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To Iraq and Back: A Last Night Together and a Kiss Goodbye

295_27076787058_8676_nJudy and I on the German Sail Training Ship Gorch Fock at the Norfolk Harbor Fest a couple of weeks before deployment

This is another of my “To Iraq and Back” articles about my deployment to Iraq in 2007 and 2008 with RP1 Nelson Lebron. 

Now the time has come to leave you
One more time Let me kiss you
And close your eyes and I’ll be on my way
Dream about the days to come, When I won’t have to leave alone
About the times, That I won’t have to say

Oh, kiss me and smile for me
Tell me that you’ll wait for me
Hold me like you’ll never let me go
Cause Im leavin’ on a jet plane
Don’t know when I’ll be back again
Oh babe, I hate to go

From “I’m Leaving on a Jet Plane” by John Denver

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vLBKOcUbHR0

The night before leaving on deployment and the actual day of departure are some of the hardest that any military couples or families experience. In time of war it is even more difficult. Judy and I have done this too many times in peace and war.

As I went through all of my preparations to go to Iraq in some was it was a replay of past pre-deployment situations. However, this time I was not merely deploying on a peacetime assignment or supporting a peace making operation, or even deploying on a ship and being part of a boarding team after the 9-11-2001 attacks. In that last instance  Judy did not know that I was part of the boarding team until about halfway through the deployment.

But this time going boots on ground into the most bitterly of Iraq’s contested provinces, Al Anbar. That lent at certain dark pallor to the occasion.

Our last night together was rather somber to put it mildly. Judy and I went out to dinner on Friday night. Since I knew that I would not be having a good beer for quite some time we went to the Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant in Virginia Beach. For us Gordon Biersch is generally a good time kind of place, it has become over the years our version of Cheers a place where everyone knows our name.

That last Friday before the deployment to Iraq it was not a festive occasion, it was almost a wake. Judy and I were both quite subdued. In between the silence Judy talked about her fears about the deployment while I tried to reassure her that everything would be fine. I am a man who is somewhat Vulcan in my use of logic. I figured that even though things were bad in Iraq that my chances of returning were quite high, even of something happened to me. I tried to be calm and reassuring and no matter what I tried it didn’t work, human emotions are quite intense at times.

I also reasoned that since I had taken out the extra life insurance that I would be okay.  For me such logic makes sense. I kind of believe that if I don’t get it I will need it and if I do get it I won’t. It’s kind of like Yogi Berra’s logic when he said “You should always go to other people’s funerals; otherwise, they won’t come to yours.”

After dinner and several half liter glasses of Gordon Biersch Märzen amber lager we went back home. Judy watched quietly while I finalized my packing. I ensured that all my field gear, uniforms and clothing were packed and rechecked my EOD issue protective gear.

I then packed my Mass kit, Bible, Prayer Book and my Marine Pattern camouflage reversible desert/woodland stole. The stole was special as Judy had made me a few years back from woodland and desert pattern shirts which were way too big for me. They are one of a kind items. I have seen similar, but what Judy made were far better than any others that I have seen. I still use that stole even when I am not deployed. It is simple but quite exquisite, adorned with an embroidered Maltese Cross in tan on the desert side and black on the woodland side it is unique and I treasure it.

The last items I packed were my books on counterinsurgency, a few DVD movies, music CDs and my hygiene items. It is funny to think that now all of this would be stored on my iPad which if I ever make such a deployment again will significantly simplify my life.

I wrestled the big bags down the stairs and put them in the back of my Honda CR-V so I wouldn’t have to fight them in the morning. That accomplished Judy and I just sat together, she was feeling pretty low, the look one of despair.

On the other hand I was a mix of conflicting emotions. I was excited by knowing that I was going to get to do what I had trained all of my life to do. However I was very cognizant of the reality that it would be tough on Judy and that it was a dangerous deployment.

My last couple of deployments had been very tough on her. When I deployed to support the Bosnia mission as a mobilized Army Reservist and newly ordained Priest three of my relatives in Huntington West Virginia where we were living died. One was my maternal grandmother “Ma Maw” who Judy had become very close to over the past couple of years. They had become buddies and Ma Maw had taken Judy in not as my wife, but as “her” granddaughter.

Ma Maw’s death hit Judy very hard and my mom and uncle in the midst of their grief over the loss of their mom they did not understood the depth of the relationship between Judy and Ma Maw. As a result, I was absent and there was much tension, misunderstanding and hurt feelings between them. In the week before Ma Maw’s death Judy tried repeatedly to get her to go to the doctor only to be ignored. The morning Ma Maw died Judy called me in Germany. She was frantic that I call Ma Maw and insist that she go to the doctor. I made the call and insisted that she go to the Emergency Room but she refused and said she would call her doctor. That night she died. I had lost my grandmother and could not go back to help and Judy had lost a woman who had become closer to her than her own grandmothers ever had been.

In 2001 during my deployment with 3rd Battalion 8th Marines to Okinawa, Japan and Korea we lost our 16 ½ year old Wire Haired Dachshund Frieda. Judy did her nest to keep Frieda alive for me, but there was nothing that could be done and finally with Judy being worn down to nothing herself, she was persuaded to have Frieda put down. The interesting thing is that after Frieda died she visited me in Okinawa and Judy about the same time in dreams. Frieda was always a weird animal and even in death has continued to find ways to remind us of her presence.

My 2002 deployment on USS HUE CITY to the Middle East and Horn of Africa came less than six months after my return from my deployment with 3/8. That deployment, coming on the heels of the 9-11-2001 attacks was also very difficult on her. In the space of 6 years we had been apart almost 4 1/2 years. Much of the time following that last deployment was spent on the road as I travelled to visit Marine Security Force and Navy EOD Mobile Units in the Middle East, Europe, the Far East and the Continental United States. In a four year period I averaged 1-3 weeks a month away from home.

