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Looking Back at 30 Years of Commissioned Service

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I was going to write about the situation in Syria tonight but that will wait until tomorrow because June 19th is the 30th anniversary of my commissioning as a 2nd Lieutenant in the US Army. That was a long time ago. I had enlisted in the California Army National Guard in August of 1981 at the same time that I entered the Army ROTC program at UCLA.

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California Army National Guard 1982

Like most of my life I can admit that my military career, 17 1/2 years in the Army and another 14 1/2 in the Navy has been to quote Jerry Garcia “a long strange trip.” It has been eventful and it is not over. One interesting thing is because I spent about 10 years of my career in the Army National Guard and Army Reserve in a drill status I still am able to serve, probably until I reach age 58 or maybe even 60. If so my career will span early 40 years. Judy tells me that she doesn’t think I will retire until I am 60 which would be just under another 7 years.  That being said I can still crush the Navy Physical Fitness Test. I am still in the game.

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Berlin Wall (East Berlin) 1986

It is interesting what I have seen and where I have served. My career began back during the early days of the Reagan build up during the Cold War, not long after the Iranian Hostage Crisis, which was the catalyst for me volunteering even though the truth of the matter was that I wanted to serve in the military since I was a child. I was a Navy brat, my dad was a Chief Petty Officer and I loved that life.

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Germany 1984

I wanted to join the Navy out of high school but my parents convinced me to try college first, which I did, meeting my wife Judy my freshman year at San Joaquin Delta College in Stockton California. After that it was California State University at Northridge where I began the serious exploration of commissioning programs. I was actually accepted into the Air Force Program but turned it down, Judy told me that she wouldn’t marry me if I joined the Navy and the Navy ROTC program informed me that I would have to change my major to hard science, math or engineering to enter the ROTC program. So I asked who I could work with and they pointed me down the hall to the Army.

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Marriage to Judy 25 June 1983

That was the beginning. A long time ago in a galaxy far far away. When I was commissioned in 1983 this college history major was commissioned into the Medical Service Corps, the administrative and operational side of the Army Medical Department. That made a lot of sense, or maybe it didn’t but it did save me from a career as an Ordinance Corps Maintenance Officer or Adjutant General’s Officer Corps paper pusher, both tasks that the Army trained and assigned me to do as a Medical Service Corps officer.

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Company Commander 557th Medical Company (Ambulance) 1985

As a Medical Service Corps officer I attended my Medical Officer Basic Course, the Junior Officer Maintenance Corps, the NBC Defense Officer Corps, the Air Force Air Load Planner Course and the Military Personnel Officer course.

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Academy of Health Sciences 1987 with LTC Ike Adams who was largely responsible for redirecting my career and calling to be a Chaplain

I served as a platoon leader, company XO, company commander and Group level staff officer in Cold Wr Germany. I then served as the Brigade Adjutant for the Academy Brigade of the Academy of Health Sciences, where I also helped draft the personnel instruction regarding personnel infected with the HIV virus.

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Army Chaplain School August 1990 with LTC Rich Whaley and CPT Bill Blacky

I left active duty to attend seminary in 1988 and joined the texas Army National Guard, initially as an Armor Corps officer serving as the Adjutant for an Armored battalion, until the State Chaplain found out and demanded that I be transferred to the Chaplain Candidate Program which I entered in 1990. I was at the Chaplain Officer Basic Course in August 1999 when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait and the war ended just before our unit was to be mobilized for service. Technically Chaplain candidates can’t be mobilized, but one of the full time Guard personnel technician Warrant Officers in Austin kept me on the rolls for mobilization purposes as a Medical Service officer. But like I said the war ended, I graduated from seminary and was ordained and became a chaplain in 1992. I completed the Chaplain Officer Advanced Course and after completing my Pastoral Care Residency at Parkland Memorial Hospital in 1994 took a chaplain job in Huntington West Virginia where I transferred to the Virginia Army National Guard and once promoted to Major transferred to a local Army Reserve unit.

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Exchange Officer with German Army at Panzer School 

That was a turn of events that got me mobilized to support the Bosnia mission in 1996 and allowed me to serve supporting a number of units and military communities in Germany. Upon my return to the states and no civilian employment I served as the final Federal Chaplain at fort Indiantown Gap Pennsylvania. When that assignment ended I went back to West Virginia.

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Mt Fuji Japan and Panmunjom Korea 2001

Just before Christmas 1998 I got a call from my bishop telling me that the Navy was willing to consider me for active duty. Remembering Judy’s admonition that she would not marry me if I joined the Navy I did it without asking her. Not a smart thing, she was quite pissed because had I bothered to consult her she probably would have said yes, but the way I did it devalued her. Likewise she was sort of looking forward to the time I hit 20 years in the reserves so she wouldn’t have to lose me all the time to the military.

