Tag Archives: new orleans

Praying for the Gulf: Hurricane Isaac Channels the Ghost of Katrina

Hurricane Katrina was a devastating event. The hurricane nearly came ashore as a category 5 hurricane, weakening at the last minute before coming ashore in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. Even so the storm had major and long lasting effects. Over 1800 people lost their lives and property damage exceeded $81 billion. Parts of New Orleans still remain an uninhabited ghost town. It is etched in the psyche of the inhabitants of the Gulf Coast and the nation. Whenever a storm forms in the Gulf of Mexico it brings back those terrible memories of August 2005 when death came to New Orleans in the form of Katrina. The ghosts of Katrina still remain and Hurricane Isaac has channeled those ghosts.

Katrina

In 2005 I was serving as the Chaplain for the Marine Security Forces in Norfolk. I preparing to fly to New Orleans for a conference on Sexual Assault and Prevention. I was watching the weather closely and as Hurricane Katrina tracked toward New Orleans and grew stronger I got word that the conference had been postponed. I was disappointed because I was looking forward to the conference, meeting some colleagues that I had not seen and had planned to see a Minor League ballgame when in town.

My disappointment rapidly shifted to concern about the areas of New Orleans and Gulfport Mississippi. Initially I wasn’t too concerned but watched in horror as the storm strengthened. I was thinking hard about the Navy in Gulfport where I had talked the detailer out of sending me in to be the junior chaplain in the base chapel 2003 because I wanted to remain operational. Had I meekly agreed to the detailer we would have been directly in the path of Katrina’s track.

To watch the disaster unfold was frightening. To see people suffering and the breakdown in civil order as the city was inundated was frightening. Emergency response was woefully insufficient, public order completely broke down as levees failed and local response providers became victims themselves. The Super Dome was a prime evacuation center but it was hit hard, supplies we short and the attempt to provide shelter to the poor who could not evacuate a disaster. State, Local and Federal responses were poorly coordinated and executed.  I some ways New Orleans will never completely recover from Katrina.

It appears Isaac is tracking to New Orleans and Gulfport.  If it continues its path and the models are correct the effects should be nothing like Katrina although massive rainfall and storm surge could create some chaos. Thankfully some dry air is keeping Isaac from gaining too much momentum however Katrina surprised many by gaining a huge amount of power in a very short time.

Local, State and Federal government agencies are on alert, the National Guard has been activated in some areas and evacuations of coastal areas have been going on for a couple of days.

Isaac will have economic impacts beyond any life or property damage due to the storm but, hopefully only short term. Oil drilling and production facilities will be shut down for several days even if they sustain no or little damage and gas prices are moving up. Oil platforms have been strengthened since Katrina but all it takes as one platform to fail to create an ecological disaster.

Isaac has delayed the Republican National Convention in Tampa which was very much in the target zone just a few days ago. Anyone who has ever been to Tampa knows the danger if a storm was to hit it. There have been studies one of which, Project Phoenix http://www.tbrpc.org/tampabaycatplan/pdf/Project_Phoenix_Scenario_Info.pdf  which analyzes the effects of a worst case scenario. In 1921 Tampa was hit by a category 4 storm that did great damage to Tampa and St Petersburg which were then much smaller metropolitan areas.

Damage from the 1921 Tampa Bay Hurricane

While Tampa should suffer little from Isaac, the city was right to take preparations and the GOP leadership was right to delay the start of the convention. Since hurricanes often make unexpected moves and sometimes strengthen in ways not expected they could not take that chance. That being said if Isaac hits New Orleans hard it could put a damper on media coverage of the convention. After all in our society natural disasters and human tragedies always get more coverage than political rallies.

I have been through about 6 or 7 hurricanes or tropical storms in North Carolina and Virginia and another in Okinawa. I have rode out hurricanes and Indian Ocean cyclones at sea. they are not to be taken lightly. Last year I experienced Hurricane Irene which was a very large slow moving category one storm which did enough damage in North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania to be classed as one of the top ten natural disasters in the history of the country.

