Wednesday, February 23, 2011

For The Greater Good 20


    A crowd started to gather outside around Rick and the Gunny. They couldn’t help themselves, as everyone wanted to know more about rebuilding their community. Rick turned to the group, “Folks, something important has just come up, and we need to have some time by ourselves right now. Would you all go inside and hang out for a bit?”

    The crowd acknowledged them and turned away, their tone of their talk morphed from excitement to caution as they realized something might not be right.

    Maggie started to leave. Rick held her by the arm, “I want you to stay Maggie…maybe you could take some notes for us.” He offered, and asked the group of soldiers who were starting to gather, “Does anyone have a map?”

    “I’m used to taking notes.” She replied, and then smiled, happy that she was contributing in her own way. David produced a road map, unfolding it on the table.

    Rick and Gunny looked at each other, “So, how are we going to do this?” Rick asked him.

    “First of all, we need some intel. I want to know exactly what we are facing.” He replied and added, “We should send in the snipers.”

    “Those trucks are due to be back there in a few hours, do we have the time for that?” Rick responded, “Hey…where is your radio man?”

    Gunny called out, “Childs, get over here.”

    Lance Corporal Childs came over and set up the radio.

    “Can you get me Raven One?” Rick asked.

    Childs nodded, “If he is still there I can.” He replied as he called. Moments later, Raven One acknowledged. Childs passed the handset to Rick.

    “Colonel Walters, this is Rick Martin.”

    “Mr. Martin…do you have some time now to talk? Oh, by the way, that was a great speech you gave.” Colonel Walters said.

    “What? How did you hear that?” Rick questioned, and looked at the Gunny. Gunny Winters looked up and away, pretending to whistle. “Never mind, Colonel we need some help down here.”

    “What can I do?”

    “Here’s the situation. We’ve taken over Winchester. Now there are about three hundred people here and who knows how many are still out in the surrounding area. These folks have had their food and property stripped by the gangs. I have a source here, who says he know where this stuff is…can you give us an assessment of that area?”

    The line was silent for a brief moment. “Sure, where is it?” The Colonel replied cautiously.

    “The town is Berryville and it’s about ten miles east of here.” Rick said and added, “We are looking for some trailers, like the kind in a tractor-trailer tandem. My guy says there are about thirty of them.”

    “Roger, we are near your area, so give me a few minutes.” Raven One acknowledged.

    “Maggie, would you help Juan draw us a map of this town. We need some detail.”

    Maggie spoke fluent Spanish to Juan, the pair sat at the end of the table and started to draw Berryville.

    “You speak Spanish?” Rick asked her, somewhat surprised at her ability.

    Maggie smiled and nodded.

    “Mr. Martin, Raven One is on the line.” LCpl Childs said, passing him the handset.

    “Go ahead Colonel.” Rick held the earpiece away from his ear allowing the Gunny to listen in.

    “Ok, it looks like your source is partially correct. There are trailers; however we count sixty six of them, not thirty.”

    Rick smiled at the Gunny with the news. “That’s excellent.”

    “Yeah, that’s the good news…here’s the bad news. We count approximately two hundred and fifty to three hundred people in the town…and they are armed.”

    “You can tell that they are armed?” Rick queried.


    Rick slowly lowered his head, “Shit.” He muttered. “Thanks Colonel.”

    “Sure thing Martin…what are your plans?”

    “I don’t know. We only have twenty guys, and to take on that group with what we have would be suicide.” Rick paused and continued, “They are expecting these trucks back in a couple of hours. I would imagine that if they don’t show up, then they’ll come looking for them…that means the people here…” He said, his voice trailing off. “I sure could use your help Colonel.”

    “Martin, this is above me. Look, let me make some calls.” Colonel Walters said, “I’ll be back to you in a few minutes alright?”

    “Alright.” Rick said dejectedly. Looking at Gunny, “Well…what do you think?”

* * * * *

    The artificially controlled atmosphere helped create the illusion of normal conditions deep inside the granite mountains of the communications fortress. The personnel one thousand feet below the surface at the Raven Rock nuclear bunker felt anything but normal. The stress level and separation anxiety from being cut off from the outside civilian world, was rearing its ugly head. Minor arguments started over seemingly innocuous events, and then turned into shouting matches and bruised feelings.

    A Navy SEAL brought a plate of food to the desk of Lieutenant General Benjamin “Buck” Barker. “Sir, have some chow?” The fair-haired California native offered and set the plate in front of the General.

    “Thanks Dennis, I’m not really hungry right now.” The General replied, picking through the plate of hot lasagna like a finicky six year old with a dish full of brussel sprouts.

