Category Archives: suicide

Racists, Neo-Nazis, Holocaust Deniers, Christian Theocrats, and Trump Cultists Beware: Come Here at Your Own Risk, Don’t Dare Try Me


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Tonight I draw my line in the sand and I will not stand down against people who threaten to use violence or intimidation against me, and what I believe to be true. I don’t flee, I fight, especially when it comes to the ideals enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and its Amendments, which I have for nearly four decades pledged my life, honor, and integrity to defend, and follow to promise of Abraham Lincoln in the Gettysburg Address to create a more perfect Union.

Over the past month I have been experiencing a significant number of ad hominem attacks by White Nationalists, Neo-Nazis, Holocaust deniers, Right Wing Race baiters, and Christian theocrats. Sadly, I am so well acquainted with their intentions and lines of attack that dealing with them is now like shooting fish in a barrel because they are so ignorant of history, science, philosophy, reason, and even their own self proclaimed Christian Faith. Willful ignorance is painful to see in action, especially when it is used as a weapon, because it always ends up in the death and defeat of its proponents. The attacks are like suicide charges which always end up in the deaths of the attackers, so long as the defenders don’t stand down or panic.

I had my first attack back in 2010 not long after I started the blog. I learned early on to be suspicious of such comments and subscribed to a site that helps me identify and track down these people. The first guy used a couple of Nazi related screen names and he made very specific threats against me even describing my home. He had a number of websites and had many racist and Neo-Nazi posts, as well as instructions on how to build IEDs. I tracked him down to Eastern Tennessee and made an identification which since his treat was coming from across state lines I reported him to the FBI. Now at the time I was still in the beginnings of the worst part of my PTSD/TBI ordeal, and my reaction to threats like this is not flight, it is fight. A couple of weeks later the man’s web presence disappeared.

After that I would get the occasional troll, but depending on what they said I either immediately blocked them or tore their arguments apart and then blocked them after I figured out who they were. This has been my normal practice.

In 2014 I even had a Troll attacking my faith with a fake yahoo email address from the 754th Electronic Systems Group located at Gunter Annex, Maxwell Base, Alabama. I tracked the IP address to a specific building and the unit. I reported it to the Maxwell AFB Criminal Investigative Department who checked into it and told me that the IP address was that of the 754th, but that the command said that it would be impossible to determine who did it. I knew that was a lie because the “754th Electronic Systems Group provides and supports secure combat information systems and networks for the United States Air Force (USAF), the Department of Defense and other Federal Government Agencies.”  This is according to what they say of their organization. According to their mission statement the mission is:

“The 754 Electronic Systems Group provides technical and customer service support as well as acquisition and program management oversight of more than 160 Combat Support Information Technology systems. The 754 ELSG also manages the Air Force standard desktop environment, and serves as the Air Force lead for software program management under the auspices of the DoD Enterprise Software Initiative. Additional activities include managing the Air Force single enterprise-wide license contract with Microsoft Corporation, executing the Chief Information Officer’s Information Technology Commodity Council Strategic Sourcing program and administering the Network Centric Solutions contract valued at more than $9 billion. The 754 ELSG also manages more than 50 Air Force contracts and Basic Purchasing Agreements with a total value of $15 billion.“

The fact is that this organization has been reported hacking US and Allied agencies and private citizens. It was obvious to me that one of their civilian employees or contractors did this because it happened at 0837 hours on November 18th 2014. I should have reported to Congress, what the man did was nothing related to national security it was simply harassment by a supposed Fundamentalist Christian working for the Air Force, and protected by an organization that runs the IT oversight and service of the entire Air Force, but he was an outlier. I could never find out who he was, and he never commented again unless he was using another alias. One can understand why I don’t trust and even fear many Fundamentalist Christians who use their access to government power without accountability. That is why I oppose every one of them trying to make the religious freedom clause of the First Amendment to Trump the Establishment Clause in order to turn the United States into a Fundamentalist Christian Theocracy. Sadly, I believe that there are many more going up to the Vice President with the same goal. Mine is a cautionary tale. If you don’t believe me just google the organizations that IP addresses owned by the 754th and it’s command Headquarters, the former 554th Electronics Systems Wing, which was de active duty and renamed the Program Executive Office Enterprise Information Systems of American and Allied organizations have hacked. The  Air Force Program Executive Office Enterprise has its hands in almost everything to do with IT and other Air Force electronic systems, intelligence, and warfare systems.

Of course that was a one time occurrence. When I wrote an article about the death of David Wilkerson, a beloved Evangelical and Pentecostal missionary and pastor who wrote the book The Cross and the Switchblade, as a suicide I was flailed by some of his cult like followers for weeks. I had the accident report, the photos, and the autopsy reports as well as his last blog which read like a suicide note, and inside information from church members of  Wilkeron’s Times Square Church, and the fact I was trained by the Army to investigate motor vehicle accidents , and had practical experience doing so, in horrible crashes. I tried to reason with them, sympathize with their loss only to be called to most horrible things imaginable. I finally blocked comments on the post. I received the compliments of Wilkerson’s son who not only agreed Ed with me but gave me more inside information at how Wilkerson had been betrayed and deposed by his closest ministry associates at Times Square Church and the terminal illnesses he and his wife had been diagnosed. Wilkerson had been betrayed, he and his wife were both dying, and his real friends had already died of old age. But his cultists didn’t have the compassion or sense to believe a man who had done so much good, and who had even written s small book against suicide could take his life. I had one of his admirers contact me yesterday. She shared her story and she was graceful and displayed real Christian virtues. We had a wonderful chat, and she responded gracefully to my respectful and genuinely heartfelt response. We don’t have to agree on everything to pray for, care for, and respect each other. She showed the heart of Jesus, and I respect her and care about her though we have never met. You see, Christian relationships really come  down to simple humility, respect and care.

but going back to what I began with, over the past few months I have been assaulted verbally by White Supremacists, racists, Neo-Nazis, Christian theocrats, and Trump Cultists. Almost all of them have attacked me on my articles about the BLM and  Holocaust, Nazi War Crimes, and the actions of the Nazi Einsatzgruppen. It is interesting because when you break down their comments they expose themselves as such, and worse. Their comments are devoid of facts and full of innuendo, falsehoods, and ad hominem conspiracy theory based attracts.

One, at least until today was a subscriber to my blog, and his comment was so laden with untruths and libelous claims against so called liberals that I schooled him and invited him to leave, letting him know that auch comments would not be allowed and that he would be blocked if he ever did so again. Then there were several Holocaust deniers and anti-Semites who made allegations found in the leading Holocaust Denier Organization, the Institute for Historical Review. I have followed their lying bullshit for four decades, and I know when it is being repeated. For them it is all about conspiracy theories, moral equivalence, and blaming Jews for all that is wrong in the world to minimizing the Holocaust. At one time I used to simply trash their comments and block them. Now I take their arguments, which are really not arguments but propaganda points with no factual basis, backed up by salacious and libelous comments about me, when they don’t even know me. So instead of ignoring them I rip their guts out with facts and real data. Historic, scientific, and medical. Then I tell them to either support their arguments with facts or never come back. It seems that the lack of facts prevents them from further harassing me.

but I have to mention this. Many of these racist and Jew baiting trolls uses their business email addresses in their comments. Some are the owners of their business, mostly agents, but then some work for respected corporations. Every time that happens I expose them to their employers, or those corporations whose banner they operate under. I do have to admit that I take a perverse pleasure in exposing what they are to their employers or sponsors. I actually enjoy their stupidity not even to create a fake user name and email address to expose them to ruin, especially since every single one of them has beat their chest about their so called Christian Values when attacking me. Since I am humble enough not to claim that I teach the Almighty theology lessons, it will be interesting to see, if there is a literal heaven or hell, which even the early Fathers of the Christian Church disagreed about, as do many Jewish theologians, as to where we fall when all is said one done. As for me heaven will be much more expansive and full of the grace of God to all his children and creation than those that attack me suggest. If they have a problem with me, then they can go to a different bar than I go to in heaven. If not then we can fight it out in purgatory until God let’s us in.

