Monday, November 15, 2010

In the Field - WTWC

More from When the Wolves Come.

As always, comments, suggestions, hate mail, and everything else are strongly encouraged.

Thursday, 2 June 2039
Sol System
Earth, USA, Camp Bullis, Texas

The smells of the blossoming wild weeds filled the air. It was springtime in the Texas wilderness. Camp Bullis was an old army base just outside of San Antonio. It was, at one time, a bombing range and had been used for years as a training area because of it’s vast open wilderness. The terrain varied from steep wooded hillsides and rolling grassy valleys to dry arid flats. 

Lieutenant Gray Henderson was laying low on his stomach, looking down the valley through his field glasses. As part of a joint training exercise, the division had been rotating units up to the camp for simulated combat drills with the Air Force and Marine Corps. His company was planted on a hillside behind the crest providing cover for a Marine unit that would be clearing the area soon. The company commander had let his XO, Henderson, take this mission as part of the exercise. The XO would need to be able to command the company just as well as the commander.

Just then a loud growl and screech came from the east as a fighter plane came soaring down the valley. He watched as it it’s bomb bay doors folded open and a dummy bomb fell into the mock encampment. 

“Target destroyed LT.” the commo Sergeant next to him said. He had a toughtablet laid next to him with a small green hood over it to prevent glare. The display showed a map of the target and all the friendly units in the area as blue squares.

“Good, the jarheads should be headed up soon to clear out anything left.” Gray said.

Gray looked to his left and motioned to the First Sergeant. He held up two fingers to his eyes and pointed down to the valley. The first sergeant nodded and passed the message down the line.

Gray continued to scan the area, looking for the Marines. They eventually came up the valley floor in six armored vehicles. They pulled in to the mock village fast and dismounted quickly. He watched as the teams breached and cleared each building.

It wasn’t exactly how he’d do it, but they were damn good. Joint missions were a big deal these days. Everyone had to be able to play nice with each other.

“Sir, The big eye’s showing enemy forces inbound on the other side of the ridge.” the commo sergeant said pointing north. The tablet was feeding a simulated overwatch from a surveillance drone and showed a mass of red moving in behind the ridge.

“Right, let me see that handset.” Gray said. 

The Sergeant rolled over slightly on his side to pull to pull up the handset for his manpack radio and handed it to the Lieutenant. Gray called out to the Marines but there was no answer.

“I’m getting nothing sergeant, just garble.” Gray said.

“They must be on different crypto” the sergeant said. If the two forces weren’t using the same cypher, secure communications just weren’t going to happen.

“How the fuck does that happen?” Gray growled under his breath.

“I got the loadset from the comsec officer this morning, so I know it’s current.” The sergeant said, checking a small notebook he had pulled from his pocket.

“Well shit.” Gray said under his breath. He wiped the sweat from his brow and looked over at the first sergeant. 

“We gotta do something LT, otherwise doz guys are going to get caught with their pants down.” First Sergeant Vasquez said, his thick accent was almost incomprehensible to Gray, but the man knew his stuff and he was right about the situation at hand.

“Alright, set the radio for plain text, we’ll just have to transmit in the clear.” Gray said.

“Sir, we’re not authorized to--” began the commo sergeant.

“Just do it sergeant.” Gray said flatly, he didn’t want to berate his subordinate, after all, he was in the right.

Gray picked up the handset again and exhaled. He knew he would probably be on the receiving end of a very unpleasant debrief from the Captain and the Colonel after the exercise was over.

“Charlie Fox Niner, this is Alpha Mike One transmitting in the clear. You have enemy incoming from the north. How copy? Over.” Gray said, he had the field glasses up to his eyes while he waited for the response. He could feel his pulse beat against the collar of the flak vest against his neck.

“Alpha Mike One, this is Charlie Fox Niner also in the clear. Roger, that’s a good copy, Enemy inbound from the north. Charlie out.” the voice came through the headset.

Gray looked over to his left again to the First Sergeant Vasquez.
“Get ready to shoot and scoot, we’ve probably just blown our cover.” said Gray.

He continued to look through the field glasses down at the village. The Marines were exiting the buildings quickly and remounting their vehicles. They were rolling out in less than a minute. They were good.

Then a call came out over the radio, the handset was still in Gray’s hands.

“All units, exercise is terminated. Report back to HQ for debrief. Repeat, exercise is terminated. All units report back to HQ for debrief.” came the voice over the comm. 

“Shit.” gray muttered to himself.

