Friday, October 18, 2013

Beyond the Uniform…

Always a Marine Exclusive
Flash Fic
by Heather Long

“Good morning, I’m Ruby Jenkins. I’m here at Mike’s Place, a rehabilitation facility located in Allen, Texas.

“During World War II, the Marine Corps were called Devil Dogs by the German forces and painted as psychotic criminals and murderously insane by the Japanese for their unrestrained ruthlessness and ferocity on the battlefield. When you say Marine, the average person thinks of the roughest and rowdiest members of our armed services. When you meet these men and women who serve our country, well, it’s not entirely a lie.” The camera pans around a group of men and two women. “But it’s also not the whole story. Today, I’d like to invite you to join me as we go beyond the lines, beyond the uniform…we’re talking with Luke Dexter, James Westwood, Logan Cavanaugh, Damon Sinclair, Jasmine Cavanaugh, Mary Phillips, Matt McCall, Joe Cooper and Congressman Brent Sparks.”

The camera zeroes in on the group seated around a conversation pit created by three sofas, lingering on each individual as Ruby introduces them. “First, thank you very much for agreeing to this, everyone, and to you especially Captain Dexter for opening the doors to Mike’s Place this week and letting me talk to some of the patients about their recovery.”

“You’re welcome.” Luke Dexter smiled. “It’s an important message to send and if it helps us continue to secure funding to keep helping our brothers and sisters, and their families during their recovery and after they are home—we’re more than happy to help.”

“Well, let’s start right there. You opened Mike’s Place, Captain, of those seated here, each of you contributes to Mike’s Place in some way—what initially brought you here?”

The camera focuses on James Westwood. “I’m a licensed psychologist. When I enlisted, I only had a few clinical hours to go to complete my licensing. Luke told me what he planned—I knew this is exactly where I needed to be and signed on before construction began.”

“James leads our psychology department,” Luke interjected. “More than that, he built it. He vets every psychologist we hire. They work together and individually to make sure everyone is matched with the therapist that will do the best for their recovery.”

“Something like that, but the truth is people need someone who not only listens to them, but also hears them.” A half-smile curved James’ lips. “You would be amazed by how many people hear only what they want to hear. We’re not looking for sympathy or someone to feel sorry for us. We want to work together to be whole, find our footing, and get our lives on track.”

“You use ‘we’ instead of them,” Ruby observed.

“I do.” James nodded. “We’re a unit. We’re Marines and I am one of the guys.”

“It’s exactly why James is so good at what he does.” Matt McCall sat forward and patted the black Labrador at his feet. “He is one of us. We know he knows what it’s like. I’ve been a patient here on and off for two years, and I’m proud to say that I am recovering. My recovery is in no small part due to every person in this room…and to Jethro.”

For a moment, the camera draws back and smiles of pride arrest the face of every person present. “Oorah, Matt.” Logan Cavanaugh murmurs and that oorah echoes from the gathered. The younger man grins, and glances down at the dog.

“Recovery is an individual process.” This from Jasmine Cavanaugh. “I was injured by an IED and fortunately I didn’t lose a limb, but I did suffer extensive head trauma. It took time to heal, still takes time. I do continual physio and see the doctors here regularly to monitor my progress. I was extremely fortunate to be able to recover and make decisions about my future surrounded by people who genuinely care about me.” A sidelong look at Logan. “And who can put up with my temper.”

Logan’s grin grew. “No problem, you have nothing on my temper.”

Damon Sinclair laughed. “No kidding, Logan was a bear during his recovery. Growling and snapping at everyone. More power to you for turning the bear into a house cat.”

“Watch it, Sinclair, I don’t need claws to beat you up.” The friendly jest earned another round of laughter. “Like Jazz, I came here partially for recovery and because I believed in what Captain Dexter was doing. Still do.” Scars mottle the left side of his face.

“You were also injured by an IED,” Ruby sits forward and at Logan’s nod. “Do you have a lot of patients that have IED injuries?”

“Unfortunately.” Logan nodded. “It’s one of the hazards of the job.” When he doesn’t elaborate, the camera pans to Damon.

“Mr. Sinclair, you opened a restaurant? But you also volunteer here at the facility.”

“Yes,” he nodded. “When the time came to retire, I wanted to be close enough to help out. I’m from New Orleans originally, and Dallas is close enough I can visit family when I like. But I couldn’t let these ugly mugs have all the fun without me.”

Snorts of laughter. “Have you looked in the mirror recently?” The aside was low, but the camera didn’t pull back to reveal who said it. More laughter.

“Most of your employees come from the recovering veterans and their families here?”

“Yes, ma’am. I give my guys an opportunity if they want. They don’t always stay long term, but it’s a good stepping stone for getting back out there, and its money in the pocket. We have residential facilities that let families stay while their injured member is recovering, and some need to work or just want to. I’ll hire a veteran or their family member before others. It’s about supporting the unit and the Corps.” Damon paused, considering. “Of course, they’re also my best patrons, too.”

“That’s because you’re an excellent cook, hon.” Mary Phillips added, “The gumbo was to die for.” The camera focuses on the stunning beauty of dark skinned woman sitting next to Jasmine Cavanaugh. The fact that Mary wore Marpats didn’t detract from her beauty at all.

“Sergeant Phillips, you’re still active duty, correct?” Ruby inquired.

“Yes, ma’am. Currently awaiting deployment, but I had leave this weekend and came out with Congressman Sparks.”

“I wanted to thank both of you for that,” Ruby smiled. “I know you’re both exceptionally busy. According to my notes, you were actually Miss California…”

Wolf whistles and whoops break out and Mary chuckles. “Yes, I entered a lot of beauty pageants when I was younger.”

