Monthly Archives: March 2009

Finishing Well-For the Love of the Game (The Perfect Game)

One of my favorite movies is the baseball story For the Love of the Game which starred Kevin Costner.  This is the film rendition of Michael Shaara’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Perfect Game. Both the book and the movie tell the story of “Billy Chapel” a pitcher who played 19 seasons with the same team, in the movie the Detroit Tigers.  The story focuses on the last game of the season in which Chapel is to start.  The game for his team is meaningless, they will not be going to the playoffs.  In fact the long time owner who signed Chapel out of high school is about to sell the team.

The book and the movie present a tapestry of the pitcher’s life in between pitches.  Unlike most baseball films this focus’s not on a season, but a game, a single game.  Woven in this rich tapestry of this game are the lives of several people.  A manager who has a wife with cancer, a catcher who is linked to Chapel as “his” catcher.  A former love who has drifted back into his life, a former team mate now playing for the other team and the son of a former team mate.

The story is built around the last game that Billy Chapel will pitch.  He’s old.  He has had a mediocore or for him a bad season.  His all star days are past.  His dad who taught him the game and witnessed his greatest moments is dead.  It is a story that could end like so many stories in sadness or despair.  Instead it is the story of triumph.  It is the story of how in spite of a whirl of emotions and a lot of pain from past injuries he triumphs.  He does so against an opponent that is going to the playoffs, the always dangerous Yankees in the venerable Yankee Stadium.  Chapel pitches a perfect game against the odds.  Supporting players who had failed during the season make stellar plays.  The team which had nothing to look forward to celebrates one of the rarest of human events, a Major League perfect game. Not just a “no-hitter” which I have been specially graced by the Deity Herself to see in person, but a perfect game of which only 17 have been thrown.  Perfect games are unforgettable and this story gets it right.  The game itself is a story of redemption, in life, love and the pusuit of excellence.

The story of Billy Chapel is one of finishing well.  So many people start their lives full of promise and somewhere along the way give up. For whatever reason they stop living, stop striving for excellence and forget about love, life and friendship. They forget what loyalty means.  They have lost their love and passion and simply go through the motions of existance.  In the military we have a slang term called the “ROAD program.”  It means “retired on active duty.  These are the guys who have stopped trying, they know that short of committing a criminal act  they can retire.  They go through the motions.  There are these kind of folks everywhere, not just the military.  Somewhere, somehow they have given up. I don’t want to do that.  I want my last game to be my best.

Billy Chapel is the epitome of a man who gives his all in what he knows will be his final game, a game that for everyone else but him is meaningless.  However in that game everyone finds meaning.  As he pitches and the tension builds, those who had just been along for the ride get caught up in the magic.  His manager, his journeyman catcher “Gus,”  his team mates, and even the opposing players and the hostile Yankee fans.  People who had given up find inspiration and hope. Billy Chapel creates magic on the mound which in that moment of time makes life right.  Sure it is just a novel, it is just a film, but it is life.

I find the story of Billy Chapel in The Perfect Game to be compelling.  I love baseball and for me the story of someone at the tail end of their career achieving the next to impossible is inspiring.  I find inspiration in other old ball players who keep doing well.  Jamie Moyer of the Phillies is one of those guys who inspire me.  I could well be finishing my career in the next few years.  I want my time in the Navy to matter in my last few years. If I get promoted and remain a few more, that is okay, but even then I want to finish well.  When I’m done with that I hope that God Herself will give me the grace to continue to strive for excellence in serving Her people as a priest.  I never want to be on the ROAD program even if I live to be 90. I want my last years, be they a military career, or my life to be my best.  I want to finish well. Peace, Steve+

Note: As I wrote this and thought of the book and movie I was having waves of emotion which occasionally brought tears to my eyes.  There is something that hooks me in this and I know it.  Part is the magic of baseball. Part is the story itself.  In a few days baseball begins again.  I’ll watch the Orioles and Nationals play an exhibition at Harbor Park. Today I got my season tickets for  the Norfolk Tides.  In every game I’ll see something new, I’ll find something to ponder and I’ll find inspiration.

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666 Who is the Beast?

I can’t believe it.  Today I looked at my numbers on my blog dashboard and much to my surprise I noticed that the number of hits as of 8PM EST tonight I have 666 visitors to my site.  I am wondering  just who is the beast? Who has the “666″  and dropped it on me this evening.  Why didn’t 677 show up today, or why didn’t it just stop at 665?  This is distressing, it is like the Dodgers sweeping the Giants in AT&T Park to take the NL West the last home-stand of the season.  Thankfully, this at least on this blog is the only time that heinous number will show up.  So whoever grew the horns for the evening that I do appreciate your visit to the site just click on it again to move me off of that foul number.  Blessings! Steve+

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The NWU- Now we all have different camouflage

Back in the early 1980s the Army adopted the BDU, or the Battle Dress uniform.  I was issued my first sets back in late 1981 along with the old green permanent press fatigues. The old fatigues were phased out in 1985 and I wore mine up to the last day.  The were comfortable, you could starch the hell out of them to the point that you would “break starch” to get into them in the morning.  The BDUs initially were pretty sorry looking.  You were not even allowed to iron them and the material never came out of the wash unwrinkled. Eventually ironing but no starch was allowed. Rebellion broke out in the ranks. A general showed up in a badly wrinkled uniform for a speech and angered a lot of soldiers. He looked terrible. People who couldn’t stand to look like dirt bags started with sizing and then graduated to starch.  Eventually realizing that no one was obeying the order anyway the Army modified the design and allowed soldiers to starch the uniform.  The other services adopted this uniform in the 1980s and 1990s along with its desert counterpart, the DCU. Pressed and starched with spit shined boots the BDU finally looked pretty good.