But the key lesson I have learned is to be truthful. To treat people as I want to be treated, and whenever possible treat them with respect and decency so long as they are not condemning people to hell because of their race, religion, ethnicity, gender, political stance. or supposed sins, when according to the Christian Scriptures, the blood of Jesus covers all sin, or imperfection, and that God and the entire Creation look forward to its redemption at the hands of the people of God.

So I will call it a late night or early morning and wish you all the best, except the Neo-Nazi Scumbag racists and Holocaust deniers. I hope YAWEH Himself gets his hands on your pathetic necks.

As for what happens to me in the afterlife it is irrelevant so long as I am faithful to love God and my neighbors, and remain honest, speak the truth and have a modicum of personal integrity, trusting that Jesus the Christ will have my back.

So until tomorrow or Monday,

Peace,

Padre Steve

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Fighting for the Lives of Others Against those that Value Money over People in a Pandemic

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today, or yesterday as it is now was a difficult day. I didn’t sleep well because of reading about an ER physician who served on the frontline against COVID 19, contracted and recovered from the virus, killed herself. She was the head of an ER Department in the Presbyterian Health Care system in New York. Reading about her death kept me awake thinking about all the other physicians, nurses, other hospital personnel and first responders are seeing things that will haunt them for the rest of their lives. They will be suffering from severe and chronic PTSD, as well as Moral Injury, and many, like Dr. Lorna Breen will end their lives by their own hand. They will commit suicide.

My lack of sleep left me listless and tired for much of the day, even when dealing with serious counseling cases, but thankfully I was able to listen well enough to ensure that I was alert enough to stay focused and remain with these people even though my mind kept trying to drift and my body wanted to simply pass out. What was harder was to go back to my email and to input analytic data on my activity to keep up with what the Navy wants; to quantify the unquantifiable aspects of what Chaplains, or therapists do when they care for others. I feel asleep more than once doing that. I should have got off my ass and the damned analytic tool and gone out and walked around the shipyard and interacted with people. So now, I still am awake, unable to go to sleep.

I don’t get on social media for the most part until after we have dinner. Over the past few days I have had a man who I served with server all years ago doing all he could to attack and discredit me on Facebook. I didn’t break total contact, but I had to block him from seeing my posts. His agenda was not about public health or trying to contain the rates of infection and number of deaths, than it was to defend political positions that put more value on profit than human beings. His attacks on my reliance on history, data, science, and the fact that I cannot put a monetary value on the lives of the people most likely to be infected or die from COVID-19.  I have used the term of the proponents of Euthanasia and the Nazi Regime: “Life Unworthy of Life,” to describe that belief currently.

Then out of the blue a former classmate of mine at the Joint Forces Staff College came after me because I made a sarcasm laced comment about a lady in North Carolina who led a Facebook group devoted to opposing that state’s social distancing and stay at home regulations, who over the weekend announced that she had tested positive for the virus but would still oppose those public health rules. My comment on the article stated that I found it ironic, but that I would find it more ironic if Darwin won and she died. I didn’t mean that I wanted to see her die, it just meant that I saw the irony in her being infected. For that I was condemned. The same was true for my comments about Vice President Mike Pence when he visited the Mayo Clinic without observing their PPE requirements while visiting patients. I criticized him for ignoring hospital policy and endangering the lives of imuunocomprized patients. In both cases I was accused of not representing the grace of God. The conversation continued for more time that I wanted to give it. However, God’s grace and mercy also have to tempered by justice.

When dealing with such people I have to remember the words of Sophie Scholl:

The real damage is done by those millions who want to ‘survive.’ The honest men who just want to be left in peace. Those who don’t want their little lives disturbed by anything bigger than themselves. Those with no sides and no causes. Those who won’t take measure of their own strength, for fear of antagonizing their own weakness. Those who don’t like to make waves—or enemies. Those for whom freedom, honour, truth, and principles are only literature. Those who live small, mate small, die small. It’s the reductionist approach to life: if you keep it small, you’ll keep it under control. If you don’t make any noise, the bogeyman won’t find you. But it’s all an illusion, because they die too, those people who roll up their spirits into tiny little balls so as to be safe. Safe?! From what? Life is always on the edge of death; narrow streets lead to the same place as wide avenues, and a little candle burns itself out just like a flaming torch does. I choose my own way to burn.

Sadly, both men used their fealty to President Trump to completely misrepresent what I said and try to twist my arguments by for all intents and purposes calling me a hypocrite motivated by politics. But truthfully I hold national leaders regardless of their political, religious, or ideological standards to the same standards when it comes to matters of public safety and public health. I insist that they set a personal example, and do all they can to protect life. Those who study, those who read, and those who take the time to think about the human, social, and economic effects of a pandemic, including Presidents Bush and Obama, who are both hated by Trump Cultists, are condemned.

I will put my life on the line for others, and even sacrifice things that give me pleasure to protect the lives of others. However, that is not the case with the cult. The dead, who now in under three months exceed our military deaths in over 10 years of the Vietnam War, and over a million infections, which total more than a quarter of all the deaths from COVID 19 worldwide and over a third of total infections  are inexcusable, especially because Trump and his Administration did all they could to deny, deflect, and blame others for the virus while they take no blame at all. As the President has said multiple times “I take no responsibility…” 

But since I was a young Army Officer I have insisted on higher standards of conduct from leaders. Even as a young officer I have had no problem confronting authorities who shirked responsibility or blame others for their policy or moral failures regardless of their party. That has been a key part of my identity since I was first commissioned in 1983. Since them I have been criticized and condemned for my candor and honesty. After Iraq I don’t fear death. In fact those who condemn me today, really do not know me. Otherwise they would know that my basic instinct to to chose fight over flight, and march to the sound of the guns, regardless of personal consequence. I would rather die with honor knowing my actions have saved lives than expose others to possible death. Jesus said: No greater love has a man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.

Truthfully, that is 180 degrees opposite of what Trump’s supposedly Christian Cult advocates. For them the whole thing is about their personal loyalty to a serial liar and narcissistic sociopath who has no regard for the Constitution, the institutions, and laws of our country than he has for the lives of its citizens, so long as they get to be power players. My friends, that is not the Gospel, it is the heresy of anti-Christ. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said:

“If I sit next to a madman as he drives a car into a group of innocent bystanders, I can’t, as a Christian, simply wait for the catastrophe, then comfort the wounded and bury the dead. I must try to wrestle the steering wheel out of the hands of the driver.”

