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Long Days, Lost Wallets and a Long Layover…Ministry Included

10151918_10152444030142059_7871957421917905974_nWell my friends it is after Nine PM Eastern Time and I am still enroute to Houston after leaving my home at Six AM. This means that I have been traveling for over 15 hours and since I still have about three hours before I get to Houston and maybe more before I lay my head down on my pillow that this qualifies as a long day.

Things went well enough at first until I got to what I thought was my one layover at Baltimore Washington International Airport and discovered that I did not have my wallet. Long story short after about an hour of searching, phone calls and consternation it looked like my travel to an important conference with my church and fellow denomination clergy and chaplains was not going to happen. I went to the Southwest Airlines gate agent who put my information in the computer and found that my missing wallet had been turned in to the gate agent in Norfolk. Armed with that information I called the Staff College and the industrious young man got me back to Norfolk to my wallet and connected me with flights to get me to Houston late tonight.  While in Baltimore some nice lady who overheard my near panicked conversation with people at the Staff College gave me $20 to eat. Since beer is technically bread since it is made from grain that was lunch.

To let you know I do not do airports or aircraft well. Today, even with all the craziness I am still in one peace. I attribute this to prayer and pilsner, though technically I was drinking lagers at almost every stop. I figure when it come to dealing with airports I can deal with panic mode because of the crowds by going crazy, not a good option, drugging myself with anti-anxiety meds which don’t taste good or drink beer which does taste good. Once I had my wallet back I also got food, comfort food instead of healthy food, which I will go back to tomorrow. Of course with over three hours to go before I get to Houston I have switched to lots of water since I tend not to do sodas very often.

While at the Johnny Rivers Grill and Market in Orlando Airport I had some pulled pork BBQ, it was okay, as well as a couple of beers and while there had a young man in a delay situation for another flight sit next to me at the bar. He was a Staff Sergeant in the National Guard who was being called home early from vacation to drill. He was leaving his family in Orlando. He has spent several deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan and was telling me that he still has not been able to re-set after his last deployment because in addition to his civilian commitments his Guard unit continues to push him and all of its personnel hard, without much thanks and with no support to soldiers or families. It was a similar conversation that I had with a senior Marine Corps Officer recently. The important thing for this soldier who has served his country for 15 years as a citizen soldier was that I cared to listen to him and understood.

I didn’t do much talking, mentioned that I had been to Iraq, had PTSD and had been an agnostic for a couple of years and he was grateful just for someone to listen. The sad thing is there are far to few people, especially leaders who will take the time to do that. The fact is we have to stand by our guys, they have put themselves on the line time and time again, we as leaders owe them. But the truth is as my Marine friend noted is that since 2001 the attitude is that you owe the military.

When I was training to be a Chaplain in the Texas Army National Guard, Colonel John Price, an Episcopal Priest told me that his best ministry happened in officer’s clubs and bars, being available to people who would never darken the door of a church, come to a chapel service or would be too proud to come to the office.  Father Price was right. Jesus didn’t cloister himself, he was out with people. Most religious people didn’t care much for it but he drew people to him because he was where they were.

We as Chaplains as well as leaders must change our culture or we will destroy the men and women entrusted to us by the nation and in the process destroy our armed forces. Without the people the machines don’t matter that much.

So anyway, not much longer until I will board this flight. So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

 

 

 

 

 

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It Never Rains in Southern California: Padre Steve Heads Home to Visit Family and Attend His 35th High School Reunion

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Got on board a westbound seven forty-seven

Didn’t think before deciding what to do

Ooh, that talk of opportunities, TV breaks and movies

Rang true, sure rang true …

It Never Rains in Southern California, Albert Hammond EMI Music

I am heading off to California in morning. It is Northern California and not Southern California but like the classic Albert Hammond Song says “it never rains in California” so I hope this will be the case this week. The weather channel says so maybe it won’t be too bad.

As far as the trip I have to be up pretty early since I have an early flight. So tonight after doing another full day of work around the house I went out with Judy for dinner. Since then I have been getting packed and ready to go.

It has been since my dad died in June of 2010 that I have been home. My last few trips out in 2008 and 2009 happened after Iraq when my dad was dying and I was to put it mildly bat shit crazy in the midst of my post-Iraq PTSD meltdown. Thankfully I am doing a lot better than I was back then.

