A week and a half later, I walked into our TOC in Fort Grodzisko.
The bunker hadn’t gotten much warmer since the winter, though it had gotten brighter, as more work lights were brought in. We still did some planning and intel collection on computers, but given how fast and how nasty the cyber war had gotten—not to mention how often power grids were being targeted, on both sides of the Atlantic—we used paper maps, whiteboards, and as much analog stuff as we could. And those needed light.
Brian Hartrick was waiting in the “Grex Luporum Corner,” along with Shane Tucker and Bobby Burkhart, the other two Grex Luporum team leaders in country. There weren’t a lot of us, and we were in high demand in the States—and there were whispers about new ops in the Western Pacific, though those were extremely hush-hush at the moment—so Shane, Bobby, and I were it for the moment.
We were also all understrength. We’d taken losses over the last few months since all this started. None of our ten-man teams were sitting at more than eight bodies.
“You made it.” Hartrick’s sardonic tone always sounded like he wasn’t sure if what he was saying was a good thing or a bad thing, especially when it was, on its face, a good thing.
“You make that sound like you weren’t sure it was going to happen.” I shook Tucker’s hand and nodded to Burkhart.
Hartrick sighed and shrugged. He always looked slightly angry—and he often was—but I’d known him for too many years to be put off by his permanent scowl. I’ve got something of a “resting mad dog face” myself. Hartrick had been on the cadre that had seen me make it into the Grex Luporum Teams despite lacking the SOF experience, and then had been my first team leader.
“Things are getting a little crazy. Between the Russians pushing the border, Poznań and Łódź practically at a standstill from ‘spontaneous demonstrations,’ and IEDs going off around Warsaw and Kraków, I’m not taking anything for granted.” Hartrick’s Polish was getting a little better, though mostly when he wasn’t paying attention—he’d angrily stated his indifference after stumbling over words a couple of times—but his pronunciation of the place names was noticeably better than it had been.
“More IEDs?” I’d been out of the bigger loop for the last few weeks—we’d gotten some news in Braniewo, but we had mostly been too busy to pay much attention.
Hartrick nodded. “Three in the last couple of days. Nobody’s claimed credit, which just means Malinowski’s list of usual suspects is longer than usual.” The Polish commander we’d worked with since the battles before Gdansk wasn’t exactly mellowing as the war went on. General Reeves, commanding the Army’s 7th BCT, was getting vocally concerned about some of Malinowski’s suspicions. His net was getting wider and wider as the months dragged on, and the unconventional, non-martial part of the war got nastier. Reeves was worried that he was going to start suspecting the Americans of playing some part in the unrest and growing chaos in his country soon.
Given some of the stupidity I’d heard coming from a few of the politicians in DC when they’d weighed in on the war, the few times we’d gotten news from home, I couldn’t say I’d necessarily blame him if he did.
“So, is that why you pulled us back?” I glanced at the map over Hartrick’s shoulder. “Got some ‘special’ HVTs for us?”
“Not quite.” He grimaced again. “It was at Reeves’ request; he wants all of the special units ready to prep for something big. He won’t say what—in fact, I doubt he knows yet. He’s about to play second fiddle, once The Big Red One finishes mustering.”
I sighed. “So, they did send a bigger fish to take over, then.”
He nodded, his scowl deepening. “Yeah.”
I looked at him sharply, then traded glances with Shane and Bobby. “That doesn’t sound good.”
“It ain’t.” He looked up at the door as it opened. “I’ll let Oscar fill you in.”
We all followed his gaze toward the front door. Oscar Gutierrez was the Triarii infantry commander in Europe. A former Marine Colonel, he still looked the part. Tall, silver-haired, and clean-shaven, he looked far more patrician than us scruffy Grex Luporum guys. His greens were rumpled, and he hadn’t put the patch on his shoulder—none of us were wearing them at the moment, either—but he didn’t look nearly as hangdog as I might have expected him to.
Gutierrez had to deal with both the Polish and American leadership. And we’d been having issues with the American officer corps since before Gdansk. I could only imagine how bad it was about to get, when Reeves was about to be outranked.
