Monthly Archives: July 2009

Going to War: Planes, Pit Stops, Patriots and Pubs… the Flight to Kuwait

cape san juanWWII Troopship USS Cape San Juan 1943

Going to war now days is certainly different than it was a generation or two back.  Back in World War II and Korea the primary manner in which troops deployed to and returned from war was on a troopship.  Troopships in the Second World War ranged in size from the great British Ocean Liners the Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary down to small and often ancient passenger ships.  As the war went on the United States adapted a number of ship designs to serve as troop transports as well as built ships specifically designed to transport troops to combat.  There was one thing that all of these ships from the might Queen’s to the lowliest tramp steamer had in common was that they were really crowded.  Every in of space that could be made to fit a bunk was used.  The Queens, which in peacetime might carry 1500-2000 passengers routinely carried up to 15,000 troops.  Talk about cramped quarters, these ships made the steerage passengers on the Titanic look like executive class travelers.  The smaller the ship the worse the ride and many times soldiers would spend their entire voyage seasick.

qeen mary troopsTroops on RMS Queen Mary

Well times have changed.  We still have ships that carry troops, amphibious ships that can hit from both sides of the plate which carry the Marine Corps Expeditionary Units on their deployments.  However, it is seldom that much more than a MEU is ever carried to a war zone.  In the Gulf War and Build up from OIF a good number of Marines were brought over that way, however many of these in the Gulf War never went ashore and were kept at sea to keep the Iraqis thinking that they would be used in an amphibious operation.  The bulk of the troops who have deployed since Vietnam have done so by air, either military aircraft operated by the Air Force such as C-130s, C-141’s, C-5A Galaxy’s and C-17 Globemaster’s or alternatively civilian contract aircraft mostly run by non-scheduled airlines which specialize in just this sort of thing.  Airlines such as World Airways, North American Airlines, Miami Air, and the now defunct ATA have been the primary carriers of troops dating back to Vietnam while other commercial airlines also do charter work.  When large numbers of aircraft the DOD activates the CRAF, the Civilian Reserve Air Fleet, which is composed of aircraft from the major airlines used on an emergency basis.

world airways dc10World Airways DC-10

The military and chartered aircraft are the closest things now in the world of transportation to the old troopships.  On military aircraft troops often fly with cargo in large cavern like fuselages on seats that can be reconfigured to about any way imaginable.  The -17 is the luxury bird of the military air fleet, but certainly not a paragon of comfort when fully load with troops and gear.  Of course the military aircraft were designed for utility and maximum use of passenger and cargo space.  The charter aircraft are a different matter.  Most of the aircraft used regularly by the charter carriers for deployments are older DC-10s, B-757s and occasionally a B-767 or L-1011.  With rare exception these aircraft are configured to get the most passengers on the aircraft, comfort is not terribly important.  There is no such thing in these aircraft as a true “First Class or Business Class section, merely front of the aircraft or back.  The seats are the same and as far as leg room there is no such thing as “Economy Plus.”  Simply put we are in steerage almost any time we get on one of these aircraft.

We loaded our gear onto waiting trucks at Fort Jackson and boarded military operated “Blue Bird” buses like you send your kids to school on.   Unlike your kid’s bus these are white and driven by soldiers that are in some kind of transient status or Army civilians.  The air conditioning on a hot and humid southern day is asthmatic at best, especially when the busses are full of troops who are much bigger than the kids these buses are designed to carry.  I guess it could be worse; we could be traveling in the old un-air conditioned cattle cars.  When we got to the airport we did not go to the commercial side, but rather to the private side.  Our aircraft, a white World Airways DC-10 sat on the strip in front of the tiny and woefully undersized terminal where most of us ended up waiting in the open and un air conditioned hanger, our Desert Uniforms sticking to our bodies in the sultry South Carolina summer.  We formed up, the baggage trucks arrived with our sea bags and we were organized into teams to load the aircraft.  You guessed it, no airline staff to do this, just us.  Now since there were a couple of hundred of us finding enough people to do the work was not much of a problem.  Nelson and I both volunteered and with the others we stripped off our tops and in our brown t-shirts we organized for the task.  The small guys like me and Nelson got to go up into the belly of the aircraft where we waited for guys on the ground to send the bags up the conveyor.  Bag after bag they came, most were the tradition sea bag or duffel bag, but others like Nelson and my bags were oddly shaped and some were even large cases issued by individual’s units.  Weapons cases were also loaded, each weapon locked inside a lowest bidder plastic case that certainly would not last more than a few trips across the pond.  As we loaded the aircraft a rain shower passed by, the humidity was atrocious and the heat did not subside very much.  Eventually Nelson looked at me and asked, “Boss you alright?”  I assured him that I was and we kept loading the aircraft until there were no more bags to load, shoving bags and stacking them so that nearly every inch of space was taken in the baggage compartment.

