Category Archives: US Navy

A Christmas Coda: Joyeux Noel and My Call after the Military

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World

As a veteran who served in the badlands of Al Anbar Province during Christmas of 2007 I can relate to Father Palmer, the British priest and chaplain in the film Joyeux Noel (Merry Christmas) when he makes the comment “I belong with those who are in pain, and who have lost their faith, I belong here.”

I again watched that film tonight. The film is the story of the amazing and exceptional Christmas Truce of 1914. It is a film that each time I see it that I discover something new, more powerful than the last time I viewed it. It reminds me of serving in Iraq, at Christmas from my perspective as a Chaplain, and thereby giving voice to those who serve now, as well as those who served God’s people in hellish places before me. It reminds me of how much I hate war, and how much I often hate the clergy who are all too often, bloodthirsty

 

As a Chaplain I am drawn to the actions of the British Padre in the film, who during the truce conducts a Mass for all the soldiers, British, French and German in no-man’s land, who goes about caring for the soldiers both the living and the dead. His actions are contrasted with his Bishop who comes to relieve him of his duties and to urge on the replacement soldiers to better kill the Germans.

As the Chaplain begins to provide the last Rites to a dying soldier the Bishop walks in, in full purple cassock frock coat and hat and the chaplain looks up and kisses his ring.

As the chaplain looks at his clerical superior there is a silence and the Bishop looks sternly at the priest and addresses him:

“You’re being sent back to your parish in Scotland. I’ve brought you your marching orders.”

Stunned the Priest replies: “I belong with those who are in pain, and who have lost their faith, I belong here.”

The Bishop then sternly lectures the Priest: “I am very disappointed you know. When you requested permission to accompany the recruits from your parish I personally vouched for you. But then when I heard what happened I prayed for you.”

The Priest humbly and respectfully yet with conviction responds to his superior: “I sincerely believe that our Lord Jesus Christ guided me in what was the most important Mass of my life. I tried to be true to his trust and carry his message to all, whoever they may be.”

The Bishop seems a bit taken aback but then blames the Chaplain for what will next happen to the Soldiers that he has served with in the trenches: “Those men who listened to you on Christmas Eve will very soon bitterly regret it; because in a few days time their regiment is to be disbanded by the order of His Majesty the King. Where will those poor boys end up on the front line now? And what will their families think?”

They are interrupted when a soldier walks in to let the Bishop know that the new soldiers are ready for his sermon. After acknowledging the messenger the Bishop continues: “They’re waiting for me to preach a sermon to those who are replacing those who went astray with you.” He gets ready to depart and continues: “May our Lord Jesus Christ guide your steps back to the straight and narrow path.”

The Priest looks at him and asks: “Is that truly the path of our Lord?”

The Bishop looks at the Priest and asks what I think is the most troubling question: “You’re not asking the right question. Think on this: are you really suitable to remain with us in the house of Our Lord?”

With that the Bishop leaves and goes on to preach. The words of the sermon are from a 1915 sermon preached by an Anglican Bishop in Westminster Abbey. They reflect the poisonous aspects of many religious leaders on all sides of the Great War, but also many religious leaders of various faiths even today, sadly I have to say Christian leaders are among the worst when it comes to inciting violence against those that they perceive as enemies of the Church, their nation or in some cases their political faction within this country.

I was reminded of that last night and today as the now Impeached President called upon and received the fealty and obedience of his Imperial Court Clergy, and the ever faithful cult of conservative and Evangelical Christians while pledging to destroy his enemies. In such a time I cannot

The Bishop who relieved Father Palmer went on to preach a sermon to newly arrived troops.

“Christ our Lord said, “Think not that I come to bring peace on earth. I come not to bring peace, but a sword.” The Gospel according to St. Matthew. Well, my brethren, the sword of the Lord is in your hands. You are the very defenders of civilization itself. The forces of good against the forces of evil. For this war is indeed a crusade! A holy war to save the freedom of the world. In truth I tell you: the Germans do not act like us, neither do they think like us, for they are not, like us, children of God. Are those who shell cities populated only by civilians the children of God? Are those who advanced armed hiding behind women and children the children of God? With God’s help, you must kill the Germans, good or bad, young or old. Kill every one of them so that it won’t have to be done again.”

The sermon is chilling and had it not been edited by the director would have contained the remark actually said by the real Bishop that the Germans “crucified babies on Christmas.” Of course that was typical of the propaganda of the time and similar to things that religious leaders of all faiths use to demonize their opponents and stir up violence in the name of their God.

When the Bishop leaves the Priest finishes his ministration to the wounded while listening to the words of the Bishop who is preaching not far away in the trenches. He meditates upon his simple cross, takes it off, kisses it hand hangs it upon a tripod where a container of water hangs.

The scene is chilling for a number of reasons. First is the obvious, the actions of a religious leader to denigrate the efforts of some to bring the Gospel of Peace into the abyss of Hell of earth and then to incite others to violence dehumanizing the enemy forces. The second and possibly even more troubling is to suggest that those who do not support dehumanizing and exterminating the enemy are not suitable to remain in the house of the Lord. Since I have had people, some in person and others on social media say similar things to what the Bishop asks Palmer the scene hits close to home.

When I left Iraq in February 2008 I felt that I was abandoning those committed to my spiritual care, but my time was up. Because of it I missed going with some of my advisors to Basra with the 1st Iraqi Division to retake that city from insurgents. It was only a bit over a month after I had celebrated what I consider to be my most important Masses of my life at COP South and COP North on December 23rd as well as Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. In fact until very recently they were really the last masses that I felt the mystery and awe of the love of God that I used to so much feel.

When I left Iraq the new incoming senior Chaplain refused to take my replacement leaving our advisers without dedicated support. He then slandered me behind my back because what I was doing was not how he would do things and because I and my relief were under someone else’s operational control. It is funny how word gets back to you when people talk behind your back. Thankfully he is now retired from the Navy and I feel for any ministers of his denomination under his “spiritual” care. So I cannot forget those days and every time I think about them, especially around Christmas I am somewhat melancholy and why I can relate so much to Father Palmer in the movie. While I cannot prove it I do believe, and have heard from others who used to work at the Chief of Chaplains office that I have been shunned and punished by past and present leaders of the Chaplain Corps because of my witness in being open about my struggles with faith and PTSD. A can recount a number of incidents that would be of circumstantial evidence, but I digress. That being said I am much better off for that experience than I would be had it not occurred.

It has been thirteen years since those Christmas Masses and they still feel like yesterday. In the intervening years my life has been different. Just a year later I was walking home from church where my wife was to sing in the choir during the Christmas vigil mass. I couldn’t handle the crowds, the noise, and I felt so far away from God. That night I walked home in the dark looking up into the sky asking God if he still was there. If there had been a bar on the way home I would have stopped by and poured myself in.

Since Iraq I have dealt with severe and chronic PTSD, depression, anxiety and insomnia were coupled with a two year period where due to my struggles I lost faith, was for all practical purposes an agnostic. I felt abandoned by God, but even more so and maybe more importantly by my former church and most other Chaplains. It was like being radioactive, there was and is a stigma for Chaplains that admits to PTSD and go through a faith crisis, especially from other Chaplains and Clergy. It was just before Christmas in late 2009 that faith began to return in what I call my Christmas Miracle. But be sure, let no one tell you differently, no Soldier, Sailor, Marine or Airman who has suffered the trauma of war and admitted to PTSD does not feel the stigma that goes with it, and sadly, despite the best efforts of many there is a stigma.

Now that faith is different and I have become much more skeptical of the motivations of religious leaders, especially those that demonize and dehumanize those that do not believe like them or fully support their cause or agenda. Unfortunately there are far too many men and women who will use religion to do that, far too many. Unlike a few years ago they now occupy the seat of political power as sycophants of our soon to be ex-President, offering no prophetic voice but speaking the words of death covered in the veneer of the Christian faith.

As for me I had the floor kicked from out from under me in the summer of 2014 and it has been a hard fight and while I am beginning to get back to some sense of normal it is a day to day thing. I still suffer the effects of the PTSD, especially the insomnia, nightmares and the nightmares which came back with a vengeance that summer. I have a REM sleep disorder in which my body doesn’t shut down when I get into REM sleep. This reacts well with the Nightmare and Night Terror disorders because I act out my responses to those terrors. In 2014 I ended up with a visit to the medical clinic with a concussion and sprained jaw and neck. In 2016 I broke my nose, and dark and early this morning I busted my head open  requiring 9 stitches, 2 deep ones and 7 on top. Thankfully Judy got my stubborn ass to the ER. Coupled with my other ongoing maladies of the past couple of months I am really getting too old for this shit.

As for faith, I do believe again, more often than not, though at the same time I doubt. Though I believe I think I still consider myself to be a Christian Agnostic who echoes the cry of the man who cried out to Jesus, “Lord I believe, help my unbelief!” I believe and yet, I don’t and I don’t think that is a bad thing, I think it helps me understand those who no longer believe, those that struggle, and those who raised as Christians have left the faith.

Like the Priest in Joyeux Noel I know that my place is with those who are “in pain, and who have lost their faith.” For me this may no longer be on the battlefield as I will be retired, unless some massive war breaks out and they start calling back recent retirees to service. That has happened before and the Soviets, Chicoms and Iranians aren’t taking time off for Christmas.

However, that being said I will strive to be there for those that struggle with faith and believe, especially those who struggle because of what they saw and experienced during war and when they returned home. Three years ago I hosted the NATO contingent at my former chapel, and had the honor of preaching an Advent message in German.

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Over the last year of my service I continued speak truth to those in power and those whose faithfulness is more a product of their comfort with the God that they create in their own mind rather than the Crucified God wise death on the Cross s a scandal. For many Christians the scandal of the cross is too easy to avoid by surrounding ourselves with pet theologies that appeal to our pride, prejudice and power. The kind of malevolent power represented by the bishop in Joyeux Noel as well as the leaders of the so called “Conservative Evangelicals” who supported a President who says “Merry Christmas” even as he continues to defecate on all who believe in the God who became incarnate as a helpless babe in a manger and who died on a cross.  Last year I saw a mocking meme of Trump saying “Merry Christmas” as he holds a bigger than life Bible to his chest from a very conservative evangelical friend on Facebook, it was blasphemous. Those people remind me of the hate filled nationalist British Bishop.

The French mystic Simone Weil said “He who has not God in himself cannot feel His absence.” I think that sums up the President and his ardent Evangelical supporters. I don’t think they would recognize Christ if he walked among them and would have been among those shouting “Crucify him!” but of course I could be wrong in some individual cases.

So, this Christmas, like the theologian Paul Tillich I have come to believe  that “Sometimes I think it is my mission to bring faith to the faithless, and doubt to the faithful.”  In other words I am going to be faithful to the Crucified Christ and remain a complete pain in the ass to them until the day that I die, a real Padre Smedley if you get my drift.

Once again I watched Joyeux Noel, and as usual I cried. Though I had my retirement ceremony Monday, and am officially retired on 31 December and I am praying for peace in hopes that someday it becomes real. St. Francis prayed:

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace;
Where there is hated, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is discord, harmony;
Where there is error, truth;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, Grant that I may no so much seek
To be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;

To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying hat we are born into eternal life. 

After all, I still belong with those who are in pain, and who have lost their faith, whether I am in the Navy or not.

So until tomorrow,

Praying for Peace this Christmas,

Padre Steve+

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Thoughts After My Retirement Ceremony: The Good, the Bad, the Ugly, and Thanking all Who Were there for Me

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Sorry not to have written anything the past few days but I was exhausted after dealing with medical and dental issues, getting no sleep and being stressed out getting ready for my retirement ceremony. When it was done I was happy and so tired that I had a hard time doing anything.

