The Red Dragon by Clifford Gissell by Clifford Gissell - Read Online



Russian Captain Yuri Zhukov brings more than a famous name when he's assigned as an advisor to a North Vietnamese Army Regiment. A student of medieval military history, he greatly admires the most fearsome commanders of the time—those who fought the Muslim invasion of the Balkan States.United States Army Special Forces Master Sergeant Alexandru Mihnea is assigned to Camp Hoa Binh. Returning once again to fight the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese soldiers, he expects another difficult tour in the hottest battle of the Cold War: Vietnam.As the two sides contest for control of the border area, something is becoming disturbingly clear. The enemy is employing fear tactics not seen since the middle ages. Tactics quite familiar to the Special Forces Team Sergeant; tactics last used by his most famous ancestor, Vlad Tepes—better known as Vlad Dracula. A 2009 EPPIE AWARD FINALIST - Best Action / Adventure
Published: Whiskey Creek Press on
ISBN: 9781603131452
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The Red Dragon - Clifford Gissell

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Chapter 1

The situation was desperate. Casualties mounted as the Sultan’s forces vigorously pushed Vlad Dracula’s army back towards his capital. Realizing that a bold move was needed to avert disaster, he planned a daring nighttime raid into the midst of Sultan Mehmed’s Turkish army.

Dividing his force of twenty-four thousand men between himself and the Boyar Galeş, Dracula and his men silently infiltrated into the midst of the enemy camp before midnight on June 17, 1462. While Galeş faltered, not attacking as he agreed, Dracula penetrated to the Sultan’s personal fortifications. Thwarted in his attempt to kill or capture the Sultan by the vigilance of his elite guard, the janissaries, Dracula turned his forces loose among the Turks. For the next six hours they unleashed havoc, killing thousands while suffering few casualties themselves. With daylight they withdrew and continued their withdrawal towards the capital.

Sultan Mehmed was shaken, the morale of his soldiers shattered after seeing the carnage left by Dracula. Rallying his forces, the Sultan continued the pursuit. When the advance guard of the Turkish army was one hundred kilometers from Tîrgovişte, the capital, they came upon a gruesome sight. There, in a semi-circle nearly two kilometers long, Dracula had prepared his most famous ‘horror scene’. The Turkish advance guard stopped—neither they nor their horses could move, their senses overwhelmed by the spectacle before them.

The smell assaulted the nostrils of man and beast; the sight caused the veteran cavalrymen to shudder and fear dominated their very being. Their discipline and the firmness of their commanders kept them from turning and running, but could not force them forward.

Before them were thousands of their comrades impaled on stakes, the remnants of their tattered uniforms fluttering in the breeze, their bodies rapidly decomposing in the heat of the summer. Ravens and vultures had attacked the eyes and other soft tissues; wolves and wild dogs had eaten the limbs of many of the corpses. It was a macabre sight, one designed to bring nightmares to the Sultan’s cavalrymen.

The cavalry commander rode back to advise the Sultan on the horror ahead. The Sultan did not doubt what he would see; he had known Vlad Dracula, the Prince of Wallachia, for many years and knew the cruelties he inflicted upon his enemies.

The Sultan barely hesitated at the edge of this gruesome scene before he rode directly to the two highest stakes. These, he knew, would be Hamza Pasha and the Greek, Catavolinos, his emissaries in a foiled plot to trap Dracula. He shuddered to think how they died before being impaled.

The Sultan turned back; he would meet with his commanders. Dracula had planned this well. The Turkish army, demoralized as it was, would not be subject to this final humiliation, thousands of its comrades impaled like common criminals. Dracula had won this battle.

The Sultan turned his army around and headed...

Captain Zhukov, we’re approaching Phnom Penh. You must fasten your seat belt.

He looked up from his book and smiled at her. As he reached for his seat belt he asked, Are you staying in Phnom Penh tonight?

Breaking Rule Number One of Aeroflot, she returned his smile. Looking directly into the dark brown eyes of the handsome Russian officer, she shook her head and said, Sadly no, Captain, we end this flight in Hanoi.

Breaking eye contact, he looked at her nametag before returning his gaze to her eyes. Maybe next time, Svetlana. I’ll be at the embassy.

I’d like that; sometimes we stay here, she said, smiling coyly.

