Tag Archives: academy of health sciences

I Just Want to Thank Everyone that made this Night Necessary

I think that Yogi Berra said it the best when thanking people inSt. Louis when the city decided to honor him when the Yankees came into town in 1947.  He meant to say “I just want to thank everyone that made this night possible” but it came out “I just want to thank everyone that made this night necessary.”

Last night I was promoted to the rank of Commander in the United States Navy.  I’ve been in the military 30 years and this is the first rank that I have not held twice since March 1987.  Since March 1st 1987 I served as an Army Captain and Major and then took a reduction in rank to enter the Navy serve as a Navy Lieutenant and Lieutenant Commander.

Swearing the Oath of Office

It was a special night. The management of the Norfolk Tides was happy to indulge my desire to do the oath behind home plate and throw out the first pitch.  Dave Rosenfield the General Manager approved it early in the season and his staff led by the Director of Community Relations, Heather McKeating made it happen and Linda Waisanen the Box Office Manager helped get the tickets for my guests in the same section.  It was good to see and talk with some of my friends from the Tides that I haven’t seen for a while, pitchers Chris Tillman and Chris George and catcher Adam Donachie.   Of course there were also my friends Elliott, Chip and Audrey the Ushers, concessionaires and members of the Tide Watchers Booster club.

RP1 Nelson Lebron, me and Judy

I had the honor of having my old commanding officer from Marine Security Force Battalion, Colonel Mike Paulovich USMC (Retired) come down from Washington DC to administer the Oath of Office.  Likewise I had my wife Judy, who has seen me through my entire career and endured many separations due to deployments, field exercises and schools at my side.  For those that have not served in the military the stress that our spouses go through is tremendous and many marriages do not survive.  There is a reason that around many military bases you will see bumper stickers that say “Navy wife, the toughest job in the military” or Marine or Army wife.  I was also honored to have my former assistant from EOD Group Two RP1 Nelson Lebron there. Nelson and I went to Iraq together and he is an amazing Sailor and I count him as a close friend.  He was my trusted body guard and I would go to war with him again any day of the week.  Judy and Nelson switched out my shoulder boards before I took the oath.

I also had some very special friends in attendance at the game, people that I really wanted to be there; LCDR Greg Ostrander USN (Retired), Randy and Sandy Smith, Jerry Channell, Denise Denise Özdemir and Karen Johnson and their significant others.  There were some people that because of military duty or other commitments that could not make it, however I know they were there in spirit due to the notes, messages and phone calls.

With Advisers in Iraq

One problem of living on the opposite coast from your family is that it is difficult to have them with you on occasions like this.  My mom, my brother and his family in California could not be here but hopefully if I make Captain in a few years or when I retire they will be able to come.  My dad passed away the day after the selection list was announced in June of 2010 but I know that he was here in spirit.

Me and RP1 Nelson Lebron in Iraq, there is no better body guard

There are people that were there for me at many points in my career that helped “make this day necessary.”  The late Master Sergeant Harry Zilkan from the UCLA ROTC detachment and Sergeant First Class Harry Ball who broke me down and built me up during my ROTC pre-commissioning “Advanced Camp at Fort Lewis in 1982 were early influences.  SFC Ball a crusty Special Forces type with a lot of Vietnam tours had me blubbering “I got nowhere else to go” like Lewis Gossett Jr. did to Richard Gere in the movie An Officer and a Gentleman. Lieutenant Colonel Bruce Lawson my ROTC advisor at UCLA was also helpful during those two formative years.  First Sergeant Jim Koenig at 557th Medical Company taught me a lot about enlisted leadership and helped mentor me as a young Lieutenant while Colonel Donald A. Johnson the commander of the 68th Medical Group showed me how to get the most out of people and the importance of knowing the details of an operation without getting in the way of people doing the mission.  Master Sergeant (Retired) Cynthia Carter was my Platoon Sergeant at 557th and went through a lot of deep waters with me there.  She was at my promotion to Captain at Fort Sam Houston in 1987.  I am still in contact with a good number of my soldiers from the 557th and each of them was helpful in my career.

LTC Ike Adams and me 1987

When I started down the road to becoming a chaplain back in 1987, Lieutenant Colonel Ike Adams, my Executive Officer at the Academy Brigade, Academy of Health Sciences was very important in helping me down that road. He is now a professor at Asbury College in Wilmore Kentucky.  Chaplain, Major Wayne Lura (USA Retired) gave me advice that has kept me out of trouble talking to me about the pitfalls of ministry and chaplaincy even before I even went to seminary.  Chaplain, Lieutenant Colonel Rich Whaley saved my ass a number of times at the Army Chaplain school during the Basic and Advanced courses.  I have stayed in contact with Rich, who I believe is one of the finest chaplains that I have ever met and he now is the Endorsing Agent for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints working with LDS Chaplains in both the Military and other Federal Chaplain programs.  Chaplain, Colonel John Price was an Episcopal Priest and the State Chaplain for the Texas Army National Guard and taught me a lot about how to be there for people, especially leaders going through difficult times.  Chaplain, Colonel Paul Howe who I served with in Germany during the Bosnia Operation helped me as a young mobilized Army Reserve Major learn to be a good supervisory Chaplain and look out for the junior chaplains and assistants under my care. He also taught me something important about caring for the sacramental needs of a diverse Christian community.

Army Chaplain School 1990 with Chaplain Bill Blackie (L) and Rich Whaley (Center)

There also was my congregation at Fort Indiantown Gap Pennsylvania, where I served from 1997-1998.  My Commanding Officer, Colonel Tom Allmon, his family and my Parish Council including the late Major General Frank Smoker USAF/PAAirNG, Colonel Ray Hawthorne, USA Retired, the late Major Scotty Jenkes (USAF Retired), CWO4 Herman Bolt, (USA Retired), and Sergeant Bill Ward, and my assistant SSG, now Army Chaplain, Major Steve Cantrell were all instrumental in my success there while General Smoker, Colonel Hawthorne and Colonel Allmon wrote letters to help get me into the Navy.