The walk back to the joint base camp head quarters was long and the terrain wasn’t exactly the easiest. The platoons were spaced and were cutting through tall grasses in a formation that resembled a staggered “V” that was standard for this type of movement. The hills were just steep enough to be a pain in the ass. Thick patches of brush and shrubs blocked the way in some areas causing them to go around. 

The men climbed to the top of the last hill that led to the joint camp on top of a large plateau. There was a patch of forest there at the top, the short wirery trees common to this area. The mixed gravel and rocks crunched under Gray’s boots. He held his hand up, indicating for the company to hold. The platoons all stopped and knelt, staggering out to the sides. He motioned for the platoon leaders to rally on him. When they arrived he dropped to one knee and they did the same.

“Ok, we’ve only got about a mile to go. Let’s stop here for a minute. Make sure your guys are hydrated. It’s getting hot, we don’t want anyone to fall out.” Gray said. 

The platoon leaders replied with a quiet “hooah”, the universal tone for understanding and compliance and then returned to their platoons. Gray did the same. 

The men of Alpha Company all scanned their sectors and drank from their canteens or camelbacks, a habit that came naturally. Gray was near the front of his formation, he consulted his compass and tapped the point man on the shoulder and indicated the direction they needed to travel. 

“I can’t believe you use that old thing LT. Why don’t you use the GPS?” Private Miller asked him as he wiped the sweat from his brow. The young man had dark red hair and freckles splattered across his nose and cheek bones. He was a draftee from Georgia if Gray remembered correctly.

“Private, using a compass to land nav is a valuable skill.” Gray said as he folded the relic up and put it back in his thigh pocket. “And a compass doesn’t need any batteries. What happens if we’re stuck in the field for weeks and the batteries in the GPS die?”

“I guess we’d be lucky to have you and your compass.” the private said with a smile.

Gray smiled back then motioned with his chin for the private to take up scanning his sector again. Although the exercise was over, it was good training for his men.

When the company reached the camp, Gray dismissed his men and told the platoon leaders when they’d meet up again to go over the after action report. The young Lieutenant then walked over to the water buffalo, removed his helmet and filled it with water from the large container and poured it over his head. He shook off the excess then filled his canteen and took a long drink.
He ran a hand through his short sandy blond hair and looked around. The camp was busy with all different types. There were soldiers, marines, airmen, and even a few sailors. The Joint training camp was a good idea in his eyes. They would need every man they could get if they were going to win this war.

Gray held the flap back as he stepped into the tent. He removed his helmet and held it under his left arm. He came to the position of attention at the Colonel’s desk and saluted. Colonel Ayers was a thin wirery man with dark hair and a thick mustache that was uncommon for an officer. Captain Kodiak stood behind him with his arms crossed. To the left of Gray stood a young Marine Captain standing at parade rest. He assumed he must have been the man in charge of the Marine force that raided the village. 

“Glad you could join us Lieutenant Henderson.” the Colonel said, eyeing him then returning the salute.
Gray dropped the salute then returned to the position of attention.

“At ease Lieutenant.” the older man said, consulting a toughtablet. The Colonel flipped through several pages and watched a replay of the map.

“Do you want to explain to me why you transmitted in the clear Lieutenant Henderson?” the Colonel asked.

“I was unable to reach the Marine company in the village and needed to warn them about the incoming enemy forces. If I hadn’t, they would’ve gotten smoked sir.”

The Marine captain spoke up “We couldn’t reach them either sir.”

“Henderson, you realize you broke standard comm protocol, exposed your position, and jeopardized your entire company.” The colonel said.

Gray looked past the Colonel at Captain Kodiak, his commanding officer. It was really Kodiak’s company he had risked in the exercise. The captain stood still with his arms crossed and raised his eyebrows in an expression that said “Well?”

“Yes sir, I realize that.” he paused then continued “It was my company’s mission to cover the Marine unit. If I had needed to open fire to do so, I would’ve also exposed our position. I didn’t really see the difference in exposing my men by unsecured communications or by fire. So I decided to make the call in the clear and maybe save those Marines before they got snuck up on.” Gray said, then took a long breath.

The Colonel took a long look at the two in front of him. He sat the toughtablet down and leaned back in his chair. 

“Relax, you made the right decision son. Sometimes you gotta know when to break the rules.” the Colonel said, then “Now, you two get on. I’ve got more training missions to put together.”

“Yes sir.” the two younger officers said while snapping to attention and rendering salutes.

The Colonel returned the salutes haphazardly, the way most old officers do. 

When the two left the tent, Captain Kodiak sat in one of the other chairs in the tent. The Colonel looked at him and said “Well, you were right about him.”

“I told you he was smart.” said Kodiak.

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