Another snippet…

And now for something else different… 🙂

Based on a discussion at LibertyCon about keeping one’s name out there, I’m putting together a little short story in The Grey Man series. No, this one isn’t about the early days, I have to do more research on that.

How about the next generation?

Unedited, comments appreciated, as always….

Chapter 1

General Ragsdale, the latest Commandant of the Marine Corps, leaned over to General LaForce as the Marines from the First Marine Raiders began assaulting the objective at the Yuma training range, “Jon, how long have these kids been back from the PE ops?”

General LaForce glanced at General Ragsdale, “Bout three months, sir. They had their stand down, and started back through the training cycle last month. Have you seen the award recommendations we pushed up?”

“Officially or unofficially?”

Their conversation was drowned out by the three Ospreys that thundered overhead, engines rotating as they went into hovers, even as ropes fell from the back hatches of the Ospreys and Marines fast roped to the ground. Ragsdale hit the stopwatch on his wristwatch without even thinking, and stopped it as the last Marine hit the ground and the Ospreys translated to forward flight, “Impressive. Less than a minute in a hover, and fifty Marines on the ground. Three teams, and?”

“Three teams, heavy weapons, and one sniper spotter team. Bringing back a few memories?”

Ragsdale laughed, “More like nightmares. I hated this damn place, and swore the instructors were sadistic bastards. But learning from our mistakes here kept folks alive downrange. But I still hate this damn place.”

LaForce laughed with him, and shook his head, “Of course we will be complementing the OPFOR, correct?”

“Let’s see how the Marines do, first. And yes, I’ve seen the unofficial list. It’s still in review.”

“Yes, sir.”

An hour and a half later, with the exercise over, the generals casually trooped the line of the now dirty, sweating Marines. The observers had judged the assault successful, and had only tagged two Marines as being killed during the assault. General Ragsdale noticed that the sniper team was both corporals, and one carried what the Corps jokingly referred to as a ‘space gun’.

After they finished, he turned to the captain that had led the assault, “Captain Jackson, how did the sniper team do? They look a little young.”

“Twenty-two for twenty-two on the unknown distance range, General. Don’t let the age fool you sir, they were both on the Philippine Excursion, and they’ve both been put in for Purple Hearts and Bronze Stars. They got fifteen confirmed kills in the first seventy-two hours, fighting from Seit to Jolo.”

Ragsdale shook his head, “Damn, that sounds like the old days. Except jungle instead of desert.”

“Yes, sir. It went from jungle to urban over the course of those three days, and they had no relief. Everyone here today was there, so this was a cakewalk for them.”

General LaForce grimaced, “Captain, the last thing you want is to let the OPFOR know that. They do have other tricks they can pull out.”

Abashed, the captain said, “Um, maybe I was a little hasty General, I meant to say it was a challenging exercise.”

Ragsdale’s aide interrupted, “Timeline, General. We need to get to the tarmac.”

Captain Jackson saluted, “Have a good day, sirs.”

The generals returned the salute, and were hustled into the staff car for the ride back to the tarmac and Camp Pendleton.


The commandant’s reception was winding down, and General LaForce turned to General Ragsdale, “You about ready to call it a night, General? I know the three hour time difference isn’t making things any better, and most of these folks have to report for duty in the morning.”

“Sure, I’m starting to drag a little. I’m not as young as I used to be.” He raised his hand over his head and made a circular motion to his aide, who nodded and headed for the entrance to the club. The two generals made their way slowly to the entrance, and climbed in the waiting staff car for the trip back to General LaForce’s quarters.

Pulling up outside the quarters, they walked quickly up the walk and into the house, as the aide dismissed the car. Five minutes later, the doorbell rang, and LaForce’s aide answered it, then came back with a puzzled look on his face, “Um, General Ragsdale, there is a warrant five at the door, but he asked me to tell you that Sergeant McKenzie would like a minute with Captain Ragsdale. Does that…”

Ragsdale burst out laughing, “Damn, Mac is here?”

LaForce held his hands out, palm up, “He’s my Gunner. I don’t know…”

“He was one of my sergeants when I was a captain in the First. Hell yes, I’ll give him a minute! Go get him!”

As the aide walked out, Ragsdale turned, “Mac never was much on ceremony, but he always got the job done. One of the first enlisted JTACS we had in Afghanistan, did a helluva job at FOB Apache, and got a Silver Star out of one op up there, and a Bronze Star out of another op in Helmand.