These were the standard uniforms until about 2000 when the Marines decided that they were tired of being mistaken for soldiers due to the BDU.  It was in 2000 that the Marine Pattern (MARPAT) Digital Camouflage uniform test and evaluation designs were introduced.  I was with 3rd Battalion 8th Marines in Okinawa when they were field tested.  Several variations were tried and eventually the current Desert and Woodland uniforms were introduced.  To keep the Army from simply appropriating the design the Marines put little Eagle Globe and Anchor insignia in the digital pattern.  The uniform is well designed and functional and the suede boots made life easy.  The Marines also kept their tradition of pin on rank insignia that could be taken off in field environments if needed.  It became the envy of the rest of the US services and the military services of other nations soon went to variations of digital camouflage. As a Navy Chaplain assigned with the Fleet Marine Forces I found it to be a great improvement over the old BDUs.

The Army was the next service to make the change.  Thus was born the ACU, or Army Combat Uniform, not that anyone else would have it, but the Army made it their own.  The ACU is kind of an off green or light green and nearly puke colored uniform that was designed to be worn in either the desert or the woodlands.  In the desert it stands out, it is simply too dark and the wrong color.  Likewise I don’t think that it blends in that well in the woods havinf seen soldiers walking through the woods in them.   The  Army did a couple of things that broke tradition big time on this uniform.  First they changed the location of the insignia from the collar to a tab on the chest.  The placement of it on the chest and the subdued color make them hard to see. Soldeirs have to gaze at the chest of the other soldier to see if they need to salute.  I’m sure many male soldiers have used this excuse to scope out female officers.  “Sorry ma’am, couldn’t see your rank.”  They changed the manner in which insignia were applied from sewing to Velcro.  There is Velcro all over this uniform. Children have been known to have their hair get stuck in the Velcro and pulled down hallways and driveways. Soldiers have bumped into each other and become stuck like Siamese twins while marching. Pranksters find the placement of “hit me” or “kick me” stickers much easier.  The front pockets are angled so oddly that it looks unnatural.  The collar is not symmetrical, supposedly so it more easily can be buttoned around the neck. I wonder when the Army will modify this uniform to make it look better  I admit that  looks aren’t everything, but the Army at one time had some pretty great looking uniforms.  Frankly we have to do better.  I saw my first pair in about 2004 when visiting a Marine in an Army Medical Center. Seeing me in my Marine uniform an officer remarked about his ACUs: “Yes they do look as bad in person as they do on TV.”

So the Air Force came next and fielded their Airman Battle Uniform or ABU.  It was the product of several failed attempts to get an acceptable design.  It has a “tiger stripe” pattern similar to a pattern worn in Vietnam It is is a combination of light green, tan, gray and Air Force Blue.  In my humble opinion it is better looking than the Army uniform.  The Air Force at least did keep to their tradition in placement of insignia and name tapes for both officer and enlisted personnel.

The Navy was the last to join the parade.  It began testing the Navy Working Uniform (NWU) a few years back. Two patterns were tested a Blue,, gray, gray green and black; and a gray and black pattern. Sailors allowed to vote for their favorite.  The gray and black uniform was in my opinion a better color scheme.  That design could be worn on ships and shore stations and if need be could have been used in the field.  We would have looked like the Wehrmacht but who worries about that.  The Blue pattern was voted in by the sailors and it  is now in the process of being fielded throughout the fleet.  It is not a field uniform.  It is a work uniform and will replace a number of other work uniforms found throughout the Navy.  The Navy will field woodland and desert versions as well for units like the Expeditionary Forces, Riverine, EOD, SEABEES and SEALS.  The camouflage includes a Navy Eagle and USN in the digital pattern similar to the Marine design.  It is a similar fabric to Marine woodlands, permanent press and wash and wear.  It has smooth leather boots for sea platforms and optional suede boots for shore commands. I got the suede because I got spoiled by the Marines.  The Navy has kept tradition in some parts of this uniform. The lettering for the name tapes is silver for enlisted and gold for officers and Chief Petty Officers.  Officer and enlisted qualification devices are the appropriate color.  We have kept the traditional 8 point cover (hat to non-sailors). It is actually a nice looking uniform, a little strange at first but decent looking.  I sometimes joke and call the NWU the New Weird Uniform, but after my first day I confess that I like it.  However, if you fall overboard in this uniform you will blend in to the vast expanse of the ocean and never be seen again. The blue camouflage may not be that great on land, but hopefully sharks will have a harder time picking you out while you wait to be rescued.

So we now all have our own pattern, at least no one will confuse us for the Army.  In good fun,

Peace, Steve+

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Bull Durham- Crash Davis and Journeymen Like Me

I’ve always related to the characters in Kevin Costner’s baseball films, Bull Durham, Field of Dreams and For the Love of the Game. The main characters in each of the films touch me each in a different way.

The character of Crash Davis strikes a particular chord in me.  Crash is a journeyman minor league catcher with the dubious distinction of having the most minor league homers. He also played by the way 3 weeks in “the show. ”   He is a consummate professional, loves the game and actually cares about the development of the young guys, even if they try his patience.  His dealings with Ebby Calvin “Nuke” LaLooche (Tim Robbins) is case in point.  Crash is demoted by the big team from a AAA contract to a single A contract to develop the young bonus baby.  He’s not happy with the job, he’s proud, but he takes it on with a mixture of skill and humor in a manner that benefits not only the young pitcher but motivates the rest of the team.  It does not matter that he is in the minor leagues as he still plays his heart out and spends his time teaching the next generation.  He even gets thrown out of a games if it helps motivate his team and let’s his young charge learn the hard way when young “Nuke” decides to ignore his advice.

