Monthly Archives: January 2013

Well Golly! Gomer Pyle Gets Married and A-Rod Gets Outed Again

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Surprise, surprise, surprise! 

What a day. America’s favorite funny fictional Marine Gomer Pyle, officially came out of the closet and married his battle buddy of the past 38 years. The marriage occurred in the newly gay state of Washington. The marriage came just five years after he received an honorary promotion to the rank of Corporal from Marine Lieutenant General John F Goodman and about a year and a half after the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell rule was ended.

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Now, Pyle’s decision to marry doesn’t offend me at all because it has nothing to do with baseball and something happened today in baseball that did offend me. Alex Rodriguez, sometimes in better days known as “A-Rod” and after his initial admission of using Performance Enhancing Drugs, or PEDs as “A-Roid” and by his HGH and other PED dealer Anthony Bosch as “Cacique” appears to have have been outed by the Miami New Times. The evidence appears damning.

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No A-Rod wasn’t outed as a homosexual, but rather for using PEDs after he told God and everybody that he wasn’t the old “young and dumb” A-Roid of 2001-2003 but the older smarter and cleaner A-Rod. He told Jeff Passan in response to Passan’s question “have you used performance enhancing drugs since 2003?” “I have not. I would not.”

But the allegations and suspicions dragged on as Rodriguez battled injuries and saw his on field performance plummet. Today’s bombshell tore apart the web of lies that he surrounded himself with during the interregnum of 2003 and today. It was a period that he signed a monster 10 year 275 million dollar deal with the Yankees. Now, mid-way through that contract, with A-Rod still due 114 dollars the Yankees, are scrambling to figure out a way to unload him and his contract.

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I don’t feel sorry for them. They made the deal with Rodriguez knowing of past allegations and had to deal with the fallout when he admitted using them in 2009. The Yankee method of getting greedy to obtain the best ballplayers that they could afford blew up in their faces. Now they have to deal with it, which since I am an Orioles fan I say, good on them.

I hope that Jim Nabors does well. He has always been a decent and caring person who I have admired. Heck I remember hearing allegations that he was gay back in the 1970s and it was like so what.

A-Rod on the other hand was probably one of the most talented players of his generation. He was a high school phenom that the scouts could not say enough about. He could hit for power and average, he was graceful in the infield and was fast. A few years ago when he reached the 600 home run plateau people were predicting that he would break the all-time home run record set by fellow accused PED user Barry Bonds. But for whatever reason that was not enough. He had to jump into the boat of scandal and cheating a second time, knowing that baseball, after years of turning a blind eye to it was scrutinizing everyone and that the media was watching. And to compound his problems he went to a man already known for dispensing PEDs for his fix. That wasn’t smart. Even less smart was issuing a statement denying it again because no one believes him anyway.

I don’t know why he had to go back to the well again after telling everyone that he was clean. Perhaps is was the desperation that he felt from his decreasing performance and injuries compounded by the hubris that he would not be caught, then… Shazam!

What more can be said?

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Baseball, Loose thoughts and musings, marriage and relationships, News and current events

Irrelevant Incidents and Un-winnable Wars: Thoughts on Returning from War 5 Years Later

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Just shy of five years ago in February 2008 I returned from Iraq after a tour with our advisors to the Iraqi Army and Security forces in the far reaches of Al Anbar Province. I flew back to the United States on a chartered flight with about 200 other men and women, individual augments from the US Navy who had served in Iraq and Afghanistan. We had a few days in Kuwait to “decompress” and then were on our way home. Those that conducted our training in that time had been in Kuwait, at large bases, separated from home but enjoying creature comforts that made it feel that we were in “Little America.”

Our aircraft stopped at Ramstein Air Base in Germany for a crew change and refueling. While there the aircraft was filled to its capacity with servicemen and their families returning from Germany to the United States. Crying babies and screaming kids greeted us as we boarded the aircraft. Most of us had not slept in the 24 hours before we left Kuwait and were exhausted. I was wearing my last serviceable uniform.