Sadly, the cultish enablers of Trump have forgotten the responsibility that comes with discipleship. I cannot do that. I have seen too much needless death in peace from pandemics, and in war from illegal and irresponsible actions, to to protest that the real complaining party the bar of justice is civilization itself. No country can survive a philosophy that devalues human life in a life and death crisis for the bottom line of the economy, as well as  personal and corporate profit that only sentences the least, the lost, and the lonely to death, so we can go back to enjoying the good times of uninhibited gratuitousness and great. Who cares if the restaurant worker, or grocery clerk making a subsistence living dies because we open up the economy without adequate personnel protective equipment, adequate health insurance, or having effective drugs to save lives, or a vaccine to parent infection in place, even as less than 2% of the total population has been tested? Honestly, I don’t see any of the government or church leaders advocating for the immediate opening of the economy and tossing aside the only means to prevent further mass death, taking a stand against a suicidal policy, that will end up killing too many more and damn our country forever.

Yes, the true complainant at the bar of justice itself is humanity and civilization itself, and the accused are those who would sacrifice all for their financial bottom line, or position of political power.

As long as I have breath I will fight against that kind of regime. To paraphrase General Henning von Tresckow, a leading figure in the attempt to overthrow Hitler: “We have to show the world that not all of us are like him. Otherwise, this will always be Trump’s America.”

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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The Cost of Service: Doctors, Nurses, First Responders, and other Medical Personnel During the novel Coronavirus 19 Pandemic


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I’ve served in ERs and ICUs during pandemics, but none as bad as this one. Likewise, I have seen far too many people die, I lost count somewhere after 700, but can still remember many of the dead, their families, and those who tried to save them like it happened yesterday. Many of the cases I dealt with were violent deaths, others from people who were in the words of ICU doctors and nurses, medical disaster areas because they had so many things wrong with them that you could treat one disease or organ, but have more organ failures. In the Medical ICU this is called multiple system organ failure. I have been with people who died with loving families and friends with them, others who died alone, and still others, especially dying AIDS patients die and being condemned to hell by family members who then used the opportunity to separate the patient from his lover and best friends.

I have also seen those who survived their illnesses or injuries, but never fully recovered after long periods on ventilators to keep them breathing and huge concoctions of drugs and procedures to give them a chance to survive.

As a part of the treatment team I was often the go between from the physicians to the patients family members, providing ministry, even as I shuttled information between them with the goal of trying to help the patient survive. Sometimes all treatments were futile and I would help prepare the patients or the families for the end. Even as I write this the memories, images, and even sounds of these encounters of life between life and death.

Even without the scourge of a pandemic, ERs and ICUs in inner city medical and trauma centers, tend to resemble combat zones. Surges of critical patients flooding ERs followed by brief lulls, that are then followed by more surges. In between surges housekeeping crews clean the blood, fluids, gauze, wrappings from needles, intubation kits, chest tubes, masks and gloves, as doctors transcribe their notes, nurses and techs restock the rooms, and others either prep and transport the patient to the operating room, appropriate ICU, or ward. If the patient didn’t survive, following time for the family or friends to say goodbyes, the staff preserves the body, leaving in it the intubation tube, chest tube, catheters, and any other invasive treatments, place it in a body bag, and transport to the morgue. If the person was known to be infected by HIV or H1N1, or the SARS, MERS, or Ebola outbreaks when I was working in a hospital, more protective measures are taken.

 

Unlike television where miraculously people are pulled from the jaws of death, it doesn’t always happen, especially if the patient is being coded when they arrive in the ER aboard an ambulance, or their heart and breathing stops requiring the ER team to begin the Code, which unlike on television is a rather violent attempt to save the patient’s life. Cardiac compressions begin, the patient is incubated, lines of saline IV fluids are placed and set to maximum flow to keep the blood pressure up, if need cardiac stimulants such as atrophiere are administered, sometimes directly into the heart.  If the injury is due to trauma, or perhaps an Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm, the patient’s chest may need to be cracked. If this happens happens in the ER it is a truly ghastly sight, as the instrument used to separate the ribs looks like the bones of some dinosaur, and unless the trauma surgeons, surgery resident, or ER physician manages to repair the damage and get the heart started the patient dies. Only about one in a hundred survive the procedure under those conditions.

In the  ICUs of various types, Medical, Cardiac, Trauma/Surgery, Cardio-Thoracic, Neurosurgery, Burn, Pediatric, and Neo-Natal there can be chaos as well, but in normal times it is more controlled than in the ER, but despite the best efforts not everyone who gets to the ICU gets out. No matter how caring the staff, the ICU is a clinical and cold setting. In every room or bay there are ventilators, monitors, specialized beds, pneumatic heated blankets sometimes known as Bear Huggers”, crash carts. Available in a fully equipped ICU are dialysis machines, portable X-Rays, and even CAT Scans, under the direction of the ICU attending physician, physician specialists of various types, residents, and physicians. Most of the nurses are Critical Care RNs or have have attained the status of Nurse Practitioners. The techs that work in the ICUs are the best. Likewise there are Clinical Social Workers, Discharge Planners, Unit Clerks, and often Chaplains, like me.

 

In my last full time fully equipped ICU I took the time to learn about what our physicians, techs, and nurses did. I asked questions about how to read cardiac monitors, understand the importance of blood oxygen levels, know when a patient was going into an abnormal heart rhythm, or who was dropping their blood pressure, or de-sating. I still have a copy of the ICU book. One of our ICU attending physicians asked why I didn’t go to medical school, and I had to admit that because of my wretched high school advanced mathematics experience was that it would probably take me at least three years to catch up on the math, algebra, and calculus needed just to get into medical school, and that after the poverty of seminary that Judy would never consent to it. He understood.

All that being said I treasure my time with those physicians, nurses, techs, and EMT and Paramedic first responders, many of whom are now in the front lines fighting COVID-19. When I read about what is happening in ERs and ICUs in major urban areas, when I see the horrors of what these men and women are experiencing my heart goes out to them. They are being confronted in real life with what one could only imagine in the most terrifying Science Fiction, or Horror story. Take a combat zone and add a pandemic which not only infects and kills those brought to hospital, but those risking their lives to treat them. As of two weeks ago some 9,000 health care workers have been infected and about 30 have died as a result of COVID-19. That doesn’t count those who have committed suicide because of the impossible conditions they work under and the impossible choices that they have to make, of who lives and who dies, and which of their staff has to go back into the battle even if they are unready. The cases of PTSD, Moral Injury, and other psychological conditions that will afflict these heroes will rise to exponential level. Others will commit suicide, and even more will abandon the medial profession because the spiritual and psychological toll is simply too high. These are not weak people, but people whose humanity is being assaulted by their inability to save those committed to their care, and fear that they will make a mistake that will get them, their patients, friends, or families killed because they didn’t have the correct PPE or got infected during an intubation, or during CPR.

Sadly, while for the moment the first wave seems to have crested. But without adequate testing, tracking of cases, and eventually effective treatments, and a vaccine, COVID-19 will keep coming back. Each time it does it will harvest those foolish enough to tempt fate, or God, whatever works for them, and put others in harms way. Personally, I don’t want to see those I know fighting for the lives of others die because of the arrogance and stupidity of others who think that getting a haircut, their nails done, going to a fitness center, or going to a dine in restaurant or movie trumps the right to life of others. Anyone who thinks that their right to do what they want for enjoyment which endangers the lives of others is nothing more than a sociopath, incapable of empathy. Sadly, evil, is the lack of empathy.

