Tag Archives: navy chaplain corps

Taking Increased Devotion on the Anniversary of the Day of Infamy: A Personal Reflection

uss-arizona-memorial-pearl-harbor

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I never will forget the day that I took a Navy launch from Naval Station Pearl Harbor to the USS Arizona Memorial. It was Easter Sunday, March 26th 1978, the day before my 18th birthday and I was in Pearl Harbor as part of a Naval Junior ROTC Cadet Cruise. Cadets from my school sailed aboard the USS Frederick LST-1184 from San Diego to Pearl, and remained there for a week until returning to San Diego aboard the USS Gray FF-1054.

I honestly don’t know how many young people ever have had that kind of adventure, but for me I know that those three weeks were profoundly important in who I am today, but the one that constantly reverberates in me is the visit to the Arizona Memorial. Back then there was no visitor center on Ford Island, nor was the USS Missouri moored where the USS Oklahoma was that fateful Sunday. The day was sunny with partly cloudy skies, the sunlight reflected on the placid waters of Pearl Harbor. As the launch, manned by Sailor’s in Dress Whites neared Ford Island the bridge like white memorial loomed ahead, the rusty barbette of the battleship’s “C” turret rose slightly out of the water aft of the memorial, and the mooring quay with the USS Arizona inscribed upon it glinted in the bright morning sunlight. To our rear cruisers and destroyers lined the piers of the Naval Station.

uss-airzona-shrine-wall

Alighting from the launch I went aboard the memorial at the entry room and walked across the bridge and the assembly room before entering the shrine. As I walked slowly across the bridge I peered into the water below thinking about all the men still entombed in the wreck. Pausing in the shrine I read the names of the 1,177 men killed aboard Arizona that Sunday morning, one of those was the ship’s chaplain, Captain Thomas Kirkpatrick. It was a pivotal moment for me. I had begun to feel a call to the ministry but in that moment I was sure that I wanted to serve as a Navy Chaplain. I remember finding a post card that I had sent my grandparents from the USS Gray when we returned to San Diego, my words were “Dear Ma Maw and Pa Paw, I think I am supposed to be a Navy Chaplain.” I laughed when I saw it because I was then serving as a Chaplain in the Army Reserve. Sadly, when my grandmother died in November 1996 I was deployed, and that simple postcard, my link with that part of my past was discarded by family members who did not think enough to read it, or if they did didn’t give enough of a damn about me to save it. I should have taken it when I had the chance, but sometimes I am too sentimental.

chaplain-thomas-kirkpatrick

It took me a while to get there, my long strange trip included a 17 ½ year detour in the U.S. Army before I became a Navy Chaplain in February 1999.

Abraham Lincoln spoke of the ground that was hallowed at Gettysburg in his Gettysburg Address. The wreck of the Arizona is also hallowed. Despite our best efforts we cannot consecrate it more than the men who served aboard her that day seventy-five years ago, but we can as Lincoln said so well be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

For me that means to continue to serve as a Chaplain in the Navy, never forgetting that the duty of a Chaplain is with his or her Sailors, Marines, Soldiers, and Airmen, especially when they go in harm’s way.

Of course my service will come to an end on the 1st of August 2020. I will retire on my statutory retirement date. However, I will continue to write and serve people in whatever way I can. I will retire with no personal regrets, but regret the condition of the country today under President Trump, that is why I will continue “take increased devotion… that this nation, under God shall have a new birth of freedom – and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”  Though I will be retired my service will not end.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, Loose thoughts and musings, Military, national security, Navy Ships, News and current events, Political Commentary, US Navy, world war two in the pacific

“We do not Foolishly Suppose that Victory on the Battlefield will Gaurentee Democracy at Home: Rabbi Roland Gittlesohn’s Sermon at the Dedication of the Cemetery on Iwo Jima

39GittelsonIwoJima2

Rabbi Roland Gittelson, Chaplain Corps U.S. Navy

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I have been serving in the military for almost 38 years between the Army and the Navy, and I have been a chaplain for almost 27 of those years. Over six of those years as a Navy Chaplain were spent serving with the Marine Corps. During that time I have gotten to know, respect, and become with Jewish Rabbis serving in the Chaplan Corps. There are not many of them currently serving, and like so much of American religion, they are divided into different denominations, Orthodox, Conservative, and Reformed. Like all current military personnel they are volunteers. The Rabbis I have served with are primarily Reformed or Conservative, and all have done what they could to care for the spiritual needs of all who come to them. They serve in the highest tradition of the Chaplain Corps, and fight for and preserve the religious freedoms of  all personnel.

Like them, Rabbi Roland Gittelson volunteered to serve as a Navy Chaplain in the Second World War and like many Navy Chaplains he was assigned to serve with the Marines. He was the first Rabbi to serve with the Marines.

He went ashore with the 5th Marine Division at Iwo Jima. The battle was one of the most brutal ever fought by the Marines. In the month long battle for the 8.1 square mile island the Marines and Navy suffered nearly 7,000 men killed and 19,000 wounded. Over 18,000 of the island’s Japanese defenders died. On March 21st 1945 the Rabbi was one of the Chaplains to dedicate the cemetery for the fallen. The prejudice was such that many of his Christian colleagues wanted nothing to do with him and nothing to do with any service that he conducted. Though the division Chaplain had wanted him to conduct the main service to commemorate all of the fallen: Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, White, Black, and Mexican because no one else would conduct an ecumenical service, but both realized that the push back would be too much, so Gittelsohn conducted the Jewish service, expecting little to come of it except for the spiritual impact that it might have on his Jewish Marines, but unbeknownst to him a few Protestant Chaplains watched the service and then distributed it throughout the division and back to home.

Rabbi Gittelsohn’s message is one of the most remarkable that I have heard or read by any Chaplain and is very similar to the message of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. It is a message that needs to be heard today. That is why I am posting it here.