“A lot?” Jasmine teased. “She can put runway models to shame with her walk—and that’s in combat boots with an eighty pound rucksack on.”

More laughter erupts around the room and Ruby lets them calm down a bit. “So, why Marines? If you don’t mind me asking. It doesn’t seem to be one of those career tracks you expect beauty queens to follow.”

“And that’s a mistake. Did you know that for women, beauty pageants comprise some of the best scholarship money in the country? We reward women for being beautiful, for smiling pretty and walking nice—that’s not applauding their minds or encouraging their talents.” Mary met Ruby’s gaze evenly. “The minute you say beauty pageant, or beauty contestant, the average person thinks that girl must be an idiot, because all she has is her looks. I’ve known contestants that went on to get degrees in nuclear physics, become doctors, nurses, and yes—Marines. I wanted a job that demanded everything I have and I found it in the Marines.”

“Oorah.” The encouraging vocalization took on a deeper meaning.

“And you’re a damn fine Marine,” Jasmine complimented her.

“Oorah, Gunny. Oorah.” Mary winked.

“I could probably ask you a dozen other questions,” Ruby grinned. “But let’s talk to Captain Cooper, who is also still on active duty, but you spent some time here at Mike’s Place.”

The camera focuses on the dark skinned male in his uniform. “Yes, ma’am. I spent several months here, actually recovering from a spinal injury. Thanks to these folks and the others in the physio wing and a fantastic medical staff, I am back on my feet and ready for duty.”

“Do you believe you’ll be up for another deployment overseas?”

“You go where the job sends you. Whether it’s here, the sandbox—wherever.” Succinct and direct. “We were talking about this the other day when you asked if we would participate and I believe that Mike’s Place keeps us connected to each other, and when you’ve been the places we have, seen the things we’ve seen—you need others who get it.”

“Agreed,” Luke waved a hand at the others. “They had my back out there, and we’ll have your back here.”

Another round of oorahs. Ruby gives them a moment and then looks to the last member of their group. “Congressman Sparks, you’re a very vocal supporter of Mike’s Place in and out of Congress, but you’ve never been a patient here.”

“You don’t have to benefit directly from a service to applaud it, and to want it to succeed. Our veteran’s programs need more efforts like Mike’s Place, not fewer. These guys know what they’re doing. They’ve made a personal and professional pledge to each other. That’s something you say oorah to and you do everything you can to support.” The congressman grinned.

“You were a Marine…”

“Am.” He corrected her. “There’s no such thing as an ex-Marine.” Vocal grumbles of assent emphasize his comment. “In or out of the uniform, we’re always Marines.”

“Understood,” Ruby ducked her head in apology. “You were injured in the line of duty.”

“Yes, ma’am. Lost my leg. There wasn’t a Mike’s Place during my recovery. I think a facility like this would have been great then. So I know what it’s like on the other side, another reason to support it.” His game smile never faltered, and it emphasized his comfort and acceptance with who he was. “I come from a family of Marines. That’s what the Corps does, it unifies you and solidifies those ties.”

“I have to say, I admire everything you’re doing here, and the plans you have for the future—but I do have one last question for all of you. There’s a rumor on the campus about a pact made by several of the members regarding the 1Night Stand service…”

Laughter erupts and Jasmine holds out her hand. “Pay up, I told you she would wait till near the end to ask…” Money passes around the room and the Gunnery Sergeant accepts several five-dollar bills.

“So I’m going to take that as a yes,” Ruby’s amusement lightened her words. “Why would you all commit to a service like that?”

“Why not?” James answered. “The 1Night Stand’s reputation is impeccable and for those that found immersion and re-entry difficult, it provided a controlled, and comfortable way to meet someone. We don’t single people out, when everyone committed it allowed those who really needed it an opportunity they might not have otherwise enjoyed.”

“And for those that didn’t need it,” Logan added. “It still had value, because we all need someone to care about…”

“Awww, Logan’s turned into a care bear,” Damon hooted and barely avoided the mock punch Logan threw his way. “But he’s right, I think on some level even the guys who didn’t ‘need’ the service, did. So far, I’d say Madame Evangeline hasn’t had a miss yet.”

“I don’t suppose those of you who did participate would like to share your experiences?” Ruby didn’t sound like she thought they would answer and at their silence, she grinned. “A girl had to ask. Before we wrap this up, what are your plans for the future?”

“Our future or Mike’s Place?” Luke asked.

“Either. Both.”

The group glanced at each other and nodded in unison to Luke. The captain grinned. “The same plan we have every day—to grow stronger, cover each other’s backs and get the job done.”


The camera pulls back to sweep the group once more and then cuts to Ruby standing outside the facility. “We’ll see more from the men and women of Mike’s Place in personal interviews. The facility let me spend an entire week here, walking through some of the recovery process. Not everyone here is a Marine, they have staff and patients from all of the armed services, but the Marines who started this facility are a tight group and they have maintained their commitment to honor, service, and each other—once a Marine, always a Marine.  So maybe the Japanese and the Germans in World War II were right, the Marines I’ve met have been devilishly charming, extraordinarily talented, and absolutely ruthless in their devotion to building a stronger life. This is Ruby Jenkins looking beyond the uniform.”

Fade to black. 


  1. If you have not read Heather Long's "Always a Marine" series, I highly recommend ALL the books. While each is a full-developed, stand-alone story, there are cameos by several characters we meet throughout the series. They are a family and deeply protective of each other. The heroes are hot, confident, alpha men just waiting for their partner(s) and the women are strong, intelligent, sexy and able to stand beside their partners, as equals.

  2. I LOVE Heather's Always A Marine series. I don't know how she packs so much into so few pages but each and every one will touch you.