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Matt Wiser 12-12-2014 07:35 PM

Semi-OT: Red Dawn fan fic
Guys, if you're interested in something that one could use as background for PCs or NPCs, or want to use T2K rules for an alternate setting, there's a timeline for the Red Dawn (1984) universe, and I've done some fanfic. My character is a USAF officer and F-4E pilot (F-15Es postwar), and I've also done some from a POW's point of view as well. If you're interested, let me know.

schnickelfritz 12-12-2014 09:11 PM

Really? Let's have it...sounds cool!

Milano 12-13-2014 10:27 AM

That does sound pretty neat. I would love to see it.

stormlion1 12-13-2014 10:51 AM

Red Dawn has always been a favorite of mine. Enough to read through all 300 pages on Alt-History of the continuation of it. So lets have it!

Matt Wiser 12-13-2014 05:16 PM

Very well....I'll get some up later tonight.

Matt Wiser 12-13-2014 05:19 PM

Might as well start with the first one I did, and yes, there's a couple of shout-outs here....

Welcome to the 335th: Kara's First Day

Williams AFB, Arizona. 6 May

Captain Kara Thrace looked out the window of the C-130E that was bringing her to her new unit: the 335th Tactical Fighter Squadron, “The Chiefs”. Normally part of the 4th Tactical Fighter Wing, the squadron had been at Red Flag on Invasion Day, and ever since, had been OpCon to the Marines' MAG-11. The squadron, along with a couple of others under Marine command in other theaters, was known as “The Orphans of the Air Force”, and some had felt the unit had “Gone Jarhead”. She wondered if she'd fit in with a bunch of Marine-loving Blue-Suiters, but given her record, fitting in might be a problem. First in the class in pilot training and the RTU at Kingsley Field, and that bastard Tigh sends me off to be a ferry pilot, she thought. Though that duty had had its moments, like the time a nurse riding space-available in a KC-135 had flashed the Phantoms being refueled on the Hickam-March leg of a flight, or being at Kadena when North Korean commandos had infiltrated ashore from a submarine, and the call “Sappers in the wire!” had gone out. Now that had been a wild night.

As she looked out the window, she saw the metal revetments that Air Force Engineers, or Seabees, had built, similar to those used in Vietnam, when bases had been targets of VC rocket or mortar attack. Telling the 335th's birds apart from the others had been easy: they were still in the SEA camouflage scheme, where the Marine Phantoms were in that drab TPS gray color. Kara noticed not just Phantoms, but Skyhawks, Hornets, A-6 Intruders, and AF Jolly Green Giant rescue helicopters. It was obvious that Williams, a former Air Training Command base, was a busy place.

“Captain, you'd better buckle up,” the loadmaster said as he came by. “We're getting ready to land.”

She obeyed, and fastened her seat belt in the seats paratroopers normally used, while the cargo pallets took up the rest of the space. Other than an RAF officer, Flight Lt. Kendra Shaw, who was assigned to a Marine squadron as an exchange officer, she was the only passenger on the Herky-bird, and was eager to get to where she was going.

The C-130 touched down, and to her surprise, there weren't that many bumps. Williams had been hit by Su-24s a couple of times, and though the runway had been cratered, it had been repaired. Then the C-130 taxied over to the transient ramp, and shut down. She picked up her bag and went down the ramp, where she found an AF staff sergeant. “Where's the 335th?” she asked.

“Are you reporting there, Captain?” he replied.

“That's right.”

“No problem, Ma'am.” He pointed over to a building that had been the squadron office for a T-37 unit prewar. “They're in there, and you can't miss' em.”

“Thanks, Sergeant.” Kara walked over to the building, where it was obvious the building was under new management: the old flying training squadron's signs had been taken down and a new one put up above the main entrance: “335th TFS: The Air Force's Bastard Orphans.” Taking a breath, she opened the door and went inside.

The first thing she noticed was that everyone was either in a flight suit or BDUs, and the second thing was that everyone also had a sidearm. Then an officer in BDUs bumped into her.

“Sorry about that, Captain.”

“No problem, Lieutenant. Where's the CO? I need to report in.” Kara said.

“CO's at a conference. The Exec's running the show while he's gone. Follow me, I'll take you to him.”

“Thanks, Lieutenant..”

“O'Donnell, Kevin. I'm one of the maintenance officers.”

“Nice to meet you.” O'Donnell took her to the Exec's office, and knocked.

“Come on in, door's open.” a voice replied to the knock.

“He's in there, Ma'am.”

“Thanks.” With that, she took another deep breath and walked in. She found another captain like her, in his flight suit this time, and he was pouring over a TPC chart of New Mexico. “Reporting for duty, Captain. I'm Captain Thrace.”

“Nice to meet you. I'm Matt Wiser. Call sign Guru. Have a seat.”

Kara sat down and looked around the office. Photos of not only F-4s, but classic warbirds, lined the wall. A map showing the current battle lines in the Lower 48, and another showing the Canadian Theater, was also prominent.

“You're probably wondering why a Captain is XO of a fighter squadron?” he asked.

“The thought had occurred to me.” Kara replied.

“The previous CO felt that experience counts more than seniority, and that was that. It's what Robin Olds did in Vietnam when he ran the Wolfpack, and that got results. Same thing here. And so far, it's worked like a charm.”

“How'd you get the job, though?” Kara wondered.

“Long story short: I was squadron ops officer, and the previous Exec got himself killed. His WSO bailed out, and for all we know, he's behind barbed wire, eating kasha and borscht. The CO felt I'd do a better job in the slot than this eager-beaver Major we've got, who is Frank Burns in an AF uniform. He's done nothing but complain, but his complaints get thrown in the garbage, and everyone in the squadron wants to do the same with him. Be warned: watch out for this clown.” Guru looked at her, and he went on, “Got your orders and personnel jacket?”

“Right here.” She passed her personnel folder over. He opened it and started to read.

“Impressive. First in your class at Kingsley Field. So why did they send you to be a ferry pilot?”

“I rubbed a superior asshole the wrong way,” she responded.

“And that asshole pulled some strings, and voila, you're on the TransPac Ferry Run.”

“Something like that.”

“Well, if it's combat you want, you've come to the right place. For your information, we fly at least 75% of our tasking as air-to-ground, so if you're looking to run up a score, you'll have to take whatever gets past the MiGCAP or TARCAP. We don't go MiG hunting. That's the job of the Marines or the F-15s from Luke.” Guru told her.

“Air-to-mud...As long as it hurts the Commies, I don't mind.” Kara responded.

“Good. But we've got several aces in the squadron. And air-to-air does come from time to time, and if it does, make the most of it.”

“Are you one of the aces?” Kara asked.

“Yes. Six kills, with two-three probables. And some time camping with the Resistance. Five months in Southern Colorado; running, hiding, fighting, and trying to stay alive. In no particular order,” Guru said, trying to forget some very unpleasant memories of his escape-and-evasion.

“Sorry I asked.”

“No problem. Anyway, you're going to be my wingman. Judd Brewster, or Braniac, is your WSO. The guy you're replacing got killed two weeks ago-by SA-6, and the Jolly Greens got to Braniac before the bad guys. Listen to him, and you have a good chance of getting past ten missions. FYI two-thirds of our losses are people who don't make it to ten missions. Get past that, and your chances of survival increase. And we don't rotate people out of combat like in past wars. We're in for the duration, Kara. However long that is. They rotate the unit, not people.” Guru told her.

“So I've been told.” Kara said.

“Good. Now, when you're in the squadron, the dress code's pretty relaxed. Flight suits or BDUs, as you probably noticed. There's a time for spit-and-polish, and that's few and very far between. Always have your CW gear handy-we've never been attacked, but the base commander is fond of CW drills at least once a week. And get yourself a sidearm, not to mention a call sign, or do you have one?”

“They called me Starbuck, over at Kingsley Field. For some reason, they think I'm a female version of Dirk Benedict,” she told him.

He looked at her. With the cropped blond hair, she did look like the Battlestar: Galactica actor. “As for the sidearm, either get a .38 through Supply, or you can do what practically everyone else did. There's a couple of gun shops we've done business with; one in Scottsdale, and the other in Mesa. They can get you whatever you want, within reason,” Wiser pointed out.

“I'll take care of that ASAP,” she replied.

He nodded. “Care to meet your WSO, and mine?”

“Might as well.”

Guru got up and walked to the office door. He waved Capt. Mark Ellis, who was his replacement as Ops Officer, over. “Find Lisa and Braniac and get them to my office. And get 512 and 520 up and ready: two Sparrows, four Sidewinders, three tanks, and full 20 mike-mike for both planes.”

“Gotcha, boss. What's up?” Ellis asked.

“Breaking in a new wingman, Mark. Call MAG-11 and have them notify Tenth Air Force about the flight.” He looked at Ellis, who was staring at him. “Now, Mark.”

“On the way, Guru.” Ellis ran for his desk and picked up the phone. Guru went back into the office.

“Just out of curiosity, who'd you piss off at Kingsley Field?”

“Hear the name Colonel Saul Tigh?” Kara asked.

“I've heard about him: three tours in Vietnam, almost as much hair as a pool ball, divorced, and alternating on and off the wagon?”

“The same. I'd add stubborn: you either fly his way, or when you graduate, you don't go where you want,” she said.

“That's him...” A knock on the door interrupted his thought. “In!” He said.

A pair of WSOs, one male and one female, came in. The male WSO had short cropped hair, and looked like he was a linebacker for the San Diego Chargers. The female WSO was a blonde like Kara, only she wore her hair as long as regulations permitted, and even in a flight suit, she looked like a Sports Illustrated swimsuit model. “Captains Brewster and Eichhorn, meet Captain Kara Thrace, call sign Starbuck,” Guru told the pair.

After handshakes were exchanged, he went on. “Braniac, she's your new pilot. Keep her alive past ten missions, and you'll both get through this. Lisa, you up for a ride today?”

Capt. Lisa Eichhorn, call sign Goalie, said, “I thought were were on a stand-down? What's up?”

“We're giving Kara, or Starbuck as her call sign goes, her theater indoctrination ride. A nice scenic tour of Western New Mexico, from Las Cruces to Albuquerque. And if somebody out of Holloman or Roswell jumps us, we'll see how good she is at air-to-air. If not, we'll head over to the Plains of San Augustin and do some ACM.”

“Sounds good, Guru. When do we go?” Goalie replied.

He picked up his office phone and called Ops. He listened for a few minutes, then said, “Thanks,” before hanging up and looking at the trio. “Wheels up in thirty mikes. We'll brief on the tarmac.” They all nodded. “Goalie, take our new wingman over to the Life Support shop, get her a helmet, G-Suit, and harness. Meet us at 512's shelter. You'll be in 520, Starbuck. No trolling for MiGs, though. Only if they come across the Rio Grande. Any other questions?” There were none. “OK, see you at 512.”

45 minutes later, over Southwestern New Mexico.....

Both Phantoms were already in Combat Spread, heading east towards the Rio Grande and the front lines. There was some chatter on the radio, and the squadron used a discrete channel for such talk.

“Battle lines here have been stagnant since the early days. And we've got the ComBloc's Second String, or maybe Third String, out here. Don't be fooled, though: an SA-6 stamped “1974” on its data plate can kill you just as easily as a brand-new SA-11. The same goes for MiGs. An old MiG-21 or early -23 can still get you if you're not careful.” Guru radioed to Starbuck. “Got that, Two?”

“Copy, Lead. That it dead ahead?”

“That's the Rio Grande, Two. Anything past that is bad-guy land. Turn left, and follow me.” He put his F-4 into a turn, and she followed him. Looking down from 12,000 feet, she could see well into enemy-occupied territory. Then threat receivers in both planes began to chirp.

“Air-Search radar, bearing 090, Lead.”

“Got it, Two. Like I said, let them come to us.”

Then the AWACS came on the line. “Saber One-One, Crystal Palace. Two bandits, 087 for 40, closing.”

“Crystal Palace, Saber One-One. Copy that. Say Bogey Dope?” Guru responded.

“Saber One-One, Crystal Palace. Bandits are Floggers.” That meant MiG-23s.

“Goalie, watch our three. That's where they'll be at,” Guru called on the intercom.

“Roger that. Crystal Palace, Saber One-One. Bandits across the river?” Goalie called.

“Negative, Saber One-One. Wait one,” The AWACS controller called. “Saber One-One, Crystal Palace. They've crossed the river. Bandits now 040 for 25.”

That's it, Guru said to himself. Fight's on. “Two, this is Lead. Looks like we get to play for real after all. Drop tanks and fight's on!”

“Copy, Lead. Fight's on,” Kara replied.

In both back seats, the WSOs had their radars up, trying to pick up the bandits. Quickly, both backseaters had the MiGs on their radars. Then AWACS called again.

“Saber Flight, Crystal Palace. Bandits now on your nose, fifteen miles.”

“Roger that, Crystal Palace,” Guru called back. “Judy.”

With the Judy call, both Phantoms were now in control of the fight. Guru called Goalie and told her to go Boresight, which linked the radar to the gunsight. All he had to do was put the pipper on the target, and the system would lock. Or so he hoped. The AIM-7 was still notorious for unreliability, though the Eagle drivers were now swearing by them. Then he heard a tone in his headset. Missile lock. He pressed the button on the stick. “Fox One!” He waited a moment, then pressed the button again. “Fox One again!”

Two AIM-7s were now streaking toward their target. In the lead MiG-23, the Soviet flight leader was trying to pick up both F-4s on his radar, so he could send the pair of R-24 missiles he had under his wings to one of them. Then his threat receiver lit up, and he called the break.

“Missed, damn it! Time for a knife fight, Guru.” Goalie called over the intercom.

“Got it. Going Heat.” He turned the weapons select switch to HEAT, and his four AIM-9 Sidewinders. Then he called Kara. “Two, Lead, how's it going?”

“Goose-egg, boss. Time to go heat,” she called back. “They're breaking right.”

“Got it, two. I'll take the one on the left.”

The two F-4s then broke for their targets. The MiG-23 was at a disadvantage in a turning fight, and had horrible rear visibility, not to mention that its wing sweep had to be set manually by the pilot. Both F-4s took advantage of that, and ate up the distance. Inside of a mile, Guru put his pipper on the MiG-23, and got the growl of a Sidewinder looking for a heat source. Then the growl got shrill as the missile locked on target. “Fox Two!” He called, as he sent the first AIM-9 on its way.

The Sidewinder left its rail and tracked towards the MiG. In the cockpit, the MiG leader was turning his head, trying to see the Phantom that he knew was out there. Then he heard a bang, and as he grabbed for his ejection seat handle, heard another explosion. The last thing he heard as he was engulfed in the fireball was his screaming.

In 512, Guru and Goalie looked out as their missile flew up the MiG's tailpipe. There was a small explosion at first as the missile warhead detonated, then a larger one as the MiG's fuel tanks exploded. “Splash One!” they yelled over the radio.

Kara was in her own fight. As she heard Lead call Fox Two, she was trying to get lock on the second MiG. Her bandit was turning and twisting in the sky, trying to get the Phantom off his tail. And as he did so, he did two things: first, he was getting deeper into U.S. territory; and second, he was letting Kara close in.

Starbuck put the pipper on the MiG's tail, and as the growl came over the headset, said, “Come on. Come on, you.” Then she got the shrill growl in the headset that signaled lock. “Fox Two!”

Her AIM-9 streaked off the rail and tore the path of a rattlesnake across the sky as it sought out the MiG. In the MiG's cockpit, the Soviet pilot had heard his leader's death cry, and he was swinging his head left and right, looking for his attacker. He caught a glimpse of an F-4 to his left, and banked toward it. That was the last thing he did and saw, as Kara's missile flew up his tailpipe and detonated, turning the MiG-23 into a fireball.

Seeing the MiG explode, Kara yelled, “Two's a Splash!”

“Copy, Two. Any chutes?” Guru called.

“Negative chutes, Lead.”

“Roger that. Crystal Palace, Saber One-One,” Guru radioed.

“Saber One-One, Crystal Palace, go.”

“Splash two Floggers. No chutes.”

“Roger. Do you need a vector home?” The AWACS controller asked.

“Negative, thanks. We can find it,” Guru said.

“Copy.” With that, the fight was over. Both F-4s joined up in combat spread and headed west. In her Phantom, Kara thought about the fight just concluded. She had made her first kill, and in so doing, had been blooded. The fact that she-and her Lead-had each killed a man meant nothing. As far as she was concerned, the MiGs had come looking for a fight. And they had paid the price. She looked over at her lead's plane.

In 512, both WSO and pilot were talking. “Well, Guru. What do you think about our new squadron mate?” Goalie asked.

“I'm thinking, I'm thinking.” he replied. “I thought. Two, this is Lead.”

“Go, Lead. This is two.” Kara responded.

“Welcome to the 335th. You just found a home.” Guru said.

“Thanks, Lead. Now I've got a question for your backseater,” Kara said, her voice showing her pride.

“Go, Two, What's on your mind?” Goalie said.

“What the hell kind of call sign is Goalie?” Kara wanted to know.

Beneath her oxygen mask, Lisa broke out in laughter. And so did Guru and Braniac beneath theirs.

“What's so god-damned funny?” Kara asked.

“The RTU,” Goalie said. “Every instructor WSO there tried to score with me. And they all failed. When I graduated, they gave me the call sign,” Lisa said, still laughing. And after a moment, Kara joined the laughter. Like her Exec had said, she'd found a home.

White Sands, NM: in Occupied Territory:

Unknown to any of the Phantom crews, a joint Soviet/Cuban SIGINT station was listening in on the tail end of the conversation. The Soviet operator, a young man drafted out of Moscow State University and chosen for his English-Language skills, was furiously writing down everything he heard. From their conversation, he knew that these Imperialists had just destroyed two Soviet fighters, and they were now laughing about it. Just as the Political Officer said, they have no regard for life, he thought. Suddenly, he lost the conversation. He took off his earphones and got up to take his notes to the duty officer to turn them in.

“So, what do you have, Comrade?”

“Some American fighter pilots laughing about their recent kills, Comrade Major,” the Sergeant replied, handing over the notes.

The GRU Major scanned them. Perplexed, he looked at the operator. “What did this one mean, by 'score with me?'”

“Comrade Major, I have no idea. These Americans and their slang. It gets confusing at times,” the Sergeant said.

Matt Wiser 12-13-2014 11:40 PM

The Prequel....

Ace Mission

Williams AFB, AZ: 21 April 1987 1425 Hours Mountain War Time

For Captain Matt Wiser, Executive Officer of the 335th TFS and his WSO, Captain Lisa Eichhorn, it had already been a busy day. They had flown two combat missions already, the first one being a strike into the Denver area to hit some artillery positions that had been making the lives of those in the besieged city a nightmare, and taking out a battery of 180-mm guns certainly eased the pressure on the city's defenders. Then their second mission had been a close-air support run near Soccoro, New Mexico, giving a hand to the Taiwanese Division when they'd had some Cuban artillery firing across the Rio Grande. Now, they were getting ready for their third, and hopefully, final mission, of the day.

Lt. Col. Dean Rivers, the Squadron CO, gave Capt. Wiser, call sign Guru, the mission. A pair of supply dumps, one for fuel, the other for ammunition, had been identified near Vaughn, New Mexico, and someone wanted it taken out. Though this kind of deep strike mission was normally a job for F-111s, or Marine A-6s of MAG-11, those deep strike assets were busy. And so the 335th got the call. But with so many missions, and not enough assets, the strike didn't make Guru happy. First, their electronic warfare support would only be a Marine EA-6B Prowler, but doing standoff jamming, instead of going in to directly support the strike planes. And then, they wouldn't have any F-4G Wild Weasels going with them to kill any SAM or AAA radars, as on this day they would be going in with the F-111s and A-6s. Next, the Marine F/A-18s that often accompanied strike birds to fight off MiGs would hold at the Rio Grande: at least two other strikes were going in at the same time, so the Hornets would be on call to support whoever called for help. Finally, this would be a two-ship mission. Shaking his head, Captain Wiser went to the old classroom at what prewar had been a T-37 flying training squadron's HQ to brief his flight.

He came into the room and found his WSO talking with 2nd Lt. Bryan Simmonds, whose pilot was Wiser's wingmate, 1st Lt. Valerie Blanchard, call sign Sweaty. Blanchard saw her flight lead come in, and asked the Exec, “What's up now?”

“We've got another deep-strike run. It's a two-ship, and no, I don't like this one at all,” Wiser told his flight.

Captain Eichhorn, call sign Goalie, looked at her pilot. “What do you mean?”

“I'll tell you.” And Guru proceeded to tell his flight what the CO had told him.

“Ah, for Pete's sake, Guru,” Sweaty said, “This is asking for somebody to get themselves killed.”

“Tell me about it, Sweaty,” the Exec replied. “No Weasels, no strike escort jamming, and no TARCAP.”

Simmonds, whose call sign was Preacher, asked, “So how do we do it?”

“Simple, guys. I'll tell you,” Guru said as he pulled out a TPC Chart of Central New Mexico. “Here's the river. After topping off from the tankers, we go in low. There's a mountain pass here, east of the Rio Grande and south of U.S. 60, which is a main east-west MSR for Ivan and Fidel in this part of New Mexico. With me so far?”

Heads nodded in the affirmative. “We stay low about 600 feet AGL. Go in north of Gallinas Peak, which is 8600 feet or so, then find U.S. 54 north of Corona. Then we go east and pick up U.S. 285. Then we turn north and pick up U.S. 60. We stay low at all times, until we're one minute from the target. Standard pop-up, ID our targets, and one pass only, low and fast.”

“Targets?” Sweaty asked.

“Yep. Targets. I'm taking the ammo dump on the north side of U.S. 60, just west of town. You've got the fuel dump at the U.S. 54/60/285 junction. We each get a dozen Mark-82 Snakeyes to set 'em both off. Got that?”

Sweaty and Preacher nodded.

“After that, it's a straight run to the southwest and the river. Make sure your IFF is on before you cross the river. Get into the safe transit lane, verify IFF is on, and we should be OK, though nothing's certain with those Army pukes who handle air defense,” Guru reminded his flight. “Once we're clear of the river, climb up, hit the tanker track for post-strike refueling, and come on home.”

Goalie asked her pilot, “Ordnance load?”

“Besides the Mark-82s, you mean?” When Goalie nodded yes, he went on, “Two AIM-7Es in the rear wells, four AIM-9Js, an ALQ-101 pod in the left front Sparrow well, and a full load of 20-millimeter. And two wing tanks, as usual.

“Now, defenses,” Guru went on, and he saw that he had everyone's rapt attention. “Two batteries of 57-mm, one on the north side of town, the other just to the east. There's overlapping coverage,and yeah, I do wish we had a couple of Hornets for Flak Suppression, but nothing we can do about it. There's also some ZU-23s, and you can bet everyone down there has access to SA-7s or -14s. Not to mention this: somebody there thinks it's worth protecting, because there's an SA-2 site as well.”

“SA-2!?” Both Goalie and Sweaty said at the same time.

“That's right. Just as long as you stay 2000 feet AGL or below, you're below the SA-2's minimum altitude, and five miles is their minimum range, so we should be okay on that score.”

“Bailout areas?” Sweaty wanted to know.

“Best bailout areas are away from the roads, and the Cibola National Forest west of Corona. The Jolly Greens have done good in those areas, so that's your best bet,” Guru said.

“Any chance of MiGs?” Preacher asked.

“Nearest MiG fields are Holloman, Alamogordo Regional, White Sands Space Harbor-yeah, they're using the Shuttle strip there for MiG-23s, Roswell, Cannon, and Cannon City near Carlsbad. Not Kirtland: it's too exposed to friendly artillery fire. If we get company, it'll either be from Cannon or Roswell. Hopefully, we won't have to worry: we'll be too low and too fast. Even the MiG-29s have had trouble picking us up in the ground clutter, but don't take it for granted,” Guru reminded everyone.

“Sounds familiar,” Goalie said.

“I know, Goalie,” Guru said. “If we need 'em, the Hornets will be there, and even if they're busy, there's F-15 MIGCAPs west of the river. They've bailed us out before more than once, remember?”

Heads nodded again. The Exec looked at his flight. “Any other questions?” He asked. There were none. “Okay. Wheels up in fifteen mikes. Get your gear, and see you on the ramp.”

Forty-five minutes later: Over Central New Mexico:

Firebird flight was headed east, having penetrated into enemy territory without any problems. As they flew over the New Mexico prairie, the crews saw the numerous ranches that were seemingly out in the middle of nowhere. Several AF and Marine crews had bailed out over those ranches, and the ranchers and their families put themselves at considerable risk to hide the downed aircrew until arrangements could be made for the Jolly Greens to come in and pick them up. With luck, the war would continue to pass these people by, until the day when those ComBloc bastards got kicked back across the Rio Grande. The flight kept on going, 600 feet above ground level at nearly 500 knots, too low for any ground radar to pick them up, and with luck, any airborne radar would have trouble picking them up out of the ground clutter.

“Passing Highway 54, Guru,” Goalie called. She was handling the navigation, as usual.

“Roger that. Three minutes to 285,” Guru called back. He was keeping his head on a swivel, watching for any terrain, power lines, or enemy aircraft. One never got complacent in a fighter cockpit, something he'd had drummed into his head in the F-4 RTU before the war.

“Lead, Two,” Sweaty called. “All clear so far.”


The two Phantoms headed east, and then they picked up U.S. 285. The two-lane main highway was also a key supply route, and it was a favorite target for the A-6s and F-111s when they did interdiction work or armed reconnaissance, among other roads. As they passed over the highway, Goalie called “One minute to turn.”

“One minute,” Guru repeated.

“And turn,” Goalie called again.

Both F-4s made their turn northeast, and at that speed, it was only a minute until they found U.S. 60. Then they turned west, flying parallel to the road. Fortunately, there was no supply or other traffic on the road, but another problem came up. With the sun setting in their faces, helmet visors came down. Then it was time. “Thirty seconds, Guru.”

“Roger, thirty seconds,” Guru responded. Then he called Sweaty, “Two, Lead. Switches on, and let's go in.”

“Copy, Lead. Right behind you,” Sweaty called back.

The two Phantoms pulled up to about 1500 feet AGL. Vaughn was straight ahead. “Target in sight. Lead is in hot.” Guru said as he made his call.

Guru rolled in on the bomb run. He flew over the little town and picked up the camouflaged ammo dump north of the highway. He put his pipper on the middle of the dump and pickled off his twelve Mark-82s. “Lead off target.”

As it had happened so many times before, the first hint to the Soviet and Cuban defenders below was Guru's first bomb exploding. He expertly walked his twelve bombs across the ammo dump, and was rewarded with several huge secondary explosions as stored tank and artillery shells, along with other munitions, exploded, with each explosion setting off more.

Just after that, Sweaty rolled in. “Two in hot!” And just as her lead had done, she walked her bombs across her target, the fuel dump. The Soviets had placed fuel drums, rubber fuel bladders, and had even parked some tank trucks, inside the dump, and covered it with camo netting. But that didn't help, as Sweaty and Preacher's bombs went off in several orange and black fireballs, and again, sympathetic detonations followed as fires reached stored fuel and those drums or tanks went off. And not a single shot had been fired by the defenders. Just as Guru had hoped, they were too low, and were in and out fast, before the defenders could react.

“Two's off target,” Sweaty called.

“Roger, Two. Form on me, and Music on.” That meant their ALQ-101 ECM Pods were now on.

Both Phantoms formed up and headed to the southwest. As they approached the Gallinas Peak and passed it, heading over the Chupadera Mesa, AWACS called.

“Firebird One-One, Warlock. Bandits, Bandits. One-eight-zero for thirty-five.”

“Warlock, Firebird One-One. Copy. Can you get the Hornets on the bandits?” Guru called.

“Negative, Firebird. Hornets are engaged. Now One-seven-zero for twenty-five.” Warlock radioed back.

Fight's on, then. Guru thought. He called Sweaty, not by mission code, but call sign. “Sweaty, Guru. Drop tanks and fight's on!”

“Copy, Guru. Tanks gone and fight's on.” She replied.

Both Phantoms turned to face their attackers. The WSOs had their radars on, looking for their targets. Then AWACS called again.

“Firebird One-One, Warlock. Bandits on your nose, fourteen miles.”

“Roger that, Warlock,” Said Guru. “Judy.” And with the Judy-call, that meant the F-4s were taking over the intercept. Guru looked at his radar repeater. Two bandits were closing in. Then he picked up a hit on his EW warning gear. Someone was trying to lock them up.

“Can you get a lock?” Guru asked Goalie.

“No joy on that,” Goalie replied. “Looks like we'll merge.”

“Sweaty, you guys have a lock?” Guru asked his wingmate.

“We've got lock!” Sweaty called back.

“Take him.”

With that, Sweaty squeezed the trigger on her stick, not even bothering to give a Fox One call. First one, then two, AIM-7Es went off the Phantom and headed to their target. The first missile burned out and fell away, but the second flew straight and true. It looked like the bandit had turned at the last minute when he realized that he was under attack, but that didn't help him. The Sparrow flew straight through the cockpit and the enemy plane fireballed. And it was Sweaty who ID'd the bandit. “Splash one Fulcrum!”

MiG-29s, Guru thought. Our lucky day. “Other guy's turning, I've got him.” He called.

This MiG-29 was flown by the Soviet flight leader. He and his wingman had been trying to lock the Americans up for their R-27R radar-guided missiles, but the jamming and the fact that the radar on the MiG-29 still had problems in look-down/shoot-down mode meant he'd have to go into a turning fight. And that was spoiled as he saw his wingman, a young Lieutenant who was only a Pilot 3rd Class, explode as the Sparrow missile buried itself in the cockpit of the MiG and exploded. There was no parachute. As he banked away, he saw the second Phantom pull up.

Guru put the F-4 into a climb, then stomped his left rudder and pitched downwards, gaining energy as he dove. He saw the MiG-29 pull to the right, and he easily applied right rudder and maneuvered onto the MiG's Six. Too close for Sparrows, he switched the weapons-control panel to HEAT. His AIM-9Js were armed, and the seeker of one missile growled in his headset. The missile was tracking the MiG. Then it growled really loud. Missile lock. “Fox Two!”

His first AIM-9 left the rail and tracked the MiG. The Soviet pilot put out flares and chaff to decoy the missile, and the missile tracked a flare as Guru watched. He fired again. “Fox Two again!”

This time, the MiG turned to the left, but the AIM-9J kept tracking the MiG. The pilot put out more flares, but this time, it didn't help. The Sidewinder flew up the tailpipe of one of the MiG's two engines and detonated. And the explosion blew the port vertical stabilizer right off the aircraft.

The Soviet flight leader saw the second missile coming at almost the last moment, and as he put out more flares, he was reaching for his ejection seat handle, almost by instinct. He heard and felt the explosion, and lost control of his plane. And so he fired his K-36D ejection seat.

“Splash Two!” Goalie called as the MiG exploded. As Guru closed in, both pilot and WSO watched as the ejection seat fired, and the pilot was soon in his chute. His plane trailing fire, it plunged into the desert floor below and exploded on impact.

“Good kill, Lead!” Sweaty called as the MiG crashed.

“Copy that. Form on me and let's get the hell out of here,” Guru said. And both Phantoms formed up and headed back across the Rio Grande and friendly territory. And Guru called the AWACS.

“Warlock, Firebird One-One.”

“Firebird One-One, Warlock. Go.”

“Splash two Fulcrums. One chute.”

“Roger, Firebird. We copy. Do you need a vector to the tankers?”

“Affirmative, Warlock,” replied Guru.

Warlock vectored the F-4s to the tanker track near the Continental Divide. After getting enough fuel to head home, both Phantoms headed back to Williams. Before they landed, both F-4 drivers did Victory Rolls, signaling to those below that kills had been made by the pair. Then the two Phantoms formed up again, entered the traffic pattern, and landed.

As Guru taxied 512 to his revetment, he noticed a crowd gathering. He was curious as to what was so important about this time. It wasn't the first MiG he'd killed, he knew. Maybe because this one's a MiG-29, perhaps? After he taxied in, and parked, he shut down the engines. The ground crew brought the crew ladders up as the crew raised their canopies. Guru stood up in the cockpit, holding up one finger to signal a kill to those waiting for him. He noticed Colonel Rivers among those in the crowd. But Guru didn't notice several others waiting with buckets of ice water. But Goalie did. She kept her mouth shut as Guru went to speak to the CO. And then it happened.

Several of the other pilots in the squadron dumped the buckets of ice-cold water all over Guru! “What the hell?” he asked.

Colonel Rivers said, “Looks like our new ace lost track of how many kills he had before today. Nice of you folks to remind him.”

Guru said, “Thanks a bunch, guys. Guess I did lose track,”

Colonel Rivers then was all business. “What was it, Captain?” he wanted to know.

“Fulcrums, Boss. Sweaty got one with Sparrow, and I got the leader with Sidewinder. Her guy didn't get out, but the leader did,” Guru responded.

Sweaty and Preacher came over. They had missed the fun, but laughed when they saw Guru soaking wet! They knew, as did Goalie. Rivers then turned to Sweaty and Preacher. “Two squadron MiG-29 killers in one day. Good work, all of you,” he said, shaking hands of all four crewers.

Then Marine Colonel Allan Brady came over. He commanded MAG-11, which the 335th was serving under. “A pilot ace, and a pair of MiG-29 killers, all on the same hop. Well done, people.”

“Thank you, Sir,” Guru said.

“That's not all, Captain. Making ace is something to be recognized. First Phantom MiG-29 kills in MAG-11, and they happen to be from the Air Force. There's a DFC with your name on it coming as fast as the paperwork can be processed, and all of your flight members get Silver Stars.

Goalie smiled, while Sweaty and Preacher were beaming. Guru just stood there, shaking hands with the other pilots, then he walked over to his crew chief and the ground crew to thank them. Then Colonel Rivers spoke. “All right, people. Get debriefed, and then head over to the O Club. Guru's an ace, while Sweaty and Preacher have their first MiG-29. Two reasons to celebrate.”

“And the first round's on me!” Colonel Brady joined in, to rousing cheers. “But remember, knock it off at 2200. Another full day coming up.”

After the debrief, the party did get going. And the flight surgeons, both Air Force and Navy (who handed medical needs for the Marines), enforced the twelve-hour rule. So that next morning, those flying would be ready to go out and do it again. And they did.

Matt Wiser 12-13-2014 11:42 PM

And the next....can't believe I was churning them out this fast when I got started.

Phantom v. Foxbat

4 May 1987, 1030 Hours Mountain War Time, Williams AFB, AZ

Captain Matt Wiser of the Air Force's 335th Tactical Fighter Squadron came into the Squadron Operations Room. He was the Squadron's Executive Officer, though that was nominally a Major's billet. However, the CO, Lt. Col. Dean Rivers, had adopted a philosophy that “Experience counts more than rank,” and had been supported in that by the CO of MAG-11, to which the 335th had been “chopped” since the early days of the war, and by General Tanner, who commanded Tenth Air Force in the Desert Southwest. And there had been plenty of good results to verify success, despite the naysayers, who even included a very disgusted major in the 335th, who gave everyone in the squadron fits. To everyone, the man was a jerk who'd never made the transition from peace to war, and thought his Academy ring made him an expert on everything. And finding out the CO-and the few other Academy grads in the 335th-didn't see the same way as he did appalled the eager major. Even Capt. Wiser and his WSO had crossed paths with the man, who'd tried to have them written up for violating a fraternization regulation that had been discarded for about a year. Shaking his head at the thought, the young Captain went in to see Capt. Mark Ellis, who was Squadron Ops Officer. “Mark, what have you got for me now?” he asked.

“I see you got back from that run to Pueblo okay, Guru,” Ellis said. Guru was Wiser's call sign.

“Yeah, that place still has some memories: I got shot down not too far south of there, and there's quite a few things I'd rather not talk about.” Guru said, remembering his time with the Resistance. “And it's still hairy: flak and SA-6s still.”

“I know. Anyway, here's a change of pace: escort. The 152nd is sending an RF-4C to Clovis in New Mexico on a photo run, and they need two Es for escort. You and Sweaty are available, so you're it.” Ellis said.

“Where's the photo driver?” Guru asked.

“Right here, Captain,” a voice came from the hall. Capt. Sharon Valerri-Park came over and put out her hand.

“Nice to meet you, Captain. How long with the High Rollers?” Guru asked.

“About six months. I used to be a T-38 IP at Columbus AFB in Mississippi, and when combat was opened to females, I asked for RF-4s. My dad flew Photo Phantoms in Southeast Asia, so I'm carrying on the legacy.” Park said.

“Good enough. My call sign's Guru. What's yours?”

“Athena,” Park said. “Yeah, I know, I don't look like the Battlestar: Galactica actress, but somebody thought I did, so it stuck.”

Guru nodded. “When do we go?” he asked Ellis.

“Forty minutes, Guru,” Ellis replied. “You'd best get Goalie, Sweaty, and Preacher in the briefing room.”

“Will do, Mark.” the XO replied. “We'll see you there, Athena.”

A few minutes later, they met in the briefing room. Guru brought in his WSO, Capt. Lisa Eichhorn, call sign Goalie, and his wingmate, 1st Lt. Valerie “Sweaty” Blanchard, and her WSO, 2nd Lt. Bryan “Preacher” Simmonds. Athena was there, along with her navigator, 1st Lt. Karl “Helo” Agathon, and the SIO (Squadron Intelligence Officer), 1st Lt. Darren Licon. After introductions, they got down to business.

“OK, here's the deal,” Licon said, starting the brief, “They want detailed shots of Clovis Municipal, Clovis proper, and Cannon. That means a low-level run, and you know what that means.”

“Yeah,” Guru said. “Low and fast, pop up to do the photo shoot, and then drop back low again. And we're low enough to attract the attention of anybody and everybody with a gun.”

“That's about it,” Licon said. “Captain Park, show your planned route, please.”

Athena went to the wall, where a TPC chart of New Mexico had been posted, and she traced the route with a pointer. After refueling from the KC-135s over Western New Mexico, it was a low-level run at 600 feet AGL through Central New Mexico, and the crews of the 335th, having flown numerous missions into enemy territory there, knew the area like the backs of their hands. Only this time, the flight path took them just over the Texas state line, before turning back west for the photo run. They would pop up to 1200 feet AGL for the photo run, and at that speed and altitude, it would take only two minutes to cover the planned targets. Once clear of Cannon AFB's defenses, the Phantoms would drop back low, and stay low all the way back to the Rio Grande. Then they would climb up once in friendly territory, hook up with the tanker track at the Continental Divide, before returning to Williams.

“Sounds good to me,” Guru said. He turned to the members of his flight. “Questions?”

“MiG threat same as before? Sweaty asked, remembering a strike two weeks earlier when they had encountered two MiG-29s, and killed both. That had been her first kill, and had also made Guru an ace.

“That's right. MiGs are at Cannon-and they're believed to be a mix of Foxbats and Floggers,” Licon said. White Sands Space Harbor also has -29s, while Holloman has -23s, along with Alamogordo Regional, which also has some Sukhois-either -17s or -22s. Roswell and Cannon City have -23s and -21s.”

Nice, Guru thought out loud. “And ground defenses?”

“There's the usual flak threat: 23-mm, 57-mm, and 85-mm,” Licon reported. There's also at least one SA-2 site in the area, and an SA-3 as well near Cannon. An SA-4 has also been reported, but not confirmed. In addition, the city garrison is Cuban, and they're a full-strength MRD. Expect SA-8s as well.”

“You're full of good news today, Darren,” Sweaty quipped. “Weather?”

“Good enough. Partly cloudy, no chance of rain until late afternoon, and winds calm here.” Licon said.

“That's good,” Helo said. “Bailout areas?”

“I'll handle that,” Guru said. “Anyplace away from the roads. Both Ivan and Fidel are too road-bound in this part of the country, and there's plenty of room to hole up until nightfall, and Jolly comes in after you. The ranchers in this part of New Mexico have been pretty much left alone, and they have helped out in the past. Just be as polite as possible, and the SF guys and Jolly Greens have done the rest. They want to ride this thing out without getting burned-and in Colorado, I can say that literally happened-so don't blame them for being cautious in who they help.”

Both the RF-4 crew and Guru's wingmates nodded understanding.

“All right, Ordnance loads: For the photo bird, two wing tanks and one centerline, plus an ALQ-119 ECM pod,” Licon said. “And for escort, two wing and one centerline tanks, two AIM-7Es, four AIM-9Js, and in the left front Sparrow well, an ALQ-101 pod.”

“That it, Darren?” Guru said.

“That's it, XO. You guys can plan how you're going to do it,” the SIO said. “And good luck,” he added on his way out.

“So, the photo bird in the lead, with the two escort birds a mile to a mile and a half back?” Guru asked. “It's your call, Captain.”

Park looked at the map again. “I like it. And you're right behind us, just in case of a MiG scramble.”

Guru nodded. “Sweaty?”

“I'll go along with that,” she said. “Too bad we don't have a Weasel or two coming along. Those SAMs could give us trouble.”

“We'll be too low for most of them, and too fast for the others to react,” Park said, looking at Guru, who nodded. “By the time they get any SA-3, -4, or -8 warmed up and ready to shoot, we're already gone.”

“There's still Shilkas,” Preacher added. “Those things are bad news.”

“Again, we're low and fast, and we've got the ECM pods, for them and the SAMs. Also, by the time anyone pulls out an SA-7 or -14, we're already gone.” Guru pointed out.

“You've done this a lot?” Helo asked.

“Low-level strikes, yeah.” Guru said. “Not just here, but up in Colorado as well. Even a trip into West Texas a time or two. Not that many escorts, but we've brought everybody back.”

Both RF-4 crewers nodded. “That's it, then. Looks like we're in good hands,” Park said. “Guess it's time to go.”

With that, all three crews went to get suited up with G-Suits, helmets, and harnesses. While the RF-4 Crew went to their bird, the two escort crews met at the XO's plane, 512. “Any questions?” the XO asked.

“Combat spread the whole way?” Sweaty asked.

“Yep. And keep your radar off until we get to the pop-up point. That's Farwell, right on the Texas-New Mexico state line. Once we hit that, radar on, switches on, and we're set. And we go by call sign on the radio, not mission code.” Guru said, seeing everyone nod. “Anything else?”

“One thing: why this type of run? Isn't this deep an SR-71 thing?” Preacher asked.

“No way to know,” Guru replied. “Besides, what we don't know, we can't be forced to tell.”

Everyone understood that, knowing that the Soviets and their lackeys would-and often did-force information out of prisoners. And in a way that the prisoner often wished he or she was dead afterwards.

“That it?” asked the XO. Goalie, Sweaty, and Preacher shook their heads. “Good. Let's hit it,” he said, grabbing his helmet.

1145 Hours Mountain War Time: Over Central New Mexico:

The trio of Phantoms sped across New Mexico, at only 600 feet above ground level, and 650 knots. So far, so good, the crews felt. But everyone knew that could change in a heartbeat. And familiar landmarks such as Gallinas Peak went by in a blur as the three-ship streaked into enemy territory at low level. Inside the Phantoms, heads swiveled as pilots and WSOs scanned visually for threats, whether aircraft, flak or SAMs, or natural obstacles.

“Just like Vaughn, Guru,” Goalie said as she scanned the sky.

“Yeah, but this one's a lot farther. Time to pop-up?” Guru replied.

“Six minutes.”

“Copy. Next checkpoint is Highway 20,” Goalie said, referring to State Highway 20. They were south of Fort Sumner by this time.

“Got it,” Guru said as the formation flew past the highway. It, too, served as a supply route for the Soviets and Cubans in the area, and was often visited by A-6s or F-111s doing road recon at night.

The desert and prairie landscape blew by as the Phantoms approached their next checkpoint, U.S. Highway 70 south of Clovis. Off to their left, the crews could just see the town, while off to their right, Portales. One minute to the state line, as the Phantoms turned northeast to the pop-up point, Farwell, right on the State line. There, Athena and Helo would accelerate ahead for the photo run, while Guru's escort element dropped back to cover the Phantom. Goalie made the call, “Pop-up!”

In Athena's RF-4C, Helo made the same call. She pulled up to 1200 feet AGL, and made a hard left turn to get lined up for the photo run. “Music on,” she called.

Helo turned on the ECM pod. “It's going.”

Two miles in trail. Guru made his calls. “Sweaty, Guru. Radar on, Switches on. Drop tanks and let's go.”

“Roger that,” Sweaty called back as the two F-4Es assumed their trail position.

At that altitude and speed, it would take less than two minutes to get the photo coverage that was desired. As the RF-4 flew over Clovis, Helo noted several An-26 type transports, and several helicopters on the ramp at the Municipal Airport, and as they flew over Cannon AFB, numerous MiGs as well. Then, their photo run complete, Athena dropped in low, back to 600 feet.

Guru's escort element, as it made its run, saw some flak begin to come up. Athena's run had caught the defenders by surprise, and the trailing escorts now had some antiaircraft fire to deal with. Their threat receivers, however, were clear, though, so no SAMs-at least the radar-guided variety, were coming up. The ECM pods were working their magic, as usual. Then, as they approached Cannon, Goalie saw it first. “MiG-25 on the roll!”

A MiG-25 Foxbat-E interceptor was on its takeoff roll. The pilot had been scheduled for a patrol, but with the base having just been buzzed by an American reconnaissance aircraft, the pilot was directed to intercept and destroy the intruder. And with a top speed of Mach 2.5, the Foxbat pilot expected to do just that, as he released his brakes and rolled quickly down the runway and into the air.

“Got him,” Guru called. “Sweaty, cover me. I've got him.”

“Go get 'em,” was the reply.

As the two F-4s were coming in, the Soviet tower operators saw the two Phantoms coming in. Not only did they hit the air raid alarm, but they radioed a warning to the MiG-25 pilot. When the two Phantoms blew past the base, those in the tower involuntarily ducked as the two American fighters overflew the base.

As they did so, Guru saw that if he closed the distance with the MiG as he flew out, either he'd overshoot, or would have to take a gun shot. And with the MiG's tough steel hide, he didn't know if he had enough 20-mm to do the job. So he did the next best thing, and Guru put the F-4 into a right barrel roll. That enabled the MiG to continue straight ahead, while allowing Guru to open the distance for a Sidewinder shot.

As he rolled back in level, Guru selected HEAT on his control panel. The Sidewinder's infrared seeker growled in his headset, seeking out the MiG-25's two huge Tumansky engines in afterburner. Then he got a very loud growl. Missile lock. “Fox two!” was Guru's call.

Two AIM-9J missiles streaked off the missile rails. Both flew up the MiG's tailpipes and exploded. Both tails and horizontal stabilizers flew off the Foxbat, and trailing fire, the MiG-25 simply cartwheeled into the desert floor and exploded in a rolling, twisting ball of fire. “Splash one Foxbat!” Goalie yelled.

“Good kill, Guru!” Sweaty was hollering on the radio.

“Roger that. Pinball One-One, Firebird Two-One, you guys are clear.” Guru called.

“Copy that, Firebird.” Athena radioed back.

All three Phantoms then made for the Rio Grande and friendly lines. Again, they were too low and too fast, and gave the main road in the area, U.S. 60, a wide enough berth. Little did they know that three more MiG-25s had scrambled and were looking for them. But with no radar contact from the ground, the three MiG-25 drivers simply flew around randomly, hoping the Americans were still in range of their own radars. Only when their fuel ran low did the three MiGs return to Cannon.

After they cleared the Rio Grande and closed up, Guru called the AWACS. “Warlock, Firebird Two-One.”

“Firebird Two-One, Warlock, Go.”

“Pinball One-One is with us, we are RTB at this time, and splash one Foxbat. No chute.”

“Roger that, Firebird. Do you need a vector to the tankers?”

“Affirmative, Warlock.” Guru replied.

The AWACS controller vectored the Phantoms onto the tanker track, and picked up the fuel they needed from a KC-135. And the trip back to Williams was uneventful. As they entered the traffic pattern, they noticed a C-130 ahead of them making its approach to the base. Only after that C-130 was clear did Athena's bird come in, followed by the two escorts, but before he landed, Guru did a victory roll.. After touchdown, and while Guru taxied into his revetment, he held up a single finger, signaling a kill. And his crew chief and mechanics erupted after he shut down and popped his canopy. “What was it this time, Captain?” his crew chief asked.

“Foxbat. Got him on takeoff,” Guru replied as he looked over at the C-130. “What's the Herky-bird?”

“General Tanner's here. No-notice, they said.” the crew chief replied.

“Oh, boy,” Guru said as he got out. Goalie did at the same time, and they did the usual post-flight check. Sweaty and Preacher came over, and Sweaty was beaming. “Good kill on that MiG-25, Guru.”

“Thanks. I doubt he even saw us. Crappy rear view, and it handles like a pig,” he replied. “That's six now for me, and three for Goalie.”