As for me, I know all too well the consequences to others when people decide that their need for fun and to do what they want to do when they want to do it trumps the right to life of others, including those who are putting their lives on the line every day to fight a pand

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under ER's and Trauma, ethics, healthcare, mental health, News and current events, suicide

Be Careful and Take Care of Each Other: Surviving COVID-19

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Not much good news to report today, except for the fact of at least some people and businesses doing things to try to mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 Pandemic. Imagine craft distilleries making hand sanitizer, people like my wife Judy doing research and the making face masks that give the wearer a chance to avoid getting the virus or spreading it. She was up very late last night making them, and we slept late. We have a local friend who is going to have some blood infusion therapy and since in her weakened state she will have to have to go to a hospital to get them, exposing her to people who could well be spreading the virus. Knowing this Judy went into action, made masks for her and her husband, and due to the urgency we drove the twenty something miles to their home to deliver them. She’s making them for elderly and at other risk friends as well, not asking for any payment, but because she cares, and she will be sharing her pattern and step by step instructions on her blog, and I will do the same here.

Trust me, there are a lot of people who care, and even if under quarantine, lockdown, or similar restrictions that keep them from normal social activities that keep them connected. The primary way they are doing this is by social media and phone. That is important. Tonight I was introduced to some great musicians who I have loved for decades sharing songs and videos from their homes on social media. For me that was inspiring. The included Michael McDonald, Paul Simon, Mary Chaplin Carpenter and others. We all need to do more and more of it because we cannot do what we normally do to socialize with each other. If you are creative, entertaining or funny, don’t hesitate to share goodwill with anyone you can, it might be the only good thing that happens to them that day.

Isolation is a killer. Isolation and loneliness only increase the effects of those who suffer from depression, other psychological conditions, substance abuse, victims of childhood sexual, physical, or emotional abuse, those under stress who have no place to let off steam, or make themselves vulnerable by seeking help. It is deadly. I know too many people who have killed themselves, and isolation from their community was always a major factor. There are so many times that I could have done it had it not been for people who cared for me, and especially my late dog Molly who decided to make her home with me when I was stationed as a geographic bachelor in Camp LeJeune. My God I cannot tell you how many times I considered driving my care into a ditch, a tree, or off a bridge if it wasn’t for the people who cared for me, and Molly, who would never had understood why daddy didn’t come home.

Unfortunately, when there is no perceived escape from isolation, such is occurring now in so many places in the United States and around the world, the resulting loneliness is going to lead to a major increase in suicide attempts and completions. Already the military is continuing its suicide epidemic, but couple that with social isolation, quarantine, and maybe having a virus that both further isolates them, and might kill them, imagine how those already horrible numbers will spike.

So hear the advice of a highly educated, experienced, but incredibly fallible man. Don’t take chances. Do everything you can to avoid transmitting or contracting the novel Coronavirus 19. That will involve personal sacrifice. At the same time reach out by any means necessary, even in person if you have you have appropriate personal protective equipment, in this case an N-95 equivalent face mask, and vinyl  disposable gloves. No hugging, kissing, or other bodily contact, except elbow bumps. It will not be your prayers, preaching, religious or non-religious jibber jabber that will help them, just your willingness to reach out, care, listen, and stay with them without judgement, and whether in person or by other means show them you give a damn. By the ways, don’t just put up trite words and catch phrases or religious jumbo jumbo like “thoughts and prayers,” “trust God’s healing power,” or anything else that ignores the factual advice not to gather in big groups, or self-quarantine. Likewise, and do leave your home if your have any of the symptoms of COVID-19, and only leave to get tested (if you can).

Please, do not endanger yourself or others. I have seen too many people die from these pandemics not to call the Bullshit flag on anyone who says otherwise. I remember their faces, and how they were abandoned by friends and family when they needed them the most. If you cannot reach out in the flesh to those that you supposedly love and care for, even if the best that you can do is a phone call, social media, or email, then a pox on you.

As far as me, even though because of my age I could take paid administrative leave, neither Judy or I have any of the underlying conditions that put me a high risk for contracting COVID-19. Thus though many of our civilian and active dirty personnel are doing telework or are on paid administrative leave, my place is with those still doing their jobs at the shipyard, military and civilian, especial our, Emergency Management personnel, our  police and security forces, fire department and EMS, port operations, and anyone else , including our senior leadership who remain behind. It is what you are supposed to do as a military chaplain. I am also making myself available by email, social medial, phone and text to every civilian employee (about 95% of our workforce) and Sailor in our Command. I cannot leave the ones at risk, suffering, or dying without spiritual, emotional, or practical help, regardless of their faith or even if the are unbelievers. They either wear the same uniform I do, serve the same nation I do, and taken a similar oath that I took. Therefore, everyone of them matters to me.

I have and know how to use all of my personal protective equipment from pandemics past. I am pretty sure that I will be safe, but I fear not. That is not because I am burying my head in the sand or claiming Bible verses out of context, but because I am being safe and taking the necessary precautions.

This pandemic is going to get much worse before it gets better. In light of that, don’t do dumb things. Don’t believe conspiracy theorists, or pandemic deniers, it will only get you and probably the ones you love the most killed. Don’t believe the religious hucksters who tell you to keep coming to church and mass meetings, because they supposedly have a miracle cure, or that giving money to them will save you, or put your soul at risk, but rather to fatten their bank accounts. Religious liberty does not give anyone the right to put people’s lives at risk in a pandemic. If you belong to a religious body or other group that doesn’t believe in getting medical care, then as the Klingons say: Today is a Good Day to Die. Just don’t take others with you.

Please, by all means, heed this warning, or get yourselves and others killed when it shouldn’t happen, even if you believe that it is God’s will, judgement, or a portent of the Apocalypse. Remain calm when everyone else is panicking, give from your excess to help those in need, and don’t let your religious beliefs, or secular ideology make you a part of the problem, rather than a part of the solution.

I apologize for my tardiness in posting this. The article should have been posted before midnight EST, but I got waylaid by music videos from my junior high school, high school, and college years. They were all quite healing to my soul, but after after all the work in the house, and missions of mercy, I passed out on the couch with Izzy at my side while trying to get my tags and photos posted. I woke up at 5:30 AM with Izzy on top of my iPad and lap, I went to real bed then. I will do my next COVID-19 factual update later tonight.

Peace and blessings,

Padre Steve+

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A Veteran’s Day Postscript: Belonging to a Different World

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

I wrote about Armistice Day and Veteran’s Day but I decided to write a postscript to it today. I write this specifically as a combat veteran who more than a decade after my return still deal with the effects of war, PTSD, TBI, sleep disorders, nightmares and night terrors, bad knees, ankles, shoulders, tinnitus, inability to understand speech, and a bunch of other stuff. I know many more who deal with what I do and worse. At least I am no longer suicidal, though I do experience periodic bouts of depression, panic attacks, and anxiety.

For me it began in February 2008 when on the way back from Iraq the military charter aircraft bringing us home stopped in Ramstein Germany. After a few hour layover we re-boarded the aircraft but we were no longer alone, the rest of the aircraft had been filled with the families of soldiers and airmen stationed in Germany. Just days before most of us had been in Iraq or Afghanistan. The cries of children and the intrusion of these people, not bad people by any means on our return flight was shocking, it was like returning to a world that I no longer knew.

