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A Sea of Contradictions: My Life and Faith since returning from Iraq

Dinner with my Friend, Major General Sabah in Ramadi

“Many people are looking for an ear that will listen. They do not find it among Christians, because these Christians are talking where they should be listening.But he who can no longer listen to his brother will soon be no longer listening to God, either; he will be doing nothing but prattle in the presence of God, too. This is the beginning of the death of the spiritual life, and in the end there will be nothing left but spiritual chatter and clerical condescension arrayed in pious words… never really speaking to others.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Since I returned from Iraq I have grown weary of Christians that have all the answers and are more interested in promoting their agenda than actually listening or caring for those wounded in spirit from various forms of trauma including war. Since I returned from Iraq and going through what amounted to a crisis in faith, belief and experience of what I felt to be abandonment by God and many Christians.  I have elected to travel down a path that has been of great benefit but has been filled with difficulty and pain as I both walked through the psychological, spiritual and physical effects of my time in Iraq and, the moral injuries that I incurred and the practical ways that these crisis’ have had on my life and relationships.

On Monday at work we had some of our pastoral care residents presented their research projects which they had worked on during their residency year.  All were well done but one struck me because of its subject and home much I could relate to it.  The subject was “Writing our Way Home” and dealt with how the use of poetry and narrative could help some combat veterans make sense of their world and deal with the trauma that they have experienced.  After Iraq I began to write, initially because it was therapeutic and helped me to begin to start sorting out what was going on with me. It also helped me, especially when I went public on this site about my experience to get outside of my normally severely introverted self. As I began to write regularly it became a part of my life as I struggled to deal with PTSD as well as  spiritual and emotional crises following my tour in Iraq, alienation on my return as well as various family crisis’s.

The understanding that resonated with me was that our stories, the good and the bad, what we believe to be true and what really is true about ourselves and our experiences is all part of who we are. This is something that I experienced in my own pastoral care residency at Parkland Memorial Hospital in the 1990s when my supervisor challenged be to stop living in the past and begin to imagine a future that was not a prisoner of my past disappointments and failures.  That was a watershed experience for me and as I began to sort through all of the crap that I was dealing with in CPE and family of origins issues I began to realize that I did not need to live my life in a constant repetition of the past.  Now that realization did not always find a place in my life but in a gradual process I began to escape that past and begin to live in the moment with an eye to the future.

Of course Iraq changed that to some degree, in fact to a large degree. What I experienced there and upon my return to the States shook many of my beliefs about the world, faith and life. The images of American Marines wounded by IED attacks, wounded children and destruction of vast areas of cities, towns and villages coupled with having HUMMVs and Helicopters that I traveled on shot at and having rockets fly over my head changed me, especially when I saw how the war was being covered by both the liberal and conservative media which bore little resemblance to my first hand observations. Even worse was the feeling of being isolated and abandoned when I returned home.  I experienced a crisis in faith that left me a practical agnostic even as I desperately prayed for God to show up.  In fact it was psychotherapist that was the first person to even address my spiritual life after I returned.

When Elmer Maggard asked me: “How are you and the big guy?” I could only say “I don’t know I don’t even know if he exists.”  For a priest and chaplain that was a harrowing admission.  I had entered a world of darkness that I did not believe was possible. I would struggle for another year and a half until during Advent of 2009 things began to change and I began to sense the presence of a loving God again.  My faith began to return but I have to say it is not the same as before I went to Iraq.  I still struggle though most of the time I cannot say that I am a practical agnostic as I do have faith and faith which can be considered orthodox but perhaps more negotiable.

