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To Iraq and Back: A Bus Ride to Carolina

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This is another installment of my To Iraq and Back series.

My CRV with Judy in it pulled away and Nelson and I went about our business. We staged our gear as we waited for the buses to arrive to take us to Fort Jackson South Carolina where we were to receive our training for the deployment.  As we talked other sailors arrived and soon the gear of over 100 sailors was stacked in rows of sea bags just off of the sidewalk.

Nelson’s parents, brother and sister had come to see him off.  His brother is a Navy First Class Petty Officer. His dad a former Vietnam era Marine Recon NCO who made several deployments “in the shit” as many Vietnam vets call tours in that combat zone.  They were really nice folks. Over the years I had heard much about them. They are close to each other and all are supportive of Nelson.

Nelson is a career amateur boxer; kick boxer, martial artist and more recently MMA fighter. He is active in children’s martial arts instruction and has been on Team USA and fought internationally.  During his previous deployment to Afghanistan he helped coach the fledgling Afghan National Boxing Team. A couple of months before this deployment he won the Arnold Schwarzenegger Classic.

So we waited while the other sailors gathered, some individually and some with family.  Some stood alone as couples while others mingled with each other.  For most this was a new way to see their sailor deploy.  No pier side goodbyes, no banners, no manning the rails by the crew as the ship was nudged away from the pier by tugs.

When you have a “normal” deployment of a ship or something like a Marine battalion it is a big deal. Many times media is there, sometimes there are speeches, but most of all there is the understanding that we are all in this together. We are going in as a unit.

In such times families say goodbye to their Sailors, Marines or Soldiers who are going to war together.  When you deploy as a unit there is familiar support system for the families we leave behind. This is not so when you deploy individually.  Those leaving on this day were very much strangers. We would train together, but few would stay together on the deployment.

If you are a ship or unit chaplain and deploy with your people there is a relationship. Generally you know each other, in this case we were strangers.  I was going to war with Nelson but we would not remain with any sailors we were with today when we got to Iraq. This was also the case for others who would serve in isolated posts, mostly working with the Army in support roles. Some would serve in specialized roles such as the Electronic Warfare Officers detailed to work on defeating IEDs and roadside bombs.

As others said their goodbyes and hugged each other I thought of Judy and knew that she was going to be down for some time but I felt that for once that she had an adequate support network. I was right about her being down for a while but this deployment would be harder on her than others and the support network proved woefully inadequate. So much for assumptions.

I looked at our gear as opposed to the others. Our gear was in large and rectangular bags of coyote or sand color. Most everyone else had traditional green sea bags, or what are known in the Army as “duffle bags.”  We already had our personal protective equipment of the EOD/Special Warfare type while others would receive Army issue at Fort Jackson. There are pros and cons to such a arrangement.  The pro is that we had great gear certainly some of the best in theater. The con was that we had to lug the great gear everywhere we went going to and coming back from war.  This would get old, but the benefits do outweigh the advantages when you are actually in a combat zone.

Finally an officer came out and began calling role and giving us our signed “official” orders.  After this we loaded our gear on the buses that would take us to Fort Jackson. These were the first of many buses we would ride and the first of many roll calls and gear load outs in the coming months.

Nelson and I got on the same bus which was not full and took seats near the front.  I got a seat alone because I was the senior officer on the bus and a chaplain to boot. This was not because I asked for it or hogged the seat.  It is actually fairly typical in such a setting where young enlisted guys don’t want to sit next to an officer they don’t know and some are afraid of chaplains because of experiences that they have had in civilian churches.

Many of the sailors had ever darkened the door of a church and many of those that have been in church have been burned in relationships with pastors or religious people.  I have found that many times, even those with a vibrant faith are hesitant to approach a chaplain that they do not know. Some are afraid that the chaplain might try to convert them be judgmental about of the manner in which they live their lives. So as a chaplain I try to be cognizant of this and be friendly and caring without scaring them away.  Of course I did build relationships with a quite a number of these sailors during the next few weeks but on this bus ride I was still an unknown quantity to them.

Sitting alone however was good for me since I general despise bus travel regardless of the company I keep.  For some reason my height works against me, I can never get my feet comfortably on the ground on these new tour buses and I have a terrible time getting comfortable.  Since bus travel takes forever to get anywhere the discomfort is palpable. Now I did a three month tour on buses in 1979 while touring as a spotlight tech for the Continental Singers and Orchestra across the US and in Europe.  Somehow the old Greyhound buses were more comfortable than the new tour buses.  Maybe I’m just nostalgic but they somehow fit people like me better than the fancy new buses.

When you travel by bus with a bunch of sailors, the majority of whom are at least 20 years younger than you, the experience can be entertaining. Part of course is a generational thing. I grew up and came of age the 60’s 70’s and 80’s. The majority of these sailors from the 90’s and 2000’s.

The trip was a chance for me to observe a lot about these sailors just by watching.  Some had their portable i-pods and MP-3 players going, others spent time talking on cell phones, a few read or talked among themselves, but the sailors near me gravitated to the DVD movie which was 300 the comic book style account of the Spartan’s defense of Thermopylae against the Persians.  As the Spartans made their stand I could see the young sailors who were going to war take inspiration from King Leonditis of Sparta.   Since we were going into a place where 50-100 Americans a month were being killed and hundreds more wounded I could understand the need for inspiration along with entertainment.

The bus ride itself was a lot like what I imagine that Minor League teams take in the Carolina League. Our journey reminded me of the bus rides in the movie Bull Durham.  The older guys staying pretty quiet and to themselves and the young guys having fun, playing games and joking around with each other,  We made a couple of stops, one at some little Interstate town with a fair amount of gas stations and a few fast food places.  About half the sailors went to the McDonalds while the rest ran down the street to the Burger King and Taco Bell. Once everyone had their fill the buses pulled back out onto the interstate.

When we finally got near Columbia the buses got of the Interstate highway and onto some small two lane state highway.  We drove down this road about twenty to thirty minutes and pulled into what appeared to be a tiny out of the way base. I wondered where the hell we were. Fort Jackson is a fairly large training base where thousands of recruits are trained every year.  Where we were certainly was not the Fort Jackson that I had imagined.

Instead of the main post we were at the South Carolina National Guard training facility called Camp McCready.  It is here that the Naval Expeditionary Combat Command has a training center set up with the Army to train sailors in basic combat tasks.

