It was noon when JR Hays, wearing a camo uniform and a pistol on a web belt, arrived at the front gate at Fort Hood, sixty miles north of Austin in Killeen. He was in the right front seat of a sedan with Texas flags flying from the corners of the front bumper. Two Guard officers, a captain and a female major, were with him. An enlisted woman was driving.
The soldier at the gate wanted to see ID, but the sergeant was right there immediately and said, “Sir, you can enter the base, but the carrying of firearms around the administrative and living areas is forbidden.”
“Who is the commanding general?” JR asked the sergeant.
“Lieutenant General Gil Ellensberger, sir.”
“Call him. Tell him Major General JR Hays of the Texas Army is sitting at his main gate and wants in to see him. You may tell him we are wearing sidearms, if you wish.”
The sergeant did as he was told. When he hung up the phone, he came out and explained to the driver of the sedan how to get to the headquarters building. Then he saluted. JR returned it.
The commanding general was in a staff meeting. The receptionist had a television in her office, and JR stood in front of it a minute watching. Armed citizens were taking over federal office buildings statewide. The FBI agents in Waco had been arrested en masse, disarmed, and jailed. DEA and ICE headquarters had been occupied, the agents disarmed and sent home.
Ellensberger came striding in. He was a tall, lanky man. He didn’t look happy, but he said, “Good lord, JR Hays, as I live and breathe. I haven’t seen you since Afghanistan. Come on into my office.” Ellensberger led the way and closed the door.
JR thought commanding generals’ offices all looked alike: big desk, carpet, U.S. flags, mementos of the current occupant scattered around. Unbidden, he dropped into a chair.
“I retired from the army last year, General, and my cousin, Governor Jack Hays, just this morning put me in charge of the Texas Guard. Raw nepotism.”
Ellensberger let that one go by. “All our off-base telephones are down, as well as the internet. Did you have anything to do with that?”
“Jack Hays did, not me. I am here today to accept your surrender of the base and all its personnel and military equipment to the Republic of Texas.”
Ellensberger snorted. “You know I can’t do that. You can’t just march in here and take over a United States military installation!”
“Gil, you don’t have a choice. Texas is now an independent republic, and Fort Hood is right smack in the middle of it.”
Ellensberger waved that away. “Texas is a state in the United States that has tried to secede from the union. We settled all that back in the 1860s. Surely you read about that. It didn’t work then and it isn’t going to work now.”
“We’re not lawyers and I can’t read tea leaves. We’re soldiers, and you have an impossible military problem. How many of your troops reported for duty this morning?”
From the look on Ellensberger’s face, JR knew he had scored a hit.
“Half? Was it fifty percent?”
Ellensberger didn’t reply.
“Last I heard, you had over forty-five thousand soldiers assigned here. If we blockcade the base, how are you going to feed them? And for how long?”
Still no reply.
“Are you going to deploy your troops around your perimeter—how many miles of it do you have, anyway?—and defend it? How many U. S. Army troopers do we have to kill before you will surrender? Or are you going to defend this dirt to the last man and go down like they did at the Alamo? Tell me now so I can brief my staff and get at it.”
“Pfui. All the good ol’ boys in Texas aren’t going to whip an armored division.”
JR Hays rubbed his nose.
Ellensberger pushed the intercom button. “Bring in this morning’s classified message traffic.”
In a moment a soldier came in and handed Ellensberger a clipboard. He automatically said thank you, and the soldier left.
The commanding general flipped through the messages, then handed the clipboard to JR.
“It’s the one on top. Op Immediate from the chairman of the JCS, Wynette. He has ordered me to take an armored column from the First Cavalry down the interstate to Austin and surround the city. The air force is going to bomb it. We will go in after the bombers are finished and capture every politician left alive.”
JR took his time with the messages. He read the first one, then saw that Ellensberger was an info addee on a message to the B-1 bomber wing at Dyess and a B-52 wing in Louisiana ordering them to prepare a strike on the Texas Capitol in Austin. They were to wait to launch until First Cavalry had the city surrounded.
“This is insanity,” JR said, gesturing with the clipboard. “They are going to indiscriminately slaughter everyone in central Austin.”
“They’re not thinking very straight,” Ellensberger admitted.
“But you are willing to be a part of this? Murdering civilians from the air? Americans?”
Ellensberger sighed. After a bit he said, “If I surrender to you, Wynette will just order the bombers to obliterate Austin ASAP. A dozen B-52s should be able to convert the heart of the city to rubble and kill a whole bunch of civilians.”
JR carefully place the clipboard back on Ellensberger’s desk. “Which side are you on, Gil?”
