Tag Archives: al anbar

The Continuing Journey: Reflections of 6 Years Dealing with PTSD Faith and Life

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“You wonder what I am doing? Well, so do I, in truth. Days seem to dawn, suns to shine, evenings to follow, and then I sleep. What I have done, what I am doing, what I am going to do, puzzle and bewilder me. Have you ever been a leaf and fallen from your tree in autumn and been really puzzled about it? That’s the feeling.” T. E. Lawrence, Letter 1935

It has been six full years since I descended into the hell of the abyss that is PTSD. Back in the late spring and early summer of 2008 just a few months after my return from what I still consider my best tour of duty in over 30 years of military service with US advisors and Iraq Army and Security forces in Al Anbar Province in 2007-2008 I was in a state of emotional and spiritual collapse.

I really couldn’t believe then what was happening to me or they way that it would end up shaping my life to the present day. In retrospect my return from Iraq marked a beginning of a personal hell that for a number of years seemed like that it would never end. It was painful, it was isolating and it marked a profound change in the way that I saw God, faith, politics and social justice. It changed me in ways that I never could have imagined when I got on a bus heading for Fort Jackson South Carolina following the July 4th holiday of 2007.

Those brave souls that have followed me on this website as well as those that are still my friends despite occasional disagreements and misunderstandings, those that may not understand me but still are my friends have seen this.

So six years later what is it like?

I still have trouble sleeping, not as much as I used to but enough to impact my life. I don’t take heavy doses of sleep meds anymore, just some Melatonin as well as a mild dosage of an anti-anxiety medication and anti-depressant. A far better combination than medications that made me feel like I was hung over without that benefit of sharing too many drinks with friends at the local watering hole.

As opposed to the years immediately following my time in Iraq I have to say that I am no longer self medicating with alcohol. I remember in 2009 going out for dinner, having a few beers, then going to a ball game and drinking a few more and coming home with Krispy Kreme donuts and drinking more beer on a regular basis and usually taking a couple of shots or Jaegermeister or glasses of Spanish Brandy just to get to sleep so I could go back to facing life and death situations the next day in our ICUs. I don’t need that anymore, even though sleep can be problematic and dreams and nightmares rivaling anything I can watch on my HD TV…

I still love to pony up to the bar and share a couple of pints with friends but I don’t need it to numb myself into feeling no pain. Talking with many other vets who have served in Iraq, Afghanistan or even Vietnam I know that I wasn’t alone in those dark days.

I have become a bit less hyper-vigilant though when I come home to Virginia Beach than I was just three years ago and most certainly five years ago in May of 2008. However, that being said I do notice that I am more on guard on the roads and that little things, sirens, emergency vehicles, loud noises and traffic still set me off more than when I lived in rural North Carolina while stationed at Camp LeJeune from 2010 until August of 2013.

I absolutely hate air travel. I don’t like the crowds, the stress of security or the constant delays, changes and overcrowding. Truthfully I felt more comfortable flying the skies of Iraq on Marine, Army and Air Force fixed and rotor wing aircraft and on occasion being shot at in Iraq’s Al Anbar Province than I do on any airline today in this country.

I have become exceptionally sensitive to tragedy, death and suffering. The loss of friends or major incidents where military personnel are killed in combat, training missions or just doing their job hits me hard. The worst times are when friends, or others that I know die by their own hand. When they are veterans who suffer from PTSD, TBI or Moral Injury it is like a dagger plunging into me.

Physical fitness matters more than it did before, even though I was in very good shape before and during my time in Iraq. But when I came home from that I was not only wounded in mind and spirit, but my body was beaten up. Chronic nagging injuries and chronic pain kept me from doing what I liked doing and what helped me keep my physical-spiritual and emotional balance. Those nagging injuries took a long time to heal, and they took some adjustments on my part which took me several years to adapt to and compensate in my physical regimen.  I can say now that I am in as good or better shape than I was before I left for Iraq in 2007. Maybe I’ll write a best selling book and do an exercise video like Jane Fonda…

Whereas in 2008 through 2010 and even until 2011 I was exceptionally sensitive to criticism to the changes that were occurring in my life including my move to the “left” both theologically and politically I have gotten to the point that I realize that it is more important to be honest and authentic as to who I am and what I believe. I have found that those that really matter to me don’t care so much about those things and that relationships maintained with people who don’t always agree with each other where all remain their personal integrity are far more rewarding than relationships that are first and foremost decided by allegiance to political or religious orthodoxy no matter what side of the spectrum it is from. I hate group think. Thus though I have to now consider me to be on the “liberal” side of the political and theological divide I still have to be considered a moderate simply because I refuse to make people my enemy simply because I disagree with them or they with me.

When I began this site in the spring of 2009 I named it Padre Steve’s World…Musings of a Passionate Moderate. I think I did that because it actually described me then, and now, even though I am pretty passionately liberal about some things and that doesn’t bother me in any way because it comes from my wrestling with God and faith and realizing that integrity matters more than about anything else. I have toyed with changing the title of the site but have decided against that because I am a moderate liberal committed to a Christian faith that speaks for the oppressed and is willing to confront those that would use faith, political or economic power to oppress the weak or those different from us.

