Tag Archives: military history

The Army Interregnum, 1981-1999: A Photo Montage


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

This is another in a series of posts that serve a dual purpose, the first and most important is to shrink pictures of my 39 year military career into sizes where they won’t crush the size of the Power Point presentation to be played before my retirement ceremony, the second is to provide just a brief look through pictures at my time in the Army.

Without using a lot of verbose prose I grew up in a Navy family but surrounded myself with all things military, Navy, Army, Marines, Air Force. Of course that included everything I could read about history, especially military and Naval history, biography, technical aspects of ships, aircraft, artillery, small arms, armored fighting vehicles, strategy, operational methods, strategy and grand strategy, and even ethics and war crimes even before I finished high school.

After my dad retired from the Navy I was lost, I didn’t want to be a civilian, and this was at the end of the Vietnam War when the military was not popular at all. The draft had been abolished, the all-volunteer Force established and there were a lot of problems even as the Soviets became a greater threat and the Middle East began a descent into the chaos that it is now. But even so I want to serve.

My parents talked me out of enlisting in the Navy or Army right out of high school to try a year of junior college. It was a good thing they did because in August of 1978 I met Judy, we began dating and in 1980 I followed her to California State University at Northridge.

Before I went to Northridge I applied and was accepted into the Air Force ROTC program and I would have jumped on it had they not insisted on attending a four week summer training camp that would have destroyed the income from an extremely well paying summer job at the John Deere and Company Warehouse where my dad worked in Stockton, California. I am forever grateful for my dad for getting me that job because it paid a good amount of my college expenses. So the Air Force was out, as was the Navy because Judy who had a number a sister and two brothers-law-serve in the Navy, did not want to have to deal with regular Navy deployments. I asked her if the Army was okay and she said yes because at the time Army assignments were pretty predicable, and with Vietnam in the rear view mirror Not too bad for family life on the whole. Not to say that in Cold War Germany my work days were usually 12-14 hours long and we had a lot of alerts, field exercises, and a massive event called REFORGER once or twice a year that took a month to six weeks out of our lives.

This is my Army story in pictures, from Army ROTC at UCLA and time in the 3rd Battalion 144th Field Artillery while in ROTC, my commissioning as a Medical Service Corps Lieutenant and our marriage in 1983, and my first five years on active duty from July 1983 to September 1988, which included time as a platoon leader, motor maintenance officer, NBC defense officer, Company Executive Office, Company Commander as well as Group and Brigade Personnel Staff Officer. I left active duty to attend seminary while serving in the Texas Army National Guard where I was commissioned as an Armor Officer and served in an Armor Battalion as the S-1, and on brigade staff before the State Chaplain forced me into the Chaplain Candidate Program because by regulation seminary and theological students are not allowed to serve in combatant positions. He had me branch transferred into the Staff Specialist Branch where seminary and law students went while in school. Now if you know the Army every Branch or Corps has its two letter designation. An Armor officer is AR, Infantry IN, Military Intelligence MI, and Field Artillery FA. There are many more but the Staff Specialist Branch was SS, so yours truly was a SS Captain, but not the Nazi kind for a couple of years. That being said, though I had orders and wore the insignia, the God of Military personnel in the 49th Armored Division still kept me on the books as a Medical Service Corps Officer, and a secondary Armor Officer in case we were mobilized for Operation Desert Storm, and we were days away from mobilization when that war ended. But during seminary I completed the Chaplain Officer Basic Course, and commissioned as a Chaplain following my graduation and ordination.

During that time I decided to try civilian hospital chaplaincy, completed a Clinical Pastoral Education Residency at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas, and then took a full time contract position as a Contract Emergency Department Chaplain in my parent’s home town of Huntington West Virginia, where both my grandmothers and numerous other more distant relatives lived. During all of this time I served as a Chaplain in the Texas and Virginia National Guard and when promoted to Major in December 1995 transferred to the Army Reserve. In the summer of 1996 8 volunteered for and mobilized to support Operation Joint Endeavor, the NATO Intervention in the Balkans. Coming home from that I had no civilian job as contractors have no reemployment rights.

