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Happy 240th Birthday Marines!

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today is one of these days where I just want to wish people well. Those men and women are those of the United States Marine Corps, with whom I have spent almost ten years of my thirty-three year military career assigned to or in support of as a chaplain. Today is the 240th anniversary of the establishment of the Marine Corps and its founding at Tun Tavern, in Philadelphia. Tonight I wish all those who have served past, present and future, especially those who I have served alongside a happy birthday. Today I will have the privilege of celebrating the 240th Birthday of the Marine Corps here at the Joint Forces Staff College.

On November 10th 1775 the Continental Congress passed a resolution that stated:

Resolved, that two Battalions of Marines be raised consisting of one Colonel, two Lieutenant Colonels, two Majors & Officers as usual in other regiments, that they consist of an equal number of privates with other battalions; that particular care be taken that no persons be appointed to office or enlisted into said Battalions, but such as are good seamen, or so acquainted with maritime affairs as to be able to serve to advantage by sea, when required. That they be enlisted and commissioned for and during the present war with Great Britain and the colonies, unless dismissed by Congress. That they be distinguished by the names of the first & second battalions of American Marines, and that they be considered a part of the number, which the continental Army before Boston is ordered to consist of.

Today is the 239th birthday of the United States Marine Corps. The history of the Marine Corps is one of the most fascinating of any armed service in the world. Starting out as a tiny force attached to Navy ships and shipyards the Corps has gained prominence as one of the premier fighting forces ever assembled. Flexible and deployable anywhere in the world on short notice the Marine Corps has seen action in “every place and clime” and continues to serve around the world.

In 1775 a committee of the Continental Congress met at Philadelphia’s Tun Tavern to draft a resolution calling for two battalions of Marines able to fight for independence at sea and on shore.  The resolution was approved on November 10, 1775, officially forming the Continental Marines. The first order of business was to appoint Samuel Nicholas as the Commandant of the newly formed Marines.

Robert Mullan the owner and proprietor of the said Tun Tavern became Nicholson’s first captain and recruiter. They began gathering support and were ready for action by early 1776.  They served throughout the War for Independence and like the Navy they were disbanded in April 1783 and reconstituted as the Marine Corps in 1798.

The Marines served on the ships of the Navy in the Quasi-war with France, against the Barbary Pirates where a small group of 8 Marines and 500 Arabs under Lieutenant Presley O’Bannon made a march of 500 miles across the Libyan Desert to lay siege Tripoli but only reached Derna. The action is immortalized in the Marine Hymn as well as the design of the Marine Officer’s “Mameluke” Sword. They served in the War of 1812, the Seminole Wars and in the Mexican-American War where in the storming of the on Chapultepec Palace they continued to build and enduring legacy. In the months leading up to the Civil War they played a key role at home and abroad.  In October 1859 Colonel Robert E. Lee led Marines from the Marine Barracks Washington DC to capture John Brown and his followers who had captured the Federal Armory at Harper’s Ferry.

The Corps would serve through the Civil War and on into the age of American Expansion serving in the Spanish American War in the Philippines, Puerto Rico and Cuba where they seized Guantanamo Bay at the battle of Cuzco Wells.  The would serve in China and be a key component of the international force that defended foreign diplomats during the Boxer Revolt as well as the international force that would relieve the diplomatic compound in Peking (Beijing).  In World War One the Marines stopped the German advance at Chateau Thierry and cemented their reputation as an elite fighting force at Belleau Wood where legend has it that the Germans nicknamed them Teufelhunden or Devil Dogs, a name that they Marines have appropriated with great aplomb.

During the inter-war years the Marines were quite active in the Caribbean and Asia and also developed amphibious tactics and doctrine that would be put to use in the Pacific Campaign.  During the war the Marines served in all theaters but won enduring fame at Wake Island, Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Iwo Jima, Okinawa and numerous other battles in the Pacific war. Marine Aviators flew in some the most desperate actions in the war to support the Navy and amphibious operations ashore.

