Warning! VERY TL:DR - read for you own enjoyment or skip to the bottom!
(Super handy and interesting replay: http://aar.unitedoperations.net//replay/8AC1E088A56625D64DA41BF1D39F4A63 )
The number 13 is not a terribly lucky number as we would find out, but that's how many players we started this mission with. Only half that number would ever reach Airbase Mike alive. I don't know the whole story because our radio communications were out, but with the help of the mission replay tool, I was able to piece together what happened...
Our descent to Airbase Mike was not going as planned. The C130 transport plane we found ourselves in was out of control and the landscape below was lost in darkness, save for a few prominent landmarks. We had only scarce moments to formulate any sort of plan before hastily bailing out of the doomed aircraft. The last command issued before the plummet earthward was "Meet at the hill with that observation tower!". It was scarcely visible from the plane, but it was the only landmark we could count on.
The shock of the chute opening wasn't nearly as jarring as the brutal cold were met with when exiting the aircraft and as we began our untimely descent to the earth we lost sight of each other as the inky darkness of the night enveloped us. The ground came quickly and I stumbled to my knees, immediately trying to get a feel for my surroundings as my eyes adjusted to the light. The treeline was foreign to me, nothing at all looked like it had from the air. I quickly checked my gear. I didn't have much to work with; a smoke grenade, some chemlights, my rifle and a few mags... not much at all and I found myself hoping that I wouldn't have to use my firearm. I was keenly aware of the brutal cold of the night air and as my surroundings came in to focus I became aware of the snow that was falling at a steady pace. It had not started to stick yet, which I suppose was good. If it had, it would have been that much easier to find my way, but also that much easier to be tracked. I decided I'd keep my complaints about it to myself.
Bringing out my compass I began to study the land around me with a bit more detail. A few scattered buildings bracketing a road that ran northwards from me and disappeared over the rise of a hill, there were heavy forests to my south and east and a field with sparse trees to my west. The ground rose to the southwest and given that my objective was on top of a somewhat forested hill, it seemed to be the obvious direction of travel. I collected myself and set out to the Southwest, crossing the dirt road that I had stumbled upon and heading up the growing incline while resting frequently to listen for any sign that would indicate that I wasn't alone. None came, and I continued on until I reached the top of the hill. This wasn't the hill I was looking for, no, that would have been too easy. There was no tower here, and while the top of the hill was forested, so were the sides. I recalled back to the fleeting glimpse I had of it minutes earlier, no, this was not the right hill - the one I was looking for had a stand of trees on top, but the sides were featureless, probably fields. Taking in my surroundings once again I found that the trees to the southwest petered out a bit and I felt that I'd be able to get a better lay of the land from there, so I set out in that direction. As I reached the edge of the treeline the wind had picked up and the cold was biting in to my face, but even with the snow coming down around me it clear enough to make out my surroundings. There, just a few hundred meters further to the southwest was a familiar-looking hill with an observation tower silhouetted against the skyline and the tops of trees faintly visible standing beside it, I knew I had found the hill I had been looking for. I found myself wondering how many of my teammates I would find there...
I approached the hill cautiously and used any cover I could find in the relatively sparsely covered hillside that lead up to the tower. The small dirt road that ran up the hillside seemed untraveled, but I was not about to let myself get caught out in the open. The observation tower appeared to be unoccupied and having no desire to go up myself I intended on keeping that way. My comrades, if they had made it here, would likely be seeking refuge in the trees, away from the eyes of enemy patrols and out of the biting wind. I saw no one, and my challenges were met with silence. It had not been too long since we had dropped, so I figured I had been the first one to make it there, so I hunkered down at the base of a tree and waited. A couple minuted had passed at most when the relative quite rustling of trees in the night was punctuated with the crack of gunfire. I knew immediately that it was't close enough to be a problem for me, but if it wasn't, then it certainly was a problem for one of my buddies and they couldn't have been that far away. The shots had sounded like they had come out of the south, so I positioned myself on the southern treeline and peered out over the fields and road below me. My vision had long since fully adjusted to the dim light and I was able to make out two figures in a field approximately 300 meters downhill from me. They had no fear of moving slowly over the open ground and I knew that they couldn't be friendly. I contemplated taking a shot, but I still had no contact with the friendly that I knew was about. Furthermore, a town lay just down the hill to the southeast and I felt any commotion was likely to bring unwanted attention from that town right up to our rendezvous point. I wanted to help my teammate, but I couldn't risk it, especially when I had no idea whether he was dead or alive. I kept my eyes peeled and waited, but no further shots or activity came from that direction and much to my relief the enemy patrol hooked west and traveled away from my hiding spot.
