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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Loose Thoughts: Can Somebody Tell Me What Sleep is and Why the Old Crap? Why not New Crap?

bean church 1 Mr Bean Trying to Stay Awake in Church.  I can Really Relate See the video at

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-7178785146631188901&ei=UthpSvKcCpv-qAOCyJAd&q=mr+bean+in+church&hl=en

Tuesday and Wednesday were days where the old Crap both my own life and others kept rising to the top.  My current and crap, which in reality is my old crap move to the present are my PTSD related issues or maybe it’s the whole damned subscription.  My stuff came up, because as Elmer the Shrink says that they have been suppressed by my brain and get dredged up by stuff that triggers them.  Thus it is kind of involuntary, something that I hate.  I am a deliberate and logical person and I don’t like this stuff coming up and screwing with my life, which right now is pretty busy and stressful.

Tuesday night I had the “privilege” of getting two and a half hours of sleep after a great seminar on Caregiver Operational Stress management and intervention.  I was proud of myself.  I actually got through an entire daylong seminar without an immediate PTSD meltdown during the seminar.  That last three times I have attended classes or seminars dealing with things related to or that touch on my stuff it has been like a old pitcher who has seen better days getting chased from the mound at Yankee Stadium in the first inning giving up 7 runs without recording an out.   Tuesday it was hard but it was like getting a complete game and the win.  This was a big accomplishment for me as I have not been able to do this since before I went to Iraq.  However, the subject matter did kick up a bunch of my stuff from Iraq and getting to sleep was really; I mean really fun….not.   To use the old pitcher metaphor I may have got the win but my arm and body need some time to recover, only instead of the arm and body it is by pea-brain. So Tuesday I didn’t get to bed until 2:30 AM and was back up at 5:00 AM so I could come to work and take the duty for the house in addition to my regular duties.

Now I don’t mind having duty, especially at night when I get a chance to round through our hospital wards and spend time with staff, especially the folks in the various ICUs and units that are not part of my daily routine. Yesterday I had a couple of meetings today, a long one in the morning and a couple in the afternoon.  The last meeting was like one of those afternoon classes that I dreaded back in college and seminary;  the kind that I took because I was either working or wanted to sleep late, but which kicked my ass.  One time in seminary the “Z Monster” grabbed me after eating a big burger at lunch before going to class.  That afternoon in Philosophy of Religion the Professor, Dr. Yandall Woodfin, decided to enlighten us with a slide show of various art masterpieces and the religious and or philosophical meanings that could be ascribed to them, I think there were several slide trays of them as this was in the technological dark ages before Power Point poisoning.  I was sitting in the front row, my desk almost under Dr. Woodfin’s nose just slightly to the left of the slide carousel.  The lights were turned low so we could see the pictures better and the temperature was just warm enough in the classroom to  make me even more sleepy.  As all the blood in my body rushed from my brain to my burger locker I began to struggle to stay awake.  It was like Mr. Bean trying to stay awake in church http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-7178785146631188901&ei=UthpSvKcCpv-qAOCyJAd&q=mr+bean+in+church&hl=en I was fighting hard but the “Z Monster” won.  I was doing the “bob, jerk and sleep” for about 20 minutes when finally catastrophe hit.  I flipped my desk; it was a rollover accident without a roll bar, but it was amazing that I did not hurt myself and just how fast I recovered.  I had that desk righted and had my ass back in it before anyone knew what hit them. My fellow students tried to restrain their laughter as the unflappable Dr Woodfin kept the lecture going without missing a beat.  I don’t know if it was years of training or the fact that he was in his “teaching zone” but his focus was amazing as he showed absolutely no distraction by my roll over.

