An Interview with Mike Farmer Page 2

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Mike Farmer has kindly permitted us to reprint the Prologue and Chapter 1 of his book, Tin Soldiers: A Novel of the Next Gulf War.

Prologue

29 August: BAGHDAD (AP) – In a surprise announcement, Saddam Hussein today stepped down as President of the Republic of Iraq after over twenty years in power. President Hussein stated personal reasons for the sudden resignation. A Baath Party spokesman, speaking on condition of anonymity, stated the former president has been in failing health for over six months. Abdul Aref, Hussein’s Prime Minister and right hand for the past two years, was sworn into office within minutes of the resignation. Aref, an unknown to those outside of Iraq’s inner circles, is thought by many Middle Eastern analysts to be the man behind the Islamic fundamentalist movement that has slowly worked its way through Iraq’s Revolutionary Command Council over the past year.

04 October: BAGHDAD (Reuters) – President Aref has announced that the minority Shiites will no longer go voiceless within his nation’s government. While details are not clear, it is widely speculated that Aref has conducted a systematic purging of the Revolutionary Command Council, Iraq’s all-powerful decision-making body formerly led by Saddam Hussein. During his first two months in office, Aref is rumored to have removed those Baath Party officials who opposed his more fundamentalist approach to governing Iraq. Additionally, Aref is said to be opening dialogue between his country and Iran. This would be the largest diplomatic step taken between the two nations since the end of the Iran-Iraq War in 1988.

07 October: KUWAIT CITY (AP) – Kuwaiti Prime Minister Sheikh Saad Al-Abdullah Al-Salem Al-Sabah denounced the latest in a series of troop movements by Iraq along his nations northern border in a morning address to the National Assembly. Al-Sabah, who is also the Crown Prince of the small Gulf nation, says that such actions by Iraq can do nothing but erode an already strained peace.

08 October: BAGHDAD (London Times) – In an address to the Revolutionary Command Council earlier today, Abdul Aref declared that Kuwait and the other peace-loving nations of the Middle East need not concern themselves with the military maneuvers currently being conducted by Iraq. He reminds everyone that Iraq fulfilled all obligations placed on it by the United Nations as of last year and that his nation is merely conducting the training necessary to sustain a viable defense force.

08 October: TEHRAN (Christian Science Monitor) – The Iranian parliament has proclaimed a new era of brotherhood with western neighbor Iraq. Tensions have been up and down between these two Middle Eastern powers for decades, but Iraq’s new tolerance towards Islamic fundamentalists has made for the most diplomatic relationship between the two nations in recent history. Exactly what this ‘new era of brotherhood’ means in practical terms is yet to be seen.

10 October: CNN News Desk – “President Drake has just announced that the United States will deploy U.S. ground forces to Kuwait in response to a request by the Kuwaiti government. The unit has not yet been identified, but is expected to be on the ground in less than two weeks. The President is quoted as saying that his intention is to stabilize tensions in the area, not escalate them. The President added that such deployments to Kuwait have become commonplace for American military forces since Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990, with the U.S. having a brigade on the ground almost year round. The exact length of the deployment is yet to be determined.”

Chapter 1 – Muster

Phase Line Dog
11 October, 0500 Hours Local

Two hours earlier a hunter’s moon had hung over the mountains. Now, an hour before dawn, there was nothing but darkness. A night bird lifted his head, cocking it as he heard a foreign sound. It was an eerier whine, and the source was drawing nearer. The tree he’d chosen for shelter began to gently vibrate beneath him. With a rush of wings, the bird retreated deeper into the forest, abandoning his home to this new predator.

A few feet away, an M1A1 Abrams tank slowed to a halt in a stand of pines. The tank’s commander, his upper body extending from his vehicle’s cupola, scanned the darkness from the vantage of his perch ten feet above the ground. Speaking into his helmet’s boom mike, the lieutenant called to his driver over the tank’s intercom. “Shut down the engine.”

The 1500 horsepower turbine engine faded into silence. No lights of any kind were visible on the giant war machine. The tank crew was in a deadly game of cat and mouse with an unseen force, their task made all the more difficult because of the need for stealth. It was tough playing a phantom in the night when your steed was 68 tons of steel.

