Lemme try this again…

The last snippet I posted, now with corrections from you readers…

Don, I ‘think’ this makes more sense, thanks (always helps when you get a real Marine to provide input to us dumb swabbies)!

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 29 Palms 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 twenty-nine stumps from day one, 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 complimenting 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 were 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 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, Gunner.”

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?”

“Private?”

“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 Sergeant 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, along with her grandfather. That was one scary old man. 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 added, “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 twenty 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, and that was 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 rushed on, “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.”

“Sir?”

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!”

“Outta my office you little shit, and it’ll be a cold day in hell before I ever salute you!”

 

***

 

Jace pulled into the ranch early in the evening, and parked the truck in his usual place behind the house. Rex the third came around the house barking, which turned into yelps of joy as he jumped on Jace, “Down damn you Rex, down!” Jerking his bag out of the back seat, he dropped it and stretched, then ruffled Rex’s head, “Yes, you’ll get a treat when I get inside.” Picking up the bag again, he headed for the kitchen door, looking around and seeing what, if anything, had changed.

Rex beat him to the door, and he opened it, yelling. “Incoming dog!”

He stepped through the door, and Jesse said, “Keep right on going. That bag goes in your room, not in the middle of the floor. Supper will be ready in five minutes.”

He stopped at the stove and gave her a one handed hug, and a peck on the cheek, “I love you too, mama.” He winked at Felicia, “I see she’s still the slave driver she always has been.”

Felicia swatted him with a towel, “Jace, I will turn you over my knee, Marine or not.” She pecked him on the cheek, “Now go wash up.”

Jace gave a big sigh, rolled his eyes, and headed for his room, closely followed by Rex. Dumping his bag, he washed quickly, then headed back for the kitchen. Kaya was just coming out of her room, and he poked her in the ribs, “Hey, Pest.”

Kaya swatted him, “Hey, Bro.” Then she turned and hugged him, “You doing okay? You’re not supposed to be home now.”

He gave her a squeeze and stepped back, “Yeah, it’s all good. Got some interesting news to share. I thought you were at school?”

“Came home for the weekend, so I could see you.”

He tousled her hair, which she hated, and pushed her down the hall, “You’re between me and food. Go!”

Walking back into the kitchen, he saw Aaron still in uniform, talking quietly to Matt in the living room, and Matt Junior playing with Rex. “Where’s Esme?”

Felicia laughed, “Driving like a bat out of hell to get home. She had to stay late, her relief didn’t show up on time. She’s hoping the sheriff will be lenient if she gets another ticket.”

He walked into the living room, looking at both Aaron and Matt, and realizing much of what he’d seen growing up was Marine Corps training. After two plus years, he could recognize the stance, awareness, and readiness to do what needed done. They were both grey now, and he saw Aaron was leaning a little bit, meaning the prosthetic wasn’t fitting exactly right again. “Dad? Hello, Matt.”

Aaron turned, “Come here, let me look at you!” He gave Jace a hug, and pushed him back, as Matt grinned and stuck out a paw.

Jace always wanted to count his fingers after he shook hands with Matt, just because he was so much bigger. He took after Jesse more than Aaron, and he never made it to six feet, being stuck at five-eleven. He barely weighed a hundred sixty, and was lean and ropy like Aaron had been back in the day. Light Brown hair, in a high and tight, finished out the picture.

He heard a spate of Spanish, and Esme laugh, as Jesse said, “Food! Come and get it before I throw it out!”

As he started back into the kitchen, he almost stopped, staring at Esmerelda. She’d cut her hair into a pixie cut, and had definitely filled out in the last year. Matt Junior got up, and Jace was dismayed to see that he now overtopped him by at least three inches, and was probably forty pounds heavier. “Damn Junior, what the hell happened to you?”

Junior replied with a shrug, “Growth spurt, I guess. Wanna wrestle?”

Felicia said, “Not in the house, you two. Not in the house! Both of you sit down.”

Jace said, “Isn’t having two mothers so much fun?”

Everyone laughed as they arranged themselves around the table, and Aaron said a prayer, before everyone dug in.

After dinner, everyone was having pie and coffee when Aaron finally asked, “Okay, what’s the big news, and why are you home?”

Jace smiled, “Dad, mom, I’m going to the Naval Academy! I have to be there in a two weeks!”

