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They are Not Just Names: September 11th 2001 at Seventeen Years

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

In Star Trek Deep Space Nine there is a scene where the deputy commander of the Space Station, Major Kira Nerys gives a casualty report to Captain Benjamin Sisko. It resonates with me every time that I see it and especially on the anniversary of September 11th.

KIRA: Sir, the latest casualty reports have just been posted.
SISKO: How many this time?
KIRA: Including the troops lost at AR five five eight, seventeen hundred and thirty.
SISKO: Seventeen hundred thirty.
KIRA: That’s a lot of names.
SISKO: They’re not just names. It’s important we remember that. We have to remember.

Today marks the seventeenth year since the attacks of September 11th 2001 and we do have to remember those who lost their lives that day, all those Americans and our coalition partners who died, and all the innocents lost, even to those of American military action. None of them are just names, they are real men and women, as well as children cut down by terrorism and unending war.

When we were attacked on September 11th 2001 I had already passed twenty years of service, though about half of them were service in the reserves and National Guard. Now I am over 37 years of service and by this time next year I should be on the retired list unless something very unexpected happens.

My base will be marking it with the dedication of a nature trail that now has plaques commemorating over 80 eighty men and women from our base who have died in action, on deployment, or training to go to combat since that occasion. While this ceremony is taking place I will be driving out to a Veteran’s Cemetery an hour or so away to perform the internment of a retired Navy Chief Petty Officer whose family requested me by name.

Thus I will be turning over the big high profile ceremony to my deputy chaplain. It will give him a chance to be on the big stage and get recognized for his own talents and abilities while I do something less visible but very meaningful to that Navy Chief’s family and to me as the son of a Navy Chief. In addition to conducting the service I will have the honor of presenting the colors of the nation to his daughter.

For me it is a chance to pay back the goodness shown to my dad and family when he passed away in 2010. The base ceremony and the internment were pretty close together time wise. My Commanding Officer and I talked about it decided and decided that since I am now in pretty much constant pain with knee and hip injuries since I fell down my stairs last month that I shouldn’t be doing back to back ceremonies with a long drive in between.

But anyway. Since September 11th 2001 I have lost count of the number of friends and comrades who died during the attack and the subsequent wars. This includes those that died by their own hand during or after their service due to the effects of combat trauma, PTSD, or Traumatic Brain Injury,  or the never ending pain of physical wounds and injuries. I often see their faces when I think about the past 17 years, their names are forever etched in my memory, but they are not just names and we cannot forget them. I cannot and I will not.

It seems like every week or so we lose another soldier, sailor, marine, or airman in Afghanistan, Iraq, or Africa. I loom at their names, where they are from, and the number of deployments that they have made. Some entered service well after me but because of their specialities and assignments made far more deployments that I can imagine. One soldier who was killed in action serving in Iraq had made 13 deployments, 9 of which were combat deployments in a 16 year career, and for the most part they are forgotten by all but their family, friends, and comrades, most barely get a mention elsewhere.

Sadly at this point in my career I believe that for many Americans, especially the faux patriots of the Fox News set, the political preachers of the Christian Right, and the President himself, that the troops are merely a prop to place in the background to promote their political causes and slam other Americans for not being patriotic enough.

Today I will continue to serve and I will mourn in my own way the friends, comrades, and shipmates that I have lost over these past 17 years. For me they are not just numbers or names, they are real people and no amount of flag waving will bring them back. No amount of corporate sponsored “patriotism” will make up for the lost lives, and the destruction of these wars. We can remember and honor the lost, and those who still suffer, including the wounded in body, mind, and spirit, and of the widows and children of the men and women who never came home or were never the same. I came home, but I am not the same.

They are not just names.

So as you go about your activities today take time to remember the victims of war, terrorism, and as I do the men and women who I knew who never came home, couldn’t make the transition back from war, or who still suffer in mind, body or spirit.

Never forget, they are not just names.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

 

 

 

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Filed under History, middle east, Military, ministry, News and current events, philosophy, Political Commentary, star trek, terrorism, Tour in Iraq

They are Not Just Names: Remembering the Fallen

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Back in October of 2001 as the United States invaded Afghanistan following the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon which killed nearly 3,000 people I began to read the casualty reports. The first name that I knew was Lieutenant Colonel Karen Wagner, who was killed at the Pentagon on September 11th 2001. She had been a training company commander at the Academy of Health Sciences when I served there as the Brigade Adjutant.

