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Old 01-16-2019, 10:42 PM
Matt Wiser Matt Wiser is offline
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Join Date: Sep 2008
Location: Auberry, CA
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Last mission of the day, and the RAF takes a hit:



Over Central Texas: 1610 Hours Central War Time:


Rambler Flight was headed south, into enemy territory. The tanker rendezvous had gone off smoothly, and the RAF people were glad to take on fuel from their own Tristar this time around, while the 335th birds hooked up to KC-135s. Once the pre-strike refueling was complete, the flight left the tanker track and went down low. Once they cleared the I-20, they were across the FLOT for all intents and purposes, and in bad-guy country.

They were skirting the east side of the Brazos, then Lake Granbury, when the U.S. 377 Granbury Bridge appeared. “Granbury Bridge ahead,” Guru called. “And flak at One.”

“Got it,” Goalie said. “East Germans are on the ball today,” she noted as tracers and black puffs appeared.

Guru nodded, then glanced over to the east side. The Nicaraguans on that side of the river were quiet. “Nothing from the east side....” then 512 cleared the bridge, along with the rest of the flight. “Glen Rose is next.” Given how many times they'd flown this way, the 335th crews were getting to know the area like the backs of their hands.

“Copy that,” Goalie replied “One minute, and there's flak at the dam before that.”

“Thanks for the reminder,” Guru said. Then he checked his EW display. A bright strobe, and a SEARCH indicator light came on. He shook his head. “Mainstay's up.”

“Again?” Goalie said. “Maybe the Navy didn't splash one after all.”

“Looks that way,” Guru said. “Visual on the dam, and you're right on the flak.”

Sure enough, the Lake Granbury Dam's flak gunners opened up-those on the west side of the Brazos, anyway. The East German gunners threw up the usual 23-mm and 37-mm fire, but their guns were optically aimed, and at the speed Rambler was flying, they barely had time to lead their targets before the strike flight had passed.

“Dam's clear,” Guru said.

“Roger that,” Goalie replied. “Thirty seconds to Glen Rose.” That was the U.S. 67 bridge over the Brazos.

“Copy,” said Guru. Then he called the AWACS. “Crystal Palace, Rambler Lead. Say threats?”

A controller came back at once. “Rambler Lead, Crystal Palace. First threat bearing One-five-zero for forty. Medium, going away. Second threat bearing One-seven-five for fifty-five. Medium, closing. Third threat bearing One-nine-five for seventy. Medium, going away.”

“Roger that,” Guru called. “Say bogey dope?”

“Rambler, First and third threats are Floggers. Second threats are Fishbeds.”

MiG-21s and -23s? Good, Guru thought. No MiG-29s, and certainly no Flankers. “Rambler Lead copies.”

“Bridge coming up,” Goalie said. “And flak again.”

“No surpise.”

Once again, the East German gunners on the west side of the Brazos opened up, while the Nicaraguans stayed quiet. Even though there was a convoy crossing to the East German side, the gunners on the east bank kept quiet.

On the bridge, an East German Captain of Transport Troops winced. He was leading a supply convoy towards Stephenville, with munitions and spare parts to help rebuild the 20th MRD, which had been shattered in a couple of recent battles with the Americans. His travels had taken him into the Nicaraguan sector, and his opinion of his allies had soured. The Nicaraguans' enthusiasm for the war had been considerably reduced with half of their expeditionary force having been caught in a pocket up in Colorado, and very few had managed to break out, with the rest either dead or prisoners. Things had gotten so bad that, on two occasions that afternoon, when American aircraft came over, the Nicaraguan air-defense people had not opened fire. And now, at the Bridge in a very vulnerable open-topped BTR-60P, the Captain froze as aircraft he identified as F-4 Phantoms came right at the Bridge. To his surprise, no rain of CBU bomblets followed in their wake, as the aircraft clearly had business elsewhere. Shaken, he waved his convoy forward.

“There was a convoy on the bridge,” Guru noted. If they had been on an armed recon....