With all of this in the background we spent our last night together. That night neither of us slept very well. When we got up I had a light breakfast and then accompanied by a friend from Judy’s Church choir we drove to the base.

Saturday morning traffic is generally not too bad so our trip was uneventful, but tense.  You could cut the tension between us by now with a knife.  It was about the time that we were nearing the base Judy said something about our relationship that I took really wrong. I sarcastically snapped back “Well I’ll just get blown up by an IED then.”

That sarcastic comment really hit her hard and I knew immediately that I had blown myself up with it. The words were harsh and devastating. I should have known better and should have kept my moth shut. After all I’d deployed a lot and taught pre-deployment classes talking about the emotional cycle of deployments. I was supposed to be an expert at this sort of thing, but instead my comment was very cruel.

To be sure the stress on both of us the preceding weeks had taken its toll and both of us were on edge.  For two months we had each in our own way imagined the deployment, me as a great adventure and her as a threat to our mutual existence. I wondered just what I would face when I got to Iraq and those were unanswerable questions. Judy’s great fear that something might happen to me and that she would be alone, not just for the time of the deployment but for the rest of her life.

That is one of the tensions in a military marriage that many people who have not lived it fail to understand. It is not just the wartime deployments it is the cumulative effects of multiple short and long term separations on the health of a relationship.

We got to the base pretty quick, maybe 15-20 minutes but the tension made me feel that the trip was three times as long. As we pulled up in a parking spot near the baggage drop off area we sat there for a few minutes. I got out of the car as did Judy.  I asked if she wanted to wait a while with me and with tears in her eyes said that she couldn’t handle the wait.

I unloaded my gear with the help of Nelson. He looked at Judy and said, “Don’t you worry ma’am we’ll do good and I’ll keep him safe.” Judy gave a soft “thanks” and gave him a hug.

With my gear unloaded I went back to Judy.  We looked at each other, embraced and kissed each other, each of us wondering if it was possibly the last time. We parted our embrace, and she the turned and walked back to the car, handed her friend the keys and they drove off.  It was a moment that I will not forget as long as I live. As she left I said a prayer under my breath and asked God to keep her safe while I was gone.  Then I turned to Nelson and said, “Okay partner, let’s get this done.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under iraq,afghanistan, marriage and relationships, Military, to iraq and back, Tour in Iraq

Molly and the End of Padre Steve’s Strategic Pop-Tart Reserve

Pop-Tarts and Twinkies are two foods that one needs to survive the apocalypse. Both are durable foods, nearly impervious to decay, the half life of both is rumored to be classified at the highest levels of government.  This has to be true because RJ the Raccoon in the comic strip Over the Hedge maintains the Strategic Twinkie Reserve for such emergencies.

In light of this I used to keep Pop-Tarts in my car. They would be my breakfast on the way to work or sugar to meld with caffeine on long trips. I also wanted them in in the car to be prepared in case some great calamity would occur, Zombies, hurricanes, earthquakes, an invasion of 100 foot long Iranian backed terrorist Cockroaches or the Cubs winning the World Series and forcing Jesus to move up his plans for the Second Coming. I am one to prepare for such emergencies.

The great thing about Pop-Tarts is that unlike most foods Pop-Tarts do not go bad. The weather can be hot and dry, warm and humid or cold as blazes and they will survive. This is true even if you only eat one of the two Pop-Tarts in the packet, and leave the packet open in the car. Even if you do this the other will remain edible for weeks, months, maybe years. They may dry out a bit, but they will survive. This makes them ideal to keep in the car because unlike a candy bar they will not melt.

Pop-Tarts, like Twinkies contain an inordinate amount of sugar. If you need a kick that only a sugar rush or amphetamines can supply Pop-Tarts are one of the most indestructible sources available.

Back before my little Papillon-Dachshund mix Molly came down to live with me I would only see her when I visited Virginia Beach or Judy brought her to see me. On one of these trips home to Virginia I left one opened and and one unopened package of Pop-Tarts in the storage area under the front passenger seat of my Honda CR-V. I had left them there and forgotten about them because there really was no need to do anything with them. They were there for emergencies, like my flash light and warning triangle and they were indestructible. This was my Mobile Strategic Pop-Tart Reserve or MSPTR.

However, on that Saturday morning I needed to go to the local Farm Fresh grocery store for a few breakfast items. Since it was a cool winter morning I asked Molly if she wanted to go with me. Molly loves rides and didn’t need to be asked twice. She bounded to the car, which at the time was my old 2001 Honda CR-V. Molly jumped into the car and took her place in the passenger seat.

I left her in the car as I went in to the store. As is her habit she barked at me, quite offended that she was not going with me. I was in the store for about 10 minutes and when I came back to the car I saw a very hyper dog and empty Pop-Tart wrappers all over the front seat and floorboard. Molly had discovered the MSPTR. The really interesting thing was that she did not simply rip open the unopened package. She had neatly opened it along the seam, like you or I would do, as if she had thumbs.

At this point there was nothing that I could do but laugh. Yelling at her would not do anything because the Pop-Tarts were gone and I had left them in easy reach. The dog is not stupid and she took the target of opportunity. However, she did not count of the sugar rush. For the next hour it was like she was on speed. She darted around the house running around in circles, grabbing toys and bouncing off furniture until she finally ran out of gas. When she ran out of gas she crashed hard.

Judy and I could not help but laugh as we talked about it and the event had long lasting implications. I discovered the one vulnerability of the MSTPR. It was not Molly proof.

That was the end of the mobile Strategic Pop-Tart Reserve. After that I switched to fresh fruit which could not be left in the car without the danger of melting down, forcing me to eat it and throw away the remains or take it into work or the house.

