Sunday, July 4, 2010
Valley Road at Highway Two Eighteen
West of Montrose, Iowa
It had taken an hour and a half for the infiltrating soldiers to complete their mission, wearing ragged S.A. clothing and openly carrying the hodgepodge of weapons. The S.A. was pushing out on their own, probing the defenses of the Brigade, without fully engaging us. During the wait, more equipment and a dozen more communications techs arrived and set up their field equipment. We certainly in a position to attack until we knew what we were up against…and even then, we were likely outnumbered and outgunned. The train carrying the Abrams tanks still had not arrived, nor had we heard from it.
“Sir, that Army artillery unit is on location and awaiting orders,” Corporal Martin said.
“Have them stand by. Should these bastards break out toward the bridge at Keokuk, they’re the last stand. Understood?”
“Yes, sir….One moment sir. Got something from Austin coming in,” he said as Gunnery Sergeant Delaney came into the tent. His clothing was in tatters, boots mismatched, and he was carrying an AK-47.
“Spill it, son,” forgetting that he had to decrypt on the fly.
“Composite is eighteen hours away conservatively, sir. We might get another couple thousand men coming up from Kansas City by rail by then. Air Command might be able to get some support if the weather clears. Bad storm west of here, moving in tomorrow early morning. Zero viz over target, way below minimums of the fly-guys weapons systems right now.”
“All right, so we’re on our own, which is about the worst thing we could expect. The S.A. isn’t going to sit there for eighteen hours. Fine. Not a real big surprise at this point. Gunny, your men got the sensors in place?”
“As best as possible, Colonel, while trying not to get shot.”
“Lieutenant Jenkins, fire it up. Let’s have a look at what we’re up against,” I said. The topographic map of the area, showing our ‘friendly’ positions, tanks, and other U.S. equipment. As the field sensors came alive, we could see what we were up against.
“Gunny, I can see what you mean about a target-rich environment,” I said as someone else in the tent let out a long, descending whistle. “All right, lets hear it from boots on the ground.”
“Zero noise or light discipline. Guys sleeping on brush and scrap. Muddy, nasty ground down there— still frozen up here of course. Caught a glimpse of what was probably their HQ. Group of three or four tents about here,” the Gunny said, pointing to the flat-panel display, with heartbeat signatures, moving outward in a radial pattern. “No signs of civilians or women for that matter. Poor morale by the looks of it. Warming fires made of whatever they could scrounge, they’re not taking care of their weapons. Maybe five percent of them are in actual tents. Most are outside or under tarps or ponchos. There are a shitload of them and that’s their advantage. They also have at least a hundred tanks on this end, probably more north. Couldn’t tell. Lined up nice and straight, crews camped under tarps between the tanks. If we had a few A-10’s and DU shells, we’d light their asses up,” the Gunny said, referring to the super dense depleted uranium shells. “They must have five semi-trucks full of shoulder-fired sams, though, sir.”
“Sergeant Travis,” I asked my sergeant-major, “What’ve we on the south end?”
“We have troops deployed to an east-west line along Two Sixty-Two, sir. Point men believe they are within a hundred and fifty meters, Colonel. No heavy equipment on that end anywhere in sight, although there are at least two large industrial facilities ablaze approximately a mile south of our line. They have a very porous line, our men moved beyond their outer perimeter before we realized it—enemy is not positioned well. Pulled back to the highway to consolidate.”
“Excuse me, Colonel,” Kittrick said. “We have contact with the train from Kansas City. Dog Six has contact, sir. Secure fourteen Charlie, Colonel.”
“Damned good timing,” I said. “I hope to God they have ammunition with those tanks.”
“Downloading their manifest at this time, Colonel,” Kittrick replied.
The rail line from Kansas City cut diagonally across Missouri and Iowa, bearing northeast to Fort Madison, where it followed the Mississippi for a mile or two, then turned north. I spoke with the Captain in charge of the mechanized unit, and brought him up to speed on our situation. The train was halted at the Highway Two Eighteen crossing a couple miles south of us, and the tanks deployed. Their commanding officer was pleased to inform me they were fully armed, but would not go into detail until we met in person.