I had similar experiences in other academic and military settings, but while I may have fallen out of my seat I never again flipped a desk.    However today was tough.  I had been pumping myself with caffeine all day long and evidently it was not having the desired effect. I got to the NOD (Nurse of the Day) meeting where the on call people meet with representatives of the nursing units to get an idea what is going on in the hospital at large.  Today I took my seat and the “Z Monster” showed his well disguised face and zapped me.  Pretty soon I was fighting to stay awake.  I was pinching myself, shrugging my shoulders, sucking down my Coke Zero just to stay awake, a couple of times I caught myself about to fall forward in my chair, thankfully I didn’t snore…yes I have done that in meetings or classes too.  When the meeting ended I was more than happy.  I slowly rose from my chair, shook myself out and downed the last of my Coke Zero.  When I got back onto the ICU I got second wind and was good the rest of the evening, made all of my rounds and finally feeling that things were okay for the night trundled off to the chaplain call room to try to sleep.  I got in the bed, pulled the threadbare hospital sheets and too small blankets over me, arranged the flat pillows so they resembled a real pillow turned off the lights and close my eyes.  Unfortunately though my body was toast my brain did not want to turn off, it was like the brain had a mind of its own and was going to keep my body up even though my body was saying “Oh God let me sleep.”  I was so tired that I couldn’t even write myself to sleep like I normally do. Even my entreaties to the Deity Herself seemed to go unanswered, so a laid there, turned on the television and surfed the paltry selection of channels that Mordoc the Preventer of Information contracted to get finally flipping between late night talk show hosts on the major networks other than Conan O’Brien I didn’t know who the majority of these guys were, one of them who followed Conan started kissing the camera in the middle of his monologue.  I rapidly changed channel as that was frightening.  Finally about 2:30, which must be the new 11:30 for me, I drifted off to sleep to be awakened by the 0600 test of our Code Blue response pager.  I did my duty turnover, pumped myself full of caffeine checked on the ICU and PICU, visited some patients, consulted the staff, answered some hot e-mail and calls regarding our incoming Pastoral Care Residents and realized that my body was starting to tell me that I was done.  I trudged down to our main office, sat down with the boss who asked why I was still at work, discussed a couple of issues with him and got sent home where I kissed Judy, pet the dog and threw my ass in bed.  I feel slightly more human now and pray that the sleep I got this afternoon does not mess up going to sleep tonight.

bean church two

While thinking about how my old crap was exhumed by the class, something that Elmer the Shrink says that my brain has been suppressing, I got an e-mail from a pastor who has syndicated opinion column for a number of newspapers here in the USA.  The guy used to write some pretty good stuff that was encouraging, inspiring and occasionally thought provoking.  But something has changed and his articles have become often become almost venomous.  I guess that he’s really angry about something, probably Obama and the Democrats.  I understand that that is his right as a citizen, there are a lot of people unhappy with the President and Congress, my mother is one of them.  I talk to my mother almost daily almost and for eight years she bitched about Bush and the Republicans and now she is bitching about Obama and the Democrats, but she represents herself, she is not a pastor, she holds no church or public office and thus can do whatever she wants.

Anyway this pastor chose to write an article full of anger and poisonous invective, but not at anything happening now.  He chose to dig up old crap with no relevance to the Gospel, or to anything that is happening now.  He chose to write about a doctoral seminar that he attended several years ago. He discussed a situation where a non-US citizen pastor of an American church in a graduate program was criticizing the USA as a major source of the world’s problems.  Now I might take offense if someone did that, I would defend my country and I might depending on the situation confront him during or after the class.  However, this chose to drag this up when it seems totally irrelevant to anything going on now.  I really don’t think that anyone is concerned about how a foreign pastor pissed this minister off years ago. People are scarred spitless of the Commie North Koreans, Iranian nukes, Pakistani nukes, the expanding war in Afghanistan, the price of gas, the economy and a hundred other very real crisis’s.  But this pastor decided to tell how a long time ago he responded in a class to a guy who dared to criticize the USA.  But this wasn’t the worst of it, this guy ended the column with a particularly acidic comment that was like cup of “America Love it or Leave It” with a shot of Drano.  There was no redemptive point to the article; there was no humor, no spiritual lesson, just a very angry and bitter screed about something that happened in a classroom among a bunch of doctoral students which happened four years ago at the height of the insurgency in Iraq.  I did not think that the article was befitting of him and hope that his ministry is not filled with stuff like this as it is poison.  Like Drano it will clean you out, but it will leave you empty inside.  If this were an isolated occurrence with this pastor I would chalk it up to him having a bad day, but he is trending this way and I’m afraid that if he continues to do so he will hurt his church and the broader Christian church by becoming identified more with a political message than his faith.  In fairness I don’t know what caused him to write the article, maybe something triggered him and caused this to kick in.  I do want to be fair to him.  I do plan on discussing the matter with him because I actually do care.

Now I’m sure that there are people who think that I’m full of crap too, and I’m okay with that, because I know that I have issues and rough edges and sometimes push the envelope.  At the same time I do try to find a point of contact in the present and write, even when I am critical of a person or institution.  I do not believe that anyone or any institution is totally bad or good, even people that I disagree with are like broken clocks, they are right twice a day.

I hope to sleep tonight and I hope none of my old Crap or anyone else’s old Crap shows up tonight. Unfortunately Crap tedns to rise to the surface.

