Sunday, August 28, 2011

Thunder in the Morning Calm - Chapter 1

Thunder in the Morning Calm
Zondervan (August 2, 2011)
Don Brown

Chapter 1

Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI)
Suitland, Maryland

The massive Suitland Federal Center, located in suburban Maryland just eight miles southeast of the Pentagon, sprawled across 226 acres of grass, well-manicured shrubbery, and brick-and-mortar federal office buildings.

Reachable by subway off the Washington Metro’s Green Line, yet unknown to most Americans, the center is home to several federal agencies, the most recognizable being the United States Census Bureau.

From the Pentagon, the ride to Suitland by car was scenic, even on a barren mid-November day. Crossing the Potomac River, the government-issued Ford Taurus passed by the Jefferson Memorial and the Tidal Basin, the reflections in the pools and basins of Washington’s great monuments a reminder of the great force for freedom that America had been, still is, and, hopefully, will remain.

But in a few short minutes, the images of grandeur disappeared as the Taurus left behind the glamorous buildings of government and drove into the crime-infested southeast sector of the city, past the Washington Navy Yard to the right and slumlord government housing to the left.

In the front passenger seat, Lieutenant Commander Gunner McCormick, United States Navy, checked his watch. They had departed the Pentagon thirty minutes after the end of rush hour, with plenty of time to spare, unless one of those notoriously inconvenient Washington-area fender benders paralyzed traffic.

“We’ve got a few minutes, sir,” said the senior chief petty officer driving the Taurus. “Be happy to stop and buy you a coffee.”

“Sounds great, Senior Chief,” the commander said. “I could use the caffeine. Come to think of it, I could use a smoke.” He checked his watch again. “But I’d rather be early than take any chances. How about on the way back I buy you a coffee or, better yet, maybe something a little more substantial.”

“That’ll work,” the senior chief said, sporting a sly grin as the Taurus rolled east across the Pennsylvania Avenue bridge spanning the Anacostia River.

Not much was said for the rest of the trip as the commander gathered his thoughts. Three days ago, they plucked him off his ship in the Pacific, flew him to Hawaii, then to San Diego, and then to the Pentagon for one day. And now they were driving him over to Suitland, to the Office of Naval Intelligence, for a top-secret meeting about a top-secret subject. He still had no clue why he had been called.

His boss at sea, Rear Admiral James S. Hampton Jr., had not been too happy about it. But then, Admiral Hampton had not been happy about much lately. Gunner thought the admiral had been on his case over just about anything and everything. He had no idea what was bothering him. Who knew? He’d learned long ago that in the Navy, you don’t second-guess the orders of your superiors. Half those orders never made sense anyway. And you don’t try to read officers’ minds. Flag officers, especially, could change their minds as quickly as the wind shifts directions. So what was the point?

They crossed the Maryland state line into Prince George’s County. They made a right and then a left on Branch and Alabama Avenues, then stayed to the right for the final stretch along Suitland Road Southeast. As they approached Gate 1, the driver slowed down, then turned in. After presenting their credentials, they drove onto the grounds of Suitland Federal Center. The road dead-ended at Swan Road, the main corridor within the center. Most of the signs pointed to the left, toward the buildings of the giant US Census Bureau. But the senior chief clicked on the right-turn signal and made a sharp right turn.

A moment later, they reached Gate 9, with its armed Marine Corps guards. A Marine staff sergeant snapped to attention and shot a sharp salute.

“Good morning, sir,” the sergeant said. “May I help you?”

“I’ve got a meeting with the admiral at ONI,” Gunner said, referring to the Office of Naval Intelligence.

“Aye, aye, sir,” the sergeant said. “Your identification and orders, please.”

“Senior Chief,” the commander said, “show the sergeant our papers.”

“Aye, sir.” The senior chief passed the orders out the window.

The sergeant studied the papers, then passed them back. He shot another perfectly stiff salute with precision-like bearing. “You may proceed through the gate. ONI is in the building straight ahead. The duty officer is awaiting your arrival, Commander, and will escort you to the admiral’s spaces.”

“Thank you, Sergeant,” Gunner replied, and the Taurus rolled through Gate 9 past two other Marine guards and parked near the National Maritime Intelligence Center building.

Gunner stepped through the double doors into the marble-floored foyer. Flanking the entryway to the left was the flag of the United States. To the right was the US Navy flag.

“Lieutenant Commander McCormick?” A Navy lieutenant smiled and extended her hand. The gold cord hanging from her left epaulette designated her as an aide to an admiral.