“Not their turn to die,” Goalie calmly observed. “Forty seconds to the Brazospoint Bridge. Two minutes to Route 174 and the north end of Lake Whitney.”

“Roger that.”

The strike flight kept on course, and forty seconds later, came to the Brazospoint Bridge. Again, the East Germans opened up, while the Nicaraguans stayed quiet.

“That's that,” Guru said as the bridge disappeared behind them.

“It is,” Goalie acknowledged. “One minute fifteen to 174 and Lake Whitney.”

“And the Libyans.”


As they headed south, the pilots were, as usual, keeping their heads on a swivel. Checking their instruments, then the EW displays, then outside the cockpit, all of that had been drummed into their heads at whatever RTU they had gone through. The GIBs, meanwhile, were busy with the navigation, as well as watching their own EW displays.

Guru kept up his visual scanning. While too high for power lines at 500 Feet AGL, ground-based threats could come at any time, as well as coming across a Soviet, East German, or even Libyan flight on a ground-attack mission of their own. Then there were the helos. He then checked his EW display, and noted the SEARCH light still on, with a bright strobe. Then two more strobes, smaller, came up, and the A/A light came on. “Looks like the Floggers are up.”

“Got 'em,” Goalie said.

“Flight, Lead. Music on,” Guru ordered. That meant to turn on their ECM pods.

“Roger, Lead,” Kara called back, and the others followed.

“Bridge coming up,” Goalie said. “And we've got flak at both sides.” Given that tracers and black puffs-which meant 57-mm at least, somebody was on the ball.

Guru saw the flak. “Got it,” he said. Then he pulled up to 550 feet and applied more power, then dropped back down-with the flight doing the same thing. “Lake Whitney up ahead,” he said as the river opened up to reveal the lake.

“Rambler Lead, Crystal Palace,” the AWACS called. “Threat bearing One-six-five for thirty-five. Medium, closing. Second threat bearing One-eight-zero for fifty. Medium, going away.”

“Roger, Crystal Palace,” said Guru. “Say bogey dope.”

“Rambler, First threats are Floggers, with Fishbeds the second,” the controller replied. “Third threat bearing One-nine-five for fifty-five. Medium, closing. Threats are Floggers.”

“Copy,” said Guru.

“Approaching turn point,” said Goalie. “In ten. Five, four, three, two, one, MARK!”

Guru put 512 into a hard right turn to the southwest, on a Two-four-zero heading. Once he was steady on the new course, he asked Goalie, “Time to Route 36?”

“One minute forty,” she replied.

“Got it,” Guru said. He kept up his visual scanning. On his EW display, one of the air-to-air strobes had gone off, but one was still there, along with the Mainstay. He shook his head. “Damn Mainstay.”

“No use arguing,” Goalie said. “One minute.”

“Copy.”

Several small towns-or collections of ruins that had been towns-passed by, then came Route 36, with Jonesboro to their One O'clock. “There's Route 36,” Goalie called. “Forty-five seconds to Evant.”

“And the next turn point,” said Guru. He was watching the sky, both up high and down low.


In Jonesboro, the local garrison was dealing with not just the locals, but also several hundred extra “guests,” for a battered East German motor-rifle regiment, the 36th Independent MRR, had been sent to the town for rest and refit. The garrison, Soviets from a rear-area protection division from Minsk, had been content to stay in the city, keep Route 36 open by simply staying in the city limits and the occasional patrol along the local roads, and leave the civilians alone. With the arrival of the East Germans, and the arrogant attitude that the East Germans seemed to bring with them wherever they went, both the garrison commander-a Major yanked from a comfortable job with the Beylorussian MD-and the locals wanted the East Germans to simply go away. Things were so bad between the erstwhile allies that the local resistance had decided to leave both sides alone-and there might even be a fire-fight or two between the Russians and East Germans-for any number of reasons, the SF Captain who was advising the local resistance felt.

