Tag Archives: all volunteer military

A Reflection on the Importance of Citizen Soldiers

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

I am pre-posting my blogs for the coming week as I will be in Germany for the Oktoberfest as well as to visit Nuremberg and the site of the War Crimes Trials, and the Concentration Camp at Dachau. This is a section of my Gettysburg text that deals with the importance of citizen soldiers.

This will be posted about the time I get to my hotel and after the trip to Dachau. If I get a chance to post something new during the week I will.

Have a great day,

Peace

Padre Steve+

“As soldier and citizen, today’s armed forces officer is a champion of both the nation’s defense and the principles upon which the nation was founded. Taking an oath to support and defend the Constitution means swearing to uphold the core values that define the essence of American citizenship; the armed forces officer is first and foremost a citizen who has embraced the ideals of the nation—only then can he or she defend those principles with true conviction.” [1]

The human dimension of war is the most important, regardless of the technological changes inherent in it. The British military theorist Colin S. Gray wrote: “Notwithstanding the vast and really untraceable complexity of the workings of war, peace, and strategy, by far the most, important among them is the human. This has always been the case. It is true today, and no grand design for the transformation of military power or no radical change predicted in the character of war can alter the eternal merit in this dictum.” [2] In this chapter we look at the tradition of the citizen soldier and military.

Carl Von Clausewitz, a veteran of the Napoleonic wars and product of Classical German Liberal thought noted in his masterpiece of military thought On War, that “Any complex activity, if it is to be carried on with any degree of virtuosity, calls for appropriate gifts calls for appropriate gifts of intellect and temperament. If they are outstanding, and reveal themselves in exceptional achievements, their possessor is called a “genius.” [3]

Within the U.S. Army the example of Joshua Chamberlain at the Battle of Little Round Top has occupied a prominent place in Army leadership manuals including FM 22-100 and its successor FM 6-22.  However, that being said even those that learn about Chamberlain from this seldom delve deeper into his character, development as a leader and significance, at Little Round Top, Appomattox and after the war. Likewise the examples of both Warren and Vincent which are key to Chamberlain and his regiment even being on the hill are ignored in that publication.

It is important to discuss Vincent and Chamberlain for more than their direct contributions to the battle. Those are widely known and in a sense have become part of the myth that is our understanding of Gettysburg. While discussing those actions it is also necessary to put them into context with the character of both men, the cause that they fought. Likewise it is important to address in this age of the professional all volunteer force the importance of Citizen Soldiers in any kind of democracy or representative republic, a sociological question that military professionals as well as our elected officials and citizenry would do well to revisit.

This is particularly important now as various elected leaders, think tanks, defense contractors and lobbyists are all questioning the economic “liabilities” of the All-Volunteer force as well as the disconnect between the broader military and society at large. This means that there will be efforts to determine how the military will be manned, trained and employed, and if military leaders are ignorant of our history, the vital connection between the military and the citizenry and the contributions of Citizen Soldiers then we will be caught flat footed and unprepared in the coming debates. If that happens those decisions could be made by “bean counters” with little appreciation for what military professionalism and readiness entails, as well as think tanks and lobbyists for the defense industry who have their own motivations for what they do, often more related to their profits, power and influence than national security.

The armies that fought the Civil War for the most part were composed of volunteers who of a myriad of reasons went off to fight that war. Gouverneur Warren is a character whose life and career before and after the Civil War was much more like currently serving regular officers and to some extent the much more professional and hardened by war officer corps of the Reserve Components of each of our Armed Services, in particular the much active and deployed Army National Guard and Army Reserve.

The reserve components still do reflect much of the citizen soldier tradition but that being said between deployments, other activations and required schooling, those assets are much more on par with their active counterparts than they ever have been in our history. The reserves now, contrary to General Creighton Abrams desire to use them “to shield the regular army from misuse by feckless policy makers” were depended on for essential support functions, which in Abrams view would “preclude Washington from waging large scale war without first making the politically difficult decision to mobilize,” [4] are an integral part of how the nation conducts war without mobilizing the people, that key element of Clausewitz’s “paradoxical Trinity.” 

“American defense policy has traditionally been built upon pluralistic military institutions, most notably a mix force of professionals and citizen soldiers.” [5] Gouverneur Warren and many like him at Gettysburg, including men like John Buford, Lewis Armistead, Winfield Scott Hancock, George Meade and Robert E. Lee represented what until the beginning of the Cold War was the smaller pillar of our pluralistic military institution; that of the long term professional. Many others at Gettysburg represent what Strong Vincent, Joshua Chamberlain, John Gordon represented the volunteer citizen soldier who enlisted to meet the crisis.

Until World War II and the advent of the Cold War these dual pillars existed side by side. Following the Second World War along with the small-wars that went along as part of it the world changed, and the wars that occurred, such as Korea and Vietnam “occurred on a scale too small to elicit a sustained, full-fledged national commitment, yet too large for a prewar-style regular army to handle.” [6] Because of this “military requirements thus became a fundamental ingredient of foreign policy, and military men and institutions acquired authority and influence far surpassing that ever previously possessed by military professionals on the American scene.” [7] General Anthony Zinni noted that the foreign policy results of this transformation have resulted in the United States becoming “an empire” [8] something that no American living in 1863 could have ever contemplated.

This was part of a revolution in military affairs far more important than the application of technology which brought it about, the Atomic Bomb; it was a revolution in national strategy which fundamentally changed American thinking regarding the use of the military instrument in relationship to diplomacy, and the relationship of the military to society at large. Russell Weigley noted: “To shift the American definition of strategy from the use of combats for the object of wars to the use of military force for the deterrence of war, albeit while still serving the national interests in an active manner, amounted to a revolution in the history of American military policy….” [9]

The policy worked reasonably well until Vietnam and the inequities of the system showed its liabilities and brought about a change from politicians. Lieutenant General Hal Moore wrote of the Vietnam era: “The class of 1965 came out of the old America, a nation that disappeared forever in the smoke that billowed off the jungle battlegrounds where we fought and bled. The country that sent us off to war was not there to welcome us home. It no longer existed.” [10]

The debacle of Vietnam and the societal tidal wave that followed brought about the end of the selective service system, by which the large army needed to fight wars was connected to the society at large and the creation of the All-Volunteer force by President Nixon in 1974. The ethos that every citizen was a soldier was destroyed by Vietnam and even men like General William Westmoreland who warned that “absent “the continuous movement of citizens in and out of the service,…the army could “become a danger to our society-a danger that our forefathers so carefully tried to preclude.” [11]

This cultural shift is something that none of the professional officers of the small ante-bellum army like Warren would have ever imagined much less men like Vincent or Chamberlain who were true citizen-soldiers. Thus for currently serving officers it is important to recognize this key change as it applies to American military strategy as well as the place the military occupies in our society.

This makes it important to our study as we examine the actions of Vincent and Chamberlain outside of myth and legend.  We must see the implications that they can have not only on the battlefield but in our relationship to the American citizenry and society. It is to put in in classic terms a return to understanding the relationship between the military and the people so powerfully enunciated in Clausewitz’s concept of war being a “paradoxical Trinity” of “primordial violence, hatred and enmity,… the element of chance and probability within which the creative spirit is free to roam; and of its element of subordination, as an instrument of policy….” [12] In Clausewitz’s understanding these are the people, the commander and his army and the government.

While Warren represents the professional officer; Strong Vincent, Joshua Chamberlain and thousands more like them, just men who served in the Civil War represented an important part of our military tradition that no longer exists in such a form. An exception to this might be in example of young men and women that volunteer to serve in the reserve components and leave after they complete their service obligation. Honestly, we no longer have a system that allows, nor do we actively encourage men like Vincent and Chamberlain to leave lucrative civilian employment or academia to serve alongside the professionals in positions of responsibility leading regiments or brigades or serving as senior staff officers unless they are already part of the military in our reserve components.

