Monthly Archives: May 2012

Memorial Day 2012: The Perpetual Cost in Human Lives, PTSD, Suicide and Other Issues

Al Waleed Border Crossing 2007

On Memorial Day there will be many official observances at various Military and Veterans cemeteries to honor the members of the United States Military that have died in the service of our country throughout our history. Many died directly in battle while many more died to combat related injuries, illness, suicide as well as substance abuse and addiction.

In addition to the more than 6000 US Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Airmen killed in battle there have been tens of thousands more who have died of causes related to their service in combat.  That is nothing new, the same was true in Vietnam, Korea, the World Wars and before.  War changes people and the wounds incurred, physical, psychological, spiritual and moral impact those that served as well as their loved ones for years, sometimes for the rest of their life. The problem is exacerbated when the society in which the soldiers return is itself not invested in the war being fought.

The fact is that no matter how well individual soldiers train and prepare for combat and combat conditions there is nothing that truly prepares that one can never fully expect what will happen to them in theater or after they return.  I can speak personally to this as well as testify about the things that I learn from others that have served. Likewise I know what others have written or shared.

Audie Murphy 

One of the most prominent soldiers ever to share his experiences of what was then called “battle-fatigue” was America’s most decorated soldier, Audie Murphy. Murphy served in North Africa and Europe in the Second World War and was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, Two Silver Stars and Two Bronze Stars in addition to 28 other US and foreign awards for service and for valor. When he returned from the war he suffered from depression, chronic insomnia slept with a loaded pistol under his pillow and became addicted to prescription sleeping pills. In the immediate aftermath of the war following his discharge from active duty he struggled to find employment and slept in a gym before finally finding work as an actor. He starred in 44 films including the biographical film about his life To Hell and Back. He spoke up for Vietnam vets returning from war with similar problems before he was killed in a plane crash on May 28th 1971.

I have also found that Chaplains and others that provide care to those in combat become particularly isolated when they return with PTSD or other combat stress related issues. One of the biggest reasons for this is that in many churches and religious bodies a chaplain that suffers from these issues has nowhere to turn and is isolated in his or her denomination. In the past few years a number of chaplains, Army and Navy have committed suicide following tours in Iraq. I knew a couple of them, one who had also served as an Marine infantryman in Vietnam. I have know others including medical personnel that have suffered from PTSD, depression, substance abuse and known a couple that have attempted suicide following their return from combat. I know others that have lost their faith or suffered a spiritual crisis brought about by their time in combat. I read today about Army Chaplain Darren Turner who left the Army following his time in Iraq suffering from combat stress issues, faith and readjustment to life back at home and for a time was separated from his wife. He has since returned to the Army but his path was not easy and I am sure based on my knowledge of others that more are out there afraid to tell their story.  (See the article on CNN http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2012/05/26/battlefield-chaplains-war-unfolded-on-many-fronts/?hpt=hp_c2

Former Army Vice Chief Of Staff General Peter Chiarelli has fought the American Psychological Association to have the diagnostic term PTSD changed to PTSI, Post Traumatic Stress Injury to reduce the stigma that often prevents servicemen and women from seeking help. His request was recently rejected but it has merit. Other countries such as Canada treat it as such for their veterans.

I wrote about my experience of this on a number of occasions one of which I wrote in 2010 I asked if there were other chaplains like me. That article Raw Edges: Are there other Chaplains out there Like Me? attracted the interested of the local newspaper in Jacksonville North Carolina which did an article on me. (See http://www.jdnews.com/articles/cmdr-89433-stephen-military.html ) That article in turn led to my involvement with the DOD Real Warriors Campaign http://www.realwarriors.net/  They did a video on my story and interviewed me last week as part of a DOD Military Bloggers live forum.

I don’t feel alone anymore. I still have my struggles and I have talked about them a lot in other articles and plan to continue to do my best to help others who are struggling with the effects of war and return from it, especially chaplains, medical personnel and those that now struggle with faith and belief after their time at war. My encouragement is to just say that in spite of everything you are not alone.

