Line in the Valley, chapter 5


I was only going to put four chapters of this book on my blog, but due to overwhelming demand (one guy named Mikey) I decided to go ahead and put chapter 5 up. Critiques, please.

Links to all other chapters and excerpts are below:


Chapter 5

First platoon huddled around the hood of Lieutenant Quincy’s humvee, staring at a map. Captain Harcrow and First Sergeant Grant stood with them. Nobody spoke as they waited for Colonel Lidell, the 56th Brigade Combat Team commander, to read a note a runner had passed to him. He frowned as he read it, making Nunez wonder what bad news he had just received.

Lidell folded the note, put it in a map case hung over his shoulder and told the runner, “Go back and tell Colonel Burress he’s just going to have to make do until more troops get here. We’ll talk about it later.”

The runner gave a “Roger that, sir,” and headed through the dark toward the mall. Nunez figured Colonel Burress, whoever he was, was bitching about having his units split up just like Nunez’s battalion had been. Nunez’s company received the warning order about the Arriago mission over an hour after Bravo and Charlie companies moved out from the Edinburgh mall. Bravo was sent to reinforce checkpoints around the eight affected towns, Charlie given to a scout squadron that was sending dozens of small teams to ring the towns with observation posts. At least they weren’t getting some bullshit mission like guarding a police station or evacuee center, like other units were. Some mayors and police chiefs in unaffected towns near the border were making ridiculous demands of the Guard, even going so far as to insist soldiers be assigned as their personal bodyguards. The Guard’s commander and the Governor weren’t having any of that, but mobilized units were still being spread thin.

Arriago should have been a full battalion’s mission. Instead, each of Alpha’s three platoons would do the work of a company. Quincy’s and Nunez’s first platoon would secure the convoy, second platoon would push past them and secure the area immediately around it, third platoon would stand by outside the town as the Quick Reaction Force. If something went wrong, Captain Harcrow could find himself running out of troops real fast.

Colonel Lidell put both hands on the humvee’s hood. He looked tired and frustrated. Lidell gave a loud “Good evening, warriors,” and received a chorus of “Good evening sir,” in response. He looked around and gave nods to several men. The younger ones nervously nodded back.

Lidell’s voice didn’t reflect the fatigue Nunez knew he was feeling. They were all feeling it. Since first being mobilized two days earlier, the soldiers had only slept in brief naps of less than an hour at a time, whenever they had a chance. Nunez knew they weren’t at the stage where fatigue would cripple their ability to do their jobs, but another day without sleep and they’d be there.

“Men, you have received the most important mission I’ve ever given any soldiers under my command,” Lidell said. “And you didn’t receive it at random. I chose this battalion for the mission, your battalion commander Lieutenant Colonel Ybarra chose this company, and Captain Harcrow chose this platoon.” He smiled, then added, “Well, this was the only company left in the battalion, so it wasn’t hard to decide who to send.”

The gathered soldiers laughed, just a subdued wave of chuckles. Nunez got the feeling that it was an expression of the platoon’s appreciation for Lidell’s willingness to speak the truth.

“Now that I know a little about this platoon, I know we’ve made the right choice,” Lidell said, then pointed toward Quincy. “I know it’s the right choice because this platoon is led by a man who took two rounds charging through a door in Afghanistan after an IED attack and ambush, and was awarded a Bronze Star with a V and a Purple Heart for it. The platoon sergeant,” he said, pointing at Nunez, “picked up Quincy’s SAW, dumped a drum through the doorway and then led two soldiers inside to clear it. And you all know what Sergeant Nunez did during the terrorist attack in Houston two years ago.”

A few soldiers new to the platoon looked at Nunez. They knew the basic story, but no details. Nunez kept his eyes on Lidell. He hated any mention of the attack, and refused to discuss that day with anyone but his wife and a few trusted friends. He still had nightmares about it, still went to regular appointments at the department’s psychological services division to talk about guilt he still felt. A lot of people had been killed while he was trying to figure out what to do. His soldiers had heard about what he had done, but not from him. He never talked about it.

