Chapter Two - Recon
The Native Aurelian Liberation Army (NALA) is fighting to reclaim ancestral Native Aurelian land from Rhodellia. A group of possible NALA insurgents was sighted travelling through the hills of rural Nordwalde Province. The Rhodellian military has organised a large-scale operation to find and neutralise it. Sergeant Schäfer and his squad thinks they have found the NALA insurgents in question. Now they just have to see what they're actually up against before they can engage.
2.1 - The Observation Outpost
The forested hills of rural Nordwalde Province are quiet. In a bush, roughly one hundred metres to the east of their squad, Private Ludwig Zimmerman and Private Abdul Hamid bin Faisal al-Latif of Fire Team Charlie are manning an observation post. They’ve cloaked themselves in camouflage in the cool shade of a densely forested and vegetated hillside, with wool and mylar blankets on immediate standby; they’ve taken as many precautions as they practically can to thwart detection by binoculars and thermal imaging devices, as per their unit's SOP. Their squad leader entrusted their fire team with monitoring the approach to their squad’s patrol base, ambushing any enemies that might have been trailing them, and observing the valley below (along with other nearby hills) for signs of enemy activity. For the past five hours, a group of suspected Native Aurelian Liberation Army (NALA) have evaded both the Rhodellian Army and Rhodellian Air Force at every turn. But thanks to two bored teenagers who just happened to be in the right place, facing the right direction, at the right time, the insurgents' luck might have just run out.
The observation post first made visual contact with a squad-sized element of eleven heavily armed dismounts less than ten minutes ago at 1702 hours. Zimmerman saw unusual activity in a treeline near the base of another hill on the opposite side of the valley, roughly 400 metres away from the observation post, at a compass bearing of 110° (roughly East South East) relative to the observation post’s position. He and al-Latif radio'd their squad's HQ, and watch the group with binoculars as they stopped to set up camouflage nets and dig fighting positions into the hillside. By 1715 hours, the pair have already identified and written detailed notes on eleven unique individuals, down to their uniforms, camouflage pattern (TAZ 90), body armour (Soldier Plate Carrier System (SPCSs)), helmets (Integrated Head Protection System), night-vision devices (Ground Panoramic NightVision Goggles (GPNVGs)), weapons systems, and weapon accessories (M150 RCOs). Ten are armed with assault rifles (a mix of M16A4s and M4A1s). Two of them are armed with M3E1 recoilless rifles. Another is armed with an FIM-92J Stinger man-portable air-defense system. The eleventh man is equipped with an M240L general-purpose machine gun. Like most NALA fighters tend to be, these guys are just as well-equipped as the hundreds of dismounted Landwehr (conscript) infantry patrolling the countryside around them, if not more.
Zimmerman and al-Latif suspect that this group are the reported NALA insurgents they’re hunting down. The NALA and its allied terrorist cells wear a confusing variety of camouflage patterns. This group in particular is not wearing the Tigerstripe camouflage pattern sported by the local (Rhodellian government-aligned) Nordwalde Tigers militia. They aren’t wearing the Flecktarn patterns employed by the Rhodellian Armed either. They are using TAZ 90 woodland camouflage, which is used by the NALA, Loyalist militias, and some Rhodellian regional territorial police forces. However, this group is acting too suspiciously to be friendlies. And nobody contacted the local Nordwalde Provincial Police about digging fighting positions in the countryside. But as is always the case when operating in a country where every good law-abiding citizen maintains their own private arsenal of military-grade weapons, one can never be too sure.
Having already notified their team leader of this development, the pair are busy monitoring the (possible) enemy through their binoculars. Zimmerman nudges al-Latif with his elbow. “Yo, you think these guys are actually N-A-L-A insurgents? The ones we're looking for?” “Wanna walk on down there to ask them yourself?” “f*ck no, dude. I got this gut feeling. As soon as they see my Flecktarn-wearing ass walking downhill towards them, demanding 'Show me your identification papers, please' like some goddamn Stasi agent, they’ll light me the f*ck up.” “I got that hunch too, yeah.” “But really, though. I sure do f*cking hope they’re NALA.” “Insha'Allah, bro.” al-Latif nods “Okay, so for convenience's sake, let’s just say that they are them. We basically spent the entire day looking for these guys. It's a good thing we found them now, cuz, with how much Command made us overload our packs for this mission, Goodsprings would’ve had us combing these hills for days.” “I can’t wait to smoke these motherf*ckers, man. They got hell to pay for all the crap they’ve put my knees and back through today, making us ruck through all these hills and shit.” “Word, dawg.” “I’m deadass finna hanging their scalps on my front porch.” “How many scalps do you think you’ll get today, dude?”
Zimmerman shrugs. “Realistically, bro?” He simulates a firefight between his squad and the (possible) NALA insurgents in his head. “Maybe like… One or two. We only got a month until our contracts are up, but I’d at least like to kill at least one of these f*ckers while we’re still out here, you get me? Just for our troubles.” “Yeah, I get you.” al-Latif nods. “Well, that, and everyone back home will call me a b*tch-ass LARPer if I come back from one year of National Service empty-handed.” “Didn’t you already cut out the scalp of that one NALA mortar observer a few months ago, back when we raided the compound of that IED maker?” “That’s just one guy.” Zimmerman holds up one finger. “Just one f*cking guy. By infantry standards, coming home with just one dude’s scalp is basically nothing. I’d still look like a little b*tch for not bringing home more.” “That’s rough, buddy. I'm pretty much on the same boat. I might not scalp people, because I think that’s disrespecting the dignity of the human body and all, but... when my contract ends, I at least don’t want to be the guy on the block with the least confirmed kills. That’d be embarrassing. And I wouldn't even have an excuse either because we're infantry and have seen combat before.” “Yeah, nobody wants to be that guy." Zimmerman shakes his head, smiling. "You’d be the biggest f*ckin’ disgrace, dude. A laughing stock. A motherf*cking pariah.” “Yeah." al-Latif chuckles. "It’d be really embarrassing.”
Speaking of records for confirmed kills, Zimmerman suddenly has an idea for the next conversation topic. “So who on your block holds the record for ‘most confirmed kills’? Think you can beat it in one month?” “I think the record still goes to this boomer who lives two doors down from me. His name’s Griswald. Served as a designated marksman from 94’ to 95’. 3rd Battalion, 5th Rabeswalde Landwehr Light Infantry. Fought in the 5th IBCT with the 2nd Infantry Division during Operation Highwayman.” “What kind of stuff did Griswald do?”
al-Latif takes the opportunity to rest his eyes a bit. He points to the targets of their observation in the valley below, digging and camouflaging fighting positions at the edge of a forest. “Pretty much exactly what these probable N-A-L-A insurgents are doing down there.” He continues peering through his binoculars. “He still visits my old primary school every year to get kids hyped up at school assemblies with war stories about the stuff he did during Highwayman. He’s a cool guy. And a wurld-class champion at hide-and-seek.” He rubs the back of his helmet, trying to recall specific details from Griswald's stories. “Basically, he told us about how his battalion infiltrated behind NALA lines to conduct interdiction missions. As retarded as it might sound, they spread out across the woods and hills of their AO to basically fight a protracted guerilla campaign in enemy territory. They ambushed truck convoys, raided supply depots, and did all sorts of other stuff to mess with enemy logistics.” “Sounds like a badass. How many kills did the madlad get?” “With the help of his spotter, Griswald got, uh..." al-Latif pauses to think. "24 confirmed kills in four months. That, and a whole bunch of other probable kills. No way am I getting 22 more in one month.” “24’s pretty good.” “Yeah. They could’ve gotten more, but they both got wounded in action. Real badly too.” “Shit, bro. What happened?” “Basically, The N-A-L-A got tired of his marksman shenanigans. His company evidently had night-fighting capabilities, since they did all their missions at night. And so, the N-A-L-A started redirecting NVGs meant for the frontlines so they could equip their rear echelon logistics troops. One night, while Griswald was providing overwatch for his company during a raid on a supply depot, a guy with NVGs must’ve spotted him. They called a mortar strike on his position.” “Such is life, man.” “Griswald survived, of course. And so did his spotter. Alhamdulillah. But they both took a lot of shrapnel to… pretty much everywhere not covered by their body armour or helmet. He had to get MEDEVACed by helicopter to a military hospital in Schwarzwald. Spent the rest of his National Service there. At least he eventually got three eagle feathers for some of the stuff he did.” “A Landwehr conscript like us getting three eagle feathers in a single tour? That's pretty f*ckin’ poggers, dude.” Zimmerman nods a few times. His imagination goes into overdrive. “Man, I'd love it if at least one of the people digging in down was at least half the badass motherf*cker Griswald is. I’m telling you, bro, we’d have the duel of the motherf*cking century. People would make movies about us!” “But then Command calls for fire support instead.” al-Latif chuckles.
Zimmerman frowns. “Yo, when they’re needed, I love Arty and CAS as much as the next guy, but…” He lowers his voice, not amused in the slightest. “Don’t you even f*cking talk about that right now.”
