Chapter 1: The Battle of Sacramento

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1200 Feet Above Sacramento, California. Republic of Gilead.

A paratrooper jumping from a plane at 1,200 feet is only eight seconds from death. This fact was not lost upon Private Josh Akers as he shuffled toward the door of the C-130. The briefing had described the drop zone as "unobstructed highway with a concrete median, two overpasses, median signage and vertical slopes." But everyone in the battalion knew it was really a concrete deathtrap with elevated positions on both sides. This wasn't the best drop zone, but the 4.000 foot section of eight-lane highway in the Elmhurst section of Sacramento was east of the target. Any Sons of Jacob guardians who shot at them would do so looking into the rising morning sun.

This wasn't Private Akers's first jump, but he was pretty sure this one would be his last. Private Akers reached inward toward a passage from The Book of Mormon.

Fear not, little children, for you are mine, and I have overcome the world... and none of them that my Father hath given me shall be lost.

"GO! The jumpmaster yelled.

A Utah National Guard paratrooper spiraled out the door. The jumpmaster collected the departing soldier's static line in a bundle and motioned the next soldier forward. A Mormon chaplain stood next to the jumpmaster. The chaplain yelled with a voice that boomed above the combination of howling wind from the open transport door and all four of the C-130's turboprop engines. Each paratrooper, whether Mormon, Catholic or one of the unit's handful of Muslims or Jews, received a blessing as they stepped forward toward the door.

"Lift up your hearts and be glad," the chaplain shouted: "for I am in your midst, and am your advocate with the Father!"

The chaplain would jump as well - everybody jumped - but he would jump last with the medics and render aid to any wounded.

"GO! The jumpmaster yelled to the next paratrooper in line. That paratrooper shuffled out to his destiny.

Private Akers moved closer to the door. Now he was two men away from death. He remembered a time at the Camp Williams mess hall when he cut in line in front of a soldier who wore a parachute rigger badge. Riggers were the soldiers that configured the static lines and packed the parachutes. His life was literally in their skilled hands. Akers promised to the Heavenly Father that if he could just survive this mission, he would never rush a rigger again.

"GO!"

One soldier away.

Private Akers looked toward the rear of the C-130. He tried to find Private Johnson, who should be with the medics somewhere back there in the forest of multicam uniforms and determined faces. He resolved to finally tell Private Johnson how he felt about her once they made it back alive.

"GO!"

Akers stood in the door of the C-130.

"GO!"

Akers jumped and his thoughts were enveloped with the slipstream.

The feeling of weightlessness when jumping was somewhat like going over a sudden hill in the road or the crest of a roller coaster. Akers suddenly had to pee. He ignored the feeling, tucked his head into his chest and counted.

"Thousand one... thousand two... thousand three... thousand four... That's funny. Where's the -"

Private Akers felt the sudden, secure pain of his parachute harness going taut. Good. He looked up at his parachute canopy. The edges of the parachute were drawn together like he had been folding a fitted sheet. This wasn't an ideal situation, but at least it was something he could control. Private Akers held the risers of the parachute tightly as he frantically bicycled his legs in mid air. It worked. The parachute blossomed above him.

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