Tag Archives: mentors

Remembering Those Who Helped Make Us Who We Are

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Historian David McCullough wrote something that I think is all too easy to forget in a world where many people, including our current President seem to think that everything is about them. McCullough wrote:

“We are all what we are, in large degree, because of others who have helped, coached, taught, counseled, who set a standard by example, who’ve taken an interest in our interests, opened doors, opened our minds, helped us see, who gave encouragement when we needed it, who reprimanded or prodded when we needed it, and at critical moments, inspired.”

When I look back at my own life I see the tremendous impact of how others, family, teachers, coaches, pastors, people who I have served alongside or under the command of in the military, as well as just simple people who knew me and cared enough to put an arm around my shoulder, offer an encouraging word, piece of wisdom, of maybe even a observation that wasn’t comfortable to hear, have helped make me what I am today. In fact there are so many of them that it would be almost impossible to list them all, and as we come up on Memorial Day next week I tend to become a bit melancholy thinking about those military personnel who impacted my life and mourning those who have passed on. I have written about many of them and probably will do so again over the coming months, not only the military people but the others, if for no other reason to ensure that they are not forgotten and to remember that everything in life doesn’t have to be about what is going on in the news cycle.

Even so it is humbling to know that if all of these people had not been part of my life that I would not be who I am today.

So anyway, if I can say anything to anyone today, try to remember the people who have helped you become what you are.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Loose thoughts and musings, philosophy, remembering friends

Musing on Life as Journeyman on a Lazy Saturday: Billy Chapel, Crash Davis and Padre Steve

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Today is one of those lazy Saturdays where Judy and I, both tired from a long week and watching a winter weather system approach the area have been taking it easy. We have talked, napped, and enjoyed playing with and watching the antics of our dogs Molly and Minnie. Judy has been reading a Kindle book on her I-Pad and I have been sort of puttering around, paying the bills, updating connections on Linked-In and reading the comics online. This afternoon I have been listening to the songs that I linked in my Valentine’s Day article Padre Steve’s Top 25 Lonely Hearts Club Valentine Day Love Songs and musing about life.

Music tends to make be a bit more contemplative and introspective. Some of those songs, as well as the thoughts of the beginning of Baseball Spring Training have led me to muse about my own long strange trip as a long time military officer and chaplain. I’ve always related to the characters in Kevin Costner’s baseball films the classic Bull Durham, the touching and sentimental Field of Dreams and For the Love of the Game.

The main characters in each of the films touch me each in a different way. The character of Billy Chapel in For the Love of the Game helps me remember why I keep going and how I want to leave my military career, at the top of my game and ready to move on with life with Judy. Ray Kinsella, the lead character in Field of Dreams is like my dreamer side, the one that sees possibilities that others do not, even those that most people think are foolish. The character also reminds me of how much I miss my dad but know that he is still with me.

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However, the character of Crash Davis who Costner played in Bull Durham strikes a particular chord in me. Crash is a journeyman minor league catcher with the dubious distinction of having the most minor league homers. He also spent three weeks “in the show.” I guess what gets me is how much he loves the game and the intensity that he gives it, but also has a sense of humor and knowledge about when to back off the seriousness.

Crash is a consummate professional. He loves the game works hard on his own skills and actually cares about the development of the young guys, even if they try his patience. I can say that his I find a lot of commonality with him.

Crash’s relationship with the young pitcher he is assigned by the organization to help, Ebby Calvin “Nuke” LaLoosh (Tim Robbins) is case in point.  Crash is demoted by the big team from a AAA contract to a single A contract to develop the young bonus baby.  He’s not happy with the job, in fact he is angry at being sent down. Crash is proud, threatens to quit the game but he then takes on the task of dealing with the wild and cocky LaLooshe with a mixture of skill and humor in a manner that benefits not only the young pitcher but motivates the rest of the team, which until his arrival was derided by its fans, manager and announcer as “the worst.”

It does not matter that he is in the minor leagues as Crash still plays his heart out and spends his time teaching the next generation.  He even gets thrown out of a games if it helps motivate his team and let’s his young charge learn the hard way when young “Nuke” decides to ignore his advice.