Colonel Lidell pointed at another soldier. “And Sergeant Allenby ignored a serious arm wound during a firefight in Iraq so he could try to stop his squad leader from bleeding out. All your squad leaders have seen combat, almost all your NCO’s have been tested in Iraq or Afghanistan, or both. So have quite a few of the specialists and corporals, and even one of the privates. And those who haven’t been tested under fire aren’t slackers, they’re ready for what you’re about to do. Other units are staging tonight to push into other towns tomorrow morning, but your mission into Arriago has priority. Remember that.”

Lidell looked around again. “Men, it’s up to you to recover an entire company of American soldiers who we think have been lost, and to rescue any survivors. I stress that we just think they’ve been lost, we don’t know for sure. I know a million rumors blew through here last night after the ambush. Forget all that bullshit and just listen to what I’m going to tell you, because I got this straight from the command post. Here’s what happened. . .”

As Lidell ran down the details of the ambush, Sergeant Carillo lit a cigarette. Nunez took in the sight of geared-up soldiers crowded around a map and smelled the butane scent of a lighter mixed with tobacco smoke. He was reminded of other briefings, on other nights before other missions in other, less important places. The gathering of tense soldiers communing with their leaders before battle had become normal in Nunez’s life. The mission and place, however, were anything but.

Lidell continued, “After the gunfire tapered off, a soldier who claimed to be from the company got on the radio and started putting out information. He said the convoy had been hit by a near ambush that killed almost everyone. He saw over twenty enemy fighters dressed in black with black military gear, armed with M4 type weapons, AK’s and one RPG that they didn’t use during the ambush. He said he heard RPK fire, but as far as the command post could tell he didn’t see one. He saw one soldier captured. According to this soldier, the fire initially came from shops on the east side of the street. They also took fire from an elevated position on the west side. He didn’t give any more information after that. He had to get off the radio and we don’t know what happened to him.”

Lidell made eye contact with several of the soldiers again. “If this person’s reporting is true, this was a well-prepared, well-executed ambush, better than anything the Iraqis or Taliban ever did. The enemy prepared a kill zone, blocked the road and took the entire company out in seconds. The soldiers at the checkpoints reported that heavy gunfire lasted less than a minute, then was followed by short bursts or single shots for a few minutes. We don’t know what the gunfire after the initial ambush was for. Men, I hope to god they weren’t executing our wounded, but I don’t know. It’s up to you to find out.

“Now, the soldier who was reporting. He said his name was Corporal D’Angelo. We got someone to the maintenance company’s armory in Cuidad Irigoyen and found out there was in fact a Corporal D’Angelo on the convoy. He’s a former regular Army infantryman who did one tour of Iraq and one of Afghanistan with the 1st Infantry Division. According to the soldiers still at that armory, this guy D’Angelo was pretty sharp. We collected all the information about him that we could, and one of the Joes in my CP wrote up detail sheets on 3×5 cards. I’m told those cards have been issued out, Captain Harcrow?”

“Yes sir,” Harcrow answered. “The key leaders have them.”

“Good. Keep in mind that we don’t know if the person who was on the radio was really D’Angelo. Worst case scenario, one of these fucking guys just looked at a dead soldier’s nametape, got on the radio, used his name and gave us false information. If you find someone claiming to be D’Angelo, be real damn careful about trusting what he tells you. We don’t have a picture of him, just the information you have on your cards.”

Lidell leaned in toward the platoon a bit. “Men, I’m going to tell you something that doesn’t go any further than this parking lot. The truth is, that maintenance company was fucked up. Their commander was a disorganized dipshit, and there are still a bunch of soldiers at their armory who weaseled their way out of that mission. One of them even said he faked an illness to get out of it, because the company commander and First Sergeant were such shitheads. That doesn’t mean we won’t make every effort to recover them. But it does mean we go in there ready for a fight, not blind and stupid like they did.”

Nunez raised his hand. “Sir, how does this convoy ambush affect the big picture? General Landers’ bullshit about only one mag per soldier and nothing larger than a 5.56 went away, but what else has changed? What about the rumors that the President finally committed regular Army units?”

