The journey back to base camp was again uneventful. After a few hours travelling they had joined another trail and it had become a bit wider – though still not sufficient to move in anything but single file.
A few hours after that they hit the road that would lead them back to base camp. He took what remained of his company and led them left towards home. Funny, he already thought of this as home even though they’d only spent a couple of nights there. It wasn’t long before they hit another road, transversing the one they were on, and he turned up it, the last leg before they reached the base. They were soon passing through the village, and he let his men rest a while. No doubt they needed another break, whilst the locals would appreciate the extra revenue they’d get selling the troops cold drinks to quench their thirsts. Most of the men soon cradled bottles of beer. They shouldn’t really, they were after all still on duty, but it had been a hard few days so Andrew didn’t begrudge them this little luxury. For himself, he managed to procure a carton of milk. It was a bit watery, which he wasn’t very keen on, but nearer ‘room temperature’ than cold, which he was. He recognized one or two of the kids that were running around the street, excited to see these strangers in their midst again, as those he had given chocolate to a few days before. He started to pull out empty packets, to show that he had nothing for them this time, and was surprised to find that he did in fact still have nearly a full bag of Smarties, buried deep in one of his trouser leg pockets. He handed it to one of the young girls and smiled as she shared them amongst her friends.
After a little rest it was time to push on, and they were soon approaching the camp. He could see people moving about, but it still wasn’t as busy as he had really been expecting. He dismissed the men before heading off to find the captain. They would probably want to get a hot meal inside themselves as soon as possible, as well as using the showers to wash off the dirt and sweat the last few days labours had caked them in.
He found the captain in his office. Hitu, it seemed, had already returned and gone back out to start clearing helicopter LZs, and to set up the ambush sites.
Andrew looked at the map Captain Kergoat was showing him. Hitu had found several less tracks than he had which would account for why he had returned somewhat earlier. Andrew was quite relieved at this. He didn’t want to get a reputation for being slow with his new captain. That would filter back to the other officers and eventually probably his C.O.
“I was going to send you out to do the same thing tomorrow on the trails you’ve found, but we just had a report of a flash flood that hit a small town a few miles along the border from here, and we’re the closest unit. I’m sending you there instead, till more relief workers can get there from the main group and from the Venezuelans themselves.”
“Yes, I think so. These first few hours will be very tough on the victims, so the sooner we can start helping them the better. It is, after all, one of the things we’re designed and trained for.”
Andrew nodded his agreement. This was one of the main reasons he had wanted to join the Force in the first place. He loved the fighting – well, the pitting of his wits against other people anyway, he hadn’t actually had to kill anyone yet and wasn’t sure he’d be exactly thrilled to do so, even to give the orders to others that would result in that outcome – but at heart his desire was to help other people when they needed it, and this was a perfect opportunity to start. He wondered for a second or two if he was being a bit callous. Should he really be excited when an opportunity for him meant suffering and sorrow for others? He dismissed this thought as quickly as it had come. He hadn’t sent the flood, the event wasn’t his fault. He was just ‘lucky’ to be in the right place at the right time to be able to help.
“I’ve already dismissed the men I brought back, sir. They’ll probably be in the showers or eating by now.”
The captain thought for a moment before replying.
“That’s okay, a few minutes here or there won’t make much difference probably. I’d just given orders to everyone left at the camp to load up the trucks and all the food and other supplies we can spare, before you arrived. We got the call literally just a few minutes before you got here.”
Andrew was pleased that their unscheduled break in the village hadn’t really affected how quickly relief could be sent.
“I suggest,” continued the captain, “that you leave one team here to collapse your vehicles and follow on tomorrow, while you and the rest of the company leave now on the trucks.”
Again it was really more of an order that a suggestion. Certainly Andrew took it that way.
“Okay sir, will do. Anything else?”
“No, I think that’s it for now. We can always get you on the radio if I think of anything else, after all. Get going as soon as you can, okay?”
“Okay sir.” Andrew saluted and left the office, hurrying to the first billets to relay the instructions to his men.
“We’ve already heard, sir,” said the sergeant major before he could say anything. “The men loading the trucks told us what’s happened, so we’ve been helping them rather than hitting showers and things.”
“Great,” said Andrew, “do you think we should give the men time to shower and get a hot meal before we head off?”
“Not really, sir. Some of these people might still be trapped and suchlike. A few minutes could make a difference in saving lives – you never know.”
Andrew thought about this for a moment before nodding his agreement. The sergeant major was, of course, correct.
“We need to leave one team behind to collapse the trailers and bring them down in the morning. Do you want to head this up?”
“Not really, sir, if it all the same to you. I’d rather go with the first team and help sort this mess out. I think all of the men would.”