Monday I had my COVID-19 Era retirement ceremony. It very special. Unfortunately the live stream video got deleted by the Chapel were it was held, but I heard from a number of people that a lot of it could not be heard on the livestream. Even so the people I wanted there were there and it was an appropriate coda to my career. One of our friends present with his wife is an active Staff Sergeant in the Virginia Army National Guard’s 29th Infantry Division in which I served after I became an Army Chaplain in 1995.

I had my Command Master Chief from Norfolk Naval Shipyard as well the Chief Bos’ns Mate from the Shipyard to sound the bells and pipe me ashore. Having two Chiefs was awesome, as the Command Master Chief read the traditional reading The Watch, something I wanted because my late father was a Chief Petty Officer. For me that was a huge honor. Seldom do Chief’s or Senior Non-Commissioned Officers get leading roles at an officer’s retirement, especially like in reading the The Watch in the Navy. If you have never heard it read this is how it goes, only the number of years of service change.

 Like the Chiefs, few Chaplains have their RPs or Chaplain Assistants speak at their retirement ceremonies. I don’t know why? In the Army we are Unit Ministry Teams, and the Navy Religious Ministry Teams, the key word being teams. I was talking to a friend today, the only other Chaplain that I have seen have one of his enlisted men speak. He noted that during his time in the Navy that most Religious Program Specialists at the Rank of Petty Officer First Class, had worked for at least one Chaplain who treated them in such a way that they lost faith in God, other Chaplains and the church or religious institutions in general. Nelson fricking nailed it. God bless him and his wonderful daughter.

I had two former Commanding Officers who had a huge impact in my Navy speak with prerecorded remarks. Retired Medical Corps Rear Admiral David Lane who was my commanding officer at Naval Hospital Camp LeJeune during one of the darkest points of my life. He was there for they then and in 2015 when due to the maltreatment and abuse I was getting from staff members of the Mental Health Department of the Naval Medical Center, interceded with the Admiral commanding it. That Admiral called me, spoke to me for an hour, got me the appropriate referrals and got some things changed, because I wondered if a senior officer was being treated the way I was, how were junior sailors, marines, soldiers and airmen being treated. I was suicidal, but Admiral Lane helped keep me from it. Monday, he honored me, and my wife Judy with his remarks. He is one of the good guys, he sees people not in light of their rank or job, but as human beings. His words brought tears to my eyes too.

The other was Captain Rick Hoffman, my Skipper aboard USS HUE CITY on her first combat deployment having been a test ship for new combat systems for five years. That was shortly after the attacks of September 11th 2001, and he helped put my service aboard the ship in context. He is an amazing man. He lost his wife to Cancer not long after he retired. He offered to turn down command of the ship   when she was diagnosed, but she wouldn’t let him. She survived the first bout but not the second. The Admiral who presided over the ceremony, Rear Admiral Charles Rock said that when he was a young Lieutenant Commander that Captain Hoffman was a legend. He didn’t know that he had been my Skipper on HUE CITY. Likewise, he had worked with Admiral Lane not long before Admiral Lane retired in Washington DC.

Captain Hoffman’s children are great people, and since retiring he has continued to look after his sailors and our national security. He provided me chances to do things chaplains never get to do. His comments were so good, and brought back many fond memories of my shipmates, including the ones who removed me from breaking up a fight between a disgruntled crewman and Master of a ship impounded under the UN Oil Sanctions on Iraq, for which the crew gave me the nickname “Battle Chaps.” Not only was I unarmed, but because of a shortage of Kevlar armor plates for our combat floatation vests, I was also going into danger without any protection except that of my shipmates. Thankfully, I had great shipmates. That was good living, difficult, arduous, but what you live for if you sign up to serve as a Navy Chaplain. It was such an honor to have Captain Hoffman there, even as like Admiral Lane had to do, he did so virtually.

I also had Mikey Weinstein, President of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, who defended me when I was facing potential Court Martial. Since then he and I have become fast friends and allies in the defense of the civil and religious rights of military personnel and their families. He echoed the words of Nelson, Admiral Lane, and Captain Hoffman said about me, and he never had met them. All understand that a Chaplain’s job is far more than preaching his or her faith, it is about caring for military personnel, their families, and our Department of Defense and Department of the Navy civilian personnel, and protecting their Constitutional rights.

As Admiral Lane noted, to preach at stateside chaplains we could hire contractors, but we needed chaplains who could be there for our military personnel and their families, regardless of their faith or lack thereof. There really are no other places someone in the military can go with complete confidentiality to reveal their hurts, pains, anxiety, worries, and even sins in complete confidence without fear of reprisal, or punishment. In some ways, good military Chaplains are to use the words of James Spader’s character in The Blacklist, are sin eaters. This is not saying that we cover up crimes, but that we are a safe place for people to cast their cares and get sound counsel on how to get whatever help they need and if need be go with them to get that help be it medical, psychological, legal, administrative, or the help best given by their chain of command. One finds as a chaplain that most of our flock’s needs are not necessarily spiritual and that they don’t need to only person with absolute confidentiality they can go to shove religion down their throats.

Mikey understands this much more than his critics give him credit. He understands the needs and religious rights of military personnel as only one who has had his life threatened by Christian theocrats, and Anti-Semites can only understand. He spoke very personal and inspiring words about my service.

My regular readers understand my understanding of religious liberty, government, and citizenship. One of my inspirations is the great Virginia Baptist, John Leland who advised Thomas Jefferson in the Virginia Declaration of Religious Liberties and James Madison on the First Amendment wrote, and which I quoted Monday in my remarks:

Is conformity of sentiments in matters of religion essential to the happiness of civil government? Not at all. Government has no more to do with the religious opinions of men than it has with the principles of mathematics. Let every man speak freely without fear–maintain the principles that he believes–worship according to his own faith, either one God, three Gods, no God, or twenty Gods; and let government protect him in so doing, i.e., see that he meets with no personal abuse or loss of property for his religious opinions. Instead of discouraging him with proscriptions, fines, confiscation or death, let him be  encouraged, as a free man, to bring forth his arguments and maintain his points with all boldness; then if his doctrine is false it will be confuted, and if it is true (though ever so novel) let others credit it. When every man has this liberty what can he wish for more? A liberal man asks for nothing more of government.”

I also quoted James Madison said, “Every new & successful example therefore of a perfect separation between ecclesiastical and civil matters, is of importance. And I have no doubt that every new example, will succeed, as every past one has done, in shewing that religion & Govt. will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together.”

Sadly, in our country today many people, including the church leaders of a majority leader of many military Chaplains hold an opposite doctrine, that of the very doctrines of a supposedly “Christian” Religious theocracy that the Framers of our Constitution so opposed. I opposed those opinions and had someone try to get me tried by Court Martial for preaching a Biblical and Christian sermon on social justice and the the racist policies of the outgoing administration. Some people think that they can use their position to condemn people whose religious and beliefs in our Constitutional rights disagree with theirs. Thank God, whatever God’s there may be or just dumb luck and fate for men like Mikey. I look forward to working with him after my official retirement date.

I also brought up my understanding of leadership which included my devotion to the West Point motto Duty, Honor, Country. I received my commission as an Army ROTC cadet, and I was not an Academy graduate. However those words  have served as a compass to my career. For me the first duty has always been to the truth be it as a Medical Service Corps officer commanding a company and later dealing with the Army’s response to soldiers infected with HIV or dying of AIDS, where I helped write the Army’s personnel policies and because no other personnel officer at the Academy of Health Sciences wanted to be in the same room with an HIV infected soldier, I became CINC AIDS. I got to be the person who dealt with men and women dealing with a disease that at the time was certain to kill them, and how they could still serve. That brought me a whole new perspective on life, and a great deal of compassion for those who received news that they did not have much longer to live.

The same was true when I was an Armor Officer and Battalion S-1 in a Texas Army National Guard Armor battalion and saw how racism still permeated the National Guard in Texas. As a non-Texan and former Active Officer I found that I was a foreigner, something that I experienced transferring from Texas to Virginia. It is funny how the same prejudices that permeated the Armies of the Confederate States were still existent in the 1980s and 1990s.

Likewise, honor, is about my sacred honor to my Oath of Office and my sacred vows as a husband, and Priest, and finally my Country in good times as bad.

Captain Jean Luc Picard, played by Sir Patrick Stewart in Star Trek the Next Generation said: “the first duty of every Starfleet officer is to the truth, whether it’s scientific truth, historical truth or personnel truth…” I am not a Starfleet Officer but as an officer nonetheless I have always believed that the truth matters, but sadly I, like so many of us have turned the other way and not spoken out. But the older I get the more I realize that I cannot be silent about subjects that at one time I turned a blind eye to because they were uncomfortable, unpopular or might hurt my career either in the church or in the military. That really didn’t take that long. It began when I was an Army Second Lieutenant and has continued until today.

Likewise I have been guided by the words of General Ludwig Beck who resigned his office rather than obey Hitler’s plan to invade Czechoslovakia, and then gave up his life in the attempt to kill Hitler on 20 July 1944. Beck said:

“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 reminded those present or watching online that those words were especially important in our conflicted and divided country. While I did not say it directly I implied that Officers cannot simply dedicate themselves to purely military matters when their Chief Executive violates the Constitution they swore to defend against all enemies, foreign and domestic. 

While it was in the script since we were running late and I didn’t want to get any more political than I had I left out. Beck also said:

“Final decisions about the nation’s existence are at stake here; history will incriminate these leaders with bloodguilt if they do not act in accordance with their specialist political knowledge and conscience. Their soldierly obedience reaches its limit when their knowledge, their conscience, and their responsibility forbid carrying out an order.” 

That is exactly what I believe. I wish time had allowed me to say it, but I digress…

Then there was my dear friend and colleague, retired Navy Chaplain Vince Miller who served as both the Chaplain and Master of Ceremonies for my retirement due to COVID-19 restrictions on how many people could attend. Vince and I have had so many similar experiences, endured similar treatment in the Chaplain Corps, but hold so many values about the rights of people, their faith, and those who served under our supervision sought to uphold, regardless of their beliefs. Both of us ended up getting off-ramped from promotion because of things that happened to us or family considerations. He is a fast friend, a man of integrity and honor who like William Tecumseh Sherman understood the value of friendship. Sherman was a friend of Ulysses S. Grant. Sherman said of their friendship:

“Grant stood by me when I was crazy, I stood by him when he was drunk. Now we stand together.”

That my friends is friendship.

Finally, the ceremony was maybe more about the selfless love and devotion of my wife Judy. One cannot imagine what it is to spend almost 40 years in the military with someone who remains as faithful and devoted for so long despite the separations, deployments, and everything else associated with military marriage.

My God she has been through so much and not just because of deployments, separations, and the hassles of moves, and not seeing family. But also because Chaplains spouses don’t have much support, especially from other Chaplains or their spouses, especially if they suffer from a physical disability, like being profoundly deaf while having speech as good as any hearing person. But even with the best hearing aids around which have improved her hearing and life tremendously, there are times that our facilities are not built with the disabled, especially the deaf in mind. The acoustics were so poor where we had the retirement ceremony that with the exception of me and Admiral Rock Judy had a difficult time understanding the ceremony. She was hoping to try to watch it Tuesday with her Bluetooth hearing aids synced to her iPad but the livestream had been deleted, again reminding her of how little the military values people with disabilities. At least I have the speeches of the three men who spoke saved and she will be able to listen to them when we get the chance, but it hurt.

