Disclaimer: All characters, vehicles, and situations from Star Wars property of Lucasfilm.
The initial setting is a US Army unit deployed to the Kuwaiti desert during an "Intrinsic Action" rotation, and the time setting for the Galactic Empire is approximately three years prior to the Battle of Yavin.
First Lieutenant Gregory Yost shifted on his cot. Sleep came to him fleetingly at best, but stifling heat bore into his body, and even the metal supports within the cot burned his skin when he was not careful and allowed himself to come in contact with it. A pool of sweat soaked the t-shirt he wore, causing his arm to stick to his forehead when he slept. Off to Greg's left, a tall fan stood, mocking him in its stillness. The thing had burned out only hours after another man had turned it on. The sides of the GP-medium tent were rolled up, revealing only mosquito netting. The air that wafted in felt as though it came from a hair drier.
In frustration, Greg glanced at his watch. He grimaced as he realized it was only shortly after noon, and this wasn't even the hottest part of the day. Yes, he was on night shift, which made the workday bearable, but sleep was a phantom that rarely showed itself in this sweltering heat. The Kuwaiti desert was horribly hot this time of year. Greg reached down to the ground to grab his water bottle and took a swig. The water was hot, but at least it was wet. He closed his eyes in an attempt to will his body to sleep. In the background, a power generator's drone assisted him in his quest, and he reluctantly drifted off.
BEEP-BEEP, BEEP-BEEP, BEEP-BEEP, BEEP…
Greg jabbed his hand off to the side, where the small battery-powered alarm clock rested on his foot locker, and he shut off the device. He was very tired, and it was exceedingly unfair that further sleep was now denied him. He slowly peeled himself out of the sweat-soaked cot and sat, staring at the burned out fan across the tent, it seeming to look back at him in its impotence. He tilted his head down to look at his watch. It was 1700.
The blazing sun had traversed closer to the horizon, and the heat had subsided. The thousands of flies relished in flight, now that it was cool enough again for them to fly. Several lined the edge of his cot, sucking up the sweat Greg had left for them. Several more were on various parts of Greg, drinking his perspiration. He had long ago stopped batting them away, for that proved futile and only made him hotter. Several other men were getting ready for their shift, some already heading outside either to wash up or eat.
The food wasn't terrible tonight, and the salad proved almost good. Greg smiled to himself, thinking it was probably pretty difficult to mess up a salad. He knew that the cooks were doing the best they could out here, so he thanked them for the food, as he always did. Greg worked his way toward a picnic bench, where other soldiers from the night shift were busily shoveling food into their mouths. Off to the right of the bench, Greg spotted a High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle with a large dial thermometer hanging from it. The vehicle was often referred to by a vocalization of its acronym, and was called a "Humvee." He saw that the temperature had dropped to 110 F. The cursed flies were absolutely everywhere. Already, the food on his tray sported about a dozen of them. He sat down next to First Lieutenant Steve Hovey, who was about half-way through his meal.
"What's up, Greg?" queried Steve while chewing on the evening's mystery meat.
"I'm as tired as the day is long, buddy. If I don't start getting more sleep, I'm gonna pass out on shift."
"Nothing happens around here at night anyway, so what's the harm?" replied Steve.
Greg thought about that. He was the assistant S2 for the battalion, which by default placed him on the night shift within the battalion tactical operations center, called a TOC. Captain Hugh Anderson was the Battalion S2, and he was also Greg's boss.
These "Intrinsic Action" missions were pretty boring when the Kuwaitis decided it was just too hot to play. The days got up to 140 F, so training pretty much came to a standstill from 1000 to 1600 every day.
The night shift did little more than monitor the radios and file the usual reports. The battalion commander had authorized a satellite TV for news purposes, but at around 2300 the thing was usually set to Star Movies. Every once in a while, the battalion would conduct night training, and that would alleviate some boredom, but for the most part the nights were dead.
"Yeah, I guess you're right, but with my luck the Old Man would walk in just as I'm nodding off. Oh well, that's why God made coffee."
"And dip," replied Steve, patting the can of Copenhagen in his pocket.
