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.

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Proving Grounds – Part 22

After returning to Camp Endurance, the Battalion’s make-shift camp city, William’s team finally got the much-needed rest they required, as did the particularly weary and war-torn Nathaniel Romero. The ground may have been cold and damp beneath his bedroll, but as soon as Romero’s face hit the pack he used as his pillow and his body lay flat on the sleeping bag, he was in another world. His sleep was alive with the replaying in his dreams of the night. In a thousand angles, variations, and endings, he fought the night’s battle over and over. Some of the outcomes were favorable; most ended in his death. He could feel the false puncture wounds from the simulation rounds even in his sleep. The feeling of being shot haunted him, but the ghostly injury became something he learned to live with, as it faded away, along with a busted shoulder and a few cracked ribs. In his dreams, he pushed on, ever adapting and overcoming, in spite of the constant presence of pain. His mind never stopped attempting to resolve his conflicted spirt, though his body didn’t move for another six hours.
Nathaniel read once in a book how the human race is an amazing thing. We are problem-solving machines. Even in our sleep, our time of rest, we build problems, problems which may not need solving, which may have no solution at all, because the problems themselves do not exist in any real or imagined worlds. Regardless, we spend the whole of our nights endeavoring endlessly to solve them. What miracles and nightmares they’ve concocted in our nightly hallucinations one can only imagine, but when the sleeper awakes it is rare that he should encounter an obstacle he cannot eventually invent a solution to overcome.
The next night, he and the rest of the team set out on their mission, for the second time. On this try though, as a result of Romero’s new experiences, Corporal William’s focus and leadership, the quick actions of Suicide, and the enthusiasm and cheerful spirit of Kaiser, they persevered and completed the exercise in just over two hours and twenty three minutes. It wasn’t the greatest time of any fire team in the platoon, but it was a good time.
With the test completed, they had only one final challenge before they could claim that they had completed SERE II training. Their final ritual, one last rite of passage, was a daunting ten mile night march down a worn road through the Carolina forests. Among Marines, it was called the Bataan Death March, though no official documentation would record it as such. It was a reminder of why the training existed. Memorial totems and monuments along the trail marked the struggles and tribulations of those who were left behind, and those who were taken by the enemy. They were the testaments of terrible instances of American men and women suffering brutal fates because they were unfortunate enough to become prisoners of war, or worse, killed under the custody of the enemy. It was a somber march, lasting through the darkest hours of the night.
The Death March finally ended as dawn began to break over the horizon. The haggard troop broke the gentle slope of the final hill just as the sun began to beam across their faces. The sunbeam reminded Romero of his night before, how different this felt. In spite of his body feeling physically broken, and exhausted beyond belief, his mind and his heart were alive and he felt confident again. It was good not to be alone. What a difference a day could make.
As they entered the Force on Force Tactics and Training Command’s compound, their instructors and their battalion’s staff greeted them. They were lined up on either side of the road clapping and cheering them in. The team was directed to make their way to the chow hall of the forty-five area where they cleared their weapons into a barrel and made their way inside. Inside, there were the few other fire teams of the platoon which had made it to the chow hall before them, waving them in with pride and directing them to offload their gear onto little wooden stands at the side of the chow hall. Before them lay a buffet of breakfast dishes the likes they felt they had never seen before. Sausages, steak, bacon and eggs, not the powdered, tasteless eggs, but real eggs; waffles, and pancakes, with whipped cream and every manner of syrup; not to mention all the fruit and juices anyone could ask for. There was even eight types of cereal, if that was what they wanted. No one would tell them to stop. They would gain back their strength, their stamina, and their spirit through the pure unadulterated medium of caloric intake. This was the Survivor’s Breakfast, one of the few honors of training in the fleet. It was ending a brutal training on a celebration. It was a grand feast so that they may honor what they had done.
As the hours wore on, the Marines continued in the mammoth feast. Most everyone went back for more. Some passed out on the table in heaps of exhaustion. Every twenty minutes or so, another team would darken the door, to the cheers of the restored and refreshed Marines who had completed the journey before them. Those who stayed awake carried on and reminisced of the adventures of their last three weeks at SERE. Romero’s misadventures quickly became legend.
They were all surprised when the Battalion Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Ryder S. Irons, along with his entourage of officers and staff, namely his Executive Officer, Major Kraft and Sergeant Major Jones made the rounds to see all the Marines in reverie. The Colonel rounded his way to all the tables and cheered on the victors, congratulating the Marines for a good showing.
The procession made its way to Romero’s table. Nathaniel was terrified by the presence of the big brass. Irons lumbered over to the table and with a hardy Texas accent belted out over the chow hall a hearty,
“Oorah, Devildogs!”
Smiling, the Marines greeted their Commanding Officer in return.
“How you doin’, Sir?” smirked Lance Corporal Kaiser with his orange juice held high, speaking with a bit more familiarity toward the Colonel than Williams, or anyone else for that matter, preferred.
“I’m great, Devil! And how are all my Marines?” He asked.
“Been better, Sir.” He fired back with a snarky grin. Williams, Suicide, and the Sergeant Major stared daggers into the upstart Lance.
“Ah, shenanigans! You Devildogs got this on lock, I bet. I bet you could do this all over again easy with Bravo Company next week, couldn’t you?”
Feeling the looming presence of hate directed at him, Kaiser sat back down and joined the chorus of silence in response to the Colonel’s invitation.
Sensing the subtle reminder of the reverence for command had sunk in, Lt. Colonel Irons broke the tension he had created, “Ah, I’m just ribbin’ you devils. Now… where’s that Devildog who got his tail kicked by a bunch of trees yesterday?” The fire team broke in laughter as all eyes centered on the chagrined Romero. “Ah, so you’re the one, eh? Just tell me this, did that birch have it comin’?”
Romero hid his face in embarrassment.
“Nah, don’t you mind any of that, Devildog. I watched the video of last night. You showed some good heart and gung-ho spirit. It made me proud. No, I’ve never seen anyone nearly killed by foliage, but you showed heart there, warrior. Nearly made the Sergeant Major tear up with pride, it was so beautiful.” The audience looked up at the stone-faced grimace of their battalion’s senior enlisted Marine. No one in the battalion besides Yafante had so many Purple Hearts or seen as much combat. Not a soul believed even for a moment that he was about to shed any tears for Romero, or perhaps had he ever done so for anyone else in his entire life.
“Of course, then you downed one of my Valors in one of the most disastrous rescue calls I have personally, ever witnessed in my life. Thank God, they were all just a bunch of ones and zeroes. I don’t think my printer has enough ink for all those letters home.”
The Colonel’s notoriously morbid comedic sense left Romero mildly sickened with shame, yet again. Before he could sulk too heavily, the Lt. Colonel broke the mood a third time.
“That’s alright though. We’ll get you trained up real good so boot mistakes like that don’t happen again. Isn’t that right, Corporal?” he said, directing his focus on Williams.
The fire team leader replied resoundingly with a “Yes, Sir.”
“I know we will. Remember, the end of SERE II training isn’t the end of it. Once we get back to Lejeune, we’ve got annual training for those who haven’t completed rifle training and the gas chamber and we go back to the field next month. Then we have ITX at 29 Palms to get some practice in with Marine Air-Ground Task Force before we start pre-deployment block leave. After all that… it’s the big show and we’re shipping off with the MEU. We’re going to be balls to the wall for the next several months and SERE II is just the start. We gonna’ be ready?”
“Yes, Sir.” Came the voices of Marines from around the chow hall. The tiny fire team hadn’t noticed that their commander’s speech had attracted an audience. Whatever the case, his message had landed. This training was only the beginning. In a few months’ time, they would be off to sea and perhaps, to battles yet to be born.
As the Lt. Colonel cheerfully dismissed himself from the table and made his way to see the other Marines of his command, a thought occurred to Romero. At some point soon, the training really would be over. He would soon be on a ship somewhere, who knows where, just waiting for something to happen. The Marines existed in this state perpetually, and first to the fight, as the old posters used to say. The United States was at peace now, but the next war could start at any time, and it could very well be him fighting it.

