Chapter 17 - Errors






US Strategic Command (STRATCOM)

Offutt Air Force Base

Omaha, Neb


Colonel Jacobs was still shaken from the suicide of his long time boss. He had a cup of black coffee to steady his nerves and continued with his work. With the exception of some short ranged missile launches near the battle areas in the South China Sea, there had been no more strategic threats. All eyes were on the Chinese ICBM sites scattered across the sprawling country.


One of the men on his staff said, “It’s the red phone for you sir.”


It took Jacobs by surprise for a moment. Of all the many jobs at STRATCOM, answering to the President over the hotline was one that he had never had to do.


He picked up the phone and answered, “STRATCOM, this is Colonel Jacobs speaking.”


Jacobs instantly recognized the Presidents voice saying, “Colonel, please put me on speaker. I want to have a word with your command.”


Jacobs pressed the button and returned the red phone to its cradle. “You are on speaker Mr. President.”


“I know that you are busy so I’m going to make this short. I know that you’ve been shaken by the events of the last hour. The tragedy of San Diego and Phoenix was not, I repeat was not your fault. I know that your command used every possible resource. In fact the country owes a great debt to all of you that we weren’t hurt much worse. You have my complete confidence.”


“At this time I promote Colonel Anthony Jacobs to the rank of Brigadier General. STRATCOM is in your hands.”


No one knew if the President was finished speaking. Alarms sounded and the Duty Officer announced, “ICBM launch detected from the base near Tong Hua in Liaonig province. Now we’ve got a second one.”


Now General Jacobs said, “Mr. President, we’ve got a situation.”


McMahan said, “Leave the channel open. I need to know what is happening.”


Jacobs said, “Classification?”


Captain Sanders of the Air Force answered, “The birds at that site are CSS-5 Mod 2 medium range ballistic missiles. They are comparable to our old Pershing missiles and capable of carrying conventional or nuclear warheads.”


Jacobs asked, “Have we got an analysis of its ballistic arc?”


Air Force Lieutenant Shaw said, “Not yet. The computers are working on the flight profile. Here it is: Northern Sea of Japan- they are after the John C. Stennis Battle Group.”


Navy Lt. Commander Hayes said, “That squares with our intelligence reports that the Chinese were working on targeting our carriers with ICBMs a couple of years ago.”


Captain Sanders said, “Wait one: Hey, look at the flight vector: both missiles will pass over Vladivostok well within the security zone. The Russians will go nuts over that. ”


Lieutenant Shaw said, “Sir, the Russians capability to analyze the flight dynamics of an enemy missile is limited. Their computers and sensors are several generations behind us. They may interpret this is an attack on their territory.”


Jacobs ordered, “Warn the John C. Stennis Battle Group immediately.”


The Duty Officer said, “General, we’re seeing an unusual electronic signature coming out of Vladivostok- we’ve got a launch, make that two launches out of Vladivostok.”


Lt. Commander Hayes said, “They have got to be Anti-Ballistic Missiles. Look at those suckers move- Jeez they’re fast.”


“Nuclear detonation detected, and another. Our sensors are temporarily blinded. 20 seconds to reset”


Jacobs said, “What was the yield?”


Lt. Commander Hayes replied, “Three hundred kilotons and change.”


Lieutenant Shaw said, “Sir: we’ve got sensors back. The Russians got both inbounds.”


Jacobs said, “Mr. President, did you copy all of that?”


McMahan replied, “Yes I did. I’m going to try to get hold of President Volkov and try to keep him from unloading on China.”


Jacobs laughed and said, “I guess now is not the time to remind them about all the carping they did over the ABM Treaty.”



Eagle Rock


The NEST team was all business. The whole crew wore shielded radiation suits that made them look bazaar and alien against the background of aspens and pines surrounding the camp. No one had to be told to give them a wide berth.


They retrieved the plutonium core of the bomb and put it a heavy lead enclosure called a casket. Once it was secure, they gathered as much of the bomb debris as they could find and bagged it. They packed it all away on their navy blue helicopter and took off just before dawn.


Tom heard that the new CO of the hospital was going to speak in the mess tent so he grabbed a canned Coke and sat down at one of the tables. He had nodded off as Jimmy hobbled up on a crutch with Brian’s assistance. He sat down beside Tom and poked his slumbering brother in the ribs with his elbow.


Tom woke with a start and then smiled. “It’s about time you were up and around.”