So I pray for all of those in the path of Isaac tonight and in the coming days as the storm hits the Gulf Coast and then moves inland.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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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 “Eyes” have it; they’ve got Sammy Davis Eyes….an Experience from My Clinical Pastoral Education Residency

Sometimes I gotta wonder about people, especially some religious people.  Of course we can all probably relate to some incident where someone with their religious beliefs led to somewhat unusual situations, even funny or tragic situations.

Of course when you work as a Trauma and Surgery Department Chaplain at a major inner city Level One Trauma Center like Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas, the unusual, the funny and the tragic can all be wrapped into one or maybe two two stories, sometimes on the same day.  Such an occasion occurred about halfway through my residency year at Parkland in March 1994.

About a quarter into my residency my Clinical Pastoral Care Residency Supervisor moved me from the Internal Medicine service to Trauma, Surgery and Neurosurgery service which included the Trauma and Surgery section of the Emergency Department. This several years before the hospital began their Emergency Medicine Residency and unified the ER.

We saw lots of trauma, back then we had six fully equipped trauma rooms as well as about 50 other beds of various types in the Surgery section of the ER.  The Medicine Section had three fully equipped Cardiac Resuscitation rooms, numerous telemetry beds and about 60 addition beds and rooms of various types and specialties.  When things got sporty as they often did additional beds were used in side halls for patients with minor injuries which sometimes included minor gunshot wounds.

It was often the case that every trauma and cardiac room would be full sometimes with multiple “codes” going on.  We saw about every kind of injury imaginable on the surgery side of the house and in the course of my residency year I dealt with well over 300 deaths in the hospital.  That may sound like a lot but back then Parkland was a 940 bed hospital that was usually running 90-100 percent of capacity and it had eight Intensive Care Units dealing with some of the worst trauma in the United States.  The most death calls I dealt with in one night was eight in an eight hour eleven p.m. to seven p.m  On a typical day if I left the hospital dealing with two deaths or less I considered it an easy day but I digress….I think I was talking some unusual, funny and tragic situations come together.

Well like I said about halfway through my residency I was hanging out in the Surgery ER about 10 a.m. on Saint Patrick’s day.  The morning had been busy with the usual bevy of motor vehicle accident victims from the rush hour and had died down.  It was then that the Dallas County EMS brought in a young man on a gurney who was taken to trauma room 6, the one in the back corner directly across from the “Presidential Suite” which was always cordoned off by the Secret Service when the President was in town.

The situation didn’t seem that interesting at first as I did not see the young man’s face but he appeared to be stable and since I was spending time with one of the nurses who had dealt with a patient in pretty bad shape from one of the MVA’s (Motor Vehicle Accident patients) I waited to check things out.

About 15 minutes later I wandered down to the trauma room and saw some of the Ophthalmology docs looking at the young man’s face peeking under the gauze 4×4 that covered his left eye and shaking their heads.  When I walked into the room a good number of staff looked at me, some with expressions of horror, and others amusement and still others just weirded out.  So I asked what was going on.

One of the Surgery residents answered and said that the young man had been doing crack cocaine and reading the Bible.  So I said “you mean the “if your eye offends you pluck it out” verse?” And the resident said that’s the one.  I looked at the young man and saw a large black Bible on his chest clasped in his hands. One of the Ophthalmology doctors looked at me and asked “Is that really in the Bible?”  I said “oh yeah, you want to read it?” He said yes and a number of his colleagues nodded in agreement.

Now the young man reminded me of what back in my younger days was referred to as a “stoner” kind of like Sean Penn’s character “Jeff Spicoli” in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. So not having a Bible in my hand just a small Episcopal Armed Forces Prayer Book I went up to him.  I said:

“Mr. Spicoli (the name has been changed to protect the stupid) I’m the Chaplain what happened?”  His answer was classic, “Dude sir, it was like I was reading the Bible and I saw this verse about “my eye offending me” and just knew that I had to take it out.” I said “Dude, you know that some parts of the Bible aren’t supposed to be taken too literally don’t you?” 

