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After Irene: What happens the Next Time, do we feel Lucky?

Crews working to restore power aboard Camp LeJeune

Irene has left the scene and thankfully for whatever reason, divine intervention or just plain luck Irene lost her groove and didn’t get it back before coming ashore.  There was damage and loss of life but it could have been much worse.  She had weakened and hit New York at low tide had she not weakened and moved fast New Yorkand much of New Englandcould have faced a disaster of epic proportions.  Even still damages are estimated at 7 billion dollars and there were towns which most people in power don’t really give a damn about that were devastated by flooding, storm surge or wind.

In North Carolinawhen I am stationed we took the brunt of the storm.  There was a lot of damage in the communities where she came ashore, the Outer Banks and in low lying inland areas where the building codes are less stringent than on the coast but it could have been much worse.  A big part of the reason is that we have been abnormally dry and so streams and rivers were low and the ground was able to absorb the heavy rain. I have been through worse here and I’m glad that we did not have a repeat of Floyd were the storm was a high category 2 with massive rains inundating a state that had been saturated by two previous hurricanes.

My Island Hermitage is on Emerald Isle and it is better situated than many communities on the Outer Banks.  Despite this I prepared in earnest and thankfully all the damage I had was a bit of wet carpet which happens every time we get a lot of rain.  I’m told that my home inVirginia Beach came through fine although as in every tropical storm or Nor’easter the lakes in my neighborhood overflowed and flooded the streets.  In past tropical storms and Nor’easters we lot power for extended periods of time.   According to my neighbor who was looking after the house there was only a momentary outage.

For us the storm produced some anxiety. As a geographic bachelor and as a part of essential staff at the Naval Hospital I knew that I would be there for the duration. Since Irene was a massive storm I had Judy secure our home and evacuate on Thursday.  We I made the call Irene was expected to hit as a category 3 or strong category 2 storm with both the Island Hermitage and my Old Virginia Home in the crosshairs.  I veer to caution in such situations, it is far better to over prepare and get lucky than to presume upon God or nature depending on your world view.

I rode out Irene in our Naval hospital with our bare bones essential staff, some of their families, patients and families, women in their last weeks of pregnancy and pets of the staff members forced to be on duty.  We did well, my Commanding Officer told the story in this blog post http://navymedicine.navylive.dodlive.mil/archives/501 .  We lost commercial power early on and were on diesel backup generators the duration of the storm.  After the Friday dinner we were reduced to emergency rations which the main courses have an eerie resemblance to MREs and what staff had brought from home.

I ambled about on my gimpy leg the best that I could and had to resort to using my cane to make my rounds as I went about to staff, patients and family members.  Several babies were born on Friday night and Saturday.  It was a good event and thankfully nothing bad occurred.  A lot of people especially those that had never been through a hurricane or had a spouse deployed overseas found it unnerving. But we did our best. We converted the chapel to a TV room for the kids to watch movies since they had little else to do and almost every television were on non-emergency circuits.  We ran an extension cord to an “essential” plug in our section of the building which allowed this to happen and our hospital American Red Cross office supplied us with DVDs as well as coloring books and games for the kids.

As I have written in previous articles the military, particularly the Navy tends to be more of a family than any civilian employer. We are bound together by our shared experiences of deployments, danger and regular moves and family separations.  We pull together in ways that I have never seen in the civilian world.   It is an honor to serve.  I finally left the hospital late this morning since Emerald Isle did not reopen the bridge that links us to the mainland until today.

Since I have come back online I have seen some comments from various critics of Federal disaster assistance or the actions of governors or mayors of states and cities with large numbers of people in the danger zone, about 67 million Americans I think is the number.  The most critical politicians were from the House of Representatives and the biggest mockers when Irene came ashore in a weakened state and did less damage than expected were from the “new” conservative media.  Having been through more hurricanes and major earthquakes than I can count and seen the devastation of these events and the effects on the lives of people I find the comments calloused, mean spirited and simply used this as another way to push a political agenda.