Jimmy shrugged and said, “You don’t dare take a day off around here. You’ll miss all the fun stuff like firefights with outlaws and WWIII breaking out.”


Tom said, “Yeah it has been a lot of laughs around here the last few days. They even dropped a load of radioactive junk in our back yard.”


Jimmy said, “Yeah. I heard my crazy big brother went looking for it on a 4-wheeler.”


“We just located it so they could get it out of here. Last thing we need are mutant bears and radiation zombies showing up. How is the leg?”


Jimmy said, “Better now. It is still sore but not like it was at first. Have you seen the television?”


Tom said, “No. I’ve been a little busy. What else has gone wrong?”


Jimmy said, “People are going nuts over the bombings: suicide, violence, all kinds of wacked stuff.”


Brian said, “I suppose it’s to be expected. People were already scared with the Smallpox outbreaks. Now they hear that nukes are going off…”


Tom snorted, “Oh great. Mass hysteria is going to be really helpful.”


Jimmy said, “You’re tired. You always get grumpy when you are tired.”


Tom smiled gently and said, “Guilty.”


Jimmy put his hand on his brother’s shoulder and said, “Go get some sleep. I’ll look after things for a while.”


Tom got up and said, “Thanks Jimmy. Listen up during the CO’s briefing. Come and get me if you need me.”


Brad followed Tom as he went inside the house. The television was on and the talking heads were babbling. Tom sat on the sofa in the living room and said, “Say Brad, are you my bodyguard?”


Brad said, “Sort of. After the bikers visited you guys, our whole platoon was assigned to security up here. You’ve made a lot of friends over the last week or so.”


Tom unlaced his boots and kicked them off. “To be honest, I’m glad that you are here. I have had some long nights trying to figure out how to keep the boys safe. That was my main job when my Dad sent me up here.”


Brad said, “It looks like you’ve done a good job so far.”


Brian opened the front door and Jimmy hobbled inside. The two of them joined Brad and Tom in front of the muted television set. Jimmy said, “Tom, they ran us off. The MPs said that the briefing was for Army personnel only.”


Tom said, “I don’t like the sound of that. We invited them up here. We’ve got a right to know what is going on.”


Brad said, “That’s the MPs for you. They feel like they are slacking unless they throw their weight around.”


Brian said, “Tom, are you thinking what I’m thinking?”


“Yes, I believe I am.” Tom stood up and headed upstairs and the rest of the group followed.




Orbiting over the Mid-West


McMahan put down the red phone. General Wainwright and his Secretary of State were waiting to see how his discussion with the President of Russia had gone.


The President took a drink of ice water and said, “Well, Dima is angrier than I’ve ever seen him but he agreed not to do anything as long as the Chinese don’t do anything stupid.”

Wainwright sighed. “That helps us Mr. President. The Chinese can’t fire ICBMs over the North Pole, without getting jumped by the Russians. That leaves only the trans-Pacific route where our missile defenses are deployed.”


Daniel Free, the Secretary of State asked, “How long before our B-2 bombers are in position?”


Wainwright looked at his watch and said, “Our strikes will start in about twenty minutes. If all goes well, China will be out of the ICBM business in very short order.”


Daniel Free said, “Mr. President, I’ve been talking to our Intelligence People. I think you need to know that we have indications that the Chinese are having big problems at home. The tried to keep word of their nuclear strikes quiet but it is all over the internet. Their people, especially their students, are out in force and it seems to be gaining momentum. There are big demonstrations in Beijing and Shanghai. We have indications that they have lost control of some of their army units.”


McMahan asked quietly, “Does it look like the country is going to have a Civil War?”


Free said, “There is no telling at this point but it does look like they have got some serious internal problems.”


McMahan said, “Let’s watch this very carefully. It will make a big difference in how things play out over the next few hours. Hopefully we can give them a hard shove in the right direction.”




Camp Castle 2nd Infantry Division HQ-

Dongducheon, South Korea


The 2nd Division moved all of their tanks plus a heavy Brigade of the South Korean Army into the enemies wide open right flank behind the DMZ. It did not take long for the North Koreans to figure out what was happening and respond.


The North Koreans Army quickly formed up three armored divisions to counter-attack.


General Jackson’s tanks and APCs deployed along a twenty mile line of ridges with a pair of tank companies in reserve. They immediately began slugging it out with the North Koreans T-72 tanks across the wide valley that separated the two forces.


Although heavily out numbered, American M1A2 tanks, Bradley AFV and Stryker APCs were slaughtering the old North Korean tanks before their guns could get into effective range.