When I came into the Navy I was helped by Captain John Kaul CHC USN, who served as my Division and MEF Chaplain at Camp LeJeune. He became a model for my Chaplain ministry and has been a great encouragement over the years.  Captain Fred Elkin CHC USN, was my first detailer and set me up for success by sending me to the Second Marine Division figuring that my Army background would help me there.  Fred and I later served at Naval Medical Center Portsmouth. Captain, Chaplain Deborah McGuire, CHC USN, was great to work with at the Navy Expeditionary Combat Command.  Captain Mike Langston the II MEF Forward Chaplain who I served with in Iraq set me up for success there and Captain Jesse Tate CHC USN was really good in helping me get through the toughest time of my life after I returned to Iraq and was assigned to Portsmouth.  My fellow Chaplains there, Commander Jeff Seiler, Commander Derek Ross, Commander Kevin Anderson, Lieutenant Albert Cross, Fr. Fred Elkin and Chaplain, Captain Jerry Shields USN (Retired) were amazing in helping me get through that painful time.  Then there is my current staff, Lieutenant Shauna Sanders, Captain, Chaplain Vince Arnold, USN (Retired) and Chaplain, Lieutenant Commander Duke Quarles USN (Retired).  I have had a number of great assistants and Religious Program specialists during my time as a chaplain.  Of course there have been others who have along the way been there for me to give advice, encouragement and assistance that are too numerous to name.

USS HUE CITY Boarding Party

My commanding officers that I have served with in Marine Corps and Navy units have been awesome including Marine Lieutenant Colonel T. D. Anderson, Colonel Louis Rachel,Major General Richard Lake, Colonel Mike Paulovich and Colonel Dan Rogers.  Sergeant Major Kim Davis USMC was an outstanding Sergeant Major to work with, the grandson of Brigadier General Benjamin O. Davis, the first African American General in the U.S. Army, he taught me much in caring for Marines and gave me really helpful advice a number of times.  Captain Rick Hoffman my first skipper on the USS HUE CITY and his Command Master Chief, CMDCM Mark Dubiel were awesome to work for with as are my current Commanding Officer at Naval Hospital Camp LeJeune Captain Dan Zinder, MC USN and my current Command Master Chief CMDCM Terry Prince.  Command Master Chief Gerry Pierce, (USN Retired) has been like family since we served together on HUE CITY.

Soul Vikes

Then there are my fellow officers in the Navy, Army and Marine Corps, my shipmates from the HUE CITY and the Sailors, Soldiers and Marines too numerous to mention that have been part of my life for the last 30 years.  Likewise my teachers and professors, LCDR Jim Breedlove and Senior Chief John Ness from the Edison High Navy Junior ROTC program, Gloria Nomura, Coach Duke Pasquini, Dr. Delmar McComb at San Joaquin Delta College, Dr Helmut Heussler at California State University Northridge, Dr. Doyle Young and Doug Dickens at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Dr. Steve Ivy at Parkland Memorial Hospital. All of these men and women were amazing in my education and formation as an academic and Priest.

Last but certainly not least are those friends that have been there for me for years going back to my “Soul Vikes” from Edison High School and Stockton Junior High. Those that I went to Army ROTC at UCLA, and those that I have served with over the years in the Army, Navy and Marine Corps as well as seminary classmates, and my colleagues in the clergy from my old church and the Apostolic Catholic Orthodox Church where I serve today.  Thank you Bishop Diana Dale, and my old friends Fr Greg Schluter from the Navy and the Charismatic Episcopal Church, Major Marty Grossman who I have known since my first day on active duty, Dr. Rick Herrera, Gary Vassar and Becky Munoz-Smith who were with me at UCLA and so many more friends, shipmates and comrades that I cannot name them all.

Finally there are my readers on this site that have encouraged me with their comments since I started this site in February 2009.

If as Hillary Clinton said it takes a village, I have good sized town that has stood by my side over the years and I am blessed.

Again I just want to thank everyone that made this night necessary.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Military, shipmates and veterans

Padre Steve’s Highs and Lows of 28 Years Service

Ooops, this should have posted the 25th…all references in the post though it posted today are for the 25th.  The meltdown was the 24th, not my duty night.

Note: I think that I have pretty much recovered from last night’s mini-meltdown, though tired have has a good day working some stuff that is pretty cool that could be a positive thing for Navy and VA Chaplains.  I think success does help mitigate some of the effects of a meltdown.  If today had been crappy and I hadn’t had a good talk with Elmer the Shrink it might have continued.  Now with some sleep I could be cooking with gas even though my house is all electric.

On to the Post:

Soldier Once and YoungEnlisted in National Guard 1982

“So we’re all dogfaces, we’re all very, very different, but there is one thing that we all have in common: we were all stupid enough to enlist in the Army. We’re mutants. There’s something wrong with us, something very, very wrong with us. Something seriously wrong with us – we’re soldiers. But we’re American soldiers! We’ve been kicking ass for 200 years!” Bill Murray as John Winger in “Stripes” 1981

Well sports fans I am at the hospital tonight celebrating 28 years of service in the military. It really doesn’t seem like any more than 27 ½ but who’s counting right? And when I look back at the Army I joined I am reminded of Stripes.

I think that I have pretty much recovered from last night’s mini-meltdown, though tired have has a good day working some stuff that is pretty cool that could be a positive thing for Navy and VA Chaplains.  I think success does help mitigate some of the effects of a meltdown.  If today had been crappy and I hadn’t had a good talk with Elmer the Shrink it might have continued.  Now with some sleep I could be cooking with gas even though my house is all electric.

So 28 years ago today I went down and signed my name on the dotted line.  It was August 25th 1981 two months after the release of the movie Stripes and two months before I saw it with Judy at the $1 movie theater.  On that end of summer day I went down and signed my contract with the Army ROTC program at UCLA with the Chief Lord of Discipline himself, the Captain Bruce Lawson swearing me in.  He had just finished PT and though still in his PT clothes administered the Oath of Enlistment.  It was not much on ceremony but it was a start.  In fact most of my promotions in either the Army of the Navy have not come with much fanfare and I’m actually pretty okay with that so long as I get paid and get to do what I love doing which is being a Priest and getting to serve now as a Navy Chaplain.  So I followed with a trip down to the National Guard Armory on Victory Blvd in Van Nuys to enlist in the National Guard. Since I was not a scholarship student I was allowed to simultaneously enter the Guard.  So the 25th was kind of like a double header for me, I did the oath for the Guard later in the afternoon. It’s like Tommy Lasorda once said: “I love doubleheaders. That way I get to keep my uniform on longer.”