The Soviet Major, meanwhile, had his hands full keeping his battalion occupied. Fat, overage reservists with castoffs from the 1950s or even earlier. A company of tanks was with his battalion, and he was appalled to find that they were T-54s from one of the earliest production batches! As for his artillery, he did have a battery from Regiment, and they were old ZIS-3 76-mm guns from the Great Patriotic War era. At least the mortars were more modern-if one could call 1960 modern, he thought.

The Major was talking to one of his company commanders when some soldiers ran to man some ZPU-4 AA guns. Four American F-4 Phantoms, followed by two more, flew by, headed to the southwest. At least they're not going after the supply depot north of town, he mused. Oh, well. Whatever they were going to attack was not his problem.


“Time to Evant?” Guru asked.

“Thirty seconds,” Goalie replied. “Still got the Mainstay.”

“For now,” Guru said. “Give me the count,” he added as Evant and the U.S. 84-281 intersection appeared directly ahead.

“Turn in five, four, three, two, one, MARK!”

Guru put 512 into a hard right turn, then steadied onto a heading of due north, flying parallel to U.S. 281. “Set 'em up. And the pop-up?”

“Twenty seconds,” Goalie called. “Working the switches.”

“Flight, Lead. Switches on, and stand by to pull,” Guru called the flight.

Hearing that, Goalie worked the armament controls in the rear cockpit. “Switches set,” Goalie said. “Pull in ten. And five, four, three, two, one, PULL!”

Guru pulled back on the stick, and as he climbed, Hamilton appeared directly ahead, and just at his Eleven, Hamilton Municipal Airport. “Target in sight. All set?”

“All set and ready.”

“Flight, Lead. Target's in sight. Time to go to work.”

“Roger, Lead,” Kara replied.

“One-five, one-six,” Guru called their escorts. “TARCAP's yours.”

“Roger, Lead,” Flight Lt.Karen McKay replied, then she and Flight Lt. Ian Black climbed to assume their TARCAP mission.

“Ready?” Guru asked his GIB.

“All set,” replied Goalie.

“Let's go,” he said, rolling 512 in on the bomb run.



In Hamilton, the garrison and the local civilians had been getting used to some new neighbors. Namely, a newly-arrived Soviet tank regiment had taken up quarters in the town, and everyone could tell these Russians had never seen combat. The garrison-which was the HQ and battalion from the 231st Rear-Area Protection Division from Minsk-which also controlled the other garrisons in the rear of both the 3rd Shock Army and the East German “Kampfgruppe Rosa Luxembourg”, was mainly content to stay in Hamilton and keep the roads open-which it did by occasional patrols and also by staying put. The divisional commander-a Colonel who had been pushing paper at the Beylorussian MD Headquarters before the war, knew his soldiers weren't fit (or equipped) for much else, and since there was hardly any activity from the American Resistance (or “bandits” as his Zampolit called them), the Colonel was content to leave the civilians alone. There had been the usual arrests and “disappearances” after the invasion, but now, the Colonel was suspecting that the underground-and there was one-for the occasional cut telephone line, roadside bomb, or sniper fire on a patrol, was largely laying low for the time being. But he knew that once the U.S. Army got closer, the Resistance would make its presence felt. There had been only one recent casualty from the bandits, and that had been the local PSD Officer (or swine-and that was not just his opinion, but that of the locals), when his car had set off a roadside bomb. Even the divisional Zampolit felt that the Americans had done them a favor in getting rid of the man, for he had been on the nerves of the garrison, the air force detachment at the airport, and the civilians.

The day before, though, his present headache had arrived, in the form of the 327th Guards Independent Tank Regiment from Mogilev in Beylorussia. The regimental commander-a Colonel like himself, had orders from 3rd Shock Army to station the Regiment in the town, and that the garrison was to fully cooperate with the Regiment. Since the Regimental Commander had a direct line to 3rd Shock Army Headquarters in Brownwood, the garrison commander knew to keep his mouth shut, and to coooperate with the newcomers. Though he could tell that the regiment was fresh off the ships and had never seen action-their T-80As had no minor damage from small-arms fire or from anti-tank missiles, the BMP-2s were in the same shape-and their regimental artillery looked as if they'd been hardly fired. Then the regiment's officers seemed to think that if their unit had been at Wichita-a name the Colonel had heard spoken of with dread-things would have been different. At least they have decent air-defense weapons, the Colonel thought, for air attack was a regular occurrence in these parts.