With his one good eye he looked up at me and said “Like I didn’t have to cut it out?”    I shook my head feeling somewhat compassionate yet amused (a feeling that many who work in ERs and trauma centers can attest to having) and said “No Jeff you didn’t….you weren’t using before you read the Bible were you?”  He then said, “Yeah, like dude, like why not?” 

I shook my head and said “Jeff my friend, God loves you and wants you to read his word but not while you’re doing crack, it tends to mess up your interpretation of it.” To which Jeff replied “Really, yeah dude you might be right.”

Now this was obviously a nice but really messed up kid so I decided not to push him any farther and commented on his Bible.

“That’s a pretty impressive Bible Jeff.”

Jeff replied “Yeah I got it like last week or something.”

I then asked him “Can I look at it with these doctors a second?”

I promised to give it right back.  When he gave me permission, I gently took the Bible from his hand and walked to the disbelieving (not in God but in what was going on) physicians with it.   Thumbing through the pages I came to Mark 9:47 and let the doctors read it themselves.  They were genuinely shocked and kept looking at Jeff as they read it.  The Ophthalmologist who had asked the initial question looked at me and said: “I guess that it wouldn’t be good to read that verse while doing crack.”  I smiled, shook my head and said “No, not a good idea.” 

With that I took the Bible back to Jeff and thanked him and he said “anytime dude.”  The docs were getting ready to transport him to surgery so I wished him well and told him that I would pray for him for which he thanked me.  I felt bad for the kid and knew that he would not be on the trauma service after the surgery and when medically ready would be hanging out in the Psych ward.  That was the last time that I saw him and I do hope that he was able to break his addiction and get his life together.

However, the day was still young and I had the overnight 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. on call duty in the evening. The rest of the day into the early evening was progressing rather uneventfully by Parkland standards, just your typical MVA’s, overdoses, cardiac arrests and shootings.

That changed when the Dallas EMS brought an African American lady who appeared to be in her thirties. Her eyes were covered with a bandage so I asked the paramedics what had happened.

One of them said, “Chaplain, you wouldn’t believe this in a million years, the lady’s sisters took her eyes out.” 

I said:  “Took her eyes out?”

The paramedic replied: “Yeah, like scooped them out, almost surgical precision. She said her sisters drove her from New Orleans to Dallas and along the way took out her eyes because they thought that she was possessed by the Devil.”

My reply was a simple, “Damn, that sucks.”

The paramedic continued “Yeah, she kept saying that her sisters said the she had “her father’s eyes” or something like that.” 

The conversation continued for a while as the paramedic vented about how idiotic and criminal what happed was and when he went to finish his paperwork and get back to his rig I went in to the trauma room where the lady was being assessed. I got a look at the eye sockets and was quite impressed.  The young man had gouged out his eye and made a mess. The lady’s eye sockets were just a little bloody and hollowed out like nothing had been there. It was rather creepy.

Since she was pretty out of it and not very coherent I backed out of the room, consult with the team and let them know what the paramedic had told me.  The story creeped them out as badly as it did me.  Later I would find out that the sisters had been arrested.  Evidently the lady was a school teacher and she and her sisters were heavily involved in hoodoo a blend of Voodoo and Catholicism. At their trial they claimed that they were “fleeing from the devil.” The victim refused to testify against her sisters but they were convicted of the crime. The link to the New York Times article and one from the UK Independent is here:

http://www.nytimes.com/1994/09/25/us/trial-in-woman-s-blinding-offers-chilling-glimpse-of-hoodoo.html?pagewanted=1

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/hoodoo-hex-on-interstate-20-the-blinding-of-myra-crawford-demonstrates-how-racism-and-fear-of-demons-linger-side-by-side-in-pockets-of-the-old-south-1412753.html

Never before and so far I have not seen a day where I have seen anything that unusual.  It was creepy like a really creepy horror movie.

All I can say about that day now was that “the eyes have it.” Unlike the Kim Carnes’ song, these folks don’t have “Betty Davis Eyes” but “Sammy Davis Eyes.”

