Input needed…

Okay folks, I’d like your feedback here…

I’m putting a short story in the Calexit Anthology and it’s the backstory of Captain Mike James. The initial feedback from the alpha readers was WAY too much jargon…

So… I’ve rewritten it to ‘clean it up’, as always, unedited. Your comments are appreciated, as always.

Attention to Orders

Commander Mike James escorted his petite, still attractive wife Trisha and son Mike, or ‘Mikey’, as he was known, up the ladder, known as the brow, and onboard the flagship sitting in Yokosuka harbor. Saluting the watch, he asked permission to come aboard, and the young Lieutenant JG returned the salute, welcoming them aboard. Turning toward the stern, Mike took them to the Seventh Fleet access, opening the door inset in the hatch, and warning, “Remember, Navy ship. Gotta step over the coaming.”

Trish glanced around and stuck her tongue out at him, “Yes, dear. You’d think I’ve never been aboard a ship before.” Mikey just shook his head, following his mother through the hatch and making sure it was closed behind him. At seventeen years old, he was as tall as his dad, and had the same wiry build. He was starting on the football team as a defensive cornerback, but knew his football career would be over after he graduated.

Mike pointed up and Trish sighed, “I know, I know, this is why you don’t wear dresses on ships, or high heels.” Mike admired her still shapely rear end as she started up the steep ladder, noting she was careful to hold on to the handrails, and Mike motioned to Mikey to go next. He went last, and led them to another hatch, looking through the porthole before he undid the hatch. Leading them down the passageway, he stopped in the Flag Aide’s office, “LT, how far behind is the admiral today?”

Lieutenant Angie Pierce looked up, “He’s actually on time. He’ll be ready for you as soon as he gets off this phone call,” glancing at the multi-timezone clock on the bulkhead, she continued, “It’s with Pac Fleet, and it’s scheduled for thirty minutes, so if you want to wait in the mess, I’ll come get you.”

“That works, thanks!” Leading them further down the passageway, he turned down a cross passage, and into the flag mess, automatically going for a cup of coffee, as he waved to the Chief in charge of the mess. Mikey went for a glass of fruit drink, more commonly known as bug juice, and Mike shook his head, ‘Really?”

Mikey shrugged, “I like it. It kinda tastes like Gatorade.”

Carrying two cups of coffee, he went back to where Trish had sat down, and passed one across to her. The Chief came over, “Need some milk or sugar, Mrs. J?”

Trish smiled up at him, “No thanks, Chief. I’ve been a Navy wife too many years. Hot, black, and nasty or not at all. Is Lois going to make the PTA meeting tomorrow night?”

“Yes, ma’am. She’s a little worried about taking over as the president, but I keep telling her to just be herself.”

LT Pierce opened the door and stuck her head in, “Commander, he’s ready for y’all now.”

Mike went to pick up the cups, and the Chief said, “Go ahead sir, I got these. And congratulations.”

“Thanks, Chief, I think…”

Vice Admiral Larry Mann, Commander, Seventh Fleet, stood up and came around the desk as the lieutenant escorted Mike and his family in, “Mike, Trish, great to see you. Michael, that was a helluva stop Thursday night. You saved the game with that one.”

Mikey blushed a little, stammering, “Uh, thank you, sir. I was just in the right place, I guess.”

The admiral smiled, “You did that with preparation, and keeping your head up and looking.” He was interrupted by the chief of staff coming in, “Bear, come on in. You remember Trish and Michael?”

Captain Williams smiled, “Of course. Welcome to our humble abode.”

The staff photographer’s mate came in, camera in hand, and said, “In front of your desk, or the map, Admiral?”

The admiral glanced at the map and said, “Um, let’s make it in front of the desk, with the flags in the background.” After the photographer’s mate got everyone where she wanted them, she stepped back and nodded, and the admiral said, “Lieutenant, if you would…”

LT Pierce handed the admiral two eagle insignia, and he handed one to Trish, as he nodded. The aide picked up the blue binder, “Attention to orders…” She read the promotion order. Then the admiral and Trish, then Trish and Michael mimed pinning on the captain’s insignia on Mike, as the photographer snapped pictures.

Over coffee and a piece of cake, delivered by the mess Chief, along with a glass of bug juice for Mikey, the admiral said, “I’m proud of you Mike, below zone, first increment. That’s pretty impressive.” Nodding at the ribbons on his uniform, he continued, “But obviously well deserved. I was half expecting you to show up in BDUs today,” turning to Trish he said, “I’m assuming this is your doing?”

Trish laughed, “Khakis I could manage, I’m not sure Mike even has a set of whites here.” Everyone laughed, and she said, “I know where one set of choker whites are, I think…”

More laughter erupted, and Captain Williams said, “Figures. I don’t think I’ve ever even seen Mike in a set of whites, but I’ve only been here a year.”