Breaking Rule Number Two, the dowdy Aeroflot uniform couldn’t hide it. He looked appreciatively at her full figure. She blushed and moved on.

He watched her for several more seconds, imagining what he would do with her, given the opportunity.

Marking his place, he closed the book and looked down at it. It was an English translation of an old Romanian book about Vlad Ţepeş. The name, translated into English, was ‘Vlad the Impaler’, but he was better known as ‘Vlad Dracula’.

He studied the drawing on the cover, an artistic rendition of the Order of the Dragon. The symbol, a circular dragon with its tail coiled around its neck, a cross of St. George upon its back, was adopted when the order was established in 1408. Vlad Dracul, Dracula’s father, was one of the original members of the order.

The book, a gift from his military history professor at the Third Faculty of the Military-Diplomatic Academy, better known as the Academy of the Soviet Union, was given to him because of his interest in late medieval military campaigns and his academic accomplishments while a student.

The captain shook his head. The Englishman, Stoker, had done a great disservice to a brilliant military commander. Dracula’s battlefield genius was far overshadowed by the caricature of him as a vampire. The Russian knew the battle well, having read accounts from that period in Russian, German, Romanian and English journals. Dracula, with an army of thirty thousand stopped three hundred thousand Muslims, forcing them to turn back. He did it with bold tactics—and fear. They were afraid to continue.

Stories by his enemies, particularly the Saxons, portrayed Vlad the Impaler as a cruel and vicious tyrant. This too, Zhukov knew, was not the case. He was no different than his contemporaries. Their methods of dealing with criminals and enemies seemed barbaric by today’s standards, but that was how they maintained discipline and power. He shook his head. History had not treated Vlad the Impaler fairly. Normally, the victors write history, but in his case, it was his enemies.

He chuckled at himself and his situation. Here he was, a captain in the Soviet Army, being posted as an assistant military attaché to the Soviet embassy in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. His exploits as a Spetsnaz officer, although of some minor note, paled in comparison to Vlad Dracula.

Dejected now, he watched as the Il-62 descended in preparation for landing at Pochentong Airport.

The plane taxied to the terminal and the ramp was pushed into position. He was taking his overcoat from the overhead compartment when the door was opened. A rush of hot air entered the craft. He looked at his overcoat and shook his head. It was already uncomfortable in his wool uniform; the overcoat looked as out of place as a pair of skis.

As he stepped from the plane, the heat and humidity enveloped him like a warm, wet blanket; sweat quickly formed and trickled down his body, soaking his uniform. He glanced down at the two hundred pounds he carried on his six-foot frame, wondering how much weight he would lose in all the heat.

Entering the terminal brought no relief; there was no air conditioning. He heard a voice calling him in Russian. A smiling Russian officer, dressed in a lightweight summer uniform, introduced himself as Captain Vassily Tutushkin. He held out his hand and said, Welcome, Comrade Zhukov.

Zhukov shook his hand, noticing it was dry.

It was minus eight in Moscow. What is it here, forty degrees Celsius?

Tutushkin laughed. I also came here in the winter. I understand your distress. Come, let’s get through customs and into the car; it’s air-conditioned.

Tutushkin guided his compatriot to the immigration line for accredited diplomats. In a few minutes they were on their way out of the terminal. After loading his suitcase in the trunk, they headed towards the center of Phnom Penh and the Soviet Embassy.

He offered the newcomer a Marlboro cigarette. The two of them smoked and made small talk about the flight and Moscow for the duration of the trip.

Once in the embassy compound they headed to their quarters on the second floor. Zhukov tossed his overcoat on the bed and then took off his uniform jacket and placed it on the bed.

Tutushkin sat down in the overstuffed chair and lit another cigarette. Zhukov looked at him and asked, How is Colonel Znamenka?

Exhaling a plume of smoke, he replied, Our commander’s an old Spetsnaz, a frog-eater. He was a Brigade commander before being posted here.

A Soviet Special Forces commander? Why would he be sent here? Zhukov asked.

I don’t know. Perhaps you can ask him at dinner tonight?

Looking at his watch, Zhukov asked, What time’s dinner?

Seven, in the main dining room downstairs. It’ll only be the military staff, six of us. He uses these dinners as staff meetings. Sometimes the Ambassador joins us, but today he’s in Moscow.