So I went in to Headquarters and Headquarters Battery and met the Company Commander, Captain J.J. Kramer, now a retired Colonel I believe and Major Charles Armagost, the Full Time Unit Administrator and Adjutant.  Wearing his green fatigues the good Major administered the Oath for the California National Guard, which differed from the Federal Oath in that it also included words about obeying the Governor of the State and the Laws of California etc…Following that I was walked down to the supply room where a rather rotund Sergeant began issuing me uniforms and field gear.  I got my first gift of US Military designer clothing and was told to report the Thursday after Labor Day for a “Battery Dark Night.”  So began my rather auspicious career.

I remember being in uniform in those early days without a single ribbon or medal to my name.  I’d look around and see all the guys who had served in Vietnam and some in Korea as well with all kinds of ribbons, medals, unit citations and qualification badges.  I would look at them and once I remarked to Judy that I wish that I would have a lot someday.  She accused me of whining, something that I feel is a mischaracterization of my attitude about not having anything and something that now with a full chest of ribbons, medals and qualification pins that she is not hesitant to remind me of and tell others about.

2LT Dundas 1983Look Mom One Ribbon

So what has transpired in 28 years?  Here are some of the highlights and a few lowlights of the of this adventure.

In 1981 it all began and things happened fast, within two weeks of enlisting I was driving an M-151A1 Jeep to Ft Irwin CA as part of battalion advance party and then spending the weekend learning to call in artillery fire. After going through hell and being destroyed and rebuilt by SFC Harry Ball, Drill Sergeant US Army like Richard Gere was in An Officer and a Gentleman I somehow got commissioned in part due to the forbearance of Major Lawson, the former Captain Lawson who has sworn me in.  Judy asks if I had my own “Puget Sound Deb” when she sees the movie with me that winter. However just prior to getting commissioned during my last annual training period at Camp Roberts I led team of Ersatz East German Kommando’s on raids against battalion rear area as the opposing forces.  I was almost run over in may M-151A1 by an M-548 Ammo Carrier during a strafing run coming down hills firing blanks from machine guns like the Rat Patrol and dropping Smoke and CS grenades in the vehicle’s path.  Later we captured the battery Operations Center during a firing mission. None of this made them happy but the Forward Observers and I had a blast.

After I got commissioned I attended the Medical Department Officer Basic Course at Ft Sam Houston TX and suffered for Jesus for 9 weeks in the Riverwalk Marriott hotel in downtown San Antonio. After this I spent 11 glorious weeks at Ft Knox Kentucky which by the way is in a “dry county” or at least it was back then  going through a 6 week course after being bumped by Saudi Arabian exchange officers.

557th comany command 1985Company Commander

From January 1984 through late December 1986 we were stationed with the 557th Medical Company Neubrucke and later Wiesbaden. Was a platoon leader and became company XO when our XO checked into a psych ward before Winter REFORGER. While in the field was promoted but o one realized that fact until we came out of the field in mid- February. In a late night hastily arranged ceremony which I had to drag Judy in from bed to see I was promoted and got my first real medal. In September I became a “relief pitcher” Company Commander when my new CO got fired. I was told “Lieutenant; clean up that Company.” After 7 months, and having to adjudicate close to 50 Article 15’s, and kicking a bunch of drug users out of the Army I was relieved by a Captain and I had my first and last Change of Command ceremony. Became a personnel officer at our group, pissed off the boss and had a miserable last couple months in Germany. However I completed my first row of ribbons made some really good lifelong German friends and learned to drive really fast and really good and developed a fine appreciation of good beer.

In 1987 I attended the Military Personnel Officer Course at Ft Benjamin Harrison which is in Indianapolis and continued on to Fort Sam Houston where I was assigned as the Adjutant for the Academy Brigade, Academy of Health Sciences.  I got promoted right after I got there and since Judy had not arrived I had the world’s best platoon sergeant, SFC Cynthia Carter help pin on my new Captain bars. Judy was quite happy that Cindy got to do this as she really liked her.  My Brigade Commander wondered what was up with that, but it was an honor to have her do the pinning. While there I worked on AIDS/HIV personnel policy and became “CINC AIDS” at the Academy. While there I collected my second Army Achievement Medal and an Army Commendation Medal.

Berlin WallBerlin Wall 1986

In 1988 I left Active Army to attend Seminary and was appointed as an Armor officer in Texas Army National Guard.  I was told by my boss LTC Jim Wigger that I was moving from the “frying pan into the fire as the chaplains were a cutthroat bunch” and that the “Medical Department was not even in the same league as the Chaplains.” When the Division Chaplain found out that a seminarian was getting ready to drive tanks he pitched a fit and had me enter the Chaplain Candidate program.  In seminary I attended  the Chaplain Officer Basic Course at Fort Monmouth NJ. As Deputy Course leader and Company “First Sergeant” pissed off lots of chaplains and seminarians. Thankfully I was backed up by LTC Rich Whaley who saved my ass for the first time and not the last time.  I met my friend Fr Jim Bowman who kept me from doing anything really stupid. In 1992 I graduated from seminary was ordained and become a chaplain and assigned to 111th Engineer Battalion in Abilene. That year I got thrown out of the Chaplain Officer Advanced Course when school changed a policy on Chaplain Candidates awaiting final approval to be chaplains to enter course. After Billy Martin style tantrum Rich Whaley saves my ass a second time.

In 1993 I went back to Chaplain Officer Advanced Course, made amends and did the appropriate penance.  Meet up with Fr Jim Bowman again. In the fall of 1994 finished the final phase of the Chaplain Officer Advance Course.  Happiness is Ft Monmouth in your rear view mirror. In the summer of 1984 I viewed the O.J. Chase live on miniature TV in M-577 Command Track with Lakers playoff game in split screen while at Fort Hood.

In January 1995 I moved to Huntington WV to take a job as a contract ER Chaplain.  I transferred from one former Confederate Unit to another going from the Texas to the Virginia Army National Guard.  In December I was promoted to Major and transferred to the Army Reserve and got rid of the 410 mile one way trip for a drill.

