Read an Excerpt
No Warriors, No Glory
By Coyle, Harold
Forge Books Copyright © 2009 Coyle, Harold
All right reserved.
Alexandria, Virginia - September 3
The feeling of the sheets being pulled away from her, quickly followed by a sudden intake of breath from the other side of the bed, woke Christina Dixon with a start. Lifting her head from her pillow, she peered across at her husband, checking to see if he was awake yet. In the faint light that filtered in through the partially closed blinds, she watched as Nathan clutched the sheet to his chest in a death grip. His lips quivered as if he were speaking. It wouldn’t be long before he was awake, Christina sadly concluded. It never was on a night like this. Taking great care, she laid her head back down on her pillow before rolling over on her side, facing away from Nathan. Through trial and error she’d learned the hard way that the best thing she could do was to pretend that her husband’s nocturnal stirrings didn’t wake her. For some reason, knowing that his nightmares were depriving his wife of badly needed rest only added to Nathan’s worries. He had enough on his mind, Christina reasoned. She didn’t need to add to them.
With a suddenness that startled him, Nathan Dixon was catapulted from the dark, haunting place where his subconscious had taken him back into the dimly lit bedroom he shared with his pregnant wife. For thebriefest of moments, he lay there staring wide eyed at the ceiling, gasping for breath like a drowning man as he struggled to compose himself. How strange, he found himself thinking after he’d managed to regain some semblance of mental balance, to find the memories of a battle long since past more terrifying than the event itself. Try as he might, he couldn’t remember experiencing anything even remotely resembling fear that night in the jungle. There’d simply been too much to do, too much going on around him. Had there been confusion? Yes, of course. There always was in battle, particularly that one. Cutting through it and maintaining his focus on tactical concerns were the only things he recalled running through his mind as his company came to grips with Abu Sayyaf insurgents. The fear, like the haunting memories from which it sprang, only came later, long after he’d been medevaced out of the Philippines. And rather than fading with the passage of time, his recollection of what happened that night only seemed to grow stronger, more intense, causing Nathan to wonder if his mind was hellbent on sorting out the blurred images that he hadn’t had the time to pay attention to that night.
Having regained a modicum of self- control, Nathan looked over to see if his stirrings had woken his wife. Only when he was satisfied that she was still sound asleep did he carefully lift the covers off of himself, slip out of bed and quietly make his way to the guest bathroom just down the hall. Waiting until after he’d closed the door, Nathan flipped on the light, turning to face the mirror as he did so. The first thought that popped into his head as he stared at his gaunt reflection was always the same on nights like this: was he going mad? Of course not, he quickly told himself— perhaps too quickly. It’s just the way things were, he reasoned. It was a new normal he hadn’t quite yet managed to adjust to. Like the collection of wounds he’d amassed along the way, the memories of past events were a natural and not at all surprising psychological byproduct stemming from his chosen profession. That his late father had never seemed troubled by his past didn’t matter to Nathan. Scott Dixon had always come across as being one of those people who were bigger than life, a man who always gave the impression of being in complete control no matter how dire the situation. At least, that’s the way Nathan and those who knew him chose to remember Scott. And despite his knack for coming across as a nonconformist in a profession where conformity was prized above all else, more than a few well- placed individuals who were privy to such things had pegged Scott Dixon as a shoe-in for the Chief of Staff of the Army.
Without realizing it, Nathan’s concern over the recurring nightmares that plagued him was replaced by a deep, almost painful longing for his father. If there was anyone who would understand what he was going through, who could help him come to terms with his inability to put things in proper perspective, it was his father. Whether it stemmed from Scott Dixon’s experience as a long- serving officer or was simply an inherent talent, he had a way of sweeping away all the peripheral fluff and chaff with ease, striking at the heart of the matter at hand with a deftness that inspired envy and confidence.
Planting his hands firmly upon the countertop, Nathan leaned forward, peering at his own reflection. If his father’s incisiveness was an inherent trait, he thought to himself, it seemed to have skipped a generation. Even now, after devoting an inordinate amount of time pondering his future, Nathan had no idea what he would say when the question he knew was coming was put to him later that day. Glancing in the mirror at the clock on the wall behind him, he realized that he didn’t have much time left to formulate a suitable answer, one that would address all the issues and concerns he found himself burdened with.