General Jackson began calling in air strikes from his command vehicle- a Bradley FIST. First just a few Apaches appeared, destroyed some enemy vehicles and leaving the area when their ammunition was expended.


As the tempo and importance of the battle became apparent more and more aircraft answered the call. F-16 Falcons, A-10 Wart-hogs and an assortment of attack helicopters joined in the fray. Acting as a forward air controller, the SkyDrake team back at headquarters began controlling the air strikes and painting targets with its laser designator.


Fifteen minutes into the battle, the senior air commander on the scene sent out the radio call HOG-WILD calling all available attack aircraft to the kill box. Attack aircraft flew in by the dozen raining cluster bombs on enemy armored formations. A-10s raked enemy columns with their nose mounted Gatling guns cutting enemy T-72 and BMPs in half.


The first battle on the ridge line turned into a short, sharp fire fight that lasted barely half an hour. General Jackson’s tanks and the air strikes managed to destroy a North Korean armored division in detail and two more were savagely mauled before they withdrew in disarray.


Captain Raines working with the SkyDrake team requested reconnaissance of the area to the West where the attack had come from. It didn’t take long to determine that the North Koreans were far from done. More enemy equipment was assembling and getting into position for another run at the ridgeline.


Raines sent a message to the Company commanders to refuel and rearm. Another attack on the Division’s positions was forming up. The South Korean Armored Brigade moved in to strengthen their position on the ridges. Raines got hold of ICORP and arranged another round of air support and began moving every available asset to render assistance.  



Anderson Air Force Base, Guam


Lieutenant Morrow was allowed to call in his team to work on the two big EGBU-28C/B “bunker busters”. The two bombs were huge compared to most ordnance that they handled. Weighing in at two and a half tons each and a length of 25 feet, every single move of the weapon had to be done with the utmost care to avoid crushing anyone’s hands or feet.


Once the bombs had been placed in the workshop, Morrow carefully disconnected the fusing mechanism and took off the bombs tail section which contained the GPS guidance package that steered the bomb onto its target. Once it was off, his team mates carefully set it aside. It would be going back on the weapon.


Like its predecessor, the GBU-28, this bomb had a 647 pound conventional warhead of Tritonal. They gently removed the bombs fuse and used a hoist to pull the large cast warhead out of the weapon.


Morrow went to the other side of the workshop where the men from Los Alamos National Labs were working. They had two B83 nuclear warheads removed from their metal casing.


Dr. Gunnison said, “It’s hard to believe that pile of gadgets, electronics and wire can yield 1.2 megatons.”


Morrow asked, “What about radiation? Is my crew safe working in here?”


Gunnison smiled and said, “It’s a lot safer for us than the poor dumb SOBs we’re going to drop it on. Don’t sweat it kid. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t.”


Morrow stood by the table and looked at the closest bomb and noticed that its fusing assembly was missing. He said, “Are we sure the hardware can stand up to the shock effects?”


Gunnison said, “A few years ago when they were looking for a warhead for the so called nuclear bunker-buster, the B83 got a long look because its physics package is tough enough to survive.”


Morrow asked, “What about arming and the fuse?”


Gunnison said, “You know your weapons Lieutenant. We’re using something new that we developed for the Bunker Buster project. It’s a two stage device: first we arm the weapon and then we drop it. We want the bomb to penetrate as far as possible so we’re using a trigger that sets off the warhead when forward momentum stops.”


Morrow nodded, “So it is going to burrow as far as it can and then go off.”


Gunnison said, “That’s the plan. We’ve done a lot of testing with the different systems and parts. We’re sure that it’s going to work.”


Morrow asked, “How about the electronics interface with the weapons system?”


Gunnison said, “We’ll need two in the tail section: one for the GPS interface and another to arm the weapon.”


Morrow said, “I’ll need to make you extended ribbon cables to reach. Most of our ordnance isn’t 25 feet long.”


Gunnison smiled and said, “That’s why I’m glad we have you on this project Lieutenant. We would have been short on cables if you hadn’t thought of that.”




Airborne Command Post


The Communications Chief took a print out and handed to General Philips. He took a look at it and handed it to Admiral Simpson.


General Phillips picked up a handset and turned on the PA system. “Gentlemen: we have new orders. The immediate threat to Taiwan is over. We are ordered to turn over area command to the Abraham Lincoln Battle Group and return to Guam where we are to prepare for further operations against the enemy.”