I think that coming home from war, especially for those damaged in some way, in mind, body or spirit is harder than being at war.

In that thought I am not alone. Erich Maria Remarque in his classic novel All Quiet on the Western Front wrote:

“I imagined leave would be different from this. Indeed, it was different a year ago. It is I of course that have changed in the interval. There lies a gulf between that time and today. At that time I still knew nothing about the war, we had been only in quiet sectors. But now I see that I have been crushed without knowing it. I find I do not belong here any more, it is a foreign world.”

Likewise, Guy Sajer a French-German from the Alsace and veteran of the Grossdeutschland Division on the Eastern Front in World War II noted at the end of his book The Forgotten Soldier: 

“In the train, rolling through the sunny French countryside, my head knocked against the wooden back of the seat. Other people, who seemed to belong to a different world, were laughing. I couldn’t laugh and couldn’t forget.”

I have been reminded of this several times in the past week. It began walking through a crowded Navy commissary on Saturday, in the few minutes in the store my anxiety level went up significantly. On Tuesday I learned of the death of Captain Tom Sitsch my last Commodore at EOD Group Two, who died by his own hand. His life had come apart. After a number of deployments to Iraq as the Commander EOD Mobile Unit 3 and of Task Force Troy he was afflicted with PTSD. Between June of 2008 and the end of 2009 he went from commanding an EOD Group to being forced to retire.  Today I had a long talk with a fairly young friend agonizing over continued medical treatments for terminal conditions he contracted in two tours in Iraq where he was awarded the Bronze Star twice.

I have a terrible insomnia, nightmares and night terrors due to PTSD. My memories of Iraq are still strong, and this week these conditions have been much worse. Sager wrote:

“Only happy people have nightmares, from overeating. For those who live a nightmare reality, sleep is a black hole, lost in time, like death.”

Nearly 20 years after returning from war, a survivor of the 1st Battalion 308th Infantry, the “Lost Battalion” of World War One, summed up the experience of so many men who come back from war:

“We just do not have the control we should have. I went through without a visible wound, but have spent many months in hospitals and dollars for medical treatment as a result of those terrible experiences.”

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Two time Medal of Honor winner Major General Smedley Butler toured Veterans hospitals following his retirement from the Marine Corps. He observed the soldiers who had been locked away. In his book War is a Racket:

“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.”

Similarly Remarque wrote in All Quiet on the Western Front:

“A man cannot realize that above such shattered bodies there are still human faces in which life goes its daily round. And this is only one hospital, a single station; there are hundreds of thousands in Germany, hundreds of thousands in France, hundreds of thousands in Russia. How senseless is everything that can ever be written, done, or thought, when such things are possible. It must be all lies and of no account when the culture of a thousand years could not prevent this stream of blood being poured out, these torture chambers in their hundreds of thousands. A hospital alone shows what war is.”

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Lieutenant Colonel Charles Whittlesey

Sometimes even those who have been awarded our Nation’s highest award for valor succumb to the demons of war that they cannot shake, and never completely adjust to life at “home” which is no longer home. For them it is a different, a foreign world to use the words of Sager and Remarque. Lieutenant Colonel Charles Whittlesey won the Medal Medal of Honor as Commander of 1st Battalion 308th Infantry, the “Lost Battalion” in France. After the war he was different. He gave up his civilian law practice and served as head of the Red Cross in New York. In that role, and as the Colonel for his reserve unit, he spent his time visiting the wounded who were still suffering in hospitals. He also made the effort to attend the funerals of veterans who had died. The continued reminders of the war that he could not come home from left him a different man. He committed suicide on November 21st 1921not long after serving as a pallbearer for the Unknown Soldier when that man was interred at Arlington National Cemetery.

In his eulogy, Judge Charles L. Hibbard noted:

“He is sitting on the piazza of a cottage by the sea on a glorious late September day but a few weeks ago. . . He is looking straight out to sea, with naught but sea between him and that land where lie so many of his boys. The beating surf is but an echo, the warm, bright sunshine, the blue sky, the dancing waves, all combine to charm. But a single look at his face and one knows he is unconscious of this glory of Nature. Somewhere far down in the depths of his being or in imagination far off across the waters he lives again the days that are past. That unconscious look has all the marks of deep sorrow, brooding tragedy, unbearable memories. Weeks pass. The mainspring of life is wound tighter and tighter and then comes the burial of the Unknown Soldier. This draws the last measure of reserve and with it the realization that life had little now to offer. This quiet, reserved personality drew away as it were from its habitation of flesh, thought out the future, measured the coming years and came to a mature decision. You say, ‘He had so much to live for – family, friends, and all that makes life sweet.’ No, my friends, life’s span for him was measured those days in that distant forest. He had plumbed the depth of tragic suffering; he had heard the world’s applause; he had seen and touched the great realities of life; and what remained was of little consequence. He craved rest, peace and sweet forgetfulness. He thought it out quietly, serenely, confidently, minutely. He came to a decision not lightly or unadvisedly, and in the end did what he thought was best, and in the comfort of that thought we too must rest. ‘Wounded in action,’ aye, sorely wounded in heart and soul and now most truly ‘missing in action.’”

Psychologist and professor Dr. Ari Solomon analyzed the case of Colonel Whittlesey and noted:

“If I could interview Whittlesey as a psychologist today, I’d especially have in mind … the sharp discrepancy between the public role he was playing and his hidden agony, his constant re-exposure to reminders of the battle, his possible lack of intimate relations, and his felt need to hide his pain even from family and dearest friends.”

I wish I had the answer. I have some ideas that date back to antiquity in the ways that tribes, clans and city states brought their warriors home. The warriors were recognized, there were public rituals, sometimes religious but other times not. But the difference is that the warriors were welcomed home by a community and re-integrated into it. They were allowed to share their stories, many of which were preserved through oral traditions so long that they eventually were written down, even in a mythologized state.

But we do not do that. Our society is disconnected, distant and often cold. Likewise it is polarized in ways that it has not been since the years before our terrible Civil War. Our warriors return from war, often alone, coming home to families, friends and communities that they no longer know. They are misunderstood because the population at large does not share their experience. The picture painted of them in the media, even when it is sympathetic is often a caricature; distance and the frenetic pace of our society break the camaraderie with the friends that they served alongside. Remarque wrote, “We were all at once terribly alone; and alone we must see it through.”

If we wonder about the suicide epidemic among veterans we have to ask hard questions. Questions like why do so many combat veterans have substance abuse problems and why is it that approximately one in ten prisoners serving time are veterans? It cannot be simply that they are all bad eggs. Many were and are smart, talented, compassionate and brave, tested and tried in ways that our civilian society has no understanding for or clue about. In fact to get in the military most had to be a cut above their peers. We have to ask if we are bringing our veterans home from war in a way that works. Maybe even more importantly we have to ask ourselves if as a culture if we have forgotten how to care about each other. How do we care for the men and women who bear the burden of war, even while the vast majority of the population basks in the freedom and security provided by the soldier without the ability to empathize because they have never shared that experience.

