CHAPTER TWENTY THREE
The pick up truck moved slowly through town, and entered the on-ramp for I-81 North. Rick held the speed down so that they would have ample time to talk, as the distance to Martinsburg was less than twenty miles. They passed some of Wilkes’s guys who were winching some of the dead cars on the side of the road onto flat bed trucks. They would be taken and then stripped of their usable components and reused.
General Perry sat in the front passenger seat; he stared out of the truck silently. Rick looked over at him, “Bob, are you alright?”
General Perry looked back at Rick, and with a slight grimace he said, “Yeah…I…uh.”
“Are you, uh, concerned with this …rank thing?”
“Yeah, I mean no disrespect Rick, but…”
“I understand, and I thought that this might come up.” Rick said, and then added, “I figured that you and the Gunny would be able to make this work out…and then I thought that if this was going to be a problem, then I would have General Barker send out some qualified Army or Navy guys.” Rick said.
General Perry’s eyes opened as he was taken aback by Ricks comment. “No…I think that this will work out fine.” He replied quickly.
Rick smiled at his General. “I thought so.”
“You set me up, didn’t you?” General Perry said with a wry grin and a chuckle. He turned around and held out his hand to the Gunny. They shook hands as compatriots and friends.
“Maggie, I know I’ve given you quite a work load.” Rick said looking at her through the rear view mirror. “You should find yourself someone who could be your assistant. Make sure that you delegate some of your work.”
“I know a couple people that I could ask.” Maggie said, jotting another note. Looking back at Rick she smiled and added, “By the way, I hear that you and Brenda are getting married.”
“Who told you?” Rick asked.
Gunny Winters and General Perry both congratulated Rick.
Rick shook his head and smiled, “Thanks, and I would hope that you all will be there.”
“I will be…I’m a bride’s maid.” Maggie said with a smile.
They approached the exit ramp. Rick looked in his rearview mirror and saw the two trucks following close behind. He also noticed some of Gunny Winters squad in the last truck. Winding their way around the small road which circled Eastern West Virginia Regional Airport, better known as Shepherd Field, Rick pulled into the civilian parking area next to the control tower. They waited for everyone to unload and walked over to the locked access gate. Rick tried to move the gate, however with the power out, it was locked securely.
“I’ve got a key to that gate.” Wilkes said with a smile. He walked back to his truck, returning with a gas powered metal cutting saw. Two pulls on the handle brought the chain saw type of a tool to life. Wilkes ground through the metal gate, as the Marines helped to pull everything aside. Rick and everyone else loaded back into their trucks and drove onto the aircraft parking ramp. As they slowly maneuvered around the civilian aircraft, everyone noticed the huge aircraft sitting off to the side. Rick parked the truck in the center of the massive runway.
Everyone stood on the huge runway as Rick began to explain his project. “I want to turn Shepherd Field into a base for us. The airport at Winchester is too small to handle cargo flights. This place isn’t.” He said pointing to the four incredibly large C-5 Galaxy aircraft parked next to a pair of equally large hangars. “This base was the home of the 167th Airlift Wing for the West Virginia Air National Guard. Those C-5 Galaxies are the largest aircraft in the US Air Force fleet.”
“There’s a lot to running an air base.” General Parry commented.
“You got that right General.” Rick replied and then added, “General Barker said that he would support us in any he could. Now, before I call him, I’d like to share with you all what my thoughts about this place are.” Rick said and then began to share his vision for their new air base.
Everyone understood what Rick wanted to accomplish and nodded their agreements.
“Childs, can you get me Raven One?” Rick asked the Marine radio operator.
“I can do better than that Sir, I can get you General Barker direct.” Lance Corporal Childs said as he assembled his radio.
“Is that a new radio?” Rick asked.
“Yes Sir. The SEAL Commander Nash gave me their unit. It’s a satellite system…very cool.” He said opening the small satellite dish and dialing Raven Rocks frequency into it’s computer.