Peace

Padre Steve+

About these ads

2 Comments

Filed under film, healthcare, iraq,afghanistan, PTSD, vietnam

The Memorial Day Order

“It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” From the Gettysburg Address 

“Dark and sad will be the hour to this nation when it forgets to pay grateful homage to its greatest benefactors. The offering we bring to-day is due alike to the patriot soldiers dead and their noble comrades who still live; for, whether living or dead, whether in time or eternity, the loyal soldiers who imperiled all for country and freedom are one and inseparable.” From Frederick Douglass’ Memorial Day Speech 1884

It was after the great bloodletting known as the American Civil War that Memorial Day, originally known as Decoration Day was established. The first observance was made by the recently freed slaves of Charleston South Carolina who honored the memory of the Union Soldiers who had died at the Washington Racecourse Prison Camp on May 1st 1865.  Other celebrations began around the country in May and June of 1866. By 1868 the Commander of the Grand Army of the Republic Union Veterans association General John Logan issued an order directing that the 30th of May 1868 be designated to the memory of the Union Soldiers, Sailors and Marines who had given their lives in the defense of the Union.

Since its establishment the holiday has grown to encompass the honored dead of all American wars.  However its roots were in the Civil War, a war that claimed the lives of between 600,000 and 700,000 American military personnel on both sides of the conflict. It is hard to imagine that on one, September 17th 1862 that over 23,000 Union and Confederate Soldiers were killed, wounded or missing. At Gettysburg more men were killed and wounded than in the entirety of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Two percent of the population was killed in the war. To put that in perspective that casualty rate would involve the deaths of more than 6 million soldiers, well over twice as many men and women as currently serve on active duty and in the reserve components.

The order is remarkable in its frankness and the understanding of the war in the immediate context of its conclusion.  In 1868 the day would be observed at 183 cemeteries in 27 States and the following year over 300 cemeteries. Michigan was the first state to make the day a holiday and by 1890 all states in the North had made it so. In the South there were similar observances but the meaning attributed to the events and the sacrifices of the Soldiers of both sides was interpreted differently. In the North it was about preserving the Union and in the South the interpretation of the Lost Cause.  Yet in both regions and all states, the surviving Soldiers, family members and communities honored their dead.

This Memorial Day we will honor all that have fallen but in our mind are the few that fight our current wars, wars that unlike that terrible Civil War, the majority of the population does not experience.

The order of the Grand Army of the Republic establishing Memorial Day is posted below.

Peace

Padre Steve+

HEADQUARTERS GRAND ARMY OF THE REPUBLIC, General Orders No.11, WASHINGTON, D.C., May 5, 1868

I. The 30th day of May, 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies now lie in almost every city, village, and hamlet church-yard in the land. In this observance no form of ceremony is prescribed, but posts and comrades will in their own way arrange such fitting services and testimonials of respect as circumstances may permit.

We are organized, comrades, as our regulations tell us, for the purpose among other things, “of preserving and strengthening those kind and fraternal feelings which have bound together the soldiers, sailors, and marines who united to suppress the late rebellion.” What can aid more to assure this result than cherishing tenderly the memory of our heroic dead, who made their breasts a barricade between our country and its foes? Their soldier lives were the reveille of freedom to a race in chains, and their deaths the tattoo of rebellious tyranny in arms. We should guard their graves with sacred vigilance. All that the consecrated wealth and taste of the nation can add to their adornment and security is but a fitting tribute to the memory of her slain defenders. Let no wanton foot tread rudely on such hallowed grounds. Let pleasant paths invite the coming and going of reverent visitors and fond mourners. Let no vandalism of avarice or neglect, no ravages of time testify to the present or to the coming generations that we have forgotten as a people the cost of a free and undivided republic.

If our eyes grow dull, other hands slack, and other hearts cold in the solemn trust, ours shall keep it well as long as the light and warmth of life remain to us.

Let us, then, at the time appointed gather around their sacred remains and garland the passionless mounds above them with the choicest flowers of spring-time; let us raise above them the dear old flag they saved from dishonor; let us in this solemn presence renew our pledges to aid and assist those whom they have left among us a sacred charge upon a nation’s gratitude, the soldier’s and sailor’s widow and orphan.

II. It is the purpose of the Commander-in-Chief to inaugurate this observance with the hope that it will be kept up from year to year, while a survivor of the war remains to honor the memory of his departed comrades. He earnestly desires the public press to lend its friendly aid in bringing to the notice of comrades in all parts of the country in time for simultaneous compliance therewith.

III. Department commanders will use efforts to make this order effective.

By order of

JOHN A. LOGAN,
Commander-in-Chief

N.P. CHIPMAN,
Adjutant General

Official:
WM. T. COLLINS, A.A.G.

