Divided We Fall(6)
Author:Trent Reedy

    “No,” I said. “No, it’s cool. I got this. I’m just bummed I’ll have to miss everything.”

    “Family first, Danny. Your mom is most important. She helped me so much when my mom left Dad and me for that prick dentist. I wish she didn’t have to have it so rough like this. Maybe she could see another doctor? Maybe a different prescription would help?”

    Her caring wasn’t making it any easier to lie. “She’s been to a zillion different doctors, believe me. This anxiety thing is kind of a family curse. Grandma was the same way. Anyway, I don’t want to mess up your party. Have twice as much fun for me.”

    “You know I won’t have half as much fun without you. But I’ll try. I love you.”

    “I love you more,” I said. “Hank, end call.”

    “I’m hangin’ up.”

    I drove on through my ruined night toward the National Guard armory.

    After I pulled into the parking lot inside the fence, I shut off the engine and sat back in the quiet stillness for a moment. So far, the Guard had been all about training. At basic, we’d practiced marching, shooting, throwing grenades, and we ran battle drills. Everything we’d done had been closely supervised under controlled conditions, with enough safety precautions to take all the danger and fun out of it. It sounded like we were going real world tonight. What would that be like?

    By eighteen thirty I was in MCU, helmet, and body armor, one of nineteen soldiers crammed inside the cabin of a roaring Chinook helicopter. I’d been on an airplane for the flight to and from basic training, so this was my third flight ever.

    It really sucked.

    As I settled into the miserable flight, the sweat rolled down my face and back. It wasn’t only the heat in the helicopter under all this gear. Every time the Chinook bumped in the air, I felt like my insides were flipping over. Sure, this wasn’t close to as bumpy as bull riding, but at least on a bull I felt more in control, and the fall to the ground was short. If this bird went down, I was helpless to do anything but wait to die.

    The drive from Freedom Lake down to Boise took about eight hours. They said this flight was supposed to be about an hour and a half. I checked my watch. We should have been getting close.

    “All right, listen up, men!” Staff Sergeant Meyers shouted over the engine noise as he walked down the aisle. I looked to Specialist Sparrow to see if she was mad about being called a man, but she was cool. Meyers went on. “The lieutenant has our orders, so stop your gabbing and make sure you pay attention so you know what’s going on!”

    Nobody had been saying anything. The nine soldiers in my squad sat on the canvas seats lining one side of the bird, staring across the aisle at second squad. These guys were mostly strangers to me. Besides basic training, all I’d ever done with the National Guard was one weekend drill with my unit. First Sergeant Herbokowitz was usually the NCO, the Noncommissioned Officer, who yelled at us, but he was on the other Chinook with third and fourth squads. Second squad’s leader, Staff Sergeant Torres, hardly ever said anything. Lieutenant McFee was supposed to be in charge of the whole platoon, but the problem was LT McFee was really young, which let Meyers think he could run things. Or maybe Meyers was just kind of a dick.

    Lieutenant McFee sat in the middle of second squad. He leaned forward in his seat a little and wiped the sweat from his brow. “Okay. This is your op order.” I could hardly hear him over the engine noise, especially with my stupid earplugs in.

    Meyers shouted, “Sir, you’re going to have to stand up and be a hell of a lot louder!”

    McFee nodded. He rose and slid his finger along his Army-issued comm in its thick green case, maybe trying to bring up the right page. The glow from the screen cast shadows above his cheeks, making him look like a zombie or something. “Paragraph One: Enemy Forces. Okay.” He held his comm closer to his face and squinted. “The situation is that protestors down in Boise in the vicinity of the capitol building are creating a dangerous or potentially dangerous environment. They have thrown rocks, bottles, or other objects at law-enforcement personnel. Some vehicles have been destroyed and a few businesses have been looted. Probable course of action is that the protestors will continue to cause injury and property damage.”

    Sergeant Meyers sighed loudly. He leaned forward and pressed his forehead against the side of his M4 barrel.

    Lieutenant McFee shot Meyers a quick, nervous look, but went on. “Friendly forces. Okay. Um. We have local law enforcement in the area. State police. EMTs. Also, um, firefighters. Soldiers from the local Army National Guard headquartered at —”

    “Sir?” Sergeant Meyers stood up again. “That’s a bang-on start of a textbook five-paragraph op order. I think we can skip to the mission. These Joes just need the basics.”

    Lieutenant McFee took a breath like he was about to say something, but then he blew it out and sat down.

    Meyers spit tobacco juice into the empty Mountain Dew bottle he’d been using. “This is a piece-of-cake mission,” he said. “The bird puts us down on the baseball fields at Ann Morrison Park, across the river from the real downtown area. Then first squad is going to move to the east to set up a checkpoint on South Capitol Boulevard right north of University Drive. Second squad will be securing Americana Boulevard. Third and fourth squads in the other Chinook will join other soldiers to help shut down I-184. Other Guard units from across the state will be setting up the same kind of checkpoints all over. Basically, we’re one part of a big circle of National Guard all around the riot. The state police and local Boise cops will be handling the rioters. We’ll be far away from the action. We block off the road. Nobody gets downtown. It’s simple. Even morons like you can figure this out. Everybody got it?”

    Private Luchen raised his hand. “Sergeant?”

    Meyers spun to face him. “What, Luchen?”

    Luchen was maybe two years older than me, but he seemed much younger. He was one of those little guys who sometimes had trouble making the Army minimum weight standard. “Sergeant, what about traffic heading away from downtown?”

    There were groans and some laughter from the guys. “Damn it, Luchen, the hell you think?” Luchen watched Meyers with his mouth open, as always. “You let them through. We’re trying to get people out of the downtown area.”

    “Roger, Sergeant,” Luchen said. “ ’Cause I was thinking that —”

    “Don’t think!” Meyers shouted. “You have to remember one thing.” He stared down both rows. “And this goes for all of you. You just do whatever I say.”

    Staff Sergeant Torres and Lieutenant McFee both looked up. Meyers must have seen their questioning expressions because he went on, “Yeah, and Torres and the LT. Do what you’re told and you’ll be fine. I’m just pissed we won’t get to go down by the capitol building and kick a little protestor ass!”

    Sergeant Kemp leaned over and said something close to the lieutenant’s ear. Kemp was my team leader in the squad. McFee nodded and Kemp stood up, carrying a green rectangular ammo can with him. “Sergeant Meyers makes a good point. This isn’t an ass-kicking mission. We’re going down there to stop trouble and calm things down. For some reason, we’re supposed to get ammo. I’m passing this can around.”

    Ammunition? Why were we getting ammo to run a simple roadblock? Rent-a-cop security guys did this kind of traffic stuff at the rodeo parking lot and they only had flashlights. Maybe we had blank rounds to scare people, or those cool rubber bullets that were supposed to hurt but not kill.

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