Grayson punched the new coordinates into the navigation system. To reach the assembly area for the Nod counterattack, the air cav squadron had to run a gauntlet of small arms fire and shoulder-launched missiles. Flying low and dodging constantly, Grayson reached the target area and saw long columns of boxy shapes crawling their way towards the GDI beachhead through the MMS FLIR system. There were many light tanks, several self-propelled howitzers, Nod buggies, and armored personnel carriers. These units were called from all around and Grayson was intent on making sure their journey had been in vain.
There was a low ridge two hundred yards back from the assembly area. Grayson and a few other ORCAs that expended their guided missiles swung behind the ridges and began designating targets for the others, which found a safe firing position a few miles back. The Nod forces dug in six SAM sites to cover the counterattack. These were first priority targets for the Hellfire missiles. Then the columns of tanks and supply trucks were raked with missiles, creating a smoking, burning traffic jam for almost a mile back. The other ORCAs now closed in to complete the destruction and Grayson joined in on the action, firing salvos of their unguided 70mm rockets and bursts of 30mm cannon fire.
Off to his left, Grayson saw a flash and a puff of black smoke. A Nod missile struck Saber One-Zero squarely on the tail boom. The ORCA pitched and rolled out of control like a giant steel bull. Fortunately, the ORCA was flying low enough that the crash looked survivable. Grayson clicked the radio transmitter to the Squadron net frequency. "Crocodile (U.S.S. Wasp) this is Ghost Two-Two relaying a mayday for Saber One-Zero. Request medevac on the west bank of Ankobra River in sector 13. SAM sites are neutralized and I'm going in to provide cover," he said.
"Ghost Two-Two this is Crocodile, we copy that mayday. Halo One-Zero inbound, ETA three minutes, over."
"Over and out."
A live GDI ORCA crew was a prize worth taking risks for. Staff Sergeant Andrej Kabanek was a decorated hero of the Balkan front, a first class machine-gun marksman, and acting commander of an armored reconnaissance platoon after the Lieutenant's buggy had been ripped apart by 30mm cannon fire that morning. The gun sight of the turret on the buggy was crude but at this range it took little marksmanship to pour a stream of bullets into the falling ORCA as it slammed into the riverbank. Andrej kicked his driver in the shoulder and screamed at him to close in. Another buggy in the platoon followed a hundred meters behind; and some infantry squads nearby rose from their foxholes and started running toward the downed aircraft.
Mike saw two enemy buggies and some running dismounts break out of cover and head toward the crash site. He saw a stream of tracers as the lead buggy fired. He barely noticed as Martinez nailed it with a salvo of 70mm rockets. He was concentrating on keeping a low altitude to give the downed airmen the best cover he could.
Ghost Four-One, another ORCA, rolled in a few meters behind Grayson. As it opened up with the 30mm cannon, the ragged line of Nod infantry fell back, and the last buggy popped smoke grenades and slammed into reverse gear.
Martinez quickly switched to FLIR and found the infrared signature of the buggy. He fired a salvo of four 70mm rockets into its side and the buggy leaped off the ground in a ball of flame, landing on its roof.
Two dazed and bleeding aviators struggled out of their downed ORCA as Halo One-Zero, a CH-47D Chinook, went into a hover over the wreck. It dropped a line out the cargo door, and joined in the fray with two window-mounted miniguns. The crash survivors staggered over to the hovering Chinook and hooked their harnesses onto the rescue line. It lifted off with the two windblown but very grateful warrant officers dangling securely from the back of the Chinook. Martinez still wished he had those minigun pods.
Sector 13 of the GDI beachhead held, but that night, Nod forces secured a bridgehead further upstream, got a mechanized corps across, and pushed south to cut the main road between the cities of Axim and Takoradi. If they could take Takoradi, they would have access to all of Ghana's rail lines currently under GDI control and cut off the 7th Armored Cav Regiment's three armored cavalry squadrons pushing west towards Cape Coast and its port facilities.