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Casing the Colors in Iraq

Today the colors were cased in a ceremony at the US Airbase co-located at the Baghdad International Airport.  It really is hard to believe that this excursion in Mesopotamia is over.  The ceremony marked the formal end to the US military operation in Iraq although a few thousand troops are finishing the retrograde of equipment from the country.

The fact that we might not end up in Iraq again if the Iranians push their Iraq Arab Shia friends too hard. They may share a common strain of Islam but there really is no love lost between the Arabs and the Persians as many Iraqis will derisively call them.  The Iraqis are a proud people and remember Persian rule like it was yesterday. The Persians treated Arabs like dirt and though it was centuries ago the Arabs have not forgotten.  My Iraqi friends both Sunni and Shia recognized that Iran was a threat and hope that if Iran ever attempted to take Iraq over that we would help defend Iraq.

The current US involvement is over after 4484 American service members were killed in action and 32000 wounded.  318 coalition Allied troops died.  The Iraqi Security Forces have lost 8825 soldiers killed with a further 1300 killed during the initial invasion of the country.  Over 100,000 Iraqi civilians are believed to have been killed and some agencies have estimated far higher totals.  Of course the Iraqis are still taking casualties as extremist groups both Shia and Sunni continue their blood feud and the Shia majority tries to solidify its power over the minority former ruling party Sunni.  Over a trillion dollars was spent on the war by the United States and long term costs are expected to reach 2-3 Trillion dollars.  Of course Iraq is still reeling from all of the damage and its involvement in wars with Iran from 1980-1988, the invasion of Kuwait by Saddam Hussein in 1990 and the United States response Operation Desert Storm, the post war sanctions and the enforcement of an oil embargo and a no-fly zone to keep Saddam contained even as he butchered thousands of Iraqis who rose up against him after he was driven from Kuwait and the the current war which began in 2003.

But the numbers are not just numbers, behind every one is a family, wives, husbands, parents, siblings and children as well as friends.  Every one has a name and a face and all meant something to somebody and left a void when they died or were irreversibly changed by the war.  That pain and cost will go on for a long time and there are no words that adequately compensate for these losses. Faith and trust in God’s grace help some but others struggle, even believers.  That I know for a fact because I still do.

I remember flying into Baghdad in 2007 it was the height of the “surge” and I was going to provide Chaplain support to US Advisors to Iraqi Army, Border, Police and other Security Forces in Al Anbar Province.  At the time the base was shelled and when we exited the aircraft it was no peacetime drill we left in our full gear and were brief on what to do should we encountered incoming fire.  It was in Baghdad that I first experienced a rocket attack when one flew over my head.  But now the bases are empty, it must be surreal to be one of the last Americans leaving the country.

For me the end of our involvement is a strange experience.  It was hard to believe in 2007 that we would ever leave. The great edifices that we erected around country some of which were going up even when I was there are mostly empty except for some taken over by the Iraqi military.  Former military bases even in this country are a surreal site.  I have been to a number that were closed following the end of the Cold War.  Fort Wolters Texas near Fort Worth is an example. When I would go to a small section of the base used by the National Guard I would go past many mostly unused buildings including what had been a brand new hospital which opened just before the base was closed following Vietnam. The last time I flew through the former George Air Force Base  when going to and returning from Twenty-Nine Palms it was a ghost town except a few businesses and hundreds of former commercial jets parked on the tarmac. I remember going through recently closed American bases in Germany in the 1990s and saw installations empty. I was also the final Federal Chaplain at Fort Indiantown Gap Pennsylvania when it was transferred to the National Guard.  Built during World War II it was a throwback to a different era. The base has been revitalized as a sizable ground and aviation training center by the Guard with much new construction but the sight of all the World War II “temporary” wooden buildings was amazing. Vast areas of the base we unused and some complete areas were demolished. I helped in getting the main Post Chapel Renovated in order that the existing congregation would be able to continue with a contract Chaplain paid by the Guard and activated or drilling Guard Chaplains.  We had to decommission or convert some to other uses and saved one which was donated to a church 40 miles away who paid to have it deconstructed and rebuilt on their own land. But I digress…