Several more minutes passed as the tension slowly ebbed away into the darkened flurry of the night. A clatter of gunfire jolted me to sudden state of alertness, but it was clear that this gunfire was further away and to the north this time. Still, I had not made contact with anyone and I needed to attempt that much if I had the opportunity, so I relocated to the northern treeline and scanned the northern hillside. Once again the sound of distant gunfire cut in to the silence of the night. The field was bare and there wasn't a soul in sight, so I jogged northwards, carefully ensuring that cover was never more than a quick dash a way. I passed over a few low stone walls before a town came in to sight. I had not heard any further reports, but I knew that it was likely that whatever had occurred had taken place in or around this town. The dilemma presented itself again - should I attempt to help my fellow soldier? Is he even alive? I waited for several moments, listening and looking for anything that might give me a sign, but the night had returned to the quiet blowing of the wind causing snowflakes to dance about in the air. As with last time, it didn't seem prudent to risk myself on this unknown and I had left no indication that I had even made it to the rendezvous point. There were still other teammates out there and I knew that they might end up relying on me. I retreated back the way I had come, towards the top of the hill and settled in to a stand of trees. Darkness overtook me and only the rustling of the trees could be heard once again. It occurred to me that anyone else up here would likely be just as blind as I was and that it would be easy for us to miss each other. Not wanting to miss any more of my comrades, I took one of my chemlights, broke it, and shook it up before tossing it towards the center of the cluster of trees, confident that it would only be visible to anyone venturing up to the top of the hill.
It was only two minutes later when I heard the sound of a familiar voice call out from the darkness. "Hello? Friendly here". I knew they had seen my chemlight, but this wasn't exactly the challenge I had expected. I offered one of my own, but the voice only came back with "I forgot the password, I'm friendly". Luckily for him, I recognized his voice and came out to greet him after a mild reprimand. We discussed our next move in hushed tones and I informed him about the incidents I had heard earlier. We agreed that there wasn't a strong chance that either of those friendlies would be showing up at this point. The gunshots to the south had been long enough ago that if any friendlies were still alive after that encounter they had forgotten about the rendezvous point, otherwise they would have already been here by now. As for the fire to the north, it was far enough off and in the general direction of our intended travel that we didn't think it likely that anyone would bother backtracking this far. Looking over our maps, it seemed that our most promising route of egress would take us northwest, sticking to the forests and avoiding getting too close to towns or other settlements. Airbase Mike was about 4 kilometers away, and we needed to make the best use of the darkness while we had it on our side. Besides that, it was frighteningly cold out and the best thing we could do would be to keep moving. We decided to wait a few more minutes for good measure, and after having passed uneventfully we set out towards the northwest.
On can easily lose their sense of time walking through the darkness alone and I was thankful this was no longer the case. Having a friend by my side made the trek seem somewhat shorter even though we walked in almost complete silence, our ears straining to pick out threats lurking in the night. More shots, again from the north, but it was a long ways off and there was nothing we could do for it. We quickly crossed a moonlit field only to disappear in to the forest on the other side. Our route was risky and would take us across a significant amount of open ground. Once back into the forest, we'd catch our breath and slink along until the time came to make another jaunt across a field and duck in to another forest - well, that was the plan at least. Upon dipping in to that first forest and catching our breath for a moment, our ears picked out the faint rumble of an engine cutting through the night flurry. Instinctively, we looked to the trees for cover and uttered a hushed warning to each other. We strained our eyes against the darkness of the forest in the night, and could make out a BTR less than 200 meters away, along a small road snaking through the forest. It was turning off the road towards us and our hearts froze for a moment, but that moment quickly passed as the BTR kept turning until it had performed a U-turn on the small dirt road it had traveled. It paused for a few seconds and we held our breath then with a loud rev of the engine it started rolling down the road, back the way it had come from and away from us. We lingered for a little while longer, not daring to move until the sound of the engine had faded into the night and then continued onward at an accelerated pace. The vehicle could come back, and we wanted to be well away from here if and when it did. A quick dash across the road went apparently unnoticed by unfriendly eyes and we continued through the brush until reaching the westernmost treeline.
