"General Olds," said O'Neal, nodding his head slightly to the approaching First Army commander, "I hope you enjoyed the conference."
The reception ending the all-commands conference was considered mandatory, a way for the various commanders and their staffs to get together one last time and go over all the things that had been missed at the marathon series of meetings. For the next few weeks, e-mails would fly hot and heavy as everyone came up with questions that they forgot or modifications arose from those questions. However—as the American Army had repeatedly proven—open and complete communication was the key to effective military operations. The left hand not knowing what the right was doing was the quickest road to defeat.
On the other hand, what it meant for Mike was one last run of the gauntlet with some senior officers that in O'Neal's opinion were poster children for the Peter Principle. But once it was over, it was off for two weeks' leave and finding out what bad habits Cally had picked up from Dad.
"O'Neal," said the tall, spare commander, nodding his own head. "I thought I would get a clarification on one item. I believe you stated that the directive of CONARC was that ACS should not be used in a situation where a 'Fortress Forward' or montane defense point had already fallen."
Mike gave it a quick scan for booby traps. "Yes, General, that is correct."
"Even if the ACS could permit the survival of the defending units."
"Again, General, that is the intent of the directive."
"So, you, or CONARC through you, equate an ACS battalion to be the same as the units in a 'Fortress Forward' position, equivalent to a corps of trained soldiers? All their support? Some seventy thousand lives balanced against six hundred?"
Mike considered his response carefully. "General, I realize that you disagree with the logic . . ."
"You are correct, Captain, a point that I believe I have made with General Horner. There is no military justification for such a stance, and if Fleet Strike feels that its units are too good to support Army units, then I question why we are funding Fleet Strike!"
Earth provides a fraction of Strike's funding, General. We are almost abysmally poor by Galactic standards. So we are not exactly "funding" Fleet Strike. Of course we do provide one hundred percent of its personnel. "It is not a situation of lack of desire, General, but rather the coldest of military necessities," Mike stated. While the general had been reactivated after one of the longest careers in the history of the United States Army, he had somehow obtained his current rank without ever hearing a shot fired in anger. Furthermore, the primary period during which he was a senior officer was the period of retrenchment by the Army that culminated in Monsoon Thunder, a period during which the Army was often less worried about a unit's readiness than about physical fitness norms and political correctness.
While the general had served during the periods of both Desert Storm and Monsoon Thunder, coincidentally in neither case had he been deployed to the combat zone. Possibly because of that fact he was among those officers who placed the blame for failures during Monsoon Thunder on the forces that were deployed, not the plan or the overall level of military readiness.
Mike was in one way looking forward to the day the general was finally responsible for a real world military operation. Someday the general would be faced with a situation where he was losing lives and territory faster than reinforcements could be thrown into the gaps. But Mike was sorry for the troops that would have to pick up the burden. What am I thinking?! I am the troops that will have to pick up the burden.
"Let me ask you a question, sir."
"I am sure you have examined the reports from Barwhon and Diess, sir. Have you noticed that while conventional forces invariably suffer significant levels of casualties when they venture out from fixed defenses, the ACS is able to roam virtually at will and can often stand and fight or break contact without major levels of loss?"
"I am aware of that fact but I disagree with the conclusion you are about to draw: that therefore, the ACS must be preserved because they are the only mobile force that can take the fight to the enemy. Those casualty levels are primarily a terrain issue as opposed to a tactical, equipment or operational issue. The terrain of both Barwhon and Diess is not suited to modern, mobile combat.
"The swamps of Barwhon hamper our Abrams and Bradleys, while the megascrapers of Diess hamper artillery and deny effective logistical support. Given open terrain, or even broken terrain, mobile cavalry and armored forces would be able to outmaneuver the Posleen forces and subject them to repeated firetraps. That is the way to fight them, on the plains that everyone wishes to avoid!
"Right here in Virginia would be perfect. Everyone says that the plains are lost, but that is bullshit! Once the Posleen are on the plains, in nonrestrictive terrain, our armored columns and artillery will eat them alive. 'Fortress Forward' ought to be called 'Maginot Two Thousand'! We don't need to go back to tactics that were smashed by the Wehrmacht! Apparently everyone has forgotten Military History One-Oh-One!
"And as for the ACS–one-tenth the expense poured into those tin suits would have bought thousands more fighting vehicles. And I have stated my professional analysis of the effect of conventional equipment in the upcoming conflict. So, I beg to differ that one ACS battalion is worth five damn divisions of trained and equipped mechanized infantry, armor and cavalry, I really, really do." The general was practically frothing by the end of the tirade.
"Well, General," said Mike and stopped. He thought for a moment and decided that there was no way to antagonize the officer more than he already was. It was obvious that this was one officer who rejected every concept under which the GalTech and Fortress Forward programs were designed. Furthermore, he was so far out of Mike's chain of command that Mike could do just about anything but punch the officious oaf in the nose and get away with it. Fleet and Ground Force's first official point of contact was somewhere in the morass of Galactic bureaucracies.
"Well, General," he repeated, "that's your opinion . . . and you know the saying about opinions." He grinned coldly to drive the insult home. "Before the primary invasion we will, I fear, both have ample opportunities for vindication. I frankly hope you are correct; it would make my job easier. Now if you'll excuse me, I have a plane to catch. Heaven and hell have been moved so that I can spend one more week with my family. It behooves me to keep them both on my good side."