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.

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 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.

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 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 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.

Me 3

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 14

PFC Romero was still running at a full gallop when heads up display started showing that he had reached the final leg of his personal crucible. It was well into the morning and warm enough that the cold long ago stopped being among his primary concerns. He wasn’t far away from the extraction point for which he and his team had set out to find hours ago. His vision tunneled toward this singular objective at the end of the forest. His display’s indicator finally showed the distance to the point where he would exfiltrate. That meant, thankfully, that he had under a quarter mile to go.

He knew, however, that the exfil site would be crawling with enemy troops. They were as anxious to prevent his escape as he was to get out of the forest. Having failed to secure their prey in the woods, the hunter teams would be moving to converge somewhere near areas a rescue could be mounted. Their only task from now would be in preventing him from reaching that point.

From that point on, he walked; he walked, and he listened.

The last few hundred yards were uneventful, pleasantly and surprisingly so, especially when one measures it against the rest of Romero’s night. For over an hour, Romero crept through that last stretch of forest. He could easily slink through these woods, moving almost silently over the wet leaves and moss covered earth. Hopefully that would grant him the evasiveness to avoid detection and prevent his capture. Hoping aside, what he needed was just a few more minutes of the Devil’s luck, because it was doubtful they still had aims of only capturing him anyway.

Romero had learned the sound of oncoming drones searching for his trail. He’d figured how to hide when he heard the buzzing of the tiny copters. His previous experiences reduced them to little more than a regular nuisance to him. There apparently were no infrared capabilities in the robotic beasts, so as long as he froze beneath some nearby bush for concealment, he wouldn’t be spotted. As fast and sturdy as the little killer machines were, they were easily detected and just as easily outmaneuvered by any vigilant enough prey. A camouflaged Marine was hard enough to find in woods like that, much less one hidden in the bush from a small camera flying overhead. The small screens, which their pilot viewed, gave little aid. By that point, they did little more than slow his progress further.

It was when they were gone, however, that Romero felt the most unease. The quiet of the woods was unnerving. Silence in this place did nothing to provide the comfort of peaceful solitude. Here, it failed to dispel the suspicion of never being truly alone. The enemy knew these fields. They also held a mastery of stealth. Romero’s team wasn’t the first to die in these woods because of them. No matter how much faith he had in his own new abilities at avoiding detection, he knew his hunters were far better. They were master hunters, dogged in their pursuit. They were far better at hunting than he would ever be as the hunted. He could only pray those skills would fail them, to his most timely fortune.

Nevertheless, he continued onward toward the blinking beacon on his HUD. Closer and closer he crept, until he finally reached a thinning of trees. He knew he was close. He hoped with everything he had left, that beyond this clearing, he would find his beacon and with it, the ticket out. He crept to the edge of the wooded brush, daring to look out into the open. There was a meadow overlooked by a wooded hill. It was one a dreamy landscape; one which might have been a pretty site in the spring, covered in vibrant growth, flowers and the presence of peace – the type you’d bring a girl to, he thought fleetingly.

In the mid-morning of February, though, it was a dull earthy grey. The last of the morning dew still coated the grass and the first glimpse of sunlight pierced the overcast sky and the frozen cold. The merging of optimistic sunbeams and the winter morning’s dying chill left the meadow hanging in a still and quiet fog.

Looking out into the meadow, he saw the beacon shining. There was a green spot far off on the other end of the field. It was a holographic projection on his screen, illuminated to show where the rescue helicopter was programmed to intercept him. He finally reached the end of this wretched exercise in misery.

His fears released from him. He would make it home, he thought. All he had to do was call for the rescue. Carefully and with deathly softness, he pulled the PRC-197 from it’s Velcro pouch on his chest. The Velcro seemed to roar as the fibers ripped, one by one, from their comfortable housing. Finally, he had the pocket radio in hand and fingered through the touchscreen menus. It seemed damaged from one of his numerous falls, but not unserviceable. What horror if he couldn’t. He had no signal in, as was to be expected in his situation, but he could transmit. He could send out a message, a nine-line evac order to his location, and be picked up by the nearest bird. He set the order and broadcast the beacon of his own.

“It’s over.” He thought. “All I have to do now is wait. They’ll get me out of here. It will all be over.”

Me 3

Survivalism is about being just lucky enough to learn from your mistakes.

I recently read a book that has been on my reading list for quite a while called, “All Quiet on the Western Front.” The story follows a platoon of German infantrymen during World War I. All 19 and from the same school class. The story follows them as each dies, one by one in the brutal onslaught of war as it was fought one hundred years ago.

What I found to be striking were the parts of the story where the main character speaks so matter of factly about the tricks one has to learn to survive, such as how to play dead when being overran or that it may be all clear above the trenches, but there still may gas down below. It was macabre, but fascinating.

I really thought about Romero during those times, learning to survive being hunted. Sadly that experience didn’t make it to the rest, but this is the way of things. Hopefully we will see Romero make it to be able to teach others the tricks of the trade in the future of war.

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