Our intended direction of travel had provided us with plenty of cover up until this point, giving us the ability slink along at our own place in the shadows. One look from our vantage point in the treeline provided us with the clear indication that this was no longer going to be the case from here on out. The ground had opened up into rolling hills and fields, with only a few relatively small clumps of trees several hundred meters apart. To top it off, a major road was running from north to south here and there was no question in our mind that we'd have to cross it to continue. Even in the relative darkness it would be easy to spot figures moving through these fields - we needed to be sure that no one was around when we crossed it. Our eyes scanned our surroundings intensely trying to pick out any threats that waited for us. Finding nothing, we sprinted out of the treeline and had made it about 30 meters from the edge of the forest when out of the corner of my eye I saw some movement towards the south. It took barely a second to register the shape of a BTR moving slowly against a backdrop of trees a few hundred meters away. With a yell of warning our stomachs lurched as we executed our quickest about-face yet and sprinted right back in to the forest, not bothering to stop until we had each found sizable trees far from the edge of the forest. From our vantage point we were still able to see out into the field as we attempted to quell the fear that had overtake us. Had it spotted us? Probably not. The vehicle had driven down to the road and was now heading north on it, swinging dangerously close to us and then passing by without a second thought. It had been close, but luck was still with us. We collected ourselves and made another careful survey of the fields between us and our objective, then set off again across the field at a sprint.
We had caught a lucky break and had been able to make it to our next cluster of trees without incident. It was only a short jaunt through this forest until we'd have to make another dash across the field - thankfully, this one did not have a road going through it. We crossed this next field with no incident and embraced the darkness of the trees on the other side. Our hearts were pounding out of exertion rather than panic now and we fell back into the chilly embrace of the continuing flurry. Another uneventful jog through the woods put us on the edge of a field that looked remarkably similar to the one we had cross earlier with the surprise BTR. Were we still on the right track? In hushed tones we argued over the map. Our general location was easily agreed upon, but the exact location was a little less clear now. After discussing it for a few moments it was clear that it didn't really matter - so long as we kept going west, we'd spot the hill the was marked on the map. At this point we could turn north and it would be a brisk 2km run northwards before reaching Airbase Mike. This last leg of the trip looked like it would be mostly through open fields, but that's not something we really wanted to think about. Focusing back to the task on hand, we started off to the west again, jogging through another open field and finding a small stand of trees next to a well-traveled road. It was clear where we were now, but it was best not to linger this close to a main thoroughfare. Dashing across the road and working our way through the trees on the other side, we saw our hill rise out of the darkness in the distance providing a beacon in the night for us to orient with.
It was an uneventful jog down the gentle slope, weaving through the foliage to arrive at the base of the hill. The flurry had tapered off a bit and the night had become cold but pleasant. We weren't out of danger yet though and we took things slowly as we reached the base of the hill. This was a prefect place for a lookout, and while ascending to the top of it would give us a good idea of what the next leg of our journey would look like, it also seemed likely that enemies may have been deployed to the same place for similar reasons. It wasn't a tough decision to make though. With ample concealment around the base of the heal, we sneaked around the east side of the hill towards the north and then collected ourselves in preparation for our next move. This was easily the most exposed part of the trip, but also the last one. If we were able to make it pas the T-intersection to the north, and past the barn, we'd be virtually home free unless Airbase Mike was under a direct assault. Although the map didn't show it, as luck would have it there was a small band of foliage that ran from the north side of the hill almost all the way up to the T-intersection we'd have to cross. After preparing ourselves for the run ahead and checking to see if the coast was clear, we set out at a jogging pace northwards, weaving in and out of the sparse cover that the route had to offer.
Our unexpected journey had covered a lot of ground tonight but we knew we were approaching the end of it. This knowledge did little to curb our fears and the tension was thick in the air. It seemed almost too easy at this point - just run another kilometer at the road and we'd be there. That was it. For some reason this and the relative silence of the night had just made us all the more cautious. A small shack in our path was cleared in a tense moment. No one had been there, but the possibility that there could have been someone there played in our mind. There could be road block at the intersection, or another BTR. How many of those things did they have out on patrol tonight? How far were they patrolling to? Where was the front line? Had we already crossed it? Were there more enemy soldiers lurking ahead of us that would put a bloody end to our exfiltration when we were so close to our objective? These questions played at our minds, but there was nothing to be done about them except to keep moving. After what seemed an eternity, we reached the T-intersection. We paused for just a moments rest, and then continued, knowing that this was a dangerous place to linger. It wasn't far now, less than a kilometer. We hadn't seen any opposition since that BTR many minutes earlier, but somehow we were expecting a shot to ring out at any moment; to stumble upon an enemy patrol that had been lying in wait for us. The uncertainty of it all continued to grow, but the reality was just an eerie silence aside from the gusts of wind, our heavy footfalls and panting breath. Soon enough we passed the barn as well, stopping only to confirm that it was empty. Just a few hundred meters now. No planning, just move. Stick to the left of the road, in the open. The small ditch there will hopefully shield us from anyone in the forest to the east, and the fields to the west are as empty as every other field we've come to.