The lieutenant lifted the right earcup of his crewman’s helmet to listen for those sounds he may not have heard earlier due to the tank’s engine noise and his combat vehicle crewman’s helmet. The helmet, commonly called a CVC, served three purposes — to broadcast radio messages through the boom mike running across its front, to receive radio traffic through the speakers embedded in its earcups, and to protect tank crewmen’s hearing from the blast of the tank’s main gun. The young officer knew that if there were any heavy vehicles moving in the area, he should now be able to hear them. Instead he heard nothing but the sound of his wingman in another M1A1 idling 150 meters to his right. Three hours into tonight’s mission and the silence was almost deafening. Radio chatter through his CVC from the company commander and the other three tank commanders of his platoon provided distraction, along with the sounds of hydraulics as his gunner traversed their turret in search of targets for their 120mm main gun. He turned slowly in the cupola, a set of PVS-7 night vision goggles to his eyes, searching….

He keyed the transmitter switch on his CVC. “WHITE 4, WHITE 1. RADIO CHECK OVER.” The anxiety in the lieutenant’s voice was clear as he attempted to reach his platoon sergeant. This was the third call he’d made to the White 4 tank in the past five minutes. This one, like the others, would go unanswered.

“Sir,” said the NCO in the gunner’s seat of the tank, “I’m telling you, they’re gone. Zipped.”

The lieutenant whose call sign was White 1 nodded wearily. Would this night ever end? “Roger. Take up a scan and see if you can find whoever’s out there before we stumble into them.” He shook his head. “I’ve gotta call the old man.”

“Jesus. Good luck with that, sir,” said the gunner, slipping his face back to the tank’s Thermal Imaging System in an attempt to locate their elusive prey.

After switching channels, the lieutenant keyed the radio again. “STEEL 6, WHITE 1, OVER.”

“STEEL 6,” a distant voice responded.

The lieutenant took a deep breath. “STEEL 6, THIS IS WHITE 1. MY SLANT IS TWO, I SAY AGAIN TWO, OVER.”

A barely perceptible pause from the other station.

“WHITE 1, WHAT HAPPENED TO YOUR OTHER TANKS? I’VE RECEIVED NO CONTACT REPORTS, OVER.”

“STEEL 6…I DON’T KNOW, OVER.”

A groan issued from the gunner’s compartment. “Ohhhh, well done, sir. Well done indeed.”

The lieutenant slid down through the cupola’s hatch and sat in his tank commander’s seat, a puzzled expression on his face. He nudged his gunner with the dirty toe of a combat boot. “What’s that Sergeant Izzo?”

The gunner, busy looking through his sights, turned and looked up at the lieutenant, then returned to his scan. “You’ll see. It should be comin’ any…”

A booming voice issued from the speaker in the lieutenant’s helmet.

“WHAT THE HELL DO YOU MEAN YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT HAPPENED TO THEM?! GIVE ME A SITREP, OVER!”

Jumping up, the lieutenant slammed his head into the roof of the tank hard enough to see stars. He again activated the helmet’s transmit switch.

“SIR…I MEAN…STEEL 6…THEY JUST DROPPED OFF OF THE NET A FEW MINUTES AGO AND…”

“SO YOU’RE TELLING ME THAT I’VE GOT TWO FEWER TANKS IN MY COMPANY THAN I THOUGHT. WHEN WERE YOU GOING TO SHARE THIS INTEL JEWEL, OVER?”

“THIS IS WHITE 1, UHHHH…”

“WHITE 1, THIS IS STEEL 6. YOUR MISSION HAS NOT CHANGED. I NEED YOU AT SUPPORT BY FIRE POSITION CHARLIE-TWO, TIME NOW. WE’VE GOT TO BE IN POSITION TO SUPPORT THE REST OF THE BATTALION AS THEY MOVE FORWARD, OVER.”

The lieutenant looked at the map in his lap. In the M1A1’s blue dome light he could make out little detail. He scrutinized the dot indicating his tank’s GPS position taken just before calling the C.O. and compared it to Charlie-Two’s location. Only one kilometer west if he went straight over the hill to their front. Taking the low ground and bypassing the hill, it looked more like four kilometers — screw that.

“THIS IS WHITE 1. ROGER, I’LL HAVE MY TWO REMAINING TANKS SET IN ZERO FIVE MINUTES, OVER.”

“ROGER, KEEP ME INFORMED. STEEL 6, OUT.”

The lieutenant exhaled with relief. “Driver, start the engine.”