The examples of Vincent, Chamberlain and so many other citizen soldiers demonstrate the profound of this important legacy, which was for so long one of the twin pillars of our national defense. While this is still to some extent carried on by the reserve components of the United States military service, we no longer provide the opportunity for outsiders such as Vincent and Chamberlain to serve in that manner. While it is true that a great number of citizen soldiers did not perform to the level of Vincent or Chamberlain during the war, the same can be said of some of many of the Regular officers who served alongside of them and often failed miserably, examples of who can be found throughout the Battle of Gettysburg.

That being said, in the coming years military professionals will have to engage lawmakers and the bureaucracy of the Pentagon as the shape of the future military, especially the land components is debated and decided upon by politicians. Thus, it is of the utmost importance of revisiting the tradition of the citizen soldier and how it can be renewed in the coming years. In fact General Stanley McChrystal said in 2012 “I think we ought to have a draft” because a “professional military necessarily becomes “unrepresentative of the population” and “cannot properly represent the country as a whole.” [13] That will be a question for policy makers to debate and for military professionals to consider.

While warfare may have grown more complex, at its heart it remains a primordial art, where true leaders learn the trade and excel in battle or in staff work. The American naval warfare theorist Alfred Thayer Mahan, son of Dennis Hart Mahan who was so instrumental in the education of so many of the professional officers who served at Gettysburg wrote something that while directed toward naval leaders is applicable to our discussion here: “Historically, good men with poor ships are better than poor men with good ships; over and over the French Revolution taught this lesson, which in our own age, with its rage for the last new thing in material improvement, has largely dropped out of our memory.” [14]

The question that military professionals, politicians and those who determine policy must ask regarding the future military is whether we will re-enliven this tradition outside of the established reserve components and provide opportunity for men like Vincent, Chamberlain and so many others who throughout our history have demonstrated the aptitude necessary to become models of leadership and military competence without having grown up in the military system. It is a question that is certainly worth debating as we go forward in an era of military cuts and potential changes in how we man, pay and train our forces for the challenges that will most certainly arise.

Chamberlain’s words about the men that he served alongside like his commanding officer, Strong Vincent are a fitting way to close.

“It is something great and greatening to cherish an ideal; to act in the light of truth that is far-away and far above; to set aside the near advantage, the momentary pleasure; the snatching of seeming good to self; and to act for remoter ends, for higher good, and for interests other than our own.” [15]

Notes

[1] _______. The Armed forces Officer U.S. Department of Defense Publication, Washington DC. January 2006 p.2

[2] Gray, Colin S. Fighting Talk: Forty Maxims on War, Peace, and Strategy Potomac Book, Dulles VA 2009 p.93

[3] Clausewitz, Carl von. On War Indexed edition, edited and translated by Michael Howard and Peter Paret, Princeton University Press, Princeton NJ 1976 p.100

[4] Bacevich, Andrew J. Breach of Trust: How Americans Failed their Soldiers and Their Country Metropolitan Books, Henry Holt and Company, New York 2013 Amazon Kindle Edition p.105

[5] Millet, Allan R. and Maslowski, Peter, For the Common Defense: A Military History of the United States The Free Press a Division of Macmillan Inc. New York, 1984 p.xii

[6] Ibid. Bacevich, Breach of Trust: How Americans Failed their Soldiers and Their p.50

[7] Huntington, Samuel P. The Soldier and the State: The Theory and Politics of Civil-Military Relations, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA and London 1957 p.345

[8] Zinni, Tony. The Battle for Peace: A Frontline Vision of America’s Power and Purpose Palgrave McMillian, New York 2006 p.4

[9] Weigley, Russell F. The American Way of War: A History of United States Military History and Policy University of Indiana Press, Bloomington IN, 1973 pp.367-368

[10] Moore, Harold G. and Galloway Joseph L We Were Soldiers Once…And Young Harper Perennial Books New York 1992 pp. xix-xx

[11] Ibid. Bacevich Breach of Trust p.58

[12] Ibid. Clausewitz On War p.89

[13] Ibid. Bacevich Breach of Trust p.121

[14] Mahan, Alfred T. The Influence of Sea Power upon the French Revolution and Empire 1793-1812 Little Brown and Company, Boston 1892 p.102

[15] Chamberlain, Joshua Lawrence. Chamberlain’s Address at the dedication of the Maine Monuments at Gettysburg, October 3rd 1888 retrieved from http://www.joshualawrencechamberlain.com/maineatgettysburg.php 4 June 2014

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Counting the Cost: Reflections on Armed Forces Day 2014

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“What is the cost of war? what is the bill?…“This bill renders a horrible accounting. Newly placed gravestones. Mangled bodies. Shattered minds. Broken hearts and homes. Economic instability. Depression and all of its attendant miseries. Back -breaking taxation for generations and generations. For a great many years as a soldier I had a suspicion that war was a racket; not only until I retired to civilian life did I fully realize it….” Major General Smedley Butler USMC

Today is Armed Forces Day and unfortunately most of the country will not notice unless they are attending a Baseball game where it is being observed or some special event on a base, national cemetery, monument or VFW hall.

There are also a fair number of local celebrations to honor members of the Armed Forces across the country but for the most part they are small and not well publicized. As a career officer and son of a Vietnam veteran Navy Chief I appreciate those events and the people that put them together. Being a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom, especially those that have taken the time to honor Iraq and Afghanistan veterans.

At any given time less than 1% of Americans are serving in all components of the military. For over 10 years we have been at war in Afghanistan and Iraq as well as other locations that we don’t like to talk about too much. However this has not been the effort of a nation at war, it is the war of a tiny percentage of the population.

As a nation we are disconnected from the military and the wars that the military fights. The fact is that most Americans do not have a personal or vested interest in these wars, they have been insulated by political leaders of both parties from them. There is no draft, and no taxes were raised to fund the wars and the military is now worn out.

We have been at war for nearly 14 years and truthfully there is no end in sight. In that time every single Soldier, Sailor, Marine and Airman volunteered for duty or reenlisted during this time period. Motives may have varied from individual to individual, but unlike the World Wars, Korea and Vietnam every single one volunteered to serve in time of war. I think that this makes the current generation of veterans quite unique, we are no longer a military composed of citizen soldiers we are now, even our reserve components a Warrior caste, set apart from the society that we serve.

There is a tragic disconnection between the military and civilian society in the United States. This is the result of deliberate public policy since the end of the Vietnam War supported by both political parties. For almost 40 years we have relied on an all volunteer force. It is that relatively small and socially isolated military which is sent to fight wars while the bulk of the population is uninvolved and corporations, lobbyists and think tanks get rich.

Andrew Bacevich wrote in his new book Breach of Trust: How Americans failed their Soldiers and their Country:

“Rather than offering an antidote to problems, the military system centered on the all-volunteer force bred and exacerbated them. It underwrote recklessness in the formulation of policy and thereby resulted in needless, costly, and ill-managed wars. At home, the perpetuation of this system violated simple standards of fairness and undermined authentic democratic practice. The way a nation wages war—the role allotted to the people in defending the country and the purposes for which it fights—testifies to the actual character of its political system. Designed to serve as an instrument of global interventionism (or imperial policing), America’s professional army has proven to be astonishingly durable, if also astonishingly expensive. Yet when dispatched to Iraq and Afghanistan, it has proven incapable of winning. With victory beyond reach, the ostensible imperatives of U.S. security have consigned the nation’s warrior elite to something akin to perpetual war.”

Bacevich, a retired Army Colonel and Vietnam veteran who lost a son in Iraq is dead on, as is Rachel Maddow who wrote in her outstanding book Drift: The Unmooring of American Military Power:

“The reason the founders chafed at the idea of an American standing army and vested the power of war making in the cumbersome legislature was not to disadvantage us against future enemies, but to disincline us toward war as a general matter… With citizen-soldiers, with the certainty of a vigorous political debate over the use of a military subject to politicians’ control, the idea was for us to feel it- uncomfortably- every second we were at war. But after a generation or two of shedding the deliberate political encumbrances to war that they left us… war making has become almost an autonomous function of the American state. It never stops.” 