“Okay, no problem, I understand how you feel.” Andrew thought for a few moments before adding “we’ll leave Sgt Flynn behind, with a team from today’s march. It’s Sergeant Johanssen’s turn for some ‘fun’, and the team he had back here will be fresher and more able to work.”
The sergeant major nodded his understanding of these instructions.
“Sounds a good plan to me, sir,” he said. “I’ll relay those orders while you get changed. You might not have time for a shower, but at least you’ll arrive at the scene looking a bit better, if you don’t mind me saying.”
Andrew nodded. He had done his best to maintain his personal hygiene while out in the field, but his clothes were as filthy as the rest of the mens’, and a change would certainly improve his own demeanour as well as helping to build confidence in those he was going to help.
“Good idea, sergeant major,” he said, “in fact an idea that I think you and the rest of the men who returned today and will be going back out again should follow too.” He meant it as an order and wondered that it has come out as a suggestion, just like his captain’s. Still, the sergeant major took it as an order and after giving a respectable salute headed off to relay it to everyone else.
He hurried to his own billet and pulled off his dirty clothes, quickly replacing them with fresh. The process took only moments and he was soon out supervising the loading of the trucks, and his own jeep. The sergeant major was passing him, on his way to get changed himself.
“Sergeant major,” Andrew called after him. The sergeant major stopped and turned towards his lieutenant. “We had better take all the medics with us, replace them with the gunners okay?”
“I knew you’d think of that before we left, already done it, sir.”
Andrew thought about this for a second, and probably longer than he should have because he saw that the sergeant major had noticed. He was grateful, of course, for any time this might save them but those hadn’t been his original orders, which the sergeant major should have followed more precisely. Maybe his own fault, for phrasing his first instructions more as a suggestion than an order. It was something else he’d have to talk to the sergeant major about, when they had time to do so privately. He’d also have to try much harder than he had been to issue commands as what they were, not merely ideas which could easily be superseded by the recipient’s own thoughts on the matter. Andrew was very conciliatory at heart and was finding it hard to issue orders directly.
“I think we’ll also take one of Delta Company’s trucks. We don’t have much in the way supplies but the trucks will be pretty crowded once we get all the men in too. The roads should be dry by now, and easier to navigate, but if we do lose one on the way we don’t want to stop the whole company to fish it out. If we take an extra truck, at least we’ll spread the load out little.”
The sergeant major saluted, and continued on his way to change out of his dirty uniform into a clean one.
Andrew thought he should clear his last idea with the captain, before issuing orders for his own two trucks to be repacked. The captain agreed this was a good idea.
“We can probably fit most of Lieutenant Kopapetu’s men into the remaining truck and his jeep, mine too if necessary, if we need to send them along later to join you.”
He had thought about leaving his own jeep behind, exactly for this reason, but had decided against it. The jeep was far quicker on its own, and this might be useful when they arrived at the disaster scene. He was grateful that the captain hadn’t suggested the same thing. Sorry, ‘ordered’. He did think of all the captain’s outpourings as orders, but wanted to differentiate them in his head. He had been taught how and when to politely voice an alternative or to ‘question’ an order at the Academy but hadn’t yet needed to use this training. He’d bring it up with the captain when the time was right. My, his mental ‘to do’ list was getting quite long and he’d only been serving properly for a short while.
Once outside, he issued his orders for the trucks to be repacked and some of the medical supplies and food to be transferred to one of Delta Company’s trucks. He checked that the keys were in this, so they could start it okay and was relieved to find they were. He didn’t want to waste time hunting through Delta Company’s units to try to find them later, or worse still find that the driver had taken them with him.
Another mental note. It was unlikely that the locals would steal one of these trucks, if nothing else it would be hard to hide it once the Force started looking. Nevertheless, leaving keys in ignitions seemed to be asking for trouble. He’d need to ensure his own drivers always returned them to the hooks provided in the sergeant major’s office. He’d share this thought with Hitu too, when he saw him again.
It was only a quarter hour after he had received his original instructions that most of Charlie Company were pulling away from the camp, the lorries filled with everything they could muster that might be useful and with the men who would hopefully be able to help in the flooded village. He wanted to be driving his jeep himself, but knew he needed to keep both his hands and his head free, in case he needed to react to something.
They had only just passed through the village and turned onto the road that would take them to their destination when trouble hit them. One of the trucks had picked up a sharp stone from the road, and it had flattened the rear offside tyre. Ironically it was Delta Company’s truck this had happened to.
He ordered the other trucks to carry on, and told the Delta Company truck driver to follow on once the tyre was fixed. The truck carried a spare, but the bold show wasn’t that bad and could probably be mended by one of the emergency sealing cans carried for exactly that purpose.
It didn’t take long for his jeep to catch up with the remaining two trucks, and his driver flashed them to indicate he was going to pass, and resume leading the small convoy.