You may ask what I mean by this so I will briefly explain.  First I admit that I do not have the answers that I used to think that I had. Likewise I am a lot more apt to say “I don’t know” or “I struggle with that too” when people tell me of their experiences when struggling with faith or even the existence of God.  I refuse to pass judgment on someone’s faith journey or even if they question God’s existence because I have been there and it is not a comfortable place to live.  I am far more willing to walk with someone thorough that valley of doubt or unbelief because I lived in that valley for over a year. As far as who I frame my world, I am far less likely to pin something as “God’s will” or “an attack of the Devil” than I am to recognize that as human beings that we live in a fallen state and that sometimes things just happen. To quote a popular say “Shit Happens.”  In the middle of this I think the real miracle is that God can give us the grace to go through the most difficult times even when we have no faith at all.  I don’t think that is at all heretical because the experience of Jesus on Good Friday and the scriptural accounts as well as the testimony of 2000 years of Christians tells me that this is true. The miracle in my mind is not being “delivered” from crisis or unbelief but through the grace of God making it though the crisis and return to faith, even if that faith takes a different form.

For me the act of writing both about my experience as well as through fiction or history has been therapeutic and forced me out of my comfort zone.  When I began this site and began to tell my story my friend Elmer the Shrink he asked me if I was really sure that I wanted to open up and become vulnerable as I shared the truth as I believed it to be.  I said that I needed to as I thought people needed to know the reality of what many Iraq and Afghanistan veterans were going through.  He told me that what I was doing was risky but let me make the call. 600 posts later, not all of course dealing with what I and other veterans have gone through I can say that it was the right decision.

Our presenter on Monday gave us a few minutes to write something and for me this came quite easily as I was struck by a section of her presentation about how contradictory our life experiences can be. I began to write about those contradictions and will share a bit of that here.

I am a man of faith, a Christian and Priest. I believe but I also doubt and question, in fact there are some times that I feel somewhat agnostic even after the events of last December when faith began to return.  I am much more prone to give the benefit of the doubt to people especially those who struggle with life, faith and even the existence of God. I figure that God is big enough to handle doubt and unbelief while still loving and caring for the person experiencing doubt or unbelief or whose beliefs that may not fit the definition of Christian orthodoxy.

I am a passionate person who is an introvert in an extroverted world both in ministry and the military. I am an intuitive “out of the box” thinker and sometimes rebel.  Yet in spite of this I willingly volunteer to serve the church and the military.  It is interesting because both institutions prize loyalty to the institution, obedience and staying within the lines of prescribed beliefs and traditions.  I believe yet question, I find cause to not agree with what all of my political party or the other political party espouse to the chagrin of the faithful in both parties.

I have learned that there is a healthy tension in this type of life. I do not for the most part follow those that insist that to be a Christian that I must do this and that even though I fully subscribe to the Creeds, the first 7 Ecumenical Councils an Anglican understanding of the Christian faith. Nor do I think that to be to be a “American patriot” that I should vote a certain way, belong to a particular party or follow the agenda of any political party as if it others believe the agenda to be brought down from the mountain by Moses himself.  I have had people on occasion to criticize me for this.  However I cannot allow any political ideology to hold my faith captive, nor can I cast aside the essence of the Christian faith even when I doubt.

One of the things that I find concerning is how it seems to me that many supposedly “conservative” Christians have almost made what I think is a deal with the devil in terms of their political involvement. I think that they are sacrificing a long term witness to short term expedient political alliances with people, particularly “conservative” political talk show host and pundit Glenn Beck that have an antithetical and antagonistic views of historic Christianity.   My concern is more about the faith and witness of the Church than an alliance with someone that appeals to our more base nationalistic ideas than the faith itself.

I have discovered that for the most part I can comfortably live in this tension, in fact I do not think that I was to fall completely to one side or the other be it in faith, social responsibility or politics that my life would be as full as it is, or as some might be thinking now as “full of it as I am.” Whatever… The fact is that I think that as a Christian and as an American that it is okay to live life in balance and with a health appreciation of creative tension.