“Sir, this is Captain Gibson, Fourth Infantry Division, Second Brigade, Sixty-Sixth Armor Regiment.”
“Colonel Drummond, good to meet you, sir.”
“Captain, I’ve read a little of your manifest. A few minutes in the conference room, if you don’t mind,” I said, motioning him over to a folding table in the middle of our impromptu tent.
“Not at all, sir.”
“Gerry, got a few minutes?” I asked.
“Yes, sir. Absolutely.”
“Captain, tell me about the M1A1-N, if you would.”
“Absolutely, Colonel. They’re nicknamed the ‘Nightmare.’
We cobbled up a battle plan from scratch and quickly put things in motion. The Abrams ‘N’ Models would deploy on high ground south and west of the S.A. encampment, and on the plain behind our point units north of the S.A. Their movement would be masked by the sound of the big diesel electric locomotive engines, running at high throttle but stationary, along with every single engine that Third Washington could muster.
I hoped to push the S.A. back through a little bit of fear, disrupt their sleep, and put them on the defensive long enough for the Nightmares to gain their positions…and then shut everything down. Randomly, we’d order certain units to start up, rev their engines, move a little, and shut down.
We were favored with a slight breeze from the west, but the low clouds and fog kept our positions well hidden from the S.A. below us, compounded of course by the night. I ordered field kitchens set up not far from the line, to make sure that the men would at least have some hot food before the counterattack. I had ulterior motives with the kitchens as well.
We’d either win the day or lose everything, here. It really didn’t matter that we had no more than two more days’ worth of food for the Brigade and the Marine survivors of the S.A. battle. I also suspected that the S.A. was out of food, fresh water, and probably didn’t have adequate shelter or foul-weather gear. I hoped that the aroma of beef stew might waft its’ way through the S.A. troops, barely a mile away.
“Sir, we’re receiving a request from the S.A. field commander to meet at our headquarters at oh four hundred hours. I believe sir, they’re going to ask for our surrender,” Captain Shand told me.
“Let them come on in,” I said with little hesitation. “Field commander and not more than one escort, unarmed. More than that and no one gets through. Got it?”
“OK. Now, get the word out to shut down all non-essential equipment, and in forty-five minutes, fire it all back up—not the Nightmares, though, and remember not to let stuff sit at idle. Make them think we’re moving stuff around for the last time, getting ready to move on them. For now though, I want it quiet. Calm before the storm. Now, a little change in plans for the command tent, everyone,” I said loud enough for everyone to hear. “Everyone in the tent, every soldier from the point where the S.A. commander crosses the line to this tent: I want you in clean, new utilities. I want food at every workstation, coffee, the whole thing. I want a dozen men along the path to this tent to be eating a nice, fat sandwich for the S.A. to see. Eat as much as you like, and leave some on your plates. I want these bastards to think that we’re swimming in new equipment, have plenty to eat, and are so well supplied that we throw him off his game. A little theater for our guests. Questions?”
“None, sir,” Major Pat Morrisey said.
“Good. Preparations for the counter continue as planned then, and execution as scheduled,” I said.
It would be an elaborate ruse, and would work, or we’d be making noise for nothing, the first engagement for the Nightmares would fail, dawn would come, they’d advance up the hill, and eventually overwhelm us. I hoped, again, to throw the S.A. into confusion, with two hundred running diesels, hoping they’d think they were tanks moving into position. Some of that was partially true. I really just wanted them on edge with no rest. The S.A. would find out soon enough.
Promptly at oh four-hundred the advance line unit, well camouflaged and only a hundred meters from the S.A. lines, signaled the approach of two individuals, carrying kerosene lanterns. Two hundred meters further along, they were searched for weapons, and then directed along a rather difficult climb up the muddy, snowy hillside, which was neither the easiest nor the most direct route. Their original course though, would have taken them directly to a parked Nightmare. Per my orders, the men that escorted them in, those that weren’t in weapons-ready mode, were enjoying ham sandwiches on rye, with spicy mustard. I would have enjoyed seeing the theater.
