Book One Chapter Three

Posted: March 18, 2013 in Uncategorized
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CHAPTER 3

 

The ship was abuzz with activity as men went about their duties ranging from repairing, prepping, and cleaning the aircrafts. Still other men were performing maintenance on the ship itself.  The ship was on heightened alert since the downing of the XSR-28.  There was an exaggerated sense of tension that seemed to emanate from many of the men.  Since hostilities had broken out nearly three years ago with China many of the crew had become battle hardened, but with the new threat, yet to be identified, many wondered if and when there would be a direct attack on the ship.

Men on deck of the USS Jackson were making sure that there were no last minute glitches that would prevent the rescue mission from taking off.  All the men knew how important it was to retrieve the pilots before the enemy got their hands on them.  The air crew was performing a last minute inspection of the exterior of the plane. The pilots lit off the engines, maneuvering the the controls around to make sure nothing was binding and proceeding with their own preflight check lists.

A VTH-32 sat tooling up on the pad of the amphibious assault ship waiting for the men to begin boarding.  It was the aircraft of choice in this war, often being used for insertions behind enemy lines.   She was an odd combination of helicopter and fixed wing aircraft.  She carried a crew of five, plus two pilots who sit in the nose of what looked like a twentieth century Cobra helicopter cockpit that had been attached to the body of a C-130 style aircraft.  Add the sweeping wings of a modern fighter and the tail section from an old twentieth century fighter, the Phantom, and you had the VTH-32.   She was a wicked piece of machinery with plenty of pure raw power from her three engines. Well armored and armed, the VTH-32 had two 30 mm chain guns, one slung under the nose and one built into the tail that could pivot straight down and around to face directly aft of the aircraft and had a 180 degree swing from side to side. In addition to the weapons provided by the 30 mm guns, there were four 20 mm chain guns, one mounted on each wing and one mounted on each side of the fuselage.  She was further enhanced with hard points to mount missiles and external fuel tanks.   The added weaponry gave the crew the ideal capability of protecting the men during loading and unloading in a hot landing zone. Commonly referred to as a LZ

The men from both squads mingled as they waited for the word. Diesel watched as some of his marines were stowing extra ammunition in whatever space was available in their gear. All of the men in the squads going on the mission were combat veterans and first-rate Marines.

Gunny’s voice was louder as he had the men from first squad fall in on him. “Listen up ladies, we are going to go over how we are to embark and debark the 32. I do not, let me repeat myself, I do not want any lollygagging. You will move with a purpose or I will give you a purpose. When we load up it will be by fireteams three, two and then one. Diesel, Tex and myself will be the last on and the first off.”

“As Diesel’s standard procedure when he debarks from the 32 he will move at a 45 degree to the left. Third fireteam, you are to follow Diesel, and go to ground ten meters past Diesel.

“Second fireteam when you debark the 32, you are to move off at a 45 degree angle to the right, and about ten meters your team drops. First fireteam follows the second and continues for another ten meters past before you go to ground. Lets run through it a few times,” Gunny said as he reached for his whistle.

All about the hanger men from the ship and other unit members continued working as they watched the marines’ prepping for the mission. The working men each said silent prayers for the safe return for the men.

 

First squad consisted of their squad leader, a medic, and three fireteams. Each fireteam had five men, each man having an assigned function.  The fireteams were comprised of a leader, automatic gunner, a grenadier, and two riflemen.  Tagging along for this mission was a command section that normally consisted of the platoon leader, a radio man, the platoon sergeant. That gave first squad 17 men plus Diesel, Gunny, and the radio operator, Tex, for a total of men 20 for the undertaking now dubbed Operation Room Service. Gunny Riddel had proposed a suggestion to the Diesel about bring with them Staff Sergeant Olson and Sergeant Fields. The total count of men going on the mission was now 22 hard charging Marines.

Staff Sergeant James Olson was the second squad leader and went by the name Nightstalker. James was a barrel chested, big, black man at 6 foot 5 inches and a few pounds shy of 300 pounds.  He spoke with a southern drawl and was passionate Florida Gator’s football fan. The man always had a cigar with him and looked as though he ate rebar for lunch and concrete for dinner.  He had a phenomenal sense of strategy and tactics, combined with his ability to plan maneuvers and natural sense of leadership, it made him a natural choice for point man.

The Diesel agreed with Gunny’s recommendation for the two additional men to accompany the squad.  Diesel believed that Staff Sergeant Olson’s ability to command his men and Voodoos sixth sense regarding unseen dangers would be needed this time.  Diesel scribbled his signature on the request; it still needed to be indorsed by Big Rig.

The Colonel was making his way across the crowded and very busy hanger deck to where the squad was assembled and waiting for the order to go.

“Captain Mclean, your men ready?” he asked once he was near enough to be heard over the noise from the other Marines and Navy personnel that were at work.

“Yes sir, we’re ready.  Any word from the pilots yet?” asked the Diesel as he handed over the transfer slips for Big Rig to read and sign.

