Tag Archives: captain frank morneau

My Brotherhood of War

Dynamic DuoRP2 Nelson Lebron and Me- The RST-2 “Desert Rats”

Back in the mid 80s shortly after I was commissioned as an Army Officer there was a series of historical novels by W.E.B. Griffin called the Brotherhood of War. The series traced the paths of several Army officers as well as family and friends beginning in World War II. I am not much of a reader of fiction, but this series, as well as Anton Meyer’s Once an Eagle well captured the unique culture of the career professional soldier through both war and peace.  They treated their subject respectfully while also dealing with the effect of this lifestyle on families as well as the soldiers, reading Once and Eagle I feel that connection with the fictional Sam Damon, the hero of the story and revulsion for the character of the self serving careerist Courtney Massengale.

I’ve been a military officer in both the Army and Navy now for almost 26 years with nearly 28 years total service. It is part of my heart, soul and being.  I was born for this, just as Babe Ruth, Willie Mays and Ted Williams were born to be baseball players.  I grew up in a Navy family as a Navy “Brat” living up and down the West Coast and the Philippines and all I can remember from the earliest age wanted to be in the Navy Officer and later Navy Chaplain.  My dreams came true.  The first 17 ½ years of my service was in the Army, something that that initially my retired Navy Chief Dad had problems with, however he made his peace with it and was proud that I served and proud of the fact that I had made Major.  However, in 1999 in order to return to active duty I resigned my Army Reserve commission as a Major and entered the Navy Chaplain Corps as a Lieutenant with no time in grade.  Outside of marrying my wife Judy, who somehow did not kill me when I did this, going in the Navy was the best thing that ever happened to me.

134LtCol David Kuehn and Me

Part of my time in the Army and Navy has been my time in the Chaplain Corps of each service.  I have been a chaplain for 17 years come September.  My best friends in the military are other chaplains, some from my own church and some from other communions.  The ones that I have the most connectedness to are those who have served in combat, especially those who served in Iraq, or ships in the war zone conducting various combat and maritime operations even when we were in different places.  In Iraq I was blessed to have Fr Jose Bautista-Rojas and Chaplain Pat McLaughlin supporting me at my base of operations.  There were others besides these men and many who were not chaplains. In Baghdad I had the staff of the Iraq Assistance Group Chief of Staff Colonel David Abramowitz and Chaplain Peter Dissmore and Captain Mike Langston at II MEF Forward.  Likewise I had Colonel Scott Cottrell and Colonel John Broadmeadow at 7th Iraqi Division Military Training Team, my friend LtCol David Kuehn at 3rd Brigade 1st Iraqi Division Military Training Team, LtCol Stephen Bien with the 2nd Border Brigade and a host of others about Al Anbar Province. As important if not more was my assistant RP2 Nelson Lebron, a true hero and friend.

chaplains and rp2 lebron at TQNelson, Fr Jose Bautista-Rojas, CDR Pat MCLaughlin and Me at TQ

Back in March of this year I was with a number of chaplains from my church gathered for our annual conference.  Some of these men I have now known for at least 10 years, some more.  I’ve seen the young guys start to age and others retired from the service.  We have grown together; we at least in most cases have come to love each other as brothers and friends.   What has made this conference different from past gatherings is that all of us have had one or more combat deployments or are getting ready to go for the first time or back for another tour.

