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It’s the Apocalypse: A Papal Resignation, North Korean Nukes, LA Shooter, SOTU, the SOTU Response, the SOTU Response Response and Fat Tuesday

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“I do love America. And LA is a very short commute to America its like half an hour on the plane.” Craig Ferguson

What a crazy couple of days and I don’t know about you but my head is spinning like Linda Blair’s in the Exorcist. It almost felt like a Zombie Apocalypse was upon us. Then I remembered that Zombies are not real. However, it was a crazy couple of days in America and Los Angeles.

Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away then Pope Benedict XVI up and quit. Shortly thereafter the Vatican was struck by lightening twice. Coincidence….I think not.

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But that wan’t all, just before I went to bed Kim Jong Un number one son, the North Korean version of an inbred mountain man exploded a nuclear bomb and promised more. Not to be outdone the disgruntled former LA Cop bent on revenge got into another firefight and is now preempting the State of the Union Address which I wasn’t going to watch because I get tired of people giving the President the clap between every sentence. Now because there is murder and mayhem on live television I have to watch whether I want to or not because it is going to be a split screen like the O.J. Simpson Bronco chase. I am a sucker for drama.

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And to think, that all of this was happening on or just before the day that people set aside to sin boldly before entering a 40 day period of fasting and abstinence for a reason that they have forgotten. Well, I haven’t forgotten the reason for the fasting and abstinence  but I did have a big hamburger and a few beers to tide me over until Easter. Well I don’t plan on doing hamburgers on Fridays during Lent, it is a sacrifice and since I generally don’t eat anything that swims in its own toilet seafood is out which reduces me to eating bean burritos on Fridays during Lent.

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Pope John Luc I?

So tonight with all of this going on we are waiting on a Papal election conclave which will begin in March. My money is on a long shot outsider for the post, Bono who I predict will take the name Pope Meatloaf I or perhaps Sir Patrick Stewart who I would think would be Pope John Luc I if elected. I actually think that a Pope John Luc the First would be a great move and cause the Papacy to boldly go where no Pope has gone before.

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Normally that would be enough drama for a week. A Pope resigning his office only happens on an average only once every 390 years, so that is news. But then the wily North Koreans explode another nuclear bomb shortly after launching an inter-continental ballistic missile against the opposition of everyone in the world including China and Iran and I say “that too is news.” I do think that Kim Jong Un number one has a case of missile envy but still, the thought of him having fingering the nuclear button is frightening. In fact thinking of Kim fingering anything is frightening.

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And speaking of frightening, a disgruntled former LA cop and Naval Reserve officer has been on a revenge motivated killing spree in which he has killed 4 people and wounded 2 more, none of whom were involved in his firing from LAPD. Say what you want about him but Khan went after Captain Kirk for his revenge in Star Trek II. Sure he killed innocents, but his goal was Kirk. Thankfully after a shootout today it looks like the shooter has been killed and the danger is averted, but for a time it was a surreal throwback to the split screen O.J. Simpson chase which coincided with the NBA Championship Game 5 between the Knicks and Rockets. For a moment tonight CNN and MSNBC had the split screen thing going. It made me proud. Where but in America could this happen? That is why we are such a great country.

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Tonight is also the State of the Union Address, the annual speech where the incumbent President gives his vision for the next year in the life of the Republic. It is punctuated by the applause of his partisan supporters and icy cold glares and stares of his opponents. This is the case regardless of who is in office and the only time the deadly partisanship is broken is during the photo ops before and after the ceremony as the President enters and exits the Well of the House. I even saw Eric Cantor kiss Sheila Jackson Lee, now that is bipartisanship at its best.

It has also become a tradition for the out of power party to have a leader make a speech after the SOTU address. Usually, regardless of the party doing this the man or woman that makes the speech looks like Kenneth the Paige on 30 Rock speaking outside a Motel 6 conference room. Most pundits and politicians see this as a thankless job. Tonight the Republican Party is sending out Senator Marco Rubio to make this speech in order let him peak early so that someone like Herman Cain can sabotage his candidacy in 2016.

But that is not enough. Three years ago the Tea Party put out a response to the Republican response in order to show America just how united they are in destroying each other. In 2011 it was Michelle Bachmann, in 2012 it was Herman Cain and this year it will be Senator Rand Paul who is supposed to be speaking in favor of the great sequester working to ensure a Democrat sweep in 2014 and a Hillary Clinton Presidency in 2016.

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Fat Tuesday

And all of this on Fat Tuesday, when people all over the country are drinking to excess and partying hard so they can have something to seriously repent about tomorrow and feel bad about until Easter. Now am rather tame. I went out, ate a big hamburger, drank a couple of beers with my friends and had two chocolate chip cookies. Then I came home to Molly my now blind dog, got her to chase some deer and wrote this little article while watching the SOTU address.

Tomorrow I will help lead our Ash Wednesday Service in our little Chapel. Hopefully in the process I will be a Priest that in his humanness and brokenness helps people experience the love, grace and reconciliation of God in Christ on the day that marks the beginning of the season of Lent.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under faith, News and current events, Religion

Starfleet Gets a Communications Upgrade: The Tale of the Blackberry

Note: My inspiration for this story is my recent experience with a Blackberry Curve and its replacement provided by Verizon Wireless.  I have no complaints about the Verizon staff that have attempted without success to fix this problem as it is a fault with the blasted Blackberry. As I waited patiently for a very polite Verizon store staff to work with technician to solve the problems I was having I began to think about what it would be like if in the Star Trek Original Series if Starfleet had provided Blackberries to the Enterprise on a critical mission. I figure that I at least need to be able to laugh about this. Hopefully I tomorrow when I take my third Blackberry into the Verizon store in the space of three weeks I will get to experience the joy of a working communications device.

Peace, Padre Steve+


On the border of the Federation-Romulan Neutral Zone.

“Good morning Captain, we have reached Cheron and established orbit. There are no Romulan ships within sensor range.”

“Thank you Spock, must you always be so cheerful in the morning?” replied a grinning Kirk. “So what is our status?”

“Sir the away team is ready for the mission. Doctor McCoy, Lieutenant Sulu and Mr. Scott will beam down with you and the security team.”

“Good, so Spock I do hope that we can get out of here after checking the planet before the Romulans discover that we are here.”

“Patently sir, in light of the Romulan defeat here during the First Romulan War it would be inadvisable to remain here too long.” Spock’s crisp and matter of fact delivery underscored the potential threats to the Enterprise and the away team as they looked to determine if the Romulans had attempted to establish a new outpost on the planet.

“Captain” Lieutenant Uhura rose from her console on the starboard side of the bridge.

“Yes Lieutenant, is there something that I need to know?”

“Why yes Captain,” the pretty communications officer replied. “There has been a change in the standard communication equipment for away teams.”

“What, why wasn’t I informed of this?”

“Well sir, it is a Starfleet wide upgrade. We received the equipment on our last visit to Starbase 234 before our departure for this mission.” Uhara paused “It is a major improvement.  According to Starfleet the device is called a Blackberry and it will replace the communicator and many of the functions now performed by our Tricorders.”

“But why wasn’t I told?”

“Sir, it was an oversight, it won’t happen again.”

“Make sure it doesn’t Lieutenant, otherwise” Kirk paused appearing to search for his next words “otherwise there won’t be any chubby sex for you.”

“Captain, I don’t think that is appropriate” protested Uhura.

“Appropriate?”