    “Yes Sir.” Dennis replied, who then turned and walked away. Outside the area where General Barker sat, SEAL Commander Greg Nash watched. “Sir, I’m concerned about the General.” SEAL Dennis Danes offered to his boss.

    “The stress is killing him.” Commander Nash replied. “What’s for dinner tonight?”


    “Lasagna…that’s good stuff. Those freeze dried foods are pretty tasty.” Greg commented and then walked over to the General. “General.” He said and pulled up a chair and sat with his General.

    General Barker looked at Commander Nash, the dark bags under his eyes showcasing his lack of sleep and stress. It was apparent that a lack of quality-sleep was one of the issues facing Buck Barker. The two sat silently, each in their own thoughts, each comfortable in their relationship without the formality of rank.

    “General, you have a call from Raven One.” The khaki uniformed soldier approached politely and offered the General his seat behind a tall stack of computerized radio gear.

    The General sat down and put on the sweaty headphone his technician offered. “Raven One, this is Raven Rock.”

    “General…we have a situation.” Colonel Walters said, recognizing Barkers voice.

    “Go ahead.”

    “There is a group in West Virginia, do you remember the folks I told you about a couple days ago?”

    “Yes, I remember.”

    “Anyway, General Perry sent in a team of Marines to check them out. Well, this group just attacked a town in Virginia…Winchester, Virginia.”

    “They did what!” The General barked, his tone going from calm to anger instantly.

    “Hold on Sir, let me explain. This group liberated Winchester. It seems that Winchester was under the control of some gangs, so our guys, I mean the guys from West Virginia went in and took them out.”

    “Were the Marines involved in the combat?” The General asked, not fully understanding the implications of the Colonels report.

    “Yes Sir, they were.”

    “Who is heading that team?”

    “Gunnery Sergeant Kyle Winters Sir.”

    “Get him on the line…now!” The General ordered, his face flushed with anger. The order was unusual in that normally when the shit flows down-hill, it goes through the chain of command. Now it would land squarely on Gunny Winters shoulders.

* * * * *

    Rick and Gunny sat pouring over the hand drawn map and trying to come up with a viable plan of attack. Juan and Hector pointed out some of the features of the town, and identified the building where Juan knew hostages were being held.

    “Gunny, you have a call.” LCpl Childs said, holding out the telephone type handset.

    He paused as they didn’t have a designated call sign, “This is…Ground.” He said, making one up.

    “Gunny I have General Barker on the line for you.” Colonel Walters said, patching through the General.

    “Gunnery Sergeant Winters, this is Lieutenant General Barker.” The General stated, leaning heavily on his rank.

    Gunny Winters sat up, his eyes wide open at the announcement. “Yes Sir.”

    Who the fuck gave you permission to engage civilians in combat?”

    “Well, Sir…um.” Gunny was at a complete loss of words.

    “What were your orders?”

    “To observe Sir.”

    “So, what the fuck were you thinking Gunnery Sergeant Winters?”

    Rick sat looking at the Gunny. It was obvious he was getting a good ass chewing, and he could hear the voice on the other end shouting. He got the Gunny’s attention, “Who is that?”

    Gunny Winters shook his head, his eyes giving away his situation.

    “Give me the phone.” Rick said to Gunny.

    Gunny shook his head no, listening to the General rant on.

    “Give…me…the phone.” Rick ordered, holding his hand out, and then snatching the hand set from the Gunny. “Who is this?” Rick barked into the receiver.

    “Lieutenant General Barker.”

    “Well General, my name is Rick Martin…and I want to know why you’re calling and ripping into my men like this?”

    “Your men!”

    “Listen to me General, because you surely don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about,” Rick shouted into the handset and continued, “With all due respect…these Marines came out to observe us, and they did exactly what they were ordered to do. Now, your government thugs took over this town…and we came in and killed them.”

    “What government thugs…what are you talking about?” General Barker said, his anger rising at the way he was being talked to.

    “You know General, the thugs hired by the government…or, don’t you know about them?” Rick snapped, his voice dripping in sarcasm.

    The line was silent for a moment. “Ok, Martin I’m listening…I don’t know anything about government thugs, please explain.”

    Rick took a deep breath, looked at Gunny Winters who shook his head imagining the hell that would be brought down on him. “Ok, the government has given territory to gangs, here in Virginia, they are the MS-13 types, and they have full run of the place. If they want to kill, torture, rape or steal then they do whatever they want. Their job is to take food, and anything else of value…including people and give it to the Arabs.”

    Rick paused, the line was silent momentarily, “Go on.” The General replied, his tone noticeably softer.