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The last chapter of Proving Grounds.

There was so much about this chapter I loved. I wanted to end on a high note. One thing readers may appreciate is that, though the training of The Next Warrior is fictitious, it has its roots in real training being done today.
During the final march out of the testing area, much of it will remind Marine Corps readers of their time in boot camp. Periodic stops at trail markers depicting great events are hallmarks of the Marine Corps experience during the grueling Crucible hike, as is the Warrior’s breakfast.
Of course, it wouldn’t really be a Marine Corps story without a visit from the CO. I actually had a hard time writing Iron’s because he is based off a real guy that seems like a fictional character, Colonel Wayne R. Steele (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7mcU3LOL4Fg) Honestly, did his name have to be Steele? The man’s a living cliche. He’s also a legend, and my first CO, but that said, they have a way, if they are good, of command that both inspires and brings a unit together. I wanted to capture a little bit of that in Iron’s speech.
That said, Proving Grounds has been an amazing trip and I am excited to announce the next segment, due to launch in a few weeks: Disembarkation. Make sure to follow for more updates and the next chapter of The Next Warrior.

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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Proving Grounds – Part 21

After receiving word that Romero would be psychologically stable enough to continue training after the night’s events from HM2 Schubert, and then seeing that Williams led the team off for their much-needed reprieve, Gunny Yafante walked back to his waiting Latvee. The Latvee was the command vehicle he and Lieutenant Grabowski used to maneuver through the platoon’s drills and keep watchful eyes on the teams’ progress through the obstacles. The Lieutenant was waiting for him in the front seat, scanning emails on his tablet. Yafante sat down in the passenger’s side and slammed the heavily armored door shut, rocking the vehicle gently.
The Lieutenant was nonchalant and spoke to Yafante over his tablet. “You seemed pretty hard on them back there, Gunny.” His tone denoted more curiosity than disapproval. Yafante, though, wasn’t keen on being questioned by anyone, regardless of whether they were his commanding officer or not.
“Yes, Sir.” Replied Yafante, feigning an equal ambivalence to the event.
After a pause where Grabowski realized that his Staff NCOIC wasn’t going to enlighten him willfully to why he had come down so hard on a Marine who quite obviously seemed to be close to the edge, the Lieutenant opened his tablet’s vehicle control program and set it to the field command tent. The vehicle’s engine started up and a few moments later, it began to move, following the waypoints programmed for it. Personally, Grabowski would have rather driven the Latvee manually, rather than leave it to some autonomous robot. He enjoyed the tactile sense of control, and rush from taking the vehicle off-road. In the autonomous age, however, such luxuries were unnecessary and seeing the overflow of messages from division headquarters to the supply shop he had to deal with, along with having a platoon to run, manning the wheel himself was one luxury few officers could afford. He stared off past the dashboard for a moment and then returned to the work awaiting him, both on his tablet and in the seat beside him.
While still half focused on his tablet and the scores of emails still needing his attention, he questioned the Gunny further. “It was an interesting choice, calling out a Marine on the verge of being a psychiatric casualty, I mean. I’m not saying that it didn’t seem to work, but I would like to know why you thought to do it.”
“Because he was about to be a psychiatric casualty, Sir.” The Gunnery Sergeant replied, his emotionless tone masking some sense of resentment to the question. He didn’t like being questioned by Lieutenants. This Lieutenant, though, wasn’t the type to endure being brushed away by anyone. Grabowski didn’t have much patience for insubordination, no matter how thinly veiled and most of all, from his staff NCOs. Also feigning composure, he spoke more bluntly to the enlisted Yafante.
“Gunnery Sergeant, you know I’ve been over your history at length. I know that you resent leaving the Raiders, but you know as well as I do, that the last decade has seen virtually all of the major operations go to special forces. The core infantry units are sorely in need of experienced warfighters. Simulation training like this simply won’t cut it whenever some new major conflict breaks out. For the good of the Corps, people like you are needed more here as instructors than on the field as front line operators.”
There was a second protracted pause where the two men sat for a few uncomfortable moments in silence.
“All the battalion officers know well about what you did in the Ukraine, Libya, and Burma. We know we are fortunate to have your experience. That’s why when I ask you why you do things, especially things like this, you shouldn’t treat this like some officer thinking he knows better than you, but as the commander of a unit which is looking for the knowledge you have.”
There was another pause. Grabowski broke the silence once again.
“And Gunny, so that we’re clear, you’ll remember that I was once an enlisted 03, an infantryman just like you before my time in the Naval Academy, so there won’t be any of this ‘butterbar’ and ‘climb my hashmarks’ business. I am not going to earn your cooperation any more than I already have. Your role until we deploy this Summer is to serve as my advisor in getting the platoon ready for anything we might face on the MEU. That means sharing whatever you’ve got, and frankly, Gunny, I’m not going to work this hard asking you each and every time. Now, why did you come down so much harder on William’s fire team, and that PFC especially, than you did anyone else in the platoon?”
Yafante sighed for long, reflective few seconds.
“It was Romero, Sir. The PFC.” He relented at last. “He was about to psyche drop. I’ve seen it before.”
He paused again, but this time Grabowski didn’t break the silence.
“The training can get real intense and what he put himself through was enough to push over any young boot. Fortunately, all he knows right now is training. For the last year, all he’s done is get yelled at by drill instructors, combat instructors, his Corporals, his Sergeants, and us. Being yelled at for doing stupid stuff in training is all he knows. It’s what he’s used to. In a way, he’s comfortable with being yelled at. It lets him know that it is all just training, and that someone is in charge. There’s a great sense of security for a young Marine in knowing that someone else is in charge.”
