A Difficult Job
by Anthony Wilkins
AN- The nations in this story are all fictional. The Free Island's Republic is group of islands formed into one nation lead by the island of Kansia. On the island of Hatchet there has been a Marxist uprising. The soldiers in the story are from a nearby country called B'Geeria.
Free Island's Republic
The grey and black smoke drew a widening line as it climbed into the sky over the city of Mogulish. It could be seen easily by the two pilots from the panoramic view the Merlin helicopter's cockpit afforded them as it thundered over the city at 5,000 feet. The altitude was enough to put it out of the range of small arms fire coming from any rebels wishing to take pot-shots at the helicopter but wasn't enough if they had access to shoulder launched surface-to-air missiles. For that the self defence suite was firmly set to AUTO and was ready to spit out flares at the first hint of any infra-red energy pointing in the direction of the aircraft that might suggest they were being targeted.
Sat on a fold-out bench behind the cockpit was Captain Carlee Billins of the B'Geerian Army Intelligence Corps. She was not part of the crew but was an observer compiling a report on the situation on Hatchet and the current operation to fly in supplies to the besieged city. An attractive woman of twenty-seven years old, she had an air of confidence about her that many translated into one of arrogance although those who knew her knew better. She was actually quite a modest person who was good at her job and liked by her superiors although she rarely found herself in the field like this having been tied to a desk for many months now. She was hooked up to the intercom by a springy cable linked to her headset and mouthpiece that allowed her to speak to the crew.
"You might want to take a look at this, Captain," said a distinctly non-B'Geerian accent coming from the cockpit.
She sat up and walked forwards to the small cabin where the pilots flew the aircraft. In the mission commander's seat on the left was a brash young officer about the same age as her and wearing a B'Geerian Army standard pattern flight suit but on his right arm was the three coloured flag of Tcidenebia. He was Lieutenant Pierre Benedict of the Tcidenebian Defence Forces on exchange with the B'Geerian Army Air Corps.
"What is it, Lieutenant?" she asked, her voice sounding a little distorted over the intercom.
Benedict was in command of this mission and was currently leaving the flying to his number two, a rather burly looking Sergeant sat in the right seat with his hands on the controls. Non-commissioned pilots in the Army were not uncommon. Most of them worked their way up through the ranks starting more-often-than not as infantrymen and once selected as pilots they were almost guaranteed a commission within a few years.
Benedict pointed out of the cockpit towards the smoke. "There, ten o'clock."
She stepped forwards as much as she could without disturbing the pilots to peer out at the smoke. Her eyes followed it down from the clouds until it reached the ground where three vehicles were on fire stopped in the middle of a rather large open area of the city that looked to be a park. There were objects on the ground around them. At first they appeared to be debris but as the aircraft got closer she saw the unmistakable sight of bodies strewn out across the ground.
"Looks like there's been a firefight," she said calmly but not without feeling a little uneasy by the sight of it.
"They don't seem to be wearing combat fatigues," noted Benedict, "I don't think they are government troops. Marxist supporters perhaps?"
"I hope so, Lieutenant Benedict."
Slightly taken aback, he asked with an amused grin, "I take it you have sympathies towards the Furries rather than the Marx Brothers?"
"Excuse me?" she asked with an equally amused grin on her face.
"The Furries; the F.I.R. government. It's just the little name we've come up with since we came out here. It's one of those in-the-trenches things."
"I see," she said. "You're wrong, Lieutenant. I have no sympathies for the...Furries or the RMP. There's no room for it in our line of work. We have to maintain our objectivity or that might be us down there burning beside our own vehicles. My priority here is to make sure the people in those houses down there don't starve. We do not aid combatants. What I meant was I hope that wasn't a family just trying to find some food. Can we take a closer look down there? I'd like to take a few photos for my report."
"Sorry ma'am but we are not allowed to stray from our flight path," explained Benedict. "Orders from on high. They are afraid we are going to look like we are getting involved in the fighting. If you're quick you might be able to get a shot."
Billins reached down for her small Bergen sitting beside the foldout bench she had been sat on. She scrambled to get the buttons open and reached inside for her camera. Once she had it in her hand she dashed to the port side of the helicopter and peered through the observation bubble, a half spherical bulge in the port door used by Loadmasters to assist the pilot in landing. She aimed the camera and began to zoom in. She knew she didn't have a lot of time and snapped three pictures of the carnage below before a building obscured it. She stepped back and looked down at the small LCD screen on the back of the camera to view the photos she had just taken. They were not as good as she would have liked them to be but they were good enough for the preliminary report she was expected to make.
Suddenly the radio crackled into life as they received a transmission, "Wizard-One-Niner this is Alpha-Sierra-Five calling you on channel-zero-three, please acknowledge. Over."