nelson and me flight homeNelson and Me in the Air Everywhere

We have shared our stories but now they are the stories of men who have all seen war.  In our careers we have all experienced success, as well as heartache.  Due to our duty we have been often isolated from the church and each other.  We all came back from the war changed in some way.   Some of this is due to health related issues stemming from our service and for others things that we have seen or experienced.  Of course each of us has had different types of experience in country, but nonetheless our experienced changed all of us in some way or another.  For me the events have been trying to make sense of the torrent of emotional, physical and spiritual distress that I have had to deal with.  While I have made a lot of progress in some areas, there are a lot of places where I’m still sorting through things as are a number of my friends.  I can say that I often feel alienated from my own church.  When I read things that some of our bishops write or say I know that I do not belong.   Based on my service in combat and to my country for almost 28 years  and 13 years as a faithful priest I have tried.  The fact that with the exception of some of my fellow military priests I have no relationships with anyone in my church,   I was at one time banned from publishing by a former bishop.  I was forbidden to have contact with the priests of a my old diocese when I was stationed in it by the same man.  The civilian diocese that I transferred  to has had nothing to do with me for the most part since I was transferred to Virginia and since I moved here no one has bothered to say a thing to me.   None of this was because I didn’t try and the thing is I don’t care anymore.  I just plan on caring for God’s people where I’m at and building relationships with people who bother to invest in my life here. I haven’t the spiritual or emotional energy to keep trying to make something happen with people who obviously don’t care about me and haven’t for years.

This year our gathering was marked by a lot less light heartedness.  There was a lot less bravado than years past, more reflection, less intense discussion of the theological issues that have divided the Christian Church for centuries.  I know for myself I don’t have the energy to spend battling people over things that the rest of Christendom hasn’t been able to settle on.  For me I’m okay with the Canon of Scripture, the Creeds and the first 7 Ecumenical Councils, though I have a great love of the Second Vatican Council.  If people want to fight the other fights they can go ahead without me how many pins you can stick in the head of an Angel.

As far as health concerns I know that at least two of us have confirmed real live PTSD, and one with a case of TBI.  Based on the way others act I’m sure that almost all have at least a combat stress injury, and maybe a couple more have PTSD.  One young Army Chaplain has an Iraq acquired constrictive bronchiolitis, or bronchiolitis obliterans which has no cure. This young man has won two Bronze Stars and now has the lung capacity of a 70 year old man.  At best he can hope that his lungs will not worsen and only age at a normal pace, which means in 10 years he has 80 year old lungs.  This young man is a Priest who I have mentored, coached and been a friend and colleague of since before he was ordained.  He is looking at something that will kill him; it is just a matter of when.  He is going through all of his medical boards now at Fort Hood and expects that in six to eight months that he will be medically retired.  It seems to me that a hero is being kicked to the curb by the Green Machine after laying himself on the line for his country.  He was treated by many people in the Army Medical system with suspicion and made to prove that he was sick at almost every point until a high ranking medical officer found out about his case and sent him to civilian specialist for evaluation.

While I was at our conference I had a major PTSD meltdown where I basically hid in my room of a day and a half, sneaking out at night to gather with just a couple of my friends by the pool for beer and Krispy Kreme Doughnuts.  Unfortunately we could only get the store bought ones because the hot and fresh glazed go great with a good pilsner or lager.

We have several Chaplains who have won Bronze Stars for their service in combat. I was awarded the Defense Meritorious Service Medal for what I did in Iraq.  I treasure that award because it cost me something to get, I still have a lot of Iraq with me and I always will.  Some day when all is said and done I want to see some of my Iraq military friends again and visit the country as part of a journey of discovering the ancient.

Some of my friends and I have experienced the indifference of the medical and administrative parts of the DOD and VA systems, including sometimes people in our own military service.  When I returned I found my personal and professional belongings crammed into a trailer with those of my assistant because the office space was needed and we were deployed.  There are things which I considered important that are still missing and likely never to be found.  I know that it was not intended to hurt because the space was needed because of major unit re-stationing. If I was the Commanding Officer I would have probably done the same thing and since I have had command I know that mission comes first. You try to take care of people but some things fall through the crack. That is simply part of life.

On the other hand some of my friends have had experiences where they felt the cold indifference of bureaucratic systems often staffed by personnel, military, DOD Civilians or contractors who act if the returning or injured vet is there so they can have a job. To be sure there are a lot of very caring people in our organizations, but these coldly indifferent people seem to show up all too frequently. This unlike what happened at my unit is intolerable.