With that to leave your stomach to churn I wish you a good night and pleasant dreams.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under healthcare, Pastoral Care, Religion, things I don't get

Minor League Moves: The Dance Begins, Connecticut Defenders move to Richmond

007Minor League Moves: The Orioles Affiliated with The Norfolk Tides in 2007

Minor League Baseball teams move around for many reasons with a fair amount of regularity.  At the end of every season there are almost always a number of teams that either changes their major league affiliation or moves to another city.  A few years ago my team here in Norfolk told the New York Mets and the Minaya – Bernazard Axis of Idiocy to “get out of town and don’t let the door hit you.”  The Mets had treated their AAA affiliate badly for years and these guys gutted the Mets farm system.  I talked with various Mets scouts this year who although not saying anything on record nodded in agreement about my observations of the Mets.  So the Mets went to New Orleans and this year to Buffalo and managed to continue their mangled management of their minor league system.

However teams change affiliations for a number of reasons.  One reason that Baltimore relocated to Norfolk was the entrance into the Hampton Roads TV market.  Other reasons include facilities, distance from the home club, fan base issues, tradition or local government policies.

When I was a kid I lived in Stockton California where I got my first taste of Minor League ball watching the Stockton Ports of the California League in the late 1960s and early 1970s.  At the time the team was affiliated with the Baltimore Orioles.  A few years back I had opportunity to talk with Orioles great Paul Blair who remembered his days playing in Stockton at Billy Hebert Field.  The Ports have since been with the Brewers, the Rangers, the Reds and the Athletics and maybe a couple of others over the years.  This is not unusual as teams try to move their teams closer to the major league club or local owners negotiate deals with major league franchises to move teams to their markets.

Last year there were several moves in the International League and the Pacific Coast League. In the PCL the biggest news was the relocation of the Dodgers AAA affiliate from Las Vegas to Albuquerque, a move that returned the Dodgers to one of their tradition minor league cities.    The Ottawa Lynx franchise left that city for Allentown Pennsylvania to become the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs. This left that city without any baseball.  A Canadian league that was supposed to move a team there folded.  This is actually sad for Canada as both Ottawa and Montreal which had a long baseball heritage with the Major and Minor leagues no longer have teams.  This is in large part due to the Canadian government’s tax policies that ensured that minor league players would be taxed by both the US and Canadian governments.  This made the situation difficult if not impossible for many minor league players from the states and as a result the major leagues moved all of their teams out of Canada except the Vancouver Canadians in the Northwest League.  Since the Northwest League is a short season single “A” league and most of the players are college players there is a different dynamic at work than the rest of the minors.

In 2009 the New York Mets brought the team once known as the Norfolk Tides from their home in post-Katrina New Orleans to Buffalo. In Buffalo the Mets replaced Cleveland who had moved their team to Columbus.  This ensured that the city of Buffalo and especially Bison’s fans would bask in the misery inflicted on both Norfolk and New Orleans fans for the foreseeable future.  The Bisons under Mets management finished the season with the worst record in Triple “A” ball.  I saw them several times in Norfolk and there wasn’t a young prospect of any caliber on the team.  There was an ass-load of older “has been” players who are deep into the tail end of their careers and I looked like I was in better shape than some of them, some of the guts and butts were simply huge.   The Mets under the current Oscar Minaya management are pathetic.  They have no prospects, their minor league system is broken and if the Bison’s plight was not enough their AA affiliate the Binghamton Mets were the worst team in AA Ball.  If Ross Perot was talking to Larry King about them he would say “That’s just sad Larry.”

Cleveland moved its affiliation to Columbus to be closer to the major league team while the Washington Nationals who had been in Columbus moved to Syracuse when Toronto moved its Triple “A” affiliation to Las Vegas in the Pacific Coast League.    In the mean time Atlanta which had been embroiled in a decade long contest with Richmond’s clueless city council led by Doug “I have no plan or clue” Wilder for a decent stadium to replace the cesspool called “The Diamond” gave up.  Since they and not a local owner controlled the franchise, they moved the Braves to the Atlanta suburbs of Gwinnett County.  Richmond has one of the worst if not the worst ball park in the International League and maybe the minors.  Having been to the Diamond many times I have to say that it was the worst venue that I have ever seen a ball game, decrepit and uncomfortable seating, poor amenities, and a field that flooded if so much as a thimble full of rain fell made it a horrible venue for fans as well as players.  Thus the city which refused to work cooperatively with the Braves lost its team and AAA franchise, a franchise that has been for many years one of the best in the minor leagues.  Richmond lost their hockey team as well to this bunch’s inept leadership.  These people have to be one of the most clueless city government s in the entire United States and certainly the worst managed state capital.