To the lieutenant’s left, his loader flipped off the switch controlling the tank’s communications system to ensure a surge from the start-up didn’t fry the radios. As the big turbine engine spooled up and leveled off, the loader flipped the switch back on.

“Driver, get ready to move up that hill to our front. I’m going to have you stop just short of the crest so I can conduct a sweep of the far side with PVS-7s. Once we move out again, you kick this old girl in the ass…get us over the top before anyone I might have missed on the far side has a chance to shoot.” A tanker’s worst nightmare was moving over the top of a hill and having a large caliber round or missile pumped into his underbelly.

The sound of a throat clearing issued from the gunner’s hole. “Sir, I wouldn’t do that. Let’s go around the hill.”

Once again the lieutenant reviewed his options. Option one, go straight and save three kilometers, but at the risk of being caught cresting the hill and popped by an enemy gunner — but if he was careful, he’d get to Charlie-Two quickly. Option two was safer, but it would take a while, especially navigating the big main battle tank over goat trails in the dark.

“I understand what you’re saying, Sergeant Izzo, but we need to get to that support by fire position now. We don’t have time to go around.” His decision made, White 1 folded his map and stuffed it into one of the leg pockets of his nomex coveralls. “Driver move out.”

Switching to his platoon radio frequency, the lieutenant called his wingman as their tank moved forward. “WHITE 2, WHITE 1. FOLLOW MY MOVE TO CHARLIE-TWO, OVER.”

“THIS IS WHITE 2, WILCO,” the NCO commanding the White 2 tank called back hesitantly, clearly not excited at the prospect of rushing over a hill.

The turbine whine of the M1A1’s engine increased as the driver accelerated and moved up the hill. Once again in the cupola, the lieutenant had the PVS-7s to his eyes. He scanned the near side of the hill and the woods surrounding the tank. While not as good as the tank’s thermal imaging system, which registered heat emanating from objects such as vehicle engines, the PVS-7s weren’t bad. They picked up the ambient light available, such as starlight, and used it to turn the darkness into a faint green glow. No sign of anything sinister. So what had happened to his Bravo section? The platoon sergeant and his wingman seemed to have disappeared off the face of the earth without a word.

As they were almost at the crest, the lieutenant called for his driver to slow to a stop. Stretching his body to its full height in the cupola, he scanned over the hill with the night vision goggles.

“Looks good to me, Iz,” the lieutenant said to his gunner over the intercom. “Clear as a bell over there.”

The NCO sighed. “I hear you, sir.” His face was plastered against the thermal sight. He wanted a good look on the far side of the hill as soon as they cleared the top. Until the tank moved forward his sight picture was restricted to the darkness represented by the side of the hill.

“Driver, you ready to move? “ said the lieutenant.

“Roger,” came the driver’s tinny reply through the tank’s intercom system. The sixty-eight ton tank almost shuddered in anticipation of the jump off.

“All right, move out.”

The M1A1 shrieked as it accelerated over the crest. White 1 congratulated himself as they safely made it over the top and continued to accelerate downhill. He’d made the right decision after all. The gunner stiffened at his controls as his optics displayed the area to his front. “Shit! Driver, stop the tank, stop the damned tank and back up!”

When the tank jerked to a stop, the lieutenant’s face unfortunately maintained its forward momentum. His eye smashed into the .50 caliber machine gun mounted just forward of his cupola. Applying pressure to the rapidly swelling eye with one hand, White 1 held the PVS-7s to his good eye. The tank was now rapidly reversing up the hill and he was having a difficult time finding what had caused his gunner’s reaction as he bounced back and forth in the cupola like a pinball. What the hell had Izzo seen…Oh mother of God.

A barrier of mines and concertina wire stretched in both directions at the hill’s midway point. No way around it. Their only hope of survival was to get on the backside of the hill they’d just crossed, because whoever had emplaced that obstacle would surely be overwatching it with direct fires. Overhead, white parachute flares burst into life, illuminating the two M1A1s on the hillside. The sounds of artillery accompanied by explosions emanated from the left and right of their tank. At the same time several dark shapes separated themselves from the valley floor. The sounds of pyrotechnics filled the air as the enemy combat vehicles opened up on the American tanks. A yellow light, otherwise known as a Combat Vehicle Kill Indicator, began flashing next to White 1. He turned his head to the side and squeezed his eyes closed, temporarily blinded by the harsh light after hours of operating under blackout conditions.