When I was in Iraq in many places there were the remains of Saddam Hussein’s military.  The base that I operated from had a number of abandoned or damaged Iraqi bombers and fighter aircraft parked at it.  Of course most of the existing buildings were converted to American use.  The biggest of these were the Al Faw Palace complex at Camp Victory but Camp Fallujah was the site of one of the Baath Party resorts used by Uday and Qusay Hussein.  I stayed there couple of days while traveling from Baghdad to Taqaddum which was my base of operations because of the capability to get around by air to where I needed to go and proximity to many advisor teams supporting the Iraqi First and Seventh Divisions.

Back then all were major bases with a large American presence which was inflated by many of the contractors, American and from other countries that supported base operations from the chow hall, to the laundry, the fire department and even the cleaning of the shower trailers and countless porta-johns.

People will debate for many years whether the war was worth it and I can only say that I hope that history will show that it was despite the huge loss of life, the destruction of a country and the vast expenditure of the national treasury.  It is probably too early to make that judgement, we tend to be pretty bad in making those decisions in the moment.  That is one of the problems in this age of information overload.  We have lots of data but no historical context and we make decisions that we think are correct but find out years later were tragically erroneous.

At the same time we cannot go back in time and change the past. For good or for bad we have to go forward from now and hopefully in time Iraq and its people will recover from the effects of over 30 years of war and economic sanctions.  We will find out over the next 10 to 50 years what the real effect is.  But for now we are left with a weak Iraq, a strong and threatening Iran and our own diminished military capacity and weak economy as well as a war that is not going well in Afghanistan.

I doubt that that can give comfort to the families of those that died in Iraq or came back wounded in mind body or spirit.  I know that I came back different, PTSD has a way of doing that.

But I am proud of the Marines, Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Iraqi officers that I served alongside in the badlands of Al Anbar Province mostly far away from the immediate help of any big units if they got in trouble.  I know how valiant and skilled they were fighting Al Qaida Iraq and other insurgents and even foreign fighters from places like Chechnya aided by Iran and others.  It was a brutal fight at times but the men of the Iraqi 1st and 7th Divisions and our advisors helped turn the tide during 2007 and 2008.  Without their diligence and toughness combined with the help of Iraqi civilians the war would have ended differently.

Tonight as I walked the dog to the beach I looked up at the sky. In our neighborhood there are not many street lights and most are clustered in one small area. Since many residents are not here in the winter many of the homes are dark as well and there are areas that have no houses but are lots covered in pine trees.  In the dark I was thinking about Iraq and I could hear the sound of the sea crashing on the beach.  I looked up at the sky and saw the most stars I have seen since being out on the Syrian border in December 2007.  I was reminded that I left part of me in Iraq and I pray for the Iraqis that I served with and those that provided us hospitality during our missions.

As I walked I thought of the words of Otto Von Bismarck one of the greatest statesmen that every lived.  Our war in Iraq was a preventive war.  Bismarck said that “Preventive war is like committing suicide out of fear of death.”  I pray that in our case that he was not right and that we think long and hard before entering another preventive war with anyone.  Bismarck, who knew war commented that “Anyone who has ever looked into the glazed eyes of a soldier dying on the battlefield will think hard before starting a war.” Unfortunately the vast majority of our elected leaders have ever done that.  Bismarck was certainly no pacifist but warned us that “I consider even a victorious war as an evil, from which statesmanship must endeavor to spare nations.”

The world is not a safe place and our near about 140,000 US and NATO troops are still engaged against a stubborn enemy in Afghanistan that has been aided by wavering allies such as Pakistan and sworn enemies like Iran.  War seems to threaten on many fronts.  I pray that we will be prudent before entering another.

I have rambled a bit tonight because I have so many thoughts and images of the war.  I trust your indulgence.  But for now the colors have been cased and our military involvement in Iraq is over.  We can only pray that Iraq will recover and become a free and prosperous country that treats its citizens well and that we too will recover from this war.  But then Bismarck is sometimes quoted saying that “There is a Providence that protects idiots, drunkards, children, and the United States of America.” I do hope that if he did say this that he was right.