All of this leads to the first move of the 2009-2010 off season.  On the 23rd of September the Eastern League announced that the Connecticut Defenders franchise would move to Richmond in time for the 2010 season.  The city has agreed to make improvements on the Diamond to keep it viable until a new stadium can be build by 2012, a plan that should be doable unless the city has decided to make their plans for the new stadium on the Mayan calendar which assumes that the Cubs will win the World’s series, that Jesus will come back and the world as we know it will end.

The team is an affiliate of the San Francisco Giants, which means that if the Tides are not in town that I may make a number of trips to Richmond in 2010.  The Giants will stay with the team through the end of 2010 and hopefully for me will remain in Richmond for many years.  Richmond is allowing fans to suggest new names for the team.  A link to that site is here: http://www2.timesdispatch.com/rtd/sports/baseball/name-the-team/

There will be more team moves announced in the coming month or so as cities and major league teams alike assess what they need.  Cities with a long minor league heritage may lose teams, some cities are building stadiums to get teams and some cities may end up with teams in the independent leagues.  Regardless Minor League Baseball will continue to do well and fans will come.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Benjamin Sisko, Star Trek Deep Space Nine and the Less than Sexy Command of Military Bases

Note: I write this after Judy and I did something that we never normally do…no not that, whatever that is in your dirty minds.  For us this was to watch a movie in a theater a second time.  We did this tonight.  We went and saw the Star Trek movie again and enjoyed it as much as the first time.  As I thought about us seeing it this afternoon I was writing on another topic, but it was much too involved for my brain at this moment in time.  So I saved it and went back to Star Trek.  This is the first in a series about Star Trek Captains and deals with the only Captain on a Star Trek series who is not Captain of a Star Ship, but rather a Star Base. In this case, Captain Benjamin Sisko of Deep Space Nine.  In some ways I dedicate this to those fine officers who do not get the commands at sea, or if they are in the Army or Marines those who command bases or garrisons rather than maneuver units.  I dedicate this particular post to Colonel Tom Allmon, US Army Retired who I served with at Fort Indiantown Gap Pennsylvania and who later commanded Fort Meyer Virginia.  This will be a first of a series that will appear periodically dealing with characters from the various Star Trek series and films and work them into what commanders and staff officers in the U.S. Military deal with on a daily basis.

“There is more to baseball than physical strength. It’s, uh… it’s about courage; and it’s also about faith; and it is also about heart. And if there’s one thing our Vulcan friends lack, it’s heart.” Captain Benjamin Sisko

Odo_ejecting_SiskoSisko being thrown from the game against the Vulcan Logicians

Star Trek Commanding Officers are interesting to compare and contrast and usually have a lot to do with how each Star Trek series was received.  I know a lot of people who like Captain Kirk over Captain Picard or Picard over Kirk.  There are those who prefer Kathryn Janeway to any of the men.  Of course all of these were the Captains of Federation starships.  Like any naval service it is the Captains of warships that have the “sexy” jobs.  Commanding officers of service vessels, auxiliaries or bases tend not to be the commanders who are being groomed for Flag rank.  The newer and more powerful the vessel is, the more likely that the skipper is being groomed for a higher level command.    This is true in any Navy and is certainly true in the world of Star Trek.  Thus we have the unusual situation for a us to deal with and perhaps the reason that some people do not care for Deep Space Nine as much as for the series involving Starships as the setting for the show.  Captain Benjamin Sisko of Deep Space Nine doesn’t command a ship. In fact he is the survivor of the USS Saratoga, a ship lost when the Federation fleet was decimated by the Borg at Wolf 359 in which his wife is killed in action.

