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Semper Fidelis.

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6.

Monday morning.

It was nearly nine o’clock and Recon Platoon had been up and working since just after six, when Lt Ring finally appeared. The platoon was standing in formation in combat dress complete with their personnel weapons when the platoon leader arrived full of enthusiasm for the task ahead.

“Platoon, attention!” Highway croaked; the platoon came smartly to attention as Lt Ring came to a halt in front of them.

“Thank-you, Gunney,” Ring and Highway exchanged salutes. “What a fine morning for a military exercise!” Ring began, “Men…” Ring hesitated and glanced over to where Faith and Brenda stood, “and erm, women, today we will execute an ambush against a numerically superior force, by using cover, surprise, interlocking fields of fire and the natural aggressiveness of the United States Marine.”

Glancing at each other, Faith and Brenda rolled there eyes in despair.

“We will provide Major Powers,” Ring continued with his little ‘pep’ talk, “and his elite force an accessible target to sharpen their superior fighting skills; this will be facilitated by the MILES Gear that each team will wear.”

Shifting slightly, Faith checked the harness with its laser detectors that she and everyone else wore. Attached to the muzzle of her M4 was a laser emitter which would be activated by the sound of each blank round she fired. It all added up to a very expensive way of playing Cowboys and Indians.

“Excuse me Lieutenant,” Highway interrupted, “Are you hinting that we don’t fight back?”

Faith doubted that anyone else other than the men closest to where Highway stood could actually hear what was being said; Faith could of course and she was really interested to hear how Ring would reply.

“Well, yes Gunney,” Ring replied in little more than a whisper, “The Major likes to use Recon Platoon as a training tool.”

“So, what happens when these men,” Highway gestured towards Recon Platoon, “go into combat and aren’t prepared? They just get dead?”

Not liking the sound of this, Faith glanced at Brenda who was standing next to her unaware of what was being said; Faith would rather not have herself or Brenda ‘get dead’ any time soon.

“Yes,” Ring looked uncomfortable at the thought Highway had put into his head, “I see what you mean.”

“Have you talked this over with Major Powers?” Highway wanted to know.

“Let’s move ‘em out Gunney!” Ring snapped refusing to answer the question.

“Are you coming with us Lieutenant?” Highway asked pointedly.

“No Gunney,” Ring replied self-consciously, “I have a doctors appointment at eleven-hundred.”

“Well, I hope it’s nothing that’ll keep you out of the next war…sir,” Highway replied before calling the platoon to attention and marching them off to the training ground.

Marching in their usual place at the rear of the platoon, Faith and Brenda were the last to pass by Lt Ring. Glancing out of the corner of her eye at the young officer, Faith almost felt sorry for the guy. At least he had the decency to look slightly ashamed of himself, she could tell he wanted to do the right thing, he just didn’t know what it was and there was no one there to show him. Given the chance he’d not turn into another Lt Underpants (her old platoon leader in Iraq), Faith shrugged resignedly, she just hoped he’d get the chance before he got someone killed.

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A herd of elephants would have made less noise than Recon Platoon did as they moved through the area of scrub towards the assigned ambush sight. The men were talking and most carried their rifles tucked under their arms like they were going for a Sunday stroll in the woods. Standing to one side of the track, Highway had an expression on his face like he could smell something bad, his eyes fell on Faith as she and Brenda came into view. Highway gave a reluctant smile when he saw the two women, at least they were moving like the combat veterans they were.

“Slay!” Highway called Faith over.

“Gunney?” Faith drifted like a ghost over to where Highway stood.

“You heard that back at base?” Highway asked, he’d noticed Faith had better than average hearing.

“Sure did,” Faith nodded as she watched Brenda go by.

“What do you think we oughta do about it?” Highway asked casually.

“I think we should kick Powers’ ass, Gunney,” Faith grinned.

“My thinking exactly,” Highway agreed with a nod, “we need to give these losers a victory. Show ‘em that they’re Marines not ‘training tools’.”

“I’m with ya on that,” Faith nodded, “what ya want me to do?”

“I set up a trip wire a ways down the track,” Highway explained, “you sneak ahead of the column and spring it. Once we’ve got everyone’s attention we’ll get this circus organised.”

“On it, Gunney,” Faith replied before Highway could say another word she’d disappeared into the scrub.

Standing looking around, Highway smiled and shook his head, “I’m sure that woman must be half cat or something,” he told himself before hurrying off to catch up with the rest of the platoon.