Sadly, the younger Dixon concluded that there was little point in returning to bed where he’d do nothing more than toss and turn until he woke Chris. On mornings like this, it was better to head out into the predawn darkness and run. While doing so wouldn’t help him reach any sort of decision, pushing his body to the limit would at least give his troubled mind a much- needed break. Besides, Nathan reasoned as he turned to gather his running shorts and T-shirt hanging on the back door of the bathroom, if he did decide to stay in the Army, he needed to get back in shape. Giving into the pain that lingered from his wounds was no longer an option, not if he was going to be the kind of soldier he’d been raised to be.
The opening of the front door, followed by the sound of someone removing their shoes before venturing any farther, caused Jan Fields to stop what she’d been doing. For the briefest of moments an irrational thought flashed through her mind, one that was as foolish as her efforts to convince herself that the visit by the former Chief of Staff of the Army with the obligatory chaplain in tow had never happened. These absurd little flights of fancy weren’t helped any by the fact that her stepson’s habits, even the noises he made as he climbed the stairs leading up to the main floor of her town house, were all but indistinguishable from those his father used to make whenever he returned from an early morning run. At times like this, Jan almost found herself having to stop what ever she was doing and mutter out loud, "It’s not Scott. It is not Scott."
She barely had time to regain her composure before Nathan came plodding into the kitchen where she’d been in the pro cess of slicing up a wedge of cantaloupe. Stealing a quick, fugitive glance over her shoulder, Jan took note of Nathan’s limp before turning her attention back to what she was doing. "You’re up early," she stated crisply, doing her best to sound cheery despite the pain she felt over her son’s suffering.
Before answering, Nathan reached around her, quickly snatching a chunk of cantaloupe from the cutting board. He wasn’t fast enough, however, to escape a quick slap on the back of his hand from Jan, who used the flat of her knife to punish his impatience. "Wait till I’m done."
"Why?" he countered before popping his pilfered prize in his mouth.
"Because you haven’t washed your hands, that’s why." She was about to add "young man" to her response as she’d done so many times over the years, but didn’t. Somehow it just didn’t seem appropriate to refer to a captain in the Army, whose name had just come out on the latest promotion list, in that manner.
For his part Nathan found it all but impossible to suppress a chuckle as he made his way over to the sink. "And what’s so funny?" Jan asked incredulously.
Knowing better than telling her what was really on his mind, he opted for a response that was in keeping with his determination to keep things as lighthearted and easygoing as possible while he and Chris were living with Jan. "Geez, Mom," he mockingly whimpered. #34;You’re acting like I was a five- year- old."
"Well, when you act like you’re five . . ."
Her words were cut short by the sight of a hand reaching around from behind her in an effort to snatch another chunk of cantaloupe. This time she managed to slap her son’s hand with the flat of her knife before he managed to secure a piece of fruit from her cutting board.
"Ouch! That hurts."
"Good," Jan replied in triumph. "Now, be a good boy and sit down and give me a chance to finish."
"Gee," Nathan muttered, shuffling over to the breakfast bar where he took a seat, making a great show of rubbing the back of his hand as he did so. "Where’s the respect?"
Rather than respond, Jan smiled to herself as she turned her attention back to finishing with the cantaloupe. It was moments like this that vindicated her decision to insist that Nathan and his wife stay with her while awaiting new orders after he’d been discharged from the hospital. Whatever inconvenience and disruption they caused in her life were more than offset by the opportunity they afforded her to once more be part of a family. And though she knew that Nathan and Chris would soon be moving on, just as she and Scott had done with a regularity that was often annoying but always exciting, Jan was determined to make the most of this fleeting opportunity. There’d be plenty of time later, she reasoned, to resume her silent mourning for the only person she’d ever loved. The thought of an eternity of coming home to an empty house, dinner alone and long lonely nights caused Jan to shiver. It was a response she’d learned to keep to herself, lest she burden Nathan, who had more than enough to worry about, from noticing.
Over a light breakfast of fruit, English muffins, orange juice and coffee, Jan and Nathan chatted over the upcoming day’s activities. Nathan listened as Jan discussed in detail her schedule. As the Washington bureau chief for the World News Network, her day was pretty much nonstop, from the moment she stepped into her downtown office till she arrived back home in the early evening. Even then, she seldom slowed down, especially since world events refused to maintain the sort of tight, well- ordered schedule that Jan endeavored to live by.
For his part Nathan silently envied the hectic day that awaited his mother. Whatever joy he’d first derived from spending time with her and his wife had been replaced long ago by a gnawing urge to get on with his own life—one that was, at the moment, on hold.