New MajorNew Major December 1995

In July of 1996 I got mobilized and sent to Germany to support Bosnia mission, lose job. While in Germany get to do a lot of cool stuff, got a bunch of medals and though the Chaplains there wanted me to be brought on regular active duty get told I am too senior to transfer to Regular Army. I actually think that the guy who made the decision remembered me from Chaplain School and did not want someone like me in “his” Chaplain Corps. Upon my return from Bosnia support the Reserves assigned to Ft Indiantown Gap PA as Installation Command Chaplain where in September 1998 I got to close down help close down the Federal side of things and transfer chapel and congregation to National Guard care. In October I returned to the reserves like a journeyman ball-player being sent back to AAA from the Majors. In December the Navy offered me a deal to play “in the show” on active duty and I took it, went from being an Army Reserve Major to Navy Lieutenant. My friend Father Fred Elkin was my first detailer and offered me a choice of East Coast or West Coast Marines when I asked for a ship.  We now serve together and get a good laugh about that now. It did turn out to be a good thing for me. One of the cool things about my time in the Navy has been since I have blown myself up enough in the Army and seen others do likewise that I know where the career “land mines” are and how not to step on them. This has been a great benefit to me.  It was like changing from one league to another in the middle of a baseball season.  The old stats don’t count for or against you when you start playing in the new league.

After Navy Chaplain School I was assigned to the 2nd Marine Division at Camp LeJuene NC. From then on my life has been going non-stop.  I was chaplain for 4 different battalions in the Division where Father John Kaul used me as a “relief pitcher” in situations where chaplains had either been fired for doing illegal or immoral things or replacing people who had to move on short notice orders. Did CAX at 29 Palms on multiple occasions and did a deployment to the Far East, Okinawa, Japan and Korea.  Collected more medals got my “old” version Fleet Marine Force Qualification. I was assigned to HQ BN 2nd MARDIV. 9-11 -01 attack happened. A couple of months later I reported to USS HUE CITY CG-66 in Mayport.

Dundas of the DesertDundas of the Desert 29 Palms 2000-2001

Not long after reporting went on the final work up exercises prior to deployment, deployed to the Horn of Africa, Northern Arabian Gulf, Gulf of Oman and Mediterranean.  Was an advisor for a boarding team in Northern Arabian Gulf and made 75 boardings of detained smugglers.  We almost got to see the Indians and Pakistanis get in a nuclear war, that was a bit sporty and we supported air operations in Afghanistan. After a period in the yards during following deployment as well as work with the great Marines who served in the Battle of Hue City I checked off the ship in October 2003, again collecting more medals and ribbons.

Boarding partyBoarding Party 2002

I went to Norfolk where I was assigned to the Marine Corps Security Force Battalion and my Commanding Officers, Colonel Mike Paulovich and Colonel Donald Rogers sent me about the world to care for our Marines.  Over that time I probably averaged 2 trips a month out of the area, many overseas to Japan, Hawaii, Spain, France, the United Kingdom and Bahrain, others to places far and wide in the Continental United States.  Colonel Paulovich and I probably worked more closely together than any commander that I have ever worked with and we went through many difficult times in that assignment. We are still friends to this day.  One of the cool things is the people that we work with. I was promoted to Lieutenant Commander in April 2006.  This meant that I had spent almost 16 years of my career wearing Captain or Lieutenant bars.  I again collected more ribbons and medals for the time with the Marines and was one of the first Navy Officers to get the Fleet Marine Force Officer Qualification pin while completing Marine Command and Staff College.

Belleau woodBelleau Wood France 2004

I then went to Navy EOD Group Two in Little Creek where I was the first chaplain assigned to EOD.  While there I got to go to Jordan to the Jordanian Army/UN Peace Operations Training Center and to Sicily.  I was snatched up to go to Iraq in July 2007 and served the most meaningful operational deployment of my career serving our Marine, Army, Navy, Air Force and Department of Justice and Homeland Security advisors to the Iraqi Army, Police and Border Forces in Al Anbar Province.  I came back from Iraq with a great case of PTSD, a gift that keeps on giving.  I checked out of EOD in September 2007 again with more medals and ribbons to my current assignment at Naval Medical Center Portsmouth where I get to do what I am passionate about as a Priest and Navy Chaplain serving in a teaching hospital.

My Tom Clancy lookIraq 2008

Looking back it has been a long and strange trip and it is still an ongoing journey.  People ask me how I keep going even with the PTSD and it’s like Tommy Lasorda says “Guys ask me, don’t I get burned out? How can you get burned out doing something you love? I ask you, have you ever got tired of kissing a pretty girl?” Speaking of which now that I am on the way home after 31 or so hours at work I probably need to do with Judy when I see her.

Steve Summer Whites 2008July 2008, Grand Admiral of the Ottoman Navy?

Peace,  Steve+

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Filed under Baseball, History, iraq,afghanistan, Loose thoughts and musings, Military, PTSD

Always on the Road…Memories of a Marriage Spent Apart Together

anniverary 200926 Years Together: At Murphy’s of DC

The 1980s super-group Journey had a song called Faithfully. It is to this day one of my favorite songs for though it is about the life a travelling musician the lyrics are quite fitting for a military family.

Highway run
Into the midnight sun
Wheels go round and round
You’re on my mind
Restless hearts
Sleep alone tonight
Sendin’ all my love
Along the wire

They say that the road
Ain’t no place to start a family
Right down the line
Its been you and me
And lovin’ a music man
Ain’t always what it’s supposed to be
Oh girl you stand by me
I’m forever yours…faithfully

Circus life
Under the big top world
We all need the clowns
To make us smile
Through space and time
Always another show
Wondering where I am
Lost without you

And being apart ain’t easy
On this love affair
Two strangers learn to fall in love again
I get the joy
Of rediscovering you
Oh girl, you stand by me
Im forever yours…faithfully

Oh, oh, oh, oh
Faithfully, Im still yours
Im forever yours
Ever yours…faithfully

If your read yesterday’s post you know that we have only spent 10 of 26 anniversaries together.  In those years we have often been apart.  In fact a mere 3 ½ weeks after we started dating I left on a 3 month tour with a Christian singing group called the Continental Singers and Orchestra.  Fort those that have heard me sing there is nothing to fear as I was the spotlight tech.  In this position I got to sing along without anyone having to hear me as I trained my Strong Trouperette III spotlight on the various soloists and while in Europe on the whole group.  This continued on multiple occasions after we were married during my military career, periods of 6-9 months were common, once a 15 month separation with a three week period together.  From May of 1996 until August 2003 we spent 43 out of 63 months apart.  This did not include the period of my hospital residency and civilian hospital chaplain jobs working many second shifts and overnights in addition to National Guard and Army Reserve exercises, training, official travel or schools.  Of course this put strain on both of us yet somehow we survived.

