A/N: This story takes place at the end of the eighth season, following Harm's acquittal of Loren Singer's murder and prior to Mac's CIA mission to Paraguay. For the sake of the plot, the Paraguay mission starts in late May 2003.
I don't own JAG or the characters, just enjoy playing in their universe.
Headquarters, Judge Advocate General (JAG) Corps, Falls Church, VA, late April 2003 . . .
Commander Harmon Rabb, Jr. and Lieutenant Colonel Sarah Mackenzie hustled quickly through the bullpen at JAG Headquarters, turning heads of the other denizens of the office, who were unused to seeing the two most senior JAG attorneys caught this flatfooted. Petty Officer 1 Jason Tiner had just urgently summoned them both to the Admiral's office. The look on Tiner's face as they passed him going into the Admiral's office did not stem a feeling of dread as they entered. With the U.S. fighting in both Iraq and Afghanistan, there was no shortage of tough, dangerous situations that they could find themselves in.
Upon knocking, they heard the Admiral bellow from within, "Enter!" with even more ferocity than usual. Stealing an apprehensive look at each other, both senior JAG lawyers took a deep breath and plunged forth into the lion's den. When they entered, the look on the Admiral's face said that the situation was possibly even worse than they originally thought. This did not bode well for either of them.
"Commander Rabb and Colonel Mackenzie reporting as ordered, sir!" Harm stated, as they both snapped to attention in front of the Admiral's desk.
"You took your damn sweet time getting here!" snapped Rear Admiral (Upper) AJ Chegwidden. To say he was displeased was a drastic understatement. Although Rabb and Mackenzie had moved out immediately to the Admiral's office without delay upon being notified by Coates, there was just no pleasing Chegwidden today. It was one of those days where what he was about to say was not going to get better with time. His stern visage focused on his two most experienced officers and nearly burned a hole through them.
"No excuse, sir!" Mac stated, eyed locked dead ahead. She knew that they had gotten there as quickly as humanly possible and was not about to let the Admiral's exaggeration goad her into making things worse. She knew that this was how he was when there was a serious issue he was dealing with. It was just better to admit they were wrong and move on to the situation at hand.
"Hmmph," the Admiral groused. He knew they hadn't delayed at all in responding to his summons, but there was no way in avoiding being angry about the case he was about to give them. "At ease. Take a seat, both of you."
As Harm and Mac sat down at the two big leather chairs that were situated in front of the Admiral's massive wooden desk, Chegwidden did likewise. He closed his eyes, took his glasses off and pinched the bridge of his nose in both frustration and irritation. He opened his eyes and looked at the report on his desk. He knew this was a very dicey situation that could be a serious powder keg if not handled properly. That's why I asked for these two, he sighed internally. They are my finest investigators.
"Last night there was a major friendly fire incident in northern Iraq," he began. "Two Marine F-18 Hornets dropped several bombs on what they thought were Iraqi soldiers who had surrounded a Special Forces team that had been inserted to work with Kurdish rebels."
Harm glanced at Mac, as the Admiral paused. He then turned towards Chegwidden, locking eyes with his commanding officer. "Sir, I take it from your use of the term friendly fire, they did not hit Iraqi Army personnel."
As Chegwidden nodded his acknowledgment of Rabb's assessment, Mac spoke up. "Sir, did the Marines hit the Kurdish militia?"
A grim scowl replaced the tired look on Chegwidden's face. The change alone made both Harm and Mac's hearts drop a little lower in their chests. But it was what the Admiral said that stopped them cold. "Negative. Even worse. The Hornets dropped their ordinance on U.S. Army infantrymen from the 173rd Airborne Brigade. They were supposed to extract an SF A-team from a covert mission to capture members of the Iraqi Deck of Cards. The paratroopers were their extraction teams."
"Damn, a Marine on Army fratricide incident," Mac gasped.
"Mac, I think the more conventional term now is friendly-fire," Harm corrected. "But that doesn't mean the Army is going to take it any easier."
"The Colonel's words were far more appropriate, Commander!" Chegwidden snapped. That sentence sent a frozen spike right through both junior officers' stomachs. "The relief company suffered five killed and over a dozen wounded at first report. The Chief of Staff of the Army called the Chief of Naval Operations in a shit-fit. He wants those Marines' heads on a silver platter. The SECNAV tried to get Navy jurisdiction on the investigation, but the Army is claiming bias."
