CARRIER 7: AFTERBURN By Keith Douglass

In his five years in Army aviation, Cole had served on his fair share of

shit details, but this one, he figured, ought to satisfy his quota for

at least the next seventy years or so. This whole operation was one big

cluster fuck from start to finish, a monster conceived in good

intentions, born in politics, and nurtured in the hellish clash of

committees, boards, and panels that dominated every policy-level

Pentagon decision made these days. The cross-service problems alone were

staggering; Sustain Hope had started as a joint Navy-Marine operation,

but the Army, unwilling to let itself be cut out of the potential

treasure trove of political largesse, name recognition, and program

funding that the UN mission represented, had wormed its way in through

the back door. While CH-53 Sea Stallions had been ferrying Marines

ashore yesterday, Cole and Dombrowski and their aircraft’s crew chief,

Warrant Officer Palmer, had flown one of two Army UH-60 Black Hawks into

Poti’s airfield.

They’d come to Georgia loaded for bear. Their Black Hawk had been

equipped with ESSS–an acronym meaning External Stores Support System. A

deliberate copy of the external weapons mounts employed by Russian Hind

helicopter gunships, the ESSS would let the Black Hawk ride shotgun for

the UN Crisis Assessment Team’s Hip. There’d been a lot of sniping at UN

air traffic over western Georgia lately, chiefly from Russian mobile

antiaircraft units under the control of one or another of the militia or

Russian army forces in the area; one UN helo had been shot down the week

before, and two others damaged. The Army Black Hawk’s ESSS, loaded with

sixteen Hellfire air-to-ground missiles, would be one hell of an

incentive for those units to stay under cover and leave UN aircraft


Dombrowski touched the side of his helmet, listening closely. “Uh-oh.

Here it goes.”


“Two-seven finally checked in over the radio.” The code group referred

to the Assessment Team, and their helicopter. “They’re saddling up.”

Cole glanced at his watch. “Only about two hours late. That must be a

new speed record for a Crisis Team.”

The tall Pole’s frown turned into a grin. “All we have to do now is pray

that nobody goes and insults the local honcho’s sister before we get out

of here. They’ve got our flight plan so screwed up now I’m beginning to

wonder if we’ll get back home before our enlistments expire.”

The Crisis Assessment Team had been on the move for over a week now,

since long before the Americans had arrived. They were traveling from

town to town throughout western Georgia, trying to determine from

interviews with the locals–and by whether or not anybody took a shot at

them as they passed–whether this wretched country had indeed been

abandoned by the more organized Russian units, or whether Reds or Blues

were still here in force. From what Cole had seen over the past couple

of days, there wasn’t anything organized about Georgia. .. except

possibly for the misery of its inhabitants. The towns were

war-shattered, with little left but rubble and vast, sprawling,

disease-ridden refugee camps and tent cities. The team they were

escorting was a varied lot–two U.S. Army officers who’d arrived with

Dombrowski and Cole, two Marine officers out of MEU-25, three British

army officers, a French air force man, two Turks, and an Ethiopian UN

Special Envoy with the tongue-twisting name Mengistu Tzadua–not to

mention the ragged, heavily armed Georgian freedom fighter who’d

insisted on accompanying the team as it made the rounds of the

countryside, plus two people from the American Cable News network, a

reporter and a cameraman. The whole operation was a bizarre melting pot.

They could barely share ideas among themselves, much less quiz the

locals on how the UN could better deliver humanitarian aid. Cole didn’t

know how much more of this assignment he’d be able to put up with before

he did something most undiplomatic. He was all for helping the victims

of war by delivering humanitarian aid, but so far he’d seen more

bureaucrats than relief workers, and it seemed like there was no end in


Cole grimaced. You usually knew why you were on an op, and who your

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