Humble in Victory

Over the past few days, I spent about twelve hours reading the most astoundingly moving, emotional and enriching novel of my life, Humble in Victory!  Published on 9/11/01 it hypothesizes a one-week drama of the U.S. Navy in deadly combat against a consortium of Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Iran as they aggressively seek to control the oil of the Caspian Sea in 2010. 


Some one-liners from this reviewer:

  • The unconstrained heroism, patriotism, sacrifice and honor of most (not all) of the 5,000 women and men of the carrier and the Red Rippers.

  • Sizable doses of grit and determination of those let behind in tranquil Virginia Beach.

  • A Chinese contrast on combat readiness with real big bucks to the right folks.  A few nefarious characters, the scent of money, the main motivator, most all within the sacrosanct beltway.

          The tale opens with the pilots of the gender-equal man-of-war, USS Ronald Reagan launching in their F-27C stealth jets in November, 2010 several hundred miles from the Strait of Hormuz.  Here’s the first page:


 Lieutenant Becky “Big Sister” Turner, U.S. Navy, inched her F-27C stealth fighter gingerly onto the number-two catapult.  It was dark — pitch black.  Her back-seater, Lieutenant Scott “Twidget” Jacobs, U.S. Navy, matter-of-factly said into the intercom, “Dark as the inside of a cow’s ass.” 

    As the pilot’s eyes peered into the eerie catapult steam, warily searching out the yellow wands of the unknown aircraft director in the gloom, Becky laconically responded, “You don’t need to remind me, big guy.”

  Her aircraft securely into the catapult holdback, she asked for the takeoff checklist:

  “Wings spread and locked?” 

  “Roger that,” said the pilot.

  “IFF set?” 


  “Fuel OK?” 


  “Controls free?” 


  “Flaps set for takeoff?”


  “ Hydraulic pressure?”

  “4,000 on all four systems.”

  “Weapons safe?” 

  “All safe.”

  The yellow wands piercing the gloom pointed to another body, the familiar pattern changing to a sidewise motion.  Becky pushed the two throttles forward, her eyes seeking the comforting glow of the jet’s friendly red and blue dials, heads-up display and engine instruments inside her high-tech cockpit.

  The one yellow wand started an up-and-down motion.  Becky went another notch on the twin throttles, the two big ram-jet afterburners throwing a one-hundred foot-long tongue of spent JP9 fuel.  The big fighter strained futilely against the thin steel holdback assigned the job of temporarily restraining the jet. A quick glance outside revealed a total blackness, the 253 feet to the bow of the giant ship blending into a vacuous nothing.

  “You ready, Twidget?” she muttered into the intercom. 

  “I’m always ready, Big Sister!” offered Scott, resisting the urge to peek outside, much preferring the comfort of his seventy-six dials, gauges, switches and displays in his back-seat womb.

  Following the spine-crunching acceleration of the ship’s catapult, senses regaining normalcy, Scott said routinely, “Airborne, good climb.”  The rate-of-climb pegged at 12,000 feet per minute.  Though the routine had been repeated some one hundred forty times since departing Norfolk nine months earlier, had they been wired for a pulse-rate check, the combined total would have been near 310.

  The cockpits were silent as the two winged northeast of the battle group to a combat air patrol two hundred miles out at 47,000 feet over a restless Indian Ocean.  Mission:  Intercept any airborne bad guys heading toward home plate, the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, CVN-76.


            Twenty-nine chapters later, the tale winds to a crescendo of sadness, crumpled bodies, sacrifice, courage on the part of the carrier’s pilots and wizos and doing the tough job 24/7 under enormously stressful conditions.  As I read the novel almost non-stop, my knees on occasion would tremble, the eyes moistening, the characters almost in the same room.  I did not want to put it down.


            But, the tale is not just about the ship and squadrons fighting a tough enemy after nine straight months at sea for it jabs out to the Pentagon and a crooked body politic within the beltway, to the hometown husbands and wives left behind on the idyllic, tree-lined Summerset Lane in Virginia Beach and, in several chapters to the single-minded interior of the Imperial Chinese Air Force with a 100% focus on combat readiness.


