UPA (Utanian Press Agency)
Release: March 25, 301 AP.

Utanian men prepare to go to Dignania - Part II

Zeitgeist Magazine reporter Julius Estobar has been selected by the Utanian Armed Forces HQ to join D Platoon of the 16th Company in III Brigade on their trip to Dignania, to report the reaction of the men, and their expectations. This is his second report.

Reluctantly, the 6500 men of Heavy Infantry III Brigade returned from leave on Wednesday afternoon and assembled in the yard of the Charleston Naval Base at 1400hrs. They had come from a good 30 hours with their families, some celebrating their luck at being chosen to go to Dignania and some mourning leaving their wives and children.

The entire brigade assembled in the assembling yard, while the enormous transport ships, the UDK Isova and UDK Bathenne, sat not more than 600 metres away, with hundreds of men loading supplies and equipment into the cargo bays of their enormous ships. Each was at least 300m long. The Brigade commander, Brigadier Ernst Taramier addressed the assembled masses as one total unit. He told them that their task was grave, but vital to the success of the Dignanian truce, essential to peace in Dignania. He told them they would face dangers they had been trained for, and they should remember every inch of their learning, and apply the same to Dignania.

Yes, he said, Utanian Peacekeepers have been bombed and shot at. Yes, he told them, Utanian Peacekeepers were required to shoot soldiers of either side should they run checkpoints, or should armed rebel soldiers be found in demilitarized zones. They were soldiers, and this was their duty to the Utanian nation and the Utanian people. He then ordered them to board the two transport ships according to their Company commander's instructions.

Captain Warton, 16th Company commander, told them men of B platoon, they were assigned to UDK Bathenne Level 3, dormitory rooms 325. They waited patiently their turn to board the gang-plank, of which there was five to board the ship. There was room for thirty-six men in the room, six rows of two triple-decker bunks, plus locker storage at the head of their beds. It was a small room, but there was little complaining. There would be another hundred-plus such rooms aboard this ship.

The men were told lights were out at 2100hrs, and this included me. Until that moment, while the men of B platoon played cards, cleaned rifles or discussed their time at home, I went topside to view the orchestra of cranes, forklifts, and vehicles boarding the UDK Bathenne. Her cargo bay doors at the front were open, and I could see all manner of trucks, jeeps and field artillery being loaded. (Yes, field artillery - the "Heavy" in Heavy Infantry III Brigade refers to three companies of artillery and two companies of mechanised infantry - twenty-six armoured vehicles, incl. six light tanks.)

The ship had set sail that Wednesday night, sometime early in the morning, before the men and I were ordered to rise at 0600. There was said to be 12 mess halls aboard this ship, each capable of serving 150 men in each, thus, there was two shifts for meals. While meals were not much of a challenge, the close quarters and lack of space aboard the ships was enough to send any man mad. There was only so much deck space, about 13,000 sq.m, of which large chunks were occupied by anti-aircraft defences, the bridge and smokestacks. The 630m perimeter of the ship would be crowded by, say, 630 men while twelve companies (~1500 men) were in the mess halls receiving instruction, orders or otherwise. Where would the remaining ~870 men aboard this ship go? That was the challenge. They not only had to eat in shifts, they had to take in sunshine in shifts, spend time in the three rec' halls in shifts, visit the toilets in shifts (there was only, I was told, a hundred cubicles aboard the ship), and swim in the single 25m x 20m swimming pool in shifts. Incidentally, the pool had a three foot lip between the water and the edge to accommodate rough seas, apparently.

Yet, despite this, and the shocking heat in this tin can, I heard no complaints, except in rough seas (Thursday evening). For the son of a wealthy, upper-class Luka doctor, this deprivation was too much to bear - but, for the soldiers of the Heavy Infantry III Brigade, it is a minor inconvenience.

Unfortunately (for me), the journey would be thirteen days (12,000 km at 20kt), six of which would be crossing the rough Cisgronkian Ocean, which may add a full-day to our journey due to rough seas. During those six days, the only sign of life would be the Isova, about 1,000 metres away, and two frigates and a destroyer (so much for the President's prediction of three helicopter frigates!). Five lonely ships crossing four thousand kilometers of ocean. Occasionally, there had been an island, or even an archipelago, that would keep us entertained for an hour or two before it disappeared from view. Better yet, freighters could be seen passing on the horizon. (All shipping was tactfully avoided, I was told, by a 20km wide berth, being the range of medium range sea-to-sea missiles, and shipping was warned 200km in advance to avoid our five-ship fleet.)

It is Sunday morning as I write, about 0300hrs. According to Rear Admiral Bennett, escort fleet commander, whom I briefly met earlier, we were not even half-way across the ocean, and the coast of UTFN was at least three more days away.

Meanwhile, I heard that the advance party of the 3rd Infantry Regiment who were flown to Dignania have disembarked and are currently patrolling a demilitarized zone that I cannot disclose. When the bulk of the Brigade gets to Dignania, the forces will have already evacuated their zones, and the lines of truce will be being established. Will there, I ponder, be anything left for the men of the III Brigade?

©UPA, 301 AP.

©Mike Ham, 2001. All rights reserved. No reproduction without, at least, tacit approval. ;-)