With the call to Big Rig over Diesel made his rounds to check on the men of his platoon. The men were in good spirits. While on his rounds he heard snippets of conversations between the men. They were discussing things like the coming football season, their personal relationships, home life, or a myriad of other things. None of them were grumbling about where they were or what they were doing. They were professionals and Diesel was proud to lead these men.

Diesel stopped to check the defenses at a few places and found that the men had done an outstanding job on their perimeter. Diesel was worried about the soldiers that the platoon had found this morning, it was not a good thing that the enemy was taking food and raping the woman of the local villages. He hoped that the powers that be would follow up on his report and send in some Army SF unit to work with those people and bring in some food and medicines.

First Squad’s third fireteam came back from their mission. Domino, Ski, Stillman, Greywolf, and Tag came back with Gunny to report what they found about a place to ford the river and the condition of the railway.

“Diesel, we have found a place to ford the river. The only problem is that is damn near the village,” said Stillman.

“How close?” asked Gunny.

“300 hundred meters from the small bend in the river south of the village,” answered Tag.

“What’s the ford like, is it doable at dusk, and can we cross the blast zone?” asked Diesel.

“It’s wet,” said a dripping Greywolf.

“How did you guys get him in the water?” asked Gunny.

“They lied.” Greywolf changed his voice to minic Stillman. “It’s only waist deep.”

“Well it was, on me. It did not help that the water is fast moving and there are sections were it gets a little deeper,” replied Stillman.

“It gets a little deeper, my ass. One second it’s at chest level and the next it’s over my head. Diesel, Permission to beat these two senseless for trying to drown me?” Greywolf asked flatly.

“We were not trying to drown you, we were helping with your bath,” added Tag before Diesel could answer.

“Permission denied, back to the report.”

“Domino cleared his throat before he spoke. “The ford is marked; crossing at dusk would not be too bad. We ran a line across and secured it to the river bed. We did a quick and dirty search of the blast zone. There is debris all over the place. Some of the wreckage looks like heavy armor. There is live ordnance on the ground. We found tracks of people that had been there before us, but we did not see them.”

“What is the condition of the railway and highway?” asked Diesel.

“Nobody will be using either until they get a massive repair crew out here. Entire sections of the highway are gone. The parts that are still there have four to five foot deep craters. The same goes for the railway. We shot some video. Here,” Domino said as he handed over his PDA.

Diesel looked over the video. It showed a lot of wreckage. All the wreckage showed the tattletale markings where the white hot liquid metal bore through and destroyed whatever it hit. The video zoomed in on the tail section of a fire blackened 120 mm mortar shell. The view shifted to the charred remains of some passenger that had either been in the convoy or the train.

Diesel continued to watch the video as Domino finished his report. “It is going to take us about the same amount of time to safely cross the terrain as it would to go around it. I believe that if we skirt around the edges of the blasted area we might shave some time off and it would also be a lot safer. I saw no sign of enemy troops, but I did see foot prints from locals searching through the wreckage. Now we did not cross the site so I can’t say what is on the other side, but there are plenty of down trees that could provide cover at night for us to cross.”

“How many sets of foot prints did you count?” asked Gunny.

“I counted twelve. There may have more but there where sections were the ground was flashed baked. Like I said it was a real mess. Deuce and his fireteam relieved us thirty mikes ago. They were setting up an OP on the east end of the blast zone.” said Domino.

Just then the men of the unit heard a large boom coming from the direction of the railway and highway. Everyone stopped and turned to look in that direction. They could see the column of smoke starting to rise.

“Diesel this is Deuce. Over.” said Sgt Eric Tanner.

Eric Tanner is the leader of the 2nd fireteam of the 3rd squad. The men called him Deuce. His room at the barracks looked like a workshop that made electric guitars. He was always repairing one. He could be counted on hitting yardsales and flea markets to buy amps and guitars on the weekends. He once found a classic Fendor guitar that he paid 50 dollars for and then fixed it up and sold it for 12,000 dollars. He was a solid Marine. At 5 foot 9 inches and 170 pounds. Eric’s fieldcraft was as smooth as silk. His attention to detail saved the men of his squad more times than he could remember.

