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To Iraq and Back: Reporting for Duty

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In July 2007 my assistant at EOD Group Two, RP1 Nelson Lebron and I began our Iraq adventure.  This is one of a series of posts which will be published periodically to tell our story.  While they will not be daily posts, they will be sprinkled in on this site on a regular basis.  Hopefully they will be something that will help those who have not been in the remote parts of either Iraq or Afghanistan what it is for Navy personnel to go to war, not as ship’s company, not with their own unit, but as individual augments to other commands.  This is a different way to go to war…this is our story.

July 2nd 2007: I rolled into the parking lot for the Naval Mobilization Processing Site (NMPS) Norfolk.  As usual parking on Norfolk Naval Station was a bitch to find.  It had been a number of months since I had to make this commute.  I transferred from the Marine Security Force Battalion where I had served from 2003 to October 2006 and had not made the trip since. Thankfully I remembered to leave early because traffic was as gooned up as ever going down I-264, I-64 and I-564 to head into the base.

As I looked for a parking space I really missed my designated parking spot back at Security Forces. I drove around for a while and finally found a spot, then after wandering around a found the NMPS offices.

I walked upstairs to the classroom in which we were to meet was located and found it empty, save for a couple of NMPS staff members.  I reported there in my DCU’s, or Dessert Camouflage Uniform issued to me by EOD Group Two. They are an older type uniform similar to the old BDUs and unlike the Marine Pattern Digital Camouflage are not wash and wear. I still have a few sets in my deployment bag but figure that if I every get deployed to such a situation again that I will be wearing whatever Army or Marine Corps uniform the Navy sailors are wearing unless serving with the Seabees, Naval Special Warfare or an actual Navy command.

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Camp Zarqa Jordan March 2007

I had worn them in March when I went to Jordan for the Jordanian Army/ UN Peace Operations Training Center course on Iraqi Culture, Religion, Politics and Language. Until the Marines came out with their digital uniforms they were common to all of the services. Now in 2013 I think there are 10 different camouflage uniforms in use among the armed forces and Congress is about to force us in the military to find a common uniform again. Not a bad idea if you ask me.

I looked around the empty classroom with every table stacked with folders filled with a huge amount of paperwork.  I found a seat which is not hard to do with so many to empty seats choose from and sat down. I took an aisle seat about three rows back and plunked my EOD issue Blackhawk backpack down, grabbed my Book of Common Prayer and did the morning office before anyone else arrived while drinking the large cup of black coffee I had gotten across the street.

Shortly thereafter other people began to arrive in twos and threes, most enlisted dressed in utilities (the successor to dungarees) while most of the Chiefs and officers were dressed in khakis. A few Seabees had woodland BDUs on and a couple of folks wore DCUs which were obviously from previous deployments to the sandbox.  RP1 Lebron, then an RP2 then showed up and we waited for the orientation and administrative stuff to start moving.  We surveyed the situation and looking upon our fellow sailors realized that this would be a different deployment.

What we noticed as we talked the varying ranks and uniforms really jumped out at both of us.  Most of our fellow sailors had never been deployed even in peacetime in such a manner.  Most of those who had deployed had done so on ship with the exception of the Seabees and a Corpsman or two.

The sailors spanned the spectrum of age, rank and rating. There were the officers, mainly Lieutenants, Lieutenant Commanders and Commanders, Surface Warfare, Aviators, Supply Corps, Civil Engineering Corps and Medical Officers.  The highest ranking officer was a Navy Captain. I was the only Chaplain.

The enlisted sailors also spanned the spectrum of the Navy. Fire Control Technicians, Operations Specialists, Gunners Mates, Boatswains, Yeomen and Storekeepers, Intelligence Specialists, Corpsmen, and even Culinary Specialists.  They had qualifications as Submariners, Enlisted Surface Warfare, Aviation Warfare among others.  Some like me and Nelson had volunteered, others were voluntold. The one that brought us all together was that we were US Navy Sailors and going to war and not with the Navy or our shipmates. We were strangers to each other and would be strangers to Soldiers, Airmen, Marines and Sailors that we would serve with overseas.

Nelson and I have deployed a lot. We had served together in Okinawa and at EOD where I did a “drug deal” with his chaplain and the RP detailer to get him to EOD.  The guy is a hero. I think he has deployed about 10 times in his 20 year career from which he will retire this fall.

