*A small battered leather journal, stained with age, pages yellowing along the edges, looking inside it is clear a large number of pages have been torn out, the reverse of the front cover bears a name Sgt Johan Remiens, the page opposite bears another*
Capitan Alexander Bardov
Well, I don't really know where to start… I could go from when this "infection" started but I suppose if you are reading this you already know about that.
So I'll start from the very beginning… I was born and raised in Dubrovka, my family was not particularly wealthy but we never went hungry. I was the Eldest child within the Family and had three siblings, little Clarice, Mikoli and Sven…
Throughout my schooling years I was quiet, never taking the lead… to look at me now you may not think that I was “that” kid with only a small group of friends, didn’t have a girlfriend either... but I did rather like this one girl… then again, I think most of us boys in Dubrovka liked her.
At the age seventeen I got a signed letter from my parents giving me permission to enlist in the Chernarussian Defence Force. The day I left, was February the fifteenth 2008, there was a tension in the air, my siblings wanted me to stay, my mother was dabbing her eyes and my father was stoic, to this day I don’t know what they really thought of me leaving…
I walked down to Berezino, there used to be a small recruitment building there, near the hospital, it was foggy that day, a light drizzle… strange how I can remember it with such clarity… it was six years ago, yet as vivid as if it were today… The sergeant.. Trvel, he looked at the letter, then to me before laughing and handing me some forms and telling me to go up to the nearby air station and report to the commander.
Less than an hour later I found myself on a Helicopter for the first time in my life, three other recruits shared the transport with me, they all looked lost in themselves.. I probably did too, when this Helicopter lands, our lives change.
Straight off the bat it was into training, I found it gruelling and at the time thought it was a huge waste of time… I was Naïve, I just wanted to get out there and.. well I don’t know what I wanted to do, as I said Naïve… I must have been doing something right though, I was put in command of the other new recruits, and whatever it was I had been doing right, apparently, I kept doing it.
At some stage, early May if I remember correctly I was told I was to be transferred to an officer training course, apparently I was a natural leader and my “talents” would be wasted in the ranks, I jumped at the chance, i thought it would be an adventure.. that’s how I used to view everything.. an adventure. How wrong I was…
Officer training.. I can’t remember most of it, yet I remember the skills that were drummed into us, navigation, radio communications, formations, orders… the commander was a bastard, but a good one and fair, we were praised when praise was due and punished when mistakes were made.. sure as hell lowered the number of mistakes we made, no one wanted to be on kitchen patrol, or worse.. latrine duty..
My extended training ended in July, a week before my eighteenth birthday.. we marched around the base, perfect drill, I felt so proud then, I had done it I had enlisted and passed through training, but even more I had gone on to become an officer, an Idea I had not even considered until it was laid out in front of my eyes…
The commander of the base addressed us, “New defenders of Chernarus, as the old step down to make way for the new I feel proud and safe in the knowledge that the defence of our nation lies in the hands of our bravest and best, it has been a privilege to train you, to watch you grow and create bonds with one another. Some day you may have to fight, some of you may well die and no amount of training will change that fact, but for now the hour is yours”
Those last few words seemed to open a cap on all of us, we cheered and headed to the barracks, it was time to celebrate, after all he did say the hour was ours.. I don’t remember the rest of that day and I don’t want to remember the morning, my head felt like someone and been at it with a log splitter.. what a way to head to a first post.. hung over and looking like the dead..
*A shoulder patch slips out of the page, it is worn slightly but still clearly identifiable*
My first, and as events would have it only post was Balota Airfield, 76th Mechanized “Jarilo”, 2nd company, 4th platoon, my platoon… I cannot particularly remember my first day probably because I don’t want to, I was hung over and dreading the regiments tradition for welcoming new recruits…
The “tradition” has no real name but in essence it involves the old hands of the regiment putting on masks and dressing full black, they then get buckets of mud and mix it to a pleasant consistency before ambushing the new recruits throughout the day, and particularly during the night.
Six days after arriving at my post it was the seventeenth of July, my eighteenth birthday I knew next to no one, a few of my men, the officers but they still pulled together to celebrate, it was my first birthday away from home, it was one of the happiest moments of my life, everything I had accomplished so far seemed to be solidified with my new found age.