“That’s me. My friends call me Gunner.”

“Yes, I’ve heard.” Hers was a dimple-accentuated smile. “I’m Lieutenant Mary Jefferies.”

“You’re the admiral’s aide?”

“That’s right.”

“Nice to meet you, Lieutenant.” He released her handshake.

“You too, Commander. I’ll take you up to the conference room on the sixth deck. We have some background information for you to read. Then the admiral and I will brief you.”

“Excellent,” Gunner said and followed her onto the elevator. “But you can call me Gunner if you’d like.”

Lieutenant Jefferies punched a button and the elevator lifted quickly to the sixth floor — the sixth deck — where the doors parted and Jefferies stepped into the hallway just ahead of Gunner.

“Right this way,” Jefferies said, holding her hand out to the left.

They walked down to the end of the long hallway. Jefferies stopped in front of a door, punched a combination lock, and pushed open the door to a windowless rectangular conference room, complete with table and chairs. In the middle of the long table was an 8-by-10-inch envelope with the words TOP SECRET in red.

“In the envelope you’ll find your orders, Commander, along with general background on the political and military situation surrounding your next assignment. I’ll leave you here to go over the material. I’ll be back in a few minutes to let you know when the admiral will be ready.”

“Excellent,” he said, “but you can call me Gunner.”

Jefferies beamed at him. “Very persistent, I see. Just like your dossier says.”

“You’ve read my dossier?”

“Would you expect otherwise?”

“I think you’re bluffing, Lieutenant. You don’t have an actual dossier on me.”

“Oh, I’m bluffing, am I?” She raised one eyebrow.

“So just what about me have you read?”

“Hmm. Let’s see what I can recall. Graduated from Virginia Tech. Four-year backup quarterback on the football team, but didn’t play much. You got to carry a clipboard and wear a headset and send in plays to the starter.”

“Ooh, that hurt.”

“Did it now?” She smiled at him. “You got tired of not seeing any action, so you joined the Navy.”

“I just want you to know I’m in better shape now than I was when I played on the football team. We had a wimpy strength-and-conditioning coach. The guy didn’t know how to teach power lifting. An hour a day on weights now does more than two hours in the gym back then.”

“Okay. Let’s see. You attended Officer Candidate School in Newport, and after OCS, you got picked up for intel, where you finished, unimpressively I might add, in the middle of your class at Dam Neck.”

“Unimpressively? Hey, I was a football jock! At least I passed.”

“Then you got yourself assigned to a Cruiser Destroyer Group, where you met your surface warfare obligations. Again bored, you got out of the Navy. Took a high-paying job as a commodities analyst in New York. But then you got bored with that too.”

“What can I say?” Gunner quipped. “I get bored easily.”

“Yes, of course you do. This time you tried something a little less boring. You returned to active duty from the reserves and volunteered as an intel officer attached to a SEAL unit in Afghanistan.”

Gunner shrugged. “I flipped on the TV one morning and saw the commercial that said, ‘The Navy — it’s not just a job. It’s an adventure.’ Guess I missed that the first time.”

“You certainly made it an adventure the second time, Commander. Let’s see. What did it say? While attached to the SEALs, you jumped in a hole, grabbed a live grenade tossed in by the enemy, and tossed it out half a second before it exploded, saving the life of the injured Marine waiting to be medevaced out. You were cited for heroism and bravery and awarded the Navy Cross.”

“You’re embarrassing me, Lieutenant. Why do you bring this up?”

“You’re the one who said I hadn’t read your dossier. Just proving I did my homework.”

“I would expect nothing less.”

“Well, then, I’m sure you know the admiral will expect you to have these papers read prior to your meeting.”

“That your way of telling me to shut up and get to work?” He chuckled.

“That is correct,” she said. She opened the door to step out, then turned back. “I hope you will find a suitable level of excitement there.”

“You did nail me.”

She tried suppressing a smile but failed. “I’ll see you in a few minutes, sir.” She stepped out of the room and the door closed behind her.

Gunner sat down. Time to get to work. He opened the envelope and spread its contents on the table.
Date: November 17

From: Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Information Dominance (N2/N6) and Director of Naval Intelligence (DNI)

To: LCDR Chris-tianson Pendleton McCormick, USN, Staff Intelligence Officer, Carrier Strike Group Ten

Subj: Initial Intelligence Briefing Carrier Strike Group Ten Yellow Sea Deployment

Classification: TOP SECRET

1. Due to increasing hostilities on the Korean Peninsula, the Republic of Korea has requested joint naval exercises with the United States Navy in the Yellow Sea as a show of unity, solidarity, and force between the US and the ROK to deter possible aggression from North Korea.