The year and a half prior to our deployment Nelson had been deployed to Afghanistan where he as an E-5 was awarded the Defense Meritorious Service Medal.  On his way back from Afghanistan he was pulled off of his flight to the states and sent back to his old ship, the USS Trenton to assist in the evacuation of Americans and others from Beirut.

I think to some extent his frequent deployments actually hurt his career since the biggest part of making rank as a Navy enlisted man is to do well on the advancement exam. Unfortunately there were many times when he was forbidden to test because he was deployed, and when eventually allowed to test during a deployment was not provided the appropriate materials to study. That would happen again during the coming deployment and lead to a pretty funny incident on one of our trips in Iraq, but that story will be told later.

Nelson is a NY Rican and both a New York Golden Gloves boxing champ, a high school valedictorian, a full contact  kick boxer, martial artist, MMA fighter and has fought on Team USA and won the 2005 Arnold Schwarzenegger Classic.   He is the real deal.  Proficient in many weapons systems from his service with the 3rd Recon Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment and Naval Special Warfare he is the ideal body guard for any Chaplain going to do the job we had been given to do, to work with Marine and Army advisers supporting two Iraqi Divisions.  Our mission would evolve and expand once we got there, but we didn’t know that yet.

As people filed in a Chief Petty Officer brought us to attention and the processing site Commanding Officer came. He spoke with us a few minutes and then led us in the Sailors Creed. With that we set down and began to get our orientation to how our mobilization, training and movement would unfold as we got ready to go to Iraq.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under iraq,afghanistan, Military, to iraq and back, Tour in Iraq, US Navy

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

“You can observe a lot just by watching” Yogi Berra….How PTSD has made me a lot more Observant

human condition

I love Yogi Berra quotes.  Somehow so much of what he said, even most of the things that he never said really resonate with my warped mind.  Somehow the illogical logic makes sense and I stop and say, damn…why didn’t I think of that?

I quote him here because it is absolutely amazing how much more observant I am in daily life having served in Iraq and come home with a nice case of PTSD, a bit of anxiety, hyper-vigilance and insomnia. I used to fret about the PTSD, anxiety and the rest of the stuff.  It did bother me and I guess it still does, but the insomnia gives me time to write and the hyper-vigilance really helps on the Interstate Highways of the Norfolk, Virginia Beach and greater Hampton Roads metro area.

Now I have been noticing this in the past month more than even at the height of my crash. Back then I had all these things but was way too gooned up to even figure out what they meant. I was talking with my Vietnam Veterans of America buddies Ray and John the Beer Men the other night at Harbor Park.  They man the beer stand behind home plate that sells Gordon Biersch Märzen and Bock, Yuengling Lager, Shock Top, Miller Lite and Micholob Ultra.  I of course will have either the Märzen or the Yuengling depending on my mood, since the Märzen is a premium beer you get less of it for the same price.  Anyway I digress….I was talking to these guys, both of who served in Vietnam about how much more aware of what is going on around me than I was before.  And it seems that although I seem to be doing better most of the time that I am more geared up than I was a few months ago.  I am noticing everything and when I’m driving I can sense the danger of the idiot driver careening across four lanes of traffic not signaling and talking on a cell phone while eating a hamburger even before I see him.  This was the case on my way home several times this week.  I could sense things going on before they happened.  It used to be prior to Iraq that Judy would see or sense these things before I ever would; now the foot is in the other shoe. Ray and John tell me, as does Elmer the Shrink, that this is a normal reaction to perceived danger.  Now I do understand his intellectually, I have read books and gone to seminars about PTSD and Combat Stress at the same time what is going on still makes me think.  I was telling Ray and John, half-jokingly that it was almost like “using the force.” I mentioned to Judy and a friend that it almost seemed that I could drive with a blindfold and still get through safely like the Jedi train the Padwan’s to do.  Of course I am not stupid and will never try this out unless perhaps I buy an x-box or wii with a driving program and do it in the comfort of my living room.

1001In a CH-46 over Al Anbar in a rare day flight

So with the hyper-vigilance I am in the zone so to speak. My mind and body feel more closely connected than ever before.  I notice changes in my body, hear better and am alert to anything.  Now lately I must be even more spun up than before and I don’t rightly know what is causing it.  I will have to go down and discuss this with Elmer the Shrink.   The part that is different now is that my spunuppedness now includes a pretty good startle reflex.  This is new, I had a bit of one probably since I was halfway through my tour, and now it is much worse.  So I’ve been thinking about how my dad came back from Vietnam.  Before he left he was pretty intense but he could relax.  Unless he was really provoked he seldom got angry.

