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Living in the Bizzaro Post Osama Bin Laden World: Another Denny Crane Moment for Padre Steve

Note to readers: Another of my Denny Crane moments which seem to be coming more likely, must be the Mad Cow

“Why don’t you knock it off with them negative waves? Why don’t you dig how beautiful it is out here? Why don’t you say something righteous and hopeful for a change?” Oddball -Kelly’s Heroes

I love that quote and everyone in this country needs to see the truth of it.

I think that I have stepped into the Bizzaro World.  For the first time in a nearly ten year old war we get a real victory. Will killed the SOB who started it by killing thousands of our people. We do it the old fashioned mano on mano, look him in the eyes way and had Navy SEALS double tap him. We minimize the collateral damage by not plastering the place with bombs killing lots of other people. The President and the National Security team kept the plan a secret for months with no leaks that could have jeopardized Bin Laden’s elimination.  Likewise the uncompromised raid secured major intelligence bonanza including laptops, hard drives, cell phones and documents that probably have more raw and up to date intelligence from the source than we ever have had which likely lead to major victories against Bin Laden’s fellow Al Qaeda leaders and their organization, finances and maybe even their contacts with other nations intelligence services.  Such information will make it a far easier task to take the Al Qaeda organization apart at the seams. This is a victory that combined with pro-democracy revolutions across the Arab World could very well make the Middle East and the world a far safer place. There are dangers out there but this is something to celebrate so why can’t we be happy? I know that some people are but as a nation we are not a happy bunch.

We have been through two terribly long was that have cost of thousands of dead and tens of thousands wounded.  The military aspects of the wars alone have cost the nation well over a trillion dollars not counting the other economic costs. The 9-11 attacks created a massive wound on the American psyche which has been aggravated by our losses in the wars and the failure to kill or capture Bin Laden. We have given up a significant number of civil liberties in the name of security.  The collective impact of these events compounded by the embarrassment of Abu Ghraib and the “Afghanistan “Kill Team” episodes the escapades of contractors like Blackwater and Kellogg Brown and Root- Halliburton have stained our conscience. Coupled with our massive economic problems and poisoned political climate these wars and losses have beaten us down.

Rather than be happy that we finally got one in the “win column” we have become so used to losing that we have forgotten that it is okay to win once in a while.  Instead of thanking God that Osama Bin Laden is bottom feeder food in the Arabian Sea and is now rehearsing for the 2011 South Park “Christmas Time in Hell” musical joining Saddam Hussein and Hitler as they use their asbestos water skis on the Lake of Fire we are all glum or pissed off. Some are wringing their hands because Bin Laden was unarmed and didn’t have a lot of security around him and that in the heat of the moment the SEALS double tapped his sorry ass.  What the hell? Did they want a firefight that would have gotten a bunch of SEALS killed? Was it fair that he was unarmed but reaching for a gun when we capped his ass? But then was it fair to the 3000 people killed in the Twin Towers when Bin Laden directed the attack on those unarmed people?

Then there are people questioning the legality of the action. Sorry Bin Laden was a man that never stopped plotting the deaths of innocent people to the end of his days. While it might have been interesting to put him on trial you can be assured that some would have provided millions if not billions of dollars for his defense and that the proceedings would have dragged on at least a decade and that his allies would have gained inspiration from his incarceration just as they will his death.  Those who question the fact that a SEAL shot him when he was unarmed does not understand the inherent danger in the action and split second decision making that went into that courageous man’s decision to kill Bin Laden.  Legally Bin Laden as a terrorist was accorded no protections under the Geneva Conventions.