Mike put his hand over his heart, “I’m wounded, wounded I tell you. The slings and arrows I endure. Bear, if you remember, I actually wore whites to your change of command. Now I know you boat drivers have some memory issues…”

The admiral interrupted, “Before you start slandering aviators, along with boat drivers, I do need to let you know you’re going to be on orders next month or so.”

All three of the James’ looked at the admiral, “You’re getting Group One in San Diego. Change of command will be right after the first of the year.”

Mike and Trish exchanged glances, with Trish shaking her head slowly. The admiral cocked his head, and Mike finally said, “Captain Holt has some serious medical issues. He’s already undergone chemo, and he must have had a reoccurrence. I’ve known Lee for almost twenty years, and Trish and Beth…”

The aide stuck her head in the door, “Sorry Admiral, Comman… Captain James, there is a secure call for you in Ops. It’s from your JTF[1] folks in the Philippines.”


January 14th, 2022 dawned clear and reasonably warm, all of 58 degrees. Mikey was already up and out the door for school, riding his bike and promising not to mess up his clothes before Trish picked him up at ten for the change of command. Mike sat in the kitchen of their little blue house on I street, sipping coffee and pondering life and its meaning. Today should have been the happiest day of his life, getting a major command, but it was tinged with sadness. Lee Holt had lost over twenty pounds, and looked like he was 70 years old, but he’d come in most days, filling Mike in on the changes that had been going on for the last two years. Budgets, deployments, manpower, equipment, and the myriad of other issues at the group level had consumed them day in and day out. Regretfully, Mike knew this was the end of his ability to get in the field with his sailors and earn his trident every day. Now the earning would be done a different, less satisfying way, by protecting his sailors from the vagaries of the elephants in major commands.

The saving grace, if there was one, was Master Chief Operator Jimmy Cameron. He’d taken over as the command master chief a few months earlier, and he and Mike went back almost 20 years. They’d been in the same platoon, then the same team when Mike had been CO of Team One, and master chief had been his team chief. He knew he’d get the straight skinny from him, and the master chief was not a yes man, so he’d keep Mike in check. Finishing his coffee, he got up, “Hon, I’m going to get dressed and go on in. You’re going to pick Mikey up at ten, then come straight to the base, right?”

Trish stuck her head around the door, exasperated, “Yes, dear. Just like we have already discussed three times this morning. Honestly Mike, you don’t really sound like you want this.”

“Oh, I want it. I just wish… Well, I wish it was under better circumstances.”

“Beth and I talked last night, she said you being here has helped Lee, given him a second wind. She said he’s going to check into Balboa on Monday and start another round of chemo. Oh, have you heard anything about any protests at the gate?”

Mike gave her a quick hug, “No. There are some protests up north at the bases, but I haven’t heard of anything down here. We upped the security patrols, both for the compound and for SURFOR[2], but it’s been quiet. We had a courtesy call with Admiral Clayborn last week, and we’re still at Bravo, with random Charlie days at least once a week. I made sure today was going to be Bravo, with all the visitors we have coming.”


Captain Holt stood tall in his dress blues at the podium, and read his orders for his retirement, then turned to Mike, “I am ready to be relieved, sir.”

Mike, moved his sword out of the way, and stepped up in his place, “I will now read my orders. From Chief of Naval Operations to Captain Michael James, change duty orders 113022. When directed by a reporting senior, detach from standing Navy command element, U.S. 7th Fleet. Report to Rear Admiral Hector Garcia, SOCOM[3] for duty as commander, Naval Special Warfare Group One.” Mike stepped back, turned and saluted Captain Lee Holt, “I relieve you, sir.” He turned to Rear Admiral Garcia, the SEAL admiral in charge of SOCOM and said, “I am reporting for duty, sir.”

RADM Garcia saluted and replied, “Very well.”

Master Chief Cameron and his flag team took down the command pennant streamer, and it was presented to Captain Holt, as Mike’s new command pennant streamer was run up the flag pole. After everyone was seated, Mike gave a few words about continuation of orders, his happiness to be back home as he wished Lee the best in his retirement. After the colors were retired, there was the usual glad handing, congratulations, and a cake and punch for all hands.

Due to Lee’s condition, they had decided not to do a formal reception, and now Mike was actually thankful for that, as Lee sat under a corner of the sun shade, Beth at his side. Getting Master Chief Cameron’s attention, he motioned off to the side, and they walked over to the smoke pit. Jimmy Cameron immediately fired up one of his noxious stogies, and Mike said quietly, “Lee’s hurting, but he’ll stay here till the last SEAL leaves. I don’t want to unnecessarily rush things…”

“I’ll handle it. You make the admiral go away, I got the rest. Good on ya for the short speech. I hate long winded assho… officers,” he said with a smile.