After the war the Truman Administration sought to eliminate the Marine Corps but the Corps was saved by the efforts of Americans across the country and Marine supporters in Congress.  That was a good thing because the Marines were instrumental in keeping the North Koreans from overrunning the South during the Korean War on the Pusan Perimeter, turned the tide at Inchon and helped decimate Communist Chinese forces at the Chosin Reservoir.  After Korea the Marines would serve around the World in the Caribbean and Lebanon and in Vietnam where at Da Nang Keh Sanh, Hue City, Con Thien fighting the North Vietnamese and their Viet Cong allies.  The Marines took the initiative to implement innovative counter insurgency measures such as the Combined Action Platoons which enjoyed tremendous success until they were shut down by the Army high command.  These lessons would serve the Marines well in the new millennium during the Anbar Awakening in Iraq which changed the course of that insurgency and war.

The Marines would again be involved around the World after Vietnam serving in the Cold War, in Lebanon and the First Gulf War which was followed by actions in Somalia, the Balkans and Haiti. After the attacks of September 11th 2001 the Marines were among the first into Afghanistan helping to drive the Taliban from power. In the Iraq Campaign the Marines had a leading role both in the invasion and in the campaign in Al Anbar Province.  After the Marines were withdrawn from Iraq, they became a central player in Afghanistan where until last month they were engaged around Khandahar and in Helmand Province. Today, Marines are deployed in support of many operation around the world and as one of the elite military organizations in the world continue to “fight our country’s battles on the air and land and sea.” The Corps under General John LeJeune institutionalized the celebration of the Marine Corps Birthday and their establishment at Tun Tavern. General LeJeune issued this order which is still read at every Marine Corps Birthday Ball or observance:

MARINE CORPS ORDER No. 47 (Series 1921)
HEADQUARTERS
U.S. MARINE CORPS Washington, November 1, 1921

The following will be read to the command on the 10th of November, 1921, and hereafter on the 10th of November of every year. Should the order not be received by the 10th of November, 1921, it will be read upon receipt.

On November 10, 1775, a Corps of Marines was created by a resolution of Continental Congress. Since that date many thousand men have borne the name “Marine”. In memory of them it is fitting that we who are Marines should commemorate the birthday of our corps by calling to mind the glories of its long and illustrious history.

The record of our corps is one which will bear comparison with that of the most famous military organizations in the world’s history. During 90 of the 146 years of its existence the Marine Corps has been in action against the Nation’s foes. From the Battle of Trenton to the Argonne, Marines have won foremost honors in war, and in the long eras of tranquility at home, generation after generation of Marines have grown gray in war in both hemispheres and in every corner of the seven seas, that our country and its citizens might enjoy peace and security.

In every battle and skirmish since the birth of our corps, Marines have acquitted themselves with the greatest distinction, winning new honors on each occasion until the term “Marine” has come to signify all that is highest in military efficiency and soldierly virtue.

This high name of distinction and soldierly repute we who are Marines today have received from those who preceded us in the corps. With it we have also received from them the eternal spirit which has animated our corps from generation to generation and has been the distinguishing mark of the Marines in every age. So long as that spirit continues to flourish Marines will be found equal to every emergency in the future as they have been in the past, and the men of our Nation will regard us as worthy successors to the long line of illustrious men who have served as “Soldiers of the Sea” since the founding of the Corps.

JOHN A. LEJEUNE,
Major General
Commandant

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Back on the Diamond: Padre Steve takes the Field

“Fundamentals are the most valuable tools a player can possess. Bunt the ball into the ground. Hit the cutoff man. Take the extra base. Learn the fundamentals.” Dick Williams

“Be on time. Bust your butt. Play smart. And have some laughs along the way.” Whitey Herzog

“I could field as long as I can remember, but hitting has been a struggle all my life.” Brooks Robinson

“Am I still in uniform? Then I ain’t retired.” Pete Rose

I can still hear my dad’s voice every time I pick up a bat, glove or ball.  Today was no different. At the age of 51 I stepped back onto a softball field to play for the Naval Hospital team on a Marine Corps Base. It is the first time since seminary nearly 20 years ago that I have had the chance to play in an organized league. I was a bottom of the 4th inning defensive substitute and went out to a familiar position, Right Field.  I have always whether in baseball or softball been a utility player and play pretty well on defense though my arm doesn’t have the power or range that it had 20 or 30 years ago and I have never been much of a hitter. Basically I have a lifetime average somewhere around the Mendoza line and though a decent number of my hits were doubles, more due to where I hit them than how far I hit them I only had one season where my hitting came together.  That season ended early when I was run over at home plate by a player that ploughed into me like Pete Rose did to Ray Fosse in the 1970 All-Star Game.  I landed on my throwing hand and broke my arm just above the wrist, so much for a season in the sun.