Our welcome that first night was simple.  We formed up, checked in, got our linens for our standard issue military beds and were marched to dinner at the chow hall or in the Army vernacular the DFAC by our newest and bestest buddies, our Army Drill Sergeants.  We were met at the DFAC by a civilian.  I can’t remember his name but this guy was most congenial and he put the RED in “Redneck.” He joked with everyone that came through the line, asked where people were from and what they did.  When he found out that I was a chaplain he began to ask me for a joke every meal thereafter. As such nearly every meal would be entertaining.

As Nelson and I sat down for chow with a couple of other sailors we looked at each other.  He said: “Boss I don’t think some of these guys know what is coming.”  I said “I think that your right partner, hopefully they adjust and do well.”  The other sailors, both more senior petty officers nodded in agreement.

Going back to the barracks I met some of the other officers enjoying their first night at Camp McCready.  More sailors from NMPS San Diego were due in later. I introduced myself to a number of the officers near me and engaged in some rather surface pleasantries. When lights out was called lay down on the same type of Army bunk bed that I had first encountered some twenty five years before at Camp Roberts California and Fort Lewis Washington.  I swear the sheets, blankets and pillowcases were of the same vintage.

Much was still on my mind when I laid down and my mind was still thinking about the trip to base with Judy and the final kiss goodbye. I was troubled by it and how I had handed things. Despite that I fell asleep fairly quickly. It had been a long day and coupled with the lack of sleep and stress of the previous couple of days I was tired.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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To Iraq and Back: A Last Night Together and a Kiss Goodbye

295_27076787058_8676_nJudy and I on the German Sail Training Ship Gorch Fock at the Norfolk Harbor Fest a couple of weeks before deployment

This is another of my “To Iraq and Back” articles about my deployment to Iraq in 2007 and 2008 with RP1 Nelson Lebron. 

Now the time has come to leave you
One more time Let me kiss you
And close your eyes and I’ll be on my way
Dream about the days to come, When I won’t have to leave alone
About the times, That I won’t have to say

Oh, kiss me and smile for me
Tell me that you’ll wait for me
Hold me like you’ll never let me go
Cause Im leavin’ on a jet plane
Don’t know when I’ll be back again
Oh babe, I hate to go

From “I’m Leaving on a Jet Plane” by John Denver

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vLBKOcUbHR0

The night before leaving on deployment and the actual day of departure are some of the hardest that any military couples or families experience. In time of war it is even more difficult. Judy and I have done this too many times in peace and war.

As I went through all of my preparations to go to Iraq in some was it was a replay of past pre-deployment situations. However, this time I was not merely deploying on a peacetime assignment or supporting a peace making operation, or even deploying on a ship and being part of a boarding team after the 9-11-2001 attacks. In that last instance  Judy did not know that I was part of the boarding team until about halfway through the deployment.

But this time going boots on ground into the most bitterly of Iraq’s contested provinces, Al Anbar. That lent at certain dark pallor to the occasion.

Our last night together was rather somber to put it mildly. Judy and I went out to dinner on Friday night. Since I knew that I would not be having a good beer for quite some time we went to the Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant in Virginia Beach. For us Gordon Biersch is generally a good time kind of place, it has become over the years our version of Cheers a place where everyone knows our name.

That last Friday before the deployment to Iraq it was not a festive occasion, it was almost a wake. Judy and I were both quite subdued. In between the silence Judy talked about her fears about the deployment while I tried to reassure her that everything would be fine. I am a man who is somewhat Vulcan in my use of logic. I figured that even though things were bad in Iraq that my chances of returning were quite high, even of something happened to me. I tried to be calm and reassuring and no matter what I tried it didn’t work, human emotions are quite intense at times.

I also reasoned that since I had taken out the extra life insurance that I would be okay.  For me such logic makes sense. I kind of believe that if I don’t get it I will need it and if I do get it I won’t. It’s kind of like Yogi Berra’s logic when he said “You should always go to other people’s funerals; otherwise, they won’t come to yours.”

After dinner and several half liter glasses of Gordon Biersch Märzen amber lager we went back home. Judy watched quietly while I finalized my packing. I ensured that all my field gear, uniforms and clothing were packed and rechecked my EOD issue protective gear.

I then packed my Mass kit, Bible, Prayer Book and my Marine Pattern camouflage reversible desert/woodland stole. The stole was special as Judy had made me a few years back from woodland and desert pattern shirts which were way too big for me. They are one of a kind items. I have seen similar, but what Judy made were far better than any others that I have seen. I still use that stole even when I am not deployed. It is simple but quite exquisite, adorned with an embroidered Maltese Cross in tan on the desert side and black on the woodland side it is unique and I treasure it.

The last items I packed were my books on counterinsurgency, a few DVD movies, music CDs and my hygiene items. It is funny to think that now all of this would be stored on my iPad which if I ever make such a deployment again will significantly simplify my life.

I wrestled the big bags down the stairs and put them in the back of my Honda CR-V so I wouldn’t have to fight them in the morning. That accomplished Judy and I just sat together, she was feeling pretty low, the look one of despair.

On the other hand I was a mix of conflicting emotions. I was excited by knowing that I was going to get to do what I had trained all of my life to do. However I was very cognizant of the reality that it would be tough on Judy and that it was a dangerous deployment.

My last couple of deployments had been very tough on her. When I deployed to support the Bosnia mission as a mobilized Army Reservist and newly ordained Priest three of my relatives in Huntington West Virginia where we were living died. One was my maternal grandmother “Ma Maw” who Judy had become very close to over the past couple of years. They had become buddies and Ma Maw had taken Judy in not as my wife, but as “her” granddaughter.

Ma Maw’s death hit Judy very hard and my mom and uncle in the midst of their grief over the loss of their mom they did not understood the depth of the relationship between Judy and Ma Maw. As a result, I was absent and there was much tension, misunderstanding and hurt feelings between them. In the week before Ma Maw’s death Judy tried repeatedly to get her to go to the doctor only to be ignored. The morning Ma Maw died Judy called me in Germany. She was frantic that I call Ma Maw and insist that she go to the doctor. I made the call and insisted that she go to the Emergency Room but she refused and said she would call her doctor. That night she died. I had lost my grandmother and could not go back to help and Judy had lost a woman who had become closer to her than her own grandmothers ever had been.