“I don’t suppose any of you have heard of General Amy Sellar?” Gutierrez had better hearing than any of us. His earpro must have worked better when he’d been in the military. Either that, or he’d started wearing hearing aids so he could overhear us when we were talking trash in the TOC.
“I vaguely remember something, but I don’t think it was particularly good.” Tucker was frowning as he thought. “Something along the lines of ‘Damn, I’m glad I got out.’”
“That sounds about right.” Gutierrez waved at Modine, who was working on something on the other side of the TOC as he joined us. “She’s the definition of ‘politician in uniform.’ And guess who’s now the ranking US Army officer in Poland.”
“Great.” I honestly didn’t see it as more than just one more annoyance. We’d butted heads with Reeves for weeks before Gdansk, and he’d still been something of a pain in the ass—if less so—afterward. “So, what? She wants to see everybody in formation before we do anything else?” I’d certainly heard weirder and dumber stuff from officers and Senior NCOs in warzones.
“I’m afraid it’s a bit worse than that.” Gutierrez put the folder he’d been carrying down on the table and leaned on it, looking around at all of us. “We’re standing down for the next week, while courses of action are determined.”
I frowned. Pulling the team back from Braniewo had made sense. There was a lot to do, and only so many of us to go around to do it. Regular Triarii infantry sections were doing a lot of the same stuff, breaking up into squads to embed with Polish Territorial Defense and acting as recon assets for some of the regular Wojska Lądowe units on the German and Czech borders. But to stand down altogether?
“Boss, that is not a good idea. We just came from the Kaliningrad border, and things are getting sporty there. And from what Brian tells me, things on the EDC side are just as dicey. There’s a lot of training, coordination, and network-building to do. Most of the early warning comms nets aren’t built yet. Never mind the react forces in a lot of these places.” I folded my arms. “I’m not saying the Poles can’t handle it on their own, but at this point, every pair of hands helps.”
“I know that, Matt.” Gutierrez looked tired. “I do. Hell, so does Reeves. But, well… The Army didn’t come alone.”
Something about the way he said that made the three of us frown. Hartrick just stared at the table, as if he’d already gone numb.
Gutierrez sighed. “The first ones off the boat weren’t Army or Marines. They were the negotiating team from the State Department.”
I stared at him. Tucker was pinching the bridge of his nose between his fingers. Burkhart was kind of staring with his mouth open, as if that was the dumbest thing he’d ever heard. Hartrick just looked thunderous. “What are they planning on negotiating?” I was a little proud of myself that I didn’t launch into an epic stream of profanity.
Gutierrez’s mouth tightened into a thin line. “’Plans for a cease-fire with the EDC over the next month, hopefully leading to a permanent peace.’” He was clearly quoting State’s boilerplate.
I snorted. “And what position do they really think we’re in to negotiate from? We’ve barely held onto Poland. Unless they’re really here to negotiate our surrender?”
“Fuck that.” Tucker looked and sounded like he wanted to spit on the floor.
“Oh, they’re insisting that’s not the case, of course.” Gutierrez sounded simultaneously tired and disgusted. “It’s all the usual bullshit. This was all thanks to a ‘misunderstanding,’ military stupidity, Polish runaway nationalism, blah, blah, blah, fucking blah.” I had to raise an eyebrow at that; Gutierrez was obviously getting strung out. He didn’t usually get so close to losing his cool. That was our bailiwick. “They’re insisting that they can smooth the waters, if the Polish and US military knuckle-draggers just get out of the way and let them talk to their ‘enlightened’ peers over in the EDC.”
“Do they not understand what’s actually been going on over here? Do they have no idea where the fuck they are?” Burkhart had lost the dumb, shocked expression, and was starting to get mad.
“Of course they don’t. They’re smarter than we are, remember?” Gutierrez shook his head. “They’re so smart, that they automatically know that the people on the ground, experiencing the war firsthand, are wrong. It never fails.” He looked up and around at us. “However, that’s just one plan. There are currently three.”