Of course it is easy to be a critic when you have no direct responsibility for the lives of people.  You see those in the executive branch be it at Federal, State of City levels of government  and the agencies are each level are damned if they do and damned if they don’t.  If they know of something that that could devastate their communities and the citizens in them and do too much and disaster doesn’t strike, those that hate government say that they are overreacting and an “intrusion of big government.”  If they don’t react it is held up as a failure of government.  As far as Federal assistance after an event those that say that the Federal government should let people sink or swim and states and municipalities fend for themselves even if the disaster is overwhelming the same is true.  They are always critical simply because they want to dismantle the Federal government. Well most are against it until it is their community is affected, the rare exception being Virginia Representative and House Majority Whip Eric Cantor who told people in his own district to take a hike after they were hit by an earthquake that no one ever anticipated or were prepared.

Close to 70 million people were potentially at risk from a potentially historic hurricane that only weakened at the last minute.  The President, the governors of the affect states and the mayors of major cities did what they were supposed to do.  They did not wait until it was too late as was the case in Louisiana and Hurricane Katrina.  For that they are mocked I the press, especially those that are deemed liberal I haven’t heard any criticism of the actions of Republican Governors of Virginia or New Jersey for doing what the Mayor of New York did.

We got lucky this time but some day we won’t be and if the critics have their way the result will be historic in the bad kind of way, think about the Tsunami in Japan kind of bad.  We got lucky and if we think of ourselves as gamblers we need to remember that eventually the law of averages works against us, just ask the people of New Orleans or more recently Joplin Missouri.  God or nature take your pick only gives us so many chances and it takes only one of these things to make a direct hit and wipe untold numbers of people, their communities and even the assets of major corporations and Fortune 500 companies, but then the people that are against Federal assistance to regular people would jump through their asses to help Corporate America, can you imagine what would have happened in Wall Street went under like they did back in 2008 except this time under real water?

Being prepared and taking precautions is always preferable to loss of life on a major scale.  No government or community can be prepared for all contingencies but it is foolish for them not to do so but they are damned if they do and damned if the don’t in the eyes of their critics do not have the same responsibility.

I do hope that we band together to help those most affected by Irene and other recent disasters.  Prayer is nice but action is even nicer. Thank God there are good people that lay it all out for those in need and do it well working with the government and other charitable organizations and individuals. I think a lot about the efforts of the Southern Baptist disaster response teams as well as the Salvation Army disaster relief and those like them that make such a difference.

I’m glad that Irene lost her groove and didn’t get it back, unfortunately lives were lost and millions of people have suffered some kind of loss due to her.

After the Storm

For me it was a long and exhausting event. But it was a great chance for me to have a weekend with some wonderful people, my local Navy and Marine Corps family.  Men and women that give every day and exemplify the best of America.  That makes all the difference.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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The Importance of the Navy Family

There are families and there are families. One family apart from my biological family that I think I treasure the most is my Navy family going back to when I was a Navy Brat and the friends of my parents who were in fact another family.  These were people that my dad served with at various times, mostly though from our tour in the Philippines that remained lifelong friends through thick and thin now for close to 50 years.  In my own life I have serve in the Army and the Navy.  We have a couple that we have known since my first month on active duty that we stay in contact with and hope in the near future to see again. Marty and Sue are part of my Army family we served together in Germany and I expect that we will remain friends the rest of our lives.  Then there is my Chapel family from Fort Indiantown Gap Pennsylvania many special people, some now with the Lord some of whom wrote letters of recommendation for me to transfer from the Army to the Navy.

I entered the Navy in February 1999 and there have been people that have been part of our lives since early in my Navy career. We will be seeing one of our best friend’s son’s graduate from high school next month, hard to believe how young that he was when we first met.  Judy loves both of their boys and we have been fortunate to share many special occasions with them. I also have friends that I have known since coming in the Navy.  Some are fellow Chaplains and though our careers have often taken divergent paths when we get together it is like yesterday. In an institution where denominational barriers and distrust sometimes disrupt relationships these are special relationships. Today during a training session aboard Camp LeJeune I was able to meet up with some old friends, many like me who have or are going through periods of great trial and pain.  I was able to share a couple of beers with one dear from my old denomination who was here from out of town for the training.  He was still shaking his head about how I had been tossed from the denomination and the subsequent events and scandal associated with the Bishop who had tossed me and the stories from others in the denomination who believed what the man had said about me.  He told them that it couldn’t be true but many did not know me as well as he did and evidently believed the lie. Even so it was good to see Dean again and I hope that we are able to meet again sometime soon.  Another friend that I saw is going walking with his wife through her terribly painful cancer treatments.  These are friends that I know if I need that I can go to and be honest.