Since I returned from Iraq in 2008 I discovered what it was to really question faith and God. To become for a couple of years a man who was for all practical purposes an agnostic praying that God still existed and cared. I discovered that in doing so that faith returned, different but more real than I had ever experienced in a life spent in the Christian faith and ministry.

My agnostic period gave me an immense empathy and appreciation for those who have lost faith, struggle with faith or reject any concept of God. I value reason as much, maybe if not more than faith now, not that reason is infallible or perfect, but it does allow me to evaluate my faith, and appreciate the amazing mysteries of the universe that our science and technology continue to reveal in ever more complex detail.

That brought change because my rediscovered faith brought me into conflict with people in the church denomination and faith community where I had been ordained as a priest. I was asked to leave and found a new home church and denomination that fit my life, faith experience and where I could live and minister in complete integrity. In the church that took me in during the fall of 2010 I can be faithful to the Gospel and care for the lost, the least and the lonely, especially those who have been abused by churches and ministries that have sold their soul to right wing political ideologues whose only concern is their political power and influence and would use churches and Christians to do their evil bidding. I guess that I learned that just because someone wraps the Bible in an American Flag, believes that Jesus brought us the Constitution and says that they “support the troops” it doesn’t necessarily mean that they care a whit about the Bible, the Flag, the Constitution or the Troops. I hope that isn’t too harsh….

Oh well, I feel that I am beginning to ramble so I will say good night and “God Bless,” no matter what God that you profess or for that matter don’t profess.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Inconvenient Truth About Iraq and Benghazi

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“The first duty of every Starfleet officer is to the truth, whether it’s scientific truth or historical truth or personal truth! It is the guiding principle on which Starfleet is based. And if you can’t find it within yourself to stand up and tell the truth about what happened, you don’t deserve to wear that uniform!” Captain Jean Luc Picard to Wesley Crusher Star Trek the Next Generation “The First Duty” 

I was talking with a conservative friend the other day and he ended up bring up the subject of Benghazi and the tragic loss of Ambassador Chris Stevens and 3 other State Department personnel at the consulate last September 11th. He was talking about the scandal of this and the political impact that he hoped it would have on Hillary Clinton in 2016.

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I was actually shocked that he said this so for once I decided to actually say something and mention the 4486 official US military deaths in Iraq. My friend who I really do like and respect commented that they were “the result of what happened in war.”

It stunned me when he said that because he is a military brat, but then I realized that he had bought the lie about Iraq and was so solidly partisan that he could not see the moral, ethical and even legal discrepancy in what he was saying. For me the question was far less about whatever impact it might have on Hillary’s campaign should she decide to run but about the truth.

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When I confronted him about it I was stunned by how easily he dismissed all of the dead and wounded and other casualties of Iraq but was so insistent on some kind of conspiracy to cover up Benghazi. But this is how so many people think today thanks to the constant bombardment of ignorance on Fox News and other partisan outlets. It is not about the truth, it is about the nastiest kind of politics.

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I too am upset about Benghazi, but likewise I am upset about the 241 Marines, Sailors and Soldiers killed at Beirut in October 1983 when the Reagan Administration ignored warnings about putting US troops into Lebanon while taking sizes in that county’s civil war. I am upset about the nearly 3000 killed on 9-11-2001. I am upset about dozens of other terrorist attacks that occurred under both Republican and Democratic administrations in which DOD, the State Department and other agencies made mistakes that cost lives.

Some attacks could have been prevented and others probably not. However they were terrorist attacks committed by our enemies, not an illegal undeclared war of preemptive choice conducted by a United States administration against the will and recommendations of many of our closest allies. That is the inconvenient truth.

What has happened over the past decade is that many on the political right cannot admit that they were wrong about Iraq. This despite the fact that President Bush, Karl Rove and almost every senior member of the the Bush administration have admitted that the reasons that they took us into war with Iraq were wrong. There were no weapons of mass destruction, the nuclear program was a shambles and Iraq was not working with Al Qaida, which like most secular military dictatorships in the Middle East loathed. That is the inconvenient truth.

The fact that so many people on the political right go into a nearly toxic lather about four people lost in Benghazi while shucking off the deaths of nearly 5000 Americans who died in a war that was not only a mistake but violated the very laws that we helped establish at Nuremberg infuriates me. This is no longer about national security to them, it is about politics. This is not about ethics for those that led us into Iraq have none. It is not about justice for if there was justice those who made the decision to attack Iraq would be tried for war crimes.

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I served in Iraq and was fortunate that I served with our advisors and the Iraqis in Al Anbar during the time of the Anbar Awakening. I saw a different war than many people observed and for that I am glad because it busted my illusions about what we did in Iraq forever. I needed that. I may have come back thoroughly goofed up with PTSD and at times I am sure certifiably crazy, but I needed it to see the truth.

The fact is that unlike Benghazi the war in Iraq has crippled this country. Nearly 5000 dead, 30,000 wounded and trillions of dollars of national treasure dumped into the abyss. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis were killed, wounded or driven into exile, many who greeted us as liberators.  Of course that was before the Bush Administration put the kleptocrats of the Chalabi group rape and pillage the country.