What touched me about my unit was once it became clear that I was a PTSD casualty they did everything to try to get me help.  My first Commodore, now Rear Admiral Frank Morneau pulled me into his office to make sure that I was alright and that I was getting the help that I needed.  The man who replaced him Commodore Tom Sitsch asked me a question that was totally legitimate.  “Where does a Chaplain go for help?”  When I went to Portsmouth Naval Medical Center I was strongly supported by both my department head and his deputy.  I wish that everyone who came back like I did had the support of both line officers and Chaplains in their immediate chain of command.  It makes all the difference in the world.

The chaplains that I have served with in Iraq are part of my brotherhood, be they from my church or not. I believe that most of us who have gone to war have by and large matured. We saw death and destruction and were exposed to danger from enemies that could strike in the most unexpected moments in the most unexpected ways.  We have experienced sometimes difficult adjustments to life back home, a knowledge that we are different and that we are even more cognizant of our own obligation to care for God’s people.  Our brotherhood has deepened as a result of war, of that I am sure.  We are truly brothers.

Peace, Steve+

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Filed under healthcare, iraq,afghanistan, Military, PTSD, Religion, Tour in Iraq

Kira Gets Married, the June Swoon and the Rise and Fall of Stars

kira 1Kira Arriving escorted by her Proud Dad Tony

After having to deal with what has seemed like and unending series a series of memorial services, funerals and family medical crisis’ I finally something to celebrate.  Judy and I are going to the wedding of Kira.  Kira goes to the same church as Judy whose mother sings in the same choir.  Kira is a choir child and occasionally will sing with them. We first met Kira when she had just graduated from high school.  Even then she was a joy.  She was and is one of the sweetest girls we have ever known.  Of course Judy knew Kira and her family at church.  I was on the road frequently and only occasionally attended the church.  I got to know her better over at Gordon Biersch where she worked when Judy and I first started going there.  The first time I actually met her Judy told me “THIS IS KIRA AND YOU WILL OVERTIP HER.”  I did so but never regetted it, Kira always earned it.  If things were not too busy and even if they were busy Kira would pull up a chair by us and just talk.  Sometimes it was life, sometimes church, school or relationships but the conversation between us and Kira was something that we looked forward to every time we went to Biersch.  Now we know all of the bartenders and quite a few of the servers at the restaurant, and we love them all and we pretty much overtip them as well.  Kira however was something special.  As she completes college I know that she will do great things.   Her soon to be husband is a lucky man and is advised to take good care of Kira.

Kira is also a beautiful girl.  She comes from Irish and Italian stock, but you would think that she came direct from directly from Erin.  Her personal and physical beauty must have attracted guys like flies.  She seems to have stepped out of an Andrew Greely Bishop Blackie mystery as the sweet and beautiful heroine who helps Blackie solve the mystery.   If we had a daughter, we would want her to be Kira.

Kira will be married in the yard of her parent’s home.  Her and our Priest, Fr Jim will perform the ceremony.   The location is because some people attending are decidedly anti-Catholic and will not enter a Catholic church.  This means of course that I will be in my clericals tonight and maybe even wear a big pectoral cross or crucifix.  I seldom wear these even though my church says priests should wear silver pectoral crosses.  I personally find them a bit pretentious, but in this case to help draw fire from Fr Jim and make the anti-Catholics uncomfortable I will wear this and ingratiate myself to them.  Now, this will be a sacrifice for me as it will be hot and humid tonight.  Today happens to be the hottest day that we have had this year the temperature will be in the mid to high 90s with a heat index of over 100 degrees.  I will likely be sweating like a Boiler Technician on a World War Two cruiser in the South Pacific, probably off of Guadalcanal.  I hate humidity.  However tonight the cause is worthy of suffering for Jesus and I’m sure that the Deity Herself will approve.  When Judy and I were married we had temps in the high 90s but we were married in California with NO HUMIDITY thank you God.  There is the possibility that we could get storms so I am praying hard that at least for the duration of the ceremony that the heavens do not open as this is an open ceremony.  Now I do this kind of thing a lot with the Tides with varying degrees of success.  I do pray that the Deity Herself will smile upon Kira’s wedding.

