Forward Operations Base Herbert H. Burr, Iraq
Wednesday, September 19, 2007, Colonel Linder's Office
Sergeant First Class Carol Thomas, Staff Sergeant Juan Ortiz, Sergeant John Smith, and Sergeant Robert Michaels stood at rigid attention in front of Colonel Linder's desk. The desk was one of those nondescript desks which blighted most government offices. Trying to distract himself, Sergeant Michaels examined it as if he never saw a desk before. The metal sides were a bland cream-beige color with a top covered with a wood grained laminate. From personal experience Sergeant Michaels knew that under the laminate surface was a particleboard core that started breaking down the minute you exposed it to air.
Looking at the four Sergeants without appearing to look at them, Colonel Linder felt pride in the four NCOs standing in front of him. He would not let them know that yet. They were lined up from his left to right by order of rank just like they were in formation. The four of them were a microcosm of the Army.
SFC Thomas stood straight and tall in her ACUs. The pattern actually accentuated her skin which was the color of coffee with cream. Her piercing black eyes sat on either side of a straight, medium width nose that spoke of at least one Caucasian ancestor. In Iraq, to save time, she quit straightening her hair and worked it into cornrows, which accentuated the shape of her head. The Colonel met her husband at several Battalion events; he was a lucky man indeed. Off duty Thomas had a winning smile and pleasant disposition. At work she was all business, a soldier's soldier.
Next to SFC Thomas was SSgt Ortiz. As a student of pre-Columbian art Colonel Linder had seen noses like Ortiz's more than once. All of them were in pictures of Aztec warriors and royalty. It fit well with the rest of Sergeant Ortiz's face. His slightly hooded brown eyes completed the image of a warrior. Unlike the Aztec warriors in the paintings, the Sergeant's high and tight haircut was short enough you could comb it with a wash cloth.
Sergeant Smith looked like a fresh faced kid with his freckles and close cropped red hair. When he opened his mouth, his native South Georgia poured out. With constant applications of sunscreen the Sergeant managed to keep his skin a medium pink. Just thinking about Smith's sunburn made Colonel Linder wince.
Sergeant Michaels was the newest Sergeant and the farthest to the right in the line. Michaels, with his dark tan, brown eyes, short brown hair, solid good looks, 173 centimeter height and 77 kilogram weight looked like the model for a recruiting poster.
Except for "don't ask, don't tell," he would be a career soldier. Although some of the senior Generals thought it was a good policy, it had cost Colonel Linder's unit its best Arabic speaker and Michaels. The Colonel was beginning to think maybe it was time to change the policy.
The four Sergeants had been standing at attention in front of the Colonel's desk for the last five minutes while Colonel Linder shuffled the papers in front of him. Looking at the papers in front of him the Colonel thought: About two more minutes of silence ought to do it. Of all the boneheaded stunts, they go out and give an international press conference without clearing it with anyone in the chain of command. The worst of it is, I agree with what they did.
Not only that, the raid Sergeant Thomas planned was a piece of tactical brilliance, which is one thing that is going to save the four of them. That and the fact Michaels probably knew his career was over, so he had nothing to lose as the public face of this end run around the administration.
The current Secretary of Defense would have buried this thing so deep no one would ever know. At least he is better than the former Secretary of Defense. The man ignored any fact that didn't fit his opinion. If I did that, the Army would bust me to private for pure arrogant stupidity.
Raising his head, the Colonel slowly turned his head and stared into the eyes of each of the Sergeants in front of him. "Sergeant Thomas your plan to capture the Raznits ship showed very good tactical sense. All four of you executed the plan well and promptly adapted to the changing situation. I read all of your after action reports. I'm very proud of the four of you. Normally, I would recommend Sergeant Thomas for a Silver Star and the rest of you for Bronze Stars.
"Then the four of you fucked the whole thing up. You know Sergeants do not take captured prisoners to the media and give press conferences. If you don't know that, then you really are too stupid to keep your stripes. I know the official after action report states Sergeant Michaels acted entirely on his own to organize the press conferences announcing an alien threat to this planet." Pointing at the light grey eagle on his ACUs he continued. "Do you think I earned this eagle by being that stupid?"
All four Sergeants immediately responded in loud clear voices. "No Sir."
"Michaels did you know about the don't ask, don't tell investigation?" As Sergeant Michaels started to respond the Colonel held up a hand. "Don't answer that."
For the next ten minutes the Colonel alternated between chewing out the four Sergeants and complimenting them on capturing the Raznits' spaceship the previous week. Finally, he added. "The President and the Secretary of Defense both wanted the four of you given Dishonorable Discharges. The Congressional Black Caucus and the Speaker of the House threatened to start impeachment proceedings for both of them if that happened. Not only that, a certain ex-Navy fighter jock in the Senate informed the President, if that happened he would ensure there was a two-thirds majority in the Senate to convict the two of them. Thomas, the public wants us to give you the Congressional Medal of Honor for your actions.
