Camouflage clad soldiers had been scurrying all over the compound since well before dawn. A detail of men had been woken up and sent down to the airfield in Astana in the early morning before the aircraft arrived and now were beginning to trickle back in several deuce and a half trucks acquired on the local market.
Deckard observed the scene for a moment before moving on. His second in command, Djokovic, was supervising the equipment breakdown and the issue to the troops. After signing for the pallets and moving them into the warehouse, the platoon that had been detailed began breaking down the shipping containers.
Cracking open the metal frame door, he watched another platoon literally running back from the range. A massive front was moving in from the west. A Central Asian sandstorm that would literally turn broad daylight into a bizarre kind of twilight. In their hands were the brand new AK-103 rifles that they had been out zeroing and grouping with until the sandstorm moved in.
The AK-103 was chambered for the same 7.62×39 round as its predecessor but included a folding stock, flash suppressor, and had the wooden furniture replaced with a composite plastic. The fore grip heat guard was also replaced with a rail system, and rifles would soon be fitted with the holographic reflex sights that had arrived.
Deckard made a mental note to get a field report on the new rifles from the platoon sergeants in order to ensure that the rifles and ammunition were functioning properly. Turning back inside, he was glad the contractors had finished repairing the roof because in a few minutes a wall of sand would be washing over the entire compound.
As the pallets were broken down, the troops sorted the equipment out item by item and stowed them in green kit bags. Once everything was broken down and accounted for, each soldier would be issued one of the kit bags, which would contain his four uniforms, two woodland and two desert, spare AK and Glock magazines, M-23 chest rig, jungle and mountain boots, compass, boonie caps, t-shirts, socks, poncho, poncho liner, rifle sling, pistol holster, camelbak water bladder, Ka-Bar fighting knife, rucksack, and a few other odds and ends, all of which they would sign for from the new quartermaster.
Dastan had been in Alpha Company until last week when he broke his ankle during morning physical training, a Sambo match that got a little too heated, from what he had heard. Deckard had the injured Kazakh mercenary driven into the capital for medical treatment, even while his platoon sergeant argued that it was his own fault that he got hurt. But he knew there was a perfect job opening for a broke dick soldier and kept him around.
Dastan had just been volunteered to be the new supply sergeant.
With this shipment also came most of the mortar systems, some of the sniper systems, and many of the grenades he had ordered. The PKM machine guns were due in next week, and hopefully the rest of it wouldn’t be far behind.
Most of the instructors and translators he had hired were already in London signing contracts and non-disclosure agreements with a Samruk legal representative and would start filtering in within a few days. Everything was coming along nicely.
Just in time to have the rug pulled out from under your feet, Deckard thought.
* * *
“Where is Adam?”
“Fucking dead hookers, for all I know.”
“Good to see you too, Frank.”
“What do you go by these days? Brown? Roberts?”
“O’Brien,” Adam said, walking up behind the two. “Head of operations for Samruk International.”
The ground crew was surrounding the 737 out of London, preparing for refueling while the passengers walked down the movable stairs pushed up to the side of the aircraft. Dozens of instructors had been brought in to conduct more advanced training with the Samruk troopers; a few had been hired full time to fill specialized positions. Two of those were the black bag operatives, Adam and Frank.
“I don’t actually maintain any official title that I’m aware of.”
“So what kind of operation are you running here?” Frank asked. The ex-Ranger was almost as wide as he was tall.
“Your favorite kind; I’m making it up as I go along.”
“I’ve got a couple guys I want you to train as technical surveillance specialists.”
“That all?” Adam seemed skeptical.
“No, I’ll brief you on extracurricular activities later.”
“I thought so.”
The two intel and recon boys threw their gear bags on the back of one of the deuce and half trucks before climbing up the tailgate. Both were highly talented operators, and Deckard happened to know that both needed the money, which was substantial, with him offering eight hundred to twelve hundred dollars a day of Samruk’s money, depending on the experience level of the operator. Bonuses would be based on tangible improvements in the mercenaries they would be training.
Deckard squinted, looking across the tarmac at two other trainers heading towards one of the other trucks. One of them looked like the largest Rastafarian in the world, standing at about six foot four with dreadlocks and a beard. He had one load out bag rolling on wheels in one hand and a cooler also on wheels in the other. Had to be a full of beer, Deckard thought, shaking his head. Only in the SEAL teams do you find people like Charles Rochenoire.