A smoky, female voice filled the crews’ CVCs. “Artillery hit, mobility kill. Please bring your vehicle to an immediate stop.” Before the crew had the opportunity to comply, the voice cut in again. “Multiple direct fire hits, catastrophic kill. Please stop your vehicle and wait for further instructions. Maintain radio silence until the conclusion of the exercise. Thank you.”

From the gunner’s seat, Sergeant Izzo sighed and pulled off his CVC helmet. “You know, it’s almost worth dying just to hear that sexy bitch’s voice.”

The radio came to life. “WHITE 1, STEEL 6. THAT’S THE END OF YOUR PLATOON EXERCISE. GATHER THE REST OF YOUR TANKS FROM WHEREVER THEY ARE AND MEET ME AT THE AFTER ACTION REVIEW SITE IN ONE HOUR, OUT.”

White 1 hung his head in dejection. This wasn’t going to be pretty.

An hour later White 1 sat with the other members of his platoon in a circle of campstools as the sun rose, waiting for a review of their mission with the Old Man. The rising sun painted the Rocky Mountains a few miles to the west a deep purple. Pike’s Peak, with the season’s first snow visible on its crest, was clearly visible to the group. At other times in his life the lieutenant would have been overwhelmed by the sheer majesty of the scene. Today he didn’t even notice.

A crowd of senior personnel were gathered fifty feet away near a group of Hummers, discussing how White 1’s platoon had done on the final mission of their platoon training exercise. As the lieutenant watched, a medium-height, broad-shouldered captain separated himself from the crowd and headed towards them. The figure turned back to the group he’d just left and called a Noncommissioned Officer out. The captain and the NCO moved together towards the lieutenant’s platoon.

Someone tapped the lieutenant’s shoulder as he watched the pair approach. Turning, he saw First Sergeant John Rider grinning at him. The Company’s senior NCO stared at his company’s newest platoon leader. “What the hell happened to your eye, Lieutenant? .50 cal?”

White 1 rubbed the eye, which had continued becoming darker and more swollen by the minute.

“Yeah.”

The First Sergeant, a tanker for years, simply nodded knowingly. A cup of steaming coffee appeared magically in his hand. “Here, sir. You look like you could use this. Damned cold mornings in Colorado this time of year.”

White 1 gratefully accepted the cup. “Thanks, Top. Looks like it’s about to get colder,” he said, nodding towards the approaching figures.

The First Sergeant turned looked towards the approaching men. The pair had paused enroute and were in the middle of a discussion. He turned back to the junior officer. “Hey, sir, take it with a grain of salt. Remember, the whole point of being out here is to learn.”

The lieutenant nodded his head ruefully. “Yeah. But Top, I knew better than to go rolling over that hill. The C.O. is going to have my ass…and I don’t blame him.”

“Of course you knew better, sir…here,” Rider said, pointing at his head. “But now you’ve seen why we go around hills and not over them…you’ve lived it, or ‘died it’, so to speak. You won’t forget the lesson anytime soon. Besides, you see that NCO with the commander?”

The lieutenant nodded.

“He’s from 1st Brigade. When we want quality bad guys for an exercise, we make sure to ask for his platoon.” Rider slapped the young officer on the back again. “Sir, you were smoked by the best. Hard to believe four Bradleys killed your tanks, ain’t it?”

The lieutenant shrank. Impossible. “Bradleys?”

Any self-respecting Armor officer cringed at the thought of dying to an inferior vehicle, especially one that wasn’t even a tank, but rather an Infantry Fighting Vehicle that boasted only a 23mm cannon as its main gun — of course its TOW missiles evened things out somewhat.

Rider laughed and dumped the dregs of his coffee on the ground. “Yep. And don’t worry about Captain Dillon. His bark is worse than his bite.”

After two weeks of tutelage under Dillon, White 1 had his doubts about that. “His teeth seem pretty sharp to me.”

Rider turned serious. “Sir, you gotta understand where Captain Dillon is comin’ from. He came up through the ranks. He was an NCO before he was an officer, so his way of training may be different than what you’re used to…not exactly the ‘kinder, gentler, Army’. Sure, you might have an easier time of it with some captain who only has maybe four or five more years in uniform than you do…but do you think you’d learn as much?”