Today was a good day. It was just good to be back out on the diamond even if I was a mid game substitute.  Despite my age I am not the oldest player on the team, there is one player a number of years older than me and one just a bit younger by a couple of years.  Unlike the Marine teams we also have some of our civilian employee’s means that we are older in comparison to the Marine teams.  Even so most of the other players are in the 20-30 year age range.  The team is pretty good and has been in the playoffs and is expected to be there again, although tonight was one of those nights where little went right.  Basically it came down to not doing the fundamentals of defense and hitting.  We lost but have games on Wednesday and Thursday.

As I said at the beginning I still hear the voice of my dad in my head every time I step onto the field. My dad was a man who believed in teaching the fundamentals of the game and drilled me constantly in our back yard doing infield drills, playing pepper and teaching me to pitch. Unfortunately he did little to teach me about hitting except to turn me from being a lefty to a righty. One of the last conversations that we had before his mind slipped into the clutches of Alzheimer’s dementia and he could no longer recognized me was when I told him that I heard his voice telling me to “get your butt down” “stay in front of the ball” “follow the ball into your glove” “run out every play” “never step on the foul line going on or off the field” “go into every base hard” “always know the count and how many runners are on base” and “hustle every play.”  He was a big fan of Pete Rose, “Charlie Hustle” and he drilled that kind of ethic into my head. I wish that I had continued to play baseball rather that dabbling in Ice Hockey and Football during Junior High and High School; I might have done pretty well.

Yet in that last visit I told him that he never taught me to hit. He told me that hitting was a gift and not many people could do it well. Thus I languish as a hitter to this day. I came to the plate one time grounding weakly into a fielder’s choice to end the top of the 6th inning though I dug hard and ran the ball out just in case the fielder went to first or if an error was made.  At the same time I hustled on every play. As dad told me I ran on and off the field, made sure that I didn’t step onto the foul line, kept my situational awareness and made sure that I was where I needed to be to make plays.  When the game was over I felt good. Here I was a 51 year old man playing a game with men who for the most part were a lot younger than me.  Tomorrow is another game.

Over the weekend I plan on going to a batting cage near the island hermitage to work out my hitting mechanics. I know what I did wrong on that weak grounder but the only way to correct it is more at bats and I won’t get that many as a mid-game substitute.  What I don’t want to say about my hitting is what Andy Van Slyke said “I have an Alka Seltzer bat. You know, plop plop fizz fizz. When the pitcher sees me walking up there they say, ‘Oh what a relief it is.'”

I was happy with my range in the outfield as well as my speed getting to first base.  I will also put my ball return net together and practice some throwing and infield work and probably use my “heavy ball” to build up my arm strength.

God I love this game.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Background to “The Pacific” Part One: The Guadalcanal Campaign and the Beginning of Joint Operations

The Battle of Bloody Ridge

Note: This is the first of a series that I will post on the campaign in the Pacific.  Some are older articles that I wrote for my Masters Degree program and others will be new material dealing with specific topics in this long neglected campaign.  I was watching the second episode this evening and found it quite powerful…so much that I was in tears as the Marines of 1st Marine Division and John Basilone came aboard the troop transport and went to the Mess Deck.  I have served with the Marines for around six years including with Marine advisers in Iraq and been the Chaplain for the USS HUE CITY which is named after the Battle of Hue City.  I love the Marines and this series has touched me already.  I hope everyone watches it on HBO.

The Guadalcanal Campaign and the Beginning of Joint Operations

Marines on Guadalcanal

The Guadalcanal campaign was the first experiment by the United States of conducting a “joint” campaign in modern warfare involving Naval and Naval Air, Ground combat units, Army air assets and amphibious operations. The campaign involved numerous land, sea and air battles. It was under the command of Admiral Nimitz as CINCPACFLT and included commanders for ground, air and sea forces engaged.  For brevity and simplicity sake I will discuss the campaign and sea even though they are interconnected with the sea and air campaigns directly affecting the outcome of the land campaign.