In 2001 during my deployment with 3rd Battalion 8th Marines to Okinawa, Japan and Korea we lost our 16 ½ year old Wire Haired Dachshund Frieda. Judy did her nest to keep Frieda alive for me, but there was nothing that could be done and finally with Judy being worn down to nothing herself, she was persuaded to have Frieda put down. The interesting thing is that after Frieda died she visited me in Okinawa and Judy about the same time in dreams. Frieda was always a weird animal and even in death has continued to find ways to remind us of her presence.

My 2002 deployment on USS HUE CITY to the Middle East and Horn of Africa came less than six months after my return from my deployment with 3/8. That deployment, coming on the heels of the 9-11-2001 attacks was also very difficult on her. In the space of 6 years we had been apart almost 4 1/2 years. Much of the time following that last deployment was spent on the road as I travelled to visit Marine Security Force and Navy EOD Mobile Units in the Middle East, Europe, the Far East and the Continental United States. In a four year period I averaged 1-3 weeks a month away from home.

With all of this in the background we spent our last night together. That night neither of us slept very well. When we got up I had a light breakfast and then accompanied by a friend from Judy’s Church choir we drove to the base.

Saturday morning traffic is generally not too bad so our trip was uneventful, but tense.  You could cut the tension between us by now with a knife.  It was about the time that we were nearing the base Judy said something about our relationship that I took really wrong. I sarcastically snapped back “Well I’ll just get blown up by an IED then.”

That sarcastic comment really hit her hard and I knew immediately that I had blown myself up with it. The words were harsh and devastating. I should have known better and should have kept my moth shut. After all I’d deployed a lot and taught pre-deployment classes talking about the emotional cycle of deployments. I was supposed to be an expert at this sort of thing, but instead my comment was very cruel.

To be sure the stress on both of us the preceding weeks had taken its toll and both of us were on edge.  For two months we had each in our own way imagined the deployment, me as a great adventure and her as a threat to our mutual existence. I wondered just what I would face when I got to Iraq and those were unanswerable questions. Judy’s great fear that something might happen to me and that she would be alone, not just for the time of the deployment but for the rest of her life.

That is one of the tensions in a military marriage that many people who have not lived it fail to understand. It is not just the wartime deployments it is the cumulative effects of multiple short and long term separations on the health of a relationship.

We got to the base pretty quick, maybe 15-20 minutes but the tension made me feel that the trip was three times as long. As we pulled up in a parking spot near the baggage drop off area we sat there for a few minutes. I got out of the car as did Judy.  I asked if she wanted to wait a while with me and with tears in her eyes said that she couldn’t handle the wait.

I unloaded my gear with the help of Nelson. He looked at Judy and said, “Don’t you worry ma’am we’ll do good and I’ll keep him safe.” Judy gave a soft “thanks” and gave him a hug.

With my gear unloaded I went back to Judy.  We looked at each other, embraced and kissed each other, each of us wondering if it was possibly the last time. We parted our embrace, and she the turned and walked back to the car, handed her friend the keys and they drove off.  It was a moment that I will not forget as long as I live. As she left I said a prayer under my breath and asked God to keep her safe while I was gone.  Then I turned to Nelson and said, “Okay partner, let’s get this done.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under iraq,afghanistan, marriage and relationships, Military, to iraq and back, Tour in Iraq

To Iraq and Back: Living Wills, Immunizations Gone Bad and More Sleepless Nights

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This is another installment of my To Iraq and Back series which tells of my deployment to Iraq with RP1 Nelson Lebron in 2007 and 2008.

One of the sobering things as you get ready to go to war are administrative issues that deal directly with your mortality. They are mundane actions when we do them in peacetime but chilling when you put them in context of going to war.

In our society in which people do all they can to push back even thinking about death discussing the issues that deal with your possible dismemberment, disability or your death are taboo. The month before I deployed  Iraq Judy had me take out an additional life insurance policy that doubled what the military would provide in the event of my demise.  At that point Iraq was a cauldron, hundreds of casualties each month and I was going to the heart of the action in Al Anbar province.

Part of our processing to go to combat was a will and power of attorney update.  We had not updated our wills since well before coming to the Hampton Roads area so I took advantage of this time to get it done.  The will itself was pretty easy since we have no children and have not been married to anyone else.  That was the easy part.

The next part was dealing with various powers of attorney, a general power of attorney and a medical power of attorney. The medical power of attorney is something that I routinely deal with at the hospital. I have dealt with them before in other places.  At the same time they become somewhat disconcerting when you are getting to go into a combat zone where there is heavy fighting going on. For most that is disconcerting enough, but chaplains go into action unarmed.

Sometimes when I fill out one of these I pray that I don’t end up like Karen Anne Quinlan or Terri Shaivo.  When I did it this time all I could think about was me being so badly wounded that it would be like the movie The Naked Gun.  I someone telling Judy “Doctors say that Dundas has a 50/50 chance of living, though there’s only a 10 percent chance of that.” While this is going on I could just see me unable to respond trying to say “give me one more at bat skip, just one more chance…please.”  This may not seem like the most spiritual thing for a Priest to be saying but I don’t want to be in the afterlife before my time. It would be bad form.

Legal matters finished we had to get our immunizations. When you deploy the military always ensures that you are vaccinated against about everything imaginable. These include typhoid, anthrax, smallpox, malaria, yellow fever, certain regional diseases and probably others that I have forgotten.

I had received many of these before at various times. This included my first Anthrax vaccine. On this second occasion something happened and ti had a reaction to it.  My bicep felt like someone had shoved a baseball in it and the sucker hurt like hell. By the next morning I knew that my reaction was not “normal” because the first one I had did not do this.

I thought back to the Anthrax scare right after September 11th 2001 and I didn’t want to take any chances regarding something that the media said could be dangerous. What if they had messed up and given me a bad batch of the vaccine. Hell, just because I’m paranoid doesn’t mean that they are not out to get me. Besides if I was going to die for my country I didn’t want it to be from a reaction to a vaccine and not something heroic.

So I went back to the immunization section. Like a typical officer I simply “excused” my way past the queue of sailors waiting to get PPDs read and went to the desk. I figured that I wasn’t going to wait in line behind people with routine stuff when things looked like they were getting sporty for me.I call it “self-triage.”

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The Corpsman at the desk was polite and asked what he could do.  I told him that “I think I’m having a reaction to the Anthrax vaccine.”  He gave me a funny look and asked which one in the series this shot was. It was the second and since I figured that the next question would be “did you have a reaction the first time?” I continued “This didn’t happen the first time.”

