The Pentagon, VA, United States of America, Sol III
1328 EDT October 3rd, 2004 ad
"You know, General," said General Horner, with a characteristic antihumor frown, "I gotta wonder if this was the greatest idea."
Taking a look around the in-processing station, General Taylor was forced to wonder the same thing. Even if Horner had said it in jest.
Shortly after the change of command structures, one of General Horner's computer geeks pointed out that the recall program had been misdesigned. Any serious student of modern militaries could recognize that there were, of necessity, two general types of officers: warriors and paper pushers. There were a few officers, such as Jack Horner, who were superlative in both areas. But they were few and far between. Most officers were very good at one or the other, but not both.
The reason for a fighting army to have warriors in the officer ranks was obvious. But there was a viable reason for paper pushers as well. Armies float on a sea of paper. The logistic problems of Napoleonic armies had been solved, but only at the expense of constant information flow that required humans in the loop. Humans who were much more comfortable making decisions on the basis of a spreadsheet than a map. Humans who found a more efficient way to load trucks, well, exciting.
But bureaucracies are like hedges: beautiful when pampered and trimmed and ugly as hell when left to run riot. A military filled with warriors slags into a scrapheap as the warriors vie for command slots and neglect their paperwork. A military filled with paper pushers bloats out of control as the paper pushers create new empires to lord over.
The upcoming war with the Posleen was, admittedly, going to require lots and lots of bean counters. But the previous personnel policies had left it with, in both Generals Horner and Taylor's opinion, more than enough bureaucrats at every level. What it desperately needed was leaders and warriors.
However, most of the first "crop" was . . . a little on the moldy side.
* * *
"What're you in for?"
The questioner was a tall, trim man in his early seventies. He vaguely recognized the man next to him, but could not quite place the face.
The man in question took a suck off the oxygen tube in his nose and wheezed out a reply. "I got the Medal in Holland," he croaked. The statement set off a paroxysm of coughing that trailed into laughter. "They're gonna have their jobs cut out with me!" The laughter led to more coughing until he was turning blue.
"You gonna be okay?" asked the questioner.
"Sure," said the emphysemic once he had reestablished control. "As long as the damn ceremony don't go on too long. What'd they get you for? I don't recognize you from any of the meetings." The last was accusatory. The group consisted mostly of Medal of Honor winners. The emphysemic former paratrooper knew them all by heart and could list off the missing files along with dates of service and death. He was not so good on what he'd had for breakfast, but he was spot on for fallen comrades.
"I made it on points," said the tall former lieutenant colonel. He'd never thought he'd be wearing Army green again; it was almost ludicrous. Hell, there were more people who wanted him offed in the Puzzle Palace than in the rest of the globe. If they ever organized, his ass was as good as dead.
The emphysemic just grunted and went back to listening to the brass drone. He thought he knew who was who, but then realized that the black guy was in charge. Hell of a world.
"Who's the jig?" the WW II paratrooper asked and coughed for his efforts. He rattled the bottle to get it to deliver a decent amount of oxygen but it didn't help.
His former inquisitor just laughed.
"In conclusion," said General Taylor, "I'll just mention a few things about where you should expect to be placed. Most of you are thinking, 'Hell, I've got the Medal. They don't dare let me get killed.' All I can say to that is, sorry. This is the real and the bad and the scary. I can't afford to waste warriors on bond tours and rear-area paper pushing. You can expect to be placed with Line forces and shuttled from front to front for emergency reaction forces. You are going to be the tip of the spear, always the men in the breach.
"Face it, most of you screwed up over and over again to win the awards that are on your chest." This last brought a note of often hacking laughter from the two hundred or so in the meeting room. "If I had to be there, I couldn't think of a better group to have at my side or behind me. So it is the least I can do for my soldiers."
"There are," he finished, "a lot of things going wrong in the Ground Forces today, and throughout America. Our job is to fix them. And we are going to."
No-Name-Key, FL, United States of America, Sol III
2022 EDT October 3rd, 2004 ad
With great ceremony Harry pressed the "on" button. There was a buzz from the crowd enjoying alcohol and appetizers as the thirty-inch television blossomed into life, showing the CBS evening news.
The weekly party was in full swing as the mosquitoes closed in on the pub. In one corner the youngsters from throughout the mid-Keys region played and argued as the teenagers danced. A table down the middle of the room was half covered with dishes brought in by families. Most of them consisted of various ways to prepare conch. The pièce de résistance, two man-sized black groupers, a butterflied yellow-fin tuna and three bushels of lobster tails, was grilling outside.
Mike and family had contributed to the haul. Honest John had accepted Mike's charter for the remainder of their stay and the boat had sailed out daily for fishing and diving adventures. Mike had returned laden with lobster and a variety of species of fish, while Sharon and Cally had collected inshore species with the dolphins and Karen. Despite his intent to spend time with Cally and Sharon, they had been drawn to the inshore and the dolphins while he had been drawn to the sailing, fishing and diving offshore.