Designated OPERATION WATCHTOWER and aptly called OPERATION SHOESTRING the campaign was launched on short notice, approved on 2 July the commanders of the operation first learned of it on 7 July. Utilizing the 1st Marine Division, which would later be reinforced by the Americal Division, landed on Guadalcanal and the neighboring island of Tulagi on 7 August.  The Marines took Tulagi after a brief but bloody fight and the few Japanese troops on Guadalcanal fled inland allowing the Marines to seize the airfield.  Unfortunately, the commander of the supporting US carrier task force, Admiral Frank Fletcher fearing danger to his carriers and withdrew following the landings. The forces in direct support were surprised by a Japanese cruiser force under Admiral Mikawa losing 3 American and 1 Australian heavy cruiser in one of the worst American naval defeats in history at the Battle of Savo Island. The next morning the transports, many still full of supplies left the Marines.  Admiral Fletcher’s action, which left the Marines without air cover and carrier support gave the Marines a new term, still in use today, for being left high and dry: “to be Fletchered.”

Japanese dead of the Ichiki Detachment after the Battle of the Tenaru (Ilu) River

The Land Battles: The Japanese quickly responded sending in Naval Landing forces which went in light without all their troops or equipment. The Ichiki detachment was wiped out in the battle of the Tenaru (Ilu) river on 20 August.  The Kawaguchi detachment of 3,500 men landed in two groups, again short of men, material and equipment landed in the closing days of August and attempted to seize the now operational “Henderson” field on September 13 to 14th after one of its supporting units had been destroyed by the 1st Raider Battalion in a small amphibious assault.  Kawaguchi’s attack was disjointed and his units dispersed.  He was defeated in detail by the Marines in the Battle of “Edson’s ridge” or “Bloody Ridge.”

Chesty Puller

The Marines attacked and destroyed another Japanese force at the Mataniko river on 9 October.  The Marines were further reinforced by the 7th Marine Regiment while Kawaguchi was reinforced by the HQ of 17th Army under General Hyakutake who brought the 2nd Division onto the Island under the command of General Maruyama.  Kawaguchi would then be relieved and sent home following disagreements with Maruyama and his chief of staff prior to the next major Japanese attack which took place 23-25 October along the same ridgeline that Kawaguchi had assaulted. Though the Japanese now had 15,000 troops with good artillery support, the attacks were fierce but uncoordinated. Defended by 7th Marines under Chesty Puller as well as troops from the recently arrived Americal, the Marines again effectively destroyed the attacking Japanese force.

Sergeant John Basilone USMC with Medal of Honor

Despite additional reinforcements of the 38th Division, the Japanese, due to severe food, supply and ammunition shortages would not make any more major attempts to take the airfield.  The Americans would shift to the offensive with the Army XIV Corps composed of the 25th Division, Americal Division and Second Marine Division under Major General Lawton J “Lightening Joe” Collins commanding in December.

The US Navy paid a heavy price for the victory at Guadalcanal. Here the USS Wasp sinks after being hit by Japanese torpedoes

The Sea Battles: The sea campaign in the waters surrounding Guadalcanal would be marked by some of the bloodiest sea battles in the history of the US Navy.  So many ships from both navies would be sunk offshore that the waters would become known as “Ironbottom Sound.” Following the previously mentioned “Battle of Savo Island” the Americans lost the carrier Saratoga to torpedo damage and the Wasp was sunk while escorting a convoy. In the Battle of Eastern Solomon’s of 24 August the Americans have the Enterprise knocked out of action for 2 months and while sinking a Japanese light carrier and inflicting heavy aircraft losses on the Japanese. The Americans surprised a Japanese force on 11 October off Cape Esperance sinking a heavy cruiser and destroyer and heavily damaging a second heavy cruiser. The Japanese effort, now directed by Yamamoto brought battleships to support operations around Guadalcanal, including bombardments of the airfield on 13-14October in support of Maruyama. The attacks damaged but did not close Henderson field which was able to continue air support to the Marines and soldiers.  On 26 October a carrier engagement would be fought, the Battle of Santa Cruz Islands would be a tactical Japanese victory sinking the Hornet and damaging Enterprise, while losing no ships. Two Japanese carriers were damaged but they lost a large number of pilots and aircrews who could not be readily replaced. They also not succeed in their amphibious efforts to retake the island or Henderson field, gaining the Americans badly needed time.  On 13 November the Japanese attempted to repeat the bombardment of Henderson field but would be stopped from doing so by a task force under Admiral Daniel Callaghan.  The First Naval Battle of Guadalcanal cost the Japanese the battleship Hiei and two destroyers, additionally many of the transports bringing Japanese reinforcements would be sunk by aircraft from Henderson field and Enterprise.  The Americans lost 2 cruisers and 4 destroyers sunk and every other ship save the destroyer Fletcher damaged. Admiral Callaghan and Admiral Norman Scott, the victor of Cape Esperance were both killed.  The following night the Japanese would lose the battleship Kirishima to the USS Washington task group under the command of Admiral Willis Lee.  Further Japanese naval activity would be limited to attempts to reinforce the island with destroyers; during one of these operations on 29 November they would clash with a force of American cruisers and destroyers at Cape Tassafaronga, sinking 1 cruiser and badly damaging three more at the cost of one destroyer, but was unable to complete his supply run.  Though the Americans lost more total warships, the Japanese could not replace what they lost.