The Corpsman looked at my arm and said “Obviously sir the first time you had no antibodies to Anthrax so it had nothing to react to….”  I was thinking “no shit Sherlock” when the young man went to get his Chief. The Chief came in, looked at my arm and said: “Gee sir it looks like you are having a reaction to the shot.”

I was thinking well no shit but didn’t say it. So the Chief took me back to his office and started having me checked to make sure that I didn’t have a fever or a number of other things, like if I was dizzy or was having trouble breathing. No I was neither dizzy nor experiencing breathing difficulties but was simply in pain, a bit scared and really pissed.

After his battery of questions and a couple of phone calls asked me “do you think that you are safe to drive?”

At that point I would have said anything to get the hell out of there and get on with what I needed to do to make sure that I wasn’t going to die.  So I said “of course I am.”

He asked if I was sure and I reaffirmed this to him in a convincing enough manner for him to send me over to Portsmouth by ambulance.

Portsmouth Naval Medical has a small office manned by a couple of nurses whose job it is to report bad vaccine reactions up to the FDA and God only knows who else. These ladies were very pleasant and when they got a look at my arm they were impressed.  Once again I heard “Yes sir you are having a reaction.”

I got to answer yet another battery of questions and they took a couple of pictures of the baseball sized knot on my left bicep.  One of them made a couple of phone calls and a few minutes later I was told that I would be okay. The explanation was that the subcutaneous injection had caused the vaccine to be encapsulated in my arm rather than doing what it needed to be doing. I was told to inform whoever gave me my next shot in the series to make sure that they got in the muscle. I was told to take some Motrin for the pain and swelling and do a lot of push-ups, pull-ups and massage the bicep to help the swelling dissipate faster. My fears eased and I left the hospital and reported back to the processing site where all of my fellow sailors had already left for the day.

I spent another tense and sleepless night with Judy, the emotional distance still there.  We talked about various things but nothing serious. I don’t think that either of us was able to vocalize well what we were feeling.

Even Molly seemed differed, I’m sure that she sensed that something was going on as I had continued to pack and re-pack my gear from EOD. Molly does not like it when either of us pack as it usually means that one or both of us is leaving.

The next morning I repeated my “Groundhog Day” trek back to Norfolk Naval Station fighting the idiots driving to work on the I-264, I-64 and I-564 battle zone where matching wits with the witless I safely picked my way through traffic while drinking my black coffee.

This was our next to last day of processing and we checked and re-checked paperwork, received our signed wills, living wills and powers of attorney. That morning I met with Father Pat Finn a mobilized reservist and Episcopal Priest from South Carolina and we had a nice chat where we were joined by Fr Steve Powers a retired Navy Chaplain and Rector of St. Brides Episcopal Church in Chesapeake.

Following that I was asked to assist with a sailor who was having some personal difficulties getting ready for the deployment.  These tasks completed I went back to muster with the others and sat down next to Nelson. Following this we went out where the Storekeepers and other supply staff had our gear.

We gathered outside where we lined up and given a sea bag in which to put our issue.  There were boxes of stuff everywhere and a couple of civilians and sailors stood by to ensure that we got what we were going to get.  Uniforms with all of our name tapes rank insignia and qualification pins sewn on were there as well as more socks, t-shirts and other assorted gear.

Our stash was a bit lighter than the others as we already had much of what was being issued. When this was done and we were released. I told Nelson to go home as his family was coming into town from New York.  Taking the newly issued gear home I again went about packing and repacking and took Judy out to dinner after which we spent our time alone together pondering the future.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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To Iraq and Back: Reporting for Duty

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In July 2007 my assistant at EOD Group Two, RP1 Nelson Lebron and I began our Iraq adventure.  This is one of a series of posts which will be published periodically to tell our story.  While they will not be daily posts, they will be sprinkled in on this site on a regular basis.  Hopefully they will be something that will help those who have not been in the remote parts of either Iraq or Afghanistan what it is for Navy personnel to go to war, not as ship’s company, not with their own unit, but as individual augments to other commands.  This is a different way to go to war…this is our story.

July 2nd 2007: I rolled into the parking lot for the Naval Mobilization Processing Site (NMPS) Norfolk.  As usual parking on Norfolk Naval Station was a bitch to find.  It had been a number of months since I had to make this commute.  I transferred from the Marine Security Force Battalion where I had served from 2003 to October 2006 and had not made the trip since. Thankfully I remembered to leave early because traffic was as gooned up as ever going down I-264, I-64 and I-564 to head into the base.

As I looked for a parking space I really missed my designated parking spot back at Security Forces. I drove around for a while and finally found a spot, then after wandering around a found the NMPS offices.

I walked upstairs to the classroom in which we were to meet was located and found it empty, save for a couple of NMPS staff members.  I reported there in my DCU’s, or Dessert Camouflage Uniform issued to me by EOD Group Two. They are an older type uniform similar to the old BDUs and unlike the Marine Pattern Digital Camouflage are not wash and wear. I still have a few sets in my deployment bag but figure that if I every get deployed to such a situation again that I will be wearing whatever Army or Marine Corps uniform the Navy sailors are wearing unless serving with the Seabees, Naval Special Warfare or an actual Navy command.

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Camp Zarqa Jordan March 2007

I had worn them in March when I went to Jordan for the Jordanian Army/ UN Peace Operations Training Center course on Iraqi Culture, Religion, Politics and Language. Until the Marines came out with their digital uniforms they were common to all of the services. Now in 2013 I think there are 10 different camouflage uniforms in use among the armed forces and Congress is about to force us in the military to find a common uniform again. Not a bad idea if you ask me.

I looked around the empty classroom with every table stacked with folders filled with a huge amount of paperwork.  I found a seat which is not hard to do with so many to empty seats choose from and sat down. I took an aisle seat about three rows back and plunked my EOD issue Blackhawk backpack down, grabbed my Book of Common Prayer and did the morning office before anyone else arrived while drinking the large cup of black coffee I had gotten across the street.

Shortly thereafter other people began to arrive in twos and threes, most enlisted dressed in utilities (the successor to dungarees) while most of the Chiefs and officers were dressed in khakis. A few Seabees had woodland BDUs on and a couple of folks wore DCUs which were obviously from previous deployments to the sandbox.  RP1 Lebron, then an RP2 then showed up and we waited for the orientation and administrative stuff to start moving.  We surveyed the situation and looking upon our fellow sailors realized that this would be a different deployment.

What we noticed as we talked the varying ranks and uniforms really jumped out at both of us.  Most of our fellow sailors had never been deployed even in peacetime in such a manner.  Most of those who had deployed had done so on ship with the exception of the Seabees and a Corpsman or two.