Peace and and as my Iraqi friends would say Inshallah (إن شاء الله)

Padre Steve+

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Mission Accomplished in Al Anbar: The Marines Turn Over the Mission to the Iraqis

Religious Support Team 2 MNF-W the Desert Rats at Al Waleed August 2007

There was a time not very long ago that names like Al Anbar, Fallujah and Ramadi were synonymous with futility and humiliation.  But that was before a long time ago in a galaxy far far away. In late 2007 the Marines and our Iraqi Allies aided in large part by the “Anbar Awakening” where the Sunni in the province realized that Al Qaida Iraq’s motives were not in the best interest of the people gained the upper hand in a very short time.  The success was heralded as part of the “surge” but was in large part due to the effort made by the Marines to be seen as something other than occupiers but allies in a fight against foreigners that would brutally kill Iraqis to achieve their goals.

Iraqi Children Happy to see us near Baghdadi

I arrived in Al Anbar in August of 2007 and spent my tour as the Chaplain to the Marine, Army and other advisers in the province which at the time of my arrival were still very much in play.  Within days of arriving at our base of operations I took part in a number of mass casualty situations at the Shock Surgery Trauma center at Ta Qaddum where I prayed for, anointed and looked after Marines wounded when their vehicles were destroyed by improvised explosive devices during combat missions.  My tour was the highlighter of my military career.  In my tour with the advisors as well as the Iraqis of the 1st and 7th Iraqi Army divisions, Second Border Brigade and Iraqi Police, Highway Patrol and even a reconstruction team or two.

Allies: Colonel Cottrell and General Murthi of the 7th Iraqi Division at the Marine Corps Birthday 10 November 2007

During my time there I was privileged to serve with great Marines, Soldiers and even a number of Navy, Air Force, US Border Patrol and Customs personnel and contractors working with the Iraqis.  The Iraqis in many cases were valiant men who while serving against the insurgency and Al Qaida knew that their families were in danger from retaliation as were their own lives.

Friendship: Dinner with General Sabah

While Marines and Army forces took the battle to the insurgents the Iraqi Sunni Muslims in Al Anbar suddenly turned on the insurgents and Al Qaida Iraq.  Soon Iraqi civilians who had been either hostile or neutral towards the Marines and their own Iraqi Army and Police units turned on the Al Qaida and their allies.  Suddenly violence began to subside; Iraqi civilians began to report insurgents, weapons caches and IEDs.

Near COP South waiting to clear suspected IED

By the time that I left Iraq in February 2008 the situation in the province was such that the 1st Iraqi Division was able to be dispatched to Basra and Diyala where they in conjunction they would take the lead in driving the insurgents from these regions. Just before I left an Iraqi General, General Ali in Habbinya told me that I should come back in 5 years as a tourist because everything would be alright. Another Iraqi officer told me that if anything ever happened between us and “the Persians” that the Iraqis would be on our side.  I knew when I left that Iraq would be okay in the long run and I still believe that to be true.

Me with General Ali January 2008

Thursday the Sergeant Major of what used to be Multinational Force West or MNF-West announced the Marines of II Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward) would be conducting a transfer of authority for the American mission to the 1st Armored Division of the US Army as part of the US drawdown in Iraq without a relief in place.   For most people in the United States this will be an event of little significance Iraq is now despite the continued presence of US forces has been forgotten by most.

With Advisers and Leaders of a Company of the Iraqi 2nd Border Brigade

Concern is now focused on US military actions in Afghanistan and the humanitarian relief operations in Haiti.  However, it was in Iraq that an insurgency was defeated, the first time since the British defeated the Malayan insurgency sponsored by Chinese Communists, and the French had militarily defeated the Algerian insurgency before the French government under DeGaulle surrendered the hard fought success of the Paras and Legionnaires betraying them even as he looked after what he viewed as the future of France.

