Disembarkation – Part 9

As the sun began to set to the far side of the coastline, the four Marines sat at the bar of a downtown Accra restaurant. This particular bar doubled as a dance club at night. Romero took a private table where he shared a plate with the adventurous French girl he had met at the market. She called friends vacationing with her to join the impromptu party. It was exactly the kind of party Romero wanted to be invited to. The girl, more familiar with Ghanaian culture and cuisine, ordered him a plate of Grilled Tilapia, Basmati Rice, and Ghanaian “Red-Red”, a bean and meat stew served with fried ripe plantain. “Perhaps Accra really would go better than Havana,” he thought.

The night drew in as Romero sat with his partner from the market. Suicide, meanwhile entertained another girl off to the far side of the bar. Perhaps the mystery that hung over him would open doors at some point. The truth was, no matter how much fun the rest of them were having, Fannon couldn’t escape the knowledge that if he didn’t make sure they all got back to the Tripoli in time for formation, it would probably be him who was blamed for it. He was polite to his girl, but didn’t feel at ease if he couldn’t keep eyes on the rest of them. Lolo was on the dance floor, moving with anything that had a pulse. Kaiser was actually more engaged with the restaurant’s owner than his date, probing into the economic outlook of Ghana, probably more lost in speculating futures and schmoozing for free drinks than the future of this night. He’d had girls before. Perhaps he was more interested in just being here. His date didn’t seem to mind being ignored, at least not when his watch shined in the lights of the disco ball, itself illuminated by the fog of the very dirty Ghanan martinis.

Romero talked to his date for the next hour, long after their meal was over. During a lull in the conversation, she leaned in and whispered into his ear with her alluring French tones.

“I didn’t think Americans were so shy?”

“What?” Romero asked.

“Either you’re shy, or you’re not interested in me.” She said.

He was a little panicked. Why would she think he wasn’t interested in her?

He replied in a flurry. “No. No. I’m interested. I’m really interested. You’re really interesting. I swear. Why would you think I’m not interested?”

“Well…” she replied. “We both know you want me to invite you back to my hotel, but you haven’t asked or anything; not a dance, not a kiss, not a nothing. So why are you being so shy? You want me, right?”

He was taken aback. He’d never been with a girl so forward, so direct. How could this be that easy? Having it finally dawn on him that, yes this was happening, he decided to do the only thing that made sense – and do what the girl asked.

“Umm… yeah. Okay then, do you …”

As the words left his mouth, he was interrupted by a buzzing in his pocket. At the same time, he saw Suicide reach for his pocket, removing the official phones the Marines issued them before the deployment. It was lit with a notification. Romero quickly looked to Lomax on the dance floor. He had stopped to check a notification, as well. So had Kaiser at the bar.

Romero’s heart sank. This sort of notification could only mean one thing when they weren’t due back to the ship for another twelve hours.

From behind him, Suicide broke the news.

“Emergency recall. Back to the boat.”

Nathaniel felt sick. This couldn’t be happening.

“But… but…” He looked at Su, and back to the girl, and back to Su. “Dude, just give me an hour. Just one hour. Come on, man!”

“Emergency Recall Romero. I’m sorry, man. Say goodbye. You can look her up on the holonet. We gotta’ go now.” Kaiser and Lolo were collecting their things, as well.

“Guys come on!” He was pointing to the girl, “Twenty minutes!” he said, pleading with them.

“Romero!” Fannon barked with finality, “We have to go! If you’re not back on the Tripoli when it sets off, you’ll go to the brig.”

He looked back to the girl, herself hoping he could stay for just a while more.

“I’m sorry. They’re calling us back.” The two exchanged information, though both knew they would never see each other again. He gave one last look to the girl before turning with complete frustration.

The walk back to the Tripoli was at a quick pace, but painfully silent with the echoes of missed opportunity.

As they made their way up the Tripoli’s gangplank, Kaiser broke the silence.

“Just so you know… the reason you got that necklace so cheap was because I bought another $3,000 worth after you left. I’m having it shipped off to the United States to sell back. I’ll easily make ten grand off it.”

“Why are you telling me this?” Romero was downtrodden and cared nothing about a rich kid’s profit margins.

“Well, you know, this whole thing with the Emergency Recall isn’t exactly my fault. So we’re still even for Havana.”

When the four of them returned to the ship, they made their way to the media room. Several TVs were broadcasting the news and the room was buzzing with commotion. Corporal Williams was already there.

“Well, glad my Marines decided to make it back.” The Corporal didn’t attempt to hide the scorn.

“Sorry Corporal,” they each said, though they actually weren’t guilty of anything other than not being on the ship when the news went out.

Lance Corporal Fannon asked the question on their minds, “Corporal, what is all this about?”

“You just missed it,” Williams said, “The President was on. Started talking a lot about Venezuela about the same time the recall was sounded. Sailors over ship operations are in a scurry and the scuttlebutt is they are moving out the flotilla to meet with the USS Enterprise’s battle group. We’re turning around.”

It slowly began to dawn on Romero what all of this meant. Williams cleared any doubts he had remaining.

“Gentlemen. It looks like we are going to war.”

Me 3
If you don’t know what it is, you should google “The Big Green Weenie”.
Actually, don’t. It’s vulgar. Everything in the Marine Corps is vulgar, but vulgarity especially ensues when mention of the Big Green Weenie. It’s that thing the Marine Corps does to totally ruin your day, week, or even your life. It comes all the time and never when you expect it. It’s the reason for every gripe, complaint, every act of sadness or depression. Romero met the BGW today and I’m sorry that you all had to see that.

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Disembarkation – Part 8

Romero came to realize that, though Kaiser could be an insufferable pain, he was worth keeping around during liberty call. Kaiser brought a special fanfare all his own. His nice clothes and discerning tastes made it obvious that he was the one with the platinum account in tow. Fortunately, he had a head on his shoulders, and knew how to handle the vast power of his credit. His expensive tastes brought the shopkeepers, vendors, and every other merchant in the city out like a swarm of flies.

Normally, it would be foolish for a bunch of Americans to walk aimlessly around a strange African city flaunting that they had money to burn. Dangerous things happen to people like that. They, being Marines, were confident that they could handle any threat with ease, however. It wasn’t their training that kept them safe in these streets, however. The people of Accra had learned to recognize their types with their short haircuts and distinctive foreign currency. They’d learned very quickly to love them and their dollars every time a US ship made port. Every time the Marines invaded Accra, it was treated like they held the power of a minor economic stimulus for the nation.

What surprised Romero about being with rich people was the way people gave them so much for free. He was given free samples of the food, African traditional souvenirs, a pair of sunglasses, and even a new shirt. At first, Romero thought it was because they all just loved Americans, which couldn’t be further from the truth. It wasn’t that the people of Ghana had any special resentment of Americans. It was just their money that they really wanted. Romero quickly wised up after realizing they were all just wooing his friend, whom they’d affectionately named, “Fancy Shirt.” They all knew that if they impressed Fancy Shirt, then he might drop more money in a single afternoon than they would see in the rest of a month.

When a purchase did come around, it was never very much. Romero could afford most anything he wanted at the Accra prices, but Kaiser with scores more, haggled with the vendors anyway. Who knows what he could have had, but he would still talk down a five-dollar pair of glasses for half. It was like a game for him. Romero guessed the drive must be something in his blood, or maybe a trait he inherited by watching his dad do the same thing with companies or two thousand dollar wines. There had to be some reason why people who had money found themselves that way, probably by developing the skills around getting the stuff you want and not paying for it.

As Nathaniel examined exotic oddities along the market, he chanced upon a girl wandering about the streets of Accra. Seeing Westerners, it’s hard to miss an American for what they are, she had to stop them and say “bonjour.” She was a French student on holiday and, like Romero’s curiosity in eclectic artwork, she was into the exotic things. That’s how she found herself touring Sub-Saharan Africa when others she studied with were in Cannes. Bagging a US Marine while she was there would have served as just what excitement seeking girls like her needed. Romero was willing to be used, if that was what was needed of him.

He and the girl talked about their mutual travels over the last year. As they did, the lot passed a jeweler who called out to them, “Hey there pretty lady. How about a pretty necklace?”

The necklace seemed extravagant. Kaiser leaned in and whispered to Romero.

“Dude, that’s your chance.”

“I can’t afford that thing.” Nathaniel said with a shocked look on his face.

Kaiser gave his smirk again. “Wait here a sec.”