1 Comment

Filed under History, Military

The First Memorial Day

The acrid smell of smoke of the last battles of the American Civil War was still lingering over many towns and cities in the South on May 1st 1865.  Charleston South Carolina, a hotbed of secession was particularly hard hit during the war. In 1861 Cadets of the Citadel and South Carolina militia forces began the war with the bombardment of Fort Sumter. Union Forces laid siege to the city in late 1863 which ended with the city’s surrender on 18 February 1865. By this time much of the city had been destroyed by Union siege artillery and naval forces.

Charleston had also been the home of three of the Prisoner of War Camps erected by the Confederacy, one in the Charleston City Jail and the other at Castle Pinckney. Another camp was erected on the site of the Washington Race Course and Jockey Club in 1864. This was an open air camp and Yale Historian David Blight wrote that “Union soldiers were kept in horrible conditions in the interior of the track; at least 257 died of exposure and disease and were hastily buried in a mass grave behind the grandstand.” (See http://www.davidwblight.com/memorial.htm)

By the end of the war most of the white population of the city had left and most of those remaining were recently freed slaves. After their liberation and the city’s occupation by Federal forces including the famous 54th Massachusetts as well as the 20th, 35th and 104th US Colored Troops Regiments. A number, about 28 Black men went to work and properly reinterred these 257 Union dead on the raceway building a high fence around it. They inscribed “Martyrs of the Race Course” on an arch above the cemetery entrance.

On May 1st over 10,000 Black Charlestonians gathered at the site to honor the fallen. Psalms, Scriptures and prayers were said, hymns were sung and many brought flowers. A parade of 2800 children covered the burial ground with flowers.  They were followed by members of the Patriotic Association of Colored Men and the Mutual Aid Society whose members provided relief supplies to Freedmen and provided aid to bury those Blacks who were too poor to afford burial. More citizens followed many laying flower bouquets on the graves. Children then led the singing of The Star Spangled Banner, America and Rally Around the Flag. The Brigade composed of the 54th Massachusetts and the 35th and 104th Colored Regiments marched in honor of their fallen comrades. Following the formalities many remained behind for a picnic.  A contemporary account can be found here: http://media.charleston.net/2009/pdf/firstmemorial_day_052409.pdf

Other communities would establish their own Memorial Day observances in the years following the war, with the Charleston event preceding the next earliest event by a full year. The first “Official” commemoration was on 30 May 1868 when Union General John Logan and head of the veteran’s organization called The Grand Army of the Republic appealed to communities to honor the dead by holding ceremonies and decorating the graves of the fallen. In the South three different days served a similar purpose.  In Virginia people commemorated the day on June 3rd, the birthday of Confederate President Jefferson Davis, the Carolinas marked the day on 10 May, the birthday of General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, while in the Deep South the event was conducted on the anniversary of the surrender of General Joseph Johnson’s Army to General William Tecumseh Sherman.  For many in the South the day would become about “The Lost Cause” or “the defense of Liberty” or “States Rights” and was often caused the “War of Northern Aggression.”

The “Martyrs of the Racecourse” cemetery is no longer there. The site is now a park honoring Confederate General and the White Supremacist “Redeemer Governor” of South Carolina Wade Hampton. An oval track remains in the park and is used by the local population and cadets from the Citadel to run on. The Union dead who had been so beautifully honored by the Black population were moved to the National Cemetery at Beaufort South Carolina in the 1880s and the event conveniently erased from memory. Had not historian David Blight found the documentation we probably still would not know of this touching act which so honored those that fought the battles that won their freedom.

The African American population of Charleston who understood the bonds of slavery and oppression, the tyranny of prejudice in which they only counted as 3/5ths of a person and saw the suffering of those that were taken prisoner while attempting to liberate them stand as an example for us today.  Within little more than a decade they would be subject to Jim Crow and again treated by many whites as something less than human.  The struggle of them and their descendants against the tyranny of racial prejudice, discrimination and violence over the next 100 years would finally bear fruit in the Civil Rights movement whose leaders, like the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. would also become martyrs.