The shorter man next to him was Kurt Jager, a former German GSG-9 counter terrorist operative. Both men were on loan to Deckard from GUARD, an American based private military corporation.
A few dozen other trainers carried their bags to the awaiting trucks, some of them seconded to Samruk via subcontract from other PMCs, while some were strictly freelancers that he had crossed paths with in the past or knew by reputation. A few months with these guys, and Samruk International would be up to par with other elite light infantry units, such as US Army Rangers, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, and British Royal Marines. If Deckard had his way, Samruk would even surpass those units in a few key areas.
Now that the trainers were here, Deckard could focus on other priorities.
The keyloggers he had installed in the Samruk Corporate offices had begun dumping data into his email account on regular intervals, and what they had revealed was interesting to say the least.
* * *
The translator looked terrified as he literally watched a black man get red in the face.
“Do it the way I taught you!” Charles Rochenoire screamed, while grabbing the Kazakh soldier by his collar and lifting him off the ground.
The Kazakh translator was barely out of his teens when Deckard had found him on monsterjobs.com and contracted him to translate for his military trainers. For the first time in his life the young man was thankful his parents made him learn their mother language, even though they lived in San Diego.
Omar translated as quickly as he could into Kazakh, not wanting to incur the wrath of the ex-SEAL.
The Kazakh mercenary seemed to get the point before he was finished. Pulling out a fresh magazine from his chest rig, the Kazakh turned the magazine sideways, using it to depress the magazine release on his AK and pushing forward, unseating and dropping the empty magazine to the ground. Now he stuck the fresh one into the magazine well and rocked it backwards until it locked into place. Chambering the first round, he began laying down a suppressive fire while his buddy bounded forward to the next wooden barricade.
“Better,” Rochenoire belted out, a rare word of encouragement.
It was the contractors’ first day out on the range with their new charges, and so far they had been impressed. The Kazakh mercenaries were good, they just needed some polishing before moving on to more advanced material.
Jager was alongside the other Kazakh, yelling at him while they completed the stress range they had set up. Rochenoire couldn’t help but think that Jager sounded like some kind of Reich’s marshal, yelling with his German accent. Finally the Kazakh got into the prone and began sending rounds downrange into targets, cueing in Rochenoire’s new protege that it was time for him to move.
“Get up! Get off your ass, let’s go!”
Omar snapped to attention, echoing the words in Russian.
* * *
It was nice to be working with military-grade explosives for a change.
The stuff he usually got left scars.
The table was covered with explosives and different types of charges he had constructed the night before. The Kazakh’s had seemed apprehensive at first, not so much about working with explosives but about working with the Englishman who was to serve as their instructor.
Richie looked ten years older then he actually was, a combination of hard living and cheap cigarettes taking their toll. He hadn’t spent a single day in the military, but the Kazakh’s were quickly learning that he definitely knew what he was talking about.
“And this?” he said, pointing to an item on the table.
“PETN!” someone shouted.
“Good.” He pointed to another.
“TNT!” several shouted. They were starting to like this.
“What about that one?”
“All right then.”
Richie grabbed an initiation system, twin green wires running from it and out onto the steppe.
“Direct your attention to the auto,” he said, pointing to the rusting car hulk about three hundred meters out. The translator began relaying his instructions, but before he could finish, Richie had twisted and pulled the pins on the initiation system.
The car exploded, a shock wave kicking up dust in all directions. Richie frowned as something come loose during the explosion. He dodged to the side at the last moment, as the spinning car door came rolling end over end right past him.
“That is why you use ‘P’ in your demolition formula,” he announced, shrugging off the near miss. “’P’ for Plenty.”
The Brit was familiar with both military and improvised explosives. The improvised part began when he was a young man blowing open safes in and around London. He had gotten his hands on military demo in places like Columbia and Liberia over the years, but truth be told, a fair amount of improvisation was used there as well. Typically, you don’t use anti-tank mines to bring down a bridge.
He would train the Samruk mercenaries on basic demolitions, to include breaching doorways and destroying enemy equipment. He would also spend extra time with a few who showed particular interest or talent, showing them everything from steel cutting charges to remote detonators, home made explosives, and more.