Though Grabowski’s eyes were still on his screen, they had long ago stopped focusing on it. He just listened intently.
“When his fire team died, he was all alone. So far, he hasn’t been all alone in an exercise, not before that. Few of them have, even some of the NCO’s. He was in charge and he wasn’t in control. Sure, he thought he could deal with it. They all think they are invincible and can handle anything. Just power through like a good Marine, and all that moto crap we tell them, but when the real test presented itself, he just didn’t have the experience yet to win, whether he had the willpower or not. Then, when he went on and on and on like he did, he forgot what was really going on. When that bird crashed down, his little world shattered with it. Like I said, it’s fortunate that he was young. All you really have to do in that case is yell at him and he’ll snap out of it. I’ve seen others who weren’t as lucky.”
“I see.” Said Grabowski, taking time to let the lesson sink in. “And the others?”
“Williams deserved it. New fire team leaders always want to show off with unnecessary heroics. That mentality comes from a good place, I guess, but it gets fire teams killed. That team had no situational awareness when this op began. Kaiser and Romero, moving like they had no sense at all, got Suicide killed. Kaiser, I have no clue what he thought he was doing. Moron probably just thought because it was all simulation rounds, he might get lucky and make a name for himself charging some enemy position. Getting lit up and feeling every one of those rounds with the sim-suit will teach him a lesson for next time. It’s a rare feat of stupidity to max out the suit by getting shot so many times that fast. Idiot’s going to get himself or everyone else on that fire team killed.”
Grabowski was concerned. He looked out of the window to the training area where his platoon was still engaged, spread throughout miles of the 76 Area FOF-TTC training grounds. He looked back down to his pad. “It sounds like you’re saying Williams doesn’t have control of the team. Should we give it to someone else?”
“No,” Gunny Yafante replied, “Williams is a solid Marine and a good fighter, but a young leader. There hasn’t been enough time to consolidate and line out the fire team, but I have faith it will happen. Fannon, he’ll make a good leader when his time comes. For now, they are all just young in their roles and young as a team. They’ll get there though, Sir. Nights like tonight will just help them get there faster.”
The Lieutenant nodded in acknowledgment. “Very well.” He took his eyes from his tablet and looked at Yafante. “And what about Romero? Do you think he’ll be OK?”
Yafante thought about what the question implied, as well as the possible ramifications of getting it wrong. It wasn’t asking if a Marine was going to be tired, or if he was just hungry, or even injured, where a simple few days of light duty would solve the problem. Grabowski wanted to know if they had broken the young man. He wanted to know if the young Romero was still fit to be a Marine, or if he had become one of the casualties of an era when the training for war itself was enough to leave one a hollow shell.
“I won’t lie, Sir,” Yafante finally said. “He grew up a lot last night. I’ve never seen anybody go through SERE II with that level of self-inflicted abuse. It hasn’t been that long since they reformed the SERE training to include a Force on Force survival exercise for deploying infantry, but in that time, few have survived the whole of the first night like that. There were times I wanted to laugh, and they’ll have a good time with it in the platoon, but honestly, he came close, Sir. There were points I thought we should have ended the training. Still, he kept getting up when most people wouldn’t have. Maybe he was just too stupid to remember that he was in a drill, or maybe he just wouldn’t give up, or maybe it was something else. He still makes all the dumb mistakes that young Marines make, but he’s got heart. You can train away the mistakes. You can’t train a person to just keep getting up like that.”
Lieutenant Grabowski chuckled, “Yeah, there were more than a few times I thought I was going to call the training, but he just kept getting up. He’s got endurance. He’s a damned fool, but he didn’t quit. I’ll give him that.”
In all seriousness, Yafante interjected something more. “It’s more than that, Sir. He has instincts. He knows how to survive. There were a lot of times he could have taken the shot, but he didn’t. He dropped low instead and survived. He even figured out how to avoid the drones all by himself. Probably he was just lucky the first couple of times, but I have seen this training done on a lot of good Marines. I’ve never seen a boot PFC figure out how to survive SERE Level B Capture the Flag training evolution for over eight hours on their first try.”
“It was a long time.” Replied Grabowski in agreement.
“No. Sir, I mean I’ve never seen that for a first timer.” He stressed the “never” so that the Lieutenant could really come to understand that what Romero had endured was, in fact, something extraordinary. “Look at the rest of the platoon. All the other fire teams have failed twice, even three times already tonight. Williams and the rest of them had just been doing remedial training at the MOUT site for the last seven hours waiting for Romero to finally buy the farm. They didn’t even have time for a second run.” He scoffed, “Ha. The exercise should have secured two hours ago. If we don’t get them some rack time soon after a day like that, you’d probably lose your commission.”
Half-joking, Grabowski laughed and replied, “So would you have me give him a commendation for it? He completely failed the trial and got ten Marines killed. Simulated Marines, but still.”
Yafante laughed with the Lieutenant.
“No, he doesn’t rate a Circom. We can’t reward failure, especially a failure as epic as his. I’m just saying he’s got potential. We need to watch him, though. He’s shaky right now. Good training will forge him into a good warrior is my guess, but strike too soon, too hard, too often while the steel isn’t yet tempered and when the metal is still too hot, it will break when it cools. I’m just sayin’ we need to watch him. Make sure he stays OK.”
The two men stared off in the forest and the winding path beyond the dash of the vehicle as it drove along on its predetermined route. After a few minutes of pensive silence, Yafante spoke again.
“Sir… There is something to remember.” He paused as he looked to the platoon commander, waiting for a response.
Lieutenant Grabowski looked up from his pad and to his Staff Noncom.
“Yes, Gunny?”
“Everybody fails the first night.”

