Please Don’t Thank Me for Serving for It is All I Have Ever Thought of Doing

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Over the Memorial Day Weekend I had a fascinating experience. It came about because I got fed up with what I hear a lot in so-called conservative circles that liberals, progressives, and Democrats are not patriotic or supportive of the military. The vast majority of these people have never served in the military but love to use their supposed support of endless wars as patriotism while giving lip service to those who serve as they display their ignorance of the Constitution and the military.

The fact of the matter is that the military is not monolithic, it is at the same time one of the most conservative yet progressive institutions in the United States. It and the people who serve in it are not perfect and we do have our share of scoundrels and scalawags in our ranks.

The institution itself has many faults and defects and there is much to be criticized in the way the services are managed and employed. We stand for ideals that we often fall far short of attaining. While we are integrated and making great strides that shame much of the civilian world there is still racial prejudice and discrimination. There is also a deeply ingrained culture of misogyny that shows itself all too often, and despite many changes and advances a sizable amount of homophobia. Despite all,of that I can say that much has changed for the positive since I joined in 1981.

We all join for a variety of reasons, an ideal, a challenge, a chance to prove ourselves; or a profession that has a measure of respect and offers us educational and health care benefits for us and our families that are hard to match in the civilian world. But those benefits often come with a lot of sacrifices that cannot be matched in the civilian world.

I’m old in terms of the military. I grew up in a Navy family and my dad, a career Navy Chief Petty Officer served in Vietnam. I had friends in grade school who lost their dads in that war.

I’ve served continuously first in the Army and then in the Navy since 1981. I do not recall a day since I was a child that I did not want to be in the military and serve this country. My parents tried to discourage me from joining and encouraged me to at least try college for a year. I’m glad that the did because my first semester I met my wife Judy who over all of these years has stayed with me through almost two full military careers; one of 17 1/2 years in the Army and another of almost 20 years in the Navy, and by the way I didn’t tell her I was joining the Navy until I started the process. Marriage wise this was not a smart thing to do but I wasn’t the first or last soldier or sailor to do such a thing, the great Civil War hero Joshua Chamberlain, who I find a lot in common with did the same to his wife when he volunteered to serve as the Lieutenant Colonel of the 20th Maine in 1862.

But I digress and boy did I chase that rabbit, so anyway, this started in response to some words by a real nut case who probably the most vocal supporter of President Trump in terms of marketing and propaganda. The man, Bill Mitchell ( @mitchellvii ) is a businessman from North Carolina who has made a mini-empire for himself on Twitter and now has a radio program. He has a long history of making incendiary comments about liberals, progressives, Democrats, immigrants, and pretty much anyone who criticizes the President. His father was an Army Officer but he has never spent a day in uniform.

That is his right under the First Amendment but it doesn’t mean that he should be allowed to get away it his slander of other Americans without being called on it. something that so offended me as an American and as a career military officer and combat vet that I responded to him.

He tweeted:

Is anyone else amused when we see the Left attempting to stand up for the honor of our fallen troops?

The Left HATES our troops and stand FOR everything they died to PREVENT.

I was offended because in my service in the military that began when I was a Republican in 1981 and since I returned home from Iraq in 2008 and switched my political affiliation, I have never viewed those who I have served alongside by their political or religious affiliations. They all wear, or wore the same uniform that I do and are my brothers and sisters.

Unlike Mr. Mitchell, I do not see military service in terms of the partisan political divide. While we may have political, religious, or other differences we are all still Americans who have volunteered to serve this nation, for the past 17 years in time of war. For the most part we bury those distinctions to serve alongside each other. That has become harder over the past decade or so but even so when you go into harm’s way and get shot at by the enemy those things do not matter so much.

My reply was simple and to the point. I said:

I am a liberal, a combat vet and have served for 37 years and am still on active duty. You have no honor or decency.

I was surprised at the response of people. This man has hundreds of thousands of followers on Twitter, but I got no attacks on my self, my views, or my character as so often happens on social media. Instead I stared getting thanked for my service by a wide variety of people. I was somewhat embarrassed by the first thank you so I responded by saying:

Appreciate it but no thanks needed, it is my honor and duty…

The responses to that Tweet were also humbling and very gracious, truthfully I really don’t know how to respond. This is who and what I am. I have volunteered to go into conflict more times thanI have been allowed and the times I did get to go I got to do things that are unusual for a Chaplain, I have put myself in harms way and on at least one occasion had to be pulled out of danger by my shipmates on an embargoed freighter coming out of Iraq under the U.N. sanctions that followed the First Gulf War. On those operations I not only was unarmed but since there were not enough body armor plates for all the members of the boarding teams I went without. In Iraq I was always the one unarmed member of any advisor team that I was with.