Having served at sea and ashore I can say that the divide between commanders of warships and those of bases is deep.  This is not a pejorative statement at all, but a recognition that the services tend to weigh command of a warship higher than that of a base.  Both situations require men and women of certain temperament and ability.  Good commanders can function and adapt anywhere but may because of the needs of the service find themselves in assignments that are less glamorous and maybe even less desirable from a career point of view.  Such is the case with Benjamin Sisko.  He is sent to an important but remote base with a small Federation staff off the planet Bejor which recently gained its independence from the Cardassian Empire.  The space station had previously been a Cardassian station.

Sisko’s assignment like that of any overseas base commander is an interesting weave of station commander, quasi-ambassador to the Bejoran government, small town mayor and overseer of security in the sector which becomes much more important with the discovery of a “worm hole” in space nearby.  In the process he must deal with the ever present Cardassians who through Gul Dukat the former station commander continually attempt to re-assert their dominance and authority over both the station a Bajor.  As the series moves along he is forced more onto a war footing as a race from a sector of the galaxy connected through the worm hole attempts to invade the sector which Deep Space Nine serves as the outpost and tripwire.

All through this Sisco must deal with a multiplicity of problems, not unlike commanders of US Naval bases in sensitive and potentially volatile regions do on a daily basis today.  Sisko must deal with the unique history, culture and religion of the Bajorans.  Likewise he has to deal with the divides between moderate and fundamentalists in the Bajoran religion. He also must deal with tensions between the religious Bajorans and Bejoran secularists all the while trying to heal the scars of the Cardassian occupation, physical, physiological and spiritual to the people of Bajor.

As if this were not enough he has a host of potential problems on his station.  The station has a strong presence of people who in today’s parlance would be called Third Country Nationals, or TCNs.  These individuals and their families run shops, bars and restaurants on the station, sometimes within not quite within the margins of legality, in particular the Bartender Quark and tailor Garak.  Captain Sisko deals with all of this in addition to normal issues that any commander would face dealing with his own personnel, operations and logistics functions.  While he is the base commander he has a Bajoran as his deputy and Bajoran personnel throughout the station who have to work with Starfleet personnel.

It would similar situation to that faced by US commanders of bases in the Middle East who have to deal with very similar issues today.  That is what makes Sisko for me such an interesting character.  His job is not the wide ranging, high visibility “sexy” star ship Captain assignment.  This as well as the more dark underlying tone of the show makes it more of a mystery.  Sisko, who brings with him a love of Jazz, New Orleans cuisine and baseball is an interesting character, if nothing else from my perspective the subject of baseball.   He introduces baseball to the station, even forming a team which plays the Vulcans who are surprisingly good ballplayers.  It could be that baseball is a game that the analytical Vulcans would find an affinity.  Baseball is filled with intricate nuances and statistical probabilities that would numb the mind of a Klingon, who are most likely Football fans, but which are the delight of Vulcans.  If the Romulans were to take up the game they would probably play it with a harder edge and more emotion than the Vulcans but would appreciate the logic of the game.  Even still Benjamin Sisko and the ever present baseball on his desk are something that I appreciate.

The commanders of bases on the edge of empire that Sisko represents and the complexities of their commands are seldom recognized.  Their jobs are not sexy, and most do not get picked to be Flag or General Officers.  Those picks generally are reserved for those who command at sea or command maneuver units or if in the Air Force those who command Fighter or Bomber Wings.  The men and women who command bases both in the United States and overseas fill an important role. While not glamorous they are the people that tend to be the face of the United States military and government wherever they are stationed.  When they do their jobs well they go unnoticed, because what they do is not sexy.  At the same time if they screw up it can be damaging for the country if overseas, or for the services if in the United States.

God bless all the Tom Allmon’s and Benjamin Sisko’s who deal with complex situations often in obscurity who through their patience, diplomacy and people skills care for their people, accomplish the mission and balance all within the confines of dealing with local communities and political nuances that most people cannot fathom.

Peace, Steve+

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