In Alexander’s fighting army, every trooper knew the mark he was to stand on. But here, a thousand miles to the rear, the show was all orphan stew. You ate when the cooks opened the tents and bunked where you could find a patch of dirt wide enough to hold your bones. You kept with your mates to keep the scroungers from picking you blind. My bunch was Lucas; Terres, called “Rags” for his dandy’s love of clothes; and Peithon, undersized, called “Flea.” We were all from Apollonia, all eighteen, and had known each other all our lives.

Lucas was our leader. He was a born operator and set out to keep our heads above the general ruck. We were supposed to get paid on landing at Tripolis (it’d been a month, marshaling and crossing), but if there was any shine with this mob, I never saw it. In fact we had to pay, ourselves. The slugs at the cook-tent wanted cash to get in. You had to pay to take a crap.

“We’ve got to find ourselves a bull,” pronounced Lucas. Meaning someone with rank to attach ourselves to.

We found him in a Color Sergeant named Tolmides. Tollo for short. He was a stubby fellow with great mustaches and a boar’s-tusk cap, a mate of Lucas’s father, and in charge here of a company of Lycian infantry. Lucas spotted him in the latrine line. “Hey, Tollo! Where’s a scuff take a free shit around here?”

Tollo came over, laughing. “By Hades’ balls, you little offscourings got all growed up, did you?” His rank was no joke though. He was a big onion. He got us out of camp. We chowed down with his Lycians out on the plain.

What, we asked, were the chances of getting paid?

About the same as crapping ivory.

When do we get assigned to regiments?

When you pay off the officers escorting you.

What about kit?

We would not be issued arms till Thapsacus or later, Tollo told us, and when we did we’d have to cough up for those too. “Don’t worry, the quartermaster’ll put it against your roll.” Meaning our pay records. We’d tick it down out of time served.

Lucas looked glum. “They didn’t tell us this back home.”

“If they did, you wouldn’t have come out,” said Tollo. And he laughed.

We glued ourselves to him. He and his Mack comrades had served as scouts in Forward Operations, running reconnaissance for Alexander in Areia and Afghanistan. They had been sent back to train us replacements on the march. They got double pay for this, and double that for escort duty.

“Don’t take to gloom, little brothers.” Tollo pointed east, into the Asiatic night. “Men drop like flies out there, from heat, sickness, or they just run queer.” And he tapped his skull. “You’ll make grade fast if you show strong stuff. Keep your sheet clean and do what you’re told. You’ll work fine.”

There were six other Macks in Tollo’s cadre, including Stephanos of Aegae, the celebrated war poet. He was a decorated hero and a genuine celebrity. Stephanos was thirty-five; he should have been a captain or at least a full lieutenant, but he stayed a Line Sergeant. He liked it that way. Here is one of the poems that had made him famous back home and a favorite, even, of the women.

A soldier’s pack

Experience has taught the soldier how to pack his pannier, with the stuff he needs most near the top, where he can get at it. In the outer pockets he stows his onions and garlic, sealed tight so they don’t stink up the weather kit and half-fleece on the other side.

At the bottom, deep inside, he stashes those items that must at all costs be protected, against dust, against being dropped, against the elements. There, in the doeskin you gave me, I keep your letters, my darling wife.

The youngest of these Mack cadre was past thirty; several were fifty and more. They were the roughest planks we had ever seen. We were scared to death of them. Any one, by himself, could have manhandled the pack of us. We found ourselves running errands for them and shouldering their kit, without anyone ordering us, just so they wouldn’t bite our heads off. Lucas and I were slouching back into camp with firewood one night when we were called over by one of them, a Flag Sergeant whose real name no one dared ask and whom the troopers called simply “Flag,” the customary title of address for one of his rank.

“You two, learn something.”

We dropped our brush and scurried to him like schoolboys. Flag summoned one of his Lycians and had the fellow face about. He thrust the shaft of his half-pike (the shorter version of the sarissa used then in Asia) into my fist.

“Kill him,” he commanded.

I turned bright plum. Could he be serious?

“How do you finish a man who’s running from you?”

I didn’t know.

Flag tugged the Lycian around. “What if he turns about and faces you?”

I didn’t know.

“Take his place.”


Suddenly I found myself in the Lycian’s spot. “Run,” Flag commanded. Before I could take one step, I found myself facedown in the dirt with the wind hammered out of me. I didn’t even know where Flag had hit me. I felt the butt of his half-pike upend me in one instant, then smash my skull in the next. I couldn’t move or breathe; I was helpless.

“Like this.” I could hear him instruct Lucas. “Sideways, so the blade doesn’t jam between the ribs.” And he stabbed me. Not a pinprick, but in so far I could feel the edge scrape the bone. I howled in pain.

Flag yanked me to my feet. Lucas’s face was white. “If the enemy faces you, lance him here. One push. Pull it straight out so it doesn’t jam.”

Then, to me: “When you hit a man, how hard do you do it?”

Before I could speak, Flag had swatted Lucas across the chest with the shaft of his half-pike. I have never heard such a blow. My mate crashed as if dead.

“Do that to the Afghan,” Flag said. “Before he does it to you.”


The Macedonian infantry phalanx is based on a file of sixteen. Sixteen men, one behind the other. Two files is a section. This is commanded by a Line Sergeant. Four files is a platoon, led by a lieutenant and a Flag Sergeant. A square is four platoons, sixteen-by-sixteen, 256 men. A brigade is six squares, 1,536. There are six brigades in Alexander’s army. In depth of sixteen, the phalanx’s front is above six hundred yards.

The enlisted commander of each platoon is a Flag Sergeant, so named for the pennant he mounts on the peak of his two-handed pike, his sarissa. His post is up front. Second in rank to him is a Lance Sergeant, or file- closer. He is called a “back.” He takes the rear. In many ways his job is more important than the Flag’s (also called a “First” or a “Top”) because his will drives the file forward, and any man who thinks of dropping back has to face him.

Third in rank in each file is the ninth man, a Sergeant or Lance Corporal. Why the ninth? Because when the command is given to “double front,” the file of sixteen divides into two half-files of eight, called litters, and the rear eight hastens up alongside the front eight. The ninth man becomes the first in the new file. By this evolution, the brigade has gone from roughly a hundred-man front, sixteen deep, to a two-hundred-man front, eight deep. Across the entire phalanx the front has expanded from six hundred to twelve hundred yards.

This configuration is how the Occupation Army trained at home, and how Alexander’s expeditionary force fought in the first three years of the Persian war, in its great conventional battles at the Granicus River, Issus, and Gaugamela.

In Afghanistan, we are now told, things will not be so simple. The place is all mountain and desert. You can’t use the phalanx there. The foe will not face it in pitched battle. Why should he? We would annihilate him if he

Вы читаете The Afgan Campaign
Добавить отзыв


Вы можете отметить интересные вам фрагменты текста, которые будут доступны по уникальной ссылке в адресной строке браузера.

Отметить Добавить цитату