Former U.S. Army Ranger Sean Parnell has found a second career writing excellent military thrillers, and we're pleased to debut an excerpt from his upcoming third Eric Steele novel "One True Patriot," available now for preorder before its Sept. 1 release.
Steele is a hardened special ops wizard with a past. Thousands of novels have been published about guys like that, but very few have managed to combine tight plotting and memorable characters with a tactical authority that comes from an author who's been there and done that.
Parnell's memoir "Outlaw Platoon" (co-written with John Bruning) detailed his service with the 10th Mountain Division in Afghanistan in 2006 and 2007. The book was a New York Times bestseller and holds up as one of the best first-person accounts of our war in Afghanistan.
"Man of War," Parnell's first Steele novel, debuted in 2018, and he followed with "All Out War" in 2019. Sean's obviously a man of great discipline because he's kept up the quality on a novel-a-year schedule with "One True Patriot."
He's delivered the goods three times in a row, so this is the moment that his publisher and booksellers begin to realize they may have another Brad Thor or Vince Flynn on their hands. Expect a big push at the airport booksellers if we're flying again by this fall.
In the meantime, you can catch up with Steele by reading excerpts from the first two novels in the Related posts linked above and below. The ebooks of both "Man of War" and "All Out War" are on sale for $3.99 each in the Amazon Kindle and Apple Books stores.
In "One True Patriot," Steele must contend with a foreign assassin who's targeting top-tier U.S. military personnel and stop a diabolical plot to undermine our nation's security. Check out the opening chapters of the book below as Steele preps for a 22,000-foot "HAHO" jump out of an airplane.
At twenty-two thousand feet above sea level, Eric Steele was freezing his ass off. The night was black as a coal miner's handkerchief, the clouds were swollen with gumball hail, and despite two uniform layers and a low porosity jumpsuit, a wicked headwind was driving his manhood back up into his pelvis.
Steele didn't mind jumping out of a perfectly good airplane. He'd done it a thousand times before. But this particular method sucked. High Altitude, High Opening. "HAHO." Whoever had come up with that idea needed a lobotomy with a rusty blade, no anesthesia.
In theory, the tactic was sound. You'd exit the aircraft high up and miles away from the target, pop your chute, then fly the ram-air canopy in a long glide path and make a pinpoint landing on the objective -- slick, silent, and deadly. But tonight, Steele had jumped from a special operations C-154 "Skytruck"in Turkish airspace, deployed his MC-4 parachute, and discovered to his warm-blooded horror that he'd be gliding through brutal arctic air for over half an hour and nineteen miles deep into hostile territory.
If he survived this, he was going to strangle the meteorologist.
He felt like a marionette in a meat locker. His arms and legs were already so numb that he wondered if he'd shatter like an ice sculpture when he landed. And right after that, he'd have to go into action. Solo. Against ridiculous odds. All the intel analyst geeks said the Syrian civil war was winding down, but all the spooks on the ground said Aleppo was still the most dangerous place on earth. Steele believed the spooks.
He wiped the fog from his helmet visor with a trembling glove, squinted down at the GPS screen mounted on his chest, reached up for the steering toggles, made an adjustment and turned four degrees south. He glanced at his Russian Vostok watch and checked his altimeter. Eighteen thousand feet, and the damn needle was barely moving. The pull through his oxygen mask was still good, but it felt like sucking snow through a straw. And where the hell was that goddamn beacon? If it didn't show up on his GPS soon he could wind up landing in freaking Beirut.
Another ninety seconds crawled by, then it popped at the top of his screen -- a tiny, amber, oscillating dot.
Thank you, Jesus.
Twenty minutes later, Steele rocketed into a tiny urban clearing in Al Fawwal on the northern outskirts of Aleppo. It looked about the size of a CVS parking lot, bracketed by abandoned hooches. He hauled the toggles down to his hips, flared the parachute, barely missed a concrete retaining wall, thrust his boots straight out and plowed up a furrow of scree. The fifty-pound ruck strapped to his thighs raked his spine across broken cinders and his helmet bounced over stones. He reached up, yanked the Capewells, and the chute collapsed like a dying black jellyfish. His body hadn't shattered, but it ached like hell. He grunted, shook off the bruising, cranked himself to his feet and checked his surroundings.
No one around but a wild dog. She stared at him, growled, and took off.
Time to go to work.
It took him five minutes to prep for action. He rolled up the chute and risers and doused the nylon clump with a bottle of liquid Bromine, melting the MC-4 into a useless puddle. He doffed his helmet and parachute harness, set them aside and stripped off his coverall, revealing a "breakaway" Russian Spetsnaz commando uniform.