He strolled over to the vendor, whose face lit up upon gaining the attention of Fancy Shirt. Kaiser examined the piece and a few others, pointed down the street to a few stands down and the two argued for a few minutes. Then they seemed to come to an agreement and he shook the vendor’s hand before Kaiser walked back to the group. He pulled Romero to the side.

“You can have it for thirty dollars.”

“Thirty dollars? How did you get it so low? Are you doing anything illegal?” Romero asked.

“Nah, man. Jewelry is cheap here. It used to be called the Gold Coast when it was a European colony, after all. Learn your history. Besides, it’s probably fake, but even then, you’d still pay at least four times that in the states, not to mention she won’t realize that for at least another week. By then, we’ll be back in the Atlantic. Just think of this as an investment into tonight. Take it for her or I will. Don’t have me redo Havana.”

Romero walked over with the French girl to the vendor who was eager to make the sale. Shocked, he took the piece, which he could have probably never afforded if it came from a respectable American establishment.

“Oh, it’s beautiful,” said the girl. “C’est magnifique. Please, put it on me.”

Romero unclasp the chain and placed the necklace around her. His fingers delicately touched her soft skin. It was the first intimate moment he’d really had in months. She turned to a mirror on the vendor’s cart, admiring her new trinket, and the Marine who gave it to her. As the group turned to leave, she took Romero’s arm to walk as his escort through the city.

Kaiser and Lolo laughed. “Oh yeah. That worked,” he chuckled to Lolo.

Kaiser cried out to the others, “Hey you guys head on and find somewhere to eat. I’ll catch up with you in a while.” He and Lolo went back to talking to the vendor. He looked back to the group and yelled out. “And Romero! Now we’re even for Havana!”

Me 3

You know that guy in the platoon who can get with anyone, has weird connections everywhere, and can magically seem to epiphany stuff out of nowhere? That’s Kaiser. Once you get over him, you’ll learn to love him.

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Disembarkation – Part 7

Two months after the Colonel’s speech, the Marines of 2/2 were aboard the USS Tripoli.

Gone was the initial thrill of being on the high seas. It had long since worn off, as now most of Romero’s time was spent in the squad bay, surrounded by the smell of ancient socks and the lingering after odor of tobacco mint. The squad bay was a cramped hole in the middle of the ship where Marines called home. Marines slept in hammocks dangling across the steel beams standing throughout the bay or on the fold up cots riveted to the walls. Sea bags with all of their gear, equipment, and personal belongings lined the deck beneath the hanging cots and bedding. During the times when they weren’t making port, they would be doing drills on the ship’s quarterdeck, in classes and simulation, or performing preventive maintenance on the gear. There was no task more mind-numbing than the constant cycle of PMing gear. Perhaps they would be lucky enough that something would break from all the maintenance and they could actually have something to do. The deployment was already a few months in and they were well into the tedium of ship life.

Romero was asleep when a fellow Lance Corporal from the platoon, Robert Lomax, “Lolo”, along with Kaiser, shook him violently awake. Kaiser most delicately flipped his hammock sending him crashing to the floor.

Lolo cackled as Romero came to life, “Dude! We’re in Africa! Ain’t no way you’re sleeping through Accra.”

Romero groaned less awake than angry, “I’m good. You guys go on without me.”

“Ahh, you’re just butt hurt from back in Havana,” Lolo said.

Romero grunted into the bag of laundry he used for a pillow.

“Look. Everybody in Ghana speaks English, so Kaiser isn’t going to be able steal your girl ‘cuz you don’t speak the language.”

Kaiser was going through his gear, grabbing whatever he thought he might need for his adventures on the Gold Coast. Romero said nothing.

“Serves you right.” Kaiser said. “It isn’t my fault that we went to Cuba, and you can’t even speak enough Spanish to hit it with one of the locals. Seriously, you’re Mexican. How do you not speak Spanish?”

“I’m half Mexican,” Romero replied. “My family have been citizens since the 60’s.”

“Not the half Juanita cared about. Once she found out you couldn’t speak the mother tongue, you left the door wide open. With a third of the United States Hispanic, you’d think that you’d learn to have exploited that dual nature of yours. You only have yourself to blame.”

Romero was annoyed to have the story brought up. “Why do you even speak Spanish? You’re a Jew.”

“The maid taught me.” Noam replied very matter of fact.

Lolo mocked Noam for his class faux paux, “Ho ho.” He bellowed. “Must be nice havin’ a maid to fluff your pillow and teach you the tongue of all society’s bottom feeders like us, huh?”

“Whatever,” he said as he continued to rifle through his gear, “It isn’t my fault my dad is a venture capitalist. So, I’m loaded? I still crawl through all the same mud holes as the rest of you. I just clean up better when it’s over.”

As he said this, he pulled from his bag a nice watch and shoes, far nicer than anything Romero could afford. He had designer clothes he pressed religiously whereas the only civilian attire Romero had was a pair of jeans and a Hawaiian shirt he bought at the PX back in Camp Lejeune. Noam certainly did clean up better than the rest of them.

“Why did you go into the Marines, anyway?” Romero asked.

“You mean because I could just drop the money and go to some private school where everyone is pretentious and boring, get an internship my dad set up at some banking firm, before taking an executive position at my dad’s venture firm at 25 and twenty years before I deserve it?” He let the point hang in the air.

Romero was puzzled. That was what he, as well as everyone else, wanted to know. They just didn’t expect to hear the summary of Noam’s paradoxical existence in this place spelled out so well.

“Look, my whole life has been planned out for me,” he explained. “Go to my dad’s college. Hang out with my dad’s friends’ kids, then follow him to be a self-absorbed billionaire. I didn’t want all that. I wanted to do something on my own for a while, see the world in a different way than my family or anyone else does back San Francisco.”

Lolo interjected, “I wouldn’t mind being a greedy, self-absorbed billionaire for a couple days.”

Romero kept asking, “So why not go officer? Or take an easier job. I mean you live on a cot, but walk around in Armani shoes.”

Kaiser straightened his watch and finished primping himself in a small mirror he had hung on one of the beams. He usually gaffed off the military regulations on service uniform and grooming, but once he went out, he was a meticulous vain narcissist. He finished tucking his shirt and turned around to answer Romero, who was still sitting in his boxers.

“Look, being infantry isn’t the worst thing in the world, once you get used to all the stuff that sucks about it. I mean, where else do you get to see stuff like this. Everyone takes vacations to Cancun, but how often do you get to go to Cuba, Ghana, Buenos Aires, South Africa, and Australia? Once you accept the role you have to play and just embrace the suck, then the Marines aren’t that bad. Besides this isn’t going to be my whole life. At the end of my four years, I’m probably getting out, then do the whole college thing before working with investments, spending my father’s money in the least stupid way I know how. I’ve resigned myself to that, but for now, I’m going enjoy as much stupid as I can, do things all the other yuppies in Armani shoes dream about, and piss off my dad with all the time I have left.”

“You’re a real patriot, Kaiser.” Nathaniel said condescendingly.

“Hey, we’re all here for different reasons.” Noam fired back. “I’m here because I want some life experience before becoming a glorified bean counter. Lolo and Corporal Williams are probably just here because nowhere else do you get the chance to get paid to kill people.” Lolo, also getting changed across the squad bay, laughed out loud for being accused of psychopathy.

Kaiser continued with a snarky grin, “You’re here because of your overwhelming inferiority complex to real men like the rest of us. Others are here for college, or to get money to start businesses, or for the benefits. Others come to the military for citizenship. Whatever. No one is here just to ‘serve their country’… well, maybe Su.”

The three looked over at Lance Corporal Fannon, Suicide. He was sitting on his cot reading a book on his tablet – Gates of Fire, a novel retelling the Battle of Thermopylae. He wasn’t one who usually engaged in the antics of Marines on liberty either. Answering to his pseudonym, he looked up, just long enough to let them know he was listening, then went back to his book.

Kaiser smirked while continuing to look to Suicide sitting alone, “Yeah, maybe Su’s your patriot, Boot. Texas born and bred. Dad was a Marine. Granddad was a Marine. Only thing he ever wanted to be was a Marine. Probably gets a hard on every time the National Anthem plays at ball games.”

Suicide looked up again for a few seconds. He was annoyed with Kaiser. He was often annoyed with Kaiser.

Lolo looked to Nathaniel as he buttoned up his shirt. “You know where he got that name, Romero?”