Likewise it was after the Coalition Provisional Authority under Paul Bremer, a man who had never in his career served in the Middle East threw out ever carefully orchestrated plan of DOD and CENTCOM for a peaceful transition in the country thus bringing misery to Iraq and triggering the anti US-Coalition insurgency and Iraqi Civil War. The great military theorist Carl Von Clausewitz said: “No one starts a war–or rather, no one in his senses ought to do so–without first being clear in his mind what he intends to achieve by that war and how he intends to conduct it.” The fact is that the Bush Administration was not only not clear, but they were inept and lawless in invading Iraq.

Additionally the invasion cost the United States the goodwill and trust of many allies and friends. No one will ever see us in the same light again. Instead of being a liberating power and “light to the nations” we are seen in much of the world as a rogue, lawless and imperialist state. Otto Von Bismarck put it so well when he said “preventive war is like committing suicide out of fear of death.”

I don’t know about you but I am sure that is not the vision of our founders. I was told on my first day in the Army back in 1981 that “there are attaboys and aww shits and it takes 2000 attaboys to make up for one aww shit.” The Bush Administration’s lawless invasion of Iraq and incredibly inept occupation was a disaster for the United States, Iraq and most of the region, except maybe for Al Qaida and Iran. By the way let us not forget the crippling effects of the Iraq invasion on the campaign in Afghanistan which allowed both the Taliban and Al Qaida time to regroup, consolidate and regain the advantage in that God forsaken land.To the 4486 we can add a couple of thousand more deaths in Afghanistan thanks to the decision to invade Iraq. That is the inconvenient truth.

For people to ignore a war that defies American and International Law as well as common sense which cost us and the world so much while making cheap political points by exploiting the deaths of four men is a disgrace. Had the men who started the invasion of Iraq been tried for by Justice Robert Jackson at Nuremberg they would have been convicted as war criminals and sent to the gallows. That is the inconvenient truth.

Justice Jackson said at those trials:

“If certain acts of violation of treaties are crimes, they are crimes whether the United States does them or whether Germany does them, and we are not prepared to lay down a rule of criminal conduct against others which we would not be willing to have invoked against us.” Justice Robert Jackson International Conference on Military Trials, London, 1945, Dept. of State Pub.No. 3080 (1949), p.330.

My closing thought is that those that want to make political hay out of Benghazi need to take a serious look at Iraq. What’s fair is fair. 4486 dead and over 30,000 wounded not counting another 100,000 or so with PTSD or TBI versus 4 dead and no wounded. I don’t make light of any of the deaths of Americans serving this country at any time or in any place.  I would not dishonor their memory by playing politics with their deaths. But the truth is indeed terribly inconvenient and those who do this must be called out regardless of their political orientation.

If there were mistakes or cover ups by Obama administration officials regarding Benghazi, so be it let them be investigated fairly an impartially not with an eye to political advantage and those that partake of this cup must be willing to drink of the cup of crimes committed by the Bush Administration in Iraq. The same is true when Democrats do the same to Republicans.

Truth matters too much to be sacrificed on the altar of politics even while those doing it ignore far greater crimes of far more epic dimensions committed by members of their political party.

Truth is terribly inconvenient and even when painful should never be sacrificed on the altar of political advantage by partisans of any party.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under ethics, History, iraq,afghanistan, middle east, Military, national security

To Iraq and Back: A Last Night Together and a Kiss Goodbye

295_27076787058_8676_nJudy and I on the German Sail Training Ship Gorch Fock at the Norfolk Harbor Fest a couple of weeks before deployment

This is another of my “To Iraq and Back” articles about my deployment to Iraq in 2007 and 2008 with RP1 Nelson Lebron. 

Now the time has come to leave you
One more time Let me kiss you
And close your eyes and I’ll be on my way
Dream about the days to come, When I won’t have to leave alone
About the times, That I won’t have to say

Oh, kiss me and smile for me
Tell me that you’ll wait for me
Hold me like you’ll never let me go
Cause Im leavin’ on a jet plane
Don’t know when I’ll be back again
Oh babe, I hate to go

From “I’m Leaving on a Jet Plane” by John Denver

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The night before leaving on deployment and the actual day of departure are some of the hardest that any military couples or families experience. In time of war it is even more difficult. Judy and I have done this too many times in peace and war.

As I went through all of my preparations to go to Iraq in some was it was a replay of past pre-deployment situations. However, this time I was not merely deploying on a peacetime assignment or supporting a peace making operation, or even deploying on a ship and being part of a boarding team after the 9-11-2001 attacks. In that last instance  Judy did not know that I was part of the boarding team until about halfway through the deployment.

But this time going boots on ground into the most bitterly of Iraq’s contested provinces, Al Anbar. That lent at certain dark pallor to the occasion.

Our last night together was rather somber to put it mildly. Judy and I went out to dinner on Friday night. Since I knew that I would not be having a good beer for quite some time we went to the Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant in Virginia Beach. For us Gordon Biersch is generally a good time kind of place, it has become over the years our version of Cheers a place where everyone knows our name.