When she heard that, Goalie was smiling. Three kills now. Two more and she'd be a backseat ace. Too bad it was just after noon, because splashing a Foxbat was worth a couple in the O-Club at least.

Athena and Helo came over, and both of them shook hands with the escort crews. Neither one had seen the MiG-25 coming up, and without Guru behind them, they would most likely be dead now. They were making some small talk as the ground crew unloaded the strike camera film-which when developed later, showed the MiG kill from start to finish. Not that they needed it for verification, with four witnesses, but it was icing on the cake. The crews were just about to go in for the debriefing when Guru's crew chief said, “Captain, brass coming.”

The crews watched as General Tanner, with both Colonel Brady, the MAG-11 commander, and Colonel Rivers came over. Everyone came to attention as the General came in, but he motioned them not to, saying, “This is a base at war, and we can do without this jumping up and down nonsense.”

“Thank you, Sir,” Athena said. It had been her flight, and she was technically the flight lead.

“Good run, Captain?” Tanner asked.

“Good run, sir,” she replied. “Now to see if the photo boys got what they wanted.”

“I was listening to things on the radio, Captains,” Tanner said, looking at Guru. “Did I hear someone say 'Splash one Foxbat?'”

“Yes, sir,” Guru responded. “My WSO made that call.”

“Good work, all of you,” Tanner said. “Get that debrief out of the way, get something to eat, and for you fighter guys, you'll be back in the saddle later today.”

The fighter crews all nodded. “Yes, Sir,”

“There's a good reason I'm here, besides checking up on my 'kids', Tanner said. “MAG-11 and all component units are on a one-week stand-down, effective tomorrow. All Wing, Squadron, and group commanders are to be at Nellis for a conference, so I'll be seeing both Colonel Brady and your own Colonel Rivers tomorrow. Along with every other Wing and Squadron CO in Tenth Air Force.”

Guru gulped. That meant he'd be in charge of the squadron while Rivers was gone. Acting CO? Great. Especially with that punk Major Carson around.

Tanner noticed the gulp. “Don't worry, Captain. I know about that Major Carson, and be assured that anything he sends me over Rivers' head gets tossed into the trash. Rivers feels you're the best one for the job of Exec, and from what I've seen, there's no reason to doubt that. If he trusts you to run the 335th in his absence, then I do as well. And he's told me that if anything happens to him, the 3-3-5 is in good hands with you, Captain.”

“General, if you don't mind me saying this, but that's good to hear.” Guru said.

“You're welcome, Captain,” Tanner said. “Now, get yourselves debriefed, some food in you, and get ready to go back out. The day's not over. But, when flight ops do end, I'm buying the first round at the O-Club. And the first one goes to a Foxbat killer!”

1900 Hours Mountain War Time, Williams AFB Officer's Club:

It was a party atmosphere in the Officer's Club as General Tanner made good on his promise to buy the first round. And as he had also promised, the first beers went to Guru and Goalie in recognition of their MiG-25 kill. After the toast, things settled down, and both crewmates found a booth. “Not that often we get to be pure fighter pilots,” Guru observed.

“What was it you told me when I became your WSO last year?” Goalie said. “'We take 'em however we get 'em?'”

“I seem to recall that,” Guru said, pulling on his Foster's. “Thank God for the Aussies. Who would've guessed that beer is considered 'essential wartime aid?'”

“That's them, I suppose. It beats the home-brew some folks were trying,” Goalie said. “Colonel Rivers coming,”

“Mind if I join you two?” Rivers asked.

“Not a problem, Colonel,” Guru said. “Have a seat.”

Rivers sat down next to Guru. “You do know we're short an element lead now, with Steve Turner being KIA?”

“Yeah, Colonel. Kinda puts a damper on today, though.” Guru observed. “That's another original pilot from Day One gone.” Captain Steve Turner had been in the 335th for a month longer than Guru had been when the war began. He'd been an element lead, and had been shot down once already. After recovering from a broken leg, he'd come back to the squadron, and had requalified as an element leader, with Guru and Mark Ellis ready to recommend to Rivers that he be bumped up to flight lead as soon as possible. Just after Guru had landed his flight, Turner had gone out on a CAS run across from Soccoro, only to fall victim to an SA-6. Neither he nor Tim Cain, his backseater, had gotten out.

“One thing about the 'happy few' is that you always seem to get fewer,” Rivers noted. “Who do you want to replace him as element lead?”

Guru had already made up his mind on that question. “Sweaty. She's got the total stick time, combat time, and she's ready. Not to mention having a MiG-29 scalp on her belt.”

“Done. When do you want to tell her?”

Guru thought about it for a minute. “Tomorrow. No flying, so...but that leaves me without a wingman.”

“I'll make a couple calls before I hit the sack,” Rivers said. “This time, I'll see about getting you an experienced hand in that slot. And whoever we get is Braniac's new pilot.”

“Sweaty turned out OK,” Goalie said, looking at her pilot and CO. “Fresh from the RTU, and now.....”

“Oh yeah, but I want somebody with extra stick time. Even if he or she's just been cleared from the hospital.” Guru said.

“I'll see what I can do,” Rivers said. “No promises, though. You may have to take what you get.”

“Fair enough, Colonel,” Guru said, raising his bottle of Fosters.

2200 Hours Pacific War Time, Transient Officers' Quarters, Travis AFB, California

Captain Kara Thrace was dead tired. She'd landed two hours earlier, leading an eight-ship of newly built F-4Es and RF-4Cs fresh from the Mitsubishi production line in Japan, and after signing over the aircraft, had a quick bite to eat in the Officer's Mess before closing, and was too tired to hit the Travis O-Club. Not to mention she had a pretty steep tab there to begin with, and wasn't in the mood to run it up any further. So she'd simply staggered into her room, took off her clothes, threw on a T-Shirt, and climbed into bed.

She'd hardly closed her eyes when the phone next to her bed rang. “Thrace,”

“Captain Thrace?” the voice on the other end asked.

“You found her,” she said. “Who is this?”

“Captain, I'm Major Anders with Tenth Air Force. You'll be getting formal notification tomorrow from Travis Personnel, but I'm giving you a heads-up. You're going to the 335th TFS. Report there the day after tomorrow.”

Kara took a big sigh of relief. About damned time they send me to a combat unit. No thanks to that bastard Tigh. “The 335th? Where are they?”

“Williams AFB, near Phoenix. They are OpCon to a Marine Air Group, but wear AF blue. Your orders are being cut, and you'll have movement authorization tomorrow.” Anders said.

Fair enough, Kara thought. At least it's a combat slot. “All right. Is that all?” she asked.

“That's it. Have a good night, Captain,” Anders said as he hung up.

Kara hung up and lay in bed awake for a few minutes. Then she said “YES!” Finally, I get to do what I signed up to do. And it beats the Trans-Pacific Ferry run any day of the week. An AF squadron under Marine OpCon? First she'd heard of that, but then again, the war had changed a lot of things-like letting women fly combat. She closed her eyes, smiled, then went to sleep.

Matt Wiser 12-15-2014 05:42 PM

Comments so far, please, gents. The next one's coming shortly.

dragoon500ly 12-16-2014 04:48 AM

Loving the stories! Keep'em coming!!

lombardoslegion 12-16-2014 02:09 PM

Great stuff!

Matt Wiser 12-16-2014 05:46 PM

Thanks, gents. How many caught the shout-outs?

Matt Wiser 12-16-2014 05:58 PM

And the next one, in two parts. It's more T2K-ish:

Out of the Mountains

1420 Hours Mountain Time: 8 May 1986; The San Isabel National Forest, Northwest of Walsenberg, Colorado:

It wasn't much to look at, but to the camp's occupants, it was home. Sort of, anyway. Several parachutes had been converted into tents, and others had made shelters out of pine boughs and branches, just like what the survival school instructors had taught. For the camp's military and guerrilla occupants, it had been enough, though higher up in altitude was a camp that was more secure. At that camp were wounded guerillas, families who had fled the Soviet-bloc invasion, and even some hikers who'd been up in the high country, and had been shocked to find that the worst had happened, and the Russians had come.

To the military personnel there, though they had helped the guerillas the best they could, all were anxious to get to the other side of the Rockies as soon as the weather and melting snow permitted. Of the camp's fourteen military personnel, a dozen were downed aircrew members from all four services, and the other two were escaped POWs. The rumor mill had said that there were Army troops somewhere to the northwest, along U.S. Highway 50, and all were hoping to get there, find friendly troops, and somehow, get back to their squadrons and back in the air.

For Air Force Lieutenants Matt Wiser and Tony Carpenter, five months with the Resistance was more than enough. They had been shot down in their F-4 near Walsenberg, to the southeast, back in January, and had been lucky enough to find a rural church, where the preacher was willing to hide them in a tornado shelter. Then they'd been passed along to the Sheppard Ranch, west of Walsenberg proper, where the family had sheltered them for a few days, until their eldest daughter Lori could take them into the mountains. They had been in the mountains all of two days when Lori came back, tears running down her face. After they'd left, the Soviets had come to the ranch. Someone, somewhere, had either been caught and broken, or the escape line had been betrayed. Lori had ridden down from the Mountains to find the ranch house and barn burned to the ground, the animals taken away, and in the driveway, the bodies of her parents, younger brother, and younger sister. All had been shot in the back of the head, and both her mother and sister had been.....used, so to speak, by the Russians before they had been killed. She had buried her family, and ridden back into the hills, and bringing with her a desire for revenge.

Over the past few months, the guerillas had made themselves known to the Russians and their Cuban and Nicaraguan lackeys, ambushing convoys, raiding outposts, cutting phone lines, and so on. Not only had they lived off the land, but also off of the enemy, taking whatever they could find, whether it was food, weapons, ammo, medical supplies, or whatever. But now, with the spring melt, Lori knew that she needed to do two things: first, get the downed pilots over the Rockies to friendly lines, and second, see if the rumors were true, and that there were Special Forces teams helping guerrilla bands with supplies, advisors, and so much else. For up in the high country there was a family camp, with refugees who'd fled into the hills, some family members of guerrillas, some escapees from labor or “re-education” camps, people who really needed to be on the other side.

Lori gathered the downed pilots around a campfire. All were dirty, grubby, and showed the effects of living in the wilderness. But all had taken part in raids against the invaders, even if the two Marines and the single Army aviator had any kind of infantry training. They had gotten to be good at it, the hard way. “OK, good news. Mike Jensen just rode down from the Family Camp. They say the snow melt's made a trip over the pass a lot easier. So we're leaving today.”

“About time, Lori,” Major Mark Adams said. He was one of the two Marines there: an A-6 driver who'd gone down the same time as the two F-4 crewers. He'd been in unofficial command, though he deferred to Lori, as she was the leader of the band. But he was the senior ranking military officer there.
He, like the other military evadees, had his flight suit, but worn over that was a Soviet airborne camo outfit, and then on top of that was a Soviet winter camo suit. And given how cold it got at night this high up, everyone was glad to have the multiple layers of clothing.

“I'll second that,” Capt. Bill Andrews quipped. A former member of the Thunderbirds, he had been shot down the previous December, and had escaped from the Cubans after a week in their custody. Given what he saw during his brief captivity, he had no qualms about killing Russians or Cubans, period.

“How far to friendlies?” Lieutenant Wiser asked.

“Good question,” Adams said. “Best guess it that it'll take a week or so. On foot the whole way.”

“Lovely,” Tony Carpenter said. “At least we'll get out of here and back to our units. If I wanted to be SF, I would've joined the Army.”

Adams nodded. He knew the feeling. Even though he'd been trained as an infantry officer before going to flight school, being a grunt was the last thing he expected. “Any other questions?” There weren't any. “That's it, then. Grab your weapons, get your gear, and we're gone.”

The two AF Lieutenants went to their tent. Though they had buried their chutes after bailout, they had found chutes belonging to downed pilots who hadn't survived: a parachute landing in the forest was a dicey proposition, and several airmen had died in their landings. The two gathered up their tent, and picked up their rifles. Both had AKMs, but Wiser also had an AK-74 that he'd picked up off a dead Soviet recon trooper, and wanted to keep it as a souvenir. Tony Carpenter also had a war trophy he wanted to keep: an SVD sniper rifle that he'd killed a Cuban to get. Like the others, they had made homemade packs from parachute harnesses, just like they'd been taught in SERE.

The party made their last-minute checks. For food, they had home-made deer or elk jerky, and some civilian canned goods that they had found when cleaning up a supply convoy they had ambushed. However much they had, it would have to last a week.

It wouldn't just be the evadees going out: Lori was coming with them. Not only as a guide, but she wanted to find out for herself if the rumors were true, and there were SF operating in the area. Not only did she want an SF Team to come into the area, with weapons, ammo, food, and above all, medical supplies, but to evacuate the family camp. That place had been an old logging camp in the 1920s, and though the civilians and others hiding there had food and shelter, they really needed to be evacuated. Not to mention that their doctor, who prewar had been a dermatologist from Denver, was really in over his head for the most part. He'd been on a hiking trip when the invasion happened, and the only medical supplies he had were what had been “acquired” after an ambush. If a helicopter pickup to get the civilians out could be arranged, she was all for it, and was eager to get going. She not only had an AKMS rifle, but she also had a Winchester Model 70, and that .270 slug could take down just about anything: and they had seen just how good a shot Lori was. Not only had she shot some deer or elk, but in raids, she used that rifle as a sniper rifle, and Lori had killed her fair share of Russians and Cubans with the weapon.

The evadees and a few guerrillas who'd be coming along were all set to go, and a few minutes later, Lori and Major Adams came up. “Everybody set?” Lori asked. Though Adams was the senior military officer, she ran the guerrillas, and was in charge. “OK, let's go.”

Somewhere in the Rockies: 10 May 1986: 0730 Mountain Time

The first day and night had passed quietly for the most part, though most of the evadees were too keyed up to sleep. The prospect of freedom, and being able to climb back into a cockpit, meant that hardly anyone got more than four hours' sleep. As for breakfast, some Elk jerky and a raw pop tart, along with a canteen of water, had to do.

“Another week of this,” Tony Carpenter grumbled. “And I'm an outdoors type.”

Lieutenant Wiser looked at his WSO. “Where?”

“Oregon. Some little town between Salem and the Cascades. Got an appointment to the Academy, which kept me from being a logger, and look where I am now.”

“Let me guess: a lot of hunting and fishing?” Wiser asked.

“Yep. Never thought all of that would come back.” Carpenter said.

“You must've breezed through the field portion of SERE.”

“I did. And the instructors didn't like that at all.”

Major Adams came up. “All right, people, fill your canteens from the spring, and let's get going. If anyone gets winded, call out. We're getting into higher elevation today.”

There was the usual grumbling, but everyone got ready, and moved out. Lori wanted to bypass the family camp, and Adams had agreed wholeheartedly. If anyone was following them, best to stay away.

Five hours later, there was a break. As they got higher up, there was still snow on the ground, though it was patchy. Some places still had several inches of snow on the ground, while others, more exposed to the sun, had spring plants in full bloom. But there was one thing everyone was noticing: the lack of forest sounds. It was quiet. Lori, for all her time in the woods prewar, had never experienced anything like this, and neither had Tony Carpenter, or the other guerrillas. “I don't like this, Major,” she said.

“Neither do I.” Adams agreed. He motioned to Army WO Kyle Lewis. “Drop back about a hundred yards, and bring up the rear. See if anyone's following us. Take one of the guerrillas with you.”

“Gotcha, Major,” the UH-1 pilot said. He'd been an enlisted solider for five years before going to Fort Rucker and getting his wings as a Warrant Officer. Not to mention that he was Ranger qualified, and that experience had come in very handy, not just in teaching ground tactics to the guerrillas and most of the airmen, but in combat.
Adams then turned to his B/N, First Lieutenant Neal Brandon. “Neil, take point.”

He nodded, and headed on out. After he'd gone about fifty yards, the rest of the group followed.

A couple hours later, Lori called a halt. Neal had found nothing up ahead, but he couldn't shake a feeling that they were being watched. Major Adams felt the same way, along with Lori, and for that matter, everyone else. Someone was watching them, but who? If it was Spetsnatz, they might be following them until they made camp, then attack. “Two hours of daylight left.” Adams said. “We'd better find a spot to make camp.”

After a half-hour of searching, the party found a nice campsite, only a hundred yards or so from a small lake. After getting a fire going, and boiling some drinking water, everyone sat down to eat. The canned goods that the ComBloc had looted came in handy, for canned beef stew, pork and beans, or raviolis had to make do. But as the party ate, everyone still had the sinking feeling that someone was watching them.

“Major, I think we'd better have a patrol-just to look around,” Lori said to Major Adams.

“I think you're right,” Adams agreed. “Guru, Neal, Tony.”

Wiser's head shot up. Guru was his call sign. “Major?”

“You three, have a look around. No further than a thousand yards. Check around the lake, and down the trail. If you find anyone, fire a few shots into the air, and try and hold 'em. We'll be there ASAP.”

“Will do, Major,” Guru said. Brandon was the Marine, so he led the little patrol. They checked out the lake, and went back down the trail. They found nothing, but still.....the hair stood up on the backs of all three. Something was in the forest, off the trail somewhere, and watching them. They saw nothing, and returned to camp just as twilight was coming.

“What'd you find?” Lori asked. Major Adams was with her.

“Nothing,” Neal Brandon said. “We checked around the lake, no tracks, other than animals. They were old, by the way.” He went on, “And we went down the trail a ways. Didn't see anything, but....”

“But what, Lieutenant?” Adams asked.

“But, Major,” Guru said. “Something's there, because we all felt like we were being watched. And my hair stood up on the back of my neck.” And the other two nodded affirmatively.

“Mountain Lion, maybe?” Adams wondered aloud.

“Could be, and the other animals know there's a predator around, so that's why they're quiet,” Lori commented. “Major,if there is a big cat nearby, we'd better have two or three on watch, instead of one.”

“Agreed. Two on watch at all times. I'll take the first, with Neal.”

That night, everyone went to sleep-or tried to, anyway. The possibility of a mountain lion or a bobcat coming into camp had everyone nervous. Spetsnatz or other Soviets, they could deal with. But a big cat coming in and trying to drag one of them off? That was something else entirely. Even if one was sleeping in a parachute tent or just spread the chute on the ground, no one went to sleep without weapons close at hand. There being a full moon didn't help one's nerves any, for a shadow in the moonlight could be an enemy-or a big cat looking for a meal.

Guru had taken the 10-to-12 watch, along with Tony, and they had turned things over to Capt. Mark Bailey, an AF F-16 pilot from the 388th at Hill, and Joel Wambach, one of the guerrillas. The two F-4 crewmen then went into their tent, and after checking for snakes, went to sleep.

It was just after 0300 when it happened. The two on watch, one of the ex-POWs and a guerrilla, were sitting by the fire, trying to stay warm in the cold night air, when one of them heard something. They were footsteps-big ones. The two decided not to wake anyone, and simply waited by the fire for the intruder-whoever or whatever it was, to go away.

In their tent, Guru and Tony were sleeping when Tony suddenly woke up. He shook his pilot awake. “Guru, wake up!” Carpenter hissed.

“Huh,? What?” Guru said, “Tony, what the...”

“Something's out there,” he said. “Smell that?”

“I don't...wait. Now I do. Rotten-egg smell?”


Then the two felt footsteps on the ground. Big ones. “What the hell...” Guru said. He poked his head out the tent, and saw the two on watch huddled around the fire, looking very afraid. Then they got up and slipped behind the tent Major Andrews and Neal Brandon shared. Then he-and Tony-saw it.

In the moonlight, and the firelight, a large shape came walking into the camp. In the moonlight, they couldn't see much, but the creature, whatever it was, was at least eight feet tall. It strode into camp, and started looking around. It found Lori's tent-a prewar dome-style camping tent, and seemed to be looking inside. Then a tent flap opened, and two of their fellow airmen looked out. And Guru heard safeties being clicked off. “Oh, shit!'” He whispered to Tony, reaching for his own AKM.

Before anyone could shoot, Lori woke up and saw the huge shadow looming over her tent. She didn't make a sound, but reached for the first weapon she could-her Winchester rifle, and took the safety off. Then all hell broke loose as Neal Brandon came out of his tent and saw the creature looming over Lori's tent. “The hell is that?” Then the shooting started.

Nobody remembered who started firing, but once someone started to fire, everyone did. The creature turned and ran off towards the lake, waving its arms as if to repel a swarm of bees, as shots flew all around it. Even after the creature was out of sight, there was still shooting. “CEASE FIRE! CEASE FIRE!” Adams yelled.

“What the hell was that?” Several people asked at once.

Tony Carpenter knew, or thought he did. “If we were in the Pacific Northwest, I'd say that was a Bigfoot.”

“Well, we aren't in the Pacific Northwest,” Lori Sheppard quipped. “And that sure as hell looked like a Bigfoot.”

Mike Jensen, one of the guerrillas, nodded. “They call it the Snowbeast. At least that's what I heard before the war. He's our Bigfoot. And he's a lot bigger and meaner than the one in the Northwest.”

“Snowbeast or Bigfoot, or whatever that...thing was,” Adams said, “Soon as we can after first light, we're getting the hell out of here. No telling who heard all that shooting.”

The party had passed a sleepless rest of the night. As dawn broke, two of them went to the lake with a couple of buckets to get water to boil to fill their canteens with, while everyone else was busy breaking camp. The two returned with the water, but were shaken. They had found tracks by the shoreline-big ones. Eighteen inches long, they thought, and very deep. “I'll take your word for it,” Andrews said. “Let's get that water boiled, and eat. Then we're getting out of here.”

14 May 1986: 1400 Mountain Time:

Three days had passed since the encounter with, whatever that beast had been, and everyone had settled down. They had to stop more often, as the party was getting higher and higher, then they had passed the treeline into open ground, which didn't make anyone comfortable. Anyone on high ground could be watching them, and there wasn't a thing they could do about it. But the pass was just ahead.

“Finally!” Guru said. He'd been on point with Neal Brandon.

“Oh, yeah,” Brandon agreed. “Cross that, and it's all downhill.”

“I'll stay here, Neal.” Guru said. “Go get the Major and Lori.”

Brandon nodded, and went back. A few minutes later, the party was with him. Adams was checking his map-an old U.S. Forest Service map that Lori had loaned him. “That the pass?”

“That's it, Major,” Lori said. “Another three or four days, then maybe we can find some civilization.”

“Not today: we've only three hours or so of daylight. Let's get back to the treeline, and make camp. We'll cross in the morning.”

The next morning, the party was fed, rested, and ready to go. As they approached the pass, everyone was keyed up. If there was going to be an ambush, this would be a good spot to spring one: the group out in the open, and whatever attackers would have high ground and concealment among the rocks.

The party approached the pass, and Navy Lt. Lyle Branson, an A-7 pilot, glanced to the right. “I'd swear there was something up there.”

“Still jumpy after that...thing, Lyle?” Neal Brandon kidded.

He shook his head. “No, but I thought I saw sunlight reflecting off of something.”

“If somebody was up there, they would've opened fire by now.” Lori said. “I would, if I were up there.”

“Don't worry about it, Lyle,” Adams said. “Let's get to the other side of the pass, then we're in the homestretch.”

As the party approached the pass, and crossed it, they were being watched. Unknown to them, a Spetsnatz team was watching the pass. They were under orders to observe and report, and one of the Soviets, the team's second-in-command, had a 35-mm camera with a telephoto lens. He was snapping pictures of the party as they moved to the pass. He was certain that he got faces, but would have to wait until the photos were developed to make sure. The team commander knew he could have set an ambush here, and wiped out the guerrillas, but those were not his orders. The Front intelligence directorate wanted to know who was using the mountain passes and how often, to determine guerrilla supply lines, as well as to identify particular individuals. He'd been told to stay hidden, observe, take photographs, and report. And to give a detailed report to the local commander upon extraction.

On the other side, it was level for a bit, then it was downhill, just as had been hoped. They camped for the night about three miles from the pass, and for the first time since setting out, everyone was relieved.

17 May 1986: 0930 Mountain Time:

It had been a relatively easy two days since crossing the pass, and Lori's map showed several hiking trails that led down the west side of the mountains. Though the trails were obvious, and if one wanted to set ambushes, there would be no better place to set some, it beat using game trails or just plain going through the woods. Not to mention the fact that after nearly a week on the trail, people were getting tired. Breaks were more frequent, much to Major Andrews' displeasure-and Lori's for that matter, but there was no getting around it.

The party had stopped for a break, having been on the trail for two hours, when the point element, Neal Brandon and Mike Jensen, went on ahead. They thought they'd seen something, and went to investigate. They came running back, breathless. “Major, Lori, you'd never guess what we just found.”

“What?” Lori asked.

“There's a Forest Service station. Nobody's there, but there's a garage, and what looks like an office.”

Lori checked her map, and Andrews did too. There was a dirt road nearby, and they had been hoping to get to that road and follow it. It would be a lot easier to just follow the road, even if it exposed them to ambush. But there had been no sign of enemy-or friendlies for that matter. “Major, if there's a garage, there might be a truck or two there. If it hasn't been looted, there's probably gas there, too.”

“And just drive on out of here?” Adams asked. “We'd be easy targets.”

“Got a better idea?” Lori shot back. “At this rate, we'll be out of food before we can walk out.”

The Major knew she was right, and simply nodded. The group headed on to the station. And both were surprised: the station wasn't on their map. Lori checked the date of issue on the map: 1974. “Great. How many other surprises are there?”

“Let's check this out first,” Adams said. “Guru, Neal, Tony: Check this place out. Give a wave if it's clear.”

“Right,” Guru said. He collected the other two, and the trio headed to the station. The station looked deserted, but the doors were locked, and the windows shut. “Guru, I don't like this.” Neal Brandon said.

“Think it's a trap?”

“Yeah, I do. But whose?” The Marine asked.

“Let's check it out. Go on ahead, Neal. Tony, cover the both of us. I'll be right behind Neal.”

Both nodded, then the Marine went in, and Guru, his AKM at the ready, was right behind him. Neal went around the building, checking for any booby traps or mines, and finding nothing obvious. Still suspicious, he decided the best way to get in was to break a window. “Guru, I think we can get in by a window.”

“Break a window?” Guru asked. “Still think there's a reception committee around?”

“Don't think so now, but if there's something rigged on the doors.....”

“Say no more.” Guru nodded. “Do it.”

Neal took his AKM and broke one of the rear windows, and Guru helped him in. Neal looked around, and found the place musty, damp, and abandoned. He tried flipping a light switch, but nothing came one. “No power.”

“This far back?” Guru asked. “They probably have a generator. Anything on the doors?”

Neal went to the back door, and checked it. Nothing. He opened it, and waved to Guru. “Clear back.”

Guru went on in, and headed straight for the front door. Nothing. He opened it, and waved to Tony. Then he went into the garage, while Neal checked the office. Inside the garage, he found two Ford King Cab pickups, and then went into one of the trucks. There was a two-way radio, and he looked around for the keys. Sure enough, tucked in the driver's side sun visor, the keys came out. Then he went to the other truck, and found the other set of keys. He went back into the office, and found Neal waiting for him. “What'd you find?”

“There's a break room, but the refrigerator's empty, and the vending machines look OK.” Brandon said.

“All right. This place is clear,” Guru said. He went and waved Tony over. “Tony, wave the others in.”


Carpenter walked into the road and waved the party in. Lori and the Major were surprised to see the two trucks. “These two have gas?” Adams asked.

“There's a gas tank in the back, but I haven't started the trucks,” Guru said, handing Major Andrews the keys. “We'll have to open the garage doors.”

Nodding, Adams told two of the other evadees to open the garage doors, which could be done without power. Then he started one of the trucks. It turned over easily, and the same went for the other.
“The tanks are full. Now I wouldn't mind riding out of here.”

Lori was inside the office, checking the desks. The calendar said September 5, 1985. The day after the invasion had begun. “Someone was here. They must've just closed up shop and left in some other vehicle,” she observed.

“Any supplies? Food, or whatever?” Adams asked.

“Nothing, Major.” Guru said. “They cleaned the place out before turning off the generator.”

Adams nodded. “See if there's any empty gas cans here. Check the big tank, see if it's got gas. If it does, fill those gas cans, then we're taking these trucks.”

Guru nodded, then collected a couple of the others, and sure enough, there was gas in the big tank behind the station. After filling the cans, he asked, “What about this place?”

“Leave it,” Lori said. “There might be someone else who can use this, even if it's just for shelter.”

“Check the desks,” Adams ordered. “See if there's a better map.”

A search of the three desks and their drawers found nothing useful. Though a search of a storage shed found several tarps, along with some tools: axes, shovels, Pondersosas (a combination of ax and scraper-used by woodland fire-fighting teams), and so on. Andrews ordered the gear brought along, just in case, then he had the gas tank behind the garage punctured. “No sense in leaving that gas for Ivan if he comes this way.”

After that had been taken care of, the group piled into the two trucks and pulled out of the station. In the lead truck, Neal Brandon was driving, with Lori beside him, two guerrillas in the back seats, and half of the party in the bed of the truck. “Follow the road, Neal. There's another forest road about five miles away, then we take that. Then that should lead us to a county road, then that takes us to State Highway 69.”

“Just hope Ivan doesn't have any Su-25s doing armed recon on the roads.”

After two hours of driving, and two roads later, they came to Colorado Highway 69. The sign at the intersection said “Westcliffe 20”, and Neal knew to take the right. Turning left only took them back towards enemy territory.

In the second truck, Guru was driving, with the Major beside him. Tony Carpenter and Mike Jensen were in the back seats, and the others were in the bed of the truck. “Ever think we'd be driving out of here, Major?” Guru asked.
“No, but right now, I'm not complaining. We just covered in three hours what would've taken a day on foot.”

Guru nodded. “Major, neither am I.”

Thirty minutes later, they rolled into Westcliffe. Or what had been Westcliffe. The town had been hit from the air, apparently, and there was nothing but burned-out buildings, wrecked cars and pickup trucks, and rubble. They stopped at the intersection of Highway 69 and State Route 96. A sign was still standing: it said, “Hillside 14; Texas Creek/Jct. U.S. 50 25”. The party got out to search the nearby buildings. Nothing was salvageable, and there were remains of bodies all over. The town still smelled of death, even though they had no idea of when the town had been attacked. “No sign of anything military around: no wrecked vehicles, nothing,” Tony Carpenter noted when he came back to the Major. “What'd they hit?”

“Want to bet there was a guerrilla band out of here, and Ivan decided to hit the town in reprisal?” Adams said.

“No takers,” Lori said. “This place is giving me the creeps.”

“You're not the only one,” Mike Jensen said. “I say we get the hell out of here.”

Adams nodded. “Okay, people! Mount up and let's go.”

Twenty minutes of driving, and they came to Hillside. That town, too, had been hit, and there was nothing standing. Lori and the Major talked over the truck radios, and decided not to stop, but keep going. A few miles down the road, they came to a local road. The sign there said, “Cotopaxi 6; TO Jct U.S. 50 West.”

They stopped, and everyone got out to stretch their legs. It had been so long since anyone had been in a car or truck, and they were unuused to being in a vehicle. Lori was checking her map. “That's a dirt road, and want to bet it hasn't seen a repair crew in ages?”

Most everyone nodded, but one of the guerrillas, Sean Weston, who'd been a Colorado Department of Transportation road engineer prewar, went over to the road. He could tell someone had been working on the road. “Somebody's been here. There's dozer tracks, and they're about a week old. And the road looks like it's been worked on.”

“Got to be friendlies,” Brandon said. “Has to be.”

“Yeah, but that road likely doesn't have bridges: there's a couple of creeks on the map, and that road crosses them,” Lori said, pointing at the map.

“If someone's been working on the road, they've probably taken care of that,” Adams said. “All right: let's take the short cut.”

Matt Wiser 12-16-2014 06:13 PM

And Part II: Again, comments and questions welcome!

17 May 1986: 1500 Mountain Time, Calumet, CO

Colonel Ernesto Bella was sitting in his office at the City Hall. He'd been the local military governor since the invasion, and though the first month had gone well, those infernal Wolverines had been a major problem. Not only had they repeatedly struck at the liberating forces, but had inspired others to begin their own guerrilla activities, and this sector of Colorado, which for a month had been considered pacified, was now a mess. Though the Wolverines had been dealt with after their final attack on the town, other bands had not ceased their depredations. It didn't help matters that his second-in-command, a Nicaraguan Captain, had been killed in the attack, along with a Soviet Spetsnatz Colonel, who'd been brought in to deal with the guerrilla problem once and for all. The only bright spot had been the death of his superior, General Vassily Bratchenko, in the attack, and though Bella had to sing the General's praises at the memorial service, privately, he, and a number of other officers, had been glad that....butcher had met his end.

Colonel Bella had submitted his resignation, but he'd heard nothing so far, and given the war “emergency”, his request was likely to be denied. So, he'd been gathering material, for he'd made a decision that he knew was the right one: when the opportunity came, he would defect. Then there was a knock on the office door. He had taken over the Mayor's office, and was actually glad that he no longer had to deal with that man. What was the American term? “Ass-kisser”, someone had said. Well, a month after the Wolverines' attack, there had been one more attack on the town, only this time, it had been swift and silent. A number of those who'd been cooperating with the liberating forces had met with violent ends, and among them had been the Mayor. Bella now dealt with the civilian population through the prewar City Manager, and the fellow, though he could tell was not too thrilled about cooperating with the Socialist Forces, did what was necessary to keep the population under control. There was a second knock. “Come in,”

“Comrade Colonel,” his new deputy, a Cuban Army Captain, said. “Major Volshov is here.”


“Spetsnatz, Comrade Colonel,” the Captain said.

“Ah, yes. Send him in, please, Ricardo.”

Nodding, the Captain ushered in the Soviet officer. He had been Colonel Strenlikov's deputy commander, until the man's death, and now ran the 779th Independent Spetsnatz Battalion. “Comrade Colonel.”

“What do you have, Volshov?” Bella asked. “Your men knew their orders, correct?”

“Absolutely, Comrade Colonel!” Volshov said. “They avoided contact with the enemy, and brought back some photographs. The patrol only saw one party going through the pass, headed west.” The Spetsnatz officer opened a manila folder and showed Bella the photos.

“Hmm....Good enough to identify people,” Bella was impressed. “Any idea who these....people are?”

“No, Comrade Colonel. My intelligence officer has access to records on known guerrillas, and none of them are familiar to him,” Volshov told his superior.

“What were the patrol leader's observations?”

“He noted that most of those observed seemed to have a military bearing. They may have been downed airmen, perhaps?”

Bella nodded. “Still, Major, once one becomes a guerrilla, they develop a military bearing very quickly. But, given the number of aircraft that have gone down in this area, you may be right.”

“Yes, Comrade Colonel,” Volshov said.

“You do have copies of these photographs?” Bella asked.

“Of course, Comrade Colonel,” nodded Volshov. “Your own military intelligence people may be able to make use of them. As would the DGI.”

“Thank you, Comrade Major,” Bella said. “They certainly will. That'll be all.”

The Spetsnatz officer saluted and left the office.

Bella took the photos and scanned them once more. Yes, some of them looked like they were downed pilots. What was the term? A “rat line?” Yes, this might be such a line, where the guerrillas conducted downed pilots and others who were escaping the Soviets over the Rocky Mountains and to American lines. It was more of an outpost war on the other side, his intelligence briefings said. Soviet-bloc outposts on the other side were few and far between, and often could not be held. Bella took the photos, and put them back in the folder, before putting them in his briefcase, where they joined a number of other documents that the Americans would clearly love to get their hands on.

He made his decision. Then and there. “Ricardo!”

Bella's deputy came in. “Comrade Colonel?”

“Get my driver and jeep. I'm going to one of the outposts.”

“Is that wise, Comrade Colonel?”

“Maybe it is, maybe it isn't. Still, I need some fresh air. Being stuck in this office for a while makes one long for the outdoors.” Bella said.

“Comrade Colonel,” the man said.

A few minutes later, Bella's UAZ-469 jeep pulled up to City Hall. He took his briefcase-which his deputy was curious about, but said nothing. The ways of Field-grade officers were a mystery to him, just as they were to junior officers the world over. “When will you be back, Comrade Colonel?”

“A few hours, Ricardo. I may even have dinner with the men at the outpost. A gesture of solidarity with the men on the line, you might say,” said the Colonel. Bella got into the jeep. “Keep things going here until I return.”

The deputy clicked his heels and smartly saluted. “Comrade Colonel!”

17 May 1986, 1545 Mountain Time: County Road 85, near Cotopaxi, Colorado:

Guru was driving the second truck, keeping his eye on the first, and trying to avoid bumps and dips. “Major, whoever worked this road hasn't been here in a while.”

“No kidding!” Adams responded. “If it was the Army, they just did the bare essentials.”

Then the radio crackled to life. “Major, this is Lori.”

Andrews picked up the talker. “Go ahead.”

“Looks like a military camp up ahead. There's a flag flying, but I can't tell whose from this distance.” At the same time, her truck stopped.

Guru stopped behind Lori's truck and everyone got out. Several pairs of binoculars were soon in use. “Looks like ours,” Tony Carpenter said.

“I'll go along with that,” Guru said.

“Problem is, that collaborationist force, the ALA, has a flag similar to ours,” Lori said. “Someone's got to get close and see who they are.”

“I'll go,” WO Kyle Lewis said.

Adams nodded. Lewis was the best of the aviators, and was Ranger-qualified. “All right, we'll cover you.”

Lewis took off his Soviet gear, taking only two things: his AKM rifle, and his winter camo suit. If need be, he'd wave it at whoever it was to ID himself.

The party watched through binoculars as he approached the camp. “If they're hostiles?” Lori asked.

“If they are, we get in those trucks and hightail it out of here. Then we find some other way around that location,” Adams decided.

Lewis took his time in getting close. He could see that the brush had been cleared away to give the outpost's defenders a clear field of fire, except where they hadn't. And a trick he'd been taught at Ranger school came back. If grass wasn't being cleared, that was a sure sign there were mines around. He looked at the flagpole: it was the Stars and Stripes, but was it the good guys? Those ALA scum had a variation of it that you needed to get real close to see. He crept in closer, taking care to check for booby traps. If they're ours, there's Claymores around, and he didn't want to trip one if he could help it.

In the outpost, a very bored soldier was standing watch. He was wondering what his platoon was doing here, watching a road that no one had traveled on for months, apart from those engineers who took their heavy equipment there for a couple of weeks. Rumor had it some kind of push might be happening and the higher-ups wanted the road in at least passable shape. He shouldered his M-16 and took off his helmet. When are we getting those Kevlar helmets? The airborne mafia has theirs, so when do we get ours? Then he heard something. He raised his rifle, and called for his squad leader.

“Damn it!” Lewis whispered to himself. He'd found some wire, and attached to the wire were cans of varying types and sizes. An old Vietnam trick to alert bases that there were intruders in the wire. And that meant that this camp had friendlies. Then he heard a shout:

“HALT! Identify yourself!”

“You Americans?” Lewis yelled.

“Who are you?” The voice yelled back.

“Make sure you're Americans,” Lewis yelled. “Where did the Dodgers play baseball before going to L.A.?”

“Brooklyn,” the voice said. “Now, how many Oscars did John Wayne win?”

They were Americans, Lewis knew. Though he didn't know himself, he did have a ready answer. “Not enough!”

“Well, Sarge, do we shoot him or not?”

“He's right, though,” A soldier stood up. “Stand up and come on in.”

Lewis stood up and waved his camo suit. The soldiers waved him in, though he was careful to keep his hands visible, and nowhere near his rifle. Then he saw the flag. The genuine article. “WO Kyle Lewis, United States Army,”

“Staff Sergeant Clay Haswell, 2-17 Infantry, 7th ID,” the solider said. He pointed to a gap in the wire, and Lewis got into the camp. “Where did you come from, uh, Sir?”

“Been on the other side with the guerrillas,” Lewis said. He pointed to the specks in the distance where the party was. “There's a whole bunch of us: downed pilots and guerrillas. We've been looking for friendlies for over a week.”

“Well, Sir, you found 'em,” Sergeant Haswell replied. “Carter, Walsh! Go with Mr. Lewis, and escort the rest of his party in,”

Two soldiers nodded, while Lewis shook Haswell's hand. “Where's your platoon leader?

“Dead. Got himself killed on a patrol a week ago. And they haven't sent us a new shavetail yet.”

Nodding, Lewis told the two GIs to follow him back down the road.

“He's coming back,” Tony Carpenter observed. “And he's got two people with him.”

Everyone reached for their rifles, and took cover beside the road. “Don't fire unless I give the word,” Adams ordered.

People nodded, as they raised their weapons. Then Kyle yelled. “Major! We've got friendlies!” He motioned the two soldiers to go ahead of him.

Major Adams and Lori stood up. “What's your unit?”

One of the soldiers responded, “7th ID. 2-17 Infantry, 2nd Brigade.”

“Major Mark Adams, United States Marine Corps,” Major Adams said. “Lori, here, she's in charge of the guerrillas.”

The two soldiers saluted, then Carter, a Spec 4, said. “Sir, let's go.”

Nodding, Andrews ordered everyone into the trucks, and they drove to the outpost. And for the first time in months, the evadees saw an American flag flying, and by habit, they saluted. Then Sergeant Haswell came in. He saw Major Adams and saluted. “Major,”

“Sergeant,” Adams said, glad to return the salute. “Are we glad to see you.”

“Sir.” Haswell said. “I've called my company commander, and we should have vehicles coming to take you guys and gals”-he saw Lori Sheppard and two other female guerrillas-”to the rear.” He looked at the USFS trucks. “Guess you won't be needing those anymore, Sir.”

Both Adams and Lori tossed him the keys. “If you can use 'em, Sergeant, they're yours.”

“Yes, Sir,” Haswell said. “We'll find a use for 'em.”

A few minutes later, a pair of 6x6 GMC trucks arrived. An Army Captain climbed down from one of them. “Major Adams? I'm Captain Dale Logan. These trucks'll be taking your party back to Division.”

“Where's that?” Adams asked.

“Salida, Sir. If you and your party will get on the trucks, Sir.”

Nodding, Adams waved to the group. “Let's go, people!”

1610 Mountain Time. County Road 44, west of Calumet, CO

Colonel Bella's UAZ-469 jeep headed west, towards one of his forward outposts. A Soviet motor-rifle brigade, one that had been pulled from Afghanistan and sent here, had the outpost line in this area. He knew the brigade commander, and both knew that there wasn't much chance of a push over the mountains in force. Now, guerrillas sallying from the mountains to raise whatever hell they could, that was a totally different story, and the guerrillas knew full well not to attack the company-sized outposts. Shooting up patrols, or ambushing supply convoys, now, that was a different matter. But Bella knew, though his driver didn't, that they'd never get to the outpost. Knowing the dispositions of the Soviet and Cuban forces in the area, he knew where to cross into No-Man's Land and then get to American lines. The jeep pulled up to an intersection, complete with STOP signs.

“Almost there, Comrade Colonel,” the driver said.

“Yes,” Bella agreed. He took out his service pistol. “Now, Corporal, you will get out and walk, back the headquarters,” he said, pointing the Makarov in the driver's face. “Get out and start walking. NOW.”

Thoroughly frightened, the driver got out, and tried to take his weapon.

“Leave your weapon in the vehicle,” Bella said, and the driver left his AKM in the jeep. Bella then got out himself, still covering the driver, and pointing the pistol at the driver, ordered him to get going. And the man ran away. Smiling, Bella got back into the jeep, pulled out his own map, and started taking back roads. It would be a day, maybe two, before he found a road across the mountains, but, even if he had to take logging roads or what the Americans called “four-wheel drive trails”, he'd get to where he was going. And he knew of a couple of caches that he had put there: he'd found a couple of isolated, but abandoned, cabins that would be perfect for his purposes. Bella had placed the caches shortly after the Wolverines' final raid, stocking them with food, fuel, and ammunition. Even a couple of AK rifles in each. Now, he thought as he headed towards one of them, did the guerrillas find the caches first?

1750 Mountain Time: Salida, CO

The two GMC trucks bringing the evadees to Salida pulled into town. The canvas covers on the trucks hadn't been put on, and everyone had a view. As they got closer to Salida, the number of outposts increased, and a couple looked like Vietnam-era firebases, even. When they got into town, seeing armed troops on the streets, along with armed locals, was no surprise. The trucks pulled up to City Hall: it was Division HQ. Several officers, and a number of soldiers, were waiting. One of the officers came up to Major Adams.

“Major Adams?”

“That's right.”

“I'm Colonel Mitch Drummond, G-2, 7th ID. Welcome back to Free America.”

Adams saluted. “Sir, glad to be back.”

“Now, we'll have to verify the evadees' identity, just to make sure. The air liaisons have all of the aircrews' personal verification questions,” Drummond told the Major. The aircrews overheard that, and knew why. With the ALA, and Soviet intelligence probably inserting agents disguised as either refugees or evadees, verification was a necessary part of life.

“After that?”

“You all can get cleaned up, and something to eat,” Drummond said. “Then my intel people want to have a talk with all of you.”

“Colonel, with all due respect, after we eat, we need to sleep. We've been running on adrenalin for over a week, and, Sir, we need to crash someplace.”

The intelligence officer nodded understanding. “All right, Major.” He looked at the aircrew and the guerrillas, and all were clearly tired. “The debriefs can wait until morning.”

After the aircrews' identities had been verified, and they had vouched for the guerrillas, the party was taken to a reception center set up at the local High School. There, they were able to get out of their dirty clothes, and have a hot shower and decent shave for the first time in months. The chow hall was open, and the Army mess people told everyone that there was more variety there than at the cafes in town. Knowing mess people, the military evadees took that with a grain of salt, with more than one “Yeah, right,” being uttered. Since classes were still being held at the school, there were tents set up, and the party, in clean Army OD fatigues, but still keeping their weapons, fell down on the cots and went to sleep.

The next afternoon, Colonel Drummond came by the tents. He was wondering why no one from the group had shown up at Division HQ to talk with his people. The Officer-in-Charge of the reception center simply took the Colonel to the tents, and showed him why. All were still asleep, nearly twenty-four hours after their arrival. The Colonel nodded. “Anyone try to wake them, Captain?”

“No, Sir,” the officer replied. “They've all got their weapons with them, and if we try to shake one of them awake, they might shoot one or two of my people.”

Drummond laughed. “Well, we can't have that, can we, Captain?”

The captain smiled. “No, Sir. I'll just notify you when they wake up.”

19 May 1986, 1530 Mountain Time, 7th Infantry Division, Salida, CO:

Guru and Tony came out of the Division's G-2 shop. They had spent several hours with not only the Army intel people, but an Air Force Intelligence Officer had also debriefed them. Everything had been gone over, from shootdown, to those who had helped them, to their time in the mountains, and the trip out. It wasn't enough that they had told the same story to the Army pukes, but the AF wanted it firsthand from them as well. And that intel weenie was going to be busy, for there were six AF evadees in all, and he'd be busy into the night and the next day.

Glad to be out of the intel weenies, and dressed in new BDUs, Guru turned to Tony. “Want something to eat? There's a cafe not that far away.”

“Yeah, a late lunch sounds good,” Tony said. “Hey, there's Lori.”

Lori Sheppard came towards them. She waved them over. She was in new BDUs as well. She had spent the morning not with the Division's intelligence people, but with Special Forces. There was a Special Forces Base nearby, and she had been anxious to talk to the Green Berets. “Hey, guys!”

“Lori, how's the Army treating you?”

“Couldn't ask for anything more. They'll be sending some SF in, and my people as well, to the Family Camp. We'll evacuate those people by chopper, and they're going to be with us the rest of the way,” she said. “However long that is.”

“One thing my Squadron CO told me, Lori, on Day Two: 'It'll be a long war.'” Guru said.

Tony Carpenter nodded in the direction of the cafe. “Lunch?”

“Yeah,” Lori agreed. “I can use a late lunch.”

“Where's your .270?” Guru asked. He saw that she had her AKM instead.

“Oh, the SF guys are taking care of it. Their gunsmith was practically in heaven. He's drooling at the thought of customizing it for me, but I told him no. It's a family heirloom, and right now, it's my only family connection.”

Guru and Tony knew all too well what she meant. “Sorry...”

“Don't be,” Lori replied. “Not your fault. And if someone talked, I'll find whoever it is. And kill them myself.”

The two pilots understood, and they also knew that she meant what she said. Then they walked to the cafe. A sign at the entrance asked that all civilians check their long guns at the door, but military personnel could keep theirs. And they saw several of their fellow evadees sitting down at a table. “Guys, come on in,” Neal Brandon waved.

“Thanks,” Tony said. And the trio joined their friends. The waitress came over with menus for the new arrivals. “You guys just ordered?”