Big Rig took the papers and quickly read them. He pulled out a pin and signed the transfer. “Your paper work is done. No word from the pilots as of five minutes ago.  But that doesn’t mean anything. Any number of things could have happened to ‘em when they landed.  Hell, they were most likely out cold by the time they hit the deck.  Chances are they’re pretty busted up, get ‘em and stabilize ‘em as fast as you can.  Get those data disks and blow that bird to really little pieces.  Make sure you get the hell out of there as quick as you can. You copy?”

“Aye, aye sir.” responded Diesel. “Sir, did the pilots of the 414th say anything about enemy troops in the area?”

“All they saw were the two SAM sites that they hammered into scrap metal. They didn’t say anything about troops moving into or through the area. Just expect there are enemy troops already there looking.  Here’s your escort to the taxi”, said the Colonel with a smile. “I’ll see you back here real soon, and good luck.”

“Thank you sir,” replied Diesel, as he shook hands with the Colonel.  The Colonel turned and walked back across the noisy hanger deck to his office where he had planned to garner other information about what went on with the XSR-28.

Gunny blew his whistle. “First squad grab you gear, we’re ridding the elevator up this time.”

“And there was much rejoicing, yea,” quipped Vinnie. The rest of his men joined him in the response of yea.

“You know the drill, line up and quit the goofing around. Stillman stop messing with Greywolf. Vinnie, keep T-bone away from the edge,” Gunny said as he shook his head.

Diesel just smiled as he reflected on his first meeting with the gunny.

The newly minted Lieutenant Donovan Mclean was in the process of reporting into his new command. Donovan had not earned his nickname yet. He had just finished meeting his company commander. His records for payroll, medical, and dental were done. Now he was to meet the man who truly ran the platoon he was to command.

He walked along the concrete pathway. Small desert lizards scurried away from him. An old two and a half ton truck passed him on the road, filled with marines going someplace in a hurry he judged from the billowing dust cloud.

His walk led him to a brick two story building. The windows were tall but narrow. There was no lush dark green grass growing in the patch of desert in front of the building. Only desert plants, sand, and rocks were in the small patch of ground. On the front was a sign next to the glass double doors. The sign read home of the brave, land of the free.

Donovan entered the building and made his way to the rear, reading the sign on the doors as he went. He found the door he wanted. He knocked on the door, there was no answer so he went in.

The office was neat and ordered. There were two bookcases, one with marine manuals, and the other filled with classical literature. The door opened behind him bumping him, the gunny walked in.

“Your Lieutenant Mclean, I take it?” Gunny said.

“I am,”

“Good, Derrick said I was getting the best, so did Steve. You would know them better as Gunnery Sergeants King and Hall.

Donovan’s eyebrows moved to his hairline at that remark. “You know gunnies King and Hall?” he asked.

“Oh I have known king kong and hall of shame for years,” said the gunny using the nicknames for the men. “The marines are a small knit unit, the staff non-coms even smaller. I have been told you have a lot of potential, and you know how to listen. This is a solid unit. They deserve the best. I hope that is you. Don’t let me down, more importantly don’t let the men of this unit down.” The stern look on the gunny’s face conveyed just how serious he was.

 

The jolting halt of the aircraft elevator brought Diesel back to the present. Minutes later the men were on the flight deck standing in a neat column near the aft portion of the island, a steel structure built onto the flight deck where the bridge, flight deck control and operations, and firefighters were located. They waited here for the yellow shirt (a nickname for the man who pre-positions, moves the aircraft, and gives direction to the pilots where to maneuver their aircraft) to give the prearranged hand signal to the white shirt, the landing officer (whose duty it is to escort people to the flight deck among other things) the all clear sign so the men could board the aircraft safely.

Once aboard, the men sat with their backs against the wall, facing inward with their weapons unloaded.  Each man was keeping to himself; some were getting comfortable trying to sleep for the first part of the flight while several men sat motionless, staring at the floor boards mentally reviewing the plan for this operation.  Others sat drumming their fingers eagerly waiting for the order to disembark the aircraft in full anticipation of the fight that lay ahead.

Diesel had on his set of earphones and was plugged into the aircraft’s internal communications system. He was listening to the pilots banter back and forth while they went about their duty of getting him and his men to the drop off point. The Captain looked around at his men and thought to himself that here, with these men, was where he belonged.  In his heart he was a Marine through and through and if there was action he wanted to be leading the charge.  Diesel assessed his men.  He made note of the men of first squad who were seated about him.

Sergeant Burnell was sitting, mindlessly rolling his head in slow deliberate circles. Corporal Boxer was reviewing the maps and the making notes of where the landmarks should be.  Lance Corporal Thayer appeared to be asleep.

Private First Class Mack Davidson, call sign Mo-Ped, was a recent replacement in the unit. Davidson had just celebrated his 21st birthday last week.  Next to him sat Pfc. Kyle Taylor also a new replacement. He sat watching everything and everyone with a keen eye. He was the unit’s best man when it came to unarmed combat.