"You will pay for your actions, but not quite in the way you thought. Sergeant Thomas, you'll receive the Distinguished Service Cross. You other three will receive Silver Stars with V's for Valor and the rest of your unit will receive Bronze Stars with V's for Valor. Tomorrow morning, the President will personally present the four of you with your awards.
"Afterwards you'll appear in front of a joint session of the House and Senate Arm Services Committees. First they will publicly commend your actions, then they'll grill you in closed door hearings. Thomas, because you locked everyone but you and these other three out of the Raznits' computer, the Secretary of Defense assigned you four to guard the ship. Your enlistments are indefinitely extended."
Colonel Linder noticed Sergeant Michaels raised eyebrow. "Michaels, the don't ask, don't tell investigation came to a complete halt after the stunt you pulled in Washington last Wednesday. For some reason the Secretary wants to keep you." The Colonel paused ominously, then added. "Forever."
With a conspiratorial look the Colonel continued. "You never heard me say this, but the only way out of this is with the help of Congress."
Colonel Linder then discussed travel arrangements for the four Sergeants. Two Sergeants would fly in each shuttle piloted by one of the captured Raznits pilots. Their destination was Patuxent Naval Air Test Center in Maryland. The Pentagon and the Secretary of Defense wanted to turn the entire project over to the Navy.
At Patuxent, Marine MPs would take the pilots to a holding cell. The four Sergeants would be guests of the Navy for the day and the Secretary of Defense would join them for lunch. Although it was already 0930 in Iraq, because of the eight hour time difference, it was only 0130 Thursday morning in Washington DC. The flight time for the two shuttles would only be forty-five minutes.
Friday morning a Marine helicopter would transport the four Sergeants to the White House for a 1000 presentation ceremony. The President would present SFC Thomas the Distinguished Service Cross and present Silver Stars to the other three. After the award ceremony, a car would take them to the Capitol for the hearings. The Navy wanted Sergeant Thomas to unlock the ship's computers after the hearings so their people could take control of the ship.
The Colonel released the four so they could pack all their gear. As he put it, this was probably the last time anyone in the Army would ever see them. This did not set well with the four Sergeants. Within the hour, the Sergeants were standing by the two Raznits' shuttles with their duffle bags. Per standard operating procedure, they were in combat armor, ACH helmets, and carried a fully loaded M-4 with six additional 30 round magazines in their web gear. In other words, they were dressed for another day at the office.
The Raznits' shuttles were a box three meters high, and three meters wide by ten meters long, with a slightly sloped front. The gravitronic propulsion system they used did not require wings or fins for lift or stabilization. The shuttle rested on four small skids. The skids and their supports provided a clearance of about 50 centimeters; so the gravitronic nodes on the underside did not touch the ground.
Before boarding the shuttles, each of the Sergeants shook Colonel Linder's hand. None of them saluted him. In a combat zone saluting an officer was a good way to help a sniper identify him as an officer. Picking up their duffle bags, SFC Thomas and Sergeant Michaels boarded a shuttle with Lieutenant Junior Grade Trinig Collut. Lieutenant Collut piloted the shuttle which attacked SFC Thomas' convoy.
Was it only last week? Now he was her prisoner for a few more hours, then he would be someone else's problem. As the junior engineering officer on the Raznits' ship, he was important for more reasons than his ability to fly a shuttle.
The two Sergeants spent most of their off duty time during the previous week befriending the Lieutenant. Meanwhile, Sergeant Ortiz and Sergeant Smith spent their time with Ensign Tolmac Rignow, the other shuttle pilot. The Ensign had been the assistant navigator on the 'IRSN Tavnit Oma' prior to its capture.
The rest of the surviving crewmembers were in one section of the military prison at The Guantánamo Bay Naval Base ("GTMO" pronounced Gitmo). Because SFC Thomson delivered the shuttles to Colonel Linder at FOB Burr, the two pilots also ended up at FOB Burr. By isolating these two from the rest of the crew, the Colonel hoped to convince them that cooperation with the U.S. Government was their only hope.
Sergeants Michaels and Thompson spent the flight trying to cement their relationship with Lieutenant Collut. If the Secretary of Defense was going to prevent them from ever leaving the ship, then they wanted some kind of Ace in the Hole to provide them with a better negotiating position.
Also during the flight, Sergeant Michaels practiced his Raznits with Lieutenant Collut. Michaels grew up on a 100-acre dairy farm in the Township of Milton, Vermont and attended school in the Village of Milton. Vermont's system of government dates from when it was a British colony. All land in the state is located within a township. Although the state has 13 counties, the basic unit of government is the township. For this reason every farm in the state is located within a township.
Growing up where he did, Michaels had a choice of five television channels. Three of the five were from Montreal, Quebec, and two of them only broadcast in French. Like many children from northern Vermont, he spoke some French by the time he was five.
His Father's sister, Aunt Valerie, managed to receive a full scholarship to McGill University. She wanted a degree in French Language and Literature. Reasoning that the French courses at McGill would be better than the ones at the University of Vermont, she accepted the scholarship. Her intention was to return to Vermont after graduating and teach high school French. Instead she met Jean Michel Bergér and married him.