            Half way through, not anxious to break my séance with the fast-motivating tale, I reread the forward which reminded me that the major thrusts of the events of the year 2010 were simply an extrapolation ten years into the future by the author of several major trends of the 1990s:

  • The world’s quest (read demand) for oil, growing exponentially during the 90s, particularly that of China.

  • Crooked US politicians, willing to go, in most instances, all the way for big bucks, no matter the degree of nefariousness.

  • A US Navy straining at the bit to put as many women into the combat arena as they could get away with. At contrast is a Chinese Air Force bent on total combat readiness, eschewing distracting social sidebars.

  • A US arms industry led by the King of Greed, Killington Associates, pumping out the latest arms to practically any nation with bucks on the table, more by the end of the decade than the next twelve nations combined.


            And so the story went: from chapter to chapter from the Pentagon, to the USS Reagan, to the Chinese fighter squadron, to the complex inner sanctums of the Red Ripper fighter squadron, to the home of the exec of the Red Rippers, to a White House reeking with incompetence, fear and greed, to the bridge of the Reagan, its captain struggling with multiple leadership problems along with his diminutive command master chief, five-foot two-inch Mitsi Moore.  The centerpiece throughout, however, was always the seething cocktail of the 2,500 heroic women and an equal number of men on board the carrier Reagan and its embarked F-27C stealth fighter squadrons.


Most novels have a central theme: danger, love, mystery.  Humble is no different, attempting simply to paint a  montage of a few tough issues some ten years into a murky future.  As I've pointed out, these issues are not mine per so, but rather extensions (or extrapolations) of actual events in the 1990x:  Oil, greed, arms, crooks and women in combat.


This latter point is what many who read Humble focus on because, I suppose, it's easy to comprehend, kind of titillating and relates to the pressures most have had growing up and becoming adults.  From the Navy's somewhat rocky efforts back in the mid-90s to ease women into the combat roles and into more and more combatant ships - the issue of the integration of women into the traditional all-male combat arena, has been notable by, in general terms, its successes.  The infamous Tailhook '91, however, was a sad and rough watershed in many respects for the Navy, but had the sidebar benefit of crystallizing the Navy's policy to pack as many women as possible into the combat arena of war ships and fighter aircraft.


            Page 452 and the book ended; how I wanted it to continue!  It was a powerful tale of greed and politics gone sour, wonderfully brave young Americans doing the incredibly tough job at sea and in the air, of what true military combat readiness is all about and how a nation can come perilously close to totally losing its moral compass.  There are too, so many good and soggy leadership examples, it could well be a stand-alone case study for the leadership aficionado or student.  Same too, for the many ethical dilemmas, not all of which I agreed with, but accepted with some clenching of the teeth and occasionally, an out-loud expletive of my own.


            Most astoundingly, though the novel was published some eight years ago, a good deal of the author’s assumptions seem to have come to pass or close to it:  Crooked politicos; the pervasive greed in and about some corporations and the Congress; our massive arms industry; women on the front lines of tough combat while the men guard the home front; the global demand for oil; the economic and military rise of China.  Since publication on 9/11, almost eight years ago, we have been a nation at war, first in Afghanistan and for the past six years, Iraq and Afghanistan. 


            I think that most readers who finish a book and close the last page spend a moment or two giving it a subjective assessment; good, bad, great or so-so.  With Humble, when I finished just a few days ago, I knew it was a one-of-a-kind — an absolute winner!  When someone asks me what the book is about, I tell them, “It’s all about real Americans doing the tough job for Navy and country with honor, patriotism, courage and sacrifice.”  I don’t bother to mention the crooked politicos or greedy arms merchants or a few who were clear cowards in the face of a tough enemy.  The one-liner on my business card states simply, “Humble in Victory — a prescient war-at-sea novel circa 2010.”


            Humble in Victory is a great read with a covey of powerful and believable characters, a fast-moving plot that grabs the reader at every turn and some tough lessons of what combat readiness really means.  Strap it on!  You won’t be disappointed!  By far and away, it’s the best novel I’ve read in a lifetime of reading some good ones.


By the author in the early summer of 2009.