“Yeah,” Bill Andrews said. “Most of the beef, though, it's unavailable. Even if they do have it, you need a ration coupon to order.”

“Let me guess: chicken, pork, elk, deer?” Lori asked.

“You got it,” Neal Brandon said.

“I've had enough deer and elk that if I ate one more bite, I'll start growing antlers,” Guru quipped. “Pork chops and eggs is good enough for me.”

“Same here,” Lori said. “I can do without for a few more days. Remember, prewar, I hunted a lot.”

“Seconded,” Tony said.

After the new arrivals had ordered, Guru noticed something. He saw a very healthy looking busboy cleaning up a table. “Shoudn't he be in uniform?”

“We asked the waitress that same question when we got here,” Bill Andrews said. “He can't join up.”


“He's diabetic, she said. Needs insulin every day, and the Army's the area's only supply.” Andrews said.

“Oh, boy.” Guru sighed. Then he noticed the boy was packing a Colt .357 Magnum in a shoulder holster. “Everybody's carrying.”

“Yep,” Brandon said. “And that kid does his part: they have a mounted posse, and he rides with 'em. He may be diabetic, but he still does his part for the war effort.”

“Sorry to change the subject, but did you guys hear about when we're leaving?” Bill Andrews asked.

“The AF liaison said we'd have something in a day or two. Family notifications have to go first,” Tony Carpenter said. “Then we get two weeks' leave, then refresher training, and back to our original units.”

Andrews smiled. He raised his glass of ice water. “Here's to that,”


The waitress brought the original party's order, and said to the new arrivals, “Your meals are coming. Be a few more minutes.” And Guru, Tony, and Lori watched with envy as their friends tore into their food. Lori was drooling, and looked at Neal Brandon as if possessed. Then she saw him jerk his head up with a start. “What's up?”

“The front door.”

“What are you..” Lori asked, turning to look. Guru and Tony turned as well, just as a Cuban Colonel, in full uniform, came into the cafe. And everyone at the table, not to mention several Army personnel at other tables, reached for their rifles. And as safeties were being clicked off, an Army officer came running in.

“Hey, don't shoot! He's a defector.”

“Prove it,” An SF trooper at a nearby table said, pointing a CAR-15 at the Cuban.

Everyone at Guru's table had their AKMs out, waiting. Then another officer came in-a light colonel, this one, and said, “People, he's a defector, it's OK.” And weapons began to be lowered. As the Cuban entered, it was obvious that he was what they said he was. Several SF officers were right behind him, and in plain BDUs, a couple of others, who looked to be “OGA” types, followed the officers. The party sat down at another table, and after ordering coffee, started to talk to the Cuban. He took one look at Guru's table and asked, in English, “Is this how you welcome guests?”

One of the officers laughed. “Colonel, with that group, it probably is. They just came out of the mountains a few days ago.”

“I see...” the Cuban said. Then he switched to a language that no one, other than the SF men, could understand.

Unable to follow the conversation, Guru's party ate. As they got up to leave, the Cuban was still at it. “Want to bet they'll be at it all night?” Neal Brandon asked.

“No takers,” Tony said. “Maybe they'll be so busy with him, they'll tell us, 'We're done with you guys.'”

After paying for his meal, Lori's, and Tony's, Guru went outside. There, he found an AF Sergeant, part of the liaison team, waiting. “Sergeant?”

He turned. “Lieutenant Wiser?” Then he saluted.

Guru returned it. “That's right.”

“Sir, I've got movement and travel orders for you and Lieutenant Carpenter.” He looked behind Guru. “Is Captain Andrews in there? I've got something for him as well.”

Tony came out, with Lori right behind him . “Who's asking?”

“He is,” Guru pointed to the Sergeant. “He's got one for you, Tony,” Guru said as he opened the envelope. “Two weeks' leave. Movement and travel to Castle AFB is authorized, civilian train transportation to Fresno....” Home for two weeks, Guru noticed. “Can't beat that.”

“Same here,” Tony said. “Two days on a train to Oregon, though,” he saw.

Lori shook their hands. “At least you guys have a home to go back to. When this is over, I have to start all over.” She looked at them “And so do a lot of others.”

“Yeah.” Guru knew full well what she meant. He held out his hand “Lori, when this is all over, you're welcome at our unit reunions. You've earned it.”

She shook his hand, then embraced Guru. “Thanks, Matt.” Then she did the same with Tony. “You guys take care, and do me, and all of us up in the hills a favor.”

“Just say it, Lori,” Guru said.

“Kill as many of those bastards you want. Shoot them down or blow 'em up on the ground, I don't care.” Lori told both of them with all seriousness.

“We'll do that.”

24 June 1985, 1400 Mountain War Time; Williams AFB, AZ.

Lieutenant Matt Wiser got off the C-130 that had flown him, via Beale AFB and Nellis, from Kingsley Field to Williams. Just as he'd hoped, he was rejoining the Chiefs, the 335th TFS, and getting back into the fight. He looked around, and saw the familiar: F-4s, painted in either SEA camouflage or Navy/Marine Corps grey, A-4s and A-6s, AF Jolly Green Giant rescue choppers, and a couple of other C-130s. Just another day.

He'd enjoyed the two weeks at his home in Auberry, in the Southern Sierra Nevada foothills. His family was doing OK, and rationing, though it had bitten, wasn't hitting rural folks as hard as it did in cities, for nearly everyone who could had a garden. Though trips to Fresno were still common, people knew to combine trips, and shop for a neighbor if that person only needed one or two things.

Word had gotten around that he was back, and he'd been asked to talk to school assemblies, the local VFW, the Shaver Lake Chamber of Commerce, and so on. Recounting his experiences, some of which he still didn't want to talk about, went easier than he thought, and he wished he had more time at home with his mom and grandparents, but the two weeks went by fast, and it was time to get to the Fresno Air Guard Base. There, he'd gotten his travel orders to go to Kingsley Field, and that meant space-available again on a C-130. When he got to Kingsley Field, to his surprise, he had very little to do with Colonel Saul Tigh, the CO of the RTU there, but things he'd heard about the man came back: he was stubborn, irascible, grumpy, and just an overall asshole. When Guru had said as much to one of his instructors, the man-who had flown with Tigh in Vietnam before going to the Reserves, simply said, “You only have him for two weeks. I put up with him in SEA for a year.”

His RTU time went by fast, and on his final check ride, he'd maxed the flight. His instructor was beaming on landing, and was ready to pronounce Guru requalified. Tigh was on the ramp, and when the instructor brought Tigh the form to sign, with Guru there, Tigh had simply signed it, made some kind of grunt, then went off. Guru turned to the instructor, a Captain, and said, “That's it? No 'Welcome back to the Air Force?' Or 'Glad to have you back in the fight?'”

“That's it, Lieutenant.”

The only down side: Tony Carpenter, once he requalified, was being kept on as an instructor. When they were in the O-Club that afternoon, Guru was celebrating, while Tony was drowning his sorrows. “Tony, it won't last forever. You'll be back in the fight.”

“Yeah, but for at least a year, I have to put up with this asshole.” Carpenter grumbled.

“Well....what else can I say?” Guru held out his hand. “I'm glad to have flown with you, and see you at the reunion.”

“Guru, I'm glad to have known you,” Tony said, shaking his hand. “I'll see you around. Take care, and check six.”

Now, as he got off the C-130, a wave of heat hit him. He was in his dress blues, as per regs, and it was hot on the ramp. Guru looked around, and saw the 335th was still in its old location. He went to check back in with his squadron, glad to be back. He opened the door to the old T-37 flying training squadron offices that the 335th had taken over, and he saw a few familiar faces. And one of them recognized him: Captain Tim Cain, one of the backseaters left from Day One. “Guru!”

“Tim,” Guru said. “Glad to be back.”

“We heard you were coming back, man. How bad was it with the Resistance?”

“Don't ask. It was bad enough,” Guru replied. “If you want to know, it should be in the SERE Bulletin.”

“Yeah,” Cain responded.

“Colonel Rivers still the CO?” Guru asked.

“He is. He'll want to see you.”

Guru nodded. “All right.”

He picked up his bag and went to the CO's office. Several of his friends had recognized him, but there were more than a few unfamiliar faces. And he knew why. People he'd flown with were KIA, MIA, POW, or were in the hospital. Or worse: they might be going through what he'd experienced. Shaking his head at the thought, he knocked on the CO's door. “Come in.”

Guru went into the office and saluted. “Colonel, one lost sheep back to the 335th.”

“Guru!” Lt. Col. Dean Rivers said, getting up and shaking his hand. “Glad to have you back.”

“Good to be back, Sir.” Guru replied.

“Before you have a seat, you're out of uniform,” Rivers told Guru.

Guru was confused. They'd reoutfitted him at Castle before he went home, and he found out the AF had sent his personal belongings home after he'd been reported MIA. “Sir?”

Rivers gave him a small case, like a jeweler would use. “Open it.”

Guru did. “Captain?” He stared at the CO with a dumb look on his face. “Sir, I don't have enough time in grade.”

“Things are different in wartime, Guru. Lot of things happened while you were doing the SERE course for real.”

“We heard. Some botched counterattack, then Ivan pushed north again, and they got stopped short of the Mississippi and I-90.” Guru replied. “We saw Stars and Stripes when we came out of the mountains.”

Rivers nodded. “Yeah. And we just started pushing them back. Chances are, we go right back to where they were in January.”

“Lovely,” Guru said.

“Anyway, sorry about Tony not coming back. I asked for both of you, but they wanted an Academy grad as an instructor there,” Rivers admitted. “But I've got you a new WSO. A week out of the RTU, but no combat yet.”

“Captain's bars and a new WSO in the same day,” Guru noted. “Be careful of what you ask for, because you might just get it.”

Rivers let out a laugh. “There is that. Ready to meet your new backseater?”

“Might as well,” Guru said. Not that he had much choice.

Rivers went to the office door and motioned for someone to come in. A female 1st Lieutenant came in, with wavy blonde hair as long as regs permitted, and even in a flight suit, she was a looker. “First Lieutenant Lisa Eichhorn reporting, Sir.” she said, saluting.

Rivers nodded and returned the salute. “Lieutenant,.” He turned to Guru. “Lieutenant Eichhorn, meet Captain Matt Wiser, your new pilot.”

Guru was surprised. This had to be a welcome-back joke. But what if it wasn't? When had they tossed the ban on women flying combat? “Sir?”

“Guru, they tossed the ban on women flying combat in November, but we were all too busy to notice,” Rivers reminded the new Captain. “She's in the first crop of female pilots and WSOs to come out of the RTU.”

Well, then, that answers that. “Just like Ivan did, forty years ago,” Guru observed. He put out his hand. “Pleased to meet you.”

“Likewise,” Eichhorn replied.

“How'd you do at Kingsley Field?”

“First in my WSO class,” Eichhorn said with pride.

Guru noticed her Academy ring. “Any problems flying with an OTS grad?”

“Not at all,” Eichhorn replied. “Right now, the only thing I care about is my pilot wearing Air Force Blue.”

Guru nodded, then turned to Rivers, who made a habit of not wearing his class ring. “Boss, I think we'll get along just fine.” He turned to Eichhorn. “What's your call sign?”

“Goalie,” she replied.

“A guru and a goalie,” Rivers observed. “You two will make a good team. Now, Guru, I'll want a check ride with you in the morning, then you two can fly a fam hop to the Goldwater range to shake down. Because in three days, we're back on the firing line.”

“Yes, Sir.” Guru said.

“All right, find Mark Ellis, Guru, and see about billeting. We're still in the Mesa Sheraton, but he'll find you a roomie.”

Guru nodded.

“Anything else?” Rivers asked. Both shook their heads. “Dismissed.”

Back in the squadron offices, several old hands welcomed Guru back. And they reminded him of the obligatory promotion party! “Tomorrow night, guys,” Guru said. He walked out of the building, with Goalie right behind him. He turned to her. “Let's say we go to the Club, and talk things over. I think we'll make a good team.”

She nodded. “Suits me just fine. As long as the new Captain is paying.”

Guru laughed. “You know what? We'll get along just fine. And I am.”

It was her turn to laugh. “Then let's go.”


14 October, 2011. Victory Day Air Show, Scott AFB, IL.

Colonels Matt Wiser and Lisa Eichhorn were sitting in the shade, which their F-15E Strike Eagles could provide. He had flown his Wing King bird from Hill AFB in Utah, where he commanded the 419th TFW of the AF Reserve, while Colonel Eichhorn flew her Wing King bird from Mountain Home AFB in Idaho, where she ran the 366th TFW “The Gunfighters.” They were the first married couple in the Air Force to be wing commanders at the same time, and flying the same aircraft, so there was naturally some publicity. They had been specifically requested by the Air Force to bring themselves and their aircraft to the show, and to have one other aircraft from their unit come, flown by veterans of World War III if at all possible, or the recent Baja War if not. Colonel Wiser had brought his WSO, who was too young to be in the Big War, but had flown with him in Mexico, and Colonel Eichhorn had done the same. But their wingmates had been in the big one: Colonel Wiser's was Lt. Col. Kelly Ann Ray, who had been a POW in Cuba during the war, while Colonel Eichhorn had brought along Lt. Col. Kara Thrace, who had been in the 335th during the war, and was now commanding the 390th TFS. All of their respective WSOs had flown in Mexico, when both units had deployed to Baja for that brief war.

This year's Victory Day Air Show was big, and for two reasons. First, it was the biggest show of the season, and all of the military's demonstration teams participated: the Thunderbirds from the Air Force, the Blue Angels from the Navy, the Army's Golden Knights parachute team, and the services' respective Heritage Flights. Second, it was the final Victory Day show to be held at Scott, because the following year, Andrews AFB would formally reopen, along with the rededicated and rebuilt Washington, D.C, and the show would move to Andrews on a permanent basis, much to the disappointment of the Greater St. Louis area, which looked forward to the show visitors pumping a lot of money into the local economy every year.

That was not a concern to the two colonels, who noted that a lot of vets were in attendance. Though this day was more of a practice day, with the teams having practice runs, it was also the day when VIPs could attend, without the extra security, and it was also the day that civic and veterans' organizations, as well as special needs visitors, could be there as well. The “Make-a-wish” kids often came on the practice days, and these days were less crowded.

Looking around, Guru saw the F-15Es from Seymour-Johnson, and he had a soft spot for his old wing, and the 335th, which was still part of the 4th TFW. Then there were the F-22s, and he knew full well that Kara and Kelly had a score to settle with the CO of the 357th TFW, who had “shot down” both of them in a Red Flag, and they had promised revenge, even if he was a one-star. The bombers were out, with B-52s and B-1s on the ramp, with the B-1C known as Cleopatra and its all-female crew being spotlighted, and a B-2 flyby from Whiteman was on the agenda. Just about every type of fighter, bomber, or transport was represented, and that was just the AF! All of the other services were well represented, with Navy, Marine, and Army aircraft and helicopters there, and the RCAF also came down as usual.

Guru and Goalie were talking with some cub scouts, signing autographs, and showing the kids around the F-15Es, while Kelly Ann Ray was signing books: her book Down in Cuba had become a best-seller, and had been made into a movie that had done well on Showtime, and was coming to DVD. Then Goalie looked around. “Where's Kara?

“She went to put some decals in the wheel well of that one-star's F-22,” Guru said. “Notice I said the wheel well. She knows full well not to put it on the outside.”

“Does she?” Goalie asked her husband. “I don't want my pay docked to pay for the paint job.”

Kara then came back. “Mission accomplished.”

“You did put them in the wheel well?” Goalie asked.

“Yes, Ma'am,” Kara said. “I may be crazy but I'm not stupid. Besides, I want that one-star's crew chief to have a coronary-along with said one-star.”

“That's our Kara,” Colonel Ray quipped. And everyone knew she wasn't kidding.

The cub scouts had just gone on, when a Cuban-accented voice spoke up. “Colonel Wiser, we meet at last.”

“Huh?” Guru turned and saw someone he hadn't seen personally since that long-ago day in that café in Colorado. But he'd seen the man on Larry King Live, being interviewed along with Erica Mason, one of the two surviving Wolverines, and now Governor of Colorado. “Well, now. Not every day you see a man you almost shot.”

“What?” Goalie asked. And the expressions on Kara's face and Kelly's were just as surprised.

“Ah,” Colonel Ernesto Bella, Cuban Army (ret.), said. “Yes, your Colonel here almost shot me in a café after my defection.” He explained the event to the Eagle crews.

“Ernesto, you didn't tell me about this?” a woman's voice said.

“Forgive me,” Colonel, meet my wife, Manuela, and my children, Jose, Pedro, and Sofia,” Bella said, introducing his wife, teenage son, and year-old twins.

“Pleased to meet you,” Guru said, and the other Eagle crews were just as pleasant.

“Now, what's this about nearly shooting him in a café?” Mrs. Bella asked.

Guru nodded. “Well, Ma'am, your husband came into the café still in his Cuban Army uniform, complete with beret, and everyone reacted out of reflex. It wasn't just us; almost everyone in there was carrying a weapon of one sort or another.”

Bella laughed. “Yes, and I remarked to one of the intelligence officers that 'Is this how you welcome guests?'”

“That I heard,” Guru said. “What brings you here, Colonel?”

“I have something for you,” Bella said. He motioned behind him, and a young woman came and handed him a folder, and getting by the bodyguards that always accompanied Bella. “My publicist. After my book's success, hiring one was mandatory.” He handed Guru the folder. “I suggest you have a look.”

Guru opened the folder. Several photos came out. They showed a party walking single-file, towards a mountain pass. All were dressed in Soviet winter suits, and had AK rifles at the ready, except for one, who had a hunting rifle. “I recognize the one with the rifle. Lori Sheppard: that's a .270 Winchester she's carrying.”

“Yes, I saw her at the café,” Bella said. “Now, look at the close-ups.”

Guru flipped through the photos. There were several 8x10 close-ups, all clearly enlargements. “OK, Neal Brandon, Lori Sheppard, and....” He looked at Bella. “This isn't possible.”

“It is, Colonel,” Bella replied.

“Let me see,” Goalie asked. She looked over Guru's shoulder. “What?! Guru, that's you!”

“Yeah,” Guru said. He looked at Bella. “Who took these?”

“A Spetsnatz team. They had orders to observe and report about whoever was using the pass. The Front intelligence directorate wanted to know about possible guerrilla supply lines, escape routes, that sort of thing. They had orders to observe and report only, and to avoid combat,” Bella said, matter of factly.

“How'd they know we were there?”

“They didn't,” responded Bella. “They had been up there for nine days, and were on the last day of their mission,”

“God...they're good enough to recognize everybody,” Guru noted. “Excuse me, Colonel, but I need to make a phone call.” He reached into one of his flight suit pockets and pulled out his cell phone.

“Who are you calling?” Goalie asked.

“Sheriff Lori Sheppard.” was the reply. Guru had her number, and he made the call.

“Sheriff Sheppard,” Lori said after picking up. “What's up, Colonel?”

“Lori,” Guru said. “I'm at the Victory Day Air Show, and there's a certain former Cuban colonel who's got some nice pictures. They're of us, going over the pass.”


“Colonel Bella says there was a Spetsnatz team keeping tabs on the pass. They got some nice pictures of everybody. Good enough to get ID on all of us.” Guru told the Sheriff.

“Who talked? Colonel, if someone was a rat, they'll wish they had never been born!” Lori was practically shouting into the phone.

“Nobody talked,” Guru said. “Bella said they were watching the pass, and we just came into range of their camera...”

“NOT GOOD ENOUGH!” Lori yelled. “I'll find the snitch, whoever it was, and watch as the Feds hang him or her! Colonel, I'll call you back. My chief of detectives is going to be busy for a while.” And with that, Lori hung up.

Guru went back to where Goalie was, with Colonel Bella. “Well?” Goalie asked.

“Great. Lori's gone ballistic. I told her about the Spetsnatz team and the photos, and she went ape. She's convinced someone was a traitor, and she's going after someone who doesn't exist. I do not want to be her chief of detectives right now.”

“Ah,” Bella said. “She has to satisfy herself that there wasn't a traitor, but will make life miserable for her subordinates in the meantime.”

“Exactly,” Guru said.

“Well, then.” Bella said. He turned to Colonel Ray. “Colonel Ray, I have read your book.”

She was surprised. “And how did you like it?”

“A very harrowing read, I must say.” Bella said. “Your treatment was most unforgivable, and totally reprehensible. I trust the guilty parties will pay?”

“A couple have, Colonel. The rest, well once the appeals are done, it's time to measure them for the correct drop,” replied Colonel Ray.

“Quite so,” Bella agreed. “Please accept my apologies as a Cuban. You and your fellow prisoners deserved much better treatment.” He put out her hand.

“You're not one of them, Colonel.” Ray said. “So you're okay in my book.” And the two of them shook hands.

“Ernesto, we should be going,” Mrs. Bella reminded her husband. “There's a lot more to see.”

“Yes, we should.” Bella turned to Guru. “You may keep the photographs, Colonel. Consider them a gift. And a reminder of a close shave.”

Guru nodded.

Bella then shook hands with the Eagle drivers, then he and his party-bodyguards included, moved on.

“Well....” Goalie said. “Not every day you meet someone like him.”

“Yeah,” Kara said. “He's still in shape, though: I read his book: the man's ex-Cuban SF. Experience in Nicaragua, Angola, Cambodia, El Salvador, and Mexico. He probably doesn't need the bodyguards.”

“There's enough ex-DGI types around who might still try to whack him,” Capt. Jody Tucker, Kelly Ray's WSO, commented. “He'll have them for a while longer.

Kelly nodded. “You know one thing?”

“What?” Guru asked.

“He's the first Cuban to actually apologize for what happened to me, personally,” Kelly replied. “He's okay in my book.”

Nodding, Goalie looked at the photos again. “Man, they were close.”

Her husband nodded. “Yeah. Now I have to do one more thing. But not until Monday.”

“What's that?” Kara asked.

“See if Lori's climbed down from the ceiling and calmed down,” Guru remarked dryly.

“Why Monday?” Goalie asked.

“It'll take her that long to settle down,” Guru said.

And with that, the show went on, for the rest of the day, and the whole weekend.

Matt Wiser 12-18-2014 06:24 PM

And the next one....the first day of the war, from the 335th's POV:

The First Day

Prologue: Nellis Air Force Base, NV: 30 August, 1985, 1430 Hours Pacific Daylight Time:

First Lieutenant Matt Wiser climbed down from his F-4E Phantom, having arrived at the sprawling Nellis AFB for his first Red Flag exercise. His unit, the 335th Tactical Fighter Squadron, had arrived that day from Seymour-Johnson AFB in North Carolina, and this was his first time at Red Flag, or any other major exercise for that matter. He'd been in the squadron all of six months, and was still relatively fresh out of F-4 training. One thing he was glad to have, was that his Squadron CO, Lt. Col. Mark Johnson, had taken him under his wing, and he was the CO's wingman. Colonel Johnson felt that it was his job not just to be CO, but to be a mentor to those just out of the RTU, and having Guru (Wiser's call sign) be his wingmate illustrated that.

Now, after climbing down from his F-4, tail number 515, he shook hands with his WSO, First Lieutenant Tony Carpenter. Tony, though, was an experienced WSO with a year in the cockpit, and as was usual in the AF, had been paired up with a pilot fresh from the RTU. So far, the pilot from California and the WSO from rural Oregon had hit it off, and were planning on enjoying the weekend in Vegas before the Red Flag got going. Then Sergeant Kyle Calhoun, 515's crew chief, came over. “Sir, anything I need to know?”

“She's going good, Sergeant,” Guru said. “515's working like a champ.”

“Thank you, sir.”

Then Colonel Johnson and his WSO, Maj. Bryan Calhoun, came over. “Guru, how do you like Nellis?”

“Hot, sir.” Guru said, and Tony echoed that.

“That it is,” Johnson said. “Come on in, get cooled off, and we'll get the lowdown.”

A few minutes later, the crews from the 335th were in the largest briefing room anyone in the squadron had been in, apart from the Academy grads. “This is kinda familiar,” Tony said to his pilot.

“What do you mean by that?” Guru replied.

“The Academy. A couple of the lecture halls are this big.”

Guru nodded as a one-star general came into the room. “TEN-HUT!”

Everyone snapped to attention as the general came into the room. Brig. Gen. Ken Shoemaker commanded the Fighter Weapons School, and supervised the Red Flag program. “Take your seats, gentlemen.”

Everyone found a place to sit as Shoemaker started to talk.

“Okay, first of all, welcome to Red Flag 9-85. For the next two weeks, beginning on Tuesday, you all will be put through the wringer when it comes to air combat. Air-to-air or air-to-ground, it doesn't matter. By the time your units are all through, you will have gained the experience needed to fly, fight, and survive if and when the balloon goes up.

“Statistically, most combat losses occur prior to the tenth combat mission. This exercise will give you the experience, without live ordnance, of those first ten missions. Keep in mind, that you will be flying against the best pilots in the Air Force, who are the Aggressors. They fly according to Soviet doctrine, and don't be surprised if they see you before you see them.

“Now, you'll have a flying day tomorrow, for orientation. Normally, in a combat zone, you wouldn't get that chance, but this is an exercise, and those rules apply. Before you all get billeted, one other thing: if you go off base, and chances are, all of you will, base security has been ramped up a notch. We're at Threatcon BRAVO for the time being. So expect some delays as you come and go from the base. Questions?”

'Sir,” Colonel Johnson raised his hand. “This have anything to do with China and the Far East?”

“Good question. This is just for this base only. Something's going on, and it's an ongoing investigation. It might be China, but then again, with everything that's going on south of the border....just keep in mind that this will likely blow over. That's what I've been told, anyway,” General Shoemaker said. “Anything else?” There were the usual questions about billeting, and the other usual things that went on with an exercise, then Shoemaker said, “All right, that's it. Good luck, and play safe.”

After going to the Las Vegas Hilton, where the squadron had been billeted, along with the 58th TFS from Eglin AFB, Guru and Tony went down to one of the hotel's restaurants for dinner. Most were out of the price range of a couple of Air Force First Lieutenants, but they a causal cafe to sit down and eat. After ordering their meals, Guru took out a copy of a Vegas newspaper he'd picked up in the hotel lobby, The Las Vegas Journal, and as he started to read, he whistled.

“What?” Tony asked.

“Chinese call for UN to discuss Soviet troop buildup in Far East.” Guru said, reading from the headline.

“Let me see...” Tony asked, and Guru handed him the front page. “Whoa...this looks serious. 'Chinese sources claim there are now eighty Soviet divisions in the Soviet Far East, and the Chinese Government has demanded an explanation from the Soviet Union. All requests have been denied.' Wouldn't surprise me, the two Communist giants going at each other.”

“Yeah, and North Korea is a friend of Ivan,” Guru pointed out. “If they go south when the Russians move....”

“We're at war,” Tony finished. “You up for a TransPac?”

“If you drive F-4s, it has to happen sometime,” Guru said, remembering one of his RTU instructors.

Then Colonel Johnson came in, and he was looking tired. “Wondered if I'd find some guys from the squadron here.”

“Well, Boss,” Guru said. “Most of the other eateries here are a bit above our pay grade.”

“Or dress code,” Tony added.

“There is that,” the CO said. “I'm waiting for the XO, we've got some things to talk about, and you guys will find out tomorrow, with everyone else.”

“As usual,” Guru deadpanned. “Big fish talk, little fish circle around and wait.”

Johnson smiled. “You're catching on fast, Lieutenant. Anyway, they had a briefing for all squadron commanders. Not just those here for the Flag, but the tenant units as well. Want to know why the base security got stepped up?”

“The thought had occurred to us,” Carpenter said, just as the waitress brought their dinner salads.

“Well, the story is that some guy whose parents were Russian emigres either tried to get into the Air Force and got turned down, or got kicked out of the Air Force, flipped out, made threats against the base, and well...nobody's taking any chances.”

“Great, some wacko with a grudge against the Air Force,” Guru said as he attacked his salad. “FBI out looking for this nut?”

“LVPD and FBI,” Johnson said. “So....now you know what's up. Just smile, grin and bear it, and hopefully soon, they'll catch this nut and they can stand down.”

“Everyone on base will be glad to hear that, Boss,” Tony said.

Guru nodded. “Even better still: they caught this bastard.”

Colonel Johnson nodded back. “That's the best of all.” Then he saw the XO appear at the entrance to the restaurant. “Looks like the XO's here. See you two tomorrow, bright-eyed and bushy tailed, 0800.”

“We'll be there,” Guru said.

Nellis AFB, NV, 0630 Hours Pacific Daylight Time, 4 September, 1985:

Lieutenants Matt Wiser and Tony Carpenter were in their rented Camaro, in a line of cars waiting to enter Nellis Air Force Base. They had risen early, eaten at the hotel, and knowing that there was a good chance security was still on alert, the both of them decided to go ahead and head to the base. Now, looking out the left window, Wiser saw a long line of cars on Craig Road waiting to enter the base. He and Tony had driven up Las Vegas Boulevard, avoiding I-15, and were in a long line as well. And both of them noticed Clark County Sheriff's Deputies and Nevada Highway Patrol officers assisting with traffic, since they were outside the city limits of Las Vegas. “How long have we been here?” Guru asked.

Tony looked at his watch. “Since 5:50.”

“God, with this much security, you'd think the President was coming.”

“Yeah,” Tony nodded. He went back to the morning's Las Vegas Review, which they'd picked up at the hotel along with the Los Angeles Times. “Says here they did find that wacko.”

“Oh?” Guru asked.

“Yeah. He crashed off of U.S. 93 near Henderson. They found him, dead, along with an AK-47 and 5,000 rounds of ammo.”

“Anything else, like, say, a note?” Guru asked. “Nuts like that always leave something to say 'The world sucks, It sucks to be me, so I'm lashing out.' Or something like that.”

Tony scanned the story. “Nope.”

“Great,” Guru cursed. “If this guy's dead, why all the security?”

“Maybe he's got friends?” Tony asked.

The line moved and as the Camaro got to the main gate, Guru and Tony noticed the AF Security Police waiting. They rolled down the windows and got ready to show their ID cards.

“Sirs, could you step out of the vehicle, please?” One of the airmen asked. Instead of the spit-and-polish of dress uniforms, they were in fatigues, and had M-16s slung over their shoulders.

Guru and Tony got out of the car and both were quickly padded down by SP s. After that, they were allowed to show their ID, and the car was given the mirror treatment, and a military working dog sniffed the vehicle. Everything was checked, and only after the dog was through did the SP airman hand the ID cards back to the two officers. “Here you go, sirs,”

“What's this about? Didn't they catch that loony last night?” Tony asked.

'Sir, all I know is what they told us: keep this up for another day or so. Not until the FBI and OSI give the all-clear.” OSI meant the Office of Special Investigations, the Air Force's criminal-investigation and counterintelligence arm.

The two F-4 crewers shrugged, got into their car, and headed into the base. After a few minutes, they found the building where their squadron was being housed for the duration of the exercise. After they parked, they found several of their squadron mates sitting around, waiting. “Look who the cat dragged in,” Capt. Morgan Donahue, who was one of the squadron's ordnance officers (every pilot and WSO had a secondary ground job besides flying) quipped.

'And good morning to you too,” Tony said. “Sir.”

“Let me guess? You guys still grumpy about being in that traffic jam?”

“You could say that,” Guru said as he got his bag out of the car. They then went inside and found the ops office. Both of them worked for Major Keith Pollard, the Operations Officer. He wasn't there, so they left their bags on their desks. As they got ready to go back outside, Colonel Johnson came in.

“Nice to see my wing crew in early,” Johnson said.

“Yes, sir,” Guru and Tony nodded.

“Major Pollard in?”

“No sir,” Guru replied. “Chances are, he's stuck in traffic.”

“Like almost everybody,” Colonel Johnson said. “You guys eat yet?”

“Yes, sir. We ate before coming here,” Tony said.

“Come on. It's going to be a busy day, and you'll be glad you had the extra food.”

Officer's Open Mess, Nellis AFB, NV: 0710 Hours Pacific Daylight Time:

“So, how was your weekend?” Colonel Johnson asked Guru and Tony.

“Celebrated my birthday Friday,” Lieutenant Wiser said. “One of the restaurants in the hotel is a steakhouse, and they had a steak and lobster tail dinner.”

“Steak and shrimp for me,” Tony said. “It was a little expensive, but since he paid, it was worth it.”

“Always good to have someone else pay for a dinner like that,” Maj. Brian Calhoun, Johnson's WSO, said.

“It is that,” Tony grinned. “Other than that, we wasted a little money in the slot machines.”

“Only a little, Boss,” Guru added.

Colonel Johnson nodded as he skimmed the Las Vegas Journal. This was a later edition than the one that had come out earlier in the morning. “See this? 'China Claims Soviets Plan Attack?'”

“We saw it, Colonel,” Guru said. “One thing I learned as a History Major....”

“And that is,” Johnson asked in between bites of his omelet.

“One of Eisenhower's prima donnas said this: 'There are only two rules of war, One, Never invade Russia. Two: Never invade China.'”

“Who said that?” Tony asked.

“Montgomery,” Guru said, then he took a swig of coffee.

Capt. Donahue spoke up. “Well, Colonel, if the two Communist giants go after each other, what do we do?”

“Sit back and watch, Captain,” Johnson nodded.

“That'd be great...” Guru nodded. Just after he said that, there was a large BOOM.

“What the hell was that?” Several people asked all at once.

“Construction blasting?” Colonel Johnson asked. “At this time of morning?”

Then there was another explosion, and what sounded like firecrackers off in the distance.

“Maybe that nut had friends,” someone said.

Then another Colonel, who'd been in Southeast Asia, yelled, “That's small arms fire! And this base is under attack!”

General Shoemaker came running in, half out of breath. “People, I'm only going to say this once: we are at war. The Soviets have attacked Alaska, there's Soviet and Cuban armor crossing the border from Tijuana all the way to the Gulf, and there's Soviet airborne in Colorado and New Mexico. Right now, your planes are being armed with what's available. Get to the border, and any armor headed north? Kill it. Man your aircraft!”

The mess emptied as aircrews and other officers headed to their posts or to get suited up. Colonel Johnson, Guru, and the others from the 335th ran like hell to their spaces, and frantically got suited up. “Ever think you'd go to war?” Tony asked.

“In Korea, or maybe Europe,” Guru said as he put on his G-suit and grabbed his helmet and oxygen mask.

On the way out, they literally ran into their squadron's supply officer, Maj. Paul Whitaker. He was a former WSO who'd been grounded due to a heart murmur, and he was wondering what was going on.
“What's going on?”

“Paul,” Colonel Johnson said as he went out the door. “Triple-order everything you can think of.”

“What the hell's happened?”

“Ivan and Fidel just crossed the border. So we're at war. Tell the supply sergeants to, uh, get whatever we need, by hook or crook.”

Whitaker understood; he'd been a F-4 WSO in 1972 during LINEBACKER I and II. “Gotcha, Colonel. Go get some.”

“Let's go, people!” Johnson yelled as the crews ran for their aircraft.

Guru and Tony ran for 515, “their” aircraft, while others intended to take the first armed and fueled aircraft they came to. As they ran, they saw two F-16s from the 474th TFW, the combat unit stationed at Nellis, take to the air. As they got to 515, they found their crew chief staring dumbfounded as ordnance people loaded a full drum of 20-mm ammunition for the F-4's Vulcan cannon, and loaded a pair of TER racks with three Mark-82 500-pound bombs apiece on the inner wing stations. “Sergeant,” Guru said as they reached the plane.

“Sir, what's going on?” Sergeant Calhoun asked in his Georgia drawl.

“Remember all those folks who said the Russians might come across the Rio Grande?” Tony said.

Calhoun nodded. “Yes, sir....”

“They were right,” Guru said. “Got the starter cart?”

“All set, sir. But.. what, we're at war?”

“We are. Get ready for engine start,” Guru said as he climbed the crew ladder and got into the pilot's seat.

Then Calhoun's training kicked in, and he helped both Guru and Tony get strapped into their seats. The two crewers ran through what both thought was their fastest preflight ever, then they got the “start engines” hand signal from their crew chief. Both J-79 engines came to life, one after the other. As the engines warmed up, Colonel Johnson's voice came over the radio. “Okay, people, go in flights of four. Get to the border, find armor headed north, and kill it. Watch for MiGs, watch for SAMs, and watch for power lines if you get down low. Remember your training, stick to your wingmen, and we'll get through this. Go by call signs on the radio. Let's go.”

With that, Johnson's plane began to taxi, and Guru was right behind him. As they taxied, the crews noticed several more F-16 two-ships, and a couple of F-15s-presumably from the visiting 58th TFS, take to the air. They held short of the runway so that the armorers could pull of the weapon safety pins, and as they waited, the crews saw a strange sight: the Catholic Chaplain, standing next to the armorers, and he was giving the departing crews the sign of the Cross, and a absolution as they taxied onto the runway. “You Catholic?” Tony asked as he saw Guru snap a salute to the Chaplain.

“No, technically Episcopalian, but devout Agnostic. But today? We may need all the help we can get,” Guru observed as he taxied onto the runway, in the wing position to Colonel Johnson.

As they taxied, they saw a couple of helicopters orbiting. One was a UH-1N from the base, and another looked to be a civilian news chopper. Then, all of a sudden, a white smoke trail came from just north of the base, and the news chopper's tail came off as it was struck.

It tumbled to the ground in flames and exploded on impact “Oh, God...” Guru said. “Boss-”

“I saw it,” the CO responded. “All Chiefs, this is Lead. Grail, Grail, Grail. Combat takeoffs, no matter what.”

Before anyone could respond, the tower flashed a green light. Clear for takeoff.

“Let's go!” Johnson shouted, and he released his brakes and rolled down the runway. Guru followed, and both Phantoms rumbled into the air. And as they pulled up and away, toward Lake Mead, they saw another missile trail reach out towards them, but it missed. Then the UH-1 hovered over the launch area, and sprayed it with machine-gun fire.

After takeoff, the two Phantoms were joined by another pair, plus two F-16s and two F-15s. Colonel Johnson called the element leaders, and found out he was senior. “All right, follow us to the border. Kill any MiGs that get too close to us.”

“Copy that,” the F-15 leader, a brand-new Captain who had just graduated to element lead, said.” Let's go.”

“What are we waiting for?” the F-16 lead called.

The eight-ship then turned and headed into Arizona.

Over Arizona, 0810 Hours:

As the eight-ship headed south, towards the Phoenix area, everyone was either scanning the sky, or in the WSOs' case, watching their radar scopes. So far, everything they had picked up was civilian, but no one was taking any chances, because either the F-15s or F-16s went to ID the contacts.

A few minutes later, they approached the Phoenix area, and gave the airspace around Luke AFB a wide berth. The crews could see F-15s taking off, and several civilian airliners coming in to the traffic pattern for Sky Harbor IAP. So far, there were no signs of any enemy aircraft, but that could easily change. “Tony, try using that AM receiver on your radio. See if you can pick up anything,” Guru said.

“Gotcha,” Tony replied. He fiddled with the tuner, while Guru stayed on the squadron's own channel.

As they skirted Phoenix, the crews saw several civilian airliners landing. Evidently the FAA had ordered all civilian aircraft to land at the nearest airport, and a nationwide ground stop. That had only happened twice, during exercises in the 1960s. Now, the fighter crews saw a number of airliners, from commuter types to a 747, orbiting and waiting to land. And there were some F-15s circling above them. They also noticed a departure: a Arizona ANG KC-135 was getting airborne.

“Either SAC scrambled them or those guys took off on their own,” Tony called on the intercom.

“Yeah,” Guru said. “Anything on the radio?”

“Uh, got a station from Phoenix. They're telling people to stay off the streets, leave them clear for police, emergency vehicles, and the National Guard.”

“What you'd expect,' Guru said as they headed past Sky Harbor Airport. “Anything else?”

“Yeah, nobody can get in touch with either New York or D.C.,”


“That's what the man said. And he was talking to a guy from their sister station in El Paso. That guy said there were Cuban tanks and troops in Downtown El Paso.”

Guru shook his head at the thought. “Lead, Guru.”

“Lead here, Go,” the CO replied.

“Boss, anything about that tanker?”

“Roger that. He came up on GUARD and offered to pass fuel to anybody who needed it.” Johnson said. “He also asked if we'd heard about Omaha.”

“What about it?”

“Flight, Lead. Omaha's gone. They took a nuke, a big one. Same thing for Kansas City.”

Mother of God....Tony thought. His old Academy roommate was from K.C., though the guy was now stationed in Hawaii, he did have family still there. “Boss, anything about D.C.? Or New York?”

“He didn't say,” the CO said. “Tuscon dead ahead. Watch for Hogs and SLUFs.” SLUFs meant A-7 Corsairs, and the Arizona ANG at Tuscon flew two squadrons. One a deployable squadron, the other handed RTU duty for the A-7 force, which was all ANG. The Hogs were the A-10s, and chances were, they'd be headed to wherever the armor threat was showing itself. And several A-10s were seen headed south, as well as a number of A-7s. “Follow I-19, people. That's where they're coming up. I'd bet money on it.”

The eight-ship headed south, and as they did so, activity began to pick up on their EW systems. “Lead, Surfer.” That was Capt. Sean “Surfer” Boyer, flying as Three. “Got a six coming up.” Surfer's call meant an SA-6 missile radar was up.

“Got it, Surfer,” the CO replied.

A call came in on GUARD: armor at Rio Rico, north of Nogales on I-19. “Boss, Guru. Looks like we've got a target.”

“Copy that. Eagles and Vipers, any MiGs come to the party, break 'em up. Rhinos, we got work to do.”

Both F-15 and F-16 leaders acknowledged, and the F-4s, who were called Rhinos on the radio, dropped down low. As they did, more SAM radars came up. “Got another six, and an eight,” Surfer called. Another SA-6 was up, and an SA-8 was there as well.

“And no Weasels,” Tony said to Guru. “Remember what they told you about the Israelis in '73?”

“Yeah. Same drill,” Guru said. That meant a low-altitude ingress, a quick pop-up to release the bombs, and get out low again. He looked ahead and saw A-7s and A-10s working Interstate 19, and Colonel Johnson led them past that strike area, and spotted some vehicles backed up on the freeway. Tanks and APCs by the look of them.

“Flight, Lead. One pass, south to north. Go in low, pop up, make your run, and get out. If you're hit, try Davis-Monthan or Tuscon International. Time to do what they pay us for.”

“Two copies,” Guru

“Three,” Surfer.

“Four, roger,” Capt. Keith “Yogi” Santelli.

“All right, let's go. Lead's in hot!” And Colonel Johnson led the 335th on its first attack mission of the war.

Down below, a Cuban motor-rifle battalion commander was having a fit. Though the initial push through Nogales had gone according to plan, the Mexicans had taken the lead, as they were exuberant about reclaiming what they felt had been stolen from them in the Mexican War back in 1846-48. But now, they were stopping every so often to loot, and hopes of a swift advance to Tuscon and seizing the Davis-Monthan air base complex were starting to fade, especially with the Americans' having reacted quickly, and the skies were now full of American aircraft. Suddenly, his political officer pointed to the southwest. “AIRCRAFT!”

Colonel Johnson made his pop-up, and rolled in on the target. He dropped his bombs, and got back low, calling, “Lead's off safe.”

Guru went in just as his leader made his pop-up. “Two's in!” He called, “Switches set?” Guru asked his backseater.

“All set,” Tony replied.

Guru grinned beneath his oxygen mask. He lined up several APCs in his pipper, then released his bombs. ”Two off target.” He pulled up after the bomb run, and headed north.

Unknown to him, the Cuban battalion commander was picking himself up after Colonel Johnson's run. A couple of BTR-70s had been ripped apart by bomb hits, and a few others had been flipped on their sides by near-misses. The Cuban Major was shouting orders to get trapped men out of their vehicles when Guru's plane flashed over. He never saw the Mark-82 that exploded near him......

Guru banked his F-4 around, trying to stay below 300 feet. “Well?”

“SHACK!” Tony called. “There's a few fireballs.”

“Three's in!” Surfer called. His F-4 was the first to draw fire, but he manged to drop his bombs into several T-55 tanks in the southbound lane, exploding a couple, and flipping another. “Three's off.”

“Four's in,” Yogi called. He put his bombs onto some more APCs, and he pulled away.

Guru was watching, as he turned his F-4 to the west to break an SA-6 trying to lock him up. Then he saw the missile track Yogi's F-4. The SA-6 blended with the Phantom and the plane fireballed. As it tumbled out of the sky, end over end and trailing fire, Guru and Tony saw the cockpit area had been blown off. “Oh, my God...” Guru said.

“Lead, Three,” Surfer called. “Yogi's down. No chutes.”

“I saw it, Three. Nothing we can do for them. Let's get the hell out of here,” Colonel Johnson called.

Oh, man, Guru thought. He'd had a RTU classmate die in a crash, but that was an accident in peacetime. Now, two friends, Yogi and Burner, his WSO, were gone. Just like that. Suck it up, Guru, he thought to himself. Won't be the last, he knew. “Right with you, Lead.”

“Copy, “ the CO replied. “Vipers, Eagles, on me. RTB, now.”

“Roger that,” the F-15 leader called. “We're all Winchester. Got several MiGs.”

“Sort it out later,” Johnson said as another F-4 flight came in. It was the Exec's. “Glad you guys could make the party. Free strike. Anything moving north that's painted green is a target.”

“Gotcha, Boss.”

“Watch for SAMs. We lost Yogi.”

“Will do.”

The lead flight formed up and headed north. The F-15s and F-16s joined on them, though when they got to where the KC-135 was, they found three tankers. And one was filling up an F-15, with his wingie waiting his turn. The two Vipers from Nellis broke off to get a drink for themselves, while the F-4s and F-15s headed back towards Nellis.

As they headed north, Tony kept fiddling with the radio. “Guru...radio says D.C.'s gone.”

“What?” Guru was incredulous when he heard that. “You sure?”

“Yeah. They're on the line with a station in Richmond, Virginia. They can see the mushroom cloud.”

“God almighty...”

“And New York....there's another fireball and cloud there.”

“Lead, Two...” Guru called.

“I heard, Two. Fight now, mourn later,” Colonel Johnson replied. “Everybody got that?”

“Two copies,” Guru replied.

“Roger, Lead,” Surfer said.

The crews were subdued as they headed back to Nellis. Losing Yogi was bad enough, but hearing that four of America's cities had been nuked? It was almost too much. But they had a job to do, and like the CO said. Fight now. Mourn the dead later.

When they got back to Nellis, they found that instead of chaos, there was organized chaos. They had to wait in the pattern while the runway was cleared; a FedEx DC-8 had put down there instead of McCarran International due to McCarran's pattern being full of aircraft trying to land, and the DC-8 was out of fuel. Then they were able to come in and land. As the F-4s taxied in, they noticed aircraft being loaded with weapons. And this time, they were going out fully loaded. F-4s, F-15s, F-16s, and F-111s from the 525th TFS from Cannon-they had come for the Flag, only now, they were going out to try and save their home base, as there was a tide of armor headed into New Mexico and West Texas, and all of it headed north. There were also some RF-4s there, from the Nebraska Guard at Lincoln, and they were no doubt in a foul mood. For once, Guru bet, they wished they had fighters instead of recon birds.

After they taxied to their area on the ramp, and shut down, the crews got ready to get out of their aircraft, but the crew chiefs told them no. “Hot refuel and rearm, sir,” Guru's crew chief told him. A fueling crew went right to work, and topped up the internal tanks and the two wing tanks. Then the ordnance crews came, with a dozen Mark-82s: six on a MER rack, and six on two TER racks. Plus two AIM-9s and two AIM-7s.

There was some more good news: this time they would have F-4Gs. Two Weasel Phantoms would meet them northwest of Phoenix, and give them the SAM-suppression stuff they needed. The same two F-15s would come with the Rhinos, and two more that had just landed would join them. Fully armed this time.

When the hot refuel and rearm was finished, Colonel Johnson came back up. “People, we've got mission codes. We're now Chevy flight. And we're going back to the border.”

“When?” Surfer called back.

“When they release us,” the CO replied.

They had been on the ground a half-hour when they got the call to start engines. The aircraft taxied to the end of the runway, and again, they saw the Chaplain giving departing aircraft the sign of the cross. “He's busy,” Guru observed.

“His job,” Tony noted. “Ready?”

“No, but let's get it over with,” Guru replied.

Then the tower gave them the green light, and the flight rumbled down the runway on their second mission, and it was only midmorning.

Matt Wiser 12-18-2014 06:27 PM

Part II:

Over Western Arizona, 0945 Hours:

Chevy Flight, with the four F-15s from Olds Flight, headed back towards the border. As they did, the crews saw several private planes or commuter airliners coming into the traffic patterns at Kingman and Prescott airports, looking for someplace, anyplace, to put down. “FAA's shut down the navaids.” Guru said.

