Tag Archives: fort bragg nc

The Painful Lessons of Looking in the Mirror of Social Media

orange-BloomCounty-morals

I had an encounter this last weekend on a leading social media site. It was not pleasant and I waited for a couple of days to think, pray and meditate on what happen in the encounter before I decided to write about it.

It occurred on a page which is pretty popular and deals with military issues and the man that runs that page I enjoy very much. He frequently brings up very pertinent issues dealing with military issues, strategy and tactics, foreign policy and national security policy as well as social aspects of current military life.

I got involved in an debate, probably not the best thing to do because the debate had already degenerated into a pretty vicious cesspool of recriminations between pro and anti-gay rights supporters. The subject was the actions of the Officers Wives Club at Fort Bragg North Carolina to initially reject the entry of the lesbian wife of a female Army Lieutenant Colonel for membership, the subsequent court battle and the wives club’s grudging issuance of a “guest pass” to the woman.

What got me to comment was the absolutely venomous tenor of the gay rights opponents, their often obscene comments about the lesbian couple and how many self identified as Christians or supporting Christian values. It wasn’t a matter of agreeing or disagreeing about policy and interpretation of law or even the validity or sincerity of their beliefs, it was the shameful way that they demonized and dehumanized the people involved as well as those that pointed out an opposing viewpoint.

I hesitated at first but then having seen such how such clubs deal with those different from their majority of their members I wrote this comment:

“in my experience of 30 years commissioned I have found many Officers Wives Clubs to be a cesspool of gossip and self-righteousness covered with a veneer of respectableness covering up their own vanity. Most often they are the domain of white women, who do not work and historically have shunned male spouses of female officers, wives that are working professionals whose identity is not built around their husband’s achievements as well as minorities, the physically disabled or wives of officers who spent years as enlisted men. The treatment of the Lesbian wife is another chapter in officially sanctioned discrimination. Chaplain wives organizations are similar, except you can toss in the stigma of not being a Evangelical or Conservative Protestant. Wives of Chaplains that don’t fit that mould are marginalized, be they Mainline Protestants, Jews or Mormons and of course wives whose faith is different then their husband, such as a Protestant Chaplain with a Catholic wife. My view, if they want to be a private membership that excludes those that they don’t think fit in, then meet off base…”

I don’t think that my comments were off base. They actually seem to describe the history of these organizations fairly well. However, my post attracted the ire of a relatively recent Army retiree and stupidly I shot back with a flippant comment. He had already been heavily engaged in the debate and the fact that I was a Chaplain gave him all that he needed to begin tThat comment was ill advised. A Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel friend of mine noted that I shouldn’t wrestle a pig. I ignored his advice as well of the advice Judy also tried to warn me off.

My flippant comment elucidated an attack from the man that went well beyond dealing with policy, law or even faith, it became a personal attack. To him my arguments did not matter, it was a matter of not only attempting to defeat what I said but to discredit and destroy me in the process. When I attempted to build bridges to dialogue and invite him to actually get to know me, he attacked more vehemently and personally making accusations about me, my character and my beliefs. Instead of debating any of my defenses of my position, theological or constitutional he dismissed them. His characterizations and comments that were so off base and wrong that anyone who either knows me personally or reads this site regularly would know that they were absolutely false.

But the attacks wounded me and left me incredibly angry. But that was not a bad thing. They caused me they think back to a time early in my ministry when I did similar things to those whose doctrine, beliefs or practices that I believed were wrong. I was very good at it. My Chaplain Assistant who is now a relatively senior Army Chaplain used to call me a “Catholic Rush Limbaugh,” even though I was not a Roman Catholic. A very conservative and reactionary Roman Catholic journal called The New Oxford Review published two of my articles back in 1998 and 1999, which ended up getting me banned from publishing for years by my the second ranking bishop of my former church. I was accused of being “too Catholic” and the irony was that he left that church well before I was forced to leave becoming Roman Catholic and writing similar articles to mine for a major Catholic apologetics online website.

So as I said I was good at this. With precise logic I could devastate others. The man that attacked me was much like me. I was seeing my old self in a mirror and it was not a sight that I enjoyed and it tempered my remarks to the man that I made in my defense.