Lidell grimaced and rubbed his face. “Sergeant Nunez, the short answer is that a lot has changed. First, as you probably heard, General Landers has accepted responsibility for the ambush and stepped down from his position. I know some of you think that’s good, but I don’t. General Landers has been a friend of mine for over twenty years. I was one of his platoon leaders back when he had an infantry company, a long time ago. He’s a good leader and he cares about his troops. When he gave the orders restricting ammo load and heavier weapons, he was trying to prevent us from using too much suppressive fire, causing unnecessary collateral damage and killing American citizens. The order to not use armored vehicles was partly because we don’t have many, and partly because he was under pressure from the Pentagon to avoid the perception that we’re militarizing the border. He knew how serious those orders were, and he agonized over them. And he’s agonizing over the consequences. I know you men don’t care about that, you have more important things to worry about than how General Landers is feeling. The important thing for you is that the acting commander of the Guard, General Koba, and Governor Mathieu have both authorized the use of stronger measures they believe necessary to destroy the hostile forces in the affected area. And the word they used was ‘destroy’, not ‘neutralize’, not ‘arrest’, no weak bullshit like that. The mission now is to destroy them.

“And to answer your question about the regular Army rumor, it’s not a rumor. They’re coming. Once the President was informed of the ambush he authorized the use of federal troops. As of four hours ago you’re all under federal orders. This is no longer a criminal action, gentlemen. It’s a war, or something damn close to it. Elements of the 1st Cavalry and 4th Infantry Divisions have received warning orders to head south from Fort Hood, but it’s going to take some time. And remember, most of those divisions are deployed, so they only have about a brigade total strength between the two of them. All of their organic Apache battalions are overseas. Some of their troops will be airlifted in, but then they’re dependent on us for sustained support. The regular Army units can’t just jump in their armored vehicles and drive down here, they have to load them up on heavy equipment transporters and organize a convoy over a five hundred mile route. I’d like to think they had plans in place before they got the order, but the bottom line is that they’re not going to be here for at least a day. Then they have to figure out what units are being committed where, what the orders and rules of engagement are, how to integrate with the Guard units already operating in the affected area, everything. It’s going to be a couple of days before regular Army ground units move into any of the towns. Marine Reserve infantry units from San Antonio, Houston and Austin have also been mobilized, but they’ll take a little time to get here. Our National Guard 19th Special Forces Group soldiers might be tasked to recover any troops captured during the convoy ambush. Apaches from the Guard unit north of Houston will be here in about a day. Tonight we’ll have observation from two Navy Sea Hawk rescue helicopters from Naval Air Station Kingsville. They don’t have guns or thermal sights, but the pilots have night vision and can watch the area for you.

“For now, there will be no fixed wing support. Neither the President, the Governor nor General Koba are willing to authorize air strikes inside American towns. Same thing with the use of explosives. No hand or M203 grenades, no Mark 19 grenade launchers. That could change, depending on what happens when you and other units push into the towns. For the missions about to happen, the largest weapon you’ll have is an M240 machine gun.”

Nunez looked at his watch. Forty minutes after midnight. They were supposed to hit their start point at one. The Sea Hawks Colonel Lidell was talking about wouldn’t be on station until 0130. A unit could have been pushed into Arriago sooner, but the senior leadership wasn’t rushing anything this time. Sending another company pell-mell into Arriago could compound the problem instead of fixing it.

Nunez glanced up from his watch and saw Lidell looking at him. Lidell checked his own watch and said, “Alright men, I know you don’t have much time for your last minute checks, so I’ll cut this off now. I’ll be with your company leadership on the highway behind you, but I want you guys to know I’m not going into Arriago with you. That’s not because I’m not willing to take the risks I’m asking you to take, it’s because I don’t want to be a distraction to you. I don’t want anyone worrying about protecting me when you should be worrying about your platoon, the maintenance company, and any Americans that need help inside Arriago. If things go bad, I’ll go in with the Quick Reaction Force, either as the commander or just as an extra rifle. But don’t think about me while you’re in there. Just do your job, accomplish your mission and make our country proud. I know you can do it, warriors. Do you have any questions for me?”