The lobbyists, pundits, politicians and preachers that promote war don’t care about the troops. This is because no matter who is in office or who controls congress these people and corporations will promote policies that keep them employed and their businesses enriched. Marine Major General and Medal of Honor winner Smedley Butler was quite right when he said:

“War is a racket. It always has been. It is possibly the oldest, easily the most, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives. A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of the people. Only a small ‘inside’ group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many. Out of war a few people make huge fortunes.”

I think that the reason that our current wars have gone on so long is the that misguided policies have brought about a chronic disconnection in our society between those that serve in the military. But how can there not be when in the weeks after 9-11 people like President Bush and others either directly or in a manner of speaking told people to “go shopping” * as we went to war in Afghanistan? When I returned from Iraq I returned to a nation that was not at war whose leaders used the war to buttress their respective political bases.

The results are terrible. Suicide rates are continuing to rise among veterans who have returned to find that neither the VA nor the civilian mental health care sector is prepared to care for them.

I think that Armed Forces Day should be better celebrated and I am grateful to the people that do things every day to thank and support military personnel. These wonderful people that do this come from across the political spectrum. Some are veterans and others non-veterans. But they care for and appreciate the men and women that serve in and fight the wars that no-one else can be bothered to fight.

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Of course the politicians, pundits, preachers and the defense contractors, banks and lobbyists will find a way to profit. They will do so no matter how many more troops are killed, wounded or injured and how badly it affects military personnel or their families and will push to abandon those who fought as they do after every war. After all, to quote Smedley Butler, “war is a racket.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

President Bush’s actually words were “Now, the American people have got to go about their business. We cannot let the terrorists achieve the objective of frightening our nation to the point where we don’t — where we don’t conduct business, where people don’t shop…” http://georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov/news/releases/2001/10/20011011-7.html

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Twilight of the Generals: The Deeper Implications of the Petraeus Scandal

“War with impersonal leadership la a brutal soul-destroying; business, provocative only of class animosity and bad workmanship. Our senior officers must get back to sharing danger and sacrifice with their men, however exalted their rank, just as sailors have to do. That used to be the British way, but, unfortunately, there was a grievous lapse from it in the last war.” Colonel C.S.O. Head, A Glance at Gallipoli 

It has been a strange week for the military. I will be writing some more on this over the next few days but in the wake of the scandals wracking the military.

Some of these things have been brewing for some time.  But the revelations of an extramarital affair of retired Army General and now former CIA Director David Petreus, the revelation that Petraeus’ successor in Afghanistan Marine General John Allen sending allegedly flirtatious e-mails with the woman whose complaints of e-mail harassment triggered the investigation that exposed the Petraeus and his mistress-biographer Paula Broadwell.

General William “Kip” Ward, the former commander of US AFRICOM was demoted following an investigation that tied him to “unauthorized expenses” and “lavish travel” to the tune of 129,000 on an 11 day “business trip” that only three days were actual business.

Meanwhile in Fort Bragg North Carolina Army Brigadier General Jeffery Sinclair is going through the military version of a grand-jury investigation for sexual harassment and other such crimes against a number of his female staff officers. One alleges that Sinclair forced her to have oral sex and that he threatened to kill her or her family if she told anyone.

As a career officer myself, having spent the last 31 years in the Army, the Reserve Components of the Army and the Active Duty Navy I am disappointed but not surprised. I spent almost over half my career as a company grade officer or enlisted man and a fan of the late Colonel David Hackworth, who called he senior leaders of the military “perfumed princes.”

I think part of the problem is that many of us in the military have become more supporters of the preservation of the institution of the military than we are of the Constitution or the country. This is not surprising and in a sense I can understand this and probably at more than one point in my career been guilty of this. We are afraid of cuts to the military institution because it impacts us.

The roots of the problem go back to Vietnam but can probably be traced further back. The revolt of liberals and young people against the war, the military and the draft forced an end to the draft and the beginning of the All Volunteer force. This was a two edged sword. On the positive side it allowed the military to reform, reorganize and become the premier fighting force in the world. On the minus side of the equation was the fact that the military became a society within the society. We became insular and in many cases, including mine distrusted liberals and Democrats on any national security issue. Those old enough can trace that back to how either we, or our fathers were treated by liberals, Democrats and the media during the Vietnam war and its aftermath. Others, younger than me simply have bought the lie that liberals and Democrats are inherently anti-military. This has been particularly the case since the end of the Reagan administration and the George H.W. Bush led Gulf War victory over Iraq which cemented a narrative that the military was invincible.

Over the course of the next 20 years, the 8 years of Bill Clinton, the 8 years of George W. Bush and the first 4 years of Barak Obama the esteem for the military by the general population has continued to go up, even as that population is increasingly divorced from the need to serve in the military. The military at any given times in the past 20 years numbered less than 1% of the American population. This statistic is unlikely to go up in the near future with the reduction of the military to its pre-Iraq war strength and the increase in the population.

While the military has been engaged in a protracted war since the attacks of 9-11 and heavily involved in other wars or “operations other than war” since the Gulf War it has continued to shrink in relative terms to the US population. At the same time the military has become a lot more top-heavy in  numbers of General and Flag Officers since before the Second World War. The percentage of Generals and Flag officers added to the military since the beginning of the War on Terror has only increased, especially at the 3 and 4 star level.

There were in 2011 a total of 964 Generals and Admirals in the US military down slightly from 1017 at the end of the Cold War when there were more than 600,000 more personnel in the military. In the Second World War there were about 1.7 Generals or admirals per 10,000 personnel, the line today is about 6.8 per 10,000. See ( http://www.pogo.org/pogo-files/testimony/national-security/ns-wds-20110914.html )

Regardless of the administration in power the senior ranks of the military have increased not only in numbers but in influence in the government. Highly respected by the public and with probably more power than at any time in our history the senior leadership of the Armed Forces has become insular and isolated. The senior ranks of the military have become a culture within a culture within the culture. The ongoing revelations of the Petraeus affair and possible involvement of General Allen regarding two women, most notably Jill Kelley a socialite who has cultivated close relationships with military leaders assigned to CENTCOM in Tampa as well as the culture of the Washington Beltway shows the depth of that disconnect.

At any given time there are well under 10% of flag and general officers commanding troops in combat. The rest are assigned to stateside units and staffs of various combatant commands, staffs and the Pentagon. In my service the Navy in World War II there were about 130 ships for every Admiral, today there are almost as many admirals as ships. While the ranks of the military have shrunk the numbers of Generals and Admirals has risen and the culture surrounding them has become more opaque. Generals and Admirals have become celebrities and power players in society in their own right. In fact I would guess that only the Great German Imperial General Staff of the Kaiser Reich had such influence in society at large or political power.

That respect which these men and women have earned in the nation which is often earned due to the incredible sacrifice of ordinary Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Airmen. Likewise many General and Flag officer have done time in combat zones as lower ranking commanders and staff officers and have spent many years deployed and away from their families in direct combat or in supporting roles.

In spite of this there is obviously something amiss in the senior ranks of the military. The record numbers of the relief for cause of many senior officers and commanders due to various infractions, many of a personal, ethical or sexual nature is cause for concern. The concern that I hear from young men and women serving in the military and read about almost every day is that there is a separate set of standards for senior ranks than junior ranks. I have been fortunate that commands that I have been a part over the past 15 years have sensitive to this and have worked hard to ensure that standards are enforced regardless of rank but that is not always the case. High profile stories of scandal, privilege on the part of some have tarnished the hard work of many stellar officers and NCOs and the great sacrifice of those killed, maimed or wounded in mind, body and spirit in our current war.

The indiscreet and sometimes criminal actions of General Petraeus, General Ward, General Sinclair and fairly substantial number of other commanders who have been relieved for cause is is something to be concerned about.

Major General J.F.C. Fuller who served in the Royal Tank Corps in the First World War wrote a small but timeless book called “Generalship: Its Diseases and Their Cure: A Study of the Personal Factors of Command” in 1932. Fuller was quite critical of a culture in the higher ranks which had led to unnecessary slaughter and suffering during the First World War. It is a book that is well worth the read in such a time as ours. As the scandal continued to develop this week I remembered it and decided to re-read it.