Then there are the Christian objectors, those on the left that say he should have been captured and put on trial.  Some Evangelicals that really don’t care that he was killed but don’t think that Christians should be happy about it or rejoice in his death.  But I remember some of these same people smugly saying that the 9-11 attacks were “God’s judgment on the United States.”  I’m sorry but many supposedly conservative Christians are schizophrenic on being pro life. Kill the unborn it’s murder. Kill a man convicted in a state court in the United States on the basis of circumstantial evidence is okay, especially if you are from Texas where I think it’s popularity is slightly below football and NASCAR.  Have a terrorist kill 3000 of your countrymen, well God must be pissed at us but kill the man responsible for those deaths and be happy he’s dead?  Nope can’t do that we should be sad that he died without knowing the Lord. Yes it is a sad that anyone would die without knowing the Lord but this man had no desire to convert to Christianity or anything else. He was convinced of his rightness and he made no move to surrender to U.S. or Saudi authorities for nearly 20 years and still didn’t in his final moments.  He made his bed beneath the sea.  I personally think this is simply people that need to be morally superior to others spouting their opinions rather than people that are inconsistent in their application of their faith and ethics to a wide variety of issues.

Now the politicians are making political hay over this.  Some Liberals are pissed that Obama actually had the balls to order the strike.  Some Conservatives are pissed that Obama succeeded in doing something that Bush couldn’t do and that he didn’t give Bush any credit. But it serves me well that Bush never gave Clinton any credit for keeping the pressure on Saddam Hussein and keeping him from really building up his forces after the Gulf War using no-fly zones, the UN oil embargo/blockade of Iraq and selective military strikes to keep Saddam in check.  So this is all politics as usual and once again it is detrimental to the county and makes light of the sacrifices of all that have fallen in these wars and the bravery of the SEALS that killed Bin Laden.

This really is a Bizzaro world.  When Hitler died this country got happy and that happiness spanned the political, philosophical and religious divides in the country. We celebrated Hitler’s death and the destruction of his murderous regime.  Back then we actually understood the importance of such events and didn’t wring our hands and shed faux tears when evil men perished.  But now after nearly 10 years of war and thousands of causalities we get the perfidious bastard that started this and our collective jock straps and panties are in a wad. I don’t get it. The reason that we went to war is dead and we have information that probably will decimate what is left of his network and we can’t be happy.  This is bizarre and I wish that people would stop with all the negative waves.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under faith, Foreign Policy, History, iraq,afghanistan, middle east, Military, national security, philosophy, Political Commentary

The Disdain of American Business for Military Personnel and their Benefits

“What are you going to trade off — a rich entitlements program, or boots and bullets for the troops?” Richard Spencer Defense Business Review Board (quoted in the Navy Times 2 May 2011 print and internet edition)

The Federal Government is looking for ways to slash funding any way that it can. In light of the seriousness of the nation’s financial crisis previously sacrosanct areas are probably going to be cut.  Military pay and pension portion of the Defense Department budget continues to increase. For the active force due to inflation and medical care costs are the culprits and due to the fact that the pesky retirees just aren’t dying off fast enough.  Obviously something needs to be done otherwise we won’t be able to afford the “bullets” or rather the weapons systems that we use to fight our wars with.

But for a man who has made his money on Wall Street using other people’s money including government bailouts every time our financial, banking and real estate industries due their best to destroy the economy to call military retirement a “rich entitlements program” is simply obscene. If there is anything that has broken the back of the military budgets it is a series of wars that won’t end that somehow make contractors and defense industries rich.  Every day they find new ways to overbill the military for weapons systems that they cannot field on time, or are such money pits that the Defense Department tries to cancel them while our fiscally minded Congress makes the military buy them anyway.

