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

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This is second 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 second 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 part is linked here:

Letter to a New Military Chaplain: Part One

“There is a twilight zone in our hearts that we ourselves cannot see. Even when we know quite a lot about ourselves-our gifts and weaknesses, our ambitions and aspirations, our motives and our drives-large parts of ourselves remain in the shadow of consciousness. This is a very good thing. We will always remain partially hidden to ourselves. Other people, especially those who love us, can often see our twilight zones better than we ourselves can. The way we are seen and understood by others is different from the way we see and understand ourselves. We will never fully know the significance of our presence in the lives of our friends. That’s a grace, a grace that calls us not only to humility, but to a deep trust in those who love us. It is the twilight zones of our hearts where true friendships are born.”Henri J. M. Nouwen

Dear Chaplain

The next section of our discussion is about the “minefields” that we so often encounter as Chaplains and to some degree as Ministers, Priests or Rabbis or other religious leaders. As I noted in the first section I am dividing these “minefields” into three major areas; the personal, the behavioral and the professional.

This section is about the “personal” minefields which I call the “Minefields of the Heart.” I call it this because it seems from the Christian and Jewish Scriptures the heart is the figurative locus of what we are, good and bad alike as human beings.

Of course there is always some spillage between the areas personal, behavior and professional areas and our behaviors and professional relationships are certainly influenced by the things that we hide deep in our hearts. As human beings we may try to compartmentalize our life to keep things apart such as keeping our personal life separate from our professional life, or hide behaviors from our friends, families, peers or co-workers; but the cold hard fact is whether we are aware of it or not each area impacts the other. If we are not aware of this fact, if we have little self awareness, if we have self awareness but try to live our lives with the illusion that we can separate our lives into neat little boxes we will most undoubtedly hurt ourselves, and as spiritual leaders harm those that come to us.

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There is a scene of the last episode of Star Trek the Next Generation entitled “All Good Things” that comes to mind.  In it the being known simply as “Q” helps Captain Picard discover how his actions influence human history.

Q: You just don’t get it, do you, Jean-Luc? The trial never ends. We wanted to see if you had the ability to expand your mind and your horizons. And for one brief moment, you did.

Capt. Picard: When I realized the paradox.

Q: Exactly. For that one fraction of a second, you were open to options you had never considered. That is the exploration that awaits you. Not mapping stars and studying nebulae, but charting the unknown possibilities of existence.

You may wonder where I am going with this but it has to do with the personal minefields, those that exist inside of us, those that lurk beneath the surface which if we are unaware wreak havoc on everything else that we do. In the episode of Star Trek that I am referring to Captain Picard is allowed by Q to see the effects of his actions and to see how limited his thinking was.  The challenge for us is chaplains are to be aware of what Nouwen calls “the twilight zone in our hearts” and how what is at the depth of our heart impacts everything else that we do.

Too often though, mostly because of our own personal limitations and serious lack of real theological and pastoral formation involving self reflection and exploration we fail to see them. Like an uncharted minefield we are unaware of them until we either discover their existence through accident and “blow ourselves and others up” or until we listen to those that can see those twilight zones, those minefields better than we ourselves. Of course the latter, especially when it comes from those who love us, care for us and have our best at heart is the preferable method to learn about these things.

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However, that being said part of this can be done through reading. A lot of us simply read “how to” type books when it comes to ministry. We seek direct easy answers in how to run our programs be it in the church, in a para-church ministry or in the chaplaincy. Believe me there are plenty of those kinds of books out there, not only that but a plethora of “self help” books that tell us the “three things we must know” the “five whatever’s to success” or the Seven Habits of Highly Defective People.” The sad thing is, even when these books contain nuggets of truth, they serve it like fast food and reduce it to the lowest common denominator. In a sense, even the most well intentioned of these “how to” or “self help” books promote a reductionist view of faith, spirituality, psychology and in some cases ethics and doctrine.

Reading is important, especially the hard stuff, philosophy, history, moral theology, but also things that you might not expect science fiction for example. In addition classic literature from antiquity and from non-western traditions also sheds light on those personal minefields. Heck we can even find truth in television and film, note my continued references to Star Trek. I find that God can speak to us in many ways.