He pulled a small, custom load-bearing rig from his ruck, left-thigh mount, with three magazines of 5.45x39.5mm ammunition and two Russian F-1 grenades. Then came a Russian "Krinkov" submachinegun and a MP-443 Grach semiautomatic, both with Gemtech suppressors. The pistol went into his right-thigh holster and he slung the subgun from his neck. Then he pulled on a maroon beret, stuffed the helmet and harness into the ruck, slung it over his back and made off on foot.
Steele followed the GPS for two hundred meters, turned a corner onto Khaled Ibn Awaleed Street, stopped and took a breath.
Aleppo had once been a jewel of the ancient Middle East. Now it looked like Dresden circa 1944. Assad's Alawite soldiers had battled with Syrian Free Army forces for years, with Al Nusra, Hezbollah and ISIS all taking sides and lives. Barrel bombs had decimated civilian suburbs and poison gas had slaughtered innocents. Half the building facades had collapsed into piles of cinder blocks and shattered furniture, and with local power companies bombed to rubble, not a single light bulb flickered. During the daytime civilians foraged for water and food. After dark, they were ghosts.
Steele moved carefully along the eastern side of the narrow street until the GPS signaled "on target." He looked up. A pair of two-story buildings, still relatively intact, faced each other across the road. He saw a slim, gleaming steel cable stretching from roof to roof, and checked to make sure each end drooped down to head height, and had a carbon steel carabiner attached.
That line better be stronger than mama's clothesline.
If it failed him on the extraction, he'd have no other way out.
Just below the left-hand snap link he found a dirt-slathered canvas tarp. He yanked it off, exposing an olive-drab, Russian Taurus fat-wheeled dirt bike, left there for him by a deep-cover Israeli intelligence agent. He pulled it upright and swung into the saddle, then spotted an envelope taped to the gas tank.
This better not be a goddamn stand-down order.
He opened it up, unfolded a note, and his green eyes squinted in the dark. It was a printed travel warning for tourists, from the US State Department:
SYRIA -- LEVEL 4: DO NOT TRAVEL
Do not travel to Syria due to terrorism, civil unrest, kidnapping and armed conflict. No part of Syria is safe from violence. Kidnappings, the use of chemical warfare, shelling and aerial bombardment post significant risk of death or serious injury.
Just below the print was a hand-drawn cartoon smiley face. He smirked. Those guys in the Mossad were funny. But could he trust them?
There was only one way to find out ...
Eric Steele was in Syria to kill some people. That was the job, and he had no reservations about doing it.
Steele was an Alpha, one of only nine special operators attached to The Program, a top-tier unit whose missions were outside the purview of CIA, NSA, the Pentagon and all other "alphabet" agencies headquartered in and around Washington, D.C. The Program's heritage went back to the days following World War II, an interim solution for "dirty work" between the disbanding of the Office of Strategic Services and the standing-up of the CIA. Comprised of the operators and fewer than thirty support personnel, the Program was ensconced in the bowels of the White House, in a nuclear bomb-proof tactical operations center called Cutlass Main.
Missions could only be tasked directly by the President. The very few people in government who knew about the Program, referred to it in whispers as TOA -- "That Other Agency."
Almost all Alphas came from the ranks of the military. Steele had first served as a machine gunner with the 10th Mountain Division, then a demolitions sergeant with a Special Forces A-team. From there, he'd been planning on the assessment and selection process for Delta, but instead a mysterious civilian had tapped him for "something higher." You couldn't get much higher than Delta or the SEALS. The Program was above that; somewhere in the clouds.
In the course of seven years as an Alpha, he'd operated in scores of ugly hotspots all over the world. But this was his first time in Syria. He knew it might be his last.
He rode the chubby Russian motorcycle due south on Khaled bin Awaleed, a long straight thoroughfare that passed the rail yards and went all the way down to the old industrial zone. He no longer needed the GPS or a digital map; he'd spent four days memorizing every infil and exfil route in Aleppo, using overheads supplied by the National Geospatial Agency to mentally mark off waypoints -- much better than Google Maps.
His objective was a hotel called Boukra al-Quds, which translated ironically as "Jerusalem Morning." A five-story structure of steel and stone, the hotel had survived Allepo's death throes, principally because it was used by the Russians as a command and control center. It was as if all the ordnance zipping around Aleppo never came close to the Boukra al-Quds. You just didn't screw with the Russians.
But Steele intended to screw with them tonight, big-time. A meeting was being held on the hotel's third floor. In attendance were nuclear warfare experts from Syria, Iran, North Korea and Russia -- one each. Yet these three men and one woman (the Russian) were not theoretical physicists. They were all "missile mechanics," there to put the final touches on a cooperative venture.