Perhaps one day I will start another MSPTR in my Ford Escape, but since Molly now lives with me and rides with me more often I will have to do a better job of securing the MSPTR than I did in the past. To put in in military terms I will need to increase my force protection level if I want to do this. Molly is not to be trusted around food. This morning I left my bowl of cereal next to the bean bag and turned my back to get my coffee and when I turned around Molly was happily eating my cereal. I looked at her and said “what do you think you are doing?” She backed off and I finished the cereal. When I was done I put the bowl down for her to finish the residue. Some people would find that part gross but when you have had dogs as long as us there are some things that you just get used to. Evidently I need to increase my force protection level at home as well.

The scary thing is that our new Papillon puppy Minnie is a very smart little dog and I’m sure that when I am back in Virginia that she will begin to ride with me as well. Minnie likes to try to steal sips of my beer and my coffee, sometimes with me looking right at her. She will also attempt to go behind my back in order to steal food from behind. Since she is not ever 8 pounds and very light of step she can make a stealthy approach. So I know that nothing will be safe from her.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Just for fun, Loose thoughts and musings, papillons

Super Bowl XLVI: Commercials, Madonna and a Football Game

Well the Super Bowl is over, my predictions were right and amid the commercials and halftime show a football game was played.

I didn’t have a dog in the fight this year so I was able to watch the game and do running commentary on it, the commercials and the half-time show starring Madonna on Twitter. I tweeted more tonight than any single night that I have been on Twitter and it was really fun.  Seeing what other people were saying about the game, commercials and Madonna actually made watching the game a lot more enjoyable than I normally find it.

There were a number of commercials that I liked for various reasons and some that I thought could have been better.  My favorite was the Apocalypse commercial for the Chevy Silverado.  How could you go wrong with Manilow’s Look’s like we Made It playing amid scenes of destruction and Twinkies?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XxFYYP8040A

Likewise I found that the Bud Light commercial involving the rescue dog Weego was really well done. My little dog Molly is a rescue and the commercial was cute.  I love my rescue dog.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LoplehNzYoI Budweiser had a great commercial on the end of prohibition but if I had to choose a beer to celebrate the end of that sad period I would do a craft beer. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RGgosT-v5sw

Honda had a commercial for its Acura NSX starring Jerry Seinfeld, Jay Leno, a space alien and Jay Leno that showed that Seinfeld has not lost his touch.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WUFSHzT2xuY It was too bad that he didn’t have a hand in the Jockey underwear commercial featuring David Beckham. That would have been so much better if they had used George Costanza doing the photo shoot with Kramer. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6NL5wSs-9kI

Honda had a great commercial with Matthew Broderick reprising his Ferris Buehler persona for the Honda CRV.  I love Ferris Buehler and have had a Honda CRV since 2001 so for me it was two memories. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VhkDdayA4iA

A different automaker had an ad which was far too funny and that I didn’t expect. It was the ad for the Fiat 500 Abarth. The commercial was really quite well done as only Italians could do mixing sexuality, Cappuccino and cars. This is not how I viewed Fiat for most of my life. When I was in Germany in the 1980s it was not uncommon to see Fiat 500‘s littering the roadside broken down.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c7q1Ry0udQY

From an inspirational point of view the best commercial of the evening was Chrysler’s Halftime in America with Clint Eastwood doing the voice over.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n8VpW8P8_kU

The halftime show by Madonna was better than I expected. It was kind of a retro 1980s Techno show, the only thing missing was Hans and Franz to pump you up. Madonna did the lip-sync thing well and didn’t do anything scandalous although guest singer MIA evidently have the middle finger salute during one of her solos. I didn’t see it because I was too busy tweeting pithy comments about the show to notice.

As for the game itself. It was about what I expected. It was close, the teams were competitive and it wasn’t a blow out. I really didn’t care who won so that took the pressure off. I saw the game as close enough that either team could have won and New England blew a chance to practically seal a win with about 4 minutes left in the game when Wes Welker dropped a pass that he would normally catch inside the red zone.

Eli Manning as he has shown all of this year showed that he could win when winning mattered. He, the Giants and their coach Tom Coughlin seem to have the Patriots number in big games.  The Patriots season ended with a Super Bowl loss. Tom Brady could not bring the team back in the final minute after the Patriots appeared to let the Giants score a touchdown in order to get the ball back with time on the clock. The move was a bit of twisted genius by Patriots coach Bill Belichick and if the “hail Mary” pass tossed by Brady in the final seconds had been caught by Rob Gronkowski the Patriots might have come out with a remarkable and miraculous win.

So football season is over and we can now get serious. Baseball season is just ahead and not a minute too soon.  Within minutes of the end of the game I flipped the channel to the MLB Channel.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under celebrities, football

The Padre Steve’s Super Bowl Predictions

“It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.”  Lawrence Peter “Yogi” Berra

Yes we are inexorably approaching another Super Bowl Sunday and it will be a a back to the future day with the New England Patriots playing the New York Football Giants.  This year it is Super Bowl XLVI and it is a rematch of Super Bowl of Super Bowl XLII and a rematch of Eli Manning and Tom Brady.  The last time that the teams met the Patriots were undefeated and lost to the underdog Giants. I like the use of the Roman numerals in the Super Bowl. It is manly, just like the movie Gladiator. There is something about the use of the Roman numerals that just make the game seem so much more important.

George Santayana said “those that do not read about the past are doomed to repeat it” and likewise based on my knowledge of the past I can pretty accurately predict three things.

I am going to go on the line here and boldly predict that the halftime show headlined by Madonna will suck. Most halftime are forgettable unless someone shows a bodily part that they are not supposed to and Madonna has said that her clothes will stay on so it will just be us watching another aging star lip sync her music while a hoard of excruciatingly skinny gyrating dancers in weird clothes mimic sex with her.

I also predict that the commercials will be cool and even if the game is bad, which it shouldn’t be the commercials will be a major highlight. I like to wait to the day of the Super Bowl to actually watch the commercials being that Super Bowl Sunday is almost a religious holiday. However like a kid finding his Christmas presents before Christmas I happened to watch Matthew Broderick do his updated Ferris Buehler for the Honda CR-V on the internet.  Even though I have seen it I am still excited about seeing it on the big screen.