Every summer Robert Michaels and his brother Phillip would spend two weeks with their first cousins in the Montreal suburbs. For those two weeks they spoke only French. His two cousins, Marie and Marc, would then return to the farm and spend two weeks milking cows, bailing and stacking hay, and learning about farm life. During their two weeks on the farm the cousins only spoke English. By the time they were in high school all of the cousins spoke fluent English and French.
In high school, Michaels took Spanish, not French, as his foreign language. For that reason, learning a fourth language was not that much of challenge. He was able to carry on long conversations with Lieutenant Collut and Ensign Rignow.
Michaels scored high in two areas on his Army aptitude tests, language skills and mechanical skills. He signed up to be a Light Wheel Mechanic, knowing that he wanted to study engineering using his Montgomery GI Bill money.
Sergeant Ortiz grew up in the Rio Grande Valley speaking more Spanish than English. Like Michaels, adding a new language was not that difficult. He could actually communicate simple ideas to Ensign Rignow.
Sergeant Thomas grew up in Memphis, Tennessee; speaking only English. For her, learning Raznits was the one of the hardest things she had ever done. After one week of trying to communicate with Lieutenant Collut, she was only able to cobble together simple sentences.
Sergeant Smith grew up in Cairo, a small town in South Georgia, which he pronounced Kay row. For some reason he retained a true southern accent. There were some of the other soldiers who actually thought English was his second language. That was not true; Smith just used a large number of regional expressions. He was always "a fixin' to crank his HMMV," which meant that he was about to start his HMMV. Like Sergeant Thomas, he had a difficult time learning a second language as an adult.
The four Sergeants worked on their language skills as the two shuttles streaked toward Patuxent, Maryland, at several times the speed of sound.
At 0320 U.S. Eastern Daylight Time, the shuttles were cleared for final approach at Patuxent Naval Air Test Center. The Raznits pilots landed them on the tarmac apron between the two main hangers. After the two shuttles landed, the four Sergeants and the two Raznits pilots waited on the tarmac as a dark van approached. The two Raznits pilots were finally starting to adapt to the heavy gravity. But standing for even a few minutes made them feel like someone was trying to push them into the ground.
Four Marine MPs in Class A Service Uniforms with belts for their M-9 pistols climbed out of the van. The Class A Service Uniform for fall and winter consists of an olive drab green long waisted coat worn over a long sleeve khaki shirt, a khaki tie, and dress pants that match the coat.
All four Marines had spent time in al Anbar province in Iraq. One glance at the four soldiers standing by the boxes which had just landed told the Marines that these soldiers were not what they expected. Their Company Commander told them that four Army soldiers would arrive with two prisoners. The Marines expected four Army MPs in Army Green Class A uniforms.
These soldiers definitely were not any MPs the Marines were familiar with. On their right shoulders were combat patches from four different units. On their left shoulders, each of them had a triangular unit patch. The Marines did not immediately recognize the patch of the 11th Armored Division. The patch is a triangle with an 11 in the upper third. In the center of the triangle is a tank track with two road wheels. Over the tank treads is a crossed cannon barrel and lightning bolt. Under the triangle is a strip with the word "THUNDERBOLT" all in capital letters.
The way the three men and one woman held their MP-4's as they scanned the area, it was obvious that the weapon was as much a part of them as an extra arm. The biggest surprise was what the two prisoners wore. They both were wearing light blue short sleeve shirts and dark blue dress pants. Their shoes were a highly polished black with light blue socks. The four soldiers and two prisoners wore U.S. Army Advance Combat Helmets ("ACHs"). Looking closer, the Marines noticed that the two prisoners had gray skin.
The NCO in charge of the Marine MPs, Gunnery Sergeant Miguel Ortiz, scanned the four soldiers. He spotted Sergeant Thomas' rank insignia on the front of her ACUs. Realizing she was the senior NCO. Gunny Ortiz approached SFC Thomas and began questioning her about the prisoners. Captain Thomas McCoy, his Commanding Officer, told Ortiz to treat the prisoners gently. The government wanted their cooperation for some project.
All four of the Sergeants were scanning their surroundings as if they were still back at FOB Burr. As Gunny Ortiz approached, the doors of the hanger directly behind them started to open. The doors created a loud grating sound and a booming thud as the first movable door section slid into the one next to it. Sergeant Thomas and Sergeant Ortiz spun around facing the potential threat. At the same time Sergeants Michaels and Smith each grabbed a prisoner's shoulder and started pushing them to the ground. Gunny Ortiz watched the soldier's response, and then laughed out loud.
As soon as Sergeants Thomas and Ortiz recognized the source of the sound they turned back toward Gunny Ortiz. At that moment, Gunny Ortiz recognized his first cousin Juan. "Hey, Juan I thought you were in Iraq with an Armored Division."
Sergeant Juan Ortiz glanced at his watch. "Miguel, until an hour ago I was. Because I helped capture these two and the ship they were on, the Colonel made me escort them here."