It is in the times like these that you find out what you as a couple are made of.  Both of us are somewhat independent spirits and though both natural introverts have strong personalities.  At the same time we both see the world through a somewhat warped prism and both have strong senses of irony which is strange because I take my clothes that need pressing to the cleaners.  I think a lot of what besides the grace of God, which the Deity Herself has seemed to has given both of us a lot of, many times in spite of me.

In the course of our marriage we have lived quite a few places and of course I have been to even more.  We were married in Stockton California, aka “Mudville” of Casey at the Bat fame or more recently the birthplace of the drive by shooting and 2500 square foot two story suburban marijuana farms and the highest home foreclosure rate in the country.  Stockton is a great place to be from and a nice place to visit family.  If the economy wasn’t so sucky and the crime rate so high it would be a really awesome place to live only a couple of hours from the San Francisco and the Northern California coast, the Sierra Nevada Mountains and Lake Tahoe, the California Wine country, Redwood Groves, Yosemite and many historic or natural venues.

That rabbit chase we first set up house in a little town called Eckelhausen Germany in the Saarland when my first unit the 557th Medical Company (Ambulance) was based at a little Kaserne called Neubrücke.  Eckelhausen and Neubrücke  were ideal small bases in West Germany during the Cold War.  We lived off base in a small town overlooking a resort lake called the Böstalsee.  The town was so small that it only had a small Postamt (Post office) and one Gästhaus. The people spoke a strong dialect of German that approximated Appalachian English.  Not long after settling there the unit was moved to Wiesbaden, the state capital of Hessen.  We got our first dog in Wiesbaden, the little Wire Haired Dachshund named Frieda, or sometimes “Dammitt Frieda” or simply “little shit.”  In Wiesbaden The Deity presumed to started meddling in my life and renewing a call to ministry that I knew that I had back before I went on tour with Continentals.  I successfully parried the Deity’s call until we moved to San Antonio Texas when I was the Adjutant of the Academy Brigade of the Academy of Health Sciences.  This was where the Deity really began to rain on my parade and Judy of course was affected as well.  She was supportive of the call to ministry and what we hoped would be the Army Chaplaincy, but really had not signed up for this.  She had in fact signed up to be the wife of a regular active duty officer who would spend 20 or so years in and retire at a comfortable pay grade.  Nope, the Deity had other plans.

Seminary as I hinted in other posts was hell for us.  We lost pretty much everything and it was only the grace of God and the people of God who saw some glimmer of hope in me that we made it through.  Now true, I worked my ass off in school and always at least one job plus the National Guard, often more than one job.  We saw what only can be described as miracles as we fought our way through seminary.  Those are enough themselves for another post.  We did seminary in Fort Worth Texas and lived there and in the Mid-Cities of Hurst-Euless-Bedford.  The entirety of seminary and my hospital residency was spent at the poverty line and we often didn’t know where the next meal, tank of gas or tuition payment would come from.  We then moved to Huntington West Virginia where I was a full time contract hospital Emergency Department Chaplain following my residency.  We thought that Huntington would be the final stop as it was the city and area that my family came from, I being the first born on the West Coast.  That changed in June 1996 when I was mobilized the support the Bosnia Operation.  When that happened my contract was terminated and another minister of the Pastoral Care Department’s Chief was hired.  After the 9 month deployment I went on very little notice for 6 months at Fort Indiantown Gap PA.  This morphed into a civilian position during the transition of the base from the Active Army to the Pennsylvania Army National Guard.  This position was a yearlong and I was able to move Judy up with me.  Following this it was back to unemployment and poverty in Huntington.

That changed in December 1998 when I was offered the chance to become a Navy Chaplain.  Now mind you back in our courtship Judy said that she would not marry me if I joined the Navy, so I did it without consulting her.  Now men this is not a smart move, if I had asked her nicely and explained things she probably would have signed off on it.  However, like an idiot I nearly blew the marriage apart by doing it my way.  I wanted to go back on active duty and the Army told me that I was too senior to go back on active duty.  It was like I declared free agency and was picked up by another team, like going from the American League to the National League.  It was nearly 8 months later that Judy finally relented and moved to Swansboro North Carolina with me.  I really don’t blame her, she had a life and friends in Huntington, in fact far more than me and to move was painful and what I did by not being gentlemanly and asking her was both unfair and stupid.  It is my biggest regret in our marriage. At the same time Judy rapidly adapted to the life of a Navy Chaplain on a Marine Corps base and even at a Chaplain wives meeting helped break into the chapel so that it could be set up for the meeting when a Religious Program Specialist did not show to open it up.  Never underestimate a Navy wife and her best friend and evil twin, though they might contest which one is actually the “evil” twin.

From Swansboro and Camp LeJeune we went to Mayport/Jacksonville Florida where I was chaplain of a guided missile cruiser.  I arrived just prior to deployment and Judy remained in North Carolina until I returned.  This was kind of funny because I was calling the US looking for an apartment from a port call in Croatia.  Making a call I found out that the place I wanted had already been rented.  I can’t remember my exact words when I got this news but be assured that they were a colorful metaphor.  I called Judy totally disappointed on to find it was she who had scored the apartment.  Our stay in Jacksonville was only about 13 months after the deployment ended when we moved to the Hampton Roads area.  It finally looks like we are in the place we will stay after the Navy.

Judy has been with me across country, and a lot of places in Europe to include Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg, France, Spain and the UK. She made it to East Berlin as well as Guantanamo Bay Cuba.  We have met many people and seen many interesting things.  Likewise we have experienced the reality of God’s grace in our lives.

Ours has been strange journey to say the least, but every day I know that it is worth it.  Today we had or 26th wedding anniversary.  We drove to DC.  One of the cool things was that Judy is trying out a pair of new hearing aids, which she hopes that Tricare will purchase when the time comes due.  The hearing aids are remarkable.  For the first time in her life she can hear words in songs played on a radio or stereo.  She can hear conversations going on behind her without having to look and she has heard for the first tie sounds like the letter “S” a pen scratching on paper, rain dripping down a drain spout and the richness of her guitar.  It has been quite an emotional day for her.  She is continuing to notice the nuances of sound and every so often she is overcome with all that she has missed over the years.  One of the things that she is discovering as she hears the lyrics to songs for the first time without having to read them is that I am a hopeless romantic.  A lot of my CDs are compilations of my favorite songs, many of which were picked with Judy in mind.   It was quite an emotional ride for both of us as she really experienced what is that hearing people hear on a daily basis.

