Chapter 24 - Head Shot



United States Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM)

Offutt Air Force Base

Omaha, Nebraska


General Jacobs looked at the displays programmed for feeds from Vandenberg Air Force Base, NASA Mission Control in Houston and the NASA Deep Space Network at the Jet Propulsion Lab at Pasadena, California. The machine was in motion.


While there have been a number of studies, no one had ever tried to shoot down a satellite in geosynchronous orbit before. Flying at an altitude of 22,236 miles and a speed of 22,241 miles per hour, a satellite in geosynchronous orbit was probably the most difficult target anyone had ever tried to hit.


“STRATCOM this is Houston.”


Jacobs answered, “Houston this is STRATCOM, go ahead.”


“We have a good solution on the target and the Stargazer aircraft is approaching its launch window. We need a go/no go decision.”


Jacobs keyed his mike and said, “Vandenberg Control, what is your status.”


“STRATCOM, this is Vandenberg. We are on final countdown and will launch in under fifteen minutes.”


Jacobs said, “Attention all stations. Execute Take-Down.”


“Stargazer to Houston. One minute to launch window. Pegasus XL with KKV[1] payload shows all boards green.”


 Forty thousand feet over the Atlantic test range, the pilots of the modified Lockheed L-1011 Tristar call sign Stargazer, put their throttles to the firewall and began a shallow climb. The specialists aboard went through the final pre-launch checklist. At T minus 20 seconds they set the Pegasus launch sequence to automatic and said a prayer.


Ten seconds later a red light came on the missile status board and the pilot said, “Releasing now.”


The twenty-five ton Pegasus missile dropped as the Stargazer aircraft climbed up and away. Seconds later the Pegasus missiles Orion solid rocket engines fired and began to accelerate rapidly and gain altitude.


“Houston this is Stargazer. Our bird is away and on profile.”


General Jacobs sighed. The longest shot in the history of long shots was on its way. The Pegasus XL rocket would burn through four stages and then the KKVs (Kinetic Kill Vehicle) on board booster and guidance system would take over. If everything went according to plan, in a little less than an hour the Chinese communications satellite would be ripped to shreds by hundreds of high velocity ball bearings.



Sierra Hotel

Colorado Nation Guard Field Headquarters


Colonel Gaddis was running out of pilots fast. Even wearing NBC gear[2], his flight crews were only able to manage about three flights down into the fallout zone around Phoenix before the squadron radiological safety officer grounded them. Some of his best crews were already sidelined and if things didn’t change they would all be grounded in a matter of a few days.


Worst still, the helicopters had to be decontaminated after every flight and that took time that they didn’t have. The decontamination routine that took 36 hours in theory had been cut down to a matter of hosing down the helicopters exterior, vacuuming the interior where patients had been and changing the air filters.


The word from the NBC specialists was that twenty-four to thirty-six hours after the nuclear detonation the radiation would diminish. At that point he would have more helicopters than pilots to fly them.


The phone on his desk rang and he picked it up.  “Operations, Colonel Gaddis speaking.”


A young voice on the other end said, “Colonel, this is Lieutenant Hill in Communications. We have a situation brewing.”


“What’s going on?”


“A little while ago Echo-44, one of our mobile units running supplies for Eagle Rock, called in. They were nervous about bikers that seemed to be shadowing them and asked for regular radio checks. They’ve missed their check in and we can’t raise them.”


Gaddis paled and asked, “Who is in that Hummer Lieutenant?”


“Brad Alford from the 32nd and Tom Ross sir.”


Gaddis looked at his board and saw what he was looking for. As luck would have it Al Powell and Dutch Kershaw were off rotation and waiting at Eagle Rock for their Blackhawk to be decontaminated. “Call Foxtrot-42 and tell them to pick up a squad and a medic and get out there ASAP!”



Pyongyang, North Korea


Elements of the Allied Xth Corp approached the outskirts of the city and stopped.


General Jackson’s command vehicle followed a tank company down a slope overlooking the city and stopped well short of the scouts. Despite the apparent collapse of the North Korean regime, it was still a dangerous situation. Some enemy units had deserted, others had surrendered but a few had fought to the last man.