About a week later the Army gave me orders to Fort Indiantown Gap Pennsylvania to help close it down as a Federal installation and prepare to hand it over to the Pennsylvania Army National Guard. That kept me there until the end of September 1997, but the Garrison Commander did not want to go the final year without a Chaplain, and since the Army didn’t have money to do it, he worked out a deal with the Pennsylvania State Military Department to hire me as a civilian chaplain while remaining a drilling member of the Army Reserve. That was a really cool time, Judy got to be with me, we had a great congregation, and I was recognized by the Army for my creativity in preparing the chapel congregation and the other inactive chapels on the base for turnover. This included the demolition of one, the decommissioning and neutralization of two others to serve in other capacities, one as a daycare center, the other a supply building. The partial renovations of three to serve as chapels for units training on base or mobilization purposes, the renovation of a tiny but historic Catholic Chapel, the Our Lady of Victory. The donations and removal of another which despite the structure being in pristine condition, would have been demolished with the rest of area six. It was donated to the First Free Congregational Church of Orwigsburg, Pennsylvania. After it had its lead paint exterior planks removed and was decontaminated by the removal of asbestos panels inside, the church had a crew of Amish workers take it apart and reassemble it on their site where it still stands. Judy represented me at the groundbreaking because I was serving as a Exchange Officer at the Chapel of the German Panzertruppen Schule in Munsterlager, between Hamburg and Hannover. When we turned the base over we went home to Huntington where jobs for someone like me were incredibly nonexistent, I got a call from the bishop of my old church Just before Christmas of 1998 that the Navy was willing to take me on active duty if I was willing to reduce in rank from being an Army Major to being a Navy Lieutenant. On 8 February 1999 I drilled for the last time in the Army Reserve and on 9 February was commissioned as a Navy Chaplain.

But the Army did a lot for me that led me to success in the Navy, Marine Corps, and in Combat. It prepared me by allowing me to serve in command and staff positions. To realize that war was more than a game, that one always had to expect the unexpected, and to realize that soldiers and their families were more than cogs in a wheel. I learned to try to balance justice with mercy and I learned from my mistakes when I didn’t to that as well as I should. Because of Judy we never were ones to treat ourselves above enlisted people, particularly because the Army tends to be a less stratified service than the Navy, and because we made sure that we invited enlisted personnel to dinners, including thanksgiving at our quarters, and to treat enlisted personnel and their families with respect, especially when unexpected things happened like massive pay failures during a unit move, or when we had to remain in the field longer than scheduled and Judy and the platoon leader, XO, or Company Commanders wife making sure that families were notified and cared for during such times.

I learned from excellent leaders and from the less than caring or stellar leader on how to treat people and not treat people. I learned how much my Oath to the Constitution meant, and though not a West Point Graduate adopted their creed of Duty, Honor, Country as my own.

As I said, the Army thought me about how to survive and succeed in combat, and prepare me for war. Good Army leaders taught me to think outside of the box and to throw away the book when it’s answers didn’t make sense. The bad ones always said to stick to the book no-matter what. Combined with my study of military history and successful leaders I found that taking risks and doing things that the Chaplain Corps frowned upon in combat was key to being where people needed me. Thankfully I had leaders that let me do those things.

I also leaned that to be honest and truthful when things were going to shit wasn’t appreciated by much of the brass, but was appreciated by the enlisted men. I also found that being honest and truthful could make one enemies more devoted to their power in the system than by being honest and truthful with people that have to power to fix things, including faulty weapons systems and vehicles, communications equipment, personnel regulations, training programs, and so much more that when not fixed or changed to meet changing situations, cost lives unnecessarily, and lose wars.

As the British military theorist, historian, and philosopher B.H. Liddell-Hart wrote toward the end of his life:

“We learn from history that in every age and every clime the majority of people have resented what seems in retrospect to have been purely matter-of-fact comment on their institutions. We learn too that nothing has aided the persistence of falsehood, and the evils resulting from it, more than the unwillingness of good people to admit the truth when it was disturbing to their comfortable assurance. Always the tendency continues to be shocked by natural comment and to hold certain things too “sacred” to think about.”

He then noted something that some of us learn as we progress through the ranks of the military if we are honest, “As a young officer I had cherished a deep respect for the Higher Command, but I was sadly disillusioned about many of them when I came to see them more closely from the angle of a military correspondent. It was saddening to discover how many apparently honourable men would stoop to almost anything to help their own advancement.” 

Anyway, here is the Army Part of my story in pictures.