The costs of the three year geographic bachelor assignment at Camp LeJeune and the need to use leave to go home to Virginia made a heck of an impact on normal travel and vacation plans. We haven’t done much traveling at all the past three years. Apart from a couple of official travel trips to Washington DC or Houston and another to testify at a Court Martial in Germany I have not been out of Virginia and North Carolina. It will be good to see my mom, my brother and his family while I am there as well as my classmates whom I have maintained contact with over all of these years. Our class was special and I really do look forward to seeing my friends again.

My trip is now set except for checking in at the airport in the morning. I have my flight, car and hotel reservations. Thankfully the flight was all but free thanks to a the need of United Airlines to get a flight crew to Washington Dulles on my last trip, netting me a $500 flight voucher which I applied to this trip meaning that my rental car and hotel were the only up front expenses. Since Judy had foot surgery Monday and is on crutches for a few days I will be taking a cab to save her the hassle of trying to get me to the airport so early.

Now I have to admit ever since Iraq I am not a fan of air travel or airports. So once I get to the airport I will probably have breakfast with a cup of black coffee and a pint of Sam Adams at the Sports Bar in the terminal. Flying the friendly skies with a heft case of PTSD requires some adjustments. Since my flight is basically free I will probably try to upgrade my seating for at least the Chicago to San Francisco portion of my trip to avoid being stuck in steerage.

I can’t help but think that while I am on leave between assignments and traveling to California that the United States and much of the world sits on the precipice of war in Syria which could very well have regional and possibly world wide effects. I check in to my new assignment at the Joint Forces Staff College on Tuesday of next week, the morning following my return. I wonder if as Barbara Tuchman wrote about in The Guns of August that the world that I return to on Monday evening or Tuesday morning will be quite different than it is today.

“The muffled tongue of Big Ben tolled nine by the clock as the cortege left the palace, but on history’s clock it was sunset, and the sun of the old world was setting in a dying blaze of splendor never to be seen again.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Loose thoughts and musings, middle east, Military, music, PTSD

High Anxiety: Padre Steve and Flight Delays

 

I am not as good of air traveler as I used to be. I get anxious when I travel by air now.  Sometimes when I fly it feels like I am Mel Brooks at the beginning of the movie High Anxiety http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1_phD__FPsQ or Robert Hays in Airplane. The only thing missing from modern air terminals are the incessant bands of religious zealots that used to be a staple of large airport lobbies back in the 1970s.

Almost every time I travel by air I have the title song from High Anxiety going through my mind: “High Anxiety, it’s always the same. High anxiety, it’s you that I blame. It’s very clear to me I’ve got to give in, high anxiety, you win.” 

 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=grLM1WrivPA

Despite the absence of those bands of zealots, who I almost miss going to the airport is never fun. It starts with long lines at the check in counter and through the TSA checkpoints, endure more lines at the gates and get stuffed into a packed aircraft next to someone who insists on taking up their seat plus a third of your seat. It finally ends when you pull out of the parking lot after waiting an unbearable length of time at the baggage carousel of doom for the checked bag that may or may not arrive when you do.

However I have this miserable experience down to a science.  I make sure that everything in my pockets can fit in my baseball hat, I wear shoes that come on and off easily and may backpack is set up so that my computer can be taken in and out quickly. I don’t carry any liquids whatsoever even those that are allowed by TSA. I find the trouble of bagging tiny containers in quart size plastic bags to be too much effort to make it worth while.  My backpack which has accompanied me since Iraq fits well in the overhead compartments of most aircraft and I only carry it so I don’t have to check anything at the gate.

Today has been another adventure in air travel. At Houston Hobby Airport the TSA operates the new scanning devices which enable the agents to look at your naked body. This is not new technology. I saw it used the first time in the movie Airplane. Somehow the thought of my naked body being exposed to anyone other than Judy is not comforting. I wonder what TSA does with these images.