One done loading we mustered again.  The pilots arrived and began their inspection of the aircraft.  At this point we were informed that there was a mechanical problem and that we would have to wait.  A couple of more hours waiting around the terminal we finally began to board the aircraft.  Finally we got underway and found that we had to make another stop.  We had to land at Pope Air Force Base in order to pick up an Army Transportation unit heading into theater.  The flight up was short and we expected that after a short delay we would again be in the air.  We were wrong.  We de-boarded the plane to allow it to be fueled.  As we waited in the terminal, once again a rather Spartan affair we found that the crew had exceeded their allowed flight or work hours and that we would have to remain overnight.  Unfortunately the contracting staff at the Air Mobility Command had not anticipated this situation and we were stuck.  We had already been up most of the day and there were no sleep facilities in this terminal except wooden benches and concrete floors.  With our gear loaded aboard the plane and unavailable it looked like things would not go well.  Vending machines were quickly emptied and like any sailors marooned anywhere we made the best of things.  Sailors broke out decks of cards, DVD video players, made phone calls home or found places to try to sleep on the benches or against terminal walls.

At first it didn’t look like we would be getting any assistance from the Air Force.  However, we were fortunate to have as our senior officer and Officer in Charge a Navy Captain who was a jet fighter pilot and wasn’t going to let “his” sailors let overnight in such conditions while still in the United States.  After a while our Captain secured box lunches and pillows.  He then continued to push and eventually some contracting weenie was rustled out of his waterbed and got us rooms at a Hampton Inn somewhere in Fayetteville.  As the hands on the dial of my watch worked their way past midnight the ubiquitous Blue Bird buses pulled up to the terminal.  A few people elected to stay behind and for some unknown reason the Air force required some of our sailors to watch the aircraft.  Mind you they could only watch it.  Our weapons were stowed in the belly of the aircraft.  The irony was that the airfield a Pope is secured by USAF Air Police and probably one of the most secure places in the area.  The Captain lost that argument and a number of sailors volunteered to remain along with sailors who had somehow made themselves comfortable and didn’t want to move.  In my younger days I would have been with them, but I had tried to sleep on those same benches when I went to Jordan earlier in the year I knew that I couldn’t hang with them.

The rest of us mustered again, accountability checks were made and we loaded ourselves on the buses.  T rip took about 15 minutes and we were deposited at the hotel.  It was about 0130 by this time.  The hotel staff was great.  Since like our toiletries like most everything else we owned were safely secured in the belly of our aircraft we were now tired, hungry again and pretty stinky. The hotel night manager opened up his stocks and gave us toothpaste, tooth brushes and shavers. He also gave away snacks.  I think I got a muffin out the deal. We stood in line and since there were a lot more of us than rooms we were assigned 4 to a room and at 0200.  My roommates were four youngish junior officers.  There were two beds and a cot in the room, and since none of us wanted to share a full size bed, something I think was a good idea not to do, two got the beds, one got the cot and the third grabbed all the extra linen and a comforter and lay down on the floor.  The young guys deferred to my age when I volunteered for the floor, they told me that “because you are a lot older than us sir you get a bed.”  I felt like applying for the AARP at that moment but I took a bed which felt really good as I sunk into it and passed out.

We had to be up early to head back to the airfield, the time in bed was too short but better than I had hoped and the shower was great.  I felt almost human and was glad that I had packed a clean undershirt socks and briefs in my backpack.  We got back to the terminal and box lunch breakfasts were on hand. We still had about 4 hours before the flight and it was Sunday morning so Chaplain Fauntleroy and Chaplain Rodriquez and I arranged to conduct two services.  Kyle and Dave did a more Evangelical style service while I celebrated a short field Eucharist.  We did this outside the terminal, the weather was not too bad, and probably half of the sailors as well as a good number of the soldiers who had joined us participated.  Since there was no Catholic Priest my service was better attended than I thought it would be as in such times I usually pick up a few Episcopalians, Anglicans and Lutherans and maybe a stray Catholic.  In these settings I do not interrogate the people that show up as to their background, I do ask that if they are not baptized Christians not to partake of the Eucharist, but figure that God and His grace in the Sacrament will do what needs to be done.  I learned this from a Missouri Synod Lutheran Chaplain in Germany supporting the Bosnia operation. Since the Missouri Synod practices “closed communion” meaning that you have to be Missouri Synod to take communion in their church I asked what he did in field settings or chapels where it was not a denominational service.  He told me, with great wisdom “Steve, you have to trust that God’s grace in the Sacrament will do His work.”  That was an epiphany and I have never forgotten it.