Ellensberger took his time answering. “As I see it, the governor of Texas and the president of the United States are locked in a hell of a political dispute. I wish they would settle it between themselves without dragging the American flag through the dirt and asking American soldiers to kill other Americans. Honest to God.”
“It isn’t the governor. It’s the legislature and the people of Texas who are locked in a dispute with Soetoro. Haven’t you been watching television?”
Ellensberger didn’t reply to that remark, either.
“But politics isn’t my business,” JR murmured. “I’m a soldier.”
“Soldiering is politics. You know that!”
“Yes or no, Gil. I have responsibilities too.”
Ellensberger took in a bushel of air and sighed deeply. “What are your terms?”
It took a half hour for the surrender documents to be typed and signed. Meanwhile JR sent the captain to the flight line to take a helicopter to National Guard headquarters at Camp Mabry in Austin with a message to Major General Gentry. Bombers were coming sooner or later to flatten Austin, and he’d better get fighters ready to fly with pilots willing to fight for Texas.
Lieutenant General Ellensberger signed the surrender. Then he went to the U.S. flag pole in the corner and carefully removed it from its display pole. He folded it reverently and put it into his briefcase.
“Two mornings ago,” he said conversationally to JR, “when I heard the legislature had passed the declaration and the governor had signed it, I knew this moment was coming. And I didn’t know what to do. I could have asked Washington, but all I would have gotten was bullshit. I wanted some time to see what my staff thought, what the troops thought—you can’t fight if the troops aren’t with you body and soul. The moment of decision just came sooner than I thought it would.
“JR, I am sick to death. You and I were both West Point, served our country—all of it. Then along came Soetoro. A progressive fascist, if there is such a thing. I figured the country could stand eight years of even the devil’s rule, but I was wrong. Race was the wild card. Everyone is scared to death of being labeled a racist. If Soetoro were white he would have been impeached years ago… Do you mind if my wife and I stay in our quarters a few days? I need to figure out what to do next.”
“Whatever you need,” JR replied. Ellensberger took a deep breath and looked around the office one more time. “I fear for my country,” he said softly. “The United States may not survive this mess.”
“Texas will,” JR said with more confidence than he felt. He saluted, Ellensberger returned it, and then JR walked out to address the office staff.
“You folks in the United States Army who wish to leave can go. You folks who want to enlist in the Texas Guard can stay. You civilians have a job right here if you want it.”
The civilians all stayed. Most of the soldiers asked permission, which was granted, to go home and discuss it with their wives or just to think about things.
JR’s next problem was easily solved. The aide he had brought with him, Major Judy Saar, asked, “What are you going to do about Major Nasruli?”
Nasruli was an American-born jihadist who had murdered thirteen Fort Hood soldiers several years before and wounded thirty-two more.
“Is he still here?”
“So they tell me. In the jail or detention facility or whatever they call it.”
“I thought he was convicted by a court-martial and sentenced to death.”
“Yes, sir. But he’s very much alive.”
“We are not going to waste people running a jail or spend a dime of taxpayers’ money feeding him,” JR Hays said. “It’s high time he was dead, anyway. Dictate an execution order addressed to yourself. Put in Nasruli’s rank, full name, service number, and a place for my signature. Then get a half-dozen volunteers, get them some M4s and put him up against a wall. Make sure he’s real dead. Then come back here and dictate a press release. The army and civilians in Washington have screwed around and screwed around, and now he’s history.”
“And the body, sir?”
“Yes, sir,” Judy Saar said, came to attention, and saluted. Apparently she too thought Major Nasruli had lived long enough. In seven minutes she was back with a one-paragraph order she had apparently typed herself. JR Hays read it, signed it, handed it back to her, and went on to the next problem, which was the armored division at Fort Bliss, in El Paso.
He doubted that the commanding general there would surrender as quickly as Major General Ellensberger had. JR knew Major General Lee Parker, knew him to be a perfect bureaucrat who wouldn’t want to buck the system. JR thought Parker personified everything wrong with the army: bureaucratic inertia, lack of initiative, a craven capitulation to political correctness, and a pathological fear of casualties. The media’s fondness for trumpeting casualties meant that a career officer on the way up wanted as few as absolutely possible, so he took as few risks as possible, and accomplished very little. He also kicked difficult decisions up the line, so that he wouldn’t be blamed if anything went wrong. JR thought that before he surrendered, Parker would want the blessing of higher authority, which he was unlikely to get.
Given some time, JR thought Parker could be conned into thinking his military bosses wanted him to surrender, but time was a diminishing asset for JR. He needed that armored division in his pocket right now. He was going to have to convince Parker that he was facing a mountain of casualties in a losing cause.
