Tag Archives: national security council

Going to War: Ministry amid Training

Two years ago my group of Individual Augmentees was leaving Ft Jackson South Carolina on the way to Kuwait, which was our final training site before going on to our assignments in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait and other locations in the CENTCOM Area of Operations.  In the two weeks prior to our departure  we received training in a number of areas, especially weapons which I was exempted from as a Chaplain, though I did fire the crew served weapons for the fun of it.  I wasn’t always a chaplain and have a hard time not enjoying a Mk 19 Automatic Grenade Launcher, M-240 series machine gun or the classic .50 caliber Machine Gun.  Since I used to call in 155mm Artillery fire these are little guns, but still fun to play with.  When you are chaplain and are exempted from actual training it does not mean that it is time to go to the Food Court at the Post Exchange to chow down on Pizza and Ice Cream.  Ministry abounds if you want to go hang out.  One of the fun things about hanging out with Navy guys unfamiliar with small arms is to watch them trying to clean them and get them past an Army armorer in an Arms Room.  To see the looks of shock as my fellow sailors brought back their M-16s and M-9s for more cleaning.  They had not yet learned the dirty little secret that a good armorer can find things dirty on a weapon that you didn’t even know existed.    It was at this point with me calmly pointing out tricks of the trade that a physician who I had gotten to know looked at me and said: “Chaplain, you were in the Army weren’t you?”  He looked at me as several others who had just had their weapons rejected stopped what they were doing and waited for my response.

I was kind; I acknowledged that indeed I had served in the Army and that I was not always a Chaplain.  I then looked at the physician and said “Give me the weapon.”  I took it from him, broke it down and gave a quick lecture on how to clean a weapon of the M-16 series.  The dirty secret on these things is that you almost never get your weapon through the inspector on the first try.  There are more places for carbon to hide on an M-16 than places you can find Waldo.  Thus a good inspector knowing that he has a bunch of novices coming through simply rejects every weapon.  I think that it builds character.  I showed those around me all the little places where carbon was hiding on this officer’s weapon and how to get it clean to pass inspection.  Knowing such things gives you additional “street cred” as a chaplain as you go off to war.  It shows that you care about what your guys have to do enough to teach them.  This is really vital when your Navy or Air force guys are training with the Army.  It opened doors to ministry with these men and women.  So if any of my deploying friends need some pointers on the care and feeding of an M-16 let me know.

Additionally, ministry seems to happen when you stay engaged with people.  I was blessed that two additional chaplains, Commander Kyle Fauntleroy and Command Dave Rodriguez who were heading off to manage the “Warrior Transition” program in Kuwait.  Together we figured out how best to care for our sailors including how we did services as well as counseling.  We had a pretty good amount of business.  It seems that life and tragedy happens even in training. We had a young hospital corpsman who was diagnosed with Leukemia during our first week there. Both the Navy chain of command and Army trainers expected us, in between and after training to make sure that she and her family were cared for.   Other sailors found out that their husbands, wives or significant others were cheating on them.  Still others were hurt in training accidents and could not deploy.  In every case one or more of us took care of the sailor in question.  It was a community of individuals that for a brief two weeks began to gel together despite the fact that when the training was completed we would go separate directions, some for more training at other bases and others directly to the Middle East.

Apart from the young woman with Leukemia the most notable thing that I got to do was baptize a young Navy Reserve Intelligence Officer who had been raised in the Episcopal Church but who’s parents had forgotten to have him baptized…oops.  The subject came up when he became engaged to a Catholic girl. He needed to prove that he was a baptized Christian, only problem when he went to his parish they could find no record.  So he inquired of his parents when he learned of the “oops we should have done that” situation.  I like to baptize people, they way we do it you don’t have to wear hip-waders or make up anything because it is all in the Prayer Book so it’s not that hard.   So I did it on our last Sunday morning with his fiancé present.  It was really cool.  The young officer had the bunk next to me in the barracks so we had gotten to know each other during conversations as we checked or put together equipment, packed gear, washed clothes or went to chow.  He was very smart and friends as well as unassuming.  When asked what he did in civilian life he simply said that he worked intelligence and foreign policy in DC.  I figured as most would infer that the young man was with the CIA or DIA or some other outfit.  We saw each other a couple of times as Nelson and I traveled about Al Anbar Province the last time in the Wal-Mart sized chow hall number three at Al Asad as we waited for a flight out west.  After I returned and was having my PTSD meltdown I found that the young man was then Senator Barak Obama’s senior National security adviser.  We had stayed in touch in the following months but finding out this was a surprise. We have remained in touch and he now serves as Chief of Staff for the National Security Council.  I think it’s cool that he is up there working with General Jones on the NSC.  He’s a good man who despite his high position remains active in the Naval Reserve.  He is doing well in his marriage and remains in contact with guys like me.  It makes me even more prayerful for him as he advises the NSC and President.   It was one of those moments when I knew that the Deity Herself had placed me in a person’s life that due to his office needs prayer more than we can imagine.

Ministry of all types continued to happen our entire time at Fort Jackson, we dealt with family deaths, birth notifications and medical emergencies.  We counseled, prayed and assisted sailors in need and looked out for each other.  Nelson was engaged not only receiving training but also giving it having run something like 400 convoys in Afghanistan.  He ended up as one of the honor graduates and won a leadership award from the Army staff.  It is really great to have an assistant of Nelson’s caliber when you go to war.  As we got ready to leave Ft Jackson my young friend went off for more specific training at another base with many of the other Intelligence Officers and specialists.   Nelson and I packed up our gear, stacked it and helped load trucks which would take us to our flight.