Nobody spoke. Lidell put his hand on Captain Harcrow’s shoulder and said, “Alright men, that’s it. Get ready to move out, and I’ll be right behind you. Good luck to you.”

Lidell and his entourage walked away. Harcrow gestured to Quincy and Nunez, and they gathered near him as the rest of the platoon went to their vehicles. Harcrow said, “Rodger, Jerry, I know you’ve checked the plan more than enough, but I’ll ask anyway. Is there anything you don’t understand about what we’re supposed to do?”

“No sir,” Quincy said. “Second platoon secures the area, we recover the casualties, third stays on the highway as the quick reaction force. Too easy, sir.”

“Alright, you’ve got it then. Guys, I don’t have to tell you that we’re not about to let ourselves get taken out the way the 336th did. I trust you both to do this right. Good luck.”

Harcrow walked away. Quincy turned to Nunez and said, “I told him we’re ready, but are all the squad leaders really clear on the plan?”

“The squad leaders are as ready as we are. We’ve briefed and back-briefed them. We’re all set to go.”

“Okay, good.” Quincy looked at his watch. “Jerry, I already know the answer to this, but any luck getting more night vision?”

Nunez gave a dejected shrug. “I begged everyone I could and looked for any that weren’t tied down and under guard. There aren’t any extras. We’ve got our two for the whole company, and we’re lucky Captain Harcrow gave both of them to us for this mission. I don’t think we’re going to get more.”

“Yeah, I know. Fuck, I wish we could. It’s amazing how overseas everyone down to the lowest private gets a set, but here at home we got nothing.” He rubbed his chin. “Well, fuck it. The driver of the lead vehicle gets one set and the dismounted element’s point man gets the other.” He looked up at the lights and said, “Uh. . . any word on whether or not the lights are still on in Arriago?”

Nunez’s eyebrows rose. That question hadn’t come up. “Well, shit,” he said. “Nobody thought about that. If the lights are on, I guess our stealthy approach might be a little harder to pull off than we planned.”

“Yeah,” Quincy said, shaking his head. “Whatever, who cares. We’ll deal with it when we get there.” He rubbed his temples and said, “Jerry, if anyone, and I mean anyone, isn’t clear on what they’re supposed to do, tell me. We’ll do a radio rehearsal on the way in.”

“Got it, Rod. I’ll pass the word.” Nunez started to walk toward the rest of the platoon.

“Jerry, hold up.”

Nunez turned back to see Quincy staring at him, eyes intense.

“Don’t let me fuck this up,” he said quietly, so nobody else would hear. “If I’m doing something wrong, tell me. I trusted you in Afghanistan and I trust you now. Watch my back.”

Nunez grabbed Quincy’s hand in a handshake. “Rodger, we all have each other’s backs. Relax a little. You’re doing everything a good infantry platoon leader should do. I trust you with my life. I mean that.”

Quincy swallowed. “Right back at you, brother. Let’s do this shit.”

Nunez hesitated. He was taken back to another early morning, with another platoon in another place, where another lieutenant had shaken his hand and said Let’s do this shit. Nunez had rolled into a Taliban-held valley in Afghanistan with that platoon leader. The disaster they expected that morning failed to materialize. But odds were a different disaster was out there, hiding on a dark street in Arriago, waiting to pounce.

Nunez gave Quincy’s hand a squeeze. “Let’s do this shit, Rodger.”

Quincy smiled, let go of Nunez’s hand and moved off toward his vehicle. Nunez walked to his humvee and climbed in. His soldiers were already there, passing a can of Copenhagen back and forth. Nunez liked the smell of chewing tobacco but couldn’t imagine sticking any of that crap into his mouth.

Engines started up and down the convoy. Nunez told his driver, Private First Class Conway, to crank their humvee. Conway flipped the start switch to standby, waited for the “wait” light to go out, then flipped the switch further right and let it go. The diesel engine rumbled to life.