Me 3


The exchange between Yafante and Grabowski. I wanted at least one chapter that dealt with the leaders as more than just people who have it all together. You watch movies and all the people who have been in a while seem to work fluidly and effortlessly together, as if that all just happened by magic.

No, just like any other organization, the military requires people to learn how to build a team together. This chapter demonstrates that important element between the senior members of the platoon, the old warhorse Gunny Yafante and the new Lieutenant swimming up to his ears in paperwork.

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

Proving Grounds – Chapter 20

There was a long pause. The sound of wind through the Carolina forest echoed through the leaves.  That sound would resonate through the team’s mind as the sound of deep disappointment and shame, though not all in the same measure. Romero was sickened by the casualties he caused, virtual or not, as well as his ignorance in operating the gear, making him, in his own mind, a complete failure as a warrior. Williams was torn by the fire team’s utter devastation and failure as a unit, a fault lying solely on no one else’s shoulders.
The Gunnery Sergeant’s voice softened again. He no longer had the same sardonic tone, tearing his troops to pieces with his caustic little jabs. He was then the stoic Gunny they had come to know, the distant warrior of many battles.
“Do any of you know why we do Capture the Flag drills as part of SERE training?” he asked.
There was a silence. Yafante wasn’t sure if they really didn’t realize it, or if they were just too afraid of breaking the silence and being the one sacrificial lamb.
“We do Force on Force simulated fire exercises like this as part of Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape Level B to train small teams, like yours, that the lone gunman heroism will just get you and everyone else killed. You do this training to discover that the team is all that matters when you are 0n hostile ground. The Marine Corps has forced more and more lethality and responsibility onto the lowest echelons of their force. That’s you. The four of you command more devastating strength and killing power than a whole company of Marines eighty years ago. The Marine fire team is a specialized fighting unit, made exponentially more powerful by each one of you working in unison to survive and complete your objectives.”
There was a continued silence.
“Suicide, the Gunny called out to the fire team’s machine gunner, Lance Corporal Fannon, “What is the mission of the Marine rifle squad?”
Fannon replied with stolidity, “To locate, close with, and destroy the enemy, by fire and maneuver, or repel the enemy assault by fire and close combat, Gunnery Sergeant.”
“That’s right Su,” said the Gunny. “Fire and maneuver.” Yafante repeated. “Maneuver is just as important as the weapons we fire. It is the ability to overwhelm the enemy, not with superior force, but by being everywhere at once. To apply force, not like an axe, but like a scalpel and being exactly where your strength can do the most harm with the least risk to the team. Anyone can outgun someone, but eventually someone you don’t see will have a bullet or piece of ordnance with your name on it. Marines master maneuver warfare. We practice getting around them, and putting fire where they are weakest, or to escape needing to fire, at all. That’s how we win time, after time, after time. That’s how you win the ten-thousand little battles necessary to win the war. Sometimes, you won’t be in the advantage.”
The Marines stood in silence listening to the seasoned veteran, not only those of the William’s fire team, but all those in witness of it.
“Sometimes you will be the prey, the hunted, as all of you were tonight. Remember your history. In every war the Marines ever engage in, they go in numerically at the disadvantage, but in the way we trained for tonight, this is how we survive. You survive and there is no limit to the good you can do tomorrow. You die, and all that ever mattered about you is in the history books. Our way of fighting demands that you live. That’s how we ensure that everyone else loses. That’s why the Corps wants you to know maneuver warfare on the squad and fire team level to survive. That’s why they want you to know how to avoid being killed, or worse, captured; fodder for some insurgent agenda and propaganda machine, being beaten and mutilated in front of a camera, waiting to die in a basement of some country you’ve never heard of.”
That sobering thought lingered as Yafante continued.
“You have to work together in everything you do to keep each other alive. That’s all that Capture the Flag is about. You aren’t supposed to fight. You’re supposed to live. You didn’t fail today just because you didn’t get a packet to some LZ safely, you failed from the moment the first shot was fired. You failed from that moment when you let Romero go off alone. The first person shooter video game heroic, the lone wolf antics, couch combat and Iraq war movie myths you all grew up with is nonsense. It’s complete and utter garbage and the Marine Corps has no room for warriors who think that they are here to be heroes. That’s not how war works. That’s what makes money for charlatans and petty entertainers. They couldn’t care less about how war really works. You copy that nonsense in the real world and you’re all dead. Say it with me Marines, ‘XBox got it wrong.’”
It was a little absurd, some of them thought. The comedic nature of them making fun of an old gaming system in the middle of a series of hard-core war games had an odd way of breaking the tension that had been building in the air over the last several minutes. The Marines did as instructed. They chanted back his saying, with more than a little apprehension, “XBox got it wrong.”
“XBox got it wrong, Gunnery Sergeant!” they recited, this time crisper and with more vigor. For some reason, it was so ludicrous to hear the Gunny say it, and to then repeat it back, that the team felt uplifted, if ever so slightly.
“You all got to remember… you stay alive. That is your purpose throughout this whole training – throughout your whole lives in the infantry. You stay alive and you keep each other alive. Each time one of you falls, life becomes exponentially harder for the rest to succeed, until you reach that last man and your chances of winning are practically zero. You can’t die. Not a single one of you can die. You can’t let each other die. You have to survive. You understand me? Each and every one of you never quits, never leaves the team, and none of you ever lets anyone else on your team die. That’s what SERE training is all about… Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape. Sometimes, you aren’t supposed to fight. Sometimes, you just got to live. You get me?”
“Yes, Gunnery Sergeant!” The team shouted in unison. That is, they all spoke in unison, but one was much weaker in his response. Romero was still visibly shaken. He was standing as if in emulation of the walking dead. He was no longer in a state of shock, but he was done. Yafante could tell, whether the young PFC wanted to be or not, whether he would have admitted it or not, his body and mind were done with all of it.
After a moment in the silence, Yafante addressed Corporal Williams.
“Williams. Your team doesn’t move on until they complete the exercise. I’d like to see all of you stay until you can manage to get through these woods alive. As it stands though, I’m relatively certain if Romero takes another step, he is likely to die of exhaustion or become a psych-drop for getting all of you killed over and over again, not that any of the rest of you did any better or helped him with that. Last night was a wash.”
The team was sullen, but Yafante quickly interrupted the mood of the battered team. It was important to end their downward cascade before it bottomed out into a valley of self-loathing and blame. That sort of mentality, if left too long poisons the team, leaving only doubt in one’s own abilities and the abilities of those around you. It is the kind of mental state that erodes the collective psyche and the very unit cohesion that exercises like SERE II were meant to instill. The Gunny knew they needed to lick their wounds and move on from this night.
“Corporal, you’re to take your team and prepare for your next shot tonight. Get some chow and rack time. From you, I want an after-action report prepared and ready for the debriefing you will all have with the rest of the platoon at 2000. There, we will go over all of the numerous ways your team screwed up during last night’s debacle and how I expect you to succeed next time. There won’t be any of this super-warrior nonsense like we had already. I expect all of your team fed, rested, and hygiened before the 2000 formation. Oh, and Corporal, I want Romero to finish his physical with Doc Schubert. Make it happen.”
“Aye, Aye, Gunnery Sergeant.” Williams replied. Immediately, the fire team leader set to the new tasks at hand, eager to redeem the young team and wash away this complete failure. More so, the Corporal was as anxious to finally see the end of this day as anyone, besides perhaps PFC Nathaniel Romero. It’s amazing what a little bit of chow and the promise of a few hours of sleep can do for the mind.

Me 3

Here we get into one the chapter that deals with something that is near and dear to my heart – blaming people who weren’t even there. Marines know well the suffering that comes with command. Anything your boots did, is your fault… good or bad… even if you weren’t even there. That’s just the way it goes.

That said, this chapter does start to turn it around, we start to  the motivational element of training and why Gunny shines. Hope you enjoy it.

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

Proving Grounds – Chapter 19

Gunnery Sergeant Yafante’s shouting continued. “It’s good, this was all just a simulation, wasn’t it Romero?” He paused, waiting for a response from the young Marine.

“Well?” he roared.

“Yes, Gunnery Sergeant!” replied back the PFC instinctively.

Yafante’s posture took on a distinctly forceful stance as he growled caustically.

“And why is it good PFC?”

“Because I died, Gunnery Sergeant,” the young Marine responded meekly.