Zhukov removed his overcoat and jacket and sat down on the bed to take off his shoes.

Tutushkin got up to leave and said, You’ve got a few hours to rest up. As he headed to the door he turned, smiled and said, Summer uniform.

Zhukov chuckled. I don’t expect to see this winter uniform again, as least not until I leave here.

* * * *

The staff was seated at the table when Colonel Dmitri Znamenka walked into the dining room. They all stood and remained standing until he took his seat. He looked at the newest member of his staff, a hint of a smile on his face. Captain Yuri Zhukov, grandson of the great Soviet Marshal Georgi Konstantinovich Zhukov. Is that true?

No, sir. It would have been easier for him if it was true, but it wasn’t. They were related; the Marshal and his father were second cousins. He had never met the man.

Oh? I had heard you were related.

There’s a distant relationship, sir. Mainly I have the Zhukov name and am expected to live up to the impossible standards set by the marshal.

The colonel’s smile widened. Well then, Captain Zhukov, I expect great things from you.

Yes sir, he replied, a slight frown on his face.

Have you met my staff, Captain?

No sir, only Captain Tutushkin.

Indicating around the table, the colonel pointed out Major Nikolai Grachev, his Communications Security Officer; Major Viktor Suvorov, Liaison with the Cambodian Army; and Lieutenant Anastasia Gribovsky, his secretary. After explaining that Captain Tutushkin was an assistant attaché, he spent several minutes on each, explaining their functions within his staff.

Zhukov looked at each officer and nodded as the colonel made the introductions. He didn’t stop and admire the Lieutenant with her blond hair and ample chest, as was his instinct. That’s why he wasn’t a Spetsnaz officer any longer. His fondness for females, regardless of their status, put him here.

You, Captain Zhukov, will work with Captain Tutushkin overseeing the delivery of supplies from Sihanoukville to our comrades fighting against the American Imperialists and their lackeys in Saigon. Captain Tutushkin has taken one convoy to the border area. Another one is to go next week.

Zhukov looked puzzled and asked, "Why are we moving supplies to the border, sir? Why not the Vietnamese?"

The colonel looked at Captain Tutushkin and said, Explain the situation to him.

Tutushkin turned to the new staff member and said, "The first shipments were to be trucks. Our trucks, which were to be used to haul the material from the docks to their main supply depot, arrived on time. However, the ship carrying the trucks for the Vietnamese was delayed in port for more than a week because of mechanical difficulties. Then, two weeks ago, it sailed. But when they were three days at sea, another mechanical problem caused them to return to port. In the meantime the first shipload of supplies arrived—that material was moved last week. The ship containing their trucks is still in Vladivostok; we don’t know when it sails. The next shipment of material is due later this week."

I understand, Zhukov said. We deliver to the main supply depot, they deliver to the border—when they get trucks.

The colonel looked at him and said, Exactly, Captain. Any other questions?

No sir, he replied.

Good, now the formalities are over. Let’s drink a toast to our newest staff member.

A bottle of Stolichnaya vodka was opened and passed around until each glass was filled. Holding his glass up, the colonel said, To Captain Zhukov.

The staff members repeated the toast and then downed the vodka. The colonel nodded at his orderly, who went to the kitchen; dinner was served shortly thereafter.

After dinner there was more vodka. Marlboros seemed to be everyone’s favorite cigarette; there were several packs on the table. The colonel dominated the conversation, mainly telling war stories about his time as a young Spetsnaz Company Commander in Operation Whirlwind, the invasion of Hungary in 1956 to put down the uprising.

Zhukov gazed at Lieutenant Gribovsky whenever the colonel had everyone’s undivided attention. Several times she returned his glance. Once, he thought he saw a quick smile cross her face.

The colonel signaled the end of the evening by offering one final toast to the Soviet Union and communism.

As the Lieutenant followed the colonel out of the dining room towards his ground floor quarters, she turned and looked at Zhukov for a second, and again produced the fleeting smile.

Captain Tutushkin came up behind him and slapped him on the back. Yuri, come, let’s go drink more.

* * * *

After changing out of their uniforms, they left the embassy and walked several blocks to a Cambodian nightclub that catered to foreigners.

I never thought my English training would be used for this, Tutushkin said as they walked into the club.