My life is like a journeyman ball player.  I started in the Army,and to use the baseball journeyman analogy I played one position for a number of years and then so to speak left the big team to train for a new position while playing in the minors.  When I graduated from seminary and becoming a National Guard and Reserve Chaplain  while doing my hospital residency and first hospital chaplain jobs it was like working my way up through the minors.  When I was promoted to the rank of Major in the Army Reserve it was like moving up to Triple A ball.  When I got mobilized it was like getting promoted to the majors.  When that time ended and I returned to the reserve it was like being sent back to the minors.  I honestly thought that I would spend the rest of my career there, maybe getting called up for brief periods of time but knowing that my career was destined to end in the minor leagues.  That changed when I was given a chance to go into the Navy.  I reduced in rank and came in with no time in grade meaning that I was starting from scratch with a new slate.  Now all of my experience was still there, but I was starting over.  It was like when a player gets traded between from the American League to the National League in mid season, or is called up from the minors to play on the big team.  His slate is clear, it is a new start.

I’ve been blessed, I got a chance to go back and live my dream serving as an active duty Navy Chaplain.  I’ve gotten to serve on ship and with the Marines and EOD.  I’ve travelled the world and I’ve gone to war.  I’m not the same as I was as when I started.  I have issues, maybe even the full subscription.  I have streaks where I am hot and when I am not, I have my slumps.  I’m somewhat superstitious but I make do.  However, what drives me now is twofold; first to care for those in my ICUs, patients, families and staff.  Second to help the young guys and gals along.  I’ve been in the military since before many of them were born.  In a sense I’m a Crash Davis kind of guy.  I love the movie and the character. I hope we can all find something or someone to help connect us to what we do in life.  Somehow in Her grace the Deity allows me to find this in baseball.

Peace, Steve+

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Baseball Movies- Bull Durham and Carolina Baseball

With baseball season under two weeks opening night on April 5th and opening day on the 6th I am really pumped.  Today has been one of those recovery type days, a couple of busy weeks, travel and just being tired and run down,  It also rained, so there isn’t much to do.  So I put on one of my favorite baseball movies Bull Durham.

For anyone who has travelled about the south watching minor league ball or had the meandering career that I have the movie is really fun.  I’ve seen a lot of Carolina, Southern and International league games.  I probably have seen almost all of the teams in those leagues play at least once and seen a few games in the South Atlantic league as well.  There is something about minor league ball in the South.  A lot of the teams are in small and out of the way places, just like the movie, Durham now, which is in the International League is in one of the larger cities.  To get the real feel of Carolina ball one needs to go to places like Kinston and Ashville.  These are single A teams.  The Kinston Indians are the Advanced Single A affiliate of the Cleveland Indians.  They play in Grainger Stadium in Kinston just north of downtown.  The town is one that has seen better days as much of the textile industry has disappeared, but the Indians, or the K-Tribe as they are known are a great show.  The field is immaculately taken care of, the stadium has been modernized since it opened in 1949.  It seats 4100 people, tickets for reserved seats are $6, $4 if you are military or a senior citizen.  It measures 335 feet down the lines and 390 feet to dead center.  The outfield wall is interesting, on left field it is low but a series of stair steps makes it higher in right field.  I’ve been able to throw out the first pitch there twice.

Ashville is the home of the historic Ashville Tourists of the South Atlantic League.  They play in McCormick field which opened in 1923.  Though the grandstand has been rebuilt the playing field is the same as it was when it opened.  It measures 326′ down the left field line, 373′ to center and 297′ down the right field line.  This is a magical place especially at night.  The outfield backs up to a tree covered hill and home runs almost disolve into darkness.  The team is affiliated with the Colorado Rockies.  The field played host to various major league exhibition games in the 1920s and 1930s and Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Ty Cobb played there.  On one visit Ruth remarked “My, my, what a beautiful place to play. Delightful. Damned delightful place!” Ruth actually developed a severe stomach ailment arriving in the town in 1925 and was erroneously reported to have died by the media.  He did recover and after a long stay in the hospital started the season late.  The inicident is sometimes known as “the bellyache heard around the world.” The tie in to Bull Durham is where Kevin Costner “Crash Davis” drives up to the stadium and hits his minor league record home run before retiring from the game.

Carolina baseball is magical, it touches the soul.  The small towns, relaxed atmosphere and many times historic ball parks each having their own particular charm make it a wonderful place to fall in love with the game again.  I’ll have to take a trip to Kinston this year.  Until then I will settle down in section 102, row B seat 2 at Harbor park to cheer on my own Norfolk Tides.  God is good, and basball one of Her most wonderful gifts to us.  As George Will noted “Baseball is Heaven’s gift to mortals.” Peace, Steve+

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The Practical Side of Gays in the Military

Note:  This is not a political or social screed.  I am not advocating immediate changes in law. this is really how I have seen military culture evolving over the 27 plus years of my career. These patently are simply my observations and have both a bit of seriousness as well as humor.  I am most definitely a dyed in the wool heterosexual, not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I think that someone without a political axe to grind on either the gay rights or anti-gay rights movement who is in the military have to have a say.  I know that I could be wading into Vietnam here but here I go….

When I enlisted in August of 1981, gays were not allowed to serve in the military.  It was even on the recruiting form. Applicants were asked under the penalty of making a false official statement “Are you a homosexual?”  Who can forget the scene in Stripes where Bill Murray and Harold Ramis are asked by the Army recruiter “Are either of you homosexual?” Their reply was a hoot.  They looked at each other and Bill Murray replied “you mean like flaming or…” The recruiter then said “It’s a standard question we have to ask.” Harold Ramis then quipped “We’re not homosexual, but we’re willing to learn.” Bill Murray adding “Would they send us to someplace special?”  The recruiter then ends the exchange  “I guess that’s a no on both.”  It was a hilarious scene as we all had to answer the question.

