The Deliberate Attack on Christmas

SantaGun2011

(above: most recent intel photo of the HVT from his social media accounts)

Around 2130 Zulu on 24 December, the 3rd Battalion of the 25th Infantry conducted a deliberate attack on Objective Yeti at grid SC69641519.  The mission was to capture or kill a high-value target (HVT) with many aliases, among them Babbo Natale, Julenisse, and Saint Nikolaus.  The following is the account of Lieutenant Colonel Chris Noel, commander of Task Force 3/25 during Operation Insensible Havoc.

I’d love for one of these chickenhawk armchair quarterbacks to wear my Danner boots for just one minute.  Try juggling the air assault of two companies onto a contested landing zone, the movement of two dozen helicopters, supporting artillery, and close air support – all while flying above the battle space in a command and control helo and talking on four radios.  The full moon and bright shimmering Northern Lights negated the need for night vision devices.  I was so absorbed with making sure my ground element landed safely, that I didn’t hear the warning from my pilot.  “What was that, John?”

“Gold Six just got shot down, sir.  Last thing he said was, watch out for the red light.”  We began wide orbits above the two rifle companies.

The staff captain next to me chimed in.  “What the hell does that mean?”

“Nothing, Gish,” I said.  “Continue as planned.  What’s A Company’s status?”

“Their commander was hit on the landing zone, sir.  The XO is taking over and encountering heavy resistance.  To their east, C Company still hasn’t made contact with the enemy.”

“Annan,” I told the Fire Support Officer, “I want artillery to paste everything to the west, north, and east of A Company.”

“On it, sir.”  She was one hell of an artist with artillery.  In five minutes, I looked out the window to see a horseshoe of explosions around my embattled A Company.  To their northeast, C Company cut the miniature train line connecting the factory at Objective Yeti with the elves’ barracks, and was almost at their assault position. Still no enemy contact for C Co.; this was worrisome.

“Crazyhorse Six, this is Abu Five,” A Company’s acting commander called me.  She had to yell into her radio mike to be heard over the background noise of a raging firefight. “We’re advancing again, but it looks like some leakers escaped north towards Yeti, over.”

“Roger.  Keep an eye out, I think Red just shot down Gold Six.”

“Crazyhorse, this is Abu Five, be advised, my Blue element just got hit by suicide sleigh borne IED, but minimal casualties, over.”

“Basher is on station, sir!”  My terminal attack controller looked like he’d just won the lottery, announcing that the AC-130 had finally arrived.  The four-engine transport plane bristled with cannons that could flatten one city block every thirty seconds.  Looking up, I saw him enter a shallow left turn to bring his guns to bear.  Then I saw three much smaller specks appear out of a cloud.

“Crazyhorse, this is Basher – damn it!  Departing station – looks like we found Donder, Dasher, and Blixem.  Ten to twelve points on their antlers, big sons of bitches.  One of them just tried to ram my starboard -”  A high-pitched squeal over the radio net. Then a dirty fireball that cascaded down from 15,000 feet, leaving a greasy trail that marred the aurora.

I didn’t have to say anything to John, who wrenched our bird as low to the snowy steppe as he dared.  The TAC threw up all over himself and his radios.  Annan looked paler than usual and held the side supports of her seat in a death grip.  Gish stared at the Blue Force Tracker as if divining something from the screen.  I’m not too proud to admit, I almost wet myself while we plunged from 4,000 to 50 feet above the ground in what felt like only two seconds.

“Annan, tell the guns to cease fire so the jets can come in.  TAC, I want fighters here like yesterday!  Make it happen.”  Both got on their radios.  A flash and thin stream of white smoke streaked past my helicopter, then a roar audible even through my noise canceling headset as two F-22 Raptors chased the marauding reindeer.  But where the hell was Red?

“Splash one,” an exultant Raptor pilot said.  One of his missiles connected, leaving a small black cloud and smoldering pieces of reindeer meat.

