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Persistence: My Motto

Persistence by Calvin Coolidge

“Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence. 

Talent will not;  Nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. 

Genius will not;  Unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. 

Education will not; The world is full of educated derelicts. 

Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. 

The slogan ‘Press On’ has solved  and always will solve the problems of the human race.”

If there is anything that I find is true about me it is that I am a persistent person. The motto on the family crest is the French word Esseyez, or in English, “try.” Somehow I can see the chieftain of the clan lining everyone up behind William Wallace, who by the way was executed on this day in 1300 inspiring his troops saying, “just try for once.” My parents used to say “quitters never win and winners never quit.”  I have been inspired by great naval Captains like John Paul Jones who when asked if he had surrendered replied “I have not yet begun to fight” and James Lawrence who when mortally wounded gave his crew the order “Don’t give up the ship.” I am inspired by the words of the legendary manager of the Baltimore Orioles Earl Weaver who said “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.”

I love this poem by Calvin Coolidge. In fact I have a small framed copy of it presented by my residency director at Parkland Memorial Hospital in 1994 on my desk today.

I have never been the smartest, fastest, strongest, talented or educated dog in the pack.    I just work hard and don’t quit. I love the journeyman that one finds in baseball. I admire the utility player who can play a lot of different positions, plug holes and fit in well on the team. The same for the pitchers pitchers that pitch in middle relief or are the 5th starter in the rotation. I like the guys that gut it out and hang around long after others have written them off.

I have been having to go through and recount the really significant parts of my life as I get ready for the EMDR and Biofeedback therapy for my PTSD. It has been really amazing to see a couple of threads that are prominent in the tapestry of my life and without which I would not be me. The things that keep coming up again and again are a dogged persistence to succeed and unwillingness to quit and profound dislike of bullies.

My Clinical Pastoral Education residency which followed a brutal seminary process was one of the most pivotal parts of my life. My CPE Supervisor was a man named Steve Ivy. CPE is one of the best training in that anyone working with people in churches, hospitals or the military can have. For me it helped me see areas that I was blind to in my life. It helped me become a better listener and more accepting of others. But even more it helped me, and still helps me integrate me theology and philosophy into life.  Dr Ivy made a comment that was one of the most instrumental in my life since I heard it. That is that I can write my future that I do not have to be condemned to perpetually repeating the past or being stuck in place or being a victim of circumstances or others. It was a revelation of a positive humanity and the grace of God.

But even before that I was a fighter. In seminary when everything that one could imagine to go wrong did and pastors, and people at ministries told me that I should reconsider my call or quit. In the fall of 1989 when everything had gone to complete shit in our lives, Judy was sick, we had lost our home, cars and were living in a horrible house in a horrible neighborhood of Fort Worth, I was working two jobs and was in the National Guard, was a full time student and it looked like my time in seminary was over and that I had failed I called a TV ministry prayer line. I told my story to the prayer partner who told me that I couldn’t be called to ministry because if I was “God would be blessing me.” Somehow that hit me wrong. I just couldn’t imagine Jesus telling anyone that, nor could I reconcile it with Scripture or Church History.

I got mad and kept working despite everything going to hell managed to hang in long enough for things to work out. I didn’t do it all myself because a lot of people came alongside when they saw that I was in this for the long haul and would not quit. I graduated from seminary in 1992 with a 3.5 or 3.7 GPA, I can’t remember which and am not looking at a transcript while working more than full time and being in the National Guard. I worked my ass off and between good people and the grace of God made it through.

That continued after seminary when I was a late addition to the residency program at Parkland, when I got my first hospital chaplain job and when I was rebuffed by a senior chaplain in the Army Chief of Chaplains to return to active duty as a very young Army Reserve Major in 1997. He told me that I wasn’t good enough to bring back.

But despite that things continued to work out. I was helped along the way by great people. I had opportunities that opened up which gave me great experience and provided for my family. This culminated when I was selected for active duty in the Navy and resigned my Army commission to go in the Navy Chaplain Corps at a lower rank in February 1999.

There have been hard times in the Navy especially after my return from Iraq. I went through an emotional and spiritual crisis that I never imagined was possible, but I  I didn’t quit. I am an average guy who worked hard and got a lot of help along the way. But had I quit at any point I wouldn’t be where I am now and there were plenty of opportunities when I was ready to give up but held on just long enough to make it through.

