Vanessa Smith was watching the waves off the Outer Banks, North Carolina, United States of America, pondering the questions that a surfer faces. Which wave shall I ride? How shall I catch it? Do I have the skills to ride it where it will go, and if not, can I do anything about that now?
She was standing on the sun-bleached porch of a little beach chalet, sipping a cappuccino made by one of those new-fangled coffee machines that let you choose whatever you want to drink. Your own little barista, plugged into the power in your kitchen, connected to your home network or mobile phone, so you can even instruct the thing to prepare you something when you aren’t around to push the buttons yourself.
Hank stepped up behind her, wrapped his arms around her waist and kissed her neck. “Much nicer to have a warm, willing to please, barista in residence.” She turned to him and kissed him back. Together they watched an osprey, hovering above the water, hunting for fish. It dove, but emerged without quarry.
“Time flies,” he said. She nodded, a bit sad. A short break from the Army. Yes, she won her wings, and orders for the Second Armored Cavalry Regiment in Ukraine. But would she be stuck in an S3 air role at Regimental Headquarters, or even worse, sent to some Ukraine maneuver or government headquarters where her Russian might help McMaster more than her budding tactical and piloting skills might, at the moment?
She turned to Hank, wondering if she would see him again. So many options for him in New York City. She felt something pushing against her, and let her hand move to explore his pajamas. “You fly,” she said, smiling mischievously.
The osprey dove again, this time emerging from the water with a fish in its claws. “That bird isn’t going to let go,” thought Vanessa. Her fingers found the back of Hank’s fuzzy hair and she kissed him again, more passionately this time.
He stood watching her check her bags. Two big green duffle bags and a wider canvas tote. She clutched the camoflauge purse he had purchased from that custom shop for her… perhaps a bit more feminine than standard Army or surplus store options, but still camoflauge. She loved it, laughing and kissing, when he gave it to her. He wondered whether he would see her again as she waved, then she turned and walked to the gate. Perhaps he should have bought her that diamond ring…
Vanessa handed her ticket to the United employee at the gate. No time to spare. “Oh, you have been upgraded to first class,” said the pretty brunette. “Well… thank you.” Vanessa wondered whether that was Hank, the airline, or some other kind passenger.
She walked down the tunnel to the aircraft, then found her seat at the window. She could see Hank waving at the window. She waved back, unsure he would be able to see her. It all seemed like such a miracle.
Captain Smith thought that the assumption of command in Ukraine went smoothly. The battalion property book officer understood the equipment in her troop thoroughly and prepared useful piles of paper to support the process. Troop command. Amazing. Deux ex machina?
Her platoon leaders were outstanding (fabulous US Army word) officers without exception, intrigued to follow an A-10 driver with an Iraq Bronze Star for valor on her chest. True, she was young for a troop commander, and relatively new in a helicopter. But Captain Smith’s thoughts about air ambushes and the aeronautics degree from Hopkins affirmed the Army’s decision to put her in that job.
McMaster liked to lead from the front. It was an old habit, and “HR” thought it kept him sharp. Many cav commanders commandeered a helicopter and called instructions from there. McMaster would ride in the 2d Squadron formation, with his tank crew modified somewhat so his tank was responsive to the lead troop commander’s coordination, while McMaster himself listened to the regimental command and intelligence nets, watching the evolution of Common Operating Picture on his Google glasses from his perch in the TC’s chair.
The regimental headquarters were located in Dnipropetrovsk, prepared to displace to Kremenchuck.
McMaster gave Lieutenant Colonel Artie Wyman the mission to screen between Slovyask and Svatove with 1st Squadron, including an active defense along E40 highway. Wyman was preparing to displace through Kremenchuch to Kirovohrad in a wide sweeping motion.
Lieutenant Colonel Crabchuk was screening along E40 and E50 between Slovyansk and Krasnarmisk, with 2d Squadron’s center of mass at Luzova. Active defense along E50 would be supplanted with a displacement to Uman, crossing bridges at Dnipropetrovsk.
Third Squadron had the bulk of the Regimental air defense assets, where Lieutenant Colonel Tommy Isaacs was responsible for screening south of E50 and North of Polohy, defending bridges (and 2d Squadron’ crossing) at Dnipropetrovsk. The squadron would be prepared to counterattack toward Kharkiv.