The remaining part of the flight from Germany to Philadelphia was difficult. The new arrivals were coming from a peacetime world and we were coming our of combat zones, often isolated even from other Americans. When we landed we went from our aircraft, got our civilian tickets, clad in our desert camouflage and dragging our gear we were made to removed our belts and boots by the TSA agents. It was obvious from we had come but instead of a welcome we we treated as potential hijackers. We each flew back to our respective bases on different flights into the arms of waiting families that loved us but did not understand us and units, who had not shared our experience simply sent us back to work without recognition while those that had not deployed griped about how hard things were.

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Today I was doing some counseling with a sailor and as we talked about life and the war a passage from Bernard Fall’s classic account of the French war in Indochina, Street Without Joy, came to mind. It reminded me of our experience returning from war, which could be seen as seemingly irrelevant incidents, but which pointed to a larger problem. It was so powerful that I decided to post much of it here.

In October 1953, Fall a journalist was covering the French war in Indochina. In between his stints with various French and allied units fighting the Viet Minh he made a travel stop over in Cambodia. He wrote of it:

“Sometimes, there occurs an almost irrelevant incident which, in the light of later developments, seems to have been a sign of the gods, a dreamlike warning which if heeded, could have changed fate- or so it seems.

One such incident occurred to me in October 1953 in Cambodia, at Siem-Reap, not far from the fabulous temples of Angkor-Wat…

A few French officers were still around, mainly as advisors to the newly-independent Cambodian Army….

When I went to the Transportation Office that afternoon at 1530, the Cambodian orderly told me apologetically that “le Lieutenant est alle au mess jouer au tennis avec le Capitaine” and that they might well stay there all afternoon. Since the convoy which I was expected to catch was supposed to leave at dawn, I decided to stroll over to the mess in order to get my travel documents signed there.

The Siem-Reap officers’ mess was a pleasant and well kept place; with its wide Cambodian-type verandahs, its parasol-shaded tables and the well-manicured lawns and beautifully red-sanded tennis court, it was an exact replica of all the other colonial officers’ messes from Port Said to Singapore, Saigon or even Manila, wherever the white man had set his foot in the course of building his ephemeral empires.

I found the two officers at the tennis court, in gleaming white French square-bottomed shorts…matching Lacoste tennis shirts and knee-long socks…

Since the men were in the midst of a set and I had little else to do, I set down at a neighboring table after a courteous bow to the ladies and watched the game, gladly enjoying the atmosphere of genteel civility and forgetting for a moment the war…

Then emerged from the verandah a soldier in French uniform. His small stature, brown skin and Western-type features showed him to be a Cambodian. He wore the blue field cap with the golden anchor of the Troupes Coloniales- the French “Marines”- and three golden chevrons of a master-sergeant. On his chest above the left breast of his suntan regulation shirt were three rows of multi-colored ribbons: croix de guerre with four citations, campaign ribbons with clasps of France’s every colonial campaign since the Moroccan pacification of 1926; the Italian campaign of 1943 and the drive to the Rhine of 1945. In his left hand, he carried several papers crossed diagonally with a tri-colored ribbon; travel orders, like mine, which also awaited the signature of one of the officers.

He maintained in the shadow of the verandah’s awnings until the officers interrupted their game and had joined the two women with their drinks, then strode over in a measured military step, came stiffly to attention in a military salute, and handed the orders for himself and his squad to the captain. The captain looked up in surprise, still with a half smile on his face from the remark made previously. His eyes opened suddenly as he understood that he was being interrupted. Obviously, he was annoyed but not really furious.

“Sergeant, you can see that I’m busy. Please wait until I have time to deal with your travel orders. Don’t worry. You will have them in time for the convoy.”

The sergeant stood stiffly at attention, some of his almost white hair glistening in the sun where it peeked from under the cap, his wizened face betraying no emotion whatsoever.

“A vous ordres, mon Capitaine.” A sharp salute, a snappy about face. The incident was closed, the officers had their drink and now resumed their game.

The sergeant resumed his watch near where the Cambodian messboys were following the game, but this time squatted down on his haunches, a favorite Cambodian position of repose which would leave most Europeans with partial paralysis for several hours afterwards. Almost without moving his head, he attentively followed the tennis game, his travel orders still tightly gripped in his left hand.

The sun began to set behind the trees of the garden and a slight cooling breeze rose from the nearby Lake Tonle-Sap, Cambodia’s inland sea. It was 1700.