Calvin Coolidge was so right. I am not the most talented person that I know in my field. I am not a genius and though I have a good education there are plenty of other people that know a lot more than me. However, I am persistent. I gain inspiration every day when I look on my desk and read that poem. I am thankful for grace of God and the people that God put in my life and who helped me during the tough times. I hope that I can always be the kind of person that helps people through their tough times and inspires them to keep trying, to keep working and never to quit and then pass that along to others.

The past few weeks have been a blessing because I have had to look back at my life and remember what got me to this point. Some of the memories have been difficult to think about because they were so difficult but at the end of the day I can count myself blessed.

Have a great night and don’t give up your dreams and always stay in the fight.

Peace and Blessings!

Padre Steve+

 

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The Oath: Reflections on the Oath of Office and 30 Years of Service

It was a hot and smoggy summer day in Van Nuys California when drove into the parking lot of the old Armory on Van Nuys Boulevard in my 1975 yellow Chevy Monza with a black vinyl top.  It was August 25th 1981.  That night the San Francisco Giants defeated the St. Louis Cardinals by a score of 4-2 and the Baltimore Orioles defeated the Seattle Mariners 6-5 in 12 innings.  In less important news the Voyager II space craft reached its lowest orbit around Saturn.

Getting out of the car I walked into the offices of the Headquarters, 3rd Battalion 144th Field Artillery of the California Army National Guard.  I had in my sweaty hands the paperwork from the Army ROTC detachment at UCLA the “Bruin Battalion” accepting me into the program and allowing me to enlist simultaneously in the National Guard.

I was met by the Headquarters Battery Commander, Captain Jeff Kramer who after my commissioning would allow me to borrow his sword and sword belt to wear at my wedding with my Dress Blue Uniform.  Jeff finished his career as a full Colonel.  He took me to Major Charles Armagost the battalion S-1 who rapidly had a clerk type up my enlistment papers and administered the oath of enlistment below:

I, Padre Steve (I wasn’t one then but it sounds good) do solemnly swear (I don’t affirm because it’s namby pamby) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States and the State of California against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States (Ronald Reagan) and the Governor of California (Jerry Brown)  and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to law and regulations. So help me God.

That was the beginning.  I was taken to the supply sergeant who ordered my uniforms which came as a surprise since I had been issued a set by the ROTC detachment.  Of course the ROTC ones were the green permanent press fatigues which I loved and the Guard ordered the then new BDUs which some Navy units still wear. The Army, Marine Corps, Air Force and parts of the Navy having replaced them over the past decade.  My first drill was when the Battalion went to Fort Irwin for a long weekend in early September; I was on the advanced party and was assigned to drive a M151A1 “Jeep” in the convoy from Van Nuys to Fort Irwin.

Renewing the Oath on my Promotion to Lieutenant Commander 2006

In June of 1983 I was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant and I took a different oath, an oath of office versus enlistment, I would repeat it again in February 1999 when I was commissioned in the Navy and renew it in 2006 upon my promotion to Lieutenant Commander.

I, Padre Steve, do solemnly swear (again I don’t affirm, namby pamby) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.

Since I swore the oath the first time I have served in the Army and Navy, in the Army National Guard of California, Texas and Virginia and the Army Reserves. I have spent about six years assigned to the Marines in my capacity as a Navy Chaplain.  I have served in Europe, Asia and the Middle East, at sea and ashore in war and peace.  I have served as a Company Commander and a Staff Officer before becoming a Chaplain and there is no greater honor than to serve this country.

Iraq 2007

It is hard to believe that it has been 30 years.  I do take the oath of office quite seriously especially the part about defending the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic.  Since I have served 30 years I have served five Presidents and seen Congress make some fairy wild changes of direction.  That is the thing about our republic our officers do not make their oath to the President or even the majority party in the House of Representatives or the Senate. National Guard Officers also swear an oath to the Constitution of the State in which they serve but their commissions are cognizant on their Federal recognition and thus they like all other officers are sworn to support and defend the Constitution of the United States above all.