The problems that we face are not unique to us. Scandals that are rocking the US Military are not new, they have been faced by other militaries before. The issue today is that the modern media and communications age has made it nearly impossible for those involved in salacious behavior to have it covered up. The Petraeus scandal has unfolded in large part due to the electronic media which almost all of us are dependent on, even for routine communications that never would have seen the light of day had they not been recorded in the cyber records of Google, Facebook, Twitter, text messages, e-mail providers or other electronic communication systems. There might have been insinuations, innuendo and accusations but many would have never seen the light of day.

The indiscretions of these men actually opened a door for honest questions and examination of the health of the American civil-military institutions. The military institution and those that swear to support and defend the Constitution of the United States cannot become just another special interest group. Yes it is important to maintain national security and to take care of the troops when they return to civilian society. We cannot allow ourselves to become a state within a state or culture within a culture. The exaggerated numbers of General and Flag Officers compared to the overall numbers of personnel in the military can only be justified by the necessary bureaucratic and institutional power provided by the rank, not by mission or responsibility.

The power of the institution is dangerous when its leaders subtly shift the mission from the defense of the Constitution and the people to the defense and maintenance of the institution itself and their own power.

This is not simply about sex, improper relationships, assault or financial indiscretions of leaders, it points to broader and perhaps more dangerous threats to our system of government, but the unbridled temptation of power and influence that believes that comes with the unquestioned adulation of politicians, pundits and preachers, the Unholy Trinity. So even as the scandals rock the military it is not a bad thing. If we do not address them they will become millstones about our necks that will drag us under and expose the people and Constitution that we are sworn to defend to untold disaster.

Dwight D. Eisenhower reminded us so well about this danger in his farewell address in 1961:

“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Week before Armed Forces Day 2011

Armed Forces Day is a holiday, sort of.  It is an official holiday but no-one gets a day of work off for it. It is a holiday where we as a nation honor those serving in the Armed Forces. Other nations also have Armed Forces Day commemorations.  Ours was established in 1949 after the establishment of the Department of Defense and replaced individual days for each of the five armed services.  Each service maintains its own celebration and some are marked with great fanfare particularly those of the Marine Corps and to a lesser extent the Navy.  It is celebrated the third Saturday in May and this year will occur May 21st.

It is different than Memorial Day where we pay homage to the fallen and Veteran’s Day where we remember all who have served because it really focuses on those currently serving.  When it occurs during a war as it has for the past nine years it tends to be more significant at least for those of us currently serving.

Many local and state governments as well as private organizations and businesses do special things to honor the Armed Forces.  There are parades, ceremonies at historic locations and even at baseball games. Fireworks and cookouts as well as discounts at various retailers are common.  At the same time in many places the day goes by without fanfare. This is in part due to the fact that we have had a volunteer military which due to force cutbacks since the end of the Cold War is smaller and based in fewer locations, generally concentrated on bigger bases as many smaller and mid-sized bases were closed or consolidated under the various iterations of the Base Realignment and Closure Act (BRAC).

As a result for many Americans the military is an institution set apart, a closed profession and community with its own culture and worldview.  Less than 1% of Americans serve in the military today. That number includes active and reserve forces. The lack of a draft or some other type of compulsorily military service ensures that those who do not want to serve in the military, those that prefer stability and the chance to make a lot of money don’t have to sully themselves with serving in the military.  As a result a pitiful few politicians and business leaders have any real understanding of the military, much to our detriment as a nation.  We lack the cultural cross leveling that the draft brought.  Personally I don’t think we would have a Red State-Blue State divide if more people served together in the military.  When you serve together in war it is much easier to treat your fellow veterans with respect when you get out.

At the same time our military has become a tremendously professional organization that had it not been an all volunteer force would probably not survived the wars that we have been in for the past 10 years.  Conversely our politicians may have been more prudent in committing us to major ground wars after 2001.

Thus as a profession the military is often misunderstood and what it does overseas often shrouded in mystery as very few news organizations take the time anymore to live with the troops and those reporters that do are few and far between.  The lack of a significant number of political, business, academic and religious leaders with military experience only serves to worsen the situation simply because those leaders are ignorant of the cost that our military members and their families bear.  World War Two was a war that made us Americans because so many people had to serve in the military and serve alongside of people from different parts of the country and economic classes.  Thus the men and women that served in that war had a bond that transcended politics, religion and with the desegregation of the Armed Forces in 1948 race which had divided the country since its inception.

Today the military is one of the most trusted institutions in the country.  It bears a special place in our society and even though many have not served there is an appreciation by many people of the sacrifice of those who serve at the present time.  I am glad for that because I remember when my father came home from Vietnam and the years following that war where the military was scorned and often vilified.

My plea is that as we approach Armed Forces Day that people will take the time to thank the serving Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen that they know or meet.  For those that do not serve there are ways to demonstrate your care by volunteering with the Red Cross or USO or donate to any of the military relief societies (Army Relief, Navy-Marine Corps Relief, Air Force Relief) or the Fisher House Foundation which helps the families of military personnel suffering from war wounds or life threatening conditions in hospital at military medical facilities.

It is a profound honor to continue to serve the Constitution and the people of the country. I have serve alongside the best America has to offer and as we continue to serve in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, the War on Terrorism and elsewhere around the world please remember us.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, iraq,afghanistan, Military, shipmates and veterans

Padre Steve’s Top 25 Articles of 2010, some Statistics and a Big Thank You to My Readers

Well we are coming to the end of the year here at Padre Steve’s World and as if you didn’t know from my baseball posts I am a fanatic about statistics.  Last year I published my “Top 10” in order to just get an idea about what my readers were reading and to kind of point new readers to articles that might interest them.

Before I delve into this I want to say thank you to all those people that take the time to stop by my little realm of cyber space and to those that take the time to leave comments, positive and even negative. You help me out a lot both in what I write and making me look at different angles on the subjects that I write about. Likewise various reads comments and suggestions have inspired and sometimes provoked me into writing articles that I might not have written otherwise. So thank you for taking the time to look at this site. Unlike the talk radio hosts that as us to give them 3 hours a day 5 days a week I just hope that you stop by once in a while and if you like what you see to come by more often and recommended the site to friends.

What is interesting to me is the way that some of these essays have almost taken on lives of their own and become much more popular than I could have ever imagined.  Who knows maybe I can actually work on finding a publisher this year and get some of this into print and maybe just maybe actually make a little money for my efforts.  I’ve been looking at the 700 plus posts that now are on the site and I can see a few book possibilities and if you have suggestions please let me know.

So as far as statistics go Padre Steve’s World is coming up on 2 Million total views and should go over that mark late today or early tomorrow.  Of those views about 1,280,000 have come this year, I won’t get an exact count until the New Year but then who but me is counting anyway? With those numbers I am averaging about 3500 views a day with the highest today being on June 17th when I had 9647 views.  I have had readers from almost every country or territory in the world from the United States to Togo and almost everywhere in between.  I think that is pretty cool and shows how the internet can reach almost all parts of the globe and I hope that the people in far off lands are getting something positive out of what I write.

This year I have posted 377 articles of which 169 had something to do with Baseball and 70 were about the military and of the military articles 18 dealt with various types of warships and a further dealt with history.  Another 21 articles dealt with Iraq or Afghanistan in one way or another ranging from historical, operational and theoretical articles interspersed with essays about the human cost of war.  Now the categories dealing with religion were harder to quantify as I posted them in several different categories with some articles listed in more than one category. Of these 24 articles dealt with faith, 29 with the Christian life, 49 in the general category of Religion and 53 fit into the rather amorphous category of Philosophy. I also listed 20 in the Pastoral Care section.  Again many of these posts overlapped so depending on the subject an article might be listed under several categories.

I have also more interactive this year with my readers in terms of the comment section and comments listed on my Facebook page for different articles. If you want to subscribe to the site or a single post and its comments feel free to do so and if you want to be a Facebook “friend” just tell me that you read the site when you do the request.

