An Enemy Engaged: Comanche Hokum v1.13 Story
All praise and kudos go to “arneh” for the Mi-24V cockpit used in this narrative. Any similarity to the Animal Planet television show Whale Wars is entirely intentional, and done entirely tongue-in-cheek and in the spirit of honest satire.
I had an experience lately that I must tell you of, my friends. Because of this, I am not my usual self; it has left me… zadumchyvi, restless and thoughtful. We are a passionate and thoughtful people, after all, and even I have my moments. I had a dream, and it scared me. I will tell you of it, and you will understand my mood, for you are my dear friends, are you not?
The one constant in life is change, is it not? Chemu byt’, tomu ne minovat’. What will be, cannot be avoided. And so it was that I went across our Adler military airbase from our compound, to the encampments of our sister regiment. There are three combat regiments in our air division, and now that our beloved Commander is made a general at last (speaking of change, did I not tell you of this?) he is taking all three in hand. Novaya metla po-novomu metyot; the new broom sweeps in a new way, no? I am simply full of proverbs today. And because the new broom is still sweeping, my position is uncertain. Vasily, my old wingman in the 586th, has been elevated-he is a major, as am I, and now commands our 586th IAP. When last we spoke, I was the acting deputy commander, but since our leader now leads all, he has found other duties for me. I am something of an inspector-general, temporarily at least. There are much rumors about what will become of me.
One of our sister combat regiments is equipped with helicopters. This is the 46th Guards Ta’man Helicopter Assault Regiment, 46 GvOVP. The other, the 587th OShAP, is based with the MiG fighters of Vasily’s 586th IAP and they fly the beloved Rook, the Su-25 and Su-25T. In this way, we cover the spectrum of military aviation. Our fourth Regiment comprises the heavy and medium lift aircraft allotted from Military Air Transport. But it is the 46th I went to see.
Technology has caught up with us, and the Night Witches of the 46th GvOVP have been furnished with a wonderful new helicopter. While I was in Komsomol, before the Soviet Union fell, I was introduced to aviation when I learned how to fly helicopters. I always knew that I would fly, and I grew up with the stories of Grandmama’s exploits in the Great Patriotic War, and Father’s in Vietnam and Egypt, and Afghanistan. He spent four years fighting the Afghans, and knows the Su-25 even better than our 587th pilots do today. I was an aviation cadet through the Komsomol military aviation program, and I was just eleven years old when I soloed at Torzhok in the Mi-34. The war was just ending, it was winter 1989. Father was furious when he came home and learned that I had won helicopter wings; I never understood why. He took me in hand, and diverted me into fixed-wing aviation. When the Soviet Union fell in 1991, I was still in school. I was nineteen when I entered the Moscow PVO, just a year before we merged with the VVS; already a combat veteran from my cadet tour in Paran, in MiG-21s, and with education at the Saki test pilot school behind me, I went to Ethiopia as an instructor in their civil war. You know the rest, of course.
I learned years later that Father’s anger was because of the large numbers of young men he saw killed in Afghanistan, in the helicopters assigned to support the ground troops. Especially in the Krokodil, the Mi-24 combat helicopter. He feared for my safety! Do not all fathers worry for their daughters so? For this reason, he resolved that if I must follow in Grandmama’s footsteps, it would be in combat jets. But I have never lost my love for the helicopter. So nimble it is! So versatile! I have often sneaked in flights in the Mi-8 transport helicopters that our unit has assigned. And my Commander… my General… is not blind to this. You see, the Night Witches are receiving in bulk new helicopters. Mostly, the Mi-28N, known as “Havoc” to the West. But also, they are receiving the Kamov single and dual-place helos, the “Alligator” Ka-50 and 52, for special missions. I am helping them develop doctrines for training. And, trying to become combat qualified in the Kamov helos. It is most exciting.
Vasily and his falcons often come by to assist us. The Night Witches are in a state of transition between command personnel, and many of their eagles are freshly hatched as well. He found me one day, buried in the open engine cowling of a Ka-50 on the flight line, perched on a ladder, discussing a problem with the Klimov turboshafts with the flight engineer. A radio rested precariously atop the nacelles, blaring a Romanian dance song.
I looked up, over my shoulder, to the source of that voice-the aforementioned Vasily, down on the tarmac, squinting up at me in the morning sun as the startled ground-crew jumped to attention.
I had to swallow a giggle, and smiled down at my old comrade. “So, Vasya. Come to see the real hard workers, eh? Here even the officers get their hands dirty! Care to pick up a wrench?”
“They get their faces dirty too, it seems.” He smirked, shading his eyes against the sun. “Your taste in music is worse than ever! What is that?”
“It is a love song, Vasya. Have you no love in your heart? It warns of the transparency of love from the lemon groves, a Romanian proverb. Such things are illusory, no?”
He made a face. “It is worse than the garbage you listened to when we were children. Bootleg punk rock. Grashdanskaya Oborona.” He shook his head. “Civil Defense? Hardly. You always had a streak of nekulturny, Sacha. And as always it falls to me, since your brother Sergei is not around, to civilize you. Hark: Our master calls for us and you are not presentable in your current state!”