Plain and simple if a person lied about being homosexual and was later discovered he was in deep dung, even an accusation of being gay could result in being charged under the UCMJ or at the very least investigated.  Soldiers could be taken to Article 15 proceedings  (Captain’s Mast in the Navy, Office Hours in the Marines) or possibly even a courts-martial. Depending on the charges one could recieve a punitive discharge, such a Bad Conduct Discharge, or administrative discharge under a General, General under Other than Honorable, or Other than Honorable conditions.

Back in my days as a company XO and company commander in the 1980s I had a number of soldiers, male and female who I knew that were gay.  I had grown up in California, had gay friends and even when someone was hiding it I pretty much knew.  If I was homophobic I could have made accusations, began investigations and made these soldiers lives hell.  At that point in time there were a good amount of people in the military who would of done just that.  These soldiers were exemplary in the way that they conducted themselves at work.  They were professional, knowledgeable and I never once had to take any of them to article 15 proceedings for any reason. They never refused missions, they were exceptionally responsible, and good leaders.  As far as their personal lives they were discreet. I am sure that if they stayed in the military that they probably maintained that balance.  I don’t know what happened to them later on, but they were great.   I took over company command as a very junior 1st Lieutenant. The unit had the highest drug abuse rate in Europe with more disciplinary problems than you could shake a stick at. I wasn’t about to go after soldiers who were not giving me problems, I had far more pressing matters on my plate.  I guess you could say that I was exercising the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy 7-8 years before it became policy.  My philosophy then as is is now, is that if someone is willing to serve honorably and endure the hardships and dangers of the lives of military professionals then they should be able to regardless of the way that they are wired.  My issue then and now applies to both homosexuals and heterosexuals who are predatory or push themselves sexually on other soldiers causing problems with good order and discipline and unit cohesion. I have to say had far more problems with my heterosexual soldiers in this regard than my homosexual soldiers. My homosexual soldiers were discreet in their personal lives and very professional, some of my heterosexuals were neither discreet nor professional in thier sexual lives and relationships.

When I served as a personnel officer at the Academy of Health Sciences I became CINC AIDS.  I was the most junior of the Medical Personnel Officers, serving as the Training Brigade Adjutant.  It was at this time that we began having soldiers test positive for HIV and develop AIDS.  I worked with representatives of the Army Surgeon General’s Office to develop personnel procedures for HIV positive soldiers.  These policies gave them the opportunity to serve honorably and at the same time ensured that they did  not endanger others through their sexual conduct.  Since I was the junior guy I got to deal with all the cases of officers who had been diagnosed with HIV.  No one else wanted anything to do with them. While the world around me raged with apocalyptic screeds of those convinced that this was God’s judgment on homosexual; those who prophsyed how this virus would become a pandemic infecting people willy-nilly through casual contact, I dealt with real people.  These officers who wore the same uniform as me.  Some I knew were gay, but some were straight.  When an officer came to my office who was not on our brigade staff and the door closed, there was a good chance that the visitor had just received the news that they had an infection that would cause a process that would kill them.  They had received a death sentence.  I was a Christian and knew that I was going to be going to seminary after this assignment.  I could not see how Jesus could reject these folks.  While assigned there we had the first trial of a soldier who was intentionally attempting to spread the HIV virus among his coworkers.  He was a heterosexual and was a sexual predator.  He was taken to courts-martial and convicted.  As he was now in the latter stages of the disease process and battling the opportunistic infections which actually kill you he was sentenced to 6 months in Leavenworth.  I doubt that he lived that long. The experience of dealing with these officers taught me the torment that many homosexuals go through.  Following my time in the Army while in seminary and after it I worked in a variety of social service organizations and hospitals.  I knew many and work alongside many gays without a problem.

When President Clinton enacted the “Don’t ask, don’t tell” policy there was public outcry, especially in the military,  I had no problem with the policy as I think that everyone should be somewhat discreet in their sexual habits, especially in the military. Regardless of sexual orientation it is always important for military members to conduct themselves in professional manner, and  not only in sexual matters.  It is always a matter of good order and discipline.   While the policy made no one happy, gay activists did not think it went far enough and anti-gay forces hated it, I think it was a wise policy.  The President may have erred in the way that he announced it, but I think it was still the right thing to do at the time.

Since then our society as a whole has changed in its view and treatment of homosexuals.  There is a lot more acceptance of them now and many more people are openly gay.  I think that those who hid that aspect of their lives in earlier times now feel safe enough to come out.  Yes there are those who vehemently oppose any form of equal treatment for homosexuals, but there is a lot more acceptance. There have been famous military leaders who were gay  including Frederick the Great who was forced to marry but kind of liked other guys better.  Lord Kitchner and Sir Hector Archibald MacDonald, both distinguished officers were homosexual, MacDonald committed suicide when notified that he would be courts-martialed for his homosexuality.   There were constant rumors when I was in the Army about senior leaders who were suspected of being gay.   While a majority of military members polled opposed the Clinton administration change of policy, it seems to have worked.  There still are objections by gay rights activists that the policy is too restrictive and opponents who desire for it to be repealed, but in large part there is no problem.  Other countries  the British, Canadians and Israelis and a number of other European nations all allow homosexuals to serve in the military. Contrary to claims that the policy would destroy the military there is nothing to support that.  In fact the US Military has been more heavily engaged on multiple fronts since the policy went into place and done well despite being undermanned and often over-committed.

The Rand Corporation had a study of how allowing gays to serve would impact the military suggested the following was of ensuring that such a change would not endanger good order and discipline or unit cohesion, the two most critical aspects of any change.  They suggested:

  • A requirement that all members of the military services conduct themselves in ways that enhance good order and discipline. Such conduct includes showing respect and tolerance for others. While heterosexuals would be asked to tolerate the presence of known homosexuals, all personnel, including acknowledged homosexuals, must understand that the military environment is no place to advertise one’s sexual orientation.
  • A clear statement that inappropriate conduct could destroy order and discipline, and that individuals should not engage in such conduct.
  • A list of categories of inappropriate conduct, including personal harassment (physical or verbal conduct toward others, based on race, gender, sexual orientation, or physical features), abuse of authority, displays of affection, and explicit discussions of sexual practices, experience, or desires.
  • Application of these standards by leaders at every level of the chain of command, in a way that ensures that unit performance is maintained.