So this year I am posting my top 25 essays of 2010 as I think it gives me and you a better grasp on what people find interesting on this site.  I have also written a little bit of what caused me to write about those subjects.

Music of the 1970s and 1980s topped my list with 3 articles in the top 25 coming it at number 1, 5 and 9

1. I Miss the Music of the 70’s and 80’s I wrote this because I am went to High School and College in the 70s and 80s and like anyone my musical tastes and preferences were set back then. This year the essay which includes a lot of links to music videos has had over 46,000 viewers.

My article about the Rape of Nanking got me some hate mail from Japan

2. “Revisionist” History and the Rape of Nanking 1937 This article grew out of a research paper that I did in one of my classes for my Masters Degree in Military History. I found the subject interesting because I remember some of the Holocaust deniers when I was in college and the fact that people try to expunge the reality of such crimes against humanity is something for which that I have little tolerance. I did get a couple of nasty responses from some Japanese deniers regarding this article. Almost 20,000 people read this article this year.

3. Padre Steve’s World: Top 10 articles of 2009 What can I say? A lot of people, a bit of 13,000 have found my site and other articles through this post.

4. Halloween Book Burning Update: Bring the Marshmallows Please! I wrote this just prior to Halloween of 2009 on a lark. It was fun but serious and deals with a little church near Ashville North Carolina that publicized a book and Bible burning.  About 10,500 folks read this one.

5. More about Why I Miss the Music of the 70’s and 80’s Obviously I wrote this because I didn’t get enough 70s and 80s songs in the first time. Evidently a lot of people like this one as well as about 10,500 folks read it in 2010 and like the first edition it is chocked full of links to music videos.

The Einsatzgrüppen were a key component of Hitler’s racial war in the East

6. The Ideological War: How Hitler’s Racial Theories Influenced German Operations in Poland and Russia This article also came out of a lot of study and thought. I was a history major in college and my concentration area was in modern German History particularly Weimar and the Nazi Era. In the following 28 years or so I have continued to study and I wrote this essay for one of my Masters Degree classes.  About 10,300 people have read this one this year.

7. Reformation Day: How Martin Luther and Hans Kung Brought Me to an Anglo-Catholic Perspective, a Book and Bible Burning Reaches Ludicrous Speed and Yankees take Game Three 8-5 I wrote this during the 2009 World Series and it was kind of a catch all article for that day. The primary focus was Reformation Day and my journey to a Catholic faith.  It also included an update about the previously mentioned book and Bible burning and game three of the 2009 World Series between the Yankees and Phillies. About 7300 people looked at this article since January 1st 2010.

Star Trek is a part of my spiritual journey

8. Star Trek, God and Me 1966 to 2009 This article came out of my spiritual journey and kind of wove my faith with Star Trek.  I grew up with the original series but find Star Trek TNG and DS9 to be my favorites and I loved the new movie.  When I wrote the article back in May of 2009 I was still struggling with faith and in the midst of a spiritual crisis. Even though it is a relatively old article on the site that it had almost 6000 views this year which I attribute to the popularity of Star Trek and not this site or me.

9. Padre Steve’s Favorite Love Songs…Happy Valentine’s Day! Once again I write about music in this post with many love songs from the 1970s and 80s as well as a few from other eras. Close to 6,000 folks have looked at this since I wrote it in February and it too has a lot of music video links.

10. Can Anybody Spare a DIME: A Short Primer on Early Axis Success and How the Allies Won the Second World War This I kind of wrote on the spur of the moment as I was thinking about the concept of the DIME, or the Diplomatic, Intelligence, Military and Economic factors of national power and how it relates to war, in this case World War Two. About 4800 people read this and though it is to me a rather innocuous post it attracted the attention of a Neo-Nazi White Supremacist who didn’t like it.  The guy would bother me a number of other times and even threaten my life on one of my Norfolk Tides Baseball posts.  Such is the danger of putting stuff in public but the Neo-Nazis can pound sand.

11. Oh the Pain…Padre Steve’s Kidney Stone Naming Contest In February I got slammed hard by a nasty 7mm Kidney Stone that lodged at the top of the bladder and would move. I was out of action for over a month and as I waited for my surgery to get the nasty thing out I had a naming contest. So far about 4600 people have read this and I guess that it is one of the more humorous posts on this very painful subject on the internet. By the way I named him Adolf.

12. Background to “The Pacific” Part One: The Guadalcanal Campaign and the Beginning of Joint Operations I had originally written this article for my Master’s Degree program. When the HBO series The Pacific came out I re-wrote it and published it. Almost 4600 people have read this article.

The Landings at D-Day have always been a favorite subject of mine and this article was written in a more reflective moment

13. D-Day- Courage, Sacrifice and Luck, the Costs of War and Reconciliation This article was written in a more reflective moment before the 2009 D-Day anniversary. It has retained its popularity with almost 4500 views this year.

14. 20 Years: The Fall of the Berlin Wall and the End of the Cold War I wrote this around the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Since we lived in Germany where I was a Platoon Leader, Company XO and Company Commander in the Cold War and having travelled to East Berlin in November 1986 I couldn’t help but write about it. We cried when the wall came down and I have had the chance to travel in the former East Germany on a number of occasions since the fall of the wall. A bit over 3700 people have read this article.

The loss of shipmates and friends like Senior Chief Pam Branum played a big role in my writing since I started Padre Steve’s World

15. Turning Points: The Battle of Midway, Randy Johnson Gets his 300th Win and Chief Branum Gets Her Star This was a catch-all article when I wrote it back in June of 2009. I was thinking about the Battle of Midway, celebrating Randy Johnson getting his 300th career victory and remembering a shipmate and friend Senior Chief Petty Officer Pamela Branum who was posthumously promoted at her memorial service.  A bit over 3600 people had read this article.

16. Memorable Recruiting Slogans and the All Volunteer Force This was a fun article because it took me back to the days when I first enlisted in the Army national Guard in 1981.  About 3600 folks viewed this article this year.

17. Operation “Dachs” My First Foray into the Genre “Alternative History” I wrote this originally for my Master’s Degree when I asked permission of a professor to do an alternative history of the Battle of Kursk.  I write it using actual sources but altering one key fact which changes the story. What sets it apart is that I get to kill off Hitler before the battle presuming that the anti-Hitler plotters bomb had gone off in his aircraft as he returned to Germany following his visit to Army Group Center.  Almost 3600 people read this in 2010.

The Battle of Stalingrad

18. The Anniversary of Disaster: Stalingrad 67 Years Later This was an article that I modified from a paper that I wrote for my Master’s degree.  I find I have sympathy for the struggle of common soldiers in hopeless causes, even when they fight in causes and under leaders that are unjust or even evil as the Nazis were. Just over 3000 people read this article this year.

The role of Jackie Robinson and other African American Baseball Players in helping end segregation and give added support to the Civil Rights Movement led by Dr Martin Luther King and others

19. Jackie Robinson and Dr. Martin Luther King they Changed America I find the Civil Rights movement to be one of the most important parts of American history and Jackie Robinson possibly had as much or more impact in the movement as anyone with the exception of Doctor Martin Luther King Junior. I know a number of former Negro League players and I respect their struggle on the diamond and how they helped integrate America.  Almost 3000 people read this article.

20. Laughing to the Music: The Musical Genius of Mel Brooks Mel Brooks is my favorite filmmaker and I probably know almost every song in his films by heart. Most people don’t know that Brooks wrote almost all the music in his films. Just over 2900 folks have read this article which like my other music articles is full of links to videos of Mel Brook’s music.

The Battleships of Pearl Harbor essay focused on what happened to the great ladies of Pearl Harbor like the USS West Virginia above

21. The Battleships of Pearl Harbor This was the first article about the attack on Pearl Harbor. I looked at the Battleships which were present and what happened to each of them. Almost 2900 people took a look at this article which spawned articles about the ships on the far side of Ford Island and one about all the ships present.

22. Padre Steve’s Decade in Review: Up Down Tryin’ to Get the Feeling Again I wrote this on New Year’s Eve day in 2009. It was kind of a fun but serious look at some of the events of the first decade of the new millennium. Almost 2800 folks read this one.