My life is like a journeyman ball player. I started in the Army, and to use the baseball journeyman analogy I played one position for a number of years and then so to speak left the big team to train for a new position while playing in the minors.

I left active duty as a Medical Service Corps officer for seminary in 1988. It was like going from playing in the Majors to going to learn a new position in an instructional league. In seminary I entered the Army Chaplain Candidate program in the National Guard. When I graduated from seminary and become a National Guard and Reserve Chaplain while doing my hospital residency and first hospital chaplain jobs it was like working my way up through the minors.

The National Guard and Reserve assignments then were the ones that didn’t pay much and involved a lot of travel, long nights and time away from home. The civilian jobs offered little job security or upward as I found out when I lost a contract chaplain job when I was mobilized with Reserves.

When I was promoted to the rank of Major in the Army Reserve it was like moving up to Triple A ball. The assignments were better but I was still like playing in the minors as the active duty, especially then often viewed reservists and National Guardsmen as inferiors.  But when I was mobilized to support the Bosnia operation in 1996 to 1997 and then remain on active duty to serve as the Installation Command Chaplain for Fort Indiantown Gap it was like getting promoted to the Major League, however it was with the knowledge that it was a call up not a career. When that time ended and I returned to the reserve it was like being sent back to the minors.

I honestly thought that I would spend the rest of my career there, maybe getting called up for brief periods of time but knowing that my career, like that of Crash Davis was destined to end in the minor leagues.

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That changed when I was given a chance to go into the Navy.  I reduced in rank and came in with no time in grade meaning that I was starting from scratch with a new slate.  Now all of my experience was still there, but I was starting over.  It was like when a player gets traded between from the American League to the National League in mid season, or is called up from the minors to play on the big team with a clean slate. That to me was the beginning of the Billy Chapel side of my career.

After 17 1/2 years in the Army, going up and down the food chain I have been blessed to serve the last 14 years in the Navy. I am now an old veteran, still a journeyman at heart but I got the chance to go back and live my dream serving as an active duty Navy Chaplain.  I’ve gotten to serve on ship and with the Marines and EOD.  I’ve travelled the world and I’ve gone to war.  I’m not the same as I was as when I started.  I have issues, maybe even the full subscription.

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I have streaks where I am hot and when I am not, I have my slumps. The biggest slump was the struggle with PTSD and a faith crisis that engulfed my life for several years. That is pretty much over now, though I have my moments and flashbacks but things are back to my new normal. I know my limitations now, and like Billy Chapel fighting through his near career ending injury to come back and finish well, I want to do the same.

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I’m somewhat superstitious at times. I am not the same person that started the journey so long ago, but I make do. I guess now my goal is to help the younger guys and gals that are coming up through the ranks, chaplains as well as others. Sometimes this is difficult, I have had to work with some who are potential superstars and others who struggle greatly either due to lack of skills or bad judgement and decision making. I have had others who have seen their dreams in the military ended my injury, wounds, illness or supervisors or commanders that did not appreciate them.

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I know that disappointment but thankfully I can point to several men and women in the course of who have helped me through those times. I have also had men who helped set me up for success through their personal example and the opportunities that they provided me. For all of them I will always be grateful.

The thing is now I’ve been in the military since before many of them were born. In a sense I’m a Crash Davis or Billy Chapel kind of guy.  I love both of those movies and those characters and find inspiration in them.

I hope we can all find something or someone to help connect us to what we do in life.

Peace, Steve+

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In Memorium: Chief John Ness and LCDR Jim Breedlove USN

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LCDR Jim Breedlove (Left) and Senior Chief John Ness 1975-76 Edison High School NJROTC

I have found that as I get older I find there are moments where eras end.  Today was one of those days. I came home from my overnight on call at the Medical Center I checked my e-mail and found a message from Maggie Ness.  She was the wife of my1st year NJROTC at Edison High School, Stockton California, Chief Petty Officer John Ness. She wrote to inform us that John had passed away on Good Friday after a long illness.