"How the hell did a sand sucking soldier like you capture a ship out in the desert? For that matter, how the fuck did you get from Iraq to here in less than an hour?"
Pointing over his shoulder Juan Ortiz said. "Actually, Sergeant Thomas and Sergeant Michaels captured this space shuttle when it attacked them in the desert. My troops and I helped them capture the spaceship it came from."
After that, Staff Sergeant Juan Ortiz proceeded to introduce the other three Sergeants and their two prisoners to his cousin Gunnery Sergeant Miguel Ortiz. Gunny Ortiz then instructed them to move the two shuttles into the hanger behind them. Juan invited his cousin to ride to the hanger in the shuttle with him.
Walking behind Ensign Rignow, Gunny Ortiz noticed he seemed to move like an old man. The Gunny asked his cousin why if the pilot was so old he was still an Ensign. Sergeant Ortiz explained to him that the Raznits lived on a planet where the gravity is 80 percent of Earth normal. When the four of them reached the pilot's compartment, Gunny Ortiz felt like he was falling.
"Watch out, Miguel we keep the pilot's compartment at Raznits' normal so the pilots are comfortable. Otherwise they're too worn out to fly this thing."
"You fought the Raznits in this gravity?"
"Yes. It actually made it easier because the weapons were not as heavy. It definitely worked against them, as living in a gravity field 125 percent of theirs makes us 125 percent stronger. Between that and the 240 Bravos we kicked their butts. When Sergeant Thomas' people took Lieutenant Collut's shuttle they actually crushed the skulls of the Raznits soldiers in hand to hand combat. Half of Sergeant Thomas' troops were women. They still had the strength to crush the Raznits' skulls with one blow."
Gunny Ortiz expressed some doubt about the truth of his cousin's statement. Like most Marines, he did not believe Army soldiers, especially women soldiers could crush a man's skull. Had his cousin told him it was women Marines, the Gunny would have believed him.
During the two minutes it took for Ensign Rignow to steer the shuttle into the hanger and park it, the two Sergeants told Gunny Ortiz about the Raznits attack on Sergeant Thomas' convoy and the subsequent capture of the Raznits' spaceship. Sergeant Smith told about holding the shuttle bay while the Tuvet Marat tried to retake it. Gunny Ortiz could not believe the Tuvet Marat bunched up the way they did. His comment was, "Didn't they learn anything about combat in basic training?"
The translation program translated the entire conversation into Raznits for Ensign Rignow. A week ago he would have defended the honor of the Tuvet Marat. After spending the last week at FOB Burr with the daily mortar and sniper attacks, he was beginning to understand these soldiers. The Tuvet Marat practiced putting down slave revolts once or twice a year for about two hours. The soldiers at FOB Burr practiced staying alive in a hostile environment all day every day. Additionally, he heard the soldiers tell stories of their daily patrols into town searching for insurgents. He now knew the Tuvet Marat played at war, these men and women lived it.
The Ensign was beginning to realize that if the Empire landed Tuvet Marat on this planet, they would not last a day. The only way the IRSN was going to subdue this planet was by leveling most of the cities and killing most of the people. If he had any doubt of that, it quickly vanished when he realized how much trouble these soldiers were having suppressing the insurgency. Sergeant Ortiz made it very clear that the Iraqi insurgents were civilians and not trained soldiers.
When the Marine MPs started to take the two Raznits pilots away, Sergeant Thomas reached into the shuttle and pulled out an ACH. Throwing it to Gunny Ortiz she said, "Here use this, we have the shuttle computer set to translate anything you say from English to Raznits so the pilots can understand you. Otherwise you will be using hand signals to direct them. Even with the boost from the shuttle's transmitter the range is only 400 meters when you're indoors."
Catching the helmet Gunny Ortiz replied, "Thank you, Thomas. I'll remember that."
Sitting outside the hanger was a second van with a Lance Corporal as the driver. As the four sergeants entered the van, he informed them that they would be taken to a barracks until 0730. At 0730 he would pick the Sergeants up outside the barracks and take them to Fort Belvoir for U. S. Army Class A uniforms. The Secretary of Defense even authorized the Army to pay for their uniforms.
The first stop before the barracks was the Marine MP armory. The four Sergeants surrendered their M-4s to the Armorer who provided each of them receipts. The next stop was the barracks. By this time it was 0410 local time and 1210 Baghdad time. After receiving their room assignments from the Charge of Quarters ("CQ") the four Sergeants found their rooms. Like most soldiers, they learned in basic training to sleep anytime you could because you never knew when you would be able to sleep again. Five minutes after finding their rooms, all four Sergeants were sound asleep.
Sergeant Michaels performed one last check of Sergeant Thomas' Class A uniform, making sure there was no fuzz, loose hairs, or hanging threads. After he inspected her front and back, she turned her attention to his uniform. While the two of them were doing this Sergeant Ortiz and Sergeant Smith were doing the same thing for each other.