Not that it really was, at least from a technical standpoint. The need to devote time to recovering from the wounds that he’d received during that sharp engagement with Abu Sayyaf insurgents in the Philippines was as much a part of his chosen profession as the training he’d put his ranger company through in preparation for that fight. Such logic, of course, did nothing to dispel a growing unease that left Nathan wondering if he’d ever be fit, physically or mentally, to lead men into combat once more. That was, of course, provided he chose to continue with a military career, a question he found himself brooding over more and more with each passing day.
Noticing her son’s expression, Jan realized that she’d reached the point in their idle chat where she’d lost his attention. Pausing with a half eaten English muffin halfway to her mouth, Jan smiled. "So, what’s on your agenda today? Another round of physical therapy?"
Caught off guard by his mother’s question, Nathan shook his head as if to clear his thoughts. "Ah, no. Not today. I had to reschedule that till Wednesday."
"Well then," Jan continued without bothering to dissect Nathan’s wary response, "anything exciting planned?"
Finding himself backed into a corner and knowing full well that he couldn’t possibly keep Jan from finding out one way or another, Nathan decided it was time to come clean with her. "I have an appointment this morning in Arlington."
Taken aback by her son’s announcement, Jan stopped what she was doing, folding her arms on the table as she leaned forward. Recalling Scott’s habit of casually slipping ominous news into the midst of an otherwise innocent conversation, all sorts of possibilities began to romp through her fertile imagination, none of which were very promising.
Recognizing the expression on his mother’s face, Nathan realized that this was no time for prevarication. Like it or not, he was committed. The sooner he told her the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, the better. At least, that was the theory. "I received a call from General Stevens’s office last Friday," he said, doing his best to fob her off by acting as if it had been nothing out of the ordinary. "He wants to see me."
Jan, of course, knew better. "And what, pray tell, did the good general want?" she asked, making no effort to mask her growing concern.
"Not sure. I only spoke to his executive officer, a colonel by the name of Kaplan who didn’t seem to know what his boss wanted to see me about."
"Stevens wasn’t exactly on the best of terms with your father," Jan stated in an even tone. "It seems they were in opposing camps on some very important issues— particularly what the Army would look like in the future."
Not having given the matter any serious thought over the weekend, Nathan took a moment to think before responding to his mother. "Dad never discussed such things with me," he responded glumly. "He didn’t think it was appropriate that he should discuss the opinions of other senior officers with me, especially when he didn’t agree with them. Of course, when it came to someone like Stevens, he really didn’t need to do so. Everyone knows Stevens is very much a technocrat, an officer who’s staked his reputation on force modernization based on automation. Dad’s focus, on the other hand, is always squarely on the soldier, the human factor in warfare as he likes to call it."
Tactfully Jan ignored her son’s use of the word "is" as opposed to "was" when referring to Scott. "Stevens is the new Chief of Staff of the Army, isn’t he?" she asked, doing her best to keep the conversation moving forward before Nathan realized his mistake.
"As of the first of this month. Prior to that he was C-in-C Southwest Asia."
After a pause, Jan frowned, shaking her head as she dismissed another unsolicited and very troubling thought that popped up in the back of her mind. " Well, perhaps he wants to convey his sympathies over the loss of your father."
Bothered by his mother’s sudden change in mood as well as feeling guilty for having kept this from her, Nathan quickly seized upon her rationale. " I’m sure that’s all it is. I mean," he added without sounding very convincing, "why else would someone like Stevens bother with someone like me?"
Having been around the block with Scott and the senior officers he had associated with before his death more times than she cared to think about, Jan found herself thinking that there were any number of reasons why the Chief of Staff of the Army would want to meet with the son of one of the Army’s most beloved legends, none of which particularly thrilled her. She, of course, kept her grim speculation to herself, turning her attention instead to dragging the conversation back onto a happier subject. "So," she chirped, sitting up straight while managing to affect something akin to a cheerful smile, "while you’re off to see the Wizard, what’s Chris got planned?"