As Christians we may also find lessons, insights and inspiration from the Bible that can be quite helpful. Unfortunately most of us have so many theological filters in place that we often miss the very things that would be most helpful to us. They can serve as blinders that keep us from sensing what the Spirit of God is trying to teach us. Our church, denominational or theological traditions as well as our hermeneutical methods often cloud our minds to what God is trying so hard to say. It was a problem that the religious establishment of his time had with Jesus, and often with the various prophets that preceded him whose stories we read about in the Old Testament.

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I am sure that others who are not Christians can say similar things about their faith, traditions and holy books. I remember an Iraqi General who I met who took the time to show me his well worn and read Arabic-English Bible. He was a Moslem, but he said that he learned so much from it because it was different than what was in the Koran and he meant no disrespect of his own faith by saying that. He had opened his mind to truth that others turn a blind eye to.

Some of the personal issues that prove to be deadly include what we don’t know about ourselves, usually dating back to childhood, how were raised, how we see God, if we perceive ourselves to be worthy of God’s love or worthy of the love and respect of others.  Those attitudes, especially those created as a result of negative relationships or even physical, emotional or sexual abuse, abandonment and rejection are powerful. Many of us like to pretend that we have gotten past those things but few of us actually do. Unfortunately there is a tendency for those issues to raise their heads in often very ugly ways as we minister as Chaplains.

For example: Let us say that we are distrustful of authority because of having an abuse parent, that we fear that no matter how well we do that there is always someone waiting to take us down. Let us say that we had previous experiences in the church, at work or maybe in prior military service where we were mistreated by those in authority.

I have found that if that condition is not dealt with that in a hierarchical organization such as the Chaplain Corps and the military that it is almost always fatal to the ability of the chaplain to minister in the organization. That is because the military is based on trust, our lives and mission depend on it. We have to trust the chain of command, we have to trust those that serve alongside of us and we have to trust our subordinates. There may be times when the chain of command fails and things don’t go right. There are toxic leaders and there are also toxic chaplains, one has to be aware that they are out there, know how to deal with them or survive under their command but one cannot presume that everyone is like that, trust is essential.

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I find it interesting that Jesus commended the faith of the Roman Centurion when instead of asking Jesus to come to his house and heal his servant simply said “But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”Matthew 8: 8b-9 Jesus told the people around that “he had not seen such faith in all of Israel.” Jesus saw the virtue of the Centurion, a virtue that many of his own people were lacking.

That is just one of a myriad of personal issues that can trip up a Chaplain in the military. The fact is that issues of the heart those things that we don’t like to admit are true about us, things that we are unaware about or in outright denial about in our lives are the things that go to the “heart” of who we are.

As fa as the minefields of my heart, they too are many. However the one that gets me time and time again is my passion for justice and my visceral reaction to those that I believe are bullies. That comes from my childhood. As a Navy brat I was always the new kid in town, and being that I was kind of the short, shy and introverted kid I was also kind of a nerd, or geek. I was not gifted with speed or great athletic abilities and it took me a while to find my academic prowess. That meant that I often didn’t fit in and though I was generally well liked that I would on occasion be bullied and I learned to defend myself, not very well at times but well enough to as the Klingons say “to die an honorable death.”

Jeremiah the prophet, who admittedly was most certainly clinically depressed if you look at his writings did note that “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” Jeremiah 17:9 Depressed or not Jeremiah did seem to understand that what he and many writers of scripture call “the heart” is hard to understand, especially when it is our own.

Thus I go back to Nouwen’s comment about the “twilight zone of the heart” that we cannot see. That it is why as Chaplains we have to develop relationships with people who can help us see what is in the twilight zone of our hearts and lovingly come alongside of us, not just as colleagues but as friends.

Those people may be clergy or other chaplains, but then they may not be. Perhaps they are senior enlisted personnel, long time friends, teachers, spiritual directors, counselors or our God forbid our spouses, I jest about the latter because my wife can see things about things about me that I cannot see, she is incredibly wise.

The minefields that exist in our hearts are so varied, so diverse and so treacherous. They have the potential to affect so many other parts of our lives. Thus for us as chaplains if we are not careful they can be destructive not only to us, but to those that we serve as well as those that we presume to love.