23. Why Johnny Can’t Read Maps: NCAA Tournament Geography for Dummies and a Solution I wrote this as the 2010 NCAA Basketball Tournament began. I just hit tilt on way that the NCAA names the brackets by geographic areas that have no connection with some of the cities in them. Like when is Seattle in the Southeast? Give me a break. Evidently almost 2600 people agree with me.

24. Mortain to Market-Garden: A Study in How Armies Improvise in Rapidly Changing Situations I wrote this originally for my Master’s degree program a few years back. I thought about it more and took another crack at it for the website. Almost 2500 folks took a look a this article this year.

The French in Indochina and Algeria and how we can learn from their experience especially on how such campaigns affect the men that fight them

25. Lessons for the Afghan War: The Effects of Counterinsurgency Warfare on the French Army in Indo-China and Algeria and the United States Military in Vietnam I have studied insurgencies since before I went to Iraq when I started my Master’s Degree in Military History program.  As I studied it I began to buy all the books that I could on the subject and with my Iraq experience still resonating in me, I wrote about how counter-insurgency campaigns affect the Armies and Soldiers that wage them.

So my friends thank you for your support over the past year. I pray that you have a wonderful New Year and hope that you keep stopping by.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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Filed under Loose thoughts and musings

Veterans Day 2010: Counting the Cost of War

“It is well that war is so terrible, or we should get too fond of it.” General Robert E. Lee

Veterans Day had become a rather somber occasion for me over the past decade and since returning from Iraq in 2008 has taken on added personal significance.  I have noticed that I have become much more reflective about the sacrifices made by our military and the terrible coasts of war on our Soldiers, Marines, Sailors, Airmen and their families in this age of the all volunteer military.  The military which has about 2,225,000 members including the Reserves and National Guard is just 0.7% of the total population, the lowest percentage of military personnel compared to total population during any war in our history.  As a result this force has borne the brunt of a war that no politicians or bureaucrats figured would last half as long as it has.  As a result the “few” have been asked to do more for longer than and military that this nation has ever fielded during a war.

Thus for me Veterans Day has become a rather somber and reflective occasion as I ponder all the sacrifices made by our military and their families. In Afghanistan the U.S. Military has lost 1378 killed and our allies another 825.  In Iraq 4427 U.S. Military personnel have died along with 318 allied soldiers, not including the Iraqi military losses.  For each of the killed there are about 8 more wounded a total of over 38,000 wounded.  Of course the wounded numbers do not include 170,000+ cases of hearing damage; 130,000+ cases of mild traumatic brain injuries; and 200,000+ cases of serious mental health problems, over 30,000 serious disease cases, including a disfiguring, parasitic disease called Leishmaniasis, which results from bites of sand flies; thousands of cases of respiratory disease linked to exposure to toxic burn pit smoke and hundreds of suicides.  Then there are the injuries related to road and aviation accidents not in direct combat.  In my recent assignments in Iraq and Naval Medical facilities I have seen the human cost of the war.  I have friends who suffer as the result of Traumatic Brain Injury, PTSD and Pulmonary diseases as well as those that have been wounded as the result enemy action.  I have a dear friend with a rare and irreversible pulmonary condition from two tours in Iraq. He is 41 his lungs are those of a 70 year old man.  My best friend, a senior Naval Officer is still suffering from the effects of TBI and PTSD incurred while serving with the Marines in Al Anbar Province.

My Dad Aviation Storekeeper Chief Carl Dundas aboard USS Hancock CVA-19 off Vietnam circa 1971-72

A year ago on Veterans Day I was at with my parents in Stockton California to visit my mom and my dad who was then in a nursing facility due to the ravages of Alzheimer’s disease.  It was a terrible visit conflict with my mother due to witches’ brew of my PTSD and grief for my dad and my mother’s struggles with my dad’s condition and her own physical condition.  I visited my dad every day when in two and unfortunately he did not know who I was, Alzheimer’s had robbed him of everything that made him my dad.  He died on June 23rd of this year a day after I found out that I had been selected for promotion to Commander.  My dad was a retired Navy Chief Petty Officer who served in Vietnam on a beach detachment manning an emergency airfield in the besieged city of An Loc in 1972.  He never talked about that tour or what happened there except to tell me that he saw the Communists executing civilians in the city from his observation point.  He came home a changed man.  Thankfully he is now out of his suffering and our family is beginning to find its way back from the abyss of his illness.

I have served for over 29 years in the Army and the Navy and have witnessed many things and been blessed to have my life enriched by many veterans.  Unfortunately many of these brave men have since passed away, some having lived many years and others that have died far too young as a result of service connected injuries.

With advisors to the 3rd Bn, 3rd Brigade 7th Iraq Division COP South 2008

In my current work I see many young men that wear the Purple Heart for being wounded in combat. I see those that need assistance to walk, amputees, men with obvious scars from burns and others suffering blindness from their injuries. Our hospital’s Medical Board sees 40-60 Marines and Sailors a day, quite a few of whom that will be medically retired due to their injuries.  There are also those that have died by their own hand suffering from psychological and spiritual injuries too deep to fathom, we had one of our own Corpsman suicide last week.

The cost of war is terrible, as General William Tecumseh Sherman so eloquently put it: “War is Hell.”

Despite this our brave men and women that serve in all branches of the military as well as those that have gone before us in the 235 year history of our military have shouldered the load, for most of that history depending on volunteers who often served in obscurity often derided by their fellow Americans who believed that the military was a place to go if you could not be successful in the civilian world. The pay was low, the duty arduous and benefits few. In the Civil War, the World Wars and up until 1974 the professionals were augmented by draftees who outnumbered the professionals by a huge margin.  Since 1974 the force has been an all volunteer force.

Health and Comfort Board Team USS Hue City, Northern Arabian Gulf May 2002

Regardless of whether our Veterans were draftees or volunteers they have served this country well and on the whole to use the current Navy description are “A Global Force for Good.” The countries liberated from oppressors and helped in humanitarian operations by American Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Airmen are many and varied.  They have represented the spectrum of our society and represent the best the country has to offer.  Unfortunately they have not always been honored by some of their our countrymen and women and sometimes the children and grandchildren of the peoples that they liberated from Nazi, Fascist or Communist oppressors who often use the wrongdoing of a few military personnel or the decisions or actions of American politicians or businessmen to label American military personnel as criminals.

Unfortunately since the military is such a small part of our population and concentrated in a few large bases it is invisible to most Americans as they live their daily lives. Often in isolated from the bulk of America such as Killeen Texas home of the U.S. III Corps and Jacksonville North Carolina the home of the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force and Second Marine Division are quintessential military towns but neither are near major population centers and thus the sacrifice of these Soldiers, Marines and Sailors goes unnoticed by most of the nation.  In a sense the human cost of the war falls inordinately upon these military communities where there are few strangers.

In spite of this the current men and women of the American Military train, deploy, fight and return every day as they have since the 9-11-2001 attacks, many if not most have made multiple combat tours.  I have been pleased to see more support of the military in the media, especially sports media and leagues.  Many businesses are taking time to offer things of value to servicemen and women and those businesses should be commended and patronized.  I was touched by many stories that I saw about our veterans on ESPN over the past few days.  http://www.espnmediazone3.com/us/2010/11/espn%E2%80%99s-weeklong-salute-to-veterans-day/

Many of our Reserve component personnel give up civilian employment and chances for promotion to serve in the military, particularly when they are mobilized for service. When they return home most return to towns and cities that have little of the support afforded to active duty members when they return.  I pray that our political leaders in the future will exercise discernment and wisdom before committing us to another war. Otto Von Bismarck said: “Anyone who has ever looked into the glazed eyes of a soldier dying on the battlefield will think hard before starting a war.” Unfortunately the current members of the House, Senate and Executive branch have little connection to the military as very few have served and I wonder if any really comprehend this maxim.  In the 111th Congress 120 members had some form of military service.  The number of veterans in the 111th Congress reflects the trend of a steady decline in the number of Members who have served in the military. For example, there were 298 veterans (240 Representatives, 58 Senators) in the 96th Congress (1979-1981); and 398 veterans (329Representatives, 69 Senators) in the 91st Congress (1969-1971).  Those who have served a full military career are far fewer; the number of congressmen with military careers will remain relatively constant for the 112th Congress. In the Senate there will be one (as compared with two in 2006 and one in 2008) and in the House there will be eight (as compared with four in 2006 and six in 2008).  Some of these Congressional Veterans have been vilified by some broadcasters and pundits of the extreme right wing media most of whom who have never served in the military.  On the positive side nine members of the new Congress will have served in the current wars which hopefully will help promote the sacrifice of our current Veterans and help with programs that will help returning Veterans.

