Tag Archives: holy eucharist

Sweet 16: Celebrating 16 Years Since My Ordination as a Priest

“Practically speaking, your religion is the story you tell about your life.” Andrew Greeley

It was a quiet celebration of Eucharist with Judy this afternoon at my dinner table. I was wearing a stole that Judy made which has been with me around the world and which I wore throughout my time in Iraq. The chalice was a very simple one that I got in Germany when I was stationed there in 1996-1997. The other elements that I used, the paten and crucifix were those that I used in Iraq, as was the lectionary that the readings came from, which has a cover that Judy made for my travels.

Our dog Molly was at my feet and our Papillon puppy Minnie decided that she needed to stay in Judy’s arms for the duration of the liturgy. This is nothing new, our dogs have pretty much been there any time that we have had a home Eucharist. Frieda, our Wire Hair Dachshund I’m sure was a lapsed Bavarian Catholic who if she attended was passed out. Greta our red smooth hair Dachshund would always be with us, but usually would be asleep next to Judy. Molly just likes to be with daddy and this was Minnie’s first Mass. Minnie made us laugh when she tried to get into the chalice as I gave it to Judy, but thankfully she did not succeed.

My service as a priest has been exclusively as a military Chaplain, first in the Army and since 1999 in the Navy. I have not yet had to opportunity to serve in a civilian parish though I have on occasion assisted fellow priests at their parishes. My current assignment is a hospital and most of my duties are related to patient care or staff support. Thus when I am home in Virginia I attend St. James Episcopal Church in Portsmouth where I first started attending while serving at the Naval Medical Center in the midst of my crisis of faith. I love that little parish which has its roots in the former slaves and freedmen of the city.  Down here at the Island Hermitage I have not found that place where I feel at home so on weekends that I am here I typically will do the daily office and Eucharist at home.

So my parish is wherever I serve as a chaplain but in a sense my readers are an extended part of my parish. Father Andrew Greeley wrote:

“I wouldn’t say the world is my parish, but my readers are my parish. And especially the readers that write to me. They’re my parish. And it’s a responsibility that I enjoy.”

I get notes from people on this site quite often who have experienced the pain of spiritual abuse, trauma from various sources and who have experienced a crisis in faith or lost their faith. I hear from others that have been ostracized by their churches for various reasons. They write in response to articles that I have written about my own crisis of faith following my time in Iraq and struggle with the demons of PTSD. It was a time where I felt abandoned by God and the church. I found that churches can be painful places as often as they become places of healing. Having been asked to leave the denomination that ordained me in September 2010 as I began to recover faith after spending nearly two years struggling I understand that pain. But I agree with Jurgen Moltmann who said of his experiences in World War II and its aftermath “Christ’s own ‘God-forsaken-ness’ on the cross showed me where God is present where God had been present in those nights of deaths in the fire storms in Hamburg and where God would be present in my future whatever may come.”

Today was nice. We spent time together and after the scripture readings and before the Eucharist we simply talked about the journey and how different things are now than when I was ordained. The world has changed and so have we. War does that.

I have been thinking a lot this week about this and how blessed I am to be a priest and chaplain. I am blessed by people who taught me, mentored me and cared for me throughout my journey. I am blessed to still be able to serve God’s people and my church even as I serve those that serve this country in the military.  I try to remember as Andrew Greeley wrote in one of his Bishop Blackie Ryan mysteries that:

“Every sacramental encounter is an evangelical occasion. A smile warm and happy is sufficient. If people return to the pews with a smile, it’s been a good day for them. If the priest smiles after the exchanges of grace, it may be the only good experience of the week.”  (The Archbishop in Andalusia p.77)

This week I was humbled when one of my old shipmates from my time on the USS Hue City posted a comment on my Facebook page about the impact that I had made in his life about 10 years ago.  The week was supposed to be a bit relaxing but I spent a good amount of it dealing with the tragic suicide of one of our Corpsmen who worked at one of our hospital clinics.  I will continue to be working with that situation this week and would appreciate your prayers.