The captain and NCO had begun moving towards them again.

“I’ve gotta go check on my troops, sir,” said Rider. “Just remember what that old Chinaman general said…‘That which doesn’t kill you, will make you stronger’, or some such shit.”

Great, now I’m being quoted Sun Tzu before breakfast, thought the lieutenant. “Thanks, Top. I’ll try to remember that.”

As the first sergeant walked away, the captain and NCO were approaching the tank platoon.

“Take it easy on him, sir,” said Rider quietly without breaking stride, “I think this one is a keeper.”

Patrick Dillon turned around and threw a quizzical look at the back of his first sergeant, who had continued moving without another word. Dillon shook his head and continued walking. He stopped in front of the lieutenant.

“Doc,” said the captain, “I want you to meet Sergeant Matt O’Keefe. He’s the one who took out your platoon. In the real world you wouldn’t be able to shake the hand of the man who killed you, so take advantage.”

Lieutenant Doc Hancock rose and shook the NCO’s hand. He somehow couldn’t manage a ‘nice to meet you’. “Morning, Sergeant.”

“How you doin’, sir?” said the young NCO. “Not a bad job last night…’til that last charge over the hill.” “Come on, Doc,” said the captain. “I want to talk to you. Sergeant O’Keefe, could you sit down with the lieutenant’s platoon for a minute and compare notes with the platoon sergeant while Lieutenant Hancock and myself have a quick talk?”

“You bet, sir,” said O’Keefe, turning towards the group still seated.

The captain and lieutenant walked towards the edge of the clearing and sat down among a field of large rocks.

“Take your kevlar off, Doc. Relax.”

What the hell? wondered Doc Hancock. This had been the last night of his first exercise with C Company, 2-77 Armor. He hadn’t been assigned to the company known as Cold Steel for two days when they’d rolled out the gates of Fort Carson, Colorado, he as a brand new tank platoon leader in charge of fifteen men and four M1A1s. Throughout the training, Captain Dillon had threatened death or worse if he or the soldiers of his tank platoon weren’t wearing headgear of some type — either a CVC helmet on the tank or a kevlar helmet while dismounted.

Dillon removed his own kevlar, displaying a brown flattop rapidly silvering on the sides. He stared at Hancock with cold, blue eyes. Reaching into a can of snuff, he pulled a pinch out and inserted it between his cheek and gum. He bent close to Doc’s face and examined the lieutenant’s black eye. “.50 cal?”

Am I the only one who doesn’t know to guard his face against his own machine gun, wondered Hancock. “Yes, sir.”

Dillon continued. “Doc, I’m going to be honest. My intent this morning was to rip your ass for that stunt last night.”

Hancock’s only reply was a gulp.

“Unfortunately — for me — I don’t have time. Something’s come up and I’ve got to get back to the headquarters early.”

Thank you God, thought the lieutenant.

Patrick Dillon continued. “Since I can’t be at your platoon’s After Action Review to hear you guys work through the mission’s details, I wanted a minute alone. Here’s my question, Doc. What did you learn? What got you and your men killed?”

“Jesus, sir. Do you want it alphabetically or numerically?”

Dillon’s face remained serious. “This is why we’re here. What did you learn, Doc?”

Doc Hancock thought about the question again. He’d been rolling it around in his mind since ‘dying’ an hour earlier. “Don’t roll over a hill if there’s any way around it, listen to my more experienced gunner when he tries to prevent me from making a fool of myself, and…keep you informed.” Dillon slapped him on the back, stood, replaced his kevlar helmet, and began walking towards his Hummer. “Good. See you back at the ranch in few hours.”

Hancock watched his commander stride away. That’s it? He almost felt let down.

C Company, 2-77 Armor, Fort Carson, Colorado
11 October, 0915 Hours Mountain

“Dammit, Sergeant Almo, turn that shit down!” yelled Dillon as he walked past his company training room. Almo, who doubled as Dillon’s Training NCO and Hummer driver, tended to blare Garth Brooks non-stop during duty hours. The current duo of Garth and Almo belting out American Honky Tonk Bar Association went down just perceptibly as Dillon continued down the hallway.