All of a sudden, there rose from behind the trees, from the nearby French camp, the beautiful bell-clear sounds sounds of a bugle playing “lower the flag”- the signal, in which the French Army, marks the end of the working day as the colors are struck.

Nothing changed at the tennis court; the two officers continued to play their set, the women continued their chatter, and the messboys maintained their silent vigil.

Only the old sergeant moved. He was now standing stiffly at attention, his right hand raised to the cap in a flat-palmed salute of the French Army, facing in the direction from which the bugle tones came; saluting, as per regulations, France’s tricolor hidden behind the trees. The rays of the setting sun shone upon the immovable brown figure, catching the gold of the anchor and of the chevrons and one of the tiny metal stars of his ribbons.

Something very warm welled up in me. I felt like running over to the little Cambodian who had spent all of his life fighting for my country, and apologizing to him for my countrymen here who didn’t care about him, and for my countrymen in France who didn’t even care about their countrymen fighting in Indochina…

And in one single blinding flash, I knew that we were going to lose the war.”

Bernard Fall, Street Without Joy, Fourth edition, May 1967, Stackpole Books Harrisburg PA, pp. 291-294

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I hadn’t thought about the passage in a long time, until it came to me today. When I read it I began to understand the feelings that I had in 2008 but could not comprehend. The fact is that a very few men and women, a small segment of the population, less than one half of one percent of Americans have been fighting the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan while the rest of the country, even parts of the military have been on the sidelines.

I realized when I came home that those that crammed the families from Germany onto our plane to save a few dollars, the TSA airport security agents and some of those in the units that we returned to didn’t understand. In fact it was as if they were not at war. I think I began to realize at that point that no matter how ardently that some of us served that our sacrifices would not produce the planned intent of those that sent us to war. I knew at that point, but couldn’t quite put my finger on it that we could not win this war. A war that only a portion of the military, was fighting while the bulk of the population lived in peace without any “skin in the game.”

We are so much like the French, the British and every other colonial or imperial power that it is frightening. We claim not to be an empire but we act like empires have throughout history. We place our footprint large of the globe, creating bastions of American culture in the midst of lands far different than us. Then we send a small percentage of our people to fight the wars that our nation’s leaders as well American and multinational businesses deem to be in our national interest, especially natural resources and commerce.

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As the expeditionary forces fight the wars the bulk of the public is shielded from the horror of it. Many people are sympathetic to the war fighters but because they have not served are ignorant of what we face. Beguiled by the slick, high tech media presentations in the news and entertainment industry of war; they do not understand the cost. The representations in the media make war another spectator sport. At least the news no longer shows a nightly “body count” as was done in Vietnam.

Marine Major General Smedley Butler, a man awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor twice wrote shortly after his retirement in 1932:

“What is the cost of war? what is the bill? Major General Smedley Butler wrote: “This bill renders a horrible accounting. Newly placed gravestones. Mangled bodies. Shattered minds. Broken hearts and homes. Economic instability. Depression and all of its attendant miseries. Back -breaking taxation for generations and generations. For a great many years as a soldier I had a suspicion that war was a racket; not only until I retired to civilian life did I fully realize it….”

It is amazing what going to war will do to you. This is especially true when you can recognize what too few people see or even want to even think about. But then why should we expect anything different? There was no national call to arms after 9-11-2001 and our leaders told the people to do what they normally would do, and most importantly to “go shopping.”

Pray for Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under iraq,afghanistan, middle east, Military, national security, News and current events, Tour in Iraq

Challenger: 27 Years Later

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“We risk great peril if we kill off this spirit of adventure, for we cannot predict how and in what seemingly unrelated fields it will manifest itself. A nation that loses its forward thrust is in danger, and one of the most effective ways to retain that thrust is to keep exploring possibilities. The sense of exploration is intimately bound up with human resolve, and for a nation to believe that it is still committed to a forward motion is to ensure its continuance.” James A. Michener 1979

It is still hard to believe. But then Space Shuttles don’t blow up every day, but the Space Shuttle Challenger just beginning mission STS-51L on that cold and sunny Florida morning.