As the war spread following the Bush administration’s misbegotten invasion of Iraq those casualty lists got longer and longer, and I read them because I thought it was the least that I could do to attempt to enshrine their memory as something more than a number. Each year around Memorial Day the various publications of the Military Times, the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force Times would publish a center section with the names, pictures and dates of death of these men and women. Some were just eighteen years old, and a few in their fifties, showing the face of an all-volunteer force that few see. Most of the time I didn’t know the individuals, but sometimes I did, and when I did, the war came home.

The other night Judy and I were watching the Star Trek Deep Space Nine episode The Siege of AR-558. At the beginning of the episode Captain Benjamin Sisko, played by Avery Brooks is looking at the latest casualty list when his executive officer, Colonel Kira walks in on him. He makes a comment that hit home with me, in fact it summed up how I came to see those lists:

“I think that’s what I’m going to remember most about this war – looking through casualty reports. Sometimes it feels like that’s all I do – stare at the names of the dead. When the war started, I read every name. I felt it was the least I could do to honor their sacrifices… But now, the names have begun to blur together.”

Of course I did two combat tours, the second of them in Iraq where I served with our advisers in Al Anbar Province. A couple of times while back in the large base camp at T’Qaddum I was called to the Trauma Platoon, a Navy medical unit designed to try to save the lives of the wounded and evacuate them to higher levels of care in Iraq, Germany, or the United States. Despite all of the protective gear worn by soldiers, the injuries caused by IEDs, bombs, anti-tank rockets, explosions, and bullets are ghastly. I still can vividly remember the faces and the wounds of the young men that I attended to as the surgeons, nurses and corpsmen valiantly tried to save their lives.

Months later I was home but the war was still real. The casualty reports from Iraq and Afghanistan kept coming, and more people I knew were on them. Of course there were others who died later, sometimes by their own hand because of the suffering that they had been through in body, mind, and spirit. I saw many of them in the naval hospitals and medical centers where I served, to see the faces scarred by bombs, bullets, and burns, to see the men and women with artificial limbs struggling down hallways, and to see the pain in their eyes is something that I will never forget.

The last couple of years in my teaching assignment I have been somewhat shielded from revisiting those times. Likewise the number of casualties in the more recent reports has slowed to a trickle, just a few a month most of the time. But I don’t forget, I still check the reports on a daily basis.

Sadly, despite the yellow ribbons bumper stickers that boldly say “I Support the Troops,” for most Americans these wars never were that important, and without the constant reminder of the dead and wounded coming home, they have been forgotten. However, they are still very real, some 6840 American military personnel have died in these wars, and close to 50,000 wounded. Those numbers do not count the contractors, diplomats, or aid-workers killed and wounded, nor those diagnosed with combat related PTSD. Likewise it does it count the losses of our coalition or NATO allies, or those of the Iraqis or Afghanis.

At the end of the Siege of AR-558 Kira gives Sisko the latest casualty list. Their conversation is something that I think that we should remember when we think of those lost in these wars, and the ones who certainly will die in the war against the Islamic State.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LI2WTfB0mz4

Colonel Kira: Sir, the latest casualty reports have just been posted.

Captain Sisko: How many this time?

Colonel Kira: Including the troops lost at AR-558 – 1730.

Captain Sisko: [whispering] 1730…

Colonel Kira: It’s a lot of names.

Captain Sisko: They’re not just names. It’s important we remember that. We have to remember.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under afghanistan, History, iraq, shipmates and veterans, star trek, Tour in Iraq, War on Terrorism

Can you Live With It? The Moral Costs of the War Against the Islamic State

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“My father used to say that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. I laid the first stone right there. I’d committed myself. I’d pay any price, go to any lengths, because my cause was righteous. My… intentions were good. In the beginning, that seemed like enough.” Captain Benjamin Sisko (Avery Brooks) Star Trek Deep Space Nine, In the Pale Moonlight

I think that among the Star Trek series that my favorite is Star Trek Deep Space Nine. Of course all of the series deal with ethics, philosophy and morality to some extent, but Deep Space Nine is perhaps the most interesting to me. Don’t get me wrong I think that the Original Series and Start Trek the Next Generation were and are leap years ahead of most television series when it comes to addressing ethical, moral and existential issues, but somehow living in the post 9-11 “War on Terrorism” world I find Deep Space Nine to be the most compelling. I think that is that the fact that the moral issues get blurred which attracts me to the series, and to this episode in particular.