Major Judy Saar drove a staff car and parked at the first barracks she saw. Inside she found groups of male soldiers loafing in the lounge, loudly discussing Texas Independence and the takeover of the base. She said, “Attention please.”
Some of the soldiers looked around. “I am here to ask for volunteers for a firing squad.”
Stunned silence greeted her. One black sergeant said, “Who do you want to shoot, Major?” His nametag read HILL.
“Major Nasruli. I have an execution order here in my hand.”
Every man in the room raised his hand, including the black staff sergeant, short, wiry and buff, with close-cropped, prematurely gray hair. “One of the men he shot was my brother, who is paralyzed from the waist down.”
“I need six people,” she said. “Sergeant Hill, will you select five other men and follow me to the base armory?”
At the armory she requisitioned six M4s and a cartridge for each of them. She passed the carbines to her volunteers and pocketed the cartridges.
“Turn these weapons in afterward,” she told them. “Now the detention facility.”
She parked in front of the building and waited for the other vehicles, three private cars, to arrive. She felt as if she were watching herself outside of her body.
Her husband, a private physician, would not approve. But then he didn’t approve of her service in the National Guard. He wanted her to stay home with the two children, who were now in junior high school and didn’t need her sitting at home. She wanted to make a larger contribution.
The cars drove up and the soldiers got out with their weapons.
Major Saar led them inside, showed the officer at the desk the execution order.
“You can’t do this,” he said. “The death sentence has to be approved by the president.”
“You have heard that Texas has declared its independence and Lieutenant General Ellensberger has surrendered Fort Hood to the Republic of Texas, have you not?”
“The president of the United States has no authority here. Would you care to call base headquarters and verify the order with Major General Hays?”
He would. He did so. After a moment of listening, he said, “Yes, sir,” and hung up and looked askance at Judy Saar.
“Do you have an exercise area?” Major Saar asked.
“Bring him out there. In handcuffs.”
She had the sergeant arrange the squad in a line and handed a cartridge to each of them. Major Nasruli protested as the guards led him out. Apparently he had been told what was about to happen, because when he saw her he shouted, “I have written to President Soetoro demanding clemency. Allah protects the faithful. Allah has—“
“The post that holds up the basketball backboard,” Major Saar told the guards. “Cuff his hands behind the post.”
Nasruli continued to shout, to rant. Sergeant Hill asked, “Do you want him blindfolded?”
“He can take this with his eyes open,” she said.
Nasruli refused to stop shouting. He was still shouting when Major Saar told the marksmen to aim at the center of the chest and gave the commands: Ready, aim, fire. The shots came as one report and Nasruli went down, held semi-erect by the pole. She heard the spent shells tinkering on the concrete. She walked over to the body. Blood stained his shirt. His eyes were open, staring at nothing.
Like an automaton, she drew her pistol, looked to ensure the safety was off, and, using both hands to steady and aim the pistol, shot Nasruli in the head from a distance of three feet. Brains and bloody tissue flew out the back of his head.
She engaged the safety of her Beretta, holstered it, and turned to the officer commanding the detention facility, who was staring slack-jawed at the remains of Major Nasruli. “Pour gasoline on the body and set it afire, Captain.”
The sergeant called the firing squad to attention, turned them, and marched them back into the detention facility.
It took twenty minutes for the detention facility staff to come up with a five-gallon can of gasoline. They are probably robbing a civilian on a lawnmower, Judy Saar thought. She stood and looked at the sky, at the windows of the detention facility, at the body against the pole. She thought she was going to be sick, but she choked it down. Later, she whispered. A bird skittered along the top of the wall. A mockingbird, she noted.
After they put the body against an exterior stone wall, drenched it with gasoline, and set it ablaze, she marched back through the detention facility and vomited by her car. Then she drove back to headquarters.
The staff sergeant and the five other men from the firing squad were waiting for her in front of the building. They had apparently returned the carbines to the base armory. All of them saluted and she returned their salute. “Major, we’d like to enlist in the Texas Army,” Sergeant Hill said.
She nodded and motioned for them to follow her inside.
There was a hand-written letter waiting for Major Judy Saar in the commanding general’s office.
“You are now the CO of the base and the 1st Cavalry Division. Get as many soldiers enlisted as possible, and get the 1st Cavalry ready to fight. I am on my way to Fort Bliss to grab the 1st Armored, Old Ironsides. We’ll need them too. You are a good soldier. I’ll back you in every decision you make. Texas needs you.” It was signed by JR Hays, Major General, Army of Texas.
© Copyright 2016 by Stephen Coonts