The sailors spanned the spectrum of age, rank and rating. There were the officers, mainly Lieutenants, Lieutenant Commanders and Commanders, Surface Warfare, Aviators, Supply Corps, Civil Engineering Corps and Medical Officers.  The highest ranking officer was a Navy Captain. I was the only Chaplain.

The enlisted sailors also spanned the spectrum of the Navy. Fire Control Technicians, Operations Specialists, Gunners Mates, Boatswains, Yeomen and Storekeepers, Intelligence Specialists, Corpsmen, and even Culinary Specialists.  They had qualifications as Submariners, Enlisted Surface Warfare, Aviation Warfare among others.  Some like me and Nelson had volunteered, others were voluntold. The one that brought us all together was that we were US Navy Sailors and going to war and not with the Navy or our shipmates. We were strangers to each other and would be strangers to Soldiers, Airmen, Marines and Sailors that we would serve with overseas.

Nelson and I have deployed a lot. We had served together in Okinawa and at EOD where I did a “drug deal” with his chaplain and the RP detailer to get him to EOD.  The guy is a hero. I think he has deployed about 10 times in his 20 year career from which he will retire this fall.

The year and a half prior to our deployment Nelson had been deployed to Afghanistan where he as an E-5 was awarded the Defense Meritorious Service Medal.  On his way back from Afghanistan he was pulled off of his flight to the states and sent back to his old ship, the USS Trenton to assist in the evacuation of Americans and others from Beirut.

I think to some extent his frequent deployments actually hurt his career since the biggest part of making rank as a Navy enlisted man is to do well on the advancement exam. Unfortunately there were many times when he was forbidden to test because he was deployed, and when eventually allowed to test during a deployment was not provided the appropriate materials to study. That would happen again during the coming deployment and lead to a pretty funny incident on one of our trips in Iraq, but that story will be told later.

Nelson is a NY Rican and both a New York Golden Gloves boxing champ, a high school valedictorian, a full contact  kick boxer, martial artist, MMA fighter and has fought on Team USA and won the 2005 Arnold Schwarzenegger Classic.   He is the real deal.  Proficient in many weapons systems from his service with the 3rd Recon Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment and Naval Special Warfare he is the ideal body guard for any Chaplain going to do the job we had been given to do, to work with Marine and Army advisers supporting two Iraqi Divisions.  Our mission would evolve and expand once we got there, but we didn’t know that yet.

As people filed in a Chief Petty Officer brought us to attention and the processing site Commanding Officer came. He spoke with us a few minutes and then led us in the Sailors Creed. With that we set down and began to get our orientation to how our mobilization, training and movement would unfold as we got ready to go to Iraq.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Roster Moves: No Game, Series or Season in Baseball or Life Goes Without Them

046Norfolk Tides Manager Gary Allenson making a Slight Adjustment to the Outfield with 1 Out in the 9th Inning

Larry: Who’s this? Who are you?
Crash Davis: I’m the player to be named later.

From Bull Durham

Sometimes I feel like the player to be named later.  I am amazed at the changes on a baseball team’s roster during the course of a season.  At the same time being in the military for almost 28 years I have some understanding of them in daily life.  This season with the Norfolk Tides and my place of work at a Major Naval Medical Center has been a perfect example of how no roster survives intact.

Now this is nothing new, as long as there have been baseball teams and militaries there have been personnel changes.  In baseball as in the military there is constant moves of personnel as people are transferred, promoted, demoted, are injured or retire from either the service or the game.  Sometimes roster moves are part of a natural process as an organization decides how it wants to chart its future. Other times they are dictated by a need that occurs that has not been anticipated such as injuries, trades, transfers, retirements or personnel or budget constraints, either expected or unexpected.

In the Minor Leagues the Minor League affiliates exist to supply their Major League organization with young talent, player development, rehabilitation and depth to meet the demands of a long season.  It is similar in the military where support and training organizations exist to meet the needs of the operating forces.  This is true regardless of military branch of service.   When the Major League Team or the operating forces are stretched, experience losses or suffer setbacks it is common for them to draw upon the support and training organizations to fill the holes and meet the needs of the larger organization.

I have watched this close up in two worlds this year both where I work and where I watch the Tides play ball.  At work this has occurred where due to retirements and transfers our department has lost a lot of people who have not yet been replaced, creating a lot of pressure on those who remain, likewise we are tasked with more missions to support the operating forces.  The same is true of the rest of the Medical Center where many physicians, nurses, corpsmen and other sailors have been deployed to meet the demands of the expanding war in Afghanistan while still supporting other worldwide commitments and our own home town mission.  While this is going on other needs have come up in caring for returning warriors, wounded warriors and their families as well as the rest of the military community that depends on us for their primary and specialized medical care.  I have seen more colleagues and friends than I can count be deployed from what is supposedly a pretty safe “non-deploying” shore billet to support the operating forces, Navy, Marines and Joint or NATO.  I have watched the organization adapt to the call ups by moving people around as well as finding people to fill the void, even if they are only on contract.

Our Norfolk Tides began the season with a very solid roster and within two months the big club, the Baltimore Orioles had called up several pitchers as well as the heart of the batting order, Outfielder Nolan Reimold, Catcher Matt Wieters and Infielder Oscar Salazar.  Meanwhile the Tides lost several players to injuries which forced Manager Gary Allenson and the Orioles organization to fins personnel both within and outside of the organization to fill the gaps created by call ups to the big team and injuries.  To do this they brought up players from AA Bowie, moved players down from Baltimore and found and traded for players outside of the Orioles system.  At first the adjustment was difficult but now the new players and those who were left are coming together to keep the team, at least for now in first place in the International League South.   Yet with every move the organization has to decide how to best utilize the players that it has.  In the case of the Tides this comes down to Manager Gary Allenson and his coaches working together with the rest of the Orioles organization.

Even in the midst of a game there are roster changes, sometimes for pitchers, sometimes hitter and sometimes even for running or defense.  Some of the changes are for injuries, or situational based on statistics of what you have empirical evidence to show that one course of action is better than another.  Thus you have relief pitchers and pinch hitters or runners.  No at bat or even pitch is the same, which is like life, nothing remains the same so you must make the adjustments on every play.