This is a good thing as I have not completely agreed with the actions or policies of each President and Congress that I have served. While I have deeply held political views they have never kept me from serving under administrations that I have disagreed with on major policies.  Officers may have strong political views but those must always be subordinated to our oath to support and defend the Constitution.  General Winfield Scott Hancock said “We are serving one country and not one man.” Hancock was a states rights Democrat who remained in the Union because he did not believe that secession was legal.  He had no political friends in Washington and he served valiantly during and after the war.  When asked about his opinion on what to do when their home state of Virginia seceded from the Union by his friends and fellow officers George Pickett, Lo Armistead and Dick Garnett before the war in California he said “I shall not fight upon the principle of state-rights, but for the Union, whole and undivided.”

This is not the case in much of the world. Many militaries swear allegiance to the ruler, the state, ruling political party or the majority religion.  The officers in many Moslem nations combine their oath with the Bya’ah which includes a personal oath to the King or Sheik and the Islamic statement of faith.

The British military swears an oath to the Queen and her successors:

“I ( name), swear by Almighty God that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, her heirs and successors and that I will as in duty bound honestly and faithfully defend Her Majesty, her heirs and successors in person, crown and dignity against all enemies and will observe and obey all orders of Her Majesty, her heirs and successors and of the generals and officers set over me.”

The Red Army of the Soviet Union swore an oath to “to protect with all his strength the property of the Army and the People and to cherish unto death his People, the Soviet homeland and the government of Workers and Peasants, also to respond at the first call from the government of Workers and Peasants to defend the homeland, the USSR.”

Germany has had a rather perilous history with oaths sworn by the military.  The Imperial Army swore an oath to the Kaiser but when the Kaiser abdicated and the Weimar Constitution was ratified German Officers and Soldiers took this oath: “I swear loyalty to the Reich’s constitution and pledge, that I as a courageous soldier always want to protect the German Nation and its legal institutions, (and) be obedient to the Reichspräsident and to my superiors.”  The history of the Republic shows that many officers and soldiers, especially those that had served under the Kaiser resented this oath.  In 1933 Hitler changed the oath to this  “I swear by God this sacred oath, that I will render unconditional obedience to Adolf Hitler, the Fuehrer of the German Reich and people, Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, and will be ready as a brave soldier to risk my life at any time for this oath.” The current German military oath states: “I swear to serve loyally the Federal Republic of Germany and to defend bravely the right and the freedom of the German people. So help me God.”

All oaths hold potential dangers but those of theUnited States military officer corps is perhaps the best thought out oath in the world.  The oath is to the Constitution, not a person, political party or religion.  The efficacy of the oath is based on the honor of those that swear to uphold it.  In times of national turmoil it is important for officers and enlisted personnel to ensure that remember that fact.

When a nation is as badly divided as we are at this point in our history there will be divergent views regarding political beliefs in the officer corps.  This has happened before but only one time did it fracture the military and that was during the Civil War.  Many Southern officers in Federal service resigned their commissions and entered the service of their home states as did a number from the North who had family or marriage connections to Southerners.  Those that did so believed that they had a higher allegiance to their states and viewed the Federal government as an oppressor.

My family came from Cabell County Virginia in the far west of the state.  It was one of six Virginia counties to vote to remain in the Union. My family opposed this and sided with the Confederacy.  They owned slaves and sided with their self interests over their neighbors.  I find the talk of secession by some politicians today repulsive and hateful and those that even suggest it should be shunned by every American.

But there were Southern Officers that remained loyal to the Union; the most prominent of which was General George Thomas. Thomas was a highly successful commander who remained in the Army despite having his friends and superiors in the Second U.S. Cavalry Regiment including Albert Sidney Johnston and Robert E. Lee.  He struggled with his decision but kept his oath.  His family was outraged by this and turned his picture against the wall, destroyed his letters, and never spoke to him again.  They also refused his financial help after the war.  He was pro-emancipation and commanded some of the first Black Regiments in battle during the Western campaigns.  Thomas is emblematic of the cost that one can endure in remaining true to his oath.

Politicians, pundits and preachers from both parties will always attempt to peel military personnel, especially officers away from their oath to the Constitution in order to appear strong on defense, more patriotic or ingratiate themselves to them during a time of war.  This is nothing new, George Thomas noticed it after the Civil War and said “I am also afraid that the military arm is becoming more or less infected with politics; let us by all means keep that branch of the public service free from the taint of intrigue and party strife.”

Yes we have problems I this nation, but they are not insurmountable.  A strong and able military that keeps its oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United Statesis necessary to that end; it cannot allow itself to be drawn away from that no matter what our individual political beliefs.  General Winfield Scott Hancock said “The time under our System of Government, when an army becomes political in its character … is about the end of its career.”