Billions of dollars have been paid to defense contractors that employ a wide scope of companies many foreign owned to provide basic services at overseas bases such as food, transportation and even security supposedly because they can do it more efficiently than the military. The truth is that over the past 20 years the military personnel that would have performed these missions were cut from the force so much so that when we went into Iraq we didn’t have the forces to do all that was needed. Yes we could slap the snot out of the Iraqi or any other military that got in our way but we couldn’t sustain the force without employing and enriching companies like Halliburton, Kellogg Brown and Root (KBR) and dare I say Blackwater.  Additionally our defense contractors have ensured that nearly major weapons system produced in the past 20 years is plagued with problems and cannot be produced on time, are horribly over budget and due to their cost cannot be produced in the numbers needed by the military.  Then there are some projects that are so Rube Goldbergish that the technology needed to make them work isn’t attainable so compromises are made just to keep the programs alive.  Money is spent and weapons are produced that never meet the hype of their supporters in Congress, the defense industries and the army of lobbyists which I think number more than the actual Army. Then there are the weapons systems that are not only money pits but also never are deployed.  Congress and successive Presidential Administrations have made these countries wealthy while killing the defense budget and adding to the massive Federal Debt, which before the wars was actually shrinking, God bless you Bill Clinton.

But now we have a crisis and it is not the corporate welfare queens of the defense industry or the contracting vampires like Halliburton who will feel the pinch it is those who serve.  Yes my friends rather than these blood suckers it is the Soldier, Sailor, Marine or Airman who since 1990 have been deployed who if more that any generation of our military for a great length of time than any force in the history of our country. Count the places Panama, Desert Storm, Lebanon, Somalia, Haiti, Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia, Kosovo just to name a few. Then through in things like Operation Southern Watch, no-fly zones, humanitarian missions around the world that we have conducted over the same period.  By the way since these things are expensive and there is not enough money we are told to “work smarter not harder” and “leverage our synergies” so we can cut the force and still do the mission.  We look where that got us. We decided the get involved in massive ground combat operations without the manpower to do them effectively resulting in longer campaigns costing more lives and more money that the wise “smarter synergy” people ever estimated.

And now we have one of these barons of modern American-Global Capitalism which if I can remind you are the same people that have created the financial crises that enveloped the world that had to be bailed out by the taxpayer.  By the way most of these barons of business received exorbitant and obscene bonuses sometimes with the taxpayer’s bail-out money, the very people who brought the house financial house down now call military retirement a “rich entitlements program” while embracing tax cuts for themselves.

Well doesn’t that beat all? Is there anyone but me that has a problem with this? But let’s look at some facts.

Let’s see.  If someone retires at 20 years they get 50% of their high-three or basically the average of their last three years pay, not 50% of their highest pay but the last three years of pay. That was changed back in the late 1970s to save money by pretending to say that you got 50% of your base pay but really a bit less. If you serve 30 years you get 75% of you high three, of course by then you better be set for retirement because most military personnel with skills that are not directly transferrable to the civilian world will not be hired by anyone because they are too old. Mind you the retirement percentage is just from the base pay of the individual, not the housing allowance or other pays that you get for deployments or hazardous duty.  Likewise all those little perks from active duty disappear like state tax breaks for being in the military and by the way the health care costs they go up too. Military retirement is taxable and the Feds, the States and local taxing authorities are quite good at making sure they get their “fare share” of something that they never earned.

Speaking of healthcare what really interesting is that military personnel also pay into Social Security and Medicare. In fact when we are 65 our TRICARE health insurance is supposed to be secondary to Medicare or other insurance that we might have.  Since most of us currently serving are under 55 year old cut off that Congressman Paul Ryan has proposed in ending Medicare we lose that too.  So much for Medical Care unless a veteran is qualified to receive treatment in a Veteran’s Administration hospital.  But those hospitals face an increasing number of patients and a decreasing budget.  Who knows maybe they just give us the Soylent Green option.

Look out if Congressman Ryan and his band have their way as Social Security will go by the wayside too.  That is really a good deal isn’t it? Spend 20-30 years getting busted up for your country and put your family through hell as you constantly deploy to combat zones or on regular operational deployments or training exercises and then get told that the benefits that you worked hard to get are simply a “rich entitlement.” Then to top it all off find out all the money that you have paid into other people’s retirement and health care won’t be there for you.