Sgt. Baker, the leader of the 2nd fire team, looked to the world to be dead asleep except that he had his weapon cradled next to his legs, right hand resting on it while the left hand held a 50 round magazine of caseless ammo at the ready.  He was reviewing the plan in his mind with his eyes closed, going over every last detail and thinking of other scenarios which could change the plan and how he would counter those obstacles when they arose.

Directly to his right sat Cpl. Kenneth Franklin who asked everybody to call him Frankie.  Continuing down the line was Lcpl Bill Houston callsign Bunker. Bunker was one of the largest men in the unit.  Rounding out the rest of the 2nd fire team was Lcpl. Jacob Scott, call sign Boots, and PFC Marcus Peterson call sign, Saint. The pair of friends could not have been more unlikely. Boots listened to country music and heavy metal, ate his food with a generous dousing of Crystal hot sauce, and was a drinker and cigar smoker who stood at 6 foot even.  The Saint on the other hand listened to gospel music, detested spicy food, and stood at a short 5 foot 5 and led an otherwise pious life.

Sgt Gilbert, leader of the third fire team, sat quietly resting his eyes; his head tilted back gently drumming his fingers on the fore grip of his weapon. To his left sat Cpl. Mark Kowalski, a chunk of a man at five feet eleven inches.  His jet black hair was cut in the form of a Mohawk more than the regular high and tight. He was the fire teams A-gunner and the units pack mule. The remaining men of the third fire team, Cpl. Foster, Lcpl. Dunn and Lcpl. Ritter. Lcpl. Ritter appeared to be sleeping; Dunn was snoring loudly.

The last man to join the three fire teams was the corpsman, Petty Officer Second Class Cory Vaughn, a short and stocky Navy man, known as Static. He was going through his check list, verifying that everything was in his large medic bag in case they came into a hot landing zone.

Every man in each of the fire teams, with the exception of the A-gunner, was armed with a Minute Man Arms caseless assault rifle. The M31-A3 was an exceptional model of modern warfare technology. She was designed with an overall length of 30 inches and outfitted with a built in silencer.  It was a light weight weapon at five pounds fully loaded, taking fifty rounds of 8.6 mm caseless ammunition. The M31 had modular construction so that add-ons like a 30 millimeter grenade launcher could be easily snapped into place.   Other whistles and bells included a built in microcomputer that assisted with aiming and arming of the weapon and a multi-use scope that could be used as a traditional scope, red dot, thermal imager, or night vision scope. The scope could also use the rifle’s microcomputer to store photographic data internally or on a flash memory card.

This piece of weaponry had three modes of firing, semi-automatic, three round burst, or full auto. The M31 had a cyclic rate of 900 round a minute in full auto or 750 rounds a minute in the three round burst mode. If this was not enough firepower, soldiers could mount and link multiple M31’s together by using a section of the cleaning rod as a connecting rod that snaps into the side of the weapon for mass fire, wreaking havoc on enemy forces.  It was a versatile weapon, and the weapon of choice for missions such as the one that first squad was assigned to undertake currently.

The soldier’s helmets were equipped with a special flip down HUD screen and an umbilical cable that attached from the side of the scope enabling the soldier to discharge the weapon from behind cover and never have to expose himself to enemy fire.  It was a design inspired by the years of urban warfare that preceded this war and the Department of Defense who wanted to keep casualties to a minimum.

A-gunners were issued the M384-C. Created by the same company as the M31, it had all the same features, just more barrels and a higher rate of fire. Both weapons fired the same size round and could use magazines interchangeably. The M384 normally used a 1000 round box magazine that fed its 6 barrels. With its 4,000 or 6,000 rounds a minute rate of fire it was devastating to any enemy force that was in its sights.

Besides each soldiers main weapon, each man was also issued a sidearm, the venerated M2035-A4 .45 caliber caseless electronic pistol, light weight body armor, 5 grenades (2 fragmenting, 1 white phosphorous, 1 smoke, and 1 flash bang), 1 claymore, 1 bayonet, MRE’s, first aid kit, rain poncho, chemical lights, combat knife, a change of clothes, a compass, an entrenching tool, and lots of extra ammunition.

Each man also carried the versatile M-190 radio/pda. It was a powerful handheld computer combined with a limited range burst transmission radio. It could transit encrypted data up to 12 miles. It also had the ability to send photos, send and even receive e-mails when within a communications network.

Although the list seemed long, the men actually were traveling light.  The majority of the contents of their gear were intended to be short term survival items.  The operations that these men conducted were never longer than a few days at best, and in most cases no longer than a day.  The men of the squad knew that they would most likely hurry up and wait for the go ahead to depart.  In the time that it took to prepare and the time they got clearance, many men of first squad became a bit edgy with nerves.  Even though all the men were well trained and had seen real combat, they couldn’t help the nervousness that accompanied another maneuver.  All the men needed now was the okay from the tower for takeoff.

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