It has been over 15 years since the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy went into effect.  I have noted that while some military members still vehemently oppose gays serving in the military, that quite a few, officer and enlisted, especially those under the age of 30 are much more tolerant than were those of my era.  I was talking with a couple of military doctors and a hospital corpsman, all of us committed heterosexuals, not that there’s anything wrong with that the other day and the subject came up in a humorous way when discussing ways to get out of the military.  The corpsman noted that saying you were gay was one way, and I said, at least for now it was.

As we talked we all agreed that anyone willing to serve in the military at this point of time should be able to so long as they meet the professional standards of the services.  This is no gravy train.  Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Airmen are constantly deployed and putting themselves in harms way.  If a gay wants to commit his or her life to the service of this country, who am I to object?

From a practical and somewhat humorous standpoint we have to acknowledge a number of things about gays, especially gay men.  Many are very well educated successful professionals.  Most seem to have a far better sense of taste and style than most of us on the heterosexual team and quite a few are very physically fit and health conscious. Anyone who has ever served in the military knows that we are not known for the greatest living conditions, food or ascetics.  Military housing, both barracks and family quarters tend to be rather boring, and often substandard.  There is not a lot of imagination in most military dining facilities, and the ascetics and design of many of our buildings and bases leaves a lot to be desired. Can you imagine if we let these guys serve.  Our bases would look a lot better and well kept.  Our living quarters would be nicer and more ascetically pleasing. The food would definitely go up in quality and we would get some highly qualified folks in the service, especially in some of the more scientific and medical specialties.  As a married heterosexual who is a uniter and not a divider I see all of this as a win win situation.  Who could be against that? I would have loved to drive onto bases where buildings and landscaping were done well, where you didn’t feel like you were driving onto a prison.  I’d love to work in buildings where there was some sense of style and artistry, where when you walked in you didn’t think you had walked onto the set of a WWII movie.  I would love a nice selection of food that was both healthy and tasty.

Will this happen anytime soon? I don’t know.  I suspect that at some point the President and Congress will address the issue and if it is changed I expect little practical change in the military.  We will keep deploying and doing our job, some people will be upset and some won’t, but I think there has been enough societal change over the last 27 years to allow this to happen relatively smoothly.  Will some people be unhappy, will crusades be mounted against it by some?  I think that there will be and some of this may take an ugly turn.  However I think that this will come more from the outside, but that in the end the military will survive and continue to do well.  After all, this is all well above my pay grade.

Peace, Steve+

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Friends and the Low Holy Day

Today was my 49th birthday.  Hard to believe that I am that old.  Time flies when you are either having fun or going through hell.   Today I must say was rather cool.  Judy planned a party, a “low holy day” celebration for this most auspicious of days.  We figure that you can’t get much lower than my birthday so what better way to mark the day. The days is also the feast day of Saint Rupert of Salzburg, lousy name great city…the hills really are alive there.  It is also the feast of even lesser known saints, and one theologian who was condemned at one ecumenical council and restored at the next, Saint John Damascene.  He was condemned for his defense of Icons, sometimes known as the Iconoclast controversy.  Obviously this was done by folks who were not cool with art.  However, he was restored by those with more artistic sensitivity at the next council, but I digress, but without me how many of you would have linked my birthday with the Iconoclast controversy?

I have now had a good number of birthdays.  A decent number I have spent away from home, often overseas.  Places like Jordan, Germany, Korea and at sea in the Pacific Ocean or the Gulf of Aden.  I’ve had some  birthdays where we barely had anything and others where Judy and I just did something together or with another couple.  This I think was the first that was an actual party.

Anyway….tonight was a good night.  My ever gracious department head let me out a bit early to help Judy around the house.  We had friends from work and church, unfortunately the weather was lousy and the normally bad Friday evening traffic was compounded by the rain causing nasty conditions.  Thus some others were unable to attend.  Nonetheless we had about twenty friends over.  It was really cool to see how lives of all the people that came intersected, hometowns, churches, work, other friends.  It was a wonderful evening. I think the highly for me was being back together with my assistant and body guard in Iraq, Nelson Lebron.  Nelson is great, he took care of me, we went through a lot together and it is my opinion that he is the finest at what he does in the Navy.  In addition to this he is a Golden Gloves boxer, kick boxer and MMA fighter. He does more martial arts than I can count.  He has fought with Team USA and has a humongous number of title belts.  He has more personality in his little finger than most anyone that I have ever met.  It is so good to see him again after his second trip to Iraq in under a year.

dynamic-duo

Me with my Friend and Body Guard RP2 Nelson Lebron on our way out of Iraq, February 2008

In addition to Nelson we had a variety of other friends and colleagues over.  What I thought was cool was the way that this diverse group of folks had a great time together, for me it was kind of cool.  It’s the way that I think things ought to be.  The food and beer were great, it was cool to see the reaction of people to the half gallon of Gordon Biersch Marzen Beer, which is my favorite beer.  Our little dog Molly was enjoying all the attention ebing a complete suck up.