Within two minutes the platoon was mounted in their vehicles with engines running. Radio and weapons checks had already been completed, drivers had inspected and re-inspected the fluid levels of their vehicles, personal gear tested to ensure it wouldn’t generate noise, radio frequencies set and communications checks completed. The platoon was ready.

Quincy got back on the radio. “Red 4 this is Red 1, check with 6 and see if everyone’s ready to move.”

Nunez answered, “1 this is 4, roger.” He hung the platoon radio handset back on its mount and grabbed the handset for the company net. “Rapido 6 this is Red 4.”

“Red 4 this is Rapido 6.”

“6, Red platoon is ready to go, request Start Point.”

“Red 4, standby one.”

A few seconds passed. Nunez turned back to see Sergeant Corley, the platoon’s medic, check his aid bag for what had to be the tenth time that night. Corley, twenty-eight years old, was tall, thin, pasty white and professional enough to hide the fear Nunez knew he felt. Three deployments to Iraq as a combat medic had taught him a lot. He had tourniquets on the outside of the bag ready to go, needles and tubing duct-taped to IV bags inside. His red helmet light was on so he could look into his bag. He closed the bag, turned his light off and gave Nunez two thumbs up. He was ready.

“Red 4 this is Rapido 6, all Rapido elements are ready to roll. Start your move.”

Nunez acknowledged and switched back to the platoon net. “Red 1 this is Red 4, Rapido is ready.”

“Roger,” Quincy said. “Red platoon this is Red 1, follow me.”

From his position in the convoy, three vehicles from the rear, Nunez saw Quincy’s humvee at the front move out. The platoon’s eight vehicles crept from their spots and followed in line as their platoon leader weaved through the parking lot and onto the highway. Nunez keyed the company radio.

“Rapido 6 this is Red 4, SP time 0058. How copy, over.”

“Red 4 this is Rapido 6, I copy your SP and I’m behind you. Godspeed.”

Dozens of soldiers from other units stood at the parking lot’s exit, watching Nunez’s platoon roll past. Nunez looked one of them in the eye. A tall and heavily muscled buck sergeant, with the demeanor and gear of an infantryman. The sergeant stared hard at Nunez and lifted his M4 over his head, a sign of one soldier’s respect for another.

Other soldiers joined him. The last thing Nunez saw as they left the parking lot was a cluster of soldiers raising M4 carbines and Squad Automatic Weapons in the air as a silent salute.

29 Responses to “Line in the Valley, chapter 5”

  1. Love it bro! Love it!! Keep it coming. Better yet, when can we expect the full book? I apologize that i haven’t been following any developments recently if there have been any, but this is one book i’d love to get my hands on ASAP!

  2. 3 Eowyn

    MIke isn’t the only one enjoying the story.

    If I may make one minor comment; near the end I kept reading the 1 in “1 this is 4, roger” as a lowercase L. Given that it’s spoken, would it be less jarring to write the numbers down as words? I.e. “One, this is Four”. Teh capitalization would even serve as a reminder that these are name tags, not just numbers.

    • Hmmm…I had stewed that one over earlier and felt like numbers instead of words worked better. I’ll revisit that though, I might have been wrong. Thanks for the suggestion.

    • 5 Mike_C

      Eowyn: Ic ácorde!”

      Writing out the numerical designators reads better IMO, and allows you to avoid the sin of beginning sentences with “number” numbers. For example, one would not write something such as “Visitors to the park came from many states. 7 were from New Hampshire, 12 from Connecticut, …” The “12 is okay because it’s greater than 10* and in the middle of a sentence, but most editors would change the “7” to “Seven.”

      Admittedly it gets complicated when a character is “Six” for some group itself denoted by a number.

      Nonetheless enjoying the story and look forward to its publication.

      * Weirdly enough some professional journals are directing authors to ignore the rule of spelling out small cardinal numbers (i.e. “we saw only one case of fungal yecchiosis” instead making it ” …only 1 case of fungal …” ostensibly to save space and reduce page count.

      • Damn it! You’re not making this simpler. 🙂

        Not sure what to do with those numbers, I’ll wait and see what an editor says. Thanks guys.

