A/N: Long-dormant project I had that involved "smaller" fics focusing on certain major battles of Ace Combat. Certain liberties have been taken, because logistics ruin all the fun. Weeeeee

Chp. 1: Old Abe's Finest

May 9, 1995

Pratt Army Airfield, East-Central Osea

A collection of some of the most experienced men in the Osean Army sat gathered in the makeshift room, looking down on the terrain model. There was a shared look of scrutiny among them and the staff members as a man with two stars on his BDU lapels laid out the final details of their mission. The criticisms of what the higher ups were thinking were a given. Airborne operations required open terrain for proper Drop Zones and the ability to bring towed artillery and helicopters to bear fast. The latest mission for the much lauded Screaming Eagles of the 101st Airborne Division was really pushing the limits of what could be done. A couple thousand soldiers were waiting to be dropped upon some fairly rugged terrain in southern Osea. Their commander, Major General Lee Murdoch, gave them every assurance he could as he treaded over familiar ground.

"Our timetable's been moved up to tonight, but these remain our three primary DZs. McKaffey, Layland, you'll still constitute the first wave as briefed. Meteorology's gonna keep you two up to date on the wind and cloud cover until you're stepping out the door of a 141. Willard and Luntz's allocations to your brigades remain the same." He outlined with the drawl approaching that of Sheriff Buford T Justice.

There was a noted lack of surprise among the officers, because sticking to schedule was not Osean Army policy. According to the weather watchers, it would remain clear through the night and a thin, thin fog as the sun came up. Several major resorts dotted the slopes that almost completely surrounded the place. One of them had become the mountain retreat for the "Ustian Workers Party", Belka's extension of their own Democratic Liberal Party into Ustio. Brigadier General Harold McKaffey, commander of the "Bulldogs" of 1st Brigade, looked at the single piece of land he had to hold: Drop Zone Chateau. He referred to a well-worn notepad between glances towards the terrain. He had one of those resorts to secure.

"I'd like to request the first resupply drop be shifted to me, since I'm gonna be out here on my own." He said. Division artillery's commander, Brigadier Peyton Willard, grimaced.

"We're gonna need resupply posthaste too, if we're gonna keep up the fire. We won't have enough shells coming with us in the second wave to act on every fire mission request." He pointed out. Ollie Sadler, in charge of 3rd Brigade, was quick to interject.

"We'll need to keep those guns safe, too, and we can't have the Belks going through 1st Brigade and into us. I vote McKaffey gets first supply drop priority; his brigade will have two of Colonel Luntz's tank companies attached." He said.

"This ain't a democracy, Ollie, but you have a point. Willard, you have priority right behind McKaffey. The OAF and UAF are gonna be running CAS sorties around the clock and Stout's brigade will have Apaches on call once we get it to the FARP secured by Colonel Van Hoz's Regiment and 3rd Brigade." Murdoch decided. He looked at the Ustian Colonel and nodded.

"Colonel, your regiment will get priority fires if the Belkans make any moves against the FARP's position. Sadler, you have a finalized setup for the task force set aside to reinforce him?" He added.

"Yes sir, I've got a company-sized task force centered on some of my anti-armor assets and COLTs." Sadler assured. Von Haz lifted a finger at Drop Zone Alpine and ran it along the sides.

"I would suggest placing those assets on the southern side. If the Belkans attempt to rush mechanized reinforcements to Solis Ortus, then they will most likely come from those two passes. Their secondary axis of attack would be over the terrain directly to our south. General, there are no Belkan airborne units nearby, yes?" He said in accented Lenish.

"No; all Belkan airborne units have retreated to Directus or the northwest of the country. According to the Ustian Underground, Solis Ortus remains garrisoned by a brigade of Belkan mountain infantry, two companies of MPs, three batteries of SA-6s and three of GDFs. Recent reconnaissance also indicates that they've been reinforced by the 10th Panzer Division's reconnaissance battalion. This means they have access to heavy armor in the form of the battalion's Leopard 1s. Units retreating towards Directus may also be passing through here. Expect those to be in bad shape but still capable of a fight." Murdoch assured. He glanced at the commander of his division's armored battalion.

"Luntz, your boys can handle Leo 1s, yes?" He asked.

"We'll die tryin, sir." Luntz said with something between a grimace and a smirk.

"Well don't make that your first option; I need your Sheridans on point to help hold the southern flank, especially while Leyland and McKaffey move in on our primary objectives. Air Assault?"