“No!” retorted the aged warrior condescendingly. Yafante’s arm shot out, outstretched with his hand and fingers elongated and pressed tight to one another, forming a knife hand solid enough to cut steel. He pointed with his whole arm straight at Nathaniel’s face, unignorably inches away from his eyes.“Everyone’s dead, PFC. What makes you so special?”

“Aye, Aye, Gunnery Sergeant.” Romero said.

“Aye, Aye? What, did I give you an order? I said, ‘What makes you so special?’”He looked deeply, piercingly into Romero. His presence was like nothing any of them had ever seen before. Normally, he was a calm and collected force that lumbered around the bay or in the Non-Commissioned Officers’ offices. He rarely said anything louder than normal conversation. He could be relentlessly dogged in his training, some might go as far to say ruthless or even sadistic, but never raised his voice or broke a sweat about it. The Gunny was a true stoic warrior when he wanted to be. This man was nothing like that, though. They’d seen him get into the training before, but never break his detached stare as he led it. This Yafante, the one beating down Romero with every word, was like a beast on the end of a chain, barely restrained by some force none of them could see. The rest of the Marines there on the training grounds found themselves staring silently, intimidated by this new side of the veteran warrior they had never truly known before.

Nervously, Romero looked at the Gunnery Sergeant and shakily answered the Gunnery Sergeant’s question of what made him special?

“I’m not.”

“That’s right PFC. You’re not special.” The Gunny was snarling as the words seethed through his clenched teeth. “You’re no more special than all those other Marines in the plane you crashed. You’re no more special than the pilot, or the eight grunts either. You’re also no more special than the rest of your little fire team. Wonder how they turned out?”

This time Romero said nothing. He just stood silently and stared past the Gunnery Sergeant, far off into the distance at the empty field where the imaginary plane and its imaginary crew had crashed not long ago.

Yafante’s tone shifted. His stance softened and he began to pace around Romero and among the other Marines. He wasn’t the raging beast anymore. Now, he was venomous.“But that’s not your fault, is it PFC?” For a moment, Romero puzzled over the question. Romero’s team, then standing silently watching from a few feet away, didn’t miss the Gunny’s implication. They knew well what was coming, as they had already endured hours of it before this. “Williams!” barked the belligerent platoon SNCOIC.

“Yes, Gunnery Sergeant!” shouted Corporal Williams in response.

“So, it seems that the first thing you do when we give you a fire team is get them all killed? Is that what happened?”

“No, Gunnery Sergeant.” Romero’s fire team leader replied.

“Oh? That’s what seems to have happened to all of us watching the massacre. Still anyone left in the woods you’d like us to know about? Is there still some mystery Marine on your fire team I have forgotten? Did one of your Marines make it through and I simply didn’t notice it?”

The Corporal responded, “No, Gunnery Sergeant.”

“So then… your whole team is now officially dead?”

Accepting defeat, Williams relented, “Yes, Gunnery Sergeant.”

“And not only that, your PFC was so ill-trained, he didn’t even think about the fact that sending out a low-frequency ping would alert everyone within twenty miles to his exact location… including the enemy.”

“Yes, Gunnery Sergeant.” Williams again replied.

“I’m just curious if he even knew how to fix his screwed up radio after that tree, much less call in the 9-line through the secure channels. Who on your team can do that, Williams?”

“LCpl Fannon and myself are trained to troubleshoot the PRC-197s and we both know how to call in secure frequency 9-lines.”

“Oh, just the two of you? Then don’t you think it would have been wise if either of the two of you had lived rather than the boot fresh out of the schoolhouse with only the basic knowledge of the radio systems?”

“Yes, Gunnery Sergeant.” William replied.

“Why, might I ask, weren’t your other two members trained up if only the two of you knew how to do it? Do you think that all there is to running a fire team is PT and gear inspections?”

“No, Gunnery Sergeant.” Said the team leader ashamedly, still trying to maintain some sense of composure.

“You do realize that for that very reason, Romero was a dead man from the moment you two fell, right?” He asked again.

“Yes, Gunnery Sergeant.” The fact had been made painfully obvious during that long night, where they had done dozens of remedial drills until Romero finally came to his unfortunate end. Every few hours, they received updates on his progress, realizing the entire time that, unless some miracle were to occur, he wouldn’t stand a chance, given his knowledge and experience, or rather, his lack thereof. The failures had eaten away at the young team lead, who by the dawn, grew to wish Romero would just get himself waxed so the night could finally end. After it had finally happened though, and they saw Romero quivering and flailing about after enduring a death march like none other, Williams felt nothing but regret in wishing for the death, virtual or not, of one of the members of the team. Seeing him fall was a bitter pill to take. The sense of failure and betrayal like the eating of poisoned daggers. Seeing the rest of the team wasted, and having it all perfectly spelled out for the platoon’s most junior Non-Commissioned Officer, the echo of the wish to see another Marine fail was almost too much for the team leader, barely even twenty years old by then.

“And would you like to tell the congregation why you elected not to teach everyone in your fire team how to properly use the PRC-197, especially considering half of you already knew how?” The Gunny hissed. There hadn’t been a conscious thought to ignore the lesson. Everyone else around knew this. It was just one of the thousands of lessons required to face nights like tonight; one that, unfortunately, the team just simply had not yet made it to. There will always be far more to learn than can ever be taught. As a team leader, though, Williams had been told countless times over, “It isn’t what you know that will get you killed. It’s what you don’t.” Regardless, here the team was, beaten and obliterated, all made painfully aware of the costs of even a moment’s complacency.

“No excuse, Gunnery Sergeant.” Said the Corporal again.