Nathaniel just looked at the three of them. The truth was that he had been curious ever since he met him. How could a person not be curious about a name like Suicide? But he had never worked up the nerve to ask.

“It was Gunny Yafante. You know how he joined the unit two months before you did? Yeah, well, one of the first things he did was notice our boy Fannon. He’d always go balls out every day in PT. It didn’t matter what it was, the O-Course, the run, on humps, softball… Fannon was always doin’ it better and harder than any of the rest of us. MCMAP too, the ranges, even the reloading drills. Then there was one day on the O-Course. He blew the rest of us out of the water, you know. Got to the end, climbed the rope, but then slipped… came down hard. We all thought he broke something, for sure. He laid there for a second, but then rolled out of it, pulled himself to his feet, dusted off, and climbed the rope like nothin’ happened. Doc Shu was down at the bottom like, ‘I’m gonna check you out, son.’, but when Gunny told us to do the course over, he just went to it. Old Shu was like, ‘Screw it.’ It wasn’t until we were all heading out that Doc Shubert saw him limping. None of the rest of us even noticed. Turned out he’d done the whole thing with a broken ankle from the fall. Never even heard him wince. They bandaged him up and put him on light duty for a few weeks, but he was back at PT the next morning trying to train like a moron. That’s why he’s called Suicide. He’s always trying to get himself killed. Gunny’s had a soft spot for Fannon ever since.”

Romero asked Fannon, “Is that true, Su… uh… I mean, Fannon?”

LCpl Fannon replied, “More or less. Gunny started calling me Suicide. The name stuck. Now everybody calls me Suicide.”

Kaiser smirked again, “Man of few words, as always. Yeah, this is his whole life. He’s going to do this for the rest of his career. When the MEU is over he’s going to Sniper School, then probably end up joining with Force Recon for a while. I’d bet he goes into joining the Raiders before it’s all said and done. Probably even goes OCS to become one of the brass. If you stick around long enough, you’ll probably be saluting him, Boot. That’s why he’s the patriot, you see? He was born to the wrong age. He’s the last of a dying breed – a warrior in the age of robots. There’s not a lot of need anymore for guys like him, good old boy ‘warriors of the American Empire’ out to fight in the name of God, liberty, and the American dollar.”

Fannon dropped his tablet on his rack and glared at Kaiser, “You talk a lot. You know that?” There was the subtle implication that the next few words that Kaiser spoke could well be his last with that pretty complexion. Fannon may be quiet, but not above asserting his dominance among the other Lances.

He replied, “Yeah, yeah. We talk a lot, but tonight, we’re getting wasted. We’re going out to every bar in this city, womanize for a while, and try not to start an international incident. You’re going too, Patriot. Spread some American good will with a few of those dollars you never spend out in town. Romero needs a battle buddy and one of us has to be sober enough to drag the rest of us back to this floating heap.

Me 3
What is it you do when you’re in port? Just sit around in your cabins? No way. You hit the town and everything else that won’t hit back.
I enjoyed this chapter and the few that are inbound for the chance to talk about some of the rest of the team. Hope you all enjoy.

If you would like to support the creation of The Next Warrior, as well as get access to special bonus features, such as essays about the technology being showcased, author’s notes and commentaries on the story behind the story, as well as bonus artwork, become a patron of Jon Davis by following this link. Support the Next Warrior.

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Disembarkation – Part VI

On the day of Nathaniel Romero’s promotion to Lance Corporal, the battalion was anxious, like a horse awaiting the starting gates.

They were in the final stages of preparing to deploy as part of II MEF, the Second Marine Expeditionary Force. Some were eager, and some nervous. They’d be touring ports of call across the Atlantic; Havana, Accra, and Buenos Aires, before sailing on beyond the African coast. This was the adventure they had all signed up for, for some, the most they would experience in their entire lives.

Others were masking visible anticipation. Many of them had never been on a real ship other than the mock landings and rehearsals, and none of them had been to combat. For all the training and bravado of the infantry, they were all still human, and many were scared. You could hear it in the overcompensation of the young ones, the boots.

“We’re gonna’ kill ‘em all!” they would cackle.

“Kill who, you retard?” one of the older Lances or a Corporal would say. It’s a strange thing to be a fraternity of war in a time when peace abounds, at least for your country.

For others, though few of them had ever been embraced by the burning arms of warfare, this was far from their first tour. To the “Salty” Marines, this was just another seven months at sea, they thought, and another half a year they wouldn’t be seeing their families… yet again. It was the same biannual routine for the peacetime Marine Corps. Earning their keep in the military manner. They were just irritable, and easily aroused when they saw any of the younger Marines goofing off. When the old ones aren’t happy, no one is. Best just to dot your “i’s” and cross the “t’s”, so that they have no reason to the leave the office besides the wretched inspections day after day.

Put it all together, and no one took note of the furthering of one young PFC’s military career. Romero barely even blipped on their radar. The air around the battalion was buzzing, tense, but unfocused. Everyone had plenty to do, but they needed direction. Everyone knew how to do their jobs. Now they just needed a why. The battalion commander could see this, he’d been on many deployments before, and as a younger officer, had even led Marines in Afghanistan. He knew well that the Marines needed to be reminded of their place in the world and what their purpose was.

After the closing of the monthly promotion ceremony, the battalion’s Commanding Officer, Lt. Colonel Irons gathered all the Marines together for what he called a chat. He called for a school circle of the four hundred Marines of the Battalion. He wanted to remind them of the importance of the Marine Expeditionary Units.

“Devildogs,” he bellowed with what could only be described as a fatherly growl, “You all know what today is?”

The Marines looked on. It’s an awkward moment to be surrounded by hundreds of people who don’t know exactly what the answer to a simple question is supposed to be. No one was quite sure what answer the Colonel wanted, and they were all afraid that any wrong answer might be interpreted as smarting-off to the man in the big office. Nobody wanted to be the guy to smart off to the Commanding Officer, but none quite knew what they were supposed to say. That is, no one wanted to smart-off… except Kaiser.

“Monday?” he said, earning the disdainful scowl of the rest of the battalion.

Fortunately, Noam’s answer worked.

“That’s absolutely right Devil! And do you know why this is important?” They all looked at the Lt. Colonel expectantly.

“Because Mondays really suck!” he barked. A few chuckles could be heard from around the battalion, still not realizing what their CO was getting at. “But there’s good news. This is your last Monday in the Continental United States! For the next seven months, every day might as well just be Friday, Oo-Rah?” He punctuated his point with the casual Marine Corps greeting, almost as a question, but also as a joke. The battalion chuckled again. The tension was cracking, the goal of the Lt. Colonel in the first place.

“I want to talk to all of you as we set on our last few days before leaving to join the MEU.” He stated in the same jovial tones.

“There’s still a lot of work to do, not for most of you. You’ve already done all the hard work. The training we did leading up to today was all you and you did amazingly well. I’d be hard pressed to find a unit I have commanded more prepared for what is expected of them, then all of you. No, the work left is up to the battalion staff. All the rest of you need to worry about is listening to your NCO’s, making sure your gear is squared away, being where you are supposed to be, and no last minute jackassery.”

The battalion enjoyed that one. Everyone knew the members of their teams and squads who fit that description. The three Marines in William’s fire team all shot a glare to Kaiser, knowing well who to expect of being the drunken Lance Corporal pissing on the Duty NCO’s door at 0300 two days to the deployment.

The Lieutenant Colonel’s laughter sharply broke. He was then absent his good ole boy overtone for one more earnest and weighted with gravitas of purpose. This was their commander speaking.

“Don’t be mistaken though, Marines. Much is expected of you in the next few months. It’s important that you remember what the Marine Expeditionary Unit is all about. I know you’ve heard it over and over this last year, but you really need to get it in this next few days before we disembark.”

The battalion stared. He let it stand in a calculated silence.

“What is our motto, Warlords?” He asked.

There was another tense pause.

“Now come on, Marines! This one ain’t even hard!”

“War Tomorrow!” the voice came from a Gunny off in the back, one of the old faces of the battalion.

“War Tomorrow! There you go! Thank you Gunny Sossa! War Tomorrow! You all know what that means? We acquired that motto from our Israeli allies, the Maglan Special Forces. Over there, they function under the assumption that war could happen at any moment. War Tomorrow.”

He paused to let that sink in.