"Yeah, that too, but I'm trying to cut down on that stuff."
The battalion tactical operations center was referred to as the "TOC" and it consisted of four M577 command-variant armored personnel carriers. Two M577s were side-by-side, backed up to two other parallel M577s facing the opposite direction.
All four of the vehicles' rear ramps were lowered, and soldiers sat within each, monitoring green rectangular Single Channel Ground and Airborne Radios, commonly referred to as simply SINCGAR, rhyming somewhat with cigar. Each SINCGAR monitored a specific net, which consisted of a rotating set of encrypted frequencies.
Attached to all four M577s were command post tent systems, commonly referred to by their official acronym of, "SICUP." Each SICUP was modular in nature and could be interconnected with other SICUPs. In this case, all four SICUPs were all connected to make a whole command post for the TOC. The only vertical flaps attached were to the outside of all four SICUPs, keeping light within the TOC and extra dust out. As a result, little to no light escaped the TOC into the night.
During the heat of the day, those side panels were often rolled up in order to prevent the TOC from transforming into a veritable oven.
In the center of the TOC, a couple of long plastic, collapsible tables stood sentinel, on which a few more SINCGARs rested. That was also the position of the battalion battle captain, who tonight (and most nights) was Captain Vince Higgins. Scattered around the same table were various laptop computers, clipboards, and journals. Foldable metal chairs were ubiquitous to the collapsible tables, and in each sat various bored soldiers, NCOs and officers.
A large map board made of plywood with a local map of the Kuwaiti desert hung from green 550-cord (so named for the alleged weight the cord could hold before reaching the breaking point , attached to the upper frame of the SICCUP. Attached to the map board and overlaying the map were several transparent acetate overlays with drawings depicting terrain features and various icons depicting unit locations, often referred to as, "stickies."
Occupying a smaller table was a large coffee container often referred to as the "silver bullet." Styrofoam cups often shared space with the silver, until they were all used up. Most soldiers had their own coffee mugs and containers they'd brought with them.
Late into the evening, Steve glanced at his watch and groaned inwardly. It was only 2335 hours, and the night was crawling. He glanced over at the S3 section. Steve was seated on a folding chair, a radio handset in one hand and a mug of coffee in the other. He, like most of the folks on night shift, was gazing into the TV.
Greg followed Steve's gaze to the screen. Some Indian movie was playing on the Star Movies channel. In the background, Greg could hear the beeps of the SINCGARs radios, followed by droning of tired voices. Those were company command posts (CPs) conducting radio checks or sending in scheduled reports. Greg looked over his status charts. Only C Company had yet to send in their sensitive items report. He grabbed his handset and glanced at the radio.
"Charger X-Ray, this is Deathbringer Two Alpha, over."
Greg got no response, so he repeated the transmission. No response.
"Any Charger element, any Charger element, this is Deathbringer Two Alpha, over."
No response. Greg looked over at the S3 section of the tactical operations center. Most of the men had their DCU tops off, sporting t-shirts, their eyes still glued to the TV.
"Captain Higgins," said Greg.
"Yeah, BICC, what is it?" said Captain Vince Higgins, annoyed at Greg for forcing his attention away from the second-rate Indian movie.
Greg chafed inwardly. He hated being called, "BICC." It was his title as the Assistant S2, standing for "Battlefield Intelligence Coordination Center." He had never understood why his duty position was called a center, but he really didn't like what "BICC" rhymed with.
"Sir, I haven't got a Green Two report from Charger, and they won't respond on the radio," said Greg, referring to periodic radio reports each company command post (called a "CP") was supposed to transmit.
"Maybe they're asleep."
"Yes sir, that's possible. I was hoping you could try to raise them on the Ops net."
Captain Higgins looked at Greg as though he had something growing out of his forehead, but then he motioned to his Radio Telephone Operator (called an "RTO"), Sergeant Jones.
"Sergeant Jones, see if the Charger CP is awake, would ya?"
"Yes sir," replied Sergeant Jones, who then picked up his handset and radioed the CP.