“This is Diesel, go Deuce,” replied Diesel.

“Diesel, one of the locales just killed himself and a few of his friends. It looks like he got five others in the blast. I can see at least 4 others rolling around on the deck. Do you want us to provide assistance? Over,” asked Deuce.

“That is a negative. We are not to be seen. Do you copy? Over,” asked Diesel.

“Deuce copies, negative on the assist. Deuce out.”

“Diesel this is Spanky. We have movement in the village. Lots of movement.”

“Talk to me Spanky.”

“We have villagers running to the river. Some are loading up in boats and heading over.”

The men of the 3rd squad’s 2nd fireteam had lain hidden from the locals as they shifted through the twisted and burnt wreckage of the trains and the trucks. The smell of burnt and dead flesh was strong in the air. There was hardly any wind so the stench hung over the place. Deuce’s men could now see the people scurrying like ants to come to the aid of the friends or family that had been struck down by the detonation of the ordnance.

The fireteams A-gunner was a man called Jefe by the men in the unit. Tall and thin at 6 foot 2 and 190 pounds with thinning wispy sandy blond hair. Jefe was a movie aficionado. He was always quoting some movie. His favorite quote was from a 20th century movie named Scarface “Come say hello to my little friend”.

The rest of the fireteam was Lcpl Rupert Ecks call sign Crash. He received the name due to a training accident where he rolled a tracked vehicle on a flat course. He wanted to be a taxi driver like his father. Pfc. Joel Reed who got stuck with the call sign Punk. The last man in the fire team was Pvt. Tim Goldman, whom was called fish.

“Jefe, I want you, Crash, and Punk to scout out along the around the northern edge of this mess. Stay in cover and see if the road going north towards the objective is still intact. Report back every 15 mikes. And for heaven’s sake do not engage any enemy forces. Fish and I will hold down the fort and keep an eye on the locales. Got it?” Deuce asked.

“No problem, you heard the man let’s move it. Crash your on point, Punk you’re behind me. Keep your distance,” Jefe told the men in his detail as Deuce got on the radio to inform Diesel as to what he was doing.

As Crash froze, his hand went up to his head and he flashed the hand signal for hold. Jefe repeated the signal to punk. All three men lowered themselves to the forest floor. The sound was self evident; a large diesel transport was moving their way. They were twenty meters from the road side. They had traveled about 2 mile in their scouting mission. They had circumvented the blast zone and had reached the road heading north towards the objective. While on the move they had to twice freeze and take cover due to the close proximity of the locals in their search to find something they could salvage from the wrecks. The three men had lost precious time waiting for them, to move on.

The truck turned out to be an APC an older type 129. It had seen better days. As the APC neared the men it started to slow its advance. The three men of the fire team had advanced a half a mile up the road that led to their objective.

The APC type 129 was a long bodied, solid frame, tracked vehicle. The power plant was a six stroke twelve cylinder diesel engine, that provided 350 horse power. She was armed with twin pintle mounted 15mm chain guns that are fired remotely from inside the vehicle. One 25 mm cannon, that could fire 200 rounds per minute, a missile launcher that held 2 missiles. One missile was for surface to air. The other was surface to surface.  The APC had a crew of three and could carry twenty troops. There were ten firing ports for the troops to use.  The driver had through the use of some stolen technology a 360 degree view in a compressed 120 degree viewing screen. He also had three forward facing periscopes if the optics for the screen went down.

The APC’s rear hatch opened and disgorged ten troops. Jefe and his men watched with baited breath as the men filed out of the APC. The enemy troops moved to the front of the APC. Jefe, Crash, and Punk slowly brought their weapons up. Crash and Punk know that should they need to fight it out with the enemy contact their first target was to be the APC since both for them had grenade launchers. Both men know that they would have to fire at least 2 grenades each in order to puncture the thick armor for the APC. Crash and Punk were easing a ten round magazine of high explosive armor piecing (HEAP) grenades into the grenade launchers attached to their weapons. Both men know that without a shadow of doubt that Jefe was coving the enemy troops with his M-384. The Chinese troops started to move out towards the blast zone with the APC following them. As soon as the troops and vehicle were out of sight Jefe called it in to Deuce.