"I can see how they might think that, Admiral," Rabb started. "But they can't expect . . ."
"It doesn't matter what they can or can't expect, Commander," the Admiral fired back. "The truth is they are right. The Secretary of the Army and the Chief have been pressing the Secretary of Defense to have full Army jurisdiction over the investigation."
"Sir, we can't just be cut out of the investigation," Mac broke in. She was aghast at the incident, but was equally disturbed by the thought of no Navy representation in this investigation. It could turn into a witch hunt, with the Army looking for someone to blame for what could be a regrettable accident in the fog of war. However, Mac's protest was abruptly interrupted by a very intense Chegwidden growling at her through gritted teeth.
"Dammit Colonel, don't you think I know that?!"
Mac's eyes snapped straight ahead, as she bolted upright in her seat. Next to her, Harm did likewise. He tried to focus on the decorations above the Admiral's desk and not add to the already explosive situation. A few tense moments followed as AJ Chegwidden glared at Mac. His hawk-like gaze then turned on Harm, almost daring the poster-boy lawyer/aviator to butt in. Commander Harmon Rabb wisely did not do so.
Feeling that he had made his point, Chegwidden continued. "The SECNAV managed to convince the Secretary of Defense to allow us to work side-by-side in a joint investigation with the Army. The Army Chief of Staff was not happy, but the Secretary of the Army was satisfied with the compromise. The 173rd's own Brigade Staff Judge Advocate is laying the ground work as we speak. We will be working directly with him. However, the lead investigator will be a senior Army JAG from DC."
Harm opened his mouth to say something. Then he caught a look on the Admiral's face that came across as a clear warning that now was not the time for anymore interruptions. He quickly closed his mouth and shot a side-long glance at Mac, whose eyes just barely met his before returning to the Admiral. In his highly agitated state, Chegwidden would be even less forgiving of breaches of discipline than usual. No, Harm decided, whatever I have to say can wait.
"The Secretary of Defense personally called me this morning to inform me that he wants this investigation undertaken with the utmost professionalism," Chegwidden continued after a long moment. "Which is why I am assigning the two of you to represent the Navy during this joint investigation. I want you to get to the bottom of this and quickly. Leave no stone unturned and try to make nice with our Army brethren. "
"Aye, aye sir," Harm replied. Mac just nodded in consent. She was deep in thought and a deep frown was plastered on her usually lovely features.
"Alright you two, what are your questions?" Chegwidden asked, knowing full well that he was in for a barrage of questions he knew he either wouldn't like, or be able to give satisfactory answers to. AJ Chegwidden hated not being able to give his people everything he could to help them succeed. Such is life in the Navy, AJ, he thought.
The Admiral's question brought Mac out of her reverie and her deep dark eyes focused on her commanding officer. Before her partner to even open his mouth, Mac asked the first questions. "Sir, why are you sending us? Surely there are qualified Navy and Marine JAGs in Iraq capable of handling this case."
"Well Colonel, our theater JAGs are pretty damned busy with Rules of Engagement issues, Law of War investigations and their regular duties," the Admiral began tersely. "The Fleet has its JAGs all over Iraq, Afghanistan and the neighboring countries, in addition to being aboard ship. Not only are our people stretched thin, but these are special circumstances. The SECNAV told me to put my best people on this. He doesn't want this to be a turf war between the Army and the Navy, but he also wants our people to get a fair shake."
Harm chose that moment to jump into the conversation. "Sir, that makes sense, but it sounds like it will this probably end up a turf war, whether we want it to or not. I mean, the Army will obviously try to pin the fault solely on the pilots."
"And that's why I am sending you two, Commander!" the Admiral snapped. He really hated repeating himself, especially to officers who ought to know better by now. "You are my two most senior attorneys here at Headquarters and a formidable investigative duo when you can actually put your squabbles aside and work together. Plus, this is not the first time the two of you have handled a friendly fire incident involving our aircraft and friendly ground forces."
With that comment hanging in the air between then, Mac looked at Harm with a wry grin on her face. He, in turn, gave her a baleful look, knowing exactly which incident the Admiral was referring to. Earlier that year, Mac argued a case before Harm on the judge's bench, prosecuting a naval aviator accused of attacking what turned out to be British military personnel. There were some tense moments between them, as it looked like Harm was purposely giving her a difficult time from the bench. Mac even went so far as to ask the Admiral to have Harm recuse himself due to inability to remain impartial. They eventually worked the situation out and the aviator was grounded, despite the fact that he was found not guilty. It was a workable enough compromise, despite the strain on their friendship.
