Back in the day when I was a young Army Medical Service Corps Brigade Personnel Officer, I had a Brigade Commander whose moniker was “Let’s not do dumb things.” The man was a really good commanding officer. He was down to earth and cared about the troops being trained at our command. He was a common sense kind of commander and was not terribly difficult to work for. One day however my C.O. came in with stitches on his head. It turned out that my C.O. and broken his own rule. He was out with the Undersecretary of Defense for Health Affairs, the Army Surgeon General, a couple of other American Generals as well as a host of Colonels, hosting a bunch of Chinese Generals for a diplomatic-military dinner. My C.O. who was a beer drinker decided to do the hard stuff that night. He got flat assed drunk, made vulgar and derogatory comments to the Chinese guests and then went to the head (latrine, bathroom, WC, or powder room for non-Navy types) fell, hit his head on a urinal and knocked himself out. That mornig he was fired. Not by our Commanding General, not by the Major Command, or even by the Army Chief of Staff. No he was fired by then SECDEF Casper Weinberger. When fired he was 2 months short of completing his command tour. His reputation was destroyed and he retired quietly and without fanfare a few months later.
Now I know that we all are inclined to do dumb things at one time or another. This is due to my doctrine of “the Total Stupidity of Man.” Sometimes the dumb things that we do are simply minor infractions which Phil the Prince of Insufficient Light will darn us to Heck as punishment. Other times they really get us into big time serious trouble. Sometimes we do dumb things and somehow get away with them either because no-one noticed or because someone was gracious enough not to blast us out of the water for them. Sometimes being lucky is better than being good. The key here is not to keep doing them until they are noticed and when we get blasted out of the water.
This was the case for me when I was a young Army Chaplain. Back when I got thrown out of the Army Chaplain Officer Advanced Course, I can honestly say that I did a number of dumb things. The consequences were relatively minor although embarrassing and I am forever grateful to Chaplain Rich Whaley for bailing my sorry ass out of the bind which I found myself. Damn, you say. Padre Steve got thrown out of the Chaplain advanced course. Yes he did and it was dumb. You see I was selected to go to the advanced course when I was still an SS Officer. No, no, no, not Waffen-SS, but the Army Staff Specialist branch. It is a branch set up for officers training to be Chaplains or JAG Corps. In seminary I had already done the Chaplain Officer Basic Course where I was the assistant course leader for 159 chaplains and seminarians. I had not come off active duty too long before this and was still very undeveloped as a clergyman. I was however not far from being a Company Commander and Brigade Staff Officer. My emotions often overflowed as I saw chaplains do things that in the rest of the Army that you would be crucified for doing, much like Jesus without any salvific purpose. Once in the Basic Course I had a young seminarian tell me that he didn’t have to obey orders from the student chain of command because his class adviser, a Major in the Chaplain Corps told him so. He snottily told me that Chaplain so and so was a Major and that I was only a Captain. Resiting the temptation to rip the young man’s throat from his neck, I said “We’ll see about that Lieutenant. I then went up threw my cover across the milquetoast Chaplain’s office, blasted him on the chain of command and how it worked. I told him in pretty rough language that he was going to get people killed. As I ranted he tried to hide behind his desk and others in the outer office dove for cover I stopped and said: “Thanks so much sir, now I have to go to confession. “ I then went and told Rich that “I cussed out so and so.” Rich stammered, “You did what?” I then explained the situation that Chaplain so and so had told a Lieutenant that he didn’t have to obey orders from the student chain of command. Rich then said “He did what?” and told me that he would handle it. He made the incident go away. That too was a dumb thing, I should have gone to Rich in the first place, but I was young and dumb. Anyway, moving on there was also the time in a class that another seminarian had me so pissed that I stormed out of the classroom and was in the hallway ripping my pin on rank off my collar. My dear friend Father Jim Bowman who commiserated with me the entire length of the course, and who I still stay in contact with grabbed me. Father Bowman asked: “What the hell do you think that you are doing?” I “Yelled back, I’m done, this isn’t the Army that I joined!” Jim jammed my collar devices back into my collar and said, “You can’t leave.” I said “Why?” Jim said “Because I can’t leave and you won’t either.” It was like Stripes where Bill Murray tried to escape boot camp and Harold Ramis tacked him and kept him from leaving. I think that they exchanged similar words.
Boy I chased a rabbit there…going back to the Advanced course. I was still an SS Officer, not that kind of SS Officer but the Staff Specialist like I told you before. So anyway, I showed up orders in hand as well as a letter from the previous Director of Training signed on behalf of the previous Commandant of the School authorizing me to be there. Unfortunately for me there was a new sheriff in town. The new Commandant denied me entrance into the course. His reasoning was that though my Chaplain paperwork was sitting on a desk in DC awaiting the final stamp of approval that since there was a chance that my application could be denied that he didn’t want me there. Who knows, maybe he got wind of my previous antics. I was pissed. Actually I think that most of of us who attended the Chaplain School spent the better part of our time pissed about something. However, instead of being smart, I threw a Billy Martin type of home plate argument and was tossed. Thankfully they didn’t stop me from becoming a Chaplain and they allowed me to come back for the course a couple of months later. This was likely again due to the intervention of Rich Whaley. Rich saw in me potential to do good. I was like “Wild Thing” in Major League. Rich helped get me straightened out. A couple of years later I was promoted to Major. Then I took it off to come in the Navy in 1999. The point is that I did a number of seriously dumb things that could have gotten me punished under the UCMJ and or thrown out of the Army. I’m grateful as hell that Rich was there to save my ass. A lot of people don’t get that kind of support and protection and do get hammered. I was lucky beyond belief. I lived to tell about it. Many don’t. My job now is to help young guys and gals not step on the same land mines that I did.
I’m not going to go through the list of idiotic things that I have seen other Chaplains do in the Army and Navy. I could but that would that would be unseemly. What I will mention, based on my experience is that I had to learn a lot the hard way that I hope to keep young Chaplains and other Officers from trying them out themselves. I don’t like to see fellow chaplains and officers do things that embarrass them, their service or hurt their life and careers. In the case of chaplains, God and the Church, or God and whatever religious organization that they belong. Heck I won’t even put a Jesus Fish on the back of my car for fear that God might get the blame for something that I do on the road.
However, doing dumb things is not limited to chaplains or the clergy, though we do such things quite well thank you. Others do them too. Politicians, sports stars, business leaders and others do them as well. I’ve noted a number of ways that I have done dumb things. At the same time I hope to have learned from them. I will and I’m sure that you my readers know that we will all do dumb things. I’m not a fan of Calvin’s “Total Depravity of man” theology but I am pretty sure that there is a “Total Stupidity of man” which you can make a great case for from the triad of Scripture, Tradition and Reason. In fact I am positive that the Deity Herself even tonight has kept me from writing some really dumb things.
So let’s not do dumb things. Pray for me a sinner,