Have a great weekend,

Peace

Padre Steve+

This is perhaps the grimmest and surely the holiest task we have faced since D-day. Here before us lie the bodies of comrades and friends. Men who until yesterday or last week laughed with us, joked with us, trained with us. Men who were on the same ships with us and went over the sides with us, as we prepared to hit the beaches of this island. Men who fought with us and feared with us. Somewhere in this plot of ground there may lie the man who could have discovered the cure for cancer. Under one of these Christian crosses, or beneath a Jewish Star of David, there may rest now a man who was destined to be a great prophet—to find the way, perhaps, for all to live in plenty, with poverty and hardship for none. Now they lie here silently in this sacred soil, and we gather to consecrate this earth in their memory.

It is not easy to do so. Some of us have buried our closest friends here. We saw these men killed before our very eyes. Any one of us might have died in their places. Indeed, some of us are alive and breathing at this very moment only because men who lie here beneath us had the courage and strength to give their lives for ours. To speak in memory of such men as these is not easy. Of them, too, can it be said with utter truth: “The world will little note nor long remember what we say here. It can never forget what they did here.”

No, our poor power of speech can add nothing to what these men and the other dead of our division who are not here have already done. All that we can even hope to do is follow their example. To show the same selfless courage in peace that they did in war. To swear that, by the grace of God and the stubborn strength and power of human will, their sons and ours shall never suffer these pains again. These men have done their job well. They have paid the ghastly price of freedom. If that freedom be once again lost, as it was after the last war, the unforgivable blame will be ours, not theirs. So it is the living who are here to be dedicated and consecrated.

We dedicate ourselves, first, to live together in peace the way they fought and are buried in war. Here lie men who loved America because their ancestors, generations ago, helped in her founding, and other men who loved her with equal passion because they themselves or their own fathers escaped from oppression to her blessed shores. Here lie officers and men, Negroes and whites, rich men and poor—together. Here are Protestants, Catholics, and Jews—together. Here no man prefers another because of his faith or despises him because of his color. Here there are no quotas of how many from each group are admitted or allowed. Among these men there is no discrimination. No prejudice. No hatred. Theirs is the highest and purest democracy.

Any man among us the living who fails to understand that will thereby betray those who lie here dead. Whoever of us lifts his hand in hate against a brother, or thinks himself superior to those who happen to be in the minority, makes of this ceremony and of the bloody sacrifice it commemorates, an empty, hollow mockery. To this, them, as our solemn, sacred duty, do we the living now dedicate ourselves: to the right of Protestants, Catholics and Jews, of white men and Negroes alike, to enjoy the democracy for which all of them have here paid the price.

To one thing more do we consecrate ourselves in memory of those who sleep beneath these crosses and stars. We shall not foolishly suppose, as did the last generation of America’s fighting men, that victory on the battlefield will automatically guarantee the triumph of democracy at home. This war, with all its frightful heartache and suffering, is but the beginning of our generation’s struggle for democracy. When the last battle has been won, there will be those at home, as there were last time, who will want us to turn our backs in selfish isolation on the rest of organized humanity, and thus to sabotage the very peace for which we fight. We promise you who lie here; we will not do that! We will join hands with Britain, China, Russia—in peace, even as we have in war, to build the kind of world for which you died.

When the last shot has been fired, there will still be those whose eyes are turned backward not forward, who will be satisfied with those wide extremes of poverty and wealth in which the seeds of another war can breed. We promise you, our departed comrades: this, too, we will not permit. This war has been fought by the common man; its fruits of peace must be enjoyed by the common man! We promise, by all that is sacred and holy, that your sons, the sons of miners and millers, the sons of farmers and workers, will inherit from your death the right to a living that is decent and secure.

When the final cross has been placed in the last cemetery, once again there will be those to whom profit is more important than peace, who will insist with the voice of sweet reasonableness and appeasement that it is better to trade with the enemies of mankind than, by crushing them, to lose their profit. To you who sleep here silently, we give our promise: we will not listen! We will not forget that some of you were burnt with oil that came from American wells, that many of you were killed by shells fashioned from American steel. We promise that when once again men seek profit at your expense, we shall remember how you looked when we placed you reverently, lovingly, in the ground.

This do we memorialize those who, having ceased living with us, now live within us. Thus do we consecrate ourselves, the living, to carry on the struggle they began. Too much blood has gone into this soil for us to let it lie barren. Too much pain and heartache have fertilized the earth on which we stand. We here solemnly swear: this shall not be in vain! Out of this, and from the suffering and sorrow of those who mourn this, will come—we promise—the birth of a new freedom for the sons of men everywhere.

Amen.

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Filed under faith, History, Military, Religion, US Marine Corps, US Navy, world war two in the pacific

“Theirs is the Highest and Purest Democracy…” The Sermon of Rabbi Roland Gittelsohn at Iwo Jima

39GittelsonIwoJima2

Rabbi Roland Gittelson, Chaplain Corps U.S. Navy

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I have been serving in the military for almost 36 years between the Army and the Navy, and I have been a chaplain for almost 25 of those years. Over six of those years as a Navy Chaplain were spent serving with the Marine Corps. Rabbi Roland Gittelson volunteered to serve as a Navy Chaplain in the Second World War and like many Navy Chaplains he was assigned to serve with the Marines. He was the first Rabbi to serve with the Marines.

He went ashore with the 5th Marine Division at Iwo Jima. The battle was one of the most brutal ever fought by the Marines. In the month long battle for the 8.1 square mile island the Marines and Navy suffered nearly 7,000 men killed and 19,000 wounded. Over 18,000 of the island’s Japanese defenders died. On March 21st 1945 the Rabbi was one of the Chaplains to dedicate the cemetery for the fallen. The prejudice was such that many of his Christian colleagues wanted nothing to do with him and nothing to do with any service that he conducted. Though the division Chaplain had wanted him to conduct the main service to commemorate all of the fallen: Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, White, Black, and Mexican because no one else would conduct an ecumenical service, but both realized that the push back would be too much, so Gittelsohn conducted the Jewish service, expecting little to come of it except for the spiritual impact that it might have on his Jewish Marines, but unbeknownst to him a few Protestant Chaplains watched the service and then distributed it throughout the division and back to home.

