Hawk in a Chicken Coop
Chapter 5: A Third Attempt at Conscription
October 28, 1986
Major Chavan stood on a bridge that crossed over the major line of the railroad. He looked out on the chaos below trying to take in all that was happening. There were at least five separate areas of activity.
Near the train, sergeants were yelling at the top of their voices, directing the unloading of the five tanks that were chained to flatbed railcars. They had to yell to be heard over the noise of the loud diesel engines that powered the massive vehicles. From his vantage point, he could see mistakes being made and tempers flaring with lots of arm waving and harsh shouts.
By the freight yard, there was a quiet area in which three gunship helicopters sat. A truck with fuel was parked by one of the gunships, refueling it. There was a lot of space around the helicopters with guards lazily watching the area. Helicopters were as expensive as the older tanks, and much more difficult to replace. Countries like Amra, Chen, and Engle always had older model tanks for sale, but helicopters were seldom retired. They had to be bought new. He knew the three gunships parked there had been bought from Amra at the end of the Vam war.
In a field on the far side of the railroad tracks, there was an emerging tent city. There were three generations of tents being used. The oldest generation of tent was the smallest, and was much heavier than the larger tents of the newest generation. There was no rhyme or reason as to which generation of tents went where, so that the result looked like some kind of patchwork quilt. There weren’t enough portable toilets for the number of men. Already there was a line of men waiting to use them. He could only imagine the smell now. What it would be like by the morning, he didn’t even want to imagine.
In another area, there were piles of boxes containing supplies. The boxes were in a state of constant motion while people moved one layer of boxes to get at the boxes in a layer below and then moved the top layer back to where it had been. He watched a fork lift crash into one pile. Suddenly it was surrounded by people yelling, pointing, and stomping around.
At the entrance to the train yard, young men in uniform streamed out to discover the opportunities to sin that towns this size always held. At the same time, trucks carrying cargo fought with pedestrians to pass through the gates. Although the trucks outweighed the pedestrians, the pedestrians were winning the fight to occupy the gate. A long line of trucks had backed up.
He glanced at his watch, noting that he still had an hour to pass until his meeting. He turned his attention back to the chaos below. They had managed to get one of the tanks from the railcar, but it appeared they were only now trying to figure out where to park it. People were walking past it oblivious to the tons of power parked there that could crush them. He wondered if they’d actually get out of its way when it came time to move it. Based on what was happening with the trucks at the gate, he doubted it.
The fuel truck moved from one helicopter to the next. The two men operating the fuel truck worked slowly and talked a lot. Of course, there wasn’t all that much for them to do while refueling the helicopter.
It was about that time that he noticed the lack of officers. He knew from experience that the first thing most officers did upon arriving at a location like this, was to dump as much as they could on the corporals and sergeants before heading out to the city. There were still a number of lieutenants walking around and even a few captains, but all of the higher ranks were gone. As much as he hated to admit it, it was probably all for the best. Too many cooks spoiled the broth or something like that.
The folks dealing with tanks seemed to have figured out what to do with them once they were unloaded. The first tank was parked off to the side in an area that was more or less empty. A second tank was just getting off the flatbed railcar. At this rate, they’d have all of the tanks unloaded in another hour or so.
He looked over at the area where all of the supplies had been placed. There were two trucks getting loaded with ammunition. That seemed a little strange to him, but he guessed it was just a result of the sequence in which the loading orders had been shuffled during handling.
He glanced at his watch. It was time for him to head over to the hotel for his meeting. He hoped that it was the last meeting he would have to attend. He had his papers resigning his commission in the inside pocket of his uniform jacket. He figured that they would either charge him tonight or ask for his resignation. He hoped for the latter but expected the former. His only hope was that they would decide it was incompetence rather than negligence which cost him so many men. Incompetence was not a crime. Negligence would get him prison time and a dishonorable discharge.
After one last glance over the railyard, he left for the hotel, dreaming of running a little market. In the last seven days, he had gone over the events at the academy compound in front of increasingly larger committees. He’d even been over it that morning. Now the big brass was in attendance and he was going to have to go through it again. By now, he knew every question that he would be asked, and had a polished answer for it.
He arrived at the hotel where the meeting was to take place. Younger officers and enlisted men were running to and fro pursuing whatever they had been told to do. There was a lot of activity since tomorrow was going to be the big day. Although, based on the chaos he had witnessed earlier, it might get postponed to the day after. He pitied them.
After another hour’s wait, he was requested to join a small review panel in one of the conference rooms. Someone had been joking when they had called it a small review panel. There had to be 40 or more people in the darkened room. He told his story starting from the very beginning with the initial request and concluding the moment he returned to the base with the truckload of bodies. Much to his surprise there were no interruptions or laughter during his recital of the events.
Colonel Kadam asked, “Would you go through what happened right after you gave the order for your men to open fire with the 50s?”
“I gave the order. Each of my men reached for the bolts on their 50s. As soon as the first one started to pull it back, the heads of every man at a 50 exploded. They never got a shot off.”
“How were the cadets standing just before you gave the order?”
