Editor’s note: This short piece of fiction takes the form of an email sent home from a deployed service member twenty years into the future, as the US military continues to pursue its objectives in a long war.
From: Wynter, Harold M CPT USA CJSOIATF
Sent: Monday, February 02, 2037 4:53 AM
To: “Clark Wynter” <email@example.com>
Subject: RE: Alex Graduated Last Week. How’s Deployment?
Sorry I couldn’t respond to your email sooner, but I’ve been completely swamped with staff work. I know you’ve been worried about me since I deployed, especially because of Uncle Bob, but remember, my job is way different than his was, and the war itself is so different. We don’t fight that way anymore. I just wanted to reassure you that I’m safe and we’re winning.
Really, it’s not so bad out here. I barely even notice when the alarm goes off or the distant thud of an attack anymore. Anyway, we’re way too busy in the operations center to worry about what’s going on outside the walls. During the PMB (Progress/Metrics Brief) yesterday, my boss actually mentioned that being on the FOB here is safer than living in 13 of the 20 largest cities back home.
My base is technically called CJSOIATF-FOBEC (Combined Joint Special Operations Inter-Agency Task Force – Forward Operating Base Eagle Claw…you know the military and its acronyms). We just call it “the Castle.” The walls are literally impenetrable. Even if the enemy could get past the moat, neither a tank main gun round nor a truck full of explosives could breach them — although they keep trying. Our active defense measures will stop an enemy UAS or mortar round before it ever reaches the perimeter. 40 meters high, 40 meters thick, and 18 miles in circumference — the walls are how it gets its nickname. I haven’t been to any of the others, but supposedly all 12 of them around the country are exactly the same. Much safer than those small outposts from the old days that were so close to the population centers.
The few people with the most dangerous job are the Marines manning the wall in the deadspace not covered by our sensor system. They complain about the 140-pound weight of their bubble armor, but it’ll stop any round short of a .50 Cal. There’s only been one serious incident ever at the Castle, something like 3 years ago, and a top-down investigation and systematic firing of leadership ensured that it would never happen again.
So there really is no need to worry about me, OK? (Honestly, the biggest thing I worry about is the foreigners who work in the restaurants and mall on base, but I know they’re thoroughly vetted.)
I know most people back home are skeptical when they hear the generals say it’s only a matter of time before we break the terrorists’ backs. But with my job as Assistant Deputy Effects Metrician, I know firsthand that our kinetic strikes are having a positive effect. I know we’re winning. In the past four months we’ve raised our daily number of UAS sorties by 16%, increased our kill rate from 76 to 84%, and reduced civilian casualties by 8%. By every metric, we’re making progress.
It’s tough to get metrics on the sentiment of the local populace, since only a handful of manned missions have ventured beyond the walls recently, usually to recover downed air assets, and our contractors train the local security forces on the FOB. Luckily we have good data from other sources. My team analyzes news feeds, social media, etc., and the data shows that between 61 and 72% of the population supports the democratic solution that we’re advocating for their country.
It’s no wonder past generations of warfighters had trouble defeating insurgencies. They simply didn’t have the technology or the analytical tools we do now. Maybe it’s more complicated than that, but it seems so obvious to us. Our algorithms can predict exactly when and where specific assets will be needed based on media and communications analysis, and dispatch them to deal with the situation, all with virtually no human involvement other than command approval from back in the states.
There’s one guy, a grunt who served here like 20 years ago, got out, and came back in. He’s like a gruff character out of an old Clint Eastwood movie. Has this big, kind of macho persona, lifts weights in the gym constantly. He reads a lot of novels, too, which probably explains some of his more oddball traits. He keeps saying we’ve got it all wrong, that we stay cooped up in comfort behind our walls while the world goes on in spite of us right outside. He’s got this thing about honor — he thinks the enemy will never submit to an army that’s too scared to fight them face-to-face. Most people just kind of roll their eyes when he goes off, but he actually said during a briefing last week that if you’re prepared to kill but not to die, it’s not war, it’s murder. I don’t think the command group will be asking him back in the TOC anytime soon.