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Challenger’s crew

I guess that events like the explosion of Challenger remain with those that viewed them because they were unusual, historic and most of all, tragic. Yes we remember events of triumph as well, and they too make an imprint on our memories, but tragedies that impact a nation and the world touch us in a different and often more powerful way. I think this is because they expose to us our own mortality and vulnerability to things that we cannot control.

I know that I, like many others of my generation had grown up with the triumphs of the NASA manned space program. We had seen the incredible success of the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo programs.  Success and triumph were associated with the program. Even the tragic fire which consumed the command module of the Apollo I mission on January 27th 1967 during a launch pad test killing Astronauts Gus Grissom, Edward White and Roger Chaffee did little to quench our belief in the program.

In 1972 as the Apollo program wound down a new program was developed to be a more affordable means to continue space travel and scientific study. The program became the Space Shuttle program built around reusable orbiters of which Challenger was the third built for the program.

By the time Challenger was being prepared for STS-51-L we had become to Shuttle missions being routine. NASA was launching a mission every two to three months.  Challenger was the second of two missions in January 1986, her sister Columbia having returned from a 6 day mission just 10 days before her launch.

This familiarity with the routine of the Shuttle program and expectation of success made many of us forget that space travel is inherently dangerous and that complex vehicles like the Shuttle were not indestructible.

The STS-51-L mission was to be the 10th for the Challenger in under three years of service. The mission had been delayed due to weather on the 22nd and rescheduled several times due to weather or in one case due to problems with an exterior access hatch.

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Challenger takes off on January 28th 1986

The morning of the launch the weather was predicted to be at or below the 31 degree minimum safe launch threshold. Engineers from the builder of the Challenger’s Solid Rocket Boosters (SRBs) Morton Thiokol contacted NASA with their concerns that the O-Rings which sealed the joints on the SRBs which they believed might not seal properly.  NASA engineers argued that even if the primary O-Ring failed that the secondary O-Ring would be sufficient even though this was an unproven theory. Eventually Thiokol management overruled their engineers influenced by NASA management which demanded that Thiokol prove that it was not safe to launch rather than prove that it was safe to launch. Considering it was a “Criticality 1” component meaning that there was no backup in case of a failure of both joints. It was a clear violation of protocol but the later Rogers Commission would show that NASA managers frequently ignored or evaded safety regulations to meet their very ambitious mission schedule. This decision doomed Challenger and her crew of seven.

On the 28th of January 1986 I was a young commander of the 557th Medical Company (Ambulance) in Wiesbaden Germany. I had heard about the scheduled launch of the Shuttle but paid it little regard, despite the presence if Christa McAuliffe, the first “teacher in space.” That evening was hoping to close out the day by 7PM which was early for me as well as most officers in the 68th Medical Group and 3rd Support Command of what we commonly called the Imperial Army on the Rhine, the US Army Europe.

I had a stack of work in my inbox, NCO evaluations, criminal investigations, maintenance reports and upcoming missions, not to mention trying to get a head start on my Unit Status Report. Most of my soldiers except those on duty had finished for the day.

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Challenger’s last moments

About 20 minutes to Six my senior duty person at the company, the Charge of Quarters or CQ in Army parlance came to my door which was at the far end of the hallway from where the CQ was stationed. Specialist Lisa Daley was a solid medic and outstanding soldier who had a great personality that caused her to be well liked in the company.  She came to my door and blurted out “Lieutenant Dundas! The Space Shuttle just blew up!”

I looked up from my desk and I remember my words to this day. “Specialist Daley, Space Shuttles don’t blow up.” She then said, “No sir they do, it’s on TV right now!”

I was stunned by her pronouncement. I got up and followed her as she told me what had happened. While I reached the CQ desk I saw the small television which she and her assistant CQ were watching. There was a live feed from CNN replaying the disaster, the twin plumes of smoke careening across the screen marking the spot where 73 seconds into the flight Challenger exploded. I stood there in shock, the images of the divergent plumes of smoke being etched into my mind.