As far as the game I can accurately predict that one of the two teams will win and to me it doesn’t really matter because it isn’t baseball. I don’t have a dog in the fight even though I am sure that if she had the chance that my little Papillon-Dachshund mix Molly would get in a fight if she could but I won’t let her.

Speaking of Molly she stole what was left of a bag of tortilla chips that I had left over from my take out order from El Zarape  last night. Molly has nervier done this before but tonight she got bold and right in front of me sticker her head in the bag and dragged it off. I laughed so hard that I didn’t take it from her until I took pictures with my I-Phone.

Anyway with all that said, have a nice night, day or whatever it is when you read this and may your team win because my team isn’t playing. Like I said, it isn’t baseball but I will watch it.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under football, Just for fun

Meeting Jesus and the Team at 7-11

One of my customs on my way to work is to stop by my local 7-11 for a cup of French Vanilla Coffee with 3 French Vanilla coffee creamers, course brown sugar and a packet of Splenda when I pick up my garden salad which I consume for lunch at work.  It is always a nice break for me on the way to work to smell the fresh coffee and take the time to prepare my cup of coffee exactly the way that I like it, which by the way before Iraq was not like this.  Back before Iraq I always drank it black with no cream or sugar but alas all good things…right?  Anyway as I was saying on this particular day I went to my neighborhood 7-11 to get my coffee and my salad the usual blue collar crowd was getting their coffee as I walked in with my orange and black trimmed retro-Baltimore Orioles Cal Ripken Junior jersey and home black and orange billed cap with the traditional Oriole on the front.  I am a stickler for tradition and though every major league team have caps that little resemble the on the field caps in various colors and designs I refuse to wear any but the authentic head gear, preferably a New Era Wool 59/50 fitted cap or the 39/30 batting practice cap.  This kind of sets me apart from most customers who if they wear baseball gear wear the non-regulation stuff of winning teams like the Yankees or Red Sox but I digress.

On this particular morning there was a man that walked in as I was preparing my cup of coffee a man walked up beside me.  He was about 5’ 8” and looked like that he was from Lebanon or somewhere else in to Middle East.  I say Lebanon because I have known many Lebanese my mind went that way.  I noticed that his hands were rough hewn and had some very nasty looking scars in them and he wore a pair of sports sandals much like the kind that I wear from which I could see some scars on either foot.  He was wearing what appeared to be a retro “Cooperstown Classic” California Angels “CA” cap with the red bill and halo as well as a late 1960s or early 1970s Angel’s jersey which appeared to be game worn with the number “7” sewn on the back.

As I put my first creamer into my coffee he turned and looked at me and asked “Orioles fan?” Now I frequently get comments about whatever baseball apparel that I wear, especially the Orioles and the comments general reflect a certain pity due to the sad state of the franchise and especially the performance this year.  I said “Yes sir, one of the faithful.”

He chuckled and said, “Someone has to remain faithful to the Orioles, God love ‘em, they have been a great franchise and all of great teams the Hall of Famers that they have produced.” He shook his head “You just keep being faithful, they’re just going through some pretty hard times right now….by the way, I’m a baseball fan too, would you guess an Angels’ fan?”

“We’ll sir that goes without saying; I don’t think that I have seen a game worn 1970s Angels’ jersey since my dad used to take us to the “Big A” to see them as kids.  We went to games down there all the time; it’s where I really came to love the game of baseball.”

“Yes my friend there is something special about baseball, it’s really good when dads get their kids involved in the game.” He paused.  “Oh the jersey, this jersey does date me a little; I’ve always been an Angels’ fan, even before they were in Anaheim.”

“So you were a Los Angeles Angels fan too?”

“We’ll yeah, in a way, but even before that considering that I created them.”

I was tearing the foil top off of the third creamer when he said that and I kind of lost control of the container and spilled in on the stainless steel counter.  As I stood there feeling quite inept he said, “Sorry man, my fault I’ll get that” and as my wondering eyes stared in disbelief he waved his rough hewn and scarred hand gently about a foot off of the counter and to my amazement the white creamer disappeared from the countertop revealing a perfectly clean and shiny surface as the little blue cup that it was in sailed into the trash receptacle’s round hole in the top of the counter.

He continued to talk as he poured a cup of 7-11 “Heavenly Blend” coffee into a 24 ounce cup, and another 24 ounce cup and yet another 24 ounce cup handing them to other customers as he did so and miraculously the coffee pot remained full as he kept pouring until all the customers and counter staff each had a cup of coffee. “So anyway like I was saying back when I created the Angels baseball was different, no steroids, players stayed with a team forever unless perhaps it wasn’t God’s will.  If it wasn’t then you never knew what might happen.”

I stood by dumbly looking at this diminutive man with the scarred hands and feet pouring out cup after cup of coffee from the bottomless pot of coffee and I was I was quite impressed with his performance and said: “Sir that is impressive I’ve never seen the pot remain full like that before though being poured out into many cups, 24 ounce cups at that.”

He chuckled and said “Steve, I tell you what it’s all in the wrist, all in the wrist.” His eyes sparkled in amusement at my dismay as I stammered “But how did you know my name?”

“But I should since you know me.”

“I know you?” I asked. “Have we served together in the military?”

“No not that, kind of like Church work, you kind of work for me even though you’re in the Navy.”

“How did you know I was in the Navy?”

“Well duh… Steve, this is Norfolk, what else is here?” Looking at me with a amused but slightly more serious glance he said “Hey, I helped get you in the Navy when the Army told you to pound sand about going onto active duty.”

“You weren’t my recruiter, or the Chaplain that interviewed me and you are way too short to be Bishop Doug.”

