Tag Archives: marine suicides

Thoughts on Smoke, Suicides, Gracie Jane, the Media Legal System and I guess I’m not Patriotic

Gracie Jane…the Boston Legal Nancy Grace

Today was one of those weird days. I got up relatively early for a day off only to have my morning interrupted by a page from the Emergency Room to deal with a suicide. I showered and drove in to work knowing what the outcome was going to be even though our staff was trying heroically to save the patient.  On the way in I was reminded of Iraq once again as I drove through the dense smoke which has enshrouded our region from one of several wild fires.

Last night I had been out watching the Independence Day fireworks with Judy and our little dog Molly on the beach about a quarter of a mile from the Island Hermitage and I did pretty wel`l, though Molly did better. While I was occasionally flashing back to watching artillery and illumination rounds and hearing that infernal 122 rocket flying over me in Baghdad as well as being nervous in the large crowds that surrounded me I didn’t melt down despite some very close blasts from individuals firing some pretty large firework charges above our heads. Maybe it was the unflappable attitude of Molly. Molly isn’t afraid of anything and maybe her looking up and occasionally barking at the infernal things both comforted and amused me. However I digress….

I got to the ER sustained by a large cup of Dunkin Donuts coffee and found that our staff could not save the life of the individual. I have dealt with far too many suicides in the military where it seems to be epidemic now days as well as in my time as an ER and Trauma department Chaplain in major civilian medical centers. There are people that condemn those that commit suicide to hell and call it an “unpardonable sin.” I can’t do that. Suicide is a tragedy no matter when it happens and it is happening far too often among the ranks of our Active Duty, Reserve and National Guard forces and to those retired or discharged from the military.  I spent some time and with our staff as well as some of his senior enlisted leaders who were obviously affected by this and quietly said a prayer of commendation at the bedside.  This is a tragedy one that will unfortunately keep occurring even as Congress contemplates cuts to the force that include the Mental Health Professionals and Chaplains that are the last line of defense for these young men and women.  But then what value are the lives of the men and women that fight our wars compared to not raising the taxes for the incredible wealthy that profit off of our wars and the sacrifices of the troops.

When I got home Judy and I took a drive up to Beaufort North Carolina where we had lunch at Finz, a bar and grill. As always we sat in the bar and while eating lunch noticed a commotion. A waitress from the restaurant side rushed in and changed the channel from the peaceful natural disasters reported by the Weather Channel to Headline News where Gracie Jane (Nancy Grace, Gracie Jane is the caricature Nancy created by the writers of Boston Legal played with gusto by Jill Brennan) was having a conniption fit that Casey Anthony was found not guilty of killing her daughter in one of the most sensational trials since the O. J. Simpson trial.

Now I didn’t watch the trial my faith in the Media Legal system having been crushed with the failure of the O. J. jury to find him guilty and order him crushed to death with heavy stones. But evidently some jury in Florida where convicting someone of murder and having them put to death is a spectator sport failed to convict, something about reasonable doubt. It sounds to me that in such and environment that the prosecutors must have pulled a Marcia Clarke and botched the prosecution.  They should have petitioned to have the trial moved to Texas where they could have gotten the conviction and the death penalty. Even President Bush who never pardoned anyone as Governor couldn’t save the lady convicted of drowning her kids when she said she had repented when a jury convicted her of capital murder.

However, my friends as terrible as the verdict sounds as it seems justice has been denied, someone probably killed that little girl and will get away with it, the reaction of Gracie Jane was priceless as she was nearly apoplectic even saying that Satan must be having a “party in Hell” and that proving “reasonable doubt” an unfair burden to prosecutors.   But that is the way the Media Legal system works, Greta, Geraldo, Court TV and Gracie Jane, they thrive on trying these cases in the media and while our justice system is certainly imperfect and sometimes even insane ever person is due their day in court and it is the responsibility of prosecutors to prove guilt beyond reasonable doubt. These prosecutors had no direct evidence of the lady killing her daughter.  They had lots of circumstantial evidence even some pretty damning stuff from what Gracie Jane tells me but they couldn’t get a conviction. When I took a class in Military Law we were advised that if we didn’t believe that we could make the charges stick at a General Courts Martial in from of a judge and jury that it was inadvisable to charge soldiers with a crime, even if we were trying the case as a “non-judicial” case under Article 15 of the UCMJ. As a company commander I never lost because I made sure that if I charged someone that the evidence would prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.  These guys didn’t. They lost to better defense attorneys and someone got away with murder, manslaughter or child abuse. But the Media Legal system will never admit that they could be wrong in convicting people before a jury even gets the case. It’s a pity that Lincoln Meyer (a peeping Tom murderer played in a most creepy manner by David Dean Bottrell) couldn’t come up and clunk her on the head with a shovel like in Boston Legal).