2. The National Command Authority has ordered Carrier Strike Group Ten (USS Harry S. Truman Battle Group) into the Yellow Sea to conduct joint naval exercises with the ROK Navy. Commander Strike Group Ten shall be informed of these orders imminently.

3. As senior intelligence officer for the Strike Group, the purpose of this communiqué is to brief you on (a) the historical and political situation of the conflict as relevant to the Strike Group’s mission; (b) the positioning of North Korean shore batteries that may pose a threat to the Strike Group; and (c) the positioning of North Korean naval and air forces that are a potential threat to United States naval forces.

4. A summary of the historical and political background is as follows:



In 1910, Japan attacked and conquered Korea. The brutal military occupation ended more than one thousand years of Korea’s sovereignty as a nation and was a major source of shame to Koreans.

Thirty-five years later, Japan lost Korea in World War II. Just as Europe was divided along the “Iron Curtain,” Korea was divided along the 38th parallel into the American-backed Republic of Korea in the south (ROK) and the Communist-backed Democratic -People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) in the north. The DPRK was led by a young rebel and disciple of Joseph Stalin named Kim Il-sung.

In 1950, Kim Il-sung invaded the South to unify the country. North Korean Communist forces rapidly drove south, gaining control of almost the entire country before American and United Nations forces, under General Douglas MacArthur, executed a daring amphibious landing at Inchon, which decapitated the Communist supply lines into the South.

After Inchon, the military pendulum swung to the West. American forces pushed the Communists back, driving them back into North.

Korea — their goal to obliterate the dictatorial regime in Pyongyang. But the surprise entry of overwhelming Communist Chinese forces secretly crossing the border into North Korea changed the dynamic of the war. The US and Korean forces that had advanced north toward the Yalu River border with China on the western side of the peninsula were driven back by the surprise entry of Chinese soldiers, who had crossed secretly into Korea. On the eastern side of the peninsula, Chinese forces attacked the First Marine Division commanded by Major General O. P. Smith near the Chosin Reservoir on their push north. Surprised and surrounded by Chinese forces outnumbering it eight-to-one, the division, fighting in subzero conditions, rallied around General Smith and battled through Chinese fortifications, inflicting mortal damage to the enemy before returning south. Many have said that the Battle of Chosin Reservoir was the Marines’ finest hour.

In 1953, after three years of fighting, Korea remained divided in almost exactly the same place it had been divided before the war began.

The 38th parallel.

The armistice kept the two heavily armed warring armies separated, 2,500 yards apart, by a no-man’s land now known as the “Demilitarized Zone,” the DMZ.

As many as four million -people died in the Korean War, which had some of the most brutal warfare the world has ever known. The US dropped nearly one million gallons of napalm on North Korea. Eighteen of twenty-two major cities in the North were at least half obliterated.

While most -people think the war ended almost sixty years ago, there never was a peace treaty. More than 21,000 days later, the long cease-fire continues.

North Korea remains the most oppressive regime on the planet. Although intelligence is somewhat sketchy, best evidence from eyewitness reports suggests that North Korea maintains several dozen forced-labor prison camps, reserved primarily for political dissidents who dare to challenge the regime. These camps have been used over the years to dissuade political opposition.

Even to this day, rumors have circulated and circumstantial evidence from the North has suggested that North Korea may be holding a few elderly American prisoners never returned from the war.

“What?” Gunner mumbled aloud. He rubbed his eyes and reread the last paragraph.

Even to this day, rumors have circulated and circumstantial evidence from the North has suggested that North Korea may be holding a few elderly American prisoners never returned from the war.

“I can’t believe this.” He looked back at the communiqué.
Due to the highly sensitive political nature surrounding enforcement of the tenuous nature of the armistice, the US has been unable to confirm or deny the validity of such rumors.
“What the heck is that supposed to mean . . . ‘Unable to confirm or deny’?”

A knock on the door. Gunner heard someone working the combination lock, then the door opened. Lieutenant Jefferies was standing alone in the passageway. “The admiral is ready for you now, Commander. If you will come with me, please.”

Gunner stood, grabbed the folder, and joined Lieutenant Jefferies out in the hall. His briefing with the admiral would be interesting. But he knew that nothing the admiral could say would erase the idea growing in his mind.

American Marines could be alive in North Korea. And he intended to find them and bring them home.

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