Monthly Archives: February 2010

Forerunners of the Next Generation: The New Mexico Class, USS New Mexico, USS Idaho and USS Mississippi

New Mexico BB-40 in 1930 before moderization

The Battleships of the Nevada and Pennsylvania classes had established American ship design as second to none in 1916.  At the same time the US Navy was planning advances in engineering systems that would change naval engineering forever.

Idaho  BB-42 in 1931 after modernization

The ships of the New Mexico class were improvements on the preceding Nevada and Pennsylvania class half sisters.  Their hull was lengthened and beam increased. Additionally the new class was given a clipper bow to improve sea keeping capabilities.  While they maintained the same main battery layout of four turrets mounting three 14” guns each, however the guns were a higher caliber 14”/50 models that would also be mounted on the California class.  The New Mexico was also the test bed for a new power plant which featured General Electric geared turbines with electric drive which would be standard on succeeding classes of battleships as well as carriers, cruisers and destroyers.  The Mississippi and Idaho retained the older geared turbine design. The practical effect was that the New Mexico required less horsepower to attain the same speeds as the earlier design turbines.

USS Mississippi BB-41 in the North Atlantic September 1941

Displacing 32,000 tons the ships were slightly larger than their predecessors.  New Mexico was launched on 23 April 1917 and commissioned on May 18th 1918.  Her sisters Mississippi and Idaho were actually launched and commissioned sooner being launched on January 25th 1917 and commissioned on December 18th 1917.  None of the ships saw action in the First World War and in 1919 the three would become the nucleus of the newly formed Pacific Fleet. They would serve in the Pacific but conduct exercises with the Atlantic Fleet in the Pacific as well as the Atlantic and Caribbean.  All three were modernized in the early 1930s receiving improvements in armor protection, anti-torpedo blisters, a modernized bridge structure to replace their cage masts, improvements to machinery and their secondary armament.

The Three Sister Moored Together, Late 1943

They would return to the Pacific but with the outbreak of war in Europe the three ships were transferred to the Atlantic Fleet where they took part in the Neutrality Patrol. When Pearl Harbor was attacked the three sisters went back to the Pacific where they spent much of 1942 escorting convoys and being prepared to repel any Japanese assault on the US Mainland.  In April 1943 they took part in the Aleutian campaign and the assaults on Attu and Kiska.  They would then sail to the Central Pacific where the provided support to the invasions of the Gilberts, Marshalls and Marianas islands by protecting the transports and providing naval gunfire support to Marines ashore.

Idaho in her final 1945 configuration. Note the 5″/38 DP Guns in single enclosed mounts used by US Fletcher Class DDs. The Idaho was the only Battleship to have this type of 5″ mount

The three would again operate together during the invasion of the Philippines where the Mississippi served with other battleships of the 7th Fleet’s battle line under Rear Admiral Jesse Oldenforf at the Battle of Surigo Strait where they annihilated a Japanese force including the battleships Fuso and Yamisharo.   Both Mississippi and New Mexico were damaged by Kamikaze hits in Philippine waters, the New Mexico taking a hit on her bridge which killed her Captain and 27 crewmembers.  Both would require repairs and both would miss the invasion of Iwo Jima which Idaho took part in.  The three joined forces again at Okinawa where they provided fire support to Marines and Soldiers ashore.  They would serve until the end of the war in the Pacific and take part in Operation Magic Carpet to return military personnel from the Pacific to the United States.

Idaho at Okinawa

Following the war the New Mexico and Idaho were decommissioned and sold for scrap in 1948.  Mississippi however was converted into a gunnery training ship and reclassified as AG-128.

Idaho (lower left) New Mexico (top left) and Wyoming being scrapped at Newark NJ 1948

In this capacity she served as a test bed for new weapons including the Terrier guided missile systems which would be mounted on the first generation of US Navy Guided Missile Cruisers.   She was decommissioned in 1956 and sold for scrap after an abortive attempt by the state of Mississippi to acquire her as a memorial ship.

USS Mississippi AG-128 firing Terrier Missiles

The ships provided valuable service during the Second World War and the technical innovations in propulsion and protection would become standard in subsequent classes of US Navy battleships.  Additionally the post war service of the Mississippi helped propel the Navy into the missile era helping to build a foundation that is in evidence today in the Ticonderoga Class Guided Missile Cruisers and Arleigh Burke class Guided Missile Destroyers and their Aegis air defense and ballistic missile defense systems.  The ships of the New Mexico class and their stalwart crews should not be forgotten.

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The Battle Fleet that Never Was: The USS Washington, the South Dakota Class and the Lexington Class Battle Cruisers

Artist depiction of the Lexington as Battle Cruiser

Note: This is the first of a series of articles on what might have happened if the Washington Naval Treaty had not been signed. This article is a look at the American fleet that never was, the following articles will be in the alternative history genre looking at a war breaking out in the Pacific in 1937.

Historians almost always muse on what might have been.  One of the most significant events of the years following the First World War was the Washington Naval Conference and Treaty. The treaty called by the President Harding and conducted under the auspices of the League of Nations was the first international disarmament conference and attended by none nations having interests in the Pacific. The major players in the conference from the naval power perspective were the British, Americans, Japanese, French and Italians.  Each nation had an agenda for the conference, for the United States it was to break the Anglo-Japanese naval accord and to limit the Japanese naval build up.  The British, exhausted and financially reeling from the effects of the First World War had a number of goals.  Though they had the largest navy and the most Dreadnaught type battleships and battle cruisers of any Navy many of its ships were obsolete or worn out from wartime service.  They had little capital to put into new ship construction, especially considering the vast resources of the United States which was already well into a vast naval buildup including ships that would be among the largest and most heavily armed in the world.  It was in the interest of Britain to limit the both the number, tonnage and armament of these ships.

Artist impression of South Dakota Class

The treaty which was ratified in 1922 limited the United States and Great Britain to a maximum of 525,000 tons in their battle ship fleets and 125,000 tons in aircraft carriers.  The Japanese agreed to a limit of 315,000 tons and the French and Italians 175,000 tons each.  Tonnage for battleships was limited to a maximum of 35,000 tons with a limitation on guns size to 16 inches.  Since the bulk of the ships planned or being built by the US and Japan exceeded those limits they would be effected more than the British whose post war shipbuilding program had not begun in earnest. For the US this had a dramatic effect on its planned fleet, which if built would have become the dominant Navy of the 1920s and 1930s.  It is fascinating to think what might have happened if the treaty had not been signed and what the battle fleets of the various nations would have looked like in 1941 had war not come sooner.

Plans for South Dakota Class

The American Navy went to war in 1941 with 18 battleships, the most modern of which were the new North Carolina and Washington and the rest averaging over 20 years old in 1941. The most modern of these ships were the Colorado class composed of the Colorado, Maryland and West Virginia each mounting eight 16”/50 guns.  The fourth ship of the class the Washington was sunk as a gunnery target when 75% complete under the terms of the Washington Naval Treaty.

The incomplete USS Washington sinking

However it was a battle force that could have been much larger and far more capable, a force that may not been regulated to convoy escort duties and shore bombardment but instead may have taken on the Imperial Navy on the high seas in battleship combat not seen since Jutland.  Yet this was not to be, the great fleet of super-battleships was never built and only two hulls completed the Lexington and Saratoga which instead of being completed as battle cruisers were completed as aircraft carriers.

Artist impression of South Dakota Class

The Americans had set out to build the largest, most modern and powerful battleships and battle cruisers afloat.  The Navy had already produced the Colorado class super-dreadnaughts which were equal to or superior to any battleships of their era.  The Navy planned for a class of six battle cruisers which would be superior to any similar ship afloat, the Lexington class and a class of six battleships, the South Dakota class mounting twelve 16”/50 guns in triple turrets.