“I noticed,” Tony replied. “No VOR or NDBs. Just TACAN for us.”

Then Guru noticed two smoky trails above and to the right. “Chevy Lead, Two.”

“Go, Two,” Colonel Johnson replied.

“Rhinos at One O’clock,” Guru said. “These our Weasels?”

“Stand by one,” the CO said. “This is Chevy Lead looking for Coors Lead. You guys the Rhinos at my One?”

“Chevy, Coors,” the F-4G flight lead called. “You found us. We can give you two Standard ARMs and two Shrikes, plus two Rifles.” Rifle meant AGM-65 Mavericks. They did have a good anti-radar missile, and an older one that was still effective-if used properly.

“Copy that,' Chevy Lead said. “Follow us to the border. We could've used you guys this morning.”

“Comin' in,' the Weasel leader said, and two more Phantoms joined the formation, now approaching the Phoenix area.

“Tony, anything on the radio?” Guru asked his WSO.

“Nothing good,” Tony said. “Ivan and Fidel blew through the border towns like it was nothing.”

“What else?” Guru asked.

“Uh...All the Guard and Reserve got Federalized, this station in Phoenix says.”

Nodding, Guru concentrated on flying the plane, and keeping his head on a swivel. That had been drummed into his head in the RTU, not that long ago. Then he saw several explosions in the air, and aircraft falling. “What the..”

“Flight, Lead,” Johnson called. “I see it. Stand by.”

Chevy Flight got closer, and they could see fighters slashing at what appeared to be transports. Then they recognized the fighters as F-15s, and the transports were An-12 Cubs and An-26 Curls. Several of each were now falling in flames, and several others had crashed, for there were columns of smoke rising from a number of crash sites.

“Looks like the good guys are winning this one,” Tony observed, as an An-12 fell off to their left. “What'd they think they'd do? Land at Luke or Sky Harbor and just take over?”

“Don't know,” Guru replied. “But some jumped. There's quite a few chutes.” And sure enough, there were numerous parachutes, and that meant some of the paratroopers had jumped.

“Flight, Lead. This ain't our fight. We got business near the border.” Johnson reminded the flight, and everyone acknowledged. And the Phantoms and their Eagle escorts headed south. They got close to Tucson, and everyone could see A-7s and A-10s taking off, and even Army AH-1s. An Army Reserve unit flew AH-1S Cobras out of Marana Airpark, and some of them were headed off to war. The crews could also see a couple columns of smoke rising from Tucson near both Davis-Monthan AFB and Tucson IAP, and something had happened.

“Wonder if they had gate-crashers like we did,” Guru wondered.

“No bet. That was a given,” Tony replied.

Then the RWR came up. “Picking up SA-6,” Guru said.

“Got it,” Tony said. “How do you want the bombs?”

“Everything in one go.”

“Coors Lead, Chevy Lead,” the Weasel leader called. “Time for us to go to work, fella.”

“Copy that,” Colonel Johnson replied. “Get those guys off the air.”

“Roger that,” Coors Lead said. “Got an eight coming up.” That meant an SA-8 launch vehicle, and the SA-8 was still a relative unknown. “And...Magnum!” Coors Lead called as an AGM-78 Standard-ARM missile came off his Weasel.

The big missile stampeded away from the F-4, and homed in on the threat.

To the south, a Cuban SA-6 battery was trying to lock up the incoming aircraft. In the Straight Flush radar vehicle, the crew's morale was high. They had already shot down an F-4 and two A-7s, and sent an A-10 back damaged, and the Cuban missilers were exuberant. Then they heard a WHOOSH, then all of a sudden, their radar track exploded around them......

“SA-6 down,” Guru said, checking his EW repeater.

“Magnum!” Coors Lead shouted. And another AGM-78 went off in search of a target. It found a nearby SA-8 vehicle and exploded it just as it fired at Coors Lead.

“Coors Lead is Winchester,” he called. That meant he was out of ordnance. “Coors Two, it's all yours.”

“Copy. Chevy Lead, want to go in? I'll cover you.”

“Roger,” Chevy Lead replied. “Buick Lead, Chevy Lead. Any MiGs?”

“That's affirm,” the F-15 leader called. “Got some Floggers inbound.” That meant MiG-23s.

“Get some, Buick,” Johnson said. “Chevy Flight, same drill. South to North.”

“Roger, Lead,” Guru replied.

“Three copies,” Surfer called.

Chevy Flight rolled in, with Coors Two right behind them. Then he called, “Coors Two, Magnum!” as a Shrike missile came off the rail, and tracked something down below. As it did, Coors Two said, “Rifle one, and two,” as he shot his two AGM-65s.

“Roger that,” Chevy Lead said. “Lead in hot.” And Colonel Johnson rolled in on some armor barely a mile south of where they had flown their first strike. He put his bombs right on some APCs, and several Cuban BTRs exploded. “Lead's off.”

Right after Johnson called off target, Guru rolled in. “Two's in,” he called. And he went down the chute, picking out some tanks near where the Colonel had planted his bombs. “And...HACK!” Guru hit the pickle button, and a dozen Mark-82s came off the plane. He rolled out level, and got back down low. “Two's off safe.”

Guru's bombs landed among several T-55 tanks, and two of the beasts took direct hits. Several others fireballed as near-misses sent hot shrapnel into their external fuel tanks, on the rear decks of the tanks, and those exploded. And one of his bombs even flipped over a T-55.

“Three's in,” Surfer called as he rolled in, with the second Weasel alongside him. The F-4G then shot off his last Shrike as a ZSU-23 AA vehicle came up, and the Shrike found the Shilka's Gun Dish radar and exploded both the radar and the vehicle. While that was going on, Surfer found some Cuban 122-mm SP guns for his bombs, and Mark-82s rained down on the battery, exploding a couple of the 2S1 SP guns, and also taking out several ammo trucks, which set off sympathetic detonations as their ammunition exploded. “Three's off, and got some secondaries.”

“Roger that, Three,” Johnson said. “Let's get north. Buick Lead, form on me and RTB, now.”

“Copy that, Chevy Lead. Splash six Floggers,” the F-15 leader called.

“Good kills, Buick,” Johnson replied. “Coors, thanks for the help.”

“Anytime, Chevy, We're going to RTB. See you guys later.” And the two F-4Gs headed to the northwest, back to George AFB to refuel and rearm.

Chevy Flight and its escorts had their egress to the northeast, and as they approached Interstate 10, they saw a Boeing 727 ahead, inbound to Tucson. The white with blue trim paint job meant Republic Airlines and it was clear this guy was trying to get his plane and passengers on the ground. Then Buick Lead yelled on the radio. “He's got MiGs on his tail!”

“Republic 727, this is an F-4 at your Ten O'clock. You have hostiles behind you,” Colonel Johnson called on GUARD (121.5). There was no answer. “Buick Lead, get some.”

“Copy that!” Buick Flight hit their burners and charged in.

“Chevy Flight, let's go. Back up the Eagles.” Lead called.

Guru armed his two AIM-9s and followed his CO in.

Just as the F-15s got in AIM-7 range, the 727 took two missile hits to the tail and port wing, and the plane rolled left, then plunged down to earth, his tail and left wing on fire. The 727 crashed north of I-10, and exploded in a huge fireball.

Enraged, the F-15s took shots with their remaining AIM-7s, as the MiGs were now identified as MiG-21s. Two of the MiGs took Sparrow hits and exploded, as the Eagles got into a turning fight with the MiGs. One of the MiG-21s took a Sidewinder hit and blew up, while the last MiG tried to run south. He didn't get far, as Buick Four lined up a gun shot and sprayed him with his 20-mm Vulcan gun. The MiG fell, trailing fire, and the pilot ejected.

“Break off, Break off,” Buick Lead yelled. The four F-15s orbited as the MiG driver's chute descended, and several cars and trucks on the Interstate stopped. Once the pilot was down, the F-15s rejoined the F-4s.

Down below, about fifty motorists on both sides of I-10 had pulled over as they saw the 727 crash and the dogfight that followed. Several truckers picked up tire irons and crowbars, and ran for the downed pilot. One of them was ex-Air Force, and recognized the last MiG-21 as the F-15 shot it down.

The MiG's pilot was quickly surrounded by the motorists, and he was set upon by the crowd. He was quickly dragged to a nearby pickup, tied to the bumper, and dragged behind the truck. After that, he was strung up from a tree next to the freeway.

As the F-15s rejoined the F-4s, Colonel Johnson got on the radio. “Who were the MiGs?”

“Chevy Lead, didn't see much. They weren't Russians, or Cubans. They had FAS on the side.”


“Maybe,” Buick Lead replied. “Couldn't tell for sure.”

The flight headed back north in silence, and an hour later, they were back in the Nellis traffic pattern. Departing aircraft had priority, as no one waiting had battle damage. Soon, they were cleared, and Chevy and Buick flights landed. They taxied to their area on the ramp, and after the F-4s shut down, the crew chiefs came out with crew ladders. “Lieutenant,” Sergeant Calhoun said. “You've got a half-hour, sir.”

“Thanks, Sergeant,” Guru said as he took off his helmet. One thing he noticed about his crew chief, he was packing a sidearm. “Where'd you get that?”

“They're passing them out to all air and ground crew. Just in case those Spetsnatz try it again.”

“That's who it was?” Tony asked as he got out of the rear cockpit.

“Yes, sir. At least, that's what the word is.” Sergeant Calhoun said. He was packing a S&W .38 in a holster on his belt.

“All right, Sergeant, 515's still truckin'. No gripes. And no battle damage,” Guru said as he climbed out of the cockpit. And Colonel Johnson came over. “Boss.”

“Good work, both of you,” he said, putting out his hand.

“Thank you, sir,” Guru said, and Tony seconded it, shaking their CO's hand.

“Surfer, good work, you and Jasper.” Johnson said.

“Thanks, Colonel,” Surfer replied

Then a crew van came up, with Major Keith Pollard, the Ops Officer. “Colonel, got some sandwiches and drinks for you guys, and some other stuff.”

The crewers went over to the van, and picked out what they wanted, plus some bottled water. “What have you got for us, Major?” Johnson asked.

“Here's some maps of the border area, and a frag order,” Pollard said. “Free strike again, though head for Sierra Vista: the Army's holding the Cubans there, but they want some fast movers.”

“Will do,” the CO said. “What are we getting?”

“First, Java and Raven need a element: their wingie's radar went down, and the maintenance guys are working on that. They're yours if you want a four-ship again.”

“Tell 'em to come with us,” Johnson ordered. That meant Capt. Bob Lockwood and 1st Lt. Steve Matheny would be joining the flight for now. Ordnance?”

“Two birds get Rockeyes, two get Mark-82s,” Pollard said.

“All right, Major,” Johnson said. “Thanks.”

“Sir,” Pollard said, as he went looking for the XO's flight, which was the next on his list.

Then Lockwood and Matheny came over. “Boss.”


Guru whispered to Tony. “How'd he get his call sign?”

“He drank coffee like a fish in UPT. So guess what?”

“I get it.”

“Get something to eat, hit the latrine, and get ready to go back out,” Johnson said.

The crews dug into the sandwiches and bottled water Pollard had left for them, while the ordnance crews armed their aircraft. They noticed that the element leaders had the Mark-82s, while the wingmen had the CBUs. “Guess we'll be looking for some armor,” Java said to Guru.

“Looks like it,' Guru replied.

After they finished eating, the crews hit the latrines, then came back out. Colonel Johnson was waiting by his aircraft for them. “Okay, we're headed for Sierra Vista. The Army's holding off the Cubans there, and they need more fast-movers. One pass only, and get north as soon as you can.”

“Any F-15s or Weasels?” Surfer asked.

“Both. F-15s are Cobra Flight, and they go with us. We meet the Weasels near Phoenix again. Call sign is Michelob,” said the CO.

“Why do the Weasels always use beer for their call signs?” Guru asked.

“Ask them,” the CO said. “Any other questions?”

“How many more?” Tony asked.

“Don't know myself,” Johnson admitted. “Maybe after this one, we can have an hour or so to rest before going back out.”

“Maybe,” Guru deadpanned.

“To be wished for, Lieutenant,” the CO said. “Anything else?' No one said a word. “Okay, mount up and let's go.”

The crews went to their F-4s and mounted their aircraft. After a rushed preflight and engine start, they taxied to the runway, third in line behind a flight of F-111s and a flight of F-16s loaded for air-to-ground. When it was their turn, they found the Chaplain there again, and the crews saluted him as they taxied for takeoff. Again, the tower flashed a green light, and the F-4s rumbled down the runway and into the air.

Over North Central Arizona, 1155 Hours:

Chevy Flight, with their F-15 escorts, was flying south of Flagstaff, headed southeast at 6,000 feet AGL. As they flew, they could see some civilian aircraft trying to land at Flagstaff airport, obviously general aviation or commuter airliners. So far, their radar scopes were clear, and hopefully, they would stay that way until they got to the border.

“Tony, anything on the radio?” Guru asked his backseater.

“Got a Flagstaff station. They're repeating what's coming out of ABC News in L.A. Something's happened in Orange County, they said.”

“What kind of 'something'?”

“Riot of some kind,” Tony replied.

Great, Guru thought. “Scope clear?”

“So far,”

The flight kept heading southeast, then made a slight turn over Payson, East of Phoenix, the F-15 leader made a call.

“Chevy Lead, Olds Lead. Rhinos at nine O'clock.”

“Copy that,” Colonel Johnson called. “Rhinos at my nine, is that Michelob Flight?”

“You found us,” Michelob Lead replied. “Got two Standards and two Shrikes to play with.”

“Any HARMs?”

“Not us, but some of the guys went out with 'em.”

“Copy that, Michelob Lead. Join the party.”

The two F-4Gs formed up and followed behind Chevy Flight's four F-4Es, and the strike package headed on south, towards I-10. As they did, several more civilian aircraft appeared on their scopes, and the F-15s went ahead to check them out. As well as warning them about MiGs.

When the flight reached I-10, an Air Force ground FAC came up on the radio. “Chevy Flight, this is Covey Two-one. Authentication Alpha Six November.'

“Covey, Chevy Lead. Tango Four Bravo.” Colonel Johnson replied.

“Roger that, Chevy. Got a new tasking for you. Go to U.S. 191 north of Douglas. The Army's waiting on 191 for the bad guys. Kill anything painted green that's headed north.”

“Covey, what about Sierra Vista?”

“Army's taken care of that, Chevy. Hit anything on 191 from McNeal south to Douglas.” Covey replied.

“Copy that, Covey. Flight, Lead. Let's go.” Colonel Johnson radioed. And the flight headed for U.S. 191.

South of McNeal, Arizona, 1305 Hours:

Chevy Flight approached McNeal from the east, and then flew south, paralleling U.S. 191. As they did, they began picking up SAM radars. “Chevy, Michelob. Got a six and an eight.”

“Copy that, Michelob Lead,” Colonel Johnson said. “Get some.”

“Roger that,” came the reply, and the two F-4Gs broke formation and headed in. Then the Weasel leader called, “Magnum!” and an AGM-78 shot away from the lead F-4G. The call came again, this time from Michelob Two, and another Standard-ARM shot off towards a target.

Down below, a Cuban SA-6 battery was trying to lock up the inbound aircraft, and nearby was their mobile P-40 (Long Track) radar. Just as the Cubans were about to get lock, both ARMs came in, exploding the Straight Flush missile radar, and the Long Track vehicle.

“Six is down. And the air-search is off,” Michelob Lead radioed.

“Copy that. Chevy Flight, stand by. Two, with me. Three, you and Four find the rear of this column and hit that. See if we can't block the road,” radioed the CO.

“Copy, Lead,” Guru responded.

“Roger that,” Surfer replied.

Then another Magnum call came over the radio. One of the Weasels had picked up an SA-8 signal and sent another AGM-78 after it. The signal abruptly ceased.

“The other eights have dropped off,” Guru noted.

“Fine with me,” Tony replied. “Set it up?”

“Gotcha. Everything in one pass.”

“You got it, buddy.”

Chevy Lead and Chevy Two had the Rockeye CBUs, while Three and Four had Mark-82s. And Chevy Three found his target first. “Three's in hot!”

“Copy that, Three. Lead's in!” And Colonel Johnson rolled in and laid his Rockeyes on a number of supply trucks. As he pulled away, he was rewarded with several secondary explosions, as trucks carrying either fuel or ammunition exploded. “Lead's off target.” Then it was Guru's turn.

“Two's in hot!” Guru called. He rolled in, and lined up on some trucks just behind where Lead had dropped his load. “Steady, steady.....HACK!” And a dozen Rockeyes came off of 515. “Two's off.”

Below, a Cuban rear-services Major was having a professional fit. The mixed brigade of Cubans and Mexicans had halted near the town of McNeal, and word had it that the lead battalion, Mexicans, had stopped to loot once again. They'd done the same down in Douglas after crossing the border, and getting the Mexicans to get back in their vehicles and head north had taken half the morning. And a few executions, if the rumor mill was correct. Then one of his Sergeants shouted, and he looked to the rear, and saw two F-4 Phantoms making a bomb run on the rear of the column. Fireballs of exploding vehicles blended with bombs going off, and to his disgust, none of the Strela shoulder-fired missiles launched by the motor-rifle troops tracked the departing aircraft. Then another Phantom came over, and attacked the front of the column with cluster bombs, and not just vital fuel and ammunition carriers, but a couple of the BRDMs that were helping to protect the column went up as well. Then he heard another F-4, and he barely had time to see it depart when more CBUs rained down on his location. Several of the bomblets landed on his UAZ-469 jeep, exploding it-and everyone in it.....

“GOOD HITS!” Tony shouted. “We've got secondaries!”

Guru turned his head, and caught a quick glance of the convoy. Numerous vehicles were burning, and he saw several explode in oily fireballs. “Those fuel trucks?'

“Had to be,” Tony replied.

“Lead, Two. Where are you?”

“Chevy Flight, Lead. Meet up over Benson on I-10.” The CO replied.

“Roger that, Lead.”

“Three copies,” called Surfer.

“Four,” Java said.

“Olds Lead, Chevy. Copy my last?”

“Roger that. Sky's clear. No bandits.”

“Roger. Michelob?”

“Still got one Standard left. No radars up,” replied Michelob Lead.

“Form up and let's egress,” Chevy Lead called.

A few minutes later, the package reformed over Benson, east of Tucson on I-10. “Chevy Three, how'd it go?” Colonel Johnson asked.

“Good hits, Lead,” Surfer replied.

“Four had good hits,” Java added.

“Copy, all,” Lead said. “Olds, on us. Michelob, clear to RTB. Chevy, time to RTB.”

“Roger, Chevy. Be glad to work with you guys later,” Michelob Lead called, then the Weasels broke off and headed back to George.

Chevy Flight headed north, and as they went towards the tankers east of Phoenix, they saw several explosions on the ground near Davis-Monthan “What were those?” Java asked.

“No idea, Four,” Lead replied.

In 515, Tony turned his radio to a Tucson station. “Lead, Two. You won't believe this.”

“Two, what is it?”

“Those were Scuds!” Tony called.

“Oh, boy,” Guru said. “Who said?”

“Davis-Monthan,” Tony replied. “They had several this morning, all Scuds aimed at the base, but they keep missing.”

Guru swore. “Hope we don't have to go hunting for those.”

“Yeah. They'd be shootin' and scootin',” Tony said.

“If we get that call, we'll find a way,” replied the Colonel. “Let's head for the tankers.”

Chevy Flight joined up on the KC-135s, and now, there were four tankers up, and the F-4s formed up on one pair of tankers, while the F-15s took the other pair. They took on enough fuel to get back to Nellis, then headed northwest. Passing Phoenix, the crews could see where numerous aircraft had crashed, and at both Williams AFB and Sky Harbor IAP, there were airliners sitting on the tarmac at both fields.

“Anyplace in a storm,” Guru told his backseater.

“Yeah. Can you blame 'em?” Tony replied.

Guru frowned underneath his oxygen mask. “After what we saw on the last one?” He said, recalling the 727 shootdown. “No. Anything on the Phoenix radio?”

“They're saying there's Cuban paratroopers, and the National Guard and some Marine Reservists are engaging. Folks are to stay clear of several areas.”

“Cubans digging in?”

“You got it?”

The flight continued towards Lake Mead, and when they arrived over the lake, two F-5Es from one of the Aggressor squadrons came to check them out. It was strange, seeing the F-5s, with their Soviet-style markings and live AIM-9s on their wingtip missile rails. Nobody wanted to think of the reception they would've gotten if they had been Russians. After calling the tower, the flight was told to wait, as several outbound flights were about to depart, then Chevy Flight and two others were cleared to land in order. After taxiing to their ramp area and shutting down, the crews got out of their aircraft. And they found the XO waiting. “Colonel,' Major Scott Crenshaw said. “Want to take an hour or two? Because you guys look like you could use a couple hours' down time.”

“Anyone using the briefing room?” the CO asked.

“Other than to take a nap? No, sir.” Crenshaw replied. 'You guys ate before the last one?”

“We did.”

Colonel Johnson nodded. 'The next XO who's not acting like a mother hen-”

“Will be the first,” Crenshaw finished. “If you don't mind my saying, you guys look beat.”

“So do you, sir,” Guru said. “If you don't mind my saying.”

'I've only had two missions. You guys have had three. I'm going out in twenty, so....”

“I get it,” Guru nodded. Right now, he didn't care about whether the CO or XO wrote him up. Because he needed a nap.

“Guru's right, Major,” the Colonel said. “You look a little beat, but if you think you can handle it...”

Crenshaw looked past the four crews, where his own WSO was holding up a thermos. “All I need now is some coffee, Boss. I'll take a break after this one.”

“Okay, Major. Let's tell the intel folks what we saw and did, fellas, then let's flake out for an hour or two.” After going in, and debriefing all three missions with Capt. Danielle Lambert, the Squadron Intelligence Officer, the crews went into the briefing room, found chairs, and simply fell asleep.

Matt Wiser 12-18-2014 06:29 PM


Nellis AFB, NV: 1335 Hours:

“Guru. Guru! WAKE UP!”

Lieutenant Wiser opened his eyes. “Huh, what?” He saw Tony standing over him with a cup of coffee. “Time to get up. Wheels up in fifteen minutes.”

Guru nodded as he stood up. He saw the CO and his WSO, plus the others in the flight either getting up or already up. “How long?

“About an hour and a half,” Tony replied. “XO's still out.”

“Any news? And I imagine all of it's bad.”

“There's still a fight around El Paso, but the Russians and Cubans are probably going around. They're headed for San Antonio and Corpus Christi, and they're pouring across the Rio Grande like a tidal wave,” Tony said. “There were some more nukes in the Dakotas, though.”

“Missile silos?” Guru asked, draining the coffee cup.

“Launch control centers is what's going around.”

Nodding, Guru looked at his watch. “Great.”

“And George Bush is now President. Reagan didn't get out of Washington, apparently,” Tony said.

“Nothing we can do about that,” Guru said. “What's on our plate?”

Colonel Johnson answered that question. “Back to I-19 people. Free strike. Seems the Cubans and Mexicans-yeah, Mexicans, have stalled because of all the air coming down on them. They're sticking to the roads, and we're going to make them pay for that.”

“Ordnance, Boss?' Surfer asked.

“We'll find out when we get to the flight line. Hit the latrine if you need to, then let's go.” Johnson said.

The crews headed out to the flight line, and found that they had another anti-armor loadout. This time, everyone had the Rockeyes, plus two AIM-9s and two AIM-7s. “No ECM pod?” Java asked.

“They're still getting those out of storage and running tests,” Colonel Johnson said. “Maybe tomorrow.” He looked at the flight crews. “Okay....Buick Flight will be with us for MIGCAP, and Olympia Flight will be out of George. They'll meet us west of Phoenix. Questions?”

Guru raised his hand. “Yeah, Colonel. What's the deal with Phoenix?”

“Good question. Stay away from Luke's traffic pattern. And anywhere near Phoenix? Stay above 5,000 feet AGL. Not just the Cubans, mind, but our own people-lots of armed civilians taking shots at anything that flies. So stay safe, and avoid the area unless you have to divert to Luke or Williams.” Colonel Wiser looked at the crews. “That answer your question, Lieutenant?”

“Yes, sir.”

“All right, chances are, we'll have one more today. Then the maintenance folks need to get us ready for tomorrow. Because chances are, this is going to be a long war.” He looked around. “Anything else?” Heads shook no. “All right, mount up and let's go.”

The crews went to their aircraft and did their preflight walkarounds, then they mounted their aircraft. As they went through the cockpit preflight, Guru told his backseater, “Want to bet the RTU instructors would be failing all of us today for rushing the preflight?”

“Failing a light colonel?” Tony quipped. “That, I'd love to see.”

Sergeant Calhoun, 515's crew chief, gave the “Start Engines” signal, and first, one, then both J-79 engines came to life. Then Guru followed his squadron CO, taxiing out, and just as in the morning, the Catholic Chaplain was waiting as the aircraft halted at the runway so that the armorers could remove the weapon safeties. Then, again, the tower gave clearance for takeoff with a green light, and Chevy Flight rumbled down the runway and into the air.

Over Western Arizona: 1425 Hours:

Chevy and Buick Flights headed south over Arizona, between Kingman and Wickenburg, and they fully intended to give the Phoenix area a wide berth. By now, the WSOs were watching their radar scopes, while the pilots maintained their visual scanning. “Anything?” Guru asked Tony.

“Everything shows friendly on IFF,” Tony said.

Then Java called, “Rhinos at Three O'clock.”

“Roger that,” the CO said. “Rhinos at my Three, you Olympia Flight?”

“Roger that. You must be Chevy,” Olympia Lead called. “Two Weasels comin' your way. Got two HARMs and two Standard-ARMs, each airplane.”

“Copy,” Chevy Lead radioed. “Come on and join the show.”

The two Weasel Phantoms joined the package, and as they headed south, the crews saw several F-15 flights from Luke orbiting west of Phoenix, and some smoke clouds still coming up.

“Anything on the radio, Tony?” Guru asked.

“Just a sec....okay. They're asking people to stay away from the Goodyear Airport, Glendale Municipal, and the towns of Maricopia and Mobile. That's pretty much where the Cubans are.”

“And the Army's coming?”

“You got it. I-8 and I-10 are open to military traffic only.”

Nodding, Guru concentrated on flying the airplane. It wasn't long until they were getting close to the Tuscon area, and what looked like a smoke cloud coming from a golf course. “Let me guess: a Scud landed on that golf course.”

“Man, that's a big divot,” Tony said.

“Hey, Lead,” Java called. “What's the penalty for a Scud on the course?”

Though he was of a mind to tell Java to knock the chatter off, Colonel Johnson knew that some humor was a good thing, after everything that had happened today. “Java, I think you just play around. Okay, people, time to get serious. I-19 ahead. And there's Hogs and SLUFs headed in.”

The package followed the A-10s and A-7s down the Interstate, and sure enough, the Weasels picked up radar emissions on their APR-47 “sniffer” gear. “Got some SAMs and an air-search radar, Chevy Lead. Want those to go away?”

“Get some, Olympia,”

The two Weasels headed in, and then, one, then two, “Magnum” calls came over the radio as HARM missiles went in search of SAM or air-search radars. And an SA-6 and an air-search radar went off the air. “Got a couple of eights coming.” That meant SA-8 Geckos, and unlike the SA-6, they had the missiles and the radar on the same vehicle. “Olympia Two, “Magnum!” And a HARM and a Standard-ARM went off in search of targets.

Near Tubac, a Cuban air-defense officer was wondering what was happening. His pre-invasion briefing had assured all senior commanders that their air force, and special-operations teams, would make sure the Yanquis' aircraft would stay on the ground. Seeing A-7s and A-10s all morning, with occasional F-4s and Cobra attack helicopters, showed what that promise had been made of.

Now, with two interstate bridges over a small riverbed blown, and the engineers stuck in a traffic jam that led all the way back to the border, this mixed force of Mexicans and Cubans was now stalled, and highly vulnerable to air attack. The imperialists had been over them all day, and losses to their aircraft had been horrendous. He was now sitting in a 9K33 (NATO SA-8) missile vehicle, and it was only transmitting intermittently due to those insidious anti-radar missiles the Americans always seemed to have. Then the senior operator turned on the radar again, only to see a target appear, then make a turn. Suddenly, there was a WHOOSH overhead, then an explosion. The vehicle, and its occupants, were shredded by the 214-pound warhead of an AGM-78 going off....

“Any guns down there?” Chevy Lead asked.

“Negative,” Olympia Lead replied. “Still got a HARM and a 78 left.”

“Copy that. Chevy Flight, on me. Time to go to work.” And Colonel Johnson rolled in on the armor stuck behind two blown bridges. “Lead's in hot!” The CO rolled down the chute, and laid his Rockeyes on several T-55 tanks, and as he pulled out and away, several of the tanks fireballed. “Lead off target.”

“Two's in!” Guru called. “Tony, set it up: everything at once.”

“You got it, buddy.” He worked the armament switches. “You're set.”

“Copy that and hang on.” Guru rolled in, and he saw where the CO had put his CBUs. He chose several tanks and APCs just south of that, and came in. “Steady, and HACK!” He called, pushing the pickle button, and a dozen Rockeye CBUs came off his F-4. “Two's off.”

“Three's in!” Surfer called.

Hearing that as he pulled away, Guru turned his head, and saw his CBU bomblets going off. “Look at that!”

“We got secondaries!” Tony shouted. “Good hits, my man!”

“Three''s off target,” Surfer radioed.

“MAGNUM!” Olympia Two called, sending a HARM after a radar signal that came up, and a ZSU-23-4 AA vehicle exploded as the HARM missile found its radar dish.

“Bandits inbound,” Buick Lead called. “We got Fishbeds.” That meant MiG-21s.

“Roger that, Buick. Break 'em up,” Chevy Lead called.

“That's a roger. FOX ONE!” Buick Lead said as he fired a Sparrow missile.

“Four's in.” Java called. “Three's got good hits.” Java rolled in, and put his bombs on some artillery tracks that looked as if they were set up to fire. The rain of CBUs exploded a couple, and also took out several of their ammo trucks.” Four's off safe.”

“Copy that, Chevy. Meet up over Kitt Peak.” That was the location of the Kitt Peak Observatory.

“Two,” Guru called.

“Three,” Surfer.

“Four, roger,” Java called.

“Olympia Flight is now Winchester,” Olympia Lead radioed. “We are RTB at this time.”

“Good work, Olympia,” Chevy Lead replied. “Thanks for the help.”

“Anytime, Chevy.” the Weasel leader said. And those two Phantoms headed back to California.

“Chevy, Buick. Splash two Floggers, the rest turned tail,” said Buick Lead.

“Roger, Buick. Form on us.” Colonel Johnson said.

'The F-15s headed to Kitt Peak, and found the F-4s orbiting. The package reformed, and this time, no one needed the tankers. And the package headed back to Nellis, passing two more F-4 flights and two F-111 flights on their way to the fight. Just like the previous mission, when they got to Lake Mead, a pair of Aggressor F-5s checked them out. And to the F-4 crews' surprise, one of the F-5s had an empty Sidewinder rail.

“What'd he shoot?” Tony asked.

“Find out later, I reckon.” Guru said.

This time, they were the first in the pattern, and both Chevy and Buick Flights came in and landed. After taxiing and shutting down, the crews noticed some excitement. “What's going on?” Colonel Johnson asked one of the ground crew.

“Had a couple MiGs come by,” the sergeant replied. “The F-5s got one, and an F-16 got the other. Had a little air show about a half-hour ago.”

“Well,” Guru observed. “The Aggressors got somebody today.”

“That they did, Lieutenant,” Colonel Johnson said. “Come on. Let's do a quick debrief, then see what's next.”

After a quick debriefing with Captain Lambert, Chevy Flight got its next mission. It would be an hour, but they would be going out on their fifth mission of the day, and likely their last, as the maintenance people needed to get as many aircraft ready for the next day. The crews got a bite to eat, and caught some news. A TV set in the briefing room was set to the Vegas NBC station, and they were showing scenes from the outskirts of Washington, D.C. Things in Virginia were under control, due to a heavy presence of the Virginia National Guard, but across the Potomac in Maryland, Prince George's County was a mess. And hospitals from Richmond to Baltimore were busy treating casualties from the nuclear blast, not to mention those from the civil disorder.

“Looks bad,” Tony commented. “Anything about Kansas City?”

Major Pollard, the Ops Officer, said. “Not much. Other than there were several detonations.”

“And nobody from Omaha?”

“No. Message traffic says it was a big one. Twenty megatons at least.”

There was silence after that.

A few minutes later, Guru found a pay phone. He wondered if the long-distance lines were still up, or if they'd been taken over by the military. He took a chance, and dialed his Mom's home phone. There was a pickup. “Hello?”

“Mom, it's Matt.”

“Thank God! Where are you? Still in Vegas?”

“Can't say officially, but for now, yeah. I can't talk long. Just wanted to tell you I'm okay so far, and if you don't hear from me for a few days, or don't get a letter, it's because I'm busy.”


“Mom-if something happens, the Air Force will tell you. So don't worry if I don't get in touch for a while. Let Grandma know and everyone else, and I'll stay in touch the best I can. Anything happen there?”

“In Auberry? No, but everyone in town is talking about forming some kind of posse. Lots of pickup trucks with guns, things like that.”

“And half the senior class at the high school wants to enlist.”

“They do.”

“Okay. Gotta go. Mom-I love you.”

“I love you too.”

“Bye.” Guru hung up, and found Tony standing next to him.

“Calling home?” Tony asked.

“Yeah. My family's okay, and you might want to call your folks. No telling how long the long-distance lines will be available.”

Tony nodded, then managed to get his call through.

While Tony was on the phone, Guru went back to the Ops desk. He and Tony had been so busy, they hadn't even touched their bags. Then the CO came over. 'Boss.”

“Guru. What'd you do? Call home?” Colonel Johnson asked.

“Yeah, I did. Figured I may not have a chance for a while.”

The CO nodded sympathetically. “Don't blame you. I'll pass the word for people to try and get in touch. You know anyone in the nuclear sites?”

“No, sir,” Guru replied.

“Okay, but pass it on: the Red Cross is taking names, addresses, etc. They're going to help with refugees, and tracing relatives. Or, they'll try at least.”

Guru nodded, and Tony came over. “Well, Dad says that things are okay. Nothing happened, and get this: he heard on the radio that a RV company in Coburg has already offered their facilities to make whatever the military needs from them.”

“What's an RV company going to do?” Guru asked.

“They can install radios and other gear in some of 'em,” Tony said. “Or they can make other stuff-what's that eight-wheeled vehicle the Marines use now?”

“LAV-25s,” the CO replied. “Well, well....awful nice of them.”

“Yes, sir,” Tony said.

Then Major Pollard, the Ops Officer, came over. “Colonel, got your Frag Order. You guys are going back to I-19.”

“Again?” Surfer asked.

“Again,” the Ops Officer said. “The Army's getting close to that location, and the bad guys haven't pushed north of Tubac. Supply problems or whatever. Anyway, kill anything on the Interstate between there and Nogales.”

“Free strike?' Java asked.

“That's it, Captain,” Pollard replied. “Your birds are being armed right now, and Olds Flight will be your escorts. And your old pals from this morning, Michelob, will be Weasel support. And we should be getting EF-111s from Mountain Home tonight.”

“Those'll be good to have.” The CO observed.

An Ops NCO came up and gave Major Pollard a message. “Boss, two planes from the XO's flight are down. Well, one's down, the other had to land at Davis-Monthan. No further info.”

“All right, Major. Let me know when you get anything else.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Okay, get your gear and mount up. Let's get this last one done,” the CO said.

After gearing up, the crews went to the flight line, and found they had the same load as the previous one: a dozen Rockeyes each airplane. After the preflight, they mounted their aircraft and started their J-79 engines. They taxied out, and the Chaplain was there again.

“He running on overdrive or what?” Tony asked as the armorers removed the weapon safeties.

“He'd probably say he's been recharged with power from above,” Guru noted.

Chevy Flight taxied onto the runway, and the tower flashed the green light. The F-4s rumbled down the runway and into the air, with their F-15s right behind them.

Over Western Arizona, 1620 Hours:

Chevy Flight had the meetup with the F-15s of Buick Flight, and was once again headed towards the border. Again, as they headed south, the WSOs were checking their radar scopes, while the pilots had their eyes peeled. If the Cubans could get MiGs as far north as Vegas, they could easily show up here.

“Anything?” Guru asked Tony.

“Negative on radar,” his GIB replied. “Radio's still going.”

“Phoenix again?”

“San Diego this time: they're saying the Mexicans got held up in National City, and the Navy's really laying it on them.”

“For once, the street gangs are on the good guys' side,” Guru noted.

“There's a first time for everything,” Tony quipped.

Guru nodded, then glanced right. “Lead, this is Two. Rhinos at our Three.”

“Copy that, Two. I see 'em,” Colonel Johnson said. “Michelob Lead, Chevy Lead. You guys comin' to the party?”

“Chevy Lead, that we are,' Michelob Lead replied. “Got two HARMs and two Standard-ARMs each airplane.”

“Michelob Lead, you have any pods?”

“That's affirm, Chevy Lead. Two 119 pods.” That meant the ALQ-119 ECM pod.

“Good. Until we get Spark Varks, that's all we'll get.” the CO said. “Form on us and let's go.”

The two Weasel Phantoms joined the formation, and preceded by a wall of Eagles from Buick Flight, the package headed south towards the border. Upon reaching I-8, the package turned southeast, and headed for I-19. As they got closer, the crews could see A-7s and A-10s orbiting, and Army AH-1s at work. Still, there were no FACs, and it was as it was briefed: Free strike.

This time, there were no radars yet up, and behind the two bridges, the crews saw multiple pillars of smoke, and that signified burning vehicles. Colonel Johnson called, “These guys have had it. Let's head south.” And the package continued following I-19, and it was a few miles south, between the towns of Carmen and Rio Rico, that they found targets. “Looks like a traffic jam down there.”

“Lead, that's as good a target as we'll find,” Surfer radioed. There were tanks, APCs, SP guns, and trucks, all backed up on the freeway or on nearby U.S. 89, which was paralleling the Interstate.

Then Guru called. “Picking up stuff on the EW.”

“Confirmed, Chevy Lead,” Michelob Lead said. “Got a six and a couple of eights.” That meant SA-6 and SA-8 SAMs.

“Roger that, Michelob. Get some,” Colonel Johnson called.

“Copy. And....Michelob Lead, MAGNUM!” First one, then another, HARM missile came off of Michelob Lead.

The two HARMs followed the Cuban radars to their targets, and one of them found an SA-6 Straight Flush radar track, exploding it just as a pair of SA-6s were fired from a launcher vehicle. The two missiles launched “went dumb”, and flew away harmlessly. The other HARM found an SA-8 track, and it, too, exploded as it launched a missile at an F-4.

“Picking up a Zoo.” Michelob Two called. “MAGNUM!” This time, a single AGM-78 stampeded away from the Weasel, and the Standard-ARM followed the Gun Dish radar signal to its source, and exploded the ZSU-23.

“Thanks, Michelob,” Chevy Lead radioed. “Chevys, one pass, south to north. Chevy Lead in hot!”
And Johnson's F-4 rolled in on the vehicles on the freeway. He made his run, and a dozen Rockeye CBUs came off his aircraft. “Lead's off target.”

His CBUs tore into a number of BTR-60 APCs, and several of them exploded from CBU hits to their fuel tanks.

“Good hits, Lead,” Guru called. “Chevy Two's in hot.” On the intercom, Guru called to Tony. “All set?”

“All set. Everything in one go.” Tony replied.

Guru rolled in, and picked out some supply vehicles that were stuck behind some tanks. He selected the supply tracks, and lined them up in his pipper. “Steady, steady.....and HACK!” He hit the pickle button, and a dozen CBUs came off the racks. “Two's off target.”

Below, the Cuban soldiers were cursing two things. First, the Mexicans, for they were blaming their Mexican comrades for the delay, since they appeared to be more interested in looting than in continuing the advance. Then, like soldiers everywhere, they were also cursing their superiors, who seemed to be doing nothing about the bridges down up ahead. Then, Colonel Johnson's F-4 made its run, and the Cubans ran for cover as several APCs fireballed. Some of them picked themselves up, only to see a second F-4 come in. By now, the Cubans were dreading the Rockeyes and they saw the CBUs come off Guru's plane, and they scattered. Over a dozen trucks and even a couple of T-55 tanks were hit by the Rockeyes, exploding fuel and ammunition.

As he pulled away, Guru looked back. “Look at that!”

“Good hits!” Tony shouted.

“Good job, Two,” Colonel Johnson said.

“Three's in,” Surfer called.

“Michelob One, MAGNUM!” And Michelob Lead fired an AGM-78 at a radar that had come up. The Standard-ARM went after another SA-8 vehicle, and the SAM track exploded when the missile's 214-lb warhead found the missile radar.

“Three's off,” Surfer called as he pulled up and away.

Guru smiled underneath his oxygen mask, then he saw it. “Three, Two. GRAIL! GRAIL! GRAIL!” That call meant SA-7 or similar shoulder-fired SAMs.

“Copy that,” Surfer replied, banking his F-4 into a tighter turn. And two Grail missiles flew past his aircraft.

“Four's in,” Java said as he rolled in. He saw where the missiles came from, and lined that area up. As he came in, he could see several trucks, and what looked like guns. No matter.....A dozen more Rockeyes came off his plane. “Four's off.” His CBUs tore apart a battery of ZU-23 towed AA guns that were frantically setting up, and ripped up a truck carrying an SA-7 team and their reload missiles.

“Chevy Flight, form on me at Kitt Peak. Buick, anything?”Colonel Johnson radioed.

“Negative, Chevy,” the F-15 leader replied. “Maybe we scared 'em off.”

“Roger that. Michelob?”

“Stand by, Chevy. MAGNUM!” Michelob Leader called. His last missile, an AGM-78, came off his aircraft, and found a ZSU-23-4 track, exploding it. “Michelob Lead is Winchester and near Bingo fuel.”

“Copy that. Thanks for the help.”

“Anytime, Chevy. Maybe we can do this again tomorrow.” And Michelob Flight peeled away and headed back to George AFB, while Chevy and Buick reformed over Kitt Peak.

Down below, at the Observatory, the staff and graduate students were watching the aircraft overhead. It seemed like every fifteen or twenty minutes, planes would use the peak as a rendezvous point. As this recent group of F-4s and F-15s headed off, an Army convoy arrived, with a mobile air-defense radar and a HAWK missile battery. They set up shop on a site that, only a day earlier, had been earmarked for a new radio telescope.

Chevy Flight then headed north, back to Nellis. As they approached Lake Mead, the radio chatter picked up. MiGs had been inbound, and an attack on McCarran International had been broken up.

“Where'd they come from?” Surfer asked.

“Baja would be my guess,” Guru said.

“Cut the chatter, people,” the CO ordered, and the crews knocked it off. They saw another fireball in the sky, and an aircraft crashing to earth. Then the Tower declared the pattern clear, and the two flights came in and landed.

After taxiing in and shutting down, Guru and Tony were animated, but also tired. “What were we supposed to be doing today?” Guru asked, and he felt drained as he did so.

“We were supposed to fly a couple of exercise hops,” Tony said. He, too, was drained. Five missions was enough today. But he knew they'd be back at it tomorrow.

Colonel Johnson came over. “How do you all feel?” For Surfer and Java and their crews had joined Guru and Tony.

“Drained, Boss,” Guru said. “Was it like this in Vietnam?”

“Nowhere close. Two a day, at most. Sometimes, just one,” Johnson said, recalling his 1972 tour in SEA.

Then Major Pollard came over with a somber expression on his face. “Colonel, bad news. The Exec's plane went down. He didn't get out.”

The news stunned the crews. “What?”

“Near McNeal. SA-13 they think. He went in with the plane, but Clapper got out. The Army manged to get him before the Cubans. He's okay, but Major Crenshaw....” First Lt. Cody”Clapper” Lyon was Crenshaw's WSO.

“He all right?' Tony asked. Clapper was one of his classmates in the RTU.

“Broken leg, and that's all I know about that,” Pollard said. “Peanut and Fender caught an SA-7 in their tailfeathers. They're down at Davis-Monthan. They need a Combat Repair Team to get 501 back in the air.”

“I'll see about getting a CRT, Major,” Johnson said. “That makes you Exec, by the way.”

Pollard's jaw dropped. “Sir-”

“You're Exec until you either get killed or I find somebody who can do it better. Who's now Ops?”

“Java, he's the senior assistant.”

“Captain, same drill. You're Ops Officer until either one happens. Clear?”

“As a bell, Colonel,” Java replied. But deep down, that was the last thing he wanted right now.

Then the maintenance officer came up. “Colonel, we should have sixteen at least for the morning. We've lost two, one's at D-M with battle damage-”

“I know, Major,” Colonel Johnson said.

“Yes, sir. And one here is still down with a radar that's Tango Uniform. And Supply is on its ass, as usual. They won't release the parts my people need.”

“I'll have a talk with the paper warriors.” Johnson said firmly.

“Colonel, with all due respect, you'll need fixed bayonets. They're still in peacetime mode.”

“Not after today, If I have anything to say. And the other two?”

“Minor battle damage. Looks like small-arms fire. They ought to be ready by morning. If not, Noon at most.”

Johnson nodded. “Okay. Let's debrief, and then I'll tear Supply a new hole. In person if necessary.”

After the debriefing, Colonel Johnson asked if people billeted off base were moving on base. Not yet, was the reply. So they were staying for the time being at the Hilton, which was now guarded by LVPD, Clark County SO, and some Nevada Guard who hadn't yet received deployment orders. After a reminder that the twelve-hour rule began at 1900, everyone was released for the day, and told to be back, bright-eyed and bushy tailed, at 0600. And that Las Vegas Boulevard for a mile in either direction from the base would be closed to all but military and military-authorized traffic, so that getting on base would be easier. Just show your ID at the roadblock, and then pass through the main gate.

This time, Tony drove, while Guru napped in the passenger seat. They got to the Hilton, passed through the LVPD roadblock, and went in to get something to eat.

Las Vegas Hilton, Rancher Steakhouse, 1800 Hours:

Lieutenants Wiser and Carpenter found a table and sat down. It had been a long day, and certainly not the day that anyone had expected. They had gone onto Nellis ready to face their first Red Flag, only to go to war for real. They had had their first taste of combat, and had lost friends and squadron mates. And both of them knew it would be the same tomorrow. But they had experienced something else: when they went into the restaurant along with several other members of the 335th and the 58th, the patrons and staff who saw them come in were clapping. And the manager came to tell them that now the Air Force was paying for their meals, something the AF personnel appreciated. They had just ordered when Capt. Morgan Donahue and 1st Lt. Scott Albright came in. “Guys,” Guru said.

“How'd things go with you guys?” Donahue asked.

“Could've been worse. Yogi and Pappy went down, and no chutes,” Guru said. “You?”

“We weren't in his flight, but we heard the XO go down. So the ops officer is now the exec?”

Tony nodded. “You got it. And Surfer's now Ops.”

“You guys work for him, now,” Albright said. It wasn't a question.

“That's it. You guys hungry?”

“Yeah, but we're waiting on my dad,” Donahue said. “He's an NTSB field rep at McCarran. He's had a busy day.”

“What?” Guru said as the waitress brought their dinner salads. “Another airliner shootdown?”

“No, but they're treating the MiG crash sites around here as accident sites. Nobody alive in D.C to tell them otherwise, and so...”

“And so, they're playing it by the book,” Guru finished. 'What's he think about this?”

“He thinks it's a bunch of crap,” Donahue admitted. “He's retired Air Force, and did accident investigation work before he retired.”

“And until somebody tells them otherwise...” Tony said.

“You got it.”

Albright took out a Vegas paper, the Las Vegas Review. “They've been putting out extras all day.”

“Let's see...” Guru said, and Albright handed him the paper. The headline screamed WAR! SOVIETS INVADE. “Nuclear attacks on Washington, New York, Omaha, and Kansas City. Soviets Invade Alaska, Cross Rio Grande. Cubans, Nicaraguans, and Mexicans Also Involved.” He went on. “Reagan Killed in White House, Bush Now President: Vows 'Fight to the Finish' Britain and Canada Attacked, China Struck by Nukes.”

“That's about it,” Tony said. “Caught glimpses of that on the news when we got back here.”

Then Donahue turned to the front of the restaurant, and saw a figure coming towards them. He waved. “That's Dad. See you guys tomorrow.”

“Will do.” Guru said.

The waitress came with their meals, and the two ate. When they were finished, there were still twenty minutes until the twelve-hour rule kicked in. “How about a beer?” Tony asked.