That last Friday before the deployment to Iraq it was not a festive occasion, it was almost a wake. Judy and I were both quite subdued. In between the silence Judy talked about her fears about the deployment while I tried to reassure her that everything would be fine. I am a man who is somewhat Vulcan in my use of logic. I figured that even though things were bad in Iraq that my chances of returning were quite high, even of something happened to me. I tried to be calm and reassuring and no matter what I tried it didn’t work, human emotions are quite intense at times.

I also reasoned that since I had taken out the extra life insurance that I would be okay.  For me such logic makes sense. I kind of believe that if I don’t get it I will need it and if I do get it I won’t. It’s kind of like Yogi Berra’s logic when he said “You should always go to other people’s funerals; otherwise, they won’t come to yours.”

After dinner and several half liter glasses of Gordon Biersch Märzen amber lager we went back home. Judy watched quietly while I finalized my packing. I ensured that all my field gear, uniforms and clothing were packed and rechecked my EOD issue protective gear.

I then packed my Mass kit, Bible, Prayer Book and my Marine Pattern camouflage reversible desert/woodland stole. The stole was special as Judy had made me a few years back from woodland and desert pattern shirts which were way too big for me. They are one of a kind items. I have seen similar, but what Judy made were far better than any others that I have seen. I still use that stole even when I am not deployed. It is simple but quite exquisite, adorned with an embroidered Maltese Cross in tan on the desert side and black on the woodland side it is unique and I treasure it.

The last items I packed were my books on counterinsurgency, a few DVD movies, music CDs and my hygiene items. It is funny to think that now all of this would be stored on my iPad which if I ever make such a deployment again will significantly simplify my life.

I wrestled the big bags down the stairs and put them in the back of my Honda CR-V so I wouldn’t have to fight them in the morning. That accomplished Judy and I just sat together, she was feeling pretty low, the look one of despair.

On the other hand I was a mix of conflicting emotions. I was excited by knowing that I was going to get to do what I had trained all of my life to do. However I was very cognizant of the reality that it would be tough on Judy and that it was a dangerous deployment.

My last couple of deployments had been very tough on her. When I deployed to support the Bosnia mission as a mobilized Army Reservist and newly ordained Priest three of my relatives in Huntington West Virginia where we were living died. One was my maternal grandmother “Ma Maw” who Judy had become very close to over the past couple of years. They had become buddies and Ma Maw had taken Judy in not as my wife, but as “her” granddaughter.

Ma Maw’s death hit Judy very hard and my mom and uncle in the midst of their grief over the loss of their mom they did not understood the depth of the relationship between Judy and Ma Maw. As a result, I was absent and there was much tension, misunderstanding and hurt feelings between them. In the week before Ma Maw’s death Judy tried repeatedly to get her to go to the doctor only to be ignored. The morning Ma Maw died Judy called me in Germany. She was frantic that I call Ma Maw and insist that she go to the doctor. I made the call and insisted that she go to the Emergency Room but she refused and said she would call her doctor. That night she died. I had lost my grandmother and could not go back to help and Judy had lost a woman who had become closer to her than her own grandmothers ever had been.

In 2001 during my deployment with 3rd Battalion 8th Marines to Okinawa, Japan and Korea we lost our 16 ½ year old Wire Haired Dachshund Frieda. Judy did her nest to keep Frieda alive for me, but there was nothing that could be done and finally with Judy being worn down to nothing herself, she was persuaded to have Frieda put down. The interesting thing is that after Frieda died she visited me in Okinawa and Judy about the same time in dreams. Frieda was always a weird animal and even in death has continued to find ways to remind us of her presence.

My 2002 deployment on USS HUE CITY to the Middle East and Horn of Africa came less than six months after my return from my deployment with 3/8. That deployment, coming on the heels of the 9-11-2001 attacks was also very difficult on her. In the space of 6 years we had been apart almost 4 1/2 years. Much of the time following that last deployment was spent on the road as I travelled to visit Marine Security Force and Navy EOD Mobile Units in the Middle East, Europe, the Far East and the Continental United States. In a four year period I averaged 1-3 weeks a month away from home.

With all of this in the background we spent our last night together. That night neither of us slept very well. When we got up I had a light breakfast and then accompanied by a friend from Judy’s Church choir we drove to the base.

Saturday morning traffic is generally not too bad so our trip was uneventful, but tense.  You could cut the tension between us by now with a knife.  It was about the time that we were nearing the base Judy said something about our relationship that I took really wrong. I sarcastically snapped back “Well I’ll just get blown up by an IED then.”

That sarcastic comment really hit her hard and I knew immediately that I had blown myself up with it. The words were harsh and devastating. I should have known better and should have kept my moth shut. After all I’d deployed a lot and taught pre-deployment classes talking about the emotional cycle of deployments. I was supposed to be an expert at this sort of thing, but instead my comment was very cruel.

To be sure the stress on both of us the preceding weeks had taken its toll and both of us were on edge.  For two months we had each in our own way imagined the deployment, me as a great adventure and her as a threat to our mutual existence. I wondered just what I would face when I got to Iraq and those were unanswerable questions. Judy’s great fear that something might happen to me and that she would be alone, not just for the time of the deployment but for the rest of her life.

That is one of the tensions in a military marriage that many people who have not lived it fail to understand. It is not just the wartime deployments it is the cumulative effects of multiple short and long term separations on the health of a relationship.