“We aren’t at war. You all know that, but every war has a first shot fired. If nations have the aim of surviving, they need to have a force ready to give that first shot. They need a force ready with the belief that war might happen tomorrow. They need one ready to make war when all the others have long ago let their weapons rust, their muscles atrophy, and their skills dull. We are that force in readiness for the United States. We are the ‘First to Fight’. It’s more than a recruiting poster, this is the embodiment of what the Expeditionary Force is all about. We exemplify what it means to be Marine infantry by being the warriors first to arrive no matter what is asked of us. It won’t matter if we are there to quell some regional uprising, civil disturbance, or even to aid in disaster weeks before the volunteers show up in their air conditioned jets. And should the people of the United States feel even the slightest whiff of danger from some government who would like to see our people suffer, then we are also the force that exists to make sure that said government doesn’t exist next month. No matter what it is… the Marines are the one they call, and we, the Marine expeditionary forces are the exact Marines that get that call.”

He paused, before breaking from his ceremonious tone.

“You get that right, don’t you all?” He had his hands out at his hips, beckoning a response. “We will literally be the first boots on the ground wherever we land. The first Americans to set foot on a place where Americans are not welcomed. That’s what Marines do, and especially expeditionary Marines. In the event of the sudden onslaught of war, you will be the first Americans to take ownership of contested ground and will spearhead the American ground offensive, leading the way that others will follow. We are the embodiment of American force projection,” Irons continued, “the personified ability of the United States to deliver the world’s finest trained, equipped, and capable warriors she has ever known, to any city, valley, beach, or peak within twenty-four hours of receiving our marching orders.

The Colonel gave another calculated pause.

“That very show of force, my fine young warriors, the willingness and ability to deliver American warfighters, the most selectively chosen, most highly trained, well-armed, and deadliest in the history of warfare, to the doorstep of any nation who dares to oppose her will…,” the Lt. Colonel said, “is usually enough to prevent our actions from being necessary. Usually, the sight of our ships just beyond the horizon is enough to bring about capitulation of any enemy stupid enough to necessitate confrontation.”

He paused for another moment. It was theatrical really, attempting to invigorate his Marines with the spirit of greatness surrounding what, to them, was their first chance at battle, and to prove themselves after many months, for some years, of preparation for it. Many believed that, like so many others, this one would probably have been just another non-eventful seven month cruise filled with little more than weapons cleaning, gear inspections, and the tedium of shipboard life.

Irons’ stance became firm and his tone quickened again, building to a fiery crescendo.

“But sometimes… sometimes Marines, it happens that there will be a need of trained riflemen, those professional gunmen with a talent and the training to topple regimes and force dictators to submission through the absolute annihilation of the lesser gunmen which they are unfortunate enough to field. Sometimes, as has been our legacy in grounds named Montezuma, Belleau Wood, Iwo Jima, Fallujah, and along with thousands of other fields, cities, and beaches, the Marines are called to visit violence upon the enemy. And make no mistake about it, if we are called, we will rain down pure, unadulterated violence upon the poor fools who would beckon us to do so. We, more than other individuals in the world, have the power to redraw the maps and to redirect the course of history. This is why we trained so hard this last year, so that your nation trusts you with such high honors of the kind of responsibility it places on us.”

In one final statement, almost a whisper, but echoing out over the silenced Marines as a roar, the Lt. Colonel ended his homily of violence.

“We are living in uncertain times Marines. We may not be needed, but if we are, know this my stalwart warriors; every time Marines are called to action, history is made. ”

Me 3
Ah, more speeches. Honestly, speeches in the military set you at ease.  It’s like a special kind of performance theatre that you only get if you are in. I once asked someone why the officers gave so many speeches. He replied, “You remember when we were playing football? They were the nerds in Speech and Debate class.” Well, lesson learned… I should have taken speech.

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Disembarkation – Part 5

The aroma of the salty air and Caribbean heat initiated instinctive memories of his time in San Diego, California, drilling endlessly on the Parade Deck of the Recruit Depot. Far from his home in the desert town of Hobbs, New Mexico, he found a rare form of bliss while aboard MCRD San Diego. He hated boot camp like anyone else, but the Santa Ana winds weren’t blowing, so the moist sea air saturated over the base, a sensation something he had never known as a boy surrounded by the rock and sands of New Mexico. The scent would temporarily engulf him as he and his platoon marched across the base to the cadence of the Drill Instructor’s singsong. Nostalgia has an odd way of wiping away the sting of the psychotic screaming of the DIs.

On his fifth or sixth cycle of combat breathing, he caught a whiff of lubricant, perhaps from his weapon or one of the others on the tiny vessel. As he continued his focused breathing, his thoughts flowed to infantry training in Camp Pendleton; laden with heavy gear, climbing along every hill and mountain the deserts of Southern California could offer. He learned to use what he believed to be every weapon the Marine Corps could muster ammunition for him to hone the lethal arts. Beyond this, he spent many hours carrying every one of them along the long miles to the training ranges. He fired so many rounds during the school of infantry that he was confident he could name each weapons system by the subtly varying combinations of different lubricants and gunpowder that served as each weapon’s aromatic signature. Those lubricants marked his memories of that time. He rubbed his fingers together, feeling the spot on the side of his knuckle where CLP would crack his skin every time he did weapons cleaning for the many hours the weapon’s company armorers demanded from them each and every time they went to the field.

The field. His thoughts drifted to the field, and the overnight maneuvers where they would be out for days in training. It was the best part of the School of Infantry. Sleeping out under the stars, shaving with a knife and bathing with wet rags with your rifle at your side. It just felt like refined manhood and he loved it.

One night in the field stuck out particularly to him then. He was standing firewatch over the rows and rows of tents and sleeping Marines, high on the hilltops of the training battalion’s grounds. Distantly, he could see the sea glimmering in moonlight toward the far end of the horizon. That night, he considered, was probably not altogether different from this one. The more Nathanial thought about it, somewhere there were Marines going through their own training cycles, looking over the hills and observing the moonlit night and the sea. Wherever those new Marines were, they were covered in the same grime and gun grease that he was when it was his turn. Somewhere then, there had to be another Marine standing watch staring out into the sea, preparing to join him in the field in the Marine Corps’ endless march.

His breathing returned to normal by that point. He didn’t realize when it happened, but he was in a state of calm by then. Lost in his nostalgia, he continued to reflect, taking him back to places far beyond the tensely cramped vehicle cabin.

Romero drifted to when he met his platoon nine months before.

He thought of the countless times his ruthless fire team leader, Corporal Williams, drilled them on the field outside their barracks, punishment for some imperceptible slight observed during the day’s training exercise or for some failure to observe some obscure custom and courtesy to a higher-up. They’d run in short bursts, only long enough to be seen, but not long enough for the enemy to catch them in their sights well enough to take a well-aimed shot. Romero would be carrying a massive tripod and at the end of their dash he would intentionally throw himself to the ground, knocking the wind from his chest. As he did, the massive M2 tripod he held above and behind his back would fly forward propelling the legs into the ground. The Marines designed this little maneuver so that the force of his fall would cement the legs fully in place. He would roll out, and Suicide would be right behind with the weapon, whatever it might be that day, then Kaiser would be along with the ammunition. His Corporal would yell, scream, and shout, ridiculing every conceivable failure in their maneuver, only to make them do it again, and again, and again.

Then he thought of the midnight crawl through SERE II training. He thought he would never survive SERE, and part of him questioned if he entirely had. The exercise pushed him, some might wonder if it pushed him too far. He went through what the Marines of the training battalion attached to the Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape course called “Going there.” The visualization and augmented reality software embedded in his helmet, along with the enhanced realism of being hunted by fellow Marine trainers, pushed him over an edge after weeks of training. At some point, he forgot that he was actually in a training environment. He fell so deep into the simulation that he nearly killed one of the Marine trainers and was pulled from the platoon for a few days for psychological evaluations. He made it through, though, and was able to join the platoon in preparation for the deployment that he had worked these last few months preparing for.

Romero never knew what to make of his ordeal in the forest. While he had been cleared by the docs at base medical, he felt the experience left him rattled and he never told anyone about his rifle’s imaginary pep talk. He still had nightmares about the downed plane and the other Marine in the forest from time to time. As much as it prepared him, it gave him just as much reason to be concerned over how he would perform on days like today.Would he lose it? Would he snap? Could he kill if he needed to? Would he be a liability or would he be the hero?