“No excuse, Gunny. Roger that. No excuse. And not only that…” Yafante jeered,“but your whole team seems to believe that this is some sort of video game. They think because it isn’t real here that they can just run out like they’ll get a second chance in the real world.”

“No, Gunnery Sergeant.” Williams still had a stubbornness even after the beating already endured.

“Oh?” The Gunnery Sergeant’s voice was yet more venomous and caustic upon hearing his young Corporal’s reply. His words were about to bite the junior Marine very deeply. “Your senior non-NCO, Lance Corporal Fannon, your machine gunner and the only other one, besides you, who seems to have a clue what is going on in this fire team, bites it first because your team doesn’t observe proper light discipline over the two boots. Thirty two seconds later, with you still flailing about, not knowing what to do, Kaiser goes down making a suicidal glory charge on some enemy he can’t even see. Next thing you know, you and Romero are running through the forest before you try to make some last stand for him to get away. Tell me, was you getting yourself killed the smart thing to do? Was it supposed to be heroic or something?”

“No, Gunnery Sergeant.”

“No, it wasn’t smart, but it was heroic. You all want to be heroes. They might make a movie about what heroes you all were today. You know what happens to heroes in the real world, Williams? They get their teams killed. Tell me, would Romero have been better off alone, or with his fire team leader there?”

“With me, Gunnery Sergeant.”

“Yes, especially considering that he’s still so boot that he nearly got himself killed three times on some five hour death march against people who can’t even fire real bullets. To top that off, he even miraculously managed to figure out how to take out another eleven Marines and a one hundred and five million dollar aircraft, before buying the farm himself, which is to say the least about losing the package, I guess, just to prove how complete a mission failure one could achieve in a single night. Isn’t that right, Corporal?”

Me 3


Continuing with the “Old Corps verbal beatdown of Gunnery Sergeant Yafante”, I wanted this chapter to really spell out how everything that most people associate with military life and combat really makes no sense when you really think about it.

As a teacher who has served in war, I spend most of my time explaining, you guessed it, how X-box got it wrong. I’ve explained I have no idea how many times how Call of Duty makes no sense, but yeah can be fun in multiplayer. Just don’t try that stuff in the real world.
The unique nature of the FOF-TCC training is that, you sort of can try that stuff in the real word. I just finally got to show readers exactly what would happen if they did try to live their life like a video game. Next week though, we deal with the real Marine responsible for the failure of the fire team, Corporal Williams.