We also had our tankless water heating system go out and have been shuttling in to the base to take showers at the hospital locker room. Hopefully the maintenance man has the new component tomorrow. As it is I will be going in to work very early to PT and shower before my first meeting and what promises to be a very busy day as we prepare a memorial service and care for our shipmates.

Judy came to North Carolina this week and leaves tomorrow. Molly as usual will remain with me and Minnie after a wonderful week of growing up is going back to Virginia with Judy.  It has been, excepting the oppressive heat, humidity and lack of hot water for showers been an enjoyable time together. We were able to have dinner last night with our friends from Kinston, Jerry, Toni and Cara in New Bern.

Since tomorrow will be a very early start I will close.

Anyway, grace and peace,

Padre Steve+

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Mother’s Day Miscellany

Happy Mother’s Day to all those of you that are mother’s out there and those that tried to be but for whatever reason never had children or lost your children. Mother’s Day is a day that for some is happy and others not. That is one of the perplexing parts of the day. I had a happy childhood and my mom endured the life of a Navy Wife and mother raising two boys with her husband deployed, traveling or underway.  She did a pretty good job if you ask me. I think of the times that when dad was gone that she cheered me at Little League baseball and hockey games and would take my brother Jeff and me to the Navy Base Dispensary when we were sick. I also remember the time that she took on a neighbor who had threatened to hurt me when I was out on my paper route. The guy stood about 6’ 6” and worked for a competing paper.  Of course I was 12 years old and he was an adult. Mom marched down the street, and standing about 5’ 2” got right up on him and chewed him up one side and down the other and if I recall threatened his life if he laid a hand on me. It’s good to have a mom that can do dad’s job when dad is on an extended deployment in a combat zone.

Thankfully my mom is still alive and doing okay. I know that for those that have lost their mothers that this day can be hard.  Likewise for those who did not have mom’s that cared for or nurtured them the day can be hard. I was able to talk to my mom today and though separated by a continent it was good to talk with her and wish her a happy Mother’s Day.

I spent today at home with Molly my little dog at the Island Hermitage catching up on laundry, having some time of prayer and a celebration of the Eucharist. It has been a taxing few weeks with much travel and activity and after a celebration of the Navy Nurse Corps 104th Anniversary and National Nurses Week which cumulated in a Luau last night I was ready to do very little today.

I have been doing some reading, I am almost done with William Sheridan Allen’s book The Nazi Seizure of Power: The Experience of a Single German Town 1922-1945. It is an excellent read and should be a cautionary tale for anyone that puts their faith in radical politicians that promise “clear solutions” to difficult problems, especially social and economic conditions and those that appeal to displays of religious faith and tradition to attack and vilify their political opponents.

Later in the afternoon I ran the furthest distance that I have since before I went to Iraq, a bit over 7 miles on the beach. It was a slower pace than I wanted because of the condition of the sand because of the tide, heavy surf and number of tourists who had tread upon it this weekend. Despite the slow pace it was really nice to get the distance in without any problems. A lot of credit goes to my new running shoes, the Merrell “Barefoot” model. I have been running in them for 2 months and for the first time in years I am running without pain and not twisting or turning my ankle. Likewise when I am done running I no longer am tight or in pain. I look forward to knocking our my Navy Physical Readiness Test on Friday. I feel like I am in the best shape I have been in years.

I finished the day watching baseball and then the film Nuremberg which is about the Nuremberg trials.  It does a good job in portraying the major Nazi War Criminals either justified themselves or came to see the gravity of crimes and guilt.

Anyway, have to get ready for bed and give my wife Judy a call to say goodnight since I was unable to be with her this week or last. All my stuff is packed to take to work in the morning.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, Loose thoughts and musings, Military

The Church Maintained in Love: Thoughts on Life a Year after Being Asked to Leave a Church

“There comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular, but he must take it because his conscience tells him it is right….” Martin Luther

It has been a year since I was asked to leave my former church.  While I choose not to rehash the events of that time now I feel a need to reflect on where I am now as a Priest and Christian living in a tumultuous time in our nation and in the world.