He could feel his heart rate escalating again. He needed to change the subject of his internal dialog. He pushed through to thinking about after SERE II. The work ups for their current deployment were already under way. The unit shipped out to jungle training in Apra Harbor, then to the swamps of Guam and continuing on, they crawled through the jungle muck of South Korea before returning to his new home, and every slimy, sand flea infested hole in Lejeune. Then came the formation three months before the invasion. It was the monthly formation where Marines received promotions, awards and where command passed down word in preparation for whatever was going to happen in the month to follow. This one was special, since everyone was still deep in the preparations to set sail for this very deployment.

It was special for Romero in particular. The time had finally come for his promotion from a Private First Class to a Lance Corporal. It was a meritorious promotion, three months early. Perhaps the honor was awarded because of his new status as a unit mascot after SERE II, or perhaps to deploy the unit with as few PFCs as was possible. He and the other Marines being promoted, stood on a parade deck, which for them was really just a supply lot built intentionally too large for gatherings of the whole battalion. The rest of the battalion stood in formation in the position of rest, talking and carrying on about the deployment to come. It was days before his unit cast off in preparation for whatever event, calamity, disturbance, or other adventure may yet come as part of the Marine Expeditionary Force. The Battalion Sergeant Major called attention to the Marines. Those receiving honors were marched in front to the place where the battalion staff officers stood. His fellow fire team members, Fannon and Kaiser pinned on his Lance Corporal rank insignia, the chevron and crossed rifles, known throughout the Corps as the mosquito wings.

The pins where the rank was worn were put on without their backings, an effort for expediency in such a large formation. What this meant, however, was that his chest was left vulnerable to the needlepoints on the back of the tiny emblem. This was made abundantly clear when Fannon and Kaiser each made a fist and pounded the chevrons into place, stabbing sharply into his clavicle. Some might call it hazing, others a rite of passage, but the pounding welcome left Romero months later with a smile, rubbing his chest where he remembered the mosquito bites had been beneath the flak jacket he now wore.

“That was a good day,” he thought. His panic subsided. Feeling a sense of fatigue come over him, Romero closed his eyes and, without realizing it, drifted off to sleep. It would probably be the last sleep he would get for a long time.

Me 3

In the last section we talked about stress factors that come into play and how that can totally destroy a person’s ability to fight. Stress sucks, but it can be even worse for someone who can’t control it.

Once you do, though, your mind clears. During what is called by Lt. Col Dave Grossman the parasympathetic collapse, everything becomes lucid again as all the stress your body endured melts away. Unfortunately, you also have to fight the overwhelming to pass out… which Romero just did.

Fortunately, he still has a long boat ride, so he’ll be fine. In fact, the rest will probably do him some good.

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Disembarkation – Part 4

Nathaniel stirred restlessly anticipating the battle yet to begin outside the tiny landing craft. Looking back and forth to the other Marines, he felt no sense of ease. They were each lost to their own rituals. Some were lost in studying maps, some lost to prayer, while others were lost in slumber. He had yet to discover his own pre-battle ritual, his own mental cleansing process. He was losing himself to his thoughts. He was giving into looming fears born in the imagination that overtake a virgin warfighter on the eve of mortal confrontation.

The tiny cabin began to contract on him. He felt like the gear on top of him was growing heavier, and closer, and hotter. His breathing became sharper as his thoughts became less clear. His heart was pounding and cold sweat began forming in his helmet. He felt this before in training, during his Survival and Escape exercises, during the work ups for this deployment. He knew that if he didn’t get control of the sensation, his biometric alarms would start sounding and Williams would be on him to see what was wrong. He couldn’t let the team see him gripped in panic. He couldn’t allow himself to let it get that far.

He had to control himself.

“Take a breath.”

He heard a voice inside his head. It was like that time in the forest months ago. During SERE, he had what some might call a psychotic episode. Brought on by exhaustion and the stress of the escape training in the deep woods, he believed he had a conversation with his rifle. It was good that his comms were down in his helmet at the time, or the base docs might not have cleared him to be on this mission tonight. Hearing voices isn’t usually considered a good thing for Marines.

Was that it? Was he going crazy? Was the stress getting to him? Was he going to lose it right here on the boat?

“Breathe.” It was the voice of Gunny Yafante.

No, this wasn’t like before. This wasn’t some hallucination. He was remembering what their Gunny had said before.

“Take a breath,” he had told them all many times, “when you need to think, when everything is happening to you too fast, the best thing you can do for yourself is focus on your breathing.”

It was advice intended to calm the mind, the trigger finger in the heat of the moment. He taught it to them to prevent the onset of panic when surrounded by enemy fire, not so much while still safe in the fighting vehicles. It didn’t really matter though. Romero wouldn’t see that combat if he didn’t take the lesson now.

Your body is made for combat,” the lesson continued. “When one’s ‘fight or flight’ response is triggered, the nervous system begins shutting down things it doesn’t need, like salivation and digestion, while at the same time increasing the production of adrenaline. You don’t want to hit this too early though. Once the action is over, your body experiences what is called a parasympathetic backlash, the body attempting to calm down. Depending on how long you held your adrenal high, this backlash can be severe. Marines fighting for hours find themselves exhausted and falling asleep when bad guys are still crawling all over. They do this because they have burned off all their adrenaline.”

Romero wasn’t worried about the parasympathetic backlash. Not that he was completely aware of it yet, but he was still overloaded with the adrenal high.

“Secondly, your heart will betray you. It gets to pumping faster and faster. There is a zone of cardiac excitement when a fighter is alert and energized, better than they could ever be in controlled conditions or at rest. You want that. That little bit of fear makes you a better warrior, not for some philosophical nonsense, but because your body is a machine, bred for billions of years to survive the fear. A little adrenaline makes the body better, embrace it.”

While he may not be embracing it just yet, he was definitely in the midst of that sensation right now.

“But a heart rate increase in response to fear comes with deteriorating motor skills and a reduction in senses like vision and hearing. You’re gonna’ need to keep your wits about you. Eventually, your brain’s cognitive capabilities degrade to a point combat psychologists call, ‘Condition Black.’ Condition Black is that point when your heart rate goes beyond 175 beats per minute, because of that overload of adrenaline and stress. You’ll experience vasoconstriction, the tightening of the blood vessels, and less air is able to get to the brain. The mid-brain, the animal brain, takes over. That’s where our understanding of complex battle maneuvers goes out the window. How to call in a 9-Line Evac, call for fire, how to operate our combat computers or take a well-aimed shot at the max effective range for the M-4, all rational thought just vanishes in a cloud of chemically induced perspiration.”

Recounting the lesson, sweat beaded on Romero’s brow and dripped off his nose. It landed on the hard Kevlar lining of his visor, where it danced from his exhale of short, choppy breaths.

“We don’t fight in Condition Black. You gotta’ remember to breathe.”

As the words began to sink in, Romero slowly inhaled through his nose, filling his lungs, and holding it in.

“You control your breathing to control where your heart rate stays. Too much heart rate and you panic, not enough and you have no situational awareness. You take a deep breath Marines, but you gotta’ do it slow. You start off by breathing in, through your nose, while counting to four. 1-2-3-4… Then you hold it in another four count. 1-2-3-4. Then release just as slow, through the mouth, 1-2-3-4. After that, you wait for another count of four and start the cycle over. A few cycles and your breathing will counteract the effects of vasoconstriction, so that you can think smooth again while holding on to all those other animal impulses conducive to combat survival.”

Romero continued breathing as he was trained.

In 1-2-3-4… Hold 1-2-3-4… Out 1-2-3-4… Hold 1-2-3-4.

He repeated the exercise again, and then a third time. On the third cycle, he could feel his heart pounding less. He could feel sensation again in his fingertips, which he hadn’t remembered losing. Then he started to feel warm. On his fourth cycle, his intake caught an aroma which triggered memories held deep within him, those that had brought him to this moment.

Me 3
Stress. It sucks. That said, vets have ways of handling it. I’m pretty proud that I am not prone to panic when others flounder. The fact is, we were actually conditioned to experience stress in a manageable way. Remember all the yelling at boot camp? Yeah, there was a reason for that.
More so, there are methods which we are trained in that help us handle extreme stress. The breathing exercise mentioned is actually the same one demonstrated in Lt. Col Dave Grossman’s book, On Killing. It turns out, this technique is good for everything mentioned, but is just as useful for everyday life as well. Big test? Big Meeting? Big Speech? Just breathe it out.