With Bedouin Family and Advsiers near Syria

In the summer of 2007 Iraq was viewed as a lost cause by much of the American body-politic, politicians of both parties and the media.  Now it is becoming a functional state, in large part due to the sacrifices of US Military personnel and the Iraqi Army and security forces.  U.S. Forces are disengaging and exiting the country. While it is likely that and advisory and support mission will remain as the Iraqis continue to rebuild and their Army and security forces continue to expand their capabilities.  The Iraqis recently showed their metal by facing down an Iranian incursion into Iraqi territory on a strategic oil field.

The text of the Sergeant Major’s message describing the transfer is posted below:

From: Carpenter SgtMaj Kiplyn (USF-W SGTMAJ)

Sent: Thursday, January 21, 2010 15:55

Subject: FAREWELL OF THE MARINES FROM IRAQ

UNCLASSIFIED

Please pass on,

SgtsMaj, MGySgts, CMDCMs, Marines and Sailors, Saturday, 23 January at 1100 will mark the end of the Marines in Iraq as an organization.  II MEF (fwd) will conduct a Transfer of Authority Ceremony with the First Armored Division without a Relief in Place from any incoming unit. USF-W (formally MNF-W) will merge with USD-C (formally MND-Baghdad) and will cease to exist.

After 6 years, over 850 Marines and Sailors killed in combat and another 8800 wounded we have completed our mission.  At our peak, we had almost 26,000 Marines and Sailors on deck, close to 200 aircraft, over 380,000 pieces of ground equipment, and were averaging close to 2000 significant events a month.  We have added a whole new generation of Heros; and names like Al Nasiriyah, Fallujah and Ramadi will be added to our History books.

Words can’t begin to explain the magnitude of effort and sacrifice our Marines and Sailors have gone through to help the Iraqi people.  Each year since the initial invasion, Marines and Sailors from all over the Corps have been a part of the revolving I MEF (fwd) and II MEF (Fwd) Commands.  Each year has been different with its own sets of unique challenges and each successive year, the incoming organization has built upon the successes of the outgoing organization.

This year was no different, we didn’t have anywhere near the level of fighting that previous MEFs have done.  However, we did conduct many operations, maintained security, continue to professionalize the Iraqi Security Forces, develop good governance and economics, assisted with the continued establishment of the Rule of Law and oversaw the peaceful transition of the provincial government.  We also had one unique mission that we can call our own. That was to finally bring the Marine Corps home. Over the past year, we have simultaneously conducted the responsible drawdown of 24,000 Personnel, over 34 COPs and FOBs, including Baharia, Rawah, and TQ and sent six years worth of equipment out of theater.

For those of you who served with me this year, thank you.  It was long and difficult at times, with our own set of challenges, but we did it.

It has been an honor to serve with you.

For those of you who have left your boot prints over here at least once during the last six years; thanks to you too. You set the stage for us to finish the job.  It has been costly, it has been challenging, it has taken a while with quite a few dark days. But, in the end, it was worth it.

All Marines and Sailors, including those who remained stateside have contributed to the overall success of the Marines and Sailors in Iraq and; all of us have known someone who didn’t make it back alive or has permanent injuries. It is up to us to ensure that those who follow never forgot their sacrifice or what we did here.

Collectively, we have added another illustrious chapter to the successful story of our Marine Corps.  One that all of us can be proud of.

Semper Fidelis,

K. Carpenter

Sergeant Major

United States Force – West, Iraq

(Previously Multi National Force – West) II Marine Expeditionary Force (Fwd)

21 January 2010

UNCLASSIFIED

Iraqi Recruits going through Basic Training

I am proud today to have been part of a mission that appears to have ended in success, at least in Al Anbar Province.  Semper Fidelis to the Marine Corps and the Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen who served alongside of us in Al Anbar as well as the Iraqi Army and security forces who despite the odds set the stage for the Iraqis and US Forces in the rest of the country to begin to re-establish order and normalcy to a country that has known little but war, dictatorship and tragedy over the past 40 years. I look forward to going back to Iraq someday and maybe visit some of those Iraqis that I was privileged to serve alongside.  May God bless all those who served honorably in Iraq and the Iraqi Army, security forces and the people of Iraq.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Padre Steve’s Decade in Review: Up Down Tryin’ to Get the Feeling Again

Happy New Year!