While he and his battle buddy are observing the (possible) NALA position, Zimmerman can’t help but think out loud about all the skill and effort it must have taken for a squad-sized enemy force to penetrate this deep into Rhodellian territory without getting intercepted. NALA-occupied territory and de facto Rhodellian soil are separated by a major river, the Nordfluss, which is 20 miles to the north. This raises a few concerning implications about the heavily-armed gunmen under observation. “You know, if these dudes really are the crazy sons-of-b*tches we’ve been hunting for the whole day, you gotta hand it to them...”
al-Latif, who is similarly impressed, nods in agreement. “Gotta give credit where credit’s due, bro.” “Imagine crossing one of the most heavily patrolled and monitored borders in the entire f*cking continent and then making it another 30 klicks behind enemy lines on foot…” “Uh huh.” “...all while dodging foot patrols and UAVs for six straight hours.” He nods a few times in approval “Shit, bro. You gotta admit that’s pretty f*cking ninja.” “Art of the Shinobi, right there, man” al-Latif nods a few more times “Think these guys are SOF with full SERE training?” “I’ll admit these guys are pretty f*cking good to have gotten this far, okay, I’m saying that much.” “Dude, you know you can praise them without getting down on your knee pads and sucking them off, right?” “I’m just saying, man, they’re good. Just not that good.” Zimmerman recounts all of the death, destruction, and chaos the Rhodellian News Network has attributed to NALA special operations forces in recent years “I mean... if they were real NALA SOF operators, we wouldn’t know that they’ve been here until they’ve already blown up another government office, assassinated another Loyalist militia leader, sabotaged another railway construction site, or trained another terrorist cell to do all that shit for them.” “I get your point, dawg. We’re probably up against NALA regulars who just paid attention in Stealth 101. We could probably pull off what they did too if we were serious about it.” al-Latif looks up from the woodlands on the other hill to the white-and-grey overcast sky above, trying to spot the silhouettes of Rhodellian Air Force aerial reconnaissance drones “But yeah, are we the luckiest guys in the military or what? Thanks to these clouds and a bunch of trees, all the high-tech stuff we’ve got in the air couldn’t track down these guys... and in the end, all it took to pinpoint these guys was two dudes with a pair of binoculars.” “And pure motherf*cking chance.” Zimmerman nods a few times as he increases the magnification on his binoculars. He tries to more closely observe what tasks individual (possible) NALA insurgents are busying themselves with. They still appear to be digging fighting positions behind their camouflage nets “We just happened to be in the right place at the right f*cking time. Just as our squad stopped over here to re-do our camouflage, these guys stopped to dig up ranger graves. If they just moved on from here, or took a slightly different route, they’d have slipped right past us. And we’d be none the f*cking wiser.”
Even with spy planes, spy satellites, and reconnaissance drones, the fog of war still exists. A variety of factors such as cloud coverage, foliage, buildings, shadows, and background IR can interfere with the abilities of airborne and spaceborne assets to gather useful intelligence on terrain and enemy forces. Unfortunately for the Rhodellian military, the Native Aurelian Liberation Army watches the weather forecast. The NALA insurgents picked a convenient time to infiltrate behind Rhodellian lines; the skies across most of the AO were overcast for most of the day, with the clouds in some areas floating low enough to brush the local hilltops. Air Force drones have been circling above the AO for hours, conducting TI scans wherever large-enough gaps in the clouds presented themselves, always to no avail. In the cloudier areas, drone operators wanted to fly below cloud level where the views were clearer, but despite their extensive skills, knowledge, and training, their COs forbade them from doing so. Military drones are extremely expensive equipment, and Rhodellia isn’t rich enough to replace frequent losses. The brass didn’t want to risk losing such valuable assets in collisions with trees, hills, or power lines. At times like this, the wurld is blank until you put boots on the ground. But even then, success isn’t always guaranteed; chance encounters can still happen.
al-Latif yawns, and continues the conversation to help keep himself awake. He’s already regretting handing over his last can of Blitz energy drink to Private Jakub Kowalczyk from Fire Team Bravo. “Hey, Zim.” “Yeah?” “What if these guys really are SOF, but just got really unlucky? What if they just got caught in the wrong place at the wrong time?” “Then they’d f*ck us in the ass as soon our squad moves to engage them.” “With how much you were drooling over them a minute ago... Oh, you’d like that, wouldn’t you?”
Zimmerman struggles to think up a retort. “Bro, when we get back to Bergenstein, I swear to God... I’m gonna sneak pork in your chow; hijack the mosque’s minaret to blast death metal in the middle of Friday Prayers; and draw an image of the Prophet Muhammad, in the dirt outside, with my own piss.”
al-Latif goes radio-silent, and takes a deep breath. Zimmerman smiles, thinking that something he said finally got to him. But just as Zimmerman’s about to bask in the glow of his victory, al-Latif opens his mouth: he barrages his Dolchic battle buddy with a river of words the man can not comprehend; he monologues an entire paragraph in Arabic at a pace that’d make any rapper hang their hat in shame, without so much as pausing for thought or breath. Zimmerman looks away from his binoculars to stare at al-Latif in confusion. “The f*ck does that all mean?”
al-Latif smiles like a child petting a puppy. “By Allah, behave yourself. I will give you a taste of my shoe.”
Zimmerman shakes his head, breaking into a smile as he turns back towards the (possible) enemy. Both the boys chuckle. “God damnit...” he struggles to think of how to respond to al-Latif in the wittiest way possible. He gives up less than a minute in, deciding that he should shut up, take the L, and maintain full focus on the mission.
The pair are unable to spot any more individuals than the eleven foot mobiles he and al-Latif originally reported to their team leader. Zimmerman once again increases the magnification on his binoculars in another attempt to figure out what’s going on behind each piece of camouflage netting, of which there are seven. But for some reason, this time around, the cammie nets are completely opaque; the suspected NALA insurgents hung up sheets of some kind behind them, blocking the view for any outside observer. The sheets are likely thermal insulators. He nudges al-Latif with his elbow. “Yo, you seeing this shit?” “Yeah, I’m seeing it too.” “The f*ck are they even doing down there anyway?” “I think they’re just hiding from our UAVs. They’re in a densely wooded area with dense vegetation and dense canopies overhead to break up their heat signatures on FLIR cameras. They might be putting wool-mylar-wool sandwiches under their cammie nets too in case they’re accidentally spotted by a mountain rescue helicopter with airborne optical sectioning. Maybe that’s why they never show up as heat signatures on thermals or black holes among background IR every time our UAVs sweep the AO.” “Think they’re setting up a patrol base?” “Naw, dawg. They’re too close to the main road and the edge of the forest. And because of that, they’re within the direct line of sight of patrols going down the MSR and along the ASR on our hill. They definitely ain’t setting up no patrol base, dude. They gotta be prepping a deliberate point ambush for our LVSRs rolling up and down the MSR. Something like that.” “Yeah, that makes the most sense. Sneaky little bastards, aren’t they?” “The question is, dawg, why would they go through all the effort to infiltrate this deep into our territory? Of all the places they could throw a surprise party for us, why here?” ”My guess? It’s because this place is in the middle of goddamn nowhere. It’s the f*cking boonies out here, bro. We’re miles away from Bergenstein and Schwarzwald. If a convoy got jumped out here, it’d take 30 mikes minimum for a QRF to fly their asses here in helicopters. By the time the QRF arrives to f*ck ‘em up, all the Vics would be up in flames with all their cargo missing. Meanwhile, these guys will be drinking f*cking Aperitivos in San Castellino."
Speaking of San Castellino, while he's still observing the (possible) NALA insurgents, Zimmerman goes off on a tangent about a gap year vacation he took to the country with some school friends. “Man, I wish I could go back there. San Castellino has some top-tier hotels and beaches. Shit’s criminally underrated. I swear to God, my buddies and I took so many f*cking photos from our hotel balcony because the view was just that good. It was the shit postcards are made of!” “Show some pictures on your phone when we get back to base. I might consider going with my family.” “You definitely should. Oh yeah, and down at the beach, my buddies and I pissed off a lifeguard by digging foxholes in the sand. Guy was f*cking fuming, saying kids will fall down our holes and hurt themselves and shit. Well it’s their fault for being dumbf*cks raised without caution and situational awareness.” “He must’ve never felt the simple pleasure of digging trenches as a kid. Poor guy.” “Mhm. Oh, and if you took a short commute to the less 'touristy' areas, the drugs and hookers are way cheaper there than they are here. I gotta say that the biggest f*cking highlight of the trip was when we got to beat the ever-loving shit out of this gang of crack junkies who tried to mug us, just down the street from this brothel. I'm telling you, man, shit’s pretty f*cking cray the moment you leave the beaches. 10/10 would recommend.” “Yeah...” al-Latif puts down his binoculars. Because of some obstructions behind all of the camouflage nets, he is unable to continue fruitfully monitoring the (possible) NALA insurgents. “You know what, dawg, I actually can’t see whatever they’re doing down there anymore. They've put something behind all their cammie nets and I can't see past them no more. Get Sarge on the net.”
“Way ahead of you, dude.” Zimmerman is already working the observation post’s radio, trying to contact their squad leader, Sergeant Alarick Schäfer. Considering the terrain and the possible enemy’s lack of motor transportation, the (possible) NALA insurgents likely wouldn’t be carrying the specialist equipment needed to actually listen into their radio transmissions. But what concerns Zimmerman is that they might still be able detect radio signals and use them to triangulate their observation post’s exact position. As a precaution, the radio is at its lowest power setting so its transmission range only reaches as far away as his squad’s HQ 100 metres to the west, but not the unidentified gunmen 400 metres roughly to the east. “Tempest Three-One, this is OP. How copy?”
‘Tempest Three-One’ is Schäfer’s callsign as squad leader of 1st Squad, 3rd Platoon of Charlie Company. Charlie Company's callsign is Tempest.
It only takes a few seconds for Schäfer to respond. “OP, this is Three-One Actual. Solid copy, over.” “Three-One, this is OP. Standby for SitRep, over.” “Roger, OP. Send traffic.” “Three-One, this is OP. Break...“ Zimmerman takes one last peak through his binoculars “We uh... no longer have a clear visual on the suspected tangos’ size, activity, location, uniforms, or equipment past their cammie nets. They seem to have put up opaque sheets behind and under them. They're likely thermal insulators to counter our UAVs and TI devices. Break. If we crawl closer to recon their positions up-close, from a more favourable angle, it might take us two hours to safely get there and back, losing us valuable time. Acknowledge?” “Roger, OP. Stay put and Roll back to REDCON-3. I’ll recon their pos up-close with a MUAV, out.”