After three tries, Sergeant Jones got a tired response from someone and told them that the BICC was trying to reach them on the Operations and Intelligence (O&I) net.
Greg picked up his handset and called the Charger CP. Once he got the information he needed, he logged it on his tracking chart and in his log. Looking down at his watch, Greg saw that is was only 2350, ten minutes until midnight. Sleepiness washed over him like a wave. The coffee wasn't doing its job. Greg stood up and walked over to the S3 section.
"Sir, I got all of my reports in from the companies, so I think I'll take a walk to the latrine," said Greg to Captain Higgins.
Higgins looked up at him and nodded, returning his attention to the TV.
Greg walked out into the night, closing the tent flap behind him. The battalion was ensconced inside of a kabal, so light discipline did not exist. The kabal consisted of giant rings of highly-piled sand that ringed the battalion. Two entrances to the kabal were guarded by the duty company and some hapless Headquarters soldiers. Overall, the kabal was about three miles in diameter. Even so, it was dark outside, and Greg looked up to see countless stars against the blackness.
The kabal was about forty miles north of Kuwait City, so the only light came from within the kabal and any celestial light from the night sky. Greg sighed, as the temperature had dropped to just under 100. He had to be careful, for sand vipers were all around, and the things did not like to be stepped on, often showing their appreciation through a deadly bite. Greg knew all too well the policy for anyone suffering a snake bite.
Standard procedure dictated that the bitten soldier kill the snake and secure its carcass, so both it and the bitten soldier could be flown to Kuwait City where medical personnel would produce anti-venom from the snake. Otherwise, you'd probably be dead in short order. Such knowledge prompted Greg to walk slowly and cautiously.
The urination poles were located out by the homemade porta-johns, and there were no lights around those, so the place was out in the darkness. Greg didn't carry a flashlight or night vision goggles with him, so his memory guided him toward shadows that he knew to be the right location. When Greg was about ten feet away, he could make out white PVC pipes sticking out of the sand at 45-degree angles, with mosquito screens lashed to the tops of them. The sand around the poles was damp from the relief of others. Greg added to the ground's dampness.
As Greg was walking back to the TOC, he thought he saw flashes in the night sky. Stopping, he looked upward. Stars shone back down on him. He blinked, thinking it was odd that lightning would be in the vicinity. This wasn't storm season in the Kuwaiti desert, and only the most intense dust storms produced lightning, and there was only the smallest stirring of a too-warm breeze. He didn't hear any thunder either.
Shrugging, Greg continued his trek. As he entered the TOC, he saw that most were still blankly watching the TV. Greg sat back down in his chair. He heard some curses from the S3 section. The movie playing on the TV was intermittently interrupted with snow and squiggly lines. Captain Higgins called for the soldier from the Signal section.
"What's with the stupid TV, SIGO?" demanded Higgins.
"SIGO" was a shortened term for "Signal Officer," which the Specialist facing Higgins was not, but the term "SIGO" stuck to any signal type on shift at the time. Specialist Flory told Higgins he didn't know, but he'd check on it. He disappeared through the TOC entrance flaps. Meanwhile, the picture on the TV became more erratic.
"Change to something else. Where's the remote?" demanded Captain Higgins.
Steve walked over to one of the battle desks and grabbed the remote. He switched to a different channel, but the picture showed no signs of improvement. He switched to Star News. The picture was constantly interrupted, but what the newscaster was saying made everyone sit up straighter.
An Arabic man with a slightly British accent was speaking, "…and BBC continues to receive reports of multiple unidentified fighter craft attacking airfields and military bases throughout Europe. According to reports, the aircraft are like nothing they have ever seen. The British government reports they have managed to shoot down only a few of the unidentified fighters, but they have lost many fighter jets in the process."
The picture switched to a view of a blue sky over a city. Greg could not make out the city, but in the sky he saw what looked like a light-grey wedge. The camera was trying to zoom in for a closer look.
The announcer continued, "Reports are coming in from the United States that they are…. Wait. This just in: We have received reports that Washington D.C. is under heavy attack. No government or organization has claimed respon…"
The signal cut out abruptly, and snow replaced the announcer's image. All of the soldiers in the TOC, fully awake now, looked at each other in shock and disbelief.