Well, we have killed off the first decade of the new millennium and I hate to say it but I miss the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s.  Somehow despite the threat of double secret nuclear annihilation, disco, and bad hair those decades seemed somehow more civil, more hopeful and dare I say just a bit nicer than the current decade has been.  However this decade is what it is, or maybe was what it was.  I think that most of us could say like the Barry Manilow  song that “I’ve been up down tryin’ to get that feeling again” but like Blobdie sang “Dreaming is Free.”

Personally Padre Steve had recently embarked on another phase of military service having left the Army Reserve in February 1999 to enter the Navy. Since that time my career has been pretty good and I’m glad that I made the switch.  I have had the chance to serve with some great folks and see a lot more of the world and do a lot of cool things, including going to war. This time in 1999 I was assigned to the 2nd Marine Division at Camp LeJeune North Carolina.  The big thing going on back then was the world being up in arms about the threat of something called Y2K.  Y2K was supposed to end life as we knew it as anything using computer technology was going to quit working, airplanes would fall from the sky, power plants would shut down and personal computers would stop working in the middle of trying to get a dial-up connection to AOL or Compuserve. We YTK fizzed and those that had made doomsday preparations felt pretty silly as they looked over their shoulders for Black Helicopters and hundreds of thousands of UN troops hiding out in our National Parks building detainment camps for real Americans.

Who the Hell Was this Guy Voting For?

As YTK fizzled the 2000 Presidential campaign got spun up.  Padre Steve missed a lot of it because he spent about 10 weeks in the dessert at 29 Palms with two different Marine battalions during two Combined Arms Exercises, or CAX.  He then left in December for a deployment to the Far East. Just before the election the destroyer USS Cole was attacked and heavily damaged by terrorists in an explosive laden boat while refueling in Yemen.  2000 ended without a decision in the election and the campaign culminated in January 2001 with a razor thin Electoral College victory for George W. Bush full of controversy over disputed ballots in Florida with an Army Corps of lawyers getting involved and taking the whole thing up the Supreme Court.  This process dragged on for what seemed like forever until I was in Okinawa with my battalion.  A new term was coined “the hanging chad.” Once the election nightmare was over things did not get better.  In 2000 lost some notable folks, former Dallas Cowboys Head Coach and Pro-Football Hall of Famer Tom Landry called his last play, Sir Alec Guinness crossed over the River Kwai and Montreal Canadiens Hockey legend Maurice “Rocket” Richard broke away and got his final hat trick.

9-11 Twin Towers Under Attack

As 2001 began it did seem that things were starting to settle down despite lingering hatred on both sides of the political aisle about the election.  But then there were the attacks of September 11th 2001 where terrorists flew hijacked airliners into both of the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon. This caused a number of congressmen and senators to break forth in song outside the Capital and for a brief time it seemed that the whole country had united in common cause.  Soon US Special Forces, Rangers and Marines were fighting in Afghanistan to overthrow the Taliban and hunt for Osama Bin Laden, the mastermind of the terror attacks and the head of the Al Qaeda terrorist network.  US forces overran Afghanistan quickly with the help of Afghan tribes known as the Northern Alliance and it looked like despite not finding Bin Laden that the US goals were being accomplished even as the President was telling Americans to “go shopping” to many in the military giving the impression that while the military was at war that the nation was not.  In December 2001 Padre Steve was transferred from the Marines to the Guided Missile Cruiser USS Hue City, CG-66. The ship would complete a couple of underway periods and exercises before departing for the Middle East in early February.  This was Padre Steve’s first tour in a war zone and the ship conducted operations off the Horn of Africa, in the Northern Arabian Gulf as part of the UN Oil Embargo on Iraq intercepting smugglers, during which time Padre Steve was with a boarding team that made 75 boarding missions of Iraqi and other smugglers.