The lead Raptor zoomed up, silhouetted against the moon, chandelled back down, and literally shot Donder in the face with another Sidewinder.

The third reindeer clawed its way towards the wingman. “The hell, he’s trying to chew my stabilizer off!”

“Monster, I can’t get him without shooting you.”

“Shoot, Irish!  I’m ejecting!”

Irish’s Sidewinder obliterated both Monster’s $200 million jet and one murderous reindeer.  Monster floated down towards C Company in his parachute.

“This is Bone.  Bombs away.”  God love the B-1 bomber crews.  They were so high you couldn’t see them, but they laid waste to the house and factory on Objective Yeti with thirty 2,000 pound JDAMs. It looked like Hiroshima in the Arctic.

As soon as the smoke on Yeti began to clear, all hell broke loose around C Company.  Elves in red and green striped footie pajamas emerged from underground bunkers that had hidden them from our recon drones.  They rushed headlong into C Company in a Christmasy version of the human wave attacks my grandfather fought off in Vietnam. The elves opened fire so close that C Company couldn’t even call for supporting arms.  The little bastards threw everything at C Company: rocket propelled grenades, machine guns, rifles, even pistols that were supposed to have been presents for cops.  It would’ve been an absolute slaughter, but thank Odin, elves have never been the best marksmen.  C Company methodically returned accurate fire despite being outnumbered five to one, and slowly gained fire superiority. The elves left a colorful trail of casualties as they withdrew from their failed ambush.

“Abu Five,” I called A Company, “can you move northeast to help Claymore, while also blocking the road to the west?”

“That’s affirm, Crazyhorse.  Detaching Abu Red and White to support Claymore – BREAK, BREAK!  RED IS IN THE AIR, COMING AT ME FROM THE WEST!”  And that was my last radio contact with A Company.

“This is Irish, I have eyes on target!”  Another missile shot out from the remaining F-22.  We watched it hit with a tiny explosion, watched Red’s front left leg separate from his body, then watched the beast’s nose light up.  Irish didn’t have a chance.  Whatever directed energy weapon Red had in his snout tore Irish’s wings off, and he spun into the steppe without ejecting.

“John, get us the hell out of here,” I yelled at the pilot, who was already doing just that.

The crew chief next to me pointed past the tail rotor.  “Colonel, he’s behind us!”

“Can you get a shot?”  John leveled the bird and turned right so the crew chief could bring his machine gun to bear.  He got off one quick burst before our world became bright red for a second. In the next second, the engines started winding down, and the acrid smell of burnt wiring filled the cabin.

It took all of John’s skill to autorotate, not crash nose down at ninety knots. We hit the ground so hard that everyone’s seat collapsed on its support struts.  The burning smell was replaced by the smell of jet fuel spurting from ruptured tanks. “Everybody off the helo!  Right now!”

My staff, such as it was, unassed the bird in record time.  The crew chiefs brought their machine guns, and the pilots hauled as much MG ammo as they could.  Gish, Annan, and I removed the working radios and regained communication with the rest of the task force.  Even the Air Force TAC lent a hand, scanning the skies for the crew chiefs and pilots.

Our HVT was down to six reindeer, but intel showed that he only needed five to take off with a fully loaded sleigh.

“This is Bugs, you kids need some help down there?” Bugs (it stands for Boobs Under G-Suit – don’t ask, or someone might lodge a SHARP complaint) was an A-10 pilot who had supported my units so often over the years, I reckoned I knew her voice almost as well as my wife’s.  What I knew even better, however, were the whine of her jet’s engines and the sound of that wonderful GAU-8 cannon.

BRRRRRRT.  It was like Thor’s hammer slapping reindeer, but with 30mm depleted uranium shells, which is infinitely better.  BRRRRRRT.  One more reindeer turned into mince pie for the polar bears. Red’s nose would shine no more.