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On another part of the training area the jeep carrying Major Powers, Sergeant-Major Choozhoo and Sergeant Webster (first platoon’s platoon sergeant) came to a halt. Climbing from the vehicle, Powers glanced a Sergeant-Major Choozhoo.

“Are you sure Highway’s our man to run the ambush?” Powers asked Choozhoo who was acting as umpire today.

“He’s the best I know at small unit tactics,” Choozhoo pointed out.

Having formed up into a column on the track, First platoon waited for someone to tell them what to do. They didn’t have long to wait as Powers came over to stand in front of them.

“Marines,” Powers called, “today we’re going to kick some recon butt!”

First Platoon howled in anticipation just before Webster marched them off down the track and into the bush.

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“Unsling those rifles,” Highway pushed himself between Stitch and Quinones as he made his way towards the front of the column, “you’re making too much damn noise.”

“What the hell for?” Stitch replied, “We’re not supposed to win!”

Hiding in the bush beside the track, Faith watched as Recon Platoon approached. Shaking her head in despair she couldn’t help thinking that if these assholes were in Iraq they’d soon be going home…in flag draped coffins. Heaving on the trip wire she brought down the first three guys in the column.

“Shit!” exclaimed Stitch as he started to pick himself up, “What the fuck was that?”

“You’re dead Marines,” Highway pointed out as he stood over the three fallen men, “You just tripped a booby trap that blew your legs off! We’ll have to send out a search party for your testicles…where the hell’s your back up?”

The Marine know as ‘Profile’ raised his hand, he was standing several yards too close to the ambush and too far from where he should be.

“What good are you doing there?” Highway wanted to know.

“Yeah Marine!” Faith appeared out of the bush like some sort of predator making everyone but Highway jump, “What ya doing? Without any covering fire the Gunney would get shot,” Faith looked up into Profile’s face; the Marine looked down at her in fear and trepidation. “Now,” Faith snarled menacingly, “ya wouldn’t want Gunney Highway to get shot now, would ya?”

“N-No ma’am!” Profile replied nervously.

“Yeah,” Highway said as he suppressed the grin that threatened to break out across his scared face, “you guys have just got every man in this platoon killed!”

“Sure as hell makes me glad I’m a woman,” Brenda observed from the rear of the platoon.

“Hey, chill out, Gunney,” Stitch sprang to the defence of his buddies, “that’s what we’re here for.”

“Say what!?” Highway swung around to face Stitch.

“We’re here for that,” Stitch tried to explain, “We’ve ambushed Major Powers three times and always right here, we know what we’re doing.”

“Well, shit-for-brains,” Highway snapped back, “who says we’re going to ambush Powers here?”

“Didn’t you hear Lt Ring?” Stitch asked in confusion, “Major Powers wants us to die in a loud, grotesque, military manner.”

“I don’t give a fuck, what Major Powers wants,” Highway told the platoon.

“That goes double for me,” Faith added, everyone turned to look at her, “Army, see?” Faith smiled, “I’d love to stick it to some asshole Marine Major.”

“Yeah,” Highway nodded, “what Sergeant Lehane said, now in the mean time my job is to keep you losers alive….move out!”

Walking briskly along the track, Highway vanished into the bush. After a moments hesitation Recon Platoon followed on behind.

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Over at First Platoon’s location, Major Powers stood to one side of the track.

“We’ll be coming to the ambush site over the next hill,” Powers called out.

“Roger that,” Webster agreed, just as he agreed with everything Powers said or did.

“It sure helps,” Sergeant-Major Choozhoo pointed out quietly, “to know where and when you’re goin’ to be hit, sir.”

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“They’ll be here in about five minutes,” Faith reported as she appeared from out of the bush to stand next to Highway.

“Slay!” Highway turned his head to look down at Faith, he’d not heard her approach, “Are you deliberately trying to give me a heart attack or are you just showing off?”

“Just showing off,” Faith admitted with a grin, “what we got?”

“Simple L-shaped ambush,” Highway explained, “don’t want to confuse these losers.”

Faith nodded her head in agreement, an L-shaped ambush would allow an enemy to walk into a trap and be caught in a cross fire. There was, however a way out for the enemy, if they reacted quickly enough they could turn and run, escaping back the way they’d come.

“You want me an’ B to close the back door?” Faith volunteered.

“Hoped you’d ask,” Highway nodded.

“On it,” Faith turned, called quietly for Brenda to join her before sliding off into the bush.

0=0=0=0

Lying in a ditch behind a bush, Faith and Brenda watched the track waiting for Powers and first platoon to appear.

“Y’know,” Brenda whispered, “for a moment there I thought yuh wanted me to get my gear off again an’ act as a diversion!”