Within minutes of getting the heads up from Jefe and forwarding the information to Diesel, Deuce and Fish saw the APC moving at full speed though the blast zone. The APC was weaving and bobbing its way.  The Enemy troops it had disgorged earlier were trailing far behind. The deep throaty roar of the engine gave the locals warning of its approach.

The locals ran for it, even with the warning some of them never made it. The chain guns opened up on them, mowing them down as if they were wheat being harvested. As the locals scrambled to find shelter behind wrecked vehicles and railcars, Deuce could see tracer rounds ricochet or in some cases punch through the wasted metal to kill the people hiding there.

Some of the locals seeing their friends or family dying left what shelter they had and ran for the woods. The APC gave chase.

Fish was on the radio reporting the situation as Deuce started to rack a HEAP grenade. He was determined not to let civilians be slaughtered wholesale on his watch. As he brought his weapon to bear on the APC as it was transversing through the wreckage of the blast zone. Deuce realized too late that some of the locals were running straight towards the OP. Deuce grabbed Fish and yanked him down with him to the floor of the OP as the APC’s chain guns ripped the locals apart.

The APC had to swing wide to Deuce’s right to bring more of the locals under its guns. The driver was reckless as he maneuvered to give the gunner a better chance of shooting the locals on the run.

Deuce and Fish popped their heads backup. The revving of the engine was getting nearer. The driver decided to go over two of the many large partially destroyed containers lying about. The APC crushed the containers about fifty meters in front of the OP. The resultant violent explosion ripped both tracks off the APC and partially lifted one side of the APC.

No sooner had the APC crashed back to the ground than there was a larger second explosion that sent sections of the APC tumbling and flipping through the air. The boom was deafening, Deuce and Fish were flattened as they dived for the bottom of the shallow dug out they were using as a temporary OP.  That did nothing to really help them. The concussion wave broke over them knocking the air out of each man. Both men were stunned.  If either one was awake he would have noticed that neither one could hear anything. The blood coming from their ears was a sure sign that their eardrums had been ruptured. Instead both men were unconscious lying at the bottom of the OP.

Diesel and the rest of the unit heard the boom from the explosion, as one, each man’s head snapped in the direction. The only one voice was heard, yet no one remembers who said it, “Dear God”.

Jefe, Crash and Punk were shadowing the enemy troops following the APC. The enemy troops in their mad dash across the burned out blast zone were paying no heed to the ground. One of the enemy troops stepped on an exposed mortar shell. The blast picked up the man and both men on either side of him. The shrapnel shredded all three men.

The exploding shell caught both sets of men off guard. Jefe and his group dove for cover in the woods. The Chinese troops dove for cover amongst the wreckage. One more Chinese trooper died as he flopped his body down onto a buried shell.

Jefe got to his knees and gave area a quick scan as the rest of his patrol did the same. Screams from the wounded and dying could be heard across the wrecked and pockmarked blast zone.

“Crash, No time of stealth, get us to the OP ASAP,” ordered Jefe.

Crash started plowing through the woods with Punk and Jefe right behind him. The three men knew that they had a limited amount of time to run as fast as they could through the woods without worrying about noise discipline. The explosions would have temporarily deafened the enemy. Jefe was franticly trying to raise Deuce or Fish with no luck.

Even as they sprinted through the woods they kept a watchful eye on the enemy troops. Crash slowed the run down to a jog when he thought enough time had passed for the enemy troops to have gotten their hearing back.

The enemy troops slowly regained their feet. All appeared to be still dazed as they stumbled about. Some of them looked to the APC as its ammo started to cook off. For a few seconds they watched the fireworks before they turned around and ran back towards the road. None of them made it back to it.

After a stunned monument Diesel switched radio frequencies and could hear Jefe calling for Deuce. Deuce was not responding. He turned to face Tex “I need you to contact Gunny while I try to raise Deuce. Have Gunny ready the men we move out now.” There was a break in the radio traffic “Jefe this is Diesel, do you read me? Over,” asked Diesel.