After he returned from his Vietnam tour and then deployed again for 11 months barely five months after his return from Vietnam he was way different.  He was much more angry, drank heavily, and his startle reflex was out of this world.  He would talk about being “nervous as a cat.” He never talked to a pastor or therapist about anything, never re-connected with the people that he served with and did not go to veteran groups for any real socialization.  He seldom talked about his experiences and when he did he shared little.  I think I can understand why now, the thoughts, feelings and sensations are intense and often unnerving.  Sometimes they are downright frightful.  Maybe that is why it is so hard to get to sleep.

mental floss

I have become very aware of surroundings as well as myself and that has made me better at my vocation as a chaplain and Priest.  I notice body language, eye movement, choices of words as well as non verbal cues when talking with a person and I can sense things going on in ways I could not have done before.  So I observe a lot more simply by watching and I hope that I have not contributed to any lack of miscommunication by my readers tonight in writing about this rather surreal subject.

Peace, Steve+

Post Script: The Tides might be getting things back together, they won their third straight and are back to 2 games behind the Wild Card Gwinnett Braves and 3 games behind Division leading Durham.

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Filed under Baseball, iraq,afghanistan, PTSD, vietnam

Offensively Offending the Chronically Offended

bloom_offensensitivity

We live in a country that has transformed itself into one of the thinnest skinned, easily offended and offendable bunch of folks in the world.  It doesn’t seem to matter what political affiliation, religion, race, gender, socio-economic group or Dodger’s fan a person is now days they are bound to be offended at something.  However, we now seem to live where almost everyone is offended at something and it matters not a whit what it may be, hell I even offend myself sometimes.  There are some people who almost seem to live with a chip on their shoulder.  They are the chronically offended who are quite often easily offensively offended. While most of the time trying not to give offense I have been known to offend the chronically offended, the merely offendable, and even the totally unaware with twisted or sarcastic comments and oddball humor which Judy tells me is not always as funny as I think it is.  Nonetheless there are patently many people who are both chronically offended and very angry. I am assured by the Deity Herself that such is not a good and virtuous combination.  Especially on those occasions when I am one of the guilty parties questioning the parentage and Oedipal tendencies of the idiots who move across four lanes of traffic without signaling on I-264.  At times I wish this was Iraq in 2007 so my turret gunner or RP2 Lebron could shoot them.  Thankfully my newly honed skills using the force that I developed in Iraq, which I am told is actually hyper vigilance, does allow me to sense and avoid these Kamikazes before I even see them.

I remember once when I was a civilian hospital chaplain and stopped by a grocery store to pick up some food to take to work.  An older gentleman was going toward the sliding automated door and out of simple politeness I said “Sir, please, after you.”  Hell, the way I walk, which is as those who see me rapidly racing down the long halls of our medical center without breaking into a jog can testify is pretty fast, it was a safety thing too.  I could have run the gentleman down had I not stopped to let him through first.  That would not have been cool.  I could have seen the newspaper headline in that town:

LOCAL HOSPITAL AND ARMY RESERVE CHAPLAIN SLAMS ELDERLY MAN TO GROUND TRYING TO BEAT HIM THROUGH KROGER DOOR

That would not have been good.  The man, instead of smiling and thanking me stops in front of the door, turns around and says: “Why are you calling me sir? Why are you disrespecting me?” He said it very loud, very sharply and I was wondering what the hell was going on.  So I kind of defused the situation by using humor.  I said, “Sir, I call everybody sir, even ma’ams.”   The man cocked his head, gave me the most confused look that I could imagine shook his head and went through the door.  I didn’t know that being polite and respectful could be taken as offensive and disrespectful.  Maybe when some young guy does that to me someday I will understand.  Of course only after whack him with my tazer from my motorized scooter because I think he is being disrespectful and watch him writhing in pain and twitching all over the place.

I knew a young Chaplain who was spouting off in a public forum once in a manner that did not offend me, but which I thought if certain other people read it could affect him and his career in a negative manner.  This is no one that I have worked with past or present, only someone that I happen to know in passing.  I was concerned for the young man, so I contacted him just to let him know to be careful.  I was surprised at the venom with which he reacted to my comment which was only meant to help keep him out of potential trouble.  No good deed goes unpunished.  Maybe he will go to a self-help course, but then again, selves are very difficult to help.