Likewise, it used to be that when a Chaplain retired the Chief of Chaplains at least sent a “thank you” note or acknowledged their retirement regardless of their rank. A few months ago I saw an email from our current Navy Chief of Chaplains and his Deputy acknowledging the Chaplains retiring in the rank of Captains and the Religious Program Specialists retiring as Master Chief Petty Officers by name but not acknowledging anyone below those ranks. I wondered to myself what the fuck? Is it all about climbing the highest ranks of the Chaplain Corps, or about caring for those we serve and lead? Of course for me it is about those that we serve, especially those who serve under us.

Then I realized that of all people, Senior Chaplains serving as Admirals or who would crush anyone to bet their Star, don’t give a damn about those who serve and have stomped over to achieve their positions. They don’t give a damn about anyone except themselves and their power.

During my remarks I quoted Joseph Heller in his novel Catch-22 about the Chaplain. There is something about secular power in religious matters that transforms otherwise decent people and ministers into monsters. No wonder my ceremony disappeared off of the Chapel’s Facebook video archive. Heller wrote:

“The chaplain had mastered, in a moment of divine intuition, the handy technique of protective rationalization, and he was exhilarated by his discovery. It was miraculous. It was almost no trick at all, he saw, to turn vice into virtue and slander into truth, impotence into abstinence, arrogance into humility, plunder into philanthropy, thievery into honor, blasphemy into wisdom, brutality into patriotism, and sadism into justice. Anybody could do it; it required no brains at all. It merely required no character.”

That being said, we were blessed by those who attended, what they did and what they said. It meant the world to us, as do the wonderful words, thoughts, prayers, and actions of people who have been there for us to be there in person or by whatever virtual means available.

I am not bitter because I leave the service knowing that I have given all that I can and that the people that matter the most to me still care, regardless of rank or station. I would rather have the well wishes of a man or women I helped when they were an E-3 or E-4 rather than the platitudes of Clergymen wearing stars or eagles who didn’t care. But what I experienced is not uncommon, but most people will never speak as openly as I do, because from the earliest days of my service I believed in telling the truth whether it pissed people off, or harmed my upward mobility.

So despite being worn out and having to deal with more medical and dental issues than I thought I would ever see in the final days of my career I am still blessed and one of the luckiest men in the world, to paraphrase Lou Gehrig when he had to retire from baseball due to ALS. I am, at least to my knowledge not dying of anything, but it doesn’t take away my sentiments towards those people who have been there for me the past 39 plus years in the military, and even those before I signed my name on the dotted line.

When I am actually completely retired at 2359 hours on 31 December I can truly embrace my inner Smedley Butler, and embrace the fullness of truth and patriotism.

So until tomorrow,

Peace and thank you,

Padtre Steve+

 

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Trying to Get Back to Normal: Another Tooth Adventure While Trying to Retire


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

After another dental emergency and the beginning of a root canal after the tooth extraction and major jaw infection last month I am starting to catch up on what I need to be doing, getting ready to retire from the Navy. I still have some things to do, but the retirement ceremony is moving forward. You can catch it beginning about 1230 PM Eastern Standard Time, 0930 AM Pacific Standard Time, and 1830 or 6:30 PM Central European Time. Simply go to the Facebook Page of the Naval Air Station Oceana Dam Neck Annex Chapel Facebook page and you will be able to livestream it as it happens. The link is here. https://m.facebook.com/oceanadamneckannexchapel/

Tomorrow I have to go in to Norfolk to digitally sign my last bit of paperwork for my DD-214. Then I go to the Naval Medical Center for a CT Scan of the left side of my head to get a better look at what was going on with the infection that was the result of my first tooth issue last month, and finally visit the Shipyard to work with the petty officer working on my pre-retirement slide show. Then I can come home and pay attention to Judy and the pups after I get the garbage and recycle bins out.

I make no predictions about my personal future, because I tend to be more right about history and prognostications that don’t include me, but I do think that I will be able to get back to a relatively normal life. I can start finishing the last thing I have to do with my book to get it to the publisher, get the estimates I need to fix up out townhome to put it on the market, and get a new place that is more suitable for what we need. Also make sure I have the employment I need until the book is published. Then I can go on the book tour and take up a professorship at one of the local universities and finish the five books I have in process and get to work on others.

So anyway, until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Finishing Where I Began: Navy, Marines, and with the Joint Force 1999-2020

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I’m coming to an end of my photo history of my military and this one will reflect fun, seriousness, and some sadness. After my 17 1/2 years in the Army, Army Reserve, and the Army National Guard of three states I was commissioned as a Lieutenant in the Navy Chaplain Corps on 9 February 1999. In my 21 plus years in the Navy I have served with the Marines for seven years, including Iraq where I was part of the Iraq Assistance Group of Multinational Force Iraq, attached to the Second Marine Expeditionary Force Forward working with the Marine, Army, and other Joint advisory teams across Iraq’s Al Anbar Province in 2007-2008. I served at sea aboard the USS Hue City supporting Operation Enduring Freedom, and Operation Southern Watch in 2002 where I was an advisor to a boarding team inspecting and ensuring the health and safety of detained Iraqi oil smugglers, making 75 boardings of such ships where to say the least conditions were not great, crews often resentful not just of us but their ship’s Masters and employers and having to go aboard one ship several times that had active tuberculosis cases among about half of its crew. Once we came minutes from engaging Iranian Revolutionary Guards Naval Corps gunboats which were firing at our Force flagship. They hurried back into Iranian territorial waters before we could launch. That would have made headlines. We also were in between the Indian and Pakistani Fleets as they maneuvered as their nations stood on the brink of nuclear war. Good living and a lot of excitement. The ship and my boarding team were even featured in the first episode of Jerry Bruckheimer’s series Profiles from the Front Lines, featuring stores from the battles fields of Operation Enduring Freedom, and would have been on more had we not been cancelled by the invasion of Iraq. But if there are any television or film directors out there, take a look at this video and know that in a few short weeks I am available. I can can play good guys and bad guys, Military characters, clergymen, Nazi or Stasi bad guys, and I do speak pretty good German without an American accent. Our part starts at the 32 minute mark.

Anyway I served with Second Marine Division in four different battalions making a deployment to Okinawa, Japan, and Korea from early December 2000-July of 2001, Marine Security Force Battalion where my commanders had me always on the move to visit and even make emergency visits to Security Force Marines all over the World.

Returning from Iraq with a severe case of PTSD, mild TBI, and a host of other neurological, psychological, physical, and spiritual maladies I served as a Wounded Healer to people facing life and death in the ICU of Naval Medical Center Portsmouth, and later as Head of the Pastoral Care and Counseling Department at Camp LeJeune Naval Hospital. That is hard to do when you are struggling with faith, belief, and thinking about suicide almost every night. Faith did return but not in a traditional way, but I am better for it because I have much more empathy and being able to feel the emotions of others in ways I had never been able to do before. After Iraq it was much more difficult to compartmentalize my very logical and at times cold manner of analyzing issues.

Faith came back on an overnight on-call duty at Portsmouth around the middle of December. I was called to the ER because a man was dying. He had been a Navy office in the Second World War, became a Navy Doctor after the war doing his internship at Portsmouth. After his retirement from the Navy he served as a physician in Portsmouth, which was his home town providing care for the poor of the city, pre-natal care and delivering the babies of women without medical insurance or benefits, and volunteering his services to the prisoners of the county jail. He was a devout Episcopalian Christian, and when I arrived his wife asked if I was Episcopalian. At the time I belonged to an Anglo-Catholic denomination and told her that. She asked if I could perform the last rights and I said I could. I put on my hospital stole, broke out my Book of Common Prayer and Oil Stock. When I was making his head with the sign of the Cross while giving the final prayer of commendation he breathed his last and it was if something had changed. I felt the presence of God again.

I have not been the same since. Yes I still struggle with PTSD, anxiety, depression, severe nightmare and night terror disorders that have me attacking phantom enemies in my sleep, on more that one occasion requiring Emergency room visits for a broken nose, concussions, and a sprained jaw and neck. Judy has an inmate sense of when what she calls “the hand of death” is coming toward her and gently guides it down.

My tour there was made worse by my attempts to heal myself by never leaving the ICUs, working 60-100 hours a week. There were also a number of suicides and unexpected deaths, some of people I knew well on staff that further traumatized me, even as I tried to care for their survivors and friends on staff. I haven’t forgotten a one of them, they are burned into my brain. Then toward the end of the tour my dad died of Alzheimer’s, the morning after I had found I had been selected for promotion to commander. When I returned from his funeral I was given no-choice orders to go on a three year unaccompanied tour to Camp LeJeune to head the Pastoral Care Department, despite his knowledge that I was still very fragile, and need continuity of psychiatric, psychological, and spiritual care which all had to be restarted when I transferred with new providers, and I never found a spiritual community there where I fit.

A month later my former church denomination kicked be out because I had allegedly become too liberal for suggesting through a lot of theological study and reflection that women should be ordained as Deacons, Priests, and even consecrated as Bishops. I also announced that if we truly believed that the blood of Jesus forgave all sins why didn’t we welcome LGBTQ people into our church the way they were, especially when many of our Bishops engaged in various forms of the Seven Deadly Sins, and they remained bishops, and finally that I had seen Iraqi Muslims, Shia, and Sunni who had a higher reverence for Jesus and the Virgin Mary than many if not most American Christians, despite Mohammed’s adoption of the beliefs of the excommunicated Arian Christian Clergy and Monks he met in the Arabian Desert. They believed that Jesus was a lot like God, but not God, but just below him. That’s what Mohammed adopted as his, and now Islam’s view of Christ.

Well, those were my three strikes and I was out. Thankfully the military bishop of the main Episcopal Church found me a home with a small but reputable Old Catholic Denomination, the Apostolic Catholic Orthodox Church. They provided me a home where my beliefs about the Grace of God and efficacy of the Sacraments were welcomed and affirmed. This allowed me to continue to serve in the Navy as a Priest. Even when I retire in a few weeks I will remain with them whether I am in an active ministry or not, because I will always remain a Priest for people who have lost their faith, struggle with faith, have been rejected, traumatized or abused by the Church or its ministers, those afflicted with PTSD and other mental illness, and those who may never darken the door of a church.

Since I returned from LeJeuene I had the blessing of one of the most fulfilling assignments of my entire career, as the Ethics instructor, Chaplain, and leader of the Gettysburg Staff Ride. That opened the door that I always wanted, to be a historian, writer, teacher, and professor. I expect I will be focused more on that than anything when I retire.

I left the Staff College in April 2017 for a hellish assignment as the Command Chaplain at Joint Expeditionary Base Little-Creek Fort Story, which had become known as a toxic assignment and career killer for many who occupied the position. In June of 2018 I substituted for my Protestant pastor and a retired Navy Lieutenant Commander tried to have me tried by Court-Martial. Only one senior Navy Chaplain had my back and despite being much more conservative than me argued for my right to preach according to my Church’s tradition. Despite this I had to undergo an investigation where over half of the congregation present that day were interviewed. No one corroborated my accuser’s account because every part was a lie. Thankfully I had the support of Mikey Weinstein and the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, who provided me legal counsel to defend me. The charges were dropped, but the damage was done.

No one from the Chief of Chaplains Office came to my defense or offered spiritual care or support, just as they had not when I went public with my struggles with PTSD in 2011 and 2014 when asked by my commands to do so.  My story made the Front Page of the Jacksonville Daily News in March 2011. Soon after my story was featured as a video by the Department of Defense Real Warriors program.