2.2 - The Dragonfly
Meanwhile, back at the squad’s patrol base at the derelict campsite, Schäfer has gathered everyone available for a meeting. He has already radio'd his platoon leader about their possible contact with enemy forces. The other squads in the platoon are moving to new positions to the northeast and southeast. Now, Schäfer just needs to send up more detailed information. He looks to his team leaders and other squad members (who aren’t on watch) joining him around the rotting picnic table he made his HQ. “Well, gents. Looks like they’ve taken precautions against binoculars and thermal imaging.'' He slides a camouflage-painted tablet out of his pocket “We’ll be using the MUAV from this point onwards.” He turns to Private Waltz Fischer from Fire Team Bravo. “Hey, Fischer. Swap with Catawnee at our cordon’s 6 o’clock position. He needs more experience with drone operation.” “On it, sergeant!” Fischer nods before jogging off to fetch his squadmate from Charlie, Private Danuwoa Catawnee. “Thanks, killer.” Schäfer watches Fischer silently vanish into the ratlines his squad cleared through the underbrush, and gets on with unpacking a miniature unmanned reconnaissance drone from his rucksack. When setting up patrol bases like the one Schäfer picked out, it’s SOP for Rhodellian troops to clear all leaves and twigs from the pathways between different locations. This allows them to clandestinely move back and forth across the area without alerting nearby enemies with the snapping sounds dry leaves and twigs tend to make upon being stepped on. When Catawnee returns from the bushes, Schäfer’s already laid out the drone and its tablet on the picnic table. The Sergeant briefs the Private on what they know so far about the suspected enemies on the hillside to their east, how he suspects there may be more enemies in hiding, and what exactly needs to be done to develop the battlefield. “Catawnee.” Schäfer hands the Private the tablet used to control the drone. “You’re up.”
Catawnee accepts the task without hesitation. “At long f*cking last. And here I thought my tax money was being wasted!” He removes his rucksack and slaps it on a free space on the picnic table, next to Schäfer's map. “Today’s a special day, Sarge, so I’ll break out the pro controller for this one.” He unzips one of his rucksack's front pockets, retrieves a USB game controller, and begins unwinding its tangled cord. Schäfer smiles in amusement. “You madlad. You actually brought your controller with you on patrol?” “f*ckin’ A I did. This thing gives me hella luck so it's worth the extra eight ounces of weight. It’s the same controller I use when I’m tilted or tryharding in Battlefield or Tag Tournament 2.”
Catawnee’s team leader and fellow gamer, Corporal William Collins, chips into the conversation with a smile on his face. “How come you still suck then, you salty-ass, button-mashing, cry-baby b*tch-boy?” “Cry some more, you sore f*cking butthurt loser.” “Just don’t f*ck this up like you keep f*cking up your combos, bro.” “With all due respect, f*ck you, Corporal.”
The Rhodellian Armed Forces fields a broad variety of unmanned drones in its conflicts against guerillas and peer conventional enemies. This drone in particular is a micro unmanned aerial vehicle called the ‘UA-25 Libelle’, or ‘Dragonfly’ in Anglish. Lightweight, quiet, maneuverable, easy-to-use, and small enough to fit in a person’s palm, Rhodellian ground troops use it to enhance their local situational awareness. Most of these drones are also keyboard and controller-friendly. Video gaming is one of the most popular hobbies in Rhodellia alongside shooting, martial arts, working out, and reading; a large percentage of new draftees and volunteers in the Rhodellian Army are avid gamers. Because of this, the Department of Defense saw it as intuitive that most unmanned aerial and ground vehicles developed for the military have built-in compatibility with mice, QWERTY keyboards, and most popular video game controllers. They even have reconfigurable controls in the tablet’s ‘Option’ menu. So when Rhodellian children watch uncensored footage depicting Rhodellian unmanned combat aerial and ground vehicles graphically and violently terminating enemies of the state on Volkscast (A Rhodellian online video sharing and social media platform), they can point at the screen and say “It’s just like Armed Assault!” or "It's just like Battlefield!", and still be mostly right. For Generation Z-aged gamers like Catawnee, video games have turned ‘Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Operator’ and ‘Unmanned Ground Vehicle Operator’ from ‘an MOS for pussies’ to one of the most desirable (and thus competitive) Military Occupational Specialties in the Rhodellian military.
Catawnee plugs the controller into the tablet’s USB port. Meanwhile, Schäfer jogs and then crawls to the forest edge within a few metres of ASR Blue Lagoon. He switches the drone on, tosses it into the air, and makes his way back to HQ. The drone hovers in place with its rotors as Catawnee makes last-minute checks for any technical issues. He maneuvers his controller's joysticks around, and watches the footage on the tablet change in real time according to his inputs. The drone rotates left and right, goes up and down, and moves back and forth and side to side. All without any noticeable input lag. “Movement controls look good.” He cycles through the different camera modes . “The RGB, Night Vision, and FLIR modes all look good too.” He then turns to Schäfer “Do these things have airborne optical sectioning yet?” “ARDI’s (The Agency for Research, Development, and Innovation) working on it.” Schäfer opts to talk about the Dragonfly’s development while Catawnee refreshes his drone operating skills with practice maneuvers through the forest undergrowth and tree canopies. “Right now they’re in the middle of training the AI to identify soldiers riding in open-top vehicles, soldiers sticking out of tanks’ hatches, soldiers in various combat poses, under cammie nets, in fighting positions, all that shit through thick foliage and tree cover. They’re doing everything they can to expand the dataset to make AOS reliable in warfighting applications. Give ‘em a year or two and we’ll have something perfect for more than just Search & Rescue and bird nest observation.” “A year? I'll be done with National Service by then. Now ain’t that a f*ckin’ shame.” Catawnee sighs. “Oh well...” “So, we good to go?” “I’ll see what I can do, sir.” Catawnee props the drone's tablet against the side of his rucksack, takes a seat, and leans forward in the typical ‘serious gamer mode’ position. He starts flying the Dragonfly south along the ASR, towards the observation post where Zimmerman and al-Latif should still be observing the (possible) enemy position. When he gets there, it’s al-Latif’s turn to look through the binoculars. Zimmerman is lying on his back with both hands on his stomach, recovering from eye fatigue. He hears the Dragonfly’s propellers whirring a few feet above his nose, and opens his eyes. Catawnee raises the drone’s altitude in case Zimmerman instinctively slaps it out of the air. But instead, Zimmerman just flips the bird directly at the drone with both hands.
Catawnee laughs as he turns to Schäfer’s map of the AO. He compares it and the marker drawings scribbled on it with what he can see of the local terrain. He flies a short distance forward until he’s directly above ASR Blue Lagoon. The ASR is a paved country lane going north-south along a hillside. It is flanked by a shallow incline and dense forests to the west and a 4-foot-high dry-stone wall to the east. Beyond that wall is a somewhat steep downslope used by local farmers as a grazing area for sheep and alpacas. And beyond that grazing area, at the flat bottom of the valley, is MSR Spirytus. Schäfer breathes a sigh of relief that his squad, which entered the area from the north, stuck to the west half of the ASR to avoid skylining themselves for everyone in the valley below to see. “Thank f*cking God they didn’t see us as we got here.”
Catawnee drops the drone’s altitude so that the dry-stone wall obscures it from potential enemy observers on the opposite hill. He moves southwards along the ASR until he reaches a T-Junction (labelled ‘Checkpoint Eight-Bravo’ on the map). Next to that T-Junction is a gate leading into another farm enclosure. From Checkpoint Eight-Bravo, there is a left turn into another country lane heading east towards the MSR. This narrow road is also flanked by 4-foot-high dry-stone walls. Catawnee opts to conceal the drone by flying into the aforementioned farm enclosure and hugging the wall as he approaches the next T-Junction, Checkpoint Eight-Alpha. Checkpoint Eight-Alpha is 300 metres downhill from Checkpoint Eight-Bravo, and is roughly 70 metres southwest of the suspected NALA fighting positions. Corporal Koen Meier, Fire Team Bravo’s team leader, points to the tablet and pitches in an idea. “If we were to approach their fighting positions for an attack, and stealth is no longer possible, I’d advance through this country lane using textbook fire-and-maneuver. Any emplacements looking down the road could be suppressed. Another fire team could suppress the enemy's M3E1s from the ASR. The stone walls should make for decent cover against incoming fire from the rest of the fighting positions to the northeast until we reach Checkpoint Eight-Alpha. Local farmers build these things strong, so they should stand up to sustained 5.56 and 7.62 fire for a good few minutes.”
Schäfer nods in agreement. “That sounds like a decent idea to me.”
2.3 - Claymores
About a minute later, the drone reaches Checkpoint Eight-Alpha and MSR Spirytus. MSR Spirytus is a single carriageway flanked by paved footpaths and two 1-metre tall hedgerows. Stretching 50 metres beyond the eastern hedgerow is only thick bushes, large ferns, tree stumps, and sparsely distributed young trees. After that, there is an abrupt transition to old forest. The woods covering the hillside are so dense with trees and tall vegetation that it is impossible to see past 45 metres at ground level. Schäfer’s map of the AO also depicts a long ditch dug alongside the western edge of MSR Spirytus, next to the footpath, which Catawnee tries to get a visual on. The drone rotates left. Catawnee points to the screen. “Well, will you look at that.”
What he sees warrants a slight change of plans for his squad. The drone spots an insurgent with a large rifle slung on his back. Schäfer immediately identifies the rifle as a HK417A2 - 20″ battle rifle with an ACOG sight mounted on its Picatinny rail. He’s facing away from the drone, kneeling in a 5-foot-deep drainage ditch with steep slopes and a tiny stream running through the bottom. He appears to be busy aiming an M18 Claymore mine down a straight portion of the ditch before camouflaging it with foliage. Catawnee zooms in on the mine. “Yup, that’s definitely a dude setting up a legit f*cking Claymore mine at our only piece cover once we reach the MSR.”
Schäfer points at the screen, frowning at the insurgent's rifle. “Gents, double-check your notes. Have we ever seen this guy before?”