Such banter is a hallmark of the relationship I have shared with Vasily since we were children. Mother often tells me that I should just get things over with and marry him. This would not have been possible while we were flying together, of course. I turned to descend the ladder, ready with an appropriately tart reply, but the moment was lost in a screeching of tires, confused shouts, and even shooting, up the flightline! Something slammed into my hard hat, and I felt myself fall….
A narrator’s voice overlays a montage of video clips; helicopters, green-camouflaged, predatory, brutal-looking, sweeping over green fields. A mélange of garbled Slavic voices, men and women, shouting over the radio as rockets lance from pods slung under stubby wings and green tracers rip from the helicopters’ nose guns into men scurrying below. From the ground, rockets arc through the air, narrowly missing one of the helicopters.
“There is a battle going on in the southern desert. In a land forgotten by time, a small Russian expeditionary force, a leftover from the days of the Soviet Union, is doing all in its power to stop Islamic militants from killing those who refuse to accept their version of religious dictatorship. The Russian helicopters are led by Major Alexandra Andreeva.”
The video cuts to a shot of a slightly-built blonde woman in the narrow cockpit of an attack helicopter, dark PO-1M goggles pushed up on her sweaty forehead, shouting something unintelligible into a headset’s microphone.
“Both the Russians and the Islamic Liberation Army claim that the law, and the United Nations, are on their side. These are their battles. This is their war.”
The camera fades to black, with the narrator intoning “….previously, on Desert Battles.” It dissolves to a windswept desert airbase, seen from overhead, and then cuts to a discussion between the blonde woman and two men in camouflaged coveralls. Her face is intent, grey eyes focused on the taller man, the light catching a jagged scar bisecting it from above her left eye straight down, running down from the dark flight goggles perched across her forehead and disappearing into the collar of her own three-color camouflaged flight suit. She punctuates her words with gestures of economical grace, pointing to the north.
“It does not matter where they got the American tanks. It only matters that they have them. And the Avenger missile-vehicles as well. It falls to us to stop them.”
The next shot shows American-made Abrams tanks and older wheeled vehicles, marked with Arabic script, rolling in convoy up a macadam road. Atop the lead tank, a man with a red and white kaffiyeh wrapped mask-like around his face gestures wildly to the following vehicles. Over this scene, Russian voices, apparently culled from interviews with flight crews.
“We have to stop them.” An unshaven young man with strong Slavic features speaks with solemn dignity. “If those tanks got into the base, we all would be dead.”
The camera cuts to a relaxed shot of Major Andreeva in an office setting, washed and clean, in a regular duty uniform with her hair pinned in a tight bun. “The Krokodil was made for this sort of fight,” she says with confidence. “It is made of concrete.”
As she finishes, the camera cuts to the kaffiyeh-clad man, pointing the muzzle of an M240 machine gun directly at the camera, before it fades out.
“The world is a vampire.”
The teeth-rattling opening bass of The Smashing Pumpkins’ song Bullet with Butterfly Wings rings out, laid over cut-scenes of Russian helicopters, the Mi-24V “Hind-E” sweeping low and fast over the desert; a view through a Soviet-made ASP-17 gunsight, its yellow-green reticle overlaying massed vehicles as aerial rockets blaze down; Major Andreeva in civilian dress, riding a green Ural motorcycle at speed, waving to two Mi-24 helicopters as they flash just over her head in tight formation; Russian pilots off-duty at some sort of celebration, singing in unison and drinking; a ground-crew member giving hand-signals as rotor blades spin up dust and wind in his face; various close-ups of Russian flight crew as the music screams to a discordant, premature halt.
“I did not come all this way just to be part of this rotten peep-show, Vanya.”
I shook pepper into my tumbler of Stolichnaya, pushed the chart I was working on out of the way, and then rested my head on crossed arms on the desk, watching the flakes slowly drift to the bottom.
“Reality television for bored American housewives. Pah.”
Ivan Nikolayevich is my gunner. In the Krokodil, what the West refers to as a “Hind” for opaque reasons we can only guess at, there is a crew of two. I fly these damned things. For his part, and his sins, Vanya kills Wahhabists. It is an equitable arrangement. Unlike me, he is philosophical. I drain my tumbler, feeling the heat warm my insides.
“You are tired of playing the hero, Sacha? The Rodina needs its heroes, does it not?” He tips back his vodka carelessly, and sets the glass down. “Aaah. More?”
“Just a touch. Tomorrow we must open that ILA checkpoint north of here. That place commands the river crossing beyond, and the whole damned valley besides. Many of my people will die if we permit this outrage to go unchallenged. So we must win, and I do not want a morning head when I am trying to hold a hover for your missiles.”
“Just stay out of the path of their Stingers.”
