“Stárshiy Serzhánt Kazakov, will you please explain this status report to me?”
Senior Sergeant Kazakov stiffly stands at attention, staring at the picture of Lenin on the wall behind his company commander, Captain Charkov. He knows it will not please the captain, but has to tell the truth. “It is a matter of supply, Comrade Kapitán. We repeatedly ask regimental headquarters for the parts we need and they tell us they are on the way.”
“You are telling me that my command is not battle ready due to a lack of parts?
“Yes, Comrade Kapitán. That is exactly the case.”
The 4034th Tank Company, 17th Armored Regiment stationed in Erfurt, German Democratic Republic, possesses 19 T-72 heavy tanks and eleven of those, including the commander’s personal vehicle, are out of service due to mechanical problems. “How can this be? These are the latest tanks in service. We turned our T-sixty-Fours over to our East German allies when we received our new equipment. And now, less than six months later, we cannot meet our redeployment requirements due to mechanical problems?”
Junior Lieutenant Mihailov draws the captain’s attention.
“What is it, Comrade Mládshiy Leytenánt Mihailov? Why are you interrupting the Stárshiy Serzhánt?”
“I simply wish to point out that the problem is not with our tank crews and how they operate the equipment, Comrade Kapitán. It is with the equipment itself.”
He quickly explains the situation.
Engines in four of the tanks had seized crankshaft bearings due to low-grade oil not properly circulating. Three others had misshapen front idler wheels because of faulty design. In addition, the final four are inoperable, as the electric motors used to rotate the turrets have burned out, because the new, heavily armored turrets are too cumbersome for the power of the motors.
“Headquarters has acknowledged the problems and is in the process of sending newly designed parts to all units. We simply do not have a priority high enough to receive them at this time,” the junior lieutenant explains.
“Our priority is not high enough?” Charkov explodes. He turns to the fourth occupant of the room, his eyes flashing. “So, Politruk Sidorov, what do you have to say to that?”
The company’s political leader shrugs. “I cannot explain it Comrade Kapitán. We are a front line unit and our priority should be as high as possible. I have also discussed this with my counterpart at regiment and am told it is a problem throughout the zone.”
“So, here we sit,” the captain fumes, “out of service while our East German counterparts blithely operate at full capacity. How can this be?”
Nobody in the room has an answer.
“You are dismissed, Stárshiy Serzhánt Kazakov.” He adds, with a rare flash of courtesy, “Please see what can be done to correct this situation.”
Senior Sergeant Kazakov salutes, not surprised at the halfhearted way the captain returns it. He smartly performs an about face and marches to the door, opening it and stepping through, closing it behind him.
The Mládshiy Serzhánt serving as the company clerk smiles at the man who truly runs the company. He then shrugs and says, “My apologies, Senior Sergeant. I could not find you ahead of time to alert you that the captain and the others came in this morning,”
Kazakov returns the smile. “That is okay, Comrade Junior Sergeant. It is a very rare thing for the captain to come here before Noon. You had no way of knowing.”
Kazakov then goes to his desk and reluctantly addresses the pile of documents in his in-box. Most of it will go to the company’s executive officer, but some of it he has to read and initial.
The door to the inner office opens and both enlisted men jump to attention as the three officers depart the company headquarters. “We are going to Regiment,” Captain Charkov snaps, as they leave.
When they are gone, Kazakov shakes his head. It is still highly classified, but he heard from reliable sources that the regiment will soon be moving eastward. The source was unable to give details, but indicated they will be going to very mountainous and difficult terrain.
The officers might be able to plead for the supply parts, but it is up to higher headquarters and not even the regimental commander has enough weight to hurry things.
Kazakov doesn't expect the three officers to return soon to the company area. They will retire to the officer’s club for breakfast heavily laced with vodka.
As soon as he finishes the paperwork, Kazakov leaves his orderly room and walks through the company area. Most of the troops are busy doing make-work, while those with operational vehicles are performing maintenance.
Kazakov reaches the motor pool and shakes his head at the sight of the eleven inoperative vehicles.
Kazakov’s personnel records show that he had been born in the Kursk area of Russia, close to the border with Poland. This is impossible to verify as the area had been ravaged during the Great War and no records exist.
When he enlisted in the Russian army fifteen years earlier, he had been taken at his word as to his place and date of birth. He had faithfully filled out the security required forms and, as nothing derogatory had come back, had risen through the ranks to his present position equivalent to an American First Sergeant. He heard rumors that he will soon be selected to attend the academy to earn the rank of Praporshchik - warrant officer. That is, unless the company deploys elsewhere.
“Good morning, Senior Sergeant. I hear you had an unpleasant meeting with our commander.”
Kazakov frowns at Sergeant Lebedev. Rumors spread quickly and it is not always good for morale. “That is why I am here, Comrade Serzhánt. Tell me the current status of our equipment.”
Lebedev, the Motor Pool non-commissioned officer, quickly goes through the list of problems, nothing Kazakov doesn't already know. He also confirms that none of the equipment failures are the fault of the crews.
At the end of the inspection, Kazakov gently places his hand on Lebedev’s shoulder and says, “I know you are doing your best, Anitoly. I do not think either of us is going to be reprimanded for this, but it is always wise to make sure we have covered ourselves.”
Making certain that nobody can overhear, Lebedev catches his friend’s attention and softly asks,” Is it true that we will be moving to the east?”
“It is rumored so,” Kazakov answers.
“But, we will not get our orders for another few days. That is why the Kapitán is so upset about our operational status.”
The two have served together for five years and are friends. Lebedev knowingly returns the smile and the two men part.
Kazakov has his own quarters in the compound. But, he also has an apartment in the nearby village of Arnstadt where he keeps a mistress. When he arrives, it is empty. Ilse is at work as a barmaid at the village Wirtschaft and will not be home until late, She also expects that Kazakov to shows up there for dinner by early evening.
Kazakov has one chore to perform before he can go anywhere. Sitting at the table in the small kitchen, he gathers up a notepad and ballpoint pen and begin sto write. Nobody that lives in the village could ever recognize the script or language he writes in.
At the end of the message, he signs the name Mêhran, the true name of his birth in a place he barely remembers. “Someday I will return there,” he softly promises himself.
He carefully folds the pages and places then in an unmarked envelope, rising and leaving the apartment.
Instead of going to the Wirtschaft, he strolls to the river and walks along the bank beyond the village. He finds the proper tree and places the envelope in a well-hidden niche. A faceless individual will pick it up and pass it on to the proper people in The Sanctuary.
Only when that is done does Kazakov smile and let his true thoughts run free. “Even if they manage to transport us eastward, the equipment will not be fully operational. I am not certain where we are going, but we will have a hard time performing our mission. Whatever it is.”
After a brief prayer to Khâwandagâr, Kazakov clears his mind and walks back to the village and the evening meal.