Once he’d made it through the layers of security and managed to get his bearings, Nathan found himself actually enjoying his trek through the long, crowded corridors of the Pentagon. It didn’t matter that he was very much a fish out of water in a building where anyone lower than a colo nel or a sergeant major was all but invisible. After having been out of the loop for so long, it felt good to be back among healthy, fully functional soldiers, sailors, airman and the occasional Marine as they went scurrying about at the double-quick with their heads slightly bowed as if the weighty issues on their minds prevented them from holding their heads upright. Rather than regarding the legions of staff officers all about him with the sort of contempt line officers held for anyone who didn’t have mud on their boots, Nathan felt the same sort of envy he had earlier that morning when he’d been chatting with his mother. They at least had a purpose in life, people to see and things to do. At the moment, that was more than he could lay claim to. By the time he’d reached the suite of officers belonging to the Chief of Staff of the Army, what ever thoughts he’d entertained earlier in the day about leaving the Army were gone like the predawn mist. Instead, Nathan found himself wondering how he could turn this opportunity to his advantage, perhaps even wrangling a fresh assignment to a troop unit. For the first time in his career, the idea of taking advantage of his unique status as the son of a former general officer didn’t bother Nathan in the least. Getting back into the game was all that mattered.
Looking up from the inane memo that he’d been laboring to digest, Colo nel Neil Kaplan took note of the captain limping through the open door of his office. There was no need to ask who he was or wait till the approaching officer’s name tag was readable. Having seen more photos of Scott Dixon during his tour of duty at the Armor School than he cared to remember, Kaplan was struck by the resemblance between father and son.
For his part Nathan managed to keep his expression neutral when he recognized the look Kaplan was giving him. Bracing himself for the typical platitudes concerning his father, Nathan was thrown when Kaplan made a great show of raising his right arm in order to check his watch. "You’re late," the colonel announced.
Befuddled, Nathan hesitated before responding, checking his own watch, then the one on the wall behind him. Both showed it was 10:50. Stopping short of the colo nel’s desk, Nathan straightened up and took a second to compose himself before reminding Kaplan that his appointment with General Stevens was at 1100 hours.
"And so it is," Kaplan replied with a straight face as he eased back in his seat. #34;But in this office we go by Vince Lombardi time."
Despite his current surroundings, Nathan found it all but impossible to stifle a snicker as he recalled how fond his father was of proclaiming with mock severity, "If you’re on time, you’re late." It was a saying that the famed head coach of the Green Bay Packers, Vince Lombardi, was credited with coining and one that Scott Dixon, not to mention countless other officers in the Army, had learned to live by. Not sure how to respond, Nathan countered with an old standby of his own, a retort cadets at the Virginia Military Institute used whenever they found themselves verbally backed into an untenable position by a superior ranking officer. "No excuse, sir."
Pleased with the young captain’s response to his unorthodox greeting, Kaplan stood up, walked out from behind his desk and extended his hand as he introduced himself. In the process of doing so, both officers sized the other up. In addition to measuring strength while shaking hands, each man assessed the other’s self-confidence as expressed in his eyes. They also took stock of each other’s achievements. For military men wearing their full uniform, this last part was rather simple since the row of ribbons and skills badges adorning their chest silently spoke of their abilities, past triumphs and assignments. The patch worn on the shoulder of their right sleeve also honored the unit they’d been most proud to go to war with. Nathan took perverse pleasure in seeing that Kaplan didn’t have a ranger tab capping the shoulder of his left sleeve, though the oversized 1st Cavalry Division patch that dominated his right one and the Purple Heart perched next to a silver star on the top row of Kaplan’s ribbons told him that this colonel had not only felt the sting of battle, he’d dominated it. For his part Kaplan could not help but admire the patch belonging to the 3rd Ranger Battalion Nathan had opted to wear on his right sleeve as well as the dark blue ribbon trimmed in white and red that represented the Army’s second highest medal for valor. All told, the only real differences between the two men was height, which at six foot two gave Kaplan an advantage, age that was a plus for Nathan and of course, their rank— something that mattered less among warriors such as Nathan and Kaplan than most people seemed to appreciate.
With the preliminary round out of the way, the two officers took a seat on a leather sofa off to one side. By sharing it with Nathan, Kaplan was signaling to the junior officer that he wished to engage in a less formal, more casual conversation than protocol and rank would have demanded had he opted to resume his position behind his desk. Opening the conversation, Kaplan asked Nathan seemingly innocuous questions that were, nonetheless, quite probing— such as how his physical therapy was going, what his wife’s status was and if he’d given any thought to finding affordable quarters of his own somewhere in Northern Virginia.
Without betraying his mounting concern over this last question, Nathan realized that the purpose of Stevens’s invitation was anything but social. He was being prepped by Kaplan for something, something, he suspected, he wasn’t going to like. Crappy assignments were always heralded by drawn out banter of this sort.
