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The Ghost & General Smith: Chapter 3 by Scott Weibling, Jordan Miller, and Matt Tweedy

St. Barbara, Patron Saint of Artillerymen

Chapter 3 November 2030. Marine Corps Combat Development Command.

Catching his breath and regaining balance, General Smith instinctively brushes his uniform, fixes the ribbons on his dress blue coat, and combs his hair with his hand. He is still caked in mud from the island and his shoes are damp. Now in a large conference room, he looks around to gain his bearing. He recognizes his former chair as Commanding General of Marine Corps Combat Development Command (MCCDC). A familiar routine unfolds. Across the room a lieutenant colonel and major in woodland cammies are going through the pre-brief rituals he is so familiar with: Placing printed slides in front of each chair, checking the PowerPoint, and nervously chatting about the brief in a final cram session.


Smith chuckles to himself and spins the leather chair in front of him. “I know this room.”

“Yes. You are about to watch the crossing of a Rubicon, so to speak. A point of no return, really.”

General Smith has no idea what that means. Caesar and the Rubicon and the fall of the Republic, from a Quantico office? He’s attended important briefs and made critical decisions here, but Rubicons are crossed at executive offsites or the Pentagon. He taps his fingers on the back of a chair impatiently.

Caesar Crossing the Rubicon, Adolphie Yvon, 1875


The LtCol and major leave. The conference room TV reads, “Force Design 2040: In Progress Review 3”.

“This seems standard to me,” says General Smith. He picks up one of the slide packets and starts thumbing through the pages. “I don’t see how this is any different than anything else. What is supposed to happen?”

“Today will bring a consequential concession from a deputy commandant. The general will realize it costs too much to sustain enterprise-wide analog redundancies. She will reach this point begrudgingly, not because she is a futurist or unaware of skill deterioration amongst Marines, but because the Deputy Commandant of Programs and Resources will convince her the math does not work. It’s an old story, really. The Marine Corps cannot field new systems without cutting old ones – and that doesn’t just mean Marines. It means gutting training budgets for military skills and further altering MOS standards. It costs too much for every Marine to be a rifleman now, what with the exploding manpower costs. As the CG of MCCDC, she will make the determination that the Marine Corps’ best investment of time and resources is autonomous systems, not Marines.”

Marines and Machines

“I don’t know about autonomous systems, but we’ve known for a while that you can’t win future fights like it's the 1940s. Mass is not possible. Slow and heavy weapons must be replaced with faster and more accurate ones. Marines must be smarter, fitter, and more mature to contend on the modern battlefield. If that means fewer people, then so be it. We still want Marines. They will win the battles, but we need to invest in technologies and weapons to enable that victory.”

The Ghost did not seem to hear him. “After today’s brief, she will call the commandant and recommend the Marine Corps divest the artillery MOS. And he will, but it is only the start of the cuts.”

“What? Why? Who is going to run those new systems we saw at Aberdeen? I saw ROGUE- Fires and HIMARS on that island. I know they were destroyed, but I saw them! Who is going to operate and maintain these things?”

“Don’t you understand, general? Anyone can guard and polish an autonomous system. Why would the Marine Corps need a specialist to do something equivalent to parking and protecting a steel box or JLTV? All targeting is done offsite, the system decides when and at what to shoot, and it is networked into the Joint All-Domain Command and Control system. MCCDC just figured out that the only artillery Marines it physically needs to operate these systems are incidental vehicle operators.”

“I can’t imagine the artillery advocate will let this happen. Those guys won’t roll over like the tankers. How the hell is this possible?”

Just then, The Ghost reveals herself as Saint Barbara, the patron saint of artillerymen. General Smith knows her but doesn’t know how he knows. He bows in reverence, shielding his eyes in fear.

“The artillery community did itself no favors,” Saint Barbara speaks in a firm but enchanting voice, “but in truth, the fault is not solely with them. The moment manual gunnery was sacrificed on the altar of Force Design 2030, the artillery community’s days were numbered. And they are not alone in this shame but will feel it to their bone. Not enough decision-makers recognized that some redundancies are more than simple backups. Some redundancies can be the final link to ancestral knowledge. Traditional firing procedures and systems have the memories of generations of cannoneers embedded in them, all the way back to the fields of pre-Westphalian Europe. When we gave into automated systems, we erased memory. The absence of memory is a form of insanity. General Smith, today in this conference room, the Marine Corps crosses the Rubicon into insanity. The sharper the tools of war, the duller the minds to wield them.”

This time, when the bright light consumes him, General Smith has one thought: Is he insane?

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