I have seen the cost of war up close and personal in Iraq and back here in the States. I suffer some the afflictions described as a result of my service and see the young men and women many of whom were not yet born when I enlisted in the Army, or when I was commissioned as an Army Officer, when I was a Company Commander or when I was a senior Captain in the Army. These young men and women are heroes.

Please take a moment to thank a Veteran.  If you have time volunteers are always welcome at organizations such as the USO and American Red Cross working with our troops, join or support organizations which promote the causes of Veterans including the Iraq Afghanistan Veteran’s Association www.iava.org the Veterans of Foreign Wars http://www.vfw.org/, American Legion http://www.legion.org/ , Marine Corps League http://www.mcleague.org/, the Fleet Reserve Association http://www.fra.org/, the Association of the U.S. Army http://www.ausa.org and the Disabled American Veterans http://www.dav.org/. There are also many charitable organizations that provide assistance to Veterans and their families’ one of the best being the Fisher House Foundation http://www.fisherhouse.org/ which provides comfortable and free lodging to the families of wounded, injured or sick military personnel on bases adjacent to military hospitals. I found these ten ways that you can help on Yahoo.com:

1. At 11 a.m., observe a moment of silence for those who’ve fought and died while in service to the country

2. Display an American flag

3. Attend a Veterans Day parade

4. Thank a vet for his/her service

5. Send a letter to troops through the U.S. Department of Defense Website

6. Work in a homeless shelter or soup kitchen

7. Visit a veteran’s grave or pick up trash at a veterans cemetery

8. Visit with the family of a veteran who’s serving overseas

9. Visit with a wounded vet at a local VA facility

10. Donate to the USO, the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars USA or other organizations that honor and assist vets

Keep us all in your prayers and please when Veterans Day is past do not forget those of us that serve and our families, especially those men and women serving in harm’s way.  To my friends and comrades I echo the words of the German commander to his troops in captivity at the end of the Band of Brother’s mini-series:

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

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under iraq,afghanistan, Military, PTSD, shipmates and veterans

Memorial Day Weekend 2010: We Happy Few, We Band of Brothers

On May 27th 2010 the US Military experienced the loss of its 1000th KIA in Afghanistan. The young man killed was Corporal Jacob C Leicht of Kerrville Texas.  Corporal Leicht was assigned to 1st Light Armor Reconnaissance Battalion, 1st Marine Division Camp Pendleton California. Corporal Leicht had previously served in Iraq where he had been badly wounded by an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) that hit the HUMMV that he was traveling in.  Pulled to safety by his Iraqi interpreter Leicht spent the two years recovering from those injuries engaged in a letter and phone call campaign to get back into the fight with his fellow Marines.  He was killed when he stepped on a land mine during that desperately sought after second tour. His younger brother Jesse Leicht who just 10 days ago enlisted in the Marines said “He said he always wanted to die for his country and be remembered, he didn’t want to die having a heart attack or just being an old man. He wanted to die for something.”  Please keep his family and his fellow Marines in your prayers this Memorial Day.

Last year I was very melancholy during Memorial Day and stories of young Marines, Soldiers and Sailors killed in the line of duty usually cause me to reflect on the sacrifice that the young men and women who volunteer to serve our country make on a daily basis while most of the country goes about its business often oblivious to the wars being waged by our sons, daughters, brothers and sisters and mothers and fathers in Afghanistan, Iraq and other lesser known fronts in this war.  Last year I was still very much in the midst of my PTSD crash and struggling with depression and faith.  At the same time I was still remembering all of the veterans who made a difference in my life.  That was covered in the posts Memorial Day 2009- Thoughts and Musings and Remembering the Veterans in My Life…Memorial Day 2009.

As we approach Memorial Day 2010 we must remember that while the war in Iraq is drawing down that the war in Afghanistan is heating up even as U.S. and NATO forces prepare to engage the Taliban in their spiritual home of Khandehar.  Likewise there is are rising tensions on the Korean peninsula where the Heavy Combat Brigade and Air Combat Brigade of the 2nd Infantry Division are based in support of Republic of Korea and UN forces in Korea backed up by Marines of the 3rd Marine Division and 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force in Okinawa and Hawaii that are not currently in Afghanistan. At sea U.S. Navy forces patrol strategic choke points including the Straits of Hormuz where an ascendant Iran continues to build up for forces that could threaten the Freedom of the seas.

How am I different this year? To answer the question I can only say that I have regained some measure of faith and community that had been absent in my life after I returned from Iraq.  This has made a lot of difference however it in no way takes the place of remembering those men and women that I have served with in harm’s way as well as the veterans who made an impact in my life and still do today.

Memorial Day, initially known as Decoration Day is a somber holiday in its truest sense however it is as Paul Reikoff of the Iraq Afghanistan Veterans Association notes is “One Country, Two Holidays.” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/paul-rieckhoff/memorial-day-one-holiday_b_592398.html For those that have served in war going back to our WWII veterans but also those of the not so popular wars, Korea, Vietnam and the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan who have lost friends and sacrificed spending months and even years in combat zones and the work-ups and exercises that part and parcel to deployment.  There are the wounded in body, mind and spirit and those whose physical injuries who have killed them in previous wars but now live in tortured bodies somewhere in between life and death.  Likewise there are those whose injuries are invisible, the injuries of PTSD, TBI and other psychiatric or psychological disorders related to their time in combat.  I spent almost two years in PTSD hell and though I am making a good recovery now still am reminded of the fear, anxiety, depression, hopelessness, loneliness and an existential crisis of faith that came with my return.  I know too many Marines, Soldiers and Sailors that suffer much more than I have whose struggles pass unnoticed by most of society.  I am now working with our Substance Abuse Rehabilitation Program and it is hard to see the young men and women that are in the program whose problems either came in part from their combat experience or their experience upon returning home.  Likewise we are now receiving more of our combat wounded at the medical center and thus I am reminded of the sacrifices made by veterans every day.  For those who work to help these young men and women and in many cases have served alongside them in the combat zones it is a continual reminder of the cost of war.

For those of us that have served, not just in the current conflict but our brothers and sisters that served in previous wars, especially Vietnam and Korea there is one Memorial Day.  While we do attempt to do some things with families and friends the holiday is one of sober reflection as we count the cost of war in human terms, both in our lives as well as our families, the soldiers of our Allies that serve alongside of us and the populations of lands devastated by war.

But then there is another country.  A country consumed with materialism and for whom “heroes” are reality television “stars,” actors and actresses and sports figures.  There are those who while they profess to “support the troops” are the first to want to replace military personnel with contractors such as Halliburton and the company formerly known as “Blackwater” with often disastrous results. Political operatives and lobbyists support paying astronomical sums to corporations that often embarrass the country and make the  job in the military harder in Iraq and Afghanistan having done things that alienate those populations.  Then there is the cost for services delivered and the often terrible way that these corporations treat their employees, especially the third country nationals with working hours and living conditions that would be punishable he in the United States, but also Americans who gain employment but serve driving trucks or other hazardous duties that they have little combat training to do and receive little if the are wounded in action nor for their families if they are killed or disabled. That is part of the “other country.” About 1.8 million Americans have served in Iraq or Afghanistan less than 6/10ths of 1 percent. Unlike World War II where the war was truly a national effort this war is waged by a small minority of the population.