Peace,

Padre Steve+














 





 








Well friends, that’s my Army story. There are many more photos I could have digitalized and used but this will have to work for now. On to the Navy and some reflections at the end of my career.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, leadership, Military, ministry, philosophy, Photo Montages, remembering friends, US Navy

Foul Weather, and Learning about War

Willoughby Run at Herbst Woods at Gettysburg

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Yesterday I was with my students conducting the Staff Ride at Gettysburg. About a week ago the mid-Atlantic region was experiencing record high temperatures and abnormally warm weather. In fact has the temperatures just been normal for this time of year we would have counted ourselves lucky to have such good weather, however, the trended changed and instead of warm weather we had temperatures in the low fifties, wind and rain. The weather was raw, but that is part of life, and if you want to really learn and experience military history you need to do more than sit back in a recliner sipping a nice beverage, and reading a book in comfort.

Guy Sager, who wrote the classic soldier’s account of the Second World War on the Easter front wrote in his book, The Forgotten Soldier: 

“Too many people learn about war with no inconvenience to themselves. They read about Verdun or Stalingrad without comprehension, sitting in a comfortable armchair, with their feet beside the fire, preparing to go about their business the next day, as usual…One should read about war standing up, late at night, when one is tired, as I am writing about it now, at dawn, while my asthma attack wears off. And even now, in my sleepless exhaustion, how gentle and easy peace seems!”

Our weather was by my standards not bad, but for some of my students, including veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan it was miserable. For me, adverse conditions that we cannot change are one of the best ways to learn about war. The fact is that war is inconvenient, it is uncomfortable, and it is more often than not quite inhuman.  War is nothing to celebrate, battles, even victories are to be commemorated not celebrated, and not celebrated as our President said this week this week in reference to the Battle of the Coral Sea. Sadly, the current American President is neither a historian, nor a soldier; he is a draft dodger who loves the instruments of military power without appreciating the sacrifice of those who serve in combat.

Yesterday was a relatively miserable day as far as weather goes, but we had it easy. We can ride around the battlefield in vans and cars, we take a long lunch break, there are restrooms, and we don’t have to lay our bodies down in the dirt, grass, or mud to sleep.

For me that is one of the most important lessons of going on a Staff Ride or visiting a battlefield. Those are lessons that our civilian leadership and those who are cheerleaders of war need to learn. Sadly, very few Americans understand this. Too few of us have been to war to understand this, and many who have gone to war have stayed on well protected bases with air conditioning, heat, plentiful food, and even internet and television access. That wasn’t my war i n Iraq out with our advisors in  Al Anbar Province, but I digress…

Today we will do the third day of the Battle of Gettysburg. We will walk the path trod by Pickett’s Division during Pickett’s Charge, we will visit General Meade’s headquarters, and then go the the Soldier’s Cemetery where Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address. The weather will be cool, but clear with no rain, although there will be quite a few places that we will have to walk through muddy ad very wet ground, but c’est le guerre.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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Filed under civil war, Gettysburg, History, Military, weather

Brilliant Soldiers & Evil Causes: Hans-Ulrich Rudel

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

I have been writing about the need to be as transparent and honest about history as possible. I have resorted to calling that un-sanitized history. I will be coming back to that in relation to the American Civil War in the not too distant future but tonight I am going to delve into a different era, an era where the acts of valiant and courageous military men are separated from the cases that they fought for and sometimes believed in.

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Colonel Hans-Ulrich Rudel was undoubtedly the greatest ground attack pilot that ever lived. His record is unsurpassed by any combat pilot flying ground attack missions. According to official Luftwaffe records he flew 2350 combat missions beginning in June 1941 and  May 8th 1945.

Rudel was born in Rosenheim Bavaria in 1916. As a young man he joined the Luftwaffe as an officer cadet not long after Hitler took power in Germany. Like many young men and women of his era Rudel was an ardent Nazi. Despite that and his unrepentant admiration for Adolf Hitler and Hitler’s ideology, his combat achievements are unmatched by any ground attack pilot before or since. That ids one of the things that makes him, and others like him so difficult to evaluate for any honest historian.