Later I was a panelist at a forum presented by the Military Officers Association of America and other advocacy groups about caring for the wounding, including those with PTSD, TBI, and Moral Injury.




In April 2014 while at the Staff College the Washington Times covered my story on their front page, which no one in the Chief of Chaplains Office could have missed. Pulitzer Prize winning military columnist David Wood in his 2016 book What Have We Done? The Moral Injury of Our Longest Wars, used my story in the majority of a chapter. I was told later by an EOD Master Chief Petty Officer that while we could get help for PTSD and other similar injuries we would never get the premier assignments or be promoted. He was right, and while most of the time the Chaplain Corps provides great care for our Sailors, Marines, Coast Guardsmen, and their families, they kill their own wounded.

My treatment led me to put in voluntary retirement papers for 1 September 2019, but those had to be cancelled because I was undergoing treatment for knee injuries, a failed meniscus surgery and injuries to my right hip and ankles that made it impossible to walk, much less run the 3-8 miles or more I ran 3 or more times a week until then. So my retirement date was moved to what was thought to be my statutory retirement date of 1 April 2020. However, when I called for my orders, I was told that there was a mistake and my retirement date was now 1 August 2020. That was fine with me but since my replacement had arrived, the Navy had to find something to do with me so they placed me at Naval Shipyard Norfolk, located in Portsmouth Virginia. There I found a welcoming environment, had the support of my commander, and my faith in God was again renewed as was my faith in the good of people. When the COVID-19 Pandemic in the spring the Navy put out a call for soon to retire officers to remain on active duty in a retired retained status until 31 December. I didn’t want to leave the people I had fallen in love with in the lurch so I volunteered and well here I am now. I think I have set more retirement dates than Brett Farve, but this one should be it.

In retrospect I have loved serving in most of the places I have throughout my military career. As a Chaplain with only one exception I had great relationships with my commanders and the Sailors, Soldiers, Marines, Airmen, the men and women of Allied nations, and members of the State Department, Defense Intelligence Agency, and other Federal agencies whose personnel I supported. As a Chaplain my problems, especially after coming out with PTSD came from other Chaplains, especially senior Chaplains. To them I was broken and pretty much a spent round. As my Executive Officer at the Academy Brigade, Academy of Health Sciences warned me before I left the active duty Army for seminary, “Steve, if you think the Army Medical Department is political, vicious, and back-stabbing, we can’t hold a candle to the Chaplain Corps.” Sadly, he was right, in both the Army and Navy.

Several of my former commanders in the Navy and Marine Corps have been there for me every step of the way as I struggled, and those I served returned kindness and support to me when I was hurting. A few other Chaplains who had been crushed by the system were also there for me. However, with the exception on one of my closest  Chaplain friends of my previous denomination, who pledge to always be there for me and I them, a Band of Brothers we used to call ourselves, ghosted me, I would call them and they would not call me. That sense of betrayal still stings. Yes, I have forgiven, but the lingering pain of being cast off by people I knew and was close to for a decade or more is still there. These same is true for some of my Chaplain contemporaries who also turned their back on me. But the good thing is, that among the younger chaplains I supervised all have at least made Lieutenant Commander and one Commander. One who I supervised in the Army when I was a Major and he was a First Lieutenant is now a Catholic Priest and a Colonel in the Air Force Reserve. My Chaplain Assistant at Fort Indiantown Gap Pennsylvania is now a Colonel in  the Army Chaplain Corps. My Religious Program Specialist at 1st Battalion 8th Marines become a Chaplain and because he had so much enlisted time was able to retire as a Lieutenant at 20 years. He is now in civilian ministry. I have always thought that was more important to help others succeed by mentoring, giving sage advice to keep them from blowing up their careers, and to care for them in hard times, as I would anyone who came to me. Their success brings me great joy, as does the success of anyone who has ever come to me for assistance.

Recently I had a friend on Facebook remark that I hurt and suffered because I cared so much. I told them that being a narcissistic sociopath would be much easier, and my Skipper from the HUE CITY, Captain Rick Hoffman remarked, “no we have too many of those already.” I appreciated that. He and another of my commanding officers Medical Corps Admiral David Lane will be giving prerecorded remarks at my retirement. For those who don’t know, Admiral Lane quite literally helped to keep me from committing suicide in 2015 after being maltreated by a Psychiatrist at Portsmouth Naval Medical Center, and the person responsible to help people resolve issues like mine refused to help. Admiral Lane contacted Rear Admiral Terry Moulton the commander of the Medical Center who called me and talked with me for over an hour, and then got me the help that I needed, listening to my complaints about how I was treated when I told him that “If I was treated so badly as a senior officer, imagine what was happening to junior Sailors, Marines, and Soldiers going there for care.” Admiral Mouton took action, and some things did change for the better. But since the the Defense Health Agency has taken over all military medical facilities, cut over 17,000 billets from the active duty medical force, reduced civilian and contract providers, forcing the military to push patients to civilian providers in the Tricare network, and that that includes people with PTSD and other psychological issues directly related to military service, including sexual assault. God help us now if we get in a real high intensity war, not the counter-insurgency campaigns we fought since 9-11-2001.

All of that considered I have so many good memories from my service and from serving with great people that I cannot be bitter. I will speak the truth to power, not as an embittered person, but a person who believes that all of our military personnel, veterans, and their families deserve to be treated as people, not numbers, not economic units, but real human beings, the kind that God loves and cares about.

As far as my service, I regret nothing, except for the men and women I couldn’t help, those who died in combat, or of tragic diseases at far too young ages, and those who as a result of their combat trauma and treatment in the military committed suicide. Those include friends and men and women I served  with, including genuine war heroes. Their faces and voices don’t recede from my memory. Sometime I will have to write about them too, they should not be forgotten and maybe I can use my voice to make sure they are not forgotten.

But all that considered here is my Navy story in pictures.

Commissioning and Chaplain School


Second Marine Division 



Deployment with 3D Battalion 8th Marines to Okinawa, Mainland Japan and South Korea


USS HUE CITY, deployment and Battle of Hue City Memorial






Marine Security Force Battalion, USA, Bahrain, Guantanamo Bay Cuba, France and Scotland

 





Deployment to Iraq



 


Joint Forces Staff College 






  • JEB Little Creek Fort Story and Norfolk Naval Shipyard 

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The Army Interregnum, 1981-1999: A Photo Montage


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

This is another in a series of posts that serve a dual purpose, the first and most important is to shrink pictures of my 39 year military career into sizes where they won’t crush the size of the Power Point presentation to be played before my retirement ceremony, the second is to provide just a brief look through pictures at my time in the Army.

Without using a lot of verbose prose I grew up in a Navy family but surrounded myself with all things military, Navy, Army, Marines, Air Force. Of course that included everything I could read about history, especially military and Naval history, biography, technical aspects of ships, aircraft, artillery, small arms, armored fighting vehicles, strategy, operational methods, strategy and grand strategy, and even ethics and war crimes even before I finished high school.

After my dad retired from the Navy I was lost, I didn’t want to be a civilian, and this was at the end of the Vietnam War when the military was not popular at all. The draft had been abolished, the all-volunteer Force established and there were a lot of problems even as the Soviets became a greater threat and the Middle East began a descent into the chaos that it is now. But even so I want to serve.

My parents talked me out of enlisting in the Navy or Army right out of high school to try a year of junior college. It was a good thing they did because in August of 1978 I met Judy, we began dating and in 1980 I followed her to California State University at Northridge.

Before I went to Northridge I applied and was accepted into the Air Force ROTC program and I would have jumped on it had they not insisted on attending a four week summer training camp that would have destroyed the income from an extremely well paying summer job at the John Deere and Company Warehouse where my dad worked in Stockton, California. I am forever grateful for my dad for getting me that job because it paid a good amount of my college expenses. So the Air Force was out, as was the Navy because Judy who had a number a sister and two brothers-law-serve in the Navy, did not want to have to deal with regular Navy deployments. I asked her if the Army was okay and she said yes because at the time Army assignments were pretty predicable, and with Vietnam in the rear view mirror Not too bad for family life on the whole. Not to say that in Cold War Germany my work days were usually 12-14 hours long and we had a lot of alerts, field exercises, and a massive event called REFORGER once or twice a year that took a month to six weeks out of our lives.

This is my Army story in pictures, from Army ROTC at UCLA and time in the 3rd Battalion 144th Field Artillery while in ROTC, my commissioning as a Medical Service Corps Lieutenant and our marriage in 1983, and my first five years on active duty from July 1983 to September 1988, which included time as a platoon leader, motor maintenance officer, NBC defense officer, Company Executive Office, Company Commander as well as Group and Brigade Personnel Staff Officer. I left active duty to attend seminary while serving in the Texas Army National Guard where I was commissioned as an Armor Officer and served in an Armor Battalion as the S-1, and on brigade staff before the State Chaplain forced me into the Chaplain Candidate Program because by regulation seminary and theological students are not allowed to serve in combatant positions. He had me branch transferred into the Staff Specialist Branch where seminary and law students went while in school. Now if you know the Army every Branch or Corps has its two letter designation. An Armor officer is AR, Infantry IN, Military Intelligence MI, and Field Artillery FA. There are many more but the Staff Specialist Branch was SS, so yours truly was a SS Captain, but not the Nazi kind for a couple of years. That being said, though I had orders and wore the insignia, the God of Military personnel in the 49th Armored Division still kept me on the books as a Medical Service Corps Officer, and a secondary Armor Officer in case we were mobilized for Operation Desert Storm, and we were days away from mobilization when that war ended. But during seminary I completed the Chaplain Officer Basic Course, and commissioned as a Chaplain following my graduation and ordination.

During that time I decided to try civilian hospital chaplaincy, completed a Clinical Pastoral Education Residency at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas, and then took a full time contract position as a Contract Emergency Department Chaplain in my parent’s home town of Huntington West Virginia, where both my grandmothers and numerous other more distant relatives lived. During all of this time I served as a Chaplain in the Texas and Virginia National Guard and when promoted to Major in December 1995 transferred to the Army Reserve. In the summer of 1996 8 volunteered for and mobilized to support Operation Joint Endeavor, the NATO Intervention in the Balkans. Coming home from that I had no civilian job as contractors have no reemployment rights.

About a week later the Army gave me orders to Fort Indiantown Gap Pennsylvania to help close it down as a Federal installation and prepare to hand it over to the Pennsylvania Army National Guard. That kept me there until the end of September 1997, but the Garrison Commander did not want to go the final year without a Chaplain, and since the Army didn’t have money to do it, he worked out a deal with the Pennsylvania State Military Department to hire me as a civilian chaplain while remaining a drilling member of the Army Reserve. That was a really cool time, Judy got to be with me, we had a great congregation, and I was recognized by the Army for my creativity in preparing the chapel congregation and the other inactive chapels on the base for turnover. This included the demolition of one, the decommissioning and neutralization of two others to serve in other capacities, one as a daycare center, the other a supply building. The partial renovations of three to serve as chapels for units training on base or mobilization purposes, the renovation of a tiny but historic Catholic Chapel, the Our Lady of Victory. The donations and removal of another which despite the structure being in pristine condition, would have been demolished with the rest of area six. It was donated to the First Free Congregational Church of Orwigsburg, Pennsylvania. After it had its lead paint exterior planks removed and was decontaminated by the removal of asbestos panels inside, the church had a crew of Amish workers take it apart and reassemble it on their site where it still stands. Judy represented me at the groundbreaking because I was serving as a Exchange Officer at the Chapel of the German Panzertruppen Schule in Munsterlager, between Hamburg and Hannover. When we turned the base over we went home to Huntington where jobs for someone like me were incredibly nonexistent, I got a call from the bishop of my old church Just before Christmas of 1998 that the Navy was willing to take me on active duty if I was willing to reduce in rank from being an Army Major to being a Navy Lieutenant. On 8 February 1999 I drilled for the last time in the Army Reserve and on 9 February was commissioned as a Navy Chaplain.