She is beginning to write about in on her blog, the Abbey Normal Abbess which is on my links menu.  We would both appreciate your prayers as Tricare eventually makes the decision as to whether she will get them.  Tonight we had dinner with Judy’s cousin Becky who works for the US Department of Fish and Game Law Enforcement at Murphy’s of DC.  While on the way there we heard that Michael Jackson had died quite unexpectedly not long after Farrah Fawcett had passed away from Cancer earlier in the day.  I guess that we will remember this anniversary.

Anyway, it has been a long day.  Judy has passed out a while ago and it is time for me to get some sleep.

Peace and blessings,

Steve+

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Kira Gets Married, the June Swoon and the Rise and Fall of Stars

kira 1Kira Arriving escorted by her Proud Dad Tony

After having to deal with what has seemed like and unending series a series of memorial services, funerals and family medical crisis’ I finally something to celebrate.  Judy and I are going to the wedding of Kira.  Kira goes to the same church as Judy whose mother sings in the same choir.  Kira is a choir child and occasionally will sing with them. We first met Kira when she had just graduated from high school.  Even then she was a joy.  She was and is one of the sweetest girls we have ever known.  Of course Judy knew Kira and her family at church.  I was on the road frequently and only occasionally attended the church.  I got to know her better over at Gordon Biersch where she worked when Judy and I first started going there.  The first time I actually met her Judy told me “THIS IS KIRA AND YOU WILL OVERTIP HER.”  I did so but never regetted it, Kira always earned it.  If things were not too busy and even if they were busy Kira would pull up a chair by us and just talk.  Sometimes it was life, sometimes church, school or relationships but the conversation between us and Kira was something that we looked forward to every time we went to Biersch.  Now we know all of the bartenders and quite a few of the servers at the restaurant, and we love them all and we pretty much overtip them as well.  Kira however was something special.  As she completes college I know that she will do great things.   Her soon to be husband is a lucky man and is advised to take good care of Kira.

Kira is also a beautiful girl.  She comes from Irish and Italian stock, but you would think that she came direct from directly from Erin.  Her personal and physical beauty must have attracted guys like flies.  She seems to have stepped out of an Andrew Greely Bishop Blackie mystery as the sweet and beautiful heroine who helps Blackie solve the mystery.   If we had a daughter, we would want her to be Kira.

Kira will be married in the yard of her parent’s home.  Her and our Priest, Fr Jim will perform the ceremony.   The location is because some people attending are decidedly anti-Catholic and will not enter a Catholic church.  This means of course that I will be in my clericals tonight and maybe even wear a big pectoral cross or crucifix.  I seldom wear these even though my church says priests should wear silver pectoral crosses.  I personally find them a bit pretentious, but in this case to help draw fire from Fr Jim and make the anti-Catholics uncomfortable I will wear this and ingratiate myself to them.  Now, this will be a sacrifice for me as it will be hot and humid tonight.  Today happens to be the hottest day that we have had this year the temperature will be in the mid to high 90s with a heat index of over 100 degrees.  I will likely be sweating like a Boiler Technician on a World War Two cruiser in the South Pacific, probably off of Guadalcanal.  I hate humidity.  However tonight the cause is worthy of suffering for Jesus and I’m sure that the Deity Herself will approve.  When Judy and I were married we had temps in the high 90s but we were married in California with NO HUMIDITY thank you God.  There is the possibility that we could get storms so I am praying hard that at least for the duration of the ceremony that the heavens do not open as this is an open ceremony.  Now I do this kind of thing a lot with the Tides with varying degrees of success.  I do pray that the Deity Herself will smile upon Kira’s wedding.

kira 2Kira and Nate

A practical implication for Kira and her very soon to be husband is that the Roman Catholic Church will not recognize tonight’s ceremony because it is not being done in a church building.  The Commonwealth of Virginia will recognize this, but the church will not.  So tomorrow they will have the rite done in the small chapel in the church proper.  It is kind of a two step way of doing this and thankfully for the bride she has a wonderful priest who will work with her.  The inside the building requirement is because of an understanding that since marriage is a Sacrament of the Church that the wedding is to be performed in a religious setting among the faithful.  Complicating the situation was that Kira’s family’s home is in the boundary of another far more conservative parish that would have had to okay it, no chance of that. I do understand this requiement under Canon Law and try to follow it myself though I am not Roman; however as a Navy Chaplain sometimes I make exception to this.  However I also have theological questions about the necessity of getting married in the church building.  If the church is present where the Bishop is and by extension where the Priest is; and the Sacrament is performed in accordance with the Marriage Rite and proper intent of it being a Sacrament  conducted by a validly ordained Priest, how can it not be valid?  It seems to me that the same Holy Trinity which sanctifies the Rite conducted by the Priest is capable of doing this outside as well as inside of the church building.  I’m sure that the early Catholic Church could not do this, neither the Celtic Catholic missionaries who converted much of Western Europe.  They simply did not have the facilities.  Likewise, the underground churches in China or Islamic nations. The Bishop or Priest was present with the faithful and that ensured the validity of the sacraments, not the location.  I’m sure to get a barrage of theological criticism from the Ultra Montanes Canon Law Nazis but what do I care?

kira 3Presentation of the Newly Married Couple

A SHAMELESSS PLUG AND FREE ADVERTISEMENT FOR THE ABBY NORMAL ABBESS: Judy contributed her part for the wedding doing a beautiful Celtic design for the bulletin covers.  I saw her working on these and the detail that she puts into her work and the beauty of the finished product is simply amazing.  If you need digital artwork done for almost anything, or for that matter religious statues restored or custom clergy vestments she is incredible. Some of my posts about our Wiener Dogs display her work.  These are drawings and not photos if you have any questions.  Contact her through the like to the Abby Normal Abbess on the blog role link on right column of this page.