A few moments later, the S.A. commanding general and a captain stood in the “field command center” for Third Washington. I hovered over Corporal Martin’s workstation, which illustrated the S.A. positions. Other data were not displayed for the moment.
“I’m Colonel Richard Drummond,” I said, not shaking the hand of, nor saluting, the S.A. officers.
“I’m Major General Ames Arnold Slocum. This is Captain Jamal Blankenship. Let me cut to the bone here, Colonel. You are completely outnumbered and at dawn will be wiped out. I am here to demand your immediate and unconditional surrender.”
I laughed a little, holding it back out of ‘respect.’ I noted that both of them were poor poker players, and their eyes moved around the space, taking in the troops in their smart uniforms, the food at the workstations, as I had hoped.
“I’d expected as much. General, it is at your request that you walked through the American line and into my headquarters. It is at my request however, that you surrender unconditionally and immediately. With that surrender in my hand, I can assure you that you'll live out this day, although not too many more days based on what the S.A. army under your command has done across the Midwest. Places like Van Meter, Iowa, in particular. Without it, I can guarantee that you will not. I might just shoot you in the balls, and then your head myself. God knows you have it coming."
"You dare threaten me, Colonel? With this pissant force, you think you'll defeat the numbers and the technology that the State of America has amassed? We've all but defeated the Air Force's ability to continue their harassment with our umbrella of missiles. We’ve shot down thirteen planes today alone. We have uncountable numbers of ballistic missiles and the ability to use them at will. We own the day, Colonel. Your Army training should have by now pointed out the hopelessness of this situation."
"Just to clarify, General. You and your captain here, did walk into this command center of your own free will, that is correct?"
"Of course. To demand your immediate surrender."
"I don't surrender to murderers, you stupid son of a bitch," I said as a half-dozen Californias were leveled on the pair. "Find them a nice, cozy place to sit and watch their defeat." They were immediately placed face down on the ground, hands and feet bound with industrial-grade zip ties, and roughly placed in two chairs about ten feet from the main display screen that we'd be monitoring shortly. They were then strapped to the chairs. "And by the way, General Slocum, I'm not regular Army. I'm not even old-school National Guard. I'm a civilian who got drafted to help turn bastards like you into compost. To reiterate, I’m well more than half-tempted to put bullet in your head right now. Commanders who order children to be killed with grenades shouldn’t be shown one iota of mercy. And if someone wants to prosecute me for that, I'm just fine with it."
"I demand that we be released immediately, Colonel. We came in here under a flag of truce. No way in Hell will you get away with this. My men will come after you and hunt you to the ends of the earth."
“I’ve seen what the State of America First Defense Force did, across four states. Your troops. Your command. Your orders. Your responsibility. You will now begin to pay for your actions and those of your government. I don’t recognize any sort of truce with you, Slocum,” I said, before turning my attention briefly to Weapons Specialist Andrew Jameson.
"Jameson. Light them up,” I said, not taking my eyes off of the General’s bound form.
"Was I unclear, Mister Jameson?" I said, maintaining my glare. The two S.A. officers were now plainly worried.
"Need a few more minutes sir to complete the targeting, sir…to guarantee maximum effectiveness in the sweep,” Corporal Martin answered for Specialist Jameson. “Lotta live targets out there, Colonel, and of course equipment.”
"Fair enough,” I said. “General, your troops shot down three armed or unarmed drones in the past twenty-four hours, and one manned aircraft in the past seven days. No other United States aircraft has been shot down. Your ballistic missile launches have been successful in that they made it off their launchers, and then they had holes burned through them during boost phase, courtesy of the Air Force. Maybe you’re believing your own propaganda,” I said. He sat there and fumed.
The main display screen came alive in three dimensions. The plain terrain model showed the icons of the S.A. troops, scattered to Hell and gone on the plain below us, blue targets on black. The Third Washington and regular Army troops were in red, the M1A1-N's in green, with a light green overlay showing their effective field of fire.
"What in the Hell is this thing? A damned video game?" the well-fed, sweating Captain Blankenship asked us.
"The end of your Army," I said. They didn’t express any additional worry at my statement.