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Filed under iraq,afghanistan, leadership, Military, philosophy, Tour in Iraq

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+

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

The Eve of 26 Years of Marriage

Judy WeddingJudy on our Wedding Day

“Baseball and marriage have much in common. Both are a team effort. You can’t play baseball by yourself. You need others and have to get along with them. Marriage needs a partner. If marriage reaches a point where getting along is not possible, the marriage is over.”  Peter Griffiths in the Daily Herald 1982

Today is our wedding anniversary eve, in fact our 26th anniversary.  It was cool that we got to spend it together; this has not always been the case.  Tonight the Deity Herself smiled upon us as on a beautiful night we watched our Norfolk Tides defeat the Pawtucket Red Socks 4-2.  Tomorrow we start a 4 day road trip to Washington DC to celebrate our anniversary which will be topped off by a behind the scenes tour of the White House on Saturday Night arranged by a friend who I baptized on the way to Iraq, who is now on the National Security Council.   His staff has bent over backward to make this happen and we are blessed.  We will also see my old Commanding Officer from Marine Security Force Battalion, or now as it is called the Security force Regiment and his wife who are coming down from Annapolis to meet us Friday night.

So 26 years, as Jerry Garcia would say it has been a long strange trip.  We met almost five years before we were married at San Joaquin Delta College.  We got to know each other by hanging out between classes with mutual friends.  In fact the things we did were almost like Seinfeld before Seinfeld came on.  It was a relationship initially based on nothing, except that I had a Dorothy Hamill fetish and Judy had short brown hair.  We started dating about 7 months after we met.  We were co-conspirators at the Delta College German club where our German candy and bake sales were legendary, racking up huge profits for the club which enabled us to fund our own field trips to San Francisco and Monterrey.  Our political prowess was also unmatched, as a small club we had few votes in student government which at the time was dominated by a rather large and active ethnic club.  This club was a bit pushy the way it handled itself, so we cobbled together a coalition of the language, science and other kind of “nerdy” clubs, funded our candidate with our sales receipts, even passing our free candy on his campaign materials.  He had an ethnic name and we used it to our advantage, we convinced a lot of people that our friend Tory was one of the other ethnic club’s candidates.  We used his first name “Salvatore” in our advertising.  This caused a split in the voting allowing our stealth candidate from an Asian club to become student body President.  I guess had we had the wherewithal to pursue politics as a couple we might have been quite good, as both of us have pretty good instincts and I happen to be rather analytical and calculating at times.  As it were this was the high point of our political career but our relationship was solidified as we shared in taking German club from a poor club of nerds to a campus economic and political powerhouse of nerds.

Me and Judy DormUs in 1980 at Cal State Northridge

We grew together over the years of our courtship playing off of our mutual twisted sense of humor and our faith.  I followed Judy down to Cal State Northridge and a week after I was commissioned we got married at our home Church, East Side Presbyterian Church in Stockton.  The eve of the wedding my ROTC friends took me out and tried to get me drunk, but I survived.  The wedding itself was on a shoestring as Judy’s dad was out of work and her mom not working and playing well with others.  Everything came together and our wedding looked like it cost a lot more than it did.  We spent the next two weeks together before I went on active duty and Judy finished her last semester of college.  We finally settled in Eckelhausen Germany, a tiny little town in the Saarland in April 1984 and lived in Germany for most of the first three years of our marriage.

Now as to anniversaries that we have spent together and apart; this is what makes 26 pretty special.

Wedding 1Wedding Day 25 June 1983 East Side Presbyterian Church

In 1984 I was in Landstuhl Army Medical Center dehydrated from a 2 week bout of gastroenteritis where I was so sick I was vomiting my anti-nausea medicine.  I had lost almost 20 pounds and my company commander wouldn’t believe that I was sick until I threw up on his desk. It was his fault, I told him I was going to throw up and he told me that I had to stay.  Oh well, that got me a ride in a Mercedes-Benz Ambulance to Landstuhl.  In 1985 and 1986 I was in the field with my company.  We were together in 1987 and 1988 in San Antonio, but from 1989-1997 we did not spend a single anniversary together due to military duties.  We spent 1998 together but missed 1999 and 2000 after I came in the Navy.  We got 2001 one together, but just barely as I returned from deployment a week before it.  We missed 2002 as I was deployed to the Middle East and finally got 2003 together when we renewed our vows in Jacksonville Florida.  2004-2007 we celebrated on the road doing trips to minor league baseball games out of our area in either Pennsylvania or North Carolina.  Last year we were together but I was not doing well having hit bottom with my PTSD about 100 or so days after returning from Iraq.  So with this history in mind you can understand why this is special.  We are 10 for 26 counting tomorrow.  If we were a baseball team our record would be somewhere between the Indians and Nationals on a winning percentage at .386.  However, if we were a hitter we would have a 386 batting average and that is not too shabby.

We have survived poverty and war, separation and tremendously difficult circumstances and we are still hanging on, and doing pretty good as a couple.  We were never able to have children but we have had three really fun dogs, the latest of which, Molly, is looking over my shoulder as I write this now.  We are different in the way that we are wired differently and have some different interests.  We are both introverts with often strong opinions.  But we love each other.  I only came close to having her divorce me once, though murder may have played into her mind a time or two.

So here we are…26 years with a 10 and 16, .386 record.  Even so Judy is the love of my life and we are together.

Take care and blessings,

Peace, Steve+

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Filed under Baseball, Loose thoughts and musings, philosophy, PTSD