Sighing, the Colonel got up from his desk, and left his office in City Hall. He went outside, just in time to hear shouting, then soldiers from both his unit and the new regiment running. Then he heard a shout that filled him with dread. “AIR RAID WARNING!'


“Lead's in hot!” Guru called as he rolled 512 in on the bomb run. He glanced at his EW display and saw no GUN or MISSILE warning lights, to his pleasure, and lined up the northern ramp area in his pipper. Just as he did, tracers from the ZU-23s around the airport and black puffs came up as well-which signaled 37-mm or 57-mm guns. No matter, he thought, as he saw a couple of Hip helicopters and an An-24 transport sitting on the ramp. You'll do, the CO said to himself. Ignoring the flak, he steadied 512, and came in. “And...Steady....Steady.....NOW!” Guru hit his pickle button, sending a dozen Rockeye CBUs down onto the airport. He pulled up, applied full military power, and cleared the target, jinking as he did so. “Lead's off target,” he called.


“What the...” the Colonel said. The town wasn't under attack, but what was? Then he knew. The airport, three kilometers to the south, was not under his authority, but belonged to the Air Force. He heard explosions, then saw Guru's F-4 to the west, heading away from both the airport and the town. A major, his divisional Chief of Staff came up to him as the F-4 headed to the north. “Major?”

“Colonel, shouldn't we head to the shelter?”

“We're not the target, so we get to watch.”


“SHACK!” Goalie yelled from 512's back seat. “We got secondaries!”

“How many?” Guru asked as he jinked to the right-and a missile-which was bigger than a MANPADS-flew by on the left.

“Several,” she replied. “Missile following the first.”

Guru held his course, and the missile flew past the F-4 on the left. Then he jinked left and steadied on course for Lake Proctor. “Where'd they get those?” He was thinking SA-13 or an optically aimed SA-8.

“Good question.”


“Two's in!” Kara called as she took 520 down on its bomb run. She saw the CO's run, and noted with satisfaction his CBUs blowing two Hips apart and blowing the tail and wing off an An-24 type transport. Kara lined up on the southern ramp, where two Su-25s, along with a couple of smaller helos-probably Mi-2s, and another Hip were parked. Your turn, Ivan, she thought as she came in on the run. Kara, too, ignored the flak coming up as she got closer to the target. “Okay....Okay...Steady...NOW!” She hit her pickle button, and a dozen more Rockeye CBUs came down onto Hamilton Municipal. Kara then applied power and pulled up and away, jinking as she did so to avoid flak or SAMs. “Two's off safe.”


“Well, now,” said the Colonel as Kara's F-4 flew by. More explosions followed in its wake, and he could also hear some of the locals cheering. Deep down, he didn't blame them a bit, and he'd be damned if his Zampolit insisted that a few of them be arrested as a result. “Follow me,” he said to his Chief of Staff, and the two of them, and his aide, who had just arrived with a pair of binoculars for his Commander, went to City Hall's roof, just in time to see the third F-4 come in.


“GOOD HITS!” That was Brainiac's call from 520's back seat. “You've got secondaries!”

“What kind?” Kara asked as a missile-a bigger one than they'd been briefed to expect-flew just beneath her aircraft.

“Three or four good ones,” Brainiac replied. “And there's another missile! BREAK RIGHT!”

Kara broke hard right, and another SAM-probably an SA-13, she thought, flew by on the left. She then jinked back to the left, and spotted the CO's smoke trail. “Guru, Starbuck. That place has more than they told us.”

“Roger that,” Guru replied. “Sweaty, Guru. Be careful on your run. More hardware than we were led to expect down there.”

“Sweaty copies.”