After my eventful arrival everything settled down into routine, basic duties around the airfield, perimeter security if you're unlucky a countryside patrol, nothing particularly hard to handle and that being the reason I figure I was stationed here. Not that I minded. Balota is not too far from Chernogorsk if we had some leave it was the best place for a party.
Over the next few months I got to know my men and they got to know me, Schvell was my sergeant, a good man trustworthy reliable and with three years under his belt. My immediate CO was Captain Krall, he had overall command of the 2nd Company, Krall was nicknamed shadow, always appearing at just the right, or wrong moment. Command of the airfield itself, well that was Major Yasensky a tough disciplinarian, but fair and well respected, he wasn’t openly called anything but some of the men respectfully called him Pops.
New year came and went so fast, I was able to get some leave and go back to Dubrovka, it had been less than a year but things seemed so different, Sven had our old room entirely to himself now and eagerly told me that he planned to enlist in early August, apparently I had become a role model to him. Clarice, she had turned fourteen while I was gone but I made it up to her when I gave her a pair of little red shoes and a small silver locket, but mainly I think she was just happy to see her biggest brother back.
Mikoli, well I think he was too naive to really understand why I was gone… ten years just turned, he may have known more than he let on but I did not think of that at the time. My parents, well.. mother was happy to see me, running out of the house when she saw me walking down the road, my father… I like think he was proud of me, but I don’t know for sure, we didn’t really talk when I was there, he just kind of looked at me, tight lipped and nodding slightly.
The day I was to leave Dubrovka and return to my post I confronted my father, I spoke to him quickly and quietly and I remember every word I said “Father, you once told me that nothing can stop me doing anything on this earth, nothing except myself. I believed you then and I still believe you, but I do not know what you are thinking of my choices, it hurts father, Goodbye”. He just stood there, looking vacant, nodded slightly.. drifted away, he didn’t come to say goodbye to me with the rest of my family..
The months after that seemed to slowly pass, celebrations every now and then, the odd call from home, acting as a wingman for one of my men or the other.. always made them look good to have a superior officer back them up and boy did my men know it. Not everything was mundane though, the Chernarusskiy Dvizheniye Krasnoy Zvezdy, ChDKZ or “Chedaki” were acting up, rally’s, marches.. nothing particularly concerning for us as soldiers, but it put the politicians on edge. In hindsight, it was to concern us all as soldiers and as Chernarussians.
Everything changed in late August or early September, im not sure exactly which.. the Chedaki staged an armed coup, fighting started in the north of the province… Defence forces were caught off guard by the unexpected attacks, at this stage information was scarce.. Reinforcements were being slowly moved into the province, as they slowly moved our units already in the area were slowly overwhelmed and pushed back… or not so slowly…
On the 21st of September we received the news that Utes had been attacked and overrun… my brother had enlisted in early August as he told me he would… the nearest training camp was on Utes, the Chedaki killed every single Defence force soldier on Utes.. the stories we were later told by the Marines who liberated the island, all I can really say is that those recruits… may they forever rest in peace.
I requested to know whether Sven was on Utes, at the time.. I believed he was, but I hoped, hoped without reason that he was not, that he had been stationed elsewhere.. my hope was not without merit though, Sven had shown specific interest in air mobile deployments and as a result had been moved to a camp just outside of Miroslavl. My first reaction was one of elation, that sense was quickly quelled, we needed more men and Sven was to be deployed along with the rest of the training unit.
I had no way to keep tabs on Sven, I still had my duties to perform I had my men relying on me, so I pushed Sven to the back of my mind, I did not even think of my Family in Dubrovka for a while, that is until we began to get reports of war crimes… mass killings, executions.. how could the Chedaki do this to their own people? It made no sense.. I didn’t want to believe it but I had to, realisation that my family may well be dead and in some unmarked mass grave in the woods near Dubrovka… realisation that I had failed my family..
At that moment I nearly crumbled, I nearly turned into a useless wreck on the ground but something stopped me.. or someone rather.. my sergeant Schvell, he knew what was going on I don’t know how he did.. but he took me aside, quietly, when none of the others were around and had a talk with me.