The team leaders flip through their notepads, comparing the man’s clothing and weapon with the eleven individuals that Zimmerman and al-Latif reported earlier. Corporal Rolt Jung, Fire Team Alpha’s team leader, flips to a brand new page on his notepad. “He’s got the same camo pattern, PPE, and NVGs as all the other guys OP reported… But OP never mentioned a dude with a HK417 or any kind of battle rifle…” he starts scribbling down a new data entry. “No, Schäfer. Neither us nor OP ain’t ever f*ckin’ seen this guy before. He’s a new one.”
Meier nods as he jots down the new information. “That brings the total up to… twelve guys, now. Shit, Schäfer, your hunch about there being more of these f*ckers was right. Just how many are infesting this hill?”
Collins speaks up as well. “Yeah, Schäfer, I er… think what they’re doing all but confirms that these guys really are NALA or NALA-affiliated insurgents. Beyond reasonable doubt. Can I explain?” “The floor’s all yours, Collins.” “Well, we all know they’re doing some highly illegal shit. Setting up potent explosive devices (and replicas of explosive devices) on, over, below, or this close to a public roadway is illegal. Preparing camouflaged fighting positions on public land where a public roadway is in your direct line of fire is also illegal.” He points to the tablet with his ballpoint pen. “The only time when either activity is permitted is when Rhodellia’s down to DEFCON 3 and below. And right now, we’re at DEFCON 4.” “So what does that say about these guys?” “Any member of a Rhodellian citizen militia would know and abide by those laws. Hell, we even learn them during War Studies in secondary school. And these guys? They don’t give a shit. They’re not local Loyalist militia. They’re not Rhodellian teenagers playing soldier, LARPing, or doing Mil-Sim.” He shakes his head. “Naw, man. Only NALA insurgents and their dumbf*ck allies, who are out to f*ck people up, would pull shit like this.”
The rest of the squad present at the table nod in agreement with Collins’ insight. Schäfer congratulates the team leader with a firm pat on the back. “Well-observed, Collins. All that’s left for us to do after we finish conducting recon on this position is to send a proper SALUTE report up to Command. That, and hope we get cleared to engage these bastards.” “Fingers crossed, man. Fingers f*cking crossed.”
Schäfer then rests his arm on Catawnee’s shoulder, giving him his next command. While the others were talking, Catawnee was busy scanning the area around Checkpoint Eight-Alpha, peeking over the wall and looking through holes in the western hedge, with the RGB camera. “Catawnee, check the ditches for underpass-type wildlife crossings we can use to clandestinely crawl under the MSR to the other side.”
As part of their various environmental initiatives, Rhodellian governments since the 1980s have been committed to habitat conservation. In the countryside, all major roads and even many minor country lanes have since introduced various types of wildlife crossings to reduce the frequency of roadkill incidents. Accidents like deer-vehicle collisions have since become very, very rare. Wildlife underpasses are the most common type of wildlife crossing. By regulation, all of them are, at the very least, big enough for adult humans to comfortably high-crawl through with military-style rucksacks on their backs. This was a deliberate design decision: it is meant to aid Rhodellian militias in waging guerilla warfare against invading armies, by giving them more viable routes to clandestinely move around should their counties turn into battlefields. Schäfer wants to exploit this aspect of Rhodellian civil engineering to his squad’s advantage.
Catawnee flies checks the bottom of the hedge for small gaps torn by wild animals leading in and out of the enclosure he's hiding the drone in. A bit further down the hedge, he eventually finds a hole with enough clearance for people to crawl through single-file. He rotates a full 360° to check his surroundings. “Found one.” Slightly further up the drainage ditch, he sees that there’s a large pipe underneath the T-Junction at Checkpoint Eight-Alpha. The pipe suggests that the ditches along the MSR are all connected to each other. Just outside the pipe is a south-facing Claymore mine camouflaged with tall grass. To the right of that Claymore Mine is the large, shadowy entrance and exit of a wildlife underpass. Schäfer reckons that the Claymore-planting NALA insurgent evaded detection by Zimmerman and al-Latif by going through the wildlife underpass and crawling through the drainage ditches. Jung points to the tablet screen. “At the bottom of a valley, leading into a drainage ditch? This is a weird place to put a f*cking underpass. Wouldn’t it be flooded every time it rains?” “I guess it’s better than nothing, Jung.” Catawnee shrugs. “At least animals can cross when it’s dry.”
Catawnee crosses under the hedge through the hole he found earlier.
Meier points to the tablet screen. “As an alternative route to the country lane. Our squad, or just a single fire team, can approach using that hole in the hedge. We can enter that farm enclosure that hole leads into. Crawl under the farm gate by Checkpoint Eight-Bravo, high-crawl downhill along the wall towards the hedge, low-crawl through the hole in the hedge and up the drainage ditch, and duck into the underpass.”
Schäfer nods. “That’s also a good idea.” He then turns to Catawnee again “Alright. Fly into the underpass and see where it leads.”
Catawnee does as requested. He follows the Claymore mines’ unusually long electrical firing wires into the underpass. Judging by its length, the underpass leads past the hedgerow on the east side of the MSR, directly to the base of the hill where the NALA insurgents are digging in. The tunnel is big enough to fit three fire teams-worth of crouching adults at once. With no electric lighting, the underpass is dark. A quick scan with the drone’s Night Vision camera reveals that there aren’t any explosive devices rigged inside the underpass. He points to the screen. “You guys remember back in Chemistry class, when we were taught about explosives?”
Jung frowns, and takes a deep breath. “Yeah. My class spent hours learning how to make f*cking IEDs in the classroom with real materials but fake ingredients.” “Doesn’t every chemistry class teach you that?” “Yeah, but my science teacher didn’t even detonate a live bomb in the school field just to show us what we’ve been making. He just pointed at the SmartBoard, and played a f*cking Volkcast video of an IED blowing up an NALA troop transport. The lazy motherf*cker. It was the biggest boner killer of my f*cking life.” “You poor f*cking soul. My science teacher set up in the school playground, and we got to see how an explosively formed penetrator can punch a hole through an armoured car door.” “Why’d you ask about learning to make explosives in class, anyway?” “Back in Chemistry class, my teacher said that wildlife underpasses were moderately viable places to rig IEDs. Unless you have scouts or engineers thoroughly checking the route beforehand, you could roll over one of these without even realising it. A strong-enough bomb could collapse the road underneath an MBT and get it stuck. Or a strong-enough EFP pointed upwards could punch through the road’s asphalt concrete and then rip through the bottom of an MBT’s hull.”
Schäfer chips in, nodding as he notes the lack of explosives inside the wildlife underpass. “I guess they couldn’t pack enough explosives with them to set up explosives in here. Either that, or sabotaging Rhodellian infrastructure isn't their agenda here.” “But smoking guys who use Rhodellian infrastructure is.” “Hm?”
Catawnee points to the screen again. On the other side of the underpass, he spots a tripwire leading to yet another Claymore mine. After a quick search for suspicious-looking foliage, the mine itself appears to be camouflaged under a fern directly ahead, and is pointing directly at the underpass. Catawnee looks up at Schäfer, who’s leaning on his shoulder. “Another Claymore mine, Sarge. I mean, it's obvious, but they expect any hostile dismounts ambushed on the MSR to use this underpass to try and flank their position. But what's dangerous about this one is that, if it explodes, it'll kill everyone inside the underpass at the time. Christ, this one's even got a f*cking tripwire." “Yeah, if you think from their perspective, you're right in that this shit’s a no-brainer. But it's still better for us to take this underpass than running in the open across the road and searching for more holes in the eastern hedge. And then getting f*cking shredded because the hedge offers no cover, only concealment. At least there’s more than enough clearance to crawl over the wire and disarm it the normal way. The bushes and ferns should give enough concealment.”
Collins enters the conversation again, pointing at the tripwire on the screen. “Shit, dude. These assholes really do not a flying f*ck. They’re using Claymore mines in a victim-activated mode, with tripwires. That’s a violation of the Mine Ban Treaty. And here I thought the N-A-L-A observed that. f*cking pricks! I hope that mine's active, and I hope an animal comes along and trips the wire!”
Schäfer shrugs. “Maybe instead of actual NALA insurgents, these war criminals are just a NALA-affiliated terrorist cell.”
In the wake of the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty, the Native Aurelian Liberation Army stopped using landmines and victim-activated Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs). Before that, thousands of Rhodellian military, police personnel, and militia alike have lost their lives to car bombs, pressure plate and tripwire-activated IEDs, and purpose-built anti-tank and anti-personnel landmines planted by NALA fighters and affiliated terrorists. Victim-activated explosives used to be some of NALA’s most effective and terror-inducing weapons. However, they regularly killed and wounded more civilians than combatants. Civilian casualties from these weapons is a major reason why most people in Native Aurelian-dominated Nordwalde Province, including many prominent tribal leaders, choose to stay loyal to the Rhodellian government. It’s hard to support the people who keep killing your children with indiscriminate weapons. This especially rings true when the country is already having trouble dealing with older Unexploded Remnants of War (ERW) from past conflicts. So as a general rule, the NALA proper only uses command-activated explosive devices. However, NALA-affiliated militias and terrorist cells in Rhodellian-controlled territory are less inclined to observe the Mine Ban Treaty. So whenever kids are accidentally killed or maimed by IED explosions, NALA leadership readily denies any involvement and deflects the blame at their allies.
2.4 - The Sentry
Scäfer then turns to Catawnee again. “Hey, check to see if someone is actively watching over the underpass.“
Catawnee switches to the Dragonfly’s FLIR camera and cautiously maneuvers the drone towards the end of the tunnel, while remaining cloaked within the shadows. He pans the camera up the hillslope and, as expected, there’s a human’s broken-up heat signature sitting inside a bush inside the treeline roughly 55 metres uphill. Catawnee observes the figure through the RGB camera, and zooms in. Upon closer inspection, it’s another armed insurgent facing south, scoped in with an RCO optic mounted on an M249 Squad Automatic Weapon. The team leaders flip through their notepads again to note down the new threat. Jung starts scrawling into his notepad. “OP never reported anyone with a squad automatic weapon either. And no wonder, too; this guy’s been camouflaged the whole time. This makes thirteen tangos spotted on this hill thus far, the sneaky motherf*ckers.”
