’re in one piece,” I said. “Doctor Willitson’s staff will evaluate your medical condition, and if you’re not too banged up, we’ll get quarters established for you both outside of medical,” I said looking over at Doc, who looked at both men and gave me half a nod. “Meanwhile, I need to talk to an Admiral in Air Command.”
“Thank you, Colonel,” Shaw said. “It’s good to be somewhere warm, sir.”
“Yeah, it is. Let’s hope we can keep it that way,” I said, moving to leave, and both men stood.
“Boys, things are a little more casual in the med tent. Park it and thank God you didn’t land in that lake where your plane probably hit.”
“Yes, sir,” they said in unison.
A few minutes later, I was back on the secure line to Air Command. The President’s son was safe.
McAllen and Shaw both had what Doctor Willitson said were injuries inflicted through a typical ejection sequence, and neither had any injuries from landing—the snow had seen to that. Per the request of Air Command, both were sequestered away from most of Third Washington troops until debriefing could be completed. Air Command said that a helo would evacuate the men later in the day.
Most of the Brigade shifted gears again, into their pre-search assignments. A significant portion of the men not assigned to either Alert status or normal mission operations were getting the trains ready for movement east. A third of Dog Sixes’ personnel cars were having heating issues, and all remaining food had been inventoried and split evenly between the two. Charlie Six, on the other hand, only had twenty percent of her cars with heating, lighting, and water issues.
After seeing to the Brigade’s assignments for the day, I joined the two Navy men in the conference car, where a late breakfast awaited me. Both stood as I entered.
“For Pete’s sake, sit down,” I said. “Pete, no offense there,” I said, recognizing the unintentional reference. “Relax and enjoy some fine pre-cooked, pre-packaged, pre-pared food,” I said as I again, shed my parka. “We’re running low on damned near everything. Sorry we couldn’t rustle up something a little more celebratory.”
“Sir, if this is pre-packaged MRE food, then the Army’s a whole lot better fed than the Navy,” McAllen said, and agreed quickly by Shaw.
“Colonel, this is one of the best breakfasts I’ve ever had. No apologies necessary,” Shaw said. It was then that I noticed that breakfast wasn’t what I’d expected at all.
“Sorry, guys. It appears that the galley rounded up something out of the ordinary,” I said, checking out what appeared to be some sort of breakfast enchilada in an industrial sized pan. “Let me get the galley chief on the phone.”
“Kittrick, get me the galley chief,” I said into the intercom. “No, belay that. Send the galley chief in to Conference One.”
“Problem sir?” Kittrick responded.
“Nope. Double-time, Mister Kittrick,” I said.
“All right, Commander. What exactly do we have here, and may I join you?”
“Absolutely, sir,” McAllen said. “Seems like a homemade tortilla with ham, egg, and cheese. And that pitcher, Colonel, has real by-God coffee. That one has heavy cream.”
“Beats the Hell out of MRE’s, which is what we’re down to,” I said.
“Our resupply trains keep getting expressed east to the line units. Problem is, that without the support units like Third Washington, the Line doesn’t have the manpower to distribute the supplies per unit. Stuff is wasted, destroyed. Texas seems to think that the line units can handle the whole operations and maintenance aspect of war fighting all on their own, while fighting the actual war. Can’t happen. You boys can’t fly and keep the aircraft in full readiness all on your own. Seems like the Army thinks they can. So, we’re running out of fuel and food. A handful of days, and we’re out,” I said as the galley chief, a corporal, entered.
“Colonel Drummond, Corporal David Velasquez, reporting.”
“Corporal, how exactly did you manage this breakfast?”
“Uh, some creative horse-trading, sir. I traded some of our laundry soap and bar soap for this, sir. A trial run with the local population.”
“Corporal, I was under the impression that the locals don’t have these kinds of resources available. Am I incorrect?”
“Colonel, the more capable people do, sir, and have not really been the recipients of any assistance from Third Washington.”
“What kind of volumes are we talking about, Velasquez?”
“Enough for about a dozen, sir. Figured this would be a good occasion, Colonel.”
“My compliments, Corporal. Good job,” I said, “As long as we’re not shorting the other supplies.”
“Sir, we have enough soap products to last a solid year.”
“Maintain an adequate level, Corporal. Clear trading with your superiors in all cases. Clear?”