In her F-4, Sweaty came down on her attack run. “Three's in hot!” She had a dozen Mark-82 Snakeyes, and spotted the field hangars that were her target. Okay, Ivan....Time to have a bad afternoon. She, too, ignored the flak, and glanced at her EW display. No radars locked, so whoever was shooting those missiles was going by visual sighting. Oh, well...”Steady....Steady....And...And..HACK!” Sweaty hit her pickle button, releasing her dozen Mark-82s onto the airport below. She then pulled up and away, applying full military power and jinking as she did so. “Three's off target.”


“They're good,” the Colonel observed from the rooftop. He and the two officers with him weren't the only Russians on the roof, for a ZPU-2 AA gun was mounted there, and the gunners were firing, even though their tracers were falling short. The Colonel watched as Sweaty's F-4 made its run, and the bombs going off in its wake, which tore apart at least one hangar, and an oily fireball as well. Fuel truck exploding, he knew. Then he turned to the south, scanning with his binoculars. Not only was there another F-4 coming in, but two more seemed to be circling, as if waiting for their turn.

“GOOD HITS!” Preacher yelled from Sweaty's back seat. “There's secondaries.”

“What kind and how many?” Sweaty asked as she jinked left, and a missile flew by on the right. She jinked right, and another missile went by on the left.

“Got two or three, and they're big.”

“Good enough,” Sweaty said. Then she called Guru. “Lead, Sweaty. That place crawls.”

“Roger that. Hoser, be careful,” Guru replied.

Hoser replied, “Roger that, Boss.”


“Four's in hot!' Hoser called. He saw what Sweaty had done, blowing apart the field hangars, and now, he lined up on the runway. Though it was Runway 36/18 from his perspective, Hoser came in at an angle, for going straight down the runway was asking to be shot down. Not wanting to prove Buddy right again, he, too, ignored the flak, and lined up the runway. “And...And......NOW!” Hoser hit his pickle button, releasing his dozen Mark-82 Snakeyes onto the runway, then he pulled up and away, applying full military power as he did so, and began jinking to avoid flak. Once clear, he called, “Four's off safe.”


The Colonel watched as Hoser's F-4 made its run, and saw the bombs fall. This time, there were no sympathetic detonations, but it was obvious what the target was: the runway. Much to his disgust, the AA tracers fell short again, and he made a vow then and there to impress on his antiaircraft officer the need for better training and shooting. Then he saw two more F-4s come in, only they didn't release any bombs, but they followed the others to the north. All of a sudden, large tracers came up from where the Tank Regiment was laagered.


“SHACK!” KT yelled. “We got the runway!”

“How many craters?” Hoser asked as a missile flew over his aircraft. He jinked right, then left, and a missile flew down the right side. SA-13 or better, he knew from experience.

“Several.”

“Roger that,” Hoser said. “Lead, Hoser. I'm clear.”


“Copy, Hoser,” Guru said. “One-five, One-six, get your asses down and away.”

“Roger, Lead,” McKay called. “On me,” she told her wingman, Flight Lt. Ian Black.

“Right with you,” he replied.

The two F-4Js followed Hoser on out, but as they flew past the town, tracers engulfed both aircraft. “Break!” McKay called, pulling high and banking right, while Black pulled left and low. McKay then rolled left, and she then saw a sight that horrified her. Tracers tore into Black's Phantom, and the aircraft caught fire. The plane rolled right, and the backseater's canopy flew off, and the ejection seat fired. Then the pilot's canopy and seat fired, just as the plane exploded and cartwheeled into a field northwest of the town. “Lead, One-six is down!”

“Shit!” Guru muttered. Kara had just joined up on him. “One-five, any chutes?” He pulled into a 180, and Kara followed. She had heard it all.

“Stand by,” McKay said. She was jinking to avoid the flak, while trying to get eyeballs on the chutes. Ian and Michael, where are you? Then she saw two chutes, and, unfortunately, some trucks and APCs converging on them. “Lead, got two chutes, and bad guys approaching them.”