Artist impression of South Dakota Class as they might have appeared in 1938

The two classes were leviathans and to counter them the British made plans for a four ship 48,000 ton class of battleships, the N3 project mounting nine 18” guns and a class of battle cruisers mounting nine 16” guns.  The ships of both classes were designed with their main battery mounted forward in order to save weight on armor.  Both classes were canceled with the signing of the treaty and none were laid down.  It is suggested by some that the G3 battle cruiser design was a ploy to get the United States to agree to the cancellation of its capital ship projects. The guns planned for the G3 class were mounted on the Nelson class battleships which complied with treaty limits.  Although powerful ships they suffered from engineering problems which often reduced their speed from what was designed.  Along with the HMS Hood, the sole ship completed of the four ship Admiral class the Nelson and Rodney were the most modern battleships in the Royal Navy until the King George V class entered service in 1941.  The Japanese planned for eight battleships and eight battle cruisers centered on the two existing Nagato class battleships and 4 Kongo class battle cruisers to be joined by the two ship 40,000 ton Tosa class battleships, the Tosa and the Kaga, of which Kaga was completed as an aircraft carrier. They were to be joined by the 4 improved Tosa class or Kii class fast battleships of 42,000 which were ordered but never laid down.  These were to be joined by the four ship Amagi class battle cruiser class.  Amagi was destroyed during the Tokyo earthquake of 1922 and scrapped and Akagi completed as an aircraft carrier.  All of the planned Japanese ships were to mount ten 16” guns in five twin turrets.

Lexington Class final design drawing

The American ships were to be powerful and based on main battery, protection and speed they would have acquitted themselves well had they been built.  The Japanese ships would have had a speed advantage over the South Dakota’s but this would have been offset by the gun power and protection of the latter.  The American Lexington class would have been faster than any of their competitors.

South Dakota Class Design Specifications
Displacement: 43,200 tons normal
Dimensions: 684 x 106 x 33 feet/208.5 x 32.3 x 10.1 meters
Propulsion: Turbo-electric, 12 285 boilers, 4 shafts, 50,000 shp, 23 knots
Crew: 1191
Armor: 8-13.5 inch belt, 3.5 inch deck, 4.5-13.5 inch barbettes, 5-18 inch turrets, 8-16 inch CT
Aviation: none
Armament: 4 triple 16″/50cal, 16 6″/53cal, 8 3″/50cal AA, 2 21 inch torpedo tubes (submerged)

The six ships in the Class, South Dakota, Indiana, Montana, North Carolina, Iowa and Massachusetts were all scrapped in accordance with the treaty when partially complete, the North Carolina being in the most advanced stage of construction, 37.8% when construction was halted.

Lexington class Battle Cruiser Design Specifications

Displacement 43,500 Tons, Dimensions, 874′ (oa) x 105′ 5″ x 31′ (max).
Armament 8 x 16″/50 16 x 6″/53 4 x 3″8 x 21″ torpedo tubes
Machinery, 180,000 SHP; G.E. Geared Turbines with Electric Drive, 4 screws
Speed, 35 Knots, Crew 1500

The ships with the exception of the Lexington and Saratoga were scrapped incomplete.  All were to be named after famous warships or battles, and the Constellation, Constitution, Ranger and the United States were to be named after some of the most illustrious ships ever to serve in the US Navy.

If all of the ships, including the Washington of the Colorado class been completed the US Navy would have had eight battleships and six battle cruisers mounting 16 inch guns to compliment the nine battleships of the Nevada, Pennsylvania, New Mexico and California classes which all mounted 14 inch batteries.  The fleet would have been superior to either the Royal Navy or the Imperial Japanese Navy even with the ships planned by those navies.  Economically the United States was the only nation in the world capable of sustaining a naval arms race of this magnitude, the British economy and political will would have been unable to sustain it and the limited industrial capacity and dependence on the United States for raw materials and machine tools needed to construct their ships would have limited their ability to produce such a fleet. Without the conversion of the Lexington, Saratoga and their Japanese counterparts the Akagi and Kaga into aircraft carriers the development of the carrier would likely have gone slower and that type of ship may not have risen to the prominence that they gained during the Second World War.

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The Oldest Ladies…Battleships USS Arkansas, New York and Texas

USS Arkansas 1919

Note: This is the second of my series on US Battleships of World War Two. The First was the essay The Battleships of Pearl Harbor and I will follow this with essays on the New Mexico class, the North Carolina class, the South Dakota class and the Iowa Class. I have published other series on US Aircraft Carriers, the Treaty Cruisers, the Alaska Class Battle Cruisers and the German Battle Bruisers Scharnhorst and Gneisenau.

Arkansas Passing through the Kiel Canal on Midshipman Training Cruise June 6th 1937

When the United States entered the Second World War the average age of its battleship fleet was over years, an age that if the new North Carolina and Washington were omitted would have been well over 23 years old.  Two former battleships, the Utah and Wyoming had been demilitarized and were serving as gunnery training ships. The oldest of these ships, the Arkansas, the second ship of the Wyoming class was commissioned well before the First World War and was typical of ships built in that era comparable to the Italian battleships Conti de Cavour, Giulio Caesar.  The Two ships of the New York Class were improved Wyoming’s with a heavier main battery and better protection and were comparable to the Japanese Fuso class and British Royal Sovereign class ships.

Arkansas 1944

The oldest and also the smallest battleship in service in 1941 was the USS Arkansas. Displacing 26,000 tons and sporting a main battery of twelve 12”/50 guns in twin turrets she was launched on 14 January 1911 and commissioned on 17 September 1912 she first saw service in the Mexican crisis of 1914 and served with the British Home Fleet following the entry of the United States into the war. Between the wars Arkansas severed in both the Atlantic and Pacific and was modernized in 1925 receiving oil fired boilers to replace her coal fired plant. During the inter-war years she was engaged as were most battleships of the era in training exercises, midshipman and Naval Reserve cruises, goodwill visits and in the case of Arkansas work with the Fleet Marine force as it began to develop its amphibious doctrine.

Operation Crossroad, Baker Test note Arkansas standing on end on right side of blast

When war came to Europe in 1939 Arkansas was serving with the Atlantic Fleet and conducted training operations and neutrality patrols.  In April 1941 she escorted the first convoy of Marines to Iceland and following that sailed to Argentia Newfoundland where President Franklin D. Roosevelt was meeting with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill concluding the Atlantic Charter.  Following Pearl Harbor she would primarily serve as a convoy escort and midshipman training vessel until June 6th 1944 where she provided naval gunfire support at Omaha Beach and subsequent support to land operations in Normandy. In August she took part in the invasion of southern France, Operation Anvil before returning the US for repairs and modifications before sailing to the Pacific.  The elderly ship then took part in the battles for Iwo Jima and Okinawa again providing naval gunfire support to Marines and soldiers ashore. She also was introduced to the Kamikaze at Okinawa.   When the war ended she carried returning troops home in “Operation Magic Carpet” and in 1946 she was earmarked for her last mission, Operation Crossroads, the first of the Bikini atomic bomb tests where she was sunk during test Baker on July 25th 1946.   She was anchored very close to the underwater blast and was violently sucked up into the blast where she can be seen standing on end it the picture below.

New York 1932 leading the Battle Line

The New York and her sister Texas were the first US Navy battleships armed with 14” guns.  The ships displaced 27,000 tons and mounted ten 14”/45 guns in twin turrets. Launched 30 October 1912 and commissioned April 15th 1914 the New York deployed with the Atlantic battle ship squadrons to Mexico during the crisis at Vera Cruz.  Like Arkansas she joined the American battleship squadron serving with the British Home Fleet in 1917 and served in convoy escort and deterrence missions until the end of the war.  Between the wars New York undertook various training missions and modernizations and was the sole US ship at the 1937 Grand Naval Review for the coronation of King George VI of England.

New York in 1944 departing for the Pacific

As war drew near New York remained engaged in training missions and took part in neutrality patrols and convoy escort missions in the Atlantic.  Following the outbreak of hostilities she would continue these missions and take part in Operation Torch, the invasion of North Africa in November 1942. She continued the vital convoy escort mission until she was withdrawn for service as a gunnery training ship for sailors being assigned to battleships and destroyer escorts.  In November 1944 she was sent to the Pacific where in February 1945 she provided naval gunfire support to the Marines at Iwo Jima. During pre-invasion bombardment she fired more rounds that any of the ships present.