It seems to me that those that argue most strenuously and personally are not necessarily bad people. They are consumed with zeal. Jesus had to deal with such people during his earthly ministry and every time he left them perplexed. I am not that good at this point in doing that. I simply gave up and told my attacker to “pound sand.” Jesus was much better at ending debates like this one than me.

I felt like George Costanza of Seinfeld trying to get the last word. Not very Jesus like, but revealing to me. Revealing to the point that I was reminded of Bonhoeffer’s words that “nothing that we despise in other men is inherently absent in ourselves.” It is a hard lesson to learn and it seems that I have to learn it more times than I like. In a sense it was like looking in the mirror but seeing me more than a decade ago.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under christian life, faith, News and current events, Political Commentary, Religion

Where Everybody Knows Your Name: The Importance of Community for Military Families

Some years ago the theme song of the television show “Cheers!” struck a chord with people, because it expressed the desire of many people.

Making your way in the world today takes everything you’ve got.
Taking a break from all your worries sure would help a lot.
Wouldn’t you like to get away?

We live in an increasingly disconnected world despite the proliferation of devices designed to make communication easier. Our dependence on these devices often serves to disconnect us from community because we use them to accomplish things without any human contact.  I mean really, what percentage of our Facebook “friends” really know us and how many can we go to when the chips are down.

We shop in massive stores, attend mega-churches, exist on fast food bought at a drive through and we don’t know our neighbors. To most organizations we are not real life human beings but statistics whose only value is in profit and market share.  And we wonder why so many people are depressed, lonely and even despair of life.

Sometimes you want to go, Where everybody knows your name,
and they’re always glad you came.
You wanna be where you can see, our troubles are all the same
You wanna be where everybody knows Your name.

Having a place where people know you and care about you matters. It is important to us as individuals and it is important to the people that come to us for their medical care. Cheers was a neighborhood bar where people from all walks of life knew and cared for each other. We miss that a lot and we often suffer because of it, especially those that go to war and their families.

You wanna go where people know, people are all the same,
You wanna go where everybody knows your name.

In our military communities be they Army, Navy, Marine Corps or Air Force we have shared hardships and culture but even with that it is a difficult life. The military does its best to provide a multitude of support services including unit based Family Support Groups, family service centers as well as centers and associations for single servicemen and women.

But even still those support structures often are insufficient due to the transitory nature of military life, changing and sometimes uneven leadership of these organizations. Add to this the unrelenting demands of the wars and deployments and the wounds of war brought home which affect even the most resilient families.  PTSD, Traumatic Brain Injury, traumatic amputations, substance abuse, domestic violence, high divorce rates and suicide are everyday parts of the military family and community life.

One of the other aspects not directly attributable to the wars is how the communities around the bases treat the military.  In some major metropolitan areas the military simply blends in to the civilian community, even where there are large bases such as in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia.  In such places there may be a large military footprint but it is easy to blend in.  In other areas where the military installations are the sole reason that the areas have large populations such as Killeen Texas, the home of Fort Hood, Jacksonville North Carolina the home of Camp LeJeune and Fayetteville the home of Fort Bragg the military presence is loved and loathed. There are many retired military in these areas as well as many veterans and often they are supportive. However in each of these cities there exists a large contingent of individuals and businesses who take advantage of military personnel and their families and some of these are former military personnel. Sometimes people in these communities despite their outward show of support for the troops do all they can to make the military personnel unwelcome.  Now this is not helped by the bad behavior of some military personnel and their family members which is then used to discriminate against good and law abiding military personnel.

But there are good people, organizations and businesses which do their best to help make these “strangers in a strange land” welcome.  For me that welcome has been often linked to people that I know at minor league ballparks such as Harbor Park in Norfolk and Grainger Stadium in Kinston. There is a special church, Saint James Episcopal in Portsmouth Virginia that I enjoy on the rare times that I have to visit it is a place I can call home and my friends at the Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant in Virginia Beach.

Community really matters because as Americans we are all in this together.  While I have focused on military communities large numbers of American cities and towns are enduring great hardship, and this disconnect between people, evidenced by the fact that we often don’t even know our neighbors has created a social isolation that only breeds hatred and discontent.  With this true lack of community we should be surprised with increasing crime, violence, discrimination and prejudice.