“Roger that,” Guru said. He picked up Sweaty and Hoser, who then turned to follow. “Karen,” he called, not using mission code. “Nothing we can do for 'em. Form up and let's get the hell out of here.”
He'd seen crews go down in enemy territory before, too close to the target, and with the bad guys seeing the chutes, there was nothing that anyone could do.

“Roger, Lead,” McKay replied. “Have visual on you.”

“Copy,” Guru said. He did a 180, and the rest of the flight joined up on him. “Crystal Palace, Rambler Lead. Rambler One-six is down north of the target. Two chutes.”

“Roger, Rambler,” the AWACS controller said. “Do you want Jollys?” He meant the rescue helos.

“Negative. Too near the target, and bad guys were closing on 'em.”

“Copy.”

“Shit,” Guru muttered. It had been a while since they'd lost someone in the squadron, and he'd have to tell Dave Gledhill. Though the letter-writing would be Dave's responsibility, it didn't make it any easier. Still, focus on the job, and get north, he knew. “Time to Proctor Lake?” Guru asked his GIB.

“One minute,” Goalie replied.

“Roger that,” Guru said. “Crystal Palace, Rambler Lead. Say threats?”

“Rambler, Threat bearing One-six-zero for fifty. Medium, closing. Second threat bearing One-eight-five for fifty-five. Medium, closing. Third threat bearing Two-zero-five for sixty. Medium, closing.”

“Roger, Crystal Palace,” replied Guru. “Say bogey dope?”

“Rambler, First and second threats are Floggers. Third threats are Fulcrums.”

MiG-23s and MiG-29s...Lovely, Guru thought. “Copy.”

“Proctor Lake coming up.” Goalie said.

The lake appeared, and as the strike flight crossed the lake, Guru turned north, and the rest followed. Then he dropped down lower, to 450 Feet AGL. No sense giving the bad guys any more help....”Fence in when?” Guru asked as 512 cleared the north shore of the lake.

“Two minutes,” Goalie replied.

“Got it,” he said. Guru then looked to his right, and Kara's bird, 520, was right with him in combat spread, and he knew that Sweaty and Hoser were right behind him, with McKay's F-4J following.

The AWACS then came up. “Rambler Lead, Crystal Palace. Threat bearing One-six-five for forty. Medium, now going away. Second threat bearing One-seven-eight for forty-five. Medium, also going away. Third threat now bearing Two-zero-zero for fifty-five. Medium, going away.”

“Roger, Crystal Palace.”

“Thirty seconds to Lake Comfort,” Goalie called. “One minute to the fence.” That meant I-20 and the FLOT.

“Copy,” Guru said. He checked his EW display, and the SEARCH light went off, and the single strobe that had been there also went off. “Mainstay's off.”

“About time,” Goalie said. “Lake dead ahead.”

Lake Comfort appeared, and the strike flight flew over the lake, and it wasn't long until the I-20 appeared. “Flight, Lead, verify IFF is on, and music off,” Guru called.

Once clear of the I-20, the flight headed for the tanker track, and joined up on the tankers. The RAF Tristar was there, and McKay plugged into the Tristar, while the 335th birds joined up on a pair of KC-10s. Though curious, the Tristar crew didn't ask what happened to the other Phantom they had refueled. It was a cardinal rule, and one strictly enforced, among tanker crews that they never asked what happened if a flight came back minus one or more aircraft. Once the refueling was complete, they headed back to Sheppard.

When Rambler Flight got back, they were second in the pattern, following a Marine F-4 flight, with a 335th flight and the Eastbound C-141 behind them. When they came in and landed, the air and ground crew at the 335th and the RAF detachment knew something bad had happened. The CO's flight had left with six birds, and only five were coming back. The RAF people watched as the flight taxied in, and they noted the serial number on the side of the F-4J that had come back. Karen was in, and that meant Ian was down.

The news crew was filming, and they picked up what was happening. “First time?” Jana Wendt asked Kodak Griffith.