“Captain, Starfleet regulations do say that the use of sexual terms with subordinates of the opposite sex is a violation of the Equal Opportunity and Sexual Harassment policies established by the Federation Commission on Equal Opportunity and ratified by the Federation Senate for all Federation government offices including Starfleet.”

“Okay Spock I get it, it was just the Mad Cow.”

“Mad cow Captain?” Spock replied raising an eyebrow.

“Never mind, just a quote from one of my favorite 21st Century television characters, Denny Crane.”

“I have never heard of him.”

“The show is called Boston Legal, I have all of the DVD’s.  Come by my stateroom and we’ll watch them from season one through five.” Kirk winked as Spock looked on with a hint of disapproval on his Vulcan face.

“So Lieutenant, that was out of line and I apologize. It won’t happen again.”

“Until the next time” whispered McCoy to Scott.

“Anyway, Lieutenant Uhura, before I was so correctly corrected by my First Officer, please tell me about these Blackberry devices.”

“This is one here.” Uhura pulled out a small device which had a tiny keyboard as well as a view screen.

“My I look at it?”

“Please Captain, you’ll find it quite handy.  You will be able to communicate with the ship, away team members, check your e-mail, messages and have the universe at your fingertips.”

“So I can surf the web and access my Face Space account while on an away team?”

“Well yes, Captain.”

“Good.  We’ll start using them on this mission; make sure everyone on the away team has one.” Kirk looked at Spock. “Spock did you hear that I can surf the web and access my Face Space account on this thing even on away missions? Why didn’t anyone think of this sooner?”

Uhura interrupted. “Captain, I would prefer that we wait until the next mission.”

“No.  We take them on this mission.” Kirk paused. “After all what could go wrong?  Starfleet has tested them out right?”

“Well, yes sir, but the contractor says that we should wait.”

“Contractor?”

“Yes Captain, to save money Starfleet has contracted the Blackberry service to Verizon Universal.” Uhura sounded almost apologetic. “But we do have a contracting service representative dedicated to us and I can contact him anytime.”

“So let’s see, I have a device that replaces communicators and Tricorders that I can surf the web and check my Face Space on, which has been tested by Starfleet and that we have a designated technician dedicated to us and you’re saying that I should wait?”

“Well, maybe it’s just me Captain…”

“Lieutenant Uhura, if I recall I am the Captain, correct?”

“Well….” Uhura hesitated for a moment and continued “Yes Captain.”

“So if I am the Captain of the Enterprise; which indeed by Starfleet order I am; that means that I do get the final say on my ship?  Mr. Spock, do you concur?”

“Yes Captain, I concur.  However, I do not think that the Lieutenant is questioning your ability to command the Enterprise but rather her belief that we should test the devices on a mission that is not so close to the Neutral Zone.”

“But Spock, the best of Starfleet have certified these devices and Verizon Universal has over nearly 300 years of experience in wireless communications.” Kirk paused. “Wouldn’t you agree that this isn’t rocket science, Spock? This is communications, not the Warp drive. What could go wrong?”

“Captain I was merely posing as the Devil’s advocate. You are the Captain and the decision is yours.”

“Devil’s advocate, you have the ears for it Spock,” quipped Doctor McCoy eliciting a chuckle from Ensign Chekov at the helm and a raised eyebrow from Spock.

“Well if that’s the case Lieutenant, I want to have these on the away mission. I’ll let Scotty carry a communicator and Bones can carry a Tricorder,  but the rest of us will have these.”

“But Captain, one more thing….” Uhura paused and then continued: “Starfleet says that we might have intermittent problems with the old systems as we make the switch. The Tricroders are scheduled to receive new software when it is pushed by Starfleet. It was supposed to happen this morning. Starfleet technical says that it will be later, but they don’t know when.”

“I don’t see a problem Lieutenant, and I’m the Captain, James Tiberius Kirk. Don’t forget it.” Kirk chuckled as he looked at the Blackberry. “I can check my Face Space on this? what will Starfleet think of next?  Maybe they can give me the ability to book a trip on Priceline while on an away mission.”

Spock shook his head and McCoy grinned as Kirk started playing with the touch screen on the device. Kirk looked up at his staff and said “Scotty, Bones, Sulu, meet me in transporter room with a security team in half an hour. We have to get to the planet, see what is going on and get out of here before a bunch of Romulan Birds of Prey show up.  Spock you have the Enterprise and Uhura, make sure that nothing goes wrong with these devices while I am checking my Face Space…I mean when we’re on the planet surface.”

“Aye Captain” replied Scotty, his distinctive Scottish brogue echoed by McCoy and Sulu. Spock, Uhura and McCoy nodded their agreement as Kirk continued “Well what are you waiting for?  Let’s get going.”

A half hour later, Kirk, McCoy, Scotty, Sulu and the 3 members of the security team met in the transporter room where Lieutenant Kyle the Transporter Chief awaited them. As the doors swished open and closed, Kirk approached Kyle.

“Mr. Kyle we are going to beam down to the surface. I need you to make sure that you keep a good lock on us in case the Romulans show up.”

“Captain, I will do the best that I can but the transporter lock application is not loaded on your Blackberry. I can, however maintain the lock on Mr. Scott’s communicator as long as that device is functioning correctly.”

“Scotty, why wasn’t I told about this?”

“Sir, I dinna really think that you would want to go to the surface depending on some newfangled contraption, so I didn’t say anything.  Besides Captain, when you started talking about your Face Space account, I knew that there was no convincing you.”

“Correct, that is why I asked you Mr. Scott.  Remember the name is James Tiberius Kirk.  I beat the Kobayashi Maru test. Besides, even if this doesn’t work right I AM James Tiberius Kirk and I will win. Besides, we booked this trip on Priceline and it’s not refundable.”

The away team muttered in agreement and Kirk continued: “Gentlemen, we will beam down to the planet and find out what is going on before the Romulans figure out that we are here.” Kirk paused for a moment. “Mr. Kyle,  tell Lieutenant Uhura that I expect that even if you cannot keep a lock on these Blackberries, that I DO expect to be able to check my Face Space account while on the planet surface.”

“Your Face Space account sir?” asked a confused transporter chief.

“You heard me Lieutenant. My Face Space account, and if you expect to get far in Starfleet you’d better get one too.”

“Yes sir” replied the transport chief as he looked at Mr. Scott who simply nodded his head.

“Well gentlemen, what are we waiting for?”  Kirk paused again, “it’s not Mad Cow or am I forgetting something?”

“What?…your Mad Cow?” asked McCoy.

“Bones, I know that I’m forgetting something and I can’t remember what.” Kirk paused again and continued “I remember now… where is Yeoman Rand right now?  She is supposed to be on the away team.”

“Jim you didn’t include her on the away team” replied McCoy.

“I didn’t include include her?  Bones, what was I thinking? Mr. Kyle, call for Yeoman Rand to meet us here.  We’ll wait for her before we beam down.”

Scotty interrupted. “But Captain, shouldn’t we get down now to be finished before the Romulans arrive?”

“Mr. Scott. I AM the Captain and Yeoman Rand is essential personnel on any away mission that I am on.  Besides, someone has to record my every thought for history sake, because after the mission I’m going to consume a few pints of Romulan ale and won’t remember a damned thing.”

“Well, that makes sense.” Replied McCoy.

“Well she is a girl, but even I can understand in some ways” added Sulu.

“Don’t forget Sulu, I am a real man, not gay like you…not that there is anything wrong with that, even if you are still in the closet. I mean, it’s not that you are in the closet or even out of it…but it’s none of my business or anyone else’s business or anything like that. You know, don’t ask don’t tell like Starfleet regulations tell us.”