This crew was building miniature nuke warheads to be mounted on an Iranian Qader anti-ship missile. Once they worked out the kinks, which would be very soon, the missiles would go into production and be distributed to Hezbollah terrorists in southern Lebanon. After that, no American or Israeli warship would be able to sail the Mediterranean without threat of annihilation by the mullahs in Tehran.
Steele's hide had been saved by the Navy on more than one occasion. His niece was a midshipman serving with the Sixth Fleet. The idea of American sailors being immolated on an aircraft carrier was a horrific vision that churned his guts. Totally unacceptable.
Normally, the Israelis would have taken this crew down, just as they'd done with the Syrian nuclear reactor in 2006. But Israeli Prime Minister David Bitton and Russian strongman Vladimir Putin were just starting to get along -- sort of -- and using an IDF special missions unit to neutralize a top Moscow scientist could result in Russian paratroopers landing in Tel Aviv. So, the Israelis had appealed to U.S. President Rockford -- promising to provide covert support -- and Rockford had tasked the Program. In turn, the Program had tapped its best operator, Eric Steele.
But the mission had to be completely deniable. No matter how it went down, no one would be taking the credit, the blame, or the shame.
Eric Steele was deniable, expendable, and ready.
He rode another half kilometer down Khaled Ibn Awaleed, jinked left through an abandoned traffic circle, then zipped down Omar Abu Reesha, a median-divided two-lane road that continued south, with the railway lines glinting behind a row of trees on the right. A couple of cars cruised by, a battered Italian Fiat and an old Czech Skoda. Given the hour, he guessed they were occupied by patrolling "White Helmets," the crazy, intrepid rescue crews who braved artillery and gunfire.
He glanced at his watch and gunned the Russian bike, selected by the resident Mossad agent for its all-terrain balloon tires. That anonymous spy had also provided intimate details on the Boukra al-Quds hotel, including the precise positions of all rings of security personnel. He wondered if the guy had a trained cat with a mini-cam attached to its collar.
Then, precisely as stated in the mission brief, the Al Tawheed Mosque with its quartet of majestic minarets appeared on the left, and the Byblos Bank on the right. He slewed to the right onto Al Zohoor Street, and there it was -- the Boukra al-Quds, three hundred meters straight ahead, a pristine structure hunkered in the midst of rubble. He wondered how many stars it was getting on "Yelp."
The first line of security was an entry control point set up in the middle of the road. Steele saw a pair of yellow construction saw-horses with a gap in the middle, and three Russian Spetsnaz operators wearing field camouflage, balaclavas and airborne helmets. The two on the right gripped AK-74s, the one on the left had a shotgun. They were all smoking cigarettes, probably Balkan Sobranies. Off to their right, the hotel was dark, except for a glow from the lobby entrance and a spill of light from the third floor at the rear.
Steele set his posture to casual boredom and scrubbed all thoughts of anything but the mission from his mind. In another five seconds, it would be a matter of "speed, surprise, and violence of action." Emotions had no place in the Program.
He coasted up to the barrier, killed the engine and swung off the bike. With the weight of ordnance gone from his ruck, it settled easily on his shoulders, and he stretched and smiled as the Russians turned toward him.
"Dobryj vecher, tovarisheh. Good evening, comrades," he said.
"Hrenovy jvecher. Shitty evening," one of the them grunted, then added, "Otlichnyj mototsikl. Nice bike."
"Tebe nravitsja? You like it?" Steele said.
Then his right hand blurred as he unholstered the silenced Grach and shot the two men on the right, one round each in the face. The Spetsnaz on the left jerked back, and Steele shot him in the groin so he'd drop the shotgun, which he did. Steele reached out and caught the weapon so it wouldn't clatter, then shot the man again in the throat so he couldn't cry out.
He stepped over the twitching corpses and trotted up the concrete stairs to the lobby. The glass front door was crisscrossed with orange shatter-proof tape. He pulled it open and stepped inside.
To the left was the hotel desk, where no tourist had checked in for probably five years. A large mirror was mounted on the wall behind a Syrian officer who sat at the desk, grinning at something on his smartphone. Another uniformed Syrian was leaning over the top and laughing as he tried to see the object of his comrade's mirth.
Don't shatter the mirror, Steele thought as the two men turned to him and he switched the pistol to his left hand, leaned over the counter and shot the officer in the side of his skull. Then, before the other man's shocked mouth could bellow, he shoved the silencer into his heart, fired one round, snatched the front of his tunic and lowered his twitching form to the floor. Steele looked away from his dying eyes and just listened. The spinning shell casings had clinked, but not too loud.