Community doesn’t happen overnight and sometimes illusion of perpetual prosperity only serves to drive us apart.  However, sometimes communities are reborn when facing crisis, people begin to look out for one another again and the welcome sign means that you really are.

But, what is neat is when we do find that special place for ourselves and when we can provide that kind of home to others we can really understand the last stanza of the song from Cheers which never aired on television.

Be glad there’s one place in the world
Where everybody knows your name,
And they’re always glad you came;
You want to go where people know,
People are all the same;
You want to go where everybody knows your name.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Loose thoughts and musings, philosophy

Going to War: Planes, Pit Stops, Patriots and Pubs… the Flight to Kuwait

cape san juanWWII Troopship USS Cape San Juan 1943

Going to war now days is certainly different than it was a generation or two back.  Back in World War II and Korea the primary manner in which troops deployed to and returned from war was on a troopship.  Troopships in the Second World War ranged in size from the great British Ocean Liners the Queen Elizabeth and Queen Mary down to small and often ancient passenger ships.  As the war went on the United States adapted a number of ship designs to serve as troop transports as well as built ships specifically designed to transport troops to combat.  There was one thing that all of these ships from the might Queen’s to the lowliest tramp steamer had in common was that they were really crowded.  Every in of space that could be made to fit a bunk was used.  The Queens, which in peacetime might carry 1500-2000 passengers routinely carried up to 15,000 troops.  Talk about cramped quarters, these ships made the steerage passengers on the Titanic look like executive class travelers.  The smaller the ship the worse the ride and many times soldiers would spend their entire voyage seasick.

qeen mary troopsTroops on RMS Queen Mary

Well times have changed.  We still have ships that carry troops, amphibious ships that can hit from both sides of the plate which carry the Marine Corps Expeditionary Units on their deployments.  However, it is seldom that much more than a MEU is ever carried to a war zone.  In the Gulf War and Build up from OIF a good number of Marines were brought over that way, however many of these in the Gulf War never went ashore and were kept at sea to keep the Iraqis thinking that they would be used in an amphibious operation.  The bulk of the troops who have deployed since Vietnam have done so by air, either military aircraft operated by the Air Force such as C-130s, C-141’s, C-5A Galaxy’s and C-17 Globemaster’s or alternatively civilian contract aircraft mostly run by non-scheduled airlines which specialize in just this sort of thing.  Airlines such as World Airways, North American Airlines, Miami Air, and the now defunct ATA have been the primary carriers of troops dating back to Vietnam while other commercial airlines also do charter work.  When large numbers of aircraft the DOD activates the CRAF, the Civilian Reserve Air Fleet, which is composed of aircraft from the major airlines used on an emergency basis.

world airways dc10World Airways DC-10

The military and chartered aircraft are the closest things now in the world of transportation to the old troopships.  On military aircraft troops often fly with cargo in large cavern like fuselages on seats that can be reconfigured to about any way imaginable.  The -17 is the luxury bird of the military air fleet, but certainly not a paragon of comfort when fully load with troops and gear.  Of course the military aircraft were designed for utility and maximum use of passenger and cargo space.  The charter aircraft are a different matter.  Most of the aircraft used regularly by the charter carriers for deployments are older DC-10s, B-757s and occasionally a B-767 or L-1011.  With rare exception these aircraft are configured to get the most passengers on the aircraft, comfort is not terribly important.  There is no such thing in these aircraft as a true “First Class or Business Class section, merely front of the aircraft or back.  The seats are the same and as far as leg room there is no such thing as “Economy Plus.”  Simply put we are in steerage almost any time we get on one of these aircraft.