Sulu glared at Kirk, while the others in the transport room maintained silence. Sulu looked at McCoy and said: “This will go in my autobiography.”  As the away team waited and Scotty and Kyle talked technical specifications, Yeoman Janice Rand entered the transporter room.  The doors swished open and closed as the pretty blond yeoman with stacked hair, clad in the Starfleet regulation red mini-dress female uniform and black high rise boots approached Kirk.

“Yeoman Rand reporting as ordered sir.”

“Yeoman Rand, I’m sorry for the late notice, but your presence is required on this mission.”

“Thank you sir, I will do what I can to help the mission succeed” replied the young woman.

Kirk looked at McCoy, who was looking at the deck and putting his hand on his shoulder whispered “it’s good to be the Captain, Bones; it’s good to be the Captain.” Kirk then looked about the room and continued “Gentlemen and Miss Rand, let’s get going, what are we waiting for?”

With that, the team stepped aboard the transporter platform and Kirk patted Rand on the behind as he said to Kyle “Mr. Kyle, energize.”

Kyle pushed the transporter lever into the transport mode and the team dematerialized from the pad.

Seconds later the team rematerialized on the planet’s surface.  Though a class M planet, Cheron’s surface was devoid of any meaningful foliage and very rocky and mountainous; much like areas just outside of Los Angeles or a sound stage at NBC studios in Burbank. Kirk looked around and as the team began to make equipment checks and their initial scans of the area.

“Captain, I’m picking up subspace transmissions from that hill,” interjected McCoy pointing the Tricorder toward the hill that rose about 500 meters from the team.

“Subspace transmissions, Bones?”

“Yes sir Captain, from that hill. I think they may be Romulan.”

Kirk looked at Scotty and Sulu. Yeoman Rand moved closer to Kirk and the three security team members fanned out around the team leaders, their phasers at the ready.

Kirk looked at his team; “I think that we have our smoking gun. The Romulans either have been here or are here right now. We need to establish that as fact, recover the evidence and get it out of here before the Romulans know that we’re here. We’ll move toward the hill. Sulu, you and crewman Jones take the left; Scotty and crewman Evans take the right. Bones, you Yeoman Rand and Ensign Smith come with me.  I’ll contact the ship.”

Kirk pulled out his Blackberry and punched the Enterprise icon on the touch screen. “Kirk to Enterprise, away team on planet surface, subspace emissions detected, moving to investigate.” The Blackberry remained silent. Kirk tired again. “Kirk to Enterprise, Uhura, Spock do you read me?” There was no response. “Bones, Scotty, Sulu, try to contact the ship on your Blackberries.”

The three officers each tried their Blackberries. Scotty looked up at Kirk and said “Captain, something has drained the batteries.  My Blackberry has almost no power left, and it registers a 1 X and not a 3G network.”

“What do you mean Scotty? 1 X, 3G what the hell does that mean?”

“Captain, I mean that you won’t be able to access the Enterprise or your Face Space account on this piece of junk.”

“You mean I can’t access my Face Space account?”

“Not that or anything else. Like I’ve said before, the more complicated they are the easier they are to break.”

“Can you contact them on your communicator Scotty?”

“I can try sir, it is a good thing that Uhura and Spock recommended that we have them.”

“Mr. Scott, if you will recall, it was I that said that you would carry a communicator, not Uhura” interjected an obviously irritated Kirk.

“Sulu, you take crewman Jones and Evans and find out what is creating that subspace emission and get back here within the hour. We cannot communicate so it is imperative that you find what is going on and at least one of you get back with the information. Hopefully we will be able to contact the Enterprise by the time you return.”

“Yes Captain” replied Sulu. “Evans, Jones, follow me.” Sulu set off at a jog toward the hill followed by the two security officers.

“Bones, can you figure out what is going on with these Blackberries?”

“Captain, I’m a doctor not a service technician,” replied a sarcastic sounding McCoy.

“Captain, I have contact with the Enterprise,” said Scotty.

“Give me that communicator Scotty!” interrupted Kirk, grabbing the device from his Chief Engineer’s hands.

“Uhura, Spock, can you read me? This is Kirk.”

“Captain, I read you but not well. Can you tell me your situation?” replied the Communications officer.

“Uhura, what is going on? These Blackerries are rotten! Nothing works! I can’t access my Face Space like you told me that I would!” Kirk’s voice was excited and sounded perturbed. Spock noted this as he listened in on the conversation. “Captain, I would say that it would be wise to end the mission, return to the ship and worry about your Face Space later.”

“But Spock, IT IS IN THE CONTRACT! Besides I just sent Sulu with crewmen Evans and Jones to check the source of the subspace emissions.”

“Subspace emissions, Captain?” asked Spock.

“Yes Spock, subspace emissions.”

Spock turned from the communications officer station and said to Ensign Chekov and Lieutenant O’Reilly “Gentlemen we may have company. Scan for any subspace emissions of evidence of a cloaked ship, raise shields and go to Red Alert.”

“Aye Mr. Spock” replied Chekov as the Red Alert alarm was sounded.

“Captain, I have just set Red Alert and raised the shields. When you are ready to beam back to the ship, signal me.”

“Good work, Spock. I will contact you shortly but get me Uhura.”

“Lieutenant Uhura, stand by to answer the Captain’s questions.”

“Yes Mr. Spock” replied the Communications Officer. “Captain Kirk, what is your question?”

“Uhura, can you contact the Verizon Universal technician and let him know what is going on?”

“Sir, I did as soon as Mr. Scott contacted us on his communicator. The tech rep, Bob, told me that there is a known software problem and that the company would be providing a software push to all subscribers within the week and that when we arrive at Starbase 234 that the defective units will be replaced free of charge.”

“But Lieutenant Uhura… I am on a planet with a small away team.  There is a real possibly that Romulans are nearby, AND you’re telling me that my Blackberry won’t work and I can’t access my Face Space much less communicate with anyone?”

“Yes sir, that is basically what I am telling you.” Replied Uhura who was looking at Spock with an exasperated expression.

“Thank you Lieutenant. You tell Bob or whoever you are in contact with that I EXPECT this to be corrected as soon as it can be corrected.  I mean, it needs to be corrected….” Kirk paused” I think that this is ridiculous. If Verizon Universal doesn’t fix it now tell Rob or whatever his name is, that I will contact Admiral Shirley Schmidt at Starfleet Legal and have them to start proceedings against them. I understand that Commander Alan Shore is quite a litigator and will rip them a new one.”

“I will relay the message Captain.”

“Good” said Kirk “and I will contact you as soon as I can to get off of this planet. Kirk out.”

Aboard the Enterprise the bridge crew began to scan and look for any signs of a cloaked Romulan ship as Kirk and the away team continued the mission.  On the planet Kirk was talking with McCoy and Scott with Yeoman Rand beside him looking on while transcribing the conversation on her I-Pad 2265.  It was then that phaser fire was heard in the distance coming from the hill where Sulu and the security officers had gone to seek out the source of the subspace emissions.

“Take cover” ordered Kirk and the team sought cover behind the rocks surrounding their position. “Scotty, contact the Enterprise, Bones prepare to receive casualties, Ensign Smith move right and cover Mr. Sulu’s team as they return. Yeoman Rand stay close to me.” Rand moved close to Kirk’s side and Kirk put his arm around her reaching toward her buttocks. “I’ll protect you Yeoman.” Rand edged closer.