The services concluded we again mustered and finally were able to board the aircraft.  We had a stop at Portland Maine to refuel the aircraft in preparation for the trans-Atlantic flight.  Now this is a highlight for any serviceman or women being deployed or returning home.  The folks in Portland, veterans groups like the VFW, American Legion, Fleet Reserve and Marine Corps League have banded together to meet flights as they come in.  They have been given a space in the terminal in which they have computers, cell phones, land line phones and calling cards for troops.  They also hand out small “goodie” bags with snacks and home baked cookies.  These folks and their counterparts at the former Pease Air Force Base are amazing.  It is an example of small town America at its best.  Some are World War II vets, others from Korea, Vietnam and Desert Storm.  They are still others who have never served but feel an obligation to help.  They span the political, religious and ethnic spectrum of the country.  After they personally greeted each of us as we entered the terminal, they had a small ceremony and thanked us for our service.  Many engaged us in conversation and their hospitality was simply amazing.  The Maine Troop Greeters have greeted over 800,000 troops from over 4000 flights in the past six years.  They are Patriots in their own right and what they did for us was amazing.  I felt a wave of emotion go across my and my eyes get a bit moist as these wonderful people, young and old greeted us, shook our hands and blessed us.  It is something that until you experience it you cannot comprehend and I wish that the  men and women who served in Vietnam had been greeted like this.  It makes you feel that you are not completely alone.

maine troop greeters 1

maine troop greeters 3Maine Troop Greeters

Eventually I decided to wander the terminal to see what was available.  I saw a small pub which featured the local micro-brew ale which our good Captain permitted us to have since we were still in the Continental United States.  I had a sandwich and chips as well as two pints of this local Amber Ale which would be my last drink until the Marine Corps Birthday in Ramadi.  The brew was quite good and if I saw it again I would probably buy some.  We were then called back to the aircraft.  Our flight to Germany was uneventful and we landed deep in the night in Leipzig where a small area had been set up for refreshments, souvenirs, television, games and internet access.  We were not allowed any alcohol at this stop as we were now under an 8 hour flight to Kuwait.  Our stop completed we got back on the aircraft for the flight to Kuwait which awaited us with temperatures of 120-135 degrees.  Something that I wonder how the Deity Herself allows unless it is to give us a chance to preview hell.

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Filed under iraq,afghanistan, Military, Tour in Iraq

Breaking Slumps and Losing Streaks

Fiorentino HR against ColonJeff Fiorentino, seen here Hitting a Home Run off Bartolo Colon has Come up Big for the Norfolk Tides in 2009

The Norfolk Tides came home Tuesday after their worst road trip of the season in which they fell behind both the Durham Bulls and Gwinett Braves.  When things are not going well for a team, organization or individual it seems that events almost conspire against them.  It was that way for the Tides, errors and bad decisions at the plate, on the base paths and the field plagued them over the road trip.  The problems continued on Tuesday where the Tides lost their 9th of the last 10 games.  Now it was not that the team was bad, they made some great comebacks but fell short each time sometimes in heartbreaking ways.

Tonight after getting out to an early lead the Tides were behind 5-2 in the bottom of the 7th.  Elliott the Usher and I as well as Barry the Scorekeeper wondered what was happening.  It seemed that there was no energy on the team.  Unfortunately when a team, organization, military unit or individual gets on a losing streak it is hard to get motivated, especially when you come close but come up short. I remember being told in my Pastoral Care Residency that I had to stop believing that things were going to be difficult or that I would always come up short.  My supervisor told me that I had the power to actually envision a positive future and make things happen to see it come into being.  Now I have always been a fighter and even a survivor, but being a survivor doesn’t necessarily make you a winner.

The Tides picked up 2 in the 7th as Robby Hammock led off with a hit and Tides hitters Blake Davis, Joey Gathright and Jeff Fiorentino brought the runs across with key hits.  Brandon Snyder singled to drive in Victor Diaz and tie the game the game in the 8th.  Tides reliever Alberto Castillo came in at the top of the 9th and shut down the Indians after getting into a jam after giving up a hit and an error by 3rd Baseman Brandon Snyder.

Sometimes the key to breaking a losing streak is in how one player can raise help lift the team.  Following the promotion of Matt Wieters, Nolan Reimold and Oscar Salazar to the Orioles and the loss of Scott Moore, Jolbert Cabrerra to season ending injuries and temporary absences to injury of Justin Turner and Joey Gathright, it was Jeff Fiorentino that stepped up.  He now stands near the top of the International League in hitting with a .315 batting average and has been a clutch player offensively and defensively.  Tonight Jeff went four for four with a walk, drove in a run in the 7th.  Hecame to bat with one out in the 9th to single to drive Justin Turner in for the winning run.   It broke the losing streak and hopefully will begin a rebound for the Tides.  Since the Tides have played well the bulk of the season even allowing for significant numbers of call ups and injuries it is well possible that they will turn things around.  It was significant that other Tides were involved in the comeback and that instead of giving in to going through the motions they came together to win.  The team still has a lot of heart and character and still can only continue to get better.

May we all do the same, with a little help from the Deity Herself.

On a side note, Tides pitcher Chris Tillman had his first Major League start in Baltimore against Kansas City.  He had a no decision but the Orioles won the game 7-3.  Former Tides relievers Matt Albers came in in the 5th to hold the Royals and Jim Johnson got the save.  Baltimore continues to get great performance out of the pitchers called up from Norfolk this year.