Frederick Douglass spoke to Union Veterans on Memorial Day 1878.  His words, particularly in light of the war and the struggles of African Americans since and the understanding of what those who were enslaved understood liberation to be are most significant to our time. It was not merely a war based on sectionalism or even “States rights,” it was a war of ideas. He said:

“But the sectional character of this war was merely accidental and its least significant feature.  It was a war of ideas, a battle of principles and ideas which united one section and divided the other; a war between the old and new, slavery and freedom, barbarism and civilization; between a government based upon the broadest and grandest declaration of human rights the world ever heard or read, and another pretended government, based upon an open, bold and shocking denial of all rights, except the right of the strongest.” 

I do hope in the days ahead as we prepare to celebrate Memorial Day, as we prepare to honor those Americans who died that others might be free to look back at what freedom actually means and not forget the sacrifices of those that give their lives that others might live.

Peace

Padre Steve+

1 Comment

Filed under History, Military

The Fallen: Remembering the Human Cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars

Today I read through and looked at the pictures of every American service member to die in harm’s way since last Memorial Day in this week’s Navy Times. When I looked at those pictures of men and women, officers and enlisted from every service and state, native born and immigrant alike, representing many races, religions and probably sexual preferences I was again reminded of the human cost. I knew or had served with a number of these people.  The sacrifice of our military is too often unappreciated.

There is a human cost to war. As I wrote yesterday it is a cost mainly borne by those that serve in the military, their families and those close to them. There are also civilian employees, both government and contractors that also share the cost of war. I have written about men that I have known that have died in harm’s way as well as others that have died while on active service, most recently Commander Marsha Hanly.

I think that in this interregnum between Armed Forces Day and Memorial Day that we remember the fallen.  They are too often forgotten in the politics and economics of war as are the men women and children non-combatants that die in the crossfire of war either to premeditated action by one or both sides or simply because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The Washington Post has a section online called Faces of the Fallen http://apps.washingtonpost.com/national/fallen/ which shows the pictures of the servicemen and women killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation New Dawn. 

Staff Sergeant Ergin Osman

I simply ask that readers spend some time there before Memorial Day to reacquaint ourselves with this cost, the real human cost of war. Just about a year ago a former Marine that I had served with at 3rd Battalion 8th Marines in 2000-2001 was killed in Afghanistan with 6 members of his platoon when they were ambushed with an Improvised Explosive Device while pursuing a Taliban leader. His name was Staff Sergeant Ergin Osman. he had left the Marines and then enlisted in the Army and was serving with the 101st Airborne Division when he was killed on May 26th 2011, one of over 2400 American Servicemen and women killed by IEDs.  I have lost other friends and comrades in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Iraq Afghanistan Veterans Association has a pledge to “Go Silent” on Memorial Day at 12:01 Eastern Standard Time to remember the 6433 servicemen and women who have fallen in Iraq or Afghanistan to date. One can pledge to do so in honor of a fallen Soldier, Sailor, Marine or Airman at their website http://iava.org/

In addition to Americans 593 British and 753 other non-Iraqi or Afghani coalition personnel have died in these wars. A further 468 contractors employed by the US military were killed in Iraq and 763 by Department of Labor count in Afghanistan as of March 31st 2011.  Nearly 50,000 more American military personnel have been wounded and this total does not include those with TBI or PTSD nor do the numbers killed reflect those that died by suicide following their time in Iraq or Afghanistan or those who died after they left the service due to disease, injury or psychological malady following their service in a combat zone. A well sourced listing of casualties can be found on the icasualties.org website http://icasualties.org/Iraq/index.aspx  Over 10,000 Iraqi Army, Police or Security Force personnel were killed fighting alongside US and Coalition forces. Numbers of civilians killed in Iraq and Afghanistan are estimated the hundreds of thousands.

Please take some time this week to remember the fallen as well as those wounded in body, mind and spirit during the last 10 years of war. I will be focusing on different aspects of these wars and wars past this week as we prepare to observe Memorial Day.

Peace

Padre Steve+

2 Comments

Filed under iraq,afghanistan, Military, shipmates and veterans

Armed Forces Day 2012: The Disconnection of the Military and Society and the Terrible Result

Armed Forces Day was celebrated in some locales Saturday but I would dare say that the vast majority of Americans didn’t notice it. Meanwhile under 50 “Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans” from Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans Against the War got lots of air time for throwing their “Global War on Terrorism Service Medals” away at the big anti-NATO Summit protest in Chicago. This is the Medal that those that served after September 11th 2001 received for being on active duty in the United States, not actually deployed.