New York at Iwo Jima

Her next action came at Okinawa where she provided 76 straight days of support to Marines and soldiers ashore while fending off kamikaze attacks and taking one minor hit.  She had her guns replaced at Pearl Harbor in preparation for the planned invasion of Japan.  After the cessation of hostilities New York took part in Operation Magic Carpet and took part in Fleet Week in New York.

New York receiving anti-radiation wash down after Baker. She has survived the blast in good condition

New York was then assigned to be a target ship in Operation Crossroads where she survived both Test Able and Test Baker.  Towed back to Pearl Harbor for extensive study she was finally expended as a target on July 8th 1948 by the Navy 40 miles off Oahu taking the punishment of a number of ships before sinking after 8 hours under fire.

Texas in 1919 note the Battle “E” on her funnel

The Texas was launched on May 18th 1912 and commissioned on March 12th 1914 and within two months was in action with the Atlantic Fleet off Mexico without the benefit of the normal shakedown cruise.

During World War One Texas joined Battleship Division 9 serving alongside the British Home Fleet at Scapa Flow.  In this capacity she took part in convoy escort missions and operations in the North Sea including one where the Home Fleet nearly met the German High Seas Fleet in action.

Texas firing her main battery 1927 after her modernization

Between the wars Texas served on both the Atlantic and Pacific Fleets and received a major overhaul in 1925.  Like other ships she engaged in training exercises, midshipman and Naval Reserve training cruises and operations with the Fleet Marine Force.  With the outbreak of hostilities in Europe Texas joined the neutrality patrol.  When the US entered the war Texas served as a convoy escort and participated in Operation Torch.  Her convoy escort duties remained unchanged until she took part in Operation Overlord, the invasion of France and provided gunfire support to Rangers at Point du Hoc and soldiers on Omaha Beach. Closing to within 3000 yards of the beach Texas guns provided direct support to troops on the beach and interdiction fire on German troop concentrations further inland. She continued this following D-Day and while engaged in a duel with heavy German guns near Cherbourg was struck by two 280mm (11.2 inch) shells, one of which struck her on the navigation bridge killing the helmsman and wounding nearly everyone else.   She then sailed into the Mediterranean where she again supported troops ashore lending her weight to the invasion of south France. With that mission completed Texas returned to New York for repairs and to have her main battery guns replaced.

Texas under German Fire off Cherbourg

Reassigned to the Pacific Texas would support the invasion of Iwo Jima and Okinawa where she would remain in action for almost two months.  She finished the war in the Philippines and like so many other ships took part in Operation Magic Carpet. She arrived at Norfolk on February 13th 1946 to prepare for inactivation, but unlike so many other ships was spared the ignominious fate of the scrap yard or that of the New York and Arkansas. She was towed to Texas to serve as a permanent memorial at the San Jacinto battlefield and decommissioned there on April 21st 1948.  She was dry-docked and received a major overhaul in from 1988-90 which restored her to her 1945 appearance and in which major structural repairs were made. Continual restoration is conducted on the ship and there are plans for another major overhaul.  She is the last surviving “Dreadnaught” battleship in the world, a singular example of the great ships that once dominated the seas.

Texas at San Jacinto, the last of the Dreadnaughts

Though obsolete the Arkansas, New York and Texas rendered commendable service throughout the war and took part in some of the key invasions of the war. Their guns inflicted considerable damage on Vichy French, German and Japanese forces in Europe, North Africa and the Pacific.  New York and Arkansas trained thousands of sailors for service aboard other ships.  They performed admirably and their availability to do the less glamorous missions of naval gunfire support, convoy escort and training sailors for the fleet enabled other ships to be available for other missions.  They and the proud Sailors and Marines who served aboard them should never be forgotten.

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Finishing Second…Padre Steve Muses on Winning and Losing

“Without losers, where would the winners be?” Casey Stengel

Upset Win for Team USA

Charlie Brown once said “Winning isn’t everything, but losing isn’t anything.” I am one of the most competitive people that I know, I hate to lose and that attitude extends to almost everything I do. While I have a good attitude and don’t at least consciously try to gloat when I do well I also am never happy when I know that I could have done better.  As a kid I remember reading NHL Hockey great Stan Mikita’s book “I Play to Win” and while early on in life I took things less seriously than I should have I never forgotten that little book.

The Agony of Defeat Team USA Women “win” the Silver Medal

The most disappointing thing for me is to come close to winning it all and falling short due to my own mistakes or just simply having been beaten by someone better.  Since I am not the most gifted of athletes and had to learn the hard way about doing well academically I am one of those guys who have to work doubly hard to do well.  When I was in high school I played football for a year before moving on to be a trainer for the team.  I had never played organized tackle football before and probably should have stayed with baseball but I went out for the team anyway and through sheer determination and refusal to quit stayed on the team.  I didn’t get much playing time in, only a few plays in each of the last three games of the season but still finished the season.  At the team banquet after the season I was named most inspirational player. Now most inspirational is not about being the best or even good.  I really don’t know why I got it but evidently I must have inspired someone.  I realized after the season that I had no legitimate place on the football field and since I was the smallest and one of the slowest individuals in a sport where size, speed and power are paramount I took it all as a life lesson.

Canadian Celebration

In college I did not live up to my potential, I came out with a 2.8 something GPA.  However in the classes that I put the effort into I aced, those that I sluffed off because I thought they were boring I blew with a poor attitude and lazy performance.  There were also times that I overreached and had to sacrifice grades in order to get the credits I need for graduation, this happened my senior year when I took 21 hours at Cal State Northridge, 4 at UCLA had a job and was in the National Guard. Threatened with incompletes I negotiate to get out with low grades and not have to take the classes again.  Not a smart way to go, but once again a learning point taken.

No Medal for the Russians

In seminary I worked my ass off both in class, with more than one job and serving in the National Guard. That was the hardest I have ever worked. We had lost our house in the real estate meltdown of 1988-89 and Judy was sick through most of seminary.  When it looked like due to financial considerations that I would have to drop out for a semester I called a “prayer line” of a major TV ministry. Some “prayer partner” at the Terrible Blond Network (TBN) had the never to tell me that I must not be called to ministry because “otherwise God would be blessing you.” Somehow that angered and motivated me to get back in the game and finish, I just needed something to motivate me and despite many other challenges I finished and finished well, with a 3.5 GPA in a 92 semester hour program always working at least a full time job as well as being a National Guard officer.  Despite this I was not satisfied as I thought that I could have done better in several classes which would have probably had me finish with a 3.8 GPA. In classes that I scored less than an “A” I felt like I had let Judy as well as those helping me down, and we got a lot of help the last two years of school from people at work and church.  Since that time I have worked very hard in every academic endeavor as well as in physical conditioning.  Since I entered the Navy I have judged and score less than an “Outstanding” on the Navy RPT or Class One on the Marine PFT as personal failure.  I may be almost 50 years old competing against myself as well as trying to keep pace with young guys but I hate not to do my utmost to excel.  My biggest disappointment coming back from Iraq as that physically and emotionally I have not been at my best. That is changing and I hope that Adolph passes on his own so I don’t require surgery that could set me back in my physical conditioning program.   At least emotionally and spiritually I am getting things back together and academically I finished a Masters in Military History with honors passing my comprehensive exams with distinction and keeping a 4.0 through the entire program.

Glad to get the Bronze, Team Finland

The past few nights while laid up in pain from the damned Kidney stone which I have decided to name Adolf Von GrosseSchmertzen (Adolf of the Big Pain) I ended up watching a lot of the Olympics especially Hockey and Speed Skating.  I think this is because I played hockey for a couple of years in junior high school.  What impressed me was what used to be called on ABC’s Wide World of Sports “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.”