For every Tom Sitsch, Charles Whittlesey or people like my friend, there are countless others suffering in silence as a result of war. We really have to ask hard questions and then decide to do something as individuals, communities and government to do something about it. If we don’t a generation will suffer in silence.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, iraq,afghanistan, leadership, Military, ministry, PTSD, remembering friends, shipmates and veterans, suicide, Tour in Iraq, us army, US Marine Corps, US Navy, world war one

A Senseless and Fanatical Sacrifice: Kamikazes Enter the War at Leyte Gulf

 

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                  USS St Lo exploding after being hit by a Kamikaze

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Again I am taking some time off from current events as fast as they are moving, and I am posting edited articles about Battle of Leyte Gulf. The battle was the largest naval battle every fought and harborslessons that redound to our day. This article deals with the first use of Kamikaze aircraft whose pilots would attempt to dive into Allied warships, committing suicide rather than attempting to bomb a ship and return home.

In an age where suicide bombers and attackers do such things it is important to remember that this is not new. The Kamikaze pilots for the most part brainwashed by the Samurai ideology which had been drilled into them since they were children. One who survived because of engine failure and did not get a second chance told the BBC:

“Common sense says you only have one life,” he says, “so why would you want to give it away? Why would you be happy to do that? But at that time everyone I knew, they all wanted to volunteer. We needed to be warriors to stop the invasion from coming. Our minds were set. We had no doubt about it.”

While most Kamikaze pilots hated that ideology, some did not. Regardless, such a mentality is true of many fanatical idealists and terrorists even today. Such men and women span the religious and ideological spectrum. That is the truth, and it is profoundly depressing. Human nature being what it is means that there will be many more like them, the terrorists of September 11th 2001 were little different than the Kamikazes, but instead of the Bushido creed of the Samurai, it was a fanatical belief in Jihad.

Peace

Padre Steve+

In 1944 one of the leading Japanese Naval aviators, Admiral Takijirō Ōnishi wrote:

“In my opinion, there is only one way of assuring that our meager strength will be effective to a maximum degree. That is to organize suicide attack units composed of A6M Zero fighters armed with 250-kilogram bombs, with each plane to crash-dive into an enemy carrier…” 

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It was a tactic born of desperation but one that fit in well with the philosophy of Bushido. After the Battle of the Philippine Sea, the “Marianas Turkey Shoot” in June 1944 and the slaughter of land based Japanese Naval and Army air forces based in Formosa in September of that year Japanese leaders began to look to a tactics born of desperation but which fit their Bushido based ethos of sacrifice.

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                                                        Lt. Yukio Seki

Suicide attacks were nothing new to the Japanese, but until October 1944 they were tactics decided on by individuals who saw no alternative to the choice. In October 1944 that calculus changed, instead of individuals or isolated units which had no hope of victory conducting suicide attacks, commanders decided to employ suicide attackers as a matter of course.

When the American forces invaded the Philippines Admiral Takijirō Ōnishi was commander of the First Air Fleet based in the Northern Philippines. He was not a fan of Kamikaze tactics and viewed them as heresy. However after the slaughter of the reconstituted Naval Air Force at the Battle of the Philippine Sea he reluctantly changed his mind. I say reluctantly based on his previous views and because after he committed ritual suicide following the Japanese surrender he apologized to the estimated 4000 pilots that he sent to their death and their families.

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                                                Admiral Ōnishi

But in October 1944 with Japan reeling from defeats in the Pacific and its supply route for oil and other raw materials threatened desperation was the order of the day.

The 201st Navy Flying Corps based out of Clark Field near Manila was the major land based Japanese Naval Air Force unit in the Philippines. Among its pilots was a young Naval Officer and Aviator named Lt. Yukio Seki. Seki was a graduate of the Japanese Naval Academy at Eta Jima and was recently married. He was not an ideologue or believer in suicide attacks. When questioned by a reporter before his squadron launched the first Kamikaze attacks he remarked to Masashi Onoda, a War Correspondent :“Japan’s future is bleak if it is forced to kill one of its best pilots. I am not going on this mission for the Emperor or for the Empire… I am going because I was ordered to!”

On October 25th 1944 Seki led his group of 5 A6M2-5 Zero fighters, each carrying a 550 pound bomb took off and attacked the Escort Carriers of Rear Admiral Clifton Sprague’s “Taffy-3.” The five pilots all died in their attacks but two damaged the USS Kalinin Bay and USS Kitkun Bay while two aircraft, one believed to be Seki’s hit the USS St Lo causing mortal damage which sank that ship in less than half an hour with the loss of over 140 sailors.

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The attacks of Seki’s small squadron were a harbinger of what was to come. Over the next 10 months over 4000 Japanese pilots would die in Kamikaze attacks against US Navy and Allied Naval units. Numbers of ships destroyed or damaged by Kamikazes are debated by some historians believe that 70 US and Allied ships were sunk or damaged beyond repair and close to 300 more damaged. 2525 Imperial Japanese Navy pilots and 1387 Imperial Army pilots died in Kamikaze attacks killing almost 5000 sailors and wounding over 5000 more.

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Another pilot, who did not swallow the propaganda was Lieutenant Ryoji Uehara. He wrote his mother before his final mission:

“Tomorrow, one who believes in democracy will leave this world, he may look lonely but his heart is filled with satisfaction. Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany have been defeated. Authoritarianism is like building a house with broken stones.”

Admiral Ōnishi who made the decision to make Kamikazes a part of Japan’s offensive strategy in 1944 appeared to regret that decision. In his suicide note he urged young Japanese to rebuild the country and seek peace with all people and offered his death a penance for the nearly 4000 pilots he sent to their deaths. Accordingly when he committed ritual suicide (seppuku) he did so alone, with a second to finish the job and died over 15 hours after disemboweling himself.

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                                                     A Final Toast

The Kamikaze campaign did not alter the course of the war, but it did introduce a new dimension of terror and misguided sacrifice. Despite the propaganda of the ideologues who urge men and women to undertake suicide missions, there is no honor for those that do so. I do pray that one day war will be no more and that even though I expect war to remain part of our world until longer after my death  that nations, peoples or revolutionary groups will no longer send their best and brightest to certain death.

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A Last Drink before Surgery in the Morning

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

As I lift this stein, an hour and a half before I can neither eat and drink before by arthroscopic knee surgery Thursday I wish you all the best. Sadly, in order to get to the hospital where the surgery will be done I will have to be up way before sunrise. As anyone with any sense knows, the darkness of the morning is God’s way of letting you know you should still be in bed.

I had a great day having lunch with a Navy Chaplain who I now call a friend who I threw a coffee cup at in between missions in Al Anbar Province in 2007. Yes I was already dealing with PTSD back then but didn’t know it. He’s a great guy, and my wife Judy loves his wife as a dear friend. Then this evening I dinner and a couple of beers with a fellow progressive Navy Chaplain of my age who suffers from many of my afflictions and others far worse.

Now, I have every bit of confidence in the surgery that will be conducted on my left knee Thursday, which is like a few hours from now, which is kind of like today if I lived in Germany. But by the time you read this dear reader it will be today, unless you ready it tomorrow or sometime after that, but I digress…

That being said, my right knee, which I had a Platelet Rich Plasma treatment on a week ago still hurts like a motherfucker. If that continues I will probably need a knee replacement which could throw my projected retirement date into doubt. Honestly, I don’t give a flying fuck so long as it gets fixed before I leave active duty and have to surrender valuable private sector work in order to wait on the VA to fix it. Call me selfish and entitled, but after nearly 38 years of throwing my body under the bus for the country I deserve getting it taken care of before I retire and am cast off into the abyss of veteran care.