As the team took cover Sulu and one of the security officers could be seen maneuvering to get back to the rest of the team. Ensign Smith and Mr. Scott began to provide covering fire with their phasers at what appeared to be Romulan disruptor fire coming from the hill. As Sulu and the security officer got back to the site the security officer turned to return fire and was hit by a disrupter burst crumpling to the ground near McCoy.

“Bones, see if he’s okay! Sulu, what happened?” shouted Kirk.

Aboard the Enterprise the situation was tense. Mr. Scott’s message about the phaser and disruptor fire had been received and Spock paced the bridge.

“Mr. Chekov, any sign of the Romulans?”

“Sir, I am reading a distortion in space at 149 mark 916 distance 33,000 kilometers. I think it is a cloaked ship.”

“Lieutenant Kyle.”

“Kyle here sir” replied the transporter chief.

“Mr. Kyle, prepare to beam up the team.  Lock onto Mr. Scott’s communicator and beam at my command.”

“Aye Captain.” Kyle’s voice displayed no lack of confidence in his abilities.

On the planet the Enterprise away team returned fire as McCoy checked the fallen security officer. Sulu moved to Kirk to report the situation.

“Captain, we got to the hill and found a Romulan away team setting up what appears to be a sensor array. They took us under fire and crewman Evans was killed in the exchange. Jones and I returned fire and moved back to your position.”

“How many Romulans Mr. Sulu?” asked Kirk.

“Sir, there were at least a dozen, some armed with disruptor rifles. We downed several with our phasers, but I expect that there are more in the vicinity moving our direction.” Sulu wiped his brow but appeared calm even as he made the report.

“Thank you Lieutenant, take position over there and protect our flank.”

“Aye sir.”

“Bones, how is crewman Jones?”

“Jim, he’s dead.” As McCoy gave the report on Jones a burst of disruptor fire blasted the rock in front of Lieutenant Smith who took cover and cried “Captain I’m hit!”

“Spock, get us out of here.”

“Aye, Captain.” Spock continued, “Mr. Kyle are we prepared to beam the away team to the Enterprise?”

“Ready Mr. Spock” replied the Transporter Chief, his Australian accent showing.

“Mr. O’Reilly drop shield and raise them after the transport is complete.” Spock’s order was devoid of emotion even as he ordered Kyle to beam the team up. “Mr. Kyle beam the team up now.”

“Energizing, Mr. Spock” replied the transporter Chief. Within seconds the team materialized on the transporter pad. McCoy called for corpsmen to report to tend to the wounded Lieutenant Smith. Kirk approached Kyle.

“Excellent job, Mr. Kyle.”

“Thank you sir, my pleasure.”

Kirk began to bark out orders, “Scotty, Sulu come with me, Bones take care of Lieutenant Smith. Yeoman Rand report to the bridge with me.”

As Kirk, Sulu, Scott and Yeoman Rand entered the bridge from the turbo-lift, Spock yielded the command chair to Kirk.

“Mr. Spock, thank you for your timely intervention. What is going on?”

“Captain, we believe that a Romulan Bird of Prey is cloaked. I recommend since the Romulans attacked our team on the planet that we fire a burst of photon torpedoes at the location in violation of the peace treaty.”

“Mr. O’Reilly, fire a spread of Photon Torpedoes at the location.”

“Aye Captain,” replied the young Irishman as he pressed the firing key on his operations console. A second after he did this a number of Photon Torpedo bursts exploded in the distance.  A Bird of Prey appeared was seen listing heavily to Port as its cloaking device went offline. No fire was returned by the obviously heavily damaged Romulan ship.

“Uhura, hail the Romulan.  Onscreen.”

The communications console beeped as Uhura sent a message to the Romulan. On the Enterprise Bridge view screen the Romulan ship disappeared as a Romulan officer appeared. Behind him fires burned and Romulan crew members could be seen attempting repairs.

“Federation ship, I am Praetor Taev, you have attacked my ship. I cannot return fire or communicate with my away team.”

“Praetor, we stand by to assist you.”

“Your assistance is not needed or desired. We would not be in this situation if it were not for a communications failure between us and our away team.”

“It seems that we encountered a similar situation on the planet surface” replied Kirk.

“Some advice Federation Captain, if your fleet communications bureau attempts to replace your communicators with something called Blackberries have a backup plan. Our away team was trying to rig a mobile communication array on the planet, their Blackberries would not work.”

“We will Praetor, thank you for your advice. Who is your provider, Praetor?”

“Verizon Universal, the largest wireless corporation in the known universe with almost 300 years of experience. They even had a technician dedicated to this mission, but we have executed him. His funny looking black plastic eyeglasses are being returned to his family.”

“You have my sympathies, Praetor. Since it seems that this encounter is a misunderstanding, we will allow you to make repairs and proceed on our way. You are a worthy opponent. Kirk out.”

“You as well, Captain…. in another place and time we might have been friends.” The screen went blank and an explosion was witnessed. The Bird of Prey had blown up, the fireball extended out and the explosion was felt aboard the Enterprise which trembled slightly as the shockwave from the blast reached it.

“Mr. Spock, what happened?”

“Captain it appears that the Romulan ship is destroyed. I am not sure, but they may have scuttled her because they would have been disgraced for allowing themselves to be taken by surprise. The Romulans have a keen sense of honor and would rather suffer death than return home in disgrace.”

“Pity, Spock.  The Romulan was doing what we were doing and was a victim of the same Romulan Navy and Verizon Universal communications problem that we experienced.”

“Lieutenant Uhura, make sure that this situation is corrected. Mr. Spock you have the Bridge. I am going to my cabin to watch Boston Legal and book a trip on Priceline when we get back to Earth. Yeoman Rand, meet me later to take report. I’ll Face Space you with the time and place.”

“Yes, Captain” the attractive blond blushed and smiled as Kirk winked at her and exited the Bridge.

McCoy, Scott and Spock looked at each other saying nothing. Chekov, Sulu and O’Reilly smiled in amusement while Uhura shook her head. Sulu relieved Chekov at the helm.

“Mr. Sulu, set course for Starbase 234, warp factor 3.

“Aye Mr. Spock” as Sulu punched the coordinates into the helm music began to play and the Enterprise burst into warp leaving Cheron behind.

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Filed under Just for fun, Loose thoughts and musings, star trek

29 Years in the Military and still Going Strong

“It’s a mere moment in a man’s life between the All-Star Game and an old timer’s game.” Vin Scully

Padre Steve in 1982

They say that “time flies when you’re having fun” and I cannot believe that I have been in the military now for 29 years. On August 25th 1981 a 21 year old college kid with long Southern California “surfer” hair walked into the California Army National Guard Armory on Van Nuys Boulevard to enlist in the National Guard after having just sworn into the Army ROTC program at UCLA.   Back then I enlisted in what was or is called the Simultaneous Membership Program or SMP program.  My initial military training came through the ROTC program as well as on the job training in the National Guard as a Field Artillery Forward Observer and Intelligence Specialist.

Like Cal Ripken Jr commenting about his career “So many good things have happened to me in the game of baseball. When I do allow myself a chance to think about it, it’s almost like a storybook career. You feel so blessed to have been able to compete this long.” I can say the same thing just substituting the words “military career” for “the game of baseball.”