Redemption for Bodie Miller

While watching these events I again was impressed as just how close the margin is for world class athletes and teams between winning and losing.  I wonder how anyone could call any of these athletes’ losers or as in the case of some countries like South Korea have fans send hate mail to athletes who don’t win it all. I could feel for the Dutch speed skater who followed his coach’s directions and ended up disqualified even though he had won the event handily and would have done so without the misdirection. Likewise the angst of Lindsey Vonn and Julia Mancuso whose ill timed crash and stoppage caused Vonn to not finish and Mancuso to finish 8th in an event that they have dominated.  Then to see the winner’s who had never won before or failed to live up to expectations in previous games like Bodie Miller who came back from a personal worst at Torino where though heavily favored did not medal. In this Olympics it was great to see the joy on his face when he won his gold medal.  There were so many other individual performances that were memorable where athletes experienced triumph and tragedy often exhibiting tremendous grace and sportsmanship even in defeat.  From the treacherous Bobsled, Luge and Skeleton track where a young Georgian luger died before the completion and a heavily favored German sled flipped, the chaotic short track speed skating, to the grueling Nordic events and the individual pressure on the figure skaters and ice dancers it was something to watch.

Less than Gracious in Defeat Evgeni Plushenko

When American figure skater Evan Lysacek defeated favored Russian Evgeni Plushenko his joy as well as magnanimity in victory were in stark contrast to Plushenko who bad mouthed Lysacek and then claimed a “Platinum medal” on his website.  It is hard to lose, I guess Plushenko will have “the sorest loser who ever lived” placed on his tombstone.  Then there was the beautiful performance of Joannie Rochette of Canada in Women’s Figure Skating who took to the ice just days after the death of her mother and won the Bronze Medal.

Overcoming the Death of Her Mother Joannie Rochette takes Bronze

However for me the most memorable moments will be the Hockey tournament in both the mens and womens competition.  The shock of the Canadian men losing for the first time in Olympic completion to the United States has set up a possible rematch for the Gold medal; while the vaunted Russians were manhandled by the same Canadian team and eliminated from the completion not even reach the quarter-finals.  To see the dream of the Swedish women end in sudden death to the Finns was one of the most poignant examples of the thrill of victory for the underdog Finns who had not medaled since 1998 and the devastated faces of the Swedes some of whom sat on the ice in tears while a fear meters away the Finns were celebrating.  But the hardest was for the American women who lost to the Canadians 2-0 in the Gold medal game. Finishing second is always difficult because unlike others you always wonder and have in your mind the “what if” and “why” that make of the difference between victory and defeat.  That goes for the Olympics, the Super Bowl, World Series, World Cup, High School  or Little League championship.  Second is the hardest place to finish.  Watching the medal ceremony after the Gold Medal game it was a study in contrasting emotions.

Disqualified for Listening to Coach…Ouch

First were the Finns who had upset the Swedes in the Bronze medal game in sudden death overtime.  They showed elation even though they finished third.  Then there were the Canadians flush with victory on home ice, once again joy.  Finally there was the American team, the defending World Champion team still in shock and showing the disappointment of their loss while trying to be gracious in defeat.  As they received their medals you could see that this was not what they came to Vancouver for, they had come to win and finished second.

Evan Lysacek Wins the Men’s Gold

Now the Canadians are great people and great Allies.  They have stood with us for years and despite enduring a lot of ugliness by various American media types they are our friends.  We have two Canadian exchange officer chaplains in our Pastoral Care residency program and I wish I could get them into our Navy. The Canadian Hockey teams sent a letter to their troops deployed in harm’s way.  One of our Canadians sent a copy to me and it really stuck me as something very special.   I place it for you here:

February 5, 2010

To OUR Troops,

As we get ready to represent Canada at the 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games in Februaryand March, we wanted to take a minute to let each and every one of you know how much of an inspiration you will be in our quest for three gold medals in the coming months.

People throw out words like war and battle way too often when speaking about sports such as hockey.,,As athletes, we know that what we do for our country can never measure up to your contributions ‐ the sacrifice and dedication that our armed forces show on a daily basis.

When we take to the ice, rest assured that we will have you in our thoughts and prayers. We are so proud to be Canadians, and owe so much of what we have here to you, the Canadian military.

We will do our best to represent you well in competition, and look forward to a day in the very near future when you will return home safely in Canada, and all Canadians can thank you in person.

All the best,

Jean Labonté                      Scott Niedermayer                     Hayley Wickenheiser

Captain                                      Captain                                       Captain

Sledge hockey team             Men’s hockey team                  Women’s hockey team

I thought that the way the Canadian hockey teams did this for their soldiers was really great, they are a classy organization.

Anyone who has ever finished second, or lost in a playoff or championship game can understand. I’ve been on a number of teams that have finished second or lost a playoff game after winning a league or conference. That is far more emotionally difficult than being on a team that is terrible, in fact my best year hitting in either baseball or softball came when I played on the worst team that I ever played on.  That season ended when I was plowed over at home plate trying to put a tag on a charging runner and breaking my right wrist.

Over the years I have come to handle defeat better.  I still don’t like it but I refused to be a bad sport by either dissing my competition or gloating.  I am up for promotion this year, of course it is a competition as not everyone will get promoted. I think my record is solid but you never know until the results are released.  When officers are “passed over” or “non-selected” they are often shunted aside by the institution and sometimes even by their colleagues.  In the past I have always tried to care for friends who were not selected and help them prepare for a second look or their grief at the end of their career.  I am fortunate, even if I a not selected I will be able to retire and count it all as a great career between two services.  Hopefully regardless of the outcome I will be gracious, although as Bill “Spaceman” Lee said: “People are too hung up on winning. I can get off on a really good helmet throw.”

So to all those who competed with all their hearts thank you.  You may not have won but you are all the best in the world at what you do. Maybe your example will inspire others to greatness in sports and life.

And to the rest of us, me included may we all strive to do our best and treat others well in the process.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

Peace

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Thoughts on Ending Don’t Ask Don’t Tell…a Moderate View

No, we’re not homosexual, but we are willing to learn…Yeah, would they send us someplace special?

Note:  I’m not feeling well tonight with my Kidney stone keeping up a steady mid grade pain in my Kidney.  Thus I am modifying something that I wrote nearly a year ago concerning the subject of gays serving in the military. This is not a political or social screed, I have tried to remain dispassionate in this essay realizing that people of goodwill but with differing moral, ethical or religious values can have differing opinions.  Since ultimately the decision to repeal “Don’t Ask Don’t “ will be recommended by the military and will have to be passed into law by Congress. As an officer it will be my duty whatever decision is reached to support that decision.

I have written an essay agreeing with Admiral Mullen and Secretary Gates when they announced the decision to begin the process of repealing the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell law on homosexuals serving in the military. I followed that with piece which attacked the lies and distortions being marketed by former Chaplain, defrocked priest and convicted criminal Gordon “Chaps” Klingenschmitt in an unsolicited bulk e-mail sent through the Washington Times Media Group. In neither article did I advocate an immediate change in the law and stated that I believed that the Military should make the recommendations on how the change should be made, and not politicians or special interest groups of any variety.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Since then our society as a whole has changed in its view and treatment of homosexuals.  There is a lot more acceptance of them now and many more people are openly gay.  I think that those who hid that aspect of their lives in earlier times now feel safe enough to come out.  Yes there are those who vehemently oppose any form of equal treatment for homosexuals, but there is a lot more acceptance than in the past. Various polls show that a sizable majority of Americans support changing the policy while polls of military personnel have seen the opposition to ending the policy drop significantly since 2002 even though most of these polls indicate a fair amount of opposition to the policy but even those who oppose a change by and large have determined that they would make their peace with the decision. I believe that this is due to the change in societal views of homosexuals as well as the fact that military professionals, especially officers and career NCOs tend to tend to be more dispassionate and pragmatic than they are given credit.