He started to tick off on his fingers. “State wants a total stand-down while they open communications with the EDC and begin peace talks. They still haven’t explained just how they think they’re going to have the leverage to do that. We’re hanging on by our fingernails, at the end of one hell of a long and spiderweb-thin supply line, with enemies to east and west. Meanwhile, between the coup attempt in Germany and the French nuclear arsenal going up in smoke, things aren’t exactly stable in the EDC sphere of influence at the moment, and negotiating with us just might signal weakness at a time that nobody on that side of the line can afford to.
“Option two is our plan, effectively ‘Polish Fortress Doctrine.’ We’ve already made some good progress, and Warsaw is mostly onboard with it. Hell, the Territorial Defense Brigades were already a building block toward something of that nature—we’ve just expanded it.” We had. It had started to some extent in the States, even before the cyber-attack. The growing disorder had necessitated some work on what had euphemistically been called “anti-fragility.” This had involved a combination of building community watches, training, and developing localized infrastructure that wasn’t as prone to grid or supply-chain failure. We’d simply been carrying a lot of that over to Poland, particularly in the border zones. It was shaping up to be a long war. “The obvious follow-up to that being guerrilla war in Germany and France, which will necessitate contact with some of the Bavarian groups and Nouveau Gallia.” He snorted. “Believe me, State is just thrilled with that idea.”
I could imagine. The Bavarian groups—the oldest of which had their roots in the actual region of Bavaria—were a bit of an oddity in Germany. They were the closest to what we Americans might call “conservative.” Focused more on independence and stability, they rejected most of the politics floating around Germany, of both the left and right variety. They seemed to be a little like the Triarii, but what little contact there had been hadn’t been particularly warm—they seemed like a prickly bunch.
That only made them worse in the eyes of the bureaucrats and diplomats at State. To them, anyone who ascribed to the ideology of “get lost and leave me alone” was the next thing to a full-blown, goose-stepping Nazi.
Try to parse that out.
And the less said about Nouveau Gallia, the better, as far as State was concerned. After all, they were an actual secessionist organization that had already seized control of Narbonne and several smaller cities around it, and furthermore, had held it against EDC and Armee de Terre assault. State really didn’t like them, almost as much as they disliked us.
“Then there’s the third option, which seems to be the most likely to be adopted, since General Sellar is pushing it, and she appears to have the most political capital to work with.” He didn’t look like he really wanted to say what it was; there was a pained expression on his face. “That plan is a fast offensive across Germany to Brussels, in order to oust the European Defense Council, and then set up a replacement council that Washington believes will be more ‘reasonable.’”
There was a moment of silence. “I mean, on its face, that doesn’t sound like that unreasonable a plan.” I was almost hesitant to say it. “On its face.” My eyes narrowed as Gutierrez took a deep breath without looking at me. “I mean, trying to do a full-blown ‘nation-building’ effort under these circumstances is simply impossible. But… Why do I suddenly get this awful feeling that there’s a lot of dumb underneath the prima facie reasonable strategy?”
“Probably because you’ve developed a sixth sense for this kind of fuckery, Matt.” Gutierrez lifted his head. “We all have. We probably wouldn’t be Triarii otherwise.” He sighed. “The catch is that they want to do it on a short timeline, with what we’ve got available. The old, ‘You go to war with the army you have, not the army you want’ quote has been getting thrown around a lot.”
“They want to invade Germany, then France, with three divisions and a brigade minus?” Tucker was thunderstruck. “We threw twice that onto two beaches at Normandy, and that was just to gain a foothold.”
“Ah, but that was before the high-technology future.” Gutierrez couldn’t keep the sarcasm out of his voice. “Between the force multiplying factors of modern weapons and the current disarray in EDC-controlled Europe, we should be able to penetrate through to capture the EDC with a single, fast-moving spearhead.” He rubbed his temple as if he was getting a headache. “At least, that’s their logic. The Expeditionary Force G3, Colonel Isaacs, is a scrappy bastard, and he’s pushing this plan hard. Trouble is, much like the majority of them, he’s got no combat experience. He was at TRADOC all through Kosovo.”