But the Army did a lot for me that led me to success in the Navy, Marine Corps, and in Combat. It prepared me by allowing me to serve in command and staff positions. To realize that war was more than a game, that one always had to expect the unexpected, and to realize that soldiers and their families were more than cogs in a wheel. I learned to try to balance justice with mercy and I learned from my mistakes when I didn’t to that as well as I should. Because of Judy we never were ones to treat ourselves above enlisted people, particularly because the Army tends to be a less stratified service than the Navy, and because we made sure that we invited enlisted personnel to dinners, including thanksgiving at our quarters, and to treat enlisted personnel and their families with respect, especially when unexpected things happened like massive pay failures during a unit move, or when we had to remain in the field longer than scheduled and Judy and the platoon leader, XO, or Company Commanders wife making sure that families were notified and cared for during such times.

I learned from excellent leaders and from the less than caring or stellar leader on how to treat people and not treat people. I learned how much my Oath to the Constitution meant, and though not a West Point Graduate adopted their creed of Duty, Honor, Country as my own.

As I said, the Army thought me about how to survive and succeed in combat, and prepare me for war. Good Army leaders taught me to think outside of the box and to throw away the book when it’s answers didn’t make sense. The bad ones always said to stick to the book no-matter what. Combined with my study of military history and successful leaders I found that taking risks and doing things that the Chaplain Corps frowned upon in combat was key to being where people needed me. Thankfully I had leaders that let me do those things.

I also leaned that to be honest and truthful when things were going to shit wasn’t appreciated by much of the brass, but was appreciated by the enlisted men. I also found that being honest and truthful could make one enemies more devoted to their power in the system than by being honest and truthful with people that have to power to fix things, including faulty weapons systems and vehicles, communications equipment, personnel regulations, training programs, and so much more that when not fixed or changed to meet changing situations, cost lives unnecessarily, and lose wars.

As the British military theorist, historian, and philosopher B.H. Liddell-Hart wrote toward the end of his life:

“We learn from history that in every age and every clime the majority of people have resented what seems in retrospect to have been purely matter-of-fact comment on their institutions. We learn too that nothing has aided the persistence of falsehood, and the evils resulting from it, more than the unwillingness of good people to admit the truth when it was disturbing to their comfortable assurance. Always the tendency continues to be shocked by natural comment and to hold certain things too “sacred” to think about.”

He then noted something that some of us learn as we progress through the ranks of the military if we are honest, “As a young officer I had cherished a deep respect for the Higher Command, but I was sadly disillusioned about many of them when I came to see them more closely from the angle of a military correspondent. It was saddening to discover how many apparently honourable men would stoop to almost anything to help their own advancement.” 

Anyway, here is the Army Part of my story in pictures.

Peace,

Padre Steve+














 





 








Well friends, that’s my Army story. There are many more photos I could have digitalized and used but this will have to work for now. On to the Navy and some reflections at the end of my career.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Where It All Began, a Navy Family and NJROTC: Prelude to a 39 Year Military Career

 


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Every story has to start somewhere. Mine began in the womb of my mother after she and my father engaged in some merry making somewhere along the scenic 17  Mile Drive near Monterrey California. Nine months later after nearly a day of labor I was was born at what used to be Oak Knoll Navy Hospital in Oakland California. At the time my dad was a young Petty Officer serving at Naval Station Alameda. Thus I became a Navy brat and by the time I was in kindergarten I had dreams of military glory, and I kid you not.

Pretty soon I was watching television series like Combat, The Rat Patrol, Twelve O’Clock High, Gomer Pyle USMC, Hogan’s Heroes, and McHale’s Navy. Then I graduated to military movies like Sink the Bismarck, The Caine Mutiny, Away All Boats, The Desert Fox, The Enemy Below, Mr. Roberts, Cockleshell Heroes, Stalag 17, The Battle of the Bulge, The Bridge Over the River Kwai, They Were Expendable, The Great Escape, The Sands of Iwo Jima, Fort Apache, Tora! Tora! Tora!, The Longest Day, and later Patton, M*A*S*H, The Dirty Dozen, Kelly’s Heroes, A Bridge Too Far, and Stripes. By the time I was a teenager I wanted to be every hero, malcontent, misfit, rebel that ever served in the military. But that wasn’t all I graduated from toy soldiers to military models of all kinds, the old hexagonal war games, and reading every book about military history, battles, leaders, and technology I could. When I was in 10th Grade I even cut geometry classes to go to the library reference section to read the books I couldn’t check out so often the librarians thought I had a permanent pass to be there.

It was also in 10th grade where I first donned a uniform, actually that’s not true, I was a Cub Scout for two weeks until my Den Mother quit right after I got my Bobcat pin, but I digress. I think that when my dad retired from the Navy in 1974 and we were going to settle down that I must have had some kind of mental break, but I could have just been mental.

Armed for Battle, Cubi Point, the Philippines 1963 or 1964

After moving up and down the West Coast from San Diego to Oak Harbor, Washington, and across the Pacific to Naval Air Station Cubi Point, the Philippines we stopped moving and it was like the life I knew ended. I knew I didn’t want to live what I thought was the boring life of a civilian.

All I knew was being around Navy bases, watching Navy ships and aircraft, and even traveling home from the Philippines on the USS John C. Breckinridge, AP-176, a Navy Transport Ship assigned to the Military Sea Transportation Service moving Military Personnel, their families, and Marine Units around the Pacific from San Francisco, Pearl Harbor, Guam, Okinawa, Japan, Korea, Vietnam and other exotic locations. To safeguard the families a Marine Guard was stationed at the family quarters. My first real memories are being stationed in the Philippines, and I never will forget the F-4 Phantoms of the Blue Angels flying low over our house in Oak Harbor practicing for an air show at the Naval Air Station.

 






My little and much more serious and mature brother who is now a School Principal  was born at the Naval Hospital and when dad retired he and mom never looked back, but I couldn’t get it out of my head. So I joined the NJROTC unit at Edison High School, Stockton California. My instructors, LCDR Jim Breedlove and Senior Chief John Ness were awesome. In addition to our classes and our extra curricular activities like the Rifle Team, Drill Team, and Color Guard, they got us every opportunity to experience life at sea on Navy ships. in an interesting twist, his son Darren is now a Marine serving with a squadron at MCAS Yuma, Arizona. So now we have three generations, my late father, Aviation Storekeeper Chief Carl Dundas, me, and my Nephew Darren who have served or are currently serving in the Sea Services. 


During high school I spent about 70 days aboard ships or naval installations learning about the Navy at NTC San Diego mini-Boot Camp, with Coastal River Division 11 at Mare Island Naval Shipyard, and aboard USS Agerholm DD-826, a modernized World War Two designed destroyer, USS Pyro AE-24 an ammunition ship, USS Coral Sea CVA-43, USS Mount Vernon LSD-39, a Dock Landing Ship used to Transport Marines, USS Frederick LST-1184 a Landing Ship Tank which was the last of here type in the Navy when she was decommissioned and sold to Mexico in 2002, where she still serves, and finally USS Grey FF-1054. Aboard those ships I sailed up and down the West Coast and to Pearl Harbor and back. Aboard Frederick I first felt the call to be a Navy Chaplain just before Easter of 1978. Little did I know that 23 years later, as a Navy Chaplain serving with 3rd Battalion 8th Marines in Korea, that Frederick would embark us for our return to Okinawa and on her I celebrated my first underway Easter Sunrise Service and first underway celebration of the Holy Eucharist aboard a Navy Ship.

My parents talked me out of enlist immediately out of high school but asked me to try at least a semester at our local Junior College before making the decision. That was a good thing, because in late August 1978 I met Judy, and began a brief interregnum before my heart would no longer let me remain a civilian. That is my next subject.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

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“ I pray to you to help me, and every day I get worse. Are you deaf, too?“ Thoughts of a Washed up Priest and Chaplain at the End of a Military Career


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

A few nights ago I watched the final episode of the television series M*A*S*H “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen.” As I mentioned in my last blog both the series and the film have been important and long lasting parts of my life. It is interesting because when I was first commissioned as an Army Second Lieutenant on 19 June 1983 in the Medical Service Corps, and September 1992 became a Chaplain in the Texas Army National Guard, subsequently serving in the Virginia Army National Guard and Army Reserve as a Chaplain. I also served as a Armor Officer in Texas during seminary. On 9 February 1999 I turned in my Gold Oak Leaf as a Major in the Army for the two Silver Bars of a Navy Chaplain Corps Lieutenant.

Now, 21 years after that move I am a washed up Chaplain and Navy Commander mostly abandoned by fellow Chaplains for openly and honesty dealing with the ravages of PTSD, abandonment which created moral injury that I have never recovered from, no matter how hard I prayed the Daily Office, or studied scripture and theology. Without going into such detail that it would harm me even more in much current fragile emotional state, I can only say that I was abandoned, ghosted, and off revamped by the senior Chaplains who sent me to war, of course I was a very willing volunteer, and then ensured that every subsequent assignment would be harmful to my career, while certain senior chaplains treated me in the most malicious and evil manner knowing I needed a continuity of psychiatric, psychological, and spiritual care, ripped me away from it sending me on a three year geographic bachelor tour, away from home and those supports.

I also continue to suffer physical and neurological disorders related to combat. One is a combination of serene Tinnitus, and abnormal degraded speech comprehension without corresponding hearing loss. The neurologist thought it was due damage to my auditory nerves and auditory processing center related to PTSD. My speech comprehension was rated in the third percentile, meaning that 97% of people process speech better than me. In order to understand speech in individual conversations or in large groups I have to be completely focused and not have any cross talk or background noise. This makes it difficult to function. Basically, I am functionally deaf unless I am completely focused on whoever is talking and they are speaking clearly enough for me to understand. Judy is really deaf, and she understands speech better than me much of the time.

During Goodbye, Farewell, and Amen the 4077th’s Chaplain, Father Francis Mulcahy is exposed to a mortar blast and suffers Tinnitus and hearing loss, which continue to get worse despite his prayers.

In one of his prayers to God, one which resonates much with me, he cries out:

“Dear Lord, I know there must be a reason for this, but what is it? I answered the call to do your work. I’ve devoted my life to it, and now, how am I supposed to do it? What good am I now? What good is a deaf priest? I pray to you to help me, and every day I get worse. Are you deaf, too?“ 

My situation doesn’t simply involve my inability to understand speech but the residual effects of PTSD: hyper vigilance, anxiety, severe depression, sleep disorders, nightmare and night terror disorders that have resulted in injuries including a broken nose when battling the phantom like images of assailants in my dreams.And most recently under the stress I feel, horrible angry outbursts that are so unlike me. They make me feel horrible, but a decade of death threats, internet stalking, being called an “enemy of America”, and for supporting the rights of Blacks a “nigger lover” and “wigger,” and condemnation by Christians for caring about the rights, safety, and decent treatment of LGBTQ as enabling sin against God, but I never saw Jesus turn anyone away. The greatest hurt I experience is when Christian friends attack, condemn, and abandon me, especially over the past five years as so many became members of the Trump Dictatorship Cult. It took a while but I don’t take it anymore and after slicing and dicing their arguments leave things in their hands as where to they want to go with our relationship. Some cut me off and others make sure I know how rotten I am before they cut things off. Back in the early days after returning from Iraq while melting down and being thrown out of my former Church I culled a lot of them preemptively from my social contacts. A few have since renewed and reconciled but not all.

