Clutching his books as if they were Bibles, an adoring crowd of soldiers and workers at Aberdeen Proving Ground welcomed author Tom Clancy as he preached his gospel of American military superiority.
Clancy, a Baltimore native, Calvert County resident and best-selling author of military thrillers, delivered his sermon to an audience of about 500 believers yesterday, bashing the Soviets and Iraqis and praising the American weaponry showcased in Operation Desert Storm.
"Isn't it nice to be on the winning team," he said. "Hell, I'm not surprised by all this."
His unabashed political conservatism played well. During the Reagan era, he joked, "we started treating people in the military as though they were Americans."
Clancy spoke for about 40 minutes at the proving ground's Post Theater, which last night showed "Hunt for Red October," the movie made from his first best-seller. He also autographed copies of his books, then was briefed on tanks and other weapons, some of which he was allowed to drive and fire on test ranges.
"This is like one of the dream jobs in the world," Clancy said to the soldiers and civilians who work on the test ranges and in weapons laboratories. "You guys get to play with tanks until they break. You guys get paid for this, right?"
Clancy spoke at the request of the proving ground's Ordnance Center and School, where more than 2,000 officers and soldiers come each year to learn how to maintain tanks and other weaponry. He waived a speaking fee, asking instead to operate a 60-ton M1 tank or Bradley Fighting Vehicle.
After driving and firing an M1, Clancy said the experience was "like being at Disneyland."
Maj. Gen. George H. Akin, the proving ground's commander, introduced Clancy as the "Schwarzkopf of all military writers."
Akin and others praised Clancy for his technical knowledge of military hardware and tactics.
"He's looked at as pro-military, someone who understands the military," Akin said.
Earlier this year, Clancy was courted by the GOP to challenge Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, D-Md. But he has declined, saying a political career would take too much time from his family of four children.
Clancy, whose next novel is due out in August, does not seem to be wanting for contacts in Washington anyway. He frequently mentioned his high-ranking friends in the military and other government agencies.
When one member of the audience asked how he gained his insider's knowledge of sophisticated weaponry, he joked: "You're not cleared for that."