Aaron looked at him as Jesse jumped up and hugged him, and Esme laughed. He rounded on her, “What’s so damn funny?”

She grinned, “So am I!” Ruffling her hair, she continued, “That’s why no hair anymore.”

Jace goggled, “What? How the hell…”

Esme sat back triumphantly, “I got one of the senator’s appointments for the state of Texas, and daddy called a few friends to get me letters of recommendation. And I graduated as the valedictorian, just like you did!”

Now everyone at the table was laughing, and Aaron finally said, “I’m proud of you Jace, more than you know. But you know you’re going to have problems, right?”

Jace shrugged, “I’ll deal… Oh yeah, and General Ragsdale and WO McKenzie said to tell you and mom hello.”

Comments

Lemme try this again… — 20 Comments

  1. So I sat here this morning, at 0430, and read every word. Now I’m late for work!

  2. and I should be working… instead I’m reading the re-write

  3. The only quibble I can see is you need a beginning quote mark at the beginning of the sentence in paragraph 9 in the section where the generals are talking with Captain Jackson.

    I like it very much!! And will save .99 from my vacation money (I really don’t need an ice cream from the Good humor man)so I can buy it when you and the Muse are done. 🙂

  4. Damn if I don’t love that family. Thank you for giving them to me… and a couple thousand other people.

  5. I’m gonna pull an Oliver here…

    “Please, Sir, may I have more?”

  6. It seems to me that the Bronze Star is a little light for the actions Jace and the spotter performed.
    I count three separate engagements. The first two I’d consider as ‘doing a HECK of a good job at their job’ and since hey were instrumental in accomplishing the mission, I’d suggest a Bronze Star for that. The third engagement, though, had Jace & spotter doing a LOT more than their job. I think you gotta go higher than a Bronze Star for that; three hours bleeding out on a roof, while directing troops to a safe entry, then keeping the bad guys away? I don’t see a Bronze Star for that. Got to go higher, maybe LOTS higher.

    • Not necessarily. The Crotch is notoriously stingy with awards, especially for junior folks – unless they die.
      Boat Guy

  7. “He heard a spate of Spanish, and Esme laugh, as Jesse said,…”
    Maybe laughed or laughing.

    Is the dog’s first name Neptunus?

    As Beans said, more? Please?

  8. Beans- Working on it!

    Pat- Marines… They never get the respect…

    John- LOL, that would be funny!

  9. Love it.
    Sir, may I have another?
    Only note, please correct the sentence “You saw him shoot today, out (a)t Yuma.”
    Also, if the scene has been changed to 29 Palms, is the range still called “Yuma”?

  10. Okay, got to quit doing this via e-mail. Still have a few quibbles. Send me the manuscript, I’ll give you my corrections, and return it. Then you can decide what you want to keep. Word 2010 or later will work for me.

  11. To add to suz’s comment on missing quote marks :-

    Just before Mac walks in the door
    ‘out of another op in Helmand. ‘ Closing quote needed.

  12. Hey Old NFO;

    I Liiike, now Hurry up, LOL small quibble if that…20 years from now, will “Multicams” still be the fatigues of the USMC, you may want to change it to something more generic like “Fatigues” or “Combat Field uniform” or something…?

  13. Confused, solely because Twentynine Palms is in the CA high Mojave desert, and Yuma is a MCAS some 140 miles away, in AZ’s Sonoran low desert.

    Wondering what the rationale for that was.

    No other corrections, additions, or subtractions.

    Otherwise, I echo Oliver Twist:
    “Please, sir, I want some more.”

  14. Old FO, I’m going to reveal my age here. Your writing reminds me of W.E.B. Griffin in his Brotherhood of War and The Corps series of books. In other words DAMN well done. As always I have reloaded my Kindle card waiting for the release.

  15. John- Fixed, missed that one…

    Don- Will do

    Frank- Fixed

    Bob- The Jarheads LIKE their multicam… LOL

    Ed- LOL

    Aesop- Fixed

    George- Thank you!!!

    I do appreciate the comments, but you will note I ALWAYS say unedited… Y’all are seeing the raw draft, I haven’t even done speddck, or roofpread, or anyting… 🙂 But I DO fix the issues you point out! 😀

  16. This is your best yet for the Grey Man series. Keep it coming. I’m a sucker for an ongoing series with lots of character development.