“Nah,” Faith slowly shook her head, “getting you down to your skivvies can wait until we get back to base…Shhh!”

Holding her hand up for quiet, Faith pointed down the track. Sure enough a moment later Powers and First Platoon marched into view. Shaking her head in disgust, Faith imagined herself as an Iraqi insurgent and thought how happy she’d be to see this bunch of assholes coming towards her. The major still had his platoon marching in column along the track. He’d not put out any scouts, flank or rear guards. He was simply presenting his opponent with a big fat juicy target. Just for a moment, Faith wondered if Powers could actually be that stupid, the thought crossed her mind that this might be a trap and there was another force sneaking up on her position. Quickly she did a head count of the approaching platoon; yes, Powers was that stupid.

“Ready,” Faith whispered as she brought her rifle to her shoulder as First Platoon marched by her position.

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“Easy,” Highway whispered to Johanson who was lying next to him manning the SAW; Recon had been ordered only to open fire once they heard Johanson open up. “Give them a few more yards,” Highway advised, “then we’ll nail the coffin shut!”

Marching at the head of his men, Powers led them deeper into the ambush.

“Stay, frosty,” Faith whispered to Brenda, “they’re nearly dead!”

“Now,” Highway told Johanson who immediately opened up with his SAW.

Within seconds the quiet of the North Carolina bush was shattered by the sound of automatic fire as Recon Platoon swept First Platoon’s ranks with ‘deadly’ laser beams. Within a fraction of a second the first high pitched beeping from the MILES Gear could be heard signifying that men had been hit.

Over at Faith and Brenda’s position the two women open fire within a fraction of a second of each other. They took out the half dozen Marines at the rear of the column before breaking from cover and closing First Platoon’s only avenue of escape. The sound of beeping rose to rival the noise of gunfire as more and more of the panicking confused Marines in the middle of the ambush were hit.

“CEASE FIRE!” Powers yelled over the sound of the firing, of course no one did. “You’re in the wrong ambush site!” Powers complained as his command fell apart around him, “CEASE FIRE!” He tried again but the firing just went on and on.

Eventually Recon ran out of targets and the firing died out only to be replaced by the sound of Recon’s cheers. Standing next to one another, Brenda looked over at her friend as they made their weapons safe.

“Looks like they’re not ‘losers’ anymore,” Brenda observed.

“Except Powers,” Faith pointed out.

0=0=0=0

Having got back to base, Brenda had been put in charge of supervising weapons cleaning; she could only imagine the chewing out Faith, Highway and Lt Ring would be getting off Powers right now. Sitting on the dry grass behind the squad bay, Brenda laid the parts of her M4 out on her ground sheet as she cleaned them. The rest of Recon Platoon chatted excitedly about their victory over First Platoon; to hear them talk they made it sound like they’d just stormed ashore at Iwo Jima or somewhere. Smiling to herself, Brenda got on with cleaning her rifle.

“Hey, Corporal Mitchell,” Stitch Jones’ voice rose over the general hubbub of the platoon’s self-congratulatory story telling, “I hear you got the Bronze Star over in Iraq…how’d you do that?”

Recon slowly stopped talking and looked over to where the little blonde sat cross-legged on the dirt cleaning her weapon.

“Wasn’t nothin’ much ta talk about,” Brenda shrugged.

“Come on Corporal,” Profile called out, “tell us.”

“Okay,” Brenda sighed, she didn’t like talking about it, she’d been stupid and almost got herself killed. “We were in some Iraqi ville searching for insurgents, right?” Recon nodded its collective head. “We set up in some house coz we’d got left behind when the rest of the company pulled out. Everything was fine until later that night when these three Iraqis opened up on us from the other side of the perimeter wall.”

Pausing for a moment Brenda remembered the barking gunfire, the muzzle flashes and the sound of AK bullets flying through the air above her head, she also remembered being scared out of her wits.

“Yuh gotta understand that one of our guys was pinned down outside; an’ no one could get a-bead on the insurgents, not even Slay…”

“‘Slay’?” Stitch asked.

“Sergeant Lehane,” Brenda corrected herself, Brenda got back to her story, “as I say no one could get a clear line of site on these assholes an’ Dim, the guy who was pinned was in deep shit. Doublewide was yelling that someone should do something an’ I just got up an’ ran out the back ta where the Hummer was parked.” Brenda chuckled quietly, “To tell the truth I was a-bit sweet on Dim an’ I knew I had ta do somethin’.”

“So what’d you do, Corporal?” Johanson asked.