At the personal level changes affects everyone in the organization even if their job in the organization does not change.  At the minimum the changes affect the dynamics of the work environment, the chemistry between teams and the concern for friends who have left the organization with whom we have invested significant amounts of time and emotional energy.  Thus when Oscar Salazar was called up by Baltimore it left a huge hole in the team because Salazar was not only a leading contributor on the field but his tremendously positive attitude off the field in energizing the team and working with younger players.  Individual losses while seemingly statistically insignificant can be magnified by the intangibles of what a person brings to the team.  Some who seem to have all the right stuff may not be missed, while others who maybe don’t have the same talent level as others might be more sorely missed.  Since a team depends on the efforts of everyone, especially in baseball where the game is both immensely individual and absolutely interdependent personnel changes must be weighed carefully in the overall mission of the team or organization.  The Tides are fortunate to be with Baltimore as the organization is not only scouting talent for the O’s but their Minor League affiliates.  I met a Baltimore Scout at a Tides game over the weekend who said they were out seeking hitters for Norfolk due to call ups to the O’s and injuries to members of the Tides.  The larger organization, though a work in progress recognizes that its future lies in its Minor League system.  Thus over the past couple of weeks they have picked up Michael Aubrey from the Cleveland organization and Victor Diaz, a former Tides Outfielder when they were in the Mets organization and who later played in New York, Texas and the Houston organization before playing with the Hanwha Eagles in South Korea before being signed by the Orioles and assisted to the Tides.  A good organization not only looks to the situation they are currently facing u to the future.  A bad organization does not plan for the future but only concentrates on the present.  In the case of the Tides we are prospering under Baltimore but suffered for almost 20 years under the Mets, who have continued to neglect and abuse their farm system, especially their AAA affiliates.  The fans in Buffalo despise the relationship.

On the personal level this also means that individuals can be moved around to meet the needs of the organization.  This does not always make players happy be they ball players or military personnel.  There have been times in my career that I did not like what was happening to me in the organization, not so in the Navy but definitely in hte first part of my Army career. Such unhappiness when left unchecked can lead to blow ups.  The movie Bull Durham has a great example where Crash Davis, played by Kevin Costner complains about his reassignment from an AAA team back to a single A team.

Crash Davis: You don’t want a ballplayer; you want a stable pony.
Skip: Nah.
Crash Davis: Well, my triple-A contract gets bought out so I can hold some flavor-of-the-month’s dick in the bus leagues, is that it? Well, f— this f—ing game!
[pause]
Crash Davis: I quit, all right? I f—ing quit.
[Crash exits the office and stands in the clubhouse for a minute before sticking his head back through the door]
Crash Davis: Who we play tomorrow?
Skip: Winston-Salem. Batting practice at 11:30.

I cannot say that in my Navy career I have ever felt like Crash Davis,  in fact I have even when doing a lot of “relief” work and been moved around sometimes faster than I wanted to be because I was needed to put out a fire. At the same time I have  always been dealt with well.  I have not been sent back down in the organization, but have been moved up or laterally to do different jobs, like I said often on short notice like the time when two different chaplains were fired and I went from one job to the next and ended up nine or ten weeks at 29 Palms prior to a 7 month deployment in two different battalions. Those were stressful, but not bad and the organization treated me well.  Some people don’t have that experience however and roster moves on short notice can be a source of consternation, anger and discord if not handled well by the team manager or the command.

However I did come into the Navy at a lower rank than I left the Army in 1999 just to get back in the show that was the cost of getting back in the game full time, something I am amazed that I got the chance to do and every grateful to the Navy, my Bishop and the Deity Herself.   In my current billet I love what I do and who I do it with, but the organization will be making some changes as we graduate our current residents, gain new residents, gain and lose other personnel and adjust to meet an ever changing and increasing mission.  While we do this we seek to set the standard of professional competency not only in the Navy but the civilian world.  For me this will involve changes, changes that on one level I resist, but on another level completely understand and agree with as the way to help the organization move forward.  Come September those changes will be made.  I can say that I don’t feel like Crash because this involves things that I have always wanted to do but unless I am adaptable will not be able to do, unless the Deity Herself creates a couple extra days to the week and makes every day a 32 hour day.  Thus I will adjust as will the rest of the organization as we collectively work together to ensure that we are taking care of those that God has given us.

So far as the story goes tonight, the one constant in the season is change, teamwork and adjustment to change. As Sparky Anderson once said “If a team is in a positive frame of mind, it will have a good attitude. If it has a good attitude, it will make a commitment to playing the game right. If it plays the game right, it will win—unless, of course, it doesn’t have enough talent to win, and no manager can make goose-liver pate out of goose feathers, so why worry?”  Thankfully, our leadership seems to be rising to the task and and we have the talent, so why worry?

Peace, Steve+

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Going to War: A Bus Ride to the Carolina Countryside

This is part four in my “Going to War” series. Previous parts are noted here:

Part One:Going to War: Reflections on My Journey to Iraq and Back- Part One

Past Two: Going to War: Interlude July 4th 2007

Part Three: Going to War: Wills, Living Wills, Immunizations Gone Bad and Christmas in July

Part Four: Going to War: Last Night together and a Kiss Goodbye

Nelson and I staged our gear as we waited for the buses to arrive to take us to Fort Jackson South Carolina where we were to receive our training for the deployment.  As we talked other sailors arrived and gear was stacked in rows of sea bags just off of the sidewalk.  Nelson’s parents, brother and sister were on hand to see him off.  His brother is a First Class Petty Officer and his dad a former Vietnam era Marine Recon NCO who made several deployments “in the shit” as many Vietnam vets call tours in that combat zone.  They were really nice folks.  Over the years I had heard much about them.  They are close to each other and all are supportive of Nelson.

Nelson is a career amateur boxer; kick boxer, martial artist and more recently MMA fighter.  He is active in children’s martial arts instruction and has been on Team USA and fought internationally.  During his Afghanistan deployment before he and I hooked up again he helped coach the fledgling Afghan National Boxing Team.  His last major title was just this year when he won the Arnold Schwarzenegger Classic.  The guy has more titles than you can imagine, his title belt collect could fill a room.  However, he was raised by a boxer, his dad.  His dad taught him and coached him growing up and helped Nelson win multiple New York State Golden Gloves titles.  His dad is a congenial man and who was very friendly, speaking English with a heavy Puerto Rican accent.  Nelson’s mom speaks some English.  Nelson tells a great story of the only time he was knocked out in a fight.  This happened at the Fort Apache Gym in the Bronx after Nelson had gone picking on his little sister when Nellie was about seventeen.  Nelson’s dad found out, told him to put on his gloves and get in the ring.  Nelson proceeded to talk trash to his dad as he got ready to fight and the first round got quite a few hits in on his dad.  In between rounds according to Nelson’s account he told his dad to quit, that he was too old to be in the same ring with him.  Nelson said that his dad simply commented “I was just letting you taste the water.”  The second round began and Nelson was hit by a combination from his dad, which he says “rung his bell” and made him “see stars.”  He remembers trying to get up and not being able to while his dad was talking trash to him.  I cannot do the story justice but meeting Nelson’s family was a joy.