Finally I ran afoul of a Tea Party partisan yesterday when I mentioned in his extended quote from the Declaration of Independence about removing despots and the right of people to revolt he cut off the quote where the Declaration says “Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes.” For this I was called everything but a Democrat, you’d think that I had spurned God and man for mentioning this. Instead the man and one of his friends set out to mock me as some kind of Constitution stomping, CNN and MSNBC watching infidel for my cautious and even distrustful views views in regard to the Tea Party movement and some of its leaders.  Of course when picked their arguments apart I got called more names was told that they were “Constitutionalists” and kept trying to shut me up. I had too much fun finally getting one to end his insulting comments aimed at me with “God Bless the USA!” Unfortunately when the phase is used to end an argument, insult the honor, integrity and intellectual honesty and question the patriotism of a fellow American it resonates about as well with me as much as “Heil Hitler!” did to Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Evidently even though I have served the country in the military in peace and war the past 30 years including in combat I am less of a patriot than him or anyone else in the Tea Party.  Despite my personal victory today I fear for the worst when this man and others like him come to power. Dissent will be crushed as they use laws that they currently decry to punish their opponents or critics. Those that joined the movement out of legitimate frustration at the mess that Republicans and Democrats alike as well as most powerful supporters have made of this country will be sorely disappointed when they find that they are considered expendable to those that they put their trust in to deliver the country.

I personally find the often violent language and imagery used so flippantly by many the leaders of the Tea Party to be frightening. The use of such terms as evil, satanic, communist, Marxist or Fascist to characterize those that disagree with you is dangerous for it dehumanizes the other and appeals to the basest forms of human behavior.  The fact that some senior state organizers have links intellectual and economic to white supremacist groups and anti-government “militia” groups makes me even more nervous as do the unstated motivations of some of the principal financial backers the Koch brothers and Rupert Murdoch.  Contrary to what some believe this movement is not a movement of uneducated bumpkins to be trifled with. The Tea Party has money, media and power at its disposal it is not to be taken lightly even when its leaders make mistake after mistake concerning American history and the Constitution.

But it seems that none of them really studies history and that we have failed in teaching our people to learn from history, not the mythology that makes us feel good and warms our patriotic hearts. But according to the gentleman I must not have one of those. Oh well… God Bless the USA!

Well that’s all for tonight.

Peace

Padre Steve+

Advertisements

2 Comments

Filed under ER's and Trauma, faith, leadership, Lies of World Net Daily, Military, Pastoral Care, philosophy, Political Commentary, PTSD, purely humorous

A Base at War: First Impressions of Camp LeJeune Nine Years after my First Tour

This is just a brief post on some first impressions on my assignment to Camp LeJeune after a nine year absence from the base. When I left LeJeune and my assignment with the Second Marine Division I had just completed twenty years in the military though I was not even three years into my service as a Naval Officer.

Today I was part of a Casualty Assistance Team meeting with the family of a young Navy Corpsman and Afghanistan veteran who killed himself in his apartment last night.  The Corpsman was part of a family with a long tradition of Naval Service who in his time in the Navy had gone to war with a Marine Battalion in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province and returned home changed by the war and struggling with PTSD and all the related symptoms of it.  This is something that I can understand having come back from Iraq in a rather bad way about two and a half years ago.  In my time with this young man’s parents today I found a young man that loved life but was wracked by his experiences of war.  He was well liked at his Marine Battalion as well as at the hospital and his death shocked the community almost as much as it did his family.  The sad thing is that this young man is emblematic the suicide problem in the military.  He is not alone, far too many Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Airmen on active duty, in the Reserves or those that have left the service suffer so much from the unseen wounds of war that they commit suicide.  Since I have been here just a bit under two weeks this was a confirmation of what I knew just walking around the hospital, getting around the base and the local area.  Camp LeJeune is a base at war with Marines and Sailors fighting in Afghanistan and unfortunately many suffering from deep wounds of war at home living with physical, psychological, spiritual and moral injuries that don’t go away just because they return home.