Mac turned back toward the Admiral and said, "Admiral, I can guarantee that we will do our best to keep the investigation as even-keeled as possible. That being said, I have to ask, who is the Army sending from their JAG Headquarters?"
Chegwidden didn't even look down at the paper in the report file. He knew the name and reputation quite well. And his people would too. Hell every military lawyer in Washington knew his name. This was not going to make Harm and Mac's job any easier, which was another reason to send the both of them. "The Army is sending Lieutenant Colonel Sean Stallworth to be lead investigator on this."
"Sean Stallworth?" Rabb echoed. "The guy who prosecuted the soldiers at Fort Bragg for beating their squadmate to death because he was gay? And who successfully won the defective Humvee armor case last year? Wow, they are really not messing around."
The lines around Chegwidden's face only got deeper as he acknowledged Rabb's point. Sean Stallworth was like Harm and Mac combined, without the outward personal baggage, and with a penchant towards political networking. Also, unlike Harm and Mac, he was also a career military lawyer, not a former pilot or admin officer. He had the highest case victory rate in the Armed Forces. But, he also appeared to have his eye on either a federal judge's position or possibly political office.
"No they aren't, Commander," the Admiral replied, for the first time not angrily. "The Army is out for blood right now and it's easy to see why. The company that was hit was one of the companies that jumped into northern Iraq back in March. They've been out in enemy territory with minimal support pretty much ever since. Despite the fact that their drops weren't hotly contested, they've been in the thick of the fight lately, and only recently have received reinforcements, resupply and armor support. These Soldiers have performed superbly but they are exhausted.
"And to be perfectly honest, the Army has been taking the brunt of the fighting in Iraq since the initial invasion. They have the most personnel on the ground, and aren't buying the reports that the enemy is finished. I need you both to work with the Army JAGs and find out just what the hell happened out there yesterday. If the Marine pilots are guilty, then I want them punished, but if they are not guilty, I need you to make sure they don't get railroaded either. It's hard enough to lose US servicemen and women to enemy action, but it's even worse when we are responsible for their deaths ourselves."
Silence hung between the three officers for several long moments. The Admiral's last words seemed to echo in the big hardwood office. Even the beautiful early morning spring sunlight that filtered through the windows couldn't remove the pall that had fallen over the room. All three had seen combat and had seen people killed in action. All three had also taken lives in the line of duty. But, no matter how much combat experience or how many brushes with death, nothing could shake the sickening thought of accidentally killing fellow service members, even those in other branches.
"Admiral," Harm said firmly, finally breaking the silence. "When do we leave?"
"There is a chartered private jet waiting for you at Andrews as we speak. You will be flying with Col. Stallworth. Grab your gear and get to the bottom of this quickly."
"Aye, aye sir!" Harm and Mac responded loudly and simultaneously, as they snapped to attention.
"Good. Play nice with Col. Stallworth and the 173rd. Now, get going and good luck."
Harm and Mac exchanged raised eyebrows as they were leaving Chegwidden's office. This was definitely going to be a very intense and possibly highly incendiary investigation. Things had been shaky since Harm's accusation and subsequent clearance of the murder of Lieutenant Loren Singer; however, this was as high a priority a case as they were likely about to receive. For him to be assigned to this case, it showed that the Admiral had not lost faith in him as an officer, a lawyer or a person. That meant a lot to Harm and he knew he was going to have bring his A-game to prove that the Admiral's faith was well placed.
"Well Flyboy," Mac began with a sardonic grin on her face. "Looks like you are really back in the saddle. Are you ready to face the Army's big guns?"
He flashed her his trademark aviator grin, and cocked his head towards her. "I prefer the term cockpit. And as for the Army's big guns, I hope that we can all agree that we are on the same side and work together to get to the bottom of this."
That stopped Mac short. The usual cocky former aviator seemed to be ready to play ball, and possibly not try to out posture or out macho the other side. Maybe he really has learned from his experience with the murder accusation, Mac thought.
Seeing her perplexed look at his change of attitude, Harm's smile fell and a grim look took ahold of his features. "We're going to have to on this one Mac. No one wins in a friendly fire incident."
A/N: I would love to get some reviews.