But let’s take a look at why some of the cost of these “entitlements” is rising. It’s the wars stupid. A lot of money is now being paid to combat-wounded veterans that are medically retired from the service.  No one begrudges them this and I certainly don’t because they have paid their pound of flesh for it. They deserve it and most go through a lot of shit in the medical board and with the Veteran’s Administration to get that.  However, if you add up the tens of thousands of these pensions provided to these men and women that might have only served one or two tours it is a lot of money. This is an increase because in normal times many would have left the military without retirement benefits after they were done with their enlistments. Then there is the cost of paying the survivor pensions to the wives, husbands, children or parents of those that gave the last full measure and died while on active duty.

Some entitlement program huh? An entitlement program that often involves multiple tours in combat zones, separation from family, injuries that build-up simply because we are expected to stay physically active in physically and emotionally environments that wear people down.  Yet Mr. Spencer who served as a Marine Corps Aviator from 1976-1981 a period when we were not at war has the nerve to call this a “rich entitlement program.”  However a one term Congressman gets a retirement and benefits for life. We grind it out for 20 or more years and get told that we are leaches in so many words. Mr. Spencer didn’t use that word but that is exactly what he meant.  In the great World War Two film The Caine Mutiny LT Barney Greenwald played by Jose Ferrer chastised the members of the Caine’s Wardroom following the acquittal of the Executive Officer on the charge of mutiny.

“You know something… When I was studying law, and Mr. Keefer here was writing his stories, and you, Willie, were tearing up the playing fields of dear old Princeton, who was standing guard over this fat, dumb, happy country of ours, eh? Not us. Oh, no, we knew you couldn’t make any money in the service. So who did the dirty work for us? Queeg did! And a lot of other guys. Tough, sharp guys who didn’t crack up like Queeg.”

I don’t want to question the honor of Mr. Spencer but I will. Wait maybe I really want to question his honor so what the hell here it goes. According to his bio on the DOD website Mr. Spencer graduated from private college with a business degree in the middle of a really nasty economy. Gerald Ford was President and since the Vietnam War was over and a strong anti-war feeling lingered there was not much chance of seeing action.  So Mr. Spencer took his business degree and went in the Marines, not the grunts but as a Naval Aviator.   As soon as he finished his obligation and the Reagan boom began he left the service. After all he knew that you couldn’t make any money in the military.  I enlisted in 1981 and when I was commissioned as an Army officer in 1983 I had a base pay of $900.00 a month.  I didn’t do it for the money I did it because of what had happened in Iran and the Soviet moves all over the world.  Back then there was no GI Bill and limited tuition assistance or money for college when you got out of the service. I was not alone there were thousands maybe even hundreds of thousands that joined for similar reasons despite the low pay and benefits. We did it out of good old fashioned patriotism.

I resent the term “Entitlement program.” It is pejorative. It is a wonderful big business and fiscal conservative code word for “unearned and undeserving welfare program.”  Now there are programs that could legitimate targets of such a pejorative term especially corporate welfare but for Mr. Spencer and others of his ilk to lump the retirement pay of career military men and women is reprehensible.

How many military personnel and their families lose money every few years due to moving costs, changing the kid’s schools having spouse have to quit work to move to new locations? Let me see, almost all of us who serve a full career that’s who. But to Mr. Spencer we are the welfare queens and leaches. Again those are my words not his even though that is exactly what Mr. Spencer meant. We who serve and go into harm’s way so Mr. Spencer’s cronies on Wall Street can make the big bucks are the problem.  When a military officer fails his or her career is over and he or she suffers scorn, when the executives that Mr. Spencer rubs shoulders with destroy a company or defraud the public they get big bonuses multi-million dollar buyouts and move on to new hunting grounds.

So now we are on the chopping block. All the services are shedding personnel even as the mission demands have not gone down in order to save money.  In the Navy as we speak there are boards being held at almost every rank to send people home, including junior enlisted personnel.