When I left LeJeune in compliance with orders to the USS Hue City CG-66 in December 2001 we were just 3 months into the current war and barley two months into the Afghanistan campaign.  Marine morale was high though most Marines had not been to combat and those that had were veterans of Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm, Somalia or the Balkans. Of course none of these actions lasted as long nor caused the amount of deaths as either the campaign in Iraq or Afghanistan.  Marines wanted to get a shot at the Al Qaeda terrorists that had attacked the United States and killed nearly 3000 Americans.

The Marines answered the call and have performed magnificently in every theater of the current war but the Corps has changed. Back in the late 1990s and early 2000s the Marines had a swagger that was typical of the work hard; train hard and play hard attitude of the Corps.  The Corps is now composed of many battle hardened veterans that have made deployment after deployment to the hottest combat zones in both Iraq and Afghanistan in which they took the initiative in both offensive operations in taking the battle to the enemy and employing solid counterinsurgency techniques especially in Al Anbar Province where the Iraqi Army performed quantitatively better under their tutelage in helping to turn the tide during the Anbar awakening.  Navy Corpsmen, Doctors and Chaplains serve alongside the Marines as they have done throughout our history.

I served with Marine and Army advisors in Al Anbar in 2007 and early 2008 in many of the remotest parts of the province and have dealt with individual Marines since. The Marines still have much of their swagger but it seems more fatalistic now.  An expert in trauma and moral injury told me of a recent visit to Camp Pendleton where Marines referred to themselves as “the walking dead” in an almost cavalier manner. The sad thing is that for many Marines this is only half a joke. The Corps in 2009 had the highest suicide rate in the military at 24 per 100,000 and suicides continue at a similar pace in 2010.  http://www.yuma.usmc.mil/desertwarrior/2010/03/11/feature6.html One occurred on Camp LeJeune where a Marine Sergeant pulled out a pistol and shot himself after being pulled over by Military Police in front of the base Fire Station.

As I made my way around the base the past week or so, I saw a lot more Marines with canes and obvious physical injuries from their combat injuries incurred in Iraq or Afghanistan. The Marines as always were professional but appeared to be much more serious than 9 years ago, many seeming to be old beyond their years. I love serving with and around Marines because they have a unique sense of professionalism combined with humor that is unlike almost any found in any part of the United States Military. However that positive is sometimes offset by a need to maintain an image of toughness even when they are dying on the inside which leads many not to seek help because it might make them look weak or broken, terms that no self-respecting Marine wants associated with his or her name.

In addition to the obvious injuries I noticed that while there was a much more serious tenor around the base that the Staff Sergeants and Gunnery Sergeants are a lot younger than they used to be back 9 years ago. With the war lasting as long as it has and the coupled with the expansion of the Marines during the war coupled with casualties and attrition by other means these young men and women are being promoted sooner than they were in the prewar days. Their leadership experience is mostly combat-related and they are in general superb combat leaders. However, this does not always translate well in a garrison setting especially if they are dealing with their own untreated PTSD or TBI nor is it helpful on the home front. As a result many of these young leaders are suffering the breakups of families at a record rate as well as substance abuse when they return home.

As Secretary of Defense Robert Gates noted in a speech at Duke University on September 29th of this year:

“There are a number of consequences that stem from the pressure repeated of deployments – especially when a service member returns home sometimes permanently changed by their experience.  These consequences include more anxiety and disruption inflicted on children, increased domestic strife and a corresponding rising divorce rate, which in the case of Army enlisted has nearly doubled since the wars began.  And, most tragically, a growing number of suicides.

While we often speak generally of a force under stress, in reality, it is certain parts of the military that have borne the brunt of repeat deployments and exposure to fire – above all, junior and mid-level officers and sergeants in ground combat and support specialties.  These young men and women have seen the complex, grueling, maddening face of asymmetric warfare in the 21st century up close.  They’ve lost friends and comrades.  Some are struggling psychologically with what they’ve seen, and heard and felt on the battlefield.  And yet they keep coming back.” http://www.defense.gov/speeches/speech.aspx?speechid=1508

These young men and women have forged a bond in combat and in many cases multiple combat tours. The have served well with honor and many don’t feel that people who have not been “in the shit” understand them or what they have been through.  There is a comradeship that comes out of war. There is segment at the end of the Band of Brothers mini-series where a German Commander is speaking to his soldiers after they have surrendered to the Americans. As the German Commander speaks to the survivors of his unit Corporal Joe Liebgott is asked to translate by another American. As he translates the German officer’s words the Americans know that he also speaks for their experience of war:

“Men, it’s been a long war, it’s been a tough war. You’ve fought bravely, proudly for your country. You’re a special group. You’ve found in one another a bond that exists only in combat, among brothers. You’ve shared foxholes, held each other in dire moments. You’ve seen death and suffered together. I’m proud to have served with each and every one of you. You all deserve long and happy lives in peace.”