Dillon looked at his watch as he stepped into the washroom. Seeing that he didn’t have time for a shower before his meeting at headquarters, the Steel commander instead settled for a quick scrub at the sink to knock off the majority of his field grime and followed up with a shave. Dillon looked in the mirror at his Nomex combat crewman’s coveralls, the olive drab one-piece jumpsuit that the manufacturer guaranteed would not ‘melt, burn, drip or support combustion in air’. Too dirty to mingle with the staff pukes at headquarters? The captain slapped a hand against his chest and a dust cloud enshrouded him. Screw‘em, thought Dillon as he proceeded out of the washroom and down the hall.

Walking into the First Sergeant’s office, Dillon grabbed one of Rider’s spare cups, none of which looked as though they’d been washed in recent memory. “Top, I’m heading over to the battalion to see the commander and hopefully find out what’s going on.”

Rider sensed something was on his commander’s mind. Rising from behind his desk, he walked over and poured a cup for himself. Taking a swallow, he sighed. “My God but that is tasty. So, sir, any idea what this is all about?”

Dillon shook his head, wincing, as he tasted from his own cup. “Nope.”

Rider nodded thoughtfully and took another sip of coffee. “You think it has something to do with this Kuwait business?”

Good question. I’ve been wondering the same thing myself. He shrugged. “I don’t know, Top. We’ll find out.”

Rider smiled and tapped the side of his nose with a finger. “I got it, sir. Squash the rumors before they start. I like it.”

As Dillon stepped out of Rider’s office, he was almost run down by two dirty lieutenants.

“Shit, sir,” said Bluto Wyatt, Dillon’s senior platoon leader. “Sorry about that.”

Fred Wyatt had earned the nickname ‘Bluto’ on account of the uncanny resemblance he shared with the Popeye cartoon character — six foot three, two hundred fifty pounds, and with a perpetual five o’clock shadow on his large face. While not a fat man, Wyatt was certainly a big man.

His partner was Dillon’s third platoon leader, Ben Takahashi. The physical opposite of Wyatt, the two made an odd pair. Takahashi had been in the company for a couple of months. Under Dillon and Wyatt’s tutelage, he was just starting to get a good feel for his job as a tank platoon leader.

“Why back so soon, gentlemen? You guys opening the Arms Room to collect weapons or something?” With fourteen tanks in Cold Steel, each mounting three large machine guns, plus the assorted weaponry associated with the company’s support vehicles, the individual soldiers’ rifles and 9mm pistols, night vision goggles, etc., collecting sensitive items and ensuring they were cleaned to standard after a field exercise was no small task. Usually a lieutenant or senior NCO would leave the field a little early to make sure the Arms Room was open and waiting when the crews began returning with their equipment. This process ensured that the soldiers got home to momma — or were ready to hit the streets and meet potential mommas — as soon as possible after an extended period away from civilization and its amenities.

Wyatt stammered. “Well…no, sir, not exactly. Doc is taking care of that.”

Dillon nodded. “Right. And the sensitive items report due at battalion in two hours?”

Takahashi coughed. “Uh…Doc, sir.”

Dillon crossed his arms over his chest. “And you two?”

Wyatt smiled conspiratorially and wiggled his eyebrows. “To be honest, sir, Ben here’s set us up with a couple of snow bunnies for the weekend in Vail. If we leave now we can beat the traffic and be up there before dark.”

“So you suckered Doc and your platoon sergeants into doing your work?”

No command was given, but both lieutenants found themselves gradually drawn to the position of parade rest, arms crossed behind their backs, feet spread.

“Rethink it, gentlemen,” said Dillon, stepping into his office to retrieve his jacket and headgear.

“But, sir,” implored Wyatt from the hallway, “these babes are hotties.”

Ignoring the moans, Dillon retrieved his gear. As he passed his desk, the cover of the morning edition of the Colorado Springs Gazette Telegraph drew his attention.

‘U.S. Deploying Military Forces to the Middle East at Request of Kuwaiti Government’.

He looked from the paper to the framed photo of his wife Melissa and their four daughters sitting on the edge of his desk. Patrick Dillon, my fine Irish lad, why are you starting to get a very bad feeling about this meeting?

2-77 Armor Headquarters, Fort Carson, Colorado
11 October, 0930 Hours Mountain

“Gentlemen,” Lieutenant Colonel Estes said to his company commanders, “I’m sure you’re wondering what the hell’s going on, so I’ll get straight to the point. 3rd Brigade, 4th Infantry Division is deploying to Kuwait within the next seven days. The full brigade — that means us, the other armor battalion, the mechanized infantry battalion, the artillery battalion…everything.”