The city in front of them was in chaos with plumes of smoke rising from numerous fires. The crackle of small arms could be heard in the distance punctuated by the occasional boom of something much heavier shook the hills. Jackson peered at the city through binoculars and was soon joined by his South Korean counterpart General Kim.


“What is going on down there General”, Kim asked?


Jackson said, “Take a close look at the buildings that are on fire. It is the Peoples House of this and the Peoples Bureau of that. It looks like the people have finally gotten a chance to show what they think about it.”



Eagle Rock


Al Powell looked at his radiation safety badge with disgust. Its color, somewhere between yellow and red, had grounded him for the first time in his thirty plus years of flying.


His co-pilot Dutch said, “Look at it this way Al. As long as it isn’t black, we’ll be flying again soon.”


Powell said, “The smoke and that red glow around Phoenix reminded me of flying into Kuwait in ’91.”


Dutch said, “Back then it was only Iraqi armor in that smoke and not radiation.”


Powell’s radio interrupted the conversation, “Foxtrot-42 this is Sierra Hotel.”


Powell answered, “Sierra Hotel, this is Foxtrot-42. Go ahead.”


“Foxtrot-42, what is your status?”


“We are grounded by the radiological officer but are OK otherwise.”


“Foxtrot-42, get a squad and a medic and head toward the San Isabel National Forest. We think that Echo-44 may have run into an ambush somewhere along highway 24.”


“Roger that Sierra Hotel, we’ll be airborne ASAP.”


Dutch said, “That’s Tom and the Alford kid.”


“I’ll do the pre-flight, you get Barlow and his shooters and we’re out of here.”



US Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases

Fort Detrick, Maryland


General Haskins and his staff were assembled in Virology Labs main conference room. It had been a long, ugly month for USAMARIID personnel. The stress of thirty-six and forty-eight hour days was showing but they had turned the corner on the smallpox outbreaks and it looked like they were finally going to get some answers.


An elderly Japanese scientist in green scrubs appeared on the screen and said, “I am Dr. Mikawa of the Japanese Institute of Infectious Diseases in Tokyo. We have completed our initial sequencing of four of the samples taken in North Korea and have sent you our data.”


Haskins said, “Thank you Doctor. Our computers have it and are comparing it to the sequences of the virus responsible for our outbreaks here in the States. Can you tell us more about the materials that you have?”


“We received thirty-four samples of various biological materials delivered directly to us by courier jet from Korea. We have positively identified these four samples as Variola major. Genetically it is 99.2% identical to the India-66 reference strain of the virus. The four samples that we have are all unique. Each one has small but noticeable genetic differences. What I suggest is that we have four test samples of a virus derived from India-66.”


Haskins said, “That makes sense. They would have to test their bugs to know that they had an effective weapon.”


A monitor that had previously been blank came to life with the results of the computers comparison of base pair sequences.


Another scientist joined the teleconference, “I’m Dr. Kent from Yale Virology. General Haskins our test runs on the data from Japan are done. All four of the samples show markers for the patented reverse transcription process that CIA gave us a heads up on. All four of the organisms are a 99.9% plus match to the Variola major virus that is causing disease here in the States and Sample three is a 100% match. General, I think that we have found your smoking gun.”



Colorado Highway 24

San Isabel National Forest


Powell flew his Blackhawk low and fast across the hills to just west of Hartsel and started following Highway 24. Due west were the jagged teeth of the most rugged of the Colorado Rocky Mountains. Pikes Peak loomed tall and snow-capped off to the northwest as they flew over wildflower covered rolling hills rising toward the Continental Divide.


Barlow’s voice boomed over the head-sets. “We’ve got no idea of what we will find so we’re going to prepare for the worst. Kowalski- I want you to mount your Pig[3] and ride shotgun for us. The rest of us will insert by bungee in two groups. Green, Young and Martinez will go in with me. The second group will be Cassin, Smith and Rials. Once we have secured the LZ, Powell will land his bird and we’ll evacuate the survivors. Any questions?”


There were none.


Powell spoke up, “I’m going to fly over the area first to see what we are dealing with and come back around from west to east to do our insertion.”