Rudel’s early career as an aviator was inauspicious. He was not regarded well as a pilot and spent the Polish campaign as an observer.  He did not take part in a combat role during the campaign in the west, the Battle of Britain or Crete between May of 1940 and May of 1941. He was assigned to Sturzkampfgeschwader 2 (StG 2) “Immelmann” at the beginning of Operation Barbarossa, the German invasion of the Soviet Union.  He finally saw combat in June 1941 in the Soviet Union and thereafter was almost always in combat.

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Flying various models of the Ju-87 Stuka Rudel was one of two pilots credited with sinking the Soviet Battleship Marat at Kronstadt harbor near Leningrad (Petersburg) on September 23rd 1941. During the war he was never shot down by an opposing aircraft but was shot down by anti-aircraft artillery or forced to land 32 times. He destroyed over 2000 targets including 519 tanks, hundreds of other vehicles and artillery pieces, he previously mentioned Battleship Marat, several other ships, 70 anding craft, bridges, armored trains and 9 aircraft in air to air combat. His accomplishments during the latter part of the war are remarkable because of the Soviet dominance of the airspace on the Eastern Front. Losses among ground attack pilots flying the obsolete Stukas were high and the fact that he flew multiple missions on a daily basis for several years is a record unsurpassed in modern warfare.

Hans Ulrich Rudel was the most highly decorated officer in the Luftwaffe, holding the highest decoration awarded to anyone other than Herman Goering. Among the holders of the Knight’s Cross with Oak Leaves, Swords and Diamonds,Rudel was the only one awarded the Gold Oak Leaves.

Rudel was critically wounded by the explosion of a 40mm anti-aircraft shell during a mission on February 8th 1945 and his life was saved by the quick action of his observer. His right leg was amputated below the knee and despite the severity and painfulness of his wound he returned to combat against the advancing Soviets on March 25th 1945. His war ended on May 8th 1945 when he led the remnants of his squadron to surrender to the Americans at an occupied airfield in Kitzingen Germany.

He spent 10 months in American captivity after his surrender and after his release moved to Argentina where he became a friend of the Argentinean dictator Juan Peron. He returned to Germany in the 1950s and became active in right wing nationalist politics. While he was a successful businessman his still openly National Socialist political views kept him marginalized in the newly established West German Bundeswehr.

However, with the threat of a Soviet armored assault across the German plain during the Cold War Rudel was tapped to assist the U.S. Air Force in the development of the A-10 Thunderbolt ground attack aircraft. Despite its ungainly appearance the A-10, known by its nickname “Warthog” has proven to be one of the most successful combat aircraft produced by the United States. His writings on tactics were required reading for pilots involved with the aircraft’s development by the A-10’s lead designer Pierre Sprey.

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Rudel was a remarkable pilot and combat flyer. His valor and combat accomplishments are unquestioned but his undying attachment to Nazi ideology following the war caused a scandal that claimed the careers of two Bundeswehr Luftwaffe Generals including World War Two fighter ace Walter Krupinski (197 kills). He died in 1982 still admired by British and American combat pilots including the legendary British ace Douglas Bader. However, many of those men did not know Rudel’s political activities or associations during or after the war. As a Luftwaffe pilot Rudel did not engage in the atrocities committed by the SS or Wehrmacht, nor was he ever tried as a war criminal.

In retrospect it is important to understand that Rudel’s political views were shaped by the times in which he lived and the radicalism that swept Germany during the 1920s and 1930s. Likewise it is also important to note that unlike many other officers who grew up during the same period, including fellow Luftwaffe aces Johannes Steinhoff and Adolf Galland, Rudel never recanted his Nazi views.  In the early 1950s he published a tract that condemned German officers who did not wholeheartedly support Adolf Hitler during the war. He also recommended attacking the Soviet Union in the 1950s in order to reacquire Lebensraum, the very doctrine which drove the Nazi invasion of Poland, Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union during the war.

I think it is important to be able to recognize military accomplishments but also to recognize that even valiant soldiers can serve evil governments. Even worse, some of them give their unrequited support to the evil ideology of those regimes. Thus Rudel is not alone. He stands with other Nazi, Communist, Fascist and others soldiers of totalitarianism whose valor and deeds are tainted by evil and the crimes of the regimes that they supported.