It is a shame that we have come to this. A nation at war for 10 years and engaged all over the world in war and peacekeeping operations the 10 years prior to this using a smaller force percentage wise than we have had than at any time since the 1920s and 1930s.  Less than 1% closer to half a percent of Americans currently serve in the active or reserve components of the military and many have served one or more combat tours.  Meanwhile nearly 90% of people military age cannot meet entry standards to join.

This, my friends makes military personnel an easy target for bean counters. We don’t have a lot of votes and if people like Mr. Spencer and some in Congress have their way we will be thrown under the budget bus. They will throw us into wars that are unwinnable because we don’t have the resources to successfully prosecute them or the strategy and goals don’t match the forces that are there to accomplish them.  Meanwhile the defense industries and the big war contractors like Halliburton will continue to make money hand over fist. The late Marine Corps Major General Smedley Butler was absolutely correct when he said “War is a racket. 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.” 

In the past month another 50 or so American military personnel have died in Afghanistan nine in the latest attack on advisors to the Afghan Air Force just this week. The total losses in Iraq and Afghanistan combined are now over 6000 dead and almost 43,000 wounded not counting those suffering from mild to moderate Traumatic Brain Injury and the tens of thousands of others that suffer from PTSD.  Of course this does not count those that have died on their return to the United States due to suicide risky behaviors caused by their experience in combat.  Neither do the numbers count those that succumbed to their wounds after their return to civilian life or in the Veteran’s Administration system.  God knows how many of these uncounted casualties of war there are but remember this is just another “entitlement program” according to Mr. Spencer.

Meanwhile as Rome burns the Legions continue to serve while the world that the politicians, diplomats and business leaders put together falls apart. Wars and crises abounding into which they will gladly send us. The Middle East is threatening to explode and Mr. Spencer and those like him would call us parasites leaches and welfare queens, again my words not theirs even though that is exactly what they mean and call the benefits that we have sacrificed for over 20 or more years of service a “rich entitlement program.”

In fact as this drumbeat from the business leaders advising the Pentagon continues people will begin to believe it. Already polls are showing the American people think that the military budget needs to be slashed in order to pay for their entitlements.  We know that the defense industry, the lobbyists and the contracting Giants will suffer the least in this, as always it will be the men and women that have volunteered to do the job that no one else wants to do that will feel the brunt of the cuts.

We have been at war for 10 years with an 11 year lead up to it. In a sense we have been at war or heavily engaged in peacekeeping, humanitarian or actual war for 20 years. Your Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Airmen are remarkable. In spite of an unending war, deployments that never seem to end and being forgotten by a population more caught up in the problems of Lindsey Lohan and Charlie Sheen, their own financial worries or trying to demonize their political opponents in our perpetual election cycle. Even so they serve selflessly and with distinction.  They don’t deserve to have their retirement called a “rich entitlement program.”

When I see the son’s of the wealthy that inhabit Wall Street and other financial centers say this I become incensed.  Many were born into wealth and all make themselves wealthy on other people’s money usually while exporting the industrial base of the United States overseas because they say that American workers are overpaid. Many simply see the military as the government arm which guards their overseas operations but really hold us in contempt and for the past 40 years have thrown the servicemen and women of the country under the bus if there is a possibility of them having to pay more taxes.

To read about such comments from businessmen and politicians I am reminded of a quote of General John Buford played by Sam Elliott from the movie Gettysburg:

“Meade will finally attack… Straight up the hillside, out in the open, in that gorgeous field of fire. We will charge valiantly, and be butchered, valiantly! And afterwards men in tall hats and gold watch fobs will thump their chest and say what a brave charge it was…I’ve never seen anything as brutally clear as this.”

Yes we will continue to serve and many will continue to die as the vampires of Wall Street consider those of us who serve as leaches and characterize military retirement programs as a “rich entitlement program.” They will thump their chests and say how much they support the troops but such words will only come from their marketing departments hoping to gain the military market share.