Iconic Picture of Padre Steve on a Boarding Mission

From there Hue City operated with the USS John F Kennedy conducting operations in the Gulf of Oman where our air controllers helped direct strikes against Al Qaida and the Taliban and during which time the ship was detached to keep watch on the Indians and Pakistanis who were on the brink of having a nuclear war.  Acting great and Academy Award winner Jack Lemmon, former Beatle George Harrison and NASCAR great Dale Earnhardt all made their final lap around the planet. In Baseball the Arizona Diamondbacks defeated the New York Yankees to win the World Series in 7 games.

2004 The Red Sox Break the Curse

2002 also saw John Allen Mohammed, the Beltway Sniper bring terror to Washington DC, Northern Virginia and Maryland, the Congress passed a joint resolution to allow President Bush to use US Military Forces as he deemed fit in Iraq and the Iraq War Resolution.  Shortly thereafter the Department of Homeland Security was established.  The San Francisco Giants lost the World Series to the Anaheim Angels after leading in the 7th inning of game six much to the consternation of Padre Steve and the other Giants faithful.  Calls for the public water boarding of Giants Manager and former “Evil Dodger” Dusty Baker to find why he took out Russ Ortiz went unheeded. Dave Thomas the founder of Wendy’s flipped his last burger, country music legend Waylon Jennings sang his last song and Baseball immortal Ted Williams all died in 2002 with Williams and his family trying to make him a real immortal by having his remains cryogenically frozen.

The Challenger Disintigrates

For Padre Steve 2003 was relatively uneventful, the Hue City was in the yards when Operation Iraqi Freedom was launched and was just getting ready for a deployment when he was reassigned to the Marine Security Force Battalion.  In short order he was travelling around the globe and before the end of the year had visited his Marines in Bahrain, Rota Spain and Guantanamo Bay Cuba and he and the Abbess celebrated their 20th wedding anniversary. The Iraq War and overthrow of Saddam Hussein was the big story of 2003 however there was other news. The Space Shuttle Columbia blew up on re-entry killing the 7 astronauts on board, California recalled Governor Gray Davis and replaced him with the Governator Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Florida Marlins defeated the New York Yankees to win the World Series. We lost some legends in 2003 comedian Bob Hope died at the age of 100 and is now doing his Christmas show for the Archangel Michael and the Armies of Heaven; US Senator Strom Thurman filibustered his last bill at the age of 100, Fred Rogers left the neighborhood and Joseph Coors brewed his last batch of really bad beer.

George Bush on the USS Abraham Lincoln

2004 saw yet another nasty Presidential election riddled with controversy as George W. Bush defeated Senator John Kerry to win re-election.  In Iraq Saddam Hussein was finally caught hiding in a hole in the ground by US Special Forces, the war in Iraq went south as the insurgency of former Ba’athists, disaffected Sunnis aided by Al Qaida and other foreign fighters and terrorists took up President Bush on his challenge to “bring it on.”  Facebook was founded in Cambridge Massachusetts, simultaneous suicide bombs devastated trains in Madrid in what became known as Spain’s 9-11, Lance Armstrong won his 6th consecutive Tour de France, Chechen terrorists seized a school in Beslan Russia and over 300 are killed and 700 wounded by the terrorists as the school was stormed by Russian security forces and the Boston Red Sox won the 2004 World Series to break the curse of the Bambino after coming back to defeat the Yankees in the ALCS after being down three games to none.  Death took no holidays in 2004 as Bob Keeshan better known as Captain Kangaroo was piped over the side, Rick James dated his last Super Freaky Girl without taking her home to mother and former President Ronald Reagan died of Alzheimer’s Disease after seeing his successors destroy his coalition and “big tent” and hopeful vision of conservatism.   Padre Steve continued to travel around the world with his Marines going to Japan, France, and Spain, Bahrain and Guantanamo Bay as well as a number of trips within the United States.  In France he taught seminars at the Belleau Wood battlefield site and in Normandy.