No amount of praying ever changed anything. I still believe in God, but I struggle every day. Sometimes I don’t feel that I am of any use, but too many people tell me that I do. Even so the fourth verse of the M*A*S*H them song, Suicide is Painless rings true for me now. I don’t have the answers. That verse says: A brave man once requested me to answer questions questions that are key, “Is it to be or not to be” and I replied “oh, why ask me?” 

Something that Colonel Potter said to Father Mulcahy and Mulcahy’s reply seems a pretty good place to end this before I sign off from this post:

Col. Potter: Well, Francis, you’ve been a godsend.
Father Mulcahy: Look on the bright side: When they tell us to serve our time in Purgatory, we can say, “No thanks, I’ve done mine.”

So here I am, an old, broken, washed-up Chaplain and priest who is a better historian than many looking to the next phase of my life, with Judy and the puppies, but even so, without a Parish, without an institutional Chaplain position, or any formal place of ministry, I will still be a Priest, and serve whoever comes into my life, even when I struggle and doubt.

Since I am going to have to get a bit of work done  house and do my damnedest to finish the illustration section of my book so I can send it to my agent and publisher tomorrow, which means whenever I wake up, I wish you all peace and safety.

Blessings and Peace,

Padre Steve+

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An Emotional Roller Coaster: Medical Problems, IT Issues, Hating Religious Theocrats, and Remembering those I Have Lost Through the Lens of M*A*S*H

 

Me as a young Medical Service Officer Second Lieutenant, Neubrucke Germany, 1984

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I started this article Tuesday night but couldn’t yesterday I was on emotional roller coaster, dealing with continued medical issues due to my jaw infection that began a month ago when a lower rear molar, cracked, the nerve abscessed, died, and infected the and more. I tried to finish it Wednesday night but couldn’t. I finally finished it dark and early after midnight Friday. Well, I thought I had, but for whatever reason what I wrote didn’t save correctly. So I just add this to let you know that as I revise it and put in the tags and topics represented in it. “That is All.” 

I am finishing my last two weeks on active duty before taking 20 days of job hunting and house hunting leave. I honestly cannot believe the emotions that I am feeling.

The Original Opening to the Film M*A*S*H

Tuesday morning I went in to work still suffering some of the effects of my tooth extraction and jaw infection still persist. Migraine like headaches, swelling in the jaw, lymph nodes and Parotid gland still persisted. I went to the Endontist who extracted my tooth and prescribed more antibiotics after the tooth extraction and he recommended that I get an appointment with my primary care doctor. I was glad he dad that because he realized that he didn’t have an answer.

My regular primary care physician who I really like wasn’t available, and he is an outstanding physician who listens and cares. But the physician I was assigned in his place was incredible. Our initial appointment on Monday was over the telephone and after taking time to listen to all that happened to me she made sure I got an appointment to see her in person Tuesday.

Unlike so many physicians bound by the time limits of insurance, including the business model of Navy Medicine she and her nurse took the time to listen to me, to do a thorough examination, to explore the what antibiotics might treat all my different symptoms. The appointment took a long time but it was worth it. I received medicines to treat the lower jaw, upper jaw, sinus and ear infections caused by that damned tooth, as well as an order to get a CT scan to see what is actually going on.

That fact made a difference because even as that was going on I was experiencing problems with an Navy personnel site. That followed a NMCI Microsoft 10 update that will not allow me to access it in order to make sure that my DD-214 is correct. No matter what I do online and no matter how many times the Navy says my access is fixed I still cannot access the site, which mattes for all of my  my retirement and veterans benefits.

Because I had a low grade fever due to the infection and needed needed lab tests and another medical appointment today so I won’t be able to go in to fix ot until Monday.

Truthful I am mad as hell and I am not going to take it anymore. I am too old for this shit I am going to vent my spleen. Before the update I never had an issue getting into the website. I really get frustrated and angry with the contractors whose programs don’t interface with the multiplicity of other hardware and software so that when one makes a change there is a cascade effect that fucks everything else up, like the simple fact of trying to access a site to check the one document everything in my post military career depends on. That pisses me off and I hate the damned Navy and military System for allowing this to happen.

I am really a fine with some of contractors, as I have noted, not all of them, not all of them, because there are quite a few who provide outstanding products and support, and have the integrity to back up their work. My friend David owns one of the highest ranked IT hardware firms that deals with DOD and many other government agencies. I have also encountered some very fine contractors for some of these IT firms who take the time to walk with you through the problem and fix it. There are also others who hire good people to provide services that the Navy can no longer due because those functions were added following wars our uniformed and GS systems were not prepared to deal with because of a never ending war. I might end up working as an educator for one using my experience to help personnel and their family members get the help they need and prepare to leave the service.

However, I get the feeling that I could be dying and it wouldn’t matter the damned corporate war and defense profiteers who the Navy hired to replace sailors that used to do these jobs. The thing is that a lot of these corporations have the backing of some of the leading politicians of both parties and are marketed and lobbied for by former high ranking military and DOD civilian officials. They are doing it for corporate profit but selling their services saying they will reduce cost and make things more efficient. But that is most often a lie, because we end up paying more for less, and harm readiness in the process.

Between them, and the former corporate defense and business executives who run much of DOD, they cut the active duty force in the name of “efficiency” and deprive Sailors (Also Soldiers, Marines and Airmen) from other active duty or DOD civilians who can fix their problems. I hate them, these corporations, with a passion. I miss the days when Yeomen and Personelmen, working with civilian GS personnel specialists, who we called the Little old ladies in tennis shoes would look at you in the face and fix what was wrong or what needed attention. Now that isn’t the case. All is handed online and you get an email response saying your problem has been resolved even when you still can not access their damned website. I want to say Duckmäuser them to hell, and I honestly doubt that the majority of senior Navy and military  leadership cares.

The Navy decided long ago that regardless of its technical ineptness and reliance on for profit defense profiteers that sailors who have full time jobs have to also manage and perform tasks that used to be handed by people they knew who were trained to do them. I don’t want any part of such a bastardized impersonal “personnel” system that doesn’t value sailors  and their families as people but “Human Resources” who can be expended without consequences because they really don’t matter. The same applies to training as well. These things take up so much of sailors time that they scarcely have time to do their real jobs. No wonder readiness rates are crap, ships can’t deploy, and aircraft cannot fly.

I read an article this week that a Navy official downplayed those rates and suggested the metrics showing how unready our Navy is for a major war were wrong and needed to be changed. That’s like lowering academic requirements to make sure students pass so their failure doesn’t harm the overall rating of Schools, school, districts, or universities. The only problem in the military are that such actions lead to defeat in in battle, massive losses of American lives and the inevitable after effects of losing a major war against a peer competitor. We have really never experienced that, but many others have, and we should learn from them before it happens to us.

Our humiliation will be greater than that of Imperial Germany, Imperial Russian, France in 1870 and 1940, Nazi Germany, Napoleonic France, Rome, Byzantium, the Holy Roman Empire, the Austro Hungarian Empire in the First World War, and so many others. Military defeat combined with economic collapse, loss of territory, and great political and social calamities that In many cases are still being felt even centuries later. If we don’t take decisive actions to protect our democracy from all enemies, foreign and domestic, including the profiteers the coming collapse will make the division of the Trump years feel like the good old days. I personally wouldn’t doubt if Trump is actually hoping for that since he doesn’t give a damn about his oath, the people of the United States, including those who support him, or what happens to this country so long as he can line his pockets with unearned riches.

Marine Corps Major General and two time Medal of Honor recipient Smedley Butler realized that at the end of his illustrious career as a Marine when he wrote his classic anti-war book War is a Racket. If you haven’t read it you better well need to before you ever mindlessly thank a veteran for his or her service in wars that only weaken our defense and diminish our standing as a bastion of Liberty in the world. Most of the corporations Butler condemns in his book are still profiting from the business of war and “defense” today. Mind you I am an old anti-Soviet and Chinese Communist Cold Warrior. I fucking hate their systems, and while the Chicoms combine a nationalist bastardization of Capitalism with a desire for world domination at the expense of freedom at home and abroad; and while the former KGB Officer Vladimir Putin leads Russian which is nothing more than a rebranded Soviet Union, President Trump looked the other way and weakened us in more ways than anyone cannot imagine until the hell he created destroys our country long after he leaves office.

Iraq near the Syrian Border with Advisors and Bedouin Family, Christmas Eve 2007 

Don’t get me wrong. I am proud of my service in war and peace, but I cannot fathom treason or abandoning military personnel to IT systems run by for profit contractors that have so many problems that they cannot be successfully navigated even by experts much less than the people who have full time jobs who need that specialized support. And yes it is treason when one looks at the billions of dollars paid to big defense contractors for the chump change that it would cost to pay military personnel and civilians to do things the old fashioned way using pen and paper while looking people in the eye to make sure that it was done right. This is a scandal for the ages that harms veterans and their families, undercuts combat readiness, and enriches defenses profiteers.

 

A Montage of Characters from the Series with the Original Score

I hate to say this but those in various Presidential administrations, Senators and Representatives of both parties, and high ranking Military Officers and Senior Executive Leaders in the Defense Department are all guilty as charged when it comes to sacrificing the well being of the volunteers who serve this nation in uniform in unending wars to enrich war and defense profiteers are all traitors. If it was up to me I would have them tried and after a fair trial s tan ever them and have them hanged until dead.

If I have to take up the mantel of men like Smedley Butler, David Hackworth, and Hal Moore, and countless number of men and women who remain unknown because they were crushed by the system or died through its uncaring incompetence, especially in the area of mental and spiritual  health. In retirement I will be a prophetic voice. Since while I was on active duty I had  member of my  congregation try to have by tried by Court Martial for preaching prophetically fro the pulpit and was exonerated after an investigation, I no loner give a damn who I offend.

With my Beloved Second Platoon, 557th Medical Company Ambulance, in the Taunus Mountains, Hessen, West Germany, 1985

 

By the latter I do not mean the fake spirituality of memorizing Bible verses or reciting The unbiblical and unchristian mantras of modern American Christianity. I don’t promote feel good Christian jibber-jabber but walking with people though The Valley of the shadow of Death, without abandoning them, or condemning them when they show weakness. Personally, I would rather have a caring Atheist or Agnostic at my side than a supposed Christian shoving a bastardized version of the Christian faith down my throat in my time of crisis.

We don’t need that. We  authentic Christian ministers and Priests who admit that they don’t know the answers. We need  ministers and Priests who are Un afraid to admit that they struggle with faith and yet still believe. Men and women who are transparent servants of a God that they only known through the Crucified God, not the opaque, impenetrable and unbiblical theology of Christian nationalism and Dominionism. Those are not theologies of faith in the Crucified God, but arbitrary, authoritarian systems to reconcile Christian beliefs to ungodly, nationalist, often racist, and exploitive systems of government which destroy the liberties of all, but even worse make Christians isolators of anti-Christian leaders and systems. It started with Constantine and has never stopped.

George Truett, the great Southern Baptist Pastor who served as President of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary wrote in his book Baptists and Religious Liberty in 1920 about the decidedly negative effect of when the Church became the State religion:

“Constantine, the Emperor, saw something in the religion of Christ’s people which awakened his interest, and now we see him uniting religion to the state and marching up the marble steps of the Emperor’s palace, with the church robed in purple. Thus and there was begun the most baneful misalliance that ever fettered and cursed a suffering world…. When … Constantine crowned the union of church and state, the church was stamped with the spirit of the Caesars…. The long blighting record of the medieval ages is simply the working out of that idea.”