I have begun to emerge from the darkness of my post Iraq experience and I know that I am still wounded. I know that I still struggle but I now am beginning to see this as a gift.  My faith is not the same as it was, I am not satisfied with simplistic answers or the party lines of people that only care about their agenda especially when they decide that their agenda is God’s will, even if it has nothing to do with the Gospel. I know that sounds kind of snarky to some but I really want to be an authentic Christian not some caricature that is more a picture of the American perversion of the faith than anything found in Scripture or the 2000 year history of the Church.

I believe but I struggle. I will listen to other points of view, including those of people that are not Christian. In fact I found that my Iraqi Muslim friends were much easier to dialogue with and have deep and respectful theological discussions with than many American Evangelicals.  For me that was a watershed moment.

But anyway, this post was not meant to be a treatise on anything but is for me more of a reflection of a dialogue that has been going on in me since my return.  The thing is I know other Chaplains that have returned from Iraq or Afghanistan who have experienced the same feelings that I have been working through but do not have a safe place in their churches to heal, and are afforded little time to do self care.  I am concerned for our caregivers that care of veterans like me.  I wonder how many can be real in their faith community without having people run away from them as if they were radioactive, a feeling that many veterans and other trauma victims experience when they attempt to tell their story.

I just hope that I will be able to be there for others who are wounded and suffering as a result of what they experienced in war.

That is all for tonight.  Blessings and peace my friends,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under christian life, iraq,afghanistan, Loose thoughts and musings, Pastoral Care, philosophy, Religion

The Heretic: Padre Steve Critiques the Christian Sub-Culture

I guess I am a heretic. It is a hard thing to admit but I will have to join the ranks of heretics tonight as I attempt to pass my yet as unnamed Kidney stone. I have had some interesting suggestions so far and if you have one for the 7mm by 4mm unnamed stone please feel free to suggest it.  Today I say my family practice doctor who put in a Urology consult and told me to come back Thursday morning if there is no change, to go to the ER if things get worse and who sent me home for two more days until the next appointment. I can only say that it is hurting and I do hope that pain and sleep medications will help me sleep tonight since I did not last night.

Since selves are very hard to help I am amazed daily with the latest self help books “baptized” with a smattering of Bible verses which are marketed to the hungry hordes that inhabit our Late Great Planet Earth. At the risk of offending everyone who knows and loves these books and yea verily even patterns their life after them as if they were the Scriptures themselves I have decided to write about this subject.  I have seldom discussed this with anyone outside my wife, the Abby Normal Abbess and a few brother miscreant Priests and un-named heretical co-conspirators.   As heretics who buck the party line we generally keep these conversations among ourselves in order not to offend the brethren and the sisteren. But today I just decided to say the heck with it all and be bold, yet hopefully funny in looking at these phenomena.  Of course the Christian Taliban will pronounce me a heretic worthy of death for venturing to criticize the holy writ contained therein.

Back in the late 1960s and early 1970s Evangelical Christians of who I once was began to crawl out of the typical Bible thumping, cheap suit and revival meeting evangelist look.  Evangelicals, driven on by early Christian rock groups and artists dared to get contemporary.  At first this was confined to dressing like regular people including hippies and to adopting relatively recent pop, rock or country music styles.  Of course while motives were good and the early pioneers did good work much of it because of a lack of theological and philosophical depth was really pretty shallow.  “Jesus loves me yeh, yeh, yeh, Jesus loves me, yeh, yeh yeh and he loves you too…” and other equally inspired lyrics.  Believe me I know this because I had a lot of the albums of the early artists.  However, they were a light years above and beyond some of the crap that came later as real record labels like MCA swallowed up Christian labels such as Maranatha, Light, Sparrow, Birdwing and Word.  After that even the innocent shallowness of some of the early groups was lost amid the focus on market share, image, ratings and corporate profit.  Of course since Capitalism is of God, or at least as its “Christian” supporters claim notwithstanding the fact that is it simple economic social Darwinism.  At the same time there were some good conservative Christian thinkers of various traditions who advocated a more active engagement with contemporary society including Chuck Colson, Francis Schaeffer and Richard John Neuhaus. They were all learned and humble Christian men, unfortunately many who claim to be their successors have neither the training, temperament nor the Christian character of these men.

Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t have a big issue with Christians finding common ground in anything, including music, the arts or even the sciences.  I just prefer that it retain some sense of theological, philosophical and Biblical integrity when it does so, especially when Christians assume a tacit moral. Spiritual and artistic superiority over “non-believers” in said areas.   Sorry Mr. Christian Taliban if you say the secular pioneers of a field of study are in Hell and you somehow have baptized their methods it is a clear example of assuming a moral, spiritual or intellectual superiority over the benighted unbelievers, heretics and infidels.  Such actions have no integrity, no Christian character or superiority to the people condemned to Hell (i.e. Freud, Jung, Maslow, Jung or Adler.)

Of course this branched out into other areas of life including and especially pop-psychology and self-help. Christian groups who had previously loathed and condemned to Hell or as a minimum darned to Heck anything to do with the disciplines of Psychiatry or Psychology embraced them like a blow up love doll, not content with the real thing but finding something less effective but at least buttressed by a few Bible verses. The fact that insurance will pay for at least part of it if you get a state license is even better. When actual therapy, even Christian counseling or therapy fails there are the latest in Christian Self-Help titles to satiate the soul and make everyone feel better or worse of they don’t measure up to what the Christian Self-Help industry promoters claim.

What really drove this was seeing friends Romans and countrymen flock to these baptized self-help books as if they were the latest editions of the Word of God printed in heaven and distributed by the Archangel Gabriel himself.  Now this may be a bit of an over-reach on my part for literary purposes but I think in some cases it is not far off the mark.  I don’t for a moment presume that everyone who finds meaning and value in these books has crossed this line into obsession but I am amazed with the almost cultic hold that they have over some people and ministries.  I cannot count the number of times when people have asked me as a Priest if I have read….fill in the blank.  Since my theological or inspirational reading usually deals with Church History, Ethics, Christology written by German theologians whose names start with “B” the early Church Fathers and Folks like Martin Luther as well as books by Henri Nouwen or one of the plethora of Father Andrew Greeley “Bishop Blackie Ryan” mysteries that I own, I have to no recourse but to say “NO” as my interests lay elsewhere.  Another line that I might use is that I’ve heard from people that name the book is supposed to be good.  In either case I am being honest.  This being said the next line from the person asking me is “well, you should, you’d really like it” or something similar.  I am always polite as I genuinely hope that they are getting something good out of these works and that the Deity Herself is using them in their lives.  I would after all patently hope that they have not wasted their hard earned money on a bunch of theological tepidness in light of our current economic difficulties.

What gets me in most cases is not the actual content of the books in question which especially in the case of the Purpose Driven Life or the Five Love Languages to be pretty benign, though I have heard some folks really hammer these books and their authors.  My concern is the almost hypnotic grip that these and other “method” promoting books have on their readers.  I have seen places where there are extended classes and seminars that go through the Purpose Driven Life or The Five Love Languages or any one of a number of other books where week after week people drag out their notebooks, Palm Pilots or whatever means of electronic note taking that they have and studiously listen and share about the book in question.  While Bible study is an ingrained feature of Evangelical Protestant life, it seems to me that these books are almost replacing Bible study with the study of what someone says that the Bible teaches.  Now this isn’t new at all as one only has to look at the number of books on the Rapture and Second coming by the multitude of “prophecy experts” to see this.  Again, I say that I find the contents of the Purpose Driven Life and the Five Love Languages to be rather benign, my concern is the importance being given to them which sometimes to me seems to border on cultic.  The list can go on especially in light of the books allegedly written by popular televangelists but certainly written by more literate but equally insipid and theological, philosophical and Biblical ghost writers who hope that their work will sell. After all it is all about the bottom line.  As a mega-church pastor told Chuck Colson when asked why he didn’t tackle difficult subjects “They pay me to fill the church.”