Schäfer points to the screen again. “Catawnee, we’re taking the risk and going outside. Slice the pie before you fully exit the tunnel, fly into the underbrush, and get a better view of that NALA automatic rifleman.” “Wilco, Sarge.” After Catawnee confirms that no insurgents are to the immediate left or right of the underpass’s exit, he hugs the drone against the left wall and beelines for the undergrowth.
The NALA automatic rifleman doesn’t even seem to register the drone flying out of the tunnel in his peripheral vision. He fails to react in any noticeable way; he just continues to stare down his scope at the southern approach from the MSR (where Rhodellian Army vehicles and foot patrols are most likely to appear from). Schäfer is about to criticise the automatic rifleman for tunnel-vision when the man suddenly looks left up the hill, right down at the wildlife underpass, and then back through his scope. Schäfer checks the HUD on the drone operating tablet, seeing that the Dragonfly is at 80% of its 30-minute battery life, meaning six minutes have passed since it was switched on. Schäfer taps the NALA automatic rifleman on the screen. “We’ve got more than enough battery life left. Observe him for five mikes. We’ll record how much time he spends looking into his scope; how often he unscopes and checks his surroundings; and when he does, how long it takes him to look from his 8 o’clock position to his 12 o’clock position.”
As Catawnee makes a quick scan of his surroundings and sets the drone to hover in place, Schäfer compares the NALA automatic rifleman’s position with those of the others, or at least those that Schäfer's squad have found thus far. “This automatic rifleman’s about 50 metres south of his squad’s fighting positions. If they’re using a triangular cordon like the ones we use, I suspect there’s a second sentry somewhere around 100 metres to the north, and a third sentry somewhere around 100 metres to the east or northeast. Probably close to or at the hilltop. OP didn’t report anyone acting like a sentry, so this adds another two tangos, bringing our potential total up to fifteen.”
Meier also comments on the drone’s surroundings. The forest is indeed as densely vegetated as it looked from the MSR. “This forest is overgrown as f*ck. You can’t see past 40 to 45 metres in these conditions. Nobody must’ve mowed this lawn since the Colonial era.”
Upon hearing those relative distances, and quickly scanning the thick forest underbrush around the drone again (both to ensure that no enemies are wandering dangerously close or towards it and to find potential avenues of approach), Catawnee slaps his helmet. “Oh, Goddamnit...” He turns to his fellow Native Aurelian squad member in Alpha, Private Puhihwikwasu'u Geldfeld, who is nicknamed ‘Wickwash’. “Yo, Wickwash. We should’ve brought our f*cking compound bows with us, man!”
Wickwash clenches his fist, fighting the urge to punish his lack of foresight with the hardest facepalm mankind would ever feel (a record which, unfortunately, would entail ruining his camouflage face paint). “Yeah, we coulda stealth-killed these fools! Old-school skulking way of war-style. If we knew we’d catch them slipping like this, I’d f*cking gladly have rucked 30 miles with an extra eight pounds on my back. Getting a bow kill in 2021 would’ve been rad as f*ck!” “If only we brought our bows, bro, we could take up sniping positions in the underpass, nock arrows while the sentry’s tunnel-visioned watching the MSR through his scope. And then, we could wait for the sentries to finish a regular radio check, loose two broadhead arrows up through this f*cker’s larynx, upper brain stem, and medulla oblongata... And bup!” He mimics the sound of an arrow striking an archery target while poking into the right side of his neck, pointing towards his brain from an angle that bypasses the protection of a kevlar helmet. “Instant kill or lobotomy, bro, it’s a silent takedown either way.”
Wickwash nods his head. “It’d be ninja as f*ck. The rest of his squad don’t even have a direct LOS on his pos either, because there’s so many trees, plants, and shit blocking the sight lines between them.” “Yeah. If we attach bow silencers to our bows, the rest of this motherf*cker’s squad wouldn’t hear a thing from us. Just loose the arrows and drop him when the wind blows through the forest canopy and underbrush layers. Leaves rustling in the wind, the noise made by eleven other dudes digging ranger graves with entrenching tools, and sound absorption by fifty metres of dense forest should mask the sounds of our bows. They’re only, like, 60 to 70 decibels unsilenced. And we’ve both got bowstring silencers that cut down string noise by up to 90 percent. If we brought heavier arrows too, our shots would be even quieter, since less energy would be wasted as sound. They won’t see or hear the bodies hitting the floor. Easy ‘Silent Assassin’ rank.” “Maybe, bro…” Wickwash nods, simulating the hypothetical stealth scenario in his head. “If we’re fast enough, we could even take down a second sentry further up the hill. Or we could crawl close enough to yeet two frag grenades at the enemy squad while they’re still above-ground. The grenades might even roll into their fighting positions too. If we drop prone so our helmets take most of the shrapnel, or duck behind a tree, we can bug out pretty much unharmed. Just the two of us could score like, six to seven casualties on our own before their next radio check. Shit, man.” He wriggles his kevlar helmet. “I’d gladly risk taking shrapnel to my shoulders if it meant f*cking up that many people up at once.” “What could have been…” Catawnee takes a deep breath. “What. Could. Have. f*cking. Been!”
While shooting with firearms and live ammunition is by far Rhodellia’s most popular recreational and club activity, archery continues to be a time-honoured tradition. While many of Rhodellia's ethnic minorities and immigrant groups have strong archery traditions, the most famous are those of the country's Native Aurelian tribes. Many state that archery allows them to better-connect with their history, culture, and community as well as learn valuable skills such as clarity of mind, patience, and focus. And thus, archery tends to be one of the top club activities in schools and community centres, roughly on-par with Historical Europan and Argisian Martial Arts (HEAMA) in terms of (registered) regular practitioners. Archers in primary schools, secondary schools, colleges, and universities even compete in their own local and national-level archery tournaments.
Out of respect for Rhodellian archery traditions, and unusual for a high-tech conventional military, the Rhodellian Armed Forces still permit its troops to carry their own privately owned bows (and crossbows) into battle. Of course, in an age of machine guns and automatic rifles, nobody regularly does this except as a joke on field ops; wielding a bow, as cool as it would look, is almost never worth the limited effective range, limited ammunition, limited rate of fire, and extra pack weight. But there are some theoretical scenarios where a bow might be convenient. For example, they can be used to stealthily neutralise sentries that are far-enough away from the rest of their unit. Most medium-draw weight compound bows on the Rhodellian civilian market, with no noise-suppressing in-built features or accessories (such as bowstring silencers), shooting common mid-weight 500-grain arrows, produce 60 to 90 decibels of sound. For a brief moment, they can be as quiet as a normal conversation or as loud as a crowded restaurant. But they are still significantly quieter than a suppressed .22-calibre rifle, which typically produces around 120 decibels of sound. The sound of a bow is also more unusual and unexpected to hear on a modern battlefield, so they are less likely to be immediately identified or reported. Some Rhodellian military academy students have submitted academic papers proposing that modern bows and crossbows can be decent (albeit highly situational) stealth weapons for the modern battlefield. However, despite the bow’s theoretical capacity for (relatively) quiet takedowns, the last time any Rhodellian was ever said to have scored a confirmed kill with a self-bow was back in 1940, during the Second Anéantic War. But even the veracity of this event is disputed.
As the two disappointed Native Aurelians complain about how they won’t be the first Rhodellians in 81 years to score confirmed kills with self-bows, Private John Adebayo, Alpha’s grenadier, pats them both in their back SAPI plates. “To be fair, it’s normally us in the Rhodellian Army getting jumped by NALA and not the other way round. None of us could’ve expected to get this lucky. Maybe next time, brothers.” he shakes their shoulders “Maybe next time...”
Catawnee exhales, as he starts maneuvering the drone towards a slightly more favourable position. “Nah, bro, it’s all good. I’ll be satisfied enough if we get to smoke these pricks with our rifles today.” “Same, brother…” Adebayo nods a few times. “At the very least, you can still low-crawl through the undergrowth, sneak up on the guy, and knife him to death without anyone seeing.”
After five minutes of visual observation, the squad observes that the NALA automatic rifleman does indeed have a regular pattern to his actions: a routine that can be exploited. His squad conducts a radio check every five minutes. He spends an average of 60 seconds observing the MSR through his scope, which is his 12 o’clock position at compass bearing 190°, putting the wildlife underpass’s exit at the very edge of his peripheral vision when he is facing directly forward. When he unscopes, he makes a quick 3-second left-to-right scan of his immediate surroundings, starting and finishing at his 7 o’clock position. At the end of this scan, he makes another, longer scan: he looks over his shoulder to his 7 o’clock position, and slowly pans from left-to-right, observing his sector of responsibility until he’s looking at his 5 o’clock position over his right shoulder. He seems to take the time to observe the surrounding foliage, the MSR, and the hillside to the west very closely; it takes an average of 15 seconds for him just to turn from his 7’clock to his 5 o’clock. Collins compares the NALA automatic rifleman’s predictable routine to that of a preprogrammed guard in a stealth game. The others agree. With how they’re considering the human field of vision and figuring out routine movements for well-timed exploitation, Catawnee can’t help but be reminded of a Flash game he used to play on unblocked game sites back in his secondary school’s Computer Lab, back before he was old enough to buy his own games online. “Yo guys, doesn’t all this remind you of a certain Flash game?” Private Robert Powell, Bravo’s grenadier, looks at Schäfer's map as it is being updated in real time. “Yeah, I think I might’ve played the one you’re thinking of one. That’s the, er… f*ck.” He quietly clicks his fingers and points. “That’s the stickman game where you have to observe a teacher's movement patterns, sneak next to a guy, and cheat from his test paper without getting caught in the teacher's LOS, right?” “That’s the one!” “Holy shit, dude, that’s a f*cking throwback!" Powell laughs quietly as fond childhood memories flood his brain. “I think it was called, er… ‘The Classroom’?” “Yup, that’s it.” Catawnee nods. “Shit, bro. Memorising, analysing, and planning according to a guy’s routine search patterns, like in that game... Ain’t that exactly what we’re doing right now?” “f*ckin’ hell, man, we’re actually using skills picked up from years of slacking off in ICT classes just to dunk on some motherf*ckers.” Powell laughs. “Just like the simulations.”