“Think higher and bigger Steve, let your mind open up a little bit.” He paused “Like you did notice my hands and feet didn’t you?”

“Well yeah…but I really haven’t woken up until I get that first cup of coffee in me and well a lot of people have scars on their hands….” And then it hit me.  “Oh, my God, you’re Jesus.”

“Of course I am and yes I am your God, so you’re right there too…it took you a little bit now you’re cooking with gas.”

“But this is like 7-11?”

“Yeah I know, I like the coffee and the people are pretty down to earth, they tend to appreciate when someone does something nice for them, even if it is God.”

“We’ll I come here for the same reasons.”

“Well at least you’ve learned something.” He paused, put his hand on my shoulder and said “Finish foo-fooing your coffee and come with me; I want you to meet some of my friends.”  He turned and said to May the Filipina behind the counter “May, how much do I owe you for everything?”

“Mr. Jesus sir that is $84.35 with tax” said the short and slightly heavy set lady at the cash register.

“May, put it on the card” said the Lord.

“You got it Mr. Jesus” said the cheery Filipina at the register and without any transaction that my failing eyes could see the cashier rang up Jesus and miraculously the bill was paid in full. Since this Padre Steve believes in miracles but is not necessarily seeing them at 7-11 in as many varied forms as the rather unbiblical, or shall I say rather earthy and dare I say contemporary looking Lord was performing in my humble neighborhood 7-11.

“You know her?”

“Of course I do Steve, I know my people and I love them, didn’t you read that in your Bible somewhere?”

Well…uh…yes I think I have….somewhere in the Gospels, I am never good at quoting chapter and verse.”

“Unless it is the latest Tides box score, right?”

“Jesus, that’s really not fair, you do that too I’m sure.”

“Yeah, but can’t get away from it and you a Priest or do I have to remind you?”

“I guess.”

“That’s better, thank you, let’s meet my friends.”

I walked out the door and a number of guys who also looked a tad on the Lebanese or Arabic side of the house were gathered around a extended Chevy suburban.  I looked at the vehicle and asked Jesus “this belongs to you?”

The Lord drew the brim of his cap back revealing a bit of his forehead shook his head and said “Steve, Steve, I own everything, but this belongs to Peter over there, he has a thing for them.” A burley man with a pony-tail, curly flowing beard a tattoo of a fish on his forearm and a New York Yankees cap waved at me and said “Dude, where does Jesus know you from, you and that loser Orioles gear that you have on.” A number of others in Yankee caps laughed and slapped the big man on the back.

“Peter, remember the first shall be last, one day what comes around goes around, don’t forget the CBS years in New York.”

“Oh, don’t remind me of that boss, that sucked, we didn’t win anything back then.”  The men around in Yankees caps also stopped laughing and looked down.

“Anyway, Steve, meet the boys, you’ve already met Peter, but this is James and his brother John” both wore Oakland Athletics caps and matching Kelly green T-shirts, “they call them the sons of thunder because of their hitting ability, some call them the Bash brothers but don’t tell Canseco and McGuire, I think they have a patent on that.”

I extended my hand “nice to meet you” and the brothers greeted me in a cheery manner.

“Over here is Old James, some people call him the elder and he’s not got much left in the legs but is a good DH.” He paused and looked across the way where on the other side of the hood of the suburban two other guys stood, one had a Red Sox hat, another a Reds cap and one a Nationals hat.  “Andrew, Philip, Nathaniel, this is Steve, he’s a brother.”

One of the young men a bit on the thin side wearing the Nationals hat called out “Brother! Jesus how can you say that? Can anything good come out of Baltimore?”

“Nat, knock it off until Strasburg and Storen win you a pennant you ain’t got room to talk.” He looked to the front of the store where a number of others talked among themselves eating breakfast burritos and drinking coffee.  “Hey guys come and introduce you to Steve; he’s a Navy Chaplain and a Priest.”

“Priest huh? I doubt that he’s got an Orioles jersey on” called out a smallish man in a Cubs hat.

“Steve forgive him, he doubts everyone.” Looking at the Cubs fan he said “Thomas must you, haven’t we had this talk already?” He then introduced the others.  One was a man without a ball cap that was wearing a sports jacket and had a briefcase. “This is Matthew, our tax attorney, used to work for the IRS, glad to have him in the front office, not everyone needs to be on the field do they buddy?” Jesus pointed at another one of the men and said “this over here is Simon the Zealot.” Simon wore a Tigers cap and Jesus looked at me and said “he’s pretty fanatical plays hard every day, a lot like Ty Cobb.”  Another was beside these men, a man in a Cardinals cap, rather quiet and reserved looked up and said hello to me. Jesus said “that’s Thaddeus, he’s a Rays fan, forgot his cap today.”

I looked at Jesus and said “don’t you have twelve guys on the road squad?”

Jesus wiped his brow as the sun began to heat up the porch of the 7-11 and said “oh yeah, let me show you some pictures they aren’t here today.  He pulled out his wallet and showed me a picture of a shifty looking man wearing a Dodgers’ cap and matching jersey, game worn.  “This is Judas, he used to handle the money on road trips, got us into a bunch of trouble and wouldn’t you know it took money to double cross the boss. I really loved him but knew that he would try something, in fact last spring we were out here and had a light breakfast over at Krispy Kreme.”

“The one on Virginia Beach Boulevard?” I asked.

“Jesus replied “that’s the one partner, love them when they have the hot original glazed don’t you?”

I replied in the affirmative and Jesus continued. “You see I trusted Judas with a lot but the guy was greedy, tried to say that I was doin’ ‘roids to get my powers wanting to take their jobs and turned me in, it wasn’t .  Before he took the 30 grand for his effort he dunked his donut in my coffee and took off when he knew that I knew. Of course they arrested me and didn’t even put the case to a real judge but a bunch of legislators, lawyers and preachers.  Well, the poor guy felt badly when they convicted me and hanged his self from the Ebbetts field foul pole when they wouldn’t take the money back or let me go.  It was sad my friend, just sad.”