Peace, Steve+

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Going to War: Ministry amid Training

Two years ago my group of Individual Augmentees was leaving Ft Jackson South Carolina on the way to Kuwait, which was our final training site before going on to our assignments in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait and other locations in the CENTCOM Area of Operations.  In the two weeks prior to our departure  we received training in a number of areas, especially weapons which I was exempted from as a Chaplain, though I did fire the crew served weapons for the fun of it.  I wasn’t always a chaplain and have a hard time not enjoying a Mk 19 Automatic Grenade Launcher, M-240 series machine gun or the classic .50 caliber Machine Gun.  Since I used to call in 155mm Artillery fire these are little guns, but still fun to play with.  When you are chaplain and are exempted from actual training it does not mean that it is time to go to the Food Court at the Post Exchange to chow down on Pizza and Ice Cream.  Ministry abounds if you want to go hang out.  One of the fun things about hanging out with Navy guys unfamiliar with small arms is to watch them trying to clean them and get them past an Army armorer in an Arms Room.  To see the looks of shock as my fellow sailors brought back their M-16s and M-9s for more cleaning.  They had not yet learned the dirty little secret that a good armorer can find things dirty on a weapon that you didn’t even know existed.    It was at this point with me calmly pointing out tricks of the trade that a physician who I had gotten to know looked at me and said: “Chaplain, you were in the Army weren’t you?”  He looked at me as several others who had just had their weapons rejected stopped what they were doing and waited for my response.

I was kind; I acknowledged that indeed I had served in the Army and that I was not always a Chaplain.  I then looked at the physician and said “Give me the weapon.”  I took it from him, broke it down and gave a quick lecture on how to clean a weapon of the M-16 series.  The dirty secret on these things is that you almost never get your weapon through the inspector on the first try.  There are more places for carbon to hide on an M-16 than places you can find Waldo.  Thus a good inspector knowing that he has a bunch of novices coming through simply rejects every weapon.  I think that it builds character.  I showed those around me all the little places where carbon was hiding on this officer’s weapon and how to get it clean to pass inspection.  Knowing such things gives you additional “street cred” as a chaplain as you go off to war.  It shows that you care about what your guys have to do enough to teach them.  This is really vital when your Navy or Air force guys are training with the Army.  It opened doors to ministry with these men and women.  So if any of my deploying friends need some pointers on the care and feeding of an M-16 let me know.

Additionally, ministry seems to happen when you stay engaged with people.  I was blessed that two additional chaplains, Commander Kyle Fauntleroy and Command Dave Rodriguez who were heading off to manage the “Warrior Transition” program in Kuwait.  Together we figured out how best to care for our sailors including how we did services as well as counseling.  We had a pretty good amount of business.  It seems that life and tragedy happens even in training. We had a young hospital corpsman who was diagnosed with Leukemia during our first week there. Both the Navy chain of command and Army trainers expected us, in between and after training to make sure that she and her family were cared for.   Other sailors found out that their husbands, wives or significant others were cheating on them.  Still others were hurt in training accidents and could not deploy.  In every case one or more of us took care of the sailor in question.  It was a community of individuals that for a brief two weeks began to gel together despite the fact that when the training was completed we would go separate directions, some for more training at other bases and others directly to the Middle East.

Apart from the young woman with Leukemia the most notable thing that I got to do was baptize a young Navy Reserve Intelligence Officer who had been raised in the Episcopal Church but who’s parents had forgotten to have him baptized…oops.  The subject came up when he became engaged to a Catholic girl. He needed to prove that he was a baptized Christian, only problem when he went to his parish they could find no record.  So he inquired of his parents when he learned of the “oops we should have done that” situation.  I like to baptize people, they way we do it you don’t have to wear hip-waders or make up anything because it is all in the Prayer Book so it’s not that hard.   So I did it on our last Sunday morning with his fiancé present.  It was really cool.  The young officer had the bunk next to me in the barracks so we had gotten to know each other during conversations as we checked or put together equipment, packed gear, washed clothes or went to chow.  He was very smart and friends as well as unassuming.  When asked what he did in civilian life he simply said that he worked intelligence and foreign policy in DC.  I figured as most would infer that the young man was with the CIA or DIA or some other outfit.  We saw each other a couple of times as Nelson and I traveled about Al Anbar Province the last time in the Wal-Mart sized chow hall number three at Al Asad as we waited for a flight out west.  After I returned and was having my PTSD meltdown I found that the young man was then Senator Barak Obama’s senior National security adviser.  We had stayed in touch in the following months but finding out this was a surprise. We have remained in touch and he now serves as Chief of Staff for the National Security Council.  I think it’s cool that he is up there working with General Jones on the NSC.  He’s a good man who despite his high position remains active in the Naval Reserve.  He is doing well in his marriage and remains in contact with guys like me.  It makes me even more prayerful for him as he advises the NSC and President.   It was one of those moments when I knew that the Deity Herself had placed me in a person’s life that due to his office needs prayer more than we can imagine.

