CARRIER 7: AFTERBURN By Keith Douglass

Jefferson underway, and smaller framed prints of various scenes drawn

from U.S. naval history. One painting, hung near the larger one, was a

recent addition. It depicted Jefferson in the narrow confines of a

rugged fjord during the desperate fight for Norway. Tombstone Magruder

studied it for a moment before finding a seat, remembering the day it

had been presented to Admiral Tarrant and Captain Brandt by the men and

women of the Air Wing. Lieutenant Commander Frank Marinaro, call sign

“Nightmare,” liked to paint in his off-duty hours and was quite an

accomplished artist. It had been a gift to commemorate the end of

Jefferson’s last eventful cruise.

Now it was another cruise, a different sea. Some of the men and women

were the same; others were new. The ship, however, carried on.

Glancing around the large room, Tombstone thought of the other times he

had been summoned here. An admiral’s CVIC briefing for senior CBG

personnel usually signaled the beginning of a major new operation, often

one involving combat. He caught sight of the air deployment’s senior

staff near the front of CVIC and moved down the center aisle to join

them. Coyote was there, along with Lieutenant Commander Arthur Lee, the

CAG’s department intelligence officer, and Lieutenant Commander David

Owens, the OC chief of staff. Owens looked up as Magruder approached.

“Have a seat, CAG,” he said. “We’ve got the good seats, for a change.”

“Is this a briefing or a movie premiere?” Lee asked with a grin. “Maybe

I should’ve brought popcorn.”

“I doubt the admiral would approve,” Tombstone replied, sitting down.

“You’re in charge of intelligence, Art. Any idea what’s going on?”

Lee shook his head. “Not a clue, CAG. I heard tell the admiral’s staff

was up half the night with a long decoding job from Washington, but

nobody’s leaking.”

“That’s ominous all by itself,” Coyote commented. “Either we just got

some pretty hairy new orders, or Sammie Reed’s issued another set of

sensitivity guidelines!”

“Please, not that,” Owens said in mock horror. “Anything but that! I’ll

spill everything I know, but spare me another sensitivity class”

Some of the officers nearby chuckled. In the last few years the

Pentagon’s increasing shift to political correctness had made the

institution a laughingstock in the front lines. “I’ve been waiting for a

directive telling us we’ve got too many ships named after men,” someone

said. “But I’ll be damned if I’m going to let them rename the Stephen

Decatur after some feminist icon!”

Tombstone looked at the man and grinned. It was Decatur’s captain,

Commander Richard Hough.

“They’ll probably rename it the Sammie Reed, Dick,” another man said.

There were groans from some of the officers, and a few scattered laughs.

Tombstone looked away. The banter had an air of gallows humor to it.

These were men who already felt all but abandoned by their country,

whose government cared more about budget cuts and social experiments in

political correctness than in their welfare.

Tombstone shook his head. This wasn’t the Navy he’d joined more years

ago than he cared to remember just now. That had been a close-knit

fraternity of men and women who’d dedicated their lives to the Service

and to the nation. There’d been some lingering inequities, yes, but for

the most part it had been an institution where hard work and devotion to

duty were the paths to success. Hell, it had been a Service where

millions of minority men and women had gone to get a better shake than

they would be able to on the outside. He wondered sometimes how an

American military more worried about minority quotas and sensitivity to

the feelings of others than about solid career experience would handle

the next crisis that came down the road.

“Attention on deck!”

They all surged to their feet as Rear Admiral Douglas E. Tarrant entered

the room, followed closely by Captain Brandt. Their appearances

contrasted sharply–Tarrant was tall, silver-haired, aristocratic, while

Brandt was shorter, with close-cropped hair and a bulldog-ugly face–but

the two men had proven to be a superb team in Norway and the Kola

Peninsula. A knot of staff officers followed them, finding seats near

the front of the room.

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