Constant Bearing - Decreasing Range by Skip Vogel with JD Hamilton
by J D Hamilton Skip Vogel
||Dec 4, 2006
Constant Bearing - Decreasing Range is navalese for "collision course." Military Writers 2007 Silver Medal Award Winner
The novel is fiction and the USS UNION is a pseudonym. Captain Yorel, Sailor Sam, and their shipmates are creations of the author's imagination.
The context is not fictitious.
The book tells a story of public policy gone awry and takes place following several attempts at social engineering originating at various levels of Government and passed to the U.S. Military of implementation.
In short, it is an intriguing tale about the collision between public policy and National defense.
Read on, and find yourself in face-to-face confrontation with real people who, on the one hand, performed their duty with the utmost professionalism and those, on the other hand, who shirked their duty aboard a major combatant ship of the U.S. Navy-to the peril of us all....
September 2006. Five years since the fateful events of 9/11.
Nearly thirty years had passed since Lain Byrd and Admiral Yorel had been discharged from the Norfolk Naval Hospital. Their lives had changed as dramatically as had the Country in whose military they had served.
Byrd was approaching his 50th birthday. Although no longer confined to a wheelchair, he had never regained the full use of his legs. The damage was too severe, and mobility was possible only by the assistance of hand-crutches.
He felt like a freak when he was discharged from the hospital. Despondent and disillusioned, he had retreated to the family homestead near Turpine, Arkansas, where he assuemed a hermit-like existence. His parents still lived there, and neither were in good health. He assumed responsibility for their care. It afforded him some sense of self-worth, and a ready excuse for "staying at home where he was needed."
The truth of the matter was that Byrd was bitter and angry. From time to time, after he had taken up residence in rural Turpine, he would hear from Admiral Yorel and Sam Ellis. Sometimes he would receive a card from Sheldon Gropp.
On the one hand, he cherished their friendship; on the other hand, they were a reminder of the "good old days" that never were. He would leave their letters unopened for days at a time. Arguably, the time he spent in the Navy were the best years of his life; but, in his estimate, they had ended in disaster and disappointment. He welcomed no reminders of that period.
His friend, Holt, refused to give up on him. Every Autumn Mike would show up at the Turpine farmstead during hunting season. Byrd never joined him in the hunt, but they would spend the evenings together chatting over a cold brew.
Mike was one person with whom Lain could interact socially. However, when the conversation turned to the days aboard the UNION, Byrd became non-responsive. Sea stories were off-limits. Holt didn't understand it, but he respected and abided by Byrd's ground rules.
Lain's father succumbed to a brain tumor in 1980. Shortly thereafter, his mother, who suffered from congestive heart failure, was moved to a nurshing home in Little Rock, where she could receive medical assitance beyond Byrd's capacity to provide. He made arrangements for her burial several years later.
The old house was empty, except for Byrd. Loneliness threatened to rob him of whatever slight zest for life that still remained. Were it not for the love and patience of Mary Jo, it is unlikely that he would have survived. She visited him often, usually bearing special treats indicative of her affection and kindness. He was responsive.
Lain and Mary Jo were married in 1982. Slowly but surely, her gentle care began to erode the shell he had built around himself.
Review by New York Times best-selling author Ellen Tanner Marsh, December 15, 2006
The title of this debut novel by Skip Vogel--and in particular its subtitle, "A Tale of Naval Intrigue,"--will recommend it to readers of military fiction of the Tom Clancy variety, though this novel does not (as Clancy's do) involve warfare or espionage or high-action thrills. Instead, Constant Bearing focuses on one particular aircraft carrier, the fictional U.S.S. Union, which has been re-commissioned in 1976, the year in which the novel is set. In their attempts to achieve an "E" rating--that is, Excellent--for the carrier, the crew is confronted with several obstacles, in the form of an NIS investigation over drugs and counterfeit money found on board; a dead man found in the women's bathroom; a missing crewmember (who apparently has jumped ship); and social experimentation (involving, just as an example, women in the military), which in the view of "old salts" like Captain Yorel, are jeopardizing the U.S. Navy's ability to function in its role as a navy.
The dangers of social experimentation is, indeed, the primary theme of this novel; and the attempts of the "old salts" to resist it to the end, in spite of every obstacle and the inexorable march of time and change, is what drives the plot.
And yet this quite remarkable novel will have an appeal not just to those cultish fans of its subgenre, but indeed to anyone who is interested in good, old-fashioned storytelling. Vogel displays remarkable skill in handling and developing, at a nicely slow and yet page-turning pace, a diversity of plot elements and characters. Nothing, however small, gets pushed aside by his discerning pen and everything, even the most seemingly unimportant stroke of description, is treated with care.
Such a strength is especially important in a novel which involves a career and a setting with its own culture and lingo; Vogel is able to explain Navy terms and locales with a specificity that makes them accessible to anyone, and he is able to do so precisely because of his ability to explain the matter at hand and still deftly move a plot forward. Vogel's storytelling skills shine particularly brightly in his ability to handle character. In the same way that no smallest detail escapes his attention, every character, however minor, is treated with equal care. It is important to point this out because very few writers have managed to achieve it; among contemporary writers, only a John Irving, or a Stephen King, or a Kurt Vonnegut, can accomplish such a task.
Constant Bearing - Decreasing Range, January 7, 2007 by Walter D. Volz
After reading Skip Vogel's "Constant Bearing..." my response was WOW! AWESOME!! The story, set in a fictional aircraft carrier, USS Union, was personal, incisive, redemptive, cathartic, historical, prophetic, visionary and accurate to the smallest details of normal routines in the lives of sailors aboard a Navy vessel in the 1970's. The storyline and message will speak to every person who wore the U.S. military uniform in that era, a time of radical change and turbulence. Vogel is able to capture and speak to a plethora of human emotions, couched within a context of humor, human conflict, compassion, intrigue, decepton, trust and viewing the human spirit at its worst and its best. The novel comes to a dramatic conclusion when each of the principle characters is able to exorcize personal demons which have plagued each one in separate ways from their days sailing in the USS UNION. Tears will come to the reader's eyes when experiencing the powerful resolution of wounds being healed. Greater tears will come when realizing that the basic theme of the story, the collision course between Public Policy and National Defense was not resolved, neither then nor now.
Walter D. Volz, Captain, USNR (ret)
Well written, makes you think..., April 19, 2007 By R. Ballister
Skip Vogel uses his 20 years of Navy experience to weave an intricate tale of life aboard a major warship in the 1970's.
The aircraft carrier USS UNION is the stage on which Vogel's story plays out. It's the 1970's, and several civilian judiciary systems have taken to allowing convicted criminals to serve in the military instead of serving their time. While this experiment bears fruit with a small percentage of misguided youth, by and large it results in several criminal and psychotic personnel being inducted into the Navy in general and onto the UNION in particular. Against this tide of dishonor stand Admiral Yorel, YN3 Byrd, and some other good sailors, chiefs, and officers who realize that they are in dire straits, and who set out to make it right. Vogel does an excellent job of capturing the leadership challenges involved, and also the frustration of the lead characters as they fight not only a criminal element in the crew, but a bureaucratic Navy that is more concerned with paperwork and political correctness than it is about national defense. Well written and engrossing, this book illustrates the conflict that sometimes ensues between public policy and defending this country. Suggested for Navy veterans, leadership students, and those interested in social justice.
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