As much as we expected something to happen, nothing did. We followed the road right up to the walls around the airfield and gazed across the tarmac. A large, well-lit installation lay before us, and once again we could hear the hum of engines. When we spotted the source of one of these engines all the fear and tension that had been bottled up in us immediately faded away. An M1A1 Abrams sat dutifully in the grass, maintaining watch on the southeast side of the airfield. Moments later, two humvees drive in to view from behind the compound. We were safe at last, and we didn't even bother to check for any departing or arriving aircraft as we ran across the tarmac to the staging area on the other side - after all, we knew that our plane certainly wasn't landing here tonight.
Finally dragging ourselves in to the staging area we were met by a handful of other comrades. "What took you so long?" they inquired. There was any number of ways I could have answered the question, but I felt that we were lucky to return at all. There had been 13 of us aboard that plane and only 7 had made it back to Airbase Mike. We were the last ones to make it back that night, though we heard that one more survivor was picked up near a ruined castle on a hill not far from the Airbase. Afterward I frequently found myself wondering what happened to our seven missing comrades...
Back at Airbase Mike with the guys.
Using the super-handy replay tool I was able to see what happened to everyone else on this mission as well as follow along my own trek. If you load up the mission replay, you can watch too! http://aar.unitedoperations.net//replay/8AC1E088A56625D64DA41BF1D39F4A63
Each squad had their own plan/briefing and then we inserted.
Wades, Zero_sum, heads., Cosmonaut and Wartime were able to meet up in a deserted section of woods NE of Novy Sobor and made a long but relatively uneventful escape to the north. Sammy missed them by <200 meters and got a bit lost on his own. He had an exciting journey that involved narrowly missing being spotted by an enemy patrol about 50 meters away from him, and then going afk for about 8 minutes before resuming his own exfiltration. Unfortunately, his time away from the keyboard got him off track and he ended going a bit too far east and wound up at Devil's castle.
Pill421 made it less than 400m from his insertion point before running into an enemy patrol and getting killed.
Ismael and MasterBlaster had insertion points relatively close to my own, but since they were not in our squad and therefore unaware of our plan, we ended up missing each other. MasterBlaster took a route that was similar to my own, but ended up going too far west - to the point where he was headed north along the highway that exits the map, thankfully he got himself oriented before he went too far and was able to make it back to base just a few moments after the the first arrivals. Ismael made his way into Stary Sobor and took up residence in the big metal building there for almost 10 minutes before he was killed in an engagement with a patrol. I am sure that this shootout is what I was hearing to the north of my position on the hill. There was a point where Ismael and I almost crossed paths, and I debated going in to Stary to meet up with him after hearing the shots, but it's likely I would have gotten killed too. Abelian and I heard his final shots as we begun our exfiltration from the rendezvous point. Sorry buddy.
Goon, abelian, Myller, Pill421 and myself agreed to try to meet on hill north of Vyshnoye, hold there until 20 minutes after insertion, and then to head to Airbase Mike. Since Pill died early, it came down to the four of us. Myller started within 300m of our rendezvous point, but clearly wanted to check out Castle Zub as he wandered down, and then back. We were actually both at the rendezvous point and within about 50m of each other when he disconnected. Gooncorp started south of Vyshnoye and headed north towards the rendezvous point, but had a patrol come up behind him as he was keeping his distance from another patrol. He was killed in the ensuing firefight and this was the gunfire that I had heard to the south of the rendezvous point. Goon was dead by the time I had my eyes on the patrol, so there wasn't much I could have done to save him at that point.
Finally, abelian and I met up at the rendezvous point and made our escape detailed in the adventure above. You can track our movements on the map and follow along with the excitement.
There were a few other JIPs that left as quickly as they joined, but I won't cover them. For whatever reason Cosmonaut re-inserted at some point as well.
I really enjoyed this mission. Unfortunately, having played far too many hours of DayZ, I know the landscape of Chernarus almost by heart and even the foul conditions and near utter darkness we were presented with posed no obstacle to finding my way about. Other less-familiar terrains would be fantastic for this kind of mission and it takes me back to the Escape Chernarus days.
That's all for now, hope it's enough.