"Air Assault, sir."

McKaffey looked towards Brigadier Dane Leyland, CO of 2nd Brigade.

"I should have a CP set up and First Battalion organized fifteen minutes after we hit the ground. We'll begin our advance towards the northern district at 0315, once the perimeter is secure. That timeframe will also give us time to get the northern part of the DZ secured before we advance the four miles into town." He said.

"It'll take us until at least 0320 to get moving from DZ Bobsled, Harry." Leyland replied, consulting his notepad. McKaffey looked back at the model, then at General Murdoch.

"The Air Force can guarantee they can get my brigade's heavy equipment in one hour after we land so Third Battalion can move in to reinforce us?" He asked. Murdoch glanced at their OAF liaison, a Colonel named Nichols, who nodded confidently.

"Well it's either that or General Murdoch is gonna have me thrown from one of the CAB's Blackhawks in my skivvies." He joked. The smile and twinkle in Murdoch's eye caused a sudden roar of laughter all around. Even the normally stoic Van Hoz couldn't help himself.

"It's all hands on deck for this one, General McKaffey. You'll get what you need, just don't expect the world from us." Nichols assured.

"Deck? This ain't the Navy!" Leyland scoffed.

"Habit from my first days in the Marines." Nichols said with a half-apologetic nod.

"Alright alright enough comedy...We have a lot to do and not much time to do it. I want everyone from our Pathfinders to the guys who brew coffee ready to go by dinner. Wheels are up at 2200 for the main assault force. Stout, I need your helos moving from their position as soon as you get the signal from us up in Ustio. We have to hold until the Ustian 3rd Mechanized gets to us. We will do everything possible to hold out; we'll make spears from the trees if we have to. I will pull every string, call in every favor and bend every rule as much as I can to make sure we take and hold Solis Ortus."

Grimaces and nods went around the room. They'd be 35 Miles inside enemy territory, with the only friendly unit nearby, the 122nd Airborne, busy conducting its own mission. None of the soldiers present were unaware of what that meant and the gravity it held for their division. The Screaming Eagles were no strangers to being out on a limb. It was expected of them by nature. It was also the first time Osean paratroops would fall from the sky in nearly 40 years. Murdoch sent the men on their way after he was certain everyone knew their role and everyone else's role in "Operation Varsity". He didn't want to waste time making sure the orders went down the chain of command to the lowest level. It was just after 0800; they had 14 hours to get themselves and their equipment ready…

A community had sprung up around two old blimp hangars on the northern end of the air base proper. It was made entirely of long, squat tents colored a dark shade of olive and portable storage units spray-painted in woodland camouflage. Handpainted signs denoted the purpose of almost every tent and trailer. Second Lieutenant Joshua Hazaki pulled open the tarp to one containing his squad leaders and whistled loudly as he marched in.

"Alright boys n girls, quiet it down and listen up!" He called. The talking waned, but not enough.

"Hey, I believe the El-Tee is addressing you knuckleheads!" Sergeant First Class Alexander Lohern boomed. His voice was sharp but controlled, and probably helped by his bear-like stature.

That got their attention, and Josh quietly thanked the man for his ability to reign in the rowdy. The collection of Staff Sergeants gathered around Josh as the man removed his beret from his head. He had no illusions about the abilities of the soldiers around him; all but two were vets of the defensive part of the war, fighting under his command in the Great Lakes area. His platoon was roughly 50-50 in terms of replacements and vets, with the latter placed to help pull the former through their first encounter with an enemy force. He collected his last few thoughts and drew in a breath as he stroked back his hair.

"Alright...first things first I'd like to announce that congratulations are in order. Sergeant First Class Lohern became a dad late last night. His wife gave birth to a healthy baby boy who shall be christened Cassin." He started. There was a round of applause from the others briefly before Josh reeled things in again.

"Our timetable's been moved up; we're jumping tonight instead of tomorrow. All orders and plans are to remain the same unless we receive new intel on the disposition or number of Belkan forces. Now make no mistake, there are some very elite troops sitting in that Ustian mountain town. They're Gebirgsjäger...I pronounce that correctly, Sergeant Lohern?"

"Close enough, sir. Mountain Troops works."