So this is what it is like to be 49. With friends like these I think that I can handle it.  Peace, Steve+

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The Wacky World of Televangelists Part One: The Networks

Author’s Note: This post is in jest…I’m tired and feeling somewhat silly after a pretty tiring week. The views here are not meant to offend anyone, although I know that they will, maybe someone will honor me with a virtual effigy.  At least I will not be nasty, just sort-of witty.  I worked for a TV ministry in seminary, and as far as these types of ministries go I think that the man does some good.  The job exposed me to a lot of good people.  The evangelist had an outreach to many pastors who had been destroyed by their churches and I ended caring for these folks for about two and a half years. The ministry helped my seminary tuition and proved badly needed medical insurance.  I did not get rich by any means, the pay was not great, but the hours and their flexibility to meet my full time school needs were incredibly gracious.  I also saw how some people suck up to people in powerful ministries, learned a bit about the policies of a couple of major Christian TV networks as well as how some of the  most popular TV preachers treat common people, not well.  The guy I worked for was decent to regular folks, he went to the church that I went to and didn’t force himself there.  However I wonder about the wisdom of proliferating TV ministries which use up vast sums of money in an incredibly expensive medium. My little hair brained view is that this money might be used by real in the flesh type missionaries, churches trying to build to meet their congregation and community ministry needs and for social ministries of all forms that care for the least, the lost and the lonely. Please know that I do not oppose TV ministries on principle, for some people, especially those too isolated or physically inable to attend their churches these are a good thing and some good programing that on occasion is actually theologically okay.  So in good fun I present “The Wacky World of Televangelists Part One: The Networks.”

This for me is my version of Mr.Blackwell’s list.  TV ministers are a fascinating breed.  Hair styles, clothes, manner of speech, facial expressions and elaborate sets make them fun to watch.  On the rare occasion I cannot find a ball game, Seinfeld, The Simpsons, MASH, House, Monk, Family Guy or a good WBC-MMA match they can be an interesting diversion from the bad news pumped out by CNN, MSNBC and FOX News.  I guess that doesn’t leave much time to watch them. However, on those rare occasions that I do watch I can be strangely transfixed by what I see. This of course is an experience made more enjoyable after a few beers.  It’s like getting caught in Dracula’s gaze, once there it can be hard to escape, thank God I keep a ready supply of Holy Water nearby.

Today I deal with the big networks.  First is the Trinity Broadcasting Network, TBN, or as I affectionately refer to it as the Terrible Blond Network.  This is the largest and most powerful of the networks.  Spanning the globe TBN promotes a ministry heavily weighted to ministers of Charismatic and Pentecostal backgrounds.  However it also airs programs of mainline Evangelicals, popular African American ministers, Messianic groups and odds and ends of others including Billy Graham classics.  Sometimes they show some really old classic religious movies.  The most remarkable thing about TBN is the set decoration, which for the flagship program can best be described as an Ecclesiastical Bordello look. It is kind of a blend of overdone Louis the XIV palace and whorehouse.  Ornate gold furnishings, elaborate decor and a host wearing what appears to be a velor smoking jacket, sometimes a purple one. emblazoned with the ministry crest, which looks like European Royalty. The Dallas network branch was built to look like the White House. When I commuted to Dallas for my residency I would drive by it every day.  It is not far from Texas Stadium where Cowboys fans believe that God herself resides. Those were the days of President Bill Clinton and I was tempted to get one of the Clinton cardboard life size cut out and have my my picture taken outside of it.  Maybe now I should have Judy photo shop a picture of me and President Obama in front of it.  Getting back to style, the hair of women guests is big and often blond, when not blond, big   Make up and mascara mix with tears a la Tammy Faye as praise reports and Financial gifts are announced.   The founder, Paul Crouch and his wife Jan have been on the air about 85 years I think, they were pioneers in this medium. This is an eclectic network where a diversity of different points of view co-exist, even when they are diametrically opposed to one another. Score one for tolerance.   However, the appeals for monetary donations are pretty heavy especially every few months when they run the Praise-a-Thon for about two weeks.  This is an over-the-top fund raising show, kind of like the NPR fund raising on major league steroids.  Gifts for donations can be really fun, like a picture of Jesus returning that looked like it was out of a Sci-Fi magazine, fire coming from his eyes like something in a horror movie.  It could have been a little to literal for me, if I had my choice I would be like Ricky Bobby and deal with Baby Jesus. Back in my day in the TV ministry our programs had to be edited during the Praise-a-Thon for TBN so our appeals would not detract from their efforts.

Other major networks include the Christian Broadcasting Network, CBN founded by Pat Robertson, Baptist minister with Charismatic leanings and former Presidential candidate.  Pat’s sets are very tasteful in comparison to those of TBN. They are like a living room and a lot less pretentious.  It seems that he and his co-hosts on the 700 Club try to appeal to people like regular people.  The network is associated with Regent University which though very conservative are a pretty well ranked and regionally accredited school.  It has an undergrad school as well as Schools of Theology, Law and Communications.  CBN is connected with our sponsors conservative political, social and humanitarian outreaches such as Operation Blessing which provides humarian aid around the world.  It’s monetary appeals tend to be more suave than TBN. The most remarkable thing about the program are Pat’s facial expression when he prays and his yearly predictions from God.  This year’s prediction warmed the hearts of Democrats and chaffed Republicans, he said that God said that President Obama’s policies would help a turn economy around in the second half of the year.  Unlike other guys Pat wasn’t prophesying the end of the world as we know it or that the Cubs would win the Worlds Series. As all baseball fans know this would bring about Jesus’ return.  This of course is Padre Steve’s eschatology and patently breathed by the lips of the Deity Herself.

Another network which is both more Charismatic and Pentecostal is the Inspiration Network or INSP. It was  founded by Pentecostal evangelist Morris Cerello and continued by his son.  This network in style tends to be a bit less high-falutin than TBN and often includes visits to local church venues.  The preaching and music on this network seek to overcome obstacle of quality with noise and light.  I wish sometimes that there was no verse about making a joyful noise in the Bible.  These people take that command far to literally.   The appeal for money is always there and pretty in your face.  The Cerello’s are like from New York or Jersey or something and they kind of look like Bible Thumping Mafia hit men, not that there’s anything wrong with that.