The Manhattan Club was on the ground floor of a two-story building. It consisted of a long bar, a dozen tables surrounding a small dance floor, and a raised stage where local talent played their imitation of western music. Although there were few Americans in Phnom Penh, American beer and whiskey were the standard fare. Pallets of beer and cases of whiskey found their way across the border thanks to the black market. Vietnamese ‘33’ and Chinese ‘Tsingtao’ beer were also available. Prostitutes doubled as waitresses. Invariably they would ask the customers if they wanted a beer. This earned them the name ‘beer-girls’.

The officers sat at a table. Two mini-skirted beer-girls came up behind them, placed their slender hands on their shoulders, massaged them lightly and asked if the two soldiers wanted beer. Tutushkin took one of the girl’s hands and brought her around to sit on his lap. Placing his hand on her thigh, he stroked it for several seconds before ordering two Budweisers. She laughed and squirmed around on his lap and then placed her hand on his crotch as she got up to go to the bar. The other girl followed.

Skin like silk, Tutushkin said. They’re not just waitresses. Upstairs are rooms.

Zhukov smiled and laughed. I see. The Lieutenant isn’t available. We come here.

"You’re so observant, my friend. She’s the colonel’s personal secretary. She takes care of his needs. I’m sure it keeps the old bastard in a better mood. His wife was here for a week once, and he was a bear the entire time."

Of course, Zhukov said. The old she-bear kept him from his mistress.

The two beer-girls returned with two cans of Budweiser. You buy us whiskey?

No, Tutushkin said, handing her several bills. She took one and slid it into her bra. The rest went to the bartender.

Never buy them whiskey, Tutushkin said. It’s tea. It just looks like whiskey and you pay whiskey price.

Zhukov had been looking at the half-dozen girls lounging at the tables around the room, all displaying obvious interest in the two men. What do you pay? he asked.

Five rubles in Cambodian or American, Tutushkin said.

Zhukov signaled for the girl who’d first approached him. She walked over and stood before him. He ran his hand up her inner thigh and across the crotch of her panties. She smiled at him.

I only have rubles, Vassily. Give me enough Cambodian riels. He continued to look over the Cambodian girl.

Tutushkin laughed and handed him several bills.

She took his hand and led him upstairs to a room.

He watched her as she stripped and got on the bed, then slowly took off his clothes. As he slipped on to the bed with her he couldn’t help but to run his hands over her body. It was like silk. There was almost no pubic hair, or hair under her arms, so unlike Russian women.

When they finished she smiled at him and asked, You want all night? We boom-boom many times. Yum-yum too.

Not understanding the vernacular, he asked what ‘yum-yum’ was. Picking up the towel, she wiped him off and showed him. Smiling, he stopped her and said, Next time.

When he got back to the table he found the other beer-girl sitting on Tutushkin’s lap, facing him. About time you got back, he said. Get us two more beers, I’ll be back soon.

He watched as the two of them went upstairs, then signaled to the girl he had been with for two more Budweisers.

Tutushkin returned to the table after fifteen minutes. Picking up the beer, he took a long swig, set it on the table and said, Phnom Penh isn’t too bad.

Zhukov picked up his beer and took a deep pull. Yes, it’s better than any number of other places we could be.

After several more beers, the two, staggering slightly, headed back to the embassy. Zhukov fell asleep thinking about the Lieutenant.

He wondered what her thighs felt like.

* * * *

The embassy site, originally the estate of a French planter, occupied about one hectare. Formal gardens covered more than half of the grounds. The colonel, somewhat paranoid about the CIA, preferred to conduct his private conversations while strolling about the garden, seemingly discussing the various flowers and shrubs.

After breakfast the colonel and Captain Zhukov walked into the garden. They stopped at the first flowerbed and the colonel said, I must tell you this story first, Yuri. Then we’ll discuss your function here. I, and the other Spetsnaz Commanders, went to the Second Directorate of the General Staff for the quarterly briefing. There on the wall of the Director-General’s office was the picture of you and the Pershing missile at the Kleingartach site.

I’m honored, sir, the captain said. Perhaps our status with the Director-General has been elevated somewhat. It wasn’t a difficult reconnaissance mission: Crossing into West Germany from Switzerland, being driven to the site by an agent and infiltrating the target through a poorly-maintained fence.