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Korea DMZ PT Session

Long story short. The Navy took me and I took a reduction in rank to come on active duty. One day I was a Major in the Army Reserve and the next a Navy Lieutenant. I was given a choice of assignments. I wanted to serve on a ship. I was given the choice of Marines or Marines. So I chose Marines and after completing the Navy Chaplain Office Basic course I reported to the Second Marine Division where I served as the “relief pitcher” for the division Chaplain, whenever someone got in trouble or was transferred without a relief in place I went in like a baseball relief pitcher. I deployed with 3rd Battalion 8th Marines to Okinawa, Japan and Korea. I was at Camp LeJeune on 9-11-2001 and in December 2001 reported to the USS Hue City CG-66 in Mayport Florida deploying shortly thereafter to support Operation Enduring Freedom.

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USS Hue City Operation Enduring Freedom

In October 2003 I reported to the Marine Security Force Battalion (now Regiment) and travelled the world in support of those Marines, spending between 1-3 weeks a month on the road. That was an amazing assignment because it gave me a global perspective of the Navy Marine Corps mission traveling frequently to the Middle East, Europe, Asia, Guantanamo Bay Cuba and various locations in the United States. While in that billet I completed the Marine Corps Command and Staff College and my Fleet Marine Force Officer qualification and was promoted to Lieutenant Commander. After that I went to EOD Group 2 and from there was sent to Iraq as an Individual Augment to support advisors to the Iraqi 1st and 7th Divisions, 2nd Border Brigade, Highway Patrol and Police in Al Anbar Province working under the authority of the Iraq Assistance Group and II Marine Expeditionary Force Forward.

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Iraq 2007-2008

I came back from Iraq in pretty bad shape but consider it the pinnacle of my operational ministry as a Chaplain that I would not trade for anything. Since I have written much about it I will not say more about it in this article. From EOD I was transferred to Naval Medical Center Portsmouth and after being selected for Commander in 2010 was transferred to Naval Hospital Camp LeJeune as the command chaplain. This tour was as a geographic bachelor and every couple of weeks I drove back to Virginia.

Now in a couple of months I will be reporting to be the Ethics Faculty and Chaplain at the Joint Forces Staff College in Norfolk.

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Various scenes top to bottom with General Peter Pace, teaching Marines at Normandy, with Secretary of State Madeline Albright 2005 Spain, with German office in Jordan 2007, Scottish Highlands with US Marines and Royal Marine Commandos 2005, Jordan River 2007, Belleau Wood France 2004, Guantanamo Bay Cuba 2003 or 2004

There have been highs and lows in my career and a few times that I thought that I wasn’t going to survive. But of all the things that I value in serving this country are the people that I have served with, Army, Navy, Marines and others including allied officers. I have met a lot of wonderful people, quite a few of whom I still stay in contact with despite the distance and years.

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With FAST Marines in Bahrain 2004 or 2005, Easter Sunday 2002 aboard USS Hue City and aboard USS Hue City with USS John F Kennedy CV-67 in background.

While I value my service in the Army, because it is a big part of my life I echo President John F Kennedy who said “I can imagine no more rewarding a career. And any man who may be asked in this century what he did to make his life worthwhile, I think can respond with a good deal of pride and satisfaction: ‘I served in the United States Navy.'”

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Weekend in Washington-Reconnecting with Friends Family, Each Other and an Evening at the West Wing

1091At the Brady Press Room in the West Wing

Our anniversary weekend continues, tonight we have our behind the scenes tour of the White House.  Last night we had a wonderful reunion with my former Commanding Officer Colonel Mike Paulovich and his wife Janet.  Colonel Paulovich and I served together at Marine Security Force Battalion, when it was still called a battalion.  The unit was actually regimental size with subordinate units located in the United State, the Middle East, Guantanamo Bay Cuba and Europe with FAST (Fleet Anti-Terrorism Security Team) Platoons deployed in hot spots world-wide.  The Colonel was a great officer and should have been a Flag Officer.  He retired as the senior Marine Corps Officer and Professor of Ethics at the Naval Academy.  We have remained close over the years and have always had a special connection, to include that of our wives.  During our time together at Security Force Battalion we went through some incredibly difficult personal and professional times.  The battalion lost I think about 11 Marines while we were there due to all sorts of causes so we shared a lot of community grief as we saw our battalion through difficult times.