"This has got to be some kind of joke!" said Steve.
He feverishly switched channels, each one revealing only snow.
"Pretty good joke," intoned Greg.
"Hey SIGO!" shouted Captain Higgins.
Specialist Flory reappeared through the SICUP flaps.
"Sir, I couldn't find anything wrong with the dish. It's aligned where it's supposed to be, and it's getting power. The right lights are on, so we should be getting a clear signal.
Flory glared at the snow-filled TV.
"Did someone take out the satellites?" said Steve. Captain Higgins looked at Steve.
"There's only a couple of nations capable of taking out satellites, and we're one of em," replied Higgins, adding, "Besides, who would want to take out an entertainment satellite?"
A look of concern clouded Higgins' face, and he said, "Hey Steve! Go grab me a plugger, would ya?"
"Plugger" was the term often used to refer to an AN/PSN-11 Precision Lightweight Receiver, which had an acronym of PLGR.
"Yes sir," said Steve with a confused look but then headed toward the M577 to which the S3 SICUP portion was booted.
Steve reappeared with a tan-colored bulky GPS in his hand. The old GPS included only an LCD display for numbers shown in the Military Grid Reference System, or MGRS.
"Give me a fix on our position, Steve."
Steve began pressing buttons on the device. The old PLGRs were slow to boot, slow to find satellites, and even slower to figure out where you were at, but they were reliable and sturdy. Five minutes passed and Steve shook his head.
"What's the problem?" inquired Captain Higgins.
"It's just weird, sir. I'm picking up only two satellites. We normally can get six out here."
"Well, whoever those bastards on the news channel were, it looks like they've been screwing with our GPS satellites too. But who in the hell would want to attack us, or have the nuts to do so?"
Higgins appeared to go blank for a few seconds and then turned to Sergeant Jones.
"Sergeant Jones, go wake up the Old Man."
Jones looked a bit stricken. Waking up the battalion commander was not a pleasant task, but he headed out of the TOC anyway.
Higgins shifted his attention to Steve and said, "Steve, I want you to try to reach Brigade Headquarters in Doha on the Spitfire. See if they know what's going on. Don't want the Old Man to come in here only to find out I don't know what the hell to say."
The AN/PSC-5 SPITFIRE satellite radio terminal included a small medium-gain SATCOM antenna that a trained soldier had to carefully aim in order to get the desired signal linkup with another radio station.
Steve nodded and walked over to the SPITFIRE and began speaking into the microphone.
Higgins then turned to Lieutenant Flynn and said, "Greg, see if you can raise the Intel weenies at Brigade. Maybe they've got a clue."
"Intel weenies" was a not-so-honorific some soldiers and officers used in reference to Military Intelligence units further up the chain of command.
Greg nodded and turned to a nearby SINCGAR. The Brigade O&I net operated off of a retransmission from another SINCGAR station between the kabal and Kuwait City. Such retransmission sites were often referred to as "retrans."
"Sir, I get nothing off the Spitfire," said Steve.
"Okay. Pull out the HF and see if Brigade is monitoring that."
Steve looked a bit wounded. He knew what a high frequency radio was, but he had little experience using one.
"Sir, I don't know where that is, and I don't know how to use it."
"It's a radio, like any other. How hard can it be?" replied Captain Higgins.
Higgins turned toward Specialist Flory and said, "Do you know how to work an HF?"
"Yes sir. I'll have it up in a few minutes," said Flory.
Flory turned to his section's M577 and disappeared into it.
"Sir, I've got someone from Brigade S2 on the line," said Greg.
Captain Higgins turned to Greg and said, "They're saying they saw the same thing we did. They're contacting ARCENT-KU to find out more. They said they'll call us back when they find something out."
"Alright, fine. We'll just…"
"The battalion commander!" shouted Sergeant Rogers, one of Greg's section NCOs.
All heads whirled toward the entrance flaps and everyone except the soldiers on the radios stood up. Lieutenant Colonel Harry Bertha rubbed some sleep out of his eyes, but he also bore a level of alertness that came with his years of experience.