USAAF B-17E over the Solomons

Air Operations: The air operations would be decisive to the effort, land based aircraft of the Japanese played a key role in destroying some US shipping and sinking warships in waters off Guadalcanal however they could not maintain air superiority over the island which was maintained and increased by the Americans as Henderson field’s capacity grew and additional Army, navy and Marine aircraft were stationed there.  Naval air was extremely important in the sea battles around the island.

Beached and destroyed Japanese transport ship at Guadalcanal

Japanese Reaction: The Japanese reaction was one of dismay; they could not fulfill their promise to the emperor to retake the island.  They had lost many ships and aircraft as well as ground troops. From this time on the Japanese would go over to a strategic defensive in the Pacific.  Japanese losses were devastating as they could not be made up.

Importance for the Americans: This was important in a number of ways. For the navy it showed that they could defeat Japanese surface ships in night engagements and gave the navy great experience as it moved forward in the South and Central Pacific. American carrier air crews had become experienced and gained superiority over the Japanese.  On the ground the myth of the Japanese “superman” was destroyed, yet American commanders also began to appreciate the skill, endurance and tenacity of the Japanese soldier in future operations.

Importance for Joint Operations: The campaign also was a triumph for the Americans in the fact that they were able to overcome inter-service rivalries undertake a difficult operation against a stronger opponent far from major fleet logistics and support basis.  To be sure this was Joint Operations in its infancy and until the arrival of significant Army forces on the island to relieve the Marines was for the most part a Navy, Marine Corps and Army Air Corps operation.  When Major General Lawton “Lightning Joe” Collins assumed command of the island from Marine Major General Alexander Vandergrift it became a true-inter service operation and the beginning of Joint Operations.

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PRT’s PFA’s PFT’s APFT’s APRT’s and Whatever Else We Can Call a PT Test

crunches

Today was my time to take my Physical Readiness Test for the Navy.  I actually think that we call it a PFA or Physical Fitness Assessment, but nonetheless it is what in the old days we simply called a “PT Test.”  I have to say that I think that I did okay, despite a conscious decision not to push myself too hard and “strive for mediocrity” for the first time in my Navy career.  You will of course see that I had good reasons for this and that I wasn’t slacking too bad all things considered.

Now I have been doing PT tests  in one way shape or form for almost 28 years.   I started them back when I enlisted in the National Guard and concurrently began Army ROTC at UCLA back in 1981.  Back then the PT test was known as the Army Physical Fitness Test, or APFT.  It consisted then of push ups, sit ups and a 2 mile run and remained that way through my entire Army career.  As a young guy  I was good at the 2 mile run and killed the sit ups. Unfortunately the Army did and still does sit ups the worst way imaginable for your lower back.  You go all the way up and down and keep your hands behind your neck.   In the Army I usually did pretty good on the PT test but initially struggled with push ups.  I had not yet learned the importance of good form and was always psych’d out by them. Thus my scores for the push ups while satisfactory always dragged my overall score down. I finally started getting where I could just about reach the maximum for my age when the Army renamed the test and increased the numbers required to get the maximum score.  The new name was the Army Physical Readiness Test or APRT and the push up numbers went way up from 67 to I think it was 88 for the maximum score.  That sucked, I finally got where I could achieve the maximum and they raised the bar.  So for the rest of my Army career I pretty much resigned myself to the lower score despite doing what was previously the maximum number of push ups.