“Yes, sir!” he said as he came to attention.
“Dismissed,” I said, and the young man made as hasty exit.
“Colonel, are all your corporals eighteen or nineteen years old?” McAllen said.
“A fair percentage, yes. We have a pretty well balanced percentage of green-as-grass soldiers and very experienced non-comms and officers. I’m damned lucky to command them,” I said as the intercom beeped. I picked up the headset and punched the ‘activate’ key.
“Drummond here,” I said.
“Colonel Drummond,” Captain Shand said, “One moment, sir. We’re waiting for an uplink to San Antonio.”
“Very well,” I said. I figured that it was time to be chewed out from On High.
“Gentlemen,” I said as I hit the ‘mute’ key, “Excuse me while I get my ass chewed for going to your commanding Admiral to try to get food and fuel.” The two officers looked at each other, raising eyebrows, and looked a little uncomfortable.
“Colonel Drummond,” the instantly recognizable voice said, “This is President McAllen. I understand that your Brigade retrieved my son this morning.”
“Yes, sir, Mister President,” I said, more than a little shocked. “He is at present, enjoying breakfast here in our conference room. Would you like to speak with him, sir?”
“Yes, Colonel, if you don’t mind. I also would like to inform Lieutenant Shaw that his wife has been informed of his recovery, and that she will be waiting for him when he returns.”
“I’m sure that he will be happy to hear that, sir.”
“One more thing, Colonel. I hear through a roundabout way that you’re itching to head east.”
“Sir, I’m not itching to head east, but will do so when possible. I’m itching to have enough food and fuel to stay a viable unit. We’re down to days worth of food and fuel, and Army Command is shifting our supplies east to the line.”
“That will not be a continuing problem, Colonel. You have my word.”
“Understood, Mister President, and my thanks for this.”
“Armies march better on full stomachs, and fight better with full magazines.”
“Amen, sir. Here’s your son, sir.”
“Thank you, Colonel. I owe you one.”
“No sir, Third Washington owes you,” I said, taking off the headset and handing it to the Lieutenant Commander. “Commander, you might be prepared to discuss the loss of your aircraft. I think the Commander in Chief might want to know how you totaled a fifty million dollar aircraft,” I said with a grin.
Shaw replied first, “Wrecked Dad’s plane. You’re hosed, Commander.”
McAllen scowled a little, and put the headset on.
“Shaw, you’re with me. Let’s give son and father a little space,” I said.
Shaw donned his parka as I grabbed mine, and we headed over to the Command Car for a few minutes.
“So, Lieutenant, if you can, tell me about your mission over Des Moines.”
“Nothing classified, sir. Straight bomb and go. Command and control targeting—we were tasked with taking out the communications links back to Chicago and points east. Damn it’s cold out here,” he said as we reached the door of the adjacent car.
“Yes, sir. No doubt about it.”
“What happened to your aircraft? Were you hit?”
“Small arms fire. The S.A. has a shi…has a lot of SAM’s they’re putting up, but if we go in low and fast, we’ve a better chance of getting through their perimeter and can then prosecute. We were hit on the way out. Had a few minor thrust issues but nothing major until we flamed out—no warning. No master caution, nothing. Everything died. Not exactly comfortable going from fully functional to dead stick in three seconds, Colonel.”
“I assume you’ve been told that neither of your personal locating beacons activated.”
“No, sir,” he said with a questioning look, “I did not.”
“The aircraft ejection indicator was the last known point of you and Lieutenant Commander McAllen. Telemetry for the last three minutes of your flight, including IFF, also was not transmitted.”
“Could have taken some fire into the avionics, Colonel. That might explain it," he said, not quite convincing himself.
“You’re both damned lucky, Shaw. And before I forget, the President said that your wife would be waiting to meet you upon your return.”
He stopped in his tracks on the way back to my desk in the back of the Command Car. “I haven’t seen Amy in six months, sir.”
“Apparently all you need to do is to get shot down with a distinguished aircraft commander and survive, and magic comes your way,” I said. “Where’s she been since you last saw her?”
“Your lucky day, Mister Shaw,” I said.
“Yeah it is, sir. Sometimes I forget how lucky I really am.”
“You’re still young. There’ll come a point where you wake up every single morning, and realize right off, how lucky you really are. Maybe for you that day will be tomorrow.”