We got to the base pretty quick, maybe 15-20 minutes but the tension made me feel that the trip was three times as long. As we pulled up in a parking spot near the baggage drop off area we sat there for a few minutes. I got out of the car as did Judy.  I asked if she wanted to wait a while with me and with tears in her eyes said that she couldn’t handle the wait.

I unloaded my gear with the help of Nelson. He looked at Judy and said, “Don’t you worry ma’am we’ll do good and I’ll keep him safe.” Judy gave a soft “thanks” and gave him a hug.

With my gear unloaded I went back to Judy.  We looked at each other, embraced and kissed each other, each of us wondering if it was possibly the last time. We parted our embrace, and she the turned and walked back to the car, handed her friend the keys and they drove off.  It was a moment that I will not forget as long as I live. As she left I said a prayer under my breath and asked God to keep her safe while I was gone.  Then I turned to Nelson and said, “Okay partner, let’s get this done.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under iraq,afghanistan, marriage and relationships, Military, to iraq and back, Tour in Iraq

Back from the Abyss: Padre Steve’s Reflections of 5 Years Dealing with PTSD Faith and Life

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“God will not look you over for medals, degrees or diplomas but for scars.” Elbert Hubbard

It has been five full years since I descended into the hell of the abyss that is PTSD. Back in the late spring and early summer of 2008 just a few months after my return from what I still consider my best tour of duty in over 30 years of military service with US advisors and Iraq Army and Security forces in Al Anbar Province in 2007-2008 I was in a state of emotional and spiritual collapse.

I really couldn’t believe then what was happening to me or they way that it would end up shaping my life to the present day. In retrospect my return from Iraq marked a beginning of a personal hell that for a number of years seemed like that it would never end. It was painful, it was isolating and it marked a profound change in the way that I saw God, faith, politics and social justice. It changed me in ways that I never could have imagined when I got on a bus heading for Fort Jackson South Carolina following the July 4th holiday of 2007.

Those brave souls that have followed me on this website as well as those that are still my friends despite occasional disagreements and misunderstandings, those that may not understand me but still are my friends have seen this.

So five years later what is it like?

I still have trouble sleeping, not as much as I used to but enough to impact my life. I don’t take heavy doses of sleep meds anymore, just some Melatonin as well as a mild dosage of an anti-anxiety medication and anti-depressant. A far better combination than medications that made me feel like I was hung over without that benefit of sharing too many drinks with friends at the local watering hole.

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As opposed to the years immediately following my time in Iraq I have to say that I am no longer self medicating with alcohol. I remember in 2009 going out for dinner, having a few beers, then going to a ball game and drinking a few more and coming home with Krispy Kreme donuts and drinking more beer on a regular basis and usually taking a couple of shots or Jaegermeister or glasses of Spanish Brandy just to get to sleep so I could go back to facing life and death situations the next day in our ICUs. I don’t need that anymore, even though sleep can be problematic and dreams and nightmares rivaling anything I can watch on my HD TV…

I still love to pony up to the bar and share a couple of pints with friends but I don’t need it to numb myself into feeling no pain. Talking with many other vets who have served in Iraq, Afghanistan or even Vietnam I know that I wasn’t alone in those dark days.

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I have become a bit less hyper-vigilant though when I come home to Virginia Beach than I was just three years ago and most certainly five years ago in May of 2008. However, that being said I do notice that I am more on guard on the roads and that little things, sirens, emergency vehicles, loud noises and traffic still set me off more than when I am in rural North Carolina. This week I have been home because my wife Judy had some surgery and I have had to readjust to the traffic, noises and other things that I haven’t really had to deal with the past few years. That has been both interesting and enlightening.

I absolutely hate air travel. I don’t like the crowds, the stress of security or the constant delays, changes and overcrowding. Truthfully I felt more comfortable flying the skies of Iraq on Marine, Army and Air Force fixed and rotor wing aircraft and on occasion being shot at in Iraq’s Al Anbar Province than I do on any airline today in this country.

Physical fitness matters more than it did before, even though I was in very good shape before and during my time in Iraq. But when I came home from that I was not only wounded in mind and spirit, but my body was beaten up. Chronic nagging injuries and chronic pain kept me from doing what I liked doing and what helped me keep my physical-spiritual and emotional balance. Those nagging injuries took a long time to heal, and they took some adjustments on my part which took me several years to adapt to and compensate in my physical regimen.  I can say now that I am in as good or better shape than I was before I left for Iraq in 2007. Maybe I’ll write a best selling book and do an exercise video like Jane Fonda…

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Whereas in 2008 through 2010 and even until 2011 I was exceptionally sensitive to criticism to the changes that were occurring in my life including my move to the “left” both theologically and politically I have gotten to the point that I realize that it is more important to be honest and authentic as to who I am and what I believe. I have found that those that really matter to me don’t care so much about those things and that relationships maintained with people who don’t always agree with each other where all remain their personal integrity are far more rewarding than relationships that are first and foremost decided by allegiance to political or religious orthodoxy no matter what side of the spectrum it is from. I hate group think. Thus though I have to now consider me to be on the “liberal” side of the political and theological divide I still have to be considered a moderate simply because I refuse to make people my enemy simply because I disagree with them or they with me.