* * * * *
The air-conditioning kept the underground bunker at a constant sixty five degrees. Depending on their stress level, the temperature would seem to be much hotter than it actually was. Today it felt perfect. General Barker hummed a tune as he read through reports from the remaining active bases and units in the United States and what was remained of their overseas bases
“General Barker, you have a call.” The female Air Force 1st Lieutenant said with a smile. The General’s upbeat mood set the tone for all Raven Rocks personnel, “It’s Mr. Martin.”
General Barker went over to her work station and keyed the microphone. “Rick.”
“General Barker, how are you Sir?”
“For the first time in months, I’m doing fine.” He said and then added, “How are you?”
“Like you General, I’m doing great. Everything here is moving along better than I could have imagined.” Rick said excitedly.
General Barker smiled at the comment, and then looked up and around the room. Everyone had stopped their work, wanting to listen in on the conversation. Commander Greg Nash moved closer to the General, standing just off to his side. Turing up the volume on the radio, he nodded to the room giving a non-verbal indication that it was alright for everyone to listen in to the conversation.
“General, I am at Shepherd Field and I need your help.” Rick said.
General Barker typed into the desk top computer, pulling up the information on Eastern West Virginia Regional Airport and the 167th West Virginia Air National Guard.
“What can we do Rick?” The General replied, noticing the four C-5 Galaxies last reported at Rick’s location.
“Well, I would like to activate this airfield. If we are to move people and goods, then we’ll need a base this size. What I need is someone who is experienced in running an air base. I would like for this person to bring their men and materiel and have them permanently assigned here.” Rick asked, and added, “Colonel Walters with Raven One has been a huge help for us, I’d really like him to be involved in this too.”
General Barker nodded at the request, “We can do that.”
“I also would like for this base to have all four branches of the military represented. We need cargo aircraft and their crews and also combat aircraft and their crews.” He said and added, “They should also be permanently assigned here.”
“Combat aircraft?” The General questioned.
“Yes Sir. General Perry is going to need air support as his Marines move to secure new areas.”
General Barker again nodded at the request, “Understood.” He said and then added, “When you say ‘new areas’, just exactly what are your borders?”
The line went silent for a brief moment, “The Mason-Dixon line to the north, the Gulf of Mexico to the south, the Atlantic Ocean to the east, and the Mississippi River to the west.” He said, and then added, “General I would like to have this base up and running in no more than ten days.”
General Barker’s eyes grew wide at the comment and the timed request. “That’s not a lot of time…is there any particular reason for it?”
“Yes Sir, I want to start bringing in some sailors from the ships to help out here.” Rick said.
General Barker took a deep breath. “Alright Rick, this sounds like a pretty ambitious plan…we’ll get on it from our end.” He said and continued, “There is an inbound flight to you as we speak. The communications equipment I promised should be arriving in, “General Barker looked at his watch, “about two hours. I’ll have them vectored to Shepherd. Just make sure that the runway is cleared of debris so they can land, ok?”
“Oh wow, thank you!” Rick said excitedly, “That gear will really come in handy.”
General Barker smiled at Rick’s excitement and gratitude, “You’re welcome Rick, and you take care. We’ll be in touch.”
“Thank you again General. Don’t be a stranger, ok?” Rick said, closing the connection.
General Barker turned to Commander Greg Nash, “Any thoughts?”
“It sounds like some exciting times there.” Greg commented.
Buck Barker smiled and nodded, “Oh yeah.” He said and then added, “Let’s start on this list.” The two officers created a list of ten who would be worthy picks and then eliminated one by one each of their choices until they had two remaining. After they had made their selections, General Barker contacted Raven One and explained to the Colonel what Rick had requested.
“Who is your choice for base commander?” Colonel Walters asked.
“It’s between Stilwell and Hensley.” General Barker said.
The line was silent.
“You don’t agree?” General Barker asked.
“Sir…if I may.” Colonel Walters said and paused, “Both General’s Stilwell and Hensley would be fine choices, however I don’t know if they would be a good fit with Mr. Martin.”