Today I flew out of Houston on the American Airlines subsidiary American Eagle. To make it to the airport I had to catch a cab from the hotel and build in enough time for Houston morning rush hour traffic, so I was on the road by 0720. I had, the operative word had a flight that was to depart at 1020 and be in Dallas by about 1130. My connecting flight was scheduled to depart at 1335. That would have been great. Two hours to make connections right? But no, the scheduled aircraft had a mechanical problem and the replacement did not arrive in Houston until 1145. By the time I took off it was 1225 by the time I landed it was too late. I missed my flight by about 5 minutes. It was pushing away from the gate when I got off of the Sky Link train. I was able to get a picture of it as it left.

Now I get to wait until 1830 local time to take off to arrive in Norfolk about 2220. That is 10:20 PM to the no-military types. Thankfully I was able to get some Tex-Mex food and a couple of beers as I wait out the nearly 5 hour interval between flights. At least I don’t have Robert Hays’s “drinking problem.”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pl4plPGRG8o

By the time I get home, Lord willing, or as my Iraqi friends say “Inshallah” it will be nearly midnight, about 18 hours after I left the hotel. I could have driven Judy’s Mustang straight through in just a few hours more.

Oh, High Anxiety, you win… looks like I picked the wrong day to stop sniffing glue…

Oh well… c’est le vie.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under aircraft, film, Just for fun, Loose thoughts and musings, purely humorous

Flying the Friendly Skies and Crossing the Pond

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Back when I was a kid I remember going on my first plane flights without adult supervision. I would fly from Stockton California to Long Beach to see my friend Chris who had been my next door neighbor when my dad was stationed in Long Beach. Back then I flew on Pacific Southwest Airlines whose aircraft featured a smile on the nose.  PSA is now part of US Air but my memories of flying as a kid are much more enjoyable than flying now.  I don’t do air travel and crowded airports well after Iraq so I do what I can to make the travel as easy as possible but certain things can get to me, especially on the American side of the pond.

When I was a kid air travel was considered to be somewhat of an adventure. In fact until the major railroads ended their passenger service in the early 1970s and left us with Amtrak my family almost always travelled by train. Even the commercials made air travel seem almost magical. Advertising lines like “Fly the friendly skies” “The big bird with the golden tail” and “First Class leg space even in Coach” went another. Even coach passengers were treated with a modicum of respect and while meals and leg room may not have been what it was in First Class you didn’t feel like you were traveling steerage either, which is what I equate flying in “Coach” to be.  Likewise because we didn’t perceive a terrorist threat we didn’t have to deal with the now common TSA agents and security screenings that take one back to the good old days of when a Gestapo Agent politely asked “your papers please.” But I digress…

Steerage of course was what steamship lines used to call 3rd Class where immigrants and other less than desirable passengers sailed to ensure that they did not trouble the elites traveling in First Class. As I said I equate Coach with Steerage without the ability to throw a party with dancing, singing and beer for everyone.  Little has changed and while all air travelers occupy a high tech metal cylinder propelled by tremendous jet engines those little curtains that separate the First Class from Business or Coach are as  impenetrable as were the locked doors on the Titanic.

Today so far has been yet another adventure in air travel.  It began with a delay due to weather on the inbound flight which resulted in such a tight turn around that it affected my follow on flight. Since that flight involved an different airline I spent an hour at the check in desk as the lady helping me worked her hardest to get me rebooked and out of the other airline’s system. So I had a well deserved beer while waiting for that flight prayed that the aircraft would leave on time.

It left the gate on time but alas the Air Controllers at Newark had other plans. As we taxied out to take off we pulled over off of the runway. The Captain announced that Newark had told us to sit on the Tarmac in Norfolk for 40 minutes. We arrived at Newark less than an hour before takeoff. Thankfully there was a shuttle bus between terminals and I hitched a ride to make it on time even finding a few minutes to do a “defueling operation” in the men’s room and a refuel my bladder with an overpriced soda before boarding the aircraft.

No my flight has been interesting. I flew to Newark on United Express. I flew to Frankfurt on a United flight that used to be a Continental aircraft that still had its Continental crew. The aircraft, a very nice Boeing 777 was thankfully not full and I got a full row to myself back in steerage.  The service on the Continental/United flight was good.  Unfortunately unlike the American Airlines flights that I took to Houston and back last week this aircraft did not have any wireless free internet, so I had no ability to communicate in the air. So after we were airborne I pulled out my Kindle and did my Evening Prayer liturgy before reading a book about the Battleship Bismarck.

