Forward Observer 1982
“I want to stay around longer than the pitchers who were at the top when I came into the big leagues. I don’t want to be gone and have all the old guys — Seaver, Carlton, Ryan and Sutton — still pitching. I got rid of Palmer, now I want to outlast the rest of them.” Bert Blyleven
I have come to value longevity in my career. In fact I did not plan on this when I enlisted in 1981, but I am am coming up on 28 years on the military. I enlisted in August of 1981 and was commissioned in July of 1983. In 1988 I left active duty and went to the National Guard for seminary and my Clinical Pastoral Education Residency at Parkland Memorial Hospital, the Knife and Gun club in the friendly city of Dallas Texas. I became a chaplain in 1992. I ended up resigning my commission as a Major in the Army Reserve back in 1999 to enter the Navy. I’ve been in the Navy now a bit over 10 years.
My plan back in the day was to spend 20 years or more on active duty in the Army and retire as a Lieutenant Colonel or Colonel and then go teach history or military science somewhere. Things took a very different course. The Deity Herself somehow had other plans for this at times miscreant Priest.
At the Berlin Wall, the East Side, November 1986
I can relate to Bert Blyleven’s comments. When I entered the Army in 1981 a lot of folks that I knew had been around for Vietnam and Korea. My early mentors were all Vietnam vets. I’m pretty sure that almost all of the people that I came in with are now retired or out of the service. In fact I cannot think of any of the men and women that I was commissioned with in 1983 who still are in the service. Likewise, most of the guys that were senior when I entered the Navy are either out or maybe coming up on their last tour. It is my desire like Blyleven to outlast all those guys who were Commanders and Captains when I came in ten years ago. I like this longevity thing. I play hard so to speak and love what I do. It is kind of like, well heck; it is getting a chance to do what I know I am called to do. For me a second chance because I thought that I would finish my Army career in the obscurity of the Reserves and never get to do what I really wanted to do. In a sense I am a journeyman who through a lot of ups and downs has finally come into his own. There is a player named Oscar Salazar who was just called up this weekend from the Norfolk Tides to the Orioles. Oscar is one of my favorite players. He is a journeyman who has spent most of his career in the minors. This year he came into his own. He was hitting about .380 and was having a great year in Norfolk. He deserves to be in the majors. If he can’t stay up with Baltimore then I hope that another team will deal for him. When you see him on the on deck circle talking to younger players you can tell that he enjoys playing the game. He hustles and plays hard. I hope that he does well for the Birds while he is up for Caesar Izturis.
Wedding Day 25 June 1983
There is something to longevity in one’s chosen calling. You get to see a lot, do a lot and experience a lot that other people only get to dream of doing. When you do what you love and then are blessed to get to do it as long as I have in two military services, the Army and the Navy, you can count yourself fortunate. There is a certain satisfaction that I have when you look at my career in the long term and see that I have lasted 28 years and that I am still going strong.
In a sense I am a relic, though unlike most of my relic contemporaries I am still relatively junior in rank. I enlisted at the height of the Cold War a couple of years after the Soviets had invaded Afghanistan and the followers of the Ayatollah Khomeini had overthrown the Shah of Iran, over 8 years prior to the fall of the Berlin Wall. I have been to what I call the “Commie Trifecta,” East Berlin, Panmunjom Korea and Guantanamo Bay Cuba. I have served in Europe, Asia and the Middle East, at sea and ashore as well as an exchange officer. I have not always been a chaplain. I have commanded a company in Europe during the cold war. I have served multiple tours with the Marines, served on a great ship, the USS HUE CITY and done more in my career than I had ever imagined possible. I am grateful for the experiences that I have been blessed with and even the adversity has made me stronger and wiser, even the times that I have had my ass kicked by it.
Boarding Party Operation Enduring Freedom April-May 2002
Most of the people who have been in the military as long as me are very senior officers or non-commissioned officers. Thankfully, I still have a relatively young appearance for someone my age, which was enhanced when I shaved the pitiful remnant of graying hair from my now pristine head. Likewise I stay in pretty good shape. I actually want to start playing baseball or softball in some old guy league when I have the time. People say that I appear and act younger than I am. The acting part is no lie, I have not really grown up, and I’m still a kid at heart. I like to have fun and see humor in life even sometimes in the midst of tragedy, which I have seen a fair amount of in my life.
Today was another 13 hour day at work. Thankfully my department director had taken my duty over the weekend and in a sense sat me down for a game. We have a couple of kids doing really bad in one of my units. The last couple of hours were spent working with the families of both of these kids and spending time with our staff. I also ended up doing country clearances for my boss and I to make a trip out of the US to work with chaplains from another country concerning the people that they are sending into our Pastoral Care Residency Program. This later thing I have never done before, though I have supplied information plenty of times for others to do my requests. I was talking to my buddy Elliott the usher of section 102, of which I have seat 102, row B, seat 2. We were talking about baseball and life, which is pretty much par for the course with us. We were talking about situations that I deal with at work and he said to me, “no wonder you come here to relax.” It is true. I have learned that I need to take some time for me, it is imperative for my health if I want to keep myself in the game and like Bert Blyleven outlast the guys who were at the top of their game when I came in. I have pretty much outlasted most of my Army contemporaries, now I’m working on outlasting Navy guys.
Out on the Syrian Border with the Bedouin
I have come to like Blyleven. He is one of the more under appreciated pitchers who played the game. He had 287 wins and pitched 242 complete games with a career 3.31 ERA and over 3700 strike outs, 5th on the all-time strike-out list. He played on 3 All-Star Teams and in 2 World Series. He played on a lot of really bad teams which probably kept him from winning even more games, yet he is not in the Hall of Fame. At the same time he did outlast the majority of his contemporaries pitching 22 years in the major leagues. In a sense I want to be kind of like that. I want to outlast folks and both do well and have fun when I do it. I want my last season, or tour in the Navy to be my best.
I hope that Bert Blyleven makes the Hall of Fame and that Oscar Salazar makes it in the Majors. As for me, I just want to do well and have fun doing it while helping as many of the young guys as possible.
Note: Tomorrow I will be taking part in a memorial service and celebration of life for Senior Chief Pam Branum. She was a great shipmate and tomorrow our Medical Center as well as her many friends will remember he life and say goodbye.