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When I look back at my career and I am honest about it, I can say without a doubt that most of the things that hurt me were a direct reflection of the minefields that were already present in my heart. When things that happened that I felt were unjust or threatening I reacted and quite often my reactions caused problems greater than what I was reacting to. All they needed was something to set them off. What I have come to understand is even though I have had a very successful and that I am now a Senior Officer that what lies in my heart can still blow me up and that I need to always be careful of those minefields that exist in the twilight zone of my heart.

Lao Tzu said: “Watch your thoughts; they become words. Watch your words; they become actions. Watch your actions; they become habit. Watch your habits; they become character. Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.”

That is the key, those things that emanate from the deepest recesses of our hearts are full of minefields and we need to guard our hearts and minds in this ministry that we are privileged to have as military chaplains.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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Filed under christian life, faith, Military, ministry, Pastoral Care, philosophy, Tour in Iraq, US Navy

Letter to a New Military Chaplain: Part One

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Note: This is 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. It will be the first 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.

Dear Chaplain,

“Preach the Gospel at all times, use words when necessary.” Francis of Assisi 

I thank you for writing me about the questions that you have concerning ministry as a Navy Chaplain. They are incredibly good questions and I since you first asked me two days ago I have given them much thought before responding. I find that if I take the time to mull over such questions it is much more beneficial than simply spitting out whatever comes to mind first because if I don’t get the questions right my advice however good might be wrong. Of course even well thought out advice can be wrong in a given circumstance so you must contextualize the advice and adapt it to your own circumstances at any given time.

As a prologue to the actual questions that you ask I want to point you back to the words of St Francis. I think that they are they key to success in any ministry, but especially the chaplaincy.

As chaplains we are called by our churches or religious bodies to serve in an organization that is essentially secular. Our ordinations come from our churches or religious bodies and we are to be faithful to them. However our commissions as officers come from the President and this creates a dialectical tension that is hard to resolve for some. You will hear people talk about managing the “right and left side of our collars.” That of course is the fact that we wear our military rank on the right collar and the Cross that we wear as Christians or in the case of our Jewish, Islamic or Buddhist colleagues the Tablets of David, the Crescent or the Wheel of Life on the left.

Some attempt to seek a balance between the rank and the religious symbol. That is a bad model because but what typically happens is that chaplains become fall to one side or the other. By that I mean that they either place the military side higher and forget their call or minimize the military side and find that they have no voice in the system. I have seen many chaplains who have in their attempt to fit in with the military forgotten their call as ministers. On the other hand I have seen a number place such an emphasis on their own religious traditions and their perceived rights as ministers that they neglect the vast majority of the people that they are assigned to care for as chaplains. Both options are bad because ultimately we fail to serve those that we are called and given the privilege to serve.

A few years back I saw the travesty of trying to “balance” the two sides of the collar. From my observation those who tried this always end up becoming so military that they end up losing their faith distinctions or they never adapt to the military and even if they do “good ministry” they end up frustrated, are seen as an outsiders and have relatively short careers.

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As such I went back to Christian theology to find a model of ministry and that is in the hypostatic union of Jesus the Christ. By our understanding as Christians Jesus is both fully God and fully Human, not half and half, or any other percentage, but 100% God and 100% human. The fact is that as Navy Chaplains we are 100% ministers of our own faith group and 100% Naval Officer. As such we need to be the best we can at both and cannot allow ourselves to settle for anything less. If we attempt to “balance” we will fail in being ministers or being officers.

The military is not the church, as such  In the United States our service in such a capacity is not a right, it is a privilege. The right is not ours, it is right of the people that we serve to have the Constitutional right under the First Amendment to their “Free Exercise” of religion. As chaplains we facilitate the religious rights and freedoms of those who wear the same uniform that we wear, whether they of our faith, another faith or even of no faith. This is not about being “politically correct” but rather being faithful to two callings, both of which must be valid and respected in order for us to do what we are called to do as Navy Chaplains and there is always a tension in this. If you take a look at the chaplains that have trouble it is most often because believe that their right to free exercise is greater than the people that they are called to serve or that they lack a sufficient understanding of their call as Ministers, Priests, Rabbis or Imams. That is why Francis’ words are so important.