We talked, and talked, he eased out of me why I was crumbling, my feeling of failure and then he gave me a solution, he told me that every soldier has two families, the ones related by blood and the ones bonded by blood, he told me that these men were my family, and it would do no good if I were to fail them to. So I did not fail them, I did my utmost to ensure I would not fail my family again… never enough…
I managed to hold myself together for my men, kept up a good outside appearance… I didn't let them see how broken I was becoming. Every day it was the same, a routine, something to keep me busy, occupied. If my mind ever wandered towards my family I reassured myself… told myself that they could be alive, many people made it out to central Chernarus… if I could not reassure myself Schvell would come up with some little task or the other, mainly sorting disputes between the men, acquiring pet comforts for them.
The Americans liberated Utes in a day before pressing into the mainland… those marines worked efficiently, liberated over half the province in just a few days. A company of marines was stationed at Ballota, they never really interacted with the Defence force personnel and we kept out of their way, it was only when they left, just over a week after they arrived that we really wished they were here.
A bomb had gone off in red square, Moscow, it was blamed on NAPA, nationalist guerrillas fighting the Chedaki. Naturally the Russians demanded the marines withdrawal and their replacement with Russian peace keepers, the UN approved… surprisingly enough the Russians worked with the Chedaki against NAPA, in most cases using the Chedaki to do the fighting and merely backing them up if things went bad.
High command ordered a halt in the retreat of CDF forces around Zelenogorsk, the new front line had Balota right on it and we received orders that we were to fight the Russians if we had to, thank god they stayed on the airstrip for the most part. Everything became hectic, we received limited reinforcements, fortified the perimeter, stepped up patrols and all the while we could hear the distant sounds of gunfire.
The dogs of war came for Balota on the eighteenth, a large group of Chedaki attempted to storm Ballota, they cut off the airfield and captured the town itself but we resisted all attempts to wrestle the airfield from us. We took remarkably light casualties, a handful killed, about a dozen wounded, none from my own platoon. As darkness fell they retreated, gunfire became more and more sporadic, eventually fading away with the light.
First light of the nineteenth the fourth platoon was to recapture Balota town, first and second were to scour the nearby hills while third was to perform a limited reconnaissance down the road towards Chernogorsk. My platoons operation was a success, we were able to quickly move through the town, taking care to clear each building from the cellar up. We did not have to fire a single shot, the Chedaki had well and truly run, leaving behind some of their badly wounded in various cellars.
Third platoon returned, and they were riding upon American armour, I don’t know the details but apparently the Chedaki were the ones to bomb Moscow, the Russians entire deployment was without foundation allowing the Americans to be redeployed, political junk.. we celebrated, briefly.. I took the time to bury a dog that the Chedaki had shot, it seemed only right.
As the day of the nineteenth slowly faded away so too did the fighting all over the province, the Chedaki were broken by a Counter offensive from CDF and NAPA’s combined forces, the final nail was when the American’s redeployed to the area. News reached me that Dubrovka had been liberated, I requested.. demanded, to be sent north… eventually they let me, I think they guessed they couldn’t really stop me from going, not to something like this, not to my home.
The drive up north was uneventful, no shots, no screams or distant rumble of gunfire.. just an eerie silence, after the past few days.. it was unnerving, I was expecting an ambush at every turn, a rush of men running from the trees… it was always my mind playing evil little tricks on me, stories I had heard from men in other regiments.
Arriving in Dubrovka, it was subdued.. sullen, so few people still lived here, my family… my family was not among those who remained, I was told they had fled to the central province, that the Russians had taken them… that the Chedaki had taken them… A mass grave was found to the west, most of the bodies were unidentifiable… my home.. I didn’t have a home any more… the buildings destroyed in the fighting, the people gone without a trace…
I was once told that home is where a man’s heart lies, my heart now lay with my men, my home was now Ballota… Sven… as I was heading back to Ballota I took a detour to Staroye, his unit was stationed there temporarily… I told him what I had seen, what I had heard.. he just nodded at me, like father had, then walked off, I don’t think he realised I saw the tear on his cheek…
I couldn’t stay there, my own men were waiting… my brothers. When I did return to the airfield everyone was getting ready for a more proper celebration of victory, we had just fought a war, we survived a war and we had won a war!.. looking around me, at the men I now called brother. The sun was setting as bonfires were lit and bottles of Stas Vodka magically appeared from inside barracks, not that anyone particularly minded.