“But you did get a draft pick for him didn’t you?” I asked.

“Oh yeah, Matthias was one of the picks, he actually made the starting team, the guys liked him and choose him while I was away and of course there’s the player that I picked up, took him right off the other team like the Yankees did Johnny Damon a few years back.”

“Is that Paul?” I asked as I looked at the picture of an elegant looking man in a Padres’ uniform.

“Sure the heck is buddy, and that guy was a find, not much of a sense of humor but a trooper on the road sometimes hard to work with but one of the best eyes for a pitch, especially after the scales came off that you could imagine, great judge of talent even though Barnabas, another All-Star mind you had a falling out with him.  Heck he even wrote a lot of the rule book. He calls him as he sees them; he even called Peter on the carpet at a big shindig. Didn’t he Pete?” Peter mumbled something under his breath and looked away.

“You gotta love guys like Pete, heck I even gave him a set of keys, he’s not perfect but I trust him” Jesus said as he looked me in the eye.

“So with all of these all stars why do you want someone like me?”

“Steve, come on how long have you known me now? Most of your life isn’t it?”

I looked down and said, “yeah Lord, it’s been a long time.”

“Have I given up on you partner?”

“No.”

“When you were going through all those hard times and wondered where I was when you came back from Iraq did I give up on you?”

“No Lord.”

“Stop with the Lord stuff, I get that all the time back at the home office. By the way since you insist that God speaks to you through baseball you might as well know that he does. So you can consider this a little encouragement and you can call me ‘Skip’ if you want but lay off the Lord thing once in a while, everybody does it and the people who punctuate every little prayer with “Lord” eighteen times during the prayer really get pretty annoying after a while, not that I stop listening or caring but I know my name, besides I’m pretty secure in who I am.”

“Okay Skip.” I looked up at him and and smiled.  As I did this he put his hand on my shoulder like a good manager talking to a no name journeyman said “don’t forget just who you are playing for, do well but know that you belong on my team. I have some plans for you.”

“Thanks Skip, that’s pretty encouraging coming from you.”

“No prob friend, no problem whasoever.”

I’ve been a Priest and chaplain for what seems like forever but I felt like a rookie pitcher on the mound getting the talk from the manager to make sure that I had my stuff together. Maybe I needed it. I looked at my watch.

“Oh Lord, I mean Skip I’ve got to get to work, I’m going to be late as it is and with all the times that I had trouble sleeping and not waking up I don’t need to be late, the boss would never believe this one.”

Jesus smiled at me, waved his hand and the sun went back a little way to the east and I looked at my watch and the time was nearly a hour earlier than it was just a few seconds before.

“How’s that?”

“Thanks Skip, that really helps.”  I stuttered in true thanksgiving as I knew that no one would believe this story in a million years.

“Steve you take care, do good, I’ll keep checking on you. Keep your eye on the ball, keep your butt down on the grounders and stay in front of the ball. Take care of the rookies and make sure that the veterans in their declining years get the recognition that they deserve and don’t forget their families, they matter too.  Keep spreading the good news too, so much bad news around the earth even I had to turn off all the Cable News channels, even the one that says that they are fair and balanced, so much negativity it makes your head swim.”

I began to walk to my car and Jesus said, your coffee is probably cold by now so go get a refill on me and don’t worry about the time I just opened the HOV to all traffic, the Downtown tunnel is clear and there’s a glitch in the State Troopers radar systems.

I offered my profuse thanks, especially for the help in the traffic and as I took off the lid to my refill mug I noticed that it was full of fresh hot coffee just the way I liked it.  Jesus and the boys got into the extra large Suburban with Peter behind the wheel Thomas loaded a couple of equipment bags in the back of the truck and as they pulled out I shouted out “just where are you guys going now?” Jesus rolled down his window and said “Dyersville Iowa, I hear they have a special baseball field there and some great players too.”

“Skip, I think that you’ll like it there.”

“Thanks Steve and take care, keep up the faith down at the Church of Baseball Harbor Park Parish and don’t lose faith in the O’s” and with that Peter put the truck in gear and pointed at his Yankee hat as he backed the truck out of the parking space. they exited the parking lot onto the street leading to I-264 and as they rolled down the road the Suburban disappeared in a vapor trail and they were gone.

I got into my trusty 2001 Honda CR-V put the coffee in the cup holder and closed the door. I said a quick prayer of thanks and turned the key.  “What a deal, it’s not every day that you meet Jesus in 7-11.”

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Baseball, Batlimore Orioles, christian life, purely humorous, Religion

Has Anyone Seen a Big Wooden Boat and a Lot of Animals? Floods and Rain Outs in Norfolk

rain at harbor parkFlooding at Harbor Park Wednesday- Norfolk Tides Fan Photo Facebook.com

I have never been a big fan of rain.  Yes I know we need it to live, for plants to grow, birds to sing, fish to drink and all of that.   I also know that rain means water coming from the sky and that water coming from the sky usually means that I end up wet or that the baseball game that I want to see get’s rained out.  If I had been a soldier in World War Two I would have stunk up the works a Guadalcanal or any of the other rain and vermin infested hell holes of the South Pacific.  On the other hand I would have done pretty well in North Africa out in the desert with the Afrika Corps.

Now the Hampton Roads area has two basic seasons, cold and wet and warm and wet.  The operative word is wet. In the cold and wet phase which general lasts through April and even May when you are out in the rain you get soaked to the skin and freeze your ass off.  On the other hand in the summer when it is warm and wet or even hot and wet, and I don’t mean like married couple or significant other kind of hot and wet, but the miserable sticky humid and hot weather that makes you feel like a wet postage stamp on a credit card bill.  Unfortunately we are in this part of the year now in Hampton Roads and though we were graced with an incredibly cool and dry May through July, the steam has been turned back on, I’m sloshing through mud to get my garbage out and having a field day using legal biological agents to kill mosquitoes.

