6.Fort Knight, Oregon.
So this was it, Faith thought as she checked her pack and equipment, another week or ten days and BCT would be over. Although she’d never doubted that she’d get through the training she knew she’d changed in some subtle ways; she felt surer of herself less ‘lost’ more focused. But before that last down hill stretch that would take her to her end of training parade there was one more challenge, one more hill to climb…End-Ex!
Tonight sometime shortly after dinner, Faith and the rest of her intake would be picking up their gear and heading on out into the woods for a weekend of military exercises. Over the next two days and nights they’d be putting into practice everything they’d learned over the last eight or nine weeks. At the same time they’d be carrying out military operations against Lieutenant Woodbridge’s intake who were also out on their own End-Ex.
Nothing to it, Faith told herself, Woodbridge’s intake were a load of pussies that she could take down by herself with one hand tied behind her back. No, the only speck in Faith’s eye, the only fly in her ointment was the fact that she’d been put in command of her very own fire team. The fire team that contained her three best friends; for the entire weekend she’d be responsible for them, she was the one who would have to decide what to do. Would she measure up? Would she be able to make the big decisions…?
Who was she trying to kid? Laughing at herself, Faith tightened the straps securing her pack. There’d be no ‘big decisions’, the biggest decision she’d have to make this weekend was who was going to stand guard first. This was basically a walk in the woods with some running around and playing soldiers thrown in, it would be tiring, but ultimately she’d probably look back on it and laugh. Nothing was going to happen, they’d come back on Sunday night and tell each other ‘war-stories’ and joke about all the stuff that had gone wrong.0=0=0=0The Forest.
The creature stirred in its lair as the hunger gnawed like a wild beast in its stomach. Soon it would have to rouse itself and go out to hunt. Then it would gorge itself on the flesh and blood of humans; humans like it had once been so long ago. But it would never matter how much it ate, how many it killed, it would always be hungry it would always want more. It’s only release from the hungry that controlled its every action would be death, but it couldn’t die it was cursed to live for all eternity always wanting, never satisfied.0=0=0=0The Forest near Fort Knight.
After dinner the intake had picked up their gear, drawn their rifles and thirty rounds of blank ammunition from the armoury and then formed up on the parade ground. Here Lt Lewis had given them a short explanatory lecture on what would be happening over the next couple of days and nights. Once Lt Lewis had finished, First Sergeant Ballard had told everyone off into their platoons, squads and fire teams.
All the male recruits were in one platoon of about thirty guys and all the female recruits were in another that numbered about eighteen. Each platoon was broken down into squads that were further broken down into three or four person fire teams, of which Faith was one of the team leaders. Each platoon was commanded by the recruit who’d shown the most ‘leadership’ skills with the squads and fire teams also having recruit leaders; Faith’s squad leader was a young woman from Oklahoma City called Sally Philips. Although the recruits were ‘in command’, Lt Lewis, First Sergeant Ballard and the rest of the instructors would always be close by to observe, advise and if necessary take over.
The light was already beginning to fade as Faith and her team-mates walked out of the main gate, packs on their backs and rifles in there hands. Glancing at one of the barrack huts, Faith saw the faces of the newest intake of recruits staring out the windows at her and her buddies. She remembered doing much the same thing on her first Friday night at Fort Knight; she remembered asking herself whether she’d ever make it and become like one of those hardened soldiers moving out of camp and into the forest. Soldier-Faith chuckled at new-recruit-Faith and her silly concerns; of course she’d make it, what could stop her?
After moving along the road for almost two miles the head of the column swung off the road and onto a track. They followed this for about another mile as they got deeper and deeper into the forest. It was when the head of the column turned off the, quite wide and well graded, track and onto a narrow forest trail that Faith began to, not exactly worry but feel concerned. Apart from the little lecture given by Lt Lewis before they started out, no one had explained to her where they were, where they were going or what they were doing. Were they going to march all night or were they heading for a camp site, not even Sally knew when Faith asked her.
Turning her head and looking into the dark brooding forest, Faith could see no sign of the instructors, or indeed much of anything else. The edge of the forest was an impenetrable barrier of vegetation even to her eyes. It was fully dark and they were still heading deeper into the forest, working their way up a winding gully. At least here Faith found she could see further than she’d been able to before. Here the trees had been cut back and there’d been no time for the forest to grow a barrier along its edge. Here Faith could see into the forest proper because the trees were fairly widely spaced and there wasn’t too much ground cover.