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Disembarkation – Part 3

Romero’s mind was racing through periods of finely tuned alertness and a feeling of standing on the precipice of panic. In one instant, he was keen on every sway of the tiny ship’s churning through the water and the fracas of noise from miles outside the craft. In the next lull, he was given over to imagining the night that was to come with its many visions of horrific nightmares born from his imagination. As a sudden roar of another jet echoed far above the landing craft, his heart began to race again. He had no words for this feeling. It wasn’t fear. No, not only fear, at least. Fear was certainly there, but there was something more.

Gunnery Sergeant Yafante had told them of these moments, the moments when battle loomed and a warrior was given to a sort of hyper-vigilance that accompanies battle readiness. The sounds you heard were clearer, the lights you saw were brighter, and the smells were more distinct. An amplified experience of the world was about him then, a feeling he couldn’t discern from the alertness of his battle hardened Gunny, or if it was simply paranoid claustrophobia mixed with the nausea of seasickness. More than likely, he assumed it was a fear of the unknown terrors awaiting him once he reached the jungle beyond.

To ease his mind, he looked to his fellow Marines in the cabin of the tiny vessel. His fire team, each seated to either side of him was handling the tension in their own way. Lance Corporal Fannon, the one they called “Su”, short for Suicide, was asleep. How anyone could sleep in such an environment was beyond Romero, but Su was never one to give into the moment. He could sleep anywhere. He once said that an infantryman was always happy so long as he could get enough sleep. That’s all it really came down to, Suicide believed. Sleep kept you focused when you needed to be. Sleep kept you relaxed and it didn’t allow you to fret unnecessarily, burning calories getting psyched up worrying about things you had no power to control, exactly what plagued Romero now. It was as if the world never phased him.

Suicide was the Senior Lance of the fire team. Senior Lance wasn’t exactly something written on his sleeve or on any government document. Basically, whoever had been in the longest of those who weren’t yet NCOs in their own right, was the senior Lance Corporal and thereby received the mostly honorary title. Its chief honor, besides establishing the intramural platoon pecking order, was being the first one held responsible when one of the other Marines did something stupid. If there were no Corporals around, Suicide was going to get blamed for whatever idiocy was afoot with the other non-rates, either for being the instigator, which he almost never was, or for not preventing said stupidity from happening, a case which Kaiser provided him with often. It makes sense then, why he liked to sleep. It’s hard to blame the guy who just slept.

Being Senior Lance was nothing to let go to your head, but it meant that Su knew how to handle himself. He knew his role. He knew his weapons. He knew his job. It didn’t really matter that this was also his first combat engagement. If anyone would buy it on this deployment, they all believed, it sure wouldn’t be Su.

Romero looked up to him and did whatever he asked, though he rarely had much to say and never pulled what little rank he had. It wasn’t because Romero was still intimidated by Suicide… he was most definitely intimidated. Even after eight months of being part of this team, for Nathaniel, the longest he’d ever been with one, he still barely knew Su. No one honestly could say they knew him well. Of course, being introduced to a guy everyone calls Suicide doesn’t serve to give a presence of warmth and welcome. Regardless of the distance he held from everyone, Su was still well liked for the very reason why Romero listened so intently when Su had something to say. Whatever he said always just seemed like the smart thing to do. Call it respect, or call it admiration. In reality, people did what Su said, as much as a survival tactic as anything else.

Lance Corporal Noam Kaiser was a different matter. He was Romero’s closest friend in the squad these last few months. He’d been in a little while longer than Romero, a little under a year and a half when they set sail, but was the newest member of the team besides Romero. You couldn’t have made a person less like Su than Kaiser. As the squad sat in that horrifyingly cramped, hot, dank, and noisy cabin on the way towards a battle with an enemy they knew little about and in a place none of them had ever been before, perhaps to all of their certain doom, Kaiser managed to handle the stress in his own way. With all the sense of purpose God gave to a sixteen-year-old girl, he was cracking jokes on the squad intercom channels.

Of course, there was a logic in this, as well. Noam was a rich kid from the West Coast. His dad was a venture capitalist and he could have had it easy. Instead, he joined the Marines. Perhaps he had an outlook that made him see everything much differently than everyone else. It was almost like all this was just a show to him, like it wasn’t really real. It was as if there was nothing to get excited about, at all. He didn’t seem to notice the distant crash of ordnance outside the landing craft, nor the sounds of the vessel itself. He seemed almost oblivious to the imminent struggle they were all about to endure. He didn’t change at all. He would still be cracking punchlines even if the world was crashing down around him. It was all just part of the show. It seemed to Romero that some dealt with the stress by not acknowledging it.

“Never let the fear know you’re afraid.” He once said. “Make the fear afraid of your fearlessness.” He added.

This self-constructed barrier from reality made Kaiser a sort of platoon morale officer. He had a way of easing the other Marines. Regardless of what was going on, no matter how tired they were, or how miserable a day they had endured, or were still embroiled within, the tension melted off him. It was as if the platoon’s problems were just raindrops, and he was the only one with a raincoat. When the rest of the platoon was at each other’s throats, he had a way of cracking a smile and a joke that broke the moment. Some are wired to read a room. He was wired for their welfare, and would pick up on one when they needed to check out mentally, take a five minute vacation, and chill. These were all skills he long ago mastered, much to the ire of their fire team leader, Corporal Williams.

As Nathaniel’s eyes passed over Noam, his fellow LCpl made a clandestine motion. With his index finger, he pointed down to the deck. That was a signal, an unspoken sign used by the Lance Corporal Underground. It meant, “Drop to chat”, meaning to adjust the channel on their helmet’s ANPRC-197 radio to one that wasn’t being used. During operations or in training, this was how Marines of the Underground were able to speak freely between themselves when they didn’t want anyone else, like the NCO’s, eavesdropping in on the conversation.

Romero adjusted his frequency to a clear channel, which Kaiser had initiated and invited him to.

“What is it?” Romero insisted. Both were whispering. No one else could hear them once they dropped to their own frequency, but that wouldn’t stop anyone from hearing them through their helmets if they were too loud. They were supposed to be functioning under energy and signal discipline during the cruise. For that reason, wasting power on idle conversation, particularly in route to a full blown battle, would have been… frowned upon, by Command… not to mention the fact that their fire team would probably get a buttstroke to the face were it to be known what they were doing.

“Hey Boot.” Kaiser said to him.

Boot was the derisive term given to the newest member of any team within the Marines. It was a reference to them being fresh out of boot camp and being called “a boot” was tantamount to being equated with an infant. This honorary title, not unlike the Senior Lance Corporal, but ashamedly different, lasted until no later point than when there was someone newer than you. Kaiser had only been with the unit four months longer than Romero, and Nathaniel arrived nearly nine months ago. He’d hoped by now he’d have had a new nickname than to be constantly reminded of his station within the platoon every time someone needed him. It didn’t matter what it was you were doing, you were the boot at it until someone even more boot than you showed up. Since Romero was the last to join the squad before they set sail, he was to remain “the boot” for at least four more months or until this war they were sailing straight into was over.

“Hey Boot, I got a question.” Kaiser repeated. “Which one would you rather have: Evonaska today or Miley Cyrus in 2015?” said Kaiser.

“What… what are you talking about?” asked Romero.

“You know, Evonaska… with all the piercings and the face spikes? Or Miley, from before all the surgeries? If you could have one to do whatever you want, which one would ya?” replied Kaiser. Somehow, Romero could hear his lecherous sneer through the radio.

“I don’t know! Aren’t they the same person?” asked Romero.

“Yeah, but Old Miley was back before she had all the surgeries and got all weird with the name change and metal in her face. I like the weird Miley.” he said.

“I don’t know. I was just eight in 2015. Are we even allowed to be talking on this channel?” Romero asked.

“Whatever, dude. It’ll be fine. Now answer the question. Young Miley, or Weird Miley?” insisted Kaiser.

“Weren’t they both pretty weird?”

“Answer the damned question!”

Just then, Kaiser’s head was racked violently from the impact of the butt-stock of an M-4 assault rifle. The back of his head struck the bulkhead behind him as Noam was overcome by dizziness and the surge of pain that rode down his neck and spine. In a few seconds, once the impact shock began to wear off, he suspected he somehow knew the source of that deadening stroke.

“What part of energy discipline don’t you understand!”

Standing with the weapon in hand above Noam, was their fire team leader, the esteemed Corporal Williams.

