The Leadership

The Characters of Steel Fear, Part 5

John David Mann


This seven-part series takes a behind-the-scenes look at the cast of characters in the military thriller Steel Fear, co-authored by John David Mann and SOFREP founder Brandon Webb, and explores the process of conceiving them and bringing them to life on the page. You can find the first part of this series here.

In The Red Circle, Brandon and I wrote about two six-month Western Pacific tours he did back in the 90s as a helicopter sonar operator and rescue swimmer. The first was on the USS Abraham Lincoln, a modern, nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. Hot stuff. It promised to be pretty damn exciting. It was miserable. It was six months of terrible morale, unkempt conditions, and people getting sick. Brandon came within a whisker of dying when a helo he was crewing almost went down. Pilot error. On that WestPac, everything that could go wrong did go wrong. 

The second tour, a year later, was booked on the USS Kitty Hawk, the oldest carrier in the navy. Pre-nuclear, an oil burner, kind of falling apart. Sailors called it “the Shitty Kitty.” Brandon figured if life on the Lincoln were bad, this would be worse. It wasn’t. It was incredible—an inspiring six months. 

Two experiences, like night and day. Why? What made the difference? Just one thing. The captain. On the Shitty Kitty, the captain got on the 1MC every morning and talked to the crew. Brought everyone up to date on where they were heading next and why. Addressed complaints and issues. Inspired everyone on board, all 5,000-plus of them. We borrowed the reality for our fiction and described it this way in Steel Fear:

“Captain Tom’s leadership sent ripples of pride and quality flowing throughout the ship. He created an esprit de corps that expressed itself on the flight deck, at the mess, in the polish and gleam of every passageway. That turned even something as routine and burdensome as their daily FOD walk down into something to look forward to.”-Steel Fear