However, the tops of the trees grew closely together and cut out the moon and star light that helped the recruits see where they were going on the path. A thought came to Faith’s mind; if they could see where they were going on the trail, couldn’t someone in the forest see them too? Also, as the gully was getting deeper it was obstructing her view into the forest proper. That meant that a few feet away from the gully’s edge Lt Woodbridge’s intake could be waiting ready to spring an ambush on her own intake. Why hadn’t Burns, the recruit in charge of the intake, sent someone to cover the edge of the forest and ensure they weren’t walking into a trap?
Coming to a halt, Faith stood to one side of the track and let Judy, Brandi and Nina walk by her. As each of her team mates walked by she patted them on the shoulder and whispered a warning; ‘trouble’ she said quietly. Once she was at the rear of her team, Faith walked backwards for a few yards. As her team was ‘tail end Charlie’ there should be no one behind them, but Faith had the strongest feeling that they were being followed.
Turning to her front again, Faith trotted up the trail until she was back at the head of her team again. After a couple more minutes walking, when she was just thinking that she’d made a mistake and there was nothing and no one around except for them; there was a soft *Pop-bang-hiss!* from the front of the column. Shocked into inactivity by the sudden noise, Faith stood and gazed towards the front of the column where there appeared to be a very bright light behind clouds of green smoke.
All was quiet for a second except for the hissing-fizz of the trip flare and smoke grenade someone had set off. Faith could see the flickering silhouettes of her intake in the light of the flare. Then the spell was broken and Faith heard someone shout an order just before the night was ripped apart by the sound of a machine gun firing from further up the trail. All of a sudden everything was chaos. Hearing people shout unintelligible orders and rifles being fired wildly at half seen targets in the trees, Faith was at a loss as to what she was supposed to do. It was then that some primal instinct seemed to take her over and suddenly she knew exactly what she was supposed to do.
“Packs off!” Faith ordered as she shed her own pack onto the track; seeing that her friends had obeyed her order, she started up the bank of the gully, “Follow me!”
Her legs pumping like pistons, Faith made it quickly to the top of the slope at the side of the trail. Pausing for just a moment she checked that her buddies were still with her before looking up the length of the gully. In the gully itself she could see a mass of struggling recruits, they were shooting in all directions while squad and team leaders shouted orders that went unnoticed or contradicted each other. While all this was going on the ambushers were firing with their machine gun while other members of the ambush party threw coloured smoke grenades and other pyrotechnics that exploded with loud bangs and blinding flashes of light. Faith knew with a certainty that she’d never felt before that had this been real the chances were that only she and her team would still be alive or uninjured, she also knew that only she could save the day.
Running along the edge of the forest where it met the gully, Faith kept a look out for the ‘enemy’. It didn’t take her long to find them. Not more than twenty yards away, Faith could clearly see Lt Lewis, First Sergeant Ballard and several other instructors lying at the edge of the wood firing and throwing things down onto the struggling recruits below. Bringing her own little force to a halt, Faith organised them into a four woman firing line.
“Okay,” Faith spoke loudly enough to be heard over the noise, but not loud enough to give away their position, “on my word we give ‘em five rounds each then charge, okay?”
The three other girls in her team nodded their heads.
“FIRE!” Faith yelled as she brought her rifle up to her shoulder and started to fire off blanks at the Lieutenant and her team mates.
The sound of the four of them firing five rounds each sounded quite spectacular to Faith’s untrained ears. As soon as she’d fired her last round, Faith screamed like one of her Celtic ancestors and charged at the ambush party. Taken unexpectedly in the flank, Lt Lewis didn’t even bother trying to fight off Faith’s wild attack.
“HOLD IT SOLDIERS!” Lewis yelled over the sound of the panicked firing still coming from the recruits in the gully.
“OKAY EVERYBODY!” First Sergeant Ballard yelled, “CEASE FIRING!”
As the firing died away and the smoke grenades stopped filling the gully with smoke and the flares died out. Lt Lewis walked over to where Faith’s little group stood still slightly hyped up.
“Who’s in charge here?” Lt Lewis asked as the First Sergeant climbed down into the gully to get the recruits organised for the next part of the exercise.
“I am Ma’am” Faith sprang to attention wondering if she was going to be in trouble for spoiling Lt Lewis’ ambush, “Private Lehane, ma’am!”
“Well done Lehane,” Lewis’ camouflaged face smiled out of the darkness at her, “If this had been real you’d have killed or driven off my force, well done, now go and join your buddies.”
“Yes ma’am! Thank-you ma’am!” Faith turned and started to retrace her steps back to where they’d left their packs.
“Hey,” Nina grinned out of the darkness, “when you’re a general you won’t forget about your buddies will you?”