kira 2Kira and Nate

A practical implication for Kira and her very soon to be husband is that the Roman Catholic Church will not recognize tonight’s ceremony because it is not being done in a church building.  The Commonwealth of Virginia will recognize this, but the church will not.  So tomorrow they will have the rite done in the small chapel in the church proper.  It is kind of a two step way of doing this and thankfully for the bride she has a wonderful priest who will work with her.  The inside the building requirement is because of an understanding that since marriage is a Sacrament of the Church that the wedding is to be performed in a religious setting among the faithful.  Complicating the situation was that Kira’s family’s home is in the boundary of another far more conservative parish that would have had to okay it, no chance of that. I do understand this requiement under Canon Law and try to follow it myself though I am not Roman; however as a Navy Chaplain sometimes I make exception to this.  However I also have theological questions about the necessity of getting married in the church building.  If the church is present where the Bishop is and by extension where the Priest is; and the Sacrament is performed in accordance with the Marriage Rite and proper intent of it being a Sacrament  conducted by a validly ordained Priest, how can it not be valid?  It seems to me that the same Holy Trinity which sanctifies the Rite conducted by the Priest is capable of doing this outside as well as inside of the church building.  I’m sure that the early Catholic Church could not do this, neither the Celtic Catholic missionaries who converted much of Western Europe.  They simply did not have the facilities.  Likewise, the underground churches in China or Islamic nations. The Bishop or Priest was present with the faithful and that ensured the validity of the sacraments, not the location.  I’m sure to get a barrage of theological criticism from the Ultra Montanes Canon Law Nazis but what do I care?

kira 3Presentation of the Newly Married Couple

A SHAMELESSS PLUG AND FREE ADVERTISEMENT FOR THE ABBY NORMAL ABBESS: Judy contributed her part for the wedding doing a beautiful Celtic design for the bulletin covers.  I saw her working on these and the detail that she puts into her work and the beauty of the finished product is simply amazing.  If you need digital artwork done for almost anything, or for that matter religious statues restored or custom clergy vestments she is incredible. Some of my posts about our Wiener Dogs display her work.  These are drawings and not photos if you have any questions.  Contact her through the like to the Abby Normal Abbess on the blog role link on right column of this page.

Speaking of the Norfolk Tides, they are emulating the old San Francisco Giants and are experiencing a “June Swoon.”  This has not been a good month for the home team.  The Orioles gutted our fearsome batting order bringing Nolan Reimold, Matt Wieters and Oscar Salazar to the big team where they are all doing well.  Our hitting has died, thankfully the pitching staff is still holding together.  Even more importantly our closest competitor the Durham Bulls are doing even worse this month and we remain a game up in the International League South.  I must redouble my prayers for the team and perhaps ask Tides General Manager Dave Rosenfeld if I can bless the bats.  After all it was Yogi Berra who once said: “I never blame myself when I’m not hitting. I just blame the bat and if it keeps up, I change bats. After all, if I know it isn’t my fault that I’m not hitting, how can I get mad at myself?”  Since Master Yogi has made this pronouncement I am sure that something has happened to the bats and that an exorcism might be due.

Finally some stars are rising and falling this week in the Navy.  First the rising star:  Captain Frank Morneau, my first Commodore at EOD Group Two was selected for the rank of Rear Admiral Lower Half.  This is the same rank as a Army, Marine Corps or Air Force Brigadier General.  There are not many EOD Officers who have risen to this rank.  Captain Morneau is the second.  He was great to work for and is a dynamic and energetic officer.  I remember him most as being a baseball fan, actually a Yankees fan that carried a game used bat to staff meetings.  Since I only carry a baseball in my digital camouflage uniform and get some looks as I toss up and down as I walk our corridors I can imagine the looks that Rear Admiral Select Morneau will get at the Pentagon or Congressional hearings on EOD issues.