"These Mountain Troops consider this environment their home. Sergeant Lohern, an avid student of history, assures me that these guys pride themselves in what they do, and have been since their formation in 1907. To them, Solis Ortus is part of their history; since the 1930s it was a major training center where its members learned how to ski and climb mountains. They won't go quietly, but they're gonna learn that the Screaming Eagles don't back down. Especially not the guys in No Slack, hooah?"

"Hooah!" The squad leaders sounded back.

"Alright...now, with the assumption that everyone knows their jobs once they hit the ground, the big thing right now is moving up getting personal and familial matters. The call center is running people through but they have to cut things down to five minutes a person. Remember OPSEC is everybody's responsibility. Additionally, and while it's an unpleasant matter, everyone needs to ensure that their insurance, both their CHAMPUS and life, are squared away and that their power of attorney paperwork is up to date. Especially if they've been married for less than a year. The brigade chaplain section will have services tonight following dinner, which has been moved to 1700. We will receive weapons and ammo starting at 1900, and at 2030 we will begin boarding our aircraft alongside the rest of 2nd Battalion…"

Part of this exercise in being a broken record was to assure himself. Josh had done plenty of fighting in the Great Lakes area, deployed from helicopters or marching. Right now he was a "five-jump chump"...though he was one among a lot of those. Deploying from helios was arguably easier than jumping from the side door of a plane. Everyone in his platoon knew how to do it, but had all done it in strictly peacetime environments. They expected to take fire coming down and nearly every minute of the next few days. Josh was certain he could walk through their initial objective in the northern district of the town. Every row of the vineyard, every barn and storehouse, and finally to the ammo stored in there. The more certain he was that the men under him could do the same, the better he felt.

Josh only went over the meat of the plan as long as he had any doubts about how well his squad leaders knew it. Once everyone had recited their part and managed only a few corrections, Josh left them to their own matters. He would drill them once more when they ate, but for now they had plenty to do. The Staff Sergeants left right behind their superiors to go meet up with their men and get them squared away posthaste. Josh and Alex entered a tent nearby that served as their quarters for now. Josh took a seat at a small folding desk while Alex stayed on his feet, waiting to see if his commander had anything for him before the NCO retreated to his own part of the temporary hovel. Josh mindlessly picked up and set down random objects on his desk. He turned around in his folding chair to look at the Platoon Sergeant.

"So, what're we missing?" Josh asked. Alex tilted his head.

"Come again, sir?" He asked.

"We're about to embark on one of the biggest airborne operations in recent history, according to those above us. Such a massive undertaking needs to be perfect in every detail, and Private Murphy will make certain that any detail we don't perfect comes and bites us in the ass."

Alex chuckled sarcastically as he took a seat on his cot.

"They say that alot, sir. It's the biggest X since Y. Quite frankly, I still think Operation Thunderbolt in 44 is the biggest airborne operation." He offered.

"...Sergeant, some day you're going to have a CO who is unable to decipher your ways of offering pep talks."

"I'm adaptable, sir."

Alex smiled while Josh shook his head and looked back at his desk. There was a long period of silence before Alex brought up anything else.

"To be honest, sir, my biggest concern lies in the terrain. Those Gerbirgsjagers are right at home. Hell they're probably carrying their skis around up there." He confided to his CO.

Josh nodded and recalled the map and photos showing the approach. The 101st's paratroopers could relate; hell they still used old designations to refer to their infantry and artillery companies and batteries. Solis Ortus seemed to be like a giant bowl placed in the middle of the mountains it was attached to. He taped his fingers on the top of his desk as he looked over towards a small stack of mail. He'd been putting off reading most of the stuff; he knew from one of the envelopes that he didn't want to open it until well after Varsity.

Joshua was a first-generation Shimoji-Osean. His family had come over from the country two years before he was born. The traditional Shimo values of an upper middle-class family did not stay behind. It made him wonder what was their real reason for immigrating; he'd grown suspicious of the usual answers. Josh had been expected to become a doctor or a lawyer; Army ROTC had been chosen as a means to help establish his independence from his family. A way to do something noble while freeing himself from their financial chains. He didn't want to be a lifer like his senior NCO; his passion did ultimately rest in medicine. The Osean Army sent you where you were needed, though, and the potential of becoming a military doctor was replaced by the slot many Second Lieutenants found themselves in: combat arms.