So we waited while the other sailors gathered, some individually and some with family.  Some stood alone as couples while others mingled with each other.  For most this was a new way to see their sailor deploy.  No pier side goodbyes, no banners, no manning the rails by the crew as the ship was nudged away from the pier by tugs.  When you have a “normal” deployment of a ship or something like a Marine battalion it is a big deal.  Media is there, sometimes there are speeches, but most of all there is the understanding that we are all in this together.  The families say goodbye to their Sailors, Marines or Soldiers who are going to war together and leaving some kind of familiar support system for the families.  This is not so when you deploy individually.  We may have been going off to train together, but few would stay together on the deployment.  Normally as a chaplain you are a known quantity to the people that you go to war with.  I was going to war with Nelson but we would not remain with any sailors who were going through this process with us.  I know that was the case for others who would serve in isolated posts, often without any other Navy personnel, mostly working with the Army in support roles, and specialized roles such as the Electronic Warfare Officers detailed to work on defeating IEDs and roadside bombs.  As others said their goodbyes and hugged each other I thought of Judy and knew that she was going to be down for some time but I felt that for once that she had an adequate support network.

I looked at our gear as opposed to the others.  Our gear was in different deployment bags, ours were large and rectangular and more of a coyote or sand color while most everyone else had traditional green sea bags, or what are known in the Army as “duffle bags.”  We had all of our personal protective equipment or the EOD/Special Warfare type while others would receive some variation of Army issue at Fort Jackson.  There are pros and cons to such a arrangement.  The pro is that we had great gear certainly some of the best in theater.  The con was that we had to lug the great gear everywhere we went going to and coming back from war.  This would get old, but the benefits do outweigh the advantages when you are actually in a combat zone.

Finally an officer came out and began calling role and giving us our signed “official” orders.  After we were accounted for we were told to load our gear on the buses that would take us to Fort Jackson. I think there were four or five of these chartered tour buses  which as it turned out would be the first of many tour buses, roll calls and gear loads in the coming months, especially as we entered and exited theater.  Nelson and I got on the same bus which was not full and took seats near the front.  I got a seat alone because I was the senior officer on the bus and a chaplain to boot. This was not because I asked for it or hogged the seat.  It is actually fairly typical in such a setting where young enlisted guys don’t want to sit next to an officer and some are afraid of chaplains because of experiences that they have had in civilian churches.  Some of the young folks have never darkened the door of a church and many of those that have been in church have been burned in relationships with pastors or really over the top religious people.  I have found in my career that until they get to know a Chaplain a lot of them will be very careful in how they approach a chaplain, even those with a vibrant faith.  Some are afraid that the chaplain might try to convert them or disapprove of the manner in which they live their lives. So as a chaplain I need to be cognizant of this fact and be friendly and caring without scaring them away.  Of course I did build relationships with a quite a number of these sailors during the next few weeks but on this bus I was still an unknown quantity to them.  Sitting alone however was good for me since I general despise bus travel regardless of the company I keep.  For some reason my height works against me, I can never get my feet comfortably on the ground on these new tour buses and I have a terrible time getting comfortable.  Since bus travel takes forever to get anywhere the discomfort is palpable.  Now I did a three month tour on buses in 1979 while touring as a spotlight tech for the Continental Singers and Orchestra across the US and in Europe.  Somehow the old Greyhound buses were more comfortable than the new tour buses.  Maybe I’m just nostalgic but they somehow fit people like me better than the fancy new buses.

When you travel by bus with a bunch of sailors, the majority of whom are at least 20 years younger than you, the experience can be entertaining to say the least.   Part of course is a generational thing.  I am from the 60’s 70’s and 80’s.  These guys and gals are from the 90’s and 2000’s.  Music is different, culture is different, and the internet, cell phones, i-phones and Blackberries have revolutionized communications and life.  The trip was a chance for me to observe a lot about these sailors just by watching.  Some had their portable i-pods and MP-3 players going, others spent time talking on cell phones, a few read or talked among themselves, but the sailors near me gravitated to the DVD movie which was 300 the comic book style account of the Spartan’s defense of Thermopylae against the Persians.  As the Spartans made their stand I could see the young sailors who were going to war taking inspiration from King Leonditis of Sparta.   Since we were going into a place where 50-100 Americans a month were being killed and many others wounded and maimed I could understand the need for inspiration along with entertainment.

The bus ride itself was a lot like what I imagine that Minor League teams take in the Carolinas like in the movie Bull Durham, the coaches and older players mixed in with a lot of young guys.  The older guys staying pretty quiet and to themselves and the young guys having fun, playing games and joking around with each other,  We made a couple of stops, one at some little Interstate town with a fair amount of gas stations and a few fast food places.  About half the folks went to the McDonalds where we pulled in while the rest ran down the street to the Burger King and Taco Bell.  Once everyone had their fill the buses pulled back out onto the interstate.  When we finally got near Columbia the buses got of the Interstate highway and onto some small two lane state highway.  We drove down this road about twenty to thirty minutes and pulled into what appeared to be a tiny out of the way base.  I wondered where the hell we were.  Fort Jackson is a fairly large training base where thousands of recruits are trained every year.  Where we were certainly was not the Fort Jackson that I had imagined.

Instead of the main post we were at the South Carolina National Guard training facility called Camp McCready.  It is here that the Naval Expeditionary Combat Command has a training center set up with the Army to train sailors in basic combat tasks.

Our welcome that first night was simple.  We formed up, checked in, got our linens for our standard issue military beds and were marched to dinner at the chow hall or in the Army vernacular the DFAC by our newest and bestest buddies, our Army Drill Sergeants.  In the chow hall or DFAC we were met by a civilian running the line.  I can’t remember his name but this guy was really nice and put the RED in “Redneck.”  He made jokes with everyone that came through the line, asked where people were from and what they did.  When he found out that I was a chaplain he began to ask me for a joke every meal thereafter.  As Nelson and I sat down for chow with a couple of other sailors we looked at each other.  He said: “Boss I don’t think some of these guys know what is coming.”  I said “I think that your right partner, hopefully they adjust and do well.”  The other sailors, both more senior petty officers nodded in agreement.