Now I think everyone at some time has been offended by something or someone.  Crap we are human; we can’t help but be, though I do find the Romulan that resides in me very appealing.  However, to live my life is a perpetual state of offendedness is something that I refuse to do, even though I both give and take offense probably every day, especially during the morning or afternoon commute.  Hell, judging by the number of people I have lost as friends on Facebook after I have written articles on this site I know I give offense, even when I don’t mean to.  Mea Culpa, mea culpa, mea culpa, pray for me a sinner.

Our offendedness is not helped by the litigious nature of our society where lawsuits are as common as business suits.  Someone gets offended and someone sues them.  Then someone else gets offended and sues and pretty soon Anne Coulter and Keith Olberman are mud wrestling on Larry King Live, while the ladies on The View come to fisticuffs. Pretty soon offensensitivity reigns and it is like half the country are Frank and Estelle Costanza.  What is bad about this is that people are now so spun up by the loudest and most shrill accusatory voices in the media and society that it is hard to turn off.  Politics especially has become venom filled and hatred driven.  A lot of our electorate is now so polarized and offended by anything anyone else says that there is almost a civil war going on.  Albeit this is a without weapons marching armies and crashing cannon, but instead one waged with great energy on the airwaves and the internet. There is occasional talk of secession or armed revolt by one side or the other depending on who’s in power.  Politicians and political parties are no longer opponents, they are mortal enemies. Often times interest groups within the various parties opt for a no-quarter approach to how they do business to advance their cause and push their parties further to the extreme.  Caricatures and sound bites suffice for truth for many people regardless of them being on the left or right wing of the body politic.  It is true at least as far as practice that the extremists in both major parties have more in common with each other than they do the middle where traditionally most Americans live.

Thus with a highly divided, hypersensitive and easily offended populace we are heading for big trouble unless people stop taking themselves so seriously and get about with finding a way to cooperate and make things work.  I know that is important to remain principled, but there is also a duty to be civil and respectful even when critical of a person’s position or presentation.

I was reminded of this fact recently when I criticized a pastor’s non-theological remarks on this site.  My criticism was unduly harsh and cynical in tone.  When this was pointed out I modified the article to make the same point without purposely sky lining the individual in what could be seen in a disrespectful, uncharitable and even un-Christian fashion.  I may be a passionate moderate but it is important for me to keep a sense of decorum in what otherwise could be an unseemly brawl.  The criticism of how I handled the initial post was valid and sometimes I have to tell myself that restraint, respect and civility is a virtue, even if I think I am right.  So please don’t take offense if you deem me offensive or if I have offended the chronically offendable. After all, restraint, respect and civility are one the one thing that separates us from the Cable News Media, prickly pundits and Talk Show Hosts.

mass dandilion break

Peace, Steve+

Post Script: A friend sent me an e-mail which made a point that I want to ensure that my readers understand.  He reminded me that people “would really discern the difference between having a “bad day” response to a situation and those who, perpetuate the historical hatred both past and present of our nation….And then attempt to minimize actions/responses through humor or referring to others as “hypersensitive….this article missed the mark and seemingly inferred …a mocking of responses toward inequality and hatred.”

Of course I assured him that in no way was I at all minimize such actions or refer to those who have been the target of hatred, injustice and discrimination as “hyper-sensitive”  or mock actual repsonses to inequity and hatred, regardless of who it is directed toward.  That is something that I could never do.  The post is a more humorous look at how divided our country has become and how in our dividedness everything is now offensive to someone. Peace, Steve+

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Filed under Loose thoughts and musings, philosophy, Political Commentary

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

Two years ago today my assistant at EOD Group Two, RP2 Nelson Lebron and I began our Iraq adventure.  This is the first of a series of posts which will be published periodically to tell our story.  While they will not be daily posts, they will be sprinkled in on this site on a regular basis.  Hopefully they will be something that will help those who have not been in the remote parts of either Iraq or Afghanistan what it is for Navy personnel to go to war, not as ship’s company, not with their own unit, but as individual augments to other commands.  This is a different way to go to war…this is our story.

July 2nd 2007: I rolled into the parking lot for the Naval Mobilization Processing Site (NMPS) Norfolk.  As usual parking on Norfolk Naval Station was a bitch to find.  It had been a number of months since I had to make this commute having transferred from the Marine Security Force Battalion where I had served the past three years but thankfully I remembered to leave early because traffic was as gooned up as ever going down I-264, I-64 and I-564 to head into the base.  At that point I really missed my designated parking spot back at the battalion.