In my effort to be inclusive and ecumenical I do have to mention the Roman Catholic entry to the field, the Eternal Word Television Network, or EWTN. I haven’t came up for a cute name for this network yet but give me time.  The network was founded by Mother Angelica, a nun and based out of Alabama. I understand that her ministry complex in some respects resembles Vatican City with BBQ and Wings on the side. I hear that it is a pilgrimage site for Traditionalists. Although they are in Alabama there are no NASCAR ads on EWTN, too bad, they really should combine the two.  I think it would be way cool to have the Nuns sponsor a NASCAR race car maybe in conjunction with Hooters, you can’t get any more traditional than that.  This network is a lot more subdued than its Charismatic and Evangelical kin.  This is so because the theological leanings are to the right of Pope Pius X, the Patron of the Society of Saint Pius X, an ultra conservative group that broke from Rome and whoese excommunicated Bishops were rehabilitated by Pope Benedict XVI this year.  They are traditionalist to the hilt.  They are exceptionally evangelical in regard to their programing. There are programs on Catholic theology, spirituality and apologetics.  Guests are often conservative Catholic academics, so you can actually learn something from these guys. EWTN hosts the Coming Home Network which is designed to convince Protestants to come to Rome.  While I am a proponent of the Catholic Faith, this is in some respects akin to sheep-stealing, especially in their appeal to search Protestant, especially Evangelical Protestant pastors. These men are often enticed with the possibility of becoming Roman Catholic Priests; a lofty goal that few ever attain.  Most leave their Protestant ministries and never it make it through the Catholic formation process.  They end up as laymen, sometimes doing work in the church, but often left with nothing in comparison to the ordained ministries that they left.  The few that do make it are not permitted to be parish pastors by Canon Law and remain in education or some other supporting ministry, sometimes as an associate pastor.  There is one who became a Priest and serves as an Army Chaplain.  He is an outstanding priest and excellent chaplain and a poster boy for this group.  However he is the exception.  Back to the Network.  The decor is a throwback to more traditional times, Mother Angelica and her nuns wear an old fashioned full habit and daily Mass is shown.  The appeals for money are similar to other networks but obviously must be vetted through the local diocesan bishop.

That’s it for the Networks.  Part Two will include some funy observations, mostly of style and presentation of various popular TV evangelists.

In all good humor, Peace Steve+

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The Demons of PTSD: Abandonment

The feeling of abandonment and aloneness, separation and disconnection run deep for those returning from unpopular wars in which the majority of the citizens take no part.  The effects are devastating.  It is estimated that at least 100,000 Vietnam veterans have taken their lives in the years after that war.  Last year the Army had its highest number of active duty suicides ever recorded, January and February of 2009 have been banner months for Army suicides.  Of course as I noted in my previous post these numbers don’t include reservists and Guardsmen who have left active duty or veterans dischaged from the service.  Neither do they include the host of service men and women who died from causes undetermined.

Many veterans attempted to return to “normal life” and family following the war. Many only to have marriages fall apart, continue or leave untreated alcohol and drug addictions acquired in country which often follow them back destroying lives, families and careers.  Most felt cast aside and abandoned by the goverment and society. Many got through and return to life with few visible effects, but the scars live on.  My dad would never talk about his experience in the city of An Loc in 1972 where he as a Navy Chief Petty Officer was among a small group of Americans operating an emergency airstrip in the city which was besieged by the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong for 80 days.  I do know that it affected him, he wasn’t the same when he returned, he was a lot more tense and had some problems initially with alcohol.  He never talked about his time there.

I have seen the effects of this in so many lives,  I remember a Vietnam vet who attempted to kill himself with a shotgun blast to the chin in Dallas during my hospital residency.  He forgot to factor in recoil and blew off his face without hitting his brain or any major arteries.  He survived…talk about having something to be depressed about later.  I have seen the tears as veterans rejected by the country during and after than war begin to seek community with their wartime brothers, men who had experienced the same trauma followed by rejection and abandonment by the people that sent them to Southeast Asia.  One only has to talk to veterans of the Ia Drang, Khe Sahn, Hue City, the Central Highlands and Mekong Delta or read their stories to know what they have gone through.  LTG Hal Moore and Joseph Galloway in We Were Soldiers Once..and Young and We are Soldiers Still have deeply penatrating and soul searching views of Vietnam as does Bing West in The Village. Bernard Fall does the same from a French perspective in Hell in a Very Small Place and Street Without Joy. Alistair Horne’s book A Savage War of Peace discusses and tells the story of many French soldiers in Algeria, who fought a war, won it militarily and had their government abandon them, bringing out a mutiny and coup atempt by French Soldiers who had fought in Indochina, were almost immediately back in action in Algeria with little thanks or notice from thier countrymen.  Abandonment is an ever present reality and “demon” for many of us who have served regardless of our nationality, French, Canadien or American who have fought in wars that have not engaged the bulk of our fellow citizens. Go to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington DC and tocuh it, trace the outline of a name, look upon the makeshift memorials and tokens of remembrance left by comrades who came home and understand the sorrow and the sacrifice.

Unfortunately we would like to think that this is something out of history that we have learned from and applied the lessons and in doing so no longer have an issue.  Unfortunately this is not the case.  There are many, depending on the study anywhere from8-20 percent of returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who suffer from some type of PTSD, Combat Stress reaction or other psychological malady incurred during their tour. Similar numbers are reported by the Israeli Armed Forces in from the 1973 War forward.   The British are seeing the same now as their veterans return from war.  Canadian Forces assigned to the UN command during the Rwanda genocide suffer horribly from PTSD. The mission commander, LTG Romeo Dalliare now a Senator in the Canadian Parliament is a leading spokesman for those who suffer from PTSD. His book Shake Hands with the Devil is a study of how military professionals were exposed to atrocities that they either were forbidden to stop or lacked the combat power to do so even if they wanted to.  These men and women tell their story in a video put out by Canadian Armed Forces.