We loaded our gear onto waiting trucks at Fort Jackson and boarded military operated “Blue Bird” buses like you send your kids to school on.   Unlike your kid’s bus these are white and driven by soldiers that are in some kind of transient status or Army civilians.  The air conditioning on a hot and humid southern day is asthmatic at best, especially when the busses are full of troops who are much bigger than the kids these buses are designed to carry.  I guess it could be worse; we could be traveling in the old un-air conditioned cattle cars.  When we got to the airport we did not go to the commercial side, but rather to the private side.  Our aircraft, a white World Airways DC-10 sat on the strip in front of the tiny and woefully undersized terminal where most of us ended up waiting in the open and un air conditioned hanger, our Desert Uniforms sticking to our bodies in the sultry South Carolina summer.  We formed up, the baggage trucks arrived with our sea bags and we were organized into teams to load the aircraft.  You guessed it, no airline staff to do this, just us.  Now since there were a couple of hundred of us finding enough people to do the work was not much of a problem.  Nelson and I both volunteered and with the others we stripped off our tops and in our brown t-shirts we organized for the task.  The small guys like me and Nelson got to go up into the belly of the aircraft where we waited for guys on the ground to send the bags up the conveyor.  Bag after bag they came, most were the tradition sea bag or duffel bag, but others like Nelson and my bags were oddly shaped and some were even large cases issued by individual’s units.  Weapons cases were also loaded, each weapon locked inside a lowest bidder plastic case that certainly would not last more than a few trips across the pond.  As we loaded the aircraft a rain shower passed by, the humidity was atrocious and the heat did not subside very much.  Eventually Nelson looked at me and asked, “Boss you alright?”  I assured him that I was and we kept loading the aircraft until there were no more bags to load, shoving bags and stacking them so that nearly every inch of space was taken in the baggage compartment.

One done loading we mustered again.  The pilots arrived and began their inspection of the aircraft.  At this point we were informed that there was a mechanical problem and that we would have to wait.  A couple of more hours waiting around the terminal we finally began to board the aircraft.  Finally we got underway and found that we had to make another stop.  We had to land at Pope Air Force Base in order to pick up an Army Transportation unit heading into theater.  The flight up was short and we expected that after a short delay we would again be in the air.  We were wrong.  We de-boarded the plane to allow it to be fueled.  As we waited in the terminal, once again a rather Spartan affair we found that the crew had exceeded their allowed flight or work hours and that we would have to remain overnight.  Unfortunately the contracting staff at the Air Mobility Command had not anticipated this situation and we were stuck.  We had already been up most of the day and there were no sleep facilities in this terminal except wooden benches and concrete floors.  With our gear loaded aboard the plane and unavailable it looked like things would not go well.  Vending machines were quickly emptied and like any sailors marooned anywhere we made the best of things.  Sailors broke out decks of cards, DVD video players, made phone calls home or found places to try to sleep on the benches or against terminal walls.

At first it didn’t look like we would be getting any assistance from the Air Force.  However, we were fortunate to have as our senior officer and Officer in Charge a Navy Captain who was a jet fighter pilot and wasn’t going to let “his” sailors let overnight in such conditions while still in the United States.  After a while our Captain secured box lunches and pillows.  He then continued to push and eventually some contracting weenie was rustled out of his waterbed and got us rooms at a Hampton Inn somewhere in Fayetteville.  As the hands on the dial of my watch worked their way past midnight the ubiquitous Blue Bird buses pulled up to the terminal.  A few people elected to stay behind and for some unknown reason the Air force required some of our sailors to watch the aircraft.  Mind you they could only watch it.  Our weapons were stowed in the belly of the aircraft.  The irony was that the airfield a Pope is secured by USAF Air Police and probably one of the most secure places in the area.  The Captain lost that argument and a number of sailors volunteered to remain along with sailors who had somehow made themselves comfortable and didn’t want to move.  In my younger days I would have been with them, but I had tried to sleep on those same benches when I went to Jordan earlier in the year I knew that I couldn’t hang with them.

The rest of us mustered again, accountability checks were made and we loaded ourselves on the buses.  T rip took about 15 minutes and we were deposited at the hotel.  It was about 0130 by this time.  The hotel staff was great.  Since like our toiletries like most everything else we owned were safely secured in the belly of our aircraft we were now tired, hungry again and pretty stinky. The hotel night manager opened up his stocks and gave us toothpaste, tooth brushes and shavers. He also gave away snacks.  I think I got a muffin out the deal. We stood in line and since there were a lot more of us than rooms we were assigned 4 to a room and at 0200.  My roommates were four youngish junior officers.  There were two beds and a cot in the room, and since none of us wanted to share a full size bed, something I think was a good idea not to do, two got the beds, one got the cot and the third grabbed all the extra linen and a comforter and lay down on the floor.  The young guys deferred to my age when I volunteered for the floor, they told me that “because you are a lot older than us sir you get a bed.”  I felt like applying for the AARP at that moment but I took a bed which felt really good as I sunk into it and passed out.