There have been famous military leaders who were gay including Frederick the Great who was forced to marry but kind of liked other guys better.  Lord Kitchner and Sir Hector Archibald MacDonald, both distinguished officers were homosexual, MacDonald committed suicide when notified that he would be courts-martialed for his homosexuality.   There were constant rumors when I was in the Army about senior leaders who were suspected of being gay.   While a majority of military members polled opposed the Clinton administration change of policy, it seems to have worked.  There still are objections by gay rights activists that the policy is too restrictive and opponents who desire for it to be repealed, but in large part there is no problem.  Other countries the British, Canadians and Israelis and a number of other European nations all allow homosexuals to serve in the military. Contrary to claims that the policy would destroy the military there is nothing to support that.  In fact the US Military has been more heavily engaged on multiple fronts since the policy went into place and done well despite being undermanned and often over-committed.

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

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

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

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

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

Will this happen anytime soon? I don’t know.  At the present time DOD is studying how the change might be implemented including the possible ramifications of the decision on the force.  That study will take time and I suspect that at some point the President and Congress will address the issue and if it is changed I expect little practical change in the military.  We will keep deploying and doing our job, some people will be upset and some won’t, but I think there has been enough societal change over the last 27 years to allow this to happen relatively smoothly.  Will some people be unhappy? Most certainly. Will crusades be mounted against it by some?  Most definitely and one is already being waged by Gordon Klingenschmitt who went on record calling Admiral Mullen a liar and others will also oppose any change.  However I think that this opposition will come more from the outside and less so from the military which is busy fighting wars and protecting the country.  If “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is repealed I expect that the military will survive and continue to do well.  I think that most will make their peace with any change and those who desire to serve their country, even those who oppose repealing the law will still elect to serve I the military.

Those are my thoughts and as I said at the beginning I remained as dispassionate as I can while still stating what I believe. After all, in the end this is all well above my pay grade.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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The Heretic: Padre Steve Critiques the Christian Sub-Culture

I guess I am a heretic. It is a hard thing to admit but I will have to join the ranks of heretics tonight as I attempt to pass my yet as unnamed Kidney stone. I have had some interesting suggestions so far and if you have one for the 7mm by 4mm unnamed stone please feel free to suggest it.  Today I say my family practice doctor who put in a Urology consult and told me to come back Thursday morning if there is no change, to go to the ER if things get worse and who sent me home for two more days until the next appointment. I can only say that it is hurting and I do hope that pain and sleep medications will help me sleep tonight since I did not last night.

Since selves are very hard to help I am amazed daily with the latest self help books “baptized” with a smattering of Bible verses which are marketed to the hungry hordes that inhabit our Late Great Planet Earth. At the risk of offending everyone who knows and loves these books and yea verily even patterns their life after them as if they were the Scriptures themselves I have decided to write about this subject.  I have seldom discussed this with anyone outside my wife, the Abby Normal Abbess and a few brother miscreant Priests and un-named heretical co-conspirators.   As heretics who buck the party line we generally keep these conversations among ourselves in order not to offend the brethren and the sisteren. But today I just decided to say the heck with it all and be bold, yet hopefully funny in looking at these phenomena.  Of course the Christian Taliban will pronounce me a heretic worthy of death for venturing to criticize the holy writ contained therein.

Back in the late 1960s and early 1970s Evangelical Christians of who I once was began to crawl out of the typical Bible thumping, cheap suit and revival meeting evangelist look.  Evangelicals, driven on by early Christian rock groups and artists dared to get contemporary.  At first this was confined to dressing like regular people including hippies and to adopting relatively recent pop, rock or country music styles.  Of course while motives were good and the early pioneers did good work much of it because of a lack of theological and philosophical depth was really pretty shallow.  “Jesus loves me yeh, yeh, yeh, Jesus loves me, yeh, yeh yeh and he loves you too…” and other equally inspired lyrics.  Believe me I know this because I had a lot of the albums of the early artists.  However, they were a light years above and beyond some of the crap that came later as real record labels like MCA swallowed up Christian labels such as Maranatha, Light, Sparrow, Birdwing and Word.  After that even the innocent shallowness of some of the early groups was lost amid the focus on market share, image, ratings and corporate profit.  Of course since Capitalism is of God, or at least as its “Christian” supporters claim notwithstanding the fact that is it simple economic social Darwinism.  At the same time there were some good conservative Christian thinkers of various traditions who advocated a more active engagement with contemporary society including Chuck Colson, Francis Schaeffer and Richard John Neuhaus. They were all learned and humble Christian men, unfortunately many who claim to be their successors have neither the training, temperament nor the Christian character of these men.

Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t have a big issue with Christians finding common ground in anything, including music, the arts or even the sciences.  I just prefer that it retain some sense of theological, philosophical and Biblical integrity when it does so, especially when Christians assume a tacit moral. Spiritual and artistic superiority over “non-believers” in said areas.   Sorry Mr. Christian Taliban if you say the secular pioneers of a field of study are in Hell and you somehow have baptized their methods it is a clear example of assuming a moral, spiritual or intellectual superiority over the benighted unbelievers, heretics and infidels.  Such actions have no integrity, no Christian character or superiority to the people condemned to Hell (i.e. Freud, Jung, Maslow, Jung or Adler.)

Of course this branched out into other areas of life including and especially pop-psychology and self-help. Christian groups who had previously loathed and condemned to Hell or as a minimum darned to Heck anything to do with the disciplines of Psychiatry or Psychology embraced them like a blow up love doll, not content with the real thing but finding something less effective but at least buttressed by a few Bible verses. The fact that insurance will pay for at least part of it if you get a state license is even better. When actual therapy, even Christian counseling or therapy fails there are the latest in Christian Self-Help titles to satiate the soul and make everyone feel better or worse of they don’t measure up to what the Christian Self-Help industry promoters claim.

What really drove this was seeing friends Romans and countrymen flock to these baptized self-help books as if they were the latest editions of the Word of God printed in heaven and distributed by the Archangel Gabriel himself.  Now this may be a bit of an over-reach on my part for literary purposes but I think in some cases it is not far off the mark.  I don’t for a moment presume that everyone who finds meaning and value in these books has crossed this line into obsession but I am amazed with the almost cultic hold that they have over some people and ministries.  I cannot count the number of times when people have asked me as a Priest if I have read….fill in the blank.  Since my theological or inspirational reading usually deals with Church History, Ethics, Christology written by German theologians whose names start with “B” the early Church Fathers and Folks like Martin Luther as well as books by Henri Nouwen or one of the plethora of Father Andrew Greeley “Bishop Blackie Ryan” mysteries that I own, I have to no recourse but to say “NO” as my interests lay elsewhere.  Another line that I might use is that I’ve heard from people that name the book is supposed to be good.  In either case I am being honest.  This being said the next line from the person asking me is “well, you should, you’d really like it” or something similar.  I am always polite as I genuinely hope that they are getting something good out of these works and that the Deity Herself is using them in their lives.  I would after all patently hope that they have not wasted their hard earned money on a bunch of theological tepidness in light of our current economic difficulties.

What gets me in most cases is not the actual content of the books in question which especially in the case of the Purpose Driven Life or the Five Love Languages to be pretty benign, though I have heard some folks really hammer these books and their authors.  My concern is the almost hypnotic grip that these and other “method” promoting books have on their readers.  I have seen places where there are extended classes and seminars that go through the Purpose Driven Life or The Five Love Languages or any one of a number of other books where week after week people drag out their notebooks, Palm Pilots or whatever means of electronic note taking that they have and studiously listen and share about the book in question.  While Bible study is an ingrained feature of Evangelical Protestant life, it seems to me that these books are almost replacing Bible study with the study of what someone says that the Bible teaches.  Now this isn’t new at all as one only has to look at the number of books on the Rapture and Second coming by the multitude of “prophecy experts” to see this.  Again, I say that I find the contents of the Purpose Driven Life and the Five Love Languages to be rather benign, my concern is the importance being given to them which sometimes to me seems to border on cultic.  The list can go on especially in light of the books allegedly written by popular televangelists but certainly written by more literate but equally insipid and theological, philosophical and Biblical ghost writers who hope that their work will sell. After all it is all about the bottom line.  As a mega-church pastor told Chuck Colson when asked why he didn’t tackle difficult subjects “They pay me to fill the church.”