One of my favorite episodes is from season six and is entitled “In the Pale Moonlight.” The episode deals with the unsavory matter of contriving a reason to get the Romulan Empire to join with the Federation and the Klingons to fight the Dominion-Cardassian alliance that is threatening those entities as well as potentially the entire Alpha Quadrant. I have included a link to the conclusion of that episode here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dTgGtJ-PisA

The ethics of this episode seem very timely as I look at the new phase of the conflict that the United States has been engaged for the past thirteen years. The fact is that in spite of our appeal to higher ideals we are having to make alliances with powers that are only slightly less unsavory than ISIS, powers whose polices have help ISIS grow. In a sense it is the classic scenario of making a deal with the devil to defeat one’s enemy. Of course this is not new, individuals and nations have made such deals, sometimes with mortal enemies throughout history.

Unfortunately we usually judge such decisions based on their results, rather than wrestle with the ethical issues involved and how we might behave in similar situations. For me the philosophical and ethical issues involved in such alliances have a special interest and as such I tend to notice or recall instances where I saw, read or heard something that makes a connection to an ethical or moral dilemma faced by policy makers and planners today.

Some of the issues involved for policy makers are related to the traditional Just War Theory, and what is called the “Supreme Emergency” exemption. This exemption basically posits that when faced with a supreme and existential emergency a person or state may engage in behaviors that ordinarily would be considered unethical if the situation were not of a supreme emergency.

Of course such decisions in the real world are difficult. Those who have a system of beliefs that help them define right and wrong behaviors, even if they are not codified in law may struggle with with such decisions, while those who act according to what they deem necessary or expedient, unbridled by religious, philosophical or other similar codes may not, instead making their decisions based on what appears to be necessary at the time.

This Deep Space Nine episode is remarkable because we get to see an actor playing a military commander dealing with the morality of the course of action that he is taking. In one of the early scenes Captain Sisko expresses his doubts relating to the morality of a decision that he is making in a war that has already consumed the lives of tens of millions of people.

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After an incident where a Federation starship was destroyed, Sisko went to Elim Garak (Andrew Robinson), an exiled Cardassian intelligence officer to uncover any evidence about Dominion-Cardassian collusion to attack the Romulans. When none was uncovered and Garak’s sources on Cardassia were compromised he agreed to allow Garak to manufacture evidence in order to get the Romulans into the war on the side of the Federation and Klingons. Sisko compounded the situation by having the Kilingons release a master forger who was on death row to help Garak. Sisko knew it was wrong and confided in his log:

“Why I didn’t listen to the voice in the back of my mind telling me not to believe a word he said, I’ll never know… But it didn’t take long for me to come face to face with the fact that I’d made a mistake.”

When the former prisoner gets drunk and attacks the owner of a tavern on the space station Sisko was in a bind. He wanted no evidence that the man had been on his station and in order to keep Quark, the bar owner quite had to bribe him. Sisko again expressed his doubts in his personal log:

“Maybe I should have put a stop to it right there. Maybe I should have said, “Thank you very much for your input, Mister Garak, I will take your suggestion under advisement,” and then gone back to my office and forgotten the whole thing. But I didn’t. Because in my heart, I knew what he was saying made sense.”

Even so Sisko still had doubts:

“That was my first moment of real doubt, when I started to wonder if the whole thing was a mistake. So I went back to my office. And there was a new casualty list waiting for me. People are dying out there every day! Entire worlds are struggling for their freedom! And here I am still worrying about the finer points of morality! No, I had to keep my eye on the ball! Winning the war, stopping the bloodshed, those were the priorities! So I pushed on. And every time another doubt appeared before me, I just found another way to shove it aside.”

When nations feel they are engaged in a life and death struggle, those who serve as policy makers, planners and military commanders often make uncomfortable compromises with their own religious, ethical or philosophical codes. Sisko continued down the path despite his doubts but justified his actions by the fact that Starfleet had approved them:

“Maybe… I was under more pressure than I realized. Maybe it really was starting to get to me, but I was off the hook. Starfleet Command had given the plan their blessing and I thought that would make things easier. But I was the one who had to make it happen. I was the one who had to look Senator Vreenak in the eye and convince him that a lie… was the truth.”

The forgery was completed and the Romulan Senator secretly arrived on the station to examine the evidence and as he did so all Sisko could do was wait, confiding in his log:

“So all I could do was wait… and see how masterful Tolar’s forgery really was. So I waited… tried to catch up on my paperwork, but I find it very difficult to focus on criminal activity reports, cargo manifests… So I went back to pacing, staring out of the window. I’m not an impatient man, I’m not one to agonize over decisions once they’re made. I got that from my father. He always says, “Worry and doubt are the greatest enemies of a great chef. The soufflé will either rise or it won’t – there’s not a damn thing you can do about it, so you might as well just sit back and wait and see what happens.” But this time the cost of failure was so high, I found it difficult to take his advice. If Vreenak discovered that the data rod was a forgery, if he realized that we were trying to trick them into the war it could push the Romulans even farther into the enemy camp. They could start to openly help the Dominion. If worst came to worst they could actually join the war against us. I had the distinct feeling that victory or defeat would be decided in the next few minutes.”