You could be right. He didn’t treat us like Neanderthals for once. Maybe he’s beginning to appreciate our value. He initiated our new mission.

The colonel was silent for a moment. Zhukov waited, anxious to hear what new responsibility was to be bestowed upon him.

Finally, he said, Yuri, you’ll be the first Soviet advisor to a Viet Cong tactical unit. You’ll be joining the 6th Viet Cong Regiment the first week in February.

So that’s why I was removed from Spetsnaz and transferred to the 59th Rifle Brigade in Nakhodka. You were establishing my cover story. I thought it had to do with Colonel Ivonik wanting me out of Chirchik.

Shaking his head at the captain, he said, "Colonel Ivonik did have you transferred to that Siberian Rifle Brigade. While we were in the meeting I was given this mission. I pointed to your picture and told the Director-General that you should be the first advisor. Colonel Ivonik couldn’t object. That’s how you got here, captain."

Zhukov fingered the infantry insignia on his uniform. "So I really am an infantry officer. I requested a transfer to an Airborne Brigade. He denied it."

Be thankful. In the old days, your trip to Siberia wouldn’t have been a transfer, you’d have been sent to the Gulag.

He stared at the colonel, a puzzled look on his face.

Shaking his head, the colonel said, Yuri, one day you’ll be shot for your dalliance with others’ wives and mistresses. What you need is your own wife and mistress. Then maybe you’ll leave the others alone and live to see…thirty-five.

Wanting to change the subject, Yuri asked, Captain Tutushkin will also be an advisor?

No. He’s a Supply Officer. His job is to oversee the transport of the material. Your cover—for now—is to assist him.

Does he know I’ll be advising the Vietnamese?

No, he knows you’re an infantry officer, but believes you were sent here because of some trouble in your last assignment.

Zhukov smiled and thought of Ivana, the Spetsnaz Brigade Commander’s mistress. What a delightful woman!

You’ll be assisting Tutushkin with the next convoy, the colonel said. He’s uneasy about taking another convoy to the border areas. He was relieved when I told him about your assignment to assist him.

Zhukov smiled again. Convoy escort duty, that’s not too bad, sir. That means I can spend more time in Phnom Penh, studying the culture, eating the local food and dallying with the local girls.

"You restrict your attention to the beer-girls at the Manhattan Club. Stay away from the local officials’ wives and girlfriends. No incidents here, understand?"

Zhukov clicked his heels together, came to attention and saluted. Yes sir, I understand completely.

Obviously detecting a slight smile on his face, the colonel said, You know, Yuri, you can be out on the border eating rice and frogs tomorrow.

He smiled, this time at the reference to eating frogs, and replied, I know sir—I’m being a bit impertinent, sorry.

The colonel shook his head and slapped Yuri on the back. Yuri, you’re a valiant soldier. You were the best company commander in the 2nd Brigade. Your exploits and your forays into West Germany are legend. So is your weakness for women, other officers’ women in particular. That’s what gets you in trouble.

This is an opportunity, sir, he said. I’ll make the best of it.

Good. In four days, you and Tutushkin will go to Sihanoukville to lead the next convoy.

I didn’t quite understand about the trucks, sir. Please enlighten me.

"The trucks belong to the Soviet People’s Overseas Transportation Corps. Here they go by the name of Red Star Trucking Company."

I see. Are the drivers Russian? he asked.

No, Cambodian.

Do we have an interpreter?

Of course, the colonel said.

In the meantime, spend time with Major Grachev. The American radio communications in Vietnam are not so formal as in West Germany. You need to understand the idioms of combat operations.

Yes sir.

Major Grachev knows of your mission. He’s expecting you.

Captain Zhukov came to attention, saluted, said, Yes sir, and headed off to the building with the antennas on it.

