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A Memorial Service as Tragedy Strikes Camp Lejeune on the 10th Anniversary of the Beginning of the Iraq War

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“God didn’t put us here for that pat on the back. He created us so he could be here himself. So he could exist in the lives of those he created, in his image.” Chaplain (Captain) Fr Francis Mulcahy M*A*S*H 

The past week has been difficult at Camp LeJeune. We lost a sailor, a hospital corpsman who died by his own hand last Monday. He was a veteran of Afghanistan and his death came as a surprise to his friends, family and shipmates. Today we conducted his memorial service. It was a full house. His family travelled to be here and his friends, those that served with him while he was assigned to the Marines as well as his current shipmates were there in abundance.

It was a time to grieve. The young man was beloved by his friends, respected and cared for. However something that none of us will ever know or understand overwhelmed him. It may have been the trauma of war, maybe something else, but he maintained a facade that kept his friends, family and shipmates away from whatever despair drove him to take his life.

It was a time for all of us to grieve. It was as William Shakespeare wrote in McBeth a time to “Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak knits up the o’er wrought heart and bids it break.”

But even as we grieved the news filtered to the base that 7 Marines assigned to the Second Marine Division were killed, and a number of others injured when a mishap occurred where they were training in Nevada. Evidently either a mortar round either exploded in the tube or as it was being handled during a live fire exercise. They join the thousands of men and women who have died or been wounded in preparation for, the conduct of or the aftermath of their service in Iraq or Afghanistan. The death of each one leaves a void in the heart of a loved one, friend or shipmate.

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Staff Sergeant Ergin Osman KIA Afghanistan

I have lost friends and shipmates in all phases of both wars and their aftermath. Some have died in combat, others while supporting combat operations of natural causes or accidents, some have committed suicide, including a Priest and Chaplain who served in both Vietnam and Iraq. Still countless others endure injuries or illnesses that will eventually kill them.

Likewise there are far too many more who have sustained terrible injuries to their minds, bodies and spirits that time will never heal. The young men and women that I see every day, those with the physical wounds of war and those with the unseen but sometimes even more disabling injuries such as PTSD, Traumatic Brain Injury or Moral Injury remain in the fight, sometimes with the sole mission of recover or remaining alive.

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Ten years after the war in Iraq began and twelve and a half years after 9-11 and the invasion of Afghanistan the costs continue to build in lives and treasure. In Iraq almost 4500 American and over 300 other coalition casualties, more than 500 contractors and nearly 10,000 Iraqi Soldiers and Police and countless thousands of Iraqi civilians have died. US wounded alone number almost 35,000 in Iraq. In Afghanistan there are over 2100 US dead and about 1100 NATO and Coalition dead, hundreds of contractors, and thousands of Afghans with over 17,000 more American military wounded. Every day nearly 20 veterans take their lives while thousands of others struggle with physical, psychological and spiritual wounds of war, wounds that don’t heal even as they find that they no longer fit in the country that went shopping when they went to war. The costs of both wars now are building into trillions of dollars, costs that will continue to grow even after the wars wind down.

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Two time Congressional Medal of Honor Winner Major General Smedley Butler, US Marine Corps wrote:

“What is the cost of war? what is the bill? Major General Smedley Butler wrote: “This bill renders a horrible accounting. Newly placed gravestones. Mangled bodies. Shattered minds. Broken hearts and homes. Economic instability. Depression and all of its attendant miseries. Back -breaking taxation for generations and generations. For a great many years as a soldier I had a suspicion that war was a racket; not only until I retired to civilian life did I fully realize it….” (See War is a Racket: Remembering Major General Smedley Butler USMC and Why He Matters

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Likewise Lieutenant General (US Army Retired) Hal Moore, who is immortalized in the film We Were Soldiers and book We Were Soldiers Once…and Young told West Point Cadets in 2005:

The war in Iraq, I said, is not worth the life of even one American soldier. As for Secretary Rumsfeld, I told them, I never thought I would live long enough to see someone chosen to preside over the Pentagon who made Vietnam-era Defense Secretary Robert McNamara look good by comparison. The cadets sat in stunned silence; their professors were astonished. Some of these cadets would be leading young soldiers in combat in a matter of a few months. They deserved a straight answer.