    “Anyway, my plans were to take Winchester, and we were going to do that with or without the Marines. It just so happened that they were here, and came along to observe. After the Marines took fire, they returned it. These are some of the best men I have ever had the pleasure to work with, and I am very proud of all of them.” Rick paused, “Now General, I have a town of about three hundred people, maybe more, we don’t really know as there are still some in the surrounding hills. These people are starving, they have been beat on, raped, and ripped off. Those gangs took their food, and my source tells me some of their women too…and we’re going to go and get them back.”

    “Martin…I didn’t know.” The General replied.

    “Well, now you do General.” He said and paused, “Let me ask you something. Have you ever seen a six year old girl with her teeth busted out and the soles of her feet whipped with electrical cables?”

    “No.” He replied quietly.

    “Well that’s what we’re dealing with here. Welcome to our world General.” He commented and added, “Look, we can use your help. The Colonel says that there are two hundred fifty to three hundred cockroaches in the town of Berryville. Now, we’re gong to go after them, but I’ve only got twenty guys. Anything you can do to help would be appreciated.” Rick said and without waiting for an answer, handed the phone back to LCpl Childs. Standing up, he walked away from the table, trying to work off the deep anger and frustration from the conversation.

    Gunny Winters and Maggie followed him at a distance. Rick turned back to them, and exhaled a deep breath. “Gunny I’m sorry for dragging you all into this.”

    “There’s no need to apologize. It’s not your fault.”

    “Will you get into trouble?” Maggie asked the Gunny.

    “Maybe, probably, oh hell I don’t know.” He replied.

    LCpl Childs hollered to the trio. “Mr. Martin, you have a call. It’s Raven One.”

    Rick walked back to the table. “Go ahead Colonel.” He said without emotion, waiting for the Colonel to start yelling as well.

    “Martin…” The Colonel said, and then broke out into a laugh, “I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone tell a three star General that he didn’t know what the fuck he was talking about…priceless. Ok Mr. Martin, you’ve got yourself a shooting war.”

    “What do you mean?”

    “I mean that the General has given me the authority to allocate you men and materiel to get your food and people back.”

    “No shit?” He said excitedly.

   “No shit. Now, you and I are going to work on a plan of action.” The Colonel said, his voice upbeat as he smiled. “I’ve also sent General Barker a copy of your speech. Martin, the General is a good man, please keep that in mind.”

    “Thanks Colonel…when this is over, I’ll buy you a beer.”

    “I look forward to it, now let’s get to work.”

    The next twenty minutes was a flurry of conversation. Maps were coordinated and an overall plan was conceived and then agreed upon.

    “Ok, so let me see if we have this right. We are going to set up a team about five hundred yards outside of their eastern roadblock. This team will open fire on them, and hopefully that will draw them out into the open. You will then have someone take them out at that point, correct?”  


    “The remaining team will then go into town from the west side.”

    “Correct. Now, I’m going to see what’s available and set everything in motion.”

    “Ok, while you do that, we’ll get the diversion team over to the east end of town.”

    “Good. By the way, your call sign will be ‘Gatekeeper’.” The Colonel added.

    “Let’s do it. Call me when you have something.” Rick said and then gave the handset back to Childs. The team gathered around, along with the guys who just returned from getting help at Davis. “Men, let me explain what’s going on.” Rick spent the next few minutes going over the battle plan that was worked out. “Now I need six volunteers for the east side.”

    They all raised their hands to volunteer.

    “Just keep in mind that the east side is going to be a hell hole. I want at least two Garands in the mix.” Rick said.

    “I’ll go with the six.” The Marine sniper Evans offered.

   “Wait a minute, why should you go?” Paul replied with Winston nodding along side.

    “Look man, it’s going to be black out there and the only light we’re going to have is from pop-flares. I’ve shot from under those.” Evans said, his argument winning out. “If anyone has any extras, pass them along. We could use some extra grenades too.”

    “Rick, Winston and I would like to go with Evans.” Paul asked, and then explained, “With the three of us on the anvil, there won’t be any need to have spotters go with us. We can spot for ourselves, and that will free up some guys for you.”

    Rick looked at Paul and then Winston, their faces indicating their resolve. Looking over to Evans, he nodded as it seemed to be workable. Rick looked to Gunny Winters, who nodded his agreement. “Alright. Go round up some shovels, and get moving.” He said.

    David and Brent along with four of the Marines would comprise the anvil team, along with the three snipers. The remaining Marines handed over their silver tube pop-up-flares. Rick found the grenade he had taken from the group at Pepper Wayne’s place, and gave it to David.

    The nine soldiers loaded up both trucks and drove off, making their circuitous route towards the east end of Berryville.

