A combined T-72: Balkans On Fire
and Lock On: Flaming Cliffs Mission Report
A note to the reader: The characters of Chad McDowell, Ryan Lindel, and Dan Phinin are lifted from the excellent “Operation Persian Freedom” mission reports of boNes, the gifted military fiction writer who can be found writing his stories in the F/A-18 Forum at SimHQ. The Operation Persian Freedom series was the original inspiration for my Sacha Andreeva stories, and I’m grateful to boNes for his loan of these characters, and for the tie in with Sacha and the Abkhaz civil war to the current OPF storyline. We both hope that your reading experience is enhanced by these crossover pieces that mesh some of the best elements of both our work.
It looks like we’re soon going to be back in our part of the world after all. I just thought to drop to you a note to tell you that we are to load up our T-72s into the Antonov transports once more and fly to Sochi, and from there, by transporter to the fight in the south. Pavel Andreyevich says to tell you that he looks forward much to see you again and sends to you his love. So, can you stand a few old tankers to dinner in Sochi town before we are off to war once more? You know, even Vadim, our driver, is happy to be leaving Kosovo, this rat-infested hole, to come home to the Rodina…. even though one would not know it from his sour puss! Regardless, I will be sure to look you up when we get in, before we load up for the drive into Gantiadi.
So you are flying with the Americans, now! I am most interested to meet this girl you call Sugar. Is she at all sweet? Ha, ha. Do not let them get you killed, yes? And be safe. Oh, and tell Vasily that he still owes me the money for that last night at the card tables! He never did have a head for the cards.
When I read my brother’s letters from Kosovo and look back on our latest adventure now, my friends, I can smile a little, I think. But once again, I owe my life to many others and this time, my brother and his friends played a great part in keeping me alive. War in Abkhazia is like war everywhere else. It is what you call a “team effort,” no? No one person can win the war. Here, our glorious Red Army, and the American Navy’s intelligence service, played a part larger than I can say.
You have met my brother, Sergei, I think? Sergei is a year younger than I, and he is a tank commander in the Army. Recently, he was in Kosovo, a peacekeeper with the NATO Stabilization Force. There, the Serbs demanded that we come and help, for they have little love for the Americans our allies. And the Albanians, and the Croats, and the Muslims, they hate our Serb brothers and distrust us, and with good reason too. Sergei’s mission there was to help NATO forces keep the peace, and they were successful, for the most part. But his unit is one of those now tasked with keeping the peace a little closer to home. They are part of the 41st Guards Tank Division, which is spearheading our war against the Sheikh Muqtadeh here. And Sergei my brother was called home with his company of T-72 tanks.
My little tale today begins there, at the 210th Regiment’s forward command base in Gantiadi south of the border. Sergei, his gunner Pavel Andreyevich Sokolov, and his driver Vadim Filipovich Golovko, and their fourth and newest crew member, were all grouped around a small fire under a steel-grey sky, heating combat rations and stale coffee against the cold drizzling rain, trying to shelter themselves against the rusting flank of an ancient T-55AM tank that bore the markings of the Islamic Resistance and Liberation Front. At this moment, though, I did not know that Sergei and his men would be drawn into my little world. I was taxiing out to the runway in that same cold drizzle, here at Sochi.
Ah, but I have confused you. I am sorry, I did not mean to begin the story so late! Do you recall the message I received from Kemal my savior? Yes, that valiant Turk, the intelligence officer who set this wounded bird free, in Suhumi where I awaited the Sheikh’s pleasure. Out of the blue, I received a letter, and it had to be from him, no one else could have sent it to me. No one else knows what passed between us in the hospital, and on the tarmac of the Suhumi ramp, where I stole from the Sheikh’s men a Syrian MiG fighter. Do you know that Muqtadeh has placed a bounty on my head? I am worth much to him, and in gold too. I met with Major Curtis, who leads the American 27th Fighter Squadron that I am liaison to, and told him of the letter. What can it mean? Kemal wrote that the Sheikh, curse him, has a new pet, a “super bug” with a skull’s face, taken from the sky. It was most difficult to convince the Major. But when it dawned on him that this was most disturbing a message, he made calls. I found myself in my Commander’s office shortly thereafter, my own Commander from the 586th IAP, and with Colonel Martin, his American deputy. And that was not all! Major Grachev of the 503rd special air squadron sat with a dour expression in the back of the room, and Mark Mitchell of the American Navy, with another American I had not seen before.