My feeling in regard to the Prayer of Jabez industry is another matter.  This is simply narcissistic prosperity gospel teaching repackaged for a new audience.  This book takes an incredibly minor prayer by an equally minor character (1 Chronicles 4: 9,10) and turns it into a revolutionary means of getting God to bless us.  It has spun off a whole line of targeted versions for every gender and ethnic group as well as kids and even a women’s Study Bible. Likewise it has spun off an array of merchandise apparently modeled on Yogurt’s marketing of Spaceballs merchandise.  The merchandise could be found in the “Jabez Junk” section of your local Christian book, music and novelty shop and included key chains, mugs, backpacks, Christmas ornaments, scented candles, mouse pads, and a framed artist’s conception of Jabez himself. A line of jewelry was introduced in 2002.  I found the whole thing deeply offensive and felt it to be a crass attempt by the author and the publishers to make money off of the flock of God.  I knew of pastors who spent years with their congregations dealing with the Prayer of Jabez. I wonder what they would have accomplished had they actually been teaching their congregations actual Christian doctrine, ethics and responsibility. But what can I say…mediocrity sells when slickly packaged and marketed…beats real study and responsible scholarship every time.  God forbid we actually deal with difficult stuff.  Until then if it sells its swell, but if I want to make money off the flock of God I’ll just do it the old fashioned way and ask for a “love offering.”   Maybe I should post a Pay-Pal link on this site so I can make some money too? After all it is better to receive than give isn’t it?

Fortunately for me and maybe unfortunately for others I have a rather twisted way of looking at life, which some of kindred spirit find amusing and those not find offensive.  I cannot for the life of me get around odd thoughts that occur when I see these books which is nowhere more evident than when I hear the words the Five Love Languages. Unfortunately my mind goes to the movie A Fish Called Wanda where Jamie Lee Curtis (who I have always found to be hot) plays an American in England who is let us say sexually excited by her lovers speaking in foreign languages.  In the case of the movie Kevin Kline speaking faux Italian and John Cleese who speaks Russian.  Thus when my office mate in Iraq was running a series of Five Love Language seminars for Marines and Sailors who were stationed at the base that I operated from I had a hard time keeping a straight face.  The chaplain was a very good guy and eventually I confessed what had been running through my mind and he did have a good sense of humor about it and began to laugh when he recalled the movie.  I guess my five love languages would be German, Dutch, Gaelic, Klingon and Romulan, I’ll have to try them on the Abbess sometime.

Until then I’ll just have to wage a battle in my mind to discover the purpose that drives my life while I navigate the Battlefield of the Mind, extend my tent out to cover the five love languages on this the late great planet Earth as I learn to discipline the Strong Willed Child.

Now let me add something.  I am not opposed to orthodox or even fundamental beliefs so long as they are not used as a weapon against those who don’t agree with them as if we were unbelievers or infidels.  Nor am I opposed to them if they are not used as fodder for someone else’s political agenda. I actually am a moderate and theologically Orthodox Anglo Catholic Christian. My faith is based on a high view of Scripture, Sacred Traditions including the Creeds and the first seven Ecumenical Councils and Reason.  Unfortunately most of the mass produced “Christian” crap is neither based on the total witness of Holy Scripture, does not match what faith has been proclaimed since the beginning of the Church and often is befit of reason. Instead it is personal interpretations of proof texted Bible verses cobbled together in isolation from the rest of the Christian faith, tradition and testimony of nearly 2000 years. If someone wants to pick a fight with me on that they can but they are on shaky ground.

God I love how a bunch of good Gordon Biersch beer helps me express my thoughts especially when trying to pass a big Kidney Stone.

Pray for me a sinner.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

PS. No offense intended even if it was taken. Or is it the other way around?

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Filed under philosophy, Religion

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