When I began this site in the spring of 2009 I named it Padre Steve’s World…Musings of a Passionate Moderate. I think I did that because it actually described me then, and now, even though I am pretty passionately liberal about some things and that doesn’t bother me in any way because it comes from my wrestling with God and faith and realizing that integrity matters more than about anything else. I have toyed with changing the title of the site but have decided against that because I am a moderate liberal committed to a Christian faith that speaks for the oppressed and is willing to confront those that would use faith, political or economic power to oppress the weak or those different from us.

Since I returned from Iraq in 2008 I discovered what it was to really question faith and God. To become for a couple of years a man who was for all practical purposes an agnostic praying that God still existed and cared. I discovered that in doing so that faith returned, different but more real than I had ever experienced in a life spent in the Christian faith and ministry.

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That brought change because my rediscovered faith brought me into conflict with people in the church denomination and faith community where I had been ordained as a priest. I was asked to leave and found a new home church and denomination that fit my life, faith experience and where I could live and minister in complete integrity. In the church that took me in during the fall of 2010 I can be faithful to the Gospel and care for the lost, the least and the lonely, especially those who have been abused by churches and ministries that have sold their soul to right wing political ideologues whose only concern is their political power and influence and would use churches and Christians to do their evil bidding. I guess that I learned that just because someone wraps the Bible in an American Flag, believes that Jesus brought us the Constitution and says that they “support the troops” it doesn’t necessarily mean that they care a whit about the Bible, the Flag, the Constitution or the Troops. I hope that isn’t too harsh….

Oh well, I feel that I am beginning to ramble so I will say good night and “God Bless,” no matter what God that you profess or for that matter don’t profess.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under christian life, faith, iraq,afghanistan, Pastoral Care, PTSD, Tour in Iraq

Going to War: Last Night together and a Kiss Goodbye

This is part four in my “Going to War” series. Previous parts are noted here:

Part One:Going to War: Reflections on My Journey to Iraq and Back- Part One

Past Two: Going to War: Interlude July 4th 2007

Part Three: Going to War: Wills, Living Wills, Immunizations Gone Bad and Christmas in July

Now the time has come to leave you
One more time Let me kiss you
And close your eyes and I’ll be on my way
Dream about the days to come, When I won’t have to leave alone
About the times, That I won’t have to say

Oh, kiss me and smile for me
Tell me that you’ll wait for me
Hold me like you’ll never let me go
Cause Im leavin’ on a jet plane
Don’t know when I’ll be back again
Oh babe, I hate to go

From “I’m Leaving on a Jet Plane” by John Denver

The night before leaving on deployment and the actual day of departure are some of the hardest that any military couples or families experience.  This has certainly been the case with us and this was no different.  This time I was not merely going on a ship and being part of a boarding team, the latter which Judy did not know until about halfway through the deployment, but this time going boots on ground into the most bitterly of Iraq’s contested provinces, Al Anbar.  The last night together was rather somber to put it mildly.  Judy and I went out to dinner on Friday night.  Since I knew that I would not be having a good beer for quite some time we went to Gordon Biersch.  For us Gordon Biersch is generally a good time kind of place. That last Friday it was not a festive occasion, it was almost like a wake.  Judy and I were both quite subdued.  In between the silence Judy talked about her fears about the deployment while I tried to reassure her that everything would be fine. My reasoning was that since I had taken out the extra life insurance that I would be okay.  For me such logic makes sense.  If I don’t get it I will need it and if I do get it I won’t.  It’s kind of like Yogi Berra who said “You should always go to other people’s funerals; otherwise, they won’t come to yours.”

After dinner and for me three half liter glasses of Märzen we went back home where I finalized my packing. I ensured that all my field gear, uniforms and clothing were packed and rechecked my EOD issue protective gear. I then packed my Mass kit, Bible, Prayer Book and my Marine Pattern camouflage reversible desert/woodland stole.  The stole was special as Judy had made me a few years back from woodland and desert pattern shirts which were way too big for me.  My final check were my books on counterinsurgency, a few DVD movies and music CDs and my hygiene items.  I wrestled the big bags down the stairs and put them in the back of my Honda CR-V so I wouldn’t have to fight them in the morning.  That accomplished Judy and I just sat together, she was feeling pretty low. On the other hand I was a mix of conflicting emotions.  I was excited by knowing that I was going to get to do what I had trained all of my life to do, but very cognizant of the reality that it would be tough on Judy.  The last couple of deployments had been very tough on her. When I deployed to support the Bosnia mission as a mobilized Army Reservist and newly ordained Priest we had three of my relatives in Huntington West Virginia die.  One was my maternal grandmother “Ma Maw” who Judy had become very close to over the past couple of years.  They had become buddies and Ma Maw had taken Judy in not as my wife, but as “her” granddaughter.  Ma Maw’s death hit Judy very hard and my mom and uncle in the midst of their grief over the loss of their mom understood the depth of the relationship between Judy and Ma Maw and as a result pretty much treated Judy as an unwanted outsider.  In the week before Ma Maw’s death Judy tried repeatedly to get Ma Maw to go to the doctor only to be ignored.  The morning of Ma Maw’s death Judy called me in Germany to call Ma Maw and insist that she go to the doctor.   I called and insisted that she go to the Emergency Room but she refused and said she would call her doctor.  That night she died. I had lost my grandmother and could not go back to help and Judy had lost a woman who had become closer to her than her own grandmothers ever had been.  In 2001 during my deployment with 3rd Battalion 8th Marines to Okinawa, Japan and Korea we lost our 16 ½ year old Wire Haired Dachshund Frieda.  Judy did her nest to keep Frieda alive for me, but there was nothing that could be done and finally with Judy being worn down to nothing herself, she was persuaded to have Frieda put down.  My 2002 deployment on USS HUE CITY to the Middle East and Horn of Africa came less than six months after my return from Okinawa and was also very difficult on her.