"Ready, sir,” Jameson said.
"Gents, if either of these animals make a move, shoot them someplace painful," I said. “Don’t kill them though. I’m thinkin’ I’d like to see them swing from a tree on Constitution Avenue,” I said, not taking my eyes off of the display. “Unless we find a convenient tree or light pole around here, first, after a meeting with a judge advocate general.”
“Absolutely, Colonel,” A sergeant said. “And thank you for the honor, sir.”
“Slocum, you see this field of blue? Those are your troops. We track them by their heart signature. This view is provided to us by a series of sensors, linked to our communications matrix, as well as to our weapons targeting systems. Our troops infiltrated your lines and placed them there, earlier this evening. The red, well, those are the good guys. That’d be a rear-area support element known as Third Washington Engineers, part of the Transport Command, numbering around twenty-nine hundred men, and the survivors of the previous S.A. engagement, some fine Marines. Call it three thousand and change. The purple symbols are various tanks, trucks, Humvees, generators, and other noisemakers designed to disturb your troops, or scare the shit out of them. Those bright green symbols are twenty-four highly modified Abrams tanks, slang name is the Nightmare. The overlapping light green color is their effective field of fire, blanketing the entire S.A. encampment.”
“You think twenty-four tanks are going to take out the entire S.A. regular army? You’re seriously delusional,” Blankenship said, almost spitting it. “We’ll have your balls for breakfast.”
“Nightmare teams ready,” I heard on the console speaker, from the lead tank commander. “Nightmare one-three, charge coupling reset, three seconds to nominal…One-three ready. Nightmare fire teams have a green board.”
“Jameson, execute Sunburn.”
“Sunburn team, execute, execute, execute,” he said into his headset.
The screen instantly illustrated the effect of the Nightmares, as all twenty-four fired in their pre-programmed, coordinated pattern. The terrain we had hastily selected above the S.A. position gave the Nightmares complete battlefield vision, and the range was well within the capability of the Boeing-modified, General Dynamics platform.
The battlefield was immediately divided into triangles of overlapping dark stripes, slowly sweeping across the field of fire. The implications of the dark stripes were not immediately apparent to Slocum and Blankenship. Within seconds of the initial activation, the symbols denoting the individuals of the S.A. army began to panic, running from the invisible weapon, in any direction but the one that was killing them. We could hear, and feel the detonations of S.A. weapons, and wild fire coming from their troops…firing at the invisible enemy. Five minutes later, it was over. There were no blue symbols left. Secondary explosions, probably from tank rounds and missiles, continued.
“This is some kind of trick,” Slocum said.
“Not hardly,” I said. “Count of enemy dead, Martin?”
“Eighty-six thousand four-hundred and twelve, sir,” the Corporal replied, generating a startled movement from Slocum. I suspected he knew to the man, how many he had under his command.
“You want to surrender, or do we turn you loose for the Nightmares to work you over?” I asked the lone remaining S.A. troops for miles.
“This is a trick. You couldn’t possibly have done what you’ve said. You’re lying!” Slocum said.
“No, we’re not. Come first light, we’ll show you personally. Maybe by then the stench will lessen in the cold. Until then, you are to be treated as a war criminal. Sergeant Carruthers will be more than happy to see that you’re taken care of appropriately. Strip ‘em naked, throw them in a box. Keep them from committing suicide, Sergeant.”
“Sir!” Carruthers said, nodding to his men to remove the two from the command tent. A minute later, I gave the command for the majority of the Brigade to safe weapons. There wouldn’t be any more fighting any time soon.
“Jameson, put me through to Austin,” I said.
“And pass the word, Army artillery, Mechanized, Third Washington and Marine Recon units stand down until oh-six-hundred, excepting Delta rotation,” I said. Delta was the oh two-hundred to oh six-hundred skeleton crew and basic guard patrol. “Have an honor guard ready at dawn to raise the colors. There will be no celebrating. Clear?”
“Yes, sir. Clear,” Corporal Martin said.
A minute and a half later, I was on the line with the duty officer in the command car, and then patched through to Theater Command.
After breaking the news, I walked back to Charlie Six, alone.