Divided We Fall(8)
Author:Trent Reedy

    “Right face!” McFee ordered. Everyone made a one-quarter facing movement to the right.

    “Forward march!” said McFee. We all started forward. “Your left. Your left. Your left-right.” He called out the cadence quietly, better than the loud, stupid, cheery singsong cadences like I’d had to do during drill and ceremony at basic all summer. D&C sucked, and it was worse on a Friday night when I was supposed to be partying with the guys and JoBell.

    Even though the sun was going down, the late August heat cooked us in our uniforms. On that hot cement, we were like burgers frying on the griddle. I tried to ignore the sweat running from under my helmet and dripping down my back. Couldn’t do anything about it anyway.

    We marched around the corner in the park. Across the street ahead, some kids pointed at us as they came out of the Gas & Sip. A little girl’s ice cream sloshed out of her cone as she stared. People in the McDonald’s watched us through the window. A bunch of people took pictures with their comms. Others clapped and cheered.

    I held back my grin. Even though I mostly wanted to go home, I also felt kind of cool. There I was, wearing a real Army uniform, a trained soldier with a rifle. At basic, I’d been a real good shot too. Earned an expert rifle marksman badge. That’s right, I wanted to call out to the crowds, the Idaho Army National Guard is here. The trouble would be over soon.

    When we reached South Capitol Boulevard, the situation was different. A couple dozen people stood around the far side of the street. A lot of them were dressed almost as if they were going to the beach, with the guys in ragged, faded T-shirts or shirtless, and bikini-topped women. Could they be from the college? A bunch of them tipped back beers. Some held up signs complaining about police brutality or the wars in Iran or Pakistan. I reminded myself to focus on my duty.

    “Group, halt!” McFee ordered.

    With a final “left-right,” we stopped marching. I sneaked a look to my left. McFee had a map up on his comm. He ran his finger along it, then looked up at the street sign before checking the map. He sighed and then came to the position of attention. “Left face!” We all quarter turned to the left to face him. “On the command of ‘fall out,’ you will fall out and take a knee in a security perimeter around me. Fall out!”

    “Move it!” Sergeant Meyers positioned his guys in a circle. I took a knee facing the street. Sergeant Kemp nodded at each of us in his team as if checking we were okay. Then Meyers joined the lieutenant in the middle of the circle. After a moment, Meyers called for Specialist Sparrow, our Radio-Telephone Operator, to stick with the lieutenant so he’d be able to use the radio that she carried in her pack.

    “Go home, pigs!” a hot redheaded girl in a tank top and tiny, tight jean shorts shouted.

    “Get out of here! We don’t need no Army here!” someone called from the middle of the group.

    “Hey hey! Ho ho! All these soldiers got to go!” They took up the chant.

    What was their problem? We were just coming to fix things downtown. A guy with a beard and those nasty, white-boy, wannabe dreadlocks stepped away from the crowd, halfway out in the street. “What’s the matter? You lost? Go home!” he shouted at us. The crowd cheered and started moving to join him. Dreadlocks Guy locked eyes with me. I tightened my squeeze on the pistol grip of my rifle. He pointed at me. “This isn’t the war in Iran. If we didn’t waste so much money on you military people, maybe the university would be funded better and tuition wouldn’t be so high!”

    “Bring it in close, men!” McFee called. I was glad to get away from the crowd as I went to join the others. “Okay, listen up.”

    “That’s right! Run away!” Dreadlocks shouted.

    “Pussies! I’ll kick their asses!” Luchen elbowed me as we came up near the lieutenant.

    “They never lifted a finger to defend this country,” said Specialist Sparrow. “We fight to protect their freedom of speech, and they wanna give us trouble?”

    “I said listen up!” McFee shouted. His eyes flicked from us to the protestors in the street.

    “At ease on that tough-guy stuff,” Kemp said to us. “We’re professionals. We have a job to do.”

    Sergeant Meyers glared at the crowd. Lieutenant McFee wiped his hand down over his face. “Okay. Um.” He pointed toward the street. “So our mission is to secure this road right out here. We’re going to move out to the middle of South Capitol Boulevard and move in an, um, kind of diamond formation north above University Drive. We’ll stop all traffic and, ah, people who are trying to get to the riot downtown that way.”

    “Remember your military bearing,” Kemp said. “Do not say one word to those protestors.”

    “And stay alert!” Sergeant Meyers said. “They may start getting violent. Watch to see if they have weapons. It’s called situational awareness.”

    Sergeant Kemp shook his head. “Yeah, yeah, but try to calm down. Keep under control. These people out here are just mad about a lot of different things. They’re probably harmless.”

    “But don’t be complacent,” Meyers said.

    Watch for weapons? What did these guys think was going to happen? I hoped the other Guard units around the city were having a better time than us. From the shouting and sirens coming from downtown, I was glad I wasn’t one of the police officers assigned to break up whatever was happening down by the capitol building.

    We formed up into two tight wedges. Alpha team was in the forward wedge. Sergeant Kemp had point. Me and Luchen were staggered back at an angle to his left and right. Bravo team marched behind us, forming a diamond with Staff Sergeant Meyers, Lieutenant McFee, and Specialist Sparrow in the center.

    “Group, halt!” Lieutenant McFee ordered when we approached the crowd. He stepped up until he stood right behind Sergeant Kemp at the front of the diamond. “Okay, listen,” he shouted to the crowd. “Our orders are to secure this road out here. I’m going to have to ask you to please step back.”

    “What if we don’t want to?” the hot girl said.

    McFee tried again. “Okay, folks, you’re going to have to move.”

    “He didn’t say please this time!” Dreadlocks called out.

    Sergeant Meyers stepped up next to the lieutenant and shouted at the long-haired guy, “Get the hell out of the way, you hippie piece of shit! You will move voluntarily or we will move your sorry asses for you!”

    “Come on, Meyers,” Kemp hissed.

    The crowd wailed. Instead of moving away from our formation, they came closer. “This is bullshit,” Dreadlocks yelled. “We have rights! We got every right to be here.”

    “Hell yeah!” Another college guy held up his can of beer. He chugged the rest of it and threw it at us. The empty can landed about six feet away. The drinker cracked open another beer and clinked it against his friend’s can. “Hell no! We won’t go!” he shouted.

    Others joined him in the chant. What was their problem? This wasn’t a party. Why wouldn’t they move?

    “Sir, we can’t afford to lose control here,” Kemp said. “Let’s go around them. We have to move up the street to block the road off at our assigned point.”

    The lieutenant nodded. “Sergeant Kemp, guide the formation around the crowd to the left. We’ll move around them. Everybody stay tight. Forward, march!” We walked forward, sweeping toward the side of the crowd, but the protestors shifted over in front of us again. “Okay, Sergeant. Straight through the crowd then,” said McFee.

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