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It did not work, Vreenak discovered that the data rod was a forgery and threatened to expose Sisko’s deception and possibly bring the Romulans into alliance with the Dominion. When Sisko’s actions blew up in his face and his deceit was revealed he was not happy and resigned himself to face the consequences:

“So it all blew up in my face. All the lies and the compromises, the inner doubts and the rationalizations – all for nothing. Vreenak was furious. I can’t say I blamed him; I’d have reacted the same way. After telling me in no uncertain terms that he intended to expose this “vile deception” to the entire Alpha Quadrant, he got back in his shuttle and headed home. There didn’t seem to be anything more to do… so I went back to work. Two days later we got the news.”

Sisko learned in a Starfleet communication that Vreenak’s shuttle had blown up and that is was suspected to be the work of the Dominion. When Sisko found that Vreenak was dead he went to Garak and forcefully confronted him, striking him in the process. He accused Garak of sabotaging the senator’s ship and killing him as well as the forger, Tolar. Instead of backing down Garak confronted the results and the ethical issue. The heated exchange between the two men is fascinating:

Garak: If you can allow your anger to subside for a moment, you’ll see that they did not die in vain! The Romulans will enter the war!

Captain Sisko: There’s no guarantee of that!

Garak: Oh, but I think that there is. You see, when the Tal Shiar finishes examining the wreckage of Vreenak’s shuttle, they’ll find the burnt remnants of a Cardassian optolythic data rod which somehow miraculously survived the explosion. After painstaking forensic examination, they’ll discover that the rod contains a recording of a high-level Dominion meeting, at which the invasion of Romulus was being planned.

Captain Sisko: And then they’ll discover that it is a fraud!

Garak: Oh, I don’t think they will! Because any imperfections in the forgery will appear to be a result of the explosion. So – with a seemingly legitimate rod in one hand, and a dead senator in the other, I ask you, Captain – what conclusion would you draw?

As Sisko’s anger subsided Garak continued:

“That’s why you came to me, isn’t it, Captain? Because you knew I could do those things that you weren’t capable of doing? Well, it worked. And you’ll get what you want: a war between the Romulans and the Dominion. And if your conscience is bothering you, you should soothe it with the knowledge that you may have just saved the entire Alpha Quadrant. And all it cost was the life of one Romulan senator, one criminal, and the self-respect of one Starfleet officer. I don’t know about you, but I’d call that a bargain.”

Shortly thereafter Sisko found out that the out that the deception was successful as Garak had said it would be. The Romulans who recovered the damaged data rod believed that it was genuine and declared war on the Dominion-Cardassian alliance and had entered the war on the side of the Federation. He completed his personal log:

“At oh-eight-hundred hours, station time… the Romulan Empire formally declared war against the Dominion. They’ve already struck fifteen bases along the Cardassian border. So, this is a huge victory for the good guys! This may even be the turning point of the entire war! There’s even a “Welcome to the Fight” party tonight in the wardroom!… So… I lied. I cheated. I bribed men to cover up the crimes of other men. I am an accessory to murder. But most damning of all… I think I can live with it… And if I had to do it all over again… I would. Garak was right about one thing – a guilty conscience is a small price to pay for the safety of the Alpha Quadrant. So I will learn to live with it…Because I can live with it…I can live with it. Computer – erase that entire personal log.”

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My guess is that before this war is over, there will be men and women serving in positions of responsibility in our or allied militaries, policy makers and government officials who will make similar deals, violating their own moral codes and even laws in order to defeat the Islamic State and prevent acts of terror against their citizens. Most, like Sisko will not be happy but will live with their decisions. The fact is that long asymmetrical wars in which nation states have to fight non-state terrorist entities get really ugly and the longer and more bloody that they become the more decent and honorable people will make decisions like Sisko and resort to actions that in normal times they would never countenance.

This is nothing new. Those who have fought in such wars throughout history have found ways to “live” with actions that they would not approve of had things been different. Wars such as the one that we are fighting and continue to fight in the years ahead have a corrosive affect on the human spirit. They corrupt and destroy even when they are “successful.”