The expert captain proved that it was not necessary to have a "tuna boat" to catch tuna, as he and Mike hit the yellow-fin run in the Stream. Mike had been thrilled by the explosive strikes of the streamlined eating machines, while John and the Key co-op had been thrilled by the high-quality protein; freshly caught tuna was a valuable trade meat.
Mike had also caught some praise for his diving skills. His GalTech breath-pack was a major reason for that. The small, experimental system included a nitrox rebreather that extracted oxygen and nitrogen from water. The staging bottle was small but high-pressure so the system was good for several days. The depth on it was limited to one hundred twenty feet, but the tiny pack made for such limited drag that it was like diving without gear.
Mike was able to approach normally skittish hog-fish and groupers without disturbing them with bubbles. And if they spooked anyway, he was still usually able to make a kill; the fish had no time to learn that a compact body and giant fins meant incredible burst speeds. Then the blood, turned green by the light filtering of the water column, would flow backwards as the fish made a last desperate dash for safety.
He was even able to make a rare tuna kill on a young fish that was attracted by the strange seal-like creature in the water column. The thirty-pound yellow-fin made a fine contribution to the catch.
He had finally dragged Cally away from the dolphins for a day to go fishing. Floating along a weed patch she had hooked into a big bull dorado and practically been dragged out of the boat. Any lingering resentment at being taken from her cetacean friends was washed away as the rainbow-sparkling fish tail-walked across the wake of the drifting sailboat, taking the line out of the reel with a banshee's shriek.
The nights had been just as good as the days. Mike, Sharon and Cally spent most early evenings at the pub, eating part of the day's catch and discussing the news from the radio with Harry, Bob, Honest John and Karen. By eight o'clock, though, Cally was whipped. Most nights Mike ended up carrying her off to bed. Then the conversation on wide-ranging topics would either continue or Mike and Sharon would retreat to their own room and renew their acquaintance.
The last two evenings the news had been about the war. And it was mostly bad. The goodness mopping up on Diess was countervailed by the opening of the Irmansul campaign, where the Posleen had gained an immediate upper hand over the mostly Asian forces. The Chinese Third Army had suffered over one hundred thousand losses in the first week's fighting and the bets were on that the Darhel would call on European forces to help them out. While European and American forces had suffered horrendous losses at the hands of the Posleen on Barwhon and Diess their superior coordination often permitted them to avoid the massive casualties that were characteristic of Chinese and Southeast Asian forces.
During the discussions, Mike—and Cally, to everyone's amusement—pointed out that the best units were on Barwhon, not Earth. The Barwhon units had a high percentage of veterans and were well drilled in to the needs of battle against the alien centaurs. By comparison the units left "Earthside" were in lousy shape. Units stripped from France, Germany or the United States would be no better off at the outset than the Asian units.
The virtual destruction of the first Expeditionary Forces and the ongoing blindsided slaughter on Barwhon had stripped the NATO militaries of most of their trained forces. The rejuvenated officers and NCOs would, eventually, take up some of the slack of their loss. But the current forces were a rotten branch. Until the reforms that Horner and Taylor had instituted took effect the units that were "Stateside" might as well be back in basic training.
All of which was surprisingly hard to explain to the boat captain.
"Sure, John," O'Neal said, "but soldiering isn't just about shooting a gun. Most war is about getting the shooters and the backing for them to where the enemy is. Even the Posleen aren't everywhere. So getting the right forces to the right place is the problem."
"What's so hard?" asked Harry. "They're right there," he continued, pointing in the general direction of Florida Bay. "What's so hard about finding them?"
"Oh," Mike said ruefully. "You'll find them. Or, usually, vice versa. But for regular forces to survive them you have to dig in. Do you understand that?"
"No," said Harry. "But I'll accept it."
Mike took a pull on a panatela and wondered how to explain. "Okay, here's the best explanation I can give. You're going to fight somebody. You've got a one-shot pistol. They turn up with fifty buddies armed with machine guns. What do you do?"
"Oh," said Harry. He scratched his head for a second. "I guess you shoot the son of a bitch who called you there."
"True," agreed Mike. "But if you do it from behind a wall you might be able to reload and kill some more, right? Hell, you might be able to survive."
"Okay," agreed John, taking a pull on a lemon-dashed rum. "I'll buy that."
"So, the way to fight is from prepared positions. It's a lot like World War I that way. But you've either gotta have enough men to man a huge front or you've gotta guess where the Posleen are coming. And this is realizing that they can drop out of the sky, anywhere, at any time."
"Gooks used to have little antiaircraft batteries all over the damned place," said Honest John with a belch. "Why don't we?" The tone was bitter.