General Barker nodded as their two choices could be somewhat stuffy and overly formal at times. “Who would you suggest?”
“General Robinson, Sir.” Colonel Walters replied quickly.
General Barker shook his head.
“Sir, I know your feelings about General Robinson…but the bottom line is he is a good man.”
“Yeah well, that good man cost us about a billion dollars in equipment.” General Barker quipped bitterly.
“Sir, with all due respect, it wasn’t General Robinson’s fault over those ships.” Colonel Walters stepped over the line in defense of the General. He knew it and backed off. “I’m sorry Sir, I shouldn’t have said that.”
“No you were right to Bill.” General Barker said and added, “That’s one of the reasons why I value your opinion.” He said and pausing,” You’re right. Nick Robinson is a good man, and I have treated him like shit over that…loss.” He said and took a deep breath, “Do you think Martin knows what happened?”
“I don’t see how he could Sir.”
“Ok, Robinson’s the man, and I’m not going to say anything to Martin. If Robinson wants to, that’s his business.” He said, making the decision final. “Bill, I want you to evaluate our inventories and make sure the right aircraft and their crews are PCS’d.” General Barker said, leaving Colonel Walters in charge of his choices for the permanent change of station.
“Yes Sir…thank you.” Colonel Walters said and closed the connection.
General Barker sat back into the seat and exhaled and turned to Commander Nash, “Any thoughts Greg?”
Greg thought briefly, “I think that they are going to need some ‘other’ personnel...guy’s that knows how to get things done.” He replied with a wry grin.
“What do you mean by that?”
“I know an old salt that would be a perfect fit with Mr. Martin.” He said and paused briefly, “Master Chief Vic Gray.”
General Barker looked at his advisor, “I don’t know him.”
“Vic Gray is a Seabee. The last I heard he was attached to Mobile Construction Battalion Eleven out of Gulfport Mississippi.” He said with a slight chuckle. “Master Chief Gray is the kind of guy that can acquire anything, anywhere…you know?”
“You mean a thieving scrounger?”
“I knew a guy like that during the first Gulf War.” General Barker, laughing at the past memories, “This guy, Master Sergeant Stephens, could get anything. I mean, if you wanted scotch, toilet paper, baby wipes, jet engines…he could get it.”
They both laughed.
“Ok, if Master Chief Gray is still around, PCS him and his group to Martin.” He said and then added, “Make sure Martin knows who he is getting.”
“Aye aye Sir.” Commander Nash said, and then left the radio station to look up his old friend.
General Barker stood up, stretching his legs. His mood soared, infectiously elevating everyone else’s attitudes. The General opened up a can of Coca-cola, drinking heartily, and suppressing a belch.
“General you have another call.” The 1st Lieutenant said, her facial expression giving away some displeasure.
“Who is it?” General Barker asked.
“Acting President Engstrom, Sir.”
* * * * *
The offices on the top floor of the steel and glass Chrysler building, still exuded opulence and functionality. In the recent past this area was the working and personal space for the CEO of the faltering car manufacturer. Now it was being used as the office for the acting President of the United States, Howard Engstrom. Plush black leather chairs were arranged around the large polished walnut desk; centrally focused on the man in charge.
Howard Engstrom sat behind the desk facing his advisors with their ever-present note pads and laptop computers. Alongside the advisors were the religious rulers, the Mullah’s, who cycled everything through their versions of the Koran and their beliefs.
“Mr. President, I have a report from the engineer’s at Fermi.” Kasahn Assad, one of the advisors said referring to the nuclear power plant on Michigan’s Lake Erie shoreline.
“I hope it is better than the last report.” Engstrom replied coolly.
Kasahn looked at his notes, “Both reactors are running properly, however they are in dire need of the support equipment to bring that power to us.”
“So, no change?” Engstrom commented.
Kasahn shook his head.
“Where is the ship of electrical supplies we were promised by the EU?” Engstrom asked.
“It docked in Marseille last week. However, the French say that it will take approximately thirty days for all of the equipment to be manufactured and then containerized.”