Ministry of all types continued to happen our entire time at Fort Jackson, we dealt with family deaths, birth notifications and medical emergencies.  We counseled, prayed and assisted sailors in need and looked out for each other.  Nelson was engaged not only receiving training but also giving it having run something like 400 convoys in Afghanistan.  He ended up as one of the honor graduates and won a leadership award from the Army staff.  It is really great to have an assistant of Nelson’s caliber when you go to war.  As we got ready to leave Ft Jackson my young friend went off for more specific training at another base with many of the other Intelligence Officers and specialists.   Nelson and I packed up our gear, stacked it and helped load trucks which would take us to our flight.

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Filed under iraq,afghanistan, leadership, Military, philosophy, Tour in Iraq

The Forgotten Cold Warriors

CheckpointCheckpoint Charlie in the Berlin Crisis

Note: As a follow up to this Article I posted “20 Years: The Fall of the Berlin Wall and the End of the Cold War” to this site.  The link to that article is here:

http://padresteve.wordpress.com/2009/11/08/20-years-the-fall-of-the-berlin-wall-and-the-end-of-the-cold-war/

From the Berlin Blockade and until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 American, British, NATO and Asian Allies waged a Cold War against their Soviet and Warsaw Pact Countries, North Korea and at times China and Vietnam.  The war was a world war, fought by the major powers, their alliances and proxies throughout the world.  It was a world of gray areas where soldiers, sailors, airmen as well as Special Forces and intelligence agencies from both sides attempted to gain dominance over the world through political, military, economic, diplomatic and intelligence means and through use of surrogates.  Sometimes the war turned hot as in Korea, Vietnam and for the Soviet Union Afghanistan.

The conflict found its way to almost every corner of the earth and the world lived on edge wondering if the superpowers and their allies would end up in a hot war.  US and NATO Navies played a cat and mouse game with the Red Navy both under the sea and upon the waters.  Sometimes this war turned deadly as US and Red Navy Submarines disappeared and were never heard from again amid circumstances like those of the USS Scorpion that are still debated.  On the high seas US and NATO ships shadowed each other and occasionally played a game of chicken where ships collided attempting to gain advantage as they undertook surveillance missions or shadowed task forces.  Spy ships from both sides plied the seas collecting any type of information on their opponent’s operations.  In the air spy aircraft maintained a ready vigil with US SR-71s and U-2s flying missions over the Soviet Union.  Soviet Bear and Backfire Bombers probed the airspace of the United States and Canada and NATO forces at sea who responded by sending up interceptors.   In the closed confines of the Mediterranean the Navies sparred while a in the Middle East and North Africa both sides sought dominance through treaties with the surrounding nations who moved from Western to Soviet and Soviet to Western orbit as they deemed fit. Ideology and behavior of these client regimes was less important than having them in your camp, creating a surreal world of moral ambiguity in the shadow realm of alliances.

In divided Germany NATO and Warsaw Pact Forces faced off in a tense standoff along the inter-German Border and where millions of troops planned and trained for a hot war on the Fulda Gap and Northern German Plain which would include the use of Nuclear, Biological and Chemical weapons.  West Berlin was an island surrounded by the Olive uniformed Red Army and Field Gray of the German Democratic Republic.  A similar watch was maintained on the Korean DMZ.  In Africa, Asia, South and Central America, the Indian Subcontinent and the Middle East forces of the major powers worked with allies and surrogates to gain advantage.   The Soviets blockaded West Berlin while in response to the placement of Soviet missiles in Cuba the US imposed a naval blockade.  The CIA sponsored a failed attempt by Cuban expatriates to land at the Bay of Pigs.  The Soviets toppled governments and put down revolts in Hungary and Czechoslovakia while maintaining a system of Gulags at home.  Even international sporting events became occasions where each side used propaganda to show itself off to the world as the ideal society.  All of this occurring while the world lived under the constant threat of intentional or unintentional nuclear war.   In  missile silos and aboard Nuclear Ballistic Missile Submarines and manned bombers men stood by to push buttons and turn keys that could have ended the world as we know it.

763px-USS_Yorktown_collisionSoviet Krivak Class Frigate Intentionally Colliding with USS Yorktown CG-48 in the Black Sea 1988

Casualties were taken, even in places where the war was not “hot.”  Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, Airmen and Intelligence Service personnel undertook missions that are still classified the details of which they cannot reveal to this day.  Some suffer from PTSD from their involvement in and guilt over missions that they cannot reveal.  Men from both sides know that the weapons systems that they were involved with killed men on the other side in operations that will never be known.  American Veterans of the Cold War have been ignored by the country.  Russian Veterans have been forgotten as the Soviet Union crashed down on itself.  Countries spanning the globe bear the scars of the “hot” Cold War waged on their soil.  The results of the Cold War are still with us.  The West celbrated the collapse of the Soviet Empire but failed to make the new Russia a full member of the new world causing resentment which still boils today influencing Russian policy toward the West.