Some are former shipmates from the USS HUE CITY CG-66 and Marines from any of the number of Marine Corps units that I have served and my friends EOD Group Two and from the Navy Medicine Community at Naval Medical Center Portsmouth and Naval Hospital Camp LeJeune.  I have baptized their babies, married them and been their when death took a spouse, counseled regarding personal, marital or spiritual issues many times long after we served together. I have been able to stay connected and I am happy to be their “Padre” or simply “Chaps.”

Yesterday I conducted the funeral of a retired Navy Master Chief and I talked about the Navy family and how important it was. There were many heads that nodded in agreement when I talked about this. I got an e-mail from the son of a man who was one of my parent’s closest friends in the Navy.  I mentioned Frank yesterday during the funeral how he had been my dad’s Chief and sponsored us in the Philippines nearly 50 years ago. He sent my mom an e-mail about a chance to the ID card system yesterday, a Yeoman he never missed administrative messages.  His son contacted me this evening on his e-mail account to tell me that he had passed away early this morning and asking me to contact my mother.

After I responded to the e-mail I called her and of course she was shocked and she wondered what would happen to Frank’s wife who has been chronically ill for many years.  Frank took care of her. He had a heart attack about 10 days ago and when he got out of the hospital he was told to take it easy and even stay off the internet.  He didn’t listen and he had to stay involved in the lives of his family as well as his Navy family.  He has been an encouraging person to me in my ministry as a Priest though he was a conservative Roman Catholic. He prayed for me and cared and I am sure that he will keep praying for me now that he is with the Lord.

While this was going on a sailor from a previous command popped in on me on Facebook regarding a pressing family matter. Another friend from Marine Corps Command and Staff College and Iraq responded to a friend request and sent me a couple of messages and another friend from the past chimed in on a humorous post that I had placed on Facebook regarding Osama Bin Laden’s Facebook account.  Another sailor who referred to me as the “Anti-Chaps” when I bought beer from him and some other sailors on a liberty call and stays in regular contact. What can I say? I do like the nickname.

What I find wonderful about my Navy family is that they have been there for me and my family over my entire life more so than most of my non-immediate biological family.  Those that don’t know this because they have not served in the Navy or another military branch of service are missing so much. For most it isn’t politics, religion or even if they are Dodgers’ fans we share a common bond serving in war and peace that transcends everything else.  They are my friends and I am their Chaplain or friend.  It is a most wonderful fellowship far better than most churches will ever known.

It has been a long day there were other things that happened in caring for Sailors and Marines over the past couple of days, some things that I can assist and others that I can only pray for and offer some guidance.

I am also exhausted by some of the commentators on the David Wilkerson article in which I postulated that his death could be a suicide. It is amazing how nasty some people can be when you even suggest that their idol was a human being.  Likewise I made the mistake of getting involved in a discussion with some pro-life activists who had to throw abortion into the death of Osama Bin Laden and been frustrated with how fellow Christians are wringing their hands about the killing of that perfidious bastard who killed so many of our people. The lack of moral clarity in these people who see the world in black and white dualistic terms and ignorant of philosophy, ethics and history as well as the nasty gray areas of life really pisses me off. Tomorrow I should get a good PT session in after physical therapy and play ball in the evening. Thanks be to God.

I’m now finish a big glass of Riesling and getting ready to prepare for tomorrow. Thankfully I have an appointment with my shrink in the afternoon.

Pray for me a sinner.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under faith, Military, shipmates and veterans, US Navy