To a man, the members of his squad met Barlow’s gaze with a stern, angry look. Everyone knew that hard core biker gangs were a vindictive bunch but they had gone entirely too far by taking on the Army. If a bunch of dope heads wanted to declare war on the Colorado National Guard, Barlow and his men were ready to bury them on these mountains.


Flying along at 160 miles per hour the Blackhawk covered the distance to the east side of the San Isabel National Forest in just a few minutes. Kowalski opened the sliding side door, mounted and readied his M60 and snapped his safety line to a hook. Barlow’s men prepared their bungee cords and the first group took their jump positions.


Highway 24 soon veered off to the southwest and running through the rolling foothills of Pikes Peak to the north and Bald Peak on the South. The hills rose up like tiers toward the Continental Divide.  The terrain became rugged and rocky covered with patches of aspens and snow that had not yet melted. Snow melt fed streams and waterfalls crisscrossed the landscape glittering blue and silver.


Kershaw said, “Heads up. We’re coming up on something. I’m turning the cameras on now.”


A plume of dark smoke was rising over the crest of the next hill. Powell throttled back and began to slow the aircraft.


When the Blackhawk crossed the hilltop at a little over one hundred miles per hour Powell cringed at what he saw.


The hummer was off the left side of the road and lying upside down cocked on its left side in a ditch. It was burning furiously and several bodies were scattered around it. A blue smoke grenade was providing a low pall of blue haze around the stricken vehicle. Further down the road grade a Park Rangers truck was destroyed and on fire. Out of the corner of Powell’s eye he could see a red 4X4 truck concealed off the road behind a clump of Aspens. The popping sound of ground fire against the Blackhawks armor woke everyone up as they flew over the scene of destruction.


“Where is that ground fire was coming from”, Barlow asked?


Kowalski said, “That grove of Aspens up near the 4X4. I’ll make them put their heads down.”


Powell made a wide turn and came back up the road from west to east as planned and said, “OK group one- I’m going to put you down near the hummer… now.”


As Barlow and his group dropped down from the Blackhawk, Kowalski hammered the grove of Aspens.


Once Barlow’s group was on the ground, Powell flew the Blackhawk back over the crest of the hill and dropped off Corporel Cassin’s men. Then he circled back over the stricken hummer so that Kowalski could cover the troops on the ground.


*      *      *


Once Barlow and his men were on the ground, he yelled, “Spread out and take cover.”


He sprinted toward the hummer and nearly lost his lunch. Three armed civilians were down and quite dead in a cluster near the hummer. All three were missing significant parts of their heads. Blood and brain matter was splattered over the rocks and the side of the vehicle.


Barlow quickly looked inside the burning hummer and breathed a sigh of relief. It was empty.


His tactical radio crackled, “This is Martinez. I’m just down the slope. I have Alford. He’s unconscious but alive.”


Barlow thought. Tom got out, popped a smoke grenade, pulled Alford down the hill to cover and ambushed these mutts. Smart kid. Now where is he?


There was the sharp crack of a rifle shot from up the slope. Everyone dove for cover and Barlow went prone in the ditch.  


Looking over the ditch bank, Barlow spotted Tom. He was wet and muddy carrying an M4 carbine and sprinting out of a creek toward the grove of Aspens that Kowalski had hosed down.


Tom disappeared into the Aspens for a moment. Barlow got up from his position and ran towards the grove. There was another rifle shot. As Barlow approached the grove, Tom reappeared holding his rifle by his side.


He said, “We’re clear Sarge. What took you so long?”


Barlow grinned and said, “Damn Tom, you didn’t leave any for me?”


“That mutt in the trees was aiming a rocket launcher at the chopper. I had to take my shot. The door gunner got the other one.”


Barlow keyed his radio mike and said, “We’re clear here. Land the bird.”


He looked at Tom and said, “What happened?”


Tom said, “Let’s clear this grove first. I think we got them all but there might be another one up here.”


Cassin’s three soldiers arrived and the five of them walked through the Aspen grove. Kowalski’s M60 had killed one of the bikers. The second was dead beside an AT-4 rocket launcher with a pistol in his hand, a hole between his eyes and a very surprised look on his face. They did find another gang member missing part of his head.