Speaking of the Norfolk Tides, they are emulating the old San Francisco Giants and are experiencing a “June Swoon.”  This has not been a good month for the home team.  The Orioles gutted our fearsome batting order bringing Nolan Reimold, Matt Wieters and Oscar Salazar to the big team where they are all doing well.  Our hitting has died, thankfully the pitching staff is still holding together.  Even more importantly our closest competitor the Durham Bulls are doing even worse this month and we remain a game up in the International League South.  I must redouble my prayers for the team and perhaps ask Tides General Manager Dave Rosenfeld if I can bless the bats.  After all it was Yogi Berra who once said: “I never blame myself when I’m not hitting. I just blame the bat and if it keeps up, I change bats. After all, if I know it isn’t my fault that I’m not hitting, how can I get mad at myself?”  Since Master Yogi has made this pronouncement I am sure that something has happened to the bats and that an exorcism might be due.

Finally some stars are rising and falling this week in the Navy.  First the rising star:  Captain Frank Morneau, my first Commodore at EOD Group Two was selected for the rank of Rear Admiral Lower Half.  This is the same rank as a Army, Marine Corps or Air Force Brigadier General.  There are not many EOD Officers who have risen to this rank.  Captain Morneau is the second.  He was great to work for and is a dynamic and energetic officer.  I remember him most as being a baseball fan, actually a Yankees fan that carried a game used bat to staff meetings.  Since I only carry a baseball in my digital camouflage uniform and get some looks as I toss up and down as I walk our corridors I can imagine the looks that Rear Admiral Select Morneau will get at the Pentagon or Congressional hearings on EOD issues.

The falling star is Rear Admiral Alan Blues Baker, the Deputy Navy Chief of Chaplains and Chaplain of the Marine Corps.  Admiral Baker is a graduate of the Naval Academy and former Surface Warfare Officer.  He was investigated by the Navy Inspector General (why we don’t have an Inspector Admiral I will never know) for an allegation of retribution and violation of the Military Whistle Blower Protection Act in regard to the FY 2008 Chaplain Captain selection board.  I do not know Admiral Baker but as a career officer and chaplain in both the Army and Navy see his forced retirement and failure to become our Chief of Chaplains as yet another stain on our Corps.  I wish this had never happened and will keep him and his family in my prayers even as I pray for the future leadership of the Chaplain Corps.  Admiral Bob Burt who was scheduled to retire will remain in office for another year and Rear-Admiral Select Mark Tidd will assume the office as the Deputy and Chaplain of the Marine Corps as scheduled.

This issue grieves me.  I remember when my Brigade Executive Officer and later acting commander Colonel Jim Wigger tell me that the Chaplain Corps in the Army was far more political and had no Ruths, being so ruthless in comparison with the Army Medical Department.  The Army Medical Department was a pretty ruthless organization, so when Colonel Wigger told me that I was somewhat skeptical.  He told me that I was jumping from the “frying pan into the fire” and he was right.  The thing about chaplains regardless of denominational affiliation, theological background or rank is that we are expected to be above the board and exemplify integrity.  If we even give the impression that we are somehow unethical or lacking in integrity then what we say means nothing because people will either not believe us or discount what we say.  It creates a problem for those who are doing good things because some people will lump us all in with the wrong doer. When a chaplain falls it can create a crisis of faith in the community. It is the same as when a civilian minister falls from grace.  The Catholic pedophile priests, pastors of Evangelical Mega-Churches or large ministries who are accused of financial or sexual misconduct created the same problem for civilian ministers as well as military chaplains.  Admiral Baker’s fall comes on the heels of a young Chaplain named Dillman who was convicted of a number of sexual assault and improper conduct charges a couple of weeks ago.  This young man once named as a Military Chaplain Association of America  “Chaplain of the Year is going to Leavenworth for 10 years.  A couple of years ago we had a priest who was convicted of a number of sexual assault charges by having sex with other men and not telling them that he was HIV positive.  This chaplain was a “poster boy” for the Chaplain Corps and the Roman Catholic Church Military Archdiocese.  Another Chaplain named Klingenschmitt was convicted of disobeying lawful orders after having engaged in a prolonged period of protest against the Navy.  Klingenschmitt, who I have written about on this website before made an absolute ass out of himself by protesting the Navy in front of the White House, making spurious allegations against multiple commanding officers and lying through his teeth about “not being allowed to pray in Jesus Name.”  When I was at Camp LeJeune I had to relieve two Chaplains who were kicked out of the Navy for sexual misconduct, one Protestant and one Catholic.  When I was at Headquarters Battalion 2nd Marine Division I was given charge over several chaplains who had not acquitted themselves well in order to try to help them become successful.   I also saw Army Chaplains conduct themselves in less than exemplary fashion.

Of course chaplains and ministers are human and we all are flawed, as the Apostle Paul wrote “All have fouled up and fallen short of the Glory of God.”  This being said chaplains and ministers while being human and free to make mistakes need to be sure that those mistakes are not those which compromise our integrity.  When I was a young Army Chaplain we were told that SAM, Sex, Alcohol and Money were the three biggest issues that put chaplains out of the service in jail.   Let’s add retribution to that list.  It is a sad day for the Chaplain Corps.  Please pray for us as individuals as well as a Corps as we walk through this valley and keep Admiral Baker in your prayers.

Peace, Steve+

Post Script: The wedding went off well, the promise of the Deity Herself to hold back the rain materizlized as she had promised.  Howver it was hot and humid and though I look good in them was regretting wearing my clericals.  The June Swoon con tinues for the Tides and the Bulls but the Gwinnett Braves are sneaking up and are within two games of the Tides and one of the Bulls.  We have been getting some runs but need to have things come together and fast.  Harbor Park is withing my resposne time to the medical center so if there is nothing critical going on tomorrow afternoon I will head over and watch the game.  So for selfish reason if nothing else I pray for the good health of all tomorrow.

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It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts-Thoughts on 26 Years of Commissioned Service

2LT Dundas 1983

When I Knew Everything: Me in August 1983 following completion of the Medical Service Corps Officer Basic Course

“It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.” Earl Weaver

When I was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the US Army back in 1983 I knew that I was quite possibly the smartest new Lieutenant in the Army.  In fact in just a few days I will celebrate the anniversary of that auspicious occasion as I do most occasions by going to Harbor Park where I will see the Tides play the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs, AAA affiliate of the Phillies. But anyway, back to how smart that I thought I was back then.  I graduated from my Medical Service Corps Officer Basic Course fairly high in my class without really trying too hard, had a pretty easy time at the Junior Officer Maintenance Course.  However, those were schools and anybody with half a brain can tell you that going to school is kind of like artificial real life.  Yeah, you may be doing the living and breathing stuff, sucking up food and band width, but it is not real life.  If you show up on time, read a little bit and take good notes you pass and move along.