“He’s in the air!”

“Who’s in the air?”

“The HVT – Sinterklaas.  He’s got four – no, five – reindeer.  Looks like he’s dropping bombs on Abu.”

“I see that fat SOB at the controls.  Bugs is in hot.  Rogue Eight, follow me in trail.”

BRRRRRRT.  Then BRRRRRRT.  Then BRRRRRRT again, as the Rogues made repeated gun runs.  Through my binoculars, I could see that they’d shot one skid off, and two of the reindeer hung limply in their harnesses.  The sleigh began to fly erratically, without enough reindeer power to remain airborne.  The next pass settled the HVT’s hash for good.  I swear I saw pieces of white beard through the mini explosions of 30mm DU rounds hitting the sleigh.  Gaily wrapped presents, a red stocking cap, and chunks of lacquered oak were all that were left after the Rogues climbed away.

B Company, which I’d held in reserve, finished the fight.  They air assaulted astride the most likely ratline for the HVT and his helpers, and blocked the elves’ escape with four platoons of pissed off infantrymen.  Even though they’d missed most of the fight, they made up for it on any elves who didn’t seem to want to surrender.  The resulting one-sided fight was like watching a baby wildebeest fight off a whole pride of hungry lions.

We spent the rest of the night consolidating and reorganizing, and combing the ruins of Yeti for actionable intel on other HVTs.  The noose was tightening around a Middle Eastern rabble rouser who was building an insurgent force on the banks of the Jordan.  This HVT, whom we only knew as the Carpenter, had know he was next.  He and his twelve guerrillas would undoubtedly meet me and my soldiers on some dark Gallileean night.

Sherman was right.  The war on Christmas is hell.  Happy holidays from Task Force Crazyhorse.

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The Dark Side (of the Rebellion)

Author’s note:  This post can arguably be seen as a companion to this or this, but in all honesty, it was inspired by this brilliant podcast by Angry Staff Officer and Adin Dobkin.  If you don’t already follow them on Twitter, WTH are you waiting for?  Full disclosure: I consider ASO a personal friend, even if he is an engineer officer who turned his back on his prior enlisted infantry past, but I digress.  The former soldier in me had always wondered about what happened with pockets of resistance in far flung corners of the galaxy.  I’ve seen the disastrous second and third order effects of real insurgencies, so in a fit of writer’s extrapolation, I tried to imagine what the insurgency on one planet among thousands of Empire controlled worlds might be like.  Without further ado …


I’ve been leading this contingent of the Lothal Liberation Force for ten years.  Sometimes we number a hundred, as we did six years ago, for our attack on the TIE Fighter factory; more often than not, we operate in two or three seven-man sections.  Sometimes, as today, it just takes a crew of five.  It depends on what we think we can get away with, who might not be missed if they don’t show up at work.  We’re such a motley crew that we don’t rate a Jedi, or even a Padawan, on our home world – we just want the Empire out, and will do everything in our limited power to ensure that outcome.  A prehistoric sage had supposedly said of his ragged band: “We fight, get beat, rise, and fight again.”  Ever since a TIE Bomber incinerated my house, with my wife and children still inside, this is all I know.

I also own a souvenir shop near the Spaceport, and make a minor killing selling fake Rebellion-themed trinkets to the Imperial Forces.  Stormtroopers love the starbird flags we make in the basement, then splatter with enough dirt and nerf blood for verisimilitude’s sake.  I smile as I scan their pay cards, memorize the faces of those not wearing helmets, in the off chance I’ll see them through a scope one day.  The new governor has been searching for us both on the steppe and in the cities, hoping to prove his worth to the Emperor as if his job depends on it.  Which, of course, it does.  No one wants to be Force choked by a Sith.