Schäfer uncaps his marker and prepares to jot down even more markings on his map. “Here’s to hoping he doesn’t throw a curveball at us by rotating with other guys in his fireteam. Otherwise his friends will be done digging ranger graves by the time we’re done monitoring all of them for patterns.”
He begins marking the rough boundaries for the NALA insurgent rifleman’s sector of responsibility. The finished result warrants a change of plans. “He’s got almost got a direct LOS of the country lane between the Checkpoints Eight-Alpha and Eight-Bravo. We can’t crawl through there without getting spotted.”
Meier points to the farm enclosure to south “What about the route that Catawnee took down to the MSR? We can still crawl under the farm gate at Checkpoint Eight-Bravo, enter the farm enclosure, and high-crawl along the wall. Judging from his position, he won't be seeing us with a 4-foot-high wall blocking his sight-line. When we get to the hole in the hedge, after that Claymore-planting insurgent returns to his squad, we can crawl through it while the sentry isn’t looking in our direction. We can time it.”
The rest of the squad, including Schäfer, nod in agreement.
On an unrelated note, the NALA automatic rifleman seems to be fighting his boredom by bobbing his head and quietly singing Anglish-language alternative rock. By observing his mouth and the beat at which the man’s head is bobbing, Adebayo recognises the song as ‘Welcome to the Black Parade’. The squad smiles in amusement. “Ayo, that’s my f*cking childhood he’s singing, man!”
Rolt shakes his head as he scribbles more notes into his notepad. “You know, if you can guarantee that he won’t f*cking stab me to death for being white... I might actually be okay driving my car to the store and back while this guy rides shotgun with his phone. I’d just pass him the AUX cord, and we could do what we usually do whenever we all get Victors to ride in.”
Meier chips in. “You mean butcher 2000s throwback songs until the f*cking bulletproof windows break?”
Rolt nods with a grin. “f*ckin A’.” He chuckles, shaking head. “Man, shame I gotta ice this dumbass for picking the wrong side.”
Catawnee chuckles as he maneuvers the drone up into the tree canopies overhead. “It really do be like that sometimes, man.” “You ever thought about this, dude? Thanks to shit like globalisation and the internet, we can bond over listening to the same bands; kekking at the same memes; being subscribed to the same content creators; playing in the same Aurelian game servers; and streaming the same anime, or movies, or shows, or whatever. If NALA propaganda didn’t make these guys so anal about us being on their ancestral land, we could be shooting the shit with them instead of just shooting them. I've probably seen at least one of these guys in a CoD lobby and told him I f*cked his mom.” Jung shakes his head even more. “This ain’t enough to make me hesitate pulling the trigger on them, but… You gotta admit, the whole situation, and the historical, media, and political f*ckery behind it all, is pretty f*cked.” “It is.” Catawnee breathes out. “Man, really makes you wish the N-A-L-A’s shit-for-brains leadership would just take the f*cking L. But those dumbasses ain’t doing that anytime soon.” “You know, I got this online friend I play League with from time to time. He lives north of the Nordfluss, deep in in NALA country. He’s a pretty cool dude who calls out N-A-L-A propaganda for being centuries-old bullshit no rational person should care about in the 21st century. Man, it’d be a real bummer of a coincidence, a cosmic joke even, if he was one of the guys down there digging a foxhole, and I smoked him.”
Schäfer pats Rolt on the shoulder. “Well, the sooner we win, the sooner we can mount the heads of the N-A-L-A's leaders on spikes. When that happens, we can maybe, just f*cking maybe, restore some semblence of peace to this God-forsaken corner of Aurelia. And nobody will have to worry about capping their internet buddies for a few more years until the next time shit hits the fan.”
2.5 - The Combat Engineer
Meanwhile, the Dragonfly is sweeping the hillside for hostile activity with its FLIR camera, using the treetops for concealment. Catawnee weaves through the leaves and branches while en-route to better viewing angles. The first thing to catch his attention is the newly-revealed heat signature of an NALA insurgent crouching in a giant fern, in the shade of the hedgerow at the base of the hill, inserting what looks like a cylindrical rod into the hedge and fiddling with it. Catawnee promptly switches to the RGB Camera to see what the insurgent is doing. However, the shade of the hedgerows makes him difficulty to see, so Catawnee switches to the Night-Vision camera instead. The sight is much clearer. Collins leans on Catawnee’s shoulder and points to the insurgent. “Yup. The bastards are setting up even more explosives. That guy down there must be a combat engineer.” He then points to the cylindrical object, which appears to be a large, 16-gauge steel pipe. He then traces his finger down what appear to be wires trailing down from the back of the pipe, into the undergrowth below, presumably further up along the hedge to 25 more pipes, and then presumably up the hill towards the NALA fighting positions. Schäfer squints his eyes at the screen. “Are those…?”
Collins nods, tracing his fingers along the short section of MSR Spirytus that is visible on the tablet’s screen. “Yup. Explosively Formed Penetrators. EFPs. Not only did they bring Claymore mines, they deadass hauled enough IED-making materials to set up what looks to be about two-dozen improvised off-route anti-tank mines along a 100-metre section of the MSR.”
Jung squints at the tablet screen, crossing his arms. “Collins, there’s no f*cking way a single squad-sized element of dismounts can carry 25 big-ass steel pipes 30 klicks across hilly terrain on top of all their other gear and supplies. They gotta have stolen those from a nearby construction site, or commandeered a truck.” “If they tried to do that, wouldn’t somebody have heard them getting lit-the-f*ck-up by construction site workers or their security teams? As for the truck, wouldn’t somebody have reported gunshots from the carjacking? You don’t get 30 klicks into Rhodellian territory on foot by starting shit with some of the most heavily armed people on the planet.” “Then where the f*ck did they get these pipes from, and how the hell did they transport them all the way out here?” Jung scratches the top of his helmet. “I dunno, man. Maybe one of the locals is a builder, an IED maker, and a NALA sympathiser at the same time?”
Schäfer interjects. “Focus on your jobs, gents. Leave the theorising and investigating to the autists over at Intel. What matters to us is how to deal with the threat right in front of us.”
Collins and Jung nod their heads. Collins clears his throat and points to one of the large pipes. “Assuming this guy’s average height, he’s using 16-gauge pipes. Depending on the propellant they’re using for their Misznay–Schardin shaped charges, with a 16-inch chamber, the slugs they can launch can penetrate up to 203 millimetres of Rolled Homogeneous Steel. These are probably powerful enough to pierce through the side armour of our APCs, our armoured utility vehicles, and maybe a few of our lighter IFVs. And of course, these can also disable the engine block of passing LVSRs.”
Schäfer and the squad’s other team leaders nod, noting down what Collins has to say on the IEDs. Schäfers exhales. “So these bastards we’re up against are fielding the type of IEDs that can f*ck up anything short of an MBT? That’s just f*cking great.” “Uh huh.” Collins nods. “Seems f*cking like it, Schäfer. The N-A-L-A may have given up on landmines, but they still love shit that goes ‘boom’. Bombs are like f*cking crack cocaine to them.”
Jung shakes Schäfer and Collins on their shoulders. “Look on the bright side, guys! Aside from the Claymores, at least they’re not anti-personnel mines!”
Throughout the Nordwalde Troubles, the Native Aurelian Liberation Army inflicted most casualties against Rhodellian forces using Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs). South of the Nordfluss river, in firm Rhodellian-controlled territory, the NALA and its allies fight as guerillas in an asymmetric war. The odds are too stacked against them to regularly fight head-on and win: down South, they lack the heavy weapons, armoured fighting vehicles, artillery support, and air support necessary to ensure fire superiority. If they’re from north of the Nordfluss, then NALA insurgents don’t always have intimate local knowledge of the land either. Even when local Rhodellians do pledge their cooperation, the NALA and its allies seldom have the numbers or logistics to openly hold territory or sustain large-scale combat operations. They never expect to win pitched battles against Rhodellian soldiers, police officers, or Loyalist militia. As soon as they cross south across the river, neutralising a group of NALA insurgents in the field can be as simple as calling the cops. Generally speaking, the best way for NALA insurgents to 'win'is to blend in with the locals, plant a bomb somewhere, hide, wait for a patrol of Rhodellian conscripts to pass by, press the button on the detonator, fire off a few shots, and run away before the survivors call for reinforcements.
Schäfer, Jung, Meier, and Collins flip through their notepads to see if they’ve ever written notes down on this IED-preparing insurgent engineer before. They have not. The engineer is wearing the same fatigues, camouflage pattern, plate carrier, and model of NVGs as all the other insurgents. It’s just that, in addition to his M4A1, he also has a M32 Multi-Shot Grenade Launcher. Powell filters a long whistle through his lips, reminiscent of a falling bomb. “Hey, Sarge?” “Got some ‘grenadier expertise’ for us, Powell?” “Yeah.” Powell nods, pointing at the tablet screen. “This motherf*cker’s gotta be one of the first people we need to drop, if not the first. He can drop 21 grenades on our heads per second from up to 400 metres away. If we’re spotted, he can potentially dole out more punishment in the first five seconds than the two M240L and M3E1s combined.”
Schäfer nods as he and the squad’s team leaders note that information down. “That’s actually a pretty useful reminder. However, figuring out his exact location when the shooting starts will be a problem. Unless he marches back up the hill and shows us, we won’t know exactly which fighting position he’ll be occupying.”
2.6 - Fighting Positions
With the combat engineer/grenadier setting up IEDs in the hedgerow accounted for, Catawnee maneuvers the Dragonfly to a spot where it can best observe the original eleven insurgents spotted setting up camouflage nets, hanging thermal insulator blankets, and digging fighting positions.