Rudel’s mixed legacy, like many from the Nazi era as well as from other nations should serve as a reminder to any soldier, sailor or airman, including Americans. That warning; to always be careful to ensure that honest patriotism does not become corrupted by the ideology of those that appeal to fear, hate and revenge as the source of their power is just as relevant now as it was when the young Hans Ulrich Rudel joined the Luftwaffe and enlisted in the cause of Adolf Hitler.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under aircraft, History, leadership, Military, nazi germany, world war two in europe

Re-entering Academia

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Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel. Socrates

I signed in to my new assignment at the Ethics faculty and Command Chaplain at the Joint Forces Staff College today. The JFSC is part of the National Defense University and as such is not a Navy Command. it is a joint command responsible to the joint Chiefs of Staff and the Defense Department. There are faculty members from the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, NSA, State Department and other agencies and the student body is composed of US military personnel from all branches, other Federal agencies as well as NATO and other allied nations. To put it succinctly my diverse background seems perfectly tailored for the job.

My friend Hal Scott is the outgoing chaplain and has already been a great help during the transition before I reported and today. What was really cool is even the little things were taken care of, right down to the name plate on my office door. Like Denny Crane said in Boston Legalname on the door.” But I digress…

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It is a good thing to have a friend in the position that you are moving in to. I have had many assignments in the military and had a number of good turnovers as we call them, but when someone who knows you and has your best interests at heart is on deck preparing the way it makes things a lot easier.

I met with the Commandant and Chief of Staff as well as some of the academic deans and professors today. It was really nice. Every single person asked me what “I wanted to do” at the college. Today the door to teaching, learning and deeper academic education was thrown open to me. I was told that I will have the chance to do anything I desire.

Now says my desires are pretty simple. I want to care for the faculty and staff members of the college as well as our students. Many of whom are catching one of our programs between arduous operation assignments and combat deployments. Quite a few I understand suffer from PTSD or some other type of combat stress injury and since they are senior officers many choose not to get help because of the stigma attached to getting it. Hopefully I will be someone who can be an encouragement to those that have not sought help,to get it and to be there for those that suffer in silence.

I also want to teach, not just Ethics, which is incredibly important in our world which appears to have gone mad, but also Military history and theory. Since I have my second Masters Degree in Military History it looks like I will get that chance as well. The doors have been opened.

That being said I do want to continue my own education. I for one do not think that a person should ever stop learning, no matter what their academic field or vocation. Since I lean toward academia it follows that I desire to continue to learn, both in my individual study and in formal education. I am looking at a number of doctoral programs which will,help me do that and help me in the academic world when I eventually retire from the military. Admittedly in that all I want to be is an adjunct professor to keep myself in the game but the additional education will help.

My first 10 weeks will be spent as a student in the Joint Advanced Warfighting School, which focuses on Joint, Multi-National and Inter-Agency operations even as I transition to being the Command Chaplain. I will be in a seminar group composed of a cross section of the student body that i already described. once i complete the course I will be teaching a number of Ethics courses and most likely get to teach other subjects as well. The last time I taught college courses was when I taught Western Civilization for Park University back in 2001.

From what Hal tells me the teaching methods encourage class participation and not doing data dumps of Power Point slides. That is good because I am okay with that and don’t mind chasing a rabbit once in a while if it helps students think more critically, ask hard questions and not be satisfied with easy answers to questions where there either are no easy answers or where multiple answers might be correct. That being said I believe that when we do this we give leaders the chance to do the right thing no matter what kind of situation that they find themselves in be it deployed or supporting combat operations or in garrison.

In this I am reminded of a quote from Star Trek the Next Generation. It is from an episode called “The First Duty.” in it the seasoned Captain Jean Luc Picard confronts his young protege Wesley Crusher after a disastrous accident that leaves a Star Fleet Academy cadet dead. Picard tells the young Crusher that “the first duty of every Starfleet officer is to the truth, whether it’s scientific truth, historical truth or personnel truth… in my book that sums up ethics.

Likewise the pursuit of truth, learning and seeking can never be brushed aside no matter how old we get or who wise that we think that we are. As the late great Hall of Fame Manager of the Baltimore Orioles Earl Weaver put it so well “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.”

So on Monday morning I will report to class and also give my first briefing on chaplain services, operational and combat stress issues, suicide prevention and other topics to an incoming class. My own class at that. Since we will have a few German officers in the class I will probably do at least part of my introduction in German. My Arabic or French is not good enough at the present to pull that off in either of those languages, but give me time.

Until tomorrow

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under ethics, History, leadership, Military