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Atlantis landing on her final mission

It is hard to forget. 17 years later I was waiting for the arrival of General Peter Pace, then the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to arrive at Naval Station Mayport Florida for the Battle of Hue City Memorial weekend hosted by the USS HUE CITY. I got to the ship early and while drinking coffee in the Wardroom saw the news of the breakup of the Space Shuttle Columbia. It brought back the images of the Challenger disaster. General Pace was delayed as the Joint Chiefs and National Security Council held an emergency meeting and arrived several hours late and when he arrived he spoke of the Challenger disaster along with the Columbia.

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The Shuttle program ended with the final mission of the Shuttle Atlantis in July 2011. As one that still dreams of the stars and manned space exploration I do hope that NASA is able to return to manned space missions and go beyond what we have done before. I hope that future programs including the Orion program and maybe manned missions to Mars and beyond can fulfill that ever hopeful opening dialogue of Star Trek: “to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.” 

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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Filed under History, News and current events, star trek, traumatic national events

Remembering the Holocaust: The Ordinary Men of Wansee and Two Hours that Doomed a Race

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“Monsters exist, but they are too few in number to be truly dangerous. More dangerous are the common men, the functionaries ready to believe and to act without asking questions.”  Primo Levi

Today was the International Holocaust Remembrance Day. It was on January 27th 1945 that the Nazi death camp called Auschwitz, in Poland was liberated by the Red Army.

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Auschwitz began as a work camp, notoriously harsh in its treatment of its prisoners but a work camp, picked because of its proximity to rail lines and isolation. By the summer of 1941 it was the largest camp in the Concentration Camp system. Within months the process of turning Auschwitz into a factory of mass murder began, quite accidentally when members of the camp staff discovered that a chemical used for the delousing of barracks known as Zyklon-B also worked on large animals, and therefore people.  It was tested on Russian and Polish POWs in September 1941.

As the Nazi desire for efficient extermination grew and early death factories showed their limitations and the “experiments” at Auschwitz resulted in it being selected as a death camp. The camp was expanded and its first gas chamber, the former camp morgue began its operations in February 1942. Other more massive chambers were built, chambers that could hold up to 2000 victims per cycle. By the time the operation was shut down in the weeks leading up to the camp’s liberation Rudolf Höss the Commandant of Auschwitz estimated that 2.5 million people, mostly Jews were exterminated in it. Höss boasted d that his camp could exterminate 10,000 people in a 24 hour period. Other estimates are lower, but still in the millions.

Höss, and other functionaries such Adolf Eichmann, who coordinated the massive effort to exterminate the Jews of Europe following the Wansee Conference of January 20th 1942 approached their jobs dispassionately. This was a common attitude among the civil service, military and police officials that oversaw the Holocaust. They simply did their jobs and followed the law.

Hannah Arendt wrote of Eichmann:

“The trouble with Eichmann was precisely that so many were like him, and that the many were neither perverted nor sadistic, that they were, and still are, terribly and terrifyingly normal. From the viewpoint of our legal institutions and of our moral standards of judgment, this normality was much more terrifying than all the atrocities put together.”

This was what made the Holocaust committed against the Jews of Europe by Nazi Germany a phenomenon different than other genocides. Many of the perpetrators were not driven by centuries old hate as in the Balkans, tribal blood lust as occurred in Rwanda, or the products of Soviet Communism or Communist Chines Maoist regimes.

It was the racial ideology of the Nazis which deemed the Jews and other non-Aryans to be sub-human. That ideology undergirded the German treatment of the Jews, and the conduct of the war, especially in the East. But the execution of the plan required the bureaucratic, administrative, technical and legal skills brought to the table by ordinary men. Men who sought promotion, advancement and economic security for their families. Individually many would have never killed, but in their positions they ran the rail network, the factories, the banking and finance industries and supported the war effort, most not thinking much about the evil that they abetted or if they did finding a way, be it social, scientific, religious, patriotic, legal or simply in the name of efficiency.

That is what makes the evil committed by them so terrifying. It is the product of “normal” people in an advanced Western nation. Make no bones about it, their actions were evil. They aided and abetted the genocide of the Jews, the disabled, other “sub-human” races, particularly Slavs, as well as those that they deemed less than suitable.

This evening I watched the movie Conspiracy which is about the two hour long Wansee Conference headed by Reinhard Heydrich and organized by Eichmann. That conference put the representatives of competing agencies, and in the case of the SS, agencies within agencies together and brought about their cooperation in the execution of the Final Solution.