The expensive lessons learned in Vietnam have been forgotten and a new generation of young American soldiers and Marines are paying the price today, following the orders of civilian political leaders as they are sworn to do. The soldiers and those who lead them will never fail to do their duty. They never have in our history. This is their burden. But there is another duty, another burden, that rests squarely on the shoulders of the American people. They should, by their vote, always choose a commander in chief who is wise, well read in history, thoughtful, and slow-exceedingly slow-to draw the sword and send young men and women out to fight and die for their country. We should not choose for so powerful an office someone who merely looks good on a television screen, speaks and thinks in sixty-second sound bites, and is adept at raising money for a campaign.

If we can’t get that part right then there will never be an end to the insanity that is war and the unending suffering that follows in war’s wake-and we must get it right if we are to survive and prosper as free Americans in this land a million Americans gave their lives to protect and defend.”

Needless to say, Moore, a West Point graduate has not been asked back.

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Thousands of young Americans, as well as NATO or other Allied nation soldiers, including Iraqi soldiers that I knew and Afghans that I have not worked with have died or been mangled by these wars. Yet too many Americans, Europeans and others that have sent young men and women to these wars have no stake in the game.  Most people continue with the mundane aspects of peacetime life while their political, religious and business leaders plot even more war. Syria, Mali, North Korea, Iran…where will it end?

Today we mourned a shipmate and friend at Camp LeJeune even as we wait to see who else that we know have been killed or injured in this latest training accident. I was honored to be a part of the memorial and happy to be of help to the families and friends of my sailor. At the same time I too grieve and wonder just how many more will have to die before the madness ends.

I left the base after the ceremony, and saw the massed trucks of the local and national news networks parked outside the gate like vultures. When I got home I hugged my dog Molly, I love that little dog, she has helped save my life after my time in Iraq. I then went for a four mile run on the beach and then had a couple of beers with my dinner while at the bar with my friends at my local watering hole.

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The old regulars there have nicknamed me “Father Mulcahy” a name that some people at the hospital have also given me. Maybe it is that I ear round steel rimmed glasses. Maybe it is because I will join in the occasional poker game , football, basketball or NASCAR pool, which by the way I won the NASCAR pool this week. Or maybe it is just because they didn’t know I was a Chaplain or Priest until a mutual friend and co-worker told one of them. Until then I was just Steve, the guy that wore the Orioles and Giants baseball gear. Now I have become their Priest and Chaplain, funny how that works. Regardless, it is a nickname that I cherish, because when I was growing up Fr Mulcahy symbolized so much of what I thought was good in a Priest and Chaplain. The writers of M*A*S*H made him very human. But I digress…

As we mourned today I was reminded of something that Helen Keller said, something that I think no matter what any of us grieve is true. “We bereaved are not alone. We belong to the largest company in all the world–the company of those who have known suffering.”

Pray for me a sinner.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Thoughts on Choosing a President and the Results of Not Getting it Right: Lieutenant General Harold Moore at West Point

Lt.Gen. Harold (Hal) Moore is a legitimate American hero. Moore was commissioned as an infantry officer in the closing months of the Second World War, served in Korea and later in 1965 ed the 1st Battalion 7th Cavalry, 1st Cavalry Division into combat at the Battle of Ia Drang in Vietnam. In that battle, the first major engagement of US forces against North Vietnamese Army Regulars Moore’s outnumbered battalion held off elements of two NVA regiments. Moore’s book We Were Soldiers Once, and Young was adapted and released as the film We Were Soldiers where Moore was portrayed by Mel Gibson. His second book, We are Soldiers Still: A Journey back to the Battlefields of Vietnam are must reads for anyone who wants an honest assessment of going to war and the costs involved.

In 2005 Lt. Gen. Moore was invited to speak at West Point. It was during some of the worst times of the Iraq insurgency and Moore had been a critic of the war and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. He recounted the question and answer session in We are Soldiers Still:

“In a long question-and-answer session following my speech I was asked about Iraq and then Defense Secretary Rumsfeld. In this place-where cadets live by a code that says they never lie, cheat, steal, or quibble-I was bound to speak the truth as I knew it.