My feeling in regard to the Prayer of Jabez industry is another matter.  This is simply narcissistic prosperity gospel teaching repackaged for a new audience.  This book takes an incredibly minor prayer by an equally minor character (1 Chronicles 4: 9,10) and turns it into a revolutionary means of getting God to bless us.  It has spun off a whole line of targeted versions for every gender and ethnic group as well as kids and even a women’s Study Bible. Likewise it has spun off an array of merchandise apparently modeled on Yogurt’s marketing of Spaceballs merchandise.  The merchandise could be found in the “Jabez Junk” section of your local Christian book, music and novelty shop and included key chains, mugs, backpacks, Christmas ornaments, scented candles, mouse pads, and a framed artist’s conception of Jabez himself. A line of jewelry was introduced in 2002.  I found the whole thing deeply offensive and felt it to be a crass attempt by the author and the publishers to make money off of the flock of God.  I knew of pastors who spent years with their congregations dealing with the Prayer of Jabez. I wonder what they would have accomplished had they actually been teaching their congregations actual Christian doctrine, ethics and responsibility. But what can I say…mediocrity sells when slickly packaged and marketed…beats real study and responsible scholarship every time.  God forbid we actually deal with difficult stuff.  Until then if it sells its swell, but if I want to make money off the flock of God I’ll just do it the old fashioned way and ask for a “love offering.”   Maybe I should post a Pay-Pal link on this site so I can make some money too? After all it is better to receive than give isn’t it?

Fortunately for me and maybe unfortunately for others I have a rather twisted way of looking at life, which some of kindred spirit find amusing and those not find offensive.  I cannot for the life of me get around odd thoughts that occur when I see these books which is nowhere more evident than when I hear the words the Five Love Languages. Unfortunately my mind goes to the movie A Fish Called Wanda where Jamie Lee Curtis (who I have always found to be hot) plays an American in England who is let us say sexually excited by her lovers speaking in foreign languages.  In the case of the movie Kevin Kline speaking faux Italian and John Cleese who speaks Russian.  Thus when my office mate in Iraq was running a series of Five Love Language seminars for Marines and Sailors who were stationed at the base that I operated from I had a hard time keeping a straight face.  The chaplain was a very good guy and eventually I confessed what had been running through my mind and he did have a good sense of humor about it and began to laugh when he recalled the movie.  I guess my five love languages would be German, Dutch, Gaelic, Klingon and Romulan, I’ll have to try them on the Abbess sometime.

Until then I’ll just have to wage a battle in my mind to discover the purpose that drives my life while I navigate the Battlefield of the Mind, extend my tent out to cover the five love languages on this the late great planet Earth as I learn to discipline the Strong Willed Child.

Now let me add something.  I am not opposed to orthodox or even fundamental beliefs so long as they are not used as a weapon against those who don’t agree with them as if we were unbelievers or infidels.  Nor am I opposed to them if they are not used as fodder for someone else’s political agenda. I actually am a moderate and theologically Orthodox Anglo Catholic Christian. My faith is based on a high view of Scripture, Sacred Traditions including the Creeds and the first seven Ecumenical Councils and Reason.  Unfortunately most of the mass produced “Christian” crap is neither based on the total witness of Holy Scripture, does not match what faith has been proclaimed since the beginning of the Church and often is befit of reason. Instead it is personal interpretations of proof texted Bible verses cobbled together in isolation from the rest of the Christian faith, tradition and testimony of nearly 2000 years. If someone wants to pick a fight with me on that they can but they are on shaky ground.

God I love how a bunch of good Gordon Biersch beer helps me express my thoughts especially when trying to pass a big Kidney Stone.

Pray for me a sinner.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

PS. No offense intended even if it was taken. Or is it the other way around?

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Do you believe in Miracles? Padre Steve Remembers the “Miracle on Ice”

We all remember where we were when tragedy happened.  No one can forget where they were when John or Bobby Kennedy or the Reverend Martin Luther King Junior was assassinated. Likewise few can forget where they were when the Space Shuttle Challenger blew up or the events of September 11th 2001.  However, in spite of the fact that good news is not always as memorable as tragedy there was a sentinel event by a group of unknown US college hockey players that if you were around back then you have likely never forgotten and probably remember exactly where you were and what you were doing when it took place.  Of course I am speaking about the victory of the US hockey team, Team USA over the Soviet team at the 1980 Winter Games in Lake Placid New York.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CGACsSW4Iqw&feature=related (Al Michaels Call)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fztlLwgSFCg (highlights and live call)

Thirty years ago today I was a college sophomore in California.  I had grown up with hockey, when we were stationed in Oak Harbor Washington as a child from 1965 through the end of 1969 I grew up with the weekly broadcast of “Hockey Night in Canada” on the Canadian Broadcasting Network.  When we moved to Long Beach my dad would take my brother and me to see Los Angeles Kings games and then when we moved to Stockton to see the California Seals in Oakland.  While in Stockton I played in a youth hockey league for a couple of years playing defenseman, occasional right wing and for 4 games goalie when our goalkeeper was injured.   As a goalkeeper I went 2 for 2 in those four games and can tell you that there is almost nothing as frightening as having a 2 on 1 or one or two man breakaway coming at you full bore.  Goalies are a special breed and I don’t think that I would want that kind of pressure on me to make a living, combat and life and death is hard enough…I don’t need that.

So hockey to a lesser extent than baseball has been a part of my life for a very long time.  I remember watching my first Winter Olympics when I was in Stockton back in 1972.  Back then Team USA was nothing more than a bunch of American college kids playing teams of Warsaw pact professional all-stars from powerhouse teams such as the Soviet Red Army team.  The Soviets dominated the game in the since 1956 and with the exception of the US Gold Medal team of 1960 had won every Olympic gold and in 1980 were once again expected to win Olympic Gold.

Back in 1980 times were tough in the United States, double digit inflation 20% interest rates a gas crisis, recession, residual effects of the Vietnam War and the humiliation that the Iranians were inflicting on the United States on a daily basis following the seizure of the US Embassy in Tehran by “students” and the seemingly unending hostage crisis.  The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was yet another thumb in the eye of the United States.  As the United States prepared to host the Winter Games at Lake Placid New York there was not much to cheer about.  The country was mired in political crisis as the sitting President Jimmy Carter was continually at odds with his own Democratic Party and to all appeared weak in dealing with the Soviets, their satellites or the Iranians.  When he made his “malaise” speech in July 1979 I was in the UK touring as a spotlight tech with a Christian singing group and the reaction by the Brits and other Europeans was ridicule of the President and pity for the United States.  The United States had hit bottom.

When it came to the hockey team no one expected much with the exception of head coach Herb Brooks.  Brooks and his collection of college players, a number of whom would later become stats in the NHL, began their time together inauspiciously conducting a 61 game exhibition tour against teams from around the world.  In the final game on February 9th 1980 the Americans faced the Soviets at Madison Square Garden and were handily beaten by a score of 10-3 by the Soviet team.  The Soviets on the other hand had enjoyed nothing but success against NHL teams with Soviet teams going 5-3-1 against their NHL counterparts.  The previous year a Soviet team had shut out an NHL All-Star team 6-0.

When the Olympic completion began the Soviets as was expected dominated their opponents in the preliminary round going 5-0 and outscoring their opponents 51-10.  The United States surprised everyone tying Sweden 2-2 with a last minute goal and then stunning a highly favored Czech team 7-3 before defeating Norway, Romania and West Germany to advance to the medal round.  Brooks practiced the team hard as they prepared for the Soviets who they were scheduled to meet in the opening round of the medal competition. A loss for the Americans would force them to play for Bronze and no one expected the Americans to defeat the Soviets. Yet when the day came the Lake Placid Field House was packed with 8500 fans decked out in Red White and Blue, American flags displayed everywhere and the crowd spontaneously singing “God Bless America.”  Unfortunately because the Soviets refused to allow a later start time the game was not televised live nor broadcast live on the radio in the States.