“Just what the doctor ordered,” Guru said. He waved the waitress over, and said, “Two beers.”

“What'll it be?”

“What do you have?”

“Bud, Bud Light, Michelob, Olympia, Coors, Sam Adams-”

“That's mine,” Guru said.

“Bud for me, Miss,” Tony said.

“Sure thing.” the young lady replied. She quickly came back with their order, and the two officers paid.

“So, Tony,” Guru said. “Besides being still alive, what'll we drink do?”

“How about absent friends? Because there's three empty chairs now in the briefing room.”

“Good idea.” And with that, the two friends and crewmates drank. When they were finished, the waitress came over.


Both officers shook their heads no. “No thanks. We're flying in the morning,” Tony said.

“Well, you guys take care, and kill as many of those Commie bastards you can.”

“Do our best, Miss,” Guru said, and the two went into the lobby. They went into the gift shop and bought a paper each. One to keep to show to their kids some day. If they lived long enough to have any. Then they went by the entrance to the casino. “Look at that.”

“What?” Tony asked.

“That.” Guru pointed to the casino, which was still packed as if nothing had happened. “World War Three just started today, and nobody's left?”

“Just like on the Titanic,” Tony said. “They say there were guys still playing poker up until the water got to the first-class lounge.”

“Be glad you weren't here for the MGM Grand fire in '81,” a voice said. They turned, and it was the pit boss. “They found bodies still in front of the slot machines.”

The two AF officers shook their heads. “Crazy?”

“Maybe,” the man replied. 'You from Nellis?”

“Maybe,” Guru said. “We had our first combat today. And it won't be the last.”

“Do us all a favor,” the pit boss replied. “Get the sons-a-bitches. All of 'em you can.”

“We'll try,” Tony said.

Just then the WHOOSH of jets came over the hotel, and the rest of the Strip. “Those were fighters,” Guru said. “And they ain't landing at McCarran.” He ran for the front entrance, and Tony was right behind him. Just as they got outside, they saw a MiG-21 falling in flames, with an F-5 orbiting overhead. And a parachute coming down on Paradise Road in front of the Hilton.

“What the hell?” the pit boss asked.

“One of the Aggressors got a MiG,” said Guru. “Go find some LVPD or Guard. We want that pilot.” The pit boss nodded and went in search of the police. “Let's go see this chump.”

The MiG crashed on the west side of Paradise Road, in an empty lot where another hotel and casino was due to be built. And the pilot came down right in the middle of Paradise Road. Guru, Tony, and a couple of LVPD officers who'd seen the pilot come down were there to meet him. “Officer, what's your name?” Guru asked one Sergeant.

“Jim Brass.”

“Okay, Sergeant. This is a first for you as it is for us. We want him alive.”

“Will try,” Brass nodded. “But if he tries for a weapon...”

“Fair enough,” Tony said. The four converged on the pilot as he came down, and they rushed him as he tried to get out of his chute. The pilot tried to get up, but Tony tackled him. He'd been a defensive back at the AF Academy, and his old football skills came back. “You ain't going anywhere, Comrade.”

Guru, Brass, and Brass' partner came up, and both LVPD officers had their 9-mm pistols drawn. “He armed?” Brass asked.

Guru went over. “Got a pistol-looks like a Makarov,” he said, taking the weapon from the pilot's shoulder holster and throwing it aside. “And a survival knife,” he added. That he took and handed it to Brass' partner.

“Who is he?'

Tony turned the pilot on his right shoulder. “Cuban,” he said, indicating a Cuban flag patch.

“Get him up,' Guru said, and Tony and another LVPD officer, who just arrived, did so. “Boy, you picked the wrong place to come down.”

Then a jeep with some National Guardsmen arrived. They were Military Police, and they were part of the security around the Hilton, now that there were military personnel billeted there. “We'll take him off of you.” An MP sergeant said.

“Get him to Nellis,” Guru told the Guard Sergeant. See if the Security Police there will take him.”

The Sergeant saw the silver bar on Guru's shoulder. At least this AF officer wasn't an eager-beaver shavetail. “Yes, sir.”

Just then, Colonel Johnson arrived from the Hilton. He shook his head at his wing crew in the middle of the fracas. “You guys are off duty, and you're still involved.”

“War didn't end because we got off the clock, Colonel.” Tony said.

Colonel Johnson looked at him, then slowly nodded. “Well...I guess you're right about that. You two had better hit the sack shortly. We got a busy day coming at us tomorrow.”

“Yes, sir.” Guru said. They watched the Guard take the Cuban away, then went back inside the Hilton. And to no one's surprise, hardly any of the gamblers had left the casino. “You could've had a dozen MiGs crash outside and nobody would've left.”

“Ain't that the truth,” the CO said. “Okay, you two, find your room. Be on base at 0600.”

“Yes, sir.”

Guru and Tony went to their room on the seventh floor, and they found that there were Nevada Guard inside as well. They showed their ID to the MP there, then the two went to their room, and then and there, just decided not to turn on the TV. They just decided to hit the sack, for Colonel Johnson was right. It would be a busy day ahead. But at least they got through the first day.

Matt Wiser 12-19-2014 05:40 PM

Comments so far, fellows?

Matt Wiser 12-22-2014 09:52 PM

First Kill

Nellis AFB, NV: 4 September, 1985, 0730 Hours PDT

It had been a chaotic first day of war. The war everyone had thought would happen in Europe, was now being fought on American soil, and to make matters worse, New York, Washington, D.C.; Omaha, and Kansas City, along with the Minuteman Launch Control Centers in the Dakotas, had been nuked. Soviet forces had landed in Alaska, while Soviet, Cuban, Nicaraguan, and other Soviet-Bloc forces had crossed into the U.S. all along the Mexican border. While the invasion in California and Arizona was being repulsed, the news was bad from New Mexico and Texas. Word was going around that they might lose all of Texas and nearby states if things kept going this bad. That was something those who were from those states, or had family there, didn't want to think about.

The various Air Force, Navy, and Marine squadrons who had arrived for Red Flag 9-85 had instead found themselves going to a real war on what should've been the first day of Red Flag. Instead, they had gone down to either Arizona or Southern California to blast invading Soviet, Cuban, and Mexican troops, or to shoot MiGs and transports out of the sky. Now, with the Air Force starting to get its act together, the Tenth Air Force-the Air Force Reserve command for the Western U.S., had been directed to take charge of the air war in the Southwest and West Coast, and Red Flag's planners were now busy drafting strike and combat air patrol operations over the entire Southwest, from the Pacific Ocean to the Rio Grande and up as far as Colorado.

For Lt. Col. Mark Johnson, it meant his squadron, the 335th Tactical Fighter Squadron, would not be rejoining its parent wing, the famous “4th but First” Tactical Fighter Wing, anytime soon. Once a forward base had been identified, he was told, his unit would fly there and was likely going to be under Marine Operational Control, something he didn't like, but there it was. And now, his squadron was sending out two- and four-ship flights to the border, either for ground attack or to fly cover for the A-7s from Tuscon and the A-10s from Davis-Monthan that were in the process of turning Interstate 19 into a junkyard of Cuban and Mexican armor. Then a frag order had come in, for a strike on the Nogales Airport, just across the border from Mexico. A four-ship of Phantoms, plus a pair of Weasel F-4Gs to kill any SAMs, would have to do the job. Shrugging his shoulders, he went off to brief his flight.

His wingman was six months in the squadron, and though he had come out of OTS instead of the AF Academy or AFROTC, the guy had done well on the first day, and though the man was a history major instead of someone with a math or engineering background, such things didn't mean much in combat. The fact that he was a history major led his squadron mates to give him the call sign “Guru” and it had stuck.

1st Lt. Matt Wiser and the rest of the flight were sitting in the briefing room that they would've used for their Red Flag hops, but now were planning real combat missions. In between the four missions he'd flown the previous day, he'd managed to call his family in Central California, and they were okay for now. Satisfied with that, he threw himself full bore into doing the job he'd signed up to do: fly fighters.
Guru noticed the CO coming in and he was the first to call “CO on the deck!” and everyone stood to attention.

Colonel Johnson waved everyone to sit. “As you were, guys. The shooting's started, so we can cut out a lot of this standing up and down business.” Then he motioned everyone to join him around a planning table. “Here's our frag order: Nogales Airport. We get four Weasels, a Navy Prowler, and two Vipers from the 474th for TARCAP. That's it.”

Everyone looked at each other. Then Capt. Dale Reese, who was #3, said, “I guess we're lucky to get that, Sir?”

“You've got that right: too many missions and not enough assets. Everyone who can is screaming for tac air, even if they can't get it right away. Before I came here, I heard somebody say that they were going to put MER bomb racks on some F-15s; they need anything and everything that can carry bombs.” Colonel Johnson told his men.

Guru spoke up; “Colonel, it's that bad?”

“Yeah, Lieutenant, it's that bad.” He went on, “Now, here's the target. Nogales Municipal Airport. The Cubans and Mexicans seem to be using it for a supply base, at least that's what an SR-71 pass showed yesterday afternoon. There might be MiGs there by now: anyone remember seeing the MiG-21s yesterday?”

Everyone nodded. No one had been able to get a shot off, but Johnson had seen two MiGs fall to F-16s, and one that had tried to shoot an A-10 had overshot, and been hosed by the Warthog's 30-mm cannon....not much left of Mr. MiG, he thought. “The frag order's simple: wreck the airport best we can, and kill any MiGs on the ground. Any questions?”

1st Lt. Bryan Shaw, who flew #4, asked, “Can we cross the border, Sir, or is that a no-go?”

“No limits, gentlemen. This is all-out: not like it was in Southeast Asia. If you have to cross the border to evade a SAM or MiG, you can. And for sure, the Weasels will shoot at any SAM site across the border,” Johnson said.

“Colonel, anything on defenses?” Guru asked. His WSO, 1st Lt. Tony Carpenter, had been about to ask the same question.

“Good question, Guru,” Johnson replied. “One SA-6 battery that we know of on the photos, and probably some ZU-23s. And you can bet anyone who can is probably going to shoot SA-7s. No idea if the MiGs are actually there, but assume that they are.”

Tony Carpenter raised his hand, “What's our ordnance load, Sir?”

“I was just coming to that. Two wing tanks, two TERs with a slant-two load of Mark-82s, a full MER on centerline with Mark-82s, two AIM-9Js, two AIM-7s, plus an ALQ-101 in the left front Sparrow well. And a full load of 20-mm,” Johnson said. “Good enough?”

Heads nodded all around. Then Bryan Shaw asked, “Colonel, what if we're hit?”

“Last item, guys: if you're hit, try and stay with the plane and get to either Davis-Monthan or Tuscon International. If you have to bail out, get as far east or west of I-19 as you can: the Cubans and Mexicans are sticking to the roads, and they're not going very far from them. That good enough?”

Heads nodded. “Okay, get your gear, and see you on the ramp. Wheels up in fifteen mikes, so let's get to it!”

One Hour later; near Nogales, AZ:

The four-ship was in combat spread, heading into the target. The two TARCAP F-16As were just above and behind the Phantoms, while the two Weasel Phantoms were running a minute ahead, with the Navy Prowler right behind them. Everything seemed to be running well. The weather was clear, and from 14,000 feet, one could make out I-19 down below, and the smoke coming up from vehicles that had been bombed on the freeway. Johnson's backseater, Major Joe Simmons, checked his map and watch. It was time. “One minute, Colonel.”

“Roger that. Chevy Flight, this is lead. One minute. Switches on, and time to go to work.”

“Two copies.” Guru.

“Three copies.” Reese.

“Four copies.” Shaw.

Then the Weasels broke in. They used college teams for call signs, and this flight had a Washington State connection: “Husky One, SA-6 up. Magnum!” That signaled a HARM or Shrike missile launch.

Then Colonel Johnson picked out the target. “Chevy Flight, target in sight. Lead in hot!” Then Johnson's F-4 rolled in on his bomb run from 14,000 feet, and he dropped at 9,000. His bombs rained down on Nogales Municipal, and cratered the runway. As he pulled up at 5,000 feet, he called, “Lead off target.”

Then it was Guru's turn. “Two in hot.” And with that, Guru rolled his Phantom on his bomb run. He picked out the ramp area, and it looked like there were a couple of MiGs there, but he wasn't entirely sure, but he dropped his bombs and plastered the ramp area. “Two off target.” And then it happened.

As Guru pulled up, he saw a camouflaged MiG-21PF with Cuban markings, come in from above. There had been no warning either from the AWACS, call sign Warlock, or the two TARCAP F-16s. Someone, he thought, was not on the ball. “Lead, this is two. MiG-21 at your five o'clock! BREAK RIGHT!”

Colonel Johnson heard the call and he cranked his head around. He couldn't see the MiG, so he rolled right and then broke. As he did so, he picked up the MiG-21. “Got it. He's yours, Two.”

Guru quickly switched from BOMB to MISSILE on his weapons-control panel. “Can you get him, Tony?”

“Can't lock him up for some reason. Go heat, buddy.” Carpenter replied.

“Copy. Going heat.” With that call, Guru switched from RADAR to HEAT on the control panel. His AIM-9J missiles were now armed. And the seeker began to growl in his headset. Then it growled very loud, signaling a lock! “Fox Two!”

That call meant a heat-seeking missile had been launched. Guru and Carpenter watched as the Sidewinder left the port rail, shot ahead, then went ninety degrees to the left, before coming back in and exploding just behind the MiG.

“What the...” Carpenter yelled.

“No way, Fidel.” Guru said, putting the pipper on the MiG's tail. Again, the Sidewinder growled loud in his headset, signaling good tone. “Fox Two!” He yelled as he launched the missile.

This time, the starboard Sidewinder left the rail, and it corkscrewed twice, before flying up the MiG-21's tailpipe.

In the MiG cockpit,the Cuban pilot was turning his head, looking for the F-4 that he had tried to engage. His two R-60 heat-seeking missiles should have been able to track the American, and he was too close for his R-3R radar missiles. Then he heard an explosion behind him, and as the Cuban grabbed his ejection handle, a second explosion blew his MiG apart around him before he could eject.

In 515, Guru and Tony watched as the Sidewinder went up the MiG's tailpipe and exploded. The tail blew off the MiG-21, then the rest of the plane was torn apart in a fireball as the fuel tanks-and presumably the aircraft's ordnance, exploded. “Splash!” They yelled.

“Good kill, Two. Break right, you guys. MiG on your four, coming in,” Colonel Johnson said.

Guru looked to his right. Sure enough, there was another MiG-21 coming in. He turned right, trying to turn into his attacker. As he did so, Colonel Johnson dropped in behind the MiG and fired a Sidewinder. Johnson's missile, like Guru's second, flew up the MiG's tailpipe and the explosion tore the MiG-21 apart. “Lead has a splash!”

While that was going on, Chevy Three and Four had made their bomb runs and pulled off target. As they did so, they saw why the two MiGs had gotten past the two TARCAP F-16s. Both F-16s were fighting MiGs of their own. They saw two MiG-21s fall in flames, then another, and the remaining MiGs headed south of the border. Then the mini-package formed up and headed back north.

After they landed, the Phantoms taxied to their parking spots on the ramp. When Lead and Two parked, the crews held up single fingers, signaling MiG kills, and the 335th's ground crews erupted. First squadron kills in the war.

A few minutes later, after the debrief, Guru sought out Colonel Johnson. “Thanks for getting that MiG off me, Colonel.”

“Anytime, Lieutenant. I ought to thank you. If I hadn't heard your call, the MiG you got would've had me,” The CO reminded his wingman.

“Sir, I know you got a MiG in September, '72. Is it always like this?” Guru asked.

“That queasy feeling in your stomach?”

“Yes, sir.”

“It is. Don't worry, Lieutenant. It's your first, and this is going to be a long war. I don't know how I know that, but I just do. Just put it out of your mind, know you got a MiG kill, and get ready to do it again. Because chances are, you will. Got that?” Said Johnson.

“Yes Sir. I do.” Guru replied.

“Good. Get something to eat. We'll be going out again before too long.”

With that, Guru followed his CO's advice. And sure enough, a couple of hours later, they were headed back out. And the Colonel was right: it would be a long war.

Epilogue: Hill AFB, Utah. 25 July 2009.

Colonel Matt Wiser sat in his office in the 419th Tactical Fighter Wing's HQ. He had flown a low-level navigation flight earlier that morning, and now, he could say that he had all of his Reserve flight time for the month logged. He had just finished the paperwork, and while he was waiting for one of his officers to see him, he thumbed through a copy of Wings of the Phantom. A movie company was about to start filming an adaptation of the book, and he, Kara, and several other vets from the 335th were going to be on Temporary Active Duty to support the filming, fly several F-4s that had been taken out of storage at AMARC so they could be flown in the movie, and act as technical advisors. He just reread the story of that first kill. Was it really that long ago, he wondered. How time flies. That MiG-21 had been the first of twelve kills confirmed during the war, and since the end, he'd had three others confirmed thanks to some detective work at AFHC, and a couple of trips to Colorado and New Mexico to find crash sites.

He thought about Colonel Johnson. Two weeks after that first kill, he had been killed in New Mexico by an SA-6. Neither he nor his backseater got out. Then, three months later had come his own shootdown, and then the E&E with the Resistance. And little did he know that two years after that first kill, he'd be in command of the 335th. So many friends gone, he remembered. Of thirty-six crews in the squadron on Day One, only twelve of the original crews, and ten other individual crew members, had survived the next four years of war. What's the saying? We Few, We Happy Few, We Band of Brothers. And Sisters, too, after Spring of '86, he reminded himself. And all for what? Because a few frightened old men in the Kremlin were afraid that if they didn't feed their own people, their own personal power and privilege were gone. Sure, the historians were saying it was more than that, but a saying an old professor had said came back: “Wars are begun by frightened old men.” Well, we did our jobs, and we won. He put the book down and checked over his paperwork. That's all done, he thought. Next time, it's flying for the movie. Then there was a knock at the door. “Come on in and show yourself,” he said.

Major Kelly Ann Ray, his Operations Officer and a former POW in Cuba during the war, came in.....

Matt Wiser 12-26-2014 08:33 PM

The next one: and a former POW has memories of captivity....

Memories of Captivity

25 July 2009: Hill AFB
, Utah

Major Kelly Ann Ray had spent a sleepless night in the Visiting Officers' Quarters at Hill. Her unit, the 419th Tactical Fighter Wing, was based there, and she was a pilot in the only Air Force Reserve F-15E Wing. She and four other pilots-including the Wing Commander, along with three WSOs, were veterans of the Third World War, but she was the only ex-POW flying, though another former POW, his flying days over, was a maintenance officer. Major Ray and her WSO, Capt. Jody Tucker, had just returned from Key West, Florida, where a number of Tier I and Tier II suspects, apprehended after the U.S. intervention in Cuba that ended the regime of Fidel Castro, had been brought. She, along with a number of former POWs held in Cuba during the war, had been asked to identify suspects, and though there had been some very bad memories coming to the surface, interrogators, torture guards, and camp commandants had been pointed out to the war-crimes investigators. Afterwards, she and several other ex-POWs, along with some of the investigators, had gone into Key West to blow off steam, and had wound up in a Wet T-Shirt Contest. Now, having flown back to Utah, she was anxious to get back into the rhythm of things, not just in the unit, but in her civilian job as a Sheriff's Deputy in Pocatello, Idaho. But she had some things that she wanted to talk about, and with the only other ex-POW in the 419th not on base, she asked to see her CO. So, after a shower, and noticing that the scars were still there on her back, buttocks, and arms, she shrugged, put on her flight suit and went to breakfast, and then she'd see the CO.

She pulled up in her Olds 442 convertible and parked in front of the 419's Wing HQ. Major Ray noticed her CO's green 1969 Mercury Cougar convertible in his space, so she knew he'd be there. Today wasn't a Reserve day, but she knew the CO hadn't gotten in his required flight time for the month, and he'd come down from Mountain Home AFB, where his wife was the CO of the 366th TFW, to get some flying in. Other than a few others who were also catching up on their flight time, the only ones in the office were the regular AF personnel who kept the wing running when the reservists were off at their civilian jobs. Major Ray went to the CO's office and knocked on the door. “Come on in and show yourself,” was the response.

Colonel Matt Wiser was at his desk, wrapping up his own battle-this one with the Air Force bureaucracy. He looked up as Major Ray came in. Colonel Wiser was a triple ace in F-4s during the war, even though his squadron had spent most of its time on air-to-ground tasking. He had just finished a morning low-level navigation flight, and that had taken care of the flight time for him and his WSO, so he had no more duties for the day. “Major.” he said. “How was Key West? You were a little...guarded when you got in last night.”

She sketched a salute and sat down. “It was, well, okay, Colonel.”

“I can tell when something is bothering you, Major. Want to talk about it?” He asked.

“Yeah. I'd like to talk about it. A lot of old memories came back those two days, Colonel,” Ray said. “I saw some friends I haven't seen in a while, but we all saw some people that, to be honest, we all wish were going to die-slowly.”

Colonel Wiser nodded. “Okay. And this isn't going to be CO to subordinate. Think of it as two fighter pilots having a talk. And if you don't want to talk about a particular event, say so. It's your talk, not mine.”

“Thanks, Colonel.” Major Ray replied.

Colonel Wiser got up and opened the office door. He noticed Capt. Troy McCord, who was one of the active-duty officers who kept the wing going. McCord saw his CO and came over. “What's up, Sir?”

“Unless the Wing's getting activated, or it's the base commander on the phone, Major Ray and I are not to be disturbed, Captain. Understood?”

McCord had signed out Major Ray two days previously. It was unusual for her to fly her F-15E on something like this, but her orders said “Fastest Available Transportation,” and Colonel Wiser had authorized taking her Strike Eagle-and her WSO. “Key West, Colonel?”

“Right you are. She needs to get something or a lot of somethings-off her chest. And fast, because those Hollywood types will be here starting tomorrow for their orientation rides. And I want her to do some of that,” Wiser said. “But for now, we're not to be disturbed.”

“Yes, sir.”

Colonel Wiser went back into the office. He looked at his bookshelf: tucked in amongst the various histories of the war, was Major Ray's POW: Four Years in Cuba. She had written the book a few years previously, before joining the 419th, and it had become a best-seller on the Los Angeles Times' nonfiction list. Now, a movie company was going to make a movie based on the book, and Major Ray was going to be on Temporary Active Duty to act as the Air Force Technical Advisor. He pulled the book off the shelf. “Something not in the book, Kelly? Did you leave something out, or is everything there?”

“It's almost all there, Colonel. I guess you can say the first somebody I saw at Key West was the Chief Interrogator at Havana's Ministry of Defense. That's where they had their main interrogation center.” Seeing her CO nod, she went on. “He was the same guy a number of POWs in Hanoi called 'Fidel.'”

“That sumbitch? Kelly, if you want to kill him yourself, you're going to have to get in line.” Colonel Wiser pointed out. “A lot of folks want him dead.”

“Colonel, I know.” She replied. “But he...it's in the book, but..I'm sitting in a chair, my hands and feet tied to the chair, and he comes in and brags about what he did in Hanoi, and that he's....enjoyed, several female POWs from Gitmo. Spent a week....in the ropes, hanging by my heels or tied arms, riding the horse, or being beaten. And that bastard....” Her voice trailed off, recalling the “special torture” that Fidel-and his counterparts at the POW prisons-enjoyed.

“I know. You say it in the book. He raped you.” Colonel Wiser said. “But that's not all. Your backseater was in another room. And he never made it out of there.”

“Yeah, Colonel. But damn it! I was the pilot, and responsible for my crewman!” Major Ray said, her voice filled with anger.

“Never had that happen, I'm afraid. Tony Carpenter and I both made it out when we went skydiving, and we both made it on the E&E. But you're not the first pilot to lose a crewmate, and you won't be the last.”

“Colonel, I know. But that doesn't change the way I feel.” She told her CO.

“Anyone else from there?” He asked.

“One other-they told us she was dead; Marines went to her home outside Havana, and she went down fighting. Some '60s activist who escaped to Cuba in the late '70s to flee a murder rap for killing a cop,” Replied the Major.

“Why her? She take part when things got.....physical, for want of a better word?” Asked Colonel Wiser.

“More than that, Colonel. I didn't put it in the book-that's the only thing I left out. Do the words 'lesbian rape' come to mind?”

Her CO's jaw dropped. This was something she hadn't told him, though a few times, she'd talked about her experience in Cuba to members of the Wing. “My God, Kelly..” his voice trailed off. “That alone is enough to put the rope around that bitch's neck. She's dead, you say?”

“Yeah. Some Marines went to her villa to pick her up, and she opened up on them with an AK-47. They returned fire, and two Marines shot her full of holes. So she paid, though not the way I'd prefer. I wanted to see her on the gallows, but I'm not complaining,” Major Ray told her CO, who was still surprised. He'd heard similar stories about members of the ALA's Political Security Department doing the same thing, but that was all second-hand. Hearing it from someone who he knew and worked with routinely, that was different.

He shrugged. “Well, those Marines saved the Feds a ton of work. And saved you having to testify.”

“There is that, Colonel,” Major Ray said. “Then it was several of the guards from Camp 5 at Mariel.”

“The one the two Open Water escapees made it out from?”

“The same. They didn't say in the book about that escape, but I was supposed to go with them.”

“How come? Weren't you still relatively OK, physically?” He asked.

“Yeah, but I sprained my ankle on a work detail-cutting sugarcane, and I knew I wouldn't be able to keep up once we got over the wall. So I covered for them,” Major Ray said.

“So they either picked you because you knew them, or what, and got another going-over. Not good, Major.” He said as he went over to his office fridge. “Something to drink? You might need it.”

“No thanks, I'm good, Colonel. But yeah, I went through the wringer. Again. Then they sent me to the Isle of Pines-a maximum-security lockup, where the hardcases were sent. Two years in solitary, hardly any news of the war, plenty of abuse, you name it, they did it.” She recalled with a shudder, remembering the days and nights spent in the interrogation rooms, as her tormentors pressured her for information on the escape, whether they had outside help, who else was involved, and so on. Only when she felt the information was out of date did she give anything.....and when her pain threshold had been reached.

Colonel Wiser nodded. He'd read the book. It was now required reading at the Air Force Academy, as well as seniors taking AFROTC. “Anyone from there you had to ID?” He asked.

“Four.” She replied. “And yes, Colonel, all four of them were animals. They enjoyed their jobs, and went out of their way to beat up on a prisoner if they were in the mood.” She replied. “And after what they did to me, taking turns, I want them all to die-slowly.”

Her CO nodded again. From the book, he knew what those four had done when she'd been caught communicating with another cell block. The thought of his wife, who knew a great deal-as did he-as a Wing Commander, going through such an ordeal made him shudder-as well as angry. But if his wife didn't want to kill those responsible, he would want to do so himself.

“And Holguin?” He asked. Major Ray had been sent there after her time on the Isle of Pines.

“Just a couple that I had....time with, that's all.” She responded. “The ones who 'punished' me for flashing hand signals from our room-I was in a cell with three others-a Navy officer from Gitmo, a female Marine-supply officer I remember-also from Gitmo-and a female Marine A-6 pilot, who was shot down a year after I was.”

“They hammered all four of you, right?” Colonel Wiser asked.

“You could say that, sir.” Major Ray said. “The hole...”

“Not like it is in someplace like Folsom or San Quentin, right?”

“Yeah. They dug a hole in the yard, lined it with concrete, put a metal roof on top, and after they tortured you, throw you in for a few days-or longer.” Said the Major, shuddering at the hot days and sticky nights-several of them-spent in that tiny hellhole, before being taken back to her cell-and finding out her cell mates had gone through the same experience.

“Sad to say, Major, I've seen something like that. D/FW Airport, after it was retaken. The KGB used the airport security office as an Interrogation and Execution Center, and they had a hole just like that.” Colonel Wiser recalled. “The only difference is, you survived. Anyone at that location didn't.”

“Colonel, those bastards aren't the ones I really want. It's Fidel and his brother Raoul. They gave the orders. Those two either ordered this, or they didn't, but condoned it anyway. The responsibility's theirs.” Major Ray reminded her CO.

“You get no argument from me on that, Major.” Said Colonel Wiser. “Fidel's probably at the bottom of the Caribbean, but we've got Raoul.”

“Yes, sir. That we do. They've already told me I'll be a witness at Raoul's trial-which is about a year away.”

Colonel Wiser shook his head. He'd heard about a captured document on CNN. It had Raoul's signature, and it stated that “Reprisals cannot be harsh enough.” That was enough right there to put a rope around Raoul's neck, the legal talking heads were saying. “And homecoming?”

Major Ray smiled. “That was anticlimactic, Colonel. We didn't know it was over, and thought there was some kind of bombing halt. What'd they do? Just loaded us on buses with the windows covered, took us to Holguin Air Base, and there was an unmarked Airbus. The Cubans still had the AKs, and they told us to get aboard.”

“You all thought you were being sent to Russia, right?”

“Oh yeah, that's what we thought. But when we got aboard, there's these Costa Rican diplomats, and some tough-looking guys in Colombian uniforms, with MP-5s. They told us the war was over, and we were going home.” Major Ray remembered.

“And you guys thought it was a setup, and you were on your way to Moscow.”

“Um-hmm. Only when we landed after two hours, and it's San Jose, Costa Rica, with a pair of C-141s sitting there, with the American flag on the tail. And guys in our uniforms waiting for us.” Major Ray recalled, with the emotion coming to her voice. “That's when we really knew it was over.”

“Did they tell you about your WSO?” Colonel Wiser asked.

“Yeah. But all they said was 'Died in captivity of illness.' My ass, 'illness.” She said, the anger coming back. “He was tortured to death.”

Colonel Wiser nodded. “His body was found in some warehouse after Havana was secured, right? At least that's what the news said about finding POW remains.”

“Yeah. The Air Force still hasn't made all the arrangements, and even though there's a tag on the coffin, they have to ID him to make it official. In a month, they said, that's when the funeral is in Butte.”

“If you want, Major, We'll provide the Missing Man. Not those Albino Eagles in the Montana Guard.” Colonel Wiser told her. “And Colonel Eichhorn will handle things on the ground. I'll make those arrangements, and I have some folks who owe me favors. I'll cash in on a couple.”

“Thanks, Colonel.” Major Ray said. “You know the rest: getting out of the Air Force after a few years because of the bad memories, moving to Idaho, then finding out I missed flying, so I came to the 419th.”

He nodded. “Anything else?”

“Yeah. What now?” She asked her CO.

“The best revenge is to live well. Kill those demons by being the best fighter pilot you can. And you've got a score to settle with that East Coast F-22 jockey-along with Kara. Both of you have something to prove to that guy, even if he is a one-star.”

Major Ray smiled. “Oh, you bet I want another crack at him. Those Raptor jocks think they're gods when it comes to flying. And they need to be cut down to size.”

“That's the Kelly Ann I know.” Colonel Wiser said, his voice showing his pride. “There's something else.”

“And that is?” Major Ray wanted to know.

“Those Hollywood types are coming, starting tomorrow, for their orientation rides. Meg Ryan's coming, as she's up for the role of you in the Showtime movie. They asked for you to fly her in your backseat.”

“I'll give her an A-Ticket ride, Colonel.” Major Ray said.

“Good, and there's going to be some more in a few days. I'm taking Mark Wahlberg up in a couple of days, and Kara-whose squadron didn't go to the exercise, is taking Kate Winslet and Charlize Theron out of Mountain Home. There's a few others, but not until next week.” Colonel Wiser said.

Major Ray nodded. “Guess I'll have that drink now, Colonel. What was it?”

“Iced tea.”

She laughed. But after all, they were on duty. Then there was a knock at the door. Colonel Wiser scowled. “I thought I gave orders not to be disturbed. This had better be good.” Then he yelled “Come in! And this had better be good!”

The door opened and in came Captain McCord with his laptop. “Sir, I know you didn't want to be bothered, but there's something you and the Major need to see.”

Both looked at each other. “What is it, Captain?” The Colonel asked.

“Sir, you know things in Key West can get wild on most nights...”

“Out with it, Captain!” Colonel Wiser said.

Captain McCord put his laptop on the Colonel's desk and showed him. It was Youtube. A video of a Wet T-Shirt contest at a Key West watering hole was playing. Colonel Wiser recognized some of those involved. The two Open Water escapees, a few other ex-POWs, and then he saw it. Major Ray. He turned to her. “What the hell? Major! Want to explain this?”

She got up and had a look for herself. “Sir, after ID'ing those bastards, a couple of the investigators gave us a Hummer and a piece of advice: 'Blow off some steam.' How'd I know there was somebody there with a camcorder?”

Colonel Wiser looked at the screen again. Major Ray and one of the other former POWs had an investigator sandwiched right between them. And all three were smiling. “Oh, boy.” Then the phone rang. It was one of the NCOs. “Wiser.”

“Sir, OSI's on the line.”

He looked at Major Ray and sighed. “Okay, put'em through.”

“This is Colonel Wiser.”

“Sir, this is Special Agent Paul Hutchinson with OSI at Key West. I take it you've seen the Youtube video that's going around like wildfire?”

He looked at Major Ray, who did not seem pleased in the slightest. “Yes, Agent Hutchinson, I have.”

“Colonel, OSI is not, repeat, not, opening an investigation into this matter. The war-crimes people have told us not to get involved. They said the ex-POWs needed to blow off steam, and they did so. Unless you insist on a probe, we consider the matter closed.” Agent Hutchinson said.

“Thank you, Agent Hutchinson. I'll handle the issue internally.” Colonel Wiser told the OSI agent.

“You do have that prerogative, Sir. If there's nothing else?”

“That's all. Have a good day.” With that, Colonel Wiser hung up the phone. “Well, Major?”

“Sir, like I said, I have no idea who had the camcorder.”

“Probably the bar owner or one of the bartenders.” Colonel Wiser said. “Did you uphold the honor of the Air Force?”

“Yes, sir. I did. I won the first two rounds I was in, but lost to another POW. But she, too, was Air Force.” Major Ray told her CO.

“At least it was an Air Force woman who won,” Capt. McCord said, and he drew two scowls from both of his superior officers. “What'd I say, Colonel?”

Colonel Wiser looked at Major Ray. “I believe Major Ray should have the final word.”

“Thank you, Colonel. Captain, I don't like to lose. Not in flying, nor in anything else.”

Matt Wiser 12-28-2014 12:51 AM

Guys, any questions, feedback, etc.?

dragoon500ly 12-28-2014 07:14 AM

Keep them coming! I'm enjoying your works!!!

Adm.Lee 12-28-2014 05:13 PM

I admit I am not reading all of them, but I am enjoying the fighter-jock atmosphere. I tried to bring that up in a not-T2k game I ran last year, but it didn't take off. So to speak. :D

Matt Wiser 12-28-2014 07:39 PM

What happens when some Cubans crash R&R:


335th Tactical Fighter Squadron, Williams AFB, AZ, 1100 Hours Mountain War Time, 18 November, 1986.

Captain Matt Wiser of the 335th was sitting at his desk in the squadron office. He was deputy Operations Officer for the squadron, and had just wrapped up some paperwork. War or no war, the Air Force bureaucracy had its own rules, and the “paper warriors” had their own ways of going about things. Though the CO, Lt. Col. Dean Rivers, felt that the less paper in the way, the better, and he had no qualms about folding, spindling, mutilating, bending, or just plain ignoring regulations if they got in the way of getting things done. The Exec, Major Troy McPherson, felt the same way, and let that filter down to the other officers, and having the CO of the Marine Air Group to which they were attached, and Major General Richard Tanner, who commanded the Tenth Air Force, agree with that was a big morale booster. They knew what parts of the book to keep and which ones to throw away. Everyone was happy with that, except for another Major, who was an Academy man first, last, and always, and was appalled at the way things were done in the squadron, and was despised by everyone, and not just the other officers, but the NCOs and enlisted airmen as well. The man was even called “Our Frank Burns,” by 1st Lt. Mark Ellis, and the name had stuck.

Now, his squadron paperwork all done, Capt. Wiser was wondering how to spend the rest of the stand-down. The squadron had been pulled off combat operations for two days already, and wouldn't be back flying for another five, and a lot of people were using that time to catch up on sleep, or just plain hang out. The squadron was billeted at the nearby Sheraton in Mesa, and just sitting by the pool and chasing waitresses-or other female officers did appeal to him, but since he had met his WSO, the latter was no longer an option, for he and that officer, 1st Lt. Lisa Eichhorn, had been seeing each other in a way that, prewar, would've gotten them an Article 15 at least, but with the country fighting for its national survival, fraternization regs were among the first things that went out the window, as far as many unit commanders were concerned. Though the eager-beaver Major, much to Rivers' (and both Capt. Wiser's and Lt. Eichhorn's) disgust, had tried to write them up for the rule violation. The CO was more concerned with how his officers did their jobs, and if a couple of officers of the opposite sex were attracted to each other, that was none of his-or anyone else's business, as long as they kept their private lives off base. “What you guys and gals do when you're off base and on your own time is nobody's business, but yours. Just check your private lives at the gate when you come on base,” he had told the squadron at a unit assembly back in July. And yet, the overzealous Major didn't get the word, or didn't care, for he tried to have Guru (Wiser's call sign) and Goalie (Eichhorn's), written up. After summoning the two to his office, Colonel Rivers asked if they were seeing each other on a more.....intimate basis, and they said yes. “Does it interfere with both of you in the cockpit?” “No, Sir,” was the reply. And Guru and Goalie watched with satisfaction as Rivers tore up the paper. The Frank Burns wannabe stormed out of the office in a fit of the sulks.

Guru was looking at his aircraft log book-which was different from his own personal logbook. There were a couple of issues he felt needed attention, with the altimeter giving some trouble, and the INS was starting to get a little balky, so he filled out the maintenance request and was ready to give it to 1st Lt. Kevin O'Donnell, one of the maintenance officers, when Goalie came by. “I just talked to Rivers. We've both got five days R&R if we want it.”


“Yep. We've been hitting it pretty hard, and he agreed. Hell, half the squadron's going on R&R-as long as it's within the State of Arizona and nowhere near the Mexican border..”

Guru nodded. “Got any ideas? I've been to the Grand Canyon already.”

“So have I,” Goalie said. “And the ski areas near Flagstaff don't have enough snow yet, anyway.”

Then 1st Lt. Kyle Radner came by. He was Guru's wingmate. “What are you guys doing for R&R?”

“I was just asking our flight lead the same thing,” Lieutenant Eichhorn said. “Well?”

Guru thought for a minute. Skiing wasn't on the agenda, and just sitting by the pool didn't appeal to him-as long as Goalie was around. He'd seen her in a bathing suit often-and out of one several times. Then something occurred to him. “How about going off-roading?”

“Where?” Radner asked.

“Either northeast of here, in the Tonto National Forest, or to the west of Phoenix,in the desert,” Wiser said.

“What about the nuclear power plant?” Goalie asked. “That place has so much security you'd think it was Fort Knox.” She was referring to the Palo Verde Nuclear Power Plant west of Phoenix. The plant provided much of the power for the Phoenix-Tuscon area, including several defense plants in the Mesa and Tuscon areas, as well as military bases. Hence, the DOE guards had been reinforced by military police, and a five-mile “no-go” zone was being strictly enforced. There were checkpoints on I-10 and the local roads, and word had it that anyone straying off the roads could expect to be shot, and to make matters worse, there were minefields around the plant, or so rumor said.

“Not to worry: we get past the plant, get off of the Interstate, and then go off road,” Guru said. “There's some BLM land, and that should be enough. A couple of desert springs, maybe an old ghost town, things like that. Out in the middle of nowhere, so we can forget the war for a few days.”

And it's private, Goalie knew. Which appealed to her a great deal. “Sounds good.” She turned to Kyle “How about it?”

“Why not? I'll get Brad Garrison and our girlfriends,” Radner said. “What'll we be driving? Dune buggies?”

Guru laughed. “No. That Jeep dealer I bought my Grand Cherokee from? They also rent four-by-fours. And I do believe someone you know, Kyle, has a Jeep CJ-7.”

Wiser was referring to newly-promoted 1st Lt. Ryan Blanchard, who happened to be Radner's girlfriend.

“You're right about that.”

“Okay. Got anyone else you want to invite?” Guru asked.

“Not this time: the smaller the party, the better. And we're not an inviting target.”

Guru knew what Radner meant. There were reports of Soviet, Cuban, and even Mexican Special Operations Forces slipping across the border and raising whatever havoc they could create. “Yeah,” he nodded. “All right: go to the Armory and check out four M-16s and some ammo. Bring your sidearm.”

Goalie and Radner nodded. “Will do.”

“I'll call the dealer and rent a Jeep for Goalie and myself. I'm not taking my Grand Cherokee off-road just yet.”

“And I'll get the camping gear from the Base Recreation Office,” Goalie said.

Radner came back. He'd called his WSO, Capt. Brad Garrision. No joy on the trip, Brad said: he had an uncle who lived in Prescott, and the man had invited Brad up for some fishing.

1400 Hours Mountain War Time: I-10, West of Phoenix, AZ:

Guru was driving the Jeep that he'd rented only two hours before, and it was packed with gear. He and Goalie had packed enough to last four and a half days, and they planned to be back at Williams the afternoon of the 23rd. Even with wartime, traffic along I-10 in Phoenix was flowing normally: people still lived along the I-10 corridor, and they had to go to and from work, there were employees at the Palo Verde nuclear power plant, and they had their commutes, truck traffic-both civilian and military, and so on. Except for the occasional HAWK missile site that was part of the Phoenix Air Defense, and the amount of military traffic, one might forget there was a war on.

When he'd rented the Jeep, the salesman-who he'd dealt with when Guru had bought his Grand Cherokee, pointed out a couple of dings. When Capt. Wiser asked what had made them, the salesman replied, matter of fact it seemed, that the previous renters had run afoul of some Cubans, and they had taken some fire. “Lovely,” had been Guru's reply.

After they cleared Phoenix itself, traffic thinned out, but then they came across a vivid reminder that the war was still on. Five miles before the offramp, there was a sign: “MILITARY AREA: CHECKPOINT AHEAD: MILITARY POLICE.” This was part of the security for the Palo Verde plant. “Get your ID out,” Guru said to Goalie.

When they got to the checkpoint, there were plenty of MPs around, along with some V-100 and V-150 armored cars, machine-gun emplacements, even a pair of jeeps with TOW missile launchers. Goalie looked at Guru. This was the first time either one had been in this part of Arizona. “They're not fooling around,” she noted.

“With that nuke plant?” Guru asked. “Would you?”

An MP Sergeant came up to the Jeep as Guru stopped. “ID, Sir.”

Guru handed the MP both his and Goalie's, along with their passes. “Here you go, Sergeant.”

“Sir, Ma'am, would you step out of the vehicle? We need to check beneath.”

Both officers got out of the jeep, and stood aside as the MP checked underneath the jeep with mirrors. “Sir, do you have anything in the vehicle we should know about?”

“Besides our camping gear?” Guru asked, and the MP nodded. “Two M-16s and two pistols, for protection.”

“Thank you, Sir,” The MP nodded. Several of the MPs checked the jeep, and Goalie noticed Radner's jeep being given a similar going-over.

The inspection took a few minutes, and Guru noticed the heavy security off the freeway: there was a barbed-wire fence that was topped with razor wire, along with signs that warned the unwary that not only could trespassers expect to be shot, but there also signs warning of minefields. And there was a UH-1 helo flying over as well.

Then an MP nodded to his Sergeant. “All clear, Sarge.”

The MP handed their ID and passes back. “Thank you, Sir, Ma'am. Just stay on the freeway and you'll be fine. Don't get off the interstate for any reason until you pass the eastbound checkpoint.”

Nodding, Guru and Goalie got back in the jeep and got going. At the offramp, there was another checkpoint at the end, for those exiting the freeway, and there were more Military Police there. Another five miles, and then they came to the eastbound checkpoint, and a sign that said “END MILITARY AREA.” Only then did he open up and head west to the exit they planned to take, Exit 81. Then they headed up on the local road to the small town of Salome, where they stopped to ask where some good jeep driving might be found. A couple of locals pointed out some areas on their map that prewar, some off-road clubs from Phoenix had used, with a warning as well. “Some folks say they've seen Cubans around, but no telling if they're true or not.”

Guru took the jeep onto some of the trails, and both he and Radner gave their jeeps a good workout. That first night, they found a campsite that other off-roaders had used, mainly due to the fire ring present. In the light of the campfire, Ryan Blanchard remarked that one might even be able to forget there was a war on. The night sky was clear, and filled with stars, and that made her point. And when the four went into their tents, they discovered another, more....intimate way of forgetting they were at war.

22 November 1986, 1700 Mountain War Time. North of U.S. 60, La Paz County, AZ:

Three days had passed, and the quartet was getting ready to enjoy their final night in the desert. Radner had found an old mine, but no one was foolish enough to go inside, fearing a cave-in. Several old mining shacks and a few old ranch houses, though, had been worth exploring, and though most everything had been taken with the previous occupants, heavy items like a wood stove, or a metal frame bed, remained. Not to mention finding an old 1920s' era truck that had been stripped and abandoned. “Why's this thing still here?” Radner asked.

“Simple: it's so far off the main roads, and want to bet the scrap metal drives haven't come this way?” Goalie replied.

“Yeah, I suppose so,” he said. “Who'd want to try farming here?”

“Somebody who was either desperate, foolish, or both,” Ryan said. “No wonder they left.”

“Or they left when WW II broke out,” Guru said. “Either way, a job in a war plant or just plain enlisting beats staying out here.”

Nodding, Ryan went out back. “There's a well, and..uh-oh.”

“What?” Goalie asked.

“Boot prints, and they're not that old. Maybe a week.”

Guru and Radner came over, along with Goalie, to have a look. “Whose?” Guru asked.

“Good question,” Ryan said. “They're degraded, though. Wind and rain, I'd say.”

“Didn't it rain, when, Tuesday?” Goalie asked.

“Yep,” Guru said. “That'd degrade any prints. Remember SERE? 'Rain is your friend when it comes to water. Just as long as you don't leave your own prints in the mud.”

“Let me guess: that came back to help on that E&E?” Radner quipped.


Goalie looked at the tracks, “Well, somebody's been here. The question is, who?”

“That is a very good question,” Ryan said. Her instinct as a CSP was in high gear. “The well's not dry, so whoever it was probably stopped to get water.”

“Still, we'd better find a campsite soon,” Guru said. “And when we do, just as we've been doing, we keep our rifles close by.”

“Roger that,” Goalie said, and the others nodded.

Matt Wiser 12-28-2014 07:42 PM

Part II:

23 November 1986: 0225 Mountain War Time, North of U.S. 60, La Paz County, AZ:

The party found a campsite near a pond that showed on their BLM maps. There was a rocky ledge about a hundred yards away, but after Guru led Ryan on a search-an old habit from his E&E days, he pronounced the area clear. After a meal of MREs and coffee, they settled down for the night. It would be their last night before heading back to Williams the next morning, and the day after that, for the F-4 crewers, it was back in the saddle, and taking it to the ComBloc. There was some stargazing, and a couple of meteors made sure that part of the night didn't go to waste, then Radner and Ryan went into their tent, and soon after, Guru and Goalie did the same. And things got much more....intimate after that.

Unknown to the party, a six-man patrol of Cuban Special Forces was up on the ledge, watching. They were on a recon, having been inserted by helicopter from Mexico a few days earlier, and they had been watching U.S. 60 and I-10, noting the traffic on both highways. Now, they were about to try and execute the second phase of their mission, and take a prisoner or two with them back to Mexico for interrogation. Civilian or military, it didn't matter. The Team Leader gave his orders, and his men headed down toward the campsite.

In the tent she shared with Radner, Ryan Blanchard woke up. Something just didn't seem right. Whether it was her instinct as a cop-and she had been one before the war, or what, she didn't know, but something was out there, she felt. The moonlight came through the tent, and she could see her bare skin-Kyle was as good in a sleeping bag as he was in bed, and she smiled at that. Still, something was up. So she put on her boots, when there was a sound outside.

Goalie heard that sound, too. “Matt, wake up!” She hissed.

Guru woke up to see Goalie leaning over him. The last time someone had woken him up in a tent, he'd seen that....thing. “What?” He whispered.

“Something's out there, and I don't think it's a coyote.” She paused. “We may have two-legged company.”

“Uh-oh...Get dressed,” Guru said. Goalie was in her birthday suit, and he only had his underwear on. He threw on a T-Shirt and his boots, and was reaching for his rifle, when a shot rang out.

“Oh, Shit!” Goalie said, throwing on a T-shirt of her own, and grabbing her own rifle, when gunfire came from the other tent.