I met a man recently in hospital who was one of these veterans.  Tormented by the demons of operations he cannot reveal he suffers from physical and emotional wounds.  He is not alone.  There are many like him.  I do not suffer from my Cold War Service.  I served as a platoon leader, company executive officer and company commander in Germany in the mid-1980s.  If a war had broken out along the Fulda Gap my Chrysler Corporation bailout Dodge M-886 Ambulances with no communications systems adorned with bright red “mobile registration points’ were to be involved with reconstituting units which were expected to take 90% casualties.  We trained for chemical and biological warfare.  The maps used in my NBC defense officer course showed the housing area in which I lived.  We lived in a world of alerts where within two hours we had to be ready to head to war.  A world where Soviet spies operated and recruited Americans and where the German Red Brigade Terrorists bombed housing areas, clubs and even the Main Frankfurt PX, where we were on our way to when Judy felt sick and we had to return home.  Occasionally American Servicemen were murdered by Soviet Agents or Red Brigade Terrorists.  This was life for those stationed in Germany as well as South Korea.

I have been in East Berlin and was surprised as hell to see the Berlin Wall come down.  I have been to the Korean DMZ and the Northeast Gate of Guantanamo Bay Cuba.  I call it the “Commie trifecta.”  Without the Berlin Wall there are only two places where the US faces a Communist state directly.   Yet my time in a “hot” war has been in Iraq, I remember the days of the Cold War from childhood through my early Army career.

Cold War Veterans are the last forgotten Veterans group in the United States or even Russia.  Their sacrifices are not recognized.  The US belatedly issued a Cold war Service certificate for its veterans, but vets have to deal with a system that makes it difficult to even obtain a piece of paper that says “thank you” which gives them no other benefit.  The certificate is available to any person who worked for the Federal Government, including temporary holiday employees of the US Postal Service and does not mention military service. A Cold Service Medal was constantly fought by DOD during the last administration as too costly to support at this time.  The Cold War Service Medal last appeared in the FY 2008 DOD spending bills but was cut.   With the present demands on the military in the current wars and the fact that the cost of any award would come out of DOD’s budget it is unrealistic to expect this any time soon as it would cut into the funds needed to fight this war. At the same time these Veterans have no memorial and no status.  While their war was not “hot” it was world wide, lasted 40 years with many casualties.  Yes I agree it was not a hot war and that many who served in it were not in combat.  At the same time the Cold War veterans helped give the world a chance at a new beginning in 1991, unfortunately that has been squandered by governments around the world including the US government, but that is not the fault of those who stood the watch.  Someday they should be recognized.

Berlin WallMe on the East German Side of the Berlin Wall, November 1986

I have my medals from Iraq, the War on Terror and Korean Defense service.  I do believe that those men who stood the watch and many times paid with their lives or health should be recognized.  Other countries have done so.  I wonder why a few dollars per medal cannot be spent on men and women who served on the front line of freedom for 40 years. At the same time I understand that the costs of any such Medal would be born by DOD which is strapped to fight the ongoing wars.  I don’t think it realistic to have the money spent now, but maybe when the dust finally clears and these conflicts subside someone will take the time to remember these men and women.

The gentleman I saw recently never got a thank-you, never got a parade, and never was able to talk about the things that haunted him.  I wonder just how many more are waiting for the chance to come in from the cold.  If you know one of them, thank them for thier service and if they are one of those suffering from their service take care of them.

Peace, Steve+

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Filed under History, Loose thoughts and musings, Military, national security

Offensively Offending the Chronically Offended

bloom_offensensitivity

We live in a country that has transformed itself into one of the thinnest skinned, easily offended and offendable bunch of folks in the world.  It doesn’t seem to matter what political affiliation, religion, race, gender, socio-economic group or Dodger’s fan a person is now days they are bound to be offended at something.  However, we now seem to live where almost everyone is offended at something and it matters not a whit what it may be, hell I even offend myself sometimes.  There are some people who almost seem to live with a chip on their shoulder.  They are the chronically offended who are quite often easily offensively offended. While most of the time trying not to give offense I have been known to offend the chronically offended, the merely offendable, and even the totally unaware with twisted or sarcastic comments and oddball humor which Judy tells me is not always as funny as I think it is.  Nonetheless there are patently many people who are both chronically offended and very angry. I am assured by the Deity Herself that such is not a good and virtuous combination.  Especially on those occasions when I am one of the guilty parties questioning the parentage and Oedipal tendencies of the idiots who move across four lanes of traffic without signaling on I-264.  At times I wish this was Iraq in 2007 so my turret gunner or RP2 Lebron could shoot them.  Thankfully my newly honed skills using the force that I developed in Iraq, which I am told is actually hyper vigilance, does allow me to sense and avoid these Kamikazes before I even see them.