The next voice she heard in her headset was Benedict's. "Alpha-Sierra-Five this is Wizard-One-Niner; pass your message. Over."
"Wizard-One-Niner; be advised we have significant activity on our northern perimeter. We have observed weapons amongst the crowd. I say again we have observed weapons in the crowd."
Billins, having heard this development, rushed back to the cockpit as Benedict continued to talk with the B'Geerian aid station where they were to land.
"Roger," said Benedict over the radio, "What type of weapons are they and are you taking any fire?"
"Our spotters are reporting that they are primarily small arms however we have spotted a vehicle nearby with four heavy calibre guns mounted on the back. We have taken any direct fire at this time. They are non-uniformed."
As soon as Billins heard this it sparked a response, "That means they aren't government forces."
"Great," grumbled the Sergeant in the right hand seat.
"Understood," replied Benedict over the radio. "We are coming in from the East. Our flight time is three minutes. Out."
"They must be Marxist rebels," said Billins.
"Yep," said Benedict who then took over flying from the Sergeant. "Trouble with them is we never know how they are going to respond to seeing us. They could spit at us or fire 50 calibre shells at us. You may get to take some great pictures, Captain."
"Hopefully nothing too exciting," she said jokingly.
Aid Station 5
Over two thousand people had assembled outside the aid station. All of them were put into three long rows that stretched over a quarter of mile back. Men, women and children; all of them tired and hungry but above all frightened. Around them watching from a distance were men armed with automatic rifles keeping an eye on what was happening. They stood huddled in groups far enough away not to attract the attention of the B'Geerian soldiers who were trying to maintain order but not so far as to be invisible to the people in the lines. Their presence was to be felt everywhere. They were members of the RMP, a Marxist movement that had risen up to claim their own nation away from the F.I.R. using whatever means they deemed necessary to achieve that aim.
The aid station itself was in fact a school that had been shut down when the troubles began and then given to the B'Geerians by the local government to use. It was a large H-shaped building three floors high with a flat roof around which was a small wall. This provided good cover for the observation teams set up there. There were six observation posts established each one with a sniper and a spotter. Flapping from the pole erected at the top of the building was a large flag donating a red cross. When the B'Geerians first arrived they naturally erected the Ddraig Coch, the B'Geerian national flag, but this was removed as it was felt that it implied B'Geeria were invaders.
Corporal Ieuan Forzan from 'D' Company, 29th Air Battalion walked the lines of people as they waited for their turn to receive food rations and if they needed it medical aid. He cradled his Tavor rifle in his arms in front of his chest since this was deemed the least intimidating way of carrying rifles in such situations. The people here were frightened enough and there was no need to scare them further if possible. Not an easy task he thought to himself as he eyed the pick-up truck parked on the corner of the street with five men huddled around it each armed with a plethora of small arms including weapons they had captured from F.I.R. Defence Forces.
He took his eye off them and looked back at the crowd. A gap had formed between a family of people and the rest of the line. This was an odd thing to see because everywhere else people were pushing and scrambling their way along. He kept watch on them as he walked closer. There were four of them in total; a father, a mother who carried a small infant and a young child who held on to his father's left leg tightly. The father was quite lanky in appearance and looked distinctly untidy, much like the rest of the people around him. The mother, by contrast, was quite portly and stood at just less than five feet tall. Draped over the father's right shoulder was a brown leather jacket which was slowly slipping down forcing him to keep shrugging it up. The father suddenly noticed that he was being watched by Forzan. His eyes widened and he seemed to jump on the spot. His wife whispered something to him but Forzan couldn't hear what she was saying. She was apparently pleading with him to do something but he obviously didn't want to do whatever it was.
All of Forzan's instincts were warning him that something wasn't right. He glanced over to Private Darius Lewis who was nearby and with a slight nod to him signalled that he had found something of interest. The Private followed Forzan as he walked towards the family. Seeing that the two B'Geerian soldiers had found something of interest in the family the others seemed to give them an even wider space. Now the woman was almost begging with her husband but the two B'Geerian soldiers had no idea what for. In the commotion the jacket dropped off the father's shoulders to reveal a black strap swinging on which was an Uzi sub-machine gun.
Both Forzan and Lewis swung into action throwing the muzzles of their Tavor rifles in the direction of the family, the butts of their rifles becoming buried deep into their shoulders as they took aim at the father.
"Don't move!" bellowed Forzan. "Place your hands where I can see them. Now!"
The father threw his hands up in the air, trembling terribly. The mother screamed loudly as she tried to shield her baby from the soldiers with her own body while the young boy, old enough to know what was happening, grabbed hold of his father's leg even tighter before crying loudly. Seeing the commotion, Forzan's comrades were already filling the airwaves with radio chatter as they sprung into action. On the roof a B'Geerian sniper trained his L96 rifle on the father.