Mike raised an eyebrow but answered the question. "Technology. The 'gooks' got antiaircraft batteries from the Russians. The Russians had scads of gear lying around and lots of production facilities. We're having to teach the Galactics not only what to build but how to mass-produce stuff. Even then what we're really doing is a sort of super cottage industry. So, we don't have many weapons that can hurt the landers."
"So we have to hit them on the ground," Cally interjected, suddenly popping up to snatch a conch fritter. "Until they give mom a real ship and we get some more Class Nine Grav Cannons we're shit out of luck." She popped the tender piece of giant whelk into her mouth and trotted back to the arcane games being played in the corner.
"And you're saying if we hit 'em on the ground, we're screwed," said Honest John. He grinned ferally. "I bet there are ways to hurt 'em that don't involve tactics we gave up after Belleau Wood." He took another pull on the rum and pulled out a joint. "You oughta be able to sneak into the rear area."
"And do what?" asked Mike, curious. Honest John had always been happy to talk about fishing or the sea and he had debated a few military subjects, but this was the first time he had evinced any real knowledge or background. It was like he had dropped a mask or thrown off a cloak and said "Ah, hah!"
Mike shook his head. "There's a fairly robust long-range reconnaissance section on Barwhon. But they don't really strike, they give warning where strikes are going to occur. The Posleen don't have much in the way of convoys, not yet anyway, and they don't have supply depots besides their ships. And those are pretty heavily defended." Mike paused and thought about the question.
"The way that the horses partition stuff, most of their good artillery targets end up being beyond artillery range. Which is why a couple of universities are working on longer-range artillery." Mike shook his head again and puffed on the cigar. "And the Posleen don't care if a 'town' gets wiped out by a special op group. They don't pull forces back from the front to look for the group. They use local forces. So it is generally a net loss. Just ask the combined ops team that we sent to Barwhon before the expeditionary force."
"So we just, what did you call it, 'hunker down and take our licks'?" asked Karen, softly.
"I'm afraid so," said Sharon in reply. "The Fleet is building. I don't know if it could go faster; maybe it could, maybe it couldn't. Once we have a real fleet we'll be safe. But until then we have to fight them on the ground."
"We've tried mobile warfare," said Mike, taking a sip of his beer. "The French tried it a couple of times on Barwhon. It was not successful." He grimaced.
"Well, that was the French," said Harry.
Mike snorted. "Don't let General Crenaus hear you say that. They also ate our lunch on Diess, but that was when they had already 'broken the square.' So it's not a fair comparison. But an M-1 is a tin can to their weapons. So I don't see being able to fight them in open field."
"Well," snorted John, drunkenly, "they don't do islands."
"No, they don't," Mike agreed.
"So we blow the Seven Mile Bridge and we're golden," continued John, taking a big hit on the joint.
"And that will be that," said Karen quietly. "We'll be cut off."
"It's already bad enough," said Harry. "Since the clinic in Marathon shut down we've lost two people who should have lived. Tom Robins died from appendicitis and Janey Weaver died of scarlet fever. God help us if there's something like a measles epidemic."
"If there's an epidemic the government will help," said Karen.
Mike took a pull of his beer to make sure his face was covered but John was not so diplomatic. "The government?" he laughed. "What government? The one that saddled you guys with the Cuban Mafia in the first place? Or the one that made Florida Power fix their lines? How about the one that is setting the prices so low nobody can make a dime to set aside then, if you do, taxes the shit out of it?"
Harry held up his hands to forestall further argument. "No, no more!" he intoned. "For tonight, we have power, no one is sick, the leeches have been taken off our backs and there is plenty to eat. Let's worry about which bridges to burn tomorrow."
John nodded his head. "Yeah, man. You're right." He looked at Karen and smiled lopsidedly. "Sorry, gal. Don' mind me. I'm drunk."
"And stoned." She laughed, picking up the smoldering joint and taking a hit herself. "Damn," she said, coughing, "no wonder you're stoned."
John laughed in return and hoisted the glass of rum. "Only the best! Cuba doesn't only make fine cigars!"
"Speaking of which," said Mike, happy to change the subject, "what do you want for a couple of cases of cigars and rum?"
John thought about it for a minute and shook his head. "I know better than to dicker when I've got a load on," he laughed. "But what the hell. How much of that white lightning you got?"
"Two cases of liquor, white lightning and muscadine brandy in liter bottles. I've got a couple of cases of beer as well. Then there's some smoked and tinned wild boar and venison. I've got a five-gallon can of gas. I can give you the gas but I want the can back or an empty."
Honest John nodded. "Well, I think I can give up a box of panatelas for that," he said.
Mike's normal frown turned up in a smile. "Now I know why they call you 'Honest John.' "
"Uh, oh," said John, setting down the joint. "I don't like the sound of that."
"Did I mention I spent six months as a procurement officer?" she asked, cracking her knuckles and leaning forward. "Now, I've got to wonder if the local authorities are fully aware of your cargoes . . ."