“Say again, sir?” said Captain Dan Malloy, the Iron Tigers’ newest company commander.

Malloy had been in charge of A Company for one month. Command had been a whole new experience for Malloy. All of his previous assignments, with the exception of his mandatory time as a platoon leader, had been logistical billets. Because he knew his own strengths and weaknesses, the career path had been a logical choice.

Dillon’s assessment of his brother-in-arms’ field skills was that Malloy might be able to buy the hot dogs, but he’d have an extremely difficult time maneuvering his way to the grill.

“I got the call late last night from Colonel Jones,” said Estes. “In response to Iraq’s troop movements and at the request of the Kuwaiti government, 3rd Brigade is deploying as a show of force to emphasize that the United States’ resolve has not weakened where our friend’s sovereignty is concerned.”

“This sounds familiar,” remarked Captain Mike Stuart, the B Company commander.

Stuart had taken command fourteen months earlier, at the same time as Dillon. They were the senior company commanders and the only men present who had deployed with 2-77 Armor to Kuwait two years earlier for a similar operation. Stuart was also Dillon’s best friend and only real confidante.

Estes continued. “The Pentagon believes this will be nothing more than an opportunity for us to exercise our deployment systems and get in some maneuver training. Remember, this isn’t the first time that this has happened. There’s a new president in Iraq, but Saddam used to pull the same tricks. The Iraqis love riding up to the border and rattling their sabers — especially when the holidays are approaching. Personally, I think they just like yanking our chain.”

“Any details yet, sir?” asked Dillon. “Like an estimated deployment length? That’ll be the first question we’re hit with from the wives.”

All present knew that similar deployments had lasted anywhere from a month to six months. A great deal would depend on the activity of the Iraqis and whether or not the No Fly Zone heated up while they were in country.

Estes shook his head. “The exact layout for the operation will follow sometime later today when 3rd Brigade issues their operations order. They’ve been working on it all night. We did receive some good news this morning. Division headquarters wants to plus us up. A mech infantry company from Fort Hood will link up with us in Kuwait. Once that happens we’ll task organize. Right now we’ll plan on leaving A Company and C Company pure armor with fourteen tanks each. Mike, I’ll probably take one of your tank platoons and give them to our new mech team. You’ll get one of his infantry platoons, so you and Team Black Knight will field ten tanks and four Bradleys. Same is happening with the 3rd Brigade’s other two battalions… they’re each being plussed up with a company from Hood. It’ll be just like the good old days.”

Though all of the men present knew that the United States had pretty much kept a brigade of heavy troops on call in Kuwait for well over a decade, and that this deployment was likely just another exercise, they all breathed a little easier at the news of three extra companies joining the Brigade’s ranks for the mission. Only a few years earlier, every tank and mechanized infantry battalion rolled to the field with four companies each. All of that changed with the Army’s digitization of the battlefield. Because the newer combat systems being fielded were able to communicate with each other and share the same tactical picture, the 40-pound brains that made such decisions reasoned that battalions could now get the same results with twenty-five percent less firepower. Most of the men of 3rd Brigade agree that digitization — once they actually had it, which they did not as of yet — would allow them to operate more efficiently, but in their bellies none believed the reason for cutting the battalions was for battlefield efficiency. In their minds, they were giving up combat power for budget savings. At least for this deployment they would have some insurance in the form of extra firepower.

Estes continued. “For now, start getting a jump on this thing. Scrub your deployment packets and family support group plans. I don’t want any breakdowns because of administrative SNAFUs, got it?” Stuart raised a hand.

“Yeah, Mike?”

“Can we tell the men, sir? It won’t be long before they start hearing about it.”

Estes nodded. “Yeah. Get your companies together and issue warning orders. I’ll talk to the entire battalion this afternoon. Besides, you know the wives will be calling soon to find out what the hell’s going on. They somehow always manage to find out before we do. But tell the men to keep quiet until 3rd Brigade releases the official word — otherwise, we’ll have every television station in town around here. And I’ll have the appropriate scrotums on a chain around my neck if that happens. Clear?”

Once again there were nods from around the table. This time they were accompanied by a general crossing of legs and shifting in seats as the company commanders mentally pictured that particular form of military justice.


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