In the past year I have rediscovered a passion for ministry especially to and speaking out for those that are marginalized by much of the church.  Since I understand to some degree what it is to have been marginalized by the church for voicing positions that as Luther said that are “neither safe, nor politic, nor popular” but because my conscience tells me that it is right.

I am still a Christian, even though some have questioned that, after I left that church some called me an “apostate.”  Yet I believe in the God of Scripture, the Creeds and the Councils. At the same time that belief is not as rigid as it once was. I used to consider those that didn’t believe like I did in relation to Scripture, the Creeds and Councils not to be Christians.  I cannot say that now. I am much more to have the Grace and Mercy of God be my default position and let other things fall out where they may.

As far as my daily spiritual life and relationships I am still sorting things out.  When I returned fromIraqI went through an intense time of spiritual despair during the depths of depression, anxiety, grief and abandonment related to my time inIraqand my battle with the injury of PTSD.  That period left me even wondering if God existed, for all practical purposes I was an agnostic.  While faith has returned there are still many things that I struggle with and as I wrestle with this I know that part of this has nothing to do with faith but to my basic personality and personality type. I am a Myers Briggs INTJ.  This means that I am basically logical, distant and more at home dealing with theory, imagining things as they could be and solving problems rather than “staying in the lines.”  It also means that I can appear cold or or standoffish even when I am not trying to do so. If you want to see a classic INTJ watch House MD.  Likewise I need much solitude and not always the most sociable person on the planet.  In the past year I have not moved much closer than I was last year to figuring how I do the spiritual disciplines and relationships. Last fall  I did try and liked the Celtic Daily Prayer when I tried it. Perhaps I should actually go out and buy a copy and really give it a try. So after a year I am searching for a spiritual method or practice that will work for me and I will probably seek out a qualified spiritual director to help me in this process.

But not all has been difficult.  My faith in some ways, especially the theological, ethical and philosophical aspects of it is much more connected to how I live.  These aspects of my faith also inform the way that I live and relate to this world. I am Catholic and I am happy to be a priest of the Apostolic Orthodox Catholic Church which an expression of the Old Catholic Church. I am most fortunate to be part of that small but loving church. My theological and philosophic ethos is much more ecumenical and democratic than it was in the past. I remember when I tended toward a more triumphant and monarchical view of church.

I believe that the Church is a community centered on Jesus and bound together by our baptism, One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism, One God and Father of All.  I believe in this community that there are many expressions of that faith.  We maintain the faith that comes passed to us in the Gospel “that God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation.” (2 Cor. 5:19 NLT).

The Jesus that I follow and that I believe in is present in body, soul and spirit in the Eucharist which is one of the most profound expressions of we are connected to the Trinity as individuals and as a faith community.  I believe like Hans Kung and others that this table belongs to the baptized community of faith and not to an exclusive Priestly class who dictate who can come to the table.  It is not the exclusive property of any denomination or Church organization especially those that most loudly state this to be the case.

Likewise as I have written before I do not like ecclesiastical bullies that use faith as a bludgeon to enforce their religious on others using the power of government to do so.  As such I have found much consolation and inspiration in the life and work of the German pastor, theologian and martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  Bonhoeffer wrote:

“God loves human beings. God loves the world. Not an ideal human, but human beings as they are; not an ideal world, but the real world. What we find repulsive in their opposition to God, what we shrink back from with pain and hostility, namely, real human beings, the real world, this is for God the ground of unfathomable love.”

I guess I find comfort in that because I know that I am a flawed human being.  However I gain inspiration from this statement because it makes me remember that no matter how I feel about someone that God loves them. It reminds me that love of God extends to them even if I oppose or have no respect for them, or loathe their actions against the least the lost and the lonely, those on the margins of society. Since I have had plenty of opportunity to criticize such people in recent months I need to temper my opposition to what I find repulsive in their attitudes, behavior and actions against the weak, poor and powerless in society and remember that God loves them and desires their redemption as well.  It also allows me to hear friends when they point out that my criticisms of such people might be over the top. Those were things that got me thrown out of my former church a year ago, pretty amazing actually.