The question is: Can we live with it? Sadly, as much as I hate to admit it, in a similar situation I think like Sisko, that I could condone or be complicit in something like this. I too could probably convince myself that the end justified the means and that I could live with it.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under ethics, leadership, News and current events, philosophy, Political Commentary, star trek, War on Terrorism

The More Things Change and What You Leave Behind…

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“It’s like I said. The more things change, the more they stay the same.” Quark (the final line of Star Trek Deep Space Nine)

Today has been one of those weird, somewhat challenging, a bit difficult on an emotional level and at the same time rewarding days. It was a day that involved dealing with people that I care for, that work for me that within a bit over a month I will be leaving. Men and women that have impacted my life and from what I understand will miss me, as one said “my quirkiness and all.”

This happened to be the second day of the sequester which will impact me and my staff and will ensure that my last month in my current billet will be challenging and meaningful. What I hope is that the things that I am able to do in the next month will not only survive me but help provide the resources, structure and environment to allow my successor to take things to the next level in providing spiritual care for the diverse population of Sailors, Marines, their families, veterans, retirees and their families, as well as our civilian employees.

You see ultimately, the show here will go on without me and the best that I can do besides caring for those in my charing in the here and now is to help ensure that I leave something behind that others can build on. That too is something that you learn in this military life, that what you do is not ultimately about you.  It is about service to the nation and to the people that you have the privilege to serve alongside no matter what the duty station.

When one lives their life in the military these transitions happen all too often. In a sense our lives in the military are very transitory, maybe more so than many would be comfortable with. For relatively short periods of our lives, maybe months, or a few years or in the case of deployments in combat zones sometimes days, hours or even minutes. But in those transitory times our lives can be bound together in ways unimagined by most people that do not share this military life or experience.

My regular readers know that I grew up in this environment as a child and that as an adult I have always felt the strange call to serve. What I find amazing is that after nearly 32 years of service between the Army and the Navy, active, reserve and National Guard around the world in peace and war is that I am still serving and will be, Lord willing for a number of years more and truthfully God only knows when this rather lengthly chapter of my life ends and another begins.

In light of the events of the past few days, the situations that I am dealing with at work, what I am trying to wrap up even as next month promises to be busy I found it fascinating that I was completing the viewing of the final episode of Star Trek Deep Space Nine called What You Leave Behind. I found the title of the episode to be serendipitous with my recent experiences and feelings about my impending transfer.

Despite how much I have moved around in life I find that I do not do “goodbyes” well. I like to imagine that I will see people again and I do, as many of the people that I have gone to school with, served with in the military or in the ministry together know I am one that treasures relationships. Heck, I look on my Facebook page there are people from almost every era of my life, many who I have served alongside dating to the very beginning of my military career. There are many others that I would dearly love to find and meet again.

In one of the final scenes of the episode Dr Bashir and the Cardassian tailor and former spy Garak part ways after a devastated Cardassia is liberated from the Dominion. Bashir as is typical of many of us is attempting to off some consolation to his friend who is grieving what has happened to his planet.

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BASHIR: You and I both know that the Cardassians are a strong people. They’ll survive. Cardassia will survive. 

GARAK: Please, Doctor. Spare me your insufferable Federation optimism. Of course it will survive, but as not the Cardassia I knew. We had a rich and ancient culture. Our literature, music, art were second to none. And now, so much of it is lost. So many of our best people, our most gifted minds.
BASHIR: I’m sorry, Garak. I didn’t mean
GARAK: Oh, it’s quite all right, Doctor. You’ve been such a good friend. I’m going to miss our lunches together.
BASHIR: I’m sure we’ll see each other again.
GARAK: I’d like to think so, but one can never say. We live in uncertain times.

As I approach my last month before my transfer I will certainly be experiencing many feelings that tend to bring a certain amount of sentimental melancholy. I will miss the people I have come to know here even as I rejoice in being able to return home and live with my wife Judy again full time.

There are times that I feel like Garak and Bashir. I like to believe, I like to be optimistic like Bashir, but there is a certain amount of sometimes cynical realism that pervades my thoughts, like Garak. I can understand both men. But as much as I understand them I also understand the military and like Quark have to admit “that the more things change the more they stay the same.”

But regardless of that, I can say about those that I have the the honor of working with, like Captain Sisko in that last episode of Deep Space Nine: “This may be the last time we’re all together, but no matter what the future holds, no matter how far we travel, a part of us, a very important part, will always remain here…”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under leadership, Military, philosophy, remembering friends, star trek

Never Forget, They are Not Just Names… Reflections on War, Loss and Change: Iraq, Afghanistan and Deep Space Nine

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KIRA: Sir, the latest casualty reports have just been posted.
SISKO: How many this time?
KIRA: Including the troops lost at AR five five eight, seventeen hundred and thirty.
SISKO: Seventeen hundred thirty.
KIRA: That’s a lot of names.
SISKO: They’re not just names. It’s important we remember that. We have to remember.