Holding his hands as if he were holding a rifle across his chest in a port arms position, he answered, “Like this.”
“How did they get the shots off so fast?”
“They never shouldered their arms. The rifles were never put into a standard firing position.”
There were the expected whispered comments about his answer. No one ever believed him. He waited for the inevitable question of whether some snipers he had never noticed had actually done the shooting.
Colonel Kadam asked, “How did they fire their guns?”
Major Chavan demonstrated how they had fired their weapons by twisting their bodies and rotating the rifles. He even showed a position that one of the cadets had used in which the rifle was over his head with the barrel pointed down. The cadet had leaped in the air and fired downwards into the back of a truck killing one of the soldiers there.
“Not once in the entire engagement did anyone put a gun to his or her shoulder.”
General Sen said disdainfully, “That’s absurd!”
Colonel Kadam said, “No, it isn’t. The last time I was in Amra, I watched a cowboy trick shooter do exactly the same thing in a shooting exhibition. He was able to shoot a half-dozen clay pigeons that had all been launched at the same time with a .22 rifle without ever putting it to his shoulder. He did that trick repeatedly.”
“Yeah, I could see someone doing that in a demonstration maybe, but in a combat situation when the emotions are running rampant? No way!”
“The best time to shoot like that is in combat when the first man who kills his enemy lives. If that is how you are trained to shoot, then that is how you shoot,” Colonel Kadam replied.
Major Chavan was impressed by Colonel Kadam. The man was asking the right questions and accepting the answers he was being given. He wasn’t letting a bunch of preconceived ideas or prejudices interfere with learning what happened.
General Sen said, “You kept mentioning that there were males and female cadets. Are you sure they were females? Everyone knows that women don’t make good soldiers.”
Colonel Kadam said, “General, may I remind you that half of the members of the West Vam army were women, and that they held combat positions?”
“It’s hard to say how effective they were.”
“General Nguyen of East Vam once said of the West Vam soldiers that he feared the women more than the men.”
“That may be so, but what is the relevance here?”
“General Wynn, who is Commandant of the Jade Academy, was good friends with General Nguyen of East Vam. I believe the two men shared similar opinions about the effectiveness of female soldiers.”
Major Chavan hadn’t known that little piece of information about General Wynn. It wouldn’t have affected his thinking at all before starting his action against the Academy, but in hindsight he could see where that was an important piece of information.
General Sen said, “I was not aware of that.”
Colonel Kadam said, “Major Chavan, what were you expecting to happen?”
“Well, I was expecting that the cadets would wet their pants and duck behind the wall, allowing my men to use ladders to gain access to the top of the wall.”
“Why did you expect that?”
“I knew that the cadets were all 15 years old or less. How else would you expect a 15-year-old to react when fired upon by five 50s?” Major Chavan answered.
“That is a very good question,” Colonel Kadam said. “Of course, I would expect super-soldiers to react a little better than that.”
“Begging your pardon, sir. They are not super-soldiers.”
Surprised by that answer, Colonel Kadam asked, “What are they?”
“I don’t know. I will tell you what General Wynn said when I called them soldiers.”
“This ought to be interesting,” Colonel Kadam said leaning forward.
“I think we’re wasting time,” General Sen said with a frown.
Major Chavan replied. “He said, ‘They are not soldiers. They will never serve in a regular military organization like your army. They will never recognize rank. They will never blindly follow an order. Do not insult them by calling them soldiers.’”
“That’s what he said?”
“Interesting,” Colonel Kadam said sitting back in his chair looking thoughtful.
“This is not getting us any useful information,” General Sen said.
Major Chavan said, “General Sen, may I speak frankly?”
“You are sounding exactly like myself before I approached the Jade Academy. I felt that the 50s would make them cower behind their walls. I was wrong.
“You feel that approaching them with tanks and gunships is going to make them cower behind their walls. I think you might be very mistaken. I do not think they will do what you think they will do. I believe that you are in for a very rude surprise.”
In an arctic voice, General Sen asked, “Are you suggesting that we let them get away with having killed so many of our men?”
“I cannot believe that any officer in the Inra Army could possibly answer as you just did.”
“I’ll go even further. I suggest that you take their offer. In two years, you should pay the money to hire them to get rid of the rebels. It will be far less costly than what you are planning to do.”
“Are you a coward?”
“No, sir. I am not a coward. I am acting as my conscience requires.”
“What do you mean?”
“I believe that if someone is attempting to commit suicide that I should do my best to talk him or her out of it. I believe that at this moment, you are attempting to commit suicide. I am doing my best to talk you out of it.”
General Sen asked, “Do you want to remain in the Inra Army?”
“I suggest that you resign your commission.”
“I anticipated that you would make that suggestion. I have the papers in my pocket,” Major Chavan said.
“Hand them over!”
Major Chavan carried the papers over to the general. He watched the man sign them.
“I have a second copy. Would you please sign it as well?”
General Sen signed the second copy and handed them back to Major Chavan. “Get out of my face, Mister.”
Major Chavan marched out of the room attempting to look every bit a soldier. Once outside the conference room, he closed the door behind him and took a deep breath. It was now official: He had resigned his commission. It would take time to be processed through administrative channels, but that was a formality. They’d probably give him vacation time until he was officially dismissed. They did that for troublemakers like he was.
