Sunday, November 22, 2009

Men and Trees

Talbot was a huge college basketball fan, having attended USC when George Raveling was the coach there. Because of Raveling, Talbot referred to his men on the ground as "The Football Team." They were the doers, the go-getters, the men who would do what they were told when they were told whether they liked it or not. Nothing happened without the Football Team, Talbot knew, and he meant no disrespect by it.

Still, everything started with the men and women who sat in cubicles in front of computer screens with statistics, analysis, and spreadsheets galore spread out on their desks. They were a messy bunch, the ones Talbot referred to as "The Basketball Team," and it reminded of Talbot's days as an engineering assistant way back in the day. Engineers, by their very nature, are only organized in their minds. In practice, however, they're complete slobs... important schematics on the floor, usually marked with a ring of coffee that spilled over from never-washed coffee cups. And the Basketball Team was no different. But it was their understanding of administration, history, strategy, and their ability to interpret gathered intelligence - and interpret it well - that always got the ball rolling.

Like many on the Basketball Team, Talbot was jealous of the physical prowess of his football players, but here in his air conditioned office - thousands of miles away from where his quarterbacks, linebackers, offensive line and free safeties places themselves in lines of danger - Talbot wouldn't have it any other way. He ran things, after all, and though the glory went to those who scored the touchdowns, his pay scale and the fact he saw his family almost every night kept his envy in check.

"Someone give me a weather report," Talbot ordered.

"Hot," an analyst replied. The room echoed subdued laughter. Talbot held back a smile, though the joke was expected. Things were too serious at the moment and, though he did want to laugh, this was no time for humor.

"You the weather man, Adams?" Talbot scolded, his quiet-angry expression on his face. It was a false expression, to be sure, but his basketball players knew Talbot well enough by now to know that everyone should be concentrated on business. They can save the comedic relief for later.

"No, sir."

Harding, who was the weather man, despite her gender, spoke up. "Temperature is 92 degrees Fahrenheit at the moment, but will drop to about 45 degrees tonight. Monsoon season is having a minimal effect on the operational area and humidity remains low."

Talbot frowned. The temperature extremes would not normally be a problem, but it meant that his football players had to pack both hot and cold-weather clothing, which means they were carrying more weight than they would have liked. And those boys still had an awful lot of ground to cover.

"How far did they get in the last 24?"

"35 kilometers," Adams responded, knowing he hadn't really been scolded. If anything, Talbot hated to make his team members, basketball, football, or otherwise, feel negative emotions during an operation. The operations had tendencies to do that on their own. Especially this one. Dawson, one of the football players - his quarterback, in fact - had called it a suicide mission, and Talbot had secretly agreed with him. But the orders came from way up the food chain, and no one could do anything about it. There were American spies who needed to be extracted very quickly. Washington was in a race with Beijing, and the information those spies had gathered deemed everyone else expendable... especially the football team.

***

Dawson strapped himself into the MH-60 as the crew chief slid the door closed. Not having a chance to earlier, he took a better look at the two operatives his team had picked up. A man and woman posing as a married couple, both spoke fluent Cantonese and Mandarin, was well as their native languages. The man was of Korean descent - Dawson could tell by the lighter skin tone and the shape of the head - and the woman was Taiwanese-Japanese, on loan from Taipei's secret service. Dawson picked up on her Japanese immediately, but only a note from the intelligence report let him know that she was Taiwanese and not mainland Chinese. He knew that neither operative could tell him what they had discovered, but he hoped that it was worth it.

The extraction had gone well... on time, on location, and completely according to plan. It was the getting there that had been a problem. A persistent Chinese patrol had run into the football team last night, just after dusk, and the ensuing firefight lit up the sky and seemingly extended the day for another 87 minutes. Dawson turned around, glancing at the lifeless bodies of his two linebackers and his guard. He would write three letters when they reached their debriefing destination - Camp Zama, Japan, by way of Inchon, South Korea - but he knew that those letters would never be read. Some office geek... some basketball player... would write the letters that would actually be delivered to the families. Letters from someone who didn't even know those men, ostensibly from a conventional unit that those men had never belonged to.

Dawson sighed, exhausted from the ordeal. One day, he'd have to put in his transfer to basketball.

***

"When I went to Catholic high school in Philadelphia, we just had one coach for football and basketball. He took all of us who turned out and had us run through a forest. The ones who ran into the trees were on the football team." - George Raveling

4 comments:

  1. Wow, that was interesting. Like what? Three levels to read this on? Very good.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Interesting and clever take... Sports and war... Hmmm....

    ReplyDelete