With all of this in the background we spent our last night together.  I barely slept as did she.  I had a light breakfast and then accompanied by a friend from choir we drove to the base.   Saturday morning traffic is generally not too bad so our trip was uneventful, but really tense.  You could cut the tension between us by now with a knife.  It was about the time that we were nearing the base Judy said something that I took really wrong and sarcastically snapped back “Well I’ll just get blown up by an IED then.”  That really hit her hard and I knew immediately that I had blown myself up with the comment.  I should have known better, after all I’d deployed a lot and taught pre-deployment classes talking about the emotional cycle of deployments.  But the stress on both of us the preceding weeks had taken its toll and both of us were on edge.  For two months we had ach in our own way imagined the deployment  wondering just what I would face when I got to Iraq, the unanswerable questions of what might happen over there and Judy’s great fear that something might happen to me.

We got to the base pretty quick, though the tension made me feel that the trip was three times as long as it was.  As we pulled up in a parking spot near the baggage drop off area we sat there for a few minutes.  I got out of the car as did Judy.  I asked if she wanted to wait a while with me and with tears in her eyes said that she couldn’t handle the wait.  After I unloaded my gear with the help of Nelson who was already there with his gear stacked.  He looked at Judy and said, “Don’t you worry ma’am we’ll do good and I’ll keep him safe.”  Judy gave a soft “thanks” and gave him a hug.  With my gear now next to Nelson’s I went back to Judy.  We looked at each other, embraced and kissed each other.  We parted and then she went back to the car, handed her friend the keys and they drove off.  As she left I said a prayer under my breath and asked God to keep her safe while I was gone.  Then I turned to Nelson and said, “Okay partner, let’s get this done.”

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Filed under iraq,afghanistan, Tour in Iraq

Remembering the Veterans in My Life…Memorial Day 2009

Today has been a day of rest and recovery from the past 10 days, especially the past 3 days when Judy had to be hospitalized. She is recovering nicely and may actually visit her friends at her church choir practice tonight even if she does not sing. I’m now finishing this post a Harbor Park, the Tides are up 1-0 and going to bat in the bottom of the 2nd.

Also please see Judy’s blog at http://abbeynormalabbess.wordpress.com/ for a good patient eye view of Epiglottitis.

honor and remember with american flag and pow flagOld Glory, the POW-MIA and Honor and Remember Flags

Monday is Memorial Day and I will be both on duty at the medical center as well as participating in a Memorial Day ceremony at the historic Naval Cemetery located on our grounds.  Memorial Day means a lot to me, probably more each year.  This is personal, more personal than at any time in my life.  I guess it comes with experience and maturity as well as a lot of reflection.

I’ve been in the military for almost 28 years now.  I enlisted in the National Guard while in college and entered Army ROTC back in 1981.  Since then it has been to quote Jerry Garcia “a long strange trip.”  My dad served twenty years in the Navy.  He retired in 1974 as a Chief Petty Officer and did time surrounded in the South Vietnamese city of An Loc when it was surrounded by the North Vietnamese for 80 days in 1972.  He didn’t talk about it much when he came back; in fact he came back different from the war.  He probably suffered from PTSD.  All the markers were there but we had no idea about it back then, after all he was in the Navy not the Army.

My second view of war came from the Veterans of Vietnam that I served with in the National Guard and the Army.  Some of these men served as teachers and mentors.  LCDR Jim Breedlove and Senior Chief John Ness at the Edison High School Naval Junior ROTC program were the first who helped me along. They have both passed away in the past year and a half.  I will never forget them.  A post dedicated to them is on this blog. Colonel Edgar Morrison was my first battalion commander.  He was the most highly decorated member of the California National Guard at that time and had served multiple tours in Vietnam.  He encouraged me as a young specialist and officer cadet and showed a tremendous amount of care for his soldiers.  Staff Sergeant’s Buff Rambo and Mickey Yarro taught me the ropes as a forward observer and shared many of their Vietnam experiences. Buff had been a Marine dog handler on the DMZ and Mickey a Forward Observer.  Sergeant First Class Harry Zilkin was my training NCO at the UCLA Army ROTC program.  He was a Special Forces Medic with 7th Group in Vietnam.  He still had part of a VC bayonet embedded in his foot.  He received my first salute as a newly commissioned Second Lieutenant as well as a Silver Dollar.  I understand that after the Army he became a fire fighter.  He had a massive heart attack on the scene of a fire and died a few years later from it.  Sergeant Major John Butler was our senior enlisted at UCLA.  He served with the 173rd Airborne in Vietnam.  Sergeant First Class Harry Ball was my drill sergeant at the ROTC pre-commissioning camp at Fort Lewis Washington in 1982.  He was also Special Forces and a Ranger and served multiple tours in Vietnam.  He was quite influential in my life, tearing me apart and then building me back up.  He was my version of Drill Sergeant Foley in An Officer and a Gentleman. Like Zack Mayo played by Richard Gere in the movie I can only say: Drill Sergeant “I will never forget you.”