“No, I've seen this before,” Kodak replied. He'd watched flights come back minus one or two aircraft before. He looked at Lieutenant Patti Brown, the new PAO for the 335th. She was still in flight gear, having come back only fifteen minutes earlier from a strike herself. “How about you?”

She took a deep breath. “First for me, and it won't be the last.”

“You've got that right.”

Guru's flight left the runway, and taxied into their dispersal areas. When Guru got to his revetment, he taxied 512 in, then shut down on his Crew Chief's signal. The ground crew brought the chocks and extended the stepladder, while Guru and Goalie went through the post-flight checklist. After popping the canopies, they dismounted from the aircraft. 'Hell of a day.”

“It was,” Goalie said. “First in a while we've lost somebody.”

“Yeah, even though they're not technically ours,” Guru said, as Sergeant Crowley brought him and Goalie each a bottle of water. “Thanks, Sarge.”

“Major, what happened?” Crowley asked. “One of the RAF birds didn't come back.”

“Don't know myself,” Guru said after he downed half the bottle. “Find out in the debrief.” He finished the bottle, then said, “Get the post-flight done, and get her ready for the morning. Five-twelve's still humming along, and keep her that way.”

“Yes, sir!” Crowley said. “You heard the Major, people!” Let's get this bird ready for the morning.”

Guru and Goalie nodded, then went to the revetment entrance. Kara and Brainiac were there, and were joined by Sweaty, Preacher, Hoser, and KT. “What the hell happened?” Guru asked.

“Don't know, but somebody down there had better missiles than they told us to expect,” Kara spat.

“I'll go along with that,” Sweaty added. “SA-8s or SA-13s at least.

“At least,” Hoser agreed. “Didn't see any big tracers, though.”

“Still,” KT added. “Got a few helos, we noticed, and a couple of Su-25s.”

Just then, a Dodge Crew-Cab pickup arrived, and Chief Ross, Sin Licon, and Squadron Leader Dave Gledhill came out, followed by Buddy. The dog seemed to pick up what was happening, for he went and nuzzled up against Sweaty. “Dave,” Guru said. “Sorry, but one of your crews didn't make it.”

“Who?” Gledhill asked. Then he saw Karen McKay and her GIB coming. “Ian and Chris. What happened, Karen?”

“Don't know. All of a sudden on egress, there were all these tracers, big ones. We break, and Ian's surrounded by those tracers. His plane's hit and catches fire,” McKay said. “He and Michael bail out-Michael was first, then the plane exploded and tumbled into the ground. Did a 180, and saw their chutes-with Russian trucks and APCs headed their way.”

Gledhill frowned. His squadron had lost people before, out over the Atlantic, and the sea held its secrets well. This was his first time where a crew had gone down, and had likely been captured. “Damn it.”

Guru put his hand on Gledhill's shoulder. “Dave, been there, done that. Just be glad you never had to do it for a CO.”

“I know,” Gledhill said. “We'll have to list them as Missing in Action. Maybe we'll find out they're POWs later on.”

Heads nodded at that, then Kara said, “Maybe. Might have to wait until this is over to find out.”

“What do you mean?” Flight Lt. Chris Fryer, McKay's GIB, asked.

“North Vietnamese didn't release the names of everybody they held until after the Paris Cease-fire,” Kara replied. “Might have the same thing here, and even then, there's people who still say the Viets didn't release all the POWs.”

The 335th crewers knew what she was talking about: the ongoing POW-MIA agony from the late and unlamented war in Southeast Asia. Rumors about POWs still held in Vietnam and Laos still came out, and no one for sure knew what to make of them. With the big war going on, that effort had been put on the back burner while the POWs and MIAs from the current war were the main subject of attention. But when this was over.....”Hope that's not the case,” McKay said.

“You're not the only one thinking that,” Preacher said. Every night before bed, the ex-seminary student said a prayer for lost classmates from OTS, Nav, or F-4 training. Some were known dead, others were MIA or POW.

Sweaty nodded, “Sin's here.”

Guru nodded himself as Buddy nuzzled him. Right now, the dog was performing his second role as therapy dog. “Sin,” Guru said.