The attitude of Mr. Spencer and those like him needs to be confronted and challenged at every turn or they will dishonor those that serve so selflessly.  We need more men like Smedley Butler.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Foreign Policy, History, leadership, Military, national security, Political Commentary

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

Fort Hood Memorial and Veteran’s Day…The War Comes Home via a Traitor to His Oath

fort hood memorialSoldiers rendering Honors to Fallen Comrades at Fort Hood (MSNBC Photo)

The killings of 13 Americans and wounding of 30 others by Major Nidal Malik Hasan has left a bitter taste in many American’s mouth.  It was an act of treason by a man who apparently became a “self-radicalized home grown terrorist.”  Influenced by his religious beliefs which even some of his Moslem Imam’s thought were troubling and for which they would not approve him to serve as a volunteer lay leader for other Moslem soldiers, Major Hasan attacked his fellow soldiers.  He walked into a processing center for soldiers and opened fire allegedly shouting “Allah Akbar!” as he began his 4 minute rampage firing over 100 rounds from two weapons, one a “cop killer” type of pistol.  It appears that in the year prior to this terrorist act that Major Hasan not only made statements approving of suicide bombing, statements against U.S. Service Members of the Moslem faith fighting other Moslems and vehemently opposing the U.S. involvement in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Many of these statements were around other Army personnel and evidently Army investigators had been watching him.  As an officer who at one time was a company commander and also helped the administrative oversight of various criminal investigations I wonder how Major Hasan was not fully investigated and called into account for his statements which were in direct contravention to his oath as an Army Officer, his Commission which as a Regular Army Field Grade Officer was actually approved by the Senate, and his Hippocratic Oath as a Physician to “do no harm.”  Major Hasan is not the first soldier, Moslem or otherwise to kill his fellow soldiers.  What makes his case unique is that he is an officer and a physician.  I personally think that is why he was never called to account for his words by others in the Army.  The fact is that no one ever assumes that an officer or a physician could or would actually commit such an act.  This was one of the hardest things for me in comprehending Major Hasan’s crime, simply put “officers do not do such things.” Maybe I’m old fashioned and my sense of honor as an officer borders on archaic but how such a man could swear the oath “to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic “ could kill his fellow soldiers is beyond me.  I read his power point presentation given to his class last year which is posted here:

http://a.abcnews.go.com/images/Blotter/Hasan_2007.pdf

The presentation is troubling because of the more fundamentalist understanding that Major Hasan shows even in relationship to Moslems that he considers “moderate.”  “Muslims may be seen as moderate (compromising) but God is not.”  And “We love death more than you love life!” Having attended the Jordanian Army Peace Operations Training Center and gotten to know senior Iraq officers while serving with our advisors I can say that Major Hasan has a different take on this than many Islamic officers in the armies of Arab nations.  How Hasan was able to present this and have had documented contact with known radicals without being at least questioned shows an incredible lack of forsight by the FBI and Army investigators.

http://abcnews.go.com/Blotter/official-nidal-hasan-unexplained-connections/story?

I pray that he faces justice and of there are any accomplices that they will also be cause and pay for this.  At the same time I pray that the xenophobic ramblings of some who see all Moslems as the enemy are curbed and that they will not incite violence against the innocent in the name of revenge.

Fort Hood conducted a memorial service today for the fallen.  I listened to a lot of it on the radio as I was out.  I was impressed by the remarks of General Cone, General Casey and President Obama.   I think that given the circumstances that the words were fitting and appropriate especially since tomorrow is Veteran’s Day.  The link to the text of the President’s speech is here:

http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/remarks-president-memorial-service-fort-hood

However I do think that a couple of parts of the speech stand out enough to post here:

This is a time of war.  Yet these Americans did not die on a foreign field of battle.  They were killed here, on American soil, in the heart of this great state and the heart of this great American community.  This is the fact that makes the tragedy even more painful, even more incomprehensible.

For those families who have lost a loved one, no words can fill the void that’s been left.  We knew these men and women as soldiers and caregivers.  You knew them as mothers and fathers; sons and daughters; sisters and brothers.