“Yeah,” Judy called quietly, “y’know the girls that helped make you famous.”
“Oh, girls,” Brandi shook her head sadly, “y’forgettin’ once they get famous they always forget the little people they left behind.”
“Shut up you assholes,” Faith sniggered, “like how could I forget you guys, when I’m a general? I’ll be sure to see ya all get posted to places that ya deserve…like Alaska or somewhere out in the desert or…”
“Bitch!” chorused her three friends just before they jumped on Faith and dragged her giggling to the ground.0=0=0=0
Watching from the trees the creature nearly wept it was so hungry. It had hunted all day but had found nothing. Eventually it had left its usual hunting grounds to go into areas that it rarely roamed because there were too many humans there to hunt safely. But hunger had dulled the creature’s caution and now it was sensing many humans moving through the forest. Maybe, it told itself, maybe some of the humans would get separated from the main group. Perhaps they would become lost in the forest and when they did, the creature would be there to pounce.0=0=0=0
Watching from the side of the gully, Lt Lewis and First Sergeant Ballard waited as the reorganised recruits made there way out of the gully and on towards their camping ground for the night.
“Perhaps we should have put Lehane in charge of all the recruits,” Ballard observed quietly.
“We could have done worse,” Lewis agreed, “but you know as well as I do it wasn’t my choice.”
Which recruit was to command the intake on the exercise was taken out of Lewis’ hands by Colonel Thornbush the commanding officer at Fort Knight. Apparently one of the recruits was the son of an old buddy the Colonel had served with in Germany during the Cold War; so Thornbush had told Lewis who’d be in charge of the recruits this weekend.
“Not that it really bothers me,” Lewis lied, it did bother her but there wasn’t much she could do about it, “someone like Lehane is always going to shine. But you know what does bother me?”
“What’s that, L-t?” Ballard asked as he watched Faith and her team disappear into the night.
“That Lehane will never get the chance to show what she’s really capable of,” Lewis shook her head, sometimes the army really pissed her off.
“You mean the combat thing,” Ballard sighed.
“Yeah the combat thing,” Lewis glanced over at her friend and lover, “you know damn well that Lehane’s a natural. If she was a guy they’d select her for the Rangers or something, but because she’s a woman she’ll probably spend her career behind a desk or driving a Hummer for some quarter-master somewhere.”
“Hey,” Ballard shrugged, “maybe if she goes into the MP’s, the lines are blurred there…”
“Its still not right, Jim,” Lewis shook her head sadly, “the army is letting talent like Lehane’s slip through its fingers.”
“Not a lot we can do about it,” Ballard replied resignedly, “except turning out new soldiers the best we can.”
“Yeah,” agreed Lewis, “I suppose you’re right, come on lets get goin’.”0=0=0=0
The recruits marched on for another two or three miles until they came to a clearing where one of the instructors was waiting for them. They were told to make camp here and be ready to move out just after first light. Before anyone could ask any questions the instructor had vanished back into the trees and the recruits were left to their own devices.
Glancing at her watch, Faith noted that it was nearly midnight, that meant they had about four or five hours to first light. While two or three hours sleep was fine for her, her friends would need as much sleep as they could get so they’d be able to function properly the next day. Watching what was going on around them, Faith again noticed that no one told them what to do or where to camp. No one appeared to be organising defensive positions or even a guard for the night. Everyone just seemed to be bedding down where they felt like it; Faith had even lost the other half of her squad.
“Okay,” Faith sighed quietly as she looked around; her friends were looking at her expectantly and she knew she needed to get them organised. “This way,” Faith headed off towards the roots of a felled tree about a dozen yards away, “we’ll camp here.”
The tree had been torn from the ground by a storm some time in the recent past. There was a large hole where the roots had been ripped from the ground. The hole was big enough to accommodate all four of them and deep enough to form a good defensive position. Quickly the four young women dumped their packs and then, using their ponchos, pieces of string and lengths of wood they built a little shelter for themselves just as it started to rain.
“Look,” Faith said quietly as they unpacked their sleeping bags, “we’ve got maybe four hours to morning, like I don’t need to sleep so much so if I can get my head down for an hour now, I’ll do the guard for the rest of the night ‘til dawn okay?”
“You sure?” Nina asked as the rain pitter-pattered on the ponchos above their heads.
“Like I say,” Faith shrugged, “I don’t need the sleep like you guys do.”
“Okay,” Brandi spoke for the group, “thanks Faith, but we’ll do the guard tomorrow night.”
“If ya want,” Faith took off her helmet and curled up on her sleeping bag, “just remember to wake me in an hour, okay?”0=0=0=0