“Diesel, this is Jefe. We read you. Over,” replied Jefe.

“Jefe what the hell is happening over there?” asked Diesel.

“Diesel. The APC rolled up on some of the locals looting the site. Then the APC opened up on the locals who were making a run for it. The APC and the troops went after them. We, Crash, Punk, and myself were about 400 meters from the APC when it hit some unexploded ordnance that ripped it to shreds. Deuce and fish were in the OP, about 70 meters from the APC when it blowup. No one made it out of the APC. We are now rushing to get to the OP. Over,” reported Jefe.

“Jefe. We are moving to the OP. You need to get to Deuce and Fish then set up a soft perimeter. Once that is done then get back to me.” Diesel ordered. Diesel switched his radio back to the command Freq. “This is Diesel. I want 1st squad 3rd fire team on point with Nightstalker. The rest of us in column formation by squads by the numbers. Command will be floating. Gunny how soon till we move out? Over,” said Diesel.

“Diesel we will be ready to move out in 5. Tex is calling the ship to give them the sitrep. I got Doc moving out with Domino’s fire team. Loki and Trojan are doing a finale sweep of the area to make sure that we have not left anything that might say who we are. Over.”

“Gunny, Diesel, understood. Out,” said Diesel.

True to his word, Gunny had the men ready in 5 minutes. They were in line and ready for the word to move out. In that time Jefe got back to the OP and found Deuce and Fish. Both were out cold, both had blood running from their ears and noses. Doc was on the radio with Jefe trying to get a clear picture as to the condition of the two men. Gunny was on the radio to the rest of the men.

“I know I do not need to tell you that that big smoke signal in the sky over there will most certainly attract some unwanted visitors. While we are crossing the river I just want to see the tops of heads bobbin in the water.”

“Gunny, it’s time. Head’em up,” said Diesel.

“Move’em out”, said Gunny

The soft murmur of raw hide could be heard in the background.

The men quickly but quietly ran to the place where Domino’s fireteam had found the ford. Gunny was there directing the crossing. “Domino, I want your fireteam and Doc across the river first. Eyes,” he grabbed the man as he was rushing up to take a position on the river front. “I want you to stay with Diesel. Gunny spotted Pit and his men. “Pit I want you to ride herd on our army guests,” he said. His terse look conveyed his unspoken order.

“Aye aye Gunny and with pleasure,” replied Pit.

Each fireteam moved into the river with a sixty second lag between it and the next fireteam to move into the river. The fireteams waiting to cross the river covered those crossing.

As each fireteam came to the front of the column they would then take cover and be on the lookout for enemy troops and watch out for the locals. They would quickly get to the place where Domino’s fire team had setup for the crossing of the river one at a time.

Diesel trotted up as the next group started to cross the river and made his way to join them. Gunny reached out and stopped him from going. “Diesel, I want you to cross once I have a few more men over there.”

Diesel knew it was useless to argue with the man and just accepted it. Tex hurried up to Diesel and handed him the radio’s handset.

“It’s Big Rig,” stated Tex.

“Big Rig, this is Diesel. Over.” he said in to the handset.

“I’ve been informed that you are moving. Do you think this is wise? Over,” asked Big Rig.

“We have no choice, with the appearance and destruction of the APC, we need to get past the blast zone before they send in more people. I’ve lost comms with the OP.  Once we get past the blast zone we can head deeper into the woods and swing around to make our way to the objective. Over.”

“Once you have made contact with the OP give me a sitrep. You have stirred up quite the hornet’s nest with your little fact finding mission and with your questions. The people at Homeland, FBI, and the CIA were not very pleased to find out that someone had known about the 28’s mission and had made a play for the bird and it crew. Then there is the small problem that you’ve got. Anybody that had anything to do with either mission is being looked at real hard. Somebody may have sold you out. I want you and your men to be extra careful. There is a lot going on back in the swamp that we don’t know about. But I can say this for sure, someone is going to pay the piper. Out.”  The swamp was a unit term for Washington DC.

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