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The film is chilling in the ordinariness of the men involved. civil servants, party officials, they were the men that did the day to day administration of the necessary functions of the Reich. Some were horrified at the potentiality of the effects of what Heydrich referred as “evacuations” entailed. They understood that it meant the extermination of the Jews. Some were concerned about the military and logistical aspects, others in how such actions squared with the German law, especially the Nuremberg Laws, while still others were concerned with diplomatic relations with Germany’s allies or occupied countries and some unnerved by the fact that it would be murder. But when the conference was done, all agreed and worked together and it only took two hours.

It is important that we do not forget the Holocaust. It is also important to recognize that the instruments of that horror were on the whole “ordinary” men who as they saw it were simply doing their job. It is something that everyone needs to remember.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, nazi germany, News and current events, world war two in europe

Transitions in the Military: New Assignments

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In the Navy, as well as most military branches in the United States the officer community regardless of their specialty have branch, corps or specialty managers. These men and women work with the services and the individual officers to fill assignments. In the Navy these men and women are called “Detailers” and the process of assignments called detailing.

This afternoon I received a call from my detailer. I am coming up on my “projected Rotation Date” or PRD in October and have been negotiating for orders. The process was disrupted by some other changes in the system and I have been waiting a bit longer than normal to find out what I would be doing next.

In my last two assignments I had no choice. In 2006 the assignment that I thought I had was changed and in 2008 I was requested by name for an assignment at Naval Medical Center Portsmouth and in 2010, a year before I expected to rotate and less than a week after I had been selected for promotion to the rank of Commander I was informed that I would be assigned as the Command Chaplain at the Naval Hospital Camp Lejeune North Carolina. I have now completed most of that tour and was awaiting word.

What I wanted to do was to teach and be the Chaplain at the Joint Forces Staff college in Norfolk. It has been an assignment that I have wanted for a number of years. It combines being an instructor in Ethics for students from the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, Coast Guard and foreign officers attending the courses at the college, as well as having chapel responsibilities. However I was told a couple of months ago that the assignment was going to another chaplain. I was disappointed because it was a billet that I thought that I was uniquely qualified.

I had spent 17 1/2 years in the Army, been a company commander as well as battalion, group and brigade staff officer before becoming a chaplain. Additionally my military and civilian education which include the Marine Corps Command and Staff College and a Masters Degree in military history and some rather unusual assignments including a joint tour in Iraq as chaplain to American advisors in Al Anbar province as a member of the Iraq Assistance Group, made me, at least in my opinion an ideal choice.

However as of a couple of months ago the billet was already filled. Thus I had no idea what assignment that I would get and since there were very few assignments available in my detailing “window.”

I was expecting a call in the next week or so, but I did not expect the detailer to tell me that I would get the Joint Forces Staff College job. I am happy to get it. It will mean that I will return to the Norfolk area in the September-October time frame. The position will allow me to teach in a very interesting setting as well as pastor the chapel congregation.   It will also allow me to continue my academic education and writing. It will also allow me to be at home after a three year tour away from my wife Judy. For that I am most grateful.

Since it is a non-deploying billet it probably will not help my chances too much to make Captain in a view years, but that is not my goal. My goal is to be at the place where I can do the most good, take advantage of my skills and experience and which will challenge me to continue to grow as a human being, priest, chaplain and Naval officer.

It is good news and I am happy that the detailers and senior leadership honored my request for the assignment. The timing allows me to finish well where I currently serve and contribute the the continuing mission of healing the minds, bodies and spirits of Marines and Sailors, including those wounded, ill or injured in war at Camp LeJeune.

It is a good day.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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An Interesting Encounter with a Political Party Campaign Staffer: Conversation, Drinks and Offers of Sex paid for by the GOP

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“I’m Cam Brady and I seductively approve this message.” Cam Brady (Will Ferrell the Campaign)

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In the movie The Campaign Will Ferrell played a North Carolina Congressman named “Cam Brady” running for re-election. When I saw the movie I laughed so hard at different points that I thought I was going to hurt myself.