Unless you were looking directly at us, you would have missed the handoff.  Two men walking in opposite directions, with a split second pause as they exchanged weapons.  The thermal grenades felt heavy, but they were a newer model, I could tell from the heft.  I was dressed like most men in Lothal City, with an untucked tunic over loose trousers and nerf leather boots.  There hardly seemed to be any colors in clothing since the Empire occupied us, just varying shades of brown or khaki.  If anything, that made it easier to blend in.  A few Stormtroopers patrolled the streets in pairs, at regular intervals, some accompanied by an unarmored officer wearing gray.

It was a sparkling new high rise building within walking distance of the Imperial governor’s mansion.  Loyalty to the Emperor and snitching on your fellow Lothalians were rewarded with amenity filled apartments in the Coruscant Glen.  Obsequious droids in each unit tended to every need including cooking, cleaning, and child care – and recorded your every move for the Imperial Security Bureau.  The restaurant on the ground floor of the Coruscant Glen catered to midlevel officers and Imperial bureaucrats – and their families.  It was nice but not too nice, its main feature a sprawling patio with a force field to repel rain, and a moderately priced Coruscanti menu.  These people do love the food of their home world.  I’d eaten there several times on scouting missions, and found the food bland by our standards.  Good selection of Lothalian beers, though.

The patio was packed, as it always was for lunch in the spring.  I used a dead Stormtrooper’s card for a coffee across the street.  Why tempt the ISB by using your own card?  One of my subalterns paid for his meal and left his table by the bar.  Two cooks emerged from a back door, quickly shedding white chef coats to join the subaltern in the crowd walking away from the building.  I looked at my communicator watch and counted down the seconds.  At the last moment, I took cover behind a thick column by the coffee stand.  Four proton grenades exploded simultaneously – one in the kitchen, one at the bar, one under the subaltern’s table on the patio, and one in the restroom.  Smoke and screams filled the air, then sirens as Imperial Gendarmerie hover tanks and speeders converged on the massacre.  The anti-rain force field had contained the  bombs’ explosions within the restaurant’s confines.  The result was butchery.  An armless woman wept over the corpses of her children and husband, an Imperial officer.  Limbs, large and small, littered the patio.  A man staggered out of the restaurant’s interior, his body charred as if he’d escaped a barbecue’s spit, then collapsed dead by the front door.  A smoking head rolled onto the sidewalk.

The first speeder Stormtroopers to respond removed their helmets to vomit on the ground.  A hover tank disgorged its band of troopers at the near corner to search for survivors.   Another hover tank took station on the opposite corner, to my far left.  I sipped my coffee behind the column, gawking with feigned horror as Stormtroopers established a perimeter.  Two black clad Deathtroopers roughly shoved hysterical civilians looking for loved ones.  The rest of the crowd milled around me as I pushed buttons on the grenades in my pockets.  Like many here, I held my wrist up to record the scene on my communicator watch.  With the other hand, I simply dropped the miniature thermal detonators.  They scooted around people’s ankles to autonomously seek large hunks of metal – like the broad bottom of a hover tank.

The subaltern’s thermals went off first, under that hover tank’s soft belly, fused for a blast radius of only five meters.  Anything within those mini fireballs of plasma was incinerated in a tenth of a second.  My own were set to ten meters, since the Stormtroopers here were more widely spread out.  Civilians were caught in this attack, too, but as I’d indoctrinated every member of my band: no sacrifice is too great for our liberation from the Empire.  Kill now, mourn later.  The innocent dead are unavoidable and necessary collateral damage in the pursuit of liberation.  With the sounds of even more screams and sirens building to a crescendo, I took a leisurely half hour walk back to my souvenir shop.


 

The moon Candra had already risen in the eastern sky, with her smaller sister, Tinne, shining brightly overhead.  Even at the end of summer, it was still hot enough for heat waves rising from the ground to give false readings in our ancient thermal viewers.  But we’d resurrected other ancient lessons, like how to take on a more heavily armed foe without blasters.  An Imperial sensor 20 km away can track a blaster shot’s plasma to within a few centimeters.  Other lessons we’d had to relearn: merchant by day, insurgent by night; close range is your friend; homemade explosives and deeply buried mines can cause heavier casualties than an X-Wing on a strafing run.