A knock interrupted him, and the generals stood, as LaForce said, “Enter, Gunny.”

Ragsdale looked closely at McKenzie as he walked in, seeing the grey hair, the slight limp, and noting that he was dressed in his dress greens, wearing all of his fruit salad. He met him halfway into the room, his hand extended, “Mac, I haven’t seen you in years! What the hell have you been up to?”

McKenzie glanced at LaForce as he said, “Well, General, doing my best to give the General a heart attack on a regular basis.”

LaForce grinned, and said, “That you do. Scotch, Mac?”

McKenzie looked at Ragsdale, “Can I have five minutes, sir?”


“No, sir. It’s about a Marine here.”

Now both generals were curious, and LaForce handed McKenzie a scotch, that he took without thinking. “Sit, Mac, sit.” The generals sat and McKenzie sat gingerly on the couch, careful to set the tumbler on a precisely centered coaster as he cleared his throat.

“General, you remember Aaron Miller? Gunny Miller?”

Ragsdale sat back, steepling his hands, “Gunny Miller that lost a leg at FOB Apache?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Got booted out, for bullshit reasons, never got his Silver Star until a couple of years later, that Miller?”

“Yes, sir.”

Ragsdale made a come on gesture, and McKenzie licked his lips before starting. “General, his boy is here. As a Marine Corporal. He’s in the First, and he’s a sniper. You saw him shoot today, out a Yuma.”

Ragsdale cocked his head, “Neither of the two I saw shoot were named Miller.”

“No, sir. His name is Cronin. He was named after his grandfather to carry on the Cronin name. And…”

“Cronin, Jules… No, Julie, Jesse, that’s it, Jesse. She was a Texas girl, rancher and a cop if I remember right. I met her again when Miller got his Silver Star. She… They owned a ranch in Texas. My wife liked her.”

McKenzie nodded, “That’s her. Their boy is here, and General, he needs to be an officer. He’s too damn good to stay enlisted.”

“What do you mean?”

He rushed on, “General, I’ve looked at his record. He was a four-oh student in high school, Eagle Scout, Company honor graduate out of boot, honor graduate out of scout/sniper, and he’s already got almost thirty hours of college since he’s been in. He’s a shooter. He got over twenty kills in the Philippine Excursion and managed the rescue of the kids from Abu Sayyaf at Sulu College in Jolo, after he and his spotter had both taken hits from an RPG-Eleven. They both damn near bled out on overwatch, General.”

The generals looked at each other, not sure of what to say, and McKenzie continued, “General, this kid is being wasted. And it’s the Corps loss. You can send him to college, and let him come back commissioned. I’ve looked into the Marine Corps Enlisted Commissioning Education Program, and he’ll meet all the requirements next year, he’ll be twenty-one, have three years in the Corps, a sergeant, and he’ll have well over the twelve college credit requirement. Way I figure it, we owe the Millers this. That’s all I got to say, General.” McKenzie picked up the scotch, threw it back in one gulp, and got up. Turning to General LaForce he said, “Sir, I’ll have my retirement papers on your desk in the morning. If you will excuse me, I’ll let myself out.” With that he turned and walked out, leaving the two generals looking at each other in amazement.

Finally, Ragsdale took a sip of his scotch, “Well, that was interesting. What was it I said earlier, Mac’s never hesitated to get the job done? And it’s pretty obvious he feels pretty strongly about this one.”

LaForce shook his head, sighing, “Yeah, that’s Mac. I didn’t know y’all had served together, guess that somehow got left out his bio when I picked him for the Gunner slot.”

“Mac’s never been about name dropping or trading on who he knows. I doubt that twenty people in the Corps know we served together. You’re not going to accept his retirement, are you?”

“Hell no! He’s got two years to thirty, and I have two years left on these orders, unless you fire me.”

“I’m not firing either one of you. Can we get a look at Cronin’s record in the morning?”

“Are you seriously considering this?”

“Jon, I’ve never had Mac steer me wrong. And we did do his dad wrong. Badly wrong. His dad could have gone public with his treatment. Hell, his lawyer was a big time lawyer and I know the Corps and JAG were sweating bullets over what he was going to do, but he took one for the Corps and went quietly. Let’s look at his record, and maybe talk to his company commander tomorrow.”

“Consider it done, sir.”