This wasn’t how he had wanted to leave the army. At least he had escaped being court martialed. That was the important thing.
At the moment, what he really wanted was a good stiff drink but not where he’d have to put up with whispered comments from others who might have been in the room. He started to walk across the lobby towards the door. He just wanted to get out of the building. He’d stop somewhere else for a drink.
The manager of the hotel sidled up to him. “Major?”
“I happen to have some ladies here who are interested in entertaining fine strong military men like yourself. You wouldn’t happen to be interested?”
“No,” Major Chavan said.
He walked away without looking back. He knew that probably a quarter of the officers would take up the man’s offer tonight. It kind of irked him that most of those officers probably would feel superior to him.
He left the hotel and paused. He looked up and down the street trying to decide which way to head. It didn’t matter, so he headed towards the south part of town. He didn’t want to watch the circus at the trainyard now. As far as he was concerned, that was something that someone else could worry about.
The young man walked up to the sergeant. Handing over some papers, he said, “I have orders for my squad to move the tanks to a forward staging area.”
“A forward staging area? I haven’t heard anything about that.”
“The orders are from Colonel Kadam.”
“Why would he do that?”
“I don’t know. It’s above my pay grade. If I had to guess, I’d say he wants to get ‘em out of the city before morning traffic.”
“You’re probably right. I’d hate to maneuver one of these through a traffic jam.”
“You and me both.”
The sergeant read the papers with a frown. “Why isn’t he having the regular tank crew do it?”
“I don’t know. Maybe he wants them to be fresh tomorrow.”
“Something doesn’t seem right about this,” the sergeant said.
“We can drive ‘em or your guys can drive ‘em. I don’t care. If your guys drive, we’ll just ride along. The orders just say that the tanks are supposed to be moved to the forward staging area by midnight.”
“My men all headed out for a little relaxation.”
“I don’t know what to say. You can hold our orders and we’ll sit here until you check them out. I’m sure they won’t care if we’re a little late because of it. We won’t get in trouble.”
It was obvious to the sergeant that this young kid had cover your ass down to an art form. Colonel Kadam had a reputation for being a sharp cookie who didn’t suffer fools lightly. He’d had personal experience with that.
Keeping a copy of the orders, he said, “Shit! Take the damned tanks.”
The young man waved to a couple of other men. They went over to the tanks and prepped them for travel. The sergeant watched them do all the right things that a crew was supposed to do when taking command of a tank. Although they were slow, he decided that they did know what they were doing despite looking so damned young. They really looked young and just watching them at work made him feel old.
It took them about twenty minutes longer than he figured it should have to get everything up and running, but that kind of delay was nothing. He’d seen worse in his time. He watched them drive off. Two trucks carrying ammunition pulled out in front of them. Another two trucks with a variety of boxes in them pulled out after them. He turned and wondered what he was supposed to do now.
He could hear the helicopters powering up. Thinking that was pretty odd, he wandered over in the direction where they were parked. They didn’t normally fly them at night except in an emergency. He watched them lift off and then take flight in the same direction the tanks had headed.
“Must be moving them to the forward staging area, too.”
Colonel Kadam listened to the volume of the noise increase outside the conference room. Now that the meeting was over, everyone was starting to party. The bars would be filled, the whores passed around, and hangovers were scheduled for the morning. He sighed knowing that the whores were going to get rich tonight.
General Sen asked, “What’s the matter?”
“I think you were too quick to dismiss Major Chavan’s concerns. I think he has a valid point.”
“Be realistic. What are they going to do when five tanks show up at their little school?”
“I don’t know, and that bothers me.”
“I think General Wynn might be the smartest bastard we’ll ever encounter. The story that I’ve heard is that he and General Nguyen of East Vam planned the campaign that nearly defeated West Vam. We’re marching right into his front yard. I wouldn’t put anything past him.”
“I think this General Wynn has gotten into your head.”
“You might be right. Let’s be real careful tomorrow. I want to have aerial photographs of the place in my hands before we leave in the morning.”
“That can be arranged. We’ve got the gunships. They can do a high-level flyover first thing in the morning. That’ll get you your pictures and scare the piss out of them.”
“I was thinking about getting one of our planes tasked to fly over it.”
“They’re all up at the border.”
“I just don’t have a good feeling about this.”
“Now you’re starting to sound like that coward, Major Chavan.”
“I’m sorry you feel that way,” Colonel Kadam said. “I happen to think that he’s a fine officer and is voicing a real concern about your plans. Which, as I should remind you, is exactly what a good officer should do.”
“He’s a coward.”
Major Chavan still hadn’t found a bar that wasn’t loaded with soldiers. He was walking aimlessly along the street thinking about what he would do for the next few months. He really hoped that they’d give him leave until his discharge became official. If not, he could end up with some real nasty assignments over the next nine months.
He noticed a low pitched rumbling noise that sounded out of place in the town. He turned to check out the source of the noise. A transport truck drove past followed by another one. Then a tank showed up.