Ten of them are still busy displacing dirt with entrenching tools. The eleventh is scanning the overcast sky through a pair of binoculars, probably to warn his buddies of any incoming UAV sweeps. They are still in the same early stages of digging as they were before OP lost visual contact; their fighting positions are still shallow shell-scrapes that are only deep enough for people to lie prone in. There are eight two-man fighting positions hidden behind eight camouflage nets with blankets tied behind them, blocking all potential observation (whether by binoculars or thermal imaging) from the hill to the West. Most of them are arranged in a staggered line running roughly parallel with the treeline, which in turns runs roughly parallel with MSR Spirytus. This appears to be a precaution against enfilading fire from the flanks. There is roughly 4 metres of space between each individual fighting position. The two southernmost fighting positions are positioned at a 45° angle, giving them ability to both fire at enemy units on the MSR and better-intercept any flanking maneuvers coming from the direction of the wildlife underpass. The NALA insurgents’ M240L general-purpose machine gun is deployed in front of one of the middle fighting positions (fourth from the left). Excess dirt from the shell-scrapes’ excavations is being used to raise ground, compact the Eurth, and make parapets and paradoses. The paradoses on the rears of what are currently shell-scrapes are likely meant to stop enemy grenades from rolling downhill and into the fighting positions once they’re at their full depths. It typically takes an hour for a well-coordinated team to dig a full DFP into flat, favourable soil. Digging into a hillside complicates the process, since more soil needs digging out of the slope. Schäfer estimates that the enemy will complete all stages of digging their ranger graves in two hours.
Schäfer and the team leaders spend a short while flipping through their notes on each individual NALA insurgent, confirming that each insurgent was someone either OP or the Dragonfly have already spotted. They cross-reference their fatigues’ camouflage patterns, body armours, and weapon loadouts. These eleven insurgents are indeed the same eleven foot mobiles OP spotted at the start. Once the team leaders are finished with their check-overs, Catawnee switches on the drone’s FLIR camera and does a 360° scan for human heat signatures. He counts the heat signatures of: the original eleven insurgents digging ranger graves, the guy planting claymores in the drainage ditches, the combat engineer, and the automatic rifleman covering the Southern approach. He flies to the north, and finds a second sentry covering the Northern approach. He flies to the southeast up the hill, and discovers a third sentry covering the Eastern approach. Both of these sentries also turn out to be M249 SAW-armed automatic riflemen just like the sentry near the wildlife underpass. Catawnee continues to sweep the surrounding area for even more NALA insurgents, but the Dragonfly can’t seem to detect any more by the time it starts running low on battery.
2.7 - A Job Well-Done
“And this brings the total up to… Sixteen NALA insurgents.” Catawnee exhales. “I think that’s all of them.”
Schäfer thinks so too. He, Jung, Meier, Collins, and their subordinates at the picnic table look at their map of the AO, and all the markings they’ve squeezed into and around their grid square. They've marked the exact location of every Claymore mine, every fighting position, every sentry, and every sentry's probable sector of responsibility. Jung smiles in amusement. “Yo, Schäfer, look at that shit. Your map looks like a gang just tagged it.”
Schäfer chuckles. “At the very least I can still read it. What matters is, we’ve got enough information to send a comprehensive report up to Command.”
Catawnee looks over his shoulder at Schäfer, pointing to the low battery percentage icon at the top-right of the tablet screen. “Hey, Sarge, the battery’s gonna die in like, 10 to 15 minutes. I’m taking the Dragonfly back to base.” "Go ahead." Schäfer gives Catawnee a hard pat on the back SAPI plate and a firm shake on the shoulder. “Well done on operating the drone, Catawnee. You did real f*cking good today.” “f*ck yeah, Sarge.” Catawnee exchanges fist bumps with Schäfer and the others before initiating the Dragonfly’s clandestine exfiltration back to his squad’s Patrol Base HQ across the valley. While maintaining a reasonable level of noise discipline, Catawnee’s squadmates at the picnic table cheer, clap, compliment, put him headlocks, put him in chokeholds, and shake his helmet when they can't ruffle his hair. The drone returns without issue, with al-Latif and Zimmerman at the observation post reporting no indicators that the enemy ever noticed it. This concludes the squad’s reconnaissance of the NALA position.
Schäfer sees it appropriate to wrap things up before writing up his SALUTE report. He reminds his squad, who have gone down to REDCON-2 while reconnaissance was being conducted, that they may be engaging the enemy very, very soon. Schäfer points to his finalised map spread across the picnic table in front of him. The wind starts to pick up, but he keeps the map held down at the sides and corners with random stones he picked off the ground. “Gents, let’s just make sure that everyone’s on the same page on what we know so far. Beyond reasonable doubt, we are up against a section-sized element of sixteen NALA or NALA-affiliated insurgents. Consider them 'Hostile'. The enemy has set up a deliberate point ambush, most likely meant to hit a convoy of logistical vehicles travelling along MSR Spirytus.”
On his map, he traces his finger along the 100-metre stretch of MSR Spirytus between Checkpoint Eight-Alpha and Checkpoint Niner-Alpha. “They have turned this 100-metre-long section of the MSR into a killzone with at least two M18 Claymore mines in the parallel drainage ditches and 25 EFPs concealed in the eastern hedgerow.”
He then taps the treeline to the east of the MSR. “Beyond the hedgerow on the east side of the MSR, at the base of the hill, is a 50-metre-thick strip of dense bushes and ferns, and shrubbery that can be low-crawled through. After that, there is an abrupt transition to primordial forest. The insurgents’ fighting positions are located along the treeline. They consist of eight two-man FPs, which are currently only as deep as shell-scrapes as of this moment. They are arranged into an 50-metre-long staggered line formation to mitigate enfilading fire from the flanks. There is roughly 4 metres of dispersion between each FP.”
He then starts tapping each individual fighting position. “Their M240L machine gun emplacement is deployed at the centre, in front of the fourth FP from their left. Judging from where their recoilless riflemen were digging, their M3E1s will likely be situated in the second FP from the left and the one on their far right. The FPs occupied by their battle rifleman, who might be a designated marksman, and grenade launcher-armed engineer are unknown.”
He looks up at the rest of his squad, who are nodding and checking over their notes. “Gents, does anyone here have any questions? Anything we need to go over?”
Schäfer’s squadmates around the picnic table look at each other, shrugging their shoulders and shaking their heads. Wickwash raises his hand. “The floor’s yours, Wickwash.” Schäfer gestures for him to speak. “Do you think there’s a realistic chance we’ll actually get to kill people today?”
Schäfer pauses. “That depends on how charitable Goodsprings is feeling. I intend on starting as soon as we’re done with pre-combat inspections, as the Rhodellian military's doctrine of mission-type tactics. Hopefully, and I got my fingers crossed for this one, he won’t try to call off our attack as soon as word of our impending assault reaches his ears, just so he can drop a f*cking precision-guided bomb and take all the credit instead. There’s no guarantee he won’t do that. So we just have to hope that he’ll let us do what we’ve literally spent our entire lives training to do.” “I'm finna frag his ass if he makes us cancel. No cap.” “Anyway, on to planning…”
2.8 - The Plan
Schäfer looks down at his map of the enemy’s positions, and crosses his arms. It’s about time that the squad formulates a proper attack plan. “So, gents, not counting Doc, there’s thirteen of us versus eighteen NALA insurgents. We’re slightly outnumbered, but…” He taps on the northern and southern ends of the NALA line of fighting positions. The team leaders step closer. Schäfer continues. “If at least two fire teams can sneak up on either their left or right flank, then it's likely only a portion of their force will be able to engage us at once.”
Meier nods his head, tracing his finger down the NALA fighting positions in a straight line. “I see what you mean. They’re all roughly at the same altitude as each other and dug in a staggered line. So if we hit one half, the other half will be more hesitant to engage in our direction because of the risk of friendly fire.”
Catawnee tries to contribute to the discussion as well. “That, and they can’t see for shit past 40 to 50 metres. If we attack at the edge of their farthest elements’ line of sight, only a few of them will be able to see us and our muzzle flashes at once through the undergrowth. Unless they leave their fighting positions.”
Collins also contributes with his own prediction. “If we’re within 50 metres of their positions, they’ll probably hesitate to use their M3E1s and M32 as well. Their recoilless riflemen might be hesitant to waste their precious rockets shooting at bushes we might not even be hiding in, especially when finding a safe place to shoot from might entail exposing themselves by crouching or standing outside of cover. Their grenadier might also be worried about spraying his own buddies with shrapnel. They might instead choose to fight with their M4s.”
Schäfer nods as he notes down what everyone’s saying. “Fair points, gents.” He continues scribbling into their notepads. “Meier’s idea of taking the route Catawnee flew with his drone… Going through Checkpoint Eight-Niner, down the farm enclosure, through that hole in the hedge, up the drainage ditch, and through the wildlife underpass for a concentrated attack on their left flank… Is probably our best bet. I’ll take Doc and two fire teams with me down there.” He nods a few times, visualising an attack in his head. “This route’s a risky one, but it does get us to the enemy flank a lot faster than any alternative routes, even if we are high and low-crawling the entire time. About 30 minutes, considering the bottleneck we’ll be facing at the hole in the hedge. However, we should still catch them while they’re above-ground digging their incomplete FPs.”
Collins points to the drainage ditches by MSR Spirytus. “What about their Claymore mines, Sarge?” “Unlike the one right outside the wildlife underpass, they seem to be command-activated. We should be good so long as we’re not spotted while we’re down there. We’ll send a fire team out first, in buddy pairs. The first guy will pass through the wildlife underpass and disarm the third Claymore at the tunnel exit. The second guy will disarm the two Claymore mines on both sides of the pipe underneath Checkpoint Eight-Alpha. The second battle buddy pair will follow once the Claymores in the drainage ditches are disarmed, and then stand by on either side of the underpass entrance until the third Claymore is disarmed." “And how will we know when it’s safe for the rest of us to go ahead?” “Once all the Claymores are dealt with, the team leader can whisper into his radio.” “Sounds good to me.” Collins scribbles into his notepad.