“Now direct your attention to the paper targets out at one hundred meters.”
The Kazakhs cringed, not knowing what shrapnel would come flying their way this time.
“If things go pear shaped you have to be ready to make a field expedient claymore mine. It can be built from a coffee can with some explosives, and scrap metal or nails or both as projectiles.”
Richie picked up another initiation system, the green wires leading out towards the targets in the distance.
“Now watch this.”
* * *
“Too slow. Push.”
The Kazakh mortar section looked at the American with puzzled expressions.
Mendez moved his palms up and down in International Sign Language.
The Kazakh troops began doing pushups while Mendez lit up another Marlboro. Most of them had never seen a mortar tube before, but they were catching on fast. It was just a matter of saturation and building muscle memory.
“One round, HE quick,” Mendez bellowed. “Deflection: two-six-five-two. Charge: six. Elevation: one-zero-six-two.”
The 82mm gun crews scrambled to their individual tubes. The gun bunnies began dialing the data into their gun sights and realigning the mortar tubes on the aiming stakes stuck into the dirt behind him.
“Bubbles up! Fifteen seconds!” Mendez yelled, the translator repeating a little more sheepishly.
In the end he was to train the section on both 82mm and 60mm mortars, consisting of three tubes each. At the moment he would be running the fire direction center, or FDC, himself, but it was imperative to get gunners all the way up to team leaders trained to proficiency. He already had his eye on a former Field Artillery officer, in the ranks, to take charge when he was finished with them.
Mendez walked from tube to tube, looking down the sights with his good eye. The other had been taken out in Ramadi several years ago, leading to him being medically discharged from the Army. He had been a Special Forces Weapons Sergeant at the time and a mortar man in 10th Mountain Division before that. Thankfully, someone somewhere threw his name out there when contracts for Samruk International opened up.
“You aligned your sights on the wrong side of the aiming stake,” he sighed. “Push.”
* * *
“Steady, aim, breath, squeeze,” Piet whispered. “You can’t go wrong.”
It was a ghost town.
Deckard called it his own Detroit. He had bought it for pennies on the dollar, or the tenge, as it was. Not far south of Astana, it was a sprawling, abandoned city, including government buildings, factories, residential areas, and even a school that had been picked clean by looters and ravaged by the elements since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Perfect for urban combat training.
The Kazakh behind the Remington-made sniper rifle was a short stubby young trooper with a round face. He was taking to the South African’s training rather well. Despite some experience with the Russian Dragunov, he was already in love with the American-made bolt action rifle.
Infiltrating into the second story of the old factory under the cover of darkness, the Kazakh sniper had spent the rest of the night constructing his urban hide site. An old table had been scavenged to use as a shooting platform, his poncho hung behind him to prevent his body from silhouetting against the wall, and old curtains had been tacked over the window with a ragged hole slashed in the middle that was just wide enough to use as a loophole.
Nikita, along with the other sniper trainees, had come to respect the man they only knew as Piet. The truth was, no one seemed to know much more about him, and for the moment, no one was asking. He never raised his voice, like some of the other instructors; in fact he seemed to be trying to get them to relax and focus only on the task at hand. Young enough to be his son, Nikita also respected the man’s seniority. It was clear that he had been soldiering for a very long time.
“Take your time. Fire when ready.”
The Kazakh only understood about half the words he was saying, but somehow they were able to communicate. In only a week, Piet had built strong enough rapport with the men that he really only needed an interpreter during the classroom portion of their training.
On paper, the shot seemed easy, but in practice it was another matter. From the hide site he had to fire across two streets- each street lined with buildings that acted as a wind tunnel- an urban valley, then between several other buildings, and hit the steel target propped up in a second story window five hundred meters away.
Nikita settled into position, taking slow shallow breaths. Soon he was in almost a meditative state, focused on nothing but his target. Slowly he took the slack out of the trigger, the muzzle blast taking them both by surprise. He continued to look through his scope, but with the curtains waving back and forth, he couldn’t see if he had hit the target or not.
Lowering his binoculars, Piet turned away from one of the other windows.
“Five o’ clock, three inches,” Piet said, drawing a human shaped target on the table with a pencil and showing the sniper where he had hit. The 7.62 round had struck the target three inches from the center of the target at the five o’ clock position.
“That’s a kill.”