On the day that I enlisted I met with Major Charles Armagost the S-1 of 3rd Battalion 144th Field Artillery and full time advisor for the battalion filled out my enlistment papers and raised my right hand. I still remember the day when I enlisted. It was a hot smoggy Los Angeles day where you could see the air.  I walked down the hall after I swore in to see the supply Sergeant who outfitted me with four sets of Olive Green fatigues and ordered me two sets of the brand new BDUs.  I was issued my TA-50 gear and taken to the motor pool where I was given cursory training on the M151A1 “Jeep” and issued a military drivers license.  The three weeks later I was driving one of those venerable machines to Fort Irwin on a Friday through Sunday drill with the advanced party. It was the beginning of a 29 year career spanning two services, the active and reserve components and now multiple trips to combat zones.

Army Captain 1987

It has to quote Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead “a long strange trip” spanning the Army and the Navy, active and reserve components as well as two tours with the Marine Corps while serving in the Navy and the beat goes on with my selection for promotion to Commander and my Senate nomination to that grade on August 21st.  I have served on the Fulda Gap in the Cold War, been to what was then East Berlin driving the Helmstedt-Berlin corridor sharing the road with Soviet armored columns.  I supported the Bosnia Operation in 1996-97 and the Korean DMZ with the Marines in 2001. I served in Operation Enduring Freedom and Southern Watch in 2002 where I was on a boarding team, boarding 75 Iraqi and other country smuggling ships while serving aboard the USS Hue City.  That was followed by multiple trips in and out of theater with the Marine Security Forces from 2003-2006 as well as time on the Cuban fence line at Guantanamo Bay before serving in Iraq with our Marine and Army advisors and their Iraqi Army and Security forces.  I’ve served with Infantry, Armor, Combat Engineer, Artillery, Medical and Ordnance units, Security forces, support elements, bases and training centers, hospitals and ships.

Berlin Wall November 1986

When I enlisted I thought that once I was commissioned that I would serve my entire career in the Army and retire as a Lieutenant Colonel. I did not anticipate becoming a Chaplain nor leaving the Army for the Navy. When I am officially promoted to Commander it will be the first rank since I was an Army First Lieutenant that I have not held twice.  When I first enlisted and had no ribbons I used to look at wonderment at the Korea and Vietnam veterans who had tons of ribbons and tell Judy that I wish I had what they had. Now that I am working on 9 rows of the things I cringe every time I have to remount ribbons and ribbons and my wallet screams in agony.  Judy is quick to remind me of my whininess back then and tell me that I asked for it.

She didn’t know what she was getting into

As an Army and Navy Officer I have served or done some kind of military duty in Germany, France, Great Britain, Greece, Italy, Croatia and Turkey, Spain, Malta, Korea, Japan, Jordan, Bahrain, Kuwait and Iraq.  I’ve done what I call the “Commie Trifecta” the Berlin Wall, Korean DMZ and the Cuban Fence Line. At the same time I have spent 16 of 27 wedding anniversaries away from home and lost count of birthdays and other important occasions that I missed while serving the country.

Guantanamo Bay Cuba 2004

I have served 5 different Presidents. In that time I have seen changes in the political, social and economic conditions of the country and the world that I could not have imagined at the time of my enlistment.  The Soviet Union had just invaded Afghanistan and the Iranian hostage crisis had just ended but within the Soviet Union had been defeated the Berlin Wall taken down and collapse of the Soviet Union.  Twenty years after I enlisted the people that defeated the Soviets were attacking us on our own soil.

Boarding Party Arabian Gulf May 2002

I lived in Europe and went through the Chernobyl radiation cloud which is obviously the cause of my glowing personality.  While in Europe I ate enough beef to be labeled by the Red Cross as a potential carrier of Mad Cow disease. I worked on military personnel policies at the beginning of the AIDS epidemic and saw the beginning of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy.  I saw the Reagan build up and the post Cold War drawdown.  When I was a Company XO and Company Commander we had landlines and typewriters with carbon paper and did not get internet in my office until 1997.  It is hard to believe the changes even in the quantum leaps in computer and communication technology in the past few years where I can check e-mail on my Blackberry and work from almost anywhere with my laptop.

With Advisors and Bedouin on Iraqi-Syrian Border December 2007

Looking back here are some of the things that I have seen since I entered the military:

October 23rd 1983: Beirut Bombing: BLT 1/8 barracks and French 1st Parachute Regiment destroyed by suicide bombers 241 Americans and 58 French Paras killed.  I was at the Junior Officer Maintenance Course at Fort Knox watching CNN late at night when they broke the news.

December 12th 1985:  Arrow Air Charter Boeing 707 crashed in Gander Newfoundland killing 248 American Soldiers returning from Peacekeeping duty in Sinai Peninsula. Among the dead was Sergeant Charles Broncato who had been one of my Squad Leaders in 2nd Platoon 557th Medical Company Ambulance. I was then serving as the Company Commander.

January 28th 1986: The Space Shuttle Challenger blows up 73 seconds into flight killing 7 Astronauts.  I was in my office at the close of the day getting ready to adjudicate an Article 15 when my Charge-of Quarters SPC Lisa Dailey ran into my office and said “Lieutenant Dundas, the Space Shuttle just blew up!” My response was “Come on, Space Shuttles don’t blow up.”

February 15th 1988: The Soviet Union withdraws from Afghanistan. I was a National Guard Officer in Texas attending Seminary and thought this was a good thing.  Now I wish that they had done better and at least killed Osama Bin Laden, then a relatively minor commander.

December 21st 1988: Pan Am 103 downed by Libyan operatives over Lockerbie Scotland killing all 270 passengers and crew. The aircraft a Boeing 747 named the Maid of the Seas was the same aircraft that we had flown home from Germany on December 28th 1986.

October 17th 1989: the Loma Prieta Earthquake causes massive damage in San Francisco and Oakland. I was watching pregame activities of game 3 of the World Series between the A’s and Giants on television when it happened.

November 9th 1989: The Berlin Wall Fell. In November of 1986 we had been to East Berlin and like most Americans never thought that we would see this day.

August 2nd 1990: Iraq Invades Kuwait: At time few people believe it well end in war. I was deputy course leader for Army Chaplain Officer Basic Course, tell my classmates to get ready to go to war.

December 31st 1991: The Soviet Union is dissolved.

April 19th 1993: FBI and other Federal Law Enforcement personnel using Combat Engineering Vehicles from the 111th Engineer Battalion, the unit that I serve as a Chaplain assault the Branch Davidian compound outside Waco Texas. Davidian leader David Koresh and dozens of followers die in fire and shoot out.

June 17th 1994:  Police arrest O. J. Simpson after nationally televised low speed chase charging him with murder in the death of his wife Nicole and Ronald Goldman. NBC splits screen between NBA championship series game between Houston Rockets and New York Knicks and the chase. I watch in back of M577 Command Vehicle on 9 inch television in the field at Fort Hood.

August 12th 1994: Baseball strike cancels season, playoffs and Worlds Series.

April 19th 1995: Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols blow up Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building

January 26th 1998: Bill Clinton states that “I want you to listen to me. I’m going to say this again: I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.”

December 31st 1999: The world awaits the end of life as we know it due to the Y2K flaw sthat supposedly causes computers to malfunction and bring calamity to the earth.

January 1st 2000:  People including me wake up from hangovers to find that computers still work.

September 11th 2001: Al Qaeda terrorists hijack four commercial airliners crashing two into the World Trade Center Towers in New York collapsing them and one into the Pentagon. A fourth is brought down by passengers before it can reach Washington DC and its target, the US Capital killing 2976 people and injuring another 6000+. I am at Camp LeJeune North Carolina and remained locked down on base the next 4 days.