I looked around and finally found a spot and then after wandering around a bit found the NMPS offices.  I walked upstairs to the classroom in which we were to meet was located and found it empty, save for a couple of NMPS staff members.  I reported in my DCU’s, or Dessert Camouflage Uniform issued to me by EOD Group Two.   They are an older type uniform and unlike the Marine Pattern Digital Camouflage are not wash and wear.  I had worn them in March when I went to Jordan for the Jordanian Army/ UN Peace Operations Training Center course on Iraqi Culture, Religion, Politics and Language.  In fact until the Marines came out with their digital uniforms they were common to all of the services.  I looked around the empty classroom with every table stacked with folders filled with a butt-load of paperwork.  I found a spot, not hard to do with so many to choose from and sat down.  I took an aisle seat about three rows back and plunked my EOD issue Blackhawk backpack down, grabbed my Book of Common Prayer and did the morning office before anyone else arrived while drinking the large cup of black coffee I had gotten across the street.

Shortly thereafter others began to arrive in twos and threes, most dressed in utilities or officers in khakis.  A few Seabees had woodland BDUs on and a couple of folks wore DCUs which were obviously from previous deployments to the sandbox.  RP2 Lebron, who I will now refer to as Nelson from this point forward then showed up and we waited for the orientation and administrative stuff to start moving.  We surveyed the situation and looking upon our fellow sailors realized that this would be a different deployment.

What we noticed as we talked the varying ranks and uniforms really jumped out at both of us.  Most of our fellow sailors had never been deployed even in peacetime in such a manner.  Most of those who had deployed had done so on ship with the exception of the Seabees and maybe a Corpsman or two.  They spanned the spectrum of age, rank and rating.  There were the officers, mainly Lieutenants, Lieutenant Commanders and Commanders.  We also had one Captain.  These officers were Line Officers including Surface Warfare Officers and Aviators as well as a number of Doctors and Medical Service Corps Officers and some other Staff Corps officers.  The enlisted likewise spanned the spectrum of the Navy. Fire Control Technicians, Operations Specialists, Gunners Mates, Boatswains, Yeomen and Storekeepers, Intelligence Specialists, Corpsmen, and even Culinary Specialists.  They had qualifications as Submariners, Enlisted Surface Warfare, Aviation Warfare among others.  Some like me and Nelson had volunteered, others were voluntold.  The one that brought us all together was that we were US Navy Sailors and going to war, not with the shipmates that we had served with, but with strangers, well except for me and Nelson.

Now Nelson and I have deployed a lot and had served together in Okinawa and at EOD where I did a “drug deal” with his chaplain and the detailer to get him to EOD.  The guy is a hero, in the year and a half prior to our deployment he had been deployed to Afghanistan where he as an E-5 was awarded the Defense Meritorious Service Medal.  On his way back from Afghanistan he was pulled off of his flight to the states and sent back to his old ship, the USS Trenton to assist in the evacuation of Americans and others from Beirut. I think that he has done about nine or ten deployments now.  Unfortunately this has actually hurt his career since the biggest part of making rank as a Navy enlisted man is to do well on the advancement exam.  Unfortunately there were many times when he was forbidden to test because he was deployed, and when eventually allowed to test during a deployment was not provided the appropriate materials to study.  Even if he had them it would have been difficult since we were always on the road, just as he was in his last four or five deployments.

Nelson is a NY Rican and both a New York Golden Gloves boxing champ, a high school valedictorian, a full contact  kick boxer, martial artist, MMA fighter and has fought on Team USA and won last year’s Arnold Schwarzenegger Classic.   He is the real deal.  Proficient in many weapons systems from his service with the 3rd Recon Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment and Naval Special Warfare he is the ideal body guard for any Chaplain going to do the job we had been given to do, to work with Marine and Army advisers supporting two Iraqi Divisions.  Our mission would evolve and expand once we got there, but we didn’t know that yet.

As people filed in a Chief Petty Officer brought us to attention, the processing site Commanding Officer came in and spoke with us and then led us in the Sailors Creed.  With that we set down and began to get our orientation to how our mobilization, training and movement would unfold as we got ready to go to Iraq.

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Filed under iraq,afghanistan, Military, Tour in Iraq