The death of “Chief” was expected.  As I said he had been sick for many years and had come back home in hospice care. His death followed that of our Senior Instructor and Detachment OIC, LCDR Jim Breedlove by about 14 months.  LCDR Breedlove died unexpectedly after a short illness shortly before I returned from Iraq last January.  Both of these men had a profound influence on me and taught me many lessons.  From them I learned a lot about responsibility, honor and commitment.

They had founded the detachment in the early 1970s which was not when you think about it a great time to begin any military activity on any campus as Vietnam was winding  down.  Both men had recently retired from the Navy.  LCDR Breedlove was  what we would now call a Surface Warfare Officer who spent a lot of his career in ship’s Engineering Departments serving often as the Chief Engineer.  Chief was a Cryptologic Technician.  In short, a codebreaker.  Chief has spent a lot of his career working in the intelligence side of the house.

These men were the glue that helped guide me through high school.  Their efforts expanded my world.  My world had become much smaller when my dad retired from the Navy in 1974 and I was miserable.  Yet because of these men  my world expanded, in fact the world again became a place of wonder.  During the fall of my sophomore year I was able to go to San Diego and ride the USS Agerholm DD-826 up the coast and home.  Later in the fall we went to Mare Island to spend time with the “Riverine” forces of Coastal River Division XI.  That spring I went to a “mini-boot camp” at NTC San Diego.  The next summer I spent a couple of weeks on the USS Coral Sea CV-43 and get some “on the job training” in the ship’s Medical Department.  On Coral Sea I was able to see the intricate workings of flight operations on a aircraft carrier. Coming back to school we got a ride on the USS Pyro AE-25 a ammunition ship based out of Alameda California.  On Pyro I met a Navy Chaplain and talked with him about the chaplaincy.  I also saw my first burial at sea.  The next winter we traveled to Portland Oregon to board the USS Mount Vernon LST-39 coming out of the yards and going back to California.  My senior year was the highlight of my time in High School.  A group of us went down to San Diego and took USS Frederick LST-1184 from San Diego to Pearl Harbor. We spent a week at Pearl seeing the history of the base, the USS Arizona and USS Utah memorials and spent Easter Sunday there.  While there I spent a day snorkeling at Hanauma Bay and came out with the sunburn from Hell.  One of my friends, Jeff Vanover still remembers me as the “Lobster man” after that experience.  We rode the USS Gray FF-1054 back to San Diego and again learned a lot. On Gray I met with a destroyer squadron chaplain and learned more about the Chaplaincy.  I sent a post card to my grandparents from the Gray.   I found it when visiting my grandmother in 1995.  It said: “Dear Ma Maw and Pa Paw, I think that God is calling me to be a Navy Chaplain.”  At the time I was a civilian hospital and Army Reserve Chaplain,. I chucked and to her that “At least I got the chaplain part right.”  I had no idea that the Deity herself would lead me into the Navy a few short years later.  Other Cadets went on other cruises.  Several rode the USS Blue Ridge LCC-19 to Acuploco Mexico.  Others went on a Coast Guard cutter for 60 days in the summer on Alsakan fisheries patrol.

There are several things to note about the Hawaii trip.  It was over three weeks long, which because part of the time was Easter break (yes it was still Easter back then) we missed two weeks of school.  Some people would say that this would hurt students academicly, but I think not.  Sometimes I think that kids need to get out and see the world under the care and supervision of mature people. You can always catch up on academics, but to experience the world is something most kids miss out on. Commander Breedlove and Chief Ness gave us the chance to explore and see things that other kids would never see.  For me the more important facets were that the trip put in my heart a love of the sea, and the call to be a Navy Chaplain while on Frederick, something that was driven home at Pearl Harbor and coming back on the Gray.  Even more interesting was that in April 2001, about 23 years after that I celebrated my first  Holy Eucharist underway on Frederick. She was then the last LST on active service in the US Navy when she picked my Marine unit up in Pohang South Korea.  The Eucharist happened to be on Easter Sunday.  Talk about almost impossible occurrences. If there is such a thing as confirmation of where you are supposed to be, I think that this qualifies.