"Okay Vince, why am I awake?" rumbled Lieutenant Colonel Bertha in a deep but tired voice. He was a tall man with steel-gray hair (what little there was of it) in his mid-forties.
"Sir, we saw reports on Star News of attacks on both Britain and CONUS, and…"
"What?!" Lieutenant Colonel Bertha suddenly looked more alert.
"Yes sir," continued Captain Higgins, "We saw footage of strange fighter craft attacking airfields, and the announcer said that Washington D.C. was under heavy attack."
Lieutenant Colonel Bertha glanced over at the TV, frowning as he was greeted by snow on the screen.
"What's wrong with the TV?" inquired the commander.
"Sir, it went out completely during the newscast. I'm not sure, but we think maybe the satellite transmission was interrupted or something."
"…or something," murmured the commander. Captain Higgins paused and then continued.
"Yes sir. We can't raise Brigade on the Spitfire, our pluggers aren't registering…"
"Pluggers not registering?" interrupted Lieutenant Colonel Bertha.
"Yes sir. Lieutenant Hovey said he could pick up only two satellites."
"Only one now, sir" interrupted Steve.
"One?!" replied Lieutenant Colonel Bertha and Captain Higgins simultaneously.
Steve nodded. Lieutenant Colonel Bertha looked back at Captain Higgins.
"Sir, Specialist Flory is setting up the HF now, and Lieutenant Yost has managed to raise Brigade S2 through O&I."
Lieutenant Colonel Bertha turned his attention to Greg.
"What did they say?"
"Sir, they're trying to reach ARCENT-KU to find out more. Right now, they're clueless." replied Greg.
"Okay, stay on it," said Lieutenant Colonel Bertha. He turned to Captain Higgins, "If Lieutenant Yost can reach Brigade S2, then you should be able to reach Brigade S3. The retrans isn't picky about which net it's bouncing."
"Yes sir. So far they haven't responded, but we'll continue to try and raise them."
For the next hour, Greg continued to communicate with his brigade counterpart. Specialist Flory got the HF radio up, and Battalion S3 gained contact with their counterpart at Brigade. They too had tried to reach ARCENT-KU.
At about 0220, Brigade called back Greg on his radio and told them that ARCENT-KU was unable to reach CONUS in any way except HF. No satellite communications of any kind was possible. The reports they got from continental United States (often referred to as simply CONUS) were not encouraging.
"Wake up all the company commanders, and wake up the rest of the staff," barked Lieutenant Colonel Bertha at 0255.
Captain Higgins nodded and the RTOs began calling the company CPs. Meanwhile, soldiers headed out to wake up the various sleeping staff officers.
At 0330, all company commanders and primary staff officers were gathered in the TOC, forming a loose crowd around Lieutenant Colonel Bertha, who stood by the suspended map board at the center of the TOC. A few of the officers looked irritated to be awake at such an hour, while the rest appeared to be a mixture of puzzled and tired.
Captain Higgins stepped next to the battalion commander and filled in all of the officers on what he knew, alarm visibly growing and replacing other emotions on their faces as he continued to speak. More than a few obscenities were muttered.
By 0730, all M-577s were packed, gear was put away, and the battalion was ready to move. In the distance, Greg could see the vehicles from the attached Engineer company bulldozing down the sand walls of the kabal in different directions. He would get no sleep today. The night shift usually paid in sleep when the battalion TOC had to jump to a new location. But this was different – it was no training exercise.
Brigade had sent orders that the battalion had to "strike" the kabal and array itself in a battle formation, vehicles spread out. He also heard that 3-78 Infantry had received similar orders. They, along with his own battalion, were the only US forces deployed to Kuwait for this operation. He also heard that the Brigade Headquarters was deploying out of Camp Doha and into the desert.
Greg felt some trepidation as he recalled the images on TV the previous night. He was very tired, but he now shared a level of alertness with his comrades, generated from news that one's home nation has come under attack.
Greg and other felt that alertness, fear – and a growing sense of anger.