So anyway. Whenever you read this, lift a pint and say a prayer for me, and those far worse off than me. There are a lot of them, and most are too intimidated by the system to throw the bullshit flag like I have been doing for the past decade. I owe much of this to my military and civilian therapists and psychiatrists who encouraged me as a Chaplain and senior officer to tell the truth and speak out. Sadly, quite a few of the senior officers and Chaplains I have known swallowed the pain and taken their lives, and there were times that I would have done the same if it wasn’t for Judy and our dogs, especially Molly who decided she wanted to live with me in North Carolina during the times I most wanted to die. I couldn’t kill myself because she was so devoted to me. Now I have Izzy, Pierre, and Minnie. Judy would love all of them, but Pierre and Izzy are devoted to me. Strange how things like that keep you alive when nothing else does.

Until tomorrow, have a great night.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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I Won’t Shut Up Until It’s Fixed: Military and Veteran Mental Health Treatment

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Last night I came across the story which threw me back in to the abyss of PTSD. I still suffer terribly from it. I have terrible nightmares and night terrors and often physically act out my dreams. Since 2014 this has resulted in two Emergency Room visits due to the injuries incurred in those dreams, including a broken nose. In the deepest depths of anxiety, fear, depression and at times paranoia I contemplated suicide many times. The only thing that kept me from it was what the effect would be on Judy and how my dog Molly would understand that daddy wasn’t ever coming back.

Anyway, I read about the story of Colonel Jim Turner who committed suicide in the parking lot of the Bay Pines Florida, Department Of Veternas Affairs Medical Center. He had dressed in his Dress Blues with Medals, got out of his car, sat on his service records, and killed himself with a rifle. The story struck so close to home because in July of 2014 I was at the same point following an encounter with a a provider and what was a very inhuman and machinelike system of treatment at Naval Medical Center, Portsmouth, Virginia.

I had been getting treatment and therapy since the summer of 2008 when I crashed following my return from Iraq. In 2013 I thought that I was doing well enough to discontinue therapy. But in early January 2014, my former Commodore at EOD Group Two, Captain Tom Sitsch committed suicide outside a hospital in New Hampshire. He had been retired about five years and his life was falling apart, but when I met in the spring of 2008 he was the only man who seemed to care about me, and how I was coping as I was crashing. His death hit me really hard and I realized that I needed to get back into therapy at least to have someone to talk to every couple of weeks to make sure that I was  okay.

I wrote about these encounters on this blog a number of times from the day until it happened until the situation was resolved by the intervention of my former Commanding Officer at Naval Hospital Camp LeJeune, NC who had since been promoted to Admiral and put me in direct contact with Rear Admiral Jeff Moulton who commanded the Medical Center and Naval Region East.

After my encounter with the provider, a young Psychiatric Resident physician, I was considering suicide in a very similar way to how Colonel Turner killed himself. I was goi g to purchase a chrome plated M1911A1 .45 pistol, my favorite or all weapons I used in the military, clothe myself in my choker whites with full medals and put a round in my heart. I was ready to do it, and then I thought of the effect on my wife Judy, my dogs, and the people who would witness what I did.

If Admiral Lane had not reached out to Admiral Moulton I might well have died by my own hand. But those men took the time to listen to me and ensure that I got help. They saved my life. I am still in therapy. I still suffer crazy nightmares and act out my dreams, even last week when I scared the shit out of my Papillon dog Izzy and Judy when I tried to defend myself from a enemy combatant who had a pistol pointed at me, but I don’t want to die.

But an interesting thing happened. While reviewing my medical records in preparation for going into the VA system I found that the young Psychiatry Resident had put in a very perjorative diagnois Of a personality disorder based on a brief visit and a phone call, in fact the diagnosis was put in weeks after I had talked with her and after I had talked with Admiral. I guess she never thought that I would know about it. I talked with my current therapist who could access her notes about it today. When we talked he gave the dates on her notes, he told me what she wrote, and so this evening I went to my blog archives because I knew I had written about it when it happened. The result blew me away.

If I was a civilian I could sue her for malpractice, but since I am on active duty I cannot due to to provisions of the Feres Decsion. Now at this point in my life I don’t want revenge, I just want to have the perjorative diagnosis removed from my records. Until today I didn’t realize that I had the evidence at my fingertips, my scrambled brain had me think that the encounter was in 2015, but my blog and the Medical records show that it happened in July and August of 2014.

Pray for me, and if you have any legal advice please let me know. I plan to go forward as the psychiatrist is still on active duty at another base heading a clinic that treats patients with PTSD. I wonder if she is using her position to slander young sailors and marines who disagree with her or do not want to use her as a therapist, and who don’t know that a provider can so easily use a medical record to prejudice other providers against them.

As I said back in 2014, I will not shut up until the system is fixed. The late Colonel David Hackworth who Inhad the honor of corresponding with before he died noted: “If a policy is wrongheaded feckless and corrupt I take it personally and consider it a moral obligation to sound off and not shut up until it’s fixed.”

That is now part of my mission, not just for me, but for men like Colonel Turner, Captain Sitsch, and the countless men and women who have been callously treated by military and Veterans Administration mental health providers. For the approximately 20 military personnel and veterans who take their lives every day. All of us deserve better,

By my calculations the psychiatrist who did this to me wasn’t even born whenI enlisted in the Army or had even entered medical school when I deployed to Iraq. At the time that she saw me she had never deployed, been in combat, or commanded troops, in fact I would dare say that when I saw her I had much more experience dealing with death and troops suffering from PTSD than she did. I’m pretty sure that when I told her I didn’t want to do therapy with her I told her that, perhaps she was offended that a non-physician would tell her that, but I tend to tell the truth, and call things the way that I see them.

So anyway, until tomorrow, or maybe since it’s after midnight, later today I wish you peace, and pray for me a sinner.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

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Filed under ethics, leadership, mental health, Military, News and current events, PTSD, suicide, Tour in Iraq, us army, US Marine Corps, US Navy

I Don’t Have the Answers but You Might as Well Live: Thoughts on Suicide

Suicide-Hotline

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

This is a hard article to write because it takes me back to points in my life after my return from Iraq that all I wanted to do was die and even had plans of how I would kill myself. The worst period was between 2010 and 2013 when I was stationed away from my wife Judy on an unaccompanied assignment at Camp LeJeune North Carolina. But I couldn’t do it. I didn’t want to subject my dog Molly to me not coming home, she helped save my life, as did thoughts of Judy and the friends I had at a local bar who cared for me during that time.

It wasn’t my faith or for that matter most of the people I knew in the Chaplain Corps or my former Church that kept me from it, it was a dog, my wife, and regular guys that I ate and drank with regularly: Mike and New York Mike, Walt, Eddie, Felicia, Bill, “Judge Ito”, Billy, and other regulars at Rucker Johns in Emerald Isle made sure that I lived. So did friends at Granger Stadium in Kinston North Carolina where I would drive an hour to and back to watch minor league baseball games two or three times a week: Toni and Jerry, Anne, Cara, and Negro League Hall of Fame player Carl Long. Sadly, New York Mike, Judge Ito, Walt, Cara, and Carl have all passed away since I came back to Virginia.