I landed at Frankfurt just before 630 AM local time and of course passed through the Customs and Border Police. Now unlike the TSA agents, the German Border Police or Grenzschutz command respect. There is something about Germany where you do exactly what the police tell you to do. I remember back when I was stationed in Germany in the 198-s and it was quite common to see Grenzschutz officers walking the airport with automatic rifles and machine guns. That of course was in the era of the Rad Brigades and the Bader-Meinhoff terrorist group as well as the beginnings of PLO and Libyan sponsored terrorists.  I remember once when Judy and I saw a person that we believed was a Bader-Meinhoff terrorist in Wiesbaden and went to report it to the Polizei. That was an interesting experience as we were interrogated about the report for over an hour in German. Now days the Polizei are just as efficient but compared to our airport security seem so much more efficient and less obtrusive.

Since I read, speak and write German and have studied copious amounts of German history I go through those security points like a pro, like Newman going through the line at the Soup Nazi kitchen.

While in Frankfurt I have a couple of hours to relax, if that is possible at an airport. Unlike major American and British Airports which have almost the feel of going to a mall, albeit a mall that you have to get a full body scan, fondled and possibly strip searched to enter many European airports are all about air travel with very small areas devoted to shopping or being able to drink beer with breakfast. I actually like it when I have to travel through London’s Heathrow airport because I know a couple of pubs where I can have fried eggs and bacon rashers with a sliced tomato and a couple of pints of beer between flights. Heathrow is amazing, it is like an upscale mall packed with people from the world over and it has a couple of decent bookstores which I always found something interesting to read, usually books about military history not easily available in the United States.  But while I can read German fairly well it is not what I do for fun or relaxation so what I find in the a German airport is not as entertaining as in the UK.

Upon arriving at Frankfurt I did get a salad and beer and the airport has changed some over the years, a few more places to eat and shop but nothing like Heathrow.  I guess the weirdest thing is looking across the runway to where Rheim Main Air Base used to be. Back in January 1984 when I first arrived in Germany it was massive. You looked across the runway from the German side and there was line upon line of C-5 Galaxies, C-141 Starlifters and C-130 Hercules transports. Even in 1996 when I came to support the Bosnia mission Rhein Main was still busy though being reduced due to the end of the Cold War. As late as 5-7 years ago you could see the old USAF hangers and buildings. Now the area is being redeveloped and it is hard to tell the airbase was ever there.

Long Gone…Rhein Main Airbase in its Heyday…

So I post this from Frankfurt International Airport while waiting for my final flight of this very long day. It will be on a Lufthansa flight and a relatively short commuter type flight. When I get to Stuttgart I will be picked up from the airport by staff from the Judge Advocate’s office and believe that I will be offering my testimony today. That may change with the delay in my flight and so I will see. I am scheduled to fly back Saturday from Stuttgart back through Newark and Norfolk and should be home in time for dinner with Judy at Gordon Biersch.

So until my next post…

Peace

Padre Steve+

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I’m Leaving on a Jet Plane…Reflections on the Islands of Unhappy Travelers

The 80’s group Blondie had a hit called “Island of Lost Souls.”  I love that song; it is kind of quirky and fun.  However, there is a time when you run into a place where the song seems more true than not. Airports are one of those places, they tend to be some of the most angst and anger filled venues known to man, excepting of course Fed-Ex Field where Dan Snyder is doing his best to destroy the Redskins and drive off their fans. However, I digress as I couldn’t care a whit about the Redskins because they are a football team, though I have sympathy for the fans that have been banned from bringing signs into the stadium.  With that exception and maybe the U.S. Capitol building and the set of any Cable Television talk show where politics is being debated the airports have to be pretty close to the top of the hate and discontent list.