March 19th 2003: US and Allies launch attack on Iraq known as Operation Iraqi Freedom to remove Saddam Hussein from power and disarm his stocks of weapons of mass destruction. I am assigned to USS Hue City and the ship is in dry dock. The rest is history.

I also saw a lot of baseball mostly from afar, Pete Rose’s epic hit, Cal Ripken’s consecutive games record, Nolan Ryan’s 5000th strike out and 7th no-hitter as well as all of the now steroid tainted home run records including Barry Bond’s 756th home run which I saw live in a chow hall in Baghdad.

Somehow it is all worth it. Judy has not divorced me although I have probably given her reason on more than one occasion to do so and I love what I do and the people that I get to serve. It really is amazing to look back and think about all the events that I have either witnessed or been a part of in the military as well as all of the great people that I have been associated with. Those friendships and relationships mean more than about anything to me and I am grateful to God and to Judy, my family and all of my friends who have helped me, sometimes in very dark times to go as far and as long as I have in both the Army and Navy.

I was selected for promotion to Commander in June and confirmed by the Senate on August 23rd. I now am about to enter a new phase of life, military service and ministry as the supervisory Chaplain at Naval Hospital Camp LeJeune North Carolina.  Lord knows what the future hold, but whatever happens I feel that things will be fine.

I hope that whatever you do that you will experience good things and be able to look back in life and say “wow that was something else.” So here is to all of us and the long strange trips that we embark upon in life.  In the words of Lou Gehrig, “I am the luckiest man alive.”

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Baseball, History, Military, Tour in Iraq, US Navy

Class Acts in Baseball: Tommy Lasorda

“Listen, if you start worrying about the people in the stands, before too long you’re up in the stands with them.” Tommy Lasorda

I have had the privilege of meeting some great baseball players and managers over my lifetime beginning back in 1970 when my dad would take us to see the Angels at Anaheim Stadium.  One manager who I think is a class act is Dodger’s great and hall of fame manager Tommy Lasorda.  Despite the fact that he “bleeds Dodger Blue” and is forever associated with mortal rival of my Giants, I have always liked him.  It really began when the Abbess of the Abby Normal and I moved to the San Fernando Valley to attend California State University at Northridge in 1980.

Money was tight so we did not get to see many games while in school.  Television for us was the old 13 inch black and white TV’s, until Judy’s dad had her come home to pick up a new 13 inch color TV that he had bought for her dorm room.  Neither of us had cable but the Dodgers and Angels were frequently on either local or national stations so I did get my baseball fix.  In doing so I got to watch a great manager in action.  He always seemed to have some nugget of practical down to earth wisdom that made sense, especially in leadership and dealing with people.   He still has a knack for it and he is gracious when you meet him.   He is a very real person who has despite his “Dodgerism” managed to find a soft spot in my heart.  I can relate to him, he speaks in my kind of language and a lot of his leadership and managerial philosophy and approach to people are similar to mine.  Of course this is something that has taken me a long time to figure out having played around with various approaches throughout my life.  Lasorda is simply himself; he is a regular guy who is comfortable with himself.  I think that is one of the big things that has made a difference in my life.  I am finally comfortable with whom I am and want to be the best at being me and doing what I do, whatever that may be.  One of the keys for me is to I just have to good at being me and who I am within my calling and vocation as a Priest, chaplain and writer.

I remember back in 2003 as I was waiting for a Jacksonville Suns game to begin, the Suns at the time being the Southern League AA affiliate of the Dodgers.  Mr. Lasorda walked right in front of me as he came off of the field.  I looked up from whatever I was doing and realized that I had seen a legend.  I was awestruck, a man who I held in such esteem walks right by me. I had always wanted his autograph but even now I am hesitant to just walk up to someone and ask as I try to respect their space.  At Harbor Park I have gotten to meet some of the players charting the games and some of the scouts and collect some autographs always being respectful of them and letting them know if it is for the Baseball Shrine in my kitchen and dining room or if I am having signed for someone else, usually sick kids in the hospital that I work at.  So I sat and kind of brooded, according to the Abbess I am quite good at brooding even before I came back from Iraq.  I guess I brood well so I sat in my seat wanting to go up and ask him to sign the baseball that I had, but not feeling like I should.  About that time an usher that I knew came up, tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Mr. Lasorda will sign your ball for you.”  I looked at him funny and said “Really?”  He said yes and with that I went over to where Mr. Lasorda was sitting and said “Mr. Lasorda I was going to college in Los Angeles when you managed the Dodgers to the Worlds Series win over the Yankees.  I would be honored if you would sign this ball.  He looked up at me, took the ball, signed it and then shook my hand.  I felt like a kid again, but then when don’t I feel like a kid at a ball game?

The ball is now in a case displayed with other signed baseballs and memorabilia in my dining room.  It is a connection to a classy man who always managed to inspire me.  He was also true to his word: “ALWAYS give an autograph when somebody asks you.”

Tonight at Harbor Park I saw the Tides win a vital game against the Gwinnett Braves and in the process paid off the 1967 signed Willie Mays baseball card that Marty the Card Dealer had for me and had the baseball that I carry every day at work signed by Tides pitcher Chris Waters who was charting the game.  Elliott the Usher and his lovely bride Robin celebrated their 42nd wedding anniversary tonight, neither look old enough to have that much time in service in their marriage.  If they were not from Massachusetts but Appalachia I might think that their parents had married them off when they were 10.  Congratulations to these wonderful folks and many more.

Peace,  Steve+

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Going to War: Flying Into Baghdad and a Blast from the Past

050Outside the Al Faw Palace, Camp Victory the HQ of US Forces and Former Haunt of Saddam Hussein, the Palace was Named after the Victory of the Iraqis over the Iranians on the Al Faw Peninsula toward the end of the Iran-Iraq War.  The Palace sits in the middle of a lake

We made the trip from Camp Virginia to the Ali Al Salim airbase to catch our flight to Baghdad.  As usual there was the seabag drag to the waiting baggage trucks, an accountability formation in the blazing sun and the shuffle, this time in full protective gear to our buses.  Riding in a foreign tour bus in full “battle rattle” is even more uncomfortable than the regular ride.  Packed tightly into the buses the air conditioning of which did little to help after coming in out of the heat, we took our places jammed into the bus and once again with armed personnel in the bus and convoy escorts as we pulled out of the high security entry control point at Camp Virginia and drove to Ali Al Salim.  The trip was uneventful and rather boring as there is not much to see between the two bases except sand and occasional nondescript buildings.

Ali Al Salim is a large Kuwaiti and American air base and logistics hub for air movement operations in the Arabian Gulf.  We arrived there and once again formed up, went through a staging area where were we were able to pick up some water from one of the ubiquitous pallets of bottled water and waited inside the terminal.  Some folks grounded their packs and used them as pillows or recliners, others found seats in the waiting area and others looked around to see how the Air Force lived.  A couple of TVs set to AFN played as we chatted, wandered or dozed.  It was not long before we were moved to yet another staging area and began to get our aircraft briefing and manifested for the flight.  Our group that had began the trip at Fort Jackson was a lot smaller now as the sailors who had gone on to the Horn of Africa, Afghanistan and those assigned to Kuwait were no longer with us.  As we trundled down the tarmac we were guided into position directly behind the aircraft.  We filed into a waiting C-17 Globemaster and sat down in airline style passenger seats which can be added or subtracted by in 10 passenger pallets as needed for the particular mission.  Additional permanent seats lined the bulkhead.  Our gear was loaded at the aft end of the aircraft as we took our seats.  We pretty much filled the seating which at maximum load is 134 passengers and we waited for the aircraft to load.  A loadmaster came through to check that we all were wearing our personal protective gear and had our seat belt fastened.  The C-17 unlike many military aircraft has at least an asthmatic air conditioning capability once the cargo door is closed.   Unfortunately when the door is open it is pretty much like whatever conditions are outside, in our case 130 degree heat with the exception that the sun was not beating down on our heads and that there was no air movement.  It was just a tad hot inside the aircraft.  Eventually the cargo ramp and door were closed and the aircraft prepared for takeoff.  With the door closed we began to feel a little bit of relief from the air conditioning.