“Major,” Licon replied. “What happened out there?”

“They had more stuff down there than the intel summary said,” Kara spat.

“Easy, girl,” Guru said. “She's right, though. Those missiles weren't MANPADS, and the guns...”

“What kind of missiles?” Licon asked. He had a notepad and pen out.

“Bigger than a SA-7,” said Hoser. “Looked like SA-13.”

“Or an optically-guided Eight,” Sweaty added.

“Maybe,” Licon nodded, taking notes. “Who had the tracers?”

“We saw them,” Karen McKay said, and her GIB nodded.

“How big were they?” Licon wanted to know.

“Oh, football-sized at least,” said McKay. “Our footballs, not yours.”

“Could they have been bigger?” Asked the intel. He had an idea forming in his mind, but wanted to be sure.

McKay and Fryer looked at each other. “They looked a little bigger to me,” Fryer said.

“How much bigger?”

“Oh, maybe basketball-sized,” the GIB replied. “You ask that as if it means something.”

“It might,” Licon said. “Anyone have any radar warning?” He saw heads shake no at that. “Major, I think we've been down this road before.”

“What do you mean, Sin?” Guru asked. It had been a long day, and he had some admin things to take care of, before he could take his sorrows for a little swim.

The intel nodded, then looked at everyone before focusing on the CO. “Think about it. No radar warning, missiles bigger than MANPADS, and basketball-sized tracers. One plus one plus one equals ZSU-30-2.”

There was silence for a minute, then Sweaty exploded. “WHAT? Those mother-humping guns?”

“The same,” Licon nodded unhappily. “If you guys had Weasels with you, they would've ID'd them and taken them out. Then again, even if your EW didn't pick them up, their radars might have been jammed by your ECM pods, so they shot visually.” Small consolation, the intel knew.

“Of all the...” Kara spat.

Guru shook his head. “Damn it,” he growled. “Okay, I've got a line to General Tanner and General Olds. I'll use it, and request that our EW gear gets upgraded ASAP if not sooner.” The CO checked his watch. “It's 1645. We need to get the debrief done, and you all need to make sure your IN boxes are empty and the OUT ones are full. Dave?” Guru turned to the RAF Squadron Leader. “I don't envy you a bit about what you have to do. I'll write up something for you to include in your letters. For sure, they don't teach this in any kind of officer training I know of.”

Gledhill heard that, and was pleased. “I think that would be greatly appreciated.”

“You'll get those before the mail goes out tomorrow.”

“Thanks,” Gledhill said, shaking Guru's hand.

“You're welcome,” the CO replied. “Okay. Anything else before we debrief, and that does remind me: the XO and I are going to have a talk with Frank. His Article 15 came through.”

Hearing that, Kara grinned.”Well, now. We can celebrate something tonight.”

“Besides being still alive,” Brainiac reminded his pilot.

“There is that.” Still, finding out Frank's career had been effectively terminated was a good thing, as far as she-and everyone else in the squadron-was concerned.

“One other thing, Major,” Karen McKay said.

“What's that?” Guru asked.

“Your dog was right,” McKay motioned at Buddy, who was nuzzling up to KT, who was petting the dog.

“He was,” Goalie said. “He was awake through the whole brief.”

Gledhill nodded. “And that's a bad omen,” he observed. It wasn't a question.

“Remember this morning?” Guru asked. “He slept through the brief. That means it's an easy mission. If he's awake and pays attention? Look out, because it's going to be a bear.”

“Forgot about that,” the RAF officer admitted. “Something to keep in mind.”

Guru nodded. “That it is. Let's get inside folks. Get what needs to be done, done. Then I'll see you in the Club. And if anyone wants to get happily smashed between then and Twelve-Hour? I'm not complaining, and I might just join you.”

“Three beers instead of two?” Goalie asked.

“Something like that,” Guru said. “Let's go.”
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Treat everyone you meet with kindness and respect, but always have a plan to kill them.

Old USMC Adage
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