People are pretty excited about this new technology we’re about to get. It’s been held up in the acquisition process for a few years, but once it’s fielded it’ll be a game-changer. I can’t really discuss the details because they’re classified. Until then we just have to hold steady with what we’re doing. Once we have it, we can finally put an end to this little war. Will be nice to get back to training for the real wars!
Anyway, gotta run. Just wanted to tell you a bit about how things are going. Sorry again for taking so long to reply. I can’t wait to see everyone in a few months. Tell Alex I said congrats and tell Mom I said hi!
Assistant Deputy Effects Metrician
CJSOIATF-FOB Eagle Claw
Image credit: 34th Combat Aviation Brigade
Great to see thought provocative short fiction being published here!
Capt. Topshe keep it up!
About the story:
Like the format of an in-universe document. Lots of great ways to play with that (de-classified reports, interviews, etc…). Keep bring up the period jargons and slangs (like the Castle). Two small suggestions:
1) make any needed explanation more accidental than descriptive (i.e. “Dad, I’m in the Castle now. I know mom is so worried that she will try to look it up on the net LOL. Tell her to look for ‘CJSOIATF-FOBEC’ or ‘Combined Joint Special Operations Inter-Agency Task Force – Forward Operating Base Eagle Claw’. But there is NO WAY one of us call it like that.”)
2) Try to get brand new things and make it look like old (i.e. “The guy reminds me the dude of that pretty old super-hero movie ‘Logan’. Do you remember it?”)
About the ideas in the story:
Strong large static defenses can be useful in troubled regions where the mission is to maintain a presence. Castle is absolutely a great comparison, btw. But like historical castles there is a big caveat: if its defenses solely protects the warriors then the threatened general population becomes alienated and on the long run the locals are more inclined to deal with the OpFor than with those in the castle (as a survival need). Historically the alienation has been mitigated in Medieval times by the creation of outer walls, inner walls, and the keep. In times of crisis the whole nearby population was accepted in the outer parts of the castle to be protected by the local warriors until the threat has passed. Another key part was the always make trade with local merchants, which created a symbiotic existence of the castle and the community. The understanding that protection was readily available couple the continuous trade with local merchants made the castle indispensable part of the general community. When both trade and defense disappeared (think of 1700s-1800s fortresses and castles, which were more to separate and defend nobles than defend the local population and goods would usually come from specific places instead of nearby community) then mistrust skyrocketed and lead to conflict between those “inside the walls” and those outside it.
This was a great piece of short fiction that packed a lot into just the right format. As much as the Army in me loathes staying it, I was not surprised to see a Marine captain’s name on it. Being smaller and with a better institutional memory than the Army, the Corps has had lessons burned into it from places like Fallujah and Sangin (names seemingly ever present in the news now) that I worry the Army will not maintain.
Having men like SECDEF Mattis and National Security Adviser McMaster in influential positions will hopefully help offset this in all of the services, not just the Army. That said, the author’s story underscores the importance of not falling into the trap of throwing away the hard-learned lessons of our GWOT experiences to rebuild our services in a way resembling the “Big Five”/Fulda Gap refocus in the post-Vietnam era. Names like the Korengal Valley, Tal Afar and COP Keating should occupy a similar place in the Army’s lore- effective engagement with the people will never be effectively supplanted by technology. Hopefully that hard-bitten NCO who both reads and remembers will not really be the outlier.
Thanks to the author and to CPT Miraldi for this valuable forum.
Outstanding and enlightening. Like science fiction has done for generations, this type of narrative allows freedom in countless domains. We get a glimpse of the future while we are obliged to consider our past which is in reality, our present day. Further, we begin to see how our contemporary strategies are not so different than our ancient.
With little effort, this marvelous narrative window into the future opens even greater philosophical vistas. Imagine the possibilities of “Hey Dad, take a look at the attachment I enclosed…” providing an entry into almost any new direction. Again, a simply brilliant method of entering the exact deep end of the relevance pool without the dry prelude of lecture and background. The simplistic elegance will entice far more readers and leave them, as I am, waiting for the next e-mail.
Bravo Zulu Jason