I had to travel to Florida in the spring for chaplain conference.  Since I came back from Iraq I do travel a lot less well than I used to and to make matters worse conferences of almost any kind at best come close to pushing me to the edge.  Sleep tends to be difficult for me, especially before I travel on commercial airlines and endure the hell of airports.  The night before I travel, I try to anticipate every contingency, going through my packing list and ensuring I have everything that I need. Then after I go to bed I get up an hour later to make sure that I indeed get everything. Once I am sure that I do I go back and check the multiple alarm clocks that I have set just to make sure I don’t miss my flight.  I know why I do this. Before Iraq I traveled a lot and got good at it.  However in Iraq a did a lot more of this and got into a routine of checking, double checking and even triple checking to make sure that I had everything that I needed.  Over there I knew that if I forgot something, even something simple that it would not be available the places that I was going or places that I might get marooned.  I have carried that experience back with me.  I pack and lay out all my clothes the night before I go to work.  I actually use the same pack that I carried on every mission in Iraq.  It is an excellent piece of gear, made by Blackhawk.

Anyway that day was a hellish travel day. The weather across the east coast was crappy.  My first flight was delayed an hour, my second flight as well. If that was not bad enough the good folks at Delta airlines failed to have people at gates and jet ways when gate changes happened, leaving people to miss flights and nearly miss vacation cruises.  On our connecting flight at Atlanta’s Harts-Jackson Field was delayed, in my case that was a good thing as had it been on time I would have missed it.  While in line waiting for the flight announcements were periodically made, each one either delivering a later flight time or excuse for the delay.  The excuses often were inconsistent.  I began to think that they were lying to us.  Now I’m not saying that an airline would lie, but it seemed to my little pea brain that the excuses conflicted and each new excuse contradicted the last pathetic excuse.  I hate bad liars.  Let’s face it, if you are going to lie be consistent and strive to make it believable, politicians, lawyers and TV evangelists are great at this.  Unfortunately the people lying to us were not very believable.  However it may have been that they actually believed what they were saying which would be as George Costanza once said: “It’s not a lie if you believe it.”

As I waited that day I surveyed my fellow disgruntled travelers.  I was deep into a PTSD induced ass kinking anxiety attack.  By the time this was going on time I had taken both of my extra meds as well as my 8 AM and 1230 PM doses of Samuel Adams Boston Lager.  Normally I’ll wait until dinner for a beer, but I knew that I needed a bit more on that trip.  I try not to self-medicate and over the past year have gotten a lot better in not doing this. However there as something about airports and airline travel that almost inevitably pushes my buttons and so I will do this to take the edge off and keep me somewhat sane until I can get to my destination and hide.

I went to a conference in Orlando in the summer of 2008 shortly after my PTSD diagnosis and that about put me over the edge. If you have PTSD the Gateway to the fricking “Happiest place in the world” is the portal to hell.  Thus only a few months after coming out of a combat zone I discovered that Orlando during the height of the summer pilgrimage to Wally World to see Randy Rodent and Doofey is not a fun experience.

Thanks be to God for her good care during this trip.  She ensured that my doctor had given good drugs and the airport pubs provided good beer not to mention a Chili Dog with mustard.  Thus by the middle of the afternoon I was doing far better than most of my fellow travelers.  It definitely sucked to be them.  It was then that the Blondie song came into my mind.  Atlanta’s airport was not the Island of Lost Souls but the Land of Unhappy Travelers.  I listened to some of the folks around me as they lamented their situation and it sounded like “Lemony Snickets: A Series of Unfortunate Events.” Atlanta had become the vortex of very disgruntled travelers who had missed flights, been bumped from flights or delayed endlessly.  If you don’t believe in the Catholic in the doctrine of Purgatory just try Atlanta on a day like that, which is about 362 days a year.  I looked around, and though barely holding on myself I was able to find some gallows humor in the midst of this agony.  I looked around the people around me and said “Ladies and gentlemen it is my distinct displeasure to welcome you to the land of unhappy travelers.”  I actually got a few laughs.  I then made a comment about the airline, which I had not flown in a couple of years, saying “I’m glad to see that some things stay the same, our airline still has same crappy service that they had a few years ago.”  As we started boarding we boarded by zones as some airlines do.  I personally prefer the first come or first signed in first seated way that Southwest does things, unfortunately the government contract was no longer with Southwest. As they announced “boarding zones one through five,” I commented, “Yep, you guys in zone 92 still have a while to wait.  On each flight we had bad weather, turbulence and on one flight the air condition did not start kicking in until we were getting ready to land.