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

Proving Grounds Chapter 18

Romero woke to the sensation of daggers piercing his nasal cavity. The sudden chemical jolt was of such a shock to his subconscious that he was propelled back to the realm of the living.
As his vision returned, Nathaniel could see sunlight shining high above him. The light was darkened as silhouettes of men loomed above and all around his limp frame. Terrified, and confused, he began to flail about wildly, punching and kicking at the air and towards the dark figures that surrounded him. He desperately groped around for his weapon, but it wasn’t there.
The shadowy figures descended upon him and held him down at the shoulders while another held down his legs.
“Easy there, Devildog. We gotcha’. The exercise is over, so let’s just tone down the bravado there. Good to go?” It was a familiar voice, but he was completely unprepared to be hearing it here. He was unprepared to hear anything at all. He was sure that he was dead.
“Romero, chill the hell out. It’s over. It’s over.” He knew this voice, too. He knew it well. It was Corporal Williams, his fire team leader.
He looked around and saw everyone from his fire team. His fire team leader had his legs, while the other two members of his team, Suicide and Kaiser were holding down his shoulders and arms. Doc Schubert was leaning over him holding the ammonia pack and a bottle of water in the other hand. The doc looked at Romero as he began to calm.
With a disconcerting grin, “Yeah, there you go. Now you’re coming back to us.”
Nathaniel scanned his surroundings, still overcome with bewilderment. The wrecked plane was gone. The debris was gone and the fires were gone. All the enemy soldiers were gone. No, that wasn’t true. Someone in one of their uniforms, a blonde haired man with a military high regulation haircut and about the same age as Romero was screaming at another Marine. The soldier was upset, but didn’t look like what Romero ever thought a prisoner of war was supposed to look like. Romero wanted to know where his handcuffs were, why he was standing and why wasn’t anyone detaining him? Romero realized the soldier still had his weapon. Why did he still have his weapon? Nathaniel began to get excited again when he realized this. Doc Shubert again interrupted his thoughts.
“Oh yeah, that guy’s pissed.” said Doc unconcerned. “You gave those FOF-TICK boys a real scare, especially your little friend over there. You can shoot holographic simrounds at projected images all day and everybody gets back up no problem like, ‘Hey Honey. Tough day at work. What’s for dinner?’ but if you had butt stroked that dude in the face like you almost did, he’d a been done for, for real.”
Romero just stared, dazed and confused.
The Doc saw the distant, still trembling look in his eyes. “Right…” he said. He wasn’t quite satisfied of the cognitive state of his patient. “Look PFC, I need you to take off your flak. I need to check to make sure that your impactor simulator vest isn’t going to deliver any more of those shocks you seem to love so much. I also need to check a few other things. Make sure you aren’t going to die or crack up on me.” He paused, unsure of the shaken warrior’s mental faculties. “You understand what I’m saying? You got me?”
Romero said nothing. He just stared around with a flighty, distant look in his eyes, frantically darting from person to person all around him. Little did they know, he was still in search of the downed plane that wasn’t there, which was never there, and all the Marines aboard.
“Ok. We’re going to take that flak off, you understand?”
As the Navy Corpsman’s hands drifted toward the clips on Romero’s flak jacket, panic suddenly overcame the young Marine again. He began breathing heavily, then gasped to the point of hyperventilation. He started kicking and punching again, restrained only by the aid of his fire team. All of the mental barriers holding back his animal strengths and impulses had been unbound. He was just a feral beast, cornered and panicking. Rabid. The four of them, his fire team and the corpsman, had fought with all of their collective wills, just to repress him and prevent him from doing further harm to himself or to one of them.
Just as he had freed one of his hands and was about to swing, another voice broke into the fray, roaring out and capturing the attention of every soul in the meadow.
“Devildog! Pull yourself together!”
PFC Romero and the other Marines froze in position. Fists halted mid-swing as everyone stared at this ominous form making its way over to the cornered Marine. It was Gunnery Sergeant Yafante. He had joined the unit not long before SERE II training and in that short time he had implanted himself deep within their souls and subconscious as the lone source of fear, pain, discomfort and every human indignity imaginable.
“Stand up Marine! Position of attention, right now!” Yafante bellowed like a possessed demon, or perhaps, something more reminiscent of Romero’s Drill Instructors from months before.
With an automatic impulse to the command, Romero’s body followed instructions without thought. Almost instantly, he was standing, heels together, his hands clenched into fists at his sides. He might have just as easily been in formation moments before a parade, rather than being the one covered in the mud and muck of some Carolinian bog serving as a mock battlefield. Nathaniel was surprised his body would do that at just the simple command. Perhaps it only required the right person. His confusion at the involuntary control this man had over his body quickly transitioned back to fear of the individual currently marching towards him.