* * * * *

    “Ok  people, dig deep…you know the plan and we need something for these guys.” Colonel Walters said loudly as he walked the length of the Combat Sent aircraft. The technicians studied the possible assets and their current locations on the computer monitors. “Artillery is out, and so are dumb bombs.” The Colonel added.

    “Sir we have some Harriers at Cherry Point.” Someone called out. “Not enough firepower.” Someone else replied.

    “The nearest Apache helicopter squadron is in Utah.” Another tech spoke. “Too far away.” Came another response.

    “Colonel did you say that General Perry would be sending some troops in Ospreys?” Comms called out.

    “Yes, that’s what General Barker said. Can you get me General Perry?”

    Moments later, “Sir I have General Perry on the line.”

    Colonel Walters patched through to the General. “General Perry, you’ve spoken to General Barker?”

    “Yes and we are loading up now. You’ll send me the battle plan?”

    “Yes Sir, as soon as you’re airborne. What are you bringing Sir?”

    “We’re coming over with six Osprey’s and a full load of Marines.”

    “Excellent, let me know when your airborne.” Colonel Walters replied and signed off. “How many troops will an Osprey hold?” He asked his techs.

    “Each Osprey carries twenty four troops, Sir.” One of the techs replied.

    “Ok, so that’s one hundred and forty four Marines.” The Colonel said to himself out loud as he stood in front of the large LCD screen. Their battle plan was superimposed on the digitalized real-time imagery of Berryville. “We’ll put forty eight right behind the east end anvil and the rest will be the hammer for the west end.”

    “I have it Sir!” One of the techs excitedly announced, and continued, “How about an AC-130U?”

   Colonel Walters smiled, “We have one at Cherry Point, don’t we?” He commented.

    “Yes Sir, they’re up from Eglin.” The tech replied. The pride in her voice glowed from the discovery.

    “Do we have the Aircraft Commander’s frequency?” The Colonel asked.

    “Yes Sir we do.” The tech passed the information to Comms who made the connection.

    “Colonel, we have Major Elaine Borne on the line.” Comms called out.

    “Major Borne, this is Colonel Walters. What is your immediate operational status?”

    “The entire base was just put on a twenty minute combat ready status, Sir. We are, and have been, fully fueled and loaded.” The major replied succinctly.

    “Excellent, so you can be wheels up in twenty minutes?” The Colonel queried.

   “Absolutely. By the way, will we be supporting the Marines in the Ospreys?” She asked.

    “Yes you will.” The Colonel replied and added, “We have a very specific target area for you…I’m going to need you to be as accurate as possible on this one.”

    “Not a problem Sir, we practice it all the time.” She replied and with her microphone open said to her co-pilot, “Start three.”

    “Good, I’ll send to you the battle plan and a digitized map of the area. Let me know when you have it.”

* * * * *

    The group deep inside Raven Rock listened to the speech sent to them from Raven One. When it ended, they all started making their own personal comments.

    “Well General, what’s your impression?” SEAL Commander Greg Nash asked.

    General Barker rubbed his chin and stretched his aching neck muscles, “It’s different…but I like it. Maybe we have something here.” He replied.

    “General can we…uh.” Greg started to ask, as he looked at the map of the battle plan on the computer monitor.

    “No Greg, we’re too late for this party…however, we’ll go down in a little while. Before we do, I need to eat something, I’m starving…is there anything to eat around this place?” The General asked, getting up and smiling.

* * * * *

     LCpl Childs stood next to Gunny Winters and Rick. His radio gear buzzed with an incoming call. “Gatekeeper.” He replied and handed the phone set to Rick.

    “Gatekeeper this is Raven One. Our package is airborne now.” Colonel Walters said.

    “Excellent. What do you have for us?”

    “First of all you’ll have six V-22 Ospreys ferrying in one hundred and forty four Marines. We’ve split them into two groups. Alpha group will be two Ospreys and they’ll land behind and support your troops on the anvil. Bravo group will land behind your trucks on the west end and drive through the town with you.”

    “That’s excellent news Colonel.” Rick said excitedly.

    “That’s not all. We have a Spooky Two coming in to take out the Tango’s from the east end.”

    “Spooky Two?” Rick asked.

    The Colonel chuckled, “The Spooky Two is a C-130 with a ton of firepower.”

    “Like the old Spooky gunships from Viet Nam?”

    “Yes and no. They operate on the same principle, but this version is light years ahead of the original. They have a side mounted 25mm gatling gun and a 40mm cannon, both are independently controlled and targeted. There also a 105mm howitzer, but I think that might be a bit much for this scenario.”