Tonight I was out having dinner and a beer at my local haunt near the Island Hermitage and I met a man who was sitting next to my usual gang of locals. They introduced me to him and he to me and after he found out that I was in the military her told the bartender, Grace to put my drink on his tab. I am not one to pass up a beer so I was most gracious. He began to talk and tell me about his occupation, a political campaign consultant for various Republican candidates in North Carolina and Virginia.

That does not bother me a bit, so long as a person is nice to me and buys my beer. I do not pick friends based on their political, religious or social views, but sometimes I will balk at friendships with Los Angeles Dodgers’ or USC Trojans fans. Something to do with me being a San Francisco Giants fan and quasi UCLA Bruin alumnus since I was commissioned through that university’s Army ROTC program. Even so I will make exceptions at times even in these cases. People are people and if God loves them I do the best that I can to love them as well.

Tonight was on of the more fascinating encounters that I have had in a while. My new friend at the bar, who I will call “Cam” to protect his identity had obviously had a couple of drinks too many before I arrived. My local friends, who all knew him were like me being polite, even though he was a bit on the obnoxious but friendly side. Before I knew it I was treated to Cam’s views on President Obama, Hilary Clinton, gays in the military, support for the troops, and gun control. The last of which he felt the need to show me his NRA membership card to demonstrate his credentials of where he fell on the issue.

Again, if someone is friendly I really don’t care what their politics or religion are as anyone that knows me can testify.  So I carefully listened to him and decided not to go into any confrontation mode. It would have been unseemly, especially since I was drinking the beer that he had just put on his tab. I am not ungracious nor do I want to create any kind of scene.

As the conversation went on he showed me pictures of him on his smart phone with various political figures including the new governor of North Carolina, the late Senator Jesse Helms and failed senatorial candidate and Fox News commentator Oliver North. I actually thought that was kind of cool, I have pictures of me with various diplomatic, political, military and sports figures that I hold quite dear myself.

Now this was where things got weird. He told me that he could get me anything that I wanted anywhere in the state, because we in the military deserved support. Now of course military ethics rules and regulations are strict that we cannot receive accept certain gifts or political favors. A beer is one thing, a night with call girl or escort is not. “Cam” told me that he could make that happen, and I politely refused citing that I was married and also a chaplain. He told me that my wife “didn’t need to know” and I said that it would not be appropriate for me to accept any such offer. Thankfully “Cam” did change the subject, and began to visit with one of my buddies who arrived late and the buddy on my right mentioned that “Cam” had some “issues.” I responded that “Cam” didn’t just have issues, but had the “full subscription.”

A few minutes later “Cam” began talking to me again. He mentioned a recent divorce, an ulcer that kept him from drinking hard liquor and his expectation of a political appointment to a state job from the new Governor, who he said he had worked for for a number of years. He also noted that he was a “economic” conservative and not a “social” conservative. I think that might have divined from his offer of free sex at GOP expense that he was not a “social conservative” but at least he was honest about where he sat on the political spectrum. He said that he was “center-right” and I said that I was “center-left.” It turned out that we had more to agree on than not.

We were able to maintain a civil and friendly banter during the time that he remained at the bar, and when he found that I did not agree with some of his politics it was not an issue. I told him that I didn’t need to agree with a person’s politics, religion or any other views to be their friend and and he looked at me kind of funny and then said, that “it didn’t matter who I voted for so long as I voted.” I said “after all, we’re Americans, we don’t need to agree with each other to respect that.” With that he raised his wine glass and we toasted the country and wished each other well. My friends at the bar said that I handled “Cam” very well.

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I departed with a new friendly acquaintance. As the real movie Cam Brady said: “America, Jesus, freedom.”

I love America.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Painful Lessons of Looking in the Mirror of Social Media

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I had an encounter this last weekend on a leading social media site. It was not pleasant and I waited for a couple of days to think, pray and meditate on what happen in the encounter before I decided to write about it.

It occurred on a page which is pretty popular and deals with military issues and the man that runs that page I enjoy very much. He frequently brings up very pertinent issues dealing with military issues, strategy and tactics, foreign policy and national security policy as well as social aspects of current military life.