“Show some bearing devil! You’re acting like some boot straight out of the School of Infantry! Oh, that’s right. You are a boot straight out of the School of Infantry! I guess that explains why you went all Call of Duty on my training course and got a whole Marine Quick Reaction Rescue Squad killed in the process!”
Romero looked around confused. At first, he did not know what to think, then he remembered the downed plane. He looked over to see where it had crashed. The meadow was clear. There was no evidence of anything happening there, at all. Still lost in confusion, panic was starting to form again in his eyes. Yafante saw this.
“Romero”, Yafante broke in, grabbing Nathaniel’s chin and focusing it back on him. “Wake up! It was simulation! Holographics. It was all just a visualization on your visor. Blips on a screen. You think anybody’d give you a real Marine infantry squad to get killed? You think we’d give a whelp like you real rounds to fire at people? You think you could be shot three times and just stand here looking at me like some sort of moron?”
In that instant, Nathaniel remembered when he had been shot. He looked down to observe the wounds he had received from some unknown enemy in the forest. His hands groped around where he felt the bullet’s impact still, but there was no wound.
“Not real! Not real! Not real! It wasn’t real. You were never shot. It was just your electroshock training vest. You’re fine PFC. Position of attention right now!”
Romero snapped back into position. Suddenly, it began to dawn on him, it really was all just a simulation. He didn’t know when he forgot that fact or why. Perhaps it was the exhaustion, the simulated feeling of being someone else’s prey, or nearly being beaten to death with a tree. He wasn’t aware of it, but it had happened sometime after that. He stopped thinking about the fact that this was all training sometime after the creek, during the long slow march over the last few hundred yards, perhaps. His thoughts were held ransom by his focus on the force-on-force trainers, his enemy, and avoiding interception by the drones. Fatigued as he was, he drifted into a dream state then, more of a walking sleep; automation focused on his survival. When he finally reached the meadow, it was not just the end of an exercise; he really thought he was safe, having forgotten that he was never in any real danger at all. No longer riding a high of adrenaline, he passed out from exhaustion. He was only woken by the sound of the Valor playing in his headset on the speakers of his radio. It wasn’t just a virtual projection of a plane playing on his heads up display; it was his escape from a combat zone. When the plane crashed in front of him, it wasn’t just a projection of holographic pixels representing a failed objective; it was the grave of eleven real people, Marines, who he would never meet, not because they didn’t exist, but because they were dead. It wasn’t a training simulation. Once he reached that point, it was a real battle.

The Force on Force Tactical Training Command, FOF-TTC, calls Romero’s experience “going there”, and it isn’t an extremely uncommon event. When a trainee “goes there”, they endure the stress and the advanced simulation training aids to the point of becoming completely unaware that they are involved in a simulated exercise. Romero wasn’t the first to “go there” during Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape level B training, known throughout Marine infantry units preparing for global deployment as SERE II. He also wouldn’t be the last. Far from it. In fact, his example would be studied rigorously and the FOF-TTC Marine trainers and operations staff would attempt to replicate his experiences for future students of the program. They designed their training to push Marines to the rational boundaries of what could be forced upon infantrymen in the months prior to real life deployments. “Going there” was the ultimate achievement for a training battalion like the boys of FOF-TTC. It forced such a deep level of realism that, in theory, troops like Romero and the rest of his battalion were more ready for battle than any other unblooded units in history. Of course, actual force-on-force trainers like the Nebraska born Corporal Hicks were none too pleased when they faced the prospect of eating the butt stock of an M-27 rifle for a job that was designated strictly as “non-combat operations”.

Me 3

Yeah, so I kind of lied.

The little iggit isn’t dead. The truth was, I wanted an opportunity to present all the themes of the book, as well as the main character with which it would be viewed, through the lense of how war shouldn’t be.

Quite honestly, except in the highest echelons of the special forces community, you never see the lone survivor making his way back valiantly. In the real world, that sort of thing could only happen as a fluke, which here it does.

This chapter also gives me the chance to introduce some of the technology that will be used later on in the book series. That said, I’m excited to have reached the falling action of Proving Grounds, preparing the way for my next segment – Disembarkation.

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Cover Art