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The Survivors: On Training
By Ronald W. Hull
Sunday, July 14, 2002
The Potomac Bottoms
Sgt. Marty Hamilton, Lt. Derek Granger, Pvt. 1st Class. John Post, and Pvt. Randy Smithson were on maneuvers in their Abrams M1A2 SEP Tank with the 29th Infantry Division across the river from Fort Belvoir when the bomb hit. Unlike many their buddies in jeeps, Hummers, Bradleys, and on foot, they were in a strong and highly defendable vehicle with NBC. They were also just far enough away to escape the initial deadly effects of the blast.
They were running down a gully about thirty miles an hour, kicking up dust when it hit. “What the hell was that!” Marty, the driver, yelled as the flash blinded his DID (integrated display), penetrated every other opening to outside view, and lit up the interior with a dull yellow glow.
Before Derek, the commander, could answer, radiant heat penetrated the tank's steel, depleted uranium, and ceramic walls--and their bodies, making it very uncomfortable. “Man, I think it was a nuke! If it was, we'd better get the hell out of here!” The Abrams was already going as fast as it could go in that terrain, so it didn't seem to matter what Derek said--they knew they were in for it. They didn't have long to wait. Derek tried to communicate with operations command, but the channels were jammed by electrical interference. They braced for the inevitable.
If they hadn't been in the gully, they might not have survived. Still, the shock wave caught them from the side and flipped the tank over a couple of times before it landed on its tracks still moving in the direction it had been heading. They were strapped in their positions. Marty in the driver's seat, Derek monitoring the CITV system, John manning the guns for the drill they had been running, and Randy in his loader’s seat.
The fire suppression system triggered. Derek turned it off as soon as it came on. Still, they choked until the fans cleared the air.
“Is everybody okay?” Randy yelled as dust rose in the still lit interior of the Abrams. “Poor bastards.” He muttered under his breath as he thought of the others caught out in that hell. He didn’t expect any of them to be alive.
“I'm OK, but the CITV system seems to have gone haywire--what I can see of it!” The pitch of Derek’s voice was significantly higher as he tried to recover from what had happened. “The IVIS isn’t picking up anything either. Guess they didn’t make it.” He was referring to the other two tanks, commanded by Col. Mathers and Lt. Dickinson.
“She’s still running, but I can't see a damn thing. We took one hell of a hit, didn't we?” Marty drove on blind as the others acknowledged. Unable to see, he slowed noticeably. “Can you give me any help here, Derek?”
“The radar and GPS are still working. The thermals are all out. We may not sense some small objects, but I think I can guide us out of here, once I figure out what is the best way to go.”
"Well, you had better figure it out soon, because I'm starting to run over some pretty big stuff already.”
Randy dragged out the radiation hazard suits and they put them on. The air conditioning was running full blast, but it could barely keep ahead of the heat outside. The suits didn't help that situation. They didn't know how much radiation they'd received, but the suits could help them now. Thank goodness the filtration system was working, protecting them too.
With Derek giving directions, Marty felt his way along, often having to back up to get around obstacles. After about an hour of this, the wind started to clear the dust and smoke away, so that Marty could see to drive.
They headed southeast, away from the river. Everywhere, buildings were torn apart and burning. They didn't see anything alive or moving. Only the hulks of burned out cars that may have, at one time, held passengers. They were indeed lucky to be alive. Marty found a road that they took east. Occasionally they came upon a car turned over near the road that they assumed had been on it. Except for dust and debris, the road was mostly clear, so they made good time, over 40 mph, until they began to see the shapes of familiar buildings and trees, broken and charred, but still recognizable. Arriving at Maryland 210, they turned right and continued south. They were still in mortal danger, so, with Derek's direction, Marty pushed on.
They had been underway for about an hour and forty minutes, that seemed like hours, and were in danger of running out of fuel, when they began to see green fields and trees. Buildings had damage and their windows were blown out, but they were still standing. The scene was eerie and calm in the midday sun. They were the only ones moving. The only cars they saw were abandoned by the road or parked by buildings. Finally, nearly out of fuel, Marty pulled into a little country convenience store gas stop, right up to the diesel pump. The windows of the storefront were blown out and the door was open, so it was easy for them to enter and release the pump.
Derek and Randy raided the shelves for bottled water and other supplies, while Marty filled up the 250 gallon tanks outside. The Browning had been completely torn off when they rolled over. The M240s were all bent up and the M256 smooth bore was bent, rendering it useless. There was nothing more dreadful than an impotent tank. Marty hoped that they weren’t at war. In their suits, they looked like aliens from outer space, raiding a deserted store--just like in the movies.
Except for the damage to buildings and the absence of anything moving, the scene seemed almost normal--peaceful. They knew better than to try to take off their suits. Before they left, a mournful wining could be heard coming from the back of the store. Derek went around to look. A German Shepherd, probably used as a guard dog in the store, was chained and lying in a doghouse. As much as Derek wanted to take him with them, he couldn't. He didn't know how contaminated the dog was, or how long it had yet to live. In 15 minutes, with full fuel tanks, they were back on the road. With the tubines wound up, they barreled full bore down the middle of deserted 210 toward safety.
Finally, with the Sun slanting into Marty's irritated and tired eyes, he could make out a roadblock in the distance at the Potomac bridge. He saw people moving by it, and knew they were safe. By nightfall, they had joined the 80th Division from Richmond, Va. And were out controlling traffic. A stream of military vehicles left the U.S. Army Transportation Corps at Fort Eustis to join them. They were sick and tired, but they didn’t have the luxury of sleep or mourning.
Part of Chapter 2 of War's End