So it has been an interesting year but I am somewhat conflicted.  I look forward to what is ahead because I know that in spite of all the injustice, turmoil, hatred and division that exists in our nation and the world that there is a God who loves us as we are.  At the same time I  fear the things I see occurring here and around the world.  The thing that I fear the most is evil and injustice promoted under the guise of religion, be it Moslem, Christian or Jewish. The same is true of the practical atheism of economic Darwinism practiced by government, multi-national corporations and financial institutions.  Likewise the inhuman actions of those in any nation who use the power of government violence and oppression or the terrorism promoted by political and religious radicals regardless of their ideology worries me immensely.  Those things scare me but at the same time to motivate me to speak out as men like Bonhoeffer have done in the past regardless of where it leads.

Pray for me a sinner.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Sacrament of the Smile….Making it Real

In Andrew Greeley’s Bishop Blackie Ryan mystery “The Archbishop in Andalusia” the character Bishop Blackie makes a comment after celebrating Mass in the cathedral at Seville. He said “Every sacramental encounter is an evangelical occasion. A smile warm and happy is sufficient. If people return to the pews with a smile, it’s been a good day for them. If the priest smiles after the exchanges of grace, it may be the only good experience of the week.”  (The Archbishop in Andalusia p.77)

I’m the kind of person that if I’m angry or not doing well my face can show it even if I don’t want it to.  It’s sometimes hard to hide emotions even though I try, but I have gotten pretty good at hiding them by putting on a poker face and smiling, even if it hurts to do so.   This works most of the time, but sometimes with people who know me pretty well it catch me.  They ask me if I’m doing okay and they are pretty good at taking care of me in those moments, which unfortunately are a lot more common after Iraq than before it but occasionally happen.

However on the whole I remain a pretty upbeat person.  I think my most common greeting with people that I work with or see relatively often is “Hey, what’s up, what’s new, what’s happening in the world?” Most of the time I’m a pretty laid back kind of person. I think that this is due a blend of genetics from a recessive gene in my family as well as having grown up on the West Coast and spending a lot of my adult life somewhere in the former Confederate States of America.   The genetic factor has to be a recessive gene as a lot of folks in my family can get spun up and pretty serious pretty fast.

Since being upbeat unless I am downcast is the baseline for me, even with my PTSD I find a lot of humor in life and still manage to have fun.  I love the folks that I work with in my ICUs and being in those places with those colleagues does me an incredible amount of good.

One thing that I have noticed is that it is important for me to smile; in fact I generally like smiling except when I don’t.   I admit that there are some times and some people that I am like the scene in the movie Patton where Patton is forced to make conversation with a Soviet General after the war.  In those kinds of times the smile is definitely faked and thankfully most people don’t realize it.

However what I find is that many people respond positively to a genuine and caring smile and greeting.  Let’s face it times are not the best, all the economic problems and political conflict coupled with ongoing wars and wondering what is going to happen stress a lot of people out.  A lot of this is the news media’s fault as they heap one negative story after another on their viewers, particularly those who are addicted to 24 hour non-stop cable news and talk radio.  As a result it is amazing to see the number of people out in town who don’t smile.  Since I work in a pretty good sized teaching medical center I see people going through a lot of health and life crisis, but even here I don’t quite see the level of disgruntledness that I see out in town.  Frankly I’d like to see a lot more gruntled than disgruntled people.

In the past year that I have been here I have endeavored to be as positive and cheerful as possible and with some exceptions I have managed pretty well.  In fact I have made it my crusade to honestly try to greet everyone that I contact with a kind word or smile and often a God bless you or simply “blessings on your head.” What I love to see is someone who has been obviously beaten down; do a double take when they realize that someone; that being me, is taking the time to say something nice to them.  I love the sheepish smiles, the surprised thank you and God bless you responses that I get in return.

