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Old 12-16-2014, 06:13 PM
Matt Wiser Matt Wiser is offline
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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.”

“Volshov?”

“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.”

“What?”

“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,”

Clink

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.”



Epilogue:


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.”

“WHAT?”

“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.
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