I’m proud that I will have a chance to renew that Oath of Office when I am promoted to Commander in the Navy on Thursday.  Technically there is no legal requirement to do this as an officer in continuous service as the promotion is only cognizant on me accepting it and signing the letter of acceptance.  However I do think it important that I renew it publicly to remind me that I serve the people of this country in a time of war and not any political party.

A dear friend, Retired Marine Corps Colonel and former commanding officer will do the honors for me behind home plate at Harbor Park in Norfolk before the Norfolk Tides play the Gwinnett Braves.  We went through many difficult times together and I cannot imagine having anyone else stand with me in reaffirming this sacred oath.

As for the place of the Oath, I could have chosen from several but the Tides and baseball mean a lot to me, after Iraq Harbor Park was one of the few places that I found peace.  When the season ended the team management allowed me to visit and walk the concourse in the off season.  I can’t think of a more fitting place to renew the Oath.

I pray that I will be faithful to the oath and the people that I serve in the coming years.  It is an honor to still remain in the service of this country.  I have served five Presidents and quite possibly will serve under another before I finally end my service. That is a testament to our political system, there have been no purges of the military like in many other nations and the military is not a king maker.  We can be immensely thankful for that.

Those serving in the military come from every walk of life as well as political and religious beliefs.  What sets us apart is that we serve in harm’s way and look out for each other regardless of those beliefs even when they conflict.  I think the rest of the country could learn a lesson from us.

So long as we remain people of good will and commit ourselves to placing the interests of the nation above our own we shall do well.  That is the essence of the Officer’s Oath of Office.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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A Navy Brat Grows Up…Sort of

NJROTC USS Gray 1978Edison NJROTC on USS Gray FF-1054

I grew up in a Navy family. I was born in a Navy hospital, and my brother was baptized in a Navy Chapel. I went to 6 elementary schools in three states in 6 years. As a result I learned to adapt to change, make friends and at an early age, move on when we moved to our next duty station. I have to admit I rather enjoyed the life.  I think that Navy Brats and other military brats either love it or hate it.  I haven’t seen a lot of in-between reactions; those that love it seem to keep coming back for more.  That was me.

We grew up in the anti-military maelstrom of the 1960s and 1970s. A Sunday school teacher told me that my dad was a baby killer when he was in Vietnam.  It was a Roman Catholic Navy Chaplain that helped me keep some faith in God, and it is to him I owe my vocation as a priest and chaplain.

constitution-poster-lgThis Recruiting Poster was My Favorite

When Dad retired from the Navy I was not happy because I wasn’t ready for the adventure to end. I liked the new places, people and travel. Dad was really good about making sure that we got to experience something unique everywhere we went, from Corregidor in the Philippines, the outdoor life of the Puget Sound, Major League Baseball in California, and Hockey. Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm were regular attractions in Southern California. From Dad, presents from the Far East including a 10 speed bike and a pachinko machine for me.  When we visited dad at work in the squadrons or ships that he served on I was in awe.  The summer of 2008 I made a trip to Charleston South Carolina and went aboard the USS Yorktown (CV-10, CVS-11), a sister ship of dad’s last ship the USS Hancock (CV-19, CVA-19).  The trip came a few months after my return from Iraq and as I went aboard my mind was taken back to visits to the Hancock and the wonder I had waling up the brow and through the hangar deck as 11 to 14 year old.  After Yorktown I went to the USS Laffey a Allen M Sumner class destroyer.  On the Laffey there was a display of a DASH helicopter.  The DASH program was way ahead of its time; it was a drone anti-submarine helicopter that could be flown off of smaller ships with small flight decks such as the modernized WWII era destroyers.  My dad worked a number of years in that program.  It was a primitive rotary wing UAV.  It is amazing how memories come back when you see, touch and smell old ships.

hancockUSS Hancock CVA-19, my dad’s last ship

They were good times. We took trips across country by train to visit family in the days before Amtrak, riding every major route from the West Coast to Chicago, the Great Northern-Burlington Northern “Empire Builder,” the Western Pacific “Zephyr” Southern Pacific “Daylight”, Santa Fe “Super Chief” and “El Capitan.” As we were coming home from the Philippines on a Military Transport ship, the USS John C Breckenridge, we were allowed to explore the ship and for the first time I got a sense of the sea.  Something about that voyage caused me to love the sea and ships. Growing up we were allowed to take risks, we had the chance to succeed, but also to learn about life by occasionally failing.  When dad was deployed mom took on the burden of caring for us.  That was difficult for her, but she did well.  The Navy wife and mother actually is a harder job than the deployed sailor.