    Rick looked at the Gunny, “Spooky Two, and one hundred and forty four Marines.”

    “Hot damn!” He replied excitedly.

    “Alright Colonel, we’re going to be in the three trucks on the west end…don’t shoot us, or our guys on the east end.”

    “Don’t worry about that one Martin. Now, the Spooky Two will be call signed ‘Angel.’ I just spoke with the Aircraft Commander and she wants to make a pass down Main Street with the 40mm cannon. She’ll start at the extreme west end, as close to the roadblock as they can, and work towards the east end. At the same time, the 25mm gatling gun will cover the area between the anvil and the east gate.”

    “Remember the buildings I told you about with the hostages…they’re along Main Street.”

    “Understood.” Colonel Walters replied confidently. “Martin have you ever seen a Spooky in action?”

    “No Colonel I haven’t.”

    “Oh you’re in for a real treat.” He replied. 

    “Thanks again Colonel, just let us know when the show is about to start.” Rick said and handed the phone set back to Childs. Looking at the remaining group, his feelings were mixed. On one hand he felt inadequate and undermanned in attempting this mission, and on the other, empowered and confident in the support being flown in. He explained again what the Colonel had said, and then went over the plans for the second time with the team.

    Juan moved closer to Rick and asked, “I’d like to go too.”

    “Why?” Rick replied.

    “I know the town and where the building is that the hostages are in.” He replied, his demeanor changed, the ashamed teenager now seemed confident and willing.

    “Alright, can you drive a truck?”

    “Yes.” He said with a broad smile. Hector stood off to the side, and objected to Juan risking himself, as any father would.

    Rick looked at Hector, “Don’t worry, we’ll get him back, safe and sound.” He commented, not fully confident as to the exact outcome, however it sounded good. “Alright, let’s get loaded up.” He ordered, and turned to Maggie, “Let everyone inside know what’s going on. Have some of them man the roadblocks.”

    Maggie nodded and ran back to the school cafeteria. The team loaded up into the three blood spattered and bullet punctured transport trucks and slowly drove off.

    The stars shone brightly in the night sky, dimly illuminating the surrounding area. They moved to a position about one half mile from the west roadblock. Parking behind a curve in the road, they shut down the trucks and gathered outside. There wasn’t much talk, just the constant checking of equipment and weapons, with the occasional bladder being emptied along the side of the road.

    LCpl Childs listened to the radio and quietly said to the group, “Twenty minutes out, and the anvil team is in place and ready.”

    Each man was deep into his own thoughts, drawing on his own inner strength and confidence. The time passed slowly, too slowly, or so it seemed.

    “Ten minutes out.” Childs reported.

    “Tell Raven One to have the anvil team start shooting.” Rick said quietly to Childs, who immediately passed on the information.

    “I hope this works.” Rick said to Gunny.

    Gunny nodded, “Me too.”

    Moments later, the distant pop of gunfire could be heard, breaking the otherwise quiet night. The men loaded back into the trucks without having to be told. The engines started and idled with a low deep rumble. Rick was in the lead truck with Juan driving. Gunny and Childs sat behind in the open blood slicked steel bed.

    Childs tapped on cabs roof, “Five minutes.”

    Juan put the truck in gear and they started off at a pace slightly faster than a walk. It wasn’t a problem driving this slow without headlights; they just went down the middle of the road, idling in low gear. They had moved about a hundred yards and heard the response to anvil’s attack. The defenders fully automatic weapons combined with the occasional thud from an exploding grenade covered up the anvil teams sounds.

    “They are starting their run now.” Childs said.

    The truck moved steadily towards the roadblock. When they were approximately one hundred yards from the two cars which comprised the roadblock, Rick told Juan to turn on the headlights.

    Juan did and then flashed them twice.

    “What was that?” Rick asked.

    “That’s their signal, I’ve seen them do it before.” The kid said, his eyes focused through the bullet holed windscreen.

    The guards recognized the type of headlights and the signal, and started to move the cars away to allow the trucks to pass through.

    High above the town, Angel circled. Rick and the men in the trucks couldn’t hear the engines from the C130, nor could they hear the initial volley of 40mm cannon fire. The darkened town was totally consumed with firing back and attacking the anvil team. The hand sized 40mm shells exploded with bright yellow and white flashes, one right after another, dividing Main Street down the middle. The sounds and visual violence of the explosives were mesmerizing. The guys on the receiving end of Angels attack were flung around like wind tossed debris. As the explosions moved along Main Street and towards the east side, they heard and saw the 25mm gatling gun fire. There was no mistaking this sound, an airborne buzz saw of tracer lined explosive death hurtling down from above.         
    “Drive through Juan.” Rick ordered, “Hit the car and push it out of the way.”