The falling star is Rear Admiral Alan Blues Baker, the Deputy Navy Chief of Chaplains and Chaplain of the Marine Corps.  Admiral Baker is a graduate of the Naval Academy and former Surface Warfare Officer.  He was investigated by the Navy Inspector General (why we don’t have an Inspector Admiral I will never know) for an allegation of retribution and violation of the Military Whistle Blower Protection Act in regard to the FY 2008 Chaplain Captain selection board.  I do not know Admiral Baker but as a career officer and chaplain in both the Army and Navy see his forced retirement and failure to become our Chief of Chaplains as yet another stain on our Corps.  I wish this had never happened and will keep him and his family in my prayers even as I pray for the future leadership of the Chaplain Corps.  Admiral Bob Burt who was scheduled to retire will remain in office for another year and Rear-Admiral Select Mark Tidd will assume the office as the Deputy and Chaplain of the Marine Corps as scheduled.

This issue grieves me.  I remember when my Brigade Executive Officer and later acting commander Colonel Jim Wigger tell me that the Chaplain Corps in the Army was far more political and had no Ruths, being so ruthless in comparison with the Army Medical Department.  The Army Medical Department was a pretty ruthless organization, so when Colonel Wigger told me that I was somewhat skeptical.  He told me that I was jumping from the “frying pan into the fire” and he was right.  The thing about chaplains regardless of denominational affiliation, theological background or rank is that we are expected to be above the board and exemplify integrity.  If we even give the impression that we are somehow unethical or lacking in integrity then what we say means nothing because people will either not believe us or discount what we say.  It creates a problem for those who are doing good things because some people will lump us all in with the wrong doer. When a chaplain falls it can create a crisis of faith in the community. It is the same as when a civilian minister falls from grace.  The Catholic pedophile priests, pastors of Evangelical Mega-Churches or large ministries who are accused of financial or sexual misconduct created the same problem for civilian ministers as well as military chaplains.  Admiral Baker’s fall comes on the heels of a young Chaplain named Dillman who was convicted of a number of sexual assault and improper conduct charges a couple of weeks ago.  This young man once named as a Military Chaplain Association of America  “Chaplain of the Year is going to Leavenworth for 10 years.  A couple of years ago we had a priest who was convicted of a number of sexual assault charges by having sex with other men and not telling them that he was HIV positive.  This chaplain was a “poster boy” for the Chaplain Corps and the Roman Catholic Church Military Archdiocese.  Another Chaplain named Klingenschmitt was convicted of disobeying lawful orders after having engaged in a prolonged period of protest against the Navy.  Klingenschmitt, who I have written about on this website before made an absolute ass out of himself by protesting the Navy in front of the White House, making spurious allegations against multiple commanding officers and lying through his teeth about “not being allowed to pray in Jesus Name.”  When I was at Camp LeJeune I had to relieve two Chaplains who were kicked out of the Navy for sexual misconduct, one Protestant and one Catholic.  When I was at Headquarters Battalion 2nd Marine Division I was given charge over several chaplains who had not acquitted themselves well in order to try to help them become successful.   I also saw Army Chaplains conduct themselves in less than exemplary fashion.

Of course chaplains and ministers are human and we all are flawed, as the Apostle Paul wrote “All have fouled up and fallen short of the Glory of God.”  This being said chaplains and ministers while being human and free to make mistakes need to be sure that those mistakes are not those which compromise our integrity.  When I was a young Army Chaplain we were told that SAM, Sex, Alcohol and Money were the three biggest issues that put chaplains out of the service in jail.   Let’s add retribution to that list.  It is a sad day for the Chaplain Corps.  Please pray for us as individuals as well as a Corps as we walk through this valley and keep Admiral Baker in your prayers.

Peace, Steve+

Post Script: The wedding went off well, the promise of the Deity Herself to hold back the rain materizlized as she had promised.  Howver it was hot and humid and though I look good in them was regretting wearing my clericals.  The June Swoon con tinues for the Tides and the Bulls but the Gwinnett Braves are sneaking up and are within two games of the Tides and one of the Bulls.  We have been getting some runs but need to have things come together and fast.  Harbor Park is withing my resposne time to the medical center so if there is nothing critical going on tomorrow afternoon I will head over and watch the game.  So for selfish reason if nothing else I pray for the good health of all tomorrow.

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Filed under Baseball, Loose thoughts and musings, Military, philosophy, Religion