He glanced up the flight of stairs directly at the back of the lobby. Nothing yet. The next ring of security was Hezbollah -- not so easy. He tossed his beret behind the counter, gripped the front of his Spetsnaz tunic and pulled. The Velcro seam at the back gave way and now he was wearing a Hezbollah camouflage smock. He yanked a kaffiyeh headscarf from his side trouser pocket, wrapped it Jihadi-style around his neck, holstered the pistol, gripped the Krinkov subgun and headed for the stairs.
A Hezbollah militant appeared on the landing above. He was massive and bearded, wearing a kaffiyeh, but his AK-47 was casually slung and he was carrying a rolled up newspaper. Steele smiled up at him.
"Masa al khyr, y'ach. Good evening, brother," Steele said in Arabic.
"Al salam ul masayih. Evening peace," the terrorist replied.
Not tonight, Steele thought as he whipped the silenced weapon up and fired a short burst, center-mass. The man jerked upright and stiffened as his blood sprayed the walls and his mouth flung open in a silent scream. Then he started toppling forward. Steele rushed up the stairs and threw all his weight behind his left shoulder as the giant collapsed on him and moaned a final, gurgling, curse in his ear -- something Steele knew he'd be hearing for years.
He splayed the fresh corpse out on the steps. He was trying to be quiet, but things were getting bloody, noisy, and dicey. He had to move.
He jackknifed up to the second floor landing, where the stairwell turned to the left. He hugged the wall and reached into his boot for a Fairbairn-Sykes, the classic SAS commando knife designed for mortal stabbing. Sure enough, he heard urgent footfalls as another Hezbollah came trotting down the stairs and took the corner.
Steele stepped out, grabbed him by the front of his magazine carrier, and with the overhand power of a railroad spike-driver, buried the Fairbairn hilt-deep in his throat. He held his gurgling victim upright until his arms stopped flopping and his eyes rolled back, but then he couldn't pull the Fairbairn out. The damn blade was stuck in a vertebra. He let it go, eased the corpse down, and took the stairs in pairs.
On the third floor landing, two North Korean commandos were posted in front of a large wooden door. Dressed in black tactical gear from head to foot, they looked wiry and formidable, hefting sidearms and neck-slung Bison submachineguns. Steele didn't try to chat them up -- he didn't have Korean. Instead, he stopped at the landing, making frantic hand gestures and babbling Arabic in a panicky whisper. He motioned for them to follow him and rushed back down the stairs. The Koreans looked at each other, and took the bait.
Halfway down, he spun around, just as they appeared at the top, then ripped into both faces with a silenced six-round burst and rushed back up to keep their weapons from somersaulting and making a racket. The Koreans tumbled onto their backs, their Bisons bounced on their chests, and Steele's shell casings pinged down the stairwell. He froze, but he could hear loud voices and laughter emanating from behind the wooden door -- enough to cover the ruckus.
He sure wasn't cold anymore. He was pouring sweat and badly needed some water, but it wasn't exactly break time yet. He yanked off the breakaway Hezbollah smock, wiped it over his blood-spattered face and tossed it over his shoulder. Then he reached back for a long dishdasha "man dress" from his ruck and pulled it over his head, covering the Krinkov. From a butt pouch under the ruck he pulled a brass finjon.
The small coffee urn was only a harmless prop, but it would buy him a few seconds inside. He couldn't just toss a grenade in the room. There might be some innocents in there, maybe a child. Kids were his red line.
He pulled out the pistol again, loaded a fresh magazine, press-checked the weapon and tucked it under the robe. Then he gripped the finjon in his left, turned the doorknob, and hunched his posture like a submissive chai boy.
It was actually a pretty nice suite, with a glass-topped bar to the left and a flat-screen TV. In the middle of the room was a large low coffee table with a heavy Moroccan mosaic top, flanked by cushy green leather chairs left and right, and one at the far end, in front of a large picture window. It took all of three seconds for Steele to assess.
A Syrian general sat on the right, mustached with chest medals gleaming. To the left sat a Korean man wearing a black Nehru-type jacket, next to a fat Iranian in a charcoal business suit, no tie. The woman facing him across the table was a middle-aged blonde, wearing a Hillary-style mustard pants suit.
The table was strewn with blueprints and ceramic Turkish coffee cups on glass coasters. Right in the middle was a silver, foot-long replica of a Qader missile, mounted on a miniature launch vehicle. It looked like something from Toys-R-Us.
The quartet had been laughing about something. As Steele closed the door and shuffled over with his finjon, they stopped, looked at him, then carried on with their conversation, all in Arabic.