Above their other awards both Sergeant Ortiz and Sergeant Smith wore the silver and blue Combat Infantry Badge. Above her other awards Sergeant Thomas wore the Combat Action Badge, she earned on her first tour in Iraq. After tomorrow's award ceremony Sergeant Michaels would be able to wear the Combat Action Badge and the other three Sergeants would qualify for a single star above their respective Combat Badges. During his first tour in Iraq, although he dodged a lot of mortar rounds and IED's Sergeant Michaels was never directly engaged in combat. For this reason he did not have a Combat Action Badge.
The Army started issuing Combat Infantry Badges during World War II, to recognize Infantry and later Special Forces soldiers who were under hostile fire in a combat zone. The Army created the Combat Action Badge in 2005 to recognize soldiers without Infantry, Special Forces, or Medical specialties who were directly involved in a fire fight. U.S. Army Medical personnel qualify for the Combat Medic Badge in a similar situation. For each subsequent award, the soldier receives the basic badge with one star at the top of the badge. The Army only awards one Combat Badge per tour in Iraq or Afghanistan so a Combat Badge with two stars would indicate three tours in Iraq or Afghanistan where the soldier was directly engaged in combat with the enemy.
After their final inspection of each others uniforms, the Sergeants walked into the small dinning room near the Base Commander's office. Although it was already 1215 they were waiting for the arrival of the Secretary of Defense so they could start lunch. To say that this was an honor the four would gladly give up would be an understatement.
A First Class Petty Officer stood next to the door leading into the kitchen. Although none of the Sergeants could read his patch the symbol under the Eagle on his rank insignia, indicated he was a Culinary Specialist. As a CS1, Petty Officer Thomas Richards ran the Commanding Officer's private dining room. The main Galley and the Officers' Dining Room were on the ground floor of the building and used a separate staff. Because of the nature of his Commanding Officer's guest, Richards wore his Full Dress Blues complete with white gloves; instead of his usual kitchen uniform.
Petty Officer Richards was the epitome of naval punctuality. The entire meal was ready to serve as soon as the CO's other guests arrived. He surveyed the dining room as if it was his personal domain. In the center of the room was a table set for eight.
The Secretary of State was to sit at the head of the table with his two guests on either side of him. The Captain would sit at the foot of the table with two Sergeants on either side of him. At each place was a 12 inch white charger with a blue stripe around both the inside and outside of the rim. At the top of the charger was a blue Captain's pennant. On the charger was a white starched linen napkin folded in the classic bishop's cap style. To the upper left of the charger was a white saucer and inverted coffee cup in the same pattern as the charger. On the other side were glasses for water and iced tea.
Like NCOs the world over, Petty Officer Richards was well connected to the grapevine for his branch of the military. That, and a phone call from Gunny Ortiz provided him with all the information he needed about the four Army Sergeants who had invaded his domain.
Under normal circumstances no one below the rank of O-4, either a Navy Lieutenant Commander or a Marine Major, was likely to be invited to dine in the CO's personal dining room. The fact that these people were meeting with Secretary of Defense said volumes about their importance. The story Gunny Ortiz told about his cousin also said a lot. It was hard for a soldier to impress a Marine, and these four had impressed the Gunny. Along with all that, for two days last week he had seen the face of Sergeant Michaels on every TV news program.
Ten minutes later the Marine guard at the door shouted. "Attention on deck." All four Sergeants snapped to attention. Michaels was facing the door when the Marine guard announced the arrival of the visitors. Two men in dark suits entered and took up positions on either side of the door. Michaels almost dropped his jaw when he saw the next person through the door was the Vice-President of the United States. Directly behind him was the Secretary of Defense followed by the Base Commander, Navy Captain John Michel. Behind Captain Michel was an officer in Naval Service Dress Blues with the three wide gold stripes of a Commander on his sleeve. Over his ribbons was a pair of gold dolphins. His name tag said "Tilletson."
The Secretary of Defense said. "At ease gentlemen. This is an informal meeting to discuss your recent exploits."
While the Vice President stood behind the chair at the head of the table looking dour; the Secretary of Defense urged everyone to take their seats. Once everyone except the secret service detail and the Marine guards were seated, the Base Commander signaled Petty Officer Richards to start the lunch.
Richards stepped into the galley and signaled that it was time to start lunch. Two Apprentice Culinary Specialists (E-3) picked up serving trays with cups of New York style clam chowder. The CO preferred the taste of the tomato based chowder over the more common cream based New England style clam chowder. Like Petty Officer Richards, they wore their Dress Blues instead of their normal black blouse and white pants with black checks.
Over the next ninety minutes the Vice-President and the Secretary of Defense questioned the four Sergeants. While they did, the Apprentice Culinary Specialists continued to serve the meal under the watchful eye of CS1 Richards. About twenty five minutes into the conversation, about the time they were clearing the baked cod with pilaf and baby peas; Sergeant Michaels made a statement. It had the same impact as if he threw a live grenade into the middle of the table.
