Last week was quite challenging at work with sequester and other things going on. Needless to say I was busy but it was at the same time quite rewarding, though not without pain of seeing a number of people that I know, respect, care for and even love go through their own various hell on earth. That I guess is part of ministry, being connected to people in good times and in bad and even when you have no answers, can provide no healing or effectively change their situation. All I could do in each case was to be there for them, with them and where possible provide assistance however limited.
The events of the week coupled with my own impending transfer to a new duty assignment have left me even more introspective than usual. I have been thinking about those times in my life where things were happening that I had little control of, or where maybe even my my choices or decisions brought about difficult times.
I began to think about the time just before I reported to my current billet. I was still struggling with PTSD and though faith had returned it was still quite fragile. I was selected for promotion on the 22nd of June, my dad died of complications of Alzheimer’s Disease on the 23rd, we had his memorial in California on the 26th and the day before I returned to Virginia I was told that I was coming to Camp LeJeune and that I had no choice in the matter. Promotion sometimes brings unexpected change.
At the time I really didn’t want to come. I wanted to finish my last year at the old billet and move on to a ship or possibly something that would get me to Afghanistan, where I believed that I would be “back in the fight.” Instead I went from one hospital serving as a staff chaplain to another serving as the director of Pastoral Care. It was a move up, but not the one that I wanted.
However I was in the front lines, just in a different way. Camp LeJeune and the Marines and Sailors who serve aboard it has been part of the war since the beginning. We have many wounded warriors, men and women, wounded in mind, body and spirit. To see the young men and women with prosthetic limbs, walking in pain with canes or crutches, others with facial disfigurement, blindness, massive scars from burns is humbling. To see these young men and women wearing the Purple Heart Medal, or awards with a “V” device for valor in combat action is truly humbling. To see others suffering in mind and spirit, many struggling with PTSD, TBI, and dealing with various forms of depression, despair and sometimes succumbing to alcohol or drug abuse, including prescription pain medications for chronic pain and even attempting or completing suicide has shown me that the effects of war extend far beyond the battlefield and that this war will go on far longer than the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Major General Smedley Butler wrote in 1932:
“But the soldier pays the biggest part of this bill.
If you don’t believe this, visit the American cemeteries on the battlefields abroad. Or visit any of the veterans’ hospitals in the United States….I have visited eighteen government hospitals for veterans. In them are about 50,000 destroyed men- men who were the pick of the nation eighteen years ago. The very able chief surgeon at the government hospital in Milwaukee, where there are 3,800 of the living dead, told me that mortality among veterans is three times as great as among those who stayed home.”
Yes this will be with us a very long time.
In a sense I was again in the front lines, this time seeing a part of war that will need to be addressed for a very long time. It has made me much more sensitive to the victims of war and suspicious of people who have no “skin in the game” who constantly advocate war as first response. This will be with me and influence my life and ministry for the rest of my life even after I retire from the Navy in a few years.
I am down to a few weeks left in this assignment before I go to teach mid-grade and senior officers going on to important Joint billets, men and women who have been likewise in the fight for the past dozen years and many of whom will rise to senior leadership before their careers are over. It is a once in a lifetime opportunity. I hope to make the most of it.
Anyway, I have an earlier than normal day tomorrow I shall close for the night.