The late Senator Mark Hatfield a strongly committed Evangelical Christian before it became popular in Washington made this comment concerning those that are now driving this spurious debate:

“As a Christian, there is no other part of the New Right ideology that concerns me more than its self-serving misuse of religious faith. What is at stake here is the very integrity of biblical truth. The New Right, in many cases, is doing nothing less than placing a heretical claim on Christian faith that distorts, confuses, and destroys the opportunity for a biblical understanding of Jesus Christ and of his gospel for millions of people.”  quoted in the pamphlet “Christian Reconstruction: God’s Glorious Millennium?” by Paul Thibodeau

Barry Goldwater, the man who inspired Ronald Reagan to run for President and who was the conservative bulwark for many years in Washington DC warned what would happen when the Religious Right took over the Republican Party. Goldwater said of the types of people that currently dominate the conservative movement, if it can be still called that:

“Mark my word, if and when these preachers get control of the [Republican] party, and they’re sure trying to do so, it’s going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can’t and won’t compromise. I know, I’ve tried to deal with them.” November, 1994, in John Dean, Conservatives Without Conscience.

Well those that Truett and Goldwater warmed us about got what they wanted. They got control of a political party by prostituting themselves to a man whose heart is evil, and could not care less about Christians so long as they vote for him and his amoral, unchristian, and anti-freedom ideas which rip up the ideals of the Declaration of Independence and shred the Sacred protections of our Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the Amendments to the Constitution.

Contemporary Conservative Christian Teachings have become hollowed out, unbiblical, unchristian, and untenable politically driven apologetics of Unfreedom which spit on the face of God on the Cross, just as much as did his Roman executioners.

Anyway I couldn’t finish this Tuesday night because I was too busy crying my way the final episode of the television show M*A*S*H, “Goodbye, Farewell and Amen.” The sobbing, tears, and overwhelming emotions made me put down my  iPad. I was using it as the basis for my final message to my Shipyard friends, family, and coworkers who mean so much to me now. They helped me recover my sense of faith, belief, calling, and belief in good people. As I watched the show I remembered all the men and women I have served with over the years, those still alive and those who passed away to natural causes, were killed in combat, or died by their own hand after coming home from war. People who like me suffered from the terrible effects of war; wounds to body, mind and spirit, which were so bad for some that they killed themselves. Believe me there were so many times that I could have done the same. I actually planned out how I would do it in a number of different ways, but some were so violent that just the image of me doing it in a public setting among other military personnel would have traumatized them in ways I could not bear, and the many nights I thought about driving into a tree while serving at Camp LeJeune Naval Hospital from 2010 to 2013 I could not imagine what my dog Molly who was with me would think when daddy never came home.

I am doing better now, I want to live and bear witness for those who no longer can. I certainly don’t have the answers. I can only be there for others. The words of the theme song to M*A*S*H  are unknown to those who only watched the series and never saw the film. The song’s music was written by Johnny Mandel, the lyrics written by his teenage son. The song was performed by an uncredited group of musicians and simple called MASH. It was played on AM music stations after its release in 1970. It is haunting and I certainly do not agree with the message of the chorus “Suicide is painless, it brings on many changes, and I can take or leave it if I please…” I have found that life matters too much and I grieve for my friends and comrades who committed suicide, many far more brave, heroic, and selfless than me. Men and women who I wished I could have helped keep alive had I been there in their time of crisis.

But the lyrics of the verses all have an element of truth in them. The first said:

Through early morning fog I see, visions of the things to be, the pains that are withheld for me, I realize and I can see… (Chorus)

The game of life is hard to play, I’m going to lose it anyway, the losing card I’ll someday lay, so this is all I’ve got to say… (Chorus)

The sword of  time will pierce our skin, it doesn’t hurt when it begins, but as it works its way within, the pain grows stronger watch it grin… (Chorus)

A brave man once requested me, to answer questions that are key, “Is it to be or not to be?” And I replied “oh, way ask me?” (Chorus)

The faked suicide and salvation of Dr. Walt “the Painless Pole” Waldoski In the Film M*A*S*H

The song was sung in the film during a fake suicide and funeral for the 4077th’s Dentist Dr. “Painless Pole Waldoski” (John Schuck)  sung by Private Seidman (Ken Prymus) accompanied by Captain Bandini (Corey Fisher) on the guitar. Out of context the scene is one of the saddest in film history, with the doctors sitting at a table in a film rendition of Leonardo DaVinci’s The Last Supper as “Painless” takes what he thinks is a cyanide capsule and lays down in a coffin. He wanted help to die because he thought he was impotent. Hawkeye, Trapper, and even Father Mulcahy decided to play into his fantasy but save the life of Painless. So they recruited a nurse, Lieutenant Dish, played by the beautiful actress Jo Ann Pflug, who was to return to the States the next morning to make love to painless. The next morning Painless is alive, and Dish flies away. They lied to a suicidal man to stage a fake death in order to save his life. Yes, the ethics are completely convoluted, but in the end life was affirmed, and suicide ruled out. One interesting thing about the song is the faked suicide is a different verse which said “The only way to win is cheat, and lay it down before I’m beat, and to another give my seat, for that’s the only painless feat…”  (Chorus)

I thought I would finish this by midnight but so many things intruded. It is now officially Thanksgiving on the East Coast and I have much to be thankful for, even though we will celebrate the holiday in a very private and personal way, just us, our pups, and our friend Stephanie. We are making a fresh homemaker chicken pot pie with bone in chicken breast cooked for over 15 hours on low heat in our crock pot seasoned with fresh garlic, Black pepper corns, rubbed sage, bay leaves, poultry seasoning, garlic powder, and a dash of salt which will be baked minus the chicken bones with sliced carrots, sweet peas, whole kernel corn, and small broccoli florets and yellow onions. It will be the first time since Iraq that we have not had a large number of guests over for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. That will be strange, but it is better to adjust and protect the lives of others than keep traditions that can be continued after the COVID-19 Pandemic has passed.

Suicide and willingly subjecting others to a deadly virus are little different. The first is the murder of yourself, which I like the German word better than our word suicide. The German word is Selbstmord, or the murder of yourself. However, ignoring all the science and clinical evidence that indoor social gatherings of people traveling across state lines is potentially deadly, is the participation in mass murder. The choice to do that is like playing Russian Roulette with more than one chamber loaded, and the virus being spread to many more people than it should be if we weren’t so damned selfish and narcissistic. By they way, most of the people I know to be doing this are Christians, but sorry, your Holy Spirit Lungs won’t protect you from COVID-19 anymore than they did the Great Influenza or the Plagues of the Middle Ages, Yellow or Dengue Fever, Ebola, AIDS, or any other infectious disease. If you think your spiritually will protect you and others, you are fools who are not to be pitied, though the people you infect should be.

I am tired of death. After being present at over 700 I stopped counting. Many of the faces, lives, and stories of those people are forever seared into my conscience.

So anyway, this post that began some 54 hours ago, or 76 hours if you count this update, is at an end. It has meandered from my medical problems, my frustration with the Navy’s fucked up computer systems, national security, religious liberty, and freedom from religious tyranny, the issue of suicide, veterans who commit suicide, and the film and television series M*A*S*H, including the behind the scenes lyrics to its theme song Suicide is Painless.

It is kind of ironic that I was commissioned as a Medical Service Corps Officer in the Army on 19 June 1983, and that when I graduated from the Medical Department Officer Basic Course the theme song of the Army Medical Department, minus the words was the Theme Song of M*A*S*H, “Suicide is Painless.” 

So I hope you had a happy and safe Thanksgiving. Please do not put others at risk, and by all means please do your best to remain alive and healthy so we can properly celebrate Thanksgiving in 2021. Maybe I will be in a more celebratory mood by then.

Pray for me a miserable and useless has been Chaplain and sinner.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

 

 

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Veterans Day 2020: a Coda at the End of a Career


With Advisors and Bedouin Family, Iraq Syria Border, Christmas Eve 2007

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today is the official observance of Veterans Day, which actually falls on The anniversary of Armistice Day. 

It is a strange feeling. I don’t really advertise that I am a veteran out in public, even though I have quite a few ball caps, sweat shirts, Polo shirts, hoodies, and fleeces that I could wear. To do that. I certainly am not ashamed of my service, but much of it has been hard, and I spend the time thinking about those who I served alongside, or set an example for me, living and dead. Unless something really unusual happens it will be my last on active duty.

I understand men like the Alsatian German Guy Sajer who wrote after spending World War Two on the Russian Front:

“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 forget.”

As I said, I have been reflecting on the many friends, comrades, and shipmates, not all of whom are American, that I have served alongside, or have known in the course of my 38 plus year military career. I also am remembering my dad who served in Vietnam as a Navy Chief Petty Officer and the men who help to guide me in my military career going back to my high school NJROTC instructors, LCDR J. E. Breedlove, and Senior Chief Petty Officer John Ness.


My Dad, Aviation Storekeeper Chief Carl Dundas

LCDR Breedlove and Senior Chief Ness

2nd Platoon, 557th Medical Company (Ambulance), Germany 1985

As I think of all of these men and women, I am reminded of the words spoke by King Henry V in Shakespeare’s 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.

From the Speech of King Henry V at Agincourt in Shakespeare’s “Henry V” 1599

It is a peculiar bond that veterans share. On Veterans Day the United States choses to honor all of its veterans on a day that was originally dedicatedly Armistice Day, a day to remember the World War One, or the War to end all war; we saw how well that worked out, but I digress.

With My trusty Bodyguard and assistant RP1 Nelson LeBron, Habbinyah Iraq, January 2008. 

I wrote about Armistice Day yesterday, but Veterans Day is for all veterans, even those who fought in unpopular and sometimes even unjust wars. This makes it an honorable, but sometimes an ethical problematic observance. So, in a broader and more universal sense, those of us who have served, especially in the wars that do not fit with our nation’s ideals, share the heartache of the war; the loss of friends, comrades, and parts of ourselves, with the veterans of other nations whose leaders sent their soldiers to fight and die in unjust wars.

With Advisors at Al Waleed Border Crossing

It is now over ten years since I served in Iraq and nine years since my PTSD crash.  However, I still would do it again in a heartbeat.  There is something about doing the job that you were both trained to do and called to do that makes it so.  Likewise the bonds of friendship and brotherhood with those who you serve are greater than almost any known in the human experience.  Shared danger, suffering and trauma bind soldiers together, even soldiers of different countries and sometimes with enemies. I am by no means a warmonger, in fact I am much more of a pacifist now; but there is something about having served in combat, especially with very small and isolated groups of men and women in places where if something went wrong there was no possibility of help.

With my boarding team from the USS Hue City, Persian Gulf 2002

I remember the conversation that I had with an Iraqi Merchant Marine Captain on a ship that we had apprehended for smuggling oil violating the United Nations sanctions.  The man was a bit older than me, in his early 60s.  He had been educated in Britain and traveled to the US in the 1960s and 1970s. He had the same concerns as any husband and father for his family and had lost his livelihood after Saddam invaded Kuwait in 1990.   He was a gentleman who provided for his crew and went out of his way to cooperate with us.  In our last meeting he said to me: “Someday I hope that like the American, British, and German soldiers at the end of the Second World War, that we can meet after the war is over, share a meal and a drink in a bar and be friends.”

That is still my hope.