Rabbi Gittelsohn’s message is one of the most remarkable that I have heard or read by any Chaplain and is very similar to the message of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. It is a message that needs to be heard today. That is why I am posting it here.

Have a great weekend,

Peace

Padre Steve+

This is perhaps the grimmest and surely the holiest task we have faced since D-day. Here before us lie the bodies of comrades and friends. Men who until yesterday or last week laughed with us, joked with us, trained with us. Men who were on the same ships with us and went over the sides with us, as we prepared to hit the beaches of this island. Men who fought with us and feared with us. Somewhere in this plot of ground there may lie the man who could have discovered the cure for cancer. Under one of these Christian crosses, or beneath a Jewish Star of David, there may rest now a man who was destined to be a great prophet—to find the way, perhaps, for all to live in plenty, with poverty and hardship for none. Now they lie here silently in this sacred soil, and we gather to consecrate this earth in their memory.

It is not easy to do so. Some of us have buried our closest friends here. We saw these men killed before our very eyes. Any one of us might have died in their places. Indeed, some of us are alive and breathing at this very moment only because men who lie here beneath us had the courage and strength to give their lives for ours. To speak in memory of such men as these is not easy. Of them, too, can it be said with utter truth: “The world will little note nor long remember what we say here. It can never forget what they did here.”

No, our poor power of speech can add nothing to what these men and the other dead of our division who are not here have already done. All that we can even hope to do is follow their example. To show the same selfless courage in peace that they did in war. To swear that, by the grace of God and the stubborn strength and power of human will, their sons and ours shall never suffer these pains again. These men have done their job well. They have paid the ghastly price of freedom. If that freedom be once again lost, as it was after the last war, the unforgivable blame will be ours, not theirs. So it is the living who are here to be dedicated and consecrated.

We dedicate ourselves, first, to live together in peace the way they fought and are buried in war. Here lie men who loved America because their ancestors, generations ago, helped in her founding, and other men who loved her with equal passion because they themselves or their own fathers escaped from oppression to her blessed shores. Here lie officers and men, Negroes and whites, rich men and poor—together. Here are Protestants, Catholics, and Jews—together. Here no man prefers another because of his faith or despises him because of his color. Here there are no quotas of how many from each group are admitted or allowed. Among these men there is no discrimination. No prejudice. No hatred. Theirs is the highest and purest democracy.

Any man among us the living who fails to understand that will thereby betray those who lie here dead. Whoever of us lifts his hand in hate against a brother, or thinks himself superior to those who happen to be in the minority, makes of this ceremony and of the bloody sacrifice it commemorates, an empty, hollow mockery. To this, them, as our solemn, sacred duty, do we the living now dedicate ourselves: to the right of Protestants, Catholics and Jews, of white men and Negroes alike, to enjoy the democracy for which all of them have here paid the price.

To one thing more do we consecrate ourselves in memory of those who sleep beneath these crosses and stars. We shall not foolishly suppose, as did the last generation of America’s fighting men, that victory on the battlefield will automatically guarantee the triumph of democracy at home. This war, with all its frightful heartache and suffering, is but the beginning of our generation’s struggle for democracy. When the last battle has been won, there will be those at home, as there were last time, who will want us to turn our backs in selfish isolation on the rest of organized humanity, and thus to sabotage the very peace for which we fight. We promise you who lie here; we will not do that! We will join hands with Britain, China, Russia—in peace, even as we have in war, to build the kind of world for which you died.

When the last shot has been fired, there will still be those whose eyes are turned backward not forward, who will be satisfied with those wide extremes of poverty and wealth in which the seeds of another war can breed. We promise you, our departed comrades: this, too, we will not permit. This war has been fought by the common man; its fruits of peace must be enjoyed by the common man! We promise, by all that is sacred and holy, that your sons, the sons of miners and millers, the sons of farmers and workers, will inherit from your death the right to a living that is decent and secure.

When the final cross has been placed in the last cemetery, once again there will be those to whom profit is more important than peace, who will insist with the voice of sweet reasonableness and appeasement that it is better to trade with the enemies of mankind than, by crushing them, to lose their profit. To you who sleep here silently, we give our promise: we will not listen! We will not forget that some of you were burnt with oil that came from American wells, that many of you were killed by shells fashioned from American steel. We promise that when once again men seek profit at your expense, we shall remember how you looked when we placed you reverently, lovingly, in the ground.

This do we memorialize those who, having ceased living with us, now live within us. Thus do we consecrate ourselves, the living, to carry on the struggle they began. Too much blood has gone into this soil for us to let it lie barren. Too much pain and heartache have fertilized the earth on which we stand. We here solemnly swear: this shall not be in vain! Out of this, and from the suffering and sorrow of those who mourn this, will come—we promise—the birth of a new freedom for the sons of men everywhere.

Amen.

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Filed under faith, History, Military, Political Commentary, US Navy, world war two in the pacific

“Theirs is the Highest and Purest Democracy…” The Sermon of Rabbi Roland Gittelsohn at Iwo Jima

39GittelsonIwoJima2

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I have been serving in the military for almost 36 years between the Army and the Navy, and I have been a chaplain for almost 25 of those years. Over six of those years as a Navy Chaplain were spent serving with the Marine Corps. Rabbi Roland Gittelson volunteered to serve as a Navy Chaplain in the Second World War and like many Navy Chaplains he was assigned to serve with the Marines. He was the first Rabbi to serve with the Marines.