Michaels informed them that Lieutenant Junior Grade Collut was positive a Raznits rescue mission would arrive in the solar system within five to six years. The Lieutenant was not sure when the 'Tavnit Oma' was due back. He did know that the Captain talked about a five year exploration mission at the departure briefing. Based on standard Imperial Raznits Space Navy procedures, if a ship was overdue the IRSN mounted a search and rescue operation for the ship. If the IRSN followed standard procedures for a voyage of that length, the IRSN should launch a rescue mission when the Tuvet Oma was six months overdue. The Lieutenant was sure it would at least be a destroyer, and might be a cruiser.
Sergeant Michaels continued. "Mr. Secretary, I suggest you stop trying to punish the four of us and start worrying about whether your children and grandchildren will continue to be free or will they be Raznits slaves."
Shifting his eyes from the Secretary of Defense to the Vice-President, Sergeant Michaels gave a revised version of the short speech he prepared when he found out he would be meeting with the Secretary of Defense.
"You are both mad at me for giving the press conference on the Mall. These three had nothing to do with that. When they finish testifying before Congress send them back to 11th Armored. Then you can announce that lo and behold you discovered I'm one of those homosexuals and promptly discharge me. I was already under a 'don't ask don't tell' investigation when the Raznits attacked so it will be easy to document. I'm learning to speak Raznits from the pilots. Give me an Honorable Discharge and I'll go to work for DoD as a civilian advisor. Keep screwing around with my friends, I'll make your lives a living hell."
Despite the raspberry sorbet sitting in front of him, the Vice-President looked like he bit into something bitter. The Secretary of Defense looked thoughtful. The two naval officers sat there with absolutely no expression on their faces. Neither one of the officers was comfortable with an enlisted man who knew he had absolutely nothing to lose challenging the chain of command, even if he was right. They definitely did not want any sympathy for the four Sergeants to show on their faces.
Finally, the Secretary of Defense turned to the Vice-President. He called the Vice-President by his first name, then added. "You and the President may want to punish these four people, I don't. Now back off and let me plan the defense of the Country. The last Secretary of Defense wouldn't let anyone tell him that he was wrong. Look where that got us."
The Secretary of Defense then explained in no uncertain terms that he was going to need Congress behind him for the emergency funding, and punishing the four heroes of the first battle of the war was bad public relations. He added that Sergeant Michaels' plan sounded like a good one with one exception. He intended to give Michaels an early Honorable Discharge and ignore everything about his sexual orientation. In the near future, the U.S. might need every person they could lay their hands on. When that happened, it might not be smart to alienate ten percent of the country's population.
Finally, The Secretary determined that the other three Sergeants were willing to agree to the deal. All three of them said that it sounded like a good idea to them.
At this point Sergeant Thomas made a request to the Secretary of Defense. She asked him to rechristen the 'Tavnit Oma' as the 'United States Spaceship Harriet Tubman.' She explained that like Harriet Tubman, the ship would lead the people out of slavery. Or in this case lead them down a path to prevent them becoming slaves.
The Secretary of Defense indicated that he would think about the idea. He had not given a new name for the spaceship much consideration.
At that moment Commander Tilletson spoke up. "I know the story of Harriet Tubman, and I would be proud to command a vessel named after her. From everything I've read, she showed calm and courage against overwhelming odds while she was a Conductor on the Underground Railway."
The Secretary of Defense said. "If you don't mind being the Captain of the 'USS Harriet Tubman, ' then that's what we'll call her. It may even convince some Congressmen to provide the extra funding we will need for R&D on this project."
The Secretary of Defense spent the next ten minutes talking to Sergeant Michaels about how he learned Raznits. Michaels explained, Raznits was actually his fourth language. He added that he had almost no interaction with Arabic speaking Iraqis so he did not know more than a few words of Arabic.
Michaels dropped his next bombshell. During his talks with the two Raznits pilots, he discovered they expected to be made the personal slaves of one of their captors. Michaels suggested that each of the prisoners be paired with a military or DoD (Dee Oh Dee) Civilian technical person, who already spoke at least two languages. Then while these people worked with their Raznits counterpart, they could lead the Raznits to believe they were personal slaves of the technical person. That way the Raznits officers and enlisted men would feel they did not have a choice about helping understand the various Raznits devices on the ship.
At that suggestion Sergeant Thomas blew-up and started dressing down Sergeant Michaels. Michaels allowed her to wind down then he held up is hand palm out in the stop gesture. "Sarge, I'm not saying we should make them our slaves. I'm saying if they think they are our slaves they'll cooperate. Any of the Raznits without technical skills should be sent back to the POW camp and treated like regular POWs. Any of the officers or enlisted who have technical skills and won't co-operate should be sent to another POW camp. Haven't you noticed Lieutenant Collut thinks he's your slave?"
"I don't want no damn slave! I will straighten him out right now." With that Sergeant Thomas started to stand up.
"Sergeant, Sit Down. Now!" snapped the Secretary of Defense. "I think Sergeant Michaels has half a good idea. Instead of making them think they are slaves, we will tell them that if they co-operate we will not make them into slaves. What we don't tell them is if they don't co-operate, we still won't make them slaves."