Lieutenant Colonel Tip Carney would repel any amphibious attacks thru Mariupol and Melitopol, screening between Zaporezhya and Nova Kakovka with 4th Squadron, east of Tokmak, North to Poloky and south to E58. The squadron would consolidate west of Zaporizhya, prepared to counterattack toward Kharkiv behind Third Squadron if that were necessary. Initial efforts for a combined arms ambush at Melitopol would complement screening efforts.
Tom Bryant’s Aviation Squadron ran simulated ambush patrols from its base in Kyevhi Rih to Rodisne, Vosnesensk, Vozryatski and Bashtanka, with orders to displace to Cherkavsky.
Can a part time warrior really lead a brigade in combat? Happened all the time in the US Civil War. But modern mobilizations typically give National Guard brigades less critical tasks (supplying sheets and pillows for barracks in combat zone). A National Guard armored brigade that received a combat mission for its Iraq deployment this decade had a substantial number of casualties.
In any event, the 26th Infantry brigade commander wasn’t suffering from any inferiority complexes. A twenty-nine year veteran who began his career with an active duty tour with the Rangers, Mullaly had received an MBA from Boston University with his enlistment education benefit, while attending the Massachusetts National Guard OCS and BOLC. He worked as a CPA for a “big six” (big four? Big three? Big two?) accounting firm, working his way through company and battalion command.
He had moved to Virginia to serve in the Pentagon until selected for brigade command, returning for assumption of command ceremonies and paperwork three months before the deployment announcement. His unit strength was “plussed up” from National Guard units across the country, although he tended to keep his own Guard leadership in command roles up and down the chain of command.
He and his brigade flew into Ukraine for a NATO Sorotan exercise, some arriving in Kiev on commercial aircraft, others flying direct to Kharkiv on C-130 or C-123 aircraft. US equipment arrived at railheads near Kharkiv, with trucks focusing on movement of 1-81 and 1-104 “light infantry” battalions, and members of 1-72 Tank and 1-31 Infantry joining M1 and M2 tank and armored personnel equipment at railheads for movement to staging areas.
Press coverage and Russian response were ferocious. Fortunately, his soldiers weren’t able to read the local Russian language news media. Mullaly selected a five-story building in the northeast quadrant of Kharkiv (Kyivsky district) for his brigade headquarters and proceeded to build his multi-media tactical operations center on the fifth floor. UAV feeds, radios, sand tables and a large auditorium for brigade ops meetings were perfect.
Lieutenant Colonel Lowjack wasn’t happy to leave his manufacturing business for a NATO exercise, but he knew they wouldn’t select him for brigade command if he missed this mob. He was delighted with the initiative of his command sergeant major and intel officer, who had prepared concrete bunkers for the anti-tank missile vehicles.
Defending in depth at Stary Saltive would not be an easy mission if the Russians ever came across. Of course, the Donets river was a fantastic obstacle, which he would easily defend once any attacking forces made it through the web of A company strong points and battalion antitank missiles pointed down the avenues of approach enroute to that beautiful bridge his infantry would preserve if possible.
With the other three companies of the 1-81 infantry battalion on the western side of Donets, Lojack was sure he would offer disaster to any air assault or air mobile operation between Stary Saltiv and Kharkiv.
Lieutenant Colonel Moredone was responsible for coordinating with the Ukrainian mechanized infantry division located southeast of Kharkiv and preventing penetration of threat forces northwest of the intersection at Chuhuiv. Defending in depth as his plan, which was integrated in a thorough defense of the airfield west of Chuhuiv, enabling secure refuel/rearm of US air force aircraft (mostly A10’s but perhaps an occasional F15 and/or F16) there.
The 1-31 Mechanized Infantry battalion was responsible for coordinating with the Ukrainian tank division headquartered at Cheringov, and configured with two companies forward (one just south of Berezivka, the other just north of Zolochiv, on the other side of the westward bend in the road there) and two companies in reserve (one just southeast of Zolochiv while the other company were prepared to defend or reposition on the edge of the woods there).
Lieutenant Colonel Tielilly configured the 1-72 Tank Battalion with two companies forward (one north of Lisne, the other southeast of Cherkaska Lozova) and two companies in reserve (slightly northwest of Turkuny, in the treeline, and one south of the E105/E40, vicinity the bend in E105). He was prepared to dispatch a company sized tank force to reinforce the 1-104 should an attack from Belorus not materialize.