He went ashore with the 5th Marine Division at Iwo Jima. The battle was one of the most brutal ever fought by the Marines. In the month long battle for the 8.1 square mile island the Marines and Navy suffered nearly 7,000 men killed and 19,000 wounded. Over 18,000 of the island’s Japanese defenders died. On March 21st 1945 the Rabbi was one of the Chaplains to dedicate the cemetery for the fallen. The prejudice was such that many of his Christian colleagues wanted nothing to do with him and nothing to do with any service that he conducted. Though the division Chaplain had wanted him to conduct the main service to commemorate all of the fallen: Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, White, Black, and Mexican because no one else would conduct an ecumenical service, but both realized that the push back would be too much, so Gittelsohn conducted the Jewish service, expecting little to come of it except for the spiritual impact that it might have on his Jewish Marines, but unbeknownst to him a few Protestant Chaplains watched the service and then distributed it throughout the division and back to home.

Rabbi Gittelsohn’s message is one of the most remarkable that I have heard or read by any Chaplain and is very similar to the message of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. It is a message that needs to be heard today. That is why I am posting it here.

Have a great weekend,

Peace

Padre Steve+

This is perhaps the grimmest and surely the holiest task we have faced since D-day. Here before us lie the bodies of comrades and friends. Men who until yesterday or last week laughed with us, joked with us, trained with us. Men who were on the same ships with us and went over the sides with us, as we prepared to hit the beaches of this island. Men who fought with us and feared with us. Somewhere in this plot of ground there may lie the man who could have discovered the cure for cancer. Under one of these Christian crosses, or beneath a Jewish Star of David, there may rest now a man who was destined to be a great prophet—to find the way, perhaps, for all to live in plenty, with poverty and hardship for none. Now they lie here silently in this sacred soil, and we gather to consecrate this earth in their memory.

It is not easy to do so. Some of us have buried our closest friends here. We saw these men killed before our very eyes. Any one of us might have died in their places. Indeed, some of us are alive and breathing at this very moment only because men who lie here beneath us had the courage and strength to give their lives for ours. To speak in memory of such men as these is not easy. Of them, too, can it be said with utter truth: “The world will little note nor long remember what we say here. It can never forget what they did here.”

No, our poor power of speech can add nothing to what these men and the other dead of our division who are not here have already done. All that we can even hope to do is follow their example. To show the same selfless courage in peace that they did in war. To swear that, by the grace of God and the stubborn strength and power of human will, their sons and ours shall never suffer these pains again. These men have done their job well. They have paid the ghastly price of freedom. If that freedom be once again lost, as it was after the last war, the unforgivable blame will be ours, not theirs. So it is the living who are here to be dedicated and consecrated.

We dedicate ourselves, first, to live together in peace the way they fought and are buried in war. Here lie men who loved America because their ancestors, generations ago, helped in her founding, and other men who loved her with equal passion because they themselves or their own fathers escaped from oppression to her blessed shores. Here lie officers and men, Negroes and whites, rich men and poor—together. Here are Protestants, Catholics, and Jews—together. Here no man prefers another because of his faith or despises him because of his color. Here there are no quotas of how many from each group are admitted or allowed. Among these men there is no discrimination. No prejudice. No hatred. Theirs is the highest and purest democracy.

Any man among us the living who fails to understand that will thereby betray those who lie here dead. Whoever of us lifts his hand in hate against a brother, or thinks himself superior to those who happen to be in the minority, makes of this ceremony and of the bloody sacrifice it commemorates, an empty, hollow mockery. To this, them, as our solemn, sacred duty, do we the living now dedicate ourselves: to the right of Protestants, Catholics and Jews, of white men and Negroes alike, to enjoy the democracy for which all of them have here paid the price.

To one thing more do we consecrate ourselves in memory of those who sleep beneath these crosses and stars. We shall not foolishly suppose, as did the last generation of America’s fighting men, that victory on the battlefield will automatically guarantee the triumph of democracy at home. This war, with all its frightful heartache and suffering, is but the beginning of our generation’s struggle for democracy. When the last battle has been won, there will be those at home, as there were last time, who will want us to turn our backs in selfish isolation on the rest of organized humanity, and thus to sabotage the very peace for which we fight. We promise you who lie here; we will not do that! We will join hands with Britain, China, Russia—in peace, even as we have in war, to build the kind of world for which you died.

When the last shot has been fired, there will still be those whose eyes are turned backward not forward, who will be satisfied with those wide extremes of poverty and wealth in which the seeds of another war can breed. We promise you, our departed comrades: this, too, we will not permit. This war has been fought by the common man; its fruits of peace must be enjoyed by the common man! We promise, by all that is sacred and holy, that your sons, the sons of miners and millers, the sons of farmers and workers, will inherit from your death the right to a living that is decent and secure.

When the final cross has been placed in the last cemetery, once again there will be those to whom profit is more important than peace, who will insist with the voice of sweet reasonableness and appeasement that it is better to trade with the enemies of mankind than, by crushing them, to lose their profit. To you who sleep here silently, we give our promise: we will not listen! We will not forget that some of you were burnt with oil that came from American wells, that many of you were killed by shells fashioned from American steel. We promise that when once again men seek profit at your expense, we shall remember how you looked when we placed you reverently, lovingly, in the ground.

This do we memorialize those who, having ceased living with us, now live within us. Thus do we consecrate ourselves, the living, to carry on the struggle they began. Too much blood has gone into this soil for us to let it lie barren. Too much pain and heartache have fertilized the earth on which we stand. We here solemnly swear: this shall not be in vain! Out of this, and from the suffering and sorrow of those who mourn this, will come—we promise—the birth of a new freedom for the sons of men everywhere.

Amen.

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Filed under faith, History, Loose thoughts and musings, Military, world war two in the pacific

To Take Increased Devotion… Pearl Harbor at 75, a Personal Reflection

uss-arizona-memorial-pearl-harbor

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I never will forget the day that I took a Navy launch from Naval Station Pearl Harbor to the USS Arizona Memorial. It was Easter Sunday, March 26th 1978, the day before my 18th birthday and I was in Pearl Harbor as part of a Naval Junior ROTC Cadet Cruise. Cadets from my school sailed aboard the USS Frederick LST-1184 from San Diego to Pearl, and remained there for a week until returning to San Diego aboard the USS Gray FF-1054.