"I-I," stuttered the terrified man. "I am not a Marxist!"
"Keep your hands in the air," said Forzan who then looked at the small boy clutching his leg. He looked at the equally terrified mother whose baby, sensing its parent's distress, began crying also. "You; take the boy away."
"Craig," she said reaching out for him with her free hand. "Craig, come here please." It took some effort but she managed to pry the little boy off his father's leg and lead him away.
"Lewis; take his weapon," instructed Forzan.
Lewis lowered his rifle and swung it back so it was hanging on the strap behind his torso. This would make it difficult for the father to try and grab the weapon although with so many rifles pointed at him to do so would mean certain death for him before he had chance to use it. Lewis walked cautiously up to him and proceeded to take the Uzi from the man.
"I-I am not a Marxist," repeated the man desperately. "I have to have that to protect my family. Please understand me."
Forzan wasn't listening. It didn't matter to him. His priority was to reduce the threat to the civilians around them. "Alright tack him!"
Lewis took out a white plastic tack and proceeded to place the man's hands behind his back before crossing his wrists. He then tied the tack over his hands sealing them together making sure he did not cut off circulation to his hands but not too loose so that he could squeeze free. All the while the man continually protested that he was not a Marxist and that the Uzi was for protection.
Suddenly the air filled with a loud thudding sound. Everyone's attention suddenly turned from the commotion with the armed man to look up at the helicopter that appeared overhead. The Merlin had become a familiar shape in these skies over the past few days and they all knew that another load of supplies was coming in.
Captain Robert Roathe was the commanding officer of 'D' Company and he stood with 2nd Lieutenant Alan Bowen, one of his platoon leaders, on the edge of the playing field that acted as their helipad. Not a particularly large framed man, although his battle fatigues covered with a bullet resistant vest and chest webbing implied otherwise, he was a smart man and had seen his share of combat in his career. Like so many in 'D' Company of the 29th Air Battalion he had fought hard in the Third B'Geeria-Thomistani War in 2011 and had gained a good reputation as a cool and competent leader. As he watched the helicopter approach he took a sip of water from his canteen to wet his mouth before offering some to Bowen who politely refused.
The Merlin's approach was high to deliberately reduce the risk to the helicopter from small arms fire as long as possible. As the aircraft began to descend towards the field the snipers on the rooftop paid close attention to the armed groups observing the proceedings around them but they appeared almost uninterested in the aircraft.
Kicking up dust and blowing a gale around them they watched with squinted eyes as the aircraft's wheels made contact with the soft ground. The weight of the aircraft on the grass caused its wheels to sink two inches as its rotors no longer generated enough lift to keep it airborne. All around the helicopter there were indications in the ground of where the previous flights had landed. The rear loading ramp opened and lowered down onto the ground. The two loadmasters came rushing out and signalled to Roathe and Bowen that they were ready to unload.
Bowen turned to a small group of soldiers who were assembled for the task of unloading the supplies. "Alright let's go! Make it snappy!"
There were five of them in total and they followed Bowen's lead as they ran for the aircraft. As he watched them arrive at the cargo ramp Roathe saw one of the Loadmasters guide a woman in combats out of the back and directed her away from the aircraft towards him. This was the woman he had been waiting for. She dashed quickly towards him as the Loadmasters and Bowen's men began to unload the boxes out of the aircraft.
"Captain Roathe I take it?" she said yelling over the noise of the aircraft's rotors.
"Yes, you must be Captain Billins. Welcome to Alpha-Sierra-Five." The two of them quickly shook hands and exchanged a pleasant smile. "Come this way please. Let's go somewhere a little less noisy."
Following him towards the main building she started playing with the straps on her bullet resistant vest having not given herself enough time to put it on properly as the aircraft approached the landing zone. She managed to adjust it adequately enough as they stepped through an open fire exit into the school gymnasium that was now being used to house the food and medical supplies that were being airlifted in with each Merlin. All around them were walls of boxes being sorted out by a combination of B'Geerian soldiers and people in light blue T-shirts with the United Nations logo emblazoned on the front.
It was much quieter in here and they no longer had to talk with raised voices. Out of the way of all the commotion, he now got a good look at the visitor to the aid station he commanded. Even in her bullet resistant vest, combat fatigues and Kevlar helmet she maintained a strong air of femininity. She was quite an attractive woman with a young almost innocent face upon which strands of her blonde hair had broken loose from the helmet and lined her features. He noted the 9mm Beretta sat in a holster coupled to her belt.
"Didn't you want to bring a Tavor?" he asked her.
"Didn't feel it was necessary," she replied.
"According to your own reports and the reports from the other four stations in Mogulish our troops aren't really being threatened by the Marxists. Command has designated the risk factor as acceptable."