In the final episode of the series Band of Brothers there is a scene where one of the American soldiers, Joseph Liebgott who came from a German Jewish family interprets the words of a German General to his men in the prisoner compound.  The words sum up what the Americans had felt about themselves and likewise the bond that all soldiers who serve together in war have in common, if you have seen the episode you know how powerful it is, I ended up crying when I heard it the first time and cannot help but do so now that I have been to the badlands of Al Anbar Province.

 

“Men, it’s been a long war, it’s been a tough war. You’ve fought bravely, proudly for your country. You’re a special group. You’ve found in one another a bond that exists only in combat, among brothers. You’ve shared foxholes, held each other in dire moments. You’ve seen death and suffered together. I’m proud to have served with each and every one of you. You all deserve long and happy lives in peace.”

We live in a time where it is quite possible or even likely that the world will be shaken by wars that will dwarf all of those that have occurred since the Second World War. Since I am still serving, I prepare myself every day, and speak frankly with those who I serve alongside of this reality.


The World War One Memorial Arch in Huntington West Virginia
I had a few people out in town thank me for my service when they saw me in uniform, and many more on Facebook today when Judy posted a picture of me from five years ago. My brother Jeff posted a tribute to my dad, me, and my nephew Darren, now serving as a Marine. I am grateful for this as when my dad returned from Vietnam that didn’t happen. At the same time it is a bit embarrassing. I don’t really know what to say most of the time. I have always been a volunteer, I wasn’t drafted, and I even volunteered for my deployment to Iraq. But there are so many other men and women who have done much more than I ever did to deserve such expressions of thanks.
My Nephew Darren
But I am glad that my nephew Darren is a Marine. Some of my most wonderful memories of service are over seven years spent assigned to the Marines. I proudly wear my Fleet Marine Force Officer Qualification Pin, and display my diploma from the Marine Corps Command and Staff College. 

With Marines of Marine Security Forces in Bahrain, 2004

More than a decade after I left Iraq, I quite often felt out of place in the United States, even among some veterans. That isolation has gotten worse for me in the Trump era, especially after a Navy retiree in my chapel congregation attempted to have me tried by Court Martial for a sermon in 2018.

I can’t understand that when the President that the man worships dodged the draft, mocks veterans and real heroes, and during all of his years in office has refused to visit any deployed troops until a year ago, and then it was a photo op which included handing out #MAGA hats. The President and those like him should think himself accursed that he has not only not served, but worked his entire life to avoid that service, and them for defending him. I pray the the spirits of the honored dead haunt him until the day that he dies, and I mean that from the depths of my being. That may sound harsh but he deserves a fate worse than a fate worse than death.

The past year I have served at Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth, Virginia. That assignment helped restore my faith and calling as a Christian and a Priest. I am thankful for the people who I served there, military and civilian. You cannot imagine how much that means to me and how much I will miss them. It looks like in addition to writing books and hopefully teaching in local universities  that I will also be working as a contractor with Navy Fleet and Family Services working with military personnel of all services in the area.

Today was a quiet remembrance. I am still dealing with the after effects of my tooth and am now having TMJ like symptoms. Yesterday we had a special ceremony at the shipyard during morning colors and I provided the invocation and benediction. It was a surreal feeling for it will be the last time I do that as a military Chaplain, and my last Veterans Day of over 39 years of service.

On 1 January 2021 I will finally be retired. It’s time. I am overwhelming grateful for having the chance to serve this country in uniform for so long, and I will never forget those who instilled in me the virtues of Duty, Honor, Country,” “Courage, Honor and Commitment,” and “Semper Fidelis.”

So until tomorrow,

I wish you peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, iraq,afghanistan, Military, Political Commentary, Tour in Iraq, us army, US Marine Corps, US Navy, Veterans and friends

Happy 245th Birthday Marines!

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I will take a momentary break from all things Trump and everything else to wish all United States Marines a Happy 245th Birthday.

Honestly, after all that we have been through as a country this year, today is one of these days where I just want to wish people well. Those men and women are those of the United States Marine Corps, with whom I have have spent almost ten years of my thirty-five year military career assigned to or in support of as a chaplain. Today is the 245th anniversary of the establishment of the Marine Corps and its founding at Tun Tavern, in Philadelphia. Tonight I wish all those who have served as Marines past, present and future, especially those who I have served alongside a happy birthday. That includes my Nephew Darren stationed with a squadron at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma Arizona.

On November 10th 1775 the Continental Congress passed a resolution that stated:

Resolved, that two Battalions of Marines be raised consisting of one Colonel, two Lieutenant Colonels, two Majors & Officers as usual in other regiments, that they consist of an equal number of privates with other battalions; that particular care be taken that no persons be appointed to office or enlisted into said Battalions, but such as are good seamen, or so acquainted with maritime affairs as to be able to serve to advantage by sea, when required. That they be enlisted and commissioned for and during the present war with Great Britain and the colonies, unless dismissed by Congress. That they be distinguished by the names of the first & second battalions of American Marines, and that they be considered a part of the number, which the continental Army before Boston is ordered to consist of.

The history of the Marine Corps is one of the most fascinating of any armed service in the world. Starting out as a tiny force attached to Navy ships and shipyards the Corps has gained prominence as one of the premier fighting forces ever assembled. Flexible and deployable anywhere in the world on short notice the Marine Corps has seen action in “every place and clime” and continues to serve around the world.

In 1775 a committee of the Continental Congress met at Philadelphia’s Tun Tavern to draft a resolution calling for two battalions of Marines able to fight for independence at sea and on shore.  The resolution was approved on November 10, 1775, officially forming the Continental Marines. The first order of business was to appoint Samuel Nicholas as the Commandant of the newly formed Marines.

Robert Mullan the owner and proprietor of the said Tun Tavern became Nicholson’s first captain and recruiter. They began gathering support and were ready for action by early 1776.  They served throughout the War for Independence and like the Navy they were disbanded in April 1783 and reconstituted as the Marine Corps in 1798.

The Marines served on the ships of the Navy in the Quasi-wa with France, against the Barbary Pirates where a small group of 8 Marines and 500 Arabs under Lieutenant Presley O’Bannon made a march of 500 miles across the Libyan Desert to lay siege Tripoli but only reached Derna. The action is immortalized in the Marine Hymn as well as the design of the Marine Officer’s “Mameluke” Sword. They served in the War of 1812, the Seminole Wars and in the Mexican-American War where in the storming of the on Chapultepec Palace they continued to build and enduring legacy. In the months leading up to the Civil War they played a key role at home and abroad.  In October 1859 U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Robert E. Lee led Marines from the Marine Barracks Washington DC to capture John Brown and his followers who had seized the Federal Armory at Harper’s Ferry.

The Corps served on through the Civil War and on into the age of American Expansion serving in the Spanish American War in the Philippines, Puerto Rico and Cuba where they seized Guantanamo Bay at the battle of Cuzco Wells.  The would serve in China and be a key component of the international force that defended foreign diplomats during the Boxer Revolt as well as the international force that would relieve the diplomatic compound in Peking (Beijing).

In World War One the Marines stopped the German advance at Chateau Thierry and cemented their reputation as an elite fighting force at Belleau Wood where legend and myth has it that the Germans nicknamed them Teufelhunden or Devil Dogs, a name that they Marines have appropriated with great aplomb.

During the inter-war years the Marines were quite active in the Caribbean and Asia and also developed amphibious tactics and doctrine that would be put to use in the Pacific Campaign.  During the war the Marines served in all theaters but won enduring fame at Wake Island, Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Iwo Jima, Okinawa and numerous other battles in the Pacific war. Marine Aviators flew in some the most desperate actions in the war to support the Navy and amphibious operations ashore.

After the war the Truman Administration sought to eliminate the Marine Corps but the Corps was saved by the efforts of Americans across the country and Marine supporters in Congress.  That was a good thing because the Marines were instrumental in keeping the North Koreans from overrunning the South during the Korean War on the Pusan Perimeter, turned the tide at Inchon and helped decimate Communist Chinese forces at the Chosin Reservoir.  After Korea the Marines would serve around the World in the Caribbean and Lebanon and in Vietnam where at Da Nang Keh Sanh, Hue City, Con Thien fighting the North Vietnamese and their Viet Cong allies.  The Marines took the initiative to implement innovative counter insurgency measures such as the Combined Action Platoons which enjoyed tremendous success until they were shut down by the Army high command.  These lessons would serve the Marines well in the new millennium during the Anbar Awakening in Iraq which changed the course of that insurgency and war.

The Marines would again be involved around the World after Vietnam serving in the Cold War, in Lebanon and the First Gulf War which was followed by actions in Somalia, the Balkans and Haiti. After the attacks of September 11th 2001 the Marines were among the first into Afghanistan helping to drive the Taliban from power. In the Iraq Campaign the Marines had a leading role both in the invasion and in the campaign in Al Anbar Province.  After their withdraw from Iraq the Marines became a central player in Afghanistan where they were engaged around Khandahar and in Helmand Province. In the wake of the ISIS gains in Syria and Iraq the Marines returned to Iraq serving to help train and advise Iraqi Army units in areas of Al Anbar Province and other areas of that country. Likewise they have participated in many humanitarian operations across the Globe where working alongside side the United States Navy, Host Countries, and countless international Humanitarian Relief agencies. If by some chance war breaks out on the Korean Peninsula, Marines will be among the first to respond.

The Marines are elite among world military organizations and continue to “fight our nations battles on the air and land and sea.” The Corps under General John LeJeune institutionalized the celebration of the Marine Corps Birthday and their establishment at Tun Tavern. General LeJeune issued this order which is still read at every Marine Corps Birthday Ball or observance:

MARINE CORPS ORDER No. 47 (Series 1921)
HEADQUARTERS
U.S. MARINE CORPS Washington, November 1, 1921

The following will be read to the command on the 10th of November, 1921, and hereafter on the 10th of November of every year. Should the order not be received by the 10th of November, 1921, it will be read upon receipt.

On November 10, 1775, a Corps of Marines was created by a resolution of Continental Congress. Since that date many thousand men have borne the name “Marine”. In memory of them it is fitting that we who are Marines should commemorate the birthday of our corps by calling to mind the glories of its long and illustrious history.

The record of our corps is one which will bear comparison with that of the most famous military organizations in the world’s history. During 90 of the 146 years of its existence the Marine Corps has been in action against the Nation’s foes. From the Battle of Trenton to the Argonne, Marines have won foremost honors in war, and in the long eras of tranquility at home, generation after generation of Marines have grown gray in war in both hemispheres and in every corner of the seven seas, that our country and its citizens might enjoy peace and security.

In every battle and skirmish since the birth of our corps, Marines have acquitted themselves with the greatest distinction, winning new honors on each occasion until the term “Marine” has come to signify all that is highest in military efficiency and soldierly virtue.

This high name of distinction and soldierly repute we who are Marines today have received from those who preceded us in the corps. With it we have also received from them the eternal spirit which has animated our corps from generation to generation and has been the distinguishing mark of the Marines in every age. So long as that spirit continues to flourish Marines will be found equal to every emergency in the future as they have been in the past, and the men of our Nation will regard us as worthy successors to the long line of illustrious men who have served as “Soldiers of the Sea” since the founding of the Corps.

JOHN A. LEJEUNE,
Major General
Commandant

I have had the privilege to have served with the Marines directly or indirectly for nearly ten of the thirty-seven years that I have served in the military. In addition to that I wear the Fleet Marine Force Officer Warfare Qualification device and I am a graduate of the Marine Corps Command and Staff College. I have been able to celebrate the Marine Corps Birthday with Marines in places like Ramadi and Guantanamo Bay. For me it is an honor to have served with so many great Americans.

So to all my Marine Corps friends, and any other Marines who read this piece, have a great night and Semper Fidelis.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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