A one who worships at the Church of Baseball, Harbor Park Parish, I patently pray to the Deity Herself that no rain will ever cancel a game here, especially now that I am a season ticket holder.  Yesterday it seemed that not only had the Deity not answered my prayers but in fact our adversary the Devil himself seemed to be out to ruin the rest of this short home stand against the Scranton Wilkes-Barre Yankees.  Yesterday not long before the close of business I was readying myself for the jaunt over to Harbor Park for game three in the series.  Just before I was to leave I was talking with my deputy department director when  the heavens opened and unleashed a deluge of which proportions I have not seen since my days at Fort Sam Houston Texas where deluges like this would bring rapid flash flooding inevitably leading people to drive into raging torrents of water that were plainly marked as to how high the water was.  If you have lived in San Antonio you know what I am talking about, I think they have a special segment on hte local news just for such occurrences.

The rain came so hard and fast in Norfolk, Portsmouth as well as parts of Chesapeake and Virginia Beach that flood warnings were issued.   Some places in Norfolk and Portsmouth reported standing water 2-5 feet high after 4-6 inches of rain came down in a relatively short period of time.  Figuring that this deluge had to let up and knowing that the game was already canceled I set out from work for the trip home.  Patently this was the first really bad really bad storm that I have had to commute home from in what seemed to be an event of biblical proportions.  I was beginning to look for a big wooden boat with an old guy looking like John Huston standing at the door beckoning pairs of animals to come in.  What greeted me were roads, including the ground floor of our parking garage flooded.  Trusting the Deity Herself I set out knowing that things would be bad, but not this bad.

There is a reason our area is called “the Tidewater.”  It is simply that it is very low lying, adjacent to the ocean and the word Tidewater is a lot nicer sounding than swamp.  When we get a lot of rain in a short time, there is simply nowhere for it to go.  Low lying areas with which the area abounds flood quickly and low lying intersections and roads with poor drainage become small rivers in which vehicles can become immersed in.  Thankfully I have a good idea where the higher roads are in the area of the hospital and zigged and zagged to avoid deep waters and areas where other drivers were sinking. Only once having to go down a very wide sidewalk to avoid what some rather deep water which I did not feel my 2001 Honda Cr-V could not traverse since it is not amphibious.  I figured that since the sidewalk was as wide as my CR-V and was a good 8-10 inches higher than the flooded intersection that it would do, I drove up and over the curb, drove down my elevated roadway about 100 yards before using a driveway to re-enter the road at a better fording site.  Just before I had left work I had checked the weather and traffic conditions, especially the “Jam Cams” at the Downtown Tunnel.  The cameras showed traffic moving well and only the normal rush hour backlog to get in.  However, by the time I got to the entrance road to the tunnel I saw that it had been closed and traffic divert off of I-264. I decided to pick my way down another main street only to see cars immersed ahead of me.  I made a quick U-turn and headed back to I-264 and headed west away from my house.  I used it to get to I-64 west, which actually is heading east through Chesapeake in order to pick up I-264 to get back to Virginia Beach.  The trip took me about an hour and forty-five minutes.  I understand that some people took 3-4 hours to go less distance than I had traveled.  One amazing thing that I noticed was the lack of accidents on the Interstate highways.  Normally in good weather people around here can’t drive nails much less motor vehicles. Thank the Deity for small favors.

norfolk floodingFlooded Streets in Norfolk- Virginia Pilot Photo

The game was long postponed and Judy and I went to Gordon Biersch and then came home, both exhausted from our day.  It is amazing what nearly two hours on the road fighting downpours and floods will do to you. Today the Tides and Yankees were scheduled for a double header.  Game one had a rain delay but despite this the game was played with the Tides winning 4-2 with solid pitching by Chris Waters, Dennis Safrate, Kam Mickolio and Alberto Castillo.  As Earl Weaver said “Nobody likes to hear it, because it’s dull, but the reason you win or lose is darn near always the same – pitching.”  A bit after 3 PM with the game over and a 40 minute break between games I left work to try to see game two.  Once again I looked at the weather radar and saw a bit of rain coming up from the southwest.  However, it looked like it would not be heavy and pass by quickly.  When I got to the tunnel it started to rain pretty hard but nothing like the other day.  As I got to the stadium parking lot the rain was already beginning to let up.  I got my Tides Dog with Chili and a beer, found Elliott the Usher and Chip the Usher sitting on the concourse and pulled up a seat.  We talked about our travels yesterday; Elliott the Usher had gotten stuck on a bridge because or water at the foot of it which had flooded a viaduct and Chip the Usher had had to turn around due to high water as well.  As we chatted the grounds crew came out and began to remove the tarp from the field and with the skies lightening we all thought that the game was going to be played.  As the crew moved equipment to mark the batter’s box and foul lines into position an Umpire came out of the Yankees dugout and gave some kind of signal.  When that happened the grounds crew began to put back the tarp and about 10 minutes later we were informed that the game had been canceled.  After the game I picked up a signed card of Tides infielder Justin Turner, who had a double and two RBIs in the first game and is the team leader in hits for the Tides.   I also made my next installment on the 1967 signed Willie Mays that he has reserved for me.

This was disappointing to me to have two chances to see the Tides play be rained out on consecutive days.  I decided to question the Deity about this and was once again informed that “the rain falls on the just and the unjust alike.”  With that I shut up, walked back to the car and started home, with almost no rain whatsoever.  The way I understood things was that the field was not deemed safe to play on due to the latest round of rain.  Next week the Tides come back in town after making a road trip to Charlotte.  The Tides moved back into a game and a half of Durham and three and a half of Gwinnett in the IL South.