No place is this more important than church or chapel service when I or for that matter any Priest or minister serves God’s people.  Grumpy pastors, who are too bothered to care, perform their duties in a perfunctory manner or worse are rude and disrespectful to the people that God entrusts to their care  do damage.  It’s like Archbishop Blackie said, the encounters that we have are occasions to share the grace and love of God, to be with them, care for them and are in a very real sense both evangelical and sacramental occasions.  When I was in Jacksonville Florida as a Navy Chaplain I would occasionally serve at the altar of our cathedral church.  People would almost always comment on how joyful I looked while celebrating Eucharist and serving communion.  How can I not be when I am entrusted with such a great gift for God’s people?

Judy and my college room-mate Kendra is in town this week.  We had kind of a three’s company situation.  I had my men’s bedroom which was a total college guy mess and Judy and Kendra shared the other bedroom.  At the time Kendra was an Atheist being bombarded by many of our well meaning but hyper aggressive Christian friends.  We had a blast.  Kendra is like super duper deaf, lost all of her hearing at the age of four after she had learned to speak and read. She’s incredibly intelligent and as a 15 year old scored in the upper one percentile of the SAT where I not to be too flashy scored somewhere around the upper thirty-fifth percentile due to my abysmal math score. It was due to Kendra that I learned sign language.  All of Judy’s friends were deaf at Cal State Northridge and I needed it, but Kendra and her sense of humor helped make me do it.  When I first met her Judy had to run out and when Judy came back to her dorm room, this was before the three’s company” set up she found Kendra and I reading the “Official Sick Joke Book” and since I couldn’t sign just yet pointing to the jokes and laughing.  Anyway, Kendra eventually came to faith and joined the Episcopal Church in Pasadena just a few years back.  In her spiritual biography she mentions us not trying to convert her, even going to church with us without feeling pressure. She knew that we cared for her and our continued friendship was a part of how she came to faith.  I thought that was so cool.  My sign language is in the crapper now but I am going to do my best to have fun.  I picked up a copy of “Mommy Dearest” so we could watch it and relive great memories of chasing each other around the apartment with wire coat hangers saying “no more wire hangers.” Trust me you have to see the movie to get this one.

Of course I try to ensure that I don’t appear to be a total idiot when I do this, with some mindless smile or joke that is inappropriate to the occasion.  Let’s look at a unlikely scenario: With me in the room the Doctor says to the patient “Sir, I have good and bad news.”   The patient says “What’s the good news?” The doctor replies “the good news is pretty soon you will feel no pain.”  The patient says “Doctor that’s wonderful news, you know I’ve been in so much pain for so long.  So what’s the bad news?” The doctor replies “Son you’re going to die.” Then I as the chaplain with a mindless big grin on my face chime in, “Let’s focus on the positive now…have you seen The Bucket list? Gotta love Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman huh? They are such good actors.  Hey, I have an idea, you want to pray?”  As the nurses and doctors struggle to pull the man’s hands from around my throat I gasp out “so do you want me to come back later?”  That of course is extremely unlikely in my case; in fact I usually am the glass half-full kind of guy when it comes to dealing with sick people since I am neither a physician nor God.

I have a sense of gallows humor but am very careful how and when to use it and thankfully I am able to not smile like an idiot when bad news gets delivered.   It’s a gift.  Let’s face it there is that stuff about those Chinese kids Yin and Yang, everything has to be in balance.

All this being said there are times where the foot is in the other shoe. These are the times that the person who is afflicted with a life threatening condition or knows that they are dying is the one who smiles and comforts others, even throwing in a joke or poking fun at someone in the room.  Having experienced this even very recently I have to say that these kinds of folks do more for me than I think that I can ever do for them.   Often there is a time of interaction where the person allows me into their world, to share a story, a laugh and a blessing.  For a Priest it doesn’t get any better than that.  These are holy times where God shows up and tonight I have the honor of spending time with such a man and his family.  I am reminded at these times how precious the time is and just how in the midst of pain, suffering and even death, that the God who says “I will never leave you or forsake you” is truly with us as we walk through the “valley of the shadow of death.”

I’ll be smiling tonight in every ward that I visit and hopefully with every staff member, patient and family member that I encounter, knowing that in their lives, that smile might be the only good thing that happens to them all day, or maybe even all week.

Make sure that you smile and give a kind word to someone soon.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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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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