Operation Ember Dawn

March 22, 2012
By , Cheswick, PA
The canopy closed overhead, cutting off the last gust of wind that blew across the deck of the USS Aeolus. Ensign Elijah Abrams had been asleep only twenty five minutes earlier three levels below the flight surface on which his F-18 Hornet now rested. Being able to cut an already short amount of sleep even shorter was a necessary skill to marine airmen such as Abrams. He found himself in his flight suit, fed, and listening bleary eyed to Commander Franklin Horne in the briefings room.
The roars of the Osprey Squadron leaving the deck drowned out the sound of the Commander’s voice periodically. “Gentleman,” Horne managed after the Ospreys had departed, “Today we start the first step in the operation that started back in Hawaii three weeks ago. You aren’t on the sunny beaches of Honolulu anymore, and it’s about time these F-18’s get some mileage on them. As you can probably tell from the reconnaissance flights you have been taking with the Ospreys, something big is happening here in the East China Sea. Exactly what we are not sure yet, but that’s why Admiral Jacobs has on this floating city of steel, to find out. This morning you will be escorting the Ospreys and C-130’s west towards the Chinese coast so that they can unload the ground teams for further land reconnaissance. Further coordinates and flight objectives will be relayed to you in the air. Good luck.”
Squadron 314 was eager to get onto to the deck and the twelve airmen hurried to their Hornets. The flight crew had already prepared Abram’s F-18 for takeoff and he saluted them gratefully as he hopped into the cockpit. Thumbs ups were given to the pilots and the deck crew scrambled for cover as the engines of the aircraft roared to life. One by one the pilots came over the comm. channel and checked in with the air control tower. “All systems are a go” Lieutenant Thomas Garrison alerted the tower as leader of the 314th. Garrison was the leader of the pilots by rank but also by group decision. He was the oldest, if you consider thirty-four old, the most experienced and by far the calmest under pressure. He came to his command in much the same was that Abram’s planned to do, graduating from the academy top of his class and quickly rising through the ranks of the marines. He commanded his men fairly and kindly, but if one could get a chuckle of the Lieutenant, one would be having a lucky day.
“Hey Abrams, you’re up first in line Freshie. Let’s see what these Academy Boys can really do. Let ‘er rip, Eli.” Junior Lieutenant Lance Gibbs said. Gibbs was the second in command to Garrison but was different in every way. He was always ready with a joke and quick to ridicule every marine at the man’s expense. He worked well in contrast to Garrison’s somewhat calmer nature.

Abrams took in his surroundings. The Aeolus was like an island of light amongst the darkness of 2 a.m. The ship barely moved at all in the roiling sea around it, signaling a storm that would arrive before dawn. “Where in god’s name the marines takes you,” Abrams thought to himself thinking of how only a year ago he was a graduating fourth year at the Naval Academy in Annapolis. Now he was about to launch himself off an aircraft carrier into the black sky above god knows where in the East China Sea. His adrenaline was pumping so fast he could barely think.
“Ey boy-o whenever you’re ready” Junior Lieutenant Ryan Smith said over the comms, and the collective laughs of the squadron told Eli his reminiscing was over. Ryan Smith was only two years older than Abrams and was also his roommate. Because of the large amounts of time spent in the air together Smith and Abrams became quick friends. Sometimes even worse than Lieutenant Gibbs with his jokes, Smith was a fan favorite of the flight pilots.
Abrams flipped the cover over the throttle, and pushed it to full. The automatic release launched him forward as the giant bungee cord attached to the back of his F-18 propelled him to takeoff speed in the short distance of the deck. Suddenly he left the man-made “ground” and he rocketed through the void between the Aeolus and the sky. As he adjusted the wing flaps he climbed rapidly and ascended without problem. As he rose to the dark sky the following eleven fellow airmen rose off the Aeolus in similar fashion.
“314th is away, control,” Garrison relayed to the tower.
“Roger that, link up with the Ospreys and C-130’s and we will direct you further from there. Safe flight. Control out,” the communications officer in the tower said.
“Let’s find those transports boys, eyes up and throttles open,” Garrison said and in unison the F-18’s roared away into the vast shadows at 14,000 feet.
Twenty five minutes later the 314th rendezvoused with the Osprey and C-130 squadrons who had a considerable head start. Once Garrison had contacted the squadron leaders below, the pilots settled into relatively comfortable travel in the roaring jets at 10,000 feet, periodically checking their brothers below. Silence was common at this height but it was made even worse by the ungodly time in the morning and promise of a storm approaching. Eli couldn’t help be reminded by his inexperience and the fact that this was his first flight over enemy waters. The routine security flights that he had done orbiting around the aircraft carrier traveling to the East China Sea was one thing but it was a whole different world piercing the gloom slightly over the speed of sound.
Forty minutes later and fifty four miles from the Chinese coast Gibbs was the first to break the silence. “I know this is just an escort, but this is the most boring flight I have ever had behind enemy lines.”
Ryan Smith answered back, “I’m thankin’ the great beard of Zeus that all we’ve seen is the rear ends of those slow C-130’s all morning.”
“Wait a second, check your radars there’s something ‘bout ten clicks. . .” Garrison began but never finished as three missiles streaked across the sky, their angry fires driving them towards the group of aircraft. They buried themselves into three of the leading C-130’s.
And the heavy darkness was shattered by the explosions of fire and sound below.

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