“Steady, Raiona.”

“Shut up, Gajari,” I hissed at my number two.  “I’ve only been doing this for all twenty years of the occupation.”  Two two-legged All Terrain Scout Transports – AT-STs – lumbered over the savannah.  A small patrol, thank the Force.  Their heads and accompanying main guns slewed right and left, controlled by the officer in the lead AT-ST.  Bagging these would be fantastic, but we needed bigger fish, and the bait was tramping over the grass covered plateau, interspersed with the bandy legged AT-STs.  About twenty Stormtroopers – were they still clones, and if not, did that even matter? – arrayed in three mutually supporting V’s, heading in the same direction as the STs, from our right to left.  Always creatures of habit, they were following a well used trail that we had helpfully cleared of grass two years ago.  You almost didn’t want to kill their leader, in case he was replaced by someone more tactically and technically proficient by several orders of magnitude.  This long stretch of grassland sat in the saddle between two ridgelines that loomed four hundred meters above us.  There was no cover besides a few folds atop the plateau, but concealment aplenty in the grass.  And the rocks above.

Gajari kept feeding me range information, even though we’d walked the area earlier this morning.  One missileer on each flank tracked the STs through their launchers’ scopes and, like the rest of us, waited.  A red triangle in my scope indicated that the lead vehicle had entered the kill zone.  The green arrows pointing at the STs marked the missileers’ aim points – the soft engine under the command module, where the spindly legs met.  You can’t hardly kill an ST from the front, even with blasters, a painful lesson learned during the TIE Fighter factory battle.

The red triangle flashed, meaning both the STs and supporting Stormtroopers were in the kill zone, a mere hundred meters away.  I raised my hand, because using communicators was an invitation for a squadron of TIE fighters to ruin your day.  This time, we wanted them to use their communicators.  And they would, as soon as I dropped my hand.  The missileers fired.  No one knew anymore how – or even why – these things worked, hundreds of years after production, but they did.  Primitive rockets, guided by the reticles in the missiles’ tracking sights, did yeoman’s work.  A soft thump as air canisters shoved the missile out of the tube, then a low roar as the anti-armor missile’s rocket ignited.  We saw Stormtroopers’ heads and blasters turn towards the sound, but they were already too late.   Gajari hit the detonators, and mines exploded along the entire length of the Imperial patrol.  White armor plates, flesh, a pink bloody mist, and bone fragments flew in a hundred directions.  Then the missiles hit.  Then another missile on each ST, just to finish the job.  Their balancing gyros failed, and they fell helplessly and sideways to the ground.

I pumped my fist up and down next to my head, the signal to disperse quickly.  The men followed my order without hesitation.  Only Gajari and I stayed to observe the kill zone.  Once the explosions’ echoes stopped rippling through the canyons, the ambush site became as quiet as if someone pushed a button.  A faint screech overhead, then another.  But TIE fighters don’t just operate in pairs, they work in threes or a full squadron of twelve.  Tonight they didn’t disappoint.

Three surface to air missiles streaked upwards from the ridgeline to our left.  Three more from the right.  Two TIEs evaded, only to collide in midair, flaming pieces floating down between us and the Stormtrooper patrol.  Missiles struck three more, which left only one, trying to put a ridgeline between him and the SAMs.  Two ion-seeking missiles hit him at the same time.  Even the solar panels disintegrated, likely killing the pilot before he had a chance to eject.

I saw him through my thermal scope, in the top hatch of the first smoking ST.  A colonel, from the rank squares on his chest, a gray forage cap instead of a helmet.  He held a communicator to his face, the strain on his face as clear as daylight.  Blood ran down his face from a head wound – those always bleed worse than they actually are, but make for dramatic news holo-vids.  I turned off my scope, because the fires started by our ambush obviated the need for night vision devices.  Gajari and I gathered up our weapons and equipment, and headed to the kill zone.