I honestly don’t know how many young people ever have had that kind of adventure, but for me I know that those three weeks were profoundly important in who I am today, but the one that constantly reverberates in me is the visit to the Arizona Memorial. Back then there was no visitor center on Ford Island, nor was the USS Missouri moored where the USS Oklahoma was that fateful Sunday. The day was sunny with partly cloudy skies, the sunlight reflected on the placid waters of Pearl Harbor. As the launch, manned by Sailor’s in Dress Whites neared Ford Island the bridge like white memorial loomed ahead, the rusty barbette of the battleship’s “C” turret rose slightly out of the water aft of the memorial, and the mooring quay with the USS Arizona inscribed upon it glinted in the bright morning sunlight. To our rear cruisers and destroyers lined the piers of the Naval Station.

uss-airzona-shrine-wall

Alighting from the launch I went aboard the memorial at the entry room and walked across the bridge and the assembly room before entering the shrine. As I walked slowly across the bridge I peered into the water below thinking about all the men still entombed in the wreck. Pausing in the shrine I read the names of the 1,177 men killed aboard Arizona that Sunday morning, one of those was the ship’s chaplain, Captain Thomas Kirkpatrick. It was a pivotal moment for me. I had begun to feel a call to the ministry but in that moment I was sure that I wanted to serve as a Navy Chaplain. I remember finding a post card that I had sent my grandparents from the USS Gray when we returned to San Diego, my words were “Dear Ma Maw and Pa Paw, I think I am supposed to be a Navy Chaplain.” I laughed when I saw it because I was then serving as a Chaplain in the Army Reserve. Sadly, when my grandmother died in November 1996 I was deployed, and that simple postcard, my link with that part of my past was discarded by family members who did not think enough to read it, or if they did didn’t give enough of a damn about me to save it. I should have taken it when I had the chance, but sometimes I am too sentimental. 

chaplain-thomas-kirkpatrick

It took me a while to get there, my long strange trip included a 17 ½ year detour in the U.S. Army before I became a Navy Chaplain in February 1999.

Abraham Lincoln spoke of the ground that was hallowed at Gettysburg in his Gettysburg Address. The wreck of the Arizona is also hallowed. Despite our best efforts we cannot consecrate it more than the men who served aboard her that day seventy-five years ago, but we can as Lincoln said so well be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

For me that means to continue to serve as a Chaplain in the Navy, never forgetting that the duty of a Chaplain is with his or her Sailors, Marines, Soldiers, and Airmen, especially when they go in harm’s way.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under faith, History, Military, ministry, World War II at Sea, world war two in the pacific

Coming this Weekend: Biography and Heroism

Friends of Padre Steve’s World

It has been a busy week. We had a wonderful niece of Judy visit us and work has been busy. Last night I was able to have dinner with two of my very few real friends in the Navy Chaplain Corps at a local restaurant after getting the results of the Neuron-psychological testing that I endured a couple of months ago.

The good news regarding the testing is that I don’t seem to have any issues dealing with a physical brain injury, but at the same time I have some increased deficits dealing with certain types of memory, recall, and processing speed. The doctor things this may be mostly due to dealing with PTSD, depression and sleep deprivation related to PTSD. I’ll probably go through one more battery of these tests before I retire in 2017 just to make sure that I don’t have what Denny Crane (William Shatner- Boston Legal) and I now refer to as “the Mad Cow” or Alzheimer’s or some other kind of dementia.

Since I am getting ready to lead another group of students to Gettysburg next Friday I will be publishing another of my biographic vignettes about the men who fought the battle. This time dealing with Confederate General John Bell Hood, a man who was outstanding as a brigade and division commander but who was complete failure at higher levels of command. I have some more Gettysburg material in the works but I don’t thing that I will post it until next week.

I will also be putting out an article about the French Foreign Legion at the battle of Cameron on April 30th. This is a fascinating story about a small unit of 65 men engaged in a hopeless battle on April 30th 1863 in Mexico just as the epic Battle of Chancellorsville was about to begin.

During the coming week I will be putting out some more Gettysburg articles as I get ready to take another group of students there next weekend, as well an article about another hopeless and sadly forgotten battle, that of Dien Bien Phu which came to its disastrous conclusion on May 7th and 8th 1954. Of course I am always ready to write about current events and issues as needed.

On another note I just finished the amazing book Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln by Doris Kearns Goodwin. I think that this is a book that anyone interested in politics, people and our current political crisis need to read.

Have a great night and weekend.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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So Much to Write About and Too Wiped Out to Do It



Somehow I feel a bit like Danny the Donkey now. I am wiped out and I wouldn’t mind sitting around in my underwear drinking beer. sadly I am not a pretty sight in my tights whities, but then there are times when I think that I am ahead of my time. 

Today I had a day long series of tests to see how my brain is working at the Neuro-Psychology clinic at the local Naval Medical Center. If you ever have cause to go through such a series, please know, even if you don’t drink you will want to when complete them. Thankfully, this was the last battery of tests of this sort that I will need to do. On the 23rd I get my special sleep study  which in addition to checking for possible sleep apnea also studies all of my crazy dreams and night terrors. 

Last night I had a pretty bad night for sleep, lots of weird dreams and nightmares. I woke up exhausted and then went to my testing. So now I am even more wiped out. Thankfully tonight should be easy. Go home and spend time with Judy and the dogs. I think our new Papillon puppy, Izzy, is good for me. It looks like she is going to be daddy’s girl. I love playing with her and having her hang out with us. She is funny, smarter I think than any of our previous girls, and none of them were dumb dogs, very sweet, playful but totally laid back. It is like this little girl is an old soul. 