Going back to the barracks I met some of the other officers enjoying their first night at Camp McCready.  More sailors to fill out the class were due later coming in from San Diego.  I introduced myself to a number of the officers near me and when lights out was called lay down on the same type of bed that I had first encountered some twenty five years before at Camp Roberts California and Fort Lewis Washington.  I swear the sheets, blankets and pillowcases were of the same vintage.  Despite that I fell asleep fairly quickly.

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Going to War: Last Night together and a Kiss Goodbye

This is part four in my “Going to War” series. Previous parts are noted here:

Part One:Going to War: Reflections on My Journey to Iraq and Back- Part One

Past Two: Going to War: Interlude July 4th 2007

Part Three: Going to War: Wills, Living Wills, Immunizations Gone Bad and Christmas in July

Now the time has come to leave you
One more time Let me kiss you
And close your eyes and I’ll be on my way
Dream about the days to come, When I won’t have to leave alone
About the times, That I won’t have to say

Oh, kiss me and smile for me
Tell me that you’ll wait for me
Hold me like you’ll never let me go
Cause Im leavin’ on a jet plane
Don’t know when I’ll be back again
Oh babe, I hate to go

From “I’m Leaving on a Jet Plane” by John Denver

The night before leaving on deployment and the actual day of departure are some of the hardest that any military couples or families experience.  This has certainly been the case with us and this was no different.  This time I was not merely going on a ship and being part of a boarding team, the latter which Judy did not know until about halfway through the deployment, but this time going boots on ground into the most bitterly of Iraq’s contested provinces, Al Anbar.  The last night together was rather somber to put it mildly.  Judy and I went out to dinner on Friday night.  Since I knew that I would not be having a good beer for quite some time we went to Gordon Biersch.  For us Gordon Biersch is generally a good time kind of place. That last Friday it was not a festive occasion, it was almost like a wake.  Judy and I were both quite subdued.  In between the silence Judy talked about her fears about the deployment while I tried to reassure her that everything would be fine. My reasoning was that since I had taken out the extra life insurance that I would be okay.  For me such logic makes sense.  If I don’t get it I will need it and if I do get it I won’t.  It’s kind of like Yogi Berra who said “You should always go to other people’s funerals; otherwise, they won’t come to yours.”

After dinner and for me three half liter glasses of Märzen we went back home where I finalized my packing. I ensured that all my field gear, uniforms and clothing were packed and rechecked my EOD issue protective gear. I then packed my Mass kit, Bible, Prayer Book and my Marine Pattern camouflage reversible desert/woodland stole.  The stole was special as Judy had made me a few years back from woodland and desert pattern shirts which were way too big for me.  My final check were my books on counterinsurgency, a few DVD movies and music CDs and my hygiene items.  I wrestled the big bags down the stairs and put them in the back of my Honda CR-V so I wouldn’t have to fight them in the morning.  That accomplished Judy and I just sat together, she was feeling pretty low. On the other hand I was a mix of conflicting emotions.  I was excited by knowing that I was going to get to do what I had trained all of my life to do, but very cognizant of the reality that it would be tough on Judy.  The last couple of deployments had been very tough on her. When I deployed to support the Bosnia mission as a mobilized Army Reservist and newly ordained Priest we had three of my relatives in Huntington West Virginia die.  One was my maternal grandmother “Ma Maw” who Judy had become very close to over the past couple of years.  They had become buddies and Ma Maw had taken Judy in not as my wife, but as “her” granddaughter.  Ma Maw’s death hit Judy very hard and my mom and uncle in the midst of their grief over the loss of their mom understood the depth of the relationship between Judy and Ma Maw and as a result pretty much treated Judy as an unwanted outsider.  In the week before Ma Maw’s death Judy tried repeatedly to get Ma Maw to go to the doctor only to be ignored.  The morning of Ma Maw’s death Judy called me in Germany to call Ma Maw and insist that she go to the doctor.   I called and insisted that she go to the Emergency Room but she refused and said she would call her doctor.  That night she died. I had lost my grandmother and could not go back to help and Judy had lost a woman who had become closer to her than her own grandmothers ever had been.  In 2001 during my deployment with 3rd Battalion 8th Marines to Okinawa, Japan and Korea we lost our 16 ½ year old Wire Haired Dachshund Frieda.  Judy did her nest to keep Frieda alive for me, but there was nothing that could be done and finally with Judy being worn down to nothing herself, she was persuaded to have Frieda put down.  My 2002 deployment on USS HUE CITY to the Middle East and Horn of Africa came less than six months after my return from Okinawa and was also very difficult on her.

With all of this in the background we spent our last night together.  I barely slept as did she.  I had a light breakfast and then accompanied by a friend from choir we drove to the base.   Saturday morning traffic is generally not too bad so our trip was uneventful, but really tense.  You could cut the tension between us by now with a knife.  It was about the time that we were nearing the base Judy said something that I took really wrong and sarcastically snapped back “Well I’ll just get blown up by an IED then.”  That really hit her hard and I knew immediately that I had blown myself up with the comment.  I should have known better, after all I’d deployed a lot and taught pre-deployment classes talking about the emotional cycle of deployments.  But the stress on both of us the preceding weeks had taken its toll and both of us were on edge.  For two months we had ach in our own way imagined the deployment  wondering just what I would face when I got to Iraq, the unanswerable questions of what might happen over there and Judy’s great fear that something might happen to me.

We got to the base pretty quick, though the tension made me feel that the trip was three times as long as it was.  As we pulled up in a parking spot near the baggage drop off area we sat there for a few minutes.  I got out of the car as did Judy.  I asked if she wanted to wait a while with me and with tears in her eyes said that she couldn’t handle the wait.  After I unloaded my gear with the help of Nelson who was already there with his gear stacked.  He looked at Judy and said, “Don’t you worry ma’am we’ll do good and I’ll keep him safe.”  Judy gave a soft “thanks” and gave him a hug.  With my gear now next to Nelson’s I went back to Judy.  We looked at each other, embraced and kissed each other.  We parted and then she went back to the car, handed her friend the keys and they drove off.  As she left I said a prayer under my breath and asked God to keep her safe while I was gone.  Then I turned to Nelson and said, “Okay partner, let’s get this done.”

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