Tom said, “I thought I got him.”


Young reported in, “Sarge, the park ranger is dead. His truck took a rocket dead on. He didn’t have a chance.”


Once they were satisfied that the grove was clear Tom said, “Brad was driving. When we topped the hill they fired a rocket that he was able to dodge. The second one went off under the hummer and flipped us off the road into a ditch. We were both wearing seat belts but something knocked Brad out.”


Several of the other men had joined the group but none of them said a word. They listened in rapt attention as Tom described what had happened.


“When the hummer turned over, everything fell to the roof- including a blue smoke grenade. I popped the smoker to give us cover, grabbed the M4 and pulled Brad out and down the hill. That’s when three of the bikers showed up. When they saw that we had gotten out they were really pissed. The fat one yelled to me by name and said that the Diablo’s had a price on my head. If I took it like a man, that would be that. Otherwise they would go after my family. That’s when I popped up and killed the three of them.”


“When they went down, the mutts on the hill put another rocket into the hummer. Stupid move. The smoke just gave me more cover. They kept sniping at me but didn’t come down the hill. It took me a while but I crawled up the creek, under the culvert and started working my way up towards them.”


“I didn’t see the Ranger until it was over. I heard the rocket launcher fire and the explosion but I didn’t see what they had hit. I was simply trying to close the range and those idiots were wasting ammo shooting at the hummer.”


“By the time the chopper arrived, I was close. When the door gunner hosed down the grove, it scared the crap out of me. I just kept my head down. When that last one started drawing a bead on the chopper with that rocket launcher, I had to take my shot. I knew that I had hit him but I wasn’t sure if he was down for good. I went in and made sure.”


Barlow said, “In our platoon it’s a tradition that everyone gets a nickname but they have to earn it. I think you earned yours today. You took down five out of six bad guys with head shots. From now on in our platoon your nickname is Head-Shot.”


Tom grinned and said, “Was that Al and Dutch flying?”


Barlow said, “Yeah.”


Tom laughed and said, “Flying with Al and Dutch is a lot more dangerous than anything I did today.”


*      *      *


Powell got on the radio and called in what had happened. The local Sheriffs and Rangers were on the way.


Rials got Brad up and around with smelling salts. He was still very woozy and got in the chopper and laid down.


Tom and Barlow took the opportunity to poke around some more and found the Nissan 4X4 that the bikers had hidden behind the grove. It was loaded with weapons and most of them were illegal.


Barlow picked up one of the tubes used to transport rockets for the AT-4 and said, “This is one of ours. It’s got property of the Colorado National Guard stamped right on it.”


Tom said, “I’ve got a bad feeling about this. It sounds like one of our supply guys has a side job. Hey wait a minute. Look at this.”


He reached inside the open window of the cab and pulled a GPS unit off of the suction cup that attached it to the windshield. He looked at it for a moment and smiled.


“Barlow, do you know what this is?”

Barlow looked at it and said, “Yeah sure. It’s a cheap consumer GPS unit.”


Tom said, “No. It’s better than that. Look what happens when I press the Go Home function.”


Barlow said, “It shows us exactly where these guys came from.”


“We need to visit them and soon. Before they figure out that their ambush was a bust and they rabbit.”


Barlow said, “Where are they?”


“It’s an address on Bitter Root Canyon road. It’s about thirty miles east of here.”


Barlow yelled to his men. “All right everybody. Saddle up. We’ve got another target to hit. Someone collect those AT-4 launchers and rockets. We might have a use for them.”


Tom yelled, “Wait. Let me take pictures of the scene before we move anything.”


Barlow said, “Good catch L.T. Document the site. You’ve got two minutes.”


Barlow pulled out his cell phone and dialed Colonel Gaddis.


*      *      *


Colonel Gaddis was rushing to a waiting helicopter when his phone rang. He looked at the caller ID and answered, “Gaddis.”


“This is Barlow boss. You’ve heard about what happened over here?”


“Yeah. I’m on my way.”


“Tom found a GPS gadget in the bad guy’s truck and we know right where these guys came from. I want permission to proceed there and end this thing.”