  3. 7 Mikey

    Surely I wasn’t the only one waiting anxiously for chapter 5. I hope we’ll be able to get this great story in its entirety (in any format!) soon with well deserved payment to the author for writing it.

  4. 9 SPEMack

    Ha! Finally Jerry and the boys are on the way. Read real good. Can’t wait for more. I honestly gave a little “woo” when you made mention of the 1st Cav.

    One thing, and this is my former CAP cadet airpower geek talking, since they’re Navy birds, wouldn’t they be Seahawks or Knighthawks?

    That would also make sense, being naval oriented SAR/ASW helicopters, they wouldn’t have door guns or the like.

  5. 11 Bob

    When you going to get this thing published? There are maybe a few very minor things, but not enough to distract from an excellent story. Look forward to each episode that you have put out. Hope the full thing is completed soon.

  6. 13 Joshua Morris

    I’m dying to read the rest of this book, Chris. I’m enthralled.

    I sincerely hope you’ll find a publisher soon, because I must have more!

  7. 14 Tom Ciarula

    This is great. I like this a lot better that some of the stuff I bought. Put me on the list to buy a copy

  8. You have got to keep going Chris. This stuff is fantastic, and yes, far better than some of the books I have read as well.

  9. 16 Mark

    Please provide a way for me to read the entire book. TAKE MY MONEY!

  10. 17 M. A. Baxley, Jr.

    How much you want?? Never mind, take my wallet, PLEASE! I want more!

  11. 18 Greer

    Well done Chris.

    I am enjoying the saga, and look forward to the next installment.

  12. 19 Aesop

    FInish this thing, brother! I want the whole book, and I know you aren’t putting that out online.

    Nothing to criticize in what you’ve got.

  13. 20 Sher Khan

    Good stuff — please keep it coming. I look forward to buying the complete book soon, too. You’re getting good feedback comments on tech specs, I think.

  14. My critique is that the paper publishing business acts as if Guttenberg was still their man and like plastic printing plates haven’t been coming out of two thousand dollar laser printers since 1985. The surprise is how long it is taking that delusion to kill them.
    Really looking forward to buying this from you.

    • Thanks Boyd. I’m pretty amazed that there’s still so much emphasis on paper printing. I’ve had an agent tell me my story sounded great, I was doing everything right as far as getting critiques and test readers, I had the right background to tell the story. . . but he wouldn’t even look at it unless I cut at least 40,000 words. Printing costs make publishers limit books from new authors to 80,000 or less.

      Thanks for reading and commenting, and I hope to hear your feedback after you read the entire book.

  15. 24 Dave L.

    Chris- one minor error of fact that I noticed. 4th Infantry Division isn’t based at Ft Hood anymore, they’re at Ft. Carson, CO.

    Major Army formations in TX are 1st Cavalry Division and 3rd ACR (Stryker) at Hood (plus III Corps HQ and I’m sure a bunch of supporting units. The MI Bde assigned to III Corps will have a LRS company, IDed on the org chart as a Cav squadron), and 1st Armored Division at Fort Bliss.

    • Gotcha, good catch. Do you think it would detract from the story if I left it that way, or does it feel better if I change it to 3rd ACR?

      • 26 Dave L.

        Guys like me will notice, but I don’t think it would affect too much to leave it. Inserting 3ACR might upset your story’s timeline if you want to stay realistic about it – Strykers are wheeled, and they could move to the border without needing HETTs. The SBCTs at Ft Lewis self-deploy over Snoqualmie Pass on I-90 to Yakima all the time. In this case, they’d send logistics officers to every truck stop between Hood and the border to buy diesel with Uncle Sam’s credit card. They could probably have the lead squadron on scene within 24 hours of a movement order.

        If you want to base 4ID out of Carson, you might also railload 1ID units from Riley. Actual deployment time wouldn’t be much longer, if at all, especially if the rail cars were already at Riley. Or just use all 1CD units. The heavies aren’t getting much play in Afghanistan.

        In your scenario, 1AD probably wouldn’t be relevant to your story, since they’d probably be moving to cover the border out in west Texas.

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