Rodisne, Vosnesensk, Vozryatski and Bashtanka. Alpha troop, Bravo troop, Charlie and Delta. Vanessa glanced at her ops lieutenant and First Sergeant. The lieutenant smiled at her… he had predicted that objective and had already begun coordination for the air corridors to get them there. First Sergeant Dominion only frowned.
Colonel Bryant was predicting where the Russian main effort might come, options for refueling and rearming in event of outbreak, and how the simulation would work these next few days. “Any questions?” he asked. Bravo troop commander asked something mildly pertinent to prove he was listening. After saluting, Captain Smith turned and left the office with her troop leadership.
Bryant turned to his Sergeant Major after they all left for planning activities. “Any issues?” His advisor shook his head. “No sir.”
The Colonel smiled. “Then let’s get to work planning our support for Fourth Squadron’s Melitopol ambush.”
“What is your estimate, two?” Colonel Mullaly was studying large maps including Belorussia, Russia and Ukraine. His Operations Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Fitzgo, had just been outlining company positions for each of the battalions of the brigade. His Intelligence Officer, Major Whysmartie, suggested, “If we see anyone, I believe it will be elements of the 20th Guards, probably the 3rd Rifle Division.”
Mullaly glanced at his “three,” the Ops officer, then told Whysmartie, “you need to be more certain than that.”
Major Whysmartie smiled. “We can expect three infantry brigades and a separate tank brigade from the 3rd MRD, supported by an artillery brigade, two rocket brigades and two anti-aircraft rocket brigades. We think the 58th Guards will snatch Kiev, leaving Karkhiv to the 20th and its 3rd MRD. The 49th Guards Army is oriented south of us.
“Pretty overwhelming,” responded Mullaly. Fitzgo chimed in, “We will have strong support from the F-16’s based in Kharkiv.”
“That's assuming they aren't fully tasked with the 58th in Kiev. What about A-10’s?” Mullaly wondered.
“Of course, the 104th is defending an airfield we hoped will be used to refuel and rearm both F-16's and A-10's but at the moment we think the A-10's will be oriented in the Donbass and otherwise supporting the 2d ACR against the 49th.”
“There is a chance the 20th will bypass us completely and support the 58th grab of Kiev.” Wouldn’t that be nice, thought Whysmartie.
“What do you think about that, three?” wondered the commander.
“I think we’re going to have a fight on our hands, mostly coming from the north, not the east.” Fitzgo spit in his soda can.
“I think you’re right,” responded Mullaly. “Adjust the plan. I want 1-31 and 1-72 to be two balanced Infantry/Armor task forces, but then I want one of TF 1-72’s companies attached to 1-81’s A Company commander, who I’m going to task with defending Karkhiv just within city limits.” Fitzgo nodded. “Tielilly will be pissed about that,” he mentioned with a smile.
Deadpan, Mullaly answered, “Needs of the Army.”
Vanessa was flying her cobra south along the Crimean Sea. Her boss, Lieutenant Colonel Bryant, was wedged in the back seat with the Regimental Intel Officer, Major McKrockcity. Colonel McMaster was sitting in the co-pilot seat. McKrockcity was talking.
“There is a chance the 20th will mass through Donbass to grab Dnipropetrovsk, but I think it’s more likely they will stay in place and we will see airmobile/airborne operations to support a 58th Guards Army attack on Kiev.” As they flew over Melitipol, Colonel Bryant said, “If they attempt a beach assault around here, a 4th Squadron combined arms ambush can count on Captain Vanessa’s support.”
“I think we need to be very prepared to place half of the Regiment south of Kiev to counter-attack on a successful 58th Army grab of Kiev, and half attacking North to retake Kharkiv from the 20th. But if the 49th Guards come at Dnipropetrovsk from Donbass and,” he added, “or North across the water, we will be ready.” McMaster was grim. He wasn’t comfortable with the rocket arsenal and UAV fleet he knew would be directing fire on his Regiment, if the Russians decided to take back Ukraine.
These details might have been inserted in Ukraine Skies, Baltimore Lights (available here), but instead will be provided in the next novel of the "Ukraine Skies" series, scheduled for release in late summer 2017.