Captain Jackson sat nervously in the aide’s office, wondering what the hell was going on. He’d come directly from the range, and done his best to clean up his multicam, but he was still hot and sweaty. The aide’s phone rang, he picked it up, then said, “Captain, the generals will see you now.” They got up, and the aide knocked on the door, opened it, and said, “Generals, Captain Jackson.”

Captain Jackson marched in, “General, Captain Jackson, First Marine Raiders, reporting as ordered.”

General LaForce said, “At ease, Captain. Take a seat. We would like to ask you a few questions about one of your Marines.”


General Ragsdale said, “Sit, Captain. Nobody did anything wrong. We’re just looking for information on Corporal Cronin.”

“Corporal Cronin? He’s one of our snipers. As far as I know, he’s never been in trouble.”

“And he’s not now. Would you recommend him for a commissioning program?”

Jackson sat back, “Sir? Commissioning?” He thought for thirty seconds, “Actually, I would sir. He’s probably the sharpest junior Marine in the company. No, he is the sharpest junior Marine.”

You mentioned yesterday both he and his spotter have been put in for Bronze Stars. What was that for? And did you personally see the actions?” They both saw Jackson’s eyes unfocused, and knew he was back in the action.

Jackson replied, “It was on the Sulu Archipelago, on the island of Jolo, in the Philippine islands. We were the first unit on the beach, coming in from the east. We were tasked with breaking the Abu Sayyaf road blocks on the main highway between the eastern end of the island, and the city of Jolo. We made it through the Luuk province with minor action, and were doing pretty well getting through Old Panamao, but when we got to the village of Seit, we encountered heavy resistance. Cronin and Bearman managed to get an overwatch position, and started taking out their snipers, then their… sergeants? The ones exhorting the fighters attacking us. Once we broke through there, it was pretty smooth until we got near the airport in Jolo, and had to fight our way there. Cronin and Bearman managed to get into the tower somehow, and did their thing again there. Then we got a call from higher that the Sultan wanted us to mount a rescue mission to the Sulu College. Abu Sayyaf had taken about a hundred female students hostage, and were booby trapping the campus. Myself and two teams loaded up in a big truck and hauled ass over there, then started a sneak and peek op. Cronin and Bearman got up on the roof of the main building, killing a couple of insurgents on the way up, and started providing intel to us. They took a couple of shots, and the insurgents used RPG-elevens to try to blow them off the roof.”

He shook himself, and continued, “I was leading one team around the perimeter when Cronin called and said we were about to walk into an ambush from above. He shot a couple of insurgents out of windows, and directed us to an unguarded door into the dorm. The other team was providing a diversion, while we grabbed the students, and they got stuck in pretty good. Cronin was calling attacks, shooting them off of us for around three hours before we got any relief. That was when we found out both of them had been hit at some point, and we damn near lost both of them before we could get them back to the ship.”

Ragsdale asked softly, “So, you had no problem with him effectively taking over the op?”

“No, sir. Not a bit. He knows tactics, he knew the targets, and who were the good guys. He saved our asses, plain and simple.”

The two generals looked at each other, and Ragsdale said, “Anything else you would like to add?”

“No sir, other than I would be happy to serve with him as an officer.”

LaForce asked, “Were you finished at the range?”

“No, sir. We’ll be out there all day, requalifying.”

“Thank you, dismissed.”

Ragsdale looked over, “Can we take a ride?”

“You want to go to the range?”

“I’d like to put eyes on. Can you round up Mac? I’d like him to go too.”

LaForce laughed, “Yep, he’s sulking in this office after I told him he wasn’t retiring that easily. If you want to go low key, we can ride in his truck.”

Ragsdale smiled, “That works.”

A half hour later, they pulled into the range, and waved off the Range Officer, saying they only wanted to watch. Twenty minutes of watching Cronin and Bearman switch off, making shot after shot, reminded Ragsdale of Miller’s ability to make shots consistently both in qualifications and in combat.

When they called a cold range, Ragsdale had McKenzie go get Cronin off the line, and bring him to the range office. When he came in, he was surprised to see them, but popped to attention and reported to the generals in a Texas drawl, without any visible nervousness. Remembering Gunny Miller he smiled and said, “Corporal, is your dad the former Gunnery Sergeant Aaron Miller, from Fort Stockton, Texas?”

“Yes, sir. He is.”

“Did he ever talk about his time in service?”

“Very little, sir. At least until I joined the Corps.”

“Did he ever talk about the lousy officers he had?”

“Um, no sir, not really.”

Ragsdale smiled, “Well, I was one of those lousy officers that was over your dad. I actually bounced you on my knee when you were a baby.”