For a large cargo aircraft the C-17 has a pretty smooth take off, the four Pratt and Whitney PW2040 engines producing 40,400 pounds of thrust each pushing the hug aircraft which is capable of transporting an M1A2 Abrams Main Battle Tank or 3 Bradley Fighting vehicles into the blue Kuwaiti sky.  In a few minutes the pilot announced that we had crossed into Iraqi Airspace and that it would take us about 45 minutes to arrive in Baghdad.  When the announcement was made there was an almost collective deep breath knowing that we were now going into the war, this was no longer in our future we were there.  I could feel the adrenalin being released into my body and can remember how quickly I became instantly aware of every noise or movement on the aircraft.

Arriving in the skies above Baghdad International Airport our aircraft circled and received permission to land.  Due to the possibility of enemy fire the approach to airports in Iraq is not like you would experience at a commercial airport in the United States, Europe or most other parts of the world.  Unlike most airports where there is a long and slow approach to the runway the descent is a steep spiral as the aircraft comes down from altitude to land.  If the airfield is under fire the aircraft will not land.  Once we were down we had been briefed to be able to move at a brisk pace in case the airfield came under fire, something that was happening on a relatively frequent basis in 2007.

The tail ramp and door opened as if they were a gigantic rearward facing mouth, or maybe like one of those weird fish that have teeth in their ass.  I think I remember some weird science show that talked about such a creature, if there isn’t one there should be.  As soon as the ass-backward maw opened a rush of hot air killed any semblance of what had been an almost bearable air conditioned compartment. Gear in hand we filed out of the aircraft heading for the ramp. Just for your information, it is easy to slip on these ramps; I came close to such an event but caught myself just in time so I didn’t go ass over tip down the ramp.  Nelson certainly would have made me pay for such a breach of protocol.  As we left the aircraft a ground crewman directed us out of the jet blast area and another led us to the terminal.  At the terminal we were greeted by Staff Sergeant Assi, the Chaplain assistant for the Iraq Assistance Group and an RP assigned to the Multi-National Corps Iraq Chaplain Office.  Sergeant Assi was a mobilized reservist  originally from Nigeria.  At least here our gear was palletized and was brought to a gear staging area.  Once it arrived we gathered a total of 4 EOD Issue super-seabags, two regular seabags, our packs, Nelson’s rifle case and my computer bag.  We were assisted by Sergeant Assi and the RP who helped load our stuff into the back of the white Chevy SUV that they were driving.  One thing about military vehicles in Iraq that are not tactical vehicles  is that there is a strong chance that they are the color white. The white paint contractor at GM must be making a killing on vehicles destined for the Middle East.  Once we were checked off the manifest as having a ride were able to depart walking out through rows of Califonia and Jersey barriers.

The ride was interesting as we wove our way around the ever present California and Jersey Barriers as well as “HESCO’s,” which are large wire and canvas containers standing anywhere from5 to 8 feet tall filled with dirt, rock and sand.  All of these are designed to minimze the effects of incoming ordnace by preventing the explosive force of them and teh associated shrapnel from spreading outward. We transitioned through a number of checkpoints where armed soldiers kept a wary eye out on our way to Camp Victory.  Victory which is the home of Multi-National Force and Multi-National Corps Iraq lies next to  Camp Liberty.  They are on the north side of Baghdad International Airport.  As we looked across the runway the only aircraft visible were military transports and contracted cargo carriers.  Unlike a major airport its size anywhere else in the world Baghdad did not have regularly scheduled airline service from any major carrier yet.   We wound our way around the compounds which blended together almost as one, much like the suburbs of the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles.  Passing palaces and villas that ringed a lake in the center of the compound we continued on.  In the center of the lake connected by a causeway sat the massive Al Faw Palace, built by Saddam Hussein to commemorate Iraq’s victory in retaking the Al Faw Peninsula at the close of the Iran-Iraq War, a victory that resulted in Iran deciding to cut a peace deal with the Iraqis.  Despite a Shi’te majority in Iraq there is no love lost between Iraqis and Iranians.  Iraqi Arabs refer to the Iranians almost contemptuously as the Persians. This goes back centuries to the times when Persian occupied parts of Iraq and treated the Arabs badly.

We turned down an asphalt road which quickly became a packed clay and gravel road over which a tanker truck sprayed water to keep the dust down.  into a pulled up to a wooden building near a tent city where personnel coming in and out of theater were billeted at Camp Victory.  Row upon row of tents, each surrounded by a HESCO barriers were to our right. The ground was a mixture of hardened clay and rock which when driven over or walked upon emitted a cloud of dust which Sergeant Assi told us turned to a sticky goo which is almost impossible to get off of boot when it rains. Overhead helicopter gunships patrolled the skies occasionally flying quickly to the sounds of gunfire just off the base not far from where we were. In the background we could hear the sound of heavy machine guns and automatic weapons.  Not far from our billeting area sat a Navy Manned CWIS, or as we call tehm Sea Whiz.  This is a 20mm gatling gun which directed by radar is designed to shoot down incoming missiles or rockets. Nelson and I looked at each other and almost on cue he said, “Chaps I think there might be a war going on out there.”  I looked back and said, “Don’t you know it partner.”   The area to the east of the tent city was bordered by a line or shower trailers and heads, all protected by the large 15 foot high California barriers.  To the north of the tents lay a large Dining facility or as the Army calls them, a DFAC.  After getting signed in we drew an odd mixture of linen for our beds. I ended up with a couple of sheets, pillow cases and a multi-colored comforter. If I recall Nelson got some superhero on his blanket, which suits him fine as he is a big comic fan and can tell you more than you can imagine about all the different super-heroes. Instead of being together Nelson was assigned to a tent for NCOs and I ended up further away in a tent for field grade officers.

Once we had secured our stuff we met back together and walked to the DFAC for dinner.  This DFAC was not as large as it appeared as it had a large protective roof designed to keep mortar shells and rockets from impacting the building itself.  Two Ugandan soldiers working for security on the base checked our ID’s after which we washed our hands as we entered the building.

Upon entry we were almost overwhelmed by the amount of food present.  These DFAC’s were definitely feeders and the number of soldiers that should have been wearing wide-load signs across their asses was amazing.  But then who could blame them, many were on a second or third trip to Iraq of 12-15 months each. Maybe for the first time they were not in some isolated FOB with a poor quality of life, in a place which all things considered safe except for the occasional incoming rockets and mortars.  The quality of the food was better than in Kuwait as was the dinning area.