NAS ChapelChapel at Whidbey Island Naval Air Station where My Brother was Baptized

There is something about being a Navy “brat.” I have been blessed to see our best friends’ boys, Jack and Alex grow up. We’ve known them since they were 4 and 8, respectively and now they are 17 and 13, or something like that. They have great senses of humor and are great to be around. Like me, the life of being a Navy brat is all they know. My first memories of being a Navy brat begin with living in the Philippines. Their dad’s first Navy assignment was in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Jack may remember life before the Navy, but Alex is too young to remember anything but the Navy.

Deception Pass BridgeDecption Pass Bridge

My life has remained closely tied to the military. After dad retired I did three years of Navy Junior ROTC in High School getting to travel up and down the West Coast and to Hawaii aboard 6 different ships for about 70 days at sea. My parents hoped beyond hope that I would settle down, but I was not deterred. I joined the Army National Guard just prior to entering the UCLA Army ROTC program. I didn’t do the Navy because my fiancée, now my wife Judy, said that she would not marry me if I joined the Navy. Her oldest sister’s husband was on a ship during Viet Nam and was never home. Judy witnessed the pain and hardship her sister went through, and then a couple of decades later, her other sister married navy men while she herself was in the Navy.

Our Old House 186 Queets StOur Old House in Oak Harbor 37 years later

So I spent 17 and a half years in the active Army, National Guard and Reserves before finally getting the chance to come in the Navy in February 1999, as I turned in my gold Army Major’s oak leaf for the twin bars of a Navy Lieutenant. Judy wasn’t happy at first, because she had been looking forward to me retiring from the Army Reserve so we would no longer have so many separations. Judy was also less than thrilled because remembering her words about the Navy when we were dating, I didn’t consult her. I just signed on the dotted line. It took her a while to come to terms with this decision. I’ve also learned not to make major decisions without consulting her.  Oh well…It has all been good, she is the love of my life, and somehow she has survived 26 years of marriage with me.  Since I can be a bit of a pain in the ass this has been no easy feat for her.

My brother Jeff was born in 1966 too late for so of the adventurous tours, but not too late to see dad deployed or away from home a pretty good amount of his life.  I’m pretty sure that Jeff was pretty happy that dad retired.  As a little kid from the time he could remember anything dad was gone close to half of his life.  At the same time with dad away I grew to be pretty independent.  So when dad came back I was doing my own thing and my brother was growing into the time when he and dad would become close as I moved away.  Strange how that happens… he needed a place to be home and he has found it in the town that my dad retired from the Navy back in 1974.  I needed to explore and haven’t stopped exploring.  In a sense I love what I do so much that I am like a little kid about it.

FWU Crete 2002Underway on USS HUE CITY: The Navy Brat all Grown up but not

I now serve at Portsmouth Naval Medical Center. Often in the ICU I have patients who are about my parents’ age facing major health crises and sometimes end of life issues. Their kids are often my contemporaries. We have shared a similar life and cultural experience as Navy “Brats” of our era. It is interesting to compare what we have been through, the places we have been, what we have seen and done and how life was a Navy brat.  There is a kinship that I have with these families that transcends the here and now, something almost mystical that binds Navy families together. I have no idea when this grand adventure will end, but one thing is for sure, and for this I will always be grateful, to be a Navy Brat.

Peace, Steve+

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Padre Steve’s Highs and Lows of 28 Years Service

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

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

On to the Post:

Soldier Once and YoungEnlisted in National Guard 1982

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

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

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

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

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

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

2LT Dundas 1983Look Mom One Ribbon

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

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

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

557th comany command 1985Company Commander

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

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

Berlin WallBerlin Wall 1986

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

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

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

New MajorNew Major December 1995

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

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

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

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

Boarding partyBoarding Party 2002

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

Belleau woodBelleau Wood France 2004

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

My Tom Clancy lookIraq 2008

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

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

Peace,  Steve+

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

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

anniverary 200926 Years Together: At Murphy’s of DC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace and blessings,

Steve+

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