Chapter 2

Camp Hoa Binh, Chau Long Province

24 January 1968

The helicopter approached Camp Hoa Binh from the north. Veteran Special Forces Master Sergeant Alexandru Mihnea looked out towards the camp; his large wide-open brown eyes took inventory, analyzing his new home for the next year. It was typical of the current camps being built: Five-pointed star, oriented to the north, two points towards Cambodia, two points bordering on the outskirts of the District Capital of Hoa Binh; Strike Force—five Civilian Irregular Defense Group infantry companies, one in each point; inner compound, US and VN Special Forces plus two Combat Recon Platoons; two helipads, one inside, one outside the gate; Two tubes of 105mm artillery, probably from the South Vietnamese Army Brigade in Chau Long. As the chopper got closer he continued to study the camp layout: the inner and outer defensive berms of the camp looked good; there was concertina wire just outside the berms, not the new razor wire—he made a mental note of that; four mortar positions: two 4.2 inch, two 81 millimeter. The tower looked like it was for observation only, no machine-gun visible. No machine-gun positions visible on the inner berm. He would look into that also.

The chopper touched down on the pad. He threw out his kit bag before exiting with his rucksack and weapon.

Staff Sergeant Larry Laughlin, the team Demolitions Sergeant, stood there in all his glory. The dark tan on the upper part of his body indicated he never wore a shirt. He still had the Ruger .357; still thought he was a cowboy, wearing his gunbelt slung low with the holster tied off on his leg.

Mihnea, bull-necked, six-foot two, two hundred and ten pounds, towered over his demo man from his previous tour in South Viet Nam. He shoved his hand at him and said, a smile on his face, Goddamn it, Laughlin, you could have put a shirt on for me. Where the hell is everyone else?

Laughlin took the hand of his old team sergeant from ’66 and shook it vigorously. Fixing him with his sinister smile, he said, Good to see you, Top. We’ve got two companies out on combat operations; most everyone’s gone. I’m in charge, or I was until just now.

Laughlin grabbed Mihnea’s rucksack and slung it over his shoulder as Mihnea picked up his kit bag. The two walked towards the jeep as the chopper lifted off.

They threw the new team sergeant’s stuff in the back seat of the jeep, and with Laughlin driving, headed into the camp, stopping in front of the team-house.

The team-house was a wooden structure with a tin roof. As you walked in the door you entered the bar area, behind it was the dining room. Further back on the left was the kitchen. On the right were three small sleeping quarters. The first one was for the team sergeant. The light weapons man and the junior medic occupied the others. Sandbags to a height of four feet protected the building’s outer walls. An American flag flew over the entrance.

Anh, the cook, and the two houseboys, Lai and Tan, stood inside the building and greeted the newest team member. Laughlin introduced them to Mihnea. He said a few words to them in Vietnamese and they nodded at the new team sergeant and returned his smile.

After they dropped Mihnea’s gear in his room the two sergeants headed off towards the communications bunker. That Anh is a good-looking woman, Mihnea said.

You got that right, Top. I’d like to have a shot at her, he replied, his sinister smile returning.

Nobody better be touching that, or any other female in camp, Mihnea said. I’ll break their fucking neck if they do.

Ah, we just look, —you know that, Top. If someone wants to get laid, they go to Tay Ninh.

Good, Mihnea said. The stern look on his authoritative face with its aquiline nose, strong chin, black crew-cut hair and bushy brows framing piercing eyes that missed nothing, reminded Laughlin that Master Sergeant Mihnea was someone you didn’t cross.

The commo bunker, bristling with antenna, was the largest structure in camp. It was constructed of twelve inch by twelve inch timber. Additionally, sandbags, three wide, were stacked to the roofline around the perimeter. The roof was topped with fifty-five-gallon drums filled with sand under a flat tin roof. Overall the bunker stood fourteen feet high and the outer walls measured forty feet by fifty feet. Deep inside, an air-conditioned commo shack linked them to their higher headquarters, the Special Forces B-Team at Tay Ninh, and to the C-Team at Binh Hoa. The commo men, the senior medic and the executive officer slept in the bunker.

The two entered the commo shack. Sergeant Lonnie Chapman was on the radio, completing a routine commo check with one of the field elements. When it was complete Chapman got up and offered his hand to the new team sergeant. I remember you from Phase Three training, Chapman, Mihnea said. How are you doing?

Pretty much adjusted now, he replied. I’ve been through a couple of mortar attacks and went out on my first operation last week.

Good, Mihnea said. Motioning towards the radios, he asked, How are the two operations going?

No contact yet, Chapman said as he ruffled through some papers until he found what he wanted. This is for you. An extract from the Signal Operating Instructions listing the suffixes of the team members.

Mihnea looked at the document:

Signal Operating Instructions: A-Team Suffixes