We had to be up early to head back to the airfield, the time in bed was too short but better than I had hoped and the shower was great.  I felt almost human and was glad that I had packed a clean undershirt socks and briefs in my backpack.  We got back to the terminal and box lunch breakfasts were on hand. We still had about 4 hours before the flight and it was Sunday morning so Chaplain Fauntleroy and Chaplain Rodriquez and I arranged to conduct two services.  Kyle and Dave did a more Evangelical style service while I celebrated a short field Eucharist.  We did this outside the terminal, the weather was not too bad, and probably half of the sailors as well as a good number of the soldiers who had joined us participated.  Since there was no Catholic Priest my service was better attended than I thought it would be as in such times I usually pick up a few Episcopalians, Anglicans and Lutherans and maybe a stray Catholic.  In these settings I do not interrogate the people that show up as to their background, I do ask that if they are not baptized Christians not to partake of the Eucharist, but figure that God and His grace in the Sacrament will do what needs to be done.  I learned this from a Missouri Synod Lutheran Chaplain in Germany supporting the Bosnia operation. Since the Missouri Synod practices “closed communion” meaning that you have to be Missouri Synod to take communion in their church I asked what he did in field settings or chapels where it was not a denominational service.  He told me, with great wisdom “Steve, you have to trust that God’s grace in the Sacrament will do His work.”  That was an epiphany and I have never forgotten it.

The services concluded we again mustered and finally were able to board the aircraft.  We had a stop at Portland Maine to refuel the aircraft in preparation for the trans-Atlantic flight.  Now this is a highlight for any serviceman or women being deployed or returning home.  The folks in Portland, veterans groups like the VFW, American Legion, Fleet Reserve and Marine Corps League have banded together to meet flights as they come in.  They have been given a space in the terminal in which they have computers, cell phones, land line phones and calling cards for troops.  They also hand out small “goodie” bags with snacks and home baked cookies.  These folks and their counterparts at the former Pease Air Force Base are amazing.  It is an example of small town America at its best.  Some are World War II vets, others from Korea, Vietnam and Desert Storm.  They are still others who have never served but feel an obligation to help.  They span the political, religious and ethnic spectrum of the country.  After they personally greeted each of us as we entered the terminal, they had a small ceremony and thanked us for our service.  Many engaged us in conversation and their hospitality was simply amazing.  The Maine Troop Greeters have greeted over 800,000 troops from over 4000 flights in the past six years.  They are Patriots in their own right and what they did for us was amazing.  I felt a wave of emotion go across my and my eyes get a bit moist as these wonderful people, young and old greeted us, shook our hands and blessed us.  It is something that until you experience it you cannot comprehend and I wish that the  men and women who served in Vietnam had been greeted like this.  It makes you feel that you are not completely alone.

maine troop greeters 1

maine troop greeters 3Maine Troop Greeters

Eventually I decided to wander the terminal to see what was available.  I saw a small pub which featured the local micro-brew ale which our good Captain permitted us to have since we were still in the Continental United States.  I had a sandwich and chips as well as two pints of this local Amber Ale which would be my last drink until the Marine Corps Birthday in Ramadi.  The brew was quite good and if I saw it again I would probably buy some.  We were then called back to the aircraft.  Our flight to Germany was uneventful and we landed deep in the night in Leipzig where a small area had been set up for refreshments, souvenirs, television, games and internet access.  We were not allowed any alcohol at this stop as we were now under an 8 hour flight to Kuwait.  Our stop completed we got back on the aircraft for the flight to Kuwait which awaited us with temperatures of 120-135 degrees.  Something that I wonder how the Deity Herself allows unless it is to give us a chance to preview hell.

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Filed under iraq,afghanistan, Military, Tour in Iraq