The war in Iraq, I said, is not worth the life of even one American soldier. As for Secretary Rumsfeld, I told them, I never thought I would live long enough to see someone chosen to preside over the Pentagon who made Vietnam-era Defense Secretary Robert McNamara look good by comparison. The cadets sat in stunned silence; their professors were astonished. Some of these cadets would be leading young soldiers in combat in a matter of a few months. They deserved a straight answer.

The expensive lessons learned in Vietnam have been forgotten and a new generation of young American soldiers and Marines are paying the price today, following the orders of civilian political leaders as they are sworn to do. The soldiers and those who lead them will never fail to do their duty. They never have in our history. This is their burden. But there is another duty, another burden, that rests squarely on the shoulders of the American people. They should, by their vote, always choose a commander in chief who is wise, well read in history, thoughtful, and slow-exceedingly slow-to draw the sword and send young men and women out to fight and die for their country. We should not choose for so powerful an office someone who merely looks good on a television screen, speaks and thinks in sixty-second sound bites, and is adept at raising money for a campaign.

If we can’t get that part right then there will never be an end to the insanity that is war and the unending suffering that follows in war’s wake-and we must get it right if we are to survive and prosper as free Americans in this land a million Americans gave their lives to protect and defend.” (Lt. Gen. Harold Moore at West Point Spring 2005) http://www.dailypaul.com/81039/inspiring-quote-from-lt-gen-harold-hal-moore-usa-ret

I make many comments about politics on this site. I am a critic of both parties and and their Presidential candidates. I find much to be desired in the leadership being displayed by many in political office and those running for office. However no matter which party a candidate belongs to I expect, like Lt. Gen. Moore that they are “wise, well read in history, thoughtful, and slow-exceedingly slow-to draw the sword and send young men and women out to fight and die for their country.”

I completely agree with Moore that We should not choose “someone who merely looks good on a television screen, speaks and thinks in sixty-second sound bites, and is adept at raising money for a campaign.”  

We should know better by now. We have experienced the tragedy of leaders who failed their soldiers and this nation in Vietnam, Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan. However it is the responsibility of the American people to elect well qualified men and women to office. It is not to simply for people vote for their special interests and vote for those that can play the electoral game the best regardless of their actual qualifications or for that matter their wisdom.

I have served as an officer for 29 years in the Army and the Navy. I have served under five Presidents all of whom I found reason to agree with and disagree with on matters of policy. But they were the President and I was and still am not. It is possible that I will serve a sixth President before I retire from the military. Regardless of who that is or which party they represent I will be faithful to my oath and to the Constitution and be respectful of Office of the President and the man, or woman who holds it and I will pray for them. Likewise I pray that the men, or women that they chose as the civilian leaders of the military are both wise and morally courageous, unlike Robert McNamara or Donald Rumsfeld. The same is true for senior officers that set policy and lead troops in combat. We do not need what David Hackworth called the “perfumed princes” as leaders.

That being said I do pray that whoever is elected this November will be more than a good campaigner and be wise and thoughtful before committing the nation, and especially those that serve in the military to war. Our men and women serving in harms’ way deserve as much. Too many American Soldiers, Marines, Sailors and Airmen have died or come back horribly maimed from Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan for us not to expect as much from those that seek to lead the nation regardless of their political party.

Moore’s co-author, journalist Joe Galloway, a critic of both President Bush and President Obama wrote concerning Afghanistan in 2010:

“For God’s sake, don’t ratchet up slowly, buying time with the bodies of dead and wounded American soldiers, while you try to sell the wrong war in the wrong place against the wrong enemy to the American people.

For eight years, we’ve heard presidents and other politicians talk about setting conditions for a democratic central government in a country — really a bunch of tribes and clans — that’s never had such a thing in 2,000 years and seemingly doesn’t want one now.” http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2009/09/03/74876/commentary-afghanistan-isnt-worth.html#storylink=cpy   

We should listen more to men like Lt. Gen. Moore and Joe Galloway than to those that use the military for their political or economic gain spouting sound bite foreign policy to mask their ignorance.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, iraq,afghanistan, leadership, News and current events, Political Commentary