Gajari started on the far right, guided by any movement illuminated by the burning STs.  His pistol, another projectile weapon instead of plasma, coughed loudly as he applied the coup de grace to wounded Stormtroopers and AT-ST crewmen.  I did the same on the left, and we met in the middle, where the colonel lay on a bed of bloody sawgrass.  Both his legs were gone below the knee, no risk of exsanguination because the explosions had cauterized the wounds.

The colonel was unarmed.  He tried to raise himself up on his elbows, but I planted a knee on his chest and looked down.  I resisted the urge to remove the clumsy helmet with its cumbersome face plate and voice changer – this one might yet survive, so why risk it?  “Attacks like this and the restaurant bombing last month will keep happening, until your kind dies or leaves.  This our world, Colonel.  Not yours.  If you live long enough to be debriefed, tell them that.”

Two days later, I saw a much different colonel in the shop.  The burns on his face were covered in New Skin, and his trouser legs were empty below midthigh.  This far out in the galaxy, I knew he’d have the schlep all the way to Coruscant to get decent prosthetics.  “How much,” asked the legless man in the hover chair.  I told him, and he let me scan his Imperial pay card.  I placed the fake Rebel Alliance flag in his lap, we exchanged a nod, and he scooted out the door.

“Get some of those rebels, Colonel.  It’s bad for business.”

He stopped and turned his chair.  “I’ll be back, and they’ll bleed.  Count on it.”

I flashed what I hoped was a cheery grin.  “Look forward to it.  See you around, then.”

The war continues.

Last Letter From Scarif

My Dearest Beru,

By the time you read this, I will be long gone.  In fact, I’m hoping Jyn sends this along with the DS-1 plans before we’re overrun by the Empire.  Life hasn’t been easy for us, has it?  Twenty years on, it still kills me that you married Owen Lars, but I can’t blame you, what with me gone on one mission or another for the Rebellion all the time.  If anything, what I do is for you, and the family I wish we’d become.

I’ve been busy, to put it mildly.  Since I last saw you ten years ago?  I helped train and advise Saw Gerrera’s insurgents.  Mon Mothma had me take some youngsters under my wing, and we established a network of intelligence assets within the Empire, specifically among its vainglorious pilots.  Most recently, at the behest of Lord Bail, I commanded Leia’s personal protective detail, which was by far the most difficult assignment I ever had.  Every time I was able to take leave, of course, I wanted to return to Tatooine.  And you.  Instead, not wanting to upend your new life with my sudden reappearance, I just took on another assignment.

By the Force, we had such plans when we were younger!  We spoke so often about departing for some barren planet in the Outer Rim to start our family.  We would be beholden to no one, and nothing but the seasons and whatever plot of uncooperative rocky land we decided to cultivate.  I know it was far from easy, after I felt the rebellion’s pull and flew off for training on Alderaan.  I know it killed our dream – but darling, please know that it was for us, for a better future, free from a Sith’s tyranny.

Which leads me to Scarif.  I couldn’t let that damn young hothead Andor go it alone, which is why I led a half dozen members of Leia’s detail onto that shuttle.  I trained them; I trust them, and they trust me.  Lord Bail Organa gave me his blessing, and a bag of proton grenades, before we took off.  It really is that simple.  For what it’s worth, a wristband activated hologram of you has been with me since before you married Owen.  Probably not the healthiest thing, but a man has to cling to something from his home world – and for better or worse, darling, I cling to you.  Between the two religious freaks from Jedha, no orders besides “fight,” and a wishy-washy defector, I knew this would be a one-way trip.

I do this for what we could have been, what you and Owen are, and for the free Republic in which your nosy nephew will grow up.  I have and always will love you.