“We’re almost to the damn beach and you’re burning charge on stupid bullshit nonsense! Lock it up right now or I’ll have you both charged.” The Corporal’s visor was backlit, showing every detail of the stabbing scowl delivered to both of them, not diluted by either the visor or the darkness of the tiny boat. “We are about to start a damned war and you two are off in Never-Never-Land daydreaming because you’re bored. Get your damned heads in the game before you get the rest of us killed you two worthless morons.”

Having dealt with the brief interruption, Romero’s fire team leader was perhaps a thousand miles away, just as before. When not cracking the whip of the cruel taskmaster, Corporal Williams sat in perfect stillness, head rocked back and seemingly disconnected to what was taking place within the transport. Likely, their leader was focused on the intelligence reports and objectives laid out for the company before disembarkation. Most likely, Williams was deep in the command net, listening to the NCOs’ observation channel, or reading the updated field data intelligence that streamed into the Marines digital uplink, beaming directly into all their visors.

The command net would be lost on Romero. He couldn’t focus like that, not now. His thoughts were elsewhere.

Nathaniel wasn’t one of the lucky ones. He had no system to deal with the anxiety other than to just weather the storm. He couldn’t just fall asleep whenever the moment suited him like Su did, nor could he casually disconnect from his problems by cracking jokes or getting himself in trouble, as Kaiser seemed to enjoy. Nor could he immerse himself for hours in battlefield intelligence reports and map reading like their illustrious leader, Corporal Williams. As a bursting bomb reverberated through the hull of the tiny craft, sending a shiver up his spine, all he could think in that moment was what had brought him to this night.

Me 3

It takes all kinds. Several of the followers have been asking about the other members of the team, namely Williams, Fannon, and Kaiser.

The fact is, the “Lone Survivor” stories are only so special because of how extraordinary they are. The fact is, a real war story should revolve around a team. That includes the hardass Corporal, the stoic and reliable senior lance, and the boot, and the comic relief.

If you would like to support the creation of The Next Warrior, as well as get access to special bonus features, such as essays about the technology being showcased, author’s notes and commentaries on the story behind the story, as well as bonus artwork, become a patron of Jon Davis by following this link. Support the Next Warrior.

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Disembarkation – Part 2

The entire invasion obviously wasn’t this archaic. Romero’s job would have been easier had they just been able to fly in via one of the Valors and fast-roped down to whatever their mission site was supposed to be. That’s the scenario they’d rehearsed for the last six months. The problem was that 2/2 didn’t have the Valors anymore. Most of the V-280s were either loaned out, ferrying troops stateside to nearer bases in preparation for the next few days, or still on ship being prepared with men and supplies. These would link up with the troops still at sea in the amphibious vehicles. There wasn’t enough boats or planes to do one or the other, so the operation’s planners wanted to synchronize the assault, which would put nearly every boot in the task force together on the beach at the same time, secure it, and then move on to separate objectives.

A few of the transport helicopters and tilt-wing landing craft belonging to the task force were also lost to allied forces. They had been temporarily “acquired” to support Marine Special Forces Command, the Raiders. It should be known that in Marine Corps jargon, “acquired” is actually synonymous with “stolen.” They wouldn’t be seeing those birds any time soon. The Raiders were supposed to have their own dedicated aircraft, so why they needed more, low level grunts like Romero and the rest of the Warlords of 2/2, could only guess.

Of course, the Raiders acquiring them was only scuttlebutt from the Lance Corporal Underground. The Underground, it should be known, was the clandestine fraternity of non-rates and low-level troops within the United States Marine Corps. The Underground was famed with a degree of insider knowledge and operational situational awareness that belied their lowly station. It was an open secret within the Corps, and one despised by the officers and leadership. The Underground had a nasty habit of getting things wrong, spreading rumors often false or misleading, was often damaging to unit morale, while other times, unwittingly true to the point of violating operational security. Still other times, it had a way of surfacing enough useful knowledge that it greased the wheels of a bogged down government bureaucracy that was the Marine Corps. Most of all, the Underground had a remarkable way of getting things done.

The Underground, however, is often wrong when it counts. When 2/2 got the call, the Underground believed they would be part of the invasion to take Caracas. It also predicted that Fannon would be picking up Corporal last quarter. They were wrong on both accounts. Good for Caracas; bad for Fannon. Still, the Raiders using more than their fair share of the fast travel assets seemed logical enough. Whatever the case may have been, there were only so many planes, and only so many boats. For that reason many of the troops were forced to leave via the troop carriers in the water and the others would fly out much, much later. Romero’s company wasn’t one of the lucky ones. This is why he would have to make a land invasion after riding in this floating coffin for three hours. The Raider theory at least explained why the company was there well enough, and it’s always easier to deal with being screwed over when you at least have a theory that explains it.

It wasn’t like the task force was doomed to suffer casualties like the Marines who took the real Iwo Jima. The aerial strikes and naval bombardment were clearing the landing zones of whatever opposition may have existed. Judging from the echoes of calamitous destruction heard from outside the landing craft, the bombardment would also be taking anything foolish enough not to have fled days earlier when the propaganda machine bellowed out over the airwaves exactly what would be happening here today. It’s not usually been considered a sound strategy to deliver your battle plan to potential enemy forces with days to prepare. Given, however, the danger of someone leaking a video of some kid getting obliterated on international media was more concerning than ensuring the safety and survival of the invasion force, the troops were still a bit nervous. There’s a lot of preparation that can be done in only a few days of knowing where the enemy is going. The balance for all this personal risk to the Marines, was the overwhelming onslaught of the American military war machine and her technological prowess.

If this night proceeded according to doctrine, the beach would be extended southward a few hundred yards through a campaign of violent deforestation. This would happen in coordination with crucial defense assets across Venezuela being taken out in a surgical strike campaign courtesy of the United States Air Force. Through the Air Force, no other power on Earth can maintain such elaborate capabilities to end any regime in under six hours. Through the use of weapons systems like the “Hellfire III” missile, the “Avenger” gatling gun, and the MOAB, known through military circles as the “Mother Of All Bombs” and the largest non-nuclear bomb in history, they can raze the headquarters of any government or military office, level fortified installations, decimate enemy units, and affect political change faster than any diplomatic power that exists.

With weapons of such power, few enemy regimes survive the first hours of the fist night into a war.  In the first hours of a war government structures will rest in hollowed out husks. The good soldiers stand and fight to the last. They know this, of course. This is why they use their brave countrymen as distracting fodder to cover the escape of the ranking officers and key leadership, in their attempt to evacuate to safe houses at home across the world. This is war in the modern age. Though often called of a “conflict” or even “event”, it is a war. The semantics don’t really matter to the people who live through it. For example, what the leadership did could quite honestly be considered evacuation, an effort to carry on the good fight, but just as easily, one might also call that fleeing into exile, leaving behind their people to fend for themselves against the mercy of the invaders. It’s only semantics really.

Though, in all honesty, people have managed without government.  When one really examines life, it isn’t even true that anyone needs a government for , for a few days at least. The leaders could have vanished, either of their own clandestine means or those more violent, but the roads would still be roads, and the hospitals don’t just disappear because there has been a change of power. So, as long as people don’t descend into total anarchy and madness from the lack of a despotic ruler, a people without a government isn’t much different than one with a ruler in place. That’s why all you have to do is kill all the bad guys, but leave the lights on so the people can still stream vids on the holonet.

It’s for this reason that something very interesting happened in the history of man beginning in the mid-20th century. Warlords once judged in the ancient tradition by how much destruction they could command, were now measured judged by how much power they withheld, breaking the time honored ritual of bloodshed and atrocity to a mere memory of it’s former horrors.

And this is where war becomes a horrifying marriage of both science and art. “How best to end a threat while keeping a people happy?”

It should be known that the Americans have such weapons as low yield tactical nukes that wouldn’t even place the rest of the city in real danger. This isn’t to say they wouldn’t notice. On the contrary, a building being reduced to a pile of irradiated dust is a horrifying experience for those who witness such a thing. That assumes they can still see afterwards, as most who have seen a nuclear explosion first hand were blinded by the event, leaving nothing but the sight of their city burning the last vestige they would ever see. Relatively speaking, however, the tactical nukes are far and away better than suffering the loss of an entire city, also within the Air Force’s power, but in this era of civilized warfare, such an action would be wholly unspeakable. But why go to all the trouble, the fallout if one prefers, of such awesome demonstrations of force, when all that would be necessary to achieve campaign requirements would be a single puncture in the same building’s exterior wall, leaving the structure a hollow shell? It’s much less traumatic to a people than seeing a blinding flash of light, a small crater in the middle of the Presidential palaces district, and a cloud of radioactive ash.