“We are going to order the 201st and 202nd Interceptor Squadrons to stay on in Taiwan but the lion’s share of our fighters and tankers are to return to Guam. Air Ops: get the orders out to make it happen. Systems Command: turn over all data and communications links to the Abraham Lincoln. Everybody else try to get some rest. NIGHTWATCH signals: Well done WIZZARD.”



Eagle Rock


Tom sat down in the office in front of the computer that controls the estate security system. He turned on the mike closest to the mess tent.


Brian, Jimmy and Brad took a seat. Bobby and Ronny wandered in shirtless with morning hair.


Bobby said, “What’s going on?”


Tom said, “The new CO decided that we didn’t need to hear his briefing and I think that we do.”


Ronny said, “What? Didn’t we invite them?”


Brad said, “They don’t know you or what you are capable of otherwise the new CO would have you on the front row.”


Tom said, “Here we go. I’m going to turn up the volume so we can all hear.”


A big man in a white lab coat approached the end of the mess tent and Tom changed the camera angle so they would have a better look.


One of the uniformed officers stood and said, “Attention!”


The staff all stood and the big man said, “At ease. I am Lieutenant Colonel Arnold Boudreaux of US Army Medical Command. I am going to be brief because we’ve got a lot of work to do and a very short time to get it done.”


“This hospital was originally intended to be a trauma center where we could treat routine injuries in a hospital that was free of the smallpox virus. Our mission has changed drastically in the last few hours.”


“With the nuclear attack on Phoenix and given our proximity to the affected area, we have become a front line trauma center in the largest mass causality incident in the history of the United States. Within the hour our first casualties will begin arriving.”


“I know that most of you are Army and have seen a lot in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some of you have extensive experience in civilian trauma. This is different. These people are all civilians and it is going to be a horror show. You are going to see what hell looks like in the next few days.”


“All of our initial patients are contaminated with what the experts call primary fall out. Primary fall out is highly radioactive and decays in about 24 hours. The whole time it is emitting gamma radiation. Every arriving patient has to go through decontamination. No exceptions. Some of these patients may be so exposed that they are themselves radioactive.”


“We have a cargo helicopter arriving in a few minutes that has our decontamination facility. We need a triage area set up just by where the helicopters are landing. Everyone working there will be in NBC gear or you will be dead. Everyone here will wear a radiation badge and take breaks every two hours. There is a radiation safety officer assigned that will monitor your exposure. If it gets too high we’ll have to pull you.”


“I can not express how dangerous this fall out is. You can not breathe it, get it on your skin or rub it in your eyes: it is highly toxic. We have to get rid of everything on our patients: clothes, personal effects, everything- bag it and treat it as hazardous.”


“I can’t stress how grim this situation is. We’re going to be seeing cases of every possible injury aggravated by radiation burns and poisoning. We may not see any patients that will survive in the first 24-36 hours.”


“Shifts will be strictly enforced. I can not have you burning out or getting too much radiation. We can get more people up here. We can not fix you if you get a lethal dose of radiation.”


“Pay careful attention to triage. Most of our initial victims have already sustained a lethal dose of radiation. We keep them comfortable but we must treat the ones that we can save.”


“We will be sending out trucks and hummers to pick up supplies of all kinds from area stores and pharmacies. We will also have convoys arriving throughout the day. We are getting additional personnel and equipment. I hope that by noon we will have another hospital unit and a group of specially trained Navy Corpsmen to help us with the decontamination process.”


“OK- one last thing: if you don’t know, ask someone. No one knows how we’re going to treat all of the radiation casualties. We will be breaking new ground. We are set up so that we can consult with and get advice from experts all over world.”


“That’s all I’ve got. Eat your breakfast and let’s get to work.”


Tom turned off the audio feed and sat back thoughtfully.


Jimmy asked, “Tom, is it really that bad?”


Tom said, “Honestly Jimmy, it is probably worse. I know that they thought that they were protecting us from hearing the truth but when I’m in a game, I like to know the score.”


Ronny said, “If it’s really that bad, what can we do?”


Tom said, “We do what we can: we support them. The CO said that they were sending out trucks for supplies. I say we volunteer to go on their supply runs as area guides or simply to help load and unload. Maybe we can refresh our own supplies while we are at it. Are we agreed?”


It was unanimous.


If you'd like to send feedback to the author please use the comment box below.
You can send your comment anonymously if you'd like. Thank you.

An anonymous comment
Send a carbon copy to your address