This article appeared in the July 10, 2019 daily edition of the New York Times Network War Coverage Journal.
My first day on the ground in Russia, I saw one of my squadmates get shredded.
We'd landed at Camp Liberty -- a euphemistic name if ever there was one -- and gotten processed and assigned to units. Myself and five others (including one notorious serial killer) were coded for a unit called 4-7 Echo. In the press releases the military has sent out, the Marine Echo teams are called "high-risk convict units" -- the truth is, they're suicide squads. The higher your Echo unit number, the greater your chances of getting killed -- and Echo units only go up to 50.
We were met by our SIC, Convict Morrow, and another convict named Lee. SIC, for you civilians, means Second-in-Command, and from what I've seen, the most trustworthy criminal in a group of untrustworthy criminals. We'd no sooner been shown to our barracks than the unit's commander -- a regular Marine Captain named Neal -- came in with a mission for us. A UAV had been shot down about an hour away, and we had to go salvage it. And that's where our teammate got shredded.
The Mechoes (common slang for Marine Echo soldiers) call them CDM's -- Chinese Death Machines. Stateside press calls them -- well, nothing at all. The government doesn't want to admit to the public that these things are even out there, because they have our best forces so far outmatched it's frightening. One of these things killed almost every man in a six-unit mission a few weeks before we got here -- it was only through great and heroic leadership from our SIC and a lucky encounter with a rogue Russian tank unit that saved our lives. Well, most of them -- Reggie, who came over on the plane with me, was torn to bits by the CDM's guns. I never even learned his last name.
Later that night, back at Camp Liberty, I got a chance to get to know my SIC, Nick Morrow. Nick was convicted of five counts of murder, but he probably wouldn't have been if he hadn't been of Chinese descent. If he'd been white (or at least white-looking), he'd have gotten probation, or at worst two years in jail. Out here, two years means assignment to an Alpha unit -- a much safer place to be than Echo.
Nick's situation got me wondering how many of the other convicts out here really deserve their sentences. Recruiting for the regular and reserve services is at an all-time low. Reestablishment of the draft was overturned in Congress. The British and the EU have refused to enter into the conflict, and America needs soldiers.
Or, as the mechoes call them, bodies.
Photo inset, top left: Novosibirsk, now called Camp Liberty.
Photo inset, bottom right: Long-range UAV image of a CDM.
© 2019 Anthony Rice