Like I said, there is a lot that I want to write about. One thing is the latest GOP outrage with their letter to Iran. As a career military officer and former Republican I could never imagine any group of American politicians doing something so stupid and ultimately undermining of of our country. Not only was a it a lame attempt to sabotage the discussions that we and our allies are involved with before any deal is finalized, in a sense they added to the legitimacy of the Iranian clerics. If the Democrats had written a letter like this to Saddam Hussein in 2002 they would have been rightfully condemned, but evidently Senator Tom Cotton and 46 others thought this was a good idea, simply because they hate all things Obama. Instead they seem to be pushing for new, unfunded wars against not only Iran, but Iran’s mortal enemy the Islamic State. Guess what, if they get there way, these new wars will end badly. But the people are less rational than the Iranian Mullahs, so what can we expect?

There is yet another shit storm brewing between the religious right and the Navy Chaplain Corps. I promise that as I sort through the facts I will give you the fairest and most comprehensive report you will see on it. But for now I will simply say that from what I am reading this appears to be another incident involving a chaplain who might have overstepped his bounds but who’s cause is now all over the conservative blogosphere. From what I read there appears to be much more to the story than what is being reported on the Daily Caller, World Net Daily, the Blaze, Fox News, tons of other Right Wing Christian “news” sites and blogs or the website of lawyers supporting the agrieved chaplain are saying. Give me some time and you will get as truthful report as you will see on this.

I do have a number of Gettysburg related articles in process. Expect one one the cavalry actions of July 3rd and one on the suprises that George Meade and Robert E Lee experienced on June 28th 1863 within the week. I have some other ideas floating around and have much more to do on my Gettysburg text, so there will be more. 

Finally there are a number of other subjects that I want to address, some dealing with history, some baseball, some military, and some current events and controversies. So my friends, please stay tuned and spread the word. 

Until tomorrow, 

Peace, love and beer,

Padre Steve+ 

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The Long and Winding Road of 31 Years of Commissioned Service

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Today marks another milestone in my life and career, at least in terms of longevity. Thirty-one years ago today I was with my soon to be wife Judy, as well as my dad and brother at UCLA where I was being commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Army. Six days later I married Judy who has over the past 31 years seen me go my down the long and winding road of my military career. Truthfully the long and winding road has been to use the words of Jerry Garcia a “long strange trip” and usually not the Yellow Brink Road.

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Let’s see…service as a Medical Service Corps Officer, platoon, leader, company executive officer, maintenance officer, NBC officer, and company commander, and brigade adjutant. Texas Army National Guard, Armor officer, Chaplain Candidate (Staff Specialist Branch) and Chaplain serving with Combat Engineers, and Chaplain in the Virginia National Guard with the Light Infantry. Army Reserve Chaplain, drilling and mobilized to support Bosnia mission, Installation Chaplain at Fort Indiantown Gap Pennsylvania.

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The Army, Cold War Germany, the Fulda Gap and the Berlin Wall, supporting the Bosnia mission, exercises, and active duty for training, even doing an exchange program with the German Bundeswehr.

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Then the path took a different direction. After 17 1/2 years in the Army Judy was looking forward to the day that I would retire from the reserves and she would have me back. Instead, I took off my rank as an Army Reserve Major and became a Navy Chaplain. Two tours with the Marine Corps, Second Marine Division and Marine Security Forces, Sea Duty on the USS Hue City, a tour with EOD, interspersed with an individual augmentee in Iraq followed by 5 years working in Medical Naval Centers or hospitals and finally serving as Chaplain and doing teaching in military ethics and military history at the Joint Forces Staff College.

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Lots of field exercises and underway periods at sea, travel around the world to support deployed Marines, a Marine Deployment to Okinawa, mainland Japan and Korea including the DMZ. Then along came the 9-11-2001 attacks and war. A deployment to the Horn of Africa, the Gulf of Oman and the Northern Arabian Gulf in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Southern Watch aboard the Hue City, served as a member of a boarding team making 75 missions to detained Iraqi Oil Smugglers and helping keep peace on those miserable ships. Traveling to Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Guantanamo Bay Cuba with the Marine Security Forces, standing at Gitmo’s Northeast Gate, and completing the “Commie Trifeca” of Cold War German, Korea and Cuba.

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Then there was EOD, serving with some of the most amazing men and women I have ever met, a tour in Iraq with my trusty assistant, bodyguard and friend Nelson Lebron. Of course as any reader of this site knows the time in Iraq changed me forever, the aftereffects of that tour remain with me every day, the battle with PTSD, anxiety, hyper-vigilance, depression and the shattering effect of seeing that my government leaders had lied about the reasons for war and by their actions devastated a country and helped throw a region into chaos. I saw the suffering of Americans as well as Iraqis in Al Anbar Province, death, badly injured Marines, soldiers and Iraqis, poorly treated third world nationals working for Halliburton and other contractors. After coming home dealing with all of my shit while trying to care for others in back to back tours at two different Naval Medical centers or hospitals. The ongoing violence in Iraq and the fact that that unfortunate country and its people are going to suffer more haunts me. I miss Iraq, I would go back not because I love war, but because I care about the Iraqi people.

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Now I minister, celebrate Eucharist in my little chapel, care for people and teach. The highlight of my life is leading our institution’s Gettysburg Staff Ride and being able to research, read, ponder, analyze and write about that campaign, the Civil War and relate it to what we teach at our institution.

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Throughout my career there have been two constants, my long suffering wife Judy who has spent close to ten of the last 17 or 18 years without me and those who I served alongside, many of who I am still in contact with through Facebook. I am amazed at the quality of men and women who have served alongside of me since 1981. The funny thing is that even though I probably still have another five to six years until I finally retire to civilian life, that I am watching men and women who entered the military 10-13 years after me retiring from the military.

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Thankfully I still love what I do and serve in a great place. To those who have served alongside me all these years in any capacity I thank you. You don’t get to where I am in life without a good deal of help, sage advice from men and women not afraid to speak the truth and without a bit of good luck and fortune and maybe a bit of the grace and mercy of God.

Yes it has been a long strange trip down a long and winding road, but it has been more than I could ever imagine.

