CARRIER 7: AFTERBURN By Keith Douglass

kinds of problems–professional, personal, you name it. It isn’t easy

for a guy to come to a woman and tell her that he’s, oh, having marital

problems back home, say. Or. .. listen. Would you expect any of those

guys to come talk to you because they’re worried about what kind of

diseases they might have picked up when they were on liberty? There’s

lots of stuff men don’t want to tell a woman, especially an attractive

one, and even more especially one they have to work with in close

quarters every day.”

“Male ego,” she said with a frown.

“Call it what you want, Brewer,” he told her. “But you can’t just

dismiss it. Think about the personal things you wouldn’t have wanted to

come to me with when I was the Exec. I know you and the other women held

back a lot of complaints when you first came aboard. The harassment.

Personal stuff that, well, people thought wasn’t any of my business.

Remember Lobo and Striker?”

She nodded, her eyes sad. Christine “Lobo” Hanson and Steve

Strickland–Striker–had developed an intense personal relationship in

the first few weeks of the deployment. Lobo had been shot down over the

Kola Peninsula and captured. Strickland had refused a recall order and

circled the crash site, trying to provide covering fire, until his plane

was shot down. Unlike Lobo, he hadn’t survived the crash.

“Striker came to me early on,” Batman went on. “He didn’t know how to

handle the whole thing. I advised him to break it off, but he didn’t.

Thing was, it wasn’t that hard for him to come to me man to man. I sure

never saw Lobo. Either she never had any doubts-”

“She did,” Conway told him.

“Well, she may have confided in you, but not me. See what I mean?”

“Yeah. I hear you. But where does that leave us? Do we have to start

appointing two Execs in every mixed squadron, one per sex?”

He shook his head. “All we can do is try to do our jobs. I’ll talk to

Sheridan and Marinaro. They have a right to put in for transfers, but in

the meantime they’re damn well going to treat you like this outfit’s

Executive Officer. As for the rest. .. you can’t force a man, or a woman

either, for that matter, to share confidences with somebody he or she

isn’t comfortable with. But I’ll try to discourage them bringing their

problems to me behind your back.”

“They’ll probably just stop coming for help at all,” she said. “That’ll

screw up morale even worse.”

“Welcome to the wonderful world of the new, improved, politically

correct Navy,” he said, and he didn’t bother hiding the bitterness he

felt. “Where everyone is equal. Equally miserable.”

1342 hours (Zulu +4)

Flight Deck, U.S.S. Thomas jefferson The C-2A Greyhound made a perfect

trap, snagging the carrier’s third wire and rolling to a stop, its twin

turboprop engines slowing as the pilot cut his throttles. The plane

rolled backward, pulled by the tension of the steel cable it had

snagged, until it dropped from the hook. Crewmen started forward, a

Yellow Shirt to guide the transport to an open spot on the deck, and men

in green shirts bearing black letters to check the arresting gear before

the next plane started an approach. Watching the activity, Coyote Grant

never failed to be amazed that the dance on the deck involving so many

men, so many aircraft, and so little actual room for maneuver could

proceed so smoothly.

The Greyhound rolled to a stop and shut down its engines. Unlike the

planes of CVW-20, the transport aircraft was not permanently assigned to

Jefferson. It was part of VR-20, a Fleet Logistic Support squadron based

in Sicily. Planes from VR-20 and other support squadrons were a vital

link in maintaining America’s carrier battle groups at sea. Though bulk

supplies were transferred from Underway Replenishment ships, small cargo

shipments, mail, and personnel were sent out by Carrier Onboard Delivery

planes like this one.

Coyote advanced across the deck as the rear ramp was lowered slowly. A

work party was already assembled to unload the plane’s cargo, but Grant

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