On February 22nd I had finished work making and rolling pizza dough at Shakey’s Pizza in Stockton, went home showered and then got in my car to head over to Judy’s house.  On my way over I was listening to the radio when ABC radio broke in to air final few seconds of the game live, as Al Michaels made the famous call “Eleven seconds, you’ve got ten seconds, the countdown going on right now! Morrow up to Silk. Five seconds left in the game. Do you believe in miracles? YES!” I could not believe it and was screaming in the car, as soon as I got to Judy’s I went in and told her and her parents When the game came on I watched it with undivided attention and to this day I cannot forget that night.  The Americans had beaten the vaunted Soviet team 4-3 and would go on to defeat Finland in the Gold medal game 4-2.  The next day they were guests at the White House and after that the team broke up.  13 players would go on to NHL careers, Brooks would lead the 2002 Team USA to a Silver in 2002 before being killed in a car crash in 2003.

The Soviet people and their news media were stunned by the loss and the fact that the Soviet Team won Silver by defeating Sweden 9-2 the team had lost its luster.  While it remained dominant until the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1990 it was the end of an era.  Today many Russian players star in the NHL and live in the United States even after their careers.

Thirty years later the triumph of Team USA against all odds on that night is remembered as an event nearly unequaled in sports history as well as contemporary American history.  That game actually marked a return of pride to the country after a decade of discontent, defeat and discouragement.  That team and its members did something that no one expected in defeating the Soviets and going on to win the Gold medal against the Finns.  No one could have expected the effect on the country either. It was a miracle, a miracle on ice.

I don’t know about you, but I still believe in miracles.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Oh the Pain…Padre Steve’s Kidney Stone Naming Contest

Getting set to pass the stone

Well I spent a good part of the last night and early this morning with the Abbess visiting my friends in the Naval Medical Center Portsmouth Emergency Room.  I had been in pretty bad pain most of the day and even went with the Abbess to visit a retired chaplain friend and his wife as he has been a patient at our medic al center for the past week.  As we visited I continued to be in pain and when we went home I had the Abbess drop me off at home while she went to Gordon Biersch.  Anyone who knows me knows that I have to be feeling really bad not to go out and have a beer with the Abbess and or Stein Club friends on Saturday night.  The Abbess was convinced when we left the hospital that I would be back but being that I have a rather high threshold for pain compared to most people as well as a typical career military man view of pain and illness I thought that I would feel better and ride it out.  I did not expect a kidney stone and thinking it was something gastric went hope to vegetate and hope that with some chicken soup and some anti-gas meds that it would go away.  Wrong answer padre…

As I sat on the couch trying to get comfortable with pain waxing and waning and Molly doing her best to “will” me into feeling better I continued to feel worse.  The Abbess came home and pronounced that if I was still feeling this way at midnight we were going to the hospital whether I wanted to or not.  At about 11 PM I cried uncle and she drove me to the hospital.  Every freaking bump on the road was misery and when we got to the ER I got out of the car and limped into the ER. I could barely walk and was doubled over in pain, which when the triage nurse asked what level on a scale of 1 to 10 I said 5 to 6 because though it hurt it was not the worst pain that I have ever had which can only be reserved for the “undead tooth of terror.” (See Killing off the Undead Tooth of Terror)

One of the good things about playing on the home field is that people recognize you, of course for some this can be good or bad but thankfully for me it was good as I like the folks down in ER and the only thing that could make my affection for them be greater was if we were a trauma center.  What can I say? I did my residency at Parkland Memorial Hospital as the Trauma and Surgery Department Chaplain and served as an ER Department Chaplain at another regional trauma center.  None the less I know a good number of the staff, especially the ER residents as well as the surgery, internal medicine, psychiatry and other residents who see patients in the ER.  Last night was only different in the fact that I was not making rounds or being called to the ER but was a patient, something that I have little patience at being.

After a relatively short but uncomfortable wait in the waiting room I was taken back to a bay with a curtain as a partition given a gown and put on a monitor which as I observed that my vital signs, despite my pain were very good. My conditioning program is paying off.  I knew the ER attending, the RN and the Hospital Corpsmen that attended to me and other staff members who know me took time to visit.  Dr Ventura told me that he thought that it was likely a kidney stone and both he and the RN asked me about the color of my urine which I compared to a cloudy Keller Beer or Hefe-Weizen. How else can you describe urine when it does not have the clarity or effervescence of a Pilsner? I was sent to get a CT scan which was pretty cool. CT’s have come a long way since my residency, what used to be a 20-30 minute procedure only took about 2-3 minutes and I didn’t even have to take my San Francisco Giants baseball hat off.

So anyway, after being discharged from the ER and saying good bye to all my friends we went up to get the myriad of drugs from our pharmacy including pain meds like Vicodin as well as meds to help the stone pass and other meds.  I think the bag of meds weighed a couple of pounds.  So since the Abbess was really worn out I drove us home which meant that I did not hit the rough spots in the road beacus I know where they are.  After dropping her off and getting a sweet greeting from Molly I went over to our 24 hour super Wal-Mart and picked my way around the stockers to pick up a few things including the Minute Maid Lemonade that the staff told me would help me pass the stone.

Now kidney stones can take anywhere from 3 to 30 days to pass and if they don’t they may have to be removed. Approximately 80 percent of these stones contain calcium, as either calcium oxalate, calcium phosphate or a combination. Another 10 to 15 percent are composed of magnesium ammonium phosphate, s0metimes  known as struvite, while only 5 to 10 percent are uric acid stones. Fewer than 1 percent of stones are cystine.  Now for people like me this is interesting I don’t know too many people who laying on an ER bed think all the technical details of their illness.

Finally home I got to bed just before 0600 and got up just before noon.  Since getting up I have eaten light and drank a lot of fluids, like tons of fluids and since I need to try to capture the stone have a wire mesh coffee filter with a little handle which makes it like a bucket to piss into.  This will of course be consigned to oblivion once the stone is passed as there is no way, even with high tech sterilization gear available that anything that has had urine pass through it will ever be used to filter something that will pass through my lips.  If you remember the Seinfeld where Jerry’s girlfriend’s toothbrush fell in the toilet you will understand completely.

So now I wait.  I have been doing everything that I have been told to do but it seems that the stone has gone into hiding.  I haven’t passed it but it is still in me.  The choice for it is to come out on its own or be blasted into kidney stone oblivion or should either of those measures fail be surgically removed.  I guess with choices like that I would prefer the natural birth even though it stands to be painful.  I do hope and pray that that if this is the case that the stone will come out on the 4mm side and not the 7mm side, otherwise I will be like Kramer in the Seinfeld episode where he passes a kidney stone. I just hope when this happens I am nowhere near anyone whose life is depending on something.   http://www.strimoo.com/video/13214541/kramer-gets-a-kidney-stone-Dailymotion.html

So my challenge now is to figure out what to name this.  My friend Greg who is a Priest and Navy Chaplain says that I need to capture and keep it in case I am ever considered for canonization as a Saint.  However I wonder who the hell would want that kind of relic but realize after visiting various diocesan museums in Europe I know that anything can wind up as a relic.  So my question to my readers is what to name this stone.  I am leading to Adolf since he was a pain to remove during the Second World War.  Friends on Facebook have suggested other names and it will be interesting to see if any consensus builds as to what to name this bad boy.  So feel free to comment here or on my Facebook page as what you think this stone should be named.  Like the undead tooth of terror I will keep you apprised of this health issue as well as try to keep a humorous perspective on this.  Again thanks to all my friends in the ER and blessings to all. Pray for me a sinner.

Peace,

Steve+

Post Script: While in the ER it came to me that the doctor who called me to the ER back in December to administer the last rites to a dying retired military doctor was Eric Inge.  He was a key part of my Christmas miracle and I will not forget him, see

Doubt and Faith: My Crisis in Faith and Why I am Still a Christian an Advent Meditation

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Eins, zwei, drei g’suffa! Padre Steve Muses on German Beer

Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.
-Benjamin Franklin

Not all chemicals are bad. Without chemicals such as hydrogen and oxygen, for example, there would be no way to make water, a vital ingredient in beer.
-Dave Barry

From man’s sweat and God’s love, beer came into the world.