When I got to my destination I heard stories even worse than mine, all focused around the vortex of doom that swirled around Atlanta.  The only place that I thought it could have gone worse was Washington Dulles, where my experiences have been nearly all bad. I survived but by the time I got to my hotel my ass was kicked. At the end of the day I had survived.  A few beers and a bit of wine with good fellowship with friends made things better.

Saturday I get to fly again and make my third trip to California to see my folks.  I am already making my list and getting mentally prepared for the trip.  I get to fly though Chicago O’Hare and on the way back LAX and O’Hare.  Thank the Deity Herself that Atlanta is not on the itinerary. I’ll do my best to at least find the humor as I pass through these islands of unhappy travelers, so pray for me a sinner.

Peace,

Padre Steve

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Rest Recovery and Reaction- Thoughts on Returning Home

The events of the past week have been a blur.  The trip was non-stop action with a lot of stress built in.  I am thankful that I was able to get a few moments to catch up with my brother and old friends over a couple of beers.  The day on the links was really enjoyable.  The pain of my sunburn is slowly going away.  I hope to get out a couple of times in the near future here.  If I actually play more than once a year I might actually be pretty good.

I have received much support from my friends and for this I am grateful. To know that one is not alone in times like these is a great comfort.

I found that I still have some of my PTSD reactions to noise light and crowds, especially in airports or crowded airplanes.  I get anxious and can actually feel the anxiety.  When I get trapped in a big crowd in a confined place it is really noticeable.

I wrote something else over the past few days regarding the way people on the political right and left use and abuse the military and veterans.  I’ve been stewing about it after the remarks of a prominent former elected official about a retired General with a distinguished record last week.  I’ve put off publishing it because I want to make sure that when I do it that I haven’t said something that will piss everyone off.  I’m sure that there will be some who take offense, especially when I criticize certain media personalities who are iconic.  I want people to see that it is wrong to in one sentence to praise the military and in the next criticize it when either the institution or members of the institution active or retired disagrees with their agenda, no matter what it is.  I have been pleased with President Obama protecting our troops by blocking the release of photographs which the ACLU wanted published.  Of course he realized that the photos could only put our troops in danger and inflame an already volatile region.  Likewise he is continuing to increase the size of the active duty Army and Marine Corps and has halted the reductions in the Navy and Air Force.  I think he gets the picture and is looking out for us.  I do not know when or if I will publish that article but I am going to hold off on it at least for a while.  I have become a lot more prudent about such things than I was in times past.  That being said I don’t care if the person being an ass and treating honorable men who serve faithfully in a shabby manner are liberals or conservatives.  If they want to criticize honorable men who have served the country faithfully in peace and war and they have never served I will not hesitate to call them on it.  My brotherhood with those who have served is deeper than any political party. I don’t serve Red States and Blue States but the United States.  I’m tired of people who use their influence in the media to stir up hatred and discontent and question the manner of how we do the jobs they send us to do.   Likewise for them to  question our honor and integrity, especially when most of them have never served a day in uniform is way below the belt.  May the Deity Herself preserve this miscreant Priest.  To quote Colonel Nathan R Jessup in A Few Good Men:

“Son, we live in a world that has walls and those walls need to be guarded by men with guns. Who’s gonna do it? You? … We use words like honor, code, loyalty. We use then as the backbone of a life trying to defend something. You use them as a punchline. I have neither the time nor the inclination to explain myself to a man who rises and sleeps under the blanket of the very freedom I provide and then questions the manner in which I provide it. I would rather you just said “thank you,” and went on your way. Otherwise, I suggest that you pick up a weapon and stand a post. Either way, I don’t give a damn what you think you are entitled to.”

Peace, Steve+

Post Script:  I didn’t get to recover last night.  About midnight I had to take Judy to the ER.  She is not one to usually need to do this but she developed some kind of infection that was keeping her from swallowing and possibly threatening her airway.  After a bunch of IV antibiotics, steriods, pain meds and a CT scan they decided not to admit her, though that was a near run thing. She should be fine but I didn’t get home until 0400.  To those not in the military or Germans that means Mickey’s Big hand is on the 4 and his little hand on the 12. Following this I had to go to the DMV to replace my license plates which had been stolen off my car from in front of my house.  This was not the way I thought the return would be.  God bless and thanks for the kind words, thoughts and prayers. Peace, Steve+

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