Then after 17 1/2 years in the Army I went over to the Navy.  I had to do the PRT, or the Physical Readiness Test.  The Navy test is similar to the Army but different.  I don’t know what the Army does now, except that they still do the push ups, sit ups and 2 mile run.  The Navy does push ups, curl ups and a mile and a half run.  The Navy numbers even at my age of 49 to get a “Outstanding” score are more than anything I had to do at a younger age in the Army.  The one and a half mile run is harder for me than the 2 mile run.  I am a distance runner.  When I am healthy, which I really have  not been since Iraq I run 5-8 miles.  Now I’m doing 3-4, not bad, but not what I want.  Just a few years ago I was doing half-marathons.  So a mile and a half to me is a sprint.  To get the maximum score I need to light the afterburners.  However after a lot of years of doing these things I have learned all about form and the nuances of how to do well, even the run, which when I am not injured a I can do in 10:00 to 10:00.  Not bad for an old guy.  When I was  at  EOD Group Two before I went to Iraq my RP2, Nelson Lebron and I smoked the test.  Afterward one of the EOD techs kiddingly asked Nelson “Dude, what kind of ‘roids is the chaplain on?”  The fact is that I love doing well and beating the young guys.  It has become a personal challenge.  Part of this is because I’m not young, and the other is I remember so many Army Chaplains who were physical wrecks who looked bad in uniform and had really poor physical conditioning.  Now there were fit chaplains but there were enough of the others to make the Corps look bad.  As a professional officer as well as a priest, I am 100% officer and 100% priest.  Kind of  a hypostatic union kind of thing going on here.

Now in addition to the Navy I have served two Fleet Marine Force tours and have my Fleet Marine Force Officer Qualification pin.  Part of the joy of serving with the Marines as a Navy Officer is getting to do their physical fitness test as an option to the Navy.  The Marines use pull ups instead of push ups, curl ups and a 3 mile run.  The run is actually my favorite of the three services.  My first mile is my warm up.  I hit my stride in the second and smoke the third.  I had to work hard at the pull ups but got where I could do enough to pass the Marine PFT with a “Class One” score.  The Marines have three levels of passing, Class one, two and three.  The Marines have recently added a Combat Fitness Test with all sorts of really tough stuff that guys might have to do in combat.  It does not look fun.

DMZ PTPT on the Korean DMZ March 2001

The penalty for failing the PT test in the Army, Marines or Navy is tough.  It can stop promotion or even get one kicked out of the service.  Height and weight standards too are important.  You don’t want to be flagged as overweight.  If you fail the PT test or bust the weight or body fat you get to go on some form of remedial PT which is usually in addition to everything else that you have to do.  I am genetically undertall and I really have to watch this.

Today I had my Spring PRT or was we call them now the PFA.  The events haven’t changed but the name has been changed to protect the innocent.  As I said I have had a lot of nagging injuries returning from Iraq, coupled with my PTSD and insomnia made the past year or so pretty hard.  I came back from Iraq and continued to push myself and while getting my usual “Outstanding” score made my injuries worse.  Shoulder problems kept me from the push ups for the first time in my career.  I had mildly sprained my left ankle running last week.  So I decided today that I would simply shoot for an “Excellent” score.  The Deity Herself was with me this morning despite being dinged up. After I drank my 24 once cup of Southern Pecan coffee with a healthy dose of Splenda and French Vanilla creamer from “The Dancing Goat”  and an el cheapo chocolate donut I did 75 push ups in about a minute and a half and stopped, I knew I had 10 or 15 more in me but decided to strive for mediocrity.  The run I decided to set an 8 minute mile pace and not get too excited completing the run in 11:56.  This is the worst time I have ever did the run in since I joined the Navy.  However I finished 3rd of the 25 or so sailors doing the run.   In the fall I hope to be fully spun up and really ready to embarrass the young guys.  Until then I will celebrate tomorrow when I come off of duty with donuts, hot and fresh Krispy Kreme donuts with coffee.  Back to the ICU.

Peace and blessings, Steve+

Note: I have absolutely no idea what the Air Force does.  I think though that their PT test includes a round of golf, and time at the 19th hole.

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