I remember once when I was a civilian hospital chaplain and stopped by a grocery store to pick up some food to take to work.  An older gentleman was going toward the sliding automated door and out of simple politeness I said “Sir, please, after you.”  Hell, the way I walk, which is as those who see me rapidly racing down the long halls of our medical center without breaking into a jog can testify is pretty fast, it was a safety thing too.  I could have run the gentleman down had I not stopped to let him through first.  That would not have been cool.  I could have seen the newspaper headline in that town:

LOCAL HOSPITAL AND ARMY RESERVE CHAPLAIN SLAMS ELDERLY MAN TO GROUND TRYING TO BEAT HIM THROUGH KROGER DOOR

That would not have been good.  The man, instead of smiling and thanking me stops in front of the door, turns around and says: “Why are you calling me sir? Why are you disrespecting me?” He said it very loud, very sharply and I was wondering what the hell was going on.  So I kind of defused the situation by using humor.  I said, “Sir, I call everybody sir, even ma’ams.”   The man cocked his head, gave me the most confused look that I could imagine shook his head and went through the door.  I didn’t know that being polite and respectful could be taken as offensive and disrespectful.  Maybe when some young guy does that to me someday I will understand.  Of course only after whack him with my tazer from my motorized scooter because I think he is being disrespectful and watch him writhing in pain and twitching all over the place.

I knew a young Chaplain who was spouting off in a public forum once in a manner that did not offend me, but which I thought if certain other people read it could affect him and his career in a negative manner.  This is no one that I have worked with past or present, only someone that I happen to know in passing.  I was concerned for the young man, so I contacted him just to let him know to be careful.  I was surprised at the venom with which he reacted to my comment which was only meant to help keep him out of potential trouble.  No good deed goes unpunished.  Maybe he will go to a self-help course, but then again, selves are very difficult to help.

Now I think everyone at some time has been offended by something or someone.  Crap we are human; we can’t help but be, though I do find the Romulan that resides in me very appealing.  However, to live my life is a perpetual state of offendedness is something that I refuse to do, even though I both give and take offense probably every day, especially during the morning or afternoon commute.  Hell, judging by the number of people I have lost as friends on Facebook after I have written articles on this site I know I give offense, even when I don’t mean to.  Mea Culpa, mea culpa, mea culpa, pray for me a sinner.

Our offendedness is not helped by the litigious nature of our society where lawsuits are as common as business suits.  Someone gets offended and someone sues them.  Then someone else gets offended and sues and pretty soon Anne Coulter and Keith Olberman are mud wrestling on Larry King Live, while the ladies on The View come to fisticuffs. Pretty soon offensensitivity reigns and it is like half the country are Frank and Estelle Costanza.  What is bad about this is that people are now so spun up by the loudest and most shrill accusatory voices in the media and society that it is hard to turn off.  Politics especially has become venom filled and hatred driven.  A lot of our electorate is now so polarized and offended by anything anyone else says that there is almost a civil war going on.  Albeit this is a without weapons marching armies and crashing cannon, but instead one waged with great energy on the airwaves and the internet. There is occasional talk of secession or armed revolt by one side or the other depending on who’s in power.  Politicians and political parties are no longer opponents, they are mortal enemies. Often times interest groups within the various parties opt for a no-quarter approach to how they do business to advance their cause and push their parties further to the extreme.  Caricatures and sound bites suffice for truth for many people regardless of them being on the left or right wing of the body politic.  It is true at least as far as practice that the extremists in both major parties have more in common with each other than they do the middle where traditionally most Americans live.

Thus with a highly divided, hypersensitive and easily offended populace we are heading for big trouble unless people stop taking themselves so seriously and get about with finding a way to cooperate and make things work.  I know that is important to remain principled, but there is also a duty to be civil and respectful even when critical of a person’s position or presentation.

I was reminded of this fact recently when I criticized a pastor’s non-theological remarks on this site.  My criticism was unduly harsh and cynical in tone.  When this was pointed out I modified the article to make the same point without purposely sky lining the individual in what could be seen in a disrespectful, uncharitable and even un-Christian fashion.  I may be a passionate moderate but it is important for me to keep a sense of decorum in what otherwise could be an unseemly brawl.  The criticism of how I handled the initial post was valid and sometimes I have to tell myself that restraint, respect and civility is a virtue, even if I think I am right.  So please don’t take offense if you deem me offensive or if I have offended the chronically offendable. After all, restraint, respect and civility are one the one thing that separates us from the Cable News Media, prickly pundits and Talk Show Hosts.

mass dandilion break

Peace, Steve+

Post Script: A friend sent me an e-mail which made a point that I want to ensure that my readers understand.  He reminded me that people “would really discern the difference between having a “bad day” response to a situation and those who, perpetuate the historical hatred both past and present of our nation….And then attempt to minimize actions/responses through humor or referring to others as “hypersensitive….this article missed the mark and seemingly inferred …a mocking of responses toward inequality and hatred.”