I never will forget the night that Colonel Paulovich called me on my cell phone saying he needed me.  I was at the ballpark and I knew things were bad for him to be calling me there, he too is a baseball fan and has great respect for the game.  When I got to the battalion I found that he had been involved in giving CPR to a Marine who had just checked into the unit that late that afternoon from an overseas command and had hanged himself within 30 minutes of checking in and getting his room.  That night I was with him and the other Marines who tried to save that young man’s life until about 0300 the next morning.  I was there when the Colonel’s father died and he was there when I found that my father had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. We shared many other difficult times together as well as good times.  We frequently travelled overseas together and I have never had a Commanding Officer any time or any where seek my advice on caring for people, support the ministry of his chaplain and ensure that I got to his Marines no matter where in the world they were.  Even more importantly he allowed me to be his Priest. Some of the places that we travelled together included Bahrain, Japan and Spain and a particularly memorable trip to England and Scotland where our Marines were doing exercises with the British Royal Marines.  We saw each other through good times and bad and it was such a pleasure to fellowship with both him and Janet over dinner and beer at the D.C. Chophouse.   I am so honored to have him as a friend and Judy to be a friend of his wife.

1094Outside the West Wing

This morning was a relaxing morning except for two things.  First, my tooth started acting up again and started hurting pretty bad.  I doubled up on one of my non-narcotic pain meds and slammed down some 800 mg. Motrin which made the pain bearable through most of the day.  It is starting up again right now so I will be hitting some more Motrin and Ultram this evening.  Then I read the details of our invitation to the White House and realized that we had not brought appropriate attire for Judy.  I looked up women’s clothing nearby and saw a Dress Barn. We started walking, unfortunately not being very familiar with the layout of the city I made a right turn rather than left coming out of the hotel.  After dragging Judy around having followed the advice of several residents and a store keeper we were nowhere near where we needed to be. I realized then that some people are clueless as to the layout of the city that they live in.  These people really had no clue; I’m surprised that they could find their way to their own toilet much less survive in the city.  Heck if I lived here I would know this place by heart within months because I have one of those phonographic memories you know. It was kind of like they were saying “go four blocks and if you pass Freddy the pan handler turn left and the street will be two blocks down” except that Freddy the pan-handler wasn’t on the corner and the street was the opposite direction from where the clueless person said that it was. Finally I knew that I was only torturing Judy by dragging her around.  I hailed a cab and said I need to go to Dress Barn on Connecticut Avenue Northwest.  The guy was great.  He knew where it was; he was friendly and dropped us off at the door.  An hour and $248 later we walked out of the store with a nice outfit and butt-load of other clothes.  Since I had not really gotten her much for the anniversary it was nice to do that for her, after all she tolerates all of my annoying habits and understands how to make sure that I don’t do anything to screw up my career. The ladies that helped us, Frieda and Mary were great.  If all people in retail were as friendly and helpful as these women there would be a lot more coming off the shelves even in the bad economy.

I guess one of the really cool things about this weekend is that we have not tried to fit too much into it.  It used to be that we would plan and schedule so much that although we were “together” there was no time for any kind of intimacy.  We would end up stressed out, tired and resentful of each other.  For once we decided just to be with each other and that has been way cool.  If there is any advice I can offer to couples be they young or old is to get to know each other again by not focusing on things which entertain and take up time but don’t bring you together.  Judy and I are wired differently, we have different interests, but we give each other the freedom to pursue those interests and encourage each other to fulfill our dreams.  At the same time we finally figured out that we have to take time with each other.  It took a quarter century to figure this out but we have finally been able to and the results have been amazing.

This evening we had our private staff guided tour of the West Wing of the White House.  My friend Mark, the Chief of Staff to the National Security Council had to be out doing a Navy Reserve Drill so his assistant Cindy took us around.  It was really cool seeing the Oval Office, the Roosevelt Room and a number of other historic places including the James Brady Press Room.  We were not able to see the Rose Garden on this trip as the President and his family was relaxing out there, but we did see the Presidential First Puppy “Bo” playing on the back lawn.  Hopefully we will get to meet the President on a future trip.  Since we have reason to come up here anyway it would be cool to get to meet him.  Everyone was great to us at the White House and we enjoyed our visit tremendously.

Tonight we went out with Judy’s cousin Becki to a Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant and will meet her again in the morning for breakfast before heading back home.  We stopped by her house which she bought when she moved her for her job with US Department of Fish and Game.  The house was a “fixer-upper” and Becki has been doing this with houses for a good amount of time.  She has already transformed much of the place which frankly looked like hell when she purchased it.  It was good to see her and Tucker her friendly little black cat.  It’s weird having a cat come when you call it, hell our first dog Frieda wouldn’t do that unless she thought it was in HER best interests.

Note: As I was getting ready to post I decided to load my SD card from my camera into my computer to retrieve my photos from the West Wing.  It looks like I have somehow got the damned thing jammed in and I can’t figure out either how to get the pictures off of it or how to get it back out. Since I want to save the card and not damage my computer I will try to figure this out when I am not tired and have some idea of what I might do to solve the problem.  So now the cool pictures inside the Press Room and at the entry reserved for official visitors will have to wait.  Be assured that they are cool and I will post them when I can. Gotta love technology sometimes….

So tomorrow we see Becki again for breakfast and head home.

Peace, Steve+

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