    Juan stepped on the accelerator, smashing between the two vehicles which weren’t fully moved out of the way. The roadblock disintegrated from the heavy bumper and force of the transport truck. Juan cleared the road block and stopped on the sidewalk, just as Rick told him to. He quickly pointed to the building where he last saw the hostages.

    “You stay here, and keep your head down.” He ordered Juan, then immediately exited, going directly into a kneeling position using the front end of the truck as cover with his weapon up and acquiring targets. It was more difficult than he had imagined earlier in acquiring targets, as the dark precluded focusing on the cockroach’s bodies; instead they had to focus on their muzzle flashes.

    Everyone was out of the trucks and began firing. The occasional pop flares from the anvil team rose above the town and drifted slowly down, dripping sparks and illuminating their area, but also giving the hammer team some available light. Once the hammer team started firing they began to draw return fire. The fully automatic weapons fire from the defenders was initially inaccurate, striking the trucks and surrounding buildings.

    The battle raged furiously, the sounds of which drowned out the support Ospreys propeller and jet engine noise, as the four V-22’s landed one hundred yards behind their line. The supporting Marines exited the Ospreys, with night vision devices attached to their helmets, and ran to the source of the battle.

    Gunny Winters moved beside Rick, they glanced at one another and went to the building where the hostages were. Stepping over two dead guards, which were killed in the initial Angel attack, they both entered through the broken glassed front door. A quick look around to determine that no one was alive in the foyer, and then both started up the dog-legged stairs to the second floor.

    Gunny led the way as they had previously discussed, with his weapons mounted light switched off. The stairwell was pitch black, it took just a moment for their eyes to adjust to the dark. Silently they crept up, one step at a time.

    A sliver of dim light flashed from the top landing, and then disappeared. Both men’s minds were moving on hyper-drive; time seemed to slow, as seconds felt like minutes. A loud thunk sounded above the concrete wall near Rick, and then hit the metal stair with a distinctive metal on metal sound. It bounced down, banging as it went, as Rick’s mind recognized the threat.

    “Shit.” He shouted, and launched forward tackling the Gunny two steps above him. Ricks body knocked Gunny down, covering him as the grenade bounced to the bottom landing and like a cue ball, ricocheted half way around the dog-leg, and then detonated in a sharp and violent explosion. The light and sound were deafening, as Rick felt what seemed to be a thousand white hot bee stings in the backs of his legs, and lower back.

    Gunny flicked his weapons selector switch to full automatic and emptied his magazine through the door and both side of the jamb. Standing up, he took the remaining steps two at a time to the top landing. Rick also stood, and fueled with anger and adrenalin, he followed. Gunny flipped on his weapons light and went through the door, swinging his weapon to the left. Rick, close behind started his swing from the right, just as they had discussed.

    Ricks mind was numb from the explosion, and his hearing was almost non-existent. He slowly moved the large battle rifle from his right, acquiring anything that could be a threat. He slowly swung to the left towards the center of the room, and stopped. Along the far wall, sitting on the floor, was a row of hooded figures. He heard some commotion….it was the Gunny shouting. Rick swung his weapon quickly to the source of the shouting.

    “Drop your weapon…now!” The Gunny had his weapon aimed at two figures. A male stood behind a woman with a pistol pressed into her temple. The gun mounted light blinded the hostage and the hostage taker.

    Ricks mind made the recognition instantly. He fired two rounds into the woman’s chest. As she dropped, the Gunny fired his weapon into the head of the male behind her.

    Gunny looked at Rick, “What the fuck!”

    Rick didn’t take his eyes off the downed pair, he limped over to them. The light from Gunny’s weapon clearly showing the woman’s large brown scabbed over area on her face, as she was missing her nose. “I told her that if I ever saw her again, I’d kill her.” Rick said, as he bent down and grabbed the woman, her chest pumping blood over her body and onto the carpeted floor. She took her last gasp of air and died. Rick turned her over, exposing the revolver in her hand. Looking up at the Gunny, “It was a set up.”

    “Fuck!” He replied angrily.

    Rick stood and went over to the line of hooded figures. Trying to bend over, his legs gave way forcing him to sit unceremoniously in front of the nearest person. Reaching over, he removed the hood. The woman’s eyes were wide as saucers with fear. Pulling off the tape from across her mouth, “Hey, are you ok?” He asked her.

    She nodded yes.

    “We are going to take you home…you’re safe now.”

    The woman muttered, her words slow and drawn out, “Going home?”