Have a great night and thanks for reading,

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

 

 

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Letter to A New Military Chaplain Part V: Count it All Joy

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“The theologian who labors without joy is not a theologian at all. Sulky faces, morose thoughts and boring ways of speaking are intolerable in this field.” ― Karl Barth

This is fifth part of a response to a question I had from a new Navy Chaplain. I have decided to post it here without any identification of the chaplain because I know that many men and women who are new to the military chaplaincy or who are exploring the possibilities of becoming a chaplain have the same questions. I was fortunate to have had a number of chaplains who at various points in my decision process and formation as a minister, Priest and Chaplain in both the Army and the Navy help me with many of these questions. Likewise I learned far too much the hard way and blew myself up on some of the “land mines” that almost all who serve as chaplains experience in their careers. This is the fifth of several parts to the letter and is my attempt to systematically explain my understanding of what it is to be a Chaplain serving in the military and in particularly the Navy. As I wrote this tonight I thought of one more installment so I expect soon that I will write it, but not tonight. The first three parts are linked here:

Letter to a New Military Chaplain: Part One

Letter to a New Military Chaplain: Part Two The Minefields of the Heart 

Letter to a New Military Chaplain Part Three: The Minefields of the Soul: Power and Arrogance

Letter to a New Military Chaplain Part IV: The Minefields of the Flesh, Sex, Alcohol and Money

It has been a while since I started this series so tonight I figured that I would quickly finish what I started. The young Chaplain who I wrote this for is about to report to his new assignment and I do wish him well and pray that he will do well in it. If things go as I expect and he does well he should still be serving as a chaplain at least 15 years after I retire.

Thus for me this series is in a sense about passing the torch. I figure that in five or six years I will finally retire from the Navy Chaplain Corps. Of course that could change because I’m not God and so until I actually retire I will keep my head in the game. There is always a new generation and those of us who have labored need to be there for and be ready to do all we can to help, encourage and mentor those who follow us.

One of the things that I have learned over the course of 32 years in the military and 21 years as a military chaplain is that one must keep a sense of humor and not take oneself too seriously. In that time I have ran into many a chaplain and minister who lived their lives bereft of a sense of humor, had no ability to laugh at themselves and who were positively gloomy people. Saint Teresa of Avila made the comment “God save us from gloomy saints!” I think that she was right and she did take fire from people in the church because of her joyous spirit.

Now I have my times where I am not a happy camper. I can be morose and moody and sometimes even a bit cynical. However, that being said I try not to live my life that way and certainly do my best to keep a sense of humor, laugh at myself and even when things are not going well to try to find a silver lining in the otherwise dark clouds.

Chaplains have a unique ministry. We are not cloistered in parishes or trying to build churches. We serve in a secular institution with people who volunteer to serve their nation in often dangerous, lonely and arduous manners. Those who serve alongside of us on our ships, or in our units we in the Navy call “shipmate” and that transcends differences in religious beliefs, politics or philosophy. As the chaplain it is our duty in this secular institution to care for the people who we serve alongside. They are our parish whether they be believers or not. Pastoral care in this setting is about caring for and loving people who many times don’t believe like us (no matter what our religious tradition) respecting their faith or beliefs and treating them with the same dignity that we would want others to treat us, our families or our friends.

For me this is a joyful life. I like working outside the brick and mortar of the church because it suits my personality and way of doing life. I was a Navy “Brat” growing up. Had it not been for a Roman Catholic Navy Chaplain who helped care for my family when my dad was in Vietnam and a civilian church of our denomination made us unwelcome. I trace my calling back to that man. He was not about pushing his denominational or personal agenda, he simply cared about a military family who needed it.

I think that approaching life and ministry as a chaplain with joy is paramount. It is I think a reflection of the grace of God. As Karl Barth said: “Grace creates liberated laughter. The grace of God…is beautiful, and it radiates joy and awakens humor.”

In our military careers we chaplains will find many opportunities to lose our joy, to become graceless and to become consumed with our own status, promotion and even power. It is a temptation and danger of any kind of institutional ministry where there is an “up or out” promotion system.  Thus we must be careful to keep our focus on caring for others, doing our best in all things, build collegial relationships and real friendships with others and trust God with how everything else works out.

Joy is essential if we are to be living sacraments or vehicles of God’s grace and we have to chose joy. As Henri J. M. Nouwen said: “Joy does not simply happen to us. We have to choose joy and keep choosing it every day.”

So count it all joy.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Letter to a New Military Chaplain Part Three: The Minefields of the Soul: Power and Arrogance

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This is third part of a response to a question I had from a new Navy Chaplain. I have decided to post it here without any identification of the chaplain because I know that many men and women who are new to the military chaplaincy or who are exploring the possibilities of becoming a chaplain have the same questions. I was fortunate to have had a number of chaplains who at various points in my decision process and formation as a minister, Priest and Chaplain in both the Army and the Navy help me with many of these questions. Likewise I learned far too much the hard way and blew myself up on some of the “land mines” that almost all who serve as chaplains experience in their careers. This is the third of several parts to the letter and is my attempt to systematically explain my understanding of what it is to be a Chaplain serving in the military and in particularly the Navy. The first two parts are linked here:

Letter to a New Military Chaplain: Part One

Letter to a New Military Chaplain: Part Two The Minefields of the Heart 

Dear Chaplain

The late great Hall of Fame Manager of the Baltimore Orioles Earl Weaver said “It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.”

The first two parts of this letter dealt with aspects of the chaplain ministry that were very much philosophical and theological in their emphasis. This part is more direct and will deal with things that are more associated with behaviors, mostly bad behaviors. I call them minefields of the soul because they are common to all human beings. They are dark parts of the soul that lurk within us that none of us like to admit exist.

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Sometimes they are merely weaknesses, but sometimes they are pathological or in some cases sociopathic. There is no restriction on such maladies of the soul, ministers are just as prone, if not more prone to them than others. It goes with the territory. One only has to look at the Christian and Jewish scriptures as well as the history of religious leaders of all religions throughout history to see this fact. Religious leaders, especially ones whose ministry involves some form of temporal power, be it in the religious structures of their religion, behinds the scenes in secular government and the political process or those whose ministries are in the secular arena of the chaplaincy often find themselves compromised by behaviors that others might not even consider that loathsome.