“I’m still not sure I’m following this. I might just be biased.” Burkhart held up a hand, his brow furrowed in thought. “They want to drive through to Brussels with three divisions and the bulk of 7th BCT? I presume that they’re planning on using us and the 10th Group guys to run around in the rear areas raising hell to keep the bad guys off them while they advance?”
I glanced at Hartrick. His expression, while never what I’d call cheerful, was not promising. “Not really. ‘We’ll be moving too fast,’ was what Isaacs said.” He leaned heavily on the table, looking down at the map without seeing it. “He even brought up the old Soviet ‘Seven Days to the River Rhine’ plan, and the run on Baghdad in ’03.”
“And we all know how well that worked out.” Hartrick had held back so far, but he couldn’t keep that snarl back.
“Wait. Wasn’t the Soviet invasion supposed to start in East Germany, not Poland?” Tucker was rubbing his eyes. I think we were all developing a headache at that point. “And I’m pretty sure the Red Army was going to be throwing a lot more than three divisions on a shoestring supply chain into the mix.”
“Correct on all points.” Gutierrez took another deep breath. “Look, gents, as bad as I’m making this sound, right now it’s not set in stone. Reeves and Malinowski are pushing back hard.” He chuckled bleakly. “I think Reeves came within about an inch of getting court-martialed the other day. He was getting heated.”
“Really? General Reeves thinks this is a stupid idea? To the point that he’d jeopardize his career?” I knew that Reeves had turned around a little since he’d stubbornly refused to accept the intel that we’d brought from Germany without drone corroboration. That refusal had almost cost us Gdansk and the whole war. He’d been emblematic of the high-tech, highly political nature of the current US Army.
“Reeves is almost a different man these days.” Gutierrez smiled a little, though the expression didn’t have much humor in it. “He’s still kind of an officious asshole, but he also grasps the situation better than the newcomers, and he doesn’t want to see his people cut off and slaughtered in central Germany. Trouble is, the big brains in the 3 shops are only looking at the Euro Defense Corps in a purely conventional light. They see how much strength has been drawn off to face Nouveau Gallia, not to mention all the other little outbreaks we keep hearing about in Slovakia, Czech Republic, Catalonia, and even Bavaria. Between the Corps being spread thin and already taking a hammering when we retook Gdansk, they think they’ve got a chance to just race through and get to Brussels before the EDC can muster a solid defense.”
“I mean, it’s possible.” I had to admit that much. “But it ain’t what I’d call probable. It’s a best-case scenario. And you never plan best-case scenarios when it comes to war plans.”
Hartrick snorted. “You haven’t been paying enough attention, Matt. We’ve been doing that for at least the last fifty years. Probably more.”
“More.” Gutierrez nodded. “The Civil War was supposed to be over by Christmas, 1860. There were picnickers out on the grass at First Bull Run, there to watch the war start and end.”
“So.” I crossed my arms. “How much does the Russians’ push in the east have to do with this rush job?”
“A lot. She doesn’t want to admit it, but I think that Sellar is more afraid of the Russians than the EDC. So are her masters. They want this over with as quickly as possible.” Gutierrez shrugged. “In a way, they’re not wrong. The US isn’t exactly in good shape to fight a world war right now.”
“What was that about, ‘You go to war with the army you have, not the army you want?’” I wanted to spit, myself. “Except you figure out how to fight the war to win it, not do stupid shit because you’re afraid of it going on longer than a month.”
“So, what are we doing?” Tucker tried to get the conversation back on track.
“Right at the moment, we’re standing by. Sellar wants the Triarii stood down completely, but that ain’t gonna happen.” Gutierrez put a folder down on the table. “But I do have a potential series of missions for Grex Luporum teams outside the country, so that’s why I’ve pulled you boys back.
“We don’t know which option we’re going to be stuck with, but the official US government’s people are pushing for either One or Three. And we’ve got to be prepared for any of the three of them.” His expression got bleak. “In the interests of being ready for Option Three, I’ve got three future European Defense Councilors for you boys to go retrieve and get to safety, pending an offensive to topple the existing EDC.”