Engstrom shook his head, “Thirty days…is there any way to speed this up?”
“We are already paying twice market value for this equipment, and based on their thirty five hour work week, I don’t see any way to stimulate them further.” The aide answered.
Engstrom grunted his displeasure. “Are the weapons we need aboard ship?”
“Yes Mr. President.” The aide replied.
“At least that is good news.” He said and turned to General Masoud Salami. “How many soldiers will this shipment arm?”
“Approximately one brigade of five thousand men,” He replied and added, “Although we have one brigade and their weaponry here, it will be best to have as many brigades as we can before we initiate any confrontation with the remaining American forces.” He said confidently. “Once we have the weapons from the ship in Marseille here, then we will start ferrying in the men to field those weapons.”
“And you’re still confident that the Russians and the Chinese won’t interfere?” Engstrom asked his General.
“I am Sir.” He replied and added, “When we gave over to the Russians and the Chinese those American ships carrying all of their highly classified hardware, they promised to give us the time we would need to negotiate and wear down the American military.” He said confidently and continued, “Without those ships, we would certainly be in a different position right now.”
Engstrom knew how close they came to being invaded by either or both the Chinese or the Russians. It took political maneuvering through the United Nations and the European Union, combined with the military hardware on those ships to pacify the wolves.
The lights inside the office flickered and then went out. They were quickly replaced with the battery powered emergency back up lights. The room instantly became stuffy as the air conditioning system also shut down.
“We should have chosen a building where we could at least open the windows.” Commented one of the elder Mullah’s.
Engstrom was somewhat annoyed at his comment, but said nothing. It was the Mullah’s decision to start with a strict enforcement of the Sharia law in Detroit which prompted Engstrom and his Iranian advisors to move away from the constant ‘law enforcement’ to the Auburn Hills suburbs. Engstrom stood and walked over to one of the large tempered glass windows. The endless blue skies gave no indication of any rain.
One of the Mullah’s radio crackled with a Persian chant. “Salat-Ul-Zuhr.” He said, indicating that all work would stop for the obligatory noon prayer. This was the second of their five daily prayers
They rolled out a clean delicately hand woven rug, and removing their shoes, every man got on their knees bowing towards Mecca in the southeast.
Engstrom couldn’t focus on prayers today; his mind was occupied with too many pressing issues. One of the main issues they couldn’t seem to get an answer for was how they were going to continue to support their troops. Those logistics far outstripped their abilities at this point.
Prayers were over, the men stood and returned to their respective seats. A slight knock on the door, as one of the servants brought in their meal. The men sat on the floor, circling the large tray of perfectly cooked lamb and fresh vegetables, flown in from Tehran earlier that morning. The servant also handed out mail from home. It was the mail and the reports from the Middle East which spurred the men on. They were the pinnacle of Islamic pride.
“I am still humbled by Allah’s blessing for handing this country to us.” One of the younger Mullah’s commented. The entire leadership team agreed.
The men ate their meal silently, some who had letters read them, and then reread them. Others simply made idle chat about football, or as the Americans would call it, soccer. Meal time was not a time to discuss the issues they faced, it was a welcome respite.
“You know, you have to talk with him.” General Masoud Salami said to President Engstrom. Salami was Engstrom’s top military advisor.
“I know, “Engstrom said, exhaling loudly and added, “I hate that man.”
“Yes, that is understandable. However, we must negotiate with Barker…at least until we are ready for a confrontation.”
Howard Engstrom nodded his agreement. The power came back on. The generators restored the air conditioning. Engstrom fidgeted with his very expensive wrist watch, and then adjusted his gold cuff links on both sleeves of the pure white dress shirt. “Ok, let’s ring up General Barker.”
The room was silent. The servants entered and removed what remained of their meal without a sound.
One of the aides dialed the frequency into the radio telephone, “Please hold for President Engstrom.” He said with a perfectly executed British accent into the Russian built device. The aide then handed the phone to Engstrom.