Peace, Steve+

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Special Prayer Requst

A former patient at my hospital named Don went to a transplant center for a shot at a lung transplant. He’s a relatively young retired Navy guy and like me a Tides fan and Gordon Biersch Regular. He asked me to let readers of my blog know to pray for him. Peace and Blessings, Steve+

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My Brotherhood of War

Dynamic DuoRP2 Nelson Lebron and Me- The RST-2 “Desert Rats”

Back in the mid 80s shortly after I was commissioned as an Army Officer there was a series of historical novels by W.E.B. Griffin called the Brotherhood of War. The series traced the paths of several Army officers as well as family and friends beginning in World War II. I am not much of a reader of fiction, but this series, as well as Anton Meyer’s Once an Eagle well captured the unique culture of the career professional soldier through both war and peace.  They treated their subject respectfully while also dealing with the effect of this lifestyle on families as well as the soldiers, reading Once and Eagle I feel that connection with the fictional Sam Damon, the hero of the story and revulsion for the character of the self serving careerist Courtney Massengale.

I’ve been a military officer in both the Army and Navy now for almost 26 years with nearly 28 years total service. It is part of my heart, soul and being.  I was born for this, just as Babe Ruth, Willie Mays and Ted Williams were born to be baseball players.  I grew up in a Navy family as a Navy “Brat” living up and down the West Coast and the Philippines and all I can remember from the earliest age wanted to be in the Navy Officer and later Navy Chaplain.  My dreams came true.  The first 17 ½ years of my service was in the Army, something that that initially my retired Navy Chief Dad had problems with, however he made his peace with it and was proud that I served and proud of the fact that I had made Major.  However, in 1999 in order to return to active duty I resigned my Army Reserve commission as a Major and entered the Navy Chaplain Corps as a Lieutenant with no time in grade.  Outside of marrying my wife Judy, who somehow did not kill me when I did this, going in the Navy was the best thing that ever happened to me.

134LtCol David Kuehn and Me

Part of my time in the Army and Navy has been my time in the Chaplain Corps of each service.  I have been a chaplain for 17 years come September.  My best friends in the military are other chaplains, some from my own church and some from other communions.  The ones that I have the most connectedness to are those who have served in combat, especially those who served in Iraq, or ships in the war zone conducting various combat and maritime operations even when we were in different places.  In Iraq I was blessed to have Fr Jose Bautista-Rojas and Chaplain Pat McLaughlin supporting me at my base of operations.  There were others besides these men and many who were not chaplains. In Baghdad I had the staff of the Iraq Assistance Group Chief of Staff Colonel David Abramowitz and Chaplain Peter Dissmore and Captain Mike Langston at II MEF Forward.  Likewise I had Colonel Scott Cottrell and Colonel John Broadmeadow at 7th Iraqi Division Military Training Team, my friend LtCol David Kuehn at 3rd Brigade 1st Iraqi Division Military Training Team, LtCol Stephen Bien with the 2nd Border Brigade and a host of others about Al Anbar Province. As important if not more was my assistant RP2 Nelson Lebron, a true hero and friend.

chaplains and rp2 lebron at TQNelson, Fr Jose Bautista-Rojas, CDR Pat MCLaughlin and Me at TQ

Back in March of this year I was with a number of chaplains from my church gathered for our annual conference.  Some of these men I have now known for at least 10 years, some more.  I’ve seen the young guys start to age and others retired from the service.  We have grown together; we at least in most cases have come to love each other as brothers and friends.   What has made this conference different from past gatherings is that all of us have had one or more combat deployments or are getting ready to go for the first time or back for another tour.

nelson and me flight homeNelson and Me in the Air Everywhere

We have shared our stories but now they are the stories of men who have all seen war.  In our careers we have all experienced success, as well as heartache.  Due to our duty we have been often isolated from the church and each other.  We all came back from the war changed in some way.   Some of this is due to health related issues stemming from our service and for others things that we have seen or experienced.  Of course each of us has had different types of experience in country, but nonetheless our experienced changed all of us in some way or another.  For me the events have been trying to make sense of the torrent of emotional, physical and spiritual distress that I have had to deal with.  While I have made a lot of progress in some areas, there are a lot of places where I’m still sorting through things as are a number of my friends.  I can say that I often feel alienated from my own church.  When I read things that some of our bishops write or say I know that I do not belong.   Based on my service in combat and to my country for almost 28 years  and 13 years as a faithful priest I have tried.  The fact that with the exception of some of my fellow military priests I have no relationships with anyone in my church,   I was at one time banned from publishing by a former bishop.  I was forbidden to have contact with the priests of a my old diocese when I was stationed in it by the same man.  The civilian diocese that I transferred  to has had nothing to do with me for the most part since I was transferred to Virginia and since I moved here no one has bothered to say a thing to me.   None of this was because I didn’t try and the thing is I don’t care anymore.  I just plan on caring for God’s people where I’m at and building relationships with people who bother to invest in my life here. I haven’t the spiritual or emotional energy to keep trying to make something happen with people who obviously don’t care about me and haven’t for years.