"Acceptable!" scoffed Roathe. "That's precisely the attitude I am trying to beat out of my guys. I don't want them getting complacent. That's why I was looking forward to your visit. Maybe you can see just what it is we're facing over here."
"You don't have an Intel officer assigned?" she asked wondering why she had not been made aware of this fact. She had been expecting to find one stationed here since it was standard practice on combat deployments.
All Roathe replied was, "We do now, Captain Billins."
Roathe seemed particularly keen to show her some 'items' they had acquired in the five days they had been operating the aid station. As they walked through the corridors of the school building she heard the Merlin surge with power as it began to take off once again and head back towards Kansia Island. As it passed over the building there was a slight vibration in the floors and walls. She followed Roathe to a stairway on the southern side of the school before they began climbing a set of stairs at the end of which was a door being guarded by two B'Geerian soldiers.
"This was the headmaster's office," he explained. "Were you the type to spend a lot of time in the headmaster's office when you were a kid?"
"Not really," she replied as they began to climb the stairs. "I'm guessing you were?"
"Couple of times," he said with a smile that indicated he was trying to be charming.
The two soldiers braced up at the sight of the two officers and Roathe greeted them formally before opening the door to the office. Inside was a cache of weapons. The furniture had been stacked on the left side of the spacious office and the shelves had been stripped bare in order to mount the weapons collected by the B'Geerian troops. They ranged from knives and old style revolvers to semi-automatic pistols and even a few assault rifles such as the AK-47 and M-16. Strewn in bundles across the floor were magazines and bullet-belts for the numerous weapons.
"Where did you get all this?" she asked standing in the middle of the room in awe of the arsenal.
"Through various means," he explained. "Some of it we have confiscated from people trying to get food and medical supplies. Once they are on our patch we can do pretty much what we like to safeguard our own people and the civilians. We have a rule here; no food if you are armed."
"So these are Marxist weapons?"
"Some yes. Most are just weapons found or stolen by desperate people to protect their families. Look at this one." He leaned down and reached for an old rifle with a wooden stock placed on one of the shelves opposite. He picked it up and handed it to her. She was surprised by how heavy it was compared to the Tavor assault rifle she was more used to carrying. "That's an M1 Garand, an American rifle from World War II. It seems it was something of an heirloom until the fighting started. If the guy who was holding it didn't have six children to feed then he would never have parted with it. He pleaded with us to give it back but I refused. There are too many guns in this town as it is."
She handed him back the heavy weapon and he placed it back down on the shelf where it had come from.
"The Marxist rebels have promised to leave civilian populations alone as long as they don't take up arms against them," she said matter-of-factly.
"That's naive bullshit," he said before adding, "Pardon me. This isn't a clean cut war. In my experience such things don't exist. People are frightened and hungry and they will resort to anything that might fill their bellies or make them feel safe even just for one night while they get some sleep. Unfortunately having a gun means they are more likely to accidentally kill someone innocent or encourage them to murder their neighbours to steal the food for their own children. What we've got in this room are the ingredients for anarchy."
"Can I stop you there?" she said holding her hand up. "Let me give you some friendly advice; don't go taking too much notice of the bigger picture yet, Captain Roathe. What happens outside this aid station is not your concern. Your orders are quite specific in this matter. You are a neutral force intended to give out humanitarian aid to non-combatants only. Leave the politics to the civvy suits on Kansia and in Pucara."
"Ok," he said leaning against one of the shelves bristling with weapons. "Can I give you the truth?" She nodded her permission. "This mission has been a fucking joke. We stay here on this site waiting for people to come to us so we can help them. The reality of that is we are probably reaching out to less than twenty per cent of this entire city. The rest are trapped in their houses probably starving to death because they are afraid the Marxists will shoot them thinking they are government spies or the government forces will shoot them for thinking they are Marxists. Our real purpose here is to make the Prime Minister look good to the B'Geerian people and the world. Look at B'Geeria helping those poor people. It's a lie."
"We are operating under clearly established rules of engagement," stated Billins. "Not even the Free Islands government want us to put boots on the streets. They're afraid of escalating this thing."
"Maybe it should be escalated. At least then there'd be a winner instead of this screwed up stalemate.
Billins suddenly noticed that one of the soldiers guarding the weapons was listening outside with his head tilted slightly to the left.
"I would hope," she said lowering her voice, "that you don't voice these thoughts in front of your men?"
"I don't have to," he replied. "My thoughts are my own but they all think the same. I challenge you to ask anyone of them what they think of this mission. See what they say. Don't mistake me here. We want to help these people but properly."
"How exactly; with tanks? Perhaps an airstrike? You're an experienced soldier. You know that the heavier the fighting in an urban environment the heavier the collateral damage. It sucks, Captain Roathe, but it's a difficult mission and there's no one else to do it. We help the people we can and keep our own people safe. That's all anyone is asking of you."