Chapter 8: Nuclear Winter

We were twenty miles out when we received a radio call from SEAL team eight, "We have failed to stop the explosive, it is powerful enough to wipe downtown Beijing off the map, it's a tactical nuke, if you are not with in ten miles of the city center, you are safe, you have thirty seconds, if you do not make it out of the radius, your service will not be forgotten,"

We were twenty miles out, over the Yellow Sea, we looked out the back ramp, as a mushroom cloud arose from the city, none of the people who I trained with were in the city. SEAL team eight and about ten thousand rangers were in the area. We were awestruck by the sheer sight of the nuclear explosion. The mushroom cloud climbed into the size, the chopper shook a little bit, and then we continued to carry on.

"Oxide, this is Raven, Check in,"

"Raven, this is Oxide, we're okay, heading to Checkpoint Mike, time of arrival, thirty mikes,"

We watched as the flight engineer looked over Vegas, he was going to be okay. The Seventy fifth

Ranger, Tenth Mountain, and the First SAS Regiment, they were all dead, irreplaceable units, all lost because the people in charge of the Chinese government, were to chicken to be taken alive, so they nuked themselves. Taking innocent civilians, civilians we were told to keep alive at all costs so China could rebuild itself. I watched as the mushroom cloud dissolved.

When we landed in Korea, the mission was deemed a failure, even though we succeeded in knocking the shit out of the Chinese army, we had failed to capture any of the Chinese brass. "Mac, this is Command, do you copy,"

"Go Command,"

"We've just received word that Specialist Peck was inside the blast radius; she was with the tenth mountain."

I hadn't given her a chance, the last time I had seen her was when I was in Camp Tango, for the five minutes, I had spoken with her. She had once been my best friend, now she was dead. I knew I would shed a tear, she didn't get along with Bailey, I hadn't seen her since the original ICE Staff was investigated for a "Professional Break-In" at the Baldwin County Board of Education headquarters. No official report, but no one really knew what had happened. As a result, the staff was quickly disbanded, and transferred to different school districts. My name was inadvertently covered up, as an ICE operator; my official job would remain intact. That was a total different bag of worms.

I watched from the door of the Chinook, as teams wearing HAZMAT Nuclear suits boarded utility helicopters, "Mac," I heard Gillings yell, "Get suited up, you're going back in."

Hours later, we were walking inside the det-center, searching for any survivors. Radioactive debris fell all around us. Every sound was muffled; it made it sound like gunfire sounded a mile away. My SABR was loaded with the eleven inch barrel, and a thermal site, nothing was moving. The only thing I could pick up was superheated steel. It was extremely quiet, more than comfortable. "Mac, over here," Jay called, I walked over him,

"What is it Jason?" I handed me a piece of seared fabric, with the US Army pattern on it, it was a name plate, and I could see the name, T. Peck. "This is where she died," I thought, "Lowry, look at this,"

"Four miles from the blast radius, why the hell was the tenth this close?"

"Raven, this is Oxide One, I need to check the last known radio contact with the tenth."

"They were heading into to extract trapped members of the one seventy third airborne near the detonation zone."

"Copy that, I'm going to tag and bag Peck's plate, I'll return it to her family."

We continued on, searching for the impossible, survivors. We knew that there was not a possible chance in hell that there were any survivors to recover. Down town Beijing was leveled, all there was left was rubble from what were skyscrapers, buildings. Streets were covered in white ash, it was what everyone feared, a Nuclear Winter. After finding Peck's name tag, everything went back to being silent.

We were shipped back to Korea after twelve hours of searching, after stripping out of our HAZMAT gear, and putting our weapons in a lead case that would be buried, (The weapons had picked up high levels of radiation, we would be issued new guns before we went out again). As we sat in the squad bay, waiting for orders, Jason walked in and started smoking a cigarette, "Mac, what was your first opinion of Terri?"

"She was a politician, wanted to be a policy maker and fuck over guys like us who did the real grunt work, she eventually became my best friend, then the rumors we all heard about started flying, we stopped hanging out, then I tried to be her friend again "but she had become something that we all saw." I looked at the lead box with a ballistic glass cover. This was all her family had left of her, the rest of her body had been incinerated with the blast. I picked up my rifle, and checked the chamber, then the barrel. The bore was clean; I was OCD about taking care of the weapon.

I could hear footsteps coming from across the hanger, "Mac," I heard someone call,

"No," I thought, the female voice was extremely familiar, "There is any way in hell," I looked up, "Jason, are you seeing this?" he turned,

"I am Hawk,"

Lowry stood up, "There is no way it can be,"

"I'm afraid it is Mister Lowry," Brandon smiled,

"Well, now, don't all rush up and smile at once," she said,

"How the hell are… we thought… how'd you…" I stuttered, "Your name tag was…"

"You found my name plate?"

"Inside the detonation zone, inside the kill radius,"

"I tripped and fell when we extracted lost my name plate and two magazines of ammo,"

I hugged her, "Shit Terri, where the hell have you been for the last two days?"

"Mongolia," our radio communication was knocked out when the warhead detonated,"

"Why didn't ours?" Lowry asked, "Aren't all allied forces on one freq?"

"We use satellite communication head seats,"

"Task Force," I heard Gillings yell, "Schooling circle on me,"

The team stood up and circled around the Major, he briefed us on the situation, the war was pretty much over for us, we were to be awarded medals, not just any medals, some of the highest honors the our nations had to offer, I was to be awarded Queen Victoria's Cross and the Ribbon of Valor, Jay was to receive the Congressional Medal of Honor, Meraz, and Lowry had been recommended for the silver star cluster, our service in the war obviously did not go unnoticed. The C-141 X-ray was waiting on the tarmac; we were at long last going home. For us, it was D-Day plus two years. As we folded up our cots and stuffed our sleeping bags in our valices. When my gear was loaded, I pulled my sat-phone off my belt and dialed Bailey,

"Hello?"