I came home from Iraq incredibly goofed up with chronic, severe PTSD and mild TBI. I have spent a decade trying to fight those demons and I am now doing pretty well. But I came home and there are men and women who are far braver than I ever dared to be, men and women who gave all and didn’t come home. There are others who not only bear the unseen wounds of PTSD, TBI, and Moral Injury, but who have also suffered terrible physical wounds. There are also others who could not defeat the emotional and physical costs of war who either died or took their own lives after returning from war, or after leaving the service. I know too many who suffer or have lost their lives to consider someone as flawed as I am to admire, I just do what I am called to do, they have given all. They are the real heroes to me and I try to use my voice to speak for them.

Likewise, all the men and women that I served with, especially in combat operations are my brothers and sisters. We are to use William Shakespeare’s words, my band of brothers. As Shakespeare wrote in his play Henry V:

This story shall the good man teach his son;

And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,

From this day to the ending of the world,

But we in it shall be remembered-

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;

For he to-day that sheds his blood with me

Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,

This day shall gentle his condition;

And gentlemen in England now-a-bed

Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,

And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks

That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.

I am an idealist when it comes to military service and serving my county. I have tried to do my best to follow the words of Joshua Chamberlain, a flawed but great man. He said:

“It is something great and greatening to cherish an ideal; to act in the light of truth that is far-away and far above; to set aside the near advantage, the momentary pleasure; the snatching of seeming good to self; and to act for remoter ends, for higher good, and for interests other than our own.”

So I while I do appreciate the kind words of everyone I am just following what I believe has been a calling for all of these years. I cannot imagine doing anything different except to teach and write when I finally retire from the Navy in the next two to three years. I could retire today, and it would be easier on me, but I still feel the call to serve. I just pray that the man that Mr. Mitchell has turned into his god does not take us in to any disastrous wars or destroy our Constitution and system of government during that time.

I do not believe in the old adage “my country right or wrong,” I know that as much good as has been done by the United States that our leaders, and people have done many wrongs, on our own continent and abroad. Today I am terrified by things that I see the President and administration doing, actions that threaten the Constitution, civil rights, and peace. So in my closing years of military service I keep the words of the German General Ludwig Beck, who did in the attempt to kill Hitler and end Nazi rule close to my heart:

“It is a lack of character and insight, when a soldier in high command sees his duty and mission only in the context of his military orders without realizing that the highest responsibility is to the people of his country.”

I hope that this all makes sense, so until tomorrow.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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2 Comments

Filed under ethics, faith, iraq,afghanistan, mental health, Military, Political Commentary, Tour in Iraq

2 responses to “Please Don’t Thank Me for Serving for It is All I Have Ever Thought of Doing

  1. Janet Garrison

    My husband served in the Air Force and spent a tour of duty in Vietnam. He never liked to talk much about his experiences there, and I understood his need for privacy in that respect. He did, however, tell me about being spit on, called names, and vilified by those protesting the war. When his tour ended, his flight to the U. S. was to land in San Francisco, but the plane was instead sent to an airport in Montana because of the protesters. He was proud of having served his country, as did four of his brothers. The five of them served in the Marines, Air Force and Navy. My husband suffered from some PTSD for years after he left the service and later suffered from a Glioblastoma Multiforma, Grade IV, which ultimately killed him at the age of 57 (and which is believed to have been caused by Agent Orange or other chemicals to which service men and women were exposed in Vietnam). In recent years, I have begun to thank those who are no longer in the military as well as those who are currently serving for all that they did and are doing for our country. They almost always respond as you said you do, but I think it is still something I must do – to acknowledge their service, their sacrifice (and the sacrifice of their families) and all they have done to ensure that I and millions of others in our country still have our freedom and enjoy the good things about the United States. I feel this is important and one small thing I can do to let them know that their efforts and sacrifices have not gone unnoticed. Thank you for your service and sacrifices and for your fine blog. It helps me to keep things in perspective and to remember that history and current affairs are inextricably linked, requiring us to remain vigilant – always learning from the past and hopefully not making the same kinds of mistakes in the future. Thank you.

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