But here is what you must also know:  Your loved ones endure through the life of our nation.  Their memory will be honored in the places they lived and by the people they touched.  Their life’s work is our security, and the freedom that we all too often take for granted.  Every evening that the sun sets on a tranquil town; every dawn that a flag is unfurled; every moment that an American enjoys life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness — that is their legacy…

These are trying times for our country.  In Afghanistan and Pakistan, the same extremists who killed nearly 3,000 Americans continue to endanger America, our allies, and innocent Afghans and Pakistanis.  In Iraq, we’re working to bring a war to a successful end, as there are still those who would deny the Iraqi people the future that Americans and Iraqis have sacrificed so much for.

As we face these challenges, the stories of those at Fort Hood reaffirm the core values that we are fighting for, and the strength that we must draw upon.  Theirs are the tales of American men and women answering an extraordinary call — the call to serve their comrades, their communities, and their country.  In an age of selfishness, they embody responsibility.  In an era of division, they call upon us to come together.  In a time of cynicism, they remind us of who we are as Americans.

We are a nation that endures because of the courage of those who defend it.  We saw that valor in those who braved bullets here at Fort Hood, just as surely as we see it in those who signed up knowing that they would serve in harm’s way.

We are a nation of laws whose commitment to justice is so enduring that we would treat a gunman and give him due process, just as surely as we will see that he pays for his crimes.

We’re a nation that guarantees the freedom to worship as one chooses.  And instead of claiming God for our side, we remember Lincoln’s words, and always pray to be on the side of God.

We’re a nation that is dedicated to the proposition that all men and women are created equal.  We live that truth within our military, and see it in the varied backgrounds of those we lay to rest today.  We defend that truth at home and abroad, and we know that Americans will always be found on the side of liberty and equality.  That’s who we are as a people.

Tomorrow is Veterans Day.  It’s a chance to pause, and to pay tribute — for students to learn the struggles that preceded them; for families to honor the service of parents and grandparents; for citizens to reflect upon the sacrifices that have been made in pursuit of a more perfect union.

For history is filled with heroes.  You may remember the stories of a grandfather who marched across Europe; an uncle who fought in Vietnam; a sister who served in the Gulf.  But as we honor the many generations who have served, all of us — every single American — must acknowledge that this generation has more than proved itself the equal of those who’ve come before.

We need not look to the past for greatness, because it is before our very eyes.

This generation of soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen have volunteered in the time of certain danger. They are part of the finest fighting force that the world has ever known.  They have served tour after tour of duty in distant, different and difficult places.  They have stood watch in blinding deserts and on snowy mountains.  They have extended the opportunity of self-government to peoples that have suffered tyranny and war.  They are man and woman; white, black, and brown; of all faiths and all stations — all Americans, serving together to protect our people, while giving others half a world away the chance to lead a better life.

In today’s wars, there’s not always a simple ceremony that signals our troops’ success — no surrender papers to be signed, or capital to be claimed.  But the measure of the impact of these young men and women is no less great — in a world of threats that no know borders, their legacy will be marked in the safety of our cities and towns, and the security and opportunity that’s extended abroad.  It will serve as testimony to the character of those who served, and the example that all of you in uniform set for America and for the world…

Long after they are laid to rest — when the fighting has finished, and our nation has endured; when today’s servicemen and women are veterans, and their children have grown — it will be said that this generation believed under the most trying of tests; believed in perseverance — not just when it was easy, but when it was hard; that they paid the price and bore the burden to secure this nation, and stood up for the values that live in the hearts of all free peoples.