I leaned up against a pillar, "How you doing beautiful, hope you don't miss me too much,"

"That depends, what you calling for,"

"I'm coming home baby; I land in Pensacola in twenty hours,"

The line was silent for a few seconds, "You are,"

"I'm waiting for the plane to be fueled and loaded and, then I'll be on the way back to you,"

"For how long baby, I mean, how long until you ship out again?" She was trying not to stomp around the fact that I was still enlisted, the fact that I could be shipped to another war zone at a moments notice.

"The war is over baby, I'm home indefinitely,"

There was another moment of silence, "I'll be at the airport the minute you land, I love you, and I'll see you there,"

The line went dead, I chuckled.

Later that night, while we were airborne, I thought about the war, the infamous day that this war started, nicknamed "Judgment Day" seemed like ten years ago. Oxide had travelled to more than a hundred and twenty different locations on the theater, and about half a dozen out of theater operations. We were thrown to the dogs, hauled back, thrown into hell, and pulled out. We had been shot, blown up, been victims of friendly fire, and somehow, the original four were alive. The rest of the platoon members had been disbanded for mobility reasons. We had no contact with any of them since the separation. I was done with the war, if need be, I'd fight in another one, but as long as I wasn't fighting with a Korean or Chink. I was tired of hearing the cry of a "Banzai charge" coming at us.

I was asleep in no time; the twenty hour flight was not even half over. I had dreams of the day I almost lost it, during a mortar attack just outside of Pyongyang. I had three pieces of Chink Shrapnel in my shoulder. My little piece of the war, I woke up somewhere over Louisiana. "Good morning sunshine," Jay called,

"How long until we land, or are we nowhere near the base?"

"We've got forty five minutes, Mac, we've been re-assigned, Gillings recommended we move to a station somewhere in the remote Smokey Mountains, just to kind of get away from the crowd, and get used to being back at home.'

I couldn't have agreed more, I loved the mountains. Isolated, and away from everybody, there was no doubt that the well-considered "Hero's" of the third world war, and the fact that they were wanted for interviews and interviews on end, not to mention the Tehran Snipers, everyone wanted a moment of their time. We'd land in Florida, pack up our families, and head for Tennessee, a place for me to raise my kids without having to worry about the unwanted attention.

I was sitting in the back chatting with Meraz and Lowry when the flight decks intercom patched in "NAS is on the nose, prepare for landing, make sure the vehicle and cargo are secure."

I checked the tie downs on the Tactical Heavy Arm Humvee, the most reliable and heavily armed tactical vehicle in the theater, we had taken a standard Humvee, replaced the two back doors with one eighty variable degree pivot mounts with FN C6 GPMG on each station, and a set of dual fifty cal. On a three sixty slide rail. We had reinforced the sides and bottom with the same kind of armor found on the Tank, and a Rolls Royce V12 supercharged air cooled engine. It was suited for the fast moving, hard hitting, roll we had played. The cargo container, loaded with our sensitive equipment, radios, HE, and ammunition. I picked up the radio, "Bridge, Oxide One, cargo is secure, bring us home."

When we landed, command had organized a some kind of homecoming assembly from the Baldwin County Schools, and the Blue Angels, Thunderbirds and Snowbirds, As the ramp dropped, you could hear the thundering of the jets roaring over, "Ladies and Gentlemen, please rise, for the return of the International Task Force Four, as each member walks out, his perspective branches Aerial Demonstration Team will fly over, followed by a sixteen ship overfly of all demonstration teams." You could hear the tension and excitement in the air, "Gunnery Sergeant First Class Jason Davis, United States Marine Corps, earned United States Congressional Medal of Honor, and Silver Star Cluster, over fly United States Navy Demonstration Team, Blue Angels" Jason walked down the ramp, and started a line from the tip of the port wing. This was Gillings' plan, not ours, "Master Sergeant Brandon Meraz, United States Air Force, over fly done by United States Air Force Demonstration Team, Thunderbirds, earned Bronze Star, and Legion of Merit," Brandon did the same, except he went to starboard, "First Sergeant William Connor Lowry United States Army, earned Silver Star, Legion of Merit, and the Congressional Purple Heart for wounds received in the line of duty,"

Lowry was caught off guard by a fragment of an artillery shell that left a decent sized gash in his leg, I looked at my CADPAT TR on last time, to make sure everything was perfect, "Team Leader, Chief Warrant Officer Troy MacMullin, Canadian Armed Forces, Army, over fly performed by the Royal Canadian Air Force Demonstration Team, Snowbirds, earned the Queen Victoria Cross for uncommon Valor in the Field of War, awarded Cross of Valor for Distinctive Heroism,"

The Snowbirds performed their signature stunt, the maple leaf split, with red and white smoke trailing, I stood about twenty yards from Jay along the port wing, the jets were somewhere off in the background, assembling for the overfly, "For deploying everywhere the brass of the Allied Forces sent them, and making the biggest difference that any fighting force deployed to date, running the Gauntlet of running on as little sleep as possible, or sleeping on helicopters, planes or jeeps the British Crown, seen fit to award the Fourth International Task Force Squad, the Commonwealth Medal of Sacrifice."

The Sixteen plane formation, led by the eight snowbirds, thundered overhead like a thousand freight trains, blowing by. "Squad, Attention!" I yelled, "Present arms!" The squad through up a salute just as the planes charged over. "Squad, Attention!" I yelled, I sighed, before giving the final command "Squad fall out!"

I ran out of formation, I could see Bailey, pushing her way through the crowd, the gates opened and she was sprinting over to me, and jumped in to my arms. Home at last.