He bowed twice in obsequious dips, muttered, "Masa al khyr yasaditan. Good evening, masters," and shuffled to the table. They ignored him. Except for the North Korean, who cocked his head to the side, looked down at Steele's boots, then back up to his face. Steele caught the flash of alarm in his eyes and knew the jig was up. He pointed at the missile model and said, in plain English, "That's gonna look great in my man cave."
He dropped the finjon, pulled out the pistol and shot the Korean in the forehead. The woman screamed and the Iranian flipped himself out of his chair and ran for the bar. But he was too fat to hurdle the top and Steele shot him in the back of his skull. The Syrian on the right was already up and had decided to fight, but Steele back-handed him in the throat with the pistol butt and shot him twice in the chest.
The Russian woman was on her feet and still screaming. Steele didn't like killing women, and for a split second he thought he might just blow out her kneecaps and leave it at that. But then she came up with a Makarov pistol from her purse and fired a round point-blank at his chest. The .380 ACP bullet pierced his robe and clanged off his Krinkov, slamming the subgun into his ribs.
He shot her in the chest and then the bridge of her nose. She lurched backwards over the chair, her black heels twitching in the air.
He heard shouts now from down in the lobby and the thunder of boots on the stairs. He pulled off the dishdasha, leaped for the doorway, armed a Russian F-1 grenade, tossed it down the stairwell and slammed the door. The hollow bang shook dust from the ceiling as he yanked a thirty-foot length of nylon rope from his ruck and snapped the carabiner to one leg of the table.
Steele pulled his gloves on, stuffed the missile model and blueprints into his ruck, shattered the window with a burst from the Krinkov, tossed the rope outside and was on the ground in another six seconds. But he didn't run from the back of the building to his bike. He walked, as he tried to calm his pulse and smeared streams of sweat from his neck.
Three Russian medics were squatting over the corpses in the street. They raised their heads as he walked right past them, mounted the bike, booted the starter and took off.
The only comm device Steele had on his person was a Mini-LR-MIB -- a miniature long-range midwave infrared beacon. He clicked the button hard with his thumb in his pocket and hoped to hell it was working.
He doubled back on his infil route, but diverged when he got to the Byblos bank and bounced from the road onto the railroad tracks. He thought he heard engines roaring up the parallel road behind him, but he didn't expect any sirens -- just pissed off Russians with guns. Sure enough, a flurry of wild shots zipped through the tree line, breaking off branches. He gunned the Taurus, the railroad ties making his teeth chatter.
He took the hard corner back onto Khaled bin Awaleed and almost crashed the damn bike. A little kid in an oversized coat and sandals was standing in the middle of the road. Christ! Steele dumped the Taurus, jumped off it, snatched up the bug-eyed boy by his waist and sprinted to the maw of an alley. He sat the kid down, fumbled in his pocket for a "Kind Bar," squeezed it into his little hand, tousled his dusty hair and said in Arabic, "Don't move." Then he ran back to the bike.
A minute later he was standing between the exfil buildings and struggling into his parachute harness. He ran to one side, snapped one cable carabiner into his right D-ring, then did the same with the left as the steel line above went taut. He pulled on his helmet, kissed the Krinkov and flung it behind a pile of rubble.
He looked up. Nothing yet.
At the far end of the road, a Russian Zil troop carrier careened around a corner, roared like an enraged lion and bore straight at him. AK-74 barrels appeared from both side windows of the cab and started spitting fire, lime-green tracers cracking through the air around him and biting off chunks of concrete.
Now would be a good time! he howled inside his head. And then he saw the twin spinning propellers.
The SpecOps C-154 was screaming above the road, just behind the truck and a hundred feet up, and he could see the jungle penetrator with its auto-link whipping below the open cargo bay. A crew chief must have been lying prone in the bay with an M240-B, because as the aircraft passed the truck, it opened up on the cab with a wicked stream of lightning-white tracers.
He squeezed his eyes shut, folded his arms and tucked his helmet into his chest. He heard the smack of steel snatching steel above, a short scream of whipping cables, and he was yanked like a meat puppet into the sky at 150 knots.
He opened his eyes at two hundred feet and looked down past his whipping boots. The truck had smashed into a concrete building and exploded in a yellow-orange ball of fire.
These foreign drivers never know when to yield, he thought.
And then he was up and away.
Keep Up With the Best in Military Entertainment
Whether you're looking for news and entertainment, thinking of joining the military or keeping up with military life and benefits, Military.com has you covered. Subscribe to the Military.com newsletter to have military news, updates and resources delivered straight to your inbox.