Ryan watched as the intruders-three of them, she could see, approached the camp. She had only time to put on her combat boots and grab her M-16, and wake up Kyle at the same time, before she took matters into her own hands. Ryan poked her M-16 out the tent flap, took aim at the lead intruder, and opened fire, dropping him with a four-round burst. Then AK fire came in reply.

“Great!” Guru said as the bullets started flying. “We come out here to get away from the war, and it found us.” He spotted a target and fired, putting a bullet into the target's shoulder.

“Hey, you're used to this!” Goalie said as she grabbed her own rifle. “I'm not.”

Another burst of gunfire came from the other tent, and in the moonlight, Guru saw another intruder drop to the ground, apparently dead. Then he heard shouts in Spanish. “Cubans.....”

In their tent, Ryan looked at Kyle. He had his own M-16 at the ready. “Remember your small-arms training?”

“Yeah. At the Academy: my Doolie Summer,” he replied.

“Good enough. Cover me.” She said, grabbing her M-16 and running outside, with Radner firing as she did so. Only then did he realize that she only had her combat boots on.

Guru and Goalie saw it as well. “What the??” Goalie said, incredulous at the sight.

“Cover her,” Guru said. He sprayed the ridgeline with his own M-16, and advanced to his Jeep. He cautiously went around the back, and found a Cuban there, clutching his left shoulder. The man tried to go for his own AKM, but Guru put a burst into his chest, killing him. He then saw Ryan running up to the ridge. “Goalie!”


“Throw some gas on the fire when I tell you to.” He ordered.

Nodding, she came to the jeep and pulled out a gas can. “Ready.”

“Not yet,” he said, spraying more fire at the ridge, then he grabbed a fresh magazine in the jeep and slapped it into his rifle.

Up on the ridge, the Cuban Lieutenant was having a fit. What had seemed to be an easy mark was clearly not the case, and whoever they were down there, they were more than ready. He recognized the M-16 by its own sound, and he cursed this wretched country, where anyone and their mother could have such a rifle if they were civilians. Now, three of his men were down, and counting himself, there were only three left. And the gunfire from down below had them pinned down. Going to recover the bodies of their comrades, as per their orders, was clearly not an option. He turned to one of the two troopers left. “You two, get to the rendezvous point. I'll cover you. If I'm not there in an hour, proceed to the extraction site.”

“Si, Comrade Lieutenant,” one of the troopers-a corporal-said.


As the two troopers slipped away, the Lieutenant heard a sound It sounded like someone was coming around one of the rocks. He raised his AKM, only to see a flash, and then he felt his right leg come out from under him.

Ryan watched the two Cubans run down the other side of the ridge in the moonlight, but she saw a third. He turned to face her,and raised his rifle, but she didn't give him that chance. Ryan didn't have time to aim, so she sprayed a burst at his lower body, and watched as he went down, clutching his right leg. She walked over to him and kicked the AKM out of the way, then she safed it and after picking it up, she slung it over her shoulder, and taking his pistol as well.. “Nice try, Fidel.” The Cuban looked at her. “Now get up.”

Down below, Guru, Goalie, and Radner were scanning the ridgeline. There was no more fire coming, and they had heard Ryan's M-16. “We go up? Radner asked.

“No,” Guru said firmly. “We wait.” His time with the Resistance was showing, and this was the first time anyone in the squadron had been able to see it.

Goalie looked at him and nodded. He's been through this before, she realized. She turned back to look at the ridge, and saw someone limping, with another right behind with a rifle in hand and another over the shoulder. “I think that's her. Nobody's shooting.”

“Time to make sure. Ryan!”


“Who were the three hosts of That's Incredible!”

“John Davidson, Cathy Lee Crosby, and Fran Tarkenton! Guru, I loved that show!”

“That's her,” Goalie said. “And I liked that show, too.”

Nodding, Guru said. “Come on in!” He turned to Goalie. “Now you can get the gas on the fire.”

Goalie took a metal gas can and flung some gas on the campfire embers, and the fire blazed up. In the firelight, they could see Ryan, wearing only her combat boots, and with an M-16 in one hand, a Tokarev TT-33 pistol in another, and an AKM slung over her shoulder, pushing a Cuban soldier ahead of her. And everyone could see the Cuban was wounded. “Well, I'll be damned.”

“What?” Ryan asked.

“You're probably the first woman to capture an enemy wearing her birthday suit and combat boots.”

Hearing that, Guru and Radner laughed. And both could see Ryan breaking out with an evil-looking smile. “I wonder if Fidel here knows?” Guru commented.

“He's wounded,” Ryan said. “Someone get a first-aid kit.”

Radner went to their jeep and got the kit. He checked the wound in the blazing firelight. “Looks like a through-and-through.” He commented, putting some sulfa in the wound and applying a pressure bandage. Working quickly, he finished bandaging the Cuban, who nodded his thanks, then he started babbling in Spanish.

“What's he saying?” Guru asked. “Anybody speak Spanish?”

The others shook their heads no.

“All right,” Guru said. He stuck his head in the Cuban's face. “Speak any English?”

“Si,” the Cuban replied.

“What are you talking about?” Guru demanded.

“Senor, please, shoot me.”

“What?” Guru asked, shocked. “Why?”

The Cuban looked at Ryan. “Because, not only have I been captured by a woman, but by a naked woman. I will never live this down, and if I make it to one of your prison camps, I will be a laughingstock. Please, Senor, shoot me!”

The other three looked at Ryan. She had put the Cuban's rifle and pistol in the Jeep, but was still pointing her M-16 at the Cuban. And she was still wearing only her combat boots. She looked at Guru, who nodded, then said to the Cuban. “That's your problem.”


“Sorry, but you'll be handed over to the proper authorities who deal with prisoners of war. If you want to try to escape, you can take your chances with them.” Ryan said to the Cuban, who was not at all happy, and was on the verge of crying.

“I beg you! Please! You can say to your own people that I was trying to escape...please!”

“Sorry...” Ryan said as she went back into the tent.

“What'll we do with this loser?” Radner said.

“We do what Ryan said. We'll take Highway 60 back, and we can drop him off at Luke's main gate. Their intel shop will want to have a chat with this guy,” Guru decided. “But this is a first.”

“What?” Goalie asked.

“We never kept prisoners when I was with the Resistance. Lori Sheppard had a habit of shooting them. Either when their interrogations were finished, or she just plain shot them out of hand.”

Hearing that, the Cuban was hoping that this American, who had clearly been with the bandits and terrorists who called themselves the Resistance, might take his old comrade's habit to heart, and finish him. But that was not to be.

“All right,” Guru ordered. “Goalie, find some rope and tie this guy up. I'll take the first watch. You take over in an hour, then Radner, then Ryan.”

“Hopefully, she'll be dressed this time,” Radner observed.

“Maybe,” Guru smiled, then turned to the Cuban, who was practically in tears.

0630 Hours Mountain War Time, 23 November, 1986, La Paz County, AZ.

“Rise and Shine, sleepyheads!” Ryan shouted.

Guru and Goalie came out of their tent. After taking their turns guarding the prisoner, both had gone back to sleep-fully dressed this time, and Radner had done the same. Now, it was time to eat breakfast, break camp, and start heading back to civilization.

As they ate, they noticed their prisoner, who was hog-tied in the back of Guru and Goalie's jeep. “Give him something?” Radner asked.

“If Lori Sheppard was here, she'd be asking about his last meal,” Guru quipped.

“That bad?” Goalie asked. She knew full well what her pilot had experienced on that E&E, and they'd had a long talk about it. Just in case they went skydiving, and and met up with the guerillas.

“She'd be thinking about where to shoot him and how many times,” Guru said. “Lori had no problems about blowing out somebody's kneecaps, and maybe his elbows, too, before finishing him off. Given what they did to her family, I don't blame her at all.”

“From what you told me,” Goalie chipped in, “neither do I.”

As they ate, Ryan decided to give the Cuban a granola bar, which he took gratefully, even though he was hog-tied in the back of a jeep. And he was still begging her to shoot him. She shook her head, then went back to help break camp. “This chump's still asking us to shoot him.”

“He'll be disappointed. When we get to Luke, they'll have a chat with this dude, and send somebody out after his friends.” Guru said.

“Who?” Radner asked.

“Ever hear of the Apache trackers?”

“Oh...Them.” Radner said quietly.

Goalie nodded. “Yep, them. And a lot of their old ways came back with the war.” She turned to the Cuban, knowing that he was listening. “If they had caught this guy, he'd be smeared with honey, left out in the desert, and leave him for the ants.” And the expression on the Cuban's face was one of shock.

“I guess he knows,” Ryan quipped. “You guys remember that Blinder that went down on the reservation? You know, the one near San Carlos?”

“The one where the Army found all three crewmen scalped and left staked out in the desert, after they'd been flayed alive?” Guru said.

“That's the one. The Army and the AF had to remind the tribe that it was hard to interrogate corpses, and that taking a downed Russian or Cuban alive was a good thing.” Ryan said, glaring at the Cuban, who looked properly terrified.

“Well, the trackers will find this guy's friends, wherever they are,” Goalie said. “And they'd better hope the trackers are in the mood to bring 'em in alive. Otherwise....”

The Cuban lieutenant's expression was one of horror. Were these Americans going to turn him over to the Wild Indians? Their savagery was well-known to the Socialist Forces, and apart from a few progressive individuals, the tribes had disdained the efforts of the liberating forces, and had taken to the hills and formed their own groups of terrorists. If a company or a battalion went on a sweep, they found nothing. If a squad or platoon went on a patrol, they never came back, and often, the soldiers had been put to death in ways that their Soviet adviser said “Would make an Afghan puke.”

Guru finished his MRE coffee. “All right, let's break camp and get going.”

“What about the Cuban bodies?” Radner asked.

“What about 'em?” Guru replied. “Take their weapons and ammo, check them for any documents, maps, etc, and just plain leave 'em. The trackers will take care of the bodies.” Even if it's tossing them in that pond, Guru thought to himself. Good riddance.

0930 Hours Mountain War Time, U.S. 60, La Paz County, AZ.

It had taken an hour to break camp, and another hour and a half to get to a road, but finally, the party was on U.S. 60, headed east. They had passed through a couple of small towns, and except for locals, and a couple of delivery trucks making their rounds, there was hardly any traffic. It was a Sunday, after all. When they went through the towns, some folks waved. At a STOP sign, a local deputy sheriff was curious. “Got an extra passenger?”

“He crashed our party last night,” Guru said. “Taking him to Luke AFB.”

“Cuban or Mexican?” The deputy asked.


The deputy nodded. “Better you guys got him than the local posse. They've found a few Cubans and Mexicans out this way.”

“Turn 'em over to the Army?” Ryan asked.

“A few. Some tried to escape,” said the deputy. “And they got either shot, or if they were recaptured, the posse didn't bother with the Army. They got strung up from the chaparral.”

“Good way to deal with 'em,” Goalie said.

“You all have a good day,” the deputy said. “If he tries to escape...”

“Don't worry about that.”

A couple hours later, they were approaching the Phoenix area. Goalie was driving this time, and Guru had a map out. “Litchfield Road is the one we want. That takes us right to Luke.”

“Roger that,” Goalie said. “How's our passenger?”

Guru turned to check on the Cuban, pointing his M-16 in the prisoner's direction. He was still hog-tied in the back, half buried under the camping gear. “Still there.”

“Good,” she nodded. Then an intersection came after a few miles. The sign said, “Litchfield Rd. Luke AFB.” She glanced at Guru. “This it?”

He nodded.”Take the right.”

She took the right, and Ryan and Radner were right behind them. Traffic was light for a Sunday, and it didn't take long until they were at Luke's main gate. As one expected, there was a lot of security. “Now what? Just drop this chump off?”

Guru unbuckled his seat belt and stood up. There were quite a few CSPs there, checking vehicles entering the base. One of them seemed to glance in their direction. He waved, and the airman came to the jeep to see what was going on. Guru handed the airman his ID.

The airman looked at the ID, then said, “Sir, what can I do for you?”

“We were off-roading, and had this chump-” Guru motioned to the Cuban, then went on “crash our party last night. Can we turn him over to you?”

The airman-who'd been in the Air Force all of six months, nodded. “Let me get my sergeant, Sir.”

“You do that.”

The airman went back to the gate, and talked to a couple of other CSPs. They came back, and one of them was a Staff Sergeant. “Sir?”

“Got a Cuban for you guys,” Guru said.

“Sir, bring him up to the gate, and we'll take him off your hands.” the Sergeant said.

“We'll follow you,” Guru said, nodding to Goalie.

The airmen waited until the traffic ahead had gone onto the base, then waved the two jeeps on in. Since Guru was the ranking officer, he went to deal with the security people. The sergeant opened the door to the Security Office at the gate. A female CSP Lieutenant was there, “Captain,” She said. “You have a Cuban?”

“That's right, and I want to turn him over to you guys. He's wounded, and there were likely buddies with him.” Guru said.

She nodded, “Let's go see him.”

Guru took her to the jeep and showed the Cuban to her. She nodded to her CSPs, and they got the prisoner out of the jeep.. “No problem, Captain. We'll take it from here.”

One of the CSPs checked the Cuban over. “Sir,” he jokingly said to Guru, “you don't have tags for this one.”

“Open season, Charlie,” the sergeant replied. “And no bag limit.”

“Lieutenant,” Guru said, “You might want to sic the Apache Trackers after this guy's buddies. We killed three of 'em, and he had to have had more.” He took out the map and showed where the encounter had occurred.

“No problem, Sir,” the CSP officer said. “We've got some here, and they'll find the rest of 'em. Dead or alive.”

One of the airmen came up with a EPW form on a clipboard. “Sir, you need to fill this out.”

Guru nodded, then waved to Ryan “Come on up here. You caught him.”

Ryan came up, and both of them filled out the form. After signing it, Ryan said, “He's all yours.”

Guru handed the form to the CSP officer. “One other thing: this guy's been begging us to shoot him since we caught him.”

“Why?” Asked the CSP Lieutenant.

“Because, when Lieutenant Blanchard here caught him, she had on only her combat boots and an M-16.” Guru said. The CSP officer looked at Ryan, who simply nodded.

“We won't let him forget it,” the CSP Sergeant said, overhearing the conversation as two airmen untied the Cuban.


The Cuban tapped the CSP Sergeant on the shoulder, then pointed to Ryan, “Mean Woman!”

And everyone laughed.

1400 Hours Mountain War Time, 335th TFS, Williams AFB, AZ

After turning in the camping gear and weapons, and returning the rented jeep to the dealer, the party went back to the squadron to check in. Colonel Rivers was there, earlier than they expected. “Boss,” Guru said. “Enjoy your time off?”

“That I did. Never been to the Grand Canyon before, so that was a good one,” Colonel Rivers said. “How about you guys?”

They all looked at each other. “Well, Sir,” Goalie said. “We had some offroading, some stargazing, and...”

“Let me guess, each other's company?” Rivers asked.

The couples looked at each other and shrugged.

“Guess that's a 'yes,' I'd bet,” Rivers said.

“Yes, Sir,” Ryan said.

“Now, what's this about a Cuban?” Rivers wanted to know. “First thing I get when I come back is a call from Luke, thanking you guys for bringing in a Cuban prisoner.”

The four all looked at each other. “Well, uh,” Radner said.

“Out with it!” Rivers said.

“It went like this, Sir,” said Ryan. And she told the story. When she was finished, Rivers was incredulous.

“Was it really like that?” He wanted to know.

Guru and Goalie nodded. “Yes, Sir,” Guru said. “It's true. In every detail.”

“Incredible,” Rivers said. “All right, get settled back in, get plenty of sleep, because 0530 tomorrow, it's back in the saddle.”

“YES, SIR!” All four shouted.

“Dismissed,” Rivers said, still shaking his head.

As they left Squadron HQ, Radner asked, “Now what?”

“Follow the Boss' advice: have a good dinner, hit the sack early, and it's SA-6s, Shilkas, and MiGs all over again,” Guru said to his wingmate.

One week later, Radner and his back-seater were dead, victims of SA-6. A painful reminder of how in wartime, life could be short. It was Guru and Goalie who broke the news to Ryan. Ten years later, Major Ryan Blanchard would name her firstborn son Kyle, in honor of a friend who had helped make her first weeks at Williams as pleasant as could be in wartime.

Matt Wiser 12-31-2014 11:53 PM

Okay, if any of you were that Cuban SF trooper, would you be begging for a bullet? Because when you get to the EPW camp, and word gets around about how you were captured, the other prisoners won't let you forget it.

Adm.Lee 01-01-2015 11:06 AM

Dunno, I think he'd be in too much shock/confused to think of that just yet. Maybe it would sink in during the jeep ride, or once he realized the Yankees were all laughing at it.

Adm.Lee 01-01-2015 06:59 PM

Oddball coincidence today, after reading this last night, I was introduced to one of my father's model-railroad friends. He had been a USAF pilot, flying F-86, F-100, and in the 3rd class to transition to A-7, what in the 355th TFW at Davis-Monathan, I think he said. That /nearly/ prompted me to blurt out, "Oh, I think I just read something about that wing!" But, I held my tongue long enough to realize I'd seen that number here. And you're using the 335th number, anyway.

Instead, we got him to tell some stories about flying F-100s over the Ho Chi Minh Trail and South Vietnam. :)

He liked the A-7, but said when the A-10 came along, the AF wanted to buy some of each and Congress forced a fly-off. He read the conditions set, and it was clear what bird was going to win the "competition."

Sidebar: you've got me wanting to drag out some boardgames now. Have you played GDW's Air Strike/Air Superiority series, or GMT's Downtown?

Matt Wiser 01-01-2015 08:05 PM

As for the boardgames? No. Wanted to get them, but never did.

pmulcahy11b 01-01-2015 08:25 PM


Originally Posted by Adm.Lee (Post 62396)

Sidebar: you've got me wanting to drag out some boardgames now. Have you played GDW's Air Strike/Air Superiority series, or GMT's Downtown?

I have and have played Air Strike/Air Superiority and the supplement Eagles of the Gulf and some planes from the old Air Power magazine. But Downtown asking prices on the web are prohibitive.

I'm also still looking for Airwar and its second edition, and Raid! (I need the advanced rules/RPG settlement,) The best VIFF rules are still in Airwar's second edition

Matt Wiser 01-01-2015 08:32 PM

How do you like the stories? There's more coming.

Matt Wiser 01-01-2015 09:19 PM

The next one, and it takes place near the end of the war:

Nearing the End: Burnout

Laredo AFB, Texas: 1 October, 1989, 0620 Hours Central War Time

Major Matt Wiser, the CO of the 335th Tactical Fighter Squadron, was doing something that the 335th had hardly ever done since the war began: holding a mass briefing. There had been one on the first day, four years earlier, and one or two since. Mainly at the start of PRAIRIE FIRE and LONG RIFLE, but apart from that, he didn't recall any. No matter. The 335th had taken over some offices that prewar, had been used by an air charter company, the base having been closed a number of years prior to the war. The Soviets and Cubans had made use of the facilities since, both here and at Laredo International Airport, and now, the USAF, along with the Marines, had returned.

Crammed inside a meeting room was every crew in the 335th: he had eighteen flyable aircraft and thirty-two crews. Two aircraft were down for maintenance, and he was expecting four more to come, either from deep overhaul at McClellan AFB, or newly built from the Mitsubishi line in Japan. Well, when we go south into Mexico-and as far as Mexico City, we'll need those new birds and some new crews. But that was in the future-he hoped, but today's business-and those in the days ahead, came first.

“All right. You've probably noticed something. There's no preplanned targets for today. Everybody that can fly in MAG-11, along with the entire Tenth Air Force, is going south. Other than the Monterrey Air Defense Zone, anyplace in Northern Mexico from Amistad Reservoir down to Roma is fair game.”

His Exec, Captain Don Van Loan, asked, “So what are we doing, hitting opportunity targets?”

“That, and armed reconnaissance,” Major Wiser, call sign Guru, said.

Pilots and WSOs looked at each other. Then Capt. Valerie Blanchard, or Sweaty as she was known on the radio, said, “Southeast Asia all over again?”

“No. The reason Monterrey's a no-go area is because of the air defense threat. The only restriction, other than that, is no southbound traffic. Intel says the ComBloc are shipping POWs south in trucks headed deeper into Mexico, so no hitting southbound vehicles. Other than that, any military traffic on any road, whether the Mexican Federal roads, or the local ones, is a target,” Guru said.

“This all prep for the invasion?” Capt. Kara Thrace, or Starbuck, asked. She was the Operations Officer for the 335th, and had submitted a strike plan for Mexico City. One that Guru had reluctantly turned down.

“They wouldn't say, but even money says it is,” the CO replied. “At least, it forces the ComBloc to realize there's more than just Brownsville.”

Heads nodded. Anything that made the bad guys remember there was more than that pocket on this front was a good thing. “Opportunity targets?” Capt. Lisa Eichhorn asked. Goalie was her call sign, and she was Major Wiser's WSO.

“Anything military or military related. This includes bridges, power substations, airstrips, you name it. If it's defended, it's a target.” the CO told everyone.

Then Capt. Bryan Simmonds, Sweaty Blanchard's backseater, asked, “Ordnance loads?”

“Good question, Preacher.” Major Wiser said. “Right now, you're going out with either dumb bombs, CBUs, or a mix. But when you come back from the first hop, the ordnance guys will have whatever they've got ready. You might get napalm, or all dumb bombs, all CBUs, Mavericks, rocket pods, whatever. But you still get at least two AIM-7s, two wing tanks, and a full load of 20-mike-mike. And Sidewinders. Flight leads get an ECM pod as well.”

“And MiGs?” Hoser, or Capt. Nathan West, asked.

“OK, here's what the deal is. If the MiG or Sukhoi has a good driver, or if it's got a Red Star or Cuban insignia on it, go ahead. Kill it and claim the kill. If it's flown by some Mexican who's flying like he expects to be shot down, different story,” Guru said.

“What does that mean?” Sweaty asked.

“I haven't been claiming those kills. I've got five of those, and so does Kara. You've got four, Don has three, and several of you also have at least two. These have been too easy,” Major Wiser said.

“Like those Syrians in the Bekaa Valley Turkey Shoot back in '82, Boss.” Van Loan said. “Lot of those guys acted as if they knew they'd be shot down, but took off anyhow.”

“Yeah,” Guru responded. “Here's what I've been doing. When I've killed these guys, I say that I've fired an AIM-9 or AIM-7, depending on what I did use, but the missile missed, prematured, failed to guide, or whatever. And the target got away,” the CO said. He knew that several of those he'd mentioned had done the same. “If you want to claim the kill, go ahead. It's up to you.”

Heads nodded. And Major Wiser noticed one thing. The old hands in the squadron were those not likely to file these claims, even if it kept somebody from a better score. The new people-and the 335th had several new crews-were more likely to do otherwise. To them, killing some guy fresh out of flight training was no different than killing a high-time flier. He knew the saying, “A kill's a kill.” Normally, he'd agree. But with these greenhorns they'd been splashing, it was all too easy. He'd rather get into the transport stream from Mexico City to Brownsville instead and be like a shark in a school of fish.
“Any other questions?”

“What's the weather, Major?” asked one of the new guys.

“CAVU all day.” the Major said. That meant clear skies and visibility unlimited. A fighter-attack pilot's dream. “As for bailout areas south of the river: anyplace away from the roads. If you can, stay with the bird as long as you can and get your asses north. The closer to the Rio Grande, the easier time that the Jolly Greens have to get you. And if you can get across the river, best of all.”

Heads nodded again. Major Wiser looked around the room. “Anything else?”

Then one of the sergeants came into the room. “Major, this should've been handed out yesterday. It's from Major Ellis,” the sergeant said, handing the CO a letter.

“Thanks, Sergeant,” Major Wiser said. “Before we go, anyone want to hear from Mark?”

Multiple heads nodded. “Come on, Major,” Kara said, “Read it.” Sweaty Blanchard said the same thing, as did Goalie.

“OK, hold your horses,” Guru said as he opened the letter. “He's home-back in Ohio. 'I'm at Rickenbacker's base hospital,' he says. 'I'll be back in the cockpit, but the docs say it's at least a year. More likely eighteen months. That's what happens when you break one leg in two places, along with the other leg, and your shoulder, too. I saw you guys on CNN a couple of times, and it looks like you're all doing OK. Drop me a line, and if I don't see you guys before the war's over, I'll be there at the reunion. Check Six, and kick those bastards back to Mexico City.' There's more, but that's about it. Oh, he's getting married once he can walk down the aisle.”

Clapping and cheering followed. Mark Ellis had been a well respected pilot and Exec. He and Guru had run the 335th the best way they could, even if they had to fold, spindle, bend, or mutilate a few regs to get things done, so be it-as long as it got results. And having both MAG-11's commander and General Tanner at Tenth Air Force have the same attitude helped a lot. Then he'd been shot down during that Midland-Odessa offensive, what some had called Ivan's last roll of the dice, which had drawn parallels with the Battle of the Bulge, and had been rescued by the Jolly Greens. But his war was over. Major Wiser gave the letter to one of his ground officers. “Put that on the bulletin board, so everybody can read it.”

“Glad to, Major,” the man said.

“Okay. Anything else?” Major Wiser asked. There wasn't.

“Good. Let's hit it.” Wiser said, grabbing his flight helmet.

With that, the room emptied as those crews assigned to fly the first sorties of the day went to their aircraft. And soon after that, the runways were filled with aircraft as F-4s (both AF and Marine), Marine A-4s, A-6s, F/A-18s, and some A-7s from a shore-based Navy squadron, began taxiing for takeoff. It was going to be a very busy day.

Matt Wiser 01-01-2015 09:20 PM

Part II:

1430 Hours Central War Time: Over Northern Mexico.

Guru was on his fifth flight that day; he and Goalie had flown four before noon, and they'd finally had a break. Lunch, taking care of squadron paperwork, and then back in the saddle. He was in his usual mount, 512, and he had eleven Red Stars painted on the side. So what if the bad guys saw that in combat? At least they'd know they were up against a proven MiG-killer.

They were flying with their usual wingmates, 1st Lt. Kevin McAllen and his WSO, 1st Lt. Toni Grey. Since Kara had graduated to flight lead, a year earlier, these two had been their wingmates. And had made ace in the process. But kills had been few-other than these rookies, and neither Kevin or Toni (Cowboy and Nooner as they went in the squadron) had claimed any of those, either. Then they heard Sweaty call on the radio “Any Chiefs north of Sabinas Hidalgo?” Chiefs was their squadron's nickname.

“Sweaty, Guru,” Wiser called. “What's up?”

“Big convoy at the junction of Highway 85 and Route 22: somebody dropped the bridge north of that on 85, and they're all backed up,” Sweaty called.

“Copy. Cowboy, you hear that?”

“Roger, Lead,” Cowboy said.

“Sweaty, Guru. We're on our way.” Wiser said.

“Roger, Boss.” Sweaty called. “We're Winchester right now and are RTB.” That meant she was out of ordnance and had to return to base.

“Roger that. Any other Chiefs working 85, head to Sweaty's target location.” Guru said, not waiting for any acknowledgments. And he took his element to that location. Sure enough, there was military traffic backed up on the highway, and the bridge was down over the Rio Salado. His two Phantoms had six Mark-82 500-pound bombs and six CBU-58/B cluster bombs. These had one advantage over Rockeyes, his favorite CBUs: they had incendiary submunitions mixed in with the antivehicle and antipersonnel ones. And ripping up a truck convoy like this one was one thing CBUs could handle.

The two Phantoms came in on the target. “Anything on the threat receivers?” Guru asked Goalie.

“Not a peep. They must not have any radars down there.” Goalie responded.

“Two, this is Lead. First pass Mark-82s. Second pass CBUs. Then we RTB. Both runs south to north.” Guru called.

“Copy, Lead,” Cowboy responded.

With that, Guru rolled in on his first pass. He picked out some trucks and unloaded his six centerline Mark-82s from low level. The six bombs ripped into the convoy, blasting some trucks, and tossing others aside as if they were toys. Cowboy followed his leader, and his bombs, too, had the same effect. The two Phantoms then came around for another run.

As the two Phantoms came in, the crews noticed small-arms fire and even some 23-mm coming up. It looked like to the crews that somebody-Russians, Cubans, or Mexicans, had put 23-mm guns on either trucks or BTR-152s as improvised antiaircraft vehicles. No matter, they were coming in too fast. And both F-4s laid down their CBUs on the vehicles cramming the northbound lanes of Highway 85. Both crews were rewarded with multiple secondary explosions, as trucks, BTRs, and armored vehicles exploded. As they pulled up, two more elements from the 335th, Don Van Loan's and Hoser's, came in.

Guru called Van Loan. “Pouncer, Guru. Who's that with you?”

“Hoser, Boss.” Van Loan called back.

“Copy that, these guys are all yours. I'm Winchester, and RTB. Watch out for 23-mm and possible SA-7s.”

“Roger that, Boss. I'll be taking Rifle shots,” Pouncer said. Rifle meant Maverick missiles.

“Copy that, Pouncer. Go get 'em.” Guru called as he headed north. Just then, AWACS called.

“Mustang One-One, Crystal Palace. Bandits, Bandits. Threat bearing two-four-zero for fifty-five.”

Uh-oh, Guru thought. “Roger, Crystal Palace. Say Bogey Dope?”

“Mustang, Crystal Palace. No Joy,” the AWACS controller called.

Lovely, Guru thought out loud. And Goalie felt the same way. But it was showtime. “Cowboy, Guru. Bandits inbound. Drop tanks and fight's on.”

“Copy, Lead. Drop tanks and fight's on.” Cowboy responded.

Both F-4s dropped their wing tanks and turned into the incoming bandits. As they did so, the WSOs had their radars on, trying to pick up the bandits. And Crystal Palace kept giving range and bearing.
“Mustang One-One, Crystal Palace. Bandits on your nose, seventeen miles.”

Then Goalie called Guru on the intercom. “Two hits at twelve o'clock.”

“Got it. Crystal Palace, Mustang One-One. Judy.” That meant the F-4s were taking over the interception. “Say Bogey Dope?”

“Mustang, Crystal Palace. Bogeys are Fitters.” That meant anything from Su-7s from the mid '60s to the latest Su-22M4s. And those Fitters were very effective attack aircraft.

“Roger that,” Guru called. “Goalie, anything?”

“I've got a lock!”

“Copy that. Fox One!” he called out, signaling a Sparrow missile launch as he squeezed the trigger on the stick. Then he fired his second Sparrow. “Fox One again!”

Two AIM-7E Sparrow missiles streaked towards their target. Then the enemy aircraft became visible. These were swing-wing Fitters: Su-17s at least. As Guru's missiles streaked towards their target, Cowboy called, “Fox One!” as he ripple-fired two Sparrows.

Guru's two missiles missed. Cowboy's first one burned out short of the target, while his second flew right past the Fitter and exploded well behind the aircraft. As the Fitters broke, they jettisoned their external ordnance and fuel tanks, and tried to break away. And when they did that, their insignia became clear. Red stars on the tail. That meant Russians. “Two, Lead. I've got the leader.”

“Roger, Lead. I've got the other one.” Cowboy called.

Guru got in behind the Fitter. This one might have been an Su-22M version, but it was impossible to tell visually. And he could see the Fitter had two AA-8 Aphid missiles for self-defense. He grinned underneath his oxygen mask. No way, Ivan, he thought as he turned his missile selector to HEAT. His AIM-9L missiles were now armed. And the seeker was tracking. The growl went loud in his headset: missile lock. “Fox Two!”

Guru's first AIM-9 shot off the rail, corkscrewed right, then left, and then smashed into the Fitter's tail. The explosion blew the tail off the aircraft, and as it spun down to the left, the canopy came off, the ejection seat fired, and the pilot was in his chute. “Splash one Fitter!” Guru called.

Just as Guru made that call, Cowboy got in behind the wingman. He, too, got Sidewinder lock, and fired. Once again, an AIM-9 went off the rail, and flew up the Fitter's tailpipe. This time, when it exploded, the plane blew in half. The rear half fell away and broke apart, while the cockpit and wings tumbled end over end, before smashing into the desert floor. This one didn't have a chute. Cowboy gave the call, “Splash two!”

“Copy that, Two. Any chutes?” Guru asked.

“Negative, Lead.”

“Roger that. Crystal Palace, Mustang One-One.” Guru called to the AWACS.

“Mustang One-One, Crystal Palace. Go.”

“Splash two Fitters-Su-17s or -22s. One chute. We are RTB at this time.” Guru said.

“Roger that. Do you need a vector?” the AWACS controller asked.

In 512, Goalie shook her head. “Do those guys think we're lost?”

“You know the AWACS guys, they're like the backseat driver from hell-no offense intended.” Guru said.. “Crystal Palace, Mustang One-One. Negative.”

Goalie smiled underneath her oxygen mask. “None taken, my dear Major,” and she laughed.

Mustang Flight soon was short of the Rio Grande, and the crews looked down. Neuevo Laredo looked like Berlin in 1945, and inbound aircraft gave the place a wide berth: all the artillery fire being poured into the city meant that the sky over Neuevo Laredo was a dangerous place-and a 155 shell didn't care if you were friendly or not. Then Guru heard Starbuck on the radio. “Guru, Starbuck. Got something here.”

“Go, Starbuck,” Guru called back.

“We've got a MiG-21MF here, no gun pack, two Atolls, and he's got a centerline tank, but he's flying really weird. Straight and level at times, then he's all over the sky,” Starbuck called.

Guru frowned underneath his mask. “What's he got on the side?” He was asking about insignia.

“FARM,” was Starbuck's response. That meant the Revolutionary Air Force of Mexico.

“Starbuck, he trying to signal or anything?”

“He did wave,” Kara said. “This guy might be a defector.”

“ETA home base?”

“Fifteen mikes,” Kara said.

“Starbuck, fly alongside and see if you can get him to follow you. Have your wingie right behind him in the kill slot. He does anything funny, just roll out and away, and have Grumpy take the shot,” Guru ordered.

“Roger that.” Kara replied. “See you on the ground.”

“Copy.” Major Wiser then called Laredo operations and advised them of what was coming in. Then his flight came into the pattern, with each doing a victory roll, before landing. After taxiing in, his crew chief was waiting. “Major, what's up?”

“Sergeant, your guess is as good as mine,” the CO said. “Get the strike camera film unloaded, and what have you got for the next hop?”

“Shake'n bake, Major.” the crew chief replied. “Six Mark-82s centerline, and two napalm tanks each wing. And we'll get you two new wing tanks. Be ready in thirty minutes.”

Nodding, Guru and Goalie headed to squadron ops. They ran into Capt. Darren Licon, the squadron's intelligence officer. “Sir, Starbuck's inbound. ETA seven minutes.”

“Anything new?” Goalie asked.

“No, other than Starbuck said the guy looked like he could barely see out of the cockpit,” Licon said.

Major Wiser's flight looked at each other. This was strange. They went into ops, and quickly reviewed their flight. AWACS had confirmation of the Fitter kills, so those claims were valid. Then Major Wiser went into his office, grabbed a pair of binoculars, and went back outside. He turned to Licon. “Get a Humvee or a truck. When Kara lands, I want to be there.”

“Right, Major.” Licon said as he raced to grab a Humvee. When he came back, it wasn't just Major Wiser's flight, but a number of other aircrews, who were gathered there. Word was going around. Then Licon, who had his own set of binoculars, said, “There they are,” pointing to the southeast.

The three-ship made a pass over the base, then flew around for landing. Kara put her Phantom down first, and taxied away as fast as she could. Then the MiG-21 came in, and several pilots watched in shock as the pilot nearly ground-looped the MiG, but managed to get the plane down in one piece. Grumpy, Kara's wingmate, pulled up and did another flyaround, before coming in himself.

Then a dozen aircrew jumped into the Humvee, or so it seemed. Goalie drove, while Major Wiser and several others were wondering what kind of pilot they had on their hands. They drove past Kara's plane, which had taxied into its revetment, and the crew was quickly getting out. The MiG taxied to the edge of the ramp area, before it shut down. And armed Combat Security Police and Marines converged on the scene. Then the pilot got out. And it was Sweaty who spoke first. “My God! He looks like an Eighth-Grader in a flight suit!”

Goalie drove as close as she could. As the aircrews got out of the Humvee, Kara came running up. She hadn't bothered to get out of her G-Suit and harness, and she ran up to the MiG pilot and slammed him against the side of the aircraft. Guru and the others came rushing up, as Kara was yelling, “What in the hell were you doing?” She asked the Mexican, who looked quite terrified.

“Whoa, Kara!” Guru said, separating the pair. “Take it easy!” He turned to the Mexican pilot. He looked like he was way too young to be flying fighters. “Do you speak English?”

“Y. Y. Yes, I do Senor.” the Mexican said.

“How old are you?” Major Wiser asked.

The Mexican paused, as if he was choosing his words carefully. “In two months, I'll be Seventeen.”

Jaws dropped, as both Air Force and Marine aviators, digested what they'd just heard. Colonel Brady, the MAG-11 commander came up. “Major, did we hear right?” He asked.

Guru looked at the Mexican. “Did you say 'seventeen'?”


“Guru, I think I'm gonna be sick,” Goalie said.

Major Wiser knew it right then. He got the same sick feeling. “My God. That explains it.” The Major turned to his squadron mates. “We've been killing kids in those MiGs!”

Kara exploded. She cursed out anyone who would even consider such a thing, and those who actually trained these kids to fly. They barely belonged in Piper Cubs, and had no place being in a fighter. She stormed off, still yelling, and headed straight for the Officer's Club tent.

Colonel Brady came up to the Mexican. “How much flight time do you have, son?” He asked.

“Two days of taxi training. Then two days of takeoffs and landings, with three days of formation flying,” the boy said.

Not just Guru, but everyone else there from the 335th, as well as the Marines there, realized it then and there. They'd been killing kids who were being sent out with a week's training in MiGs, and who were expected to fight the Americans. Most of the fighter pilots-whether Air Force or Marine, had at least one of these in their kill sheet, even if the kills hadn't been claimed. Then Licon spoke up. “Like the Kamikazes: those guys were sent out with a week's training.”

Sweaty swore. “Yeah, but they weren't expected to fight. These kids, though...Major, what have we been doing?”

“I know. This isn't what we all signed up for.” Major Wiser said, looking at the Mexican, then Colonel Brady, who nodded. He knew what everyone was thinking. What kind of people would put teenage boys in fighter cockpits?

“What now?” Goalie asked.

Colonel Brady responded. “We get on with the job at hand. I know you're not in the mood, but we've still got a job to do.” He turned to a Marine sergeant. “Take this boy to Intel and have the intel shop have a long talk with him. And pass them this: ask the kid if he's got family in the States. If he does, get one of those 1140 forms for him.”

The Marine nodded. “Aye, Aye, Sir.” And several Marines took the Mexican away. A 335th line crew brought up a truck with a tow bar to pull the MiG out of the way. Brady turned to the aircrews. “We've got three hours or so of daylight left. If you're angry about this, make some Mexicans-or Soviets-or Cubans, feel that anger.”

The crowd broke up, as aircrews and ground personnel headed back to their jobs. Back at 335th Ops, Major Wiser found 1st Lt. Keith Crandall, the Deputy Ops Officer. He talked to Crandall, who was grounded with a cold. “Keith, pull Kara and Grumpy off today's schedule, and tomorrow's as well.”

“Right, Major.” Crandall nodded. “Going back out, sir?”

Guru looked at Goalie. And the rest of his flight. Though angry, they knew they still had a job to do. “Yeah. But this is our last one for the day. Tell Don when he lands: no more flying today. Those being turned around, and are ready, go. Anyone airborne doesn't go back out. Even if there's daylight left.”

“Yes, sir.”

Guru corralled his flight. “I know what you guys are thinking. We're going to make somebody-Russians, Cubans, Mexicans-pay. They'll burn, bleed, and blow up for sending that kid out in a MiG. Get back into Game Mode.”

Heads nodded. “Then what?” Goalie asked.

“Kara's probably getting sloppy drunk. And she's not going to be alone. Got that?”

And with that, Mustang flight went to their aircraft, mounted up, and went back out. And they did make someone pay-dearly-for what they'd seen earlier. When they got back, and checked in with ops, Don Van Loan was there.

“Major, what happened? I heard about a defector, but why's everybody so pissed off?”

“That defector was a sixteen-year-old. A kid. And they gave him a week's training before sending him into combat. Those MiGs we thought were flown by greenhorns? We've been killing kids.” Wiser told his Exec. And Van Loan turned pale.

“Major...what kind of people do that?” he asked.

“Your guess is as good as mine. I'm headed over to the O-Club and drown my anger in a couple of beers. And I bet everybody on this base who could is gonna be there.” Major Wiser said. “You did get what I told Keith?”

“Yeah. No more flying today. We've still got an hour of daylight left, though.” Van Loan reminded his CO.

“I know. But the Marine ramp is almost full: they saw the same thing-and they've got some of those MiG kills in their log books,” Wiser said. “Nobody's in a flying mood after hearing that.”

Matt Wiser 01-01-2015 09:21 PM

And the final part:

1815 Hours Central War Time: Officer's Club Tent, Laredo AFB

Major Wiser and Captain Eichhorn went into the Officer's Club. Normally, a juke box would be playing, some poker games might be going on, and generally, people would be trying to blow off steam. Not today. The mood was very subdued, as the grim realization of who had been in the cockpits of the Mexican MiGs they'd killed sat in. Major Wiser went up to the bar, and ordered two Foster's-one for Goalie, and one for himself. Then he asked the bartender. “Where's Captain Thrace?”

The bartender pointed to a corner. Four empty bottles were on a table, and Kara was working on a fifth. Nodding, Guru and Goalie went over to Kara's table. “Want to talk about it, Captain?” Guru asked as he and Goalie pulled up chairs.

“No, Major, but if you insist,” Kara said, taking a pull on her bottle.

“Look. This sure isn't what we all signed up for. We can't change the past, Captain, no matter what.”

“I know, Major. But you and I...Hell, most of the squadron's got these guys in our log books, even if we didn't officially claim the kills! We've been killing kids who should still be in high school, not in MiG cockpits!” Kara yelled.

“You're drunk, now sit down.” said Guru.

“Major, I had to get that out of my system.”

“You're not the only one,” Goalie said, pulling on her beer. “I'd like to find out who stuck those boys in those cockpits and make him pay.”

“Join the club,” a voice said. It was Colonel Brady. “Mind if I join you?”

Kara nodded. “Might as well, Colonel.”

“I've been looking for you guys. Intel's got some news.” Brady said.

“What is it?” Guru asked.

“For starters, that kid is in their equivalent of the Air Force Academy. About six months ago, the word went out for volunteers, he said, for what they called 'advanced fighter school.' He volunteered, and went through what should be, in our military, a year's worth of ground school in three months. Then he had some primary flight, then some backseat rides in a MiG-21U trainer, and they pronounced him qualified,” Brady said.

“What the hell?” Kara said.

“Yeah,” Brady said, pulling on his own beer. “Then he had his training in the MiG-21, and what tactical training they gave him was all models and chalk talks. They sent him to a unit at Monterrey IAP, and other than a couple of patrols, this was his first real combat flight.”
“Of all the....Even we wouldn't have been that desperate!” Goalie yelled.

“Be glad we never had the chance to find out,” Wiser said. “What else, Sir?”

“They've all been heavily indoctrinated. The Mexicans have convinced a lot of their people that if they don't stop us at the Rio Grande, we're going to keep on pushing south to Mexico City.” Brady said.

“So?” Kara asked. “That's what we should do. Make them pay for hosting the Russians and Cubans.”

“You get no argument from me on that, Captain.” Brady said. “But they've taken it to extreme.”

“Huh?” Goalie asked.

“They've told their people that when we do come south, we'll steal more of Mexico. A repeat of 1846-48, basically, and not only slice off more of Mexico, but turn it into a depopulated wasteland.”

“Oh, boy....” Guru said. “They're that convinced?”

“Correct, Major.” Brady said. “They're convinced that we'll do to them what the ComBloc did to us.”

“They've got their own Goebbels down in Mexico City, looks like,” Goalie observed.

“Yeah,” Kara said, motioning to the bartender for another beer. He looked at Guru and Colonel Brady, who nodded.

“This is your last one, Captain. You're not on the schedule tomorrow, so sleep it off,” Major Wiser said. “Look at the entrance. Doc Waters is there.” Waters was the 335th's flight surgeon. “He's got two CSPs with him, and when I signal him, they are going to take you to your quarters, and they'll watch you overnight. Tomorrow morning, sleep in as long as you want. When you do wake up, eat, take care of your squadron paperwork-believe me, we've all got some of that-and just blow off steam. Go to the Marines' shooting range-use that SiG-Sauer of yours, and your M-16, and burn off as much ammo as you can. Go to bed early, because I want you up and ready, 0600, day after tomorrow. Do I make myself clear, Captain?”

Kara glared at him. She knew he was very serious. Then she nodded. “Yes, Sir,” in a subdued voice.

“Good, because you are the best I've got. Finish that beer, Captain. That's an order, then Doc Waters will take it from there.” Major Wiser said. He then turned to Colonel Brady. “Sir, we need to talk. Privately.”

The two officers left the tent and went outside. It was a clear night, and though most flying had ceased, there were Marine Hornets going up on Combat Air Patrol. “What is it, Major?” Brady asked.

“Sir, this squadron's getting at the end of the rope. We've seen and done too much. Once this Brownsville business gets wrapped up, I'd like a stand-down.” Wiser said.

“Chances are, we'll all get a stand-down, Major,” Brady said.

“I realize that, sir. But we need two weeks. Just like before PRAIRIE FIRE, LONG RIFLE, and this one.” Wiser said.

Colonel Brady nodded. “Can't promise you that much, Major. But you'll get a few days off. Once Brownsville's finished up.”

“Thank you, Sir.” Wiser said. “And what about the kid?”

“He's got family here. Someplace in Northern California. Oroville, Yuba City, someplace near there. They'll contact his relatives-a cousin if I heard right-and if he's got an 1140, they'll take him in. He doesn't see the inside of an EPW Camp.” Brady said.

Guru nodded. “That's good to hear.”

“Yeah. Hell of a war, isn't it? Just when you've thought you've seen everything, something new bites you.” Brady commented.

“Ain't that the truth, Sir.”

3 October, 1989: 0545 Hours Central War Time, Laredo AFB.

The 335th's aircrews were all gathered in the briefing room, before the day's flying. Major Wiser looked at the assembled faces. They'd had a day to soak in what had happened two days before. The previous day, they'd gone out and made the ComBloc pay for that-and everything that had happened since the war began. And this time, though several of the Mexican MiGs had come up, the 335th, along with the Marines, had declined combat. Nobody wanted to add another cheap scalp to one's score, not after what had transpired.

As he looked around, he saw all the familiar faces he expected. He noticed Starbuck, and said, “Glad to have you back, Captain. Got everything out of your system?”

“That I did, Major. Refreshed, recharged, and ready to go back to work,” Kara said.

“Glad to hear it, Captain,” Major Wiser said. “Same drill the last couple of days: Armed Reconnaissance and Opportunity Targets. Weather is CAVU, and stay away from 9th Air Force's AO, and the Monterrey area. Other than that, it's a wide open hunting ground. And there's no bag limit.”

Heads nodded. Then Sweaty raised her hand. “Major, what about MiGs?”

“Good question. After what happened on the First, nobody wants to take a chance on killing a kid. Gain Visual ID before shooting. If it's Soviet, Cuban, East German-why they're still fighting I don't know-or any non-Mexican ComBloc, kill.” Major Wiser said.

“And if it's Mexican?” Starbuck asked, with grim seriousness.

“Avoid combat for the most part. If it's a honcho-somebody who knows what he's doing-and he's serious about it, is the fight still on. Other than that, we can outfly, outrun, and outmaneuver them. Nobody's killing anymore kids. This comes from Tenth Air Force, guys, so word's gotten around.”

Everybody understood this one. This was ROE that they could live with-and no one, not even the new guys in the squadron, wanted to kill anymore kids. “Major, what about the kid?” Goalie asked.

“Colonel Brady told me. He's got family in Northern California: a cousin in Yuba City or Oroville, someplace north of Sacramento. They'll take him in. He gets an 1140 form, and doesn't see an EPW Camp.” Wiser said.

“What about Mexico City?” Starbuck asked.

“I thought it over, Starbuck,” Major Wiser said. “I sent your strike proposal to Colonel Brady. He'll send it to Tenth Air Force with his endorsement. No guarantee when we'll fly it right now, but you can bet, when we do go south, that's one mission I'll look forward to flying.”

Starbuck grinned. And so did most everyone there. Even the CO was relishing the prospect of going to Mexico City-and putting some bombs on those who not only had enabled the invasion and everything that followed, but had put sixteen- and seventeen-year olds into fighter cockpits. Major Wiser looked around. Then he noticed a Marine MP. The Sergeant was beckoning him to come over. “Sergeant?”