I have had trouble sleeping the past couple of weeks and I think that late last night or early this morning I figured it out.

I am remembering.

It was about this time of year six years ago I was getting ready to celebrate my 24th wedding anniversary with Judy knowing that about a week and a half later I would be leaving for Iraq for duty in Al Anbar Province with our advisors and wondering, if at the height of the war I would come back.

Of course I did come back and the following year in 2008 we celebrated our 25th anniversary as I melted down, collapsing due to PTSD. I was home but I wasn’t.

Every time I see or read a casualty report I still feel a chill, knowing how easily my life could have ended. I saw a report yesterday that four American troops were killed by indirect fire at Bagram Air Base near Kabul. Reading it I remembered the rocket the flew over my head the night I was flying out of Camp Victory for Anbar and how nonchalant I was when a young soldier ran up to me in his PT gear nearly in a panic asking me “what was that?” and my response, “oh it was just a rocket.” We were not far from the eastern perimeter of the base in an area of tents set out as transient quarters gunship helicopters flew over the camp and the city beyond the walls, machine guns rattled in the distance as explosions echoed in the distance as American soldiers and Iraqi security forces battled insurgents not very far from where we sat.

This past week a number of things have been triggering me. The Marines have been conducting exercises at Camp LeJeune and I have heard artillery in the distance and aircraft have been taking off and landing at the auxiliary airfield across the sound a couple miles away.

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Even though it is still two weeks until July 4th the tourists and summer rental types are already shooting off fireworks in the neighborhood near the beach. Last night I barely slept and tonight the tourist insurgents have been going mad with the fireworks. I was out walking Molly when some rather large commercial type fireworks went off a couple hundred yards away on the next street over. I nearly went to ground until I realized that they were only fireworks. I thought about July 4th 2011 when Judy brought Molly down and we went down to the beach to watch the fireworks. That night I was terrified and only the unflappable calm of Molly sitting beside me barking at the fireworks to protect me kept me together. Tonight Molly was as unflappable as ever, not bothered by the explosions. That made me laugh despite the near panic that I found myself. It is amazing what a little dog, now blind but still very relevant can do for someone like me dealing with the PTSD Mad Cow. I hate July 4th now, not what it means but all the explosions.

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Molly supervising my writing in 2008 or 2009

Tonight I was watching Star Trek Deep Space Nine on DVD and the end of the season seven episode The Siege of AR-558 got me a bit. At the end of the episode Captain Sisko and Colonel Kira are discussing the latest casualty lists, which Sisko posts each week for his crew. I quoted it at the beginning of the article and it really spoke to me.

Some 6700 American Soldiers, Marines, Sailors and Airmen have died in Iraq or Afghanistan close to 50,000 more wounded and probably a couple hundred thousand afflicted with PTSD or Traumatic Brain Injury. Hundreds, if not thousands more, active duty, reserve and former service members have taken their own lives after returning. Of course those numbers don’t count the troops from NATO or the Iraq Coalition Forces, the Iraqi and Afghan troops that have fought and died alongside us or the hundreds of thousands of civilians who have been killed, wounded or driven from their homes.

But they are more than numbers. Every one has a name, the dead and those who have come back in some way forever changed by war. It is important that we never forget that. They cannot be just numbers, otherwise we dehumanize them and avoid the real cost of war, especially the human costs. I think that Smedley Butler said it the best:

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

As I write the situation in Afghanistan is still dangerous and this week I saw another friend, a surgeon from my hospital depart for duty there. Likewise there is much debate about the US and NATO role in the Syrian Civil War, something that seems to me will eventually involve US forces in yet another war.

I guess that is why I can’t sleep and why some of my dreams have been so disturbing lately. I know that I will get through this as I have been through much worse over the past six years.

Another episode of Deep Space Nine entitled Paper Moon that I watched tonight dealt with the young Ferengi officer Nog who was wounded at AR-558, losing a leg and his struggles after returning to the station dealing with the trauma of war, loss and change.

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Nog tells his holographic friend the lounge singer Vic Fontaine played by James Darren When the war began…I was eager. I wanted to test myself. I wanted to prove I had what it took to be a soldier. And I saw a lot of combat. I saw a lot of people get hurt. I saw a lot of people die, but I didn’t think anything was going to happen to me.” I didn’t think that anything would happen to me either, I thought that I was immune from trauma and PTSD, I was an expert in dealing with trauma but I came back changed.