With this in mind, Nathan was directed to Stevens’s office at the appointed hour, presenting himself, as required by regulation, to the most senior officer in the Army. For his part, Stevens returned Nathan’s salute with one that wasn’t quite as crisp before motioning to a chair that sat off to one side of his desk. Unlike his executive officer, Stevens kept things formal, though both officers still engaged in the ritual of sizing the other up as they exchanged a few, introductory pleasantries. In addition to the ribbons, badges and patches adorning his superior’s uniform, Nathan was able to use the photos, personal trophies and knickknacks the general had selected to decorate his office with to assess Stevens’s background, achievements and what he valued. Like all Army aviators, Stevens had a finely detailed model of a heli cop ter, most probably representing the first one that the general had flown, predominantly displayed on his desk. Had this been his father’s office, that place of honor would have been occupied by a scale model of an M60A1 tank bearing the bumper number of Scott’s first command.
Unlike Kaplan, Stevens wasted little time engaging Nathan in social chitchat. "I imagine you’ve been giving your future a great deal of thought as of late," Stevens stated in a manner that indicated he didn’t expect Nathan to answer. "Like most officers who’ve reached this point in their careers, you have a choice to make, a hard one."
Determined to make this a true, two- way conversation even if Stevens didn’t wish it to be, Nathan nodded. "It would be foolish of me if I didn’t take a moment to consider my options, sir. I’ve more than served out my initial obligation, achieving a fair amount of success while doing so."
Nathan’s assessment of his career to date caused Stevens to pull back a bit, raising an eyebrow as he did so. " You’ve more than proven yourself, Captain. Selection for major below the zone and your achievements in multiple theaters of operations attest to that." Unable to think of a suitable response, Nathan remained silent, permitting Stevens to continue, though he did so in a manner that was decidedly more measured. "The Army has reached one of those pivotal points in its history. On one hand we’re tasked with fighting two very brutal and very different insurgencies, neither of which are going to end anytime soon."
The manner in which Stevens described the dual wars in Iraq and Af ghani stan caused Nathan to raise an eyebrow. General officers, after all, weren’t in the habit of speaking candidly with a junior ranking officer in this manner unless that officer was one of the general’s trusted aides—or he was about to be handed a big, juicy shit sandwich. Not being on Stevens’s staff, his statement meant that it could only be the latter, a fact that fueled the growing apprehensions Nathan felt over where this conversation was headed.
"At the same time," Stevens lamented, "I’m expected to prepare the Army for the next war, one that bears absolutely no resemblance to what’s going on in Southwest Asia. And while most people believe the primary players in that war are going to be the Navy and Air Force, I expect the Army is going to have a major role to play in it, one that we’re not ready for."
The prospect of a war with Communist China was the Army’s version of the eight- hundred- pound gorilla that no one talked about. Even those who were supposed to be drafting contingency plans to address that possibility seldom discussed the subject above a whisper. Since he didn’t have anything in his background that would recommend him for any sort of assignment that was Sino- centric, Nathan figured Stevens had something else in mind for him. Of course, he reminded himself, he’d known next to nothing about the Philippines and even less about the Abu Sayyaf until someone in this very building decided to ship him and his company to that island nation to fight those people. It was a peculiar quirk the Army had, a knack for assigning officers to duties they were least qualified to perform.
Most other officers of equal rank sitting where Nathan was at the moment would have been lapping up General Stevens’s every word. Nathan, of course, wasn’t exactly an average company-grade officer. Having grown up in the Army and rubbed shoulders with more than a few general officers in the process, he didn’t view them quite the same way his peers did. If anything, he often found himself dismissing most of what they said, an attitude that gave legs to the old saying, "Familiarity breeds contempt." Whether it was the bored expression that Nathan was unable to suppress or the need to move on to other things, General Stevens brought his lecture on the issues he would need to deal with during his tenure as Chief of Staff to an abrupt end, causing Nathan to involuntarily blink a few times when he realized that Stevens was staring at him. Rejecting an urge to apologize, Nathan returned the general’s stare.
"No doubt," Stevens stated rather haughtily, "you’ve given a great deal of thought as to where you’d like to go next— provided, of course, you stay in the Army."
Excerpted from No Warriors,No Glory by Harold Coyle.
Copyright © 2009 by Harold Coyle.
Published in May 2009 by publisher Tom Doherty Associates, LLC.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.
Excerpted from No Warriors, No Glory by Coyle, Harold Copyright © 2009 by Coyle, Harold. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.