CARRIER 7: AFTERBURN By Keith Douglass

you’d let the sucker go on about his business and he turned out to be a

Hind on his way to shoot down the UN Hip.”

“Hell, CAG, we can’t win for losing,” Cat Garrity said. There were a few

chuckles in the room, and the tension eased a little.

“That’s exactly right, Cat,” Magruder said. “This no-fly zone crap is

one of the trickiest damned ops we’ve taken on. There’s no clear-cut

enemy out there, nothing but a set of vague rules that we have to

interpret well enough to keep everybody off our backs while we try to do

our job at the same time. Right now, our biggest worry about this

incident is the fact that there were reporters on that UN helo.”

“Reporters!” Malibu said.

“Oh, shit!” Dixie added.

“The headline news tonight may lead off with a real humdinger of a


Something like “Navy Downs Army Helo Over Georgia.'”

“If we’re lucky,” Coyote said with a grin, “they’ll play it on the

sports segment. “Navy Scores Over Army, 1-0.'”

“More likely we’re going to get a storm of inquiries. Congressmen

calling. Interviews. Hell, maybe somebody will start asking some

intelligent questions. Like what the devil is a carrier battle group

doing way the hell out here? But in the meantime, we have to do our part

to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”

“What the hell happened with the helo’s IFF?” Batman wanted to know.

“As near as we can tell, no one bothered to tell us that a couple of

Army helos had been sent into Georgia to work with the UN team.”

“I thought the Navy was supposed to be handling no-fly zone security?”

Garrity said.

Tombstone shrugged. “You know how it goes. One service gets a plum

assignment, and suddenly everyone wants a piece of the action.”

“Grenada,” Coyote added, and Tombstone nodded.

That monumental foul-up was still a reminder–and a warning–of how not

to conduct joint military operations. When America decided to invade the

tiny Caribbean country in 1983, the op had started off as a relatively

small mission. Then invasion fever had started spreading through the

Pentagon. One service after another had wanted in. .. as did each of the

elite combat units within the larger branches. The SEALS. Delta Force.

Army Special Forces. No one knew what anyone else was doing, radio

frequencies and call signs weren’t distributed to the proper people, and

in one classic case of idiocy, orders describing an air assault gave a

time but failed to say whether that was EST, GMT, or local time.

A lot of Americans died unnecessarily in that invasion.

Tombstone let out a sigh. “Okay, people. There will be no disciplinary

action from my office. I should warn you all, though, that I don’t have

the last say here. Depending on how big a noise this makes with the

brass Stateside, or with the news media, there could be a further


“You mean we’re still on the hook,” Batman said. He looked resigned.

“What do you want us to do, CAG?”

“First thing, I want reports. All four of you get a complete report on

the incident done and on my desk by 1600 hours. And I mean complete. I

don’t want excuses, but I damn sure do want anybody who reads these

reports to know what we’re going through to police these damned zones.

We’ve got Zoos and helos. ..”

“And bears, oh my,” Cat Garrity put in with a grin.

Tombstone caught Batman’s eye and smiled. “No, thank God, no Bears this

time.” Both men had been through some harrowing encounters with the

Russian aircraft code-named Bears. As a matter of fact, the first time

Magruder had ever chewed out Batman Wayne was over a Bear hunt, back

when Tombstone was the squadron CO and Batman a young hot dog just

joining the squadron. Some things, it seemed, never changed. He let the

smile drop. “Next. Dixie, I’m taking you off the zone patrols for a few

days. You’ll be limited to flying CAP until further notice.”


“No arguments. I know your record; I know you think you’re the hottest

pilot Viper Squadron’s ever seen; I know how much you want to be out

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