“Sir, before he left, Ricardo wanted to see you all.” the MP said.

This was weird, but why not? “Okay, bring him in,” Major Wiser said.

The boy came into the briefing room. At first, there was silence. Then applause. This kid was getting a second chance, and in a few years, he'd be an American himself. He politely nodded. And Major Wiser offered his hand, and the boy shook it. “Calm down, people!”

“Thank you, Major,” Ricardo said, with tears in his eyes.

“Going to be with your relatives?”

“Yes, Senor. I can go to school, work in their restaurant, and maybe go to university.” Ricardo said.

“Just remember this: America's the land of opportunity. Even after all that's happened here, you've got a second chance. If I were you, I'd think of October 1 as my second birthday.” Major Wiser told the young man.

“I already do.”

Then something happened that surprised everyone. Kara came up, and not only shook the boy's hand, but hugged him. “Just stay out of airplanes for a while, Okay?” she said.

“Oh, not for a long time. I have all the flying I want for a while.” Ricardo said.

The Marine Sergeant came in, “Sir, it's time for him to go.”

“You take care of yourself. And here's a promise. When we have our squadron reunions, you're invited. Anybody have a problem with that?” Major Wiser asked.

There was a chorus of “NO, SIR!” from the aircrews.

“Thank you, Major.” Ricardo said, and as he turned to leave, he did one thing for the last time. He stood to attention, like he was on the parade ground, and snapped a perfect salute. And the Major returned it. And Ricardo waved goodbye as the Marine sergeant took him on the first leg of his new journey in life.

Major Wiser turned to the squadron. “All right. Brownsville's going to be done in a week. Maybe less, if we keep it up. Let's see if we can't do that.”

“You got it, Major!” Sweaty said, and heads nodded.

“Okay, let's hit it.” And the room emptied as the 335th went out and on with their jobs. And forty-eight hours later, it was over in Brownsville.

Matt Wiser 01-03-2015 10:51 PM

Another One, and getting a squadron the hard way:

Taking Command

Sheppard AFB, Wichita Falls, TX: 26 October 1987

It had been two months since Sheppard had been recaptured, and there had been a race to get there, with III Corps' 23rd Infantry Division beating out VI Corps' 7th Armored Division. Now, it was a busy place, as Marine Air Group 11, along with Air Force and Army helicopters, and AF transports, were going in and out, supporting the ongoing fight for the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. Fort Worth had fallen, as had several of the cities in between Dallas and Fort Worth, but Dallas was still a slugfest. At Sheppard, AF “Red Horse” Engineers and Navy Seabees had cleaned up the worst of the damage to the base, cleared away both the bodies and the unexploded ordnance, and gotten the runways operational. Revetments had been built to handle fighters and helicopters, and both tents and trailers had been brought in to house personnel and for the various squadrons to conduct their ground business. Now, the base was seeing more air activity in a day than it had in its prewar guise as an Air Training Command base. Marine and Air Force aircraft, from fighters to transports, as well as Army helicopters, came in and out, not to mention the occasional tanker, and it all added up to organized bedlam.

Capt. Matt Wiser, call sign Guru, of the Air Force's 335th Tactical Fighter Squadron had just finished briefing his flight on a mission that was put together way too fast for his liking, but with too many missions and not enough assets, he took it like he should. The mission had come down from Marine Air Group 11, to which his squadron had been attached since the early days of the war, and called for a strike on the Seagoville Municipal Airport. Cuban helicopters and even some Su-25s were using the place, and the Army wanted it taken out. It would be a low-level ride past Fort Worth to the west, then a turn east, flying south of the metro area, before turning to strike. One pass from the flight, and forty-eight Mark-82 bombs from the four aircraft should be enough to put the airport out of commission for a while. And as for getting out, he wanted to bypass the mayhem that was Dallas, so he planned on a turn north, find Lake Ray Hubbard east of Mesquite, and fly up the lake. Only then would the flight climb back to altitude to return to Sheppard. Then, he thought, an hour or so to turn around, and back in the saddle again. Only this time, he knew, as did everyone in the unit, we're going to win.

He looked at his crews one more time. They were all sitting outside their squadron office. “Any more questions?” There were none, so he told them, “All right, wheels up in fifteen mikes. Saddle up and get ready to go.”

As they broke up to head to their aircraft, Lt. Col. Dean Rivers came over. He was the CO of the 335th, and wanted to talk with the Exec.

“Guru. Just a minute. We need to talk.”

What's up, Boss?” The Exec asked.

“I've got a bad feeling about today. I can't pin it down, but it's there,” Rivers said.

“You've had these before, and nothing happened, Boss,” Guru reminded his CO. “What's so special about today?”

“Don't know, Guru. But I can't shake it,” said Rivers. “Anyway, I left a letter on your desk. Sergeant Ross has orders not to let anyone into your office unless it's you or me,” Rivers told his Exec.

Master Sergeant Michael Ross was the squadron's senior NCO. In thirty years of service, he'd seen it all. Or thought he had until the war began. He was a father figure to the enlisted airmen, and he was old enough to be the father of nearly all the aircrew as well. There wasn't anyone more trusted in the squadron than Ross.

“Including Major Carson?” Guru asked.

“Especially him, Guru. I'd rather have you take over the squadron than him.” the CO said. Then the object of their conversation came towards them. “Speak of the Devil, Guru. Major,”

“Sir,” Major Carson said as he saluted. He looked at Guru, who didn't salute him. And Colonel Rivers didn't return the salute.

Carson ignored it: he knew full well that expecting these two officers to respect him was a waste of time. “Colonel, I have some write-ups of enlisted airmen for being out of uniform on the flight line, failing to salute, and...”

“Save it, Major. I'll take those.” Colonel Rivers responded, taking the write ups. “As for what I'll do with these....Watch, Major.” And then Colonel Rivers tore up the papers and threw them in a nearby garbage can.

Carson was appalled. “Sir!”

“Major, in case you haven't noticed, there's a war on. We've been fighting for our national survival, and we can't be so spit-and-polish we lose the war!” Rivers yelled at Carson.

“Sir, there's Air Force Rules, and Regulations! Not to mention rank!” Carson said, glaring at the Exec.

Guru quipped, “I can't help it, Phil, if I'm not as rank as you.”

Carson's face turned red. “Colonel!”

“Face it, Major. He's got more combat experience than you, not to mention overall stick time. And he's somebody that everyone in the squadron looks up to after that E&E. I'd rather have an Exec ready to take over who's combat-experienced and tries to bring everyone home alive. You're not, Major.” Rivers said, looking at Guru, who was trying to stifle a laugh.

“Sir, General Tanner will hear about this!” Carson fumed.

“So what? I've got news for you, Major. Tanner knows. And he's OK with it. Unlike you, the General knows what parts of the book to keep once the shooting started and what parts to throw away. This isn't the Academy, Major, and these men and women aren't brand-new Doolies,” Rivers shot back.

“This is unheard of!” Carson wailed.

“Peacetime rules don't apply two years into a war, Major. And in case you've got any ideas, I've already talked to the General. If anything happens to me, Guru takes command of the squadron. Whether you like it or not. And if you give him any trouble, he'll be on the phone to Tanner in a hot minute.” Rivers paused to look at Guru, who was still trying to stifle a laugh, but managed to nod, yes. “Got that?”

Carson stared at the both of them. Clearly, neither one of them understood his reasons or motives, and the fact that Guru came out of OTS galled him. If he'd been an Academy grad, Guru might deserve the squadron. But Rivers, who had graduated from the Academy, had come down on Guru's side. And was way, way, too chummy with these...ROTC or OTS people. Even so far as to not wear his class ring. He was obviously “one of the boys.”

“Well, Major?” Rivers asked.

“Yes, Sir.” Carson responded, his tone betraying how he really felt, and realizing there wasn't much right now he could do about it. He stalked off in a fit of the sulks.

“That is not a happy person, Boss.” Guru observed.

“I've been looking for a reason to transfer him, and his last Officer Efficiency Report might be a good reason. If he gives you any trouble, look it up. Then call Tanner and explain the transfer. He'll back you up,” Rivers said.

“Only if you don't come back, Boss,” Guru said. “Time for me to go. See you in a while.”

“Take care, Guru. And bring everyone back safe,” Rivers said.

“I'll do that.” With that, Guru walked over to his F-4E, tail number 512, where he found the other members of his flight gathered. His WSO, Capt. Lisa Eichhorn, call sign Goalie, asked, “What was that all about?”

“Rivers has a bad feeling about today, and he wrote a letter for me, just in case he doesn't come back,” Guru told her.

“What was our Frank Burns wannabe doing there?” Capt. Kara Thrace, or Starbuck as she was known on the radio, asked.

“The usual BS. And he's pissed that Rivers told him that if anything happens to Rivers, I get the squadron and he doesn't.” Guru replied.

1st Lt. Valerie Blanchard, call sign Sweaty, said, “We'd be glad to call you Boss, instead of that SOB, Guru.”

“Let's just get through what's on our plate right now. And cross that bridge if it comes to it. Anything else?” Guru told the flight. Everyone nodded no. “Then let's go.”

45 minutes later, over North-Central Texas

Camaro Flight was heading east, just south of the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex. They had flown south to Mineral Wells, and then headed east. No radars, no SAMs, no MiGs. They were too low, and too fast. Normally, they'd have a pair of Wild Weasel SAM-killing Phantoms, or a pair of Marine F/A-18s with HARM or Shrike antiradar missiles, and a Marine EA-6B Prowler to jam enemy radars, but this mission had been laid on too fast, and those assets were busy elsewhere. Speed and surprise were what counted on this occasion, and coming in at 450 feet and 500-plus knots certainly helped.

In the rear seat of 512, Goalie looked at a chart and checked her watch. “Two minutes to IP, Guru.”

“Copy,” he replied. Guru got on the radio. “Camaro Flight, this is Lead. Two minutes.”

With that call, the four Phantoms popped up from 450 feet to 2,000 feet. They would have just enough time to identify the target and line up for bomb release. But it would put them in danger from antiaircraft guns and any missiles the Cubans had.

“Thirty Seconds, Guru.” Goalie called.

“Got it. Target in sight. Camaro Flight, Lead. Target in sight. Lead in hot.” With that, Guru rolled in onto the target, and he picked out the edge of the runway and the parking apron as his aiming point. He pressed the pickle button, and twelve Mark-82 500-pound bombs came off his plane. He walked his bombs across the runway and the apron, not only putting holes in the runway, but blasting a couple of Mi-8 Hip helicopters in the process. “Lead's off target,” he called.

The first sign that the Cuban defenders had that they were under attack was Guru's first bomb exploding short of the runway. And the rest of his bombs exploding in turn. Antiaircraft gunners ran for their ZU-23 AA guns, while Cuban soldiers grabbed SA-7 shoulder-fired missiles. But it was already too late, as Starbuck came in.

“Two's in hot!” She called as she laid down her dozen Mark-82s onto several Su-25s, blasting four of the Frogfoots apart. An added bonus for her was that two of her bombs wrecked a hangar, and another blasted the small control tower. Starbuck called in, “Two off target.”

“Three's in hot!” Sweaty called. She led her element in perpendicular to the first, coming in from due south. She laid down her bombs directly on the runway, adding to the bombs that Guru and Starbuck had dropped. And with that, Seagoville Municipal was out of business for a while. There was some flak coming up, and even an SA-7 or two, but Sweaty called in, “Three off target.”

“Four in hot!” 1st Lt. Nathan West, or Hoser as he went on the radio, called. He brought his F-4 right behind Sweaty, but he didn't aim for the runway. Hoser picked out the Cubans' fuel dump, and planted his bombs right on that, and several that missed the dump fell in the Cuban motor pool. As he banked away, he could see oily black smoke and balls of fire rising into the sky. “Four off target.”

“OK, let's get out of here. Camaro Flight, form on me.” Guru called, and the four Phantoms joined up and headed back down on the deck. “And Music on,” he ordered. That meant their ALQ-101 jammer pods, carried in the left forward Sparrow missile well, came on. The four Phantoms then found Lake Ray Hubbard, and came in over the lake, throwing up spray behind them. It took another two minutes before they reached the north shore of the lake, before they could climb up and turn west. And hope the Army air-defense pukes down below didn't decide they were enemy and take a shot at them.

Nothing of the sort happened, and the flight came into Sheppard's traffic pattern and requested landing instructions. After they landed and got themselves parked, the aircrews were still pumped. Apart from the flak at the target, they'd had a free ride. It wasn't that often that happened. They were still pumped when Guru opened the door to the squadron office, a former office for a flying training squadron, and found a very different scene.

Everyone was somber, going about their jobs, but they were in a daze. People were still being briefed, and were going out, but one could tell that something bad had happened. Guru led his people into the main briefing room, and noticed the other crews, and they looked like they were in shock. Then he noticed Capt. Mark Ellis, the Operations Officer. He waved Guru over.

“What happened, Mark? You'd think the President just died.” Guru told him.

“Not that. Colonel Rivers got shot down near Corsicana. He didn't get out,” Ellis said. “The squadron's yours now, Guru.”

Wiser looked at Ellis like he'd just grown two heads. Then he felt like he'd just taken a punch to the gut. Oh, man. Not like this, he thought.

“I'd better get to my office. Is Ross there?” Guru asked.

“Ever since we found out. And no, Carson hasn't been in there,” Ellis replied.

“Good. Make sure he stays out.” Guru then went to the front of the room and addressed the aircrews. “I know this isn't much, but Colonel Rivers would want us to buckle up, hold it back, and get on with our jobs. I'll get the chaplain so we can have a memorial service later, but right now, the best thing we can do is to keep doing what we're doing: namely, pushing those ComBloc bastards back where they came from. He'd want it that way. Any questions?”

The room was silent, then Ellis stood up. “Okay, people, we all know what to do. Let's get on with winning the war.” With that, people started going back into “game mode.” There was a job to do, and they had to keep going.

Guru then turned to Ellis. “Mark, give me a few minutes in my office. We'll clean out Rivers' stuff later. I'm not ready for that just yet. You're Exec now.”

“I'm not ready for that, Guru.” Ellis said.

“I wasn't ready to be Ops when I got it, and I wasn't ready to be Exec when Rivers handed it to me. And for sure, I'm not ready to be CO, but there's nothing I can do about it. We do the best we can, and that's it,” Guru replied, seeing Ellis nod.

“And who becomes Ops?” Asked Ellis.

“Don Van Loan. Rivers had his eye on him, and we talked it over. He's got enough experience, and he's done good as your backup. Goalie moves to senior WSO, and Kara becomes Don's deputy.” Wiser said.

Overhearing that, Starbuck replied, “Thanks a heap, Boss.”

“We all have to start sometime, Starbuck. Goalie, you comfortable being senior WSO?” Guru asked.

Goalie looked at her pilot and CO. “If I say no, does that change anything?”


“Okay, then. I'm comfortable,” she responded.

“Good. I'll be in my office. Mark, get the department heads-supply, maintenance, ordnance, the flight surgeon, you, and Goalie. Have 'em in there in ten minutes,” he told Ellis.

“Right,” Ellis said as he went to notify those requested. Guru left to head to his office. He passed the CO's and he knew it was his now by right, but he just didn't feel like going in just yet. Then he came to his office, where Master Sergeant Ross and two armed CSPs were waiting. “Sergeant.”

“Sir. It's a shame about Colonel Rivers,” Ross said.

“I know. Has Major Carson been by?” Guru asked.

“No, sir. Not yet.”

“Good. See that he stays out. Let the enlisted folks know I'll be around, talking to them, and letting them know what's up. Nothing changes, and unless it's really bad, anyone Carson writes up gets that stuff sent where Colonel Rivers sent it: namely, the trash.” Guru told Ross.

“Yes, Sir!” Ross said, beaming with pride.

“Good. The senior officers will be here in a few minutes. I want you in as well: you're the senior NCO.”

“Yes, sir.”

“All right, Sergeant, that's all. I need a few alone.” Guru said as he went in.

“Sir.” Ross said, closing the door behind his new CO.

Guru went to his desk and found the envelope. After he opened it, he found the letter very short:

Guru, if you're reading this, then I'm either dead, MIA, or eating Kasha behind barbed wire. I just want to tell you that the squadron's yours now. I've cleared it with General Tanner, and FYI you wouldn't be the first in those shoes, bypassing someone senior to get a squadron. You're the one I trust to run things, and not Carson.

Keep doing things the way we've been doing, and remind everyone to take care of the enlisted guys. They keep us in the air, and remind them the enlisted aren't brand-new Doolies, or pieces of machinery. Take care of them, just as they take care of our birds.

As for the Major, don't worry. Like I said, Tanner's OK with you running things, and if Carson gives you any heat, call Tanner. Here's his contact info. And if you decide to kick him out of the squadron, check Carson's OER: I didn't want to kick him out just yet, but if you decide to, everything's there.

Don't worry about Linda and the kids: I've included a letter for you to send them. They're in Minnesota, and for them, the war is rationing and what they see on the evening news. Her dad was an Air Force Colonel, so she knows what can happen.

Just remember what I said, and I'll be watching over you guys. Check six, and finish the job we started.


And we will, Boss, Guru thought to himself. There was a knock on the door. It was Ross. “Sir, the senior officers are here.”

Guru took a deep breath. “OK. Send them in, come on in yourself, and close the door behind us. And Carson stays out.”

Ross nodded, and the officers Guru wanted to talk to came in. Sergeant Ross closed the door behind him, and the two CSPs took their position outside.......

Fifteen Minutes later.....

The meeting broke up, and Goalie, Mark Ellis, Starbuck, and Don Van Loan were still there with Guru. General Tanner had called, and informed Guru that he'd be there in two days, and strongly hinted that something else in addition to squadron command was on the agenda. “With responsibilities come rank, Captain,” Tanner had said. That was a sign that good news was coming.

“What do Tanner and Colonel Rivers have in common, Guru?” Starbuck asked.

“Rivers was Tanner's aide, when he was a one-star. Even back then, Tanner never let rank go to his head,” Guru replied, remembering a conversation he and Rivers had had.

“Unlike a certain Major, right?” Goalie observed.

“Right you are, Goalie,” Guru said.

There was a knock at the door. One of the CSPs came in. “Sir, Major Carson's here. He's demanding to be allowed in.”

Everyone inside looked at each other. Then Guru said, “OK, let him in.”

Carson came into the room, a foul look on his face. “So you're CO now, Captain?” He sneered.

“Right you are, Major,” Guru replied. “And General Tanner's OK with that. I just got off the phone with him. I get the squadron, as Rivers asked. Not you.”

“This isn't right. General Tanner will see reason. He has to. And I am your superior officer,” Carson wailed.

“No, Phil. You aren't. Just a higher-ranking one. That's all,” Guru replied.

There was another knock on the door. One of the operations sergeants came in, with a fax in his hand. “Captain, a fax came for you from Tenth Air Force.”

Carson reached for it, but the Sergeant said, “Sir, this is for Captain Wiser.” And he handed it to Guru.

Guru read it. Then he handed it to Ellis. “Read it, Mark.”

Ellis read the fax aloud. “By order of Commanding General, Tenth Air Force, Captain Matt Wiser, USAF, is hereby confirmed in command of the 335th Tactical Fighter Squadron effective 1300 Hours this date. The Commanding General will be arriving at Sheppard AFB on 28 October to visit the squadron and other units based there. No formal unit inspection is intended, and the visit will not interfere with ongoing combat operations. Signed, Tanner, CG, Tenth Air Force.”

The smug look on Carson's face disappeared. He sulked out of the office, a solitary figure. After he left, Kara observed, “Never thought I'd say this, but he's worse than Tigh.”

“He's got a sense of entitlement, Starbuck,” Goalie observed. “He thinks he's entitled to the squadron by right. And finding out General Tanner denied him sure deflated his balloon.”

“That it did, Goalie. That it did,” Guru said. “In the meantime, I need some help this evening. If you like, I'd appreciate it if we all helped clean out Colonel Rivers' office. It'd deal with some of the pain.”
He looked at the group, and saw nods in the affirmative. “In the meantime, I believe we've got missions scheduled, Mark?”

“That we all do, Boss.” Ellis replied. “Your flight's up in an hour.”

“All right. Get something to eat, and let's go back to work. And if you're angry, let some Russians or Cubans feel that anger,” Guru said.

“YES, SIR!” They all shouted.

And with that, the 335th went on with the war.

Matt Wiser 01-05-2015 09:14 PM

The sequel to Taking Command:

Trials of Command

Sheppard AFB, TX, 5 December, 1987, 1250 Central War Time:

Major Matt Wiser, the commanding officer of the 335th Tactical Fighter Squadron, was actually pleased with things this day. His unit had flown a number of strikes into the Dallas-Fort Worth area, supporting the Army in the meat grinder that was Dallas, and several crews had added MiGs or helicopters to their kill sheets. He had taken his flight to the Waxahachie area, where supply convoys headed to and from Dallas went up Interstate 35E, and his F-4s had laid waste to one such convoy. His flight had come out of the strike without a scratch, and having debriefed the mission, had some time to kill before their next strike, in two hours' time. And so the squadron commander decided that a nap on his office couch was in order. He'd laid down and closed his eyes, only to suddenly hear a voice in his ear. “Major?”

Major Wiser opened his eyes, to see his exec, Capt. Mark Ellis, standing over him. “What is it, Mark? Can't you see your CO needs his beauty rest? And I was about to have a dream: me, Goalie, and at least two Sports Illustrated swimsuit models-all about to do things that would likely get all of us arrested in half a dozen states.”

“Sorry, Major, but this is important. It's about Major Carson.”

“What has that sumbitch done now?” Wiser asked as he got up.

Major Frank Carson was perhaps the most hated officer in the squadron: a sentiment shared by both officers and enlisted airmen. Whether it was writing up airmen for being out of uniform-when the temperature on the flight line at Cannon or Amarillo had reached 118 degrees-the man thought male airmen stripped to the waist as they worked-or females in sports bras was “out of uniform”, or wailing about how the other officers failed to show him some respect-which everyone else felt he had done little to earn, or complaining about being passed over for squadron command, he'd gotten on just about everyone's bad side. Even the previous CO, before he was KIA, had little use for the man. And Lt. Col. Dean Rivers had put then-Capt. Wiser, call sign Guru, into the Executive Officer slot, and then upon Rivers' death five weeks earlier, as CO. And the “Frank Burns wannabe” as some called him, was appalled. But his protests to higher authority fell on deaf ears.

“Well, Major, he's involved in a suspected friendly-fire incident with the Army,” Ellis said.

“Where is he now?”

“I imagine he's writing up his backseater, his wingman, and his WSO-for insubordination, failure to maintain flight integrity, and so on,” Ellis said. “They're all waiting outside.”

Nodding, Major Wiser went over to his office coffee maker and poured himself a cup. He had a feeling he'd need the caffeine jolt. “Okay, send them in. Do you know what they've said?”

“Yeah, boss,” Ellis said. “It's not pretty.”

“All right. Find out from the Army-or the ALO in question, what happened from their side. Who'd he attack?”

“They were in First Cav's AO. Who, exactly, no idea as yet.”

Major Wiser nodded. “Great. First Cav....next thing we know, their division CO will be outside the main gate, with some MPs, wanting someone's head. Now, get Master Sergeant Ross and two CSPs. I want them on the office door. No matter what, Carson doesn't come in. Until I say so.”

“You got it, Major.”

“Does Van Loan know?” Wiser asked. Capt. Don Van Loan was the squadron's operations officer.

“He was the first to find out.” Ellis replied.

“All right, send 'em in.”

Ellis opened the office door and the three crewers in question came in. First Lt. Brian Slater, who was Carson's WSO, and Capt. Sean Hennnings and 1st Lt. Melissa Brewster came in and saluted. The Major sketched a salute, and said, “Let's hear it. Brian, you first.”

“Yes, Sir. We were coming back from our strike down by Cleburne,”

“Supply dump, right?” Asked the CO.

“Yes, Sir,” Slater replied. “Anyway, we were south of Mineral Wells when the Major saw a convoy headed south on one of the local roads, and he rolled in.”

“Did he ask an ALO or FAC if he was in a no-strike area?”

“No, Sir. He just saw the convoy, and rolled in. A FAC, Nail Five-Seven, called and told him to pull out and abort. He called twice, but the Major went in anyway. He burned all of his 20-mm on the pass.”

Major Wiser nodded. He turned to Hennings and Brewster. “Did he order you to follow him on the run?”

Both nodded, and Hennings said, “Yes, Sir. But with the FAC calling him to abort, I didn't. The FAC must've known something we didn't. And Major Carson was livid that we didn't follow him.”

“How livid?”

“Sir” Brewster said, “He was saying the words 'court-martial', 'violating flight intregity,' things like that.”

“He was just as angry with me, Major,” Slater chimed in. “I told him about seeing IFF panels on the trucks, and he said 'What panels?' Sir, with all due respect-those panels were there. He saw only what he wanted to see.”

“Typical Carson,” Major Wiser said. He picked up his phone and dialed Capt. Don Van Loan, the Ops Officer.


“Don, come to my office. Now.”

“On the way.”

While waiting for Van Loan to arrive, the Major was considering his options. He'd been looking for a very good reason to transfer Carson, and it now appeared he had one. Then there was a knock on the door.


Van Loan came in. “You wanted to see me, Boss?”

“Yeah, and this time, I wish I didn't. Take these three, put them in separate rooms, and have them write out their statements. Once that's done, have them typed up, signed, and sealed. While they're doing that, get the strike camera film and the cockpit audio from both aircraft. I don't care if the film hasn't been developed yet-and chances are, it hasn't. I want that boxed up, because JAG is going to handle this.” Major Wiser said.

“Gotcha, Major.” Van Loan said.

“Yeah. Where's Mark?”

“He was on the phone with somebody, last I saw.” Van Loan replied.

“Get him back here.” Major Wiser ordered.

“Will do.” Van Loan nodded, then motioned to the three. “You guys all come with me.”

As Van Loan left, Ellis came back in. “Boss, I just got off the phone with the senior ALO with First Cav.”

“What'd he have to say?” Asked Major Wiser. And the CO was dreading what Ellis would have to say.

“You're not going to like it. First, the CO of First Cav is hopping mad, and wants someone's head on a platter, his ass in a sling, and the rest of him in Leavenworth. Second, he did relay a casualty report. Twenty-seven casualties in all: twelve KIA, fifteen WIA. Seven of the KIAs are civilians, five are Army Civil Affairs people. All fifteen WIA are civilians, and four of the WIAs are under fourteen.” Ellis reported.

Major Wiser put his palm to his face. “Lovely. That's just great.....” He looked at the XO. “Let me guess: the Army was escorting refugees home?”

“You got it, Major.”

“Okay. I'm calling JAG.” Major Wiser said. He picked up the phone and dialed the base JAG office.

“JAG, Captain Carroll speaking,” the voice on the other line said.

“Captain, this is Major Wiser at the 335th TFS, I have a friendly-fire incident involving one of my pilots, and I was hoping you'd be able to take this off my hands.”

“Sir, I don't think we'll be able to help you, with all due respect,” Carroll replied.

“What do you mean by that, Captain...?”

“Sir, I'm only a year out of OTS, and it's been fourteen months since I passed the bar.”

Major Wiser looked at his Exec. “All right, and your other officers?”

“Sir, one's fresh out of knife-and-fork, she only passed the bar five months ago. My other officer is six months out of OTS, and he passed the bar eight months ago. None of them have any trial experience.”


“Sir, we're busy with casework-the usual with divorces, wills, and more than a few investigations. May I suggest talking to OSI? They may be able to assist you,” Caroll said.

“Thanks, you've been a big help.” Major Wiser said. Then he slammed down the phone. “Twerp.”

“Let me guess: too many cases, not enough people, and who they do have, are all inexperienced,” Ellis commented.

The CO nodded. “You got it.” He picked up the phone and dialed the base OSI office.

“OSI, Agent Martinez.”

“Agent Martinez, this is Major Wiser at the 335th TFS. I have a friendly-fire incident involving one of my pilots, and I was wondering if you could get the ball rolling on an investigation.”

“Sir, we'd be glad to help, but we're kind of busy here. We've got several major ongoing investigations at the moment; counterespionage, collaboration, and some things we really can't talk about,” the agent replied.

“Of all the...” Major Wiser said.

“Sir, may I suggest calling JAG? They may be able to help.”

“They told me to call you!” The CO shot back.

“Sorry, Sir. I wish we could help you.”

“Thanks. You've been a big help,” the Major said. He waited until Martinez hung up, then slammed the phone down again. “No sense pissing off OSI.”

“They're busy?” Ellis asked.

“Right again, Mark,” replied the CO. Major Wiser opened a drawer on his desk, and pulled out a piece of paper. He found what he was looking for, then dialed a number.”

“Who are you calling now, Boss?”

“General Tanner's office. All squadron and Wing commanders have a direct line to his office. It bypasses the ADC, staff flunkies, and so on.” Major Wiser said as he waited for the other line to pick up.

“General Tanner's office,” the feminine voice on the other end said. “How may I help you?”

“This is Major Wiser with the 335th TFS. I need to speak to the General right away. It's very urgent.”

“One moment please, Major.” She put him on hold for what seemed like an eternity, but it was only a few seconds. “He'll be with you in a moment.”

Tanner's voice then came on the line. “Major! How's things with the Chiefs?” “Chiefs” was the nickname for the 335th.

“Sir, it's going great, but we've got a serious problem. It concerns a certain Major that you, me, and my predecessor all have had problems with.” Major Wiser reported.

“What has that idiot Carson done now?” Tanner asked.

“Sir, he's involved in a friendly-fire incident, involving elements from the First Cav. There are fatalities, and not just soldiers. Civilians as well,” the Major said.

“Of all the.....” Tanner said. “You're absolutely sure about this, Major?”

“General, I am. The three witnesses in his flight are all giving statements right now, and we have the strike camera film and cockpit audio recordings,” Wiser said. “Sir, I imagine First Cav's CO wants someone's head on a platter, his ass in a sling, and the rest in Leavenworth.”

“Don't worry about First Cav. I'll talk to General Franks at III Corps, then First Cav's CO. You let me worry about that. Just concentrate on your job at hand, and getting on with the war.” Tanner said.

“Yes, Sir,” Major Wiser said. “And Major Carson?”

“Just a minute, Major. I need to put you on hold,” and Tanner did so. After a a couple of minutes, he came back. “Major, there's a C-130 that just left Amarillo. I've ordered them to divert to Sheppard, and they'll fly Carson-and any escort, right to Davis-Monthan. Get him-and any evidence you have, on that plane.”

“Yes, Sir!”

“And Major? Don't worry about First Cav or III Corps. You let me handle that, and you handle the Russians,” said Tanner.

“Yes, Sir.”

“All right. Tenth Air Force will handle everything from here on. Once he's on that 130, he's no longer your problem. Clear?”

“Perfectly, Sir.” Major Wiser said.

“Good. You wish they'd taught you to handle something like this in OTS?” Tanner asked.

“Now that you mention it? Yes, Sir.” Wiser replied.

“And the Academy, and ROTC,” Tanner said. “You're doing fine, Major. And I've got every confidence in you. Just get him on that plane.”

“Yes, Sir.”

“Like I said: I'll handle this. You have a good day.”

“Thank you, Sir.”

With that, Tanner hung up. Major Wiser turned to Ellis. “Mark, you're going to escort Carson to Davis-Monthan. Along with Ross and the CSPs. Plan on being there overnight.”

“Right, boss.”

There was a tap on the door. It was Van Loan. “Major, Got all the statements, film, and the cockpit audio. All boxed and ready.”

“Good,” the Major said. Then there was a knock on the door. “Yeah?”

It was 1st Lt. Lisa Eichhorn, call sign Goalie. She was Major Wiser's WSO. “Guru, we've got a brief in thirty minutes. You going to be there?”

Oh, joy, Major Wiser thought. He'd forgotten about the upcoming mission. “Got something more important.” He turned to Van Loan. “Push my flight's mission back by at least an hour-no, make that two. I have a feeling this'll take a while.”

“Will do, Boss,” Van Loan said, heading out the door past Goalie.

“What's up?” Goalie asked. “Word's going around that Carson may be out.”

“Not may, will. He won't be around for much longer.” Wiser said. He saw the puzzled look on his WSO's face. “I'll explain at the Club tonight.”

“Fine by me,” she replied, going out and closing the door. After doing so, the Major and Ellis saw her pump her arms and and shout “YES!”

“Word's gonna get around, Major,” Ellis said. “And not just in the 335th. Colonel Brady's probably going to call you and ask 'Why did it take you this long to fire this asshole?'”

Colonel Allen Brady was the CO of Marine Air Group 11, to which the 335th was assigned “for the duration.” And the eager Major had not only angered members of the 335th, but also Marines as well. For which there had been a number of complaints sent to the squadron. Now, those complaints would cease.

“I know. I was willing to see if he was going to shape up,” Wiser said, shaking his head. “Maybe it was wishful thinking, or what.” He looked at his Exec. “Well, even if they don't court-martial him, he'll be shoveling snow in Newfoundland or Labrador, and he'll be someone else's problem.”

“There is that, Boss.” Ellis agreed.

There was another tap on the door. It was one of the CSPs. “Sir, Major Carson's here. Do we let him in or not?”

The CO and XO looked at each other. “Mark, stay here. Not just for backup, but you might be in this position one day. If not in the 335th, heaven forbid, but they might decide there's a squadron somewhere with your name on it. Think of this as a learning experience.”

“No problem, Major.” Ellis replied.

Major Wiser nodded, then said to the CSP. “Let him in.”

Major Frank Carson came strutting into the CO's office, as if he thought he owned the place-which wasn't far from what everyone else in the unit thought was his feeling. Carson never hid his belief that the 335th was his to command by right, and that Colonel Rivers had made a mistake in putting then-Capt. Wiser in over him to be Exec, and then having Wiser take over upon Rivers' death. Carson felt that an Academy man, and only an Academy man, should command the squadron, and he was appalled that not only had an OTS graduate gone over him, but that a fellow Academy graduate-Colonel Rivers-had put a ….peasant from some rural California town in line to command the squadron. His protests to higher authority had fallen on deaf ears, and was easily the most hated man in the squadron. Still, he felt no one recognized his efforts to maintain discipline, and doing things by the book. Carson came to attention and snapped a perfect salute. “Major.”

“Frank,” the CO said, sketching a salute. “What is it now?”

“Sir, I wish to file charges against Slater, Brewster, and Hennings. Failure to maintain flight integrity, refusal to obey an order, and insubordination.” He handed the the papers to Major Wiser.

“Pretty serious, Mark.” The CO said, and saw the Exec nod. “Here's what I think of your charges.” And Major Wiser tore the papers into several pieces, and threw the pieces into his trash bucket.

“Sir!” Carson wailed. “You're turning a blind eye to serious issues in the cockpit!”

Major Wiser glared at Carson. “Right now, any fault of theirs is the least of your worries. That convoy you strafed? The one that Hennings and Brewster didn't roll in on and Slater urged you not to fire? That was one of ours!”

Carson stared at Major Wiser. Was this....OTS peasant being serious? “Sir..”

“You just saw a bunch of Soviet-built trucks. But you didn't see the IFF panels on top, and ignored the FAC repeatedly telling you to pull off and abort. So you had to make a gun run. Well, Major, hope it was worth it, because those were friendlies.”

Carson was stunned. “Friendlies? Sir, those were Soviet trucks, and Ivan's used American markings before...”

“When a FAC tells you to abort, you abort!” Major Wiser shot back. “You didn't, and shot up three vehicles, and one of those blew up.” He turned to his Exec. “How many casualties, Mark?”

“Twenty-seven, Major. Twelve fatalities. Seven civilians and five soldiers killed. Fifteen civilians wounded. Four of those are under fourteen, the Army says.” Ellis said.

“Civilians...” Carson said. “What?”

Major Wiser exploded. “They were our people! The Army was escorting refugees home, and you rolled in on them! People that survived the Soviet occupation of their homes, and you put seven in the morgue, and fifteen in a MASH! Hope you think trying to impress General Tanner-or someone higher than him-was worth it.”

“Sir, I made a decision in the cockpit,” Carson said. “And I resent your implying that I acted recklessly.”

“I'm not implying it,” Wiser said. “I'm saying it flat out. This is a SNAFU of the highest order.” He went to his desk and opened a drawer. The CO pulled out a form-mostly filled out. “Right now, it's in the hands of JAG at Tenth Air Force. They'll handle the investigation and decide on a court-martial. Regardless of that, you're out of the squadron. As of NOW.”


“You never made the transition from peace to war, Frank. And before you say it, I'm not as rank as you are.” Major Wiser said. “I only had one bad encounter with you-and before you say it, I've loathed you ever since the day you tried to have me and Goalie written up on a fraternization reg-something that General Tanner told JAG and OSI to ignore-as we've got worse things to worry about-like winning the war!”

Carson glared at his CO. “This isn't the Air Force I joined when I graduated from the Academy.”

“You know what? It's not the same one I joined when I graduated OTS. Things change, Major. Wartime does that-or haven't you noticed? The Air Force has changed. You haven't-and still can't get used to things-like a girl from 'the wrong side of the tracks'...”

“You mean that bitch Thrace?” Carson sneered.

“I'd be careful using that phrase if I were you,” Major Wiser said. “And that woman you mention can fly an F-4 better than you can. Which is something you can't handle. Or the fact that the number of Academy hands in this unit can be counted on two hands. That ring on your finger means nothing when the flak comes up. Rivers knew it-he never wore his class ring, and my WSO doesn't either.”

“Sir, you don't understand,” Carson said. “I have been trying to bring more order and discipline to this unit, and my efforts have been misunderstood, and even belittled.”

“No, Frank,” said Major Wiser, “Your efforts have been despised. You don't realize just how much you're hated. The officers under you aren't in Doolie Summer at the Academy, and the NCOs and Airmen aren't pieces of equipment to be used and abused. I don't care what happens next in the investigation, but like I just said: you're out.” The CO took the Transfer Form, and filled in the box marked “Reason for Transfer.” He put in, “Failure to adjust to wartime circumstances; inability to get along with fellow officers; and, possible involvement in friendly-fire incident.” Major Wiser then signed and dated the form. He then gave one copy to Ellis. “That's for the squadron personnel file. Another copy for his personnel jacket, and the other is for personnel at Tenth Air Force.”

“Yes, Sir,” Ellis replied.

“You can't be serious,” Carson said.

“I am. And if I were you, when I get to Davis-Monthan, I'd wrangle a long-distance call to that rich Daddy of yours in Boston.” The CO got right into Carson's face. “Tell him 'Dad, I need a lawyer.' Because guess what: chances are, you'll need one.” Major Wiser said. Then he yelled, “Sergeant Ross!”

Master Sergeant Ross came into the office. “Sir?”

“Sergeant, you will escort Major Carson to his desk. Watch as he cleans it out. You will then escort him to his quarters, and watch him pack. Then, you will escort him to Base Operations. Take the two CSPs with you, and you will accompany him on a C-130 headed to Davis-Monthan. Captain Ellis will be with you, and you will hand the Major over to General Tanner's representative-probably JAG. You will not let him out of your sight until relieved by said representative. Is that clear?” Major Wiser asked.

“Perfectly, Sir.”

“Good. You may have to RON there, though, so have a friend pack a few things for you.” Wiser said. He turned to Ellis. “That evidence box doesn't leave your sight until Davis-Monthan, and it's handed over to that representative.”

“Understood, Major,” Ellis said, trying to conceal a smile.

“You haven't heard the last of this,” Carson sneered.

“Maybe, maybe not,” Major Wiser shot back. “If there's a court-martial, I'll be there for the prosecution. If they don't, well, if you're shoveling snow at Goose Bay or Gander, or watching for Polar Bears at some Radar Station above the Arctic Circle, I won't care. The only bad thing is that you'll be someone else's problem.” The CO then turned to Ross. “Get him out of my sight!”

Ross let out a grin. “Yes, Sir!” And he escorted Carson out of the office and to his desk. When it was obvious that Carson was packing up to leave, there were smiles all around. And when Ross escorted him out of the office for the last time, there was cheering.

“About time!” Capt. Kara Thrace said to the CO when Carson left.

“No kidding!” 1st Lt. Valerie Blanchard said, nodding to the CO. “Major, you just made everyone's day.”

“Thanks, Sweaty,” Major Wiser said. He looked around the squadron office and saw smiles on everyone's face-both officers and enlisted. Then he saw Doc Waters, the Flight Surgeon, who was trying to hide a stethoscope. “Doc...were you giving the office wall a physical?”

“I plead the Fifth on that, Boss,” the surgeon replied.

“Now I know how word traveled so fast,” observed the CO. “All right, people! Get back into game mode, because we still got a job to do. If you want to let rip, do it at the club tonight.” He went back into his office, and found Goalie, Kara, Sweaty, Van Loan, and several others there, waiting for him, and all had smiles on their faces. And they applauded as he came in.

“Way to go, Major!” Goalie said.

“I know, this just reduces the enemy to the ComBloc,” Wiser said. “And you guys were probably wondering what took so long to get him out?”

Kara nodded, “The thought had occurred to some of us.” And other heads nodded.

“Well, there was an outside chance-a small one-but a chance that he'd shape up. Rivers advised me in his letter to wait and see before kicking Carson out. Second, I was hoping that he'd fall on his own sword, and it would be so obvious to anyone on the outside that he had to go.” Major Wiser said.

“That he did, Major,” Van Loan observed.

“Yeah,” the CO replied. “Too bad it happened this way, but now, he'll be someone else's problem.”

“And I pity whoever that is,” Goalie said.

“You, me, and probably everyone else here,” Kara said. “Said this before, but he's worse than Tigh.”

“Yeah, and if they don't decide to court-martial him, pray they don't send him to be Tigh's Exec.” Sweaty said.

“Even Tigh has scruples,” Kara pointed out. “He'd be looking for a way to kick Carson's ass as far away from Kingsley Field as he can.”

“And he would, too,” the CO said. “All right, guys, I hate to break this up, but we still got a job to do. My flight, mission brief at 1500.”

The others filed out, still grinning at each other, but Goalie stayed. She shut the door. “Guru, I can tell when something's bothering you.”

“Yeah. You're an Academy grad. I know, not everyone from Colorado Springs is like that, and I also know not to judge a whole group by the acts of a few idiots, but did you have classmates like that?” Guru asked his WSO.

“I did, sorry to say. There's a half-dozen people I knew who'd be carbon copies of that bastard,” Goalie said. “Makes me kind of ashamed I know those people. I'm just glad he wasn't one of my classmates.”

“Rivers never was like that: he took off his class ring and never put it on. He was 'one of the boys',” Major Wiser said. “And you do the same.”

“Well, I learned early on-and not just from him. He did reinforce it, though.”

“Something our Major didn't realize. And I bet Rivers is looking down on us and smiling. Though he's probably asking, 'what took you so long?'” Guru said.

“I imagine so,” Goalie nodded.

Major Wiser looked at the office clock: 1420. “Man, how time flies. We've got a mission brief in forty minutes. I need a nap: wake me up just before 1500: Mark woke me up from a too-brief nap with the news.”

“Will do,” Goalie said, heading to the door.

The CO checked his desk. Something he'd overlooked in the day's excitement had caught his attention. “Wait.” He scanned a list. “The December list of Captains is out.” Guru looked at his WSO and grinned. “You're on it. Congratulations, Captain.”

Goalie stopped. Then she came over and gave her CO a hug. “Thanks!”

“Don't thank me, thank Rivers. He forwarded the paperwork.”


“I know: I'll pin the Captain's bars on you. And you have to pay for the promotion party.” The CO reminded his backseater. “Two reasons to celebrate at the club tonight. And when we have time for a more...private celebration....”

“There is that,” Goalie agreed.

“All right: go and sew on some Captain's insignia on your flight suit. I'll see you at 1500. And today, this is your first combat flight as a Captain.”

“I never thought I'd do this for you, but..” Goalie said. She came to parade-ground form, just as if she was back at Colorado Springs, snapped to attention, and gave a perfect salute.

The CO returned it, and said, “As you were before, Captain. I'd rather have the Goalie I know.”

“Don't you worry about that,” she replied.

He laughed, knowing she meant it. “I'll see you at 1500. And I hope to see Captain's bars on you.”
Goalie let out one of her grins. “You will, Boss.” And he also knew that when she grinned like that, fun times were ahead. Tonight at the club, she'd let rip-for an hour or so before the twelve-hour rule kicked in.

“Good. Now, your CO and pilot needs that nap. I'll see you at 1500. Oh, one more thing,” he said, taking the list off his desk and giving it to her. “Put this on the bulletin board. There's several other people in the squadron on it. Spread the joy around.”

“Will do.”

The CO went over to the couch. “See you in thirty,”

“I'll be here.” Goalie replied, leaving the office and closing the door behind her. He could hear “YES!” as she went to tell the others on the list.

“Thanks, Colonel,” Major Wiser said, looking up at the ceiling. “She deserves it.” He then closed his eyes, hoping to have that dream he'd been hoping for-when Mark had awakened him.

Matt Wiser 01-12-2015 05:09 PM

Here's one involving a Red-on-Red friendly-fire incident...

Red on Red

335th Tactical Fighter Squadron, Williams AFB, AZ; 2 May, 1987, 1230 Hours Mountain War Time

Captain Matt “Guru” Wiser, the Executive Officer of the 335th TFS, was in his office, going over some squadron paperwork in between missions. One thing about wartime, he had found out, was that many of the bureaucrats who infested the Air Force in peacetime had either slithered away or, he hoped, had found more useful work supporting, instead of hindering, the war effort. He had just finished some enlisted airmen's evaluations when his WSO, First Lieutenant Lisa “Goalie” Eichhorn, knocked on the door. “Show yourself and come on in.”

She came into the office bearing two lunch bags. “Here. Fresh from the Marines' mess tent.”

“What'd you get?”

“Fried chicken with cole slaw, and two bottles of water. “

He smiled. “Paperwork can wait. Lunch can't.” And both of them attacked the food. They were just about finished when there was another knock on the door. “Come on in!”

First Lieutenant Valerie “Sweaty” Blanchard, his wingmate, came in. “We've got a mission, CO says.” Lt. Col. Dean Rivers was the CO of the 335th. “Brief in ten.”

Guru nodded. “All right. Get Preacher and we'll be there.” 2nd Lieutenant Bryan “Preacher” Simmonds was Sweaty's WSO.

Sweaty nodded. “Will do.”

“Let's go,” Guru said to Goalie.

A few minutes later, the four crewers were in a former classroom used by the base's former occupants, an Air Training Command T-37 wing. When they arrived, they found 1st Lieutenant Darren Licon, the Squadron's intelligence officer, waiting. “Darren,” Guru said.

“Guru,” Licon replied, nodding. “And everyone.” He got to the point. “We've got a truck park and maintenance site outside Newkirk, on old Route 66, just north of I-40. Intel says the truck convoys pull off the Interstate before dark, remain overnight, and leave again in the morning. But they've got some intel that says the truck park's still occupied.”

“And let me guess: someone wants something dreadful to happen to the truck park?” Preacher asked. Prewar, he had been studying for the priesthood, and when the war began, he'd joined the Air Force and volunteered for WSO training. When his classmates found out he'd been studying to become a priest, they gave him the call sign.

“You got it,” Licon said. “It's still occupied. They want it hit before it's empty.”

“Defenses?” Guru asked.

“There's a 57-mm battery to the east, and a ZPU battery around the park itself. There's also the Tucumcari SA-2 site further east. No other heavy SAMs reported,” Licon reported.

“MiGs?” Sweaty wanted to know.

“Nearest field is Cannon, and they do have both MiG-23s and MiG-25s,” the SIO said. “You may expect a defensive reaction from those guys.”

“We getting any support on this one?” Goalie asked.

“No. All assets are committed elsewhere. You'll have to rely on speed, surprise, and your ECM pods.”

Guru nodded. “Weather?”

“CAVU,” Licon said. “CO says how you fly the mission is up to you.”

“Okay,” Guru said. “Thanks, Darren.”

The SIO said, “Good luck,” then he nodded and left the room, leaving the crews to peruse their TPC chart, and look at the photos Licon had left for them.

“Well?” Sweaty asked.

“Low and fast,” Guru said. “Go in low, pop-up and strike, then get down low and head southwest. Stay away from the Interstate, and any other east-west roads for that matter.”

“Got you,” she replied. “Ordnance load?”

“Says here, I get twelve Mark-82s with Daisy Cutter fuze extenders. You get twelve CBU-59/Bs. The ones with the incendiary submunitions. We both get four AIM-9Ps, two AIM-7Es, an ALQ-101 pod, and full 20-mm.”

“They want those trucks to burn.”

“Not arguing that,” Guru replied.

“Usual bailout areas?”Sweaty asked.