The colorless liquid splashes into my glass. I add pepper and sit back, fishing in my pocket. Extracting a gold-ringed Turkish cigarette from the pack, I strike a wooden match across the table-top and suck the acrid fumes into my throat. It helps to clear my head, which is aching, and not from too much alcohol. My helo took an RPG round, an OG-7 high-explosive one, thankfully, rather than a HEAT round, a year or two ago, and Perpsex from the canopy laid my face open to the bone. So much for the bulky ZSh helmets we wear. I since discarded them, and I wear my father’s old PO-1M goggles with no helmet instead. It is good to be Queen of even a fiefdom like this, for no one dares question me. They are around my neck even now, and I run a finger over them absently.
“I almost never see you without them, you know.” Vanya, shaking his head.
“My father died in Afghanistan,” I replied. “More God-forsaken Wahhabists. We kill one and four more spring up in his place, ready to die for their God. These are all I have left of him.”
I entered the VVS as soon as I was allowed to formally register as an aviation cadet, and opted for the ground-support air force, where I could fly the helicopters I’d already learned to fly. Having learned to fly as a child, the way was open to me; the military is not a place most young people want to be these days. I wanted to avenge my father at first. After awhile, after Africa and after Kosovo with the Serbs fighting Albanians, after my brother was nearly killed too, I began to wonder why we fight at all. And came to realize that the military is a job, like any other. We must only be prepared to die for the Rodina as part of that job. I hope my father would have been proud of me.
It is all deadly business the next morning. We meet in a beaten Quonset-type hut next to the flight line. In the background, the American film crew and their FSB handler point their cameras as we spread our charts out over the sand-table and line up photographs of the target area. I point out the crossroads we will approach. Two helos will fly. My wingman will be 171 Gold, piloted by a crack young team newly dispatched from the training school. We’ve checked them out in the Krokodil, and they have been proficient and deadly. No better time than now to give these new eaglets a taste of rich, red blood. We will fly in low, the better to hide our plans until the very last moment. A ridge separates us from them, and they will be spread out in two positions to cover the roads and the approach to the bridge. We will open that bridge, and our ground forces will move in behind us.
We know that they have obtained American vehicles. M-1 tanks, HMMWVs with Stinger missiles, and Bradley fighting vehicles. Probably from an Arab nation in the Gulf that America has not been stern enough with about the weapons so freely provided. But we have a helo made of concrete, and missiles that will fly straight and true. The 9K114 “Shturm” is not to be trifled with. After today, the Wahabbists will need to buy new American toys with which to play.
By the time we mount up, the weather is turning nasty. A summer shower is building up. I take a last drag from my cigarette and drop it to the ground, crushing it beneath my heel. Surely the cameras will make something dramatic out of that, I muse, as they follow Vanya and me into the sprinkling rain, to the waiting Krokodil. They pile into the troop compartment. Brave, for if we die they will die with us. But stupid, to be ready to die for a story and nothing more. Still, if we do go down, one more FSB stukach-their handler, who is also coming along for the ride-will go down with us too. So maybe that is not so bad, eh?
Vanya secures his bubble in front of me. I climb in my door, high behind him, in front of the intakes for our Isotov TV3-117 turbines. My crew-chief, Mikhail, herds the Americans and their stukach from the FSB into the troop-compartment, and I more feel than hear the doors secure. Mikhail will ride along with us, since we are not carrying soldiers on this trip. I flip switches, listening to the APU whine in its cart down on the tarmac. When I close and secure my door, I will be alone with my thoughts, and I close my eyes briefly, smelling the smells of old leather, wet canvas, sweat, electrical circuits, and aviation kerosene that are all the hallmarks of the Krokodil. It’s really a living thing, like we are, with its own fears and wants and perhaps even dreams of a warm hangar.
I plug in my headset and settle my goggles over my eyes. It’s getting wet in the cockpit from the building storm. I slam my door closed, and the technician outside latches it, pounding on it to be sure it is secure. I reach up with my right hand, and switch on the ineffective orange fan next to the thick bullet-resistant glass in front of my face. I’m already wringing wet, it must be thirty degrees in here and humid.
I start the turbines. Once things get going I can divert some bleed air into the cockpits for Vanya and me, at least. Mikhail and his guests will have it a little more rough, but they can open a window after we take off. I move my cyclic and collective, changing the plane of the rotor and the pitch of its blades, to prove to us all that it works. It is time to engage the rotor and spin up. Over my head the massive, five-bladed rotor begins slowly to turn, moving from left to right, steadily increasing in speed as the ground crew frantically pulls equipment out of the way. In front of us, a technician signals me that all is clear and salutes. I return his snappy salute with one of my own, as good as can be done in the cramped confines of the cockpit, and pull collective.
Sluggishly, the Krokodil lifts up, freeing itself from the bounds of Earth and rising into the black sky, against the now-pouring rain. I raise the landing gear and tilt the nose down, gaining headway. On the worn blue panel before me, the paper map moves in its holder, the flight-path marker scribing its course over the red-inked waypoints I drew on the chart the night before as Vanya and I shared our vodka. The Latin letter “X” marks the spot.