With MTT near Syria

As I progressed through my Army career I encountered others of this generation who also impacted my life. First among them was First Sergeant Jim Koenig who had been a Ranger in the Mekong Delta.  I was the First Sergeant that I would measure all others by.  Once during a ARTEP we were aggressed and all of a sudden he was back in the Delta. This man cared so much for his young soldiers in the 557th Medical Company.   He did so much for them and I’m sure that those who served with him can attest to this as well as me. Jim had a brick on his desk so that when he got pissed he could chew on it.   He was great.  He played guitar for the troops and had a song called Jane Fonda, Jane Fonda You Communist Slut. It was a classic.  He retired after he was selected to be a Command Sergeant Major because he valued his wife and family more than the promotion.  It hurt him to do this, but he put them first. Colonel Donald Johnson was the commander of the 68th Medical Group when I got to Germany in January 1984.  Colonel “J” as well all called him was one of the best leaders I have seen in 28 years in the military.  He knew everything about everything and his knowledge forced us all to learn and be better officers and NCOs.  On an inspection visit you could always find him dressed in coveralls and underneath a truck verifying the maintenance done on it.  He served a number of Vietnam tours.  He died a few years back of Multiple Myeloma and is buried at Arlington.  Chaplain (LTC) Rich Whaley who had served as a company commander in Vietnam on more than one occasion saved my young ass at the Army Chaplain School.  He remains a friend and is the Endorsing Agent for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. As a Mormon he was one of the most “Christian” men that I have ever met.  I know some Christians who might have a hard time with that, but Rich demonstrated every trait of a Christian who loved God and his neighbor.

When I was the Installation Chaplain at Fort Indiantown Gap PA I was blessed to have some great veterans in my Chapel Parish.  Major General Frank Smoker flew 25 missions as a B-17 pilot over Germany during the height of the air war in Europe. He brought his wonderful wife Kate back from England with him.  Henry Boyd who I buried was one of the 101st Airborne soldiers epitomized in Band of Brothers. He had a piece of shrapnel lodged next to his heart from the Battle of the Bulge until the day he died. Scotty Jenkes was a Air Force pilot in Vietnam flying close air support. Colonel Ray Hawthorne served several tours both in artillery units and as an advisor in 1972.  CWO4 Charlie Kosko flew helicopters in Vietnam.  All these men made a deep impact on me and several contributed to my career in very tangible ways.

image9391Marines at Hue City Tet 1968

My life more recently has been impacted by others.  My friends of the veterans of the Battle of Hue City including General Peter Pace, Barney Barnes,  Tony “Limey Cartilage ” Sergeant Major Thomas and so many others have become close over the years, especially after I did my time in Iraq. They and all the Vietnam vets, including the guys from the Vietnam Veterans of America like Ray and John  who man the beer stand behind the plate at Harbor Park all mean a lot to me.  My friends at Marine Security Forces Colonel Mike Paulovich and Sergeant Major Kim Davis mean more than almost any people in the world.  We traveled the globe together visiting our Marines.  Both of these men are heroes to me as well as friends.

Finally there are my friends and brothers that I have served with at sea on USS HUE CITY during Operation Enduring Freedom and the advisers on the ground in Al Anbar mean more than anything to me. Perhaps the most important is my RP, RP2 Nelson Lebron who helped keep me safe and accompanied me all over the battlefield.  Nelson who has done Iraq 3 times, Afghanistan, Lebanon and the Balkans is a hero.  The men and women of Navy EOD who I served with from 2006-2008 have paid dearly in combating IEDs and other explosive devices used against us in Iraq and Afghanistan are heros too.  There is no routine mission for EOD technicians.

I give thanks for all them men that I mention in this post, especially my dad. God bless all of you guys. Please honor the Veterans that you know this weekend.  Honor also those who gave their lives in the defense of liberty in all of the wars of our nation. They have earned it.

Peace, Steve+

Post Script: The game went to extra innings and the Tides lost 5-4.  They left the tying run at 3rd base in the bottom of the 12th.  That ended a 8 game winning streak.  On a positive side I was able to get a ball autographed by former Dodger’s pircher ill Singer and Pirate’s Pitcher Bob Kison.  Singer pitched in the Dodger’s rotation with Drysdale, Koufax and other greats.  He threw a no-hitter in 1970 against the pirates and now is a scout for the Nationals, Kison won game one of the 1971 World Series in six innings of releif against the Orioles who he now scouts for the Orioles.

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Filed under Baseball, History, iraq,afghanistan, Military, vietnam