Anyway, those are experiences that these two men allowed us to experience.  I don’t know of many high school students who got to spend about 70 days underway on Navy ships and have all the other experiences that these emn allowed us to have.

Now it is time for some “Sea Stories.”  Chief Ness was a colorful man, as many Chiefs of his era were.  If you have seen the movie Men of Honor you can get to understand a little bit of the Navy culture that shaped Chief Ness.  He was not profane like Robert DeNiro’s character, Master Chief Billy Sunday, but he was a man who pushed us.  He was to often blunt and to the point. At the same time he was caring while not taking any crap from anyone.  He taught us to were the uniform correctly, close order drill, basic seamanship and other subjects that would be common to any new sailor.  As far as academics, he was a good teacher.  Like I said he didn’t take any crap.  We had a couple of guys who cheated on a test that sophomore year, both scoring an “A.”  Chief caught them, it’s hard to fool a codebreaker.  He brought them to the front of the class and told them that they would each get half on an “A.”  They both thought that meant a “C.”  Instead chief drew an “A” on the chalkboard and erased the right half of the letter, leaving the figure of an “F.”  He also taught us to be on time. Something that in my later years I have become almost pathological about.  We were getting on a bus to go to NTC San Diego.  There was one Cadet who was late.  At the appointed hour Chief directed the bus to start moving although a car was pulling into the parking lot and the cadet was getting out.  The Cadet did not make an effort to flag down or chase the bus, so Chief left him.  He then told us if the young man had made an effort that he would have stopped the bus, but the Navy would not delay a ship’s departure for one person and that we needed to see the consequences of being “UA.”  He also had an award that he gave to Cadets who had problems goofing things up.  It was a 10 pound shot put mounted on a plaque.  He called it the “Iron Ball” award for people who could “foul up an iron ball.”  He let us settle our class grades.  He used a “Bell curve” to do our final grade.  A the end of the quarter he would put every student’s cumulative point total on the board with no names shown.  He would then ask us to figure out who should get what grades using the Bell curve as our standard.  Thus we selected 10% for “A’s” 20% for “B’s” 40% for “C’s” 20% for “D’s” and 10% for “F’s.”  Now he allowed some room for maneuver if there were natural big breaks between scores, but he made us make the decision. He did because he knew that we would all have to make hard decisions that impacted other people later in life and that we had to learn that lesson early.  Chief almost always had his ever-present cup of black coffee, with a ceramic frog inside of it eyes looking up.  We used to joke that his forefinger was permanently molded ino the shape of a coffee mug handle. Chief had a heart of gold. He had nicknames for us, and he gave us a hard time, but when we were down he wouldn’t kick us.  He taught leadership lessons that I will not forget.

LCDR Breedlove was my mentor and later in life friend.  He taught us more advanced Naval subjects including Naval History, Law and customs.  He also taught us navigation, damage control, weapons systems and combat systems. He arranged for all of our trips and went with us on many of them.  In short he began to teach us to be Naval Officers. After I graduated I staying in contact with Jim.  He was always excited to hear what was going on in my life. Whenever I went home to visit my family I always set aside time to meet him for lunch and have a couple of beers together.  He was a gentleman, a family man and a Christian. His death, coming at the end of my time in Iraq was devastating.  We had stayed in contact during the deployment and his sudden death shook me.  I have been looking forward to once again sharing a meal and a beer or two together.

I have gone on a little long, but these two men meant a lot to me.  They were fine men, loved their families and cared enough for us to let us hard lessons before they became lessons that would kill us later in life.  A fair number of us went into the military, some for just an enlistment and others for full careers.  I’m the last of our class on active duty.  I even met one of my classmates when I was an Army Lieutenant going through West Berlin back in late 1986.  We had been in Chief’s class that first year and he happened to recognize me.

Tomorrow is Easter and I know that John and Jim are present with God.  Pray for their families, especially Maggie. May their souls and the souls of all the departed, rest in peace.

Peace, Steve+

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