The days, weeks and eventually months after the war was over became very mundane and repetitive, we had the same duties as before Guard duty, night watch, patrol. We still had to do all of those but now we also had to run security checks on every civilian we came across, investigate all claims of hidden stashes in our area of operation, properly bury bodies that were discovered or sent down to us… most of these new actives were no significant change, it just meant our patrols lasted longer or we had to spend time talking to locals… but the burials, that really got to us.. especially later on, it had been months and we were still finding them, rotted… mutilated… it was… like something from a nightmare, I could still hardly believe the Chedaki could do this to their own people.
One of the men from third platoon, he was from Stary Sobor, I remember him because he always seemed to be arguing with Yanik from Novy Sobor… anyway, we were burying bodies that had been sent down to us… I say burying but we were also given the duty of checking of any form of identification, well this man.. boy… rolled over a body and fell to his knees besides it.. her… We had not been told where the bodies had come from, but we now knew anyway, he had just rolled over his mother’s body… this was seven months after the war… we received no more truckloads of bodies after this, Major Yasensky had spoken to regional command about the incident, god knows he did the right thing.
Sometime in April 2010 I was approached and cornered by my platoon headed by Sergeant Schvell, by this time it was common knowledge what had happened to Dubrovka, that my family was missing and that I had no home besides the barracks I occupied. These men, although no better off than myself for the most part had pooled their money and purchased a small house in Ballota, I was told they planned to wait for my birthday to give me the keys but they did not want to risk us being redeployed before then.
I was… completely overwhelmed with emotion, I had no way to express it, these men looked to me like I brother, perhaps even a father and I to them as brothers but I never expected this.. nothing like this.. I tried to refuse, how could I possibly accept such a gift? Schvell placed his hand on my shoulder and smiled, that told me everything I needed to know. Looking around their faces, smiles, twinkling eyes.. that was the happiest I had been since I enlisted, I have not been as happy since then…
A few days later, after I had recovered from the ensuing “house warming” party I met the man whose dog I had buried, Major Garrison, he was my new neighbour and as it transpired we had quite a few things in common, we had both lost our family’s and we both now lived in Ballota, though admittedly he travelled much further to get here than I. Maybe a week after I meet Garrison, he shot a man attempting to break into my new home whilst I was on duty, I was shocked, some of my men thought it amusing, Garrison said I would have done it for him, he was right. It felt almost like I was rebuilding what I had lost…
The months drifted passed so slowly it seemed, the routine of life in the Army only occasionally changing, broken up with bits of leave and small celebrations, its only now I realise each day had a little something special in it, something that would never happen again often something simple and overlooked at the time, but still it happened. Moments of memory that always bring a little smile to my face, that is until I look up and open my eyes, looking around I realise that those small moments still probably occur, I’m just not going to notice until… two years from now, if I’m still alive…
The month of July had begun, my second birthday since enlisting, my first one in my new home. My men were trying to get me to go into Chernogorsk, go to a bar and truly make a night of it with them, I agreed and was completely surprised with what they had planned. The bar was a boat, a small sailing ship that was rented out for events like weddings, apparently Imann and Schoncy had told a full blow story to the fellow who owned the boat, how it was a party for a war Hero so it should be at a reduced price and for the full day, cheeky buggers.
The statement “Rocked the Boat” comes to mind when I think back to that day and following night, we danced, sang, drank and generally made merry, even encouraging the captain of the boat to sail us slowly next to the town so we could call out to any passers-by, especially the female ones. Nearing midnight as the boat moored in the docks, Sven walked towards the side, he was smiling and hiding something behind his back, I think he found the scene before him rather amusing, after all, several of us were shirtless… or doing jousts using one another as a mount…
I invited Sven on board though he refused, saying he was only stopping by to drop a little something off, he handed what he was hiding behind his back to me and invited me to unwrap it, as the brown paper came of a black wooden box was revealed, and inside that was a beautifully carved bayonet. Sven had apparently carved both himself and after looking at the items for a minute I pulled my brother into an embrace, shortly after he left and the boat was sailing back out of the docks again.