At the end of the episode as he comes to terms with his loss and the change he is asked by his father’s new wife “Are you okay?” and he replies “No. But I will be.”

I will be too. Tonight I hope to sleep.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under iraq,afghanistan, middle east, News and current events, PTSD, Tour in Iraq

A Pause on a Monday Night to Reflect and Give Thanks

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Well it has been a busy few days travel, doing a wedding for a dear couple that I have worked with for almost 5 years and a busy time at work. On top of everything I have the duty pager tonight, so far an uneventful night despite a couple of somewhat sporty events during the day.  I am also adjusting to the fact that I will be transferring to my new assignment in two months. I have enjoyed my current assignment but the geographic separation from my wife Judy with only sporadic visits home for the past three years has been wearying. It will be good to be back with her. Our time together gets better every time I go home. That is a good thing because for a time after Iraq and my assignments in Naval Medical Centers that she wondered if our marriage would survive. Life for her with the man dealing with the PTSD “Mad Cow” was a bitch at times.

I have a lot to be thankful for in the non-cyberspace world, friends, family, dogs, as well as vocation, calling and career that I love doing. All of that makes a big difference.

So tonight instead of writing anything too serious I want to pause for a moment and thank all of those that subscribe to Padre Steve’s World as well as others that follow me and the site through Facebook or Twitter. There are thousands or millions of other sites to browse around on in cyber space, not to mention  books and film and other forms of learning, information and entertainment. I am just happy that a decent number of people read what I write and quite a few send me notes or leave comments that mean a lot to me, especially when I see how something that I wrote or that I have shared from my experience has touched their lives in some way. That is actually humbling and I am most grateful.

Now I know that some of what I write appeals to a wide variety of people and that some people may be interested or not interested in a given topic. I figure that some variety is the spice of life. Likewise I know that thinking and rational people will not always agree with me, heck there are some times that I don’t even agree with me, it’s that whole PTSD “mad Cow” deal.

When I was going through my darkest times after Iraq dealing with PTSD, depression, anxiety, insomnia, night terrors and nightmares it was a rather desperate time in my life. There were times that I wondered if I was able to be of help to anyone when it seemed that I couldn’t even help myself. I was unprepared for this, before I went to Iraq I was arrogant enough to think that I was untouchable and would never be affected by any form of combat stress, much less full blown PTSD.

Tonight I was watching an episode of season seven of Star Trek Deep Space Nine, called Afterimage. It is about the successor to Jadzia Dax who was killed at the end of season six. The new character “Ezri Dax” is a young counselor who ended up with the Dax symbiont by accident and out of necessity, without the years of training and selection process normal to her planet and race. Unprepared for this she struggles to find herself. After a confrontation with a a man that she is counseling she goes to Captain Sisko and confesses her inadequacy and offering her resignation. Sisko asked her “why” and she replied “Because I can’t do my job. Garak was right. How can I help other people when I can’t even help myself?”

One of my favorite fictional Priests is Father Mulcahy of M*A*S*H. In one episode where he has hit the wall he remarks: “It doesn’t matter whether you feel useful or not when you’re moving from one disaster to another. The trick, I guess, is to just keep moving.”

I felt that way so many times after Iraq and the years that followed. Over the years things have gotten better with therapy, medication, some spiritual care and the support of colleagues where I have worked. This blog has been a big part of that journey as I rediscovered who I am and what I am becoming as a human being in relationship with God and the people of God, regardless of their spiritual beliefs or non-spiritual beliefs, their political beliefs, their lifestyle or even really important things like if the a Dodgers’ or Yankee’s fan. Since I am a fan of the Giants and Orioles this is more important than you can imagine.

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So to my long time readers thank you for persevering. To my new readers, subscribers and those that follow me on Facebook or Twitter, welcome to my little world.

Peace and blessings,

Padre Steve+

PS Tomorrow I will be looking at the serious situation developing in all seriousness in Syria.

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Filed under faith, Pastoral Care, philosophy, PTSD

When Disaster is Not an Option: The NSA Leaks, Security and Freedom the Perspective of those in Command

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JARESH-INYO: I never sought this job. I was content to simply represent my people on the Federation Council. When they asked me to submit my name for election, I almost said no. Today I wish I had.
LEYTON: We appreciate your feelings, Mister President, but we don’t have time for regrets. You accepted the job and now it’s yours.
ODO: Mister President, there are people all over this planet right now huddled in the dark, terrified about what might happen next. They’re waiting for a sign, something to reassure them that everything will be all right. But they won’t wait long. Fear is a powerful and dangerous thing. And if you don’t act, if you don’t show them that they’re not alone, then fear will surely take over.
SISKO: Give us the authority we need, Mister President, and we will take care of the rest.
(There’s a long pause, then Jaresh-Inyo taps his PADD – 4567 security codes.)
JARESH-INYO: Earth is in your hands, gentlemen. Do what needs to be done.
LEYTON: Thank you, sir. You’ve made the right decision.
JARESH-INYO: I hope you’re right, for all our sakes. (From Star Trek Deep Space Nine, Season 4 Episode 10 “Homefront”) 