Hurricane Katrina as a Category 5 Storm

The war in Iraq continued to heat up in 2005 with the insurgency spreading throughout the country with the focal point being Sunni stronghold Al Anbar Province.  Hurricane Katrina ravaged Gulf coast devastating New Orleans and southern Mississippi killing over 1800 and forcing millions from their homes. The ineffective and inept government response beginning with the “fly by visit” of President Bush helped the Democrats regain control of the House and Senate in 2006.  Terrorism was alive and well as a terrorist attack on London’s Underground and a bus killed 56 and injured over 700.  As for Padre Steve well he was selected for promotion to Lieutenant Commander, completed the Marine Corps Command and Staff College and continued to travel around the world with his Marines going to Japan, France, Spain, Bahrain and Guantanamo Bay as well as a number of trips within the United States.  The highlight of this was being able to have the Abbess accompany him to Guantanamo Bay for the Marine Corps Birthday Ball. The Chicago White Sox defeated the Houston Astros in the World Series. In Washington DC baseball stars were hauled before a Congressional committee to testify on steroids in baseball or interrogated about their possible use of steroids. This wasted millions of dollars in taxpayer money as loser Congressmen who tolerate all sorts of illegal and immoral actions of their own sought to embarrass and destroy the careers and reputations of ballplayers in a grand act of inquisitional hypocrisy. Death came knocking for comedian Richard Pryor, Johnny Carson gave his last monologue, Pope John Paul II met Saint Peter and James Doohan, Mr. Scott from Star Trek was beamed up for the last time.

Israeli Merkeva Tank Destroyed by Hezbollah

In 2006 Padre Steve was promoted the Lieutenant Commander and was transferred to EOD Group Two after completing another year of travel with the Marine Security Forces.  Within months there was talk of a deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan for him and his trusty assistant and body guard Nelson Lebron. He also began a Masters Degree program in Military History at American Military University.  In the rest of the world the Republicans lost their majorities in Congress, the war in Iraq continued to grow in intensity and Israel went to war with Hezbollah forces on their northern border.  The attack was ill conceived and was a military failure revealing weaknesses in the Israeli ground forces training and tactical abilities forcing investigations of the military and the resignation of the head of the military.  Pope Benedict XVI the successor to Pope John Paul II published his first encyclical.  In the World Series Tony LaRussa’s St Louis Cardinals defeated the Detroit Tigers and Barry Bonds though tainted by controversy continued his march to the Baseball Home Run title.  Death paid a visit to former Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, sportscaster Curt Gowdy called his last game and Don Knotts, Televisions Barney Fife gave up his bullet for the last time.

Barry Bonds the All Time Home Run Leader

The war in Iraq reached a climax in 2007 as President Bush heeded the advice of General David Petreus and initiated a “surge” of forces to help wage an actual counterinsurgency campaign.  Combined with the Al Anbar Awakening where the Sunni turned on the insurgents and allied themselves with the Americans the course of the war changed as insurgents lost support and the US and better trained and equipped Iraqi forces launched successful offensives to drive the insurgents out of key areas.  Padre Steve deployed to Iraq and served in Al Anbar Province working with US Marine and Army advisers to the Iraqi Army, Police and Border forces travelling thousands of miles in the province to go where few others went.

Padre Steve in Iraq with Bedouin on Syrian Border

Barry Bonds broke Hank Aaron’s all-time home run record while track star Marion Jones surrendered 5 Olympic Gold Medals after admitting to blood doping and the Boston Red Sox swept the Colorado Rockies to claim their second World Series title of the decade.  Meanwhile death came to Jerry Falwell who preached his last sermon; Tammy Faye (Baker) Messner applied her last coat of Bondo, Ike Tuner played his last guitar riff while Pavarotti exited the stage with Marcel Marceau who went rather silently I am told.