Forcing himself to smile, “General Barker,” He said and then looked quizzically at the phone as no one was on the other end. Hearing General Barker finally talk, Engstrom put the phone to his ear, “General Barker, how are you?”
The device was set so that everyone in the room could listen in via the speakerphone.
“I’m fine…busy, but fine.” General Barker said brusquely.
“Ah…I understand about being busy. We’ve been very busy here trying to get our country back together.”
The line was silent for a moment, “What can I do for you Engstrom?” General Barker said without emotion.
Howard Engstrom flushed with anger briefly. He was used to being called ‘Mister President’ by the rest of the world and resented the way the General was speaking to him. Putting that anger aside for the moment, he said. “General…we need your help.”
“You know that our crops are being harvested now. We need your help in bringing those crops in…so that we can distribute them to the American people.” He said and added, “I don’t need to tell you that many people will die of starvation, if they don’t have food this winter.”
The line was silent briefly, “Mister Engstrom…there are no crops.”
His comment opened all of their eyes wide.
“General…you know that’s not true.” Engstrom said, questioning whether the General was lying to him.
“Not true?” General Barker said. He didn’t appreciate being called a liar in so many words. “Obviously, you are aware that we are in a major drought. There’s not enough food to gather up.”
“How can that be?” Engstrom replied with surprise and continued, “We have vast areas that use irrigation systems.”
“I see that you haven’t been out meeting with the farmers have you?” He said dripping with sarcasm. “The underground aquifers are salted…they’re useless.” And then added, “You’ve seen the weather reports…right? There’s no rain either.”
“You know those weather satellites are disabled.” Engstrom said, his anger spilling out. He wanted to add, ‘You had something to do with that didn’t you?’ However, he held his tongue.
“Mister Engstrom, we can’t help you. Our job is to protect this country, and that is consuming all of our time and energies right now.”
Engstrom closed his eyes and exhaled deeply. “Alright General.” He said, closing the connection and cursing General Barker.
“May Allah bring him low…to the depths.” The Mullah’s cursed.
General Salami looked at Engstrom and then to the Mullah’s, “Are we finished with our cursing?” He said, trying to bring some sort of focus back into the group. “We already knew what Barker’s answer would be…so let’s move on.” He said and turned to his aide, Colonel Azarah. “What is our food situation?”
“General, we have brought another twenty five trailers of materiel from Ohio. There’s much more there and we are actively acquiring it.” He replied confidently.
“What about the other areas? Have we received anything from them?” General Salami asked.
“No, we haven’t received anything from outside of Michigan and Ohio, which we control.” He said and then added, “The other areas are controlled by ‘hired elements’ as you well know. Those groups have not brought anything of substance to us.”
“I want you to turn the pressure up on those groups…we need that food.” He said to the Colonel, “No excuses.”
“Yes General.” The Colonel said.
“The civilians…are they ‘complying?’” He asked.
“Yes General” Colonel Azarah said and added with a smile, “The civilians are offering no resistance,” He said, and then as an afterthought, “with the exception of one area.”
General Salami’s eyes widened at the comment, “Explain.” He replied coolly.
“The MS-13 group which has control of the Mid-Atlantic area, said that there are have been some minor conflicts with small groups of civilians.” The aide replied.
“Why wasn’t I informed of this?” The General replied angrily.
“Sir…the information I had received at the time made it seem insignificant. I really didn’t see the need to bother you with this, Sir.”
“Large fires begin with small sparks.” He replied to the aide and continued, “When was the last time you had any communication with this group?”
The aide looked at his notes, flipping back through the pages of his notepad. “About three weeks General.”
“No communication since?” He asked, and continued, “I want some information from that area.”
“Would you like to have the Chinese or Russians forward us satellite intelligence?” The aide asked.
“No. I want the Russians and the Chinese to know as little as possible about this.” He said rubbing his unshaved chin, “Let’s send in some spies.” He said and then added, “I also want to know if General Barker is lying about those aquifers being salted.”