Mike shook his head, “Dammit, Jimmy…”

Cameron laughed, “Gotcha. I’ve known you for your entire career. I’m actually proud of you, but don’t let that shit go to your head.”

“Thank you.” Mike turned and walked back to the sun shade and the folks gathered there. RADM Garcia motioned him over, “Captain, we need to have a short meeting. Can we use your SCIF[4]?”

“Certainly, sir. Who do you want there?”

“You, Captain Ackerman, and Commander Simmons.”

Mike looked around and saw the master chief coming, “Master Chief, we need to use the SCIF.”

“On it, sir.”

Mike walked over to Trish and Mikey, “Sorry, looks like I have to go to work.” Hugging Trish he said, “I’ll see you at home later, okay?”

Trish kissed him on the cheek, “Okay. I’ll pick up something for dinner.”

Mikey said, “Congrats, Dad. I guess I’m proud of you too.”

Mike put his hand over his heart, “Be still my heart, my boy actually complimented me!” He smiled and said softly, “Thank you, son. That means a lot. Now y’all get out of here.”

RADM Garcia sat at the head of the conference table in the SCIF, watching quietly as Mike came in, “We’re good to go, sir.”

Leaning forward, the admiral said, “This is… TS… I’m not coming back here, NSWC[5] will remain in McDill for the foreseeable future, due to the Calexit nonsense. Captain Ackerman, I want you to relocate to Hawaii with Group Three, as soon as possible, and as quietly as possible.” Turning to face Mike, he continued, “Captain, I know this is your first day, and I’m dumping a helluva load on you, but I need you to take up the slack for us being gone. You’re also not getting Team Five back, they are going to stay in Bremerton.”

Mike rocked back in his chair, “So I’ll be down to one and seven?”

“And the reserves. We’re going to increase Team Seventeen’s drill cycle, along with HSC[6] Eighty-Five, since those two drill together all the time.”

“Yes, sir.”

The admiral looked at Commander Simmons, “Commander, status on your SWCC[7] boats?”

CDR Simmons cleared his throat, “Ah, ‘bout eighty-six percent avail on a given day, sir. Mostly AWP[8], no real major issues.”

The admiral leaned back in his chair, “Have your supply officer give me a list of your needs before I leave today. I want you one hundred percent up, or as close as you can get. If you’ve got a boat that is hard down, not repairable in a timely fashion, I want it out at San Clemente, I don’t care if you have to tow it out there. And if you do, do it in the middle of the night.”

CDR Simmons started to answer, but the admiral cut him off, “Not negotiable.”

“Yes, sir.”

The admiral sat up, “There’s intel that the whole Calexit thing is going left. Apparently Brown is getting ready to open the borders with Mexico, and no immigration policy will be put in place. It will be a totally open border. I don’t think that is going to end well. I’ve also talked with General Ericson at Pendleton, he’s going to loan you eight up armored Hummers to augment the four you already have. I saw where you’ve increased the security patrols, but I want you to take it a step further. I want one squad on four hour alert, and one platoon on twelve hour alert, and enough SWCCs and boats to support operations, including Mark Fives. I also want cadre to have armed cover when they are running BUDS.”

Mike winced, “Admiral, that’s a helluva load to add to our ongoing…”

“Understood, but it’s not an option. If I had my way, we’d be at Charlie for force protection already, and ready to go to Delta in minutes. I think we’re going to be there before long, anyway. I’d also recommend married folks look at getting dependents out of California sooner, rather than later.”

Everyone looked at each other in silence for a minute, then Captain Ackerman said, “Is it really looking that bad?”

The admiral scrubbed his face, “Yeah, it’s really looking that bad. I’m hoping… Well, I’m hoping it doesn’t get to that.”

[1] Joint Task Force

[2] SURface FORces

[3] Special Operations COMmand

[4] Secure Compartmented Information Facility

[5] Naval Special Warfare Command

[6] Helicopter Sea Control

[7] Special Warfare Combatant-Craft

[8] Awaiting Parts


Input needed… — 12 Comments

  1. Straightforward, no sugarcoating:
    The good: I like it, and wanted more. A lot more.
    The bad: Still waaaaay too much jargon.
    The ugly: Eight footnotes for one page is seven and a half too many. You need to strip this thing down to where housewives and fourteen-year-old boys can read it without a Navy Glossary in their laps.
    I’d have written out or worked around 1,2,4,5,6,7,and 8.
    e.g., if you’d just said “mostly awaiting parts” instead of AWP, you keep the info without weighing down the story.
    And if you’d noted the guy was getting SEAL Group One, instead of “Group One”, those who didn’t do tours in the .mil would get where you’re going with this. If it was a screenplay, the fact that Cmdr/Capt. Mike had a Budweiser badge would tip some people off, but this is a written work: you’ve got to paint the picture verbally.
    And paintings don’t have asterisks.