I think that sums up what many feel today except unlike the Germans our war drags on with no end in sight.

The Marines are still tough and a force to be reckoned with on any battlefield. They, especially the Marine Divisions are an elite force but I believe that many are losing some of their resilience as the war goes in Afghanistan goes on.  Many from reports that I have read as well as those that I have talked with are concerned that much of the country doesn’t support the war nor appreciate their sacrifice. Many are concerned that their sacrifices as well as those of their friends, those killed and wounded will be wasted and the suffering that goes on after the war will be swept aside by politicians, the media and the public at large. They are also concerned that the people that they have worked with against the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and those that they have tried to protect and care for will suffer even more if the Taliban return to power.  I can say that I worry about my Iraqi friends and fear for them when I hear news of more attacks.

In the midst of this war we went through a number of elections and it troubles me that in the last election that the war and those fighting it were hardly ever mentioned by candidates from either party.  We mentioned it was usually for show to help politicians gain favor with voters.  We deserve better, we are not just a something to talk about at political rallies that when the election is over simply budget item to be slashed because the country is in a mess. These young men and women, as well as old guys like me are the sons, daughters, husbands and wives and brothers and sisters that have volunteered to serve this country.  The wounds that these young men and women, their experiences in combat that have left their souls scared will not go away when the last American leaves Iraq or Afghanistan.

This young man that we lost last night will be buried by his family and we will have a memorial service in his honor.  His many friends will grieve and those of us who are caring for his family will not forget them. I don’t want this young man or any other to be forgotten like so many who have returned from war before them.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

 

Leave a comment

Filed under iraq,afghanistan, Military, PTSD

Weekend in Washington-Reconnecting with Friends Family, Each Other and an Evening at the West Wing

1091At the Brady Press Room in the West Wing

Our anniversary weekend continues, tonight we have our behind the scenes tour of the White House.  Last night we had a wonderful reunion with my former Commanding Officer Colonel Mike Paulovich and his wife Janet.  Colonel Paulovich and I served together at Marine Security Force Battalion, when it was still called a battalion.  The unit was actually regimental size with subordinate units located in the United State, the Middle East, Guantanamo Bay Cuba and Europe with FAST (Fleet Anti-Terrorism Security Team) Platoons deployed in hot spots world-wide.  The Colonel was a great officer and should have been a Flag Officer.  He retired as the senior Marine Corps Officer and Professor of Ethics at the Naval Academy.  We have remained close over the years and have always had a special connection, to include that of our wives.  During our time together at Security Force Battalion we went through some incredibly difficult personal and professional times.  The battalion lost I think about 11 Marines while we were there due to all sorts of causes so we shared a lot of community grief as we saw our battalion through difficult times.

I never will forget the night that Colonel Paulovich called me on my cell phone saying he needed me.  I was at the ballpark and I knew things were bad for him to be calling me there, he too is a baseball fan and has great respect for the game.  When I got to the battalion I found that he had been involved in giving CPR to a Marine who had just checked into the unit that late that afternoon from an overseas command and had hanged himself within 30 minutes of checking in and getting his room.  That night I was with him and the other Marines who tried to save that young man’s life until about 0300 the next morning.  I was there when the Colonel’s father died and he was there when I found that my father had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. We shared many other difficult times together as well as good times.  We frequently travelled overseas together and I have never had a Commanding Officer any time or any where seek my advice on caring for people, support the ministry of his chaplain and ensure that I got to his Marines no matter where in the world they were.  Even more importantly he allowed me to be his Priest. Some of the places that we travelled together included Bahrain, Japan and Spain and a particularly memorable trip to England and Scotland where our Marines were doing exercises with the British Royal Marines.  We saw each other through good times and bad and it was such a pleasure to fellowship with both him and Janet over dinner and beer at the D.C. Chophouse.   I am so honored to have him as a friend and Judy to be a friend of his wife.