“Yep. Anyplace away from the roads. The further away you are, the better chance of SF, the Jolly Greens, or the locals finding you instead of the bad guys,” Guru said. “Been skydiving once, and not willing to do it again.”

“Don't blame you,” Preacher said. What Guru had seen and done on his E&E was common knowledge in the squadron, and in the Marine Air Group that the 335th was attached to.

“Once we're across the fence, we go by call sign, not mission code, unless we need to talk to AWACS or somebody else,” Guru told his flight. The “Fence” was the Rio Grande, and the front line. “Anything else?” Heads shook no. “All right: get your gear, and let's hit it.”

Over Occupied Eastern New Mexico, 1320 Hours Mountain War Time:

Camaro Flight was headed east, well south of I-40, and going in low. They had a pre-ingress refueling at the tanker track to top up their tanks, then they had gone in low. With few good terrain features, other than the occasional body of water, like the Pecos River, navigation was by dead reckoning and their inertial navigation systems. In the front cockpit of his bird, 512, Guru was swiveling his head, keeping an eye out for threats, something that had been drummed into his head in his F-4 training prewar. “How far to turn?”

“Three minutes,” Goalie replied. “Just past U.S. 84.”

“Copy,” Guru replied. So far, so good.

Both F-4s continued east, and it wasn't long before they reached their turn point. “And turn,” Goalie called.

“Roger that,” Guru replied. He banked the F-4 over some nameless dirt road, and leveled out, still at 450 feet AGL. “Time to pop-up?”

“One minute,” Goalie said.

“Okay, switches on. Set 'em up. Everything in one pass.”

“You got it,”

“Sweaty, Guru. Switches on, music on, and stand by to pull.”

“Roger,” his wingmate called.

“Switches set. Stand by....” Goalie called. “And pull!”

Both F-4Es pulled up, and as they did so, pilots and WSOs began scanning visually for the target. Sure enough, the twin ribbons of I-40 appeared, then the small town of Newkirk. And then the truck park appeared, north of the old Route 66. “Got it, Lead,” Sweaty said.

“I see it,” Guru said. “Lead's in hot.” He rolled his F-4 in on the target, and lined up the truck park. “Steady, steady,” he murmured. Then he hit the pickle button. “HACK!” And a dozen Mark-82 five-hundred pound bombs came off the aircraft.

Down below, at the truck park, a Soviet truck convoy had stopped the previous night, but had to remain there due to several trucks having maintenance issues. The truckers hadn't been complaining, since there was hardly any bandit activity, and there had been no American air attacks. And their MVD escorts were feeling the same way. Then someone pointed to the southeast, as Guru's F-4 rolled in.

“Lead's off target!” Guru called as he pulled up.

A dozen five-hundred pound bombs exploded in and around the truck park, ripping up vehicles, and killing and wounding many of the truckers, as well as the truck park's personnel. The survivors had barely picked themselves up, when a second F-4 came in.

“Two's in hot!” Sweaty called as she rolled in. She lined up the smoke of Guru's bombs exploding in her pipper, and then she pressed the pickle button. “HACK!” Was the call, as a dozen CBU-58/Bs came off her airplane, scattering a mix of high-explosive and incendiary subunitions on the truck park, exploding a number of vehicles that had survived Guru's bombs, and starting a number of fires. One of which exploded the truck park's fuel dump....

“Two's off safe,” Sweaty called. “Look at that!”

Guru and Goalie saw the oily fireball erupt as the fuel tanks exploded. “Good work, Sweaty. Let's get outta here.” Guru set his course southwest, and Sweaty joined up with him. As they headed southwest, they had just cleared U.S. 84 when AWACS called.

“Camaro Two-One, Crystal Palace. Threat bearing Two-nine-zero for forty-five, medium, closing.”

“Copy, Crystal Palace,” Guru replied. “Say Bogey Dope?”

“Camaro Two-One, Crystal Palace,” the controller replied. “Bandits are Fitters.”

“Copy, Crystal Palace,” Guru responded. “Sweaty, Guru, let's go get 'em.”

“Roger that,” Sweaty replied.

The two F-4s turned for the bandits, climbing slightly, and turning on their radars.

Then the AWACS called again. “Camaro, Crystal Palace. Second threat, bearing One-seven-zero for thirty. Medium, closing fast. Bandits are Foxbats. Repeat, bandits are Foxbats.”

“Shit!” Guru called. “Sweaty, Guru. Break!”

“Roger that!” Sweaty replied, and both F-4s broke into the Foxbats, honoring the more immediate threat.

MIG-25PD number 067, 2nd Squadron, 787th IAP-PVO, Over New Mexico:

Major Valery Kornnikov and his wingman, Captain Arkady Belov, were in their MiG-25PDs, responding to a report of American aircraft and they were being directed by their ground controllers.

“Zero-Six-Seven, Jaybird.” The GCI called. “Hostiles bearing directly ahead. Low level. Descend to one thousand meters.”

“Understood, Jaybird. Executing.” Kronnikov replied. In the PVO, a GCI controller's word was law.

“Zero-six-seven,” Belov called. “I have targets dead ahead, medium level.”

“Jaybrid, Zero-Six-Seven. We have targets directly ahead. Request permission to engage.”

“Stand by,” the GCI controller said. He turned to a senior officer. “Comrade Major, any friendly flights in this area? I have four targets.”

The Major looked at his flight schedule. “Libyan Su-22s!” He turned to another controller. “Contact those Libyans. Tell them to get clear of the area.”

That controller nodded, and called the Libyans. “No response.”

Shaking his head, the Major turned to the first controller. “Tell the MiG-25s to engage. Verify via IFF that the targets are hostile.”

Nodding, the controller called the MiGs. “Zero-six-seven, Jaybird. You are cleared to engage. Verify targets are hostile.”

“Understood,” Kornnikov replied.

Ahead of them, the two Libyan Su-22s were flying on. Neither of the Libyans had a good knowledge of Russian, having learned to fly in their homeland, via Syrian and North Korean instructors. They were flying without their IFF transponders on. It would turn out to be a big mistake.

“Target locked,” Kronnikov said. “Zero-six-nine, engage.”

Both MiG-25s locked up their targets for their R-40 (NATO AA-6 Acrid) missiles. And they fired.

“Sweaty,” Guru called. “Break!”

Both F-4Es broke to the right, and they saw the missile trails going above them. The crews hadn't yet seen the MiG-25s, and as they turned, they saw the missile trails end in fireballs.

The Libyan flight leader suddenly picked up his radar warning receiver. Then he saw the missiles coming for him. “Allah Akba-”

The lead Su-22 exploded in a fireball, and then the Libyan wingman exploded a few seconds later. Both Su-22s crashed to earth and exploded again on impact.

“What the...” Goalie called. “Those chumps blew away the two Fitters.”

“Not arguing with that, if the Reds want to kill each other,” Guru replied. “Where's the MiGs?”

“Going away.”

“Jaybird, Zero-six-seven,” Kornnikov called his GCI. “Both targets destroyed. Fuel running low. Request permission to return to base.”

“Zero-six-seven, Jaybird,” the controller replied. “Permission granted.”

The two MiG-25s turned and headed back towards Cannon AFB, leaving the two F-4s behind.

“Let's get out of here,” Guru called Sweaty. “Get back down, and head for the river.”

“Right with you, Lead.”

The two F-4s formed up and headed back to the Rio Grande. As soon as they cleared the river, Guru called. “Crystal Palace, Camaro Two-one is across the fence. Request a vector to the tankers.”

“Copy,” the AWACS controller replied. “Vector is two-six-five.”

“Roger that,” Guru replied. The two F-4s then made the tanker rendezvous, drank some fuel, then headed back to Williams.

After the two F-4s taxied to their dispersal, the crews shut down and got out. “What the hell was that?”
Goalie asked.

“Red-on-Red,” Guru said. “Too bad that doesn't happen more often.”

“Guru,” Sweaty said as she came over. “Reds blowing each other away? What the fuck?”

“Couldn't happen to nicer people,” Preacher said.

“Come on,” Guru nodded. “Let's get debriefed, give Darren the good news, and get something to eat. We've got time for one more.”

Cannon Air Force Base, Occupied New Mexico:

Major Kornnikov taxied his MiG-25 to his dispersal area and shut down. He looked to his right and saw Belov doing the same. His ground crew put up the crew ladder, and as he got out, he saw his Squadron Commander, the Regimental Commander, and another officer he didn't recognize come over. “Comrade Colonel?” He addressed his Regimental Commander.

“Comrade Major Kornnikov and Comrade Captain Belov,” the Regimental Commander said. “You are restricted to quarters until further notice, and the conclusion of an investigation by the Military Prosecutor's Office.”

“What is this about?” Kornnikov asked. He and Belov were stunned.

The other officer, who identified himself as the local Military Prosecutor, said, “The two aircraft you shot down were Su-22s flown by our Libyan allies. You are confined to quarters until the investigation is concluded.”

“What?” Kornnikov said.

The Prosecutor nodded to four men of the Commandant's Service (Soviet Military Police). “Escort these two officers to their quarters. They will remain there under guard until further notice.”

335th TFS, Williams AFB, AZ: 1405 Hours Mountain War Time:

“What?” Lieutenant Darren Licon said. “Run that by me again, please, Captain.”

“I'll say it again, Darren. Those two MiGs blew away two of their own aircraft,” Guru said.

“We saw it too,” Sweaty nodded. “We had the MiGs on radar, closing, then missiles in the air, and they flew right over us. Then to our north, there's two fireballs all of a sudden, and those Fitters went down.”

Licon shook his head. “I'll send this to Tenth Air Force Intelligence. We've heard about the Reds having Friendly-fire incidents before, but this is the first time it's been air-to-air that I know of.”

“SAM operators are the same wherever they are,” Goalie said. “If it flies, it dies, and we sort it out on the ground.”

“Yeah,” Preacher agreed.

“All right, Sir,” Licon said. “I'll check your strike camera footage, and see what BDA we get from recon, but it looks like, based on your description, that the truck park's out of business for a while.”

“Thanks, Darren,” Guru said.

Then Captain Mark Ellis, the Ops Officer, came in. “Red-on-red? YGTBSM!”

“No, Mark, and we saw it,” Guru replied. “Whatcha got for us?”

“New mission,” Ellis said. “Rivers is out, and he left it to me. You guys are going to Fort Sumner. There's a local radio station that the Quislings are using as their local 'Liberation Radio' affiliate. You guys get to put the transmitter out of commission.”

“Fine with us,” Sweaty said.

Cannon AFB, Occupied New Mexico, 4 May, 1987; 1400 Hours local time:

Major Kornnikov and Captain Belov were in a military courtroom, attending a State Commission of Inquiry into the incident two days earlier. They had given their testimony, had listened to the GCI controllers giving theirs, and had also heard from the Libyans' squadron commander. The members of the Commission had adjourned, and the two pilots were waiting on the verdict, along with their Squadron Commander and the Military Prosecutor. Then the Commission members returned.

“It is the conclusion of this Commission that the responsibility for the shooting down of the two Libyan aircraft on 2 May, 1987, over Liberated New Mexico, lies solely with the two Libyan pilots. Testimony has proven that their failure to follow established radio procedures, their failure to turn on their identification transponders, and their refusal to acknowledge the warnings from ground control, led to the unfortunate incident.

“The Commission therefore rules that the two Soviet Pilots, Major Kornnikov, V. and Captain Belov, A., are cleared of any wrongdoing, and are authorized to return to combat duties.”

The chair of the commission, a SAF Major General, banged his gavel, bringing the proceedings to a close. As the members filed out, Kornnikov shook hands with Belov, then his Squadron Commander and Regimental Commander. “Reporting back for combat duty, Comrade Colonel,”

“I expected you would,” the Regimental CO replied. “Those Black-Assed Libyans got themselves killed, but somebody raised a stink-probably the Libyans, and you two had to go through the motions.”

“One thing I'm curious about, though,” Kornnikov replied.

“And that is?”

“Who were those F-4 pilots? And what did they think of what happened?”

The political officer came over. “After our victory, you can ask them.”

Wing Commander's Residence, Mountain Home AFB, Idaho, 4 February, 2010, 1500 Hours Mountain Standard Time:

Colonel Matt Wiser was sitting in his living room, waiting until it was time to go to Wing HQ and pick up his wife from work. Colonel Lisa Eichhorn-Wiser was now the wing commander of the 366th TFW at Mountain Home, and he was commanding the 419th TFW in the AF Reserves at Hill AFB down in Utah. Their units had just returned from the Baja War, or the Second Mexican War as some people were calling it, and their units were taking a well-deserved break before getting back into peacetime routine.

Colonel Wiser was reading an Osprey book, one that he'd just gotten that day via Amazon and UPS, USAF F-4E Units of World War III, and to his surprise, there was a whole chapter on the 335th, while one of the color plates in the book, along with a photo, showed his old bird, 512. Then a paragraph caught his eye. It was a first-person account from then First Lieutenant, now Lieutenant Colonel, Sweaty Blanchard. It detailed the encounter with the MiG-25s and the Su-22s.

The book had been in print for a year, but only after the Baja War, had he gotten around to ordering it. Well, now, some familiar stories from the 335th, me, Goalie, Kara, and the others. Not to mention the rest of the 4th TFW, the guys who came back from Germany, even the guys who stayed in the Philippines and kept Ivan from making too much mischef out of Cam Ranh Bay. He finished the book, got his laptop, then logged into his e-mail, and after that, he went to the F-4 Phantom Association's web site, where there was a message board. One of the topics was the book, and he gave a brief review. Then he saw something else. “What the...” He clicked on the topic, and it was from somebody in the Russian Republic, The originator of the topic identified himself as a former Voyska PVO MiG-25 pilot, who had been flying over New Mexico that day, and he gave the Soviet side of the story. “I'll be damned,” Guru said to himself. He typed in a reply, saying that he'd been flight lead of the two F-4s that day, and then he logged out. Almost time to pick up Lisa, he knew.

The next day, he had a surprise in his e-mail. It came from a Russian Republic e-mail address, and at first, he was going to delete it-more spam, he thought. Then his curiosity got the better of him, and he opened it. It was from Col. Valery Kornnikov, Soviet Air Force (retired). Guru read the e-mail, forwarded it to his wife, then called her. “What do you think?”

“I'll call the DAO at the Embassy there, See if he's interested in coming over,” Lisa replied.

It took a while, but in August, 2010, after the fall of the Rump USSR and the wild night that had come about, Guru and Goalie were waiting in the arrivals area at Salt Lake International Airport, for a United flight from Chicago. As the passengers came down the jetway, they saw a USAF officer and a older man in a business suit. “Colonel Wiser? Colonel Eichhorn?” The two nodded. “I'm Major Mike McClure, AFHC. They sent me to be Colonel Kornnikov's escort. Not only that, but I'm a fluent Russian speaker. Just in case.”

They shook hands, then Colonel Kornnikov introduced himself. “So you two were in one of the Phantoms that day?”

“We were,” Guru said. “But you splashed those two Libyans instead.”

“Wrong place, wrong time,” added Goalie. They shook hands. As they went to Baggage Claim, she asked, “Surprised, Colonel?”

“That you were flying in an F-4? No. The Political Officers said it was because you were desperate.”

Guru laughed. “Not that desperate, but if they let Kara fly combat, then maybe we were.”

“Is this the same Kara Thrace I keep hearing about?” Major McClure asked.

“It is, Major,” Goalie said. “She runs the 390th TFS in my wing.”

“Oh, no,” McClure said. “Colonel, you'll be meeting the wildest pilot to come out of World War III, and she's the terror of the Air Force still.”

They got Kornnikov's bags, then he asked. “And why is that?”

“Because, Colonel, she flew hard, and partied harder during the war. She's mellowed a lot since, but...”
Guru said.

“But the old habits die slowly,” Kornnikov finished. “Not unknown in fighter pilots.”

“You're right.” Goalie said. “She's the best I have in the 366th.”

“You command the wing?”

“That's right. I'm the Wing Commander, but I'm not a pilot. I'm one of two navigators who are currently wing commanders in TAC,” nodded Goalie.

“And you, Colonel Wiser? What do you command?”

“I run the 419th TFW at Hill. We're the only Reserve F-15E wing at the moment. We've got a healthy rivalry with the 366th, but we share a feud with the 388th TFW at Hill as well: they're active Air Force, and they fly F-16s,” said Guru.

“Ah. The rivalry between fighter pilots and those who fly strike aircraft...” Kornnikov understood. In Russia, the rivalry between MiG-29 and Su-27 pilots on one hand, and those flying Su-24s was also heated at times.

“It is that,” McClure said. “Now, Colonel, we've got you at Mountain Home, and then Hill.”

“Good. You do have veterans still flying?”

“We do,” Guru said. “In both F-15E wings. You can meet the WW III vets, those who went down to Baja, and everyone was here for the fall of the USSR. That was a wild night.”

“It was, I'll grant you,” Kornnikov agreed. “I'd like to meet this Kara for myself.”

“Be careful of what you wish for,” Goalie said. “She's mellowed a lot since the war, but put her in an airplane, and she flies it like she stole it. Like I said, she's the best I have.”

“Then there's one thing we all can agree on: we've had our wars, and we've all had enough.”

“True that,” Guru said, and his wife nodded.


“There's one other thing,” Guru said.

“Colonel?” Kornnikov asked.

“Finding out the war from your perspective is going to be interesting. We'll be swapping a lot of stories over the coming week.”

“And I look forward to doing so.”

Matt Wiser 01-13-2015 10:13 PM

The 335th's strangest mission of the war:

Part I:

Target: Madeline

Williams AFB, AZ; 1300 Hours Mountain War Time, 12 May, 1987:

It had been a busy morning for the crews of the 335th Tactical Fighter Squadron, as well as Marine Air Group 11, to which the squadron had been attached to since the beginning of the war. The usual Close-Air-Support and Battlefield Air Interdiction missions had been going on all morning, and when crews returned and finished their debriefs, the talk was of the Battle of Wichita. Pundits on the news were comparing it to Kursk in 1943, and to many, it looked like the first signs of light at the end of the tunnel.

For Captain Matt “Guru” Wiser, the Executive Officer of the 335th, it had been a busy morning for him and his flight. They had flown three missions that morning, and finally, they were able to take a break, get something to eat, and just breathe easy. With the occasional glance at the news, since during Wichita and after, the networks had been covering the battle non-stop. He'd been watching in the Exec's office with the members of his flight, and having lunch at the same time. “About damned time we stop these bastards before they get too far.”

His WSO, 1st Lieutenant Lisa “Goalie” Eichhorn, nodded. “Schwartzkopf laid a trap for 'em, and they fell for it.” She looked at her pilot and squadron exec. “Wish we were there?”

“No way,” Guru said. “The surface-to-air threat would be murder.”

“Even with the Army helping out?” Captain Kara “Starbuck” Thrace, Guru's wingmate, asked.

“Even with that,” Guru replied. “From MANPADS to SA-11, it would've been there.”

“Not arguing with that,” First Lieutenant Valerie Blanchard, call sign Sweaty, said. “Now we push those SOBs back south.”

“Yeah,” several voices said at once.

Then Guru looked at Sweaty's wingman, First Lieutenant Nathan “Hoser” West and his backseater, Second Lieutenant Kathy “KT” Thornton. “You two fitting in?” Both were recent replacements to the 335th, and when Sweaty graduated to flight lead, they had become her wingmates.

“They told us there'd be days like this,” Hoser replied. “How many today?”

“Don't know,” Guru said. “Normally it's two before lunch, then two after. Something's going on, that's for sure.” He looked at KT. “And you?”

“It could be worse,” KT said. “Not like the early days, I'm told.”

“Be glad none of you were here,” Guru said. “Five, sometimes six missions a day, and we were losing people. Two weeks in, we lost the CO. A month later, the XO bought it, and then another month later, the new CO went in. Then Colonel Rivers came and took over.”

“Not long after that, you went camping with the Resistance,” Goalie said. “Not fun, you said.”

Guru nodded. “No fun at all. Running, hiding, and fighting. Spent about as much time hunting for deer or elk as we did killing Russians or Cubans. And the stories about atrocities behind the lines? They're true. Saw enough of that, and Lori Sheppard, our guerrilla leader, lost her family, home, everything. Some bastard talked, told the KGB that her family was sheltering downed pilots, so some KGB and ALA came to her family's ranch. Made her mom and dad watch as they raped her sister, killed her brother, then they did her mom, then shot her dad. Took all the livestock, and burned the place down.”

“Those bastards need to pay-KGB and ALA both,” Kara said.

“Yeah,” Guru nodded. “Half of those with that guerrilla group has a similar story: family killed, home destroyed, so they went into the hills. Then there's a good number of people who ran to the hills when it started, and a few who were on camping or hiking trips in the back country on Invasion Day.”

“They get out?” Sweaty asked. “You said when the pilots hiked out, the Army was going to evac the noncombatants.”

“That's what Lori said, and they were going to get some SF going in with them.” He raised a bottle of water. “Here's to the guerrillas. May they entertain Ivan and Fidel as long as they can.”

“Hear, hear,” Kara said.

Then talk turned to what they were having for lunch: sandwiches and nachos from the Marines' mess tent. “May the Lord have mercy on whatever it is in these sandwiches,” Second Lieutenant Bryan Simmonds, Sweaty's WSO, said. He'd been studying for the priesthood when the war began, and he'd dropped that and joined the Air Force. His classmates in navigator training found that out, and they gave him the call sign “Preacher.”

“Whatever this is, it's been dead for a while, and can only improve with age,” Kara nodded. “It said Pork Tri-Tip, but it's more like something brown that just sits there.”

“At least the turkey tastes like turkey,” Guru said, and there were some laughs. A knock on the office door followed, and Guru said, “Show yourself and come on in.”

Capt. Mark Ellis, the Squadron's Operations Officer, came in. “Guys.”

“What's up, Mark?”

“Colonel Rivers wants you guys, all of you, in the main briefing room. Fifteen minutes.”

“What?” Main briefing room?” Kara said. “You did say that, right?”

“I did,” Ellis replied.

“What's going on, Mark?” Guru asked. “That's pretty unusual.”

“Colonel Rivers was asked to get the four best crews in the squadron for a mission. Half the squadron's out right now, so he picked you guys,” the ops officer said. “Be there in fifteen. Oh, he says, 'that's an order.'”

Heads turned at that. “We'll be there,” Guru said.

“Oh, one other thing. There's some brass here, and before you ask, no, it's not General Tanner. Something's going on, and it's related to this. I don't know, Rivers doesn't, and neither does Colonel Brady.” Marine Colonel Allen Brady was the CO of MAG-11, which the 335th was operating under.

Goalie quipped, “Let me guess: the mission orders say 'Burn before reading?””

Ellis looked at her. “You're not that far off. See you at the brief.”

A few minutes later, the four crews came into the Main Briefing Room, which was normally used for all-officer meetings in the squadron. Ellis was there, along with Second Lieutenant Darren Licon, the Squadron's Intelligence Officer, and one of Ellis' NCOs. . They nodded as the crews came in and sat down. Then the NCO shouted. “General on the deck!”

Everyone in the room sprang to attention as a one-star AF general came into the room, followed by Colonels Brady and Rivers, and behind them came several civilians. They weren't ordinary civilians, for they wore suits and Ray-Bans, and that told everyone right away who these people were.

“Be seated,” the one-star said. “Everyone, I'm Brigadier General Donnelly, General Tanner's Intelligence Officer.” He looked the crews over. “Colonel Rivers says you four are the best in the 335th. Now you get to prove it.” General Donnelly nodded at one of the civilians, who was obviously an “OGA” type. The lights dimmed, and a projector showed an aerial photo. “This is your target.”

“Looks like a ranch house,” Guru said.

“It is, Captain,” General Donnelly replied. “It's called the Madeline Ranch. All you need to know is that it's being used by the KGB.”

Kara asked, “Where's the target?”

General Donnelly nodded, and a detailed map of part of Eastern New Mexico was the next slide. “Here, about five miles southeast of the small community of Elida, on U.S. 70. All you need to know is that this target has to be taken out, and your aircraft are being prepared with the appropriate ordnance loads. Lights.”

The lights came back on, and the crews were looking at each other, and they noticed the OGA types were still in the room. “Sir, what about defenses?” Guru asked.

“Coming to that now, Captain,” Donnelly noted. “You're at the outer edge of the Portales SA-2 site, and the same goes for the Roswell North SA-2 site. You'll be getting Weasels and a Spark Vark to make things easier for you, in case Ivan has any additional surprises in the area.”

Guru looked at his flight, and heads were shaking. He knew what they were thinking, and that this would be a good way to get someone killed. “How many?”

“Four, Captain,” Donnelly replied. And an RF-4C will follow you in, to get BDA imagery of the target. I need to know, though: how many of you are Pave Tack qualified?”

Guru and Kara's hands rose, along with those of their back-seaters.

“Very well, then. Captains, you two will actually hit the target. You will both have a Pave Tack pod, and two GBU-10s to destroy the target. No one comes back with unused ordnance. All four bombs go on the target. Do I make myself clear, Captains?”

Guru and Starbuck looked at each other again. “You do, Sir,” they said almost at once.

“Good. Lieutenant Blanchard? You and your wingman will be the TARCAP. You'll be loaded air-to-air. There will be four F-15Cs coming with you, and an EF-111 will perform some standoff jamming for your ingress and egress. The briefing packet will have the necessary call signs, and your rendezvous will be at the southern tanker track. AWACS will vector you in, and once you're across the fence, it's in your hands.”

“They'll get the job done, General,” Colonel Rivers said.

“Good. Now, Captain Wiser? You're in command once in the air. This package is yours. How you fly it is up to you.”

“Yes, Sir,” Guru said.

“General, isn't this an A-6 or F-111 mission? At night?” Colonel Brady wanted to know.

“All I can say, Colonel, is that this has to be flown now,” Donnelly replied. “Now, your briefing packet will have call signs and other information. However, when you are finished, you all have to sign a nondisclosure form. You are not to discuss this flight with anyone. Is that understood?”

Heads nodded. “Yes, Sir,” several voices said.

“Your aircraft will be ready by 1400. Be ready to launch after that,” Donelly nodded. “Good luck.”
He then left the room, .and all but one of the OGA types followed him. Colonels Brady and Rivers stayed, though.

Guru went to both Colonels. “Sirs, what's this all about? We're the ones flying this mission, and we don't know diddly squat.”

“Believe me, Guru,” Rivers said. “We tried. Even General Tanner doesn't know all the details. None of us have a 'need to know.' I don't like it any more than you do.”

“Yes, Sir,” grumbled the Exec. It was clear from his voice that Guru wasn't too happy.

“Get your planning done, sign that form, and get ready to fly,” Rivers said.

Guru nodded and went back. “All right, suggestions?”

“Low and fast as usual?” Sweaty offered.

“Sounds good to me,” Guru said. “Kara?”

“I'll go along with that. We'll both have the pods, so we can self-designate,” she pointed out.

“Okay,” Guru nodded agreement. “Sweaty, I want you and Hoser about a mile from the target. When we do the pop up, you two orbit. The F-15s will be further away, so anyone getting past them is yours.”

“Gotcha, “ Sweaty replied.

“Now, Weasels. I'll have them go in a minute ahead of us, and they'll take out the Portales SA-2 and the Roswell North SA-2.,” Guru added. He looked at his flight. “Then they'll stay with us until we hit the target. Just in case.”

Kara nodded. “Good to hear.” She looked around. “Where's this recon driver who's supposed to be coming along?”

“Right behind you,” a female voice called. Heads turned, and Capt. Sharon Valerri-Park and her GIB, 1st. Lieutenant Karl “Helo” Agathon, came into the room. “Nice to see you guys again.”

“You too, Athena.” Guru said. He introduced Kara and Hoser to the photo crew. “So you're behind us?”

“You got it,” Athena said. “All we know is you're hitting this house, and they want photos of the aftermath. And that's all we know.”

“Which is what all we know,” Goalie replied. “Those guys probably have something to do with it,” she pointed to the OGA fellow still in the room.

Heads nodded. “Okay,” Guru said, “Two more things.” He looked at his crews. “First, usual bailout areas. Anyplace away from the roads. Second, unless we're talking with an AWACS or another flight-like the Weasels or the F-15s, we go by call sign, not mission code.” He looked again. “Anything else before we gear up?”

The OGA fellow came over. “Just one thing, Captain.” He opened a Manilla folder. “I need your autographs on these,” he said as he produced the NDA forms.

The crews grumbled, but they signed the forms, then both Colonels Brady and Rivers did so. “Thank you.”

“All right,” Rivers said. “You people gear up, and I'll see you on the ramp.”

The crews got into their G-suits and survival gear, then they walked out to the ramp. When they got to their aircraft shelters, the crews noticed a lot of activity around the aircraft, not to mention armed Combat Security Police guarding the four F-4Es and single RF-4C. And the aircraft were not being tended to by their Air Force ground crews, but by civilian “tech-reps.” Surprised, Guru went over to where his crew chief, Staff Sergeant Mike Crowley, was standing. “Sergeant.”

“Captain,” Crowley said. “They got tech-reps going over the birds. Why, I have no idea.”

Guru and the crews noticed the coveralls worn by the technicians. McDonnell-Douglas, Raytheon, Loral-who made the ECM pods, General Electric-who made the J-79 engines, Ford Aerospace-who made the Pave Tack pods, and so on. Everything was being given the proverbial once-over. Not just once, but twice. After what seemed like forever, but was only about fifteen minutes, the tech-reps pronounced the aircraft ready to go, and the crews gathered around for Guru's final instructions.

“Remember, this is a featureless part of New Mexico. The IP is the town, so keep that in mind. No second passes, Kara. If you have hung ordnance, don't come around and do it again. I know, nobody's supposed to come back with unexpended ordnance, but if it hangs up...”

Kara nodded.

“Sweaty, you and Hoser have four Sidewinders and two Sparrows, and full 20-mm. I'll be happy if you guys have nothing to do.”

“So will we, for once,” Sweaty replied.

“Anything else?” Guru asked.

“How soon can we talk about this?” Preacher asked.

Guru smiled. “Probably when we're bouncing our grandkids on our knees. How's that?”

“Yeah, and I bet the mission report is classified as 'Burn before reading,' or words to that effect,” joked Hoser.

Colonel Rivers looked at him, then smiled. “No doubt, Lieutenant.” He checked his watch, and was about to say something when one of the OGA types came up to him and said something. He nodded, and told the crews, “Takeoff delayed by at least thirty minutes.”

“What? Boss, YGTBSM!” Guru said.

“Sorry, but they put a hold on us.”

Word spread, and the tech-reps went back to the aircraft. Even with the delay, the AF ground crew were still not allowed to work on the aircraft. Colonel Brady arrived a few minutes later, and he brought a cooler with cold drinks for the aircrews, because it was hot on the ramp.

“Boss,” Guru said to Rivers. “Tell us at least we can keep the Pave Tack pods when this is over.”

“I'll see about that. I know, we haven't done that much with laser bombs, with only two Pave Spike pods,” Rivers nodded. And he knew what his exec was thinking. Even though the 335th's crews were very good in terms of accuracy with dumb bombs, having additional pods so that they could use the “intellectual ordnance” would make their job a lot easier.

Time dragged on, and several aircrews checked their watches. Thirty minutes became an hour, then the OGA fellow came back to Rivers. He whispered in Rivers' ear, then the Colonel nodded. “The mission's a go, people! Get your birds preflighted and airborne.”
Hearing that, Guru shook hands with the CO and with Colonel Brady. “Back in a while, Boss,” he said to Colonel Rivers.

“Bring everyone back, Guru,” Rivers said.

“Will do, Boss,” Guru replied. “All right, people. Time to hit it.”

The crews went to their aircraft as the tech-reps left, and went through their walk-arounds. At their respective aircraft-512 and 520, Guru and Starbuck found a Pave Tack pod on the centerline, two AIM-7s in the rear fuselage wells, an ALQ-119 ECM pod in the left front well, instead of the usual ALQ-101 pod they had been carrying. Inboard wing stations each had a single GBU-10 Paveway laser-guided bomb, while the outer wing pylons had fuel tanks, as usual. Sweaty and Hoser each had four AIM-9P Sidewinders and two AIM-7E Sparrows, an ALQ-119, and full 20-mm ammunition, along with the fuel tanks. Athena's bird had the fuel tanks, a single ECM pod, and other than that, only had speed as a defense. After the walk-arounds, the crews boarded their aircraft and went through the preflight cockpit checks. Then it was time for engine start. Once the J-79 engines were warmed up, the Phantoms taxied to the end of the runway, where the armorers removed the final weapon safeties. When that was done, the planes taxied onto the runway, one element at a time, and the tower flashed a single green light, signaling clear to takeoff. Then each element rumbled down the runway and into the air. It was 1515.

Matt Wiser 01-13-2015 10:14 PM

Part II:

1530 Hours Mountain War Time: Over Western New Mexico:

The five-ship of Phantoms made the tanker rendezvous over the Continental Divide, and met up with their F-15 and Weasel escorts. Four F-15s made up Cowboy Flight, and one pair would set up a BARCAP to take care of anyone coming out of Cannon, while another pair would do the same for anyone out of Roswell (the old Walker AFB/Roswell AAF). Guru talked with the Weasels, who were using beer names for their call signs, and Coors 31 would lead the Weasels. He asked them to send one pair in to deal with the Portales SA-2, and the other pair to take care of the Roswell North SA-2, then come back and cover the target. After the inflight brief, everyone drank the fuel they needed from the tankers, and headed east. As they did, Guru noticed an EF-111 orbiting west of the Rio Grande. That would be their escort jammer, and the Spark Vark came into the formation. Then it was time to go down low and get into enemy territory.

The trip east went by like a blur. As the package went in, enemy radar activity was nil at best. Maybe the jamming's working, Guru thought. “Time to U.S. 285?” That was their next nav checkpoint.

“One minute,” Goalie replied.

Up ahead, the F-15s were like blockers in a football game, ready to jump on any MiGs that showed up, while the F-4Gs were on their flanks. Behind the strike birds was Athena's RF-4C, and above her was the EF-111, spoofing enemy radars as they headed on in.

“And now..285,” Goalie called.

The ribbon of Highway 285 flew by below them, a they headed for the next nav point. La Espia Peak, where the EF-111 would break off, climb, and then orbit to perform its standoff jamming role. “Two minutes to the peak,” Guru said, remembering the pre-mission planning.

“You got it,” Goalie said. Both crewers were swiveling their heads, keeping an eye out for threats, something that the RTU instructors had drilled into their heads.

It wasn't long, then the peak appeared at their Eleven O’clock. “Sundance Four-One. Time for us to go to work.”

“Roger that,” Guru replied. “Blind 'em, fella.”

With that, the EF-111 pulled up and started sending electrons out onto the radar frequencies used by the SAM sites, air-defense radars, and especially the GCI stations.

After that, the F-4Gs peeled off for their antiradar strikes, and then the F-15s climbed to assume their BARCAP mission.

“Elida dead ahead. That's the IP,” Goalie called.

“Sweaty, you and Hoser do your thing,” Guru said.

“Copy,” Sweaty replied. “Good luck.” Both TARCAP F-4s climbed to orbit the small town, as Guru and Starbuck climbed to search for the target, and WSOs began searching with the Pave Tack pods' cameras.

“Got it!” Capt. Judd Brewster, or Braniac as he was known. He was Kara's WSO.

“Roger that,” Guru said. “Got it?” He asked his GIB.

“Target locked,” Goalie said. “Ready to lase. Stand by to release on my hack.”

“Roger that,” Guru replied, setting up the ordnance himself.

“Steady, steady, laser on, and.....HACK!”

Guru hit the pickle button, and both GBU-10s came off the aircraft. He then banked away, but not in a steep turn so that the laser could stay on target and the two bombs could follow the laser all the way in.

As Guru pulled away, Starbuck rolled in. She dropped her bombs a few seconds after Guru did, and she, too, pulled off target, but careful enough to keep the laser on the target.

Down below, in the Ranch House, several KGB and PSD officers were discussing their joint interrogation of a 'bandit' leader. They suspected he knew about plans for a major guerrilla operation timed to coincide with any counteroffensive the Americans launched, but so far, the bandit had resisted all of their efforts. Drugs, torture, even offers of sex, had been for naught. Then the rumble of aircraft engines could be heard, then everything blew apart as four laser-guided bombs blew the house-and all of its occupants-into tiny pieces.

“SHACK!” Goalie called from the back seat. “Four good hits!”

“Anything left?” Guru asked as he pointed the F-4 due west.

“Nothing but matchsticks, blood, and brains,” she replied. “Laser off. And I say it's time to go.”

“You are so right,” Guru said as he took 512 down low again. “Starbuck, you concur?”

“Roger that, Lead. Four bombs, four hits. Let's get the hell out of here,” Kara said.

“Sweaty, Hoser, on me,” Guru called. “Here comes Athena.” Her RF-4C was starting its run-in.” Cowboy, Coors, time to egress.”



The package reformed near the EF-111 orbit point, and the trip west was anticlimactic. No MiGs came to challenge them, no SAMs lit up. And crossing the Rio Grande didn't even get a response from the Patriot and HAWK crews. After hitting the tankers, Guru gave the “Mission Success” call, then all of the birds broke for their home bases; Luke for the F-15s, Phoenix/Sky Harbor for the F-4Gs, Davis-Monthan for the EF-111, and Williams for the F-4Es and the photo bird.

When the F-4s came into Williams, there was a crowd gathered, with both Colonel Brady and Colonel Rivers heading it up. The birds were taxied into their dispersal shelters, and their regular ground crews came in, as usual. When the crew ladders were in place, the crews were able to climb down. At 512, Staff Sergeant Crowley was waiting. “How'd it go, Captain?”

“Can't say much,” Guru said. But he gave a thumbs-up. Then he saw Goalie come out from the Pave Tack pod, and she had a videotape in her hand.

Then Kara came over with Braniac, and he also had a videotape in hand.

“All right, people!” Brady said. “How'd it go?”

“Four drops, four hits,” Guru said. “No SAMs or MiGs. And no flak either.”

The two Colonels looked at each other. “Good job, Captain,” Rivers said. “Main Briefing Room, ten minutes. Get out of your flight gear and get your asses over there.”

Ten minutes later, the crews-including Athena and Helo, who had come in a minute behind the strike birds, were in the Main Briefing Room. General Donnelly was there, and to no one's surprise, the OGA people were there as well. “All right, Captain, let's have it. How'd it go out there?”

Guru and Starbuck exchanged glances. Then he looked at the General straight in the eye. “General, four drops, four hits. All that's left of that house is matchsticks and bloody and/or burned scraps of meat.”

“You concur, Captain Thrace?”

“Yes, Sir, I do,” she replied. “Even if somebody had been right outside, getting some fresh air? If the shrapnel didn't kill him, the concussion did.”

Donnelly nodded. “Let's check the tapes.”

First Goalie, then Brainac, played their Pave Tack tapes. The crews all noticed the OGA people were paying very close attention. “Four bombs on target. CEP is zero,” one of them said. “Nuthin' left of that place.”

“Wait for the RF-4C imagery, “ one of his friends said.

“Captain Park?” Donelly asked. “Your assessment?”

“I'll go along with what Captains Wiser and Thrace said. That place is history,” Athena replied, and Helo nodded.

“Very well,” Donelly said. He paused for a moment, thinking. Then he said. “All right, then. I remind you that you are still bound by your NDA forms, and are not to discuss this mission with anyone, even amongst yourselves. In your log books, you will say that you flew a strike-or a post-strike recon, against a target in Eastern New Mexico. Nothing more than that.” He looked at the aircrews. “Is that understood?”

The crews all looked at each other, then they said, “Yes, SIR!”

“Good,” said Donelly. As he got to leave, with the OGA men in two, he turned to the crews. “I wish I could tell you more. But I can't. Other than this.”

“Sir?” Colonel Rivers asked.

“All of you on the mission have done a valuable service for your country today. Maybe in twenty or thirty years, when you're bouncing your grandkids on your knee, you'll read about it. Then you can say whatever you want. Maybe.” Then the General and the OGA men left the room, leaving ten still confused aircrew and two senior officers still confused by the whole thing.

Rivers came over. “Guru, you're one of the old hands in the squadron. Ever flown anything like this?”

“No, Sir,” Guru replied. “Give me a shot at the Denver siege perimeter, ripping up a supply dump along I-40, or paying Cannon or Roswell a morning wake-up call, but this?”

“I know what you mean,” Rivers said. “There were probably strikes like this flown in WW II, Korea, and Vietnam. They don't tell you anything other than 'hit this target.'” He looked at the crews. “Let's get over to the Club. Twelve-hour rule kicks in at 1900 for you guys, so you've got an hour and a half to get loaded.”

“Boss, that's an order I'll be glad to obey,” Kara said.

“You guys may not get a medal for this mission, or any other recognition, but I'll be able to do something at least,” Rivers nodded.

“And I'll buy the first round,” Brady said.

“Then, sir,” Sweaty said. “Lead the way.”

As they left, Guru turned to Rivers. “Boss, they did leave us those Pave Tack pods?”

“They did,” Rivers confirmed. “You and Ellis, in between flights tomorrow, check and see who else in the squadron's Pave Tack qualified.”

“Got it, Sir.”

“Oh, and Guru?” Rivers asked. “I'll see about getting some time on the range for some refresher Pave Tack training.”

Guru nodded. Then he asked. “Time on the Goldwater Range, Boss? Or time on the range in Eastern New Mexico?”

A smile came to the CO's face. “Way things are going, it may be a little of both.”

Two days later, it was the first day of PRAIRIE FIRE, and this one mission was quickly forgotten. Until.....

Matt Wiser 01-13-2015 10:15 PM

Part III:

21 May, 2012; Wing Commander's Residence, Mountain Home AFB, Idaho. 1325 Hours Mountain Daylight Time:

Colonel Matt Wiser, USAF Reserve, was sitting in his den, reading the latest issue of Air and Space Magazine. This issue had a couple of articles on how the New Air and Space Museum was taking shape on the National Mall, and how exhibits had been recovered, decontaminated, and sent to the “temporary” museum at Quantico, and the same had been done for the aircraft in storage at the Gerber Restoration facility in Maryland. Now, the Air and Space Museum was going home, though the Quantico Museum would stay as a satellite museum, and would house exhibits too big for the main museum on the Mall. As he perused the magazine, he wondered how the Smithsonian would treat World War III. He'd given an oral history interview, and wondered what aircraft would fit in the new museum's World War III gallery, when another article caught his eye. “What?” He reread the piece. It was from a former reporter for Air Force Times, who was now a respected aviation historian. The article gave details of the mission that he and his flight had flown, two days prior to PRAIRIE FIRE kicking off, and had been told not to talk about with anyone. Guru then went to his laptop, and went online. He found the magazine's web site, and found the article. Then he picked up his phone and called his wife, who should be in her office.

“Yeah?” The voice on the other end asked. “What's up?”

“Goalie, get online, and go to Air and Space magazine's web site. Click on the current issue, and open the third article down from the top. Then call back and tell me what you've read.”

“What?” Colonel Lisa Eichhorn-Wiser asked. She was the CO of the 366th TFW at Mountain Home.

“Just do it,” Guru said. The CO of the 419th TFW (AFRES) was firm in that.

“Okay, but if this is some kind of joke, buster....You'll get it. No romping in the hay for you...”

“As one wing CO to another, this is on the level,” Guru said.

“Okay,” his wife said, then she hung up. Five minutes later, she called. “I read it, but don't believe it. Is this the one where....”

“This is the one,” Guru acknowledged. “The guy must've FOIA'd the mission reports, because everything's there. Is Kara in her office?”

“I'll get her,” Goalie said. A couple minutes later, Kara came in. Then she got on the line.

“What the hell, Guru? This guy on the level?”

“Looks like it,” he said. “Put Goalie back on.”

“Guru?” His wife asked.

“You might want to make some phone calls. JAG, OSI, HQ TAC, and who know what else? You might want to tell those folks that this mission's now in the public domain, and we might get contacted by other media, or other researchers. Bottom line: are we still bound by the NDAs?” Guru wanted to know.

“I'm wondering that myself,” Goalie said. “I'll make some calls, then call you back.”

While he was waiting for his wife to call back, Colonel Wiser turned on CNN. At the top of the hour, Wolf Blitzer was on, and after covering the '12 Presidential Campaign, turned to the next story. And it was the subject of the magazine article. He watched Blitzer interview the author of the story, and ask if these men and women knew they had saved the guerrilla portion of PRAIRIE FIRE, and who knew how many lives in the process?” The answer was blunt.

“To be honest, Wolf, I don't think so. These men and women are still bound by a nondisclosure agreement, which is why I never contacted them for the piece. They still wouldn't have been able to say anything about this mission.”

How right you are, Guru thought. No way would we have told anyone about this. Then his phone rang again. He checked the Caller ID, and knew who it was. “Yeah?”

“Guru, I just got off the phone with JAG and HQ TAC. We're still under the NDAs for now,” Goalie said.

“Lisa, did you tell them it's public domain now?”

“I did, Matt, and they said we're still covered. But they did bump it up to the Chief of Staff. It's his call, and he should have it by now.”

“If Sundown Cunningham was still Chief of Staff, he'd be volcanic right now.”

Goalie let out a laugh. “He would be,” she said. “And he would probably tear up those NDAs and say 'Boys and Girls, you can talk about this to whoever you want.'” Then there was an audible knock on the line, and Goalie said, “Yeah?”

Guru was able to overhear. “Ma'am, Chief of Staff's Office for you. On line two.”

“Guru did you-”

“I heard,” he replied. “Let me know how it turns out.”

“Will do.” Then she hung up.

A few minutes later, the phone rang again. It was Goalie. “Well?”

“He'll formally release us. As of 0900 Eastern tomorrow, we're free to talk about the mission,” said Goalie.

“Don't know if we'll get calls from reporters, but there's three people we can talk to,” Guru told his wife. “Eric, Sandy, and Melanie.”

In her office, Colonel Eichhorn smiled. “Well, well....when the kids get back for summer break, this is one war story they'll be glad to hear.”

“And Kacey, too,” Colonel Wiser reminded his wife.

“Not to mention the gang down at the 419th, especially Kelly Ray.”

“Okay, tell Kara, and I'll spread the word to Sweaty, Preacher, Hoser, and KT. Too bad Brainac's no longer with us,” Guru said.

“Yeah. I'll tell Kara, and I'll see you around 7:30 or so. Got a evening hop on the schedule,” Goalie said, the wing commander's voice coming back.

“And you know me: when you're out late, it's 'Hello, Pizza Hut?'”

She laughed. “Okay, get me a combination, and you that pepperoni and sausage you like.”

“It'll be here. Take care, and have a good flight. Who's it with?”

“Me and Kara are taking some newbies up. Teach them a thing or two.”

“Ah, memories,” Guru said. “See you later,”

“Will do. Love you.”

“You too. Bye.”

After hanging up, Guru e-mailed KT, Hoser, Preacher, but he called Sweaty. She was flying F-15Es down at Eglin, doing weapons tests, before hopefully getting her own squadron command. She was surprised, but relieved. Now she could tell her boyfriend about the mission.

After talking with Sweaty, Guru sat back and checked the F-4 Phantom Association's web site, and the message board. Sure enough, there was a link to the article, and there were posters already talking about the mission. Then his phone rang. “Wiser.”

“Colonel Wiser?”

“That's right, and you are?”

“Phil Shafter, Salt Lake Tribune. I'm calling about the article in Air and Space..”

“Mr. Shafter, I can't talk about that mission until I've been released from a nondisclosure agreement.” Colonel Wiser said. “That should tell you enough.”

“I understand, Colonel. When do you expect to be released?”

“In a few days, but listen to this, Mr. Shafter. IF you want to talk to me about this, go through the PAO at Hill Air Force Base,” Guru told the reporter, and his tone of voice said that the reporter had better do so.

“Of course, Colonel. Sorry to bother you.” Then the reporter hung up.

“I doubt it,” Guru said to himself. Then he called his wife again. “Lisa? Listen, I just had a reporter call me at home about that mission.”

“You're kidding.”

“No shit, Sherlock. I think you'd better have your PAO say something. Say three of the aircrew who flew that mission are on base, but are not talking to reporters until we're released from the NDA,”

In her office, Colonel Eichhorn looked at her Duty Officer. She whispered. “Get the PAO in here. NOW.” And the man slipped out the door. “Will do, Matt. Anything else?”

“We and Kara need to talk, and decide how much we're going to say about this. Tomorrow night, over leftover pizza.”

“Good idea.”

Guru nodded. “Okay, then. See you later. Love you.”

“You too,” his wife replied. “Bye!”

After hanging up, Guru thought. This is going to be a long evening. Too bad Raid doesn't deal with these kinds of pests....

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