I got involved in an debate, probably not the best thing to do because the debate had already degenerated into a pretty vicious cesspool of recriminations between pro and anti-gay rights supporters. The subject was the actions of the Officers Wives Club at Fort Bragg North Carolina to initially reject the entry of the lesbian wife of a female Army Lieutenant Colonel for membership, the subsequent court battle and the wives club’s grudging issuance of a “guest pass” to the woman.

What got me to comment was the absolutely venomous tenor of the gay rights opponents, their often obscene comments about the lesbian couple and how many self identified as Christians or supporting Christian values. It wasn’t a matter of agreeing or disagreeing about policy and interpretation of law or even the validity or sincerity of their beliefs, it was the shameful way that they demonized and dehumanized the people involved as well as those that pointed out an opposing viewpoint.

I hesitated at first but then having seen such how such clubs deal with those different from their majority of their members I wrote this comment:

“in my experience of 30 years commissioned I have found many Officers Wives Clubs to be a cesspool of gossip and self-righteousness covered with a veneer of respectableness covering up their own vanity. Most often they are the domain of white women, who do not work and historically have shunned male spouses of female officers, wives that are working professionals whose identity is not built around their husband’s achievements as well as minorities, the physically disabled or wives of officers who spent years as enlisted men. The treatment of the Lesbian wife is another chapter in officially sanctioned discrimination. Chaplain wives organizations are similar, except you can toss in the stigma of not being a Evangelical or Conservative Protestant. Wives of Chaplains that don’t fit that mould are marginalized, be they Mainline Protestants, Jews or Mormons and of course wives whose faith is different then their husband, such as a Protestant Chaplain with a Catholic wife. My view, if they want to be a private membership that excludes those that they don’t think fit in, then meet off base…”

I don’t think that my comments were off base. They actually seem to describe the history of these organizations fairly well. However, my post attracted the ire of a relatively recent Army retiree and stupidly I shot back with a flippant comment. He had already been heavily engaged in the debate and the fact that I was a Chaplain gave him all that he needed to begin tThat comment was ill advised. A Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel friend of mine noted that I shouldn’t wrestle a pig. I ignored his advice as well of the advice Judy also tried to warn me off.

My flippant comment elucidated an attack from the man that went well beyond dealing with policy, law or even faith, it became a personal attack. To him my arguments did not matter, it was a matter of not only attempting to defeat what I said but to discredit and destroy me in the process. When I attempted to build bridges to dialogue and invite him to actually get to know me, he attacked more vehemently and personally making accusations about me, my character and my beliefs. Instead of debating any of my defenses of my position, theological or constitutional he dismissed them. His characterizations and comments that were so off base and wrong that anyone who either knows me personally or reads this site regularly would know that they were absolutely false.

But the attacks wounded me and left me incredibly angry. But that was not a bad thing. They caused me they think back to a time early in my ministry when I did similar things to those whose doctrine, beliefs or practices that I believed were wrong. I was very good at it. My Chaplain Assistant who is now a relatively senior Army Chaplain used to call me a “Catholic Rush Limbaugh,” even though I was not a Roman Catholic. A very conservative and reactionary Roman Catholic journal called The New Oxford Review published two of my articles back in 1998 and 1999, which ended up getting me banned from publishing for years by my the second ranking bishop of my former church. I was accused of being “too Catholic” and the irony was that he left that church well before I was forced to leave becoming Roman Catholic and writing similar articles to mine for a major Catholic apologetics online website.

So as I said I was good at this. With precise logic I could devastate others. The man that attacked me was much like me. I was seeing my old self in a mirror and it was not a sight that I enjoyed and it tempered my remarks to the man that I made in my defense.

It seems to me that those that argue most strenuously and personally are not necessarily bad people. They are consumed with zeal. Jesus had to deal with such people during his earthly ministry and every time he left them perplexed. I am not that good at this point in doing that. I simply gave up and told my attacker to “pound sand.” Jesus was much better at ending debates like this one than me.

I felt like George Costanza of Seinfeld trying to get the last word. Not very Jesus like, but revealing to me. Revealing to the point that I was reminded of Bonhoeffer’s words that “nothing that we despise in other men is inherently absent in ourselves.” It is a hard lesson to learn and it seems that I have to learn it more times than I like. In a sense it was like looking in the mirror but seeing me more than a decade ago.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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