“I jumped into my Hummer, and drove it into the wall the Iraqis were hidin’ behind,” For just a moment Brenda was back in Iraq on that dark night; she remembered the sound the bullets made as they hit the Hummer, she remembered how she’d screamed in terror as she’d hit the wall. “Well,” Brenda sighed, “the long an’ short of it is the wall fell on top of the insurgents an’ killed ‘em.”

There were mutterings of approval from Recon as Brenda paused and decided not to tell them how the insurgents had come back to life and had to be killed all over again.

“Anyway,” Brenda sighed, “I got chewed out by my Platoon Sergeant before he told me he was putting me up for a Bronze Star. Slay just wanted to know if I’d done it coz it needed doing and not because I wanted to die or something stupid like that.” Brenda looked at the shocked looks Recon were giving her, “I was goin’ through some heavy shit at the time…but hey!” Brenda smiled, “Enough of me, you jerk-offs wanna hear how Sergeant ‘Slay’ Lehane got her Silver Star…now that’s a story!”

0=0=0=0

“You take those men to Iraq, sir,” Faith held on to her temper by her finger nails, it’d do Recon no good if she got thrown out and sent back to the army, “You’ll plant half of them in the first week!”

Standing in a line in front of Powers' desk, Faith, Highway and Lt Ring looked down at Powers; Faith and Highway looked at the man in contempt, while Ring looked on in something approaching terror. Powers stared into Faith’s face for a moment, when he realised she wasn’t going to back down he broke eye contact and looked away.

“You did it on your own, didn’t you?” Powers’ gaze turned towards Highway, “You disregarded by directives and ignored the training schedule on your own initiative didn’t you?”

“I can’t fix what’s broke if I don’t know how it’s broken…sir,” Highway replied showing restraint born of long years dealing with idiot officers.

“Hell,” Powers reached for his phone, “you make it easy.”

Hell, Faith cursed inside, Powers was going to side line Highway, send her and Brenda back to the army and Recon would get its collective ass shot off the first time it went into combat for real.

“Sir!” Lt Ring spoke up for the first time from the other end of the line, “I gave Gunney Highway and Sergeant Lehane permission to freelance the men, sir.”

Powers slammed down the phone almost hard enough to break it.

“Wait outside, Ring!” Powers snapped; Lt Ring did a smart about face and marched out into the corridor.

Here it comes, thought Faith as she tried to tune out what Powers was telling herself and Highway. Instead of listening to Powers’ threats she imagined all the unpleasant ways she could kill Powers if she was ever in combat near the asshole. Letting his words wash over her she wondered how such god awful officers found their way into positions of power while good officers like Captain Baron and Lt ‘Little Mac’ McClellan where getting their asses shot at in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“…now get out and send in that idiot Ring!” Powers dismissed the two non-coms with a jerk of the head.

Leaving Powers’ office, Faith and Highway saw Lt Ring standing in the corridor.

“He wants to see you L-t,” Faith called; the guy deserved some respect he’d spoken up and saved her and Highway’s asses when he could have kept his mouth shut, maybe there was some hope for him yet.

“Sorry,” Ring paused in front of the two non-coms.

“No need to be,” Highway reassured him; Ring turned to go back into Powers’ office. “Lieutenant…” Highway stopped the young officer in his tracks, “...Recon!” Highway gave Ring a ‘thumbs up’ before he went in to face Powers.

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“…an' that’s how Sergeant Slay got her Silver Star,” Brenda came to the end of her story, for a moment there was silence as Recon took in what she’d just told them.

“Shit,” Stitch was the first to break the silence, “she must be one tough, motherfucker!”

“You better believe it,” Brenda agreed.

“This Underpants guy,” Private Collins spoke up from the front of the group, “sure sounds like a Powers in training.”

“Yeah,” Brenda nodded her head as she started to put her M4 back together, “he ain’t no body’s problem now, like I say the rag-heads got him.”

Of this fact, Brenda wasn’t too sure. Like Sergeant Scream she thought Faith had shot the disaster area of a Lieutenant. Not deliberately, by the time Faith had got to where Underpants was she was pretty beat-up and high on morphine for the pain of the burns she’d received earlier. She’d probably thought she’d seen some insurgent looting that van and shot him; it was just their good luck that it’d actually been Underpants. Scream had neatly covered everything up by pretending that it’d never happened and getting rid of Faith’s sidearm so there’d be no evidence.

“Okay, guys,” Brenda stood up as she checked the action of her M4, “enough story tellin’, weapons inspection in two minutes.”

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