I am not going to rehash stories that I have recounted in my other posts dealing with PTSD here, but both I and many men and women that I know are scarred by the unseen wounds of this war.  We gladly recognize, and rightfully so, those who suffer physical wounds.  At the same time those who are dying inside are often ignored by their commands or if they come out are shunted into programs designed to “fix” them.  In other words make them ready for the next deployment.  I am not saying here that there is an intentional neglect of our service men and women who suffer from PTSD and other issues.  I do not think that is the case, but it is a fact of life. The military is shorthanded and stretched to the breaking point. Many Army Soldiers and US Marines have made 3-5 deployments since 2003. The Navy has sent over 50,000 sailors, not including those assigned with the Marines into “Individual Augmentation” billets in support of operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Horn of Africa and other fronts in this war.  The Navy personnel, as well as Air Force personnel who perform similar missions often do not have the luxury of going to war and coming home with a particular unit.  We serve often in isolation and incredibly disconnected from our commands, our service is often misunderstood.  Now there are efforts by the services and some commands to do things better to support our sailors, some of these at my own hospital.  However as an institution the military has not fully made the adjustment yet.

Many sailors feel abandoned by the country and sometimes, especially when deployed by the Navy itself.  I have debriefed hundreds of these men and women.  Almost all report anger and use terms such as being abandon, cut off and thrown away by the service and the country.  Those from all services who work in unusual joint billets such as advisers to local military and police forces in Afghanistan and Iraq feel a sense of kinship with each other, often feel a connection to the Iraqis and Afghans but are often not promoted or advanced at the same rate as others who have served in conventional forces in traditional jobs.  There was a film called Go tell the Spartans staring Burt Lancaster about Army advisers in the early stages of Vietnam.  If you see it and have been to Iraq with our advisers you can see some of the same dynamics at work.

At this point we are still engaged in Iraq and Afghanistan.  These wars divided the nation and the veterans, though better treated and appreciated by society than most of thier Vietnam counterparts have no memorial.  Words of thanks uttered by politicans and punits abound, our Vietnam era and other fellow veterans in their latter years come to the airports that we fly in and out of to say thank you, but our numbers are rising, the war rages on both in country and in our minds and lives are being lost long after soldiers have left the battlefield.

We have to do a better job of ensuring that those who sacrifice so much do not feel that they have been cut off and abandoned while they are in theater and especially when they return. When it is time we need a memorial on the Capitol Mall for those who served in these wars.  I don’t know when that will be, but I do hope to see it in my day.  Sure it’s only symbolic, but symbols can be healing too, just look at the black granite wall rising up from the ground and going back down into it, filled with the names of those who gave their lives and made the supreme sacrifice in Southeast Asia.  Simply known by most as “the Wall” it has become a place of healing and rememberance.  A place to say thank you, goodbye and amen.

Peace and blessings, Steve+

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The Demons of PTSD

Just a quick note this evening in between tragedies here at the Medical Center, taking a few minutes off my feet and clearing my mind.  What I have been thinking about in relationship to last week and some events this week with people that I know, what kind of stuff we bring back from war.  I know that I have changed a lot and I know many others who have gone through those life changing situations.  It seems that many of us have stuff that we continue to deal with long after the event.  It is though the war is not over for us.  We have left something behind and at the same time something left incomplete.  I was told by one person that for our minds the war is still raging.  We haven’t had any victory parades this time, nothing like WWI, WWII and the First Gulf War.  We are are still there as much as we are here.

I wonder how many of the suicides experienced by our active duty force and former military members who served in these recent wars, and I will throw in Vietnam as well, have some form of PTSD, Combat Stress, Operational Stress or Traumatic Brain injury.  There are some studies that indicate that PTSD may actually be the result of damaged neuro pathways in the brain and not simply an emotional or psychological issue.

I wonder how many of the suicides, unexplained single vehicle accident deaths and other violent acts committed by otherwise law abiding and honorable men and women are related to PTSD or one of the other processes that I mentioned.  I see a lot of people who have had depression, suicidal gestures and attempts, legal problems and disciplinary problems and damages family lives who when I talk to them have all seen time in Iraq or Afghanistan and almost all still struggle.

For me I have my ups and downs which sometimes are overwhelming and the pain does not go away.  I hate going to bed, it is perhaps the worst time of day for me, I can actually feel the anxiety and it takes a long time to get to sleep, sleep which often is restless or full of dreams and sometimes disturbing images.  I do pray that one day I will go to bed in peace without anxiety.  I know so many others who are like this it is not funny. Being hypersensitive, hyper vigilant, tense, anxious, depressed and feeling rage is so common.  It is scary, for us and those that we love.   These are our “demons.”

One of the things that most people I have talked to is isolation and being disconnected from family, community and even faith.  The feeling of being alone is one of the greatest contributors to the problem.  If you know a vet or current active duty member who is struggling let them know that you care.  Don’t try to fix them or try to pray them out of it.  Just be there for them.  They may not let you into their world right away but just knowing that someone cares and is willing to be there for us is enough.  I do weird things now, and I know others who do as well.   For us this war may never be over and we need to know that we are still part of this society, part of family, part of community.  If you are a leader in a military unit and have service men and women struggling, please, give them a chance, don’t abandon them when they don’t do as well as they used to. I have mentioned in some of my other posts that I went through on my return from Iraq I won’t rehash those in this post, but I will say that is was the knowledge that my command supported me and valued my work when I came to Portsmouth Naval Medical Center, even when I was pretty down that has started me on a path to doing better.  Please take the time to listen and care even if you can’t fix someone.  It may be the one thing that keeps them from committing an irrational act that kills or harms them or someone else.

Keep us all in your prayers,

Peace, Steve+

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