    “Yeah…home.” He smiled at her, and added, “Do you think you can walk?” He asked as he took his knife and removed the nylon straps which bound her hands and feet.

    The woman nodded and stood up, her legs shaking. She then began to help remove the hoods and straps from the other women. The third girl over didn’t respond when her cover was removed. “She’s drugged.” The woman helper stated, and then pointed to a nearby table, where a hypodermic syringe lay next to a plastic bag of brown powdered heroin. “They drugged us so we wouldn’t fight them...those fuckers.”

    Rick stood, his legs barely supporting his body and tried unsuccessfully to lift the unconscious woman. “Gunny, I can’t lift this woman.”

    Gunny Winters lifted her easily, his tremendous upper body strength enabled him to pick her up as easily as a sack of groceries. The other women stood, happy and scared, they clung to Rick, Gunny and each other as they started down the stairs single file. When they reached the front door, a Marine aimed his weapon at the Gunny who lead the procession.

    “Marine, I need your help…now!” The Gunny ordered.

    “Gunny Winters!” The Marine recognized him from Cherry Point, and then called three of his brothers to assist.

    “Take Martin and these women back to town. Juan will drive you…don’t let them out of your sight, understand?” The Gunny ordered the four Marines.

    “Yes Gunny.” They replied, and then assisted Rick and the eight women hostages to the truck. Juan started the engine, thankful that it wasn’t damaged in the firefight. One of the Marines sat next to Juan in the cab, while the others were piled into the bed.

    Rick lay on his side, his head resting on one of the women’s leg. She reached over and stroked his sweaty graying head gently, as he felt disjointed from his mind and body. The pain was starting to come, and it washed through his body like a tsunami. Rick closed his eyes and breathed deeply.

    It seemed to take hours to reach the town; it was only about fifteen minutes. Juan parked the truck in front of the school and exited the cab quickly, helping the women and Rick out of the truck. With a Marine on each side in support, Rick was led into the schools cafeteria. “Make way people, we’ve got wounded.” The Marine on Rick’s left shouted to the throng of people who gathered around the cafeterias entrance.

    They led Rick to a lunch table and helped him up, laying him face down. “We need a Corpsman.” One of the Marines said to the crowd.

    The crowd parted as a green surgical scrubbed man approached. He looked at Martin and called, “Marilyn, I need you now!” Doctor Cadman ordered. The Emergency Room Team from Elkins General Hospital had arrived a half an hour previously and were tending to the towns survivors. “Let’s get his pants off and get an IV started stat.” The Doctor looked at Ricks shredded pants and gingerly opened the pieces of fabric away from his wound. “Do you have any allergies?” He asked.

    “No.” Rick said softly.

    “Do you know your blood type?” The charge nurse standing next to Dr. Cadman asked

    “A Positive.”

    “Brenda, we need you over here.” Marilyn the charge nurse shouted. She started removing Rick’s pistol holster and asked him to lift up to help her remove his belt.

    Brenda came over quickly carrying the trauma kit with the bagged IV solutions. Instantly she recognized her husband. “Rick…” She stammered, her voice filled with fear, “what happened?”

    Rick moved his head and saw Brenda kneeling next to him, her familiar and beautiful green eyes taking away any fears from the wounds. “Hi baby.” He quietly said, as Marilyn pulled hard on his belt.

    “What happened Rick?” She asked.

    “Oh…me and the Gunny and some of the boys were playing around with guns.” He replied smiling, trying to make light of the situation and then added, “It was a grenade…got me in the ass.”

    The three medical personnel worked smoothly and quickly, removing his boots and then cutting off his pants.

    “Aw…you’re cutting my pants, I really like these pants.” Rick said incoherently.

    They cleaned his arm and quickly inserted the needle for the IV. “Let’s give him 50mg Demerol.” Dr. Cadman ordered.

    The narcotic took effect instantly, numbing his pain and his mind. Rick lay face down on the lunch room table; his shredded lower body exposed as the team sopped up the blood and tried to figure out where they should start. It was at that moment when another truck arrived with more wounded. The cafeteria was starting to look for all intents and purposes like a mobile field hospital. The team left Rick and went to evaluate the other wounded soldiers.

    Hal, Mary Beth and a dozen others from Davis had arrived before the Medical team. “Hey Rick, how are you feeling man?” Hal said, his eyes twinkled behind those gold rimmed glasses.

    “I’ll be alright.” He said, and added, “I’m sorry about this Hal.”

    “There’s nothing to be sorry about, you did the right thing.”

    Rick closed his eyes, allowing the pain medication to work its magic. His mind swam with a myriad of thoughts about his men and how everything turned out, as he drifted in and out of consciousness.