After the attacks of 9-11-2001 things changed in the United States. The question of security became paramount in the minds of many Americans who, quite a few with great misgivings approved of the passage of the Patriot Act and other laws to strengthen law enforcement, intelligence and other defensive measures, especially electronic surveillance and data collection done at the Top Secret level.

The fact is that President George W Bush, regardless of what one thinks of his subsequent actions regarding the invasion of Iraq did what any President of any party affiliation would have done in the wake of those attacks. He initiated legislation that would allow security agencies much wider latitude in collecting data and investigating any possible threats to national security. Now 10 years later, without a comparable attack many people question those decisions. President Obama, like him or loathe him has elected to for the most part continue, extend and even expand the Bush policies. If he wasn’t a Democrat he would be lauded by most of Bush’s supporters.

The real truth of the matter is that the President of the United States holds a unique position and amount of responsibility that no one who has not held that office can truly fathom. If the President, no matter who he or she is, or what party they represent has not done everything the laws allow to prevent major terrorist attacks in the post 9-11-2001 era and just one major attack is successful, he or she will be blamed forever. No one wants that, even men like President Obama who before their election were staunch civil libertarians. I can only imagine the look on his face, or that of George W Bush when they received their first National Security Briefing after taking office and realized that from now on whatever happened, for good or for bad would be blamed on them or credited to them despite the fact that almost everything that they had to decide would be formed and shaped by intelligence and national security experts as well as political advisors with more National Security and Foreign Affairs experience.

Since both of them, and President Clinton before them had minimal exposure or experience in such matters I can only imagine that it was overwhelming. I can only compare what it was like to become an Army Company Commander in Cold War Germany in 1985 and realizing that every one of the 110 men and women assigned to that unit and everything it accomplished or failed to accomplished would fall on my shoulders. I have provided counsel and support as a Chaplain to men and women in positions of greater authority than I held and I honestly cannot comprehend what the responsibility for a nation at war is like.

Jaresh-Inyo

In the Star Trek Next Deep Space Nine episode Homefront, the Federation President President Jaresh-Inyo tells his Starfleet advisors when giving them practically unlimited powers to defend Earth: “It took centuries for Earth to evolve into the peaceful haven it is today. I would hate to be remembered as the Federation president who destroyed Paradise.”

As I mentioned in my other articles about the NSA leaks there are many gray areas in the practical measures and laws instituted after 9-11-2001 and in the manner that both the Bush and Obama administrations have conducted the War on Terror. The NSA leaks and the actions of Edward Snowden point us to policy conversations and debates that we need to have regarding how we as a society balance our security with freedom. But as we do that we have to remember that in our system of government and our current laws drafted after 9-11-2001 that we have given the President powers that previous Presidents seldom had, or desired. Whether the President was Bush or is Obama or someone else in the future the fact is that they have the job and we don’t.

In the episode Admiral Leyton the Starfleet Commander voices his doubts about the Federation President, sentiments that some have pretty much applied to President Obama.

BENTEEN: The bottom line is a changeling infiltrated the grounds of Starfleet Headquarters, imitated the Admiral, and got away scot-free. Our security measures aren’t working.
SISKO: We’re doing everything the President will let us do.
BENTEEN: Maybe that’s not enough.
ODO: We could talk to the President again.
LEYTON: I’m afraid that would be a waste of time. Jaresh-Inyo would be a fine president in peacetime, but we have a war on our hands. He doesn’t seem to understand that. All he cares about is not upsetting people. But humans are tougher than he thinks. We’ve created a paradise here and we’re willing to fight to protect it.
SISKO: And you think the President isn’t willing to fight?
LEYTON: I think the President is a long way from home. This isn’t his world. We can’t expect him to care about it the way we do.

These are perilous times and serious issues. Facebook Memes, snarky tweets and bellicose blog posts that paint everything in easy black and white terms are seldom right and the fact is that the questions we fact now is complex and multifaceted. If we are to face them we have to do so in a serious manner acknowledging that the world that we live is not the same as it was even 20 years ago.

Until tomorrow or Friday,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under laws and legislation, national security, News and current events, star trek