The speech which I heard on radio moved me.  A president acknowledged what I have believed about our current military.  We serve because we believe in the ideals of this nation and unlike wars past, the “Good Wars” where there were homecoming parades after surrender ceremonies we come home to a nation which mostly has not been at war, a nation that we have protected and served in harm’s way when most Americans were told to be patriotic after 9-11 by President Bush by “going shopping.”  In the midst of all we serve, many of us volunteering for more, not because we like war, but because we believe in our country and in helping others come to know freedom.  I know that amid the political cynicism that is so rampant that such idealism is derided by those who only see America as a force for evil, but such is not the case.  By and large our Soldiers, Marines, Sailors, Airmen and Coastguardsmen serve not for college money or to simply have a job, but because we care about the country and know that by serving now that we will likely end up in a combat zone.

We serve in unpopular wars and our sacrifice is to many people just a news bite in between economic, entertainment and sports stories.  There are those on the left who despise us as much as they did those who served in Vietnam. Likewise there are those on the right who have no compunction about using us in the military until we are spent without sharing a whit in our sacrifice, without ever having put on a uniform much less seeing combat.  Some are politicians seeking a way to increase their power; others are people that I used to listen to on the radio all the time whose answer is to automatically suggest bombing or invading another country.  They say many kind words about us who serve and occasionally sponsor events to “help” military families, but none suggest any real shared sacrifice on the part of the nation.  In fact sometimes they have a negative effect on those who serve because their words are believed as gospel by many and if a combat veteran disagrees with a popular radio talk show host he can be told that that he is “politically correct” “weak” or even a “pansy” by people who shop till they drop under the protection provided by we who serve.  Having had this happen to me recently I know it is the case and the blowhards who drive goad people into such idiocy can go to hell.

So we fight the wars alone while contractors such as Halliburton and the company formerly known as Blackwater get rich lining their pockets with tax dollars doing jobs that at one time were done by the military in an era when much of the nation had a personal interest in the outcome of the war.  We fight the wars and deal with the trauma while others beat the war drums without regard to cost and for the first six years of the war continued to reduce the size of the military.  The previous administration had to be forced by congress into increasing the size of the active Army and Marine Corps and to stop cutting the Navy and the Air Force.

I am glad that unlike Vietnam that the majority of people seem to care about the military and our servicemen and women, even if they disagree with the national policy regarding the present wars.  For that I am grateful and blessed for the outward show of support by many stands in stark contrast what our brothers and sisters who served in Vietnam faced.

This has been and will continue to be a long war.  We have been at war over 8 years since 9-11 as opposed to under 4 years of American involvement in World War II.  The overwhelming burden of the war has been on the backs of an incredibly small segment of the American population.   If you look at the numbers it is well under one percent of the population of the United States that has served in Iraq or Afghanistan.  This is not a shared sacrifice.

Today is Veteran’s Day.  Take the time to recognize the sacrifices of not just those who fought in the big popular wars, but for those who have endured the unpopular and unglamorous wars such as Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.  I have made two combat deployments as well as numerous trips in and out of theater. When the time comes and my boss thinks I’m ready to go again I will go to serve alongside my friends and comrades many of whom are serving in harm’s way now.

I ask readers of this website to remember the fallen in Iraq, Afghanistan and the other fronts in this ongoing war including the home front which felt the effect of the war when Major Hasan attacked his fellow soldiers.  Remember the fallen, care for the wounded and the families of those who have lost their lives, being wounded in mind body or spirit and those who have served in wars past as well as this war.  Our brothers and sisters who fought in World War II, Korea and Vietnam are growing fewer in number daily and “we, we happy few” who continue this fight need all the support that we can get.

I have been in California this week helping with my parents affairs.  My dad is in a nursing facility here with Alzheimer’s disease.  During my last visit he still recognized me and for a few minutes I had him back. Now he no longer knows who I am.  He is a retired Navy Chief and toward the end of his career served at An Loc where he endured that siege in the spring of 1972.  I thank God for my dad’s service and example that helped lead me to chose serving in the military, something for me that has lasted more than 28 years in service with the Army and the Navy.  I pray for God’s peace and mercy on him as he lives what little life that he has left.

God bless all of our veterans, the living and the dead as well as all of those who serve in harm’s way in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Pray for our country and the military.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Military, Political Commentary, traumatic national events