    Doctor Cadman had the injured laid out in triage groups. He knelt and worked six of the most seriously wounded. The townspeople, although themselves battered and bruised, now realized their injuries were insignificant compared to the bleeding and disfigured Marines. They all came forward, offering to lend assistance.

    General Perry along with Gunnery Sergeant Winters walked into the cafeteria. They stopped in mid-stride, surveying the scene. Both men went quickly to Dr. Cadman.

    “Doctor, what can we do to help?’ General Perry said, kneeling down next to a bloody Marine.

    The Doctor glanced over to the General, his hands buried deep into the Marines intestines trying to find and tie off a bleeder, “There are six who need immediate surgery…like yesterday.” He said and ignored any further questions, instead focusing on his patient.

    “Can these men be airlifted?” The General asked.

    “Only if you want them to live.” He replied, and then to his nurse assistant, “Right here, clamp this….we got it, let’s tie it off.” The doctor worked quickly suturing the torn blood vessel.

    “Gunny get me your radio.” The General ordered. Childs came over and handed the set to General Perry, who called Raven One with his request.

    Raven One vectored one of the Ospreys to land at the school and then notified Cherry Point of inbound causalities.

    Doctor Cadman stood and removed his blood covered gloves and face mask. “I’m going to send Brenda and Elaine with these men to Cherry Point. Now the other twelve soldiers aren’t that critical, but they will need attention, so if you have another helicopter, they can go later.” He said and then added, “I’m running out of supplies. I didn’t think that we would have this much damage.”

    The noise from the Osprey landing outside the school quieted any other conversation. “Let’s get these soldiers loaded up.” Doctor Cadman ordered and then added, “Brenda and Elaine, you are now flight nurses.”

    Brenda looked at the Doctor, her eyes spoke volumes as she was concerned about her husband.

    “Don’t worry about Rick, he’ll need surgery, but it’s not life least not right now.” He replied to her unspoken request.

    All hands worked to get the Marines aboard the Osprey, which lifted off immediately after the last person exited the ramp. A few moments after the Osprey lifted off, another helicopter landed nearby. Unlike the Osprey, the gray Blackhawk is a true helicopter. Exiting the helo was eight Navy SEAL’s lead by Commander Greg Nash and Lieutenant General Barker. The ten men passed through the crowd outside the cafeteria and met up with General Barker and Gunny Winters. General Barker surveyed the situation and received a battle assessment from General Perry.

    The noise from the Osprey and the Blackhawk woke Rick from his drug induced sleep. His groan from the pain caught their attention. The officers and Gunny went over to him, as Hal and some of the townspeople also gathered around. Doctor Cadman gave Rick a once over and looked at the General’s. “He needs surgery. There’s a lot of damage from the grenade fragments, and I don’t have a working x-ray machine to find them. The EMP destroyed our equipment.” The doctor said and then added, “He’s got shrapnel around his femoral artery…if that gets punctured, then it’s lights out. Also, there’s shrapnel around his lower spinal column and his hamstring is torn. Basically it comes down to this; he needs better care than what we can give him here, or at Elkins.”

    Rick moaned, and stirred. Doctor Cadman was on him immediately. “Rick, listen to me…I need you to be still…really still, understand?” The Doctor said.

    “Uh huh.” He moaned, his mind coming back into focus.

    “Let’s give him another 50mg of Demerol.” Dr. Cadman ordered Marilyn.

    As the nurse was inserting the needle into the IV, “Wait.” Rick asked. “I need to speak with Hal and Gunny Winters.”

    “We’re here bro.” Gunny replied.

    Rick rolled his head slightly. “Hal, I want you to teach these folks how we do things. Maggie will help with your organization.”

    “You got it Rick.” Hal said. Maggie who was standing beside him nodded.

    “Gunny, you’re in charge.” Rick said softly.

    “Whoa…I don’t…” He stammered.

    “Look Dammit, you’ve been around me long enough to know how I think and how to protect these people. Now take charge and do it…don’t piss me off Winters.” He added with a smile. “Listen, close up the south end and the east end…get those trailers back here. Now, let’s use this momentum and extend our northern line to the Potomac River. Those guys up there around Harpers Ferry have been beat up pretty bad and they’ll welcome the help.”

    Gunny Winters nodded, “Ok.”

    “Now, if you need anything, you ask General Perry and General Barker…they’ll help out.” He said and held out his fist….Gunny tapped his fist with Ricks.

    “You got it Rick. Don’t worry, we’ll take care of things here.” Gunny said and nodded to the nurse who injected the Demerol into the clear IV line. Ricks eyes closed and he drifted off into an instant sleep.

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