Gaddis thought for a moment. The Governor and his commander General Broderick had given him orders to root out the biker gang. “Give me a half hour and I’ll bring in some backup.”


“Colonel- we need to hit these guys fast and hard before they know that we’re on to them. Given all of our gear that they had here and had at Eagle Rock the other day, we have to assume that we’ve got a Rat.”


That was something that hadn’t occurred to Gaddis. A deserter from the Guard had been killed when the gang had attacked Eagle Rock but did it go deeper than that? If the drug gang had someone inside, he wanted to know. The best way to find out was to kick over the nest.


“OK Barlow but let’s get our ducks in a row. I’m taking off from here shortly in a Kiowa Warrior. Our call sign will be Foxtrot-18. Get Powell to send us the GPS coordinates of your LZ. We’ll recon the site for you and provide backup.”


“Thanks Boss. We’re wheels up in two.”


*      *      *


The little Kiowa Warrior was very fast and its pilot knew how to drive it. Gaddis sat in the co-pilots seat and coordinated with Powell and Barlow in Foxtrot-42. The first order of business was to change their communications frequency to a secure encrypted side channel. They were over the Bitterroot Canyon address in minutes.


The pilot made one pass over the location with cameras running and relayed their data to Foxtrot-42 that was loitering nearby. Once Barlow saw the images of the site things became clear. Foxtrot-18 flew well clear of the site and began to orbit at a distance.


The compound they were using as a base was a gated mansion at the end of a private drive. Numerous motorcycles, trucks and all terrain vehicles were parked around it. There was a barn and several small sheds scattered around the property. Nestled among the various vehicles were two Lake County Sheriffs cars.


Tom looked over Barlow’s shoulder as he finished gearing up. He was wearing a bulletproof vest borrowed from Kershaw, one of the unit’s tactical radios and a utility harness.


Seeing the Sheriff’s cars parked in the compound, Tom said, “I think we’re right about that rat problem. How do you want to play it?”


Barlow said, “They’ve got a nice secure location here but there’s only one way in and out. I’m thinking we deploy with Kowalski riding shotgun in the chopper, two teams of two on the flanks, one team of four to block the road.”


Tom nodded and said, “We’ve got two AT-4’s. Put them on the gate and use the guys on the flanks as snipers. If they come out to fight, we’ve got them in a mean cross-fire and we can handle any vehicles they’ve got. You got that Powell?”


Powell said, “We’ll put you on target L.T. Once you are down I’ll circle and issue a challenge over the PA system. Just remember- these guys are cooking meth. There’s got to be a lab down there and my money is on the barn. Where ever it is, it’s a bomb waiting to go off so watch what you are shooting at.”


Barlow said, “Our drop order will be right flank, blocking force and left flank. Once you’re dirtside, take cover and get ready. These guys know that if we take them here, they’ll be in jail forever. Tom, you’re with me. ”


Powell said, “Twenty seconds gentlemen.”


Tom checked the M4 he was carrying. Brad handed him an extra clip and said, “Give them some Tom.”


The first pair went over the side. Seconds later Tom was on the way to the ground. Inches from the ground he released the bungee cord. He landed on the ground and rolled to a prone position behind a pine tree between Barlow and Martinez.


The roar of the helicopter coming in so close drew some of the gang outside. A small group of four came out the front door looking up; much more curious than concerned.


Powell flew his Blackhawk to a hover over Barlow’s position and turned on the choppers public address system, “This is the Colorado National Guard. We have the compound completely surrounded. Drop your weapons and come out with your hands on your head. Any resistance will be met with deadly force.”


The gang members looked up in astonishment at the Blackhawk. Gaddis in the Kiowa Warrior moved in to further menace the mansion with its mini-gun to add to their dismay.


The twenty-two members of the Diablo’s and two Lake County Deputy Sheriffs in their employment did the smartest thing in the gang’s long and felonious career: they surrendered.


[1] Kinetic Kill Vehicle- an automated spacecraft that destroys satellites with the kinetic energy of hyper-accelerated ball-bearings or metallic rods.

[2] Nuclear, Biological & Chemical

[3] M60 7.62mm Squad Machine Gun


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