    That said, keep at it.
    I want to see the rest of this.

    For that matter, if I had the spare time, I’d take my post
    break it down into its constituent pieces and story lines, and we could write the next-gen Clancy-esque politico-military thriller, guaranteed to hit best-seller status in 49 states.

    (As long as Moonbeam gets hung by the neck at the end.)

  2. Aesop covered it pretty well. For obvious reasons, the jargon didn’t bother me as much as it might for non-Navy types, but your readers won’t want to be slowed down by frequent references to the glossary for definitions of acronyms. “SEAL” is familiar to many, these days, but things like NINCOMPAC (h/t to Hawkeye Pierce) and SWCC will throw just as many.

    Having said that, I want a lot more, too.

  3. Yeah, the jargon was a bit off putting, mainly cause it’s Navy speak and y’all abbreviate funny.

  4. Ok, so I’m a housewife, never in any military, but do read quite a bit.

    I would agree to writing out “awaiting parts”, but lots of the other abbreviations are ok. You (unlike many others) do footnote the abbreviations so if I can’t get a sense of what you are talking about from the rest of the sentence, I can go look it up. Many times I don’t, I just keep reading, and I get a pretty good feel for what you are talking about.

    One thing that is done in the medical field, where they use LOTS of abbreviations, especially in hospital discharge summaries, (I do read LOTS of those) is they will use an abbreviation that is not known to anyone else other than those at that facility, and then write out the words in the next line or two, so that others (like the home care nurse…me…) can figure out what/why the docs did what they did. Or why they didn’t.

    So I guess lots of “jargon” doesn’t bother me too much, especially when I have the option to go look it up. When I have to guess what the heck BNP means,(there are 2 meanings) that’s when I get annoyed.

    Not sure if this helps or not, but bottom line, I’m good either way as long as there is MORE. Please.

    • One thing that tech writing for the Army beat into me was to use the fully spelled out word the first time with a parenthetical citation of the acronym. Example: Unit Level Logistics System (ULLS). This might be a tad cumbersome to use in fictional writing. Shoot, it’s tedious enough in technical writing.

  5. I agree with the above about reducing/working around most of the acronyms. Also in the opening scene, there were some issues.

    A ladder is a staircase (or also a real ladder). A brow is the connection between the ship and shore, it is never referred to as a ladder. Sometimes a brow has a ladder attached to the shore side, for larger ships like carriers, but the brow is always referred to jus as the brow.

    If Mike is going last up the ladder, how does he “lead” them through a hatch?

    Hatches are vertical accesses though decks, in general at the top of a ladder. On a given deck, the accesses are via doors, watertight or otherwise. WT doors in general don’t have ports to look through, although rarely they may have small fixed deadlights to provide a view. See,_1943).jpg
    for illustration.

  6. All- Thanks! I will ‘fix’ as many of these as I can. I appreciate the constructive feedback. Dean, you’re right, but in fact that ship DOES have ports in the watertight doors going into the flag spaces.

    Posted from my iPhone.

  7. There is another ‘wordy’ issue, a tendency towards a little too much repetition in setting the scene. For example, they get coffee and bug juice, we don’t need to be told two paragraphs later that they are now drinking coffee and bug juice.
    It also shows up in the repeating usage of words such as ‘still’ or ‘actually’.
    Another example:
    “Getting Master Chief Cameron’s attention, he motioned off to the side, and they walked over to the smoke pit. Jimmy Cameron immediately fired up one of his noxious stogies,”
    Might be rewritten in a tighter format:
    “Motioning to Master Chief Cameron, the two men headed to the smoke pit, Cameron lighting one of his noxious stogies as they talked.”

  8. Got a friend who’s writing a book. He said that Amazon has an optional set-up that allows a print-on-demand for authors doing kindle/e-machine books.
    This strikes me as a really useful option for writers as I suspect that not having printed versions of books available shuts out a lot of people who would otherwise buy a book.
    And he said that pricewise he would make at least as much on the print copy as he does on the e-copy.

  9. I second Shamandin’s thought; I wrote reports, white papers, etc. for a long time as DAC. Write and spell out the more-used acronyms. Explain the rest in plain language, and then have an apologetic to the spouse “sorry hon, gotta speak Squid …” where acronyms add the correct flavor. One other thing – from my backgrouns, NSWC is on AOL (Acronym Overload List). I think Naval Surface Warfare Center [site X] first.

    I liked the novella a lot, left a good review on Amazon. The short stories and other background are a great addition. These really make it a treasury of “No &^%$ I was there” for all readers.