Sergeant Thomas sat looking thoughtful for several minutes. "I can live with that. I will not let anyone make someone else into a slave no matter how much they deserve to find out what it's like to lose your freedom."
Finally, the Vice-President agreed to support the plan the four Sergeants and the Secretary of Defense worked out. The Secretary of Defense turned to Commander Tilletson. As he was going to be the Captain of the 'Harriet Tubman' The Secretary wanted to know what he thought of the plan. The Commander said he particularly liked the change in plans concerning the treatment of the four Sergeants. He indicated that he did not want crewmembers aboard ship against their will.
At this point the Vice-President announced that he needed to leave. Then he added. "I need to go tell the President what he agreed to."
The Secretary of Defense thought. He really does run the country. From what I've seen the old Secretary of Defense and the Vice-President actually ran the Whitehouse while the President played McArthur without the pipe.
After the Vice-President left, the Secretary of Defense introduced Commander Charles Tilletson. Commander Tilletson grew up in Wilmington, North Carolina. After high school, he attended the U. S. Naval Academy, graduating forty-fifth in his class.
Upon graduating the Naval Academy in 1994, he attended Submarine School in Groton, Connecticut where he graduated top in his class. Commander Tilletson's last command was the Virginia class Fast Attach Submarine 'USS Kansas' (SSN 790). Under his command the 'Kansas' received two E's for excellence and a Presidential Unit Citation.
As the Captain of the 'Harriet Tubman' his job was to make her battle ready; while coordinating with the supervisor of the shipboard research and development team. Currently the Chief of Naval Operations ("CNO") was selecting a crew with high efficiency ratings in their technical areas. They would be working directly with several scientists from the Jet Propulsion Lab and Los Alamos. The Department of Energy was working on selection of the people who would try to reverse engineer the Raznits technology. Additionally, there would be a forty man Marine detail to act as on board security and police. The First Lieutenant in charge of the detachment would also function as the ship's Provost Marshal.
Currently, there were no Sailors, Marines, or scientists stationed on the newly christened 'Harriet Tubman.' Sergeant Thomas' lockout on all the control systems prevented anyone from boarding the ship without her authorization. The Secretary of Defense intended to rectify the situation before the end of the day.
The Secretary of Defense said. "Sergeant Thomas, as you will not be making the 'Harriet Tubman' your new home, I would appreciate it if you and Commander Tilletson could fly up there after lunch and change command from you to him. Be sure to institute some form of command override so whoever is the current Secretary of Defense can install a new Captain if the old Captain is killed or disabled."
"Yes Sir. The sooner the better."
Commander Tilletson said. "Mr. Secretary, have you considered my request that you promote my XO Lieutenant Commander Slater and make him the new Captain of the 'Kansas'?"
Yes, I did and the answer is still no. We just promoted three submarine officers to Commander last week. One of them will take command of the 'Kansas'."
"In that case may I request Commander Slater as my XO on the 'Tubman'?"
"I don't see any reason you can't have him as your XO. You two have been together for the last eighteen months. You'll be riding herd on a group of civilian scientists, along with the Sailors and Marines. So I want the command structure operating as smoothly as possible."
"Thank you Sir, I'll make sure everything operates smoothly."
Shooting a glance at Sergeant Michaels, he continued. "That includes the newly minted Civilian. Michaels, I don't understand why someone like you would chose to be a homosexual. You have skills the crew needs to function, so you and I will work together, but don't expect me to be your friend."
Michaels looked at Commander Tilletson and started to speak when suddenly Sergeant Thomas said: "Sir, you need to take your head out of your third point of contact. Michaels did not choose to be a bisexual any more than I chose to be Black. Why on Earth would someone choose to be one of the most hated and reviled people on the planet?"
Sergeant Thomas' statement stunned Commander Tilletson. As he sat thinking about what Sergeant Thomas said, she continued. "Michaels is a good soldier; don't ever forget that. He took out a Tuvet Marat armed with a rifle, with his bare hands. His quick thinking prevented the Raznits from retaking engineering with no loss of life on our side."
"What do you mean took out?"
"I mean he killed the fucker. The idiot made the mistake of pointing his rifle at Michaels' chest and threatening to kill him. Michaels took away the rifle and killed the bastard with his bare hands."
This was a piece of information that Commander Tilletson did not know. Looking at Sergeant Michaels, he saw a man who looked calm and relaxed. Instead, from what Sergeant Thomas was saying, Michaels could be a dangerous man. This did not fit Tilletson's preconceived notions of how homosexuals act.
Michaels turned to the Secretary of Defense. "If Commander Tilletson does not want me on his ship, just give me an Honorable Discharge and I'll go away."
Before the Secretary of Defense could speak, Tilletson spoke up. 'Michaels, I'm willing to work with you. I just want you to know you make me uncomfortable."
"Sir, if you promise not to try and seduce me; I'll promise not to try and seduce you." The look on Commander Tilletson's face was priceless. Then he sputtered out a laugh.
Continuing, Michaels said: "Commander, would you try and have sex with a woman who made it clear she did not like you, or one who only wanted to be your friend?"
"No I wouldn't."