Barak Obama the 44th President

In 2008 Padre Steve returned from Iraq with a pretty good case of PTSD, chronic pain and anxiety coupled with depression and a crisis in faith.  He finished his tour at EOD and was assigned to Portsmouth Naval Medical Center. He and the Abbess celebrated thier 25th wedding anniversary.  The war in Iraq was now moving in a successful direction with the Iraqis taking more control of their security and the various religious, political and ethnic factions beginning to talk and work with one another rather than shoot at each other.  However the war in Afghanistan took a nasty turn as the Taliban came back with a vengeance and the Afghan government was revealed as weak, ineffective and corrupt.  The 2008 Presidential election was waged with bitterness and the Democrats sent Senator Barak Obama, who had defeated Senator Hillary Clinton up against Senator John McCain.  Obama won the election becoming the first African American man to become president while strengthening their majorities in Congress. The world entered a major economic crisis in 2008 and the United States suffered massive losses in financial markets, housing and rising unemployment.  Bank bailouts were the order of the day as President Bush left office and Obama took over.  A massive earthquake in Sichuan China killed over 80,000 people while American swimmer Michael Phelps won 8 gold medals to set an Olympic record.  The Philadelphia Phillies won the World Series defeating the surprising Tampa Bay Rays.  Death as always came along taking actors Heath Ledger and Charlton “Moses” Heston, comedian George Carlin and former Senator Jesse Helms.

Sarah Palin the New Leader of the GOP?

2009 came in with the inauguration of Barak Obama as President something that Padre Steve witnessed with a elderly African American women in her ICU room while holding her hand as she cried not believing that she would see an event of this kind in her lifetime.  The war in Iraq began to wind down as the US began to increase it’s withdraw of ground forces and turn over more security to the Iraqis.  In Afghanistan the war reached a crisis point as the military and political situation deteriorated within the country and support for the war dwindled in the US and Europe. Amid this President Obama agreed to a “surge” for Afghanistan.  The worldwide economic continued but by the end of the year some economic indicators were pointing upward again even as the US unemployment rate continued to rise. A bitter fight was waged over health care reform and economic policies while President Obama’s support and approval ratings crashed as people on both the left and right of the political spectrum criticized his leadership and policies.  Republican Vice-Presidential nominee and former Vice President Dick Cheney took the Republican lead in attacking the President while conservative talk radio delivered a daily barrage of criticism.  Some of Obama’s own actions did not help his cause especially in the manner in which he was viewed to respond to terrorist attacks including an attempted Christmas Eve bombing of a US airliner.  Tensions continued to grow between the West and Iran regarding that nation’s nuclear program even as widespread demonstrations wracked that country after an election which appeared to be rigged by the Iranian government. An outbreak of H1N1 Influence reached pandemic proportions across the globe but did not reach the lethality that it had the potential to do.  The Vatican announced a historic plan to allow conservative and traditionalist Anglicans come into the Catholic Church and retain their Anglican traditions and some measure of autonomy.

The Yankees Return

In baseball a revitalized New York Yankees team dominated the American league and went on to dominate their playoff and World Series opponents defeating the Phillies in 6 games. In football a good number of teams in both the NFL and NCAA were a parody of the sport and coaching scandals plagued the sport while at the box office Star Trek came back with a vengeance and a twist. Padre Steve continued his hospital work, battled PTSD, depression, his father’s Alzheimer’s disease and his own spiritual crisis but completed the academic requirements for his Masters Degree in Military History and by the end of the year began to experience some measure of healing.  He launched this site in February of 2009 and as of this post will have made 328 posts on the site.  He also bought his first ever season tickets for a baseball team and now claims Section 102, Row B seats 1 & 2 as his pew at the Church of Baseball, Harbor Park Parish.  Death prowled the earth looking for recruits finding legendary news anchorman Walter Cronkite who signed off of the last time, Pop Superstar Michael Jackson who “moon walked” the stairway to heaven or wherever, Senator Edward Kennedy who finalized his last legislation with his maker and Patrick Swayze who reprised his role in “Ghost.”

So it has been quite a decade personally for your friend Padre Steve as well as an eventual decade for the United States and the World.  The decade has been “interesting” and as the ancient Chinese curse says “may you live in interesting times.”  I hope that the next year and decade are a lot less interesting, that wars will cease and that people all over the world will join together like the old 1960’s Coca Cola commercial.

I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing?

Peace and Blessings in the New Year,

Padre Steve+

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