Now there were a fair number of local celebrations to honor members of the Armed Forces across the country. As a member of the military I appreciate those events and the people that put them together, especially those that have taken the time to honor Iraq and Afghanistan veterans.  There are others that honor the Armed Forces every day, I think especially about the Maine Troop Greeters of Bangor Maine and the Pease Troop Greeters of New Hampshire. These men and women, many veterans themselves or related to veterans are amazing. They have been welcoming veterans back since early in the war and provide many services to the men and women of the Armed Forces that pass through Bangor Maine International Airport and the Portsmouth International Airport, the former Pease Air Force Base in Pease New Hampshire.  I have had the honor of passing through both locations, Bangor on more than one occasion. While I know that there are many others that do this they are in the minority in this country.

At any given time less than 1% of Americans are serving in all components of the military. For over 10 years we have been at war in Afghanistan and Iraq as well as other locations that we don’t like to talk about too much like Pakistan. However this has not been the effort of a nation at war. It has been the effort of a tiny percentage of the population.  As a nation we are disconnected from the military and the wars that have been going on for so long. The fact is that most Americans do not feel that they have a personal or vested interest in these wars because they have been insulated by political leaders of both parties from them. There is no draft, and no taxes were raised to fund the wars. Every single Soldier, Sailor, Marine and Airman volunteered for duty or reenlisted during this time period. Motives may have varied from individual to individual, but unlike the World Wars, Korea and Vietnam all were or are volunteers.

Many of these volunteers served in Iraq and Afghanistan. Neither war was popular, except in the very beginning when casualties were low and victory appeared to be easy and quick. We like short wars. We left Iraq last year and Afghanistan is still going to be with us for a while. In Afghanistan we followed the same path trod by the British and Soviets in trying to topple regimes and plant our respective versions of civilization in that land of brutal Pashtun, Tajik, Hazara and Uzbek warlords who war on each other as much as any foreign infidel.  It is a path that leads to heartbreak which ties down vast amounts of manpower without any significant strategic gain for the United States or NATO.  This even as war drums beat across the Middle East and nuclear armed Pakistan slips into political and social chaos and keeps a major supply route for the US and NATO to Afghanistan shut down.

The fact is that American and for that matter other NATO and coalition military personnel who have served in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Horn of Africa or at sea are in the minority in all of our countries. Thus when a few of the few of these veterans choose to make a public spectacle of themselves by tossing a medal away they get cheered and lots of media attention. Liberals applaud the medal throwers and conservatives vilify them without getting what is really going on. Both miss the tragic disconnection between the military and civilian society that is the result of public policy since the end of the Vietnam War. A relatively small professional military in comparison to the population is sent to fight wars while the bulk of the population is uninvolved.

I heard one of the organizers of the medal throwing exhibition apologize for his service. If he wants to apologize to people that generally haven’t been touched by war and haven’t had to make a single sacrifice then fine. If he wants to apologize for acts that he may have committed against Iraqis or Afghani people that is another matter, that can’t be mitigated by tossing medals over a fence. However I think that the manner of by which he and his compatriots demonstrated at the NATO Summit did nothing for those that serve. Tossing a medal away, a medal not earned for combat service is cheap. The medal that they threw away symbolically shows that they served in the homeland on active duty after the 9-11 attacks. Some did serve overseas, some in combat but to throw this particular medal away seemed an odd choice.

The right to protest and disagree with policy and the politics of war is important. It is a right which I will defend. However I think that what these veterans did was more disrespectful to their former comrades and those currently serving than it was to those that make policy. The army of lobbyists and think tank wonks that promote the politics of war regardless of who is President don’t care about this because no matter who is in office or who controls Congress they will promote policies that keep them employed and businesses enriched. Marine Major General and Medal of Honor winner Smedley Butler was quite right when he said:

War is a racket. It always has been. It is possibly the oldest, easily the most, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives. A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of the people. Only a small ‘inside’ group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many. Out of war a few people make huge fortunes.”

I may disagree with the manner of how and when these veterans protested. However, I am not going to question their motive or honor even if I disagree with their manner of protest because I came back different from war.

But then when a society sends off its sons and daughters to fight in wars that no one understands, and the vast majority of people no longer support it is no wonder that some veterans make such displays. Likewise it is understandable why other veterans have major issues with such protestors, just as many Vietnam veterans still feel the hurt of how a nation turned its back on them.