Of course I assured him that in no way was I at all minimize such actions or refer to those who have been the target of hatred, injustice and discrimination as “hyper-sensitive”  or mock actual repsonses to inequity and hatred, regardless of who it is directed toward.  That is something that I could never do.  The post is a more humorous look at how divided our country has become and how in our dividedness everything is now offensive to someone. Peace, Steve+

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Perfection is a Team Effort: A Decision, a Catch and a Perfect Game

mark buehrle
Mark Buehrle Celebrates his Perfect Game

See the Video of Larry Dewayne Wise’s Catch here:

http://mlb.mlb.com/media/video.jsp?content_id=569925

Chicago White Sox pitcher Mark Buehrle pitched the 18th Perfect Game in the history of Major League baseball on Thursday night at Chicago’s U.S. Cellular Field aka the New Comisky Park, on the Second City’s Southside.  This was the second no-hitter of the season and almost the second perfect game.

Perfect games are those rare instances in baseball where any true follower of the game, no matter how partisan of fan e or she may be applauds.  Since there have only been 18 in a century or half or so of play, these are occasions to really appreciate not only the feat of the pitcher in throwing the perfect game, but also the achievement of the team behind him and the manager in the dugout.  A perfect game is one of those rare intersections in life where the stars somehow align and a miracle occurs.  Thus they are to be appreciated, more so than about any other event in any sport.  This is because of the rare and nearly impossible set of circumstance that has to happen for a perfect game to occur.  First the pitcher has to be completely in the zone and in control of the game, no hits, no walks, and no hit batters.  Second the defense has to be perfect, no bobbled balls, and no throwing or fielding errors.  Third, the opposing team cannot get a break, no grounders with eyes, no bloop singles, no bunts that turn into hits and no close calls at first that might go their way.  Lastly the manager has to make the right moves at the right times to ensure the victory.  Thus the perfect game may be credited to the pitcher, but it is a team effort.  This is something that San Francisco Giants pitcher Jonathan Sanchez pitched a no hitter which should have been a perfect game until Giants Third Baseman Juan Uribe booted a ground ball in the 8th inning allowing a runner on base.  Likewise had Giants Center Fielder saved the no-hitter and shutout with one out in the 9th with a leaping catch at the wall.  Buehrle himself had found this out in his no-hitter when he gave up a walk to Sammy Sosa.

Thursday night Mark Buehrle, who pitched a no-hitter in 2007 pitched a great game and was in total control.  Yet he won the game by throwing balls that were put in play and that his defense made the put-outs.  Buehrle threw six strike outs which meant the players behind him made 21 put outs.  In the field a number of good plays were made and one line drive down the third base line by Pat Burrell landed just inches foul in the 8th.

Thus with the White Sox up 5-0 in the 9th manager Ozzie Guillen moved Scott Posednik from Center to Left and replaced him with Wise.  Wise is one of the players whose career batting average hovers near the Mendoza line (.214) (see my post at http://padresteve.wordpress.com/2009/07/18/crossing-the-mendoza-line-it%E2%80%99s-not-all-about-the-lifetime-batting-average/ ) who has done a commendable job for the Sox this season following the injury and recovery of Carlos Quentin went into the game for the purpose of shoring up the defense.  The Sox were ahead by a comfortable margin, but Guillen knew that history was being made and elected to put Wise in.  With one out in the top of the 9th Rays outfielder Gabe Kapler hit a deep drive to Left-center which was actually over the wall.  Wise raced from center and not having time to set up at the wall to leap for the catch, simply went full bore into the wall, making the grab of the ball on the run about  18 inches above the wall.  As he came down the ball came out of his glove and in the air on the way to crashing to the ground Wise caught the ball a second time, this time with his bare hand to secure the out.  It was simply magic, miraculous and whatever word you can say for “Wow.”  The look and smile on Buehrle’s face said it all; he knew what Wise had done.  When I saw the catch I was reminded of the movie the perfect game, where outfielder Mickey Hart played by Greer Barnes makes a leaping catch to rob a opposing player of a home run and preserve Billy Chapel’s (Kevin Costner) perfect game.

Perfect games are rare and while the pitcher’s name is the one that goes into the record book, the game is a team effort.  The life lesson for me is that no matter how well I do as an individual that there is always a team out there to help me along.  This has never been as apparent to me as since I returned from Iraq.   I guess I appreciate the perfect game even more now that I did before I went.  These things are a team effort and even if I am perfect for some part of my life, patently extremely unlikely, it is because others, who function as my team mates, manager and coaches do the right things to ensure that nothing gets by them and that they make the right moves to preserve any good work that I do.

Peace,  Steve+

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Correction Mr Bean Church video link

I updated my last post by getting a better link to Mr Bean in church video the last would not open from outside the original site.

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