I do not have any problems with people enjoying a holiday but hope and pray that Americans will take at least a few minutes to pay their respects to the Veterans of wars past and present the honored dead as well as the living.  Say a prayer, visit a military or veteran cemetery, and pay a visit on a living vet or the family of one of those killed. Donate to reputable veteran organizations or charities and maybe take a vet out for a bite to eat or buy them a cup of coffee, Coke or a beer.  Don’t let the day pass by simply looking at the faded yellow ribbon “I support the troops” on your car but take a few minutes to thank and remember those that have served our country regardless of race, creed or color and pray that the fallen will rest in peace and the living will recover from all wounds.

Unfortunately for the country the President will not be at the wreath laying ceremony at Arlington Cemetery this year. Unlike some who are vehemently criticizing him I can only say that I am disappointed that the Commander-in-Chief will not be present because of what I feel is the tremendous symbolic importance of his presence at the event when we are at war. At the same time the President’s absence in emblematic of how much of the country “celebrates” Memorial Day.  Unfortunately as the number of men and women who have served our nation in time of war goes down in proportion to the population at large the day will become less significant to many, a curiosity that is quaint and nice but does not impact their lives.  I do not mean this in a bad way or with any malice; it is simply a statement of fact as for most the military and the war is not an everyday part of their lives. I think that the Previous President while understanding the significance of this day did not help the nation when after the September 11th attacks did not marshal the energy of the nation for a war which his administration readily acknowledged would be a “long war” but instead told people to “go shopping” to pump up the economy.  I think that was an act that has limited the personal effect of the human cost of these wars to a very limited segment of the population.

At the same time I as well as most veterans do appreciate the fact that we in the military are treated well by our countrymen even if they do not truly understand what we go through.  I for one am thankful to people who go out of their way to thank us in public places, those that take on hateful groups like the crowd at West Baptist Church that protests outside of military funerals and bases invoking God’s wrath on us.  Likewise there are the volunteers who meet returning servicemen and women at airports as the come home from war, the sports that honor the military before games or as in the case of most of Major and Minor League Baseball in the 7th inning stretch.  At the Church of Baseball, Harbor Park Parish in Norfolk they display the photos of servicemen and women currently serving overseas.  The Raley’s grocery store near my parents’ home in Stockton California has a display of hundreds of 8 x 10 photos of military personnel in the front of their store and a wide range of people and groups try to find ways to help.  This in is stark contrast to the treatment of our brothers and sisters who served in Vietnam and the attitudes and treatment of military personnel on college campuses that lingered far into the 1980s.  Thankfully the vast majority of Americans are appreciative of what we do.  At the same time most are not personally effected and as such will simply see Memorial Day as a three day weekend that kicks off the summer vacation season hardly pausing to think of the cost that has been born to ensure that Americans and people around the world have the opportunity to live in freedom.

Band of Brothers, Above Me and RP2 Nelson Lebron, below Foot Patrol Al Waleed Iraq

This weekend I pause to remember the veterans in my life, my father who remains in a nursing facility with dementia brought about by Alzheimer’s disease, men like my NJROTC instructors Senior Chief John Yarro and Buff Rambo who taught me in our FIST or Fire Support Team, SFC Harry Zilkan and CSM John Butler from my UCLA Army ROTC program and SFC Harry Ball my Drill Instructor in ROTC Advanced Camp. All were Vietnam Vets.  Then there were 1SG Jim Koenig of 557th Medical Company who was my 1st Sergeant when I was a new Lieutenant in Germany and Colonel Donald A Johnson the Commander of the 68th Medical Group and his successor Colonel Jim Truscott a high decorated Medevac or “Dustoff” helicopter pilot.  I cannot forget Chaplain (LTC) Rich Whaley a company commander in Vietnam who saved my ass as an aspiring Chaplain at the Chaplain School in 1990 and 1992.

Then there were the WWII and Vietnam Vets in my Chapel at Fort Indiantown Gap PA. USAF Major General Frank Smoker a B-17 pilot, Colonel Walt Swank who served at Normandy and SSG Henry Boyd one of the 101st Airborne Troopers epitomized by “Band of Brothers.” There were the Vietnam Vets in the congregation, Colonel Ray Hawthorne an artillery officer who served several tours in country including an advisor tour.  Charlie Kosko a helicopter pilot and Major Scotty Jenkes who served as a USAF pilot flying close air support in Vietnam.  Then there was Colonel Tom Allmon the Garrison Commander who served in the Gulf War as well as Iraq.

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 Charlie who used man the beer stand behind the plate at Harbor Park until health issues kept them from continuing all mean a lot to me.  Likewise my friends at Marine Security Forces Colonel Mike Paulovich and Sergeant Major Kim Davis both Iraq Vets 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.

There are those that I served with at Navy EOD Group II that performed amazing feats in Iraq and Afghanistan and retired Command Master Chief Bill “Two Feathers” Tyrell an EOD tech that I came to know well working family issues and PTSD issues for our EOD sailors.  Bill was a tremendous help as I struggled with PTSD.  Likewise there are my shipmates and friends from the USS HUE CITY that I served with deployed to the Northern Arabian Gulf and Horn of Africa in 2002 including the men of the boarding team that I served as an advisor to on 75 boarding missions aboard impounded Iraqi Oil Smugglers.  Then there are the men that I served with in Iraq especially my assistant and body guard RP2 Nelson Lebron who is getting ready for his 10th deployment this time another trip to Afghanistan.  There are my friends that served in various locations with the Iraqi security forces that I was able to travel to, serve alongside and serve as a chaplain in remote areas of Iraq with the Iraqis. In my current assignment I have had many friends and colleagues deploy to Iraq and Afghanistan in some very “hot” zones caring for our wounded as well as local nationals and allied soldiers.  This is not stopping anytime soon.

These are my brothers and sisters and I remember all of them with fondness.  My thoughts are much the same as Henry V at Agincourt as depicted in Shakespeare’s Henry V:

What’s he that wishes so?
My cousin Westmoreland? No, my fair cousin;
If we are mark’d to die, we are enow
To do our country loss; and if to live,
The fewer men, the greater share of honour.
God’s will! I pray thee, wish not one man more.
By Jove, I am not covetous for gold,
Nor care I who doth feed upon my cost;
It yearns me not if men my garments wear;
Such outward things dwell not in my desires.
But if it be a sin to covet honour,
I am the most offending soul alive.
No, faith, my coz, wish not a man from England.
God’s peace! I would not lose so great an honour
As one man more methinks would share from me
For the best hope I have. O, do not wish one more!
Rather proclaim it, Westmoreland, through my host,
That he which hath no stomach to this fight,
Let him depart; his passport shall be made,
And crowns for convoy put into his purse;
We would not die in that man’s company
That fears his fellowship to die with us.
This day is call’d the feast of Crispian.
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam’d,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say ‘To-morrow is Saint Crispian.’
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
And say ‘These wounds I had on Crispian’s day.’
Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
But he’ll remember, with advantages,
What feats he did that day. Then shall our names,
Familiar in his mouth as household words-
Harry the King, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester-
Be in their flowing cups freshly rememb’red.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be remembered-
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.

See the Kenneth Branagh’s rendition here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NA3gOST4Pc8&feature=player_embedded

With crucial battles ahead in Afghanistan against the Taliban, the storm clouds of war gathering over Korea and the threat of terrorism and attacks around the world and at home it is indeed a dangerous world that our Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, Airmen and Coastguardsmen serve in.  Never before in our country have so many owed so much to so few.   Unfortunately there are those of us, men and women that have served our country from before Pearl Harbor to the present who who struggle and will spend this day alone and uncared for in isolation, anonymous to nearly everyone. Please, if you see such a man or woman do not let the opportunity pass to thank them and if need be do something to encourage or thank them for their service. Please remember and thank a Veteran this weekend and if somehow the spirit moves you to do more and you are capable of serving and join this new “Band of Brothers” please see a recruiter.  It is a noble profession that we, we happy few are proud to serve despite the cost.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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