As I was finishing stuffing my gear underneath my bed a young Army Major came into the tent.  He looked at me and I looked at him as if we had met before and we greeted on another politely.  I saw his shoulder patch which identified him as a member of the Maryland Army National Guard.  We struck up a conversation and I asked to what unit he was assigned.  He replied  that he worked at the National Guard Bureau and had been attached to the Maryland unit as an operations officer for the deployment.  He remarked that I looked somewhat familiar and I asked if he had ever served in the Virginia National Guard.  He replied that he had and I asked what unit.  His response about floored me “1st Battalion 170th Infantry” located at Fort Belvoir, Virginia just south of D.C.  I told him that I too had been in the battalion and then he figured out where he knew me from.  With a look of near amazement on his face he replied “You were our Chaplain back in 1995!”   I patently acknowledged this fact  while he continued saying that he had been the TOW Anti-Tank Missile  Platoon Leader in our Headquarters Company. Our conversation meandered through old times at AP. Hill Virginia, talking about our careers, people that we knew and life in general.  After a couple of hours we both realized that we needed to take care of a few personal things to settle in for the night.  Eventually my old lieutenant fell asleep and I began what was to become a persistent pattern of insomnia which plagues me to this day.  Since I couldn’t get to sleep I walked through the darkness to the DFAC which had a late meal.  I was standing  in line amid a few Americans, some British soldiers and contractors when Nelson appeared beside me. He said “Hey boss, can’t you sleep?”  I said “nope” he said “me too, so I thought I would get some chow in this place.”  We had our meal together and when we were done picked our way through the darkness over the rough ground to our tents aided by our red lens flashlights.  After looking for about 5 minutes we found Nelson’s place and I headed off to my hooch only becoming disoriented once. Patently the Deity Herself must have kept me from tripping on a tent rope or some hole in the ground and I arrived back in my place at about 0145 and finally got to sleep.

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A Trip to the Home World, Tithing on the Speed Limit, a Tooth Joins the Ranks of the Undead and a Giant No Hitter

Yesterday we made a trip back to my family’s home world, also known as Huntington West Virginia. As far as home worlds go it is probably on no one’s top ten lists, probably ranking about as high as Qo’noS, the Klingon home world in terms of places that you would go to on holiday.  However it is my family’s ancestral home for the past 200 plus years since coming from Scotland, Ireland and France.  Now I was not born in West Virginia, though my parents were born there as were three of my four grandparents.  I was actually the first of my generation born outside of the state as my dad was still in the beginning stages of his Navy career and was stationed at Naval Air Station Alameda California and I was born at Oak Knoll Naval Hospital in California.  Even so Huntington was a place that served as a touchstone for our lives as my dad was transferred from one place to another on the west coast.  We would return almost every summer, usually travelling by train in the days before Amtrack.  Back then three of four grandparents as well as one set of great grandparents we still alive along with a butt-load of aunts, uncles and cousins.  In 4th grade we lived there while my dad found us suitable housing in Long Beach California after being transferred from Washington State. That was the year of three schools and four teachers for me, but I digress.

It was during that year that my great grandfather died and my grandfather was diagnosed with a golf ball sized yet benign brain tumor.  It was also the adjustment form the kinder and gentler west coast schools to a much stricter standard in Huntington.  I was also as we had come in from Long Beach I was nicknamed “City Slicker” and had to fight for my life.  A couple of school yard brawls later which I cannot say that I won but in which I gave good account of myself I was accepted so far as a “City Slicker” could be.  The thing was though that I had lived in a town of only about 8,000 inhabitants for 4 years prior to moving to Long beach for just over a month.  The kids in Huntington were far more “City Slicker” than little old me.  I had poor penmanship because in Kindergarten my teacher took the pencil out of my left hand and stuck it in my right hand.  This was of no comfort when my teacher whacked my hand with a steel ruler since my penmanship was so bad.  What good this did I have no idea except to maybe set me back two more years.  I don’t think I ever left the dining room table due to the amount of homework that she assigned.  During my time in Huntington we lived across from the old Fairfield Stadium where the Marshall University football team played.  I saw the team work out in the spring practices of 1970, the same team killed in the plane crash on 14 November of that year.  We returned to Long Beach that summer where when I started 5th grade I was known as “Kentucky Fried.”  Despite that I was happy to get back out west.  After my Clinical Pastoral Care Education Residency in Dallas I got my first full time hospital chaplain job at Cabell-Huntington Hospital which I held as a full time contractor until I was mobilized for the Bosnia mission in 1996.  During this time and while I was deployed Judy got to know my relatives better than me.  I went into the Navy in West Virginia and due to this we remain West Virginia residents for Tax and Voting purposes.  We came back to get our driver’s licenses renewed and see our dear friend Patty.

The visit this time has been pretty miserable for me as last night the tooth which was recently excavated for the second time as discovered to be cracked beyond repair decided to come back from the dead.  I didn’t get to sleep until about 0230 and woke up again at 0415 before getting back to sleep at 0600. The alarm rank at 0700 and after getting Judy up, we talked and I went back to bed where I slept until 1230.  It took 2 Ultram, 1 800 mg Motrin and a couple of beers with lunch to get the pain under control.  Tonight I will probably do the same and go to bed early.  In the morning I will have to call the Dental Department at the hospital to see what they want me to do.  We don’t travel back until Wednesday and I don’t know if I can take much more of this.  It seems to me that my tooth has taken a page from Dracula and joined the ranks of the undead.  This really sucks like a Hoover.

The trip here was long, we had the usual snarl on I-64  from Newport News until past Williamsburg, and thankfully the HRBT was not congested.  We picked up more slow traffic between Staunton and Lexington.  Now I am bothered by people who drive slower than the posted speed limit in the fast lane.  I trained on the Los Angeles Freeways and the German Autobahn.  My view is that the speed limit is a suggestion for the less skilled drivers and those who have trained on high speed roads should be exempt from it.  Now I am not a total scofflaw. I do not drive unsafely, weave in and out of traffic or fail to signal.  Likewise I know about how fast I can go without drawing the attention of the State Police.  Since radar detectors are illegal in Virginia one has to become very adept at this cat and mouse game and I am amazed at the number of people who get pulled over because they don’t understand the simple art of nuance.  In most states you can safely drive about 10 percent over the speed limit on the Interstate without getting ticketed.  This is a little different on the major travel holidays in Virginia where there is about a 5 mph tolerance.  I do this routinely and refer to it as “tithing” on the speed limit.  Of course there are times that I need to give more than my tithe and go a bit faster.  Our GPS “Lilith” has a conscious about such things and would alarm when I did this forcing me to silence her.

There was also cause for rejoicing as the first half of the baseball season came to an end.  The Norfolk Tides are tied for fist in the International League South, the San Francisco Giants have surprised everyone by playing great ball with solid pitching and now are in second place in the National League West and currently have the 3rd best record in the league behind the Evil Dodgers and one percentage point behind the East leading Phillies.  To really make things great Giants pitcher Jonathan Sanchez pitched a no-hitter against the San Diego Padres.  It was almost a perfect game save for a booted ground ball and error by Giants Third Baseman Juan Uribe with 1 out in the bottom of the 8th and Center Fielder Aaron Rowland saved the no-hitter with a leaping catch at the wall for the second out in the top of the ninth.  Both of these show that even when a pitcher pitches a no-hitter it is a team effort.  I had seen the next to last Giant no-hitter in person with my dad and brother back on August 24th 1975 when Ed Halicki shut down the New York Mets at Candlestick.  Not a bad way for the Giants to go into the All-Star break.

Anyway it is time to self medicate for the night and try to get some sleep.  Pray for me a sinner.

Peace, Steve

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