This year our gathering was marked by a lot less light heartedness.  There was a lot less bravado than years past, more reflection, less intense discussion of the theological issues that have divided the Christian Church for centuries.  I know for myself I don’t have the energy to spend battling people over things that the rest of Christendom hasn’t been able to settle on.  For me I’m okay with the Canon of Scripture, the Creeds and the first 7 Ecumenical Councils, though I have a great love of the Second Vatican Council.  If people want to fight the other fights they can go ahead without me how many pins you can stick in the head of an Angel.

As far as health concerns I know that at least two of us have confirmed real live PTSD, and one with a case of TBI.  Based on the way others act I’m sure that almost all have at least a combat stress injury, and maybe a couple more have PTSD.  One young Army Chaplain has an Iraq acquired constrictive bronchiolitis, or bronchiolitis obliterans which has no cure. This young man has won two Bronze Stars and now has the lung capacity of a 70 year old man.  At best he can hope that his lungs will not worsen and only age at a normal pace, which means in 10 years he has 80 year old lungs.  This young man is a Priest who I have mentored, coached and been a friend and colleague of since before he was ordained.  He is looking at something that will kill him; it is just a matter of when.  He is going through all of his medical boards now at Fort Hood and expects that in six to eight months that he will be medically retired.  It seems to me that a hero is being kicked to the curb by the Green Machine after laying himself on the line for his country.  He was treated by many people in the Army Medical system with suspicion and made to prove that he was sick at almost every point until a high ranking medical officer found out about his case and sent him to civilian specialist for evaluation.

While I was at our conference I had a major PTSD meltdown where I basically hid in my room of a day and a half, sneaking out at night to gather with just a couple of my friends by the pool for beer and Krispy Kreme Doughnuts.  Unfortunately we could only get the store bought ones because the hot and fresh glazed go great with a good pilsner or lager.

We have several Chaplains who have won Bronze Stars for their service in combat. I was awarded the Defense Meritorious Service Medal for what I did in Iraq.  I treasure that award because it cost me something to get, I still have a lot of Iraq with me and I always will.  Some day when all is said and done I want to see some of my Iraq military friends again and visit the country as part of a journey of discovering the ancient.

Some of my friends and I have experienced the indifference of the medical and administrative parts of the DOD and VA systems, including sometimes people in our own military service.  When I returned I found my personal and professional belongings crammed into a trailer with those of my assistant because the office space was needed and we were deployed.  There are things which I considered important that are still missing and likely never to be found.  I know that it was not intended to hurt because the space was needed because of major unit re-stationing. If I was the Commanding Officer I would have probably done the same thing and since I have had command I know that mission comes first. You try to take care of people but some things fall through the crack. That is simply part of life.

On the other hand some of my friends have had experiences where they felt the cold indifference of bureaucratic systems often staffed by personnel, military, DOD Civilians or contractors who act if the returning or injured vet is there so they can have a job. To be sure there are a lot of very caring people in our organizations, but these coldly indifferent people seem to show up all too frequently. This unlike what happened at my unit is intolerable.

What touched me about my unit was once it became clear that I was a PTSD casualty they did everything to try to get me help.  My first Commodore, now Rear Admiral Frank Morneau pulled me into his office to make sure that I was alright and that I was getting the help that I needed.  The man who replaced him Commodore Tom Sitsch asked me a question that was totally legitimate.  “Where does a Chaplain go for help?”  When I went to Portsmouth Naval Medical Center I was strongly supported by both my department head and his deputy.  I wish that everyone who came back like I did had the support of both line officers and Chaplains in their immediate chain of command.  It makes all the difference in the world.

The chaplains that I have served with in Iraq are part of my brotherhood, be they from my church or not. I believe that most of us who have gone to war have by and large matured. We saw death and destruction and were exposed to danger from enemies that could strike in the most unexpected moments in the most unexpected ways.  We have experienced sometimes difficult adjustments to life back home, a knowledge that we are different and that we are even more cognizant of our own obligation to care for God’s people.  Our brotherhood has deepened as a result of war, of that I am sure.  We are truly brothers.

Peace, Steve+

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