Corporal Jace Cronin’s mouth dropped open, “Sir? You…”

Ragsdale laughed, “Yes, me. What is your dad doing these days?”

“He’s the sheriff, sir.”

“So he stayed in law enforcement. How is your mother doing?”

“She runs the range and the store, and does all the bookkeeping.”

“She’s running the ranch?”

“No, sir. We… Dad, mom, and Matt and Felicia built a gun store and a range on the south forty. She runs that and Matt Carter runs the ranch, he’s the foreman.”

“You ever think about becoming an officer, Corporal?”

“I need to finish my degree first, sir. But I’ve thought about it.”

The sound of rounds going downrange caused Ragsdale to stop, then say, “Sounds like you need to get back to work Marine. Please tell your mother and dad I said hello when you next talk to them. Dismissed.


Jace’s hand shook as he read the orders in his hand, and he looked at the company clerk in amazement, “This isn’t a joke, is it?”

Sergeant Deleon grinned, “Would I screw with you, Cronin? No, they’re real. You’re going to the Naval Academy, starting next month. Congrats. There was never a doubt you would get it.”

“What do you mean?”

“Didn’t you know you had two generals and a Gunner sign recommendations for you?”

“I knew the Gunner did, but I thought Captain Jackson and Major Clark were the other two. And that was six months ago. They did my board, and that was the last I heard.”

“I heard you met the Commandant.”

“That was seven, no eight months ago. He and my dad served together. He and General LaForce were at the range observing us qualifying.”

“And there’s your answer Cronin.”

“Shit, you mean…”

“Yeah, the word came down that you would apply, and would be recommended. Here’s your checkout sheet. Get your ass in gear Marine.”

“Yes, Sergeant.”

“And you might want to let your mom and dad know. You’ll get two weeks leave, and eleven days travel before you report.”

Cronin grinned, “Yes, sir, Sergeant!”


Another snippet… — 22 Comments

  1. A new “Rimworld”, A new series, and now a new “Grey Man”. You’ve got a lot on your plate, and I eagerly await them all. Thanks.

  2. Compliment, not complement, near the top. I won’t start that when ensure/insure language either 🙂

    The Commandant would remember meeting the old man at the Marine Ball where Aaron received her third Silver Star. Reaction would be something like “wait, that makes his great-grandfather John Cronin?” As every Marine knows, the Commandant or his Gunner know all.

    I pity the upperclassman who tries to make life miserable for the mustang during plebe summer. Discussion with the tac officer would probably end with a comment about not making any number of Tier Ones angry. Will love to see how this turns out.

    That’s the link to the Rimworld series and the General Jace Cronin who appears there.

  3. What they said above! I’m building more shelf space for these new books. Hop to it, flyboy! Pour the Muse a drink and give him/her a fresh bowl of cereal. Git to writin!

  4. Looks like a great short, NFO. However, there are some details that need correcting. An e-mail is forthcoming. No biggie, but some things to make it more accurate. for example, Gunnery Sergeants are never addressed as “Sergeant”, and Yuma is an MCAS and shares runways with Yuma International. There isn’t room to train ground forces.

  5. Second round, man, I need Otto Koorrekt to smack my phone.

    Never heard anyone say “sir” to a sergeant.

    Don, MCAS Yuma is one corner. Depending on locale desired, there are infantry friendlier places on Yuma Proving Ground or the sections given over to Luke AFB gunnery ranges. You can borrow range and air space. Just beware of burro herds, the big ornery kind that stand 12-13 hamds tall. And don’t be on range after 1100 during the hot season, if you can acid it.

  6. All- Thanks for the comments, and I’ve corrected as directed 🙂 This one is going to be a .99 short. Maybe seven/eight thousand words.

    Posted from my iPhone.

  7. I hate to be late to this party, and everybody else already said it better.
    Another great story/series!

  8. “sniper team was both corporals” shouldn’t that be sniper team were both corporals? Sniper is the descriptor, the active word is team…so “The team were both corporals.” I’m not 100% sure, but that’s how I read it.

  9. After a less than ideal week, that pout a smile on my face! Thank you for the unexpected gift.

  10. This was wonderful and I found it very moving in ways that I am a little embarrassed to admit. The Grey Man hooked me from the very first teasers and now here we are looking at a sixth installment and a fourth generation. Please don’t stop.

  11. That was a well written teaser sir – I’m guessing the finished product will be another winner too.