Peace, Steve+

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Filed under Baseball, hampton roads and tidewater, Loose thoughts and musings

Going to War: Last Night together and a Kiss Goodbye

This is part four in my “Going to War” series. Previous parts are noted here:

Part One:Going to War: Reflections on My Journey to Iraq and Back- Part One

Past Two: Going to War: Interlude July 4th 2007

Part Three: Going to War: Wills, Living Wills, Immunizations Gone Bad and Christmas in July

Now the time has come to leave you
One more time Let me kiss you
And close your eyes and I’ll be on my way
Dream about the days to come, When I won’t have to leave alone
About the times, That I won’t have to say

Oh, kiss me and smile for me
Tell me that you’ll wait for me
Hold me like you’ll never let me go
Cause Im leavin’ on a jet plane
Don’t know when I’ll be back again
Oh babe, I hate to go

From “I’m Leaving on a Jet Plane” by John Denver

The night before leaving on deployment and the actual day of departure are some of the hardest that any military couples or families experience.  This has certainly been the case with us and this was no different.  This time I was not merely going on a ship and being part of a boarding team, the latter which Judy did not know until about halfway through the deployment, but this time going boots on ground into the most bitterly of Iraq’s contested provinces, Al Anbar.  The last night together was rather somber to put it mildly.  Judy and I went out to dinner on Friday night.  Since I knew that I would not be having a good beer for quite some time we went to Gordon Biersch.  For us Gordon Biersch is generally a good time kind of place. That last Friday it was not a festive occasion, it was almost like a wake.  Judy and I were both quite subdued.  In between the silence Judy talked about her fears about the deployment while I tried to reassure her that everything would be fine. My reasoning was that since I had taken out the extra life insurance that I would be okay.  For me such logic makes sense.  If I don’t get it I will need it and if I do get it I won’t.  It’s kind of like Yogi Berra who said “You should always go to other people’s funerals; otherwise, they won’t come to yours.”

After dinner and for me three half liter glasses of Märzen we went back home where I finalized my packing. I ensured that all my field gear, uniforms and clothing were packed and rechecked my EOD issue protective gear. I then packed my Mass kit, Bible, Prayer Book and my Marine Pattern camouflage reversible desert/woodland stole.  The stole was special as Judy had made me a few years back from woodland and desert pattern shirts which were way too big for me.  My final check were my books on counterinsurgency, a few DVD movies and music CDs and my hygiene items.  I wrestled the big bags down the stairs and put them in the back of my Honda CR-V so I wouldn’t have to fight them in the morning.  That accomplished Judy and I just sat together, she was feeling pretty low. On the other hand I was a mix of conflicting emotions.  I was excited by knowing that I was going to get to do what I had trained all of my life to do, but very cognizant of the reality that it would be tough on Judy.  The last couple of deployments had been very tough on her. When I deployed to support the Bosnia mission as a mobilized Army Reservist and newly ordained Priest we had three of my relatives in Huntington West Virginia die.  One was my maternal grandmother “Ma Maw” who Judy had become very close to over the past couple of years.  They had become buddies and Ma Maw had taken Judy in not as my wife, but as “her” granddaughter.  Ma Maw’s death hit Judy very hard and my mom and uncle in the midst of their grief over the loss of their mom understood the depth of the relationship between Judy and Ma Maw and as a result pretty much treated Judy as an unwanted outsider.  In the week before Ma Maw’s death Judy tried repeatedly to get Ma Maw to go to the doctor only to be ignored.  The morning of Ma Maw’s death Judy called me in Germany to call Ma Maw and insist that she go to the doctor.   I called and insisted that she go to the Emergency Room but she refused and said she would call her doctor.  That night she died. I had lost my grandmother and could not go back to help and Judy had lost a woman who had become closer to her than her own grandmothers ever had been.  In 2001 during my deployment with 3rd Battalion 8th Marines to Okinawa, Japan and Korea we lost our 16 ½ year old Wire Haired Dachshund Frieda.  Judy did her nest to keep Frieda alive for me, but there was nothing that could be done and finally with Judy being worn down to nothing herself, she was persuaded to have Frieda put down.  My 2002 deployment on USS HUE CITY to the Middle East and Horn of Africa came less than six months after my return from Okinawa and was also very difficult on her.

With all of this in the background we spent our last night together.  I barely slept as did she.  I had a light breakfast and then accompanied by a friend from choir we drove to the base.   Saturday morning traffic is generally not too bad so our trip was uneventful, but really tense.  You could cut the tension between us by now with a knife.  It was about the time that we were nearing the base Judy said something that I took really wrong and sarcastically snapped back “Well I’ll just get blown up by an IED then.”  That really hit her hard and I knew immediately that I had blown myself up with the comment.  I should have known better, after all I’d deployed a lot and taught pre-deployment classes talking about the emotional cycle of deployments.  But the stress on both of us the preceding weeks had taken its toll and both of us were on edge.  For two months we had ach in our own way imagined the deployment  wondering just what I would face when I got to Iraq, the unanswerable questions of what might happen over there and Judy’s great fear that something might happen to me.

We got to the base pretty quick, though the tension made me feel that the trip was three times as long as it was.  As we pulled up in a parking spot near the baggage drop off area we sat there for a few minutes.  I got out of the car as did Judy.  I asked if she wanted to wait a while with me and with tears in her eyes said that she couldn’t handle the wait.  After I unloaded my gear with the help of Nelson who was already there with his gear stacked.  He looked at Judy and said, “Don’t you worry ma’am we’ll do good and I’ll keep him safe.”  Judy gave a soft “thanks” and gave him a hug.  With my gear now next to Nelson’s I went back to Judy.  We looked at each other, embraced and kissed each other.  We parted and then she went back to the car, handed her friend the keys and they drove off.  As she left I said a prayer under my breath and asked God to keep her safe while I was gone.  Then I turned to Nelson and said, “Okay partner, let’s get this done.”

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Filed under iraq,afghanistan, Tour in Iraq