However, real life has a tendency to take the smartest of the book smart people and kick their ass.  Sometimes it takes a while but young guys in the military who think they know more than old dudes who have served on all kinds of places and been to combat.  When I was the young guy there were still a fair amount of men who had served in Vietnam and even a few from Korea still in service.  Now these guys were a mixed bag.  Some had seen better days and were on what we referred to as the ROAD (Retired On Active Duty) program.  Others though were totally professional and absolutely committed to the Army and their soldiers, guys like SFC Harry Zilkan, 1SG Jim Koenig and Colonel Donald Johnson. These men were amazing, and even some of the ROAD program soldiers and officers still knew a lot more than I knew at that point.

When I got to Germany I can say that there were a number of occasions where as a young officer I had my ass handed to me, even when I was right.  I’m not going to go into ugly details but it suffices to say that a good number of those times I got what I deserved because I was arrogant and not nearly as smart as I thought I was.  I was like a rookie pitcher thinking that my stuff was unhittable and finding out that guys who had played in the show for a long time had seen it all before.  It was in Germany that I found that while I had good stuff that I wasn’t savvy enough to know when to change my stuff up or when to take the hint not to keep pushing my luck.  I was kind of like Ebby Clavin LaLoosh in Bull Durham in wanting to do what I wanted to do.

tim_robbins_kevin_costner_bull_durham_001I want to give him the heat and announce my presence with authority!

Crash calls for a curve ball, Ebby shakes off the pitch twice]
Crash Davis: [stands up] Hey! HEY!
[walks to meet Ebby at the mound]
Crash Davis: Why are you shaking me off?
Ebby Calvin LaLoosh: [Gets in Crash’s face] I want to give him the heat and announce my presence with authority!
Crash Davis: Announce your f***ing presence with authority? This guy is a first ball, fast ball hitter!
Ebby Calvin LaLoosh: Well he hasn’t seen my heat!
Crash Davis: [pauses] Allright meat, show him your heat.
[Walks back towards the box]
Crash Davis: [to the batter] Fast ball.

[after Ebby didn’t listen to Crash, and the ball became a home run]
Ebby Calvin LaLoosh: You told him didn’t you?
Crash Davis: Yup.

bull-durham after home run

You having fun yet?

That was me as a young officer.  You would think that I would have learned, but after I became a Army Chaplain I did the same damned thing.  Now admittedly it was not in the units that I served in, but my hotheadedness still got me in trouble especially when I decided to challenge guys who had been around a long longer than me and who were a lot more savvy than me.  I had no idea how cunning and brutal some chaplains could be despite having good warning from my XO and Brigade commander at the Academy of Health Sciences, LTC Jim Wigger.  LTC Wigger pulled me aside one day shortly before I left active duty to go to seminary.  He told me “Steve, I know that you think that the Medical Service Corps can be political and vicious, we can’t hold a candle to the Chaplain Corps.”  I should have listened to him. He was right, a lot of those guys were political animals and had no problem taking down or destroying a young chaplain if they thought that they needed to do so.  I got whacked pretty hard a number of times as a young Army Chaplain, but was fortunate that people who knew me and saw potential in me gave me some top cover and protection.  Not everyone gets this.  The Deity Herself must have taken an interest in my career to ensure that there were some guys around to save me from me. Chaplain Rich Whaley did this for me at the Chaplain school on a number of occasions even the time that I got thrown out of the Chaplain Officer Advanced Course (See one of my previous posts to read about this one.)

[Mechanized bull noises in background]
Crash Davis: Well, he really hit the shit outta that one, didn’t he?
[laughs]
Ebby Calvin LaLoosh: [softly, infuriated] I held it like an egg.
Crash Davis: Yeah, and he scrambled the son of a bitch. Look at that, he hit the f***ing bull! Guy gets a free steak!
[laughs]
Crash Davis: You having fun yet?
Ebby Calvin LaLoosh: Oh, yeah. Havin’ a blast.
Crash Davis: Good.
[pause]
Ebby Calvin LaLoosh: God, that sucker teed off on that like he knew I was gonna throw a fastball!
Crash Davis: He did know.
Ebby Calvin LaLoosh: How?
Crash Davis: I told him.

Thankfully by the time I had spent 17 ½ years in the Army I had learned my lessons.  By the time I got to the Navy I had pretty much discovered when and under what circumstances that I could push things.  I had learned the hard way in the Army.  I finally learned that I didn’t know nearly as much as I thought I did.  In fact when I went to the Navy I came in at a lower rank that my Army rank and took no constructive credit to try to get promoted sooner.  I went in with no time in grade to make sure that I got the experience that I needed on the Navy and Marine side.  When doing this I took the time to learn the nuances that made the work of a chaplain different in the Sea Services than in the Army.  While there are similarities even the similarities are often different.  These different similarities can kill you if you think that you’re smarter than everyone else.

I’m now coming up to 26 years of commissioned service and soon to 28 total years of service.  I’m now a lot more like Crash Davis than Ebby Calvin “Nuke” LaLoosh.  In fact now I try to make sure the young guys chaplains and non-chaplains alike don’t get themselves in unnecessary trouble by assuming that they know more than they do.  I have a dear friend who is an Army Chaplain. In his first three years in the Army he has won two Bronze Stars in Iraq.  He will probably be medically retired soon because of a rare pulmonary and respiratory problem that he developed in Iraq.  He was initially supposed to come in the Navy, until just before his care board met a washed up ROAD program chaplain supervising him on an OJT tour decided to torpedo him.   It was crushing to my friend.  He would have been a great Navy and Marine Corps Chaplain.  I helped him recover and assisted him going to the Army.  In his formation I used to require him to watch baseball movies and read books about baseball, and like Crash Davis I would call him “Meat.”  The guy is a gem; the Army is going to lose a superstar when he is medically retired.

Anyway, my mission now is to help the young guys along and continue to keep myself both in the game and always learn something new to keep me sharp and to help others. It’s like Master Yogi once said “In baseball you don’t know nothing.”  I’m sure that the Deity Herself would agree.

Peace, Steve+

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