Jung nods in agreement, tracing his finger along ASR Blue Lagoon. “I'll volunteer my team to take up overwatch positions along the ASR. Once you start your assault on their flank, we’ll fire a few bursts at FPs containing their MG and their right-flank M3E1. That is, assuming you'll immediately neutralise their left-flank M3E1 when you open up your ambush. Adebayo can also rain fire on the MG emplacement at the centre with his grenade launcher. The higher relative altitude of the ASR should give his grenades enough range to reach it.” Schäfer nods a few times and takes notes. Jung continues. “After we’ve spent maybe... one minute raking their centre and right flank with bullets, we’ll focus on suppressing their four rightmost FPs. That’ll keep at least a few of them pinned down in their FPs instead of fanning out into the woods, and cut down the volume fire coming your way.”
Wickwash and Adebayo nod a few times, agreeing with Jung’s proposition. “I’m alright with that, dawg.” “Same, brother.”
Nobody else seems to have anything to contribute. So Schäfer uncaps his marker again and draws a few crude arrows on his map. “Alright, gents…” He points to the map. “So, to recap on our entire plan… Me, Doc, and Fire Teams Bravo and Charlie will move up along the Dragonfly's route to the NALA insurgents’ left flank. Up until we reach the hedge at the bottom of the enclosure, we will low-crawl and hug the wall in a single-file Squad Column formation. Meanwhile, Alpha will stay hidden along ASR Blue Lagoon. Wickwash, Wolff, and Adebayo will hide behind the dry-stone wall. Meanwhile, Jung will take up a camouflaged position where he can best observe their southernmost sentry. With his radio and binoculars, he’ll tell us when it’s safe for us to crawl under the hedge and make our way to the underpass. And then join the fighting once the fighting starts. Alpha, is that good with you guys?”
Jung, Wickwash, and Adebayo once again confirm their approval. “Jawohl.” “Yeah.” “Cool.”
Schäfer then taps the position of the wildlife underpass on the map. “Charlie will be the lynchpin to this whole operation being stealthy. You guys will be tasked with disarming the Claymores in the drainage ditch and at the exit to the underpass tunnel. On top of that, you’ll also be tasked with quietly neutralising their southernmost sentry so we can move into assault positions on their flank. This sentry must be eliminated immediately after they finish conducting a radio check. Collins, I’ll leave assigning the roles to you. Is this gucci with you guys?”
Collins and Catawnee confirm their approval. “All’s good. We’ll head on over to the OP and go over this with Zim and al-Latif.” “Mhm.”
Schäfer takes a deep breath. Moving his finger roughly fifty metres south of the NALA’s two oblique-angled fighting positions at the end of their left flank. “Once the Claymores and southernmost sentry are dealt with, Me, Bravo, and Charlie will advance through the bushes until we’re about 50 metres south of these two southernmost FPs. Just beyond their visual range. Bravo and I will form a Fire Team Line formation on our left flank, and concentrate all firepower to the front. Charlie will form an Fire Team Echelon formation on our right flank, with the echeloned side facing towards the NALA FPs. Ideally, we’ll all be in a position to attack within five mikes of the southernmost sentry being neutralised." He then traces his finger upwards through the NALA fighting positions. "From there, we will push northwards using fire-and-maneuver, with one fire team moving up at a time while the other provides covering fire. Alpha will also do their thing as soon as they hear gunshots, whether ours or the enemy's. We will advance until the enemy until the enemy is either routed or destroyed. At which point, we will secure their fighting positions while another unit intercepts." He then taps his finger on the location of the wildlife underpass below the MSR. "While the fighting's going on, Doc will stay in the underpass, where we'll carry anyone who is wounded. to safely treat our wounded. The underpass will also be our rally point. Our rendezvous point should things get FUBARed will be our patrol base here.” Schäfer pauses. “And gents, that will be our attack plan. Are there any questions? Is there anything I need to go over?”
Jung, Meier, Collins, and the others around the picnic table look at each other, shrugging their shoulders and shaking their heads. Schäfer nods and clears his throat. “Alright. Team leaders, go fill in the rest of your teams on everything we’ve noted down thus far. Make sure everyone knows what the f*ck they're doing. I’m gonna send a SALUTE report up to our platoon leader. Wickwash, Adebayo, and Powell, swap with Wolff, Kowalczyk, and Fischer for sentry duty.”
With this, Schäfer’s squad occupies themselves with doing whatever needs doing.
2.9 - SALUTE Report
Meanwhile, Schäfer himself gets busy contacting his platoon leader. As of their platoon’s previous radio check roughly 40 minutes ago, Platoon HQ and 2nd Squad should be somewhere to the northeast, and 3rd Squad should be somewhere to the southeast. The platoon should be boxing in the NALA insurgents, so there'll always be at least one squad to intercept them no matter which direction they retreat in. Should Schäfer’s attack plan get FUBARed as per Murphy’s Law, he feels reassured that help is nearby. “Tempest Three, Tempest Three, this is Tempest Three-One, how copy?” Schäfer speaks into his personal radio. Tempest Three is the callsign for Schäfer’s platoon leader, Second Lieutenant Gottfried Schmidt. Schmidt responds a few seconds later. “Three-One, this is Three Actual. Solid copy.” “Three Actual. My unit has just finished conducting thorough recon on the NALA-affiliated insurgents and their positions. Standby for SALUTE report, over.” “Three-One, this is Three Actual. Send it.”
As per SOP, Schäfer precedes his SALUTE report by reporting his current location. His squad hasn't moved at all from its 8-figure military grid coordinates since it first started occupying the derelict campsite just under an hour ago.
“Three Actual, this is Three-One. I am located at the campsite to the west of ASR Blue Lagoon at Grid Bravo Sierra Four-Five-Three-Two Four-Five-Four-Four. Break.” He moves on to reporting how many hostiles his squad have discovered. “Size: Section-sized element of One-Six foot mobiles. Break.” And then, what exactly the hostiles are doing. “Activity: They are digging in facing west, overlooking MSR Spirytus. They are setting up fighting positions with camouflage nets, thermal insulator blankets, a machine gun emplacement, a mortar pit, and claymore mines. Break. They are also setting up what are likely to be Two-Five explosively formed penetrators along a One-Zero-Zero-metre stretch within their killzone, concealed inside the eastern hedgerow, facing the MSR. It looks like a deliberate point ambush. Break.” And then, precisely where the middle of the line of NALA fighting positions is located on an 8-figure Military Grid Reference System. “Location: Five-Five to Six-Zero metres directly east of the MSR segment between Checkpoint Eight-Alpha and Checkpoint Niner-Alpha, along the treeline on the west side of the hill at Grid Bravo Sierra Four-Five-Niner-Five Four-Five-Three-Two. Break.” And then, what specific gear the hostiles are wearing in no uncertain terms, just so friendly forces can immediately identify the enemy as hostiles on sight. “Uniform: Likely NALA-affiliated insurgents wearing TAZ-90 woodland camouflage, IHPS helmets, Ground Panoramic Night-Vision Goggles, and SPCS bulletproof vests. Break.” And then, what time they finalised their reconnaissance, since he already reported when his squad's observation outpost first saw the enemy. “Time: One-Eight-Zero-Zero hours. Break.” And then, every single weapons system the enemy was seen carrying, just so friendly forces can more accurately gauge how much firepower they're up against and what tactics the enemy are likely to employ. “Equipment: One HK417, One M32 MSGL, One Mk 14 EBR, One M240L, One FIM-92J, Two M3E1s, Three M249 SAWs, Four M4A1s, Seven M16A4s. And Two-Five EFPs and at least three M18 Claymore mines." And then finally, to confirm that Schmidt has only noted down accurate, up-to-date information to share up and down the Rhodellian chain of command, Schäfer requests for him to repeat every detail of the SALUTE report. "Read back, over.”
“Three-One, this is Three Actual. I read back...” Schmidt correctly repeats everything Schäfer just said over the radio. Once Schmidt's finished, the two speak some more. Most of their conversation consists of Schäfer sharing the locations, orientations, and killing zones of individual Claymore mines; the positions and likely occupants of individual fighting positions; and the positions of sentries. This way, the rest of the platoon can formulate their own attack plans should they get involved. Once all that's done, Schäfer informs Schmidt of his attack plan's very basics.. “Roger, Three Actual. The NALA-affiliated insurgents don’t seem to be aware of our presence yet, so uh… I’m taking the initiative. I will conduct a hasty point ambush with my squad to destroy the enemy before they can finish developing their defensive fighting positions beyond shell scrapes. Acknowledge?” “Roger, Three-One. That is a f*ck-tonne of firepower your boys are up against. Be advised, you have multiple options for fire support available to you as safer alternative means of destroying the enemy. Are you sure you want to initiate a firefight? And are you sure you don't need us to rendezvous together and back you up? Over.” “Three Actual, this is Three-One. Affirmative. My squad already has a plan in place, and it'd be best to seize the initiative and optimally exploit this opportunity while it still presents itself. Violence of action is what we're all about. Over.”
Schmidt hesitates to speak for a short while, presumably to weigh up the odds of Schäfer's squad avoiding a Pyrrhic victory that'll look bad in the media. Casualties are always a sad and demoralising thing to see. But if Schäfer does have the element of surprise on his side and is able to catch the enemy when they are unprepared, then his odds should be fairly good even with the unfavourable disparity in numbers and firepower “Three-One, this is Three Actual. If you say so. Me, Three-Two, and Three-Three are less than twenty mikes away to your North-East and South-East. Coordinates soon to follow once we're all within position. Break. Just be advised: You are at a significant numerical and firepower disadvantage. If the enemy spots you first and initiates battle, your boys will be torn to shreds. Break. If you lose the initiative and your tactical advantage of surprise, if the violence of action is no longer on your side, bug out of there immediately. Acknowledge?” “Wilco, Three Actual. I’ll proceed with caution. Out.”