1094Outside the West Wing

This morning was a relaxing morning except for two things.  First, my tooth started acting up again and started hurting pretty bad.  I doubled up on one of my non-narcotic pain meds and slammed down some 800 mg. Motrin which made the pain bearable through most of the day.  It is starting up again right now so I will be hitting some more Motrin and Ultram this evening.  Then I read the details of our invitation to the White House and realized that we had not brought appropriate attire for Judy.  I looked up women’s clothing nearby and saw a Dress Barn. We started walking, unfortunately not being very familiar with the layout of the city I made a right turn rather than left coming out of the hotel.  After dragging Judy around having followed the advice of several residents and a store keeper we were nowhere near where we needed to be. I realized then that some people are clueless as to the layout of the city that they live in.  These people really had no clue; I’m surprised that they could find their way to their own toilet much less survive in the city.  Heck if I lived here I would know this place by heart within months because I have one of those phonographic memories you know. It was kind of like they were saying “go four blocks and if you pass Freddy the pan handler turn left and the street will be two blocks down” except that Freddy the pan-handler wasn’t on the corner and the street was the opposite direction from where the clueless person said that it was. Finally I knew that I was only torturing Judy by dragging her around.  I hailed a cab and said I need to go to Dress Barn on Connecticut Avenue Northwest.  The guy was great.  He knew where it was; he was friendly and dropped us off at the door.  An hour and $248 later we walked out of the store with a nice outfit and butt-load of other clothes.  Since I had not really gotten her much for the anniversary it was nice to do that for her, after all she tolerates all of my annoying habits and understands how to make sure that I don’t do anything to screw up my career. The ladies that helped us, Frieda and Mary were great.  If all people in retail were as friendly and helpful as these women there would be a lot more coming off the shelves even in the bad economy.

I guess one of the really cool things about this weekend is that we have not tried to fit too much into it.  It used to be that we would plan and schedule so much that although we were “together” there was no time for any kind of intimacy.  We would end up stressed out, tired and resentful of each other.  For once we decided just to be with each other and that has been way cool.  If there is any advice I can offer to couples be they young or old is to get to know each other again by not focusing on things which entertain and take up time but don’t bring you together.  Judy and I are wired differently, we have different interests, but we give each other the freedom to pursue those interests and encourage each other to fulfill our dreams.  At the same time we finally figured out that we have to take time with each other.  It took a quarter century to figure this out but we have finally been able to and the results have been amazing.

This evening we had our private staff guided tour of the West Wing of the White House.  My friend Mark, the Chief of Staff to the National Security Council had to be out doing a Navy Reserve Drill so his assistant Cindy took us around.  It was really cool seeing the Oval Office, the Roosevelt Room and a number of other historic places including the James Brady Press Room.  We were not able to see the Rose Garden on this trip as the President and his family was relaxing out there, but we did see the Presidential First Puppy “Bo” playing on the back lawn.  Hopefully we will get to meet the President on a future trip.  Since we have reason to come up here anyway it would be cool to get to meet him.  Everyone was great to us at the White House and we enjoyed our visit tremendously.

Tonight we went out with Judy’s cousin Becki to a Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant and will meet her again in the morning for breakfast before heading back home.  We stopped by her house which she bought when she moved her for her job with US Department of Fish and Game.  The house was a “fixer-upper” and Becki has been doing this with houses for a good amount of time.  She has already transformed much of the place which frankly looked like hell when she purchased it.  It was good to see her and Tucker her friendly little black cat.  It’s weird having a cat come when you call it, hell our first dog Frieda wouldn’t do that unless she thought it was in HER best interests.

Note: As I was getting ready to post I decided to load my SD card from my camera into my computer to retrieve my photos from the West Wing.  It looks like I have somehow got the damned thing jammed in and I can’t figure out either how to get the pictures off of it or how to get it back out. Since I want to save the card and not damage my computer I will try to figure this out when I am not tired and have some idea of what I might do to solve the problem.  So now the cool pictures inside the Press Room and at the entry reserved for official visitors will have to wait.  Be assured that they are cool and I will post them when I can. Gotta love technology sometimes….

So tomorrow we see Becki again for breakfast and head home.

Peace, Steve+

1 Comment

Filed under alzheimer's disease, Baseball, beer, Loose thoughts and musings, marriage and relationships