–Saint Arnold of Metz, The patron Saint of Brewers

I have lived in Germany a number of times and have a good number of German friends that I have served with either in the Army or the Navy that I am still in contact with.  I have a love of good beer and my taste tends to gravitate toward German Pilsners and Lagers or an occasional Dunkel or Schwartzbier. I do have a fondness for a number of Irish beers and when overseas like Kilkenny which is finally just available in the US in a few locations. Hopefully it will be more available in the coming year.  I also like an occasional English Ale such as Newcastle.  Call me a beer snob but I find most mass produced American beers pretty substandard but I do like Sam Adams and Yuengling lager as well as some beers by some smaller brewers.  I’m sorry but “light beer” scarcely qualifies as beer.  I have to agree with the folks at the Capital Brewery in Middleton Wisconsin which says “People who drink light ‘beer’ don’t like the taste of beer; they just like to pee alot.” Life is too short for bad beer as was known back in medieval times in Danzig Germany where the town council made an edict stating: “Whoever makes a poor beer is transferred to the dung-hill.”

Alan Young, Master Brewer at Gordon Biersch Virginia Beach

In the US I also like a number of the more German type micro brews, especially Gordon Biersch where I am a member of the Virginia Beach Stein Club.  I like Biersch a lot and since I know the master brewer Alan Young at the Virginia Beach location know that the beer is prepared to the German beer purity standards and that the hops used in the beer actually come from Bamberg Germany.  However, today is not so much about the Biersch beer, which I will write about in detail in the near future.

Today is a day where I talk about Germany and German beer.  When we first went to Germany in 1984 we lived in a tiny little town in the Saarland named Eckelhausen and I was assigned to the 557th Medical Company (Ambulance) which was based at Neubrücke, just over the Saarland and Rheinland-Pfalz state border.  These are little towns, Neubrücke is a few kilometers from Birkenfeld and Eckelhausen is in Kreis Sankt Wendel.

The nearest large city is Trier on the German-Luxembourg border. When we were stationed there the local beers severed at the local restaurants were primarily pilsners.  Some of those more local beers included Kirner Pils from the town of Kirn on the Nahe River, Barbarossa Braü from Kaiserslautern and Bitburger Pils from Bitburg. Bitburg has become much more than a local beer and can be found throughout Germany and around the world.

The 557th was moved to Wiesbaden in November of 1984 and this led us to other beers including Binding Bräuerei and their Römer Pils and Henninger Pils. Some of the beers from Hessen were very nice including Licher Pils from the town of Lich northeast of Frankfurt. This brewery also produces an “export” as well as a Weizen. It is advertised as the “number one beer in Hessen.”

Well we came back to the states just after Christmas of 1986 and suffered for years without a lot of German beer available in Texas and later West Virginia.  However, in 1996 I was mobilized from the Army Reserve to serve in Germany supporting Operation Joint Endeavor, the mission to help end the conflict between Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. I was stationed with the 417th Base Support Battalion in Kitzingen but had significant duties at the Würzburg Army Hospital and the 4th Battalion 3rd Air Defense Artillery.

I lived in Würzburg and commuted to Kitzingen and in my time in this area which is in the state of Bayern but historically is the capital of Franken.  Of course I always gravitate toward pilsners or lagers and in Würzburg I came across a very old and good beer in Würzburger Pils.  I also was able to have more access to other Bavarian beers including Bamberger Pils, St Georgen  Kellerbrau, Reichelbräu Pils , Spaten and Löwenbräu as well as beers from just outside the area to include Michaelsbräu of Babenhausen and Braugold which I had in Weimar.

I have travelled elsewhere in Germany I have encountered many other beers.  I do prefer the beers from the more southern and central parts of the country than those of the north.  Probably the most unique beer I had was not so much to the quality or taste was Wittenburger Luther Beer which I came home with a stein which reads “Zum Gedenken an den bedeutendsten Wittenburger Luther Bier “ein kannlein bir gegen den teufel ihndamit zu verachten” or “To commemorate the most important, Wittenburger Luther Beer, a mug of beer against the devil is to despise him.”

So the Germans have taught me well.  I only drink good beer and I think that it is something to be savored and not abused.  I like the way that the Germans do life, unlike others who revel being Puritans, the Germans have balance in life.  Unlike some of the lack of “fun-dementalists” that I have met and spend their time reveling in the misery of their condition I totally agree with Luther when he said:

“God does not forbid you to drink, as do the Turks; he permits you to drink wine and beer: he does not make a law of it. But do not make a pig of yourself; remain a human being. If you are a human being, then keep your human self-control.”

And since I am not as young as I used to be: “We old folks have to find our cushions and pillows in our tankards. Strong beer is the milk of the old.

Amen and peace,

Padre Steve+

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Too Young…Naval Medical Center Portsmouth loses another one of Its Own

 

Lieutenant Eric W Inge, Medical Corps, United States Navy 20 August 1979-13 February 2010

Creator, Father who first breathed

In us the life that we received

By thy power of thy breath restore

The ill, and men with wounds of war

Bless those who give their healing care,

That life and laughter all may share

 From the Navy Hymn, Eternal Father Strong to Save

Today the Staff of Naval Medical Center remembered the life and work of a shipmate, colleague and friend.  LT Eric Inge passed away last week from apparently natural causes. Eric was a junior resident our Psychiatry residency program and I had the pleasure of working with him and spending time in class as well as doing some PT with him. Back in December we took a PT test together.  Though he was quiet we often talked to each other and he had a good heart, sharp wit and obviously cared for people and wanted to do his best to serve our Sailors, Marines, Soldiers, Airmen and their family members that he saw in clinic or on the floor. 

 He was quiet, unassuming and did not draw attention to himself. He was remembered today as a friend, a committed physician who could always be found working with his patients and who was a very good psychiatrist even though he was still early in his residency. 

 He was born at Fitzsimmons Army Medical Center in Denver on August 20th 1979. He graduated with distinction from Duke University earning a degree in Biomedical Engineering. He worked in that field and then attended medical school at the University of South Florida where he graduated with his MD in 2005.  He completed an internship in Internal Medicine at The Ohio State University in 2006 and entered a Neurology program that he withdrew from realizing that his passion in medicine lay in Psychiatry.  Passing up numerous civilian residency programs he entered the Navy and was accepted into the Psychiatry internship program from which he matriculated in June of 2009 and then began his residency at Naval Medical Center Portsmouth.  He served his patients, his shipmates and his country well.  He is typical of so many of our young Naval Physicians and other professionals in Navy Medicine.  Eric will be missed by his friends, colleagues and the patients that he served so well.  Please remember his mother and father, Elsa and Kenneth Inge and sister Tina in your prayers. 

 His death came as another blow to a department that has lost two other staff members in the past 7 months and to a medical center that has said goodbye to far too many shipmates in the past year.  Additionally we have hundreds of our staff deployed in harms way in Afghanistan where they are actively treating US and NATO soldiers and Afghan civilians in places like Khadahar, Camp Bastion and Bagram as well as many places too small to register in this country. Others serve in Iraq, the broader Middle East and the Horn of Africa.  Many were shipped out with only hours notice to deploy on the USNS Comfort to care for victims of the cataclysmic destruction in Haiti, which many veteran and even senior staff who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan find more horrifying than anything that they experienced in combat.  While all of these professionals deploy the staff here picks up the load.  Unlike units that rotate in and out of combat to be rested and refreshed these proud and selfless men and women of Navy Medicine go into the fight or into places of cataclysmic devastation and then return to carry on with the mission of caring for our Navy and broader military family at home. 

 Please keep all of these professionals, caregivers all in your prayers as they serve with dedication and distinction all over the world and even now mourn the death of one of their own.  I do not pretent to understand why young people like Eric die, I trust God yes, but I wonder sometimes and ask the question which has no answer “why?” I will miss Eric and trust that his soul and the souls of all the departed will rest in peace.

 Peace,

Padre Steve+

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