Still though, he was expected to be a "proper" Shimoji man even if he did strike out on his own. The envelope, just from feeling it, indicated that his parents had sent another round of potential women as suitors. He thumbed through the small pile to see if anything else of note had come. Maybe something from his older sister to help him forget about his parents' nagging. Alas, it was not to be. Josh glanced back at his...well, his friend. Alex, older than him by a handful of years, was one of the few buddies he had in the service. A tall, broad-shouldered Akerson Hill-area man who loved his job and quoted or referenced movies left and right. His eyes were fixed on the ceiling as he seemed to be mouthing something...maybe song lyrics.

"Still alive over there, Sergeant?" He asked. The man blinked twice and looked his way.

"Yeah, just thinking too now...it's contagious, you know." Alex replied absentmindedly.

"Thinking about what?"

"Home, family, the fact that I wanna stay in the Army but most of my family is concerned with my wanting to do so."

"Not wanting to start that long line of honor, duty and sacrifice?"

"My old man did a few years...He was a Chaplain's assistant in an infantry division."

"I can understand that."

"It's not that they hate it, it's just kind of...alien to em."

"Well maybe as time goes on they'll understand it."

Alex shrugged and sat up to reach below his cot. He fished out a pack of cards and smacked the box against his hand a few times.

"Game of BS to calm our minds?" He proposed. Josh thought for a moment, then shook his head.

"We're gonna have dinner with the squad leaders as a final, final effort to make sure everyone's ready to go...but then yes, we can all play a game of BS." He said with a growing smile.

"Oh boy, one of them bonding exercises that PR types stress?" Alex asked, rubbing his hands together.

"Yes, one of those. Dinner'll be here, so make sure there's room and make sure no one goes digging into the MREs early. Hot chow is going to become a memory soon."

"Gotcha El-Tee; I know I'll miss it."

Sensing that he would need to leave the tent, Alex swiped his beret from atop his rucksack and fixed it to his head before walking outside. Josh remained inside, further pondering what lay ahead for 2-327th Infantry…

"Right now we can get Alpha and Bravo's tracks ready for the second wave, with Charlie and the CSC for the third. Some of Charlie's tracks are still waiting on gun shields for the M2s, but otherwise we're ready to go."

Colonel Luntz listened intently while he and his S-4, Captain Quiroz, walked down the line of M551A1 Sheridans. The crews tending to her came to attention at first as the officers approached, but the more Luntz ordered them to concentrate on working, the fewer did so as word traveled through the hanger. The vehicles were already well into the process of being readied for transport; Luntz had decided on a combination of standard drops and LAPES (Low-Altitude Parachute Extraction System) to get the battalion's assets into the fight. The crews would all come in on the second wave, and by the third (and sunrise) they would be moving to establish positions near the main roads leading to the division's objective.

The few who were adding finishing touches to their vehicles' markings tensed, as if they were about to salute, but Luntz figured they were bracing for his reaction to the name they might be painting on their track's barrel. Luntz eventually made it a point not to say anything about them, if only to enjoy a little fun at his subordinates' expense. As he neared the end of the row with his small entourage, he covered his mouth and cleared his throat to distract from his smile.

"Alright Quiroz...so we're short on gunshields...what else?" He asked in an effort to recompose himself.

"Still haven't gotten enough Nine-mil for all the Grease Guns, but that's something we can manage without." The S-4 replied. He glanced at a First Lieutenant in far less worn BDUs.

"The trash haulers are concerned about us using LAPES at all. They say the terrain's pretty hairy for that kind of maneuver, sir." His liaison from the OAF frowned. That wiped the grin off Luntz's mug.

"I've been over this with them myself and told 'em the same thing I'm about to say: I don't want tanks slamming down onto the DZ at a snail's pace. I want them in fast until we have a significant number manned and deployed." He grumbled.

"I'll relay it Colonel, but I don't think they're gonna be too happy about it." The Lieutenant replied.

"They don't have to be happy about it, Lieutenant, but I expect them to follow orders when we're on the verge of this show."

"They will, though under protest."

"They can write their congressmen about it; we NEED those tanks as soon as we can."

"We wanna pack the Shillelaghs, sir?" Quiroz piped up.

"Minimum load for each tank...actually just five rounds for each tank. HEAT gives us more flexibility."

"Carter, you sure we won't run across any Leo 2s?"

The S-2 shook his head.

"No, but all the Shillelaghs in the world won't make a difference if they send Leo 2s at us in force."

"The Apaches will, but don't tell the Rotorheads I said that."

"Let's hope they keep 'em oriented towards Fifth Corps." Luntz sighed.