For the protestors the display may make them feel better, but it misses the bigger point of why wars like these go on for so long.  That they do is because misguided policies have brought about a chronic disconnection in our society between those that serve in the military and those that do not. But how can there not be when in the weeks after 9-11 people like President Bush and others either directly or in a manner of speaking told people to “go shopping”* as we went to war in Afghanistan? When I returned from Iraq I returned to a nation that was not at war whose leaders used the war to buttress their respective political bases.

I think that Armed Forces Day should be better celebrated but I am grateful to those people that do things every day to thank and support military personnel in thought, word and deed like the Maine Greeters and Pease Greeters. The interesting thing about these groups is that they are made up of citizens from across the political spectrum, veterans and non-veterans who simply care for and appreciate the men and women that serve in and fight the wars that no-one else can be bothered to fight.

I just hope and pray that the end in Afghanistan does not turn into an even worse historic debacle than suffered by the British or the Soviets during their ill fated campaigns. Of course the politicians, pundits, preachers and the defense contractors, banks and lobbyists will find a way to profit from this no matter how many more troops are killed, wounded or injured and how badly it affects military personnel or their families. After all, to quote Smedley Butler, “war is a racket.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

1 Comment

Filed under Foreign Policy, iraq,afghanistan, News and current events, Political Commentary

In Praise of Nurses

Last week, May 5th-12th was National Nurses Week as well as the 104th Anniversary of the Navy Nurse Corps. Nurses are the lynchpin of medicine. Physicians are incredibly important and as a society we usually ascribe more value to them. However in many case, if not most it is a nurse who is the person that does the heavy lifting in the care of the sick. Before the modern era of nursing was often done by Nuns or by women that volunteered to assist military physicians.

It was in the quagmire of the Crimean War that Florence Nightingale brought about the modern era of nursing, even though physicians and hospitals often saw the women who served as nurses as inexpensive help to care for the sick. Despite this nursing became more and more professional and technical over the years without ever losing that particular calling of ministering to the afflicted that is the essence of their history. In the later 1800s the first nursing schools were established and in 1901 New Zealand was the first country to have Registered Nurses. In 1903 North Carolina became the first US State to require the licensure of nurses.  The US Navy Nurse Corps was established n 1908 with nurses being commissioned as officers and assigned to Naval Hospitals.

However it was the needs of war that brought nursing into the modern age where it is formally recognized as a key component of Health Care. In the World Wars nursing came into its own as a profession. Nurses were among the US personnel that endured the initial onslaught of the war in the Pacific. The Army and Navy Nurses that served and cared for the wounded, starving and emaciated Soldiers, Martines and Sailors on Bataan and Corregidor were heroes in their own right.

The profession of nursing continues to grow and the women and men who serve as nurses at various levels, from the most highly trained Clinical Nurse Specialists and Nurse Practitioners, or other highly specialized Register Nurses many of whom have advanced degrees including doctorates down to the most humble Licensed Vocational (or Practical) Nurse and even Certified Nursing Aides. These women and men are the backbone of medicine and despite the long hours, the years of training and certification required of them, many people don’t fully appreciate them until they become sick and are cared for by these wonderful people.

I have been blessed to have known and worked with many amazing nurses in the course of my career as a Medical Service Corps Officer in the Army and as a Chaplain in the military and civilian settings. As I wrote yesterday I lost a dear friend and co-worker, Commander Marsha Hanly a Navy Nurse who died unexpectedly yesterday. Marsha exemplified the best of nursing and thank God there are so many more like her who serve so well, and care so well for those committed to their. Likewise many a physician and chaplain for that matter owe a great deal to nurses.

God Bless all Nurses tonight.

Peace

Padre Steve+

2 Comments

Filed under healthcare, History

Too Young: In Memory Commander Marsha Hanly, Nurse Corps US Navy

LCDR Marsha Hanly caring for a patient in the ICU of the USNS Comfort 

“Nursing is an art:  and if it is to be made an art, it requires an exclusive devotion as hard a preparation, as any painter’s or sculptor’s work; for what is the having to do with dead canvas or dead marble, compared with having to do with the living body, the temple of God’s spirit?  It is one of the Fine Arts:  I had almost said, the finest of Fine Arts.”  Florence Nightingale

This afternoon I was stunned to learn that a very dear co-worker and friend from Naval Medical Center Portsmouth had unexpectedly passed away. Marsha Hanly was a ICU Nurse who arrived at Portsmouth about the same time I did in 2008. She had just completed a Master of Science in Nursing at Duke with a specialization in Adult Critical Care nursing.  Marsha exemplified all that is good in nursing and was as devoted to her calling as Florence Nightingale described.