As I talked about in the first two parts of this letter, all of these behaviors are linked to who we are as human beings, as ministers and have a lot to do with our theological, ministerial and pastoral formation. They also have a lot to do with our upbringing, our cultures, family backgrounds and the family systems that were formative in our upbringing as well as the prejudices that we hold deep in our hearts.

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This part of the letter focuses on things that are more observable to most people, especially those who see us in action. When I was leaving active duty as an Army Captain back in 1988 to attend seminary, an Army Chaplain Major Wayne Lura took the time to pull me aside and preach to me a warning sermon about the minefields that existed in the chaplain ministry. It was a warning that I took to heart.

Likewise my Executive Officer at the Academy Brigade of the Academy of Health Sciences Colonel James Wigger gave me this warning: “Steve, you think that the Army Medical Department is political and backstabbing. Let me tell you, we can’t hold a candle to the brutality of Chaplain Corps.” Unfortunately he was right. In my 21 years as an Army and Navy Chaplain I have seen this often up close and personal. I have had senior Line Officers and officers from other Staff Corps of the Navy talk about how bad of reputation many senior Chaplains have, especially in promotion boards.

The warnings of Chaplain Lura and Colonel Wigger hit me hard as a young officer, especially in the ideals that I held out about the Chaplain Corps. I took their warnings to heart but did not want to believe that they could be true. The sad fact was that they were all too true, Chaplains like all ministers and people often have feet of clay and at times hearts of stone.

Even so I had to find out the hard way about how destructive the “minefields of the soul” were in the lives of my fellow chaplains and and the Chaplain Corps of the Army and Navy.

I will first address the issues of power and arrogance. These issues plague institutional ministry and those minister within institutions. I think a part of this is that many who wind up in Chaplain ministry because of their lack of pastoral formation readily grasp at the apple of power, like the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, that fruit is a powerful elixir. Yet even those that have a more thorough formal pastoral formation can fall prey to the lust of power.

Power is a great temptation and a minefield. The military chaplaincy is unique in ministry in that chaplains also hold commissions as officers in whatever military branch we serve. As I mentioned in my first article we have to be fully clergy of our own faith tradition and at the same time fully a commissioned officer if we are to succeed in the military chaplain ministry.

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Unfortunately there are some that embrace the fullness of the commission and leave behind their ministerial identity, and even more unfortunately when they do they do this they are neither aware of it, nor very good at it. They forget with the exception of a couple of billets or positions, one being the Commanding Officer of the Navy Chaplain School that all the rest of us are staff officers. We are officers but we have no command authority. That does not mean that we cannot supervise chaplains, chaplain assistants or religious program specialists and civilian or contract staff. But when we do so we function under the authority of our commanding officer. I have seen some in both the Army and Navy who have forgotten this and have become tyrants and used the power that they have to destroy the lives and careers of those that they do not like, or have somehow offended them. They are toxic and if they were serving in a denominational structure they would be the ones abusing that power as well.

The temptation of power is great, but just is dangerous is the temptation of arrogance. A Kenyan prayer says: From the cowardice that dare not face new truth, From the laziness that is contented with half truth, From the arrogance that thinks it knows all truth, Good Lord, deliver us.

Arrogance usually shows up in the Chaplain ministry in the way we advertise our selves and our beliefs. Arrogance comes in the form of deciding that whatever truth we proclaim trumps the rights of others to their beliefs. One of the chief complaints of people about chaplains is that some of us, perhaps even many of us are more intent on promoting our agendas, religious, social and even political than we are actually listening to and caring for the people whose religious rights that we are constitutionally mandated to protect. Yes, even those people that we do not agree with on doctrine or anything else. Our mission is to provide or perform ministry and care for the people we have been given to serve. That is a sacred trust. If there is something that we cannot do for someone by virtue of what our church or personal beliefs mandate we don’t have to do it, but we do have the legal and moral obligation to help them find someone who can.

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Our Navy Chaplain Corps motto of “Cooperation without Compromise” should be the bedrock of how we minister and how we respect the rights of others, both other chaplains and those that we serve. Sadly, there are horror stories about how some chaplains of various traditions, liberal and conservative, Christian, Jewish and Moslem have run roughshod over the rights of others. I have seen it first hand and there is no excuse for it. But that being said none of us can allow our own arrogance to dictate how we treat others nor can we allow the mistreatment we may have experienced from other Chaplains to justify doing the same to others.

The Navy policy is quite clear and when we apply for a commission we agree to do this, and in fact all of our religious bodies have agreed that their chaplains will do the same. SECNAV INSTRUCTION 1730.7D is quite clear on this. Like the Prime Directive in Star Trek it is non-negotiable.

(1) Chaplains are qualified Religious Ministry Professionals’ (RMPs) endorsed by a DoD-listed RO and commissioned as Naval officers in the CHC.

(2) Per reference (d), as a condition of appointment, every RMP must be willing to function in the diverse and pluralistic environment of the military, with tolerance for diverse religious traditions and respect for the rights of individuals to determine their own religious convictions. Chaplains must be willing to support the free exercise of religion by all Service members, their families, and other authorized persons. Chaplains are trained and expected to cooperate with other chaplains and RMPs and work within the specialized environment of the military while not compromising the tenets of their own religious traditions. 

(3) To meet the requirements of religious accommodation, morale and welfare, and to facilitate the understanding of the complexities of religion with regard to its personnel and mission, the DON has designated four core CHC capabilities: care, facilitate, provide, and advise. Chaplains care for all Service members, including those who claim no religious faith, facilitate the religious requirements of personnel of all faiths, provide faith-specific ministries, and advise the command. 

In my next installment I will discuss what I call “The Minefields of the Flesh” also known as Sex Alcohol and Money.

Until the next time,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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