“When Aspiring to the Highest Place” Thoughts on my Third Failure to Select for Promotion to Navy Captain

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Just a short post tonight after a busy day of work and ministry. Not long before I left work I saw an email with a screen shot of the promotion list to Captain in the Navy Chaplain Corps. I was not on it. While I have not seen the promotion listed posted on the Bureau of Naval Personnel website I presume it is accurate and that I was again not selected for promotion.

I am actually relieved this year. Last year I was quite upset at not being selected but this year I rejoice for those men and women who were selected and pray for their success in their higher grade. From the list I saw I have no complaints and after having looked back and reflected over the seven years that I was selected for promotion to the grade of Commander until now I am able to see why I have not been selected for Captain in the Chaplain Corps.

Without going into details part of the problem was me. First I came out as being broken with PTSD and confessing to needing help. One of my former Master Chiefs in the EOD community told me that while it was true that we could be open about needing help, but that if we did we would never get promoted or be assigned to billets that would help us get promoted. He was right.

Secondly, while crashing into the PTSD abyss I never marketed myself to my immediate superiors or the Chaplain Corps of why I should be promoted. From 2010 until 2017 I wrote almost all of my own FITREPS. Since for much of that time I was chronically depressed and often nearly suicidal I wrote reports that were very plain, which basically said that I did my job, whether it was being the Department Head at a Naval Hospital on a major Marine Corps Base or being a professor at a major Joint Staff College. I didn’t try to brag about my accomplishments. Instead I tried to market the successes of my subordinates while trying to find a reason to stay alive. It wasn’t until I left the Joint Forces Staff College and our Commandant, Admiral Jeff Ruth wrote my FITREP did I begin to emerge from the abyss of depression and did I again begin to see that what I did really mattered.

However, what he wrote was not good enough, it was like getting the maximum score in the long program of Olympic figure skating but having fallen on my ass in the short program. That being said I am now quite okay with that. As Cicero said: “When you are aspiring to the highest place, it is honorable to reach the second or even the third rank”

Cicero was right. When I was commissioned as an Army Second Lieutenant in 1983 most of us thought that being about to retire as Major would be successful, a Lieutenant Colonel quite successful, and a Colonel or General officer a superstar. The same was true for my friends who began their careers in the Navy, Marine Corps, or Air Force during that time.

But the cult of success really fucks with peoples minds, and it did mine. Though the number of billets for promotion to Navy Captain, or Colonel in the other services has gone down, along with the chance of selection to Captain, Colonel, Commander, or Lieutenant Colonel the military culture often says that if you don’t make Captain or Colonel you are not successful. Honestly, that is not the case. I know to many men and women who served full careers and ended their careers as Majors or Lieutenant Commanders who were better officers and Chaplains than I will ever be, and I made Major in the Army, as well as Lieutenant Commander and Commander in the Navy.

Regardless of that it really hurts not to be selected. Last year I was so angry and depressed about it that I was practically inconsolable. Later I talked with others who felt the same way after their second non-select and found that they went through the same emotions that I did. All felt that they had been personally assaulted by their non-selection and humiliated, despite having great records of service, education, and training.

Honestly, I think that some of my friends who never made Commander or Lieutenant Colonel were and are every bit more deserving than me. Some of them are the people who helped hold me together after my time in Iraq and when I didn’t know if I would continue living, not just serving. I fully understand the thoughts of Ulysses S. Grant who wrote:

“The friend in my adversity I shall always cherish most. I can better trust those who helped to relieve the gloom of my dark hours than those who are so ready to enjoy with me the sunshine of my prosperity.”

I made Major in the Army and Commander in the Navy. I have done close to two full careers in the military and when I retire in 2020 or 2021 I will have served some 39 or 40 years in the military. Like I said, most of us who entered the military in the early 1980s hoped that after 20 years we would be able to retire as a Major or Lieutenant Colonel (Navy Lieutenant Commander or Commander). I have done both and I want to be there for others who have experienced the ups and downs, the triumphs and tragedies, the victories and defeats of military service. How can I not? As Earl Weaver once quipped “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.”

That being said I have not stopped learning. I still have two to three years left before I finish my service. In that time much may yet happen because I like you do not fully know of the future, or what it portends. President Trump is not the most stable or honorable or men. Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, the hero of Little Round Top and Petersburg, a Soldier, philosopher, and theologian like me wrote:

“We know not of the future, and cannot plan for it much. But we can hold our spirits and our bodies so pure and high, we may cherish such thoughts and ideals, and dream such dreams of lofty purpose, that we can determine and know what manner of men we will be whenever and wherever the hour strikes that calls to noble action…, No man becomes suddenly different from his habit and cherished thought.”

So as I close out the night I am incredibly grateful and thankful and I am profoundly grateful for the men and women who have been pillars of strength and inspiration to me over the past 37 years.

During my career I have been a Platoon Leader, Company Commander, a Brigade Staff Officer, as well as a battalion, group, ship, and installation Chaplain, as well as a professor of ethics and military history. I have nothing to be ashamed about.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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4 Comments

Filed under faith, Military, philosophy

4 responses to ““When Aspiring to the Highest Place” Thoughts on my Third Failure to Select for Promotion to Navy Captain

  1. Padre,

    You are not qualified to be a Captain because your not a blow hard who seeks every opportunity to stab a fellow officer in the back and who looks to progress on the backs of the enlisted. Congratulations, you are a better man than the people on the list because you kept your honor and dignity. True leaders are the ones who are dissatisfied, disillusioned and outcast. I always thought of Generals and Colonels as the turds that floated to the top. You are not a turd.

    rob

  2. Being promoted can be flattering and give your ego a boost.

    However it shows only how others see you, not what you really are.

    Your courage to deal with PTSS, to go through the darkness of depression, fears and anxieties, makes you a far better chaplain.
    You learn when as darkness is all around you, who are there in your hour of need.

    While I didn’t have had the experiences you had I regognize a lot of it!

    The quote of Ulysses S. Grant: I can understand, like you, fully what he meant.
    It was true as it is today!

  3. Don McCollor

    …sorry to hear your being passed over in promotion, Padre…(not kind of the right words, but)…take quiet pride in doing all you can, the best you can in what you are doing…God Bless….

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