I remember what seem like countless times where I stood beside Marsha as she cared for critically ill or dying patients, comforted their families and helped the other nurses and physicians in the ICU. I also cannot count the number of times that she stood by me as I prayed for patients as they lay in critical condition. She was an outstanding nurse and Naval Officer as well as one of the most kind and compassionate people that I have ever met. She was devoted to her husband and children and to the welfare of those committed to her care. She was funny and joyful person who was real. She was a committed Christian, wife, mother and fantastic nurse. She could laugh and she could cry, she really loved and cared for those that she served.

Last year Marsha deployed on the Hospital Ship USNS Comfort as part of Operation Continuing Promise, a medical mission to the Caribbean Sea, South and Central America. While deployed she was selected for Commander in the Nurse Corps. She returned late in the Summer and in November was diagnosed with Cancer. She underwent successful surgery which left her cancer free but in need of Chemotherapy to ensure that she remained so. She returned to work in late April and began her Chemo this week. Her last post on her Caring Bridge blog ( http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/mahanly )talked about how she described what she believed would be the course of her Chemotherapy, side effects and how long it would take. She was looking to the future and even to this weekend with her children. I don’t know the circumstances of her death but imagine that it was a sudden and catastrophic event related to the Chemo in some way.

When I read the news on Facebook, where I keep up with my friends from that ICU as well as so many others in my life I was stunned. As I read the comments of her fellow nurses and my former co-workers, nurses and physicians alike I felt like I had been kicked in the gut. I couldn’t believe it because I simply expected this otherwise healthy, young and vibrant woman to sail through Chemo and completely recover. I am so stunned that I cannot believe that his has happened.

This is one of those times where I ask God “why?” I have to admit that I cannot understand this and I have a hard time with the whole “God’s will” thing when things like this happen to people like Marsha. People that devote their lives to caring for others and raising their young children.  I grieve for her husband and kids, I remember her bringing them in to work sometimes.  I pray for her husband Scott and their two young

Likewise I grieve for those who knew and loved her in the Portsmouth ICU. For those that have not been closely connected with those that labor in critical care specialties like a busy ICU there are few places where people bond so closely. Critical Care Nurses and Physicians work in a surreal world where life is constantly hanging in the balance and as a result have a camaraderie that is much like combat soldiers, police and firefighters. This is not just a job, it is a calling, in a sense a sacred vocation. Marsha exemplified the best of her profession and what it is to be a friend.

Even though I left Portsmouth in October 2010 to come to Camp LeJeune I still count the staff there as my friends. We went through a lot together. Many of them were there for me when I was going through difficult times as their Chaplain. Marsha was one of those people. I cannot imagine her not being there when I go back at some point or not seeing her serving and caring for Sailors, Marines and their families somewhere else.

Last week we honored Nurses during National Nursing Week and the anniversary of the founding of the Navy Nurse Corps. Marsha was the best of both. The Nurse Corps has suffered a terrible loss.

Marsha touched so many lives. I know that my former co-workers and friends at Portsmouth are taking this hard. It doesn’t seem right and it doesn’t seem fair. I have a hard time theologizing deaths of people like Marsha. While I am sure that the Lord has her with him I don’t understand her loss here.  While I fail to understand I do still pray that God must have a purpose and I do give thanks for the honor and privilege of knowing Marsha and working with her. In times like this I find some comfort in the prayers of the liturgy and find this one from the Book of Common Prayer to be one that I can pray in good conscience even when I struggle.

“O God of grace and glory, we remember before you this day our sister Marsha. We thank you for giving her to us, her family and friends, to know and to love as a companion on our earthly pilgrimage. In your boundless compassion, console us who mourn. Give us faith to see in death the gate of eternal life, so that in quiet confidence we may continue our course on earth, until, by your call, we are reunited with those who have gone before; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

Rest in Peace Marsha. Rest in peace.

Padre Steve+

19 Comments

Filed under faith, remembering friends, shipmates and veterans