Surgical precision meant that new weapons could obliterate just a single floor, or even a solitary room, along with all its occupants, all without those who fired them ever leaving their comfortable offices of Air Force Global Strike Command Barksdale, Louisiana… or even disturbing the sleeping baby three floors down.

Assuming the former leaders of a regime lived days and weeks following a diplomatic intervention, again, most of you call this a war, it wouldn’t matter much what they did, as the offices they once worked in would be little more than hollowed out piles of rubble. With no ability to command their forces, it really didn’t matter how many medals and stripes the Venezuelan Army commanders might have. If they couldn’t have access to their strategic communication lines, or for that matter, if all their armored assets and fortified bunkers were destroyed, they couldn’t mount much of a counter-offensive. That was the hope of the Marines, anyway. It’s an art form really, applying just the right amount of overwhelming force while leaving the rest of the population relatively undisturbed by the complete system-wide government change brought about by their brand of force diplomacy. Of course, the Air Force really loses their relevance after that first six hours, if you ask the Marines, so they had better make their time in the spotlight a good show, because it wouldn’t be them that paid for their failures.

That would be Romero and the US Marine Corps. Their way of warfare was less of an artform than other branches. Their art is much more akin to a drunken brawl in a bar where one tries to decipher the pretty pictures painted in the blood spatter across the barroom floor. Much could go wrong when one paints with blood, namely when it might be your own shades providing the pigment. In thinking about the Naval bombardment outside, and the history lessons of “Shock and Awe” tactics during the beginning of wars gone by, Romero fluctuated between anxiety at the sound of the bursting bombs, and a calming reassurance in the knowledge that the bombs meant there would be nothing waiting for him in that particular patch of forest. Perhaps, he dared to dream, this would make for an easy push into the jungles. That was the reason for the bombing, he thought. It should prepare the way for them… should.

Few believed, honestly, that there would be any major resistance. This was true, as much for the Marines with him to the highest echelons of Marine Corps command overseeing this operation from the Pentagon. There was something to be said of doubt, though. Doubt has saved many a young Marine from an untimely and often gruesome fate; doubt of their gear, causing them to recheck it; doubt of their own experience, causing them to train that much more; doubt of their bearings, causing them to check the map one last time. Doubt was a good thing, assuming there was anything you could do to control your fate. In the back of that ACV transport, there was nothing he had left to doubt, other than the long line of life choices, which had brought him there. Anxiety was never very distant from their minds. There were simply too many unknowns on the eve before battle for many to sit idly.

Unfortunately, sitting idly was the only thing Romero could do.

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So one bone I often have to pick is when we see a military story, you get the events from the point of view of the few people who are named characters. The truth that many stories fail to deliver is the massive scope of operations that goes into a conflict like the one of the Next Warrior.
Another bone is the idea that we could lose in an open fight. Here is the gut reality. The United States has such an overwhelming military presence that we can, more or less, guarantee any regime’s destruction within the course of a night. Granted, that is a far different sort of strength than is required to win the war six months later, but in that first six hours, our strength is a thing of terrifying beauty… well, depending on your vantage point.

If you would like to support the creation of The Next Warrior, as well as get access to special bonus features, such as essays about the technology being showcased, author’s notes and commentaries on the story behind the story, as well as bonus artwork, become a patron of Jon Davis by following this link. Support the Next Warrior.

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Disembarkation – Part 1

LCpl Nathaniel Romero entered Venezuelan waters on a clear night in the summer of 2026. He along with the rest of Fox Company, 2nd Battalion 2nd Marines, the “Warlords” of Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, were about to take part in the largest combat operation of a generation. They were part of Task Force Iwo Jima, then deeply underway in what was being called in the political realm, Operation Preserving Purity.

Nathaniel, along with the rest of his expeditionary squad, were aboard an Amphibious Combat Vehicle, ACV. Moonlight danced anxiously on the Caribbean waves outside the Marines’ ACV as it trudged through the sea the night of the late July invasion. They road within for the remainder of their ocean going voyage. The craft carelessly rocked in the gentle waters of the Caribbean en route to the beach. The Marines onboard were set to disembark again soon.

His ride in the bowels of this floating tin can was nearing its midpoint for the three-hour voyage to shore. As the ship rocked back and forth in the water, sprays of ocean splashed into the gunner’s turret and collected in tiny pools flowing across the floor. They charged forward and feigned back with the waves in a constant and ceaseless struggle. Boiling away by the heat of the cab, they filled the tiny vessel with the hot, humid scent of salty seawater.

In his gut, Nathaniel felt a sinking feeling. He never enjoyed the hauls from ship to shore. The rocking of the boat with the ocean, the cramped casings with gear stacked all around him rattling about. Then there was the steady roar of the engines and the metal creaking. The sounds of the seaborne landing craft had the effect of sending Romero into a state of nausea combined with a cold panic. It wasn’t seasickness, though. The open water didn’t bother him, especially not when he had a few pills with the very specific purpose of combatting the rhythmic gyrations of the open ocean. Get him above deck and he may as well have been on dry land. This was a form of anxiety he felt only when in the cramped confines of the floating steel coffins.

It was probably the sound of the metal creaking that almost did him in. They told him it was just hot metal contracting and expanding when exposed to the chill of the water. They said that the vessel was designed to do it, and that it was completely normal. That explanation did nothing to ease his fears that, at any moment, the hull would crack open and the cabin would suddenly flood with salty seawater, pulling them all down until they reached the ocean bottom to be eaten by crabs and other scavengers of the deep. The thought wavered in and out of his mind, that the whole lot of them would succumb to a watery grave without ever reaching the shoreline. Thoughts like that made him almost look forward to the battle outside waiting for him on the beach.

This time, though, was different. He wasn’t feeling the same anxiety he had during training in similar maneuvers hundreds of times before. He never liked the ACVs, but this guttural feeling wasn’t that phobic reaction he’d had before. It was less a fear of some mechanical failure, his Corporal’s reprimands, or the fury of his Gunny in the event of a failed exercise. He was contemplating the battle in which he was about to take part; the war which had just begun only hours earlier.

Distantly, Romero could hear the sounds of war. Outside the tiny vessel, missiles launched from the ships, by then very far behind them. Their naval counterparts fired the big guns, and from their bowels heavy shells bombarded against the shoreline, resonating out across the water. From time to time, the roar of jet engines passed and then awhile later they would return, perhaps preparing to launch a second time, or perhaps a third by then. Along with innumerable air strikes racking the seascape, the world outside their vessel was an orchestra of mayhem. The symphony rippled out across the waves, reverberating in the tiny hull of the transport carrier.

Beyond the echoing of the war front, were the beaches of the north coast. This is why they had come. The Marines were tasked with creating a beachhead along the central part of the north coast of Venezuela. Following this, they would be moving inland. None of them knew exactly where they would be heading. All they knew was that they would be moving fast, and following information that would be provided en route. Heavy vegetation prevented the use of the Marines’ ACV progressing to give them a quick, if not to mention armored, means of transportation. Aerial reconnaissance also revealed what few serviceable roads in the deep of the jungle remained had been sabotaged with roadside bombs and barbed wire. That would gum up the tracked vehicles and tires of the light armored reconnaissance fleet, to the point that combat engineer crews would be needed to clear them before any combat vehicles could be useful again. Relative to the invasions of the past, this would reduce the American advance to a crawl.

All this came together to mean one thing. Nathanial Romero and the Marines of Task Force Iwo Jima were about to do something no Marines had before them in half a century. They had already disembarked to invade an enemy controlled beach. They would take it before moving toward their main objective several miles away. What was different about this invasion, however, was that they would be making the initial assault through the jungle, under the cover of darkness – and on foot.

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I’m really happy to be putting out my next chapter: Disembarkation.

Here, we pick up with Romero again, but this time we will be focused on him and the rest of the team. War is all around them as they enter the field. The dark jungles of Venezuela await them as the next adventure awaits.

Thanks to everyone who has followed so far and I am super excited to see this next phase of the book take off.


If you would like to support the creation of The Next Warrior, as well as get access to special bonus features, such as essays about the technology being showcased, author’s notes and commentaries on the story behind the story, as well as bonus artwork, become a patron of Jon Davis by following this link. Support the Next Warrior.

Cover Art