During those dark times I had friends including men and women that I had served with in the military or their family members kill themselves. I can visualize their faces as I write this. They ranged in age from barely twenty years old to nearly sixty, all at different stages of life and their career. Quite a few were combat vets of multiple deployments and in one case both the Vietnam and the Iraq wars. They were real heroes but they defeat the figurative demons within them. I also have had a great grandfather and great uncle who afflicted with terminal cancer killed themselves.

I still struggle with the effects of PTSD, Traumatic Brain Injury, and Moral Injury. I still suffer from depression and anxiety, thankfully not nearly as bad as it used to be. I still avoid most crowded places unless they are very familiar to me. I am still hyper-vigilant and on guard. I plot escape routes or have memorized what I as an unarmed person would do to neutralize a threat in a public place because I don’t plan on going down without a fight or let innocent people get killed.  I also suffer from frequent flashbacks and terrible nightmares and night terrors. I threw myself off the bed in the middle of one again Thursday night. Thankfully I didn’t get a concussion or break my nose leading to emergency room visits like happened in 2014 and 2016.

Suicide is something I try not even to think about because it takes me back to very bad times that I don’t want to experience again. At the same time when I have to deal with suicides at work or read about high profile suicides, such as those of Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade I feel all of the anguish that I went through during the worst times, but without any desire to kill myself, I think that is a good thing.

At the same time when I deal with or hear about a suicide my mind starts playing the them song from M*A*S*H; Suicide is Painless, which was written for the movie by the fourteen year old son of director Robert Altman. Altman wanted the song for a specific scene in the film and he wanted it to be named Suicide is Painless, he also wanted it to be the stupidest song ever written. He couldn’t wrap himself around that and his son wrote it in about 15 minutes. It’s a strange song for me. I grew up with the movie and the TV show and I started my career as a commissioned office as a Medical Service Corps Officer in the Army. The song was the official song of the Army Medical Department and the instrumental version was played at every graduation or function that we had. Two decades later in the trauma hall of a Navy Trauma platoon in Iraq I felt like Father Mulcahy

I have a deep sense of empathy for those who suffer from deep depression and feel that sense of hopelessness, abandonment, and god-forsakenness that often lead to suicide. When I see people who complete a suicide condemned as weak, selfish, or even worse as deserving of God’s wrath and judgment I do get angry, especially when the accusers are Christians. I believe than nobody is outside the mercy and love of God, even those who commit suicide. At the same time it is hard for me to know what to say anymore without sounding trite because I know how deeply someone has to be hurting to consider suicide, and words cannot go there, there is a profound hollowness to them. The last verse of Suicide is Painless note something that I feel when dealing with a suicide situation because I just don’t have the answers:

A brave man once requested me
To answer questions that are key
Is it to be or not to be
And I replied oh why ask me…

That being said I do believe that help can be found and that even in the midst of struggle people can get help and find meaning in life, and I want them to find whatever they need to help them live, thrive, and survive. I don’t believe that life is without struggle, many of my personal heroes dealt with terrible depression at various times of their lives. Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses Grant, Gouverneur Warren, and T.E. Lawrence among them.

As opposed to the thought that suicide is painless, I think that the great American poet and satirist Dorothy Parker said it well, suicide is not painless, she wrote:

“Razors pain you,
Rivers are damp,
Acids stain you,
And drugs cause cramp.
Guns aren’t lawful,
Nooses give,
Gas smells awful.
You might as well live.”

So please, if you or someone that you know are struggling with issues in life that are so bad that suicide has become an option, please reach out and get help. Getting help is worth it, I know, I wouldn’t still be here without it. As Seneca said: “Sometimes even to live is an act of courage.”

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number is 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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Truth Deniers: The Fundamentalist Idolatry of Preachers

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

As I mentioned yesterday things have been quite busy and unsettled around here so I won’t be writing a lot today. That being said, I want to mention a comment that a fundamentalist Christian come to my Facebook page and send me a direct message excoriating me for a very considered article that I wrote about the death of the Reverend David Wilkerson a number of years ago after he drove his car into an oncoming truck.

It was a difficult article to write. As someone who admired David Wilkerson yet did not idolize him I took the time to read his blog posts, and then obtain the State Police accident reports, accident photos, and autopsy results. My conclusion based on the evidence, and my experience doing accident investigation when I was in the Army was that Wilkerson had to have intentionally driven into the oncoming truck. The police reports, the photos, and his own words all pointed to it. Honesty, I would have preferred to have discovered that the car had a mechanical issue, or that he had a medical event that caused him to veer into the oncoming truck, but the evidence did not show that. Instead, it showed that on a clear day, on a strait road, that he drove directly into an oncoming tractor-trailer rig, ending his life and fatally injuring his terminally ill wife.

Over the years I have had quite a few Evangelical Christians come to this site as well as my Facebook page to attack me, condemn me to Hell, and do everything but to dispassionately examine the evidence and come to a conclusion. The problem is that I took down the idol that they made of a good man, a man who did many good things, but who also had feet of clay, who like his wife was suffering from serious medical issues, and who had recently suffered the betrayal of the people that he had helped to promote to senior leadership at Times Square Church, people who would have not reached their positions without his help and assistance.

The problem is that David was a fundamentalist, and he had written a small polemic book about suicide being an unforgivable sin. I have the book, I read it before I wrote the article. Personally I don’t think that God will condemn to Hell a suffering person who makes a tragic choice such as suicide. There were many things that I admired David for and others that I disagreed with him, suicide was one of them.

Yesterday I got a personal message from another of his idolators who blasted me every which way but loose. Instead of responding like I have done in the past I realized that no words of mine would change this person’s opinion, so I simply deleted it without comment. To me it is no longer worth debating people who refuse to even entertain  possibilities that are at odds with their beliefs about the men they turn into idols.

That is a problem for many Evangelical and Fundamentalist Christians. I have seen too many deny and defends the real crimes of preachers who they have turned into idols. I saw it when I worked for a very well known Fundamentalist televangelist when I was in seminary in the late 1980s and early 1990s and throughout my ministry since then. It doesn’t matter what they do: defraud their followers, be caught in horrendous marital infidelity, abuse of children, and even murder, their followers will defend them to their dying day and then condemn anyone who dares point out inconvenient truths. Pardon me, but that is not Christian, it is idolatry.

To his credit, David Wilkerson did not defraud his flock, he did not cheat on his wife, he did not abuse children, or murder anyone. He appears to have been caught in the terrible throws of depression, hopelessness, and succumbed to the impulse to end his life. There are many people who have also contacted me over the years to share the good things about David and ministry, as well as how he touched their lives who also empathized with the suffering that led him to take his life. I think that demonstrates an appropriate response to the tragic death of someone who did many good things.

Anyway. That’s more than I intended to write and I had no idea how much something that happened almost seven years ago still inspires people to hate and condemn those who however reluctantly destroy their idolatrous image of good but flawed and suffering people. However, I continue to learn that as Lord Dumbledore said: “The truth.” Dumbledore sighed. “It is a beautiful and terrible thing, and should therefore be treated with great caution.”

It is, and some people cannot handle it.

Have a great Saturday.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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