"Precisely, it's the same with me. If someone doesn't want to have sex with me, I will not pursue them. Because of our working relationship, we both need to try to become friends.
Commander Tilletson rose and extended his hand to Sergeant Michaels. As Michaels gripped the Commander's hand with a grip just short of bone crushing, Tilletson said. "I don't know about friends, but I will treat you like a shipmate."
Seeing the confusion on Michaels' face, he continued. "You may fuss at your shipmates on board, but on shore leave you stick together and protect each other.
Watching how Commander Tilletson and Sergeant Michaels were interacting, the Secretary of Defense decided he needed to do something to level the playing field. Prior to Michaels' announcement that he could speak Raznits well enough to carry on conversations with the shuttle pilots, the Secretary of Defense planned to discharge Michaels and forget about him.
Now he needed the man to speed up acquiring information on Raznits technology. Also, considering the loyalty the other Sergeants showed to Michaels when he was the junior Sergeant said something for his leadership skills. The man proved he was a take charge kind of person when he released the information on the Raznits without prior approval. Maybe the Secretary could take advantage of this and put Michaels in a position where being a loose cannon would cost him dearly.
The Secretary asked Michaels if he ever considered being a manager. His response was that he was already in charge of a squad, and he felt he could handle a platoon if he had to. The Secretary informed him that he needed a civilian to be in charge of the civilian scientists on the ship. One of the requirements would be an understanding of Raznits, and a basic knowledge of mechanical engineering.
It seemed to Michaels managing scientists would be like trying to herd cats. They all wanted to go off in their own direction without supervision. Further, they all felt their work was the most important. Michaels was of the opinion that this was a job he would like to pass up. Just as he was about to thank the Secretary and decline the offer, the Secretary of Defense informed him the job was a GS-14 position. That would make him the equivalent of an Army Lieutenant Colonel or a Navy Commander.
Commander Tilletson objected to Michaels' promotion. He spent twelve years reaching the equivalent rank. The Secretary explained, as head of research and development, Michaels would need a high civilian rank. Most of the scientists working for him would be GS-13s, GS-14s, and possibly one GS-15.
Sergeant Michaels was not buying the story at all. He knew the only way to earn the scientist's respect was to treat them well, and show some understanding of their projects.
Finally, the Secretary explained he wanted Michaels to outrank everyone except Commander Tilletson. Weapons development was to be the top priority for both Michaels and the Commander. The Raznits would be back in less than six years and the Secretary wanted weapons capable of killing a Raznits cruiser. What he did not say was if things went wrong, Michaels would be the one thrown to the wolves.
Commander Tilletson and Sergeant Michaels both agreed that if a cruiser managed to escape, Earth would have very little chance against a Raznits fleet. Michaels' opinion was that if they could destroy or capture whoever came looking for the 'Tavnit Oma, ' they would have four or five additional years to develop a system wide defense network. By that time he expected the Raznits to return with a fleet consisting of several cruisers and destroyers.
From everything Michaels could find out, the IRSN did not have battleships or carriers. He intended to use that fact to Earth's advantage. He was already picturing designs for stealth fighters and a carrier to deliver them where they were needed. The Secretary, Michaels, and Commander Tilletson spent the next ten minutes discussing the direction of the initial research. The Secretary wanted weapons systems, especially energy weapons and propulsion systems for missiles. Commander Tilletson was more interested in developing ships that could stand up to a Raznits cruiser.
The meeting finally broke up when the Secretary announced he needed to return to the Pentagon. He did remind the four Sergeants that he would see them at the White House the next day for the presentation of their medals. He would also be with them when they testified before Congress tomorrow. Before leaving, he informed Sergeants Thomas, Ortiz, and Smith he was granting them two weeks leave starting the day after the Congressional hearings. The Army was also providing each of them with airline tickets and travel orders so they could return to their families before rejoining the 11th Armored Division in Iraq.
Sergeant Michaels' situation was different. The Secretary was giving him an Honorable Discharge right after the congressional hearings. He would then return to the 11th Armored's home base at Fort Riley, Kansas. He was to retrieve all of his personal effects from long term storage. After which he would clear post and return any TA-50 gear (a soldier's standard issue of packs, web belts, and other gear) to base supply.
While he was clearing post at Fort Riley, Sergeant Michaels would also fill in all of the paperwork to become a DoD Civilian employee. After completing the paperwork and clearing post, Michaels would have one week to put his affairs in order starting with a trip to Los Alamos, New Mexico. The following week he would start his new job as Research Director. His first stop after that would be the prison at Guantánamo Bay Naval Station where the U.S. Government was holding all of the Raznits prisoners. The Secretary of Defense loaned Michaels a shuttle and Lieutenant Collut for transportation.
After lunch Sergeant Michaels, Sergeant Thomas, and Commander Tilletson left the CO's mess to pick up a shuttle pilot so they could fly up to the 'Tubman.' Thomas intended to shift command of the ship to Tilletson so she could start her leave on time. What she did not tell Tilletson was she had a surprise for him when she transferred command.