I think that many ministers, not just chaplains have a terrible understanding of our calling and vocation. To many the ministry is simply a job, their ordination and theological education the necessary prerequisites to perform the task. It is an attitude that I noted in seminary back in the late 1980s and early 1990s and have continued to observe over time. In seminary I had fellow students tell me that they were just thier to get a more advanced degree to help them get a bigger and better paying church. I had others friends disparage their theological education. I had one friend tell me that our degree was “only good for 5 years.” Obviously he was only thinking about the “how too classes” and not the courses that are really important to theological and pastroral formation.

But such is the state of theological education in this country. The fact is that most churches, seminaries or religious bodies do a pretty bad job at pastoral formation. We do a great job on teaching people how to manage churches, direct programs, teach doctrine, evangelize, run media empires or even become social and political activists, but a terrible job at actual pastoral formation and the latter is actually the most important task. Formation is primarily about relationships and relationships are what the Gospel is all about, beginning with the relationship of God to humanity and all of creation.

That may sound like I chased the proverbial rabbit but the attitude has a decided impact on the chaplain ministry. What happens is that this simply becomes a job and “skill sets” take priority over our calling and our service to those who were are called to serve during the time that we are allowed to serve in the Navy. We must never lose sight of who we are called to be as ministers, including the vows the we took when we were ordained as well as the oath that we swore as Naval Officers.

All that being said back to your questions. You asked first about the minefields that you might encounter as a chaplain. In a sense I have described some of them, they are very often related to who we are on the inside. It is as Lao Tzu said: “He who knows others is wise; he who knows himself is enlightened.”

The minefields that you asked are varied but most are related to what I have already described. They are often directly related to our own understanding of ourselves, our calling and our relationship to those that we are called to serve.

But to get into some detail on real, perceived and potential “minefields” you might encounter let me break them into several categories.

The first is the personal. As I stated before we have to know ourselves. This takes time and many people remain oblivious to who they are and what they are about, sometimes for most of their lives. Where this comes into play as a chaplain is that if we do not understand who we are and what we are about we will fail either in regard to our ministerial calling, our military vocation or our familial or ecclesiastical relationships.

The second is behavior. This is directly related to our personal behaviors and as we were told back during my early times as a new Army Chaplain. Most chaplains who self destruct tend to do so through SAM. Sex, alcohol or money. At any given time there are anywhere between half a dozen and dozen chaplains of all services serving time in Leavenworth or a regional Brig most having been convicted of charges involving SAM.

The third is professional. This is the nuts and bolts of what you will face as a Navy Chaplain. This includes your service to your crew, relationships with the chain of command and your fellow chaplains, your peers, your superiors and eventually those that you supervise as well as your Religious Programs Specialists or Chaplain Assistants. Likewise it includes your continuing relationships with your endorser and church that ordained you.

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I will continue the discussion of these three areas in the next couple of days. After those topics are address I will discuss the particularities of promotion and assignments in the Chaplain Corps. Since my experience includes 17 1/2 years  in the Army and 14 1/2 years in the Navy including service as a junior chaplain in both as well as service as a Field Grade Officer in the Army and now as a Senior Officer in the Navy Chaplain Corps my perspectives will be quite unique.

Thank you for your patience in reading through this as well as for asking your questions.  They have forced me to think about this subject in new ways and write in down my thoughts down ways that I never have before. Yes I have set down with and discussed these ideas and concepts with various chaplains but have never written them down in a systematic format until now. I do appreciate you giving me the chance to do this. It means a lot.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under faith, leadership, Military, ministry, Pastoral Care, philosophy

I Just Want to Thank Everyone that made this Night Necessary

I think that Yogi Berra said it the best when thanking people inSt. Louis when the city decided to honor him when the Yankees came into town in 1947.  He meant to say “I just want to thank everyone that made this night possible” but it came out “I just want to thank everyone that made this night necessary.”

Last night I was promoted to the rank of Commander in the United States Navy.  I’ve been in the military 30 years and this is the first rank that I have not held twice since March 1987.  Since March 1st 1987 I served as an Army Captain and Major and then took a reduction in rank to enter the Navy serve as a Navy Lieutenant and Lieutenant Commander.

Swearing the Oath of Office

It was a special night. The management of the Norfolk Tides was happy to indulge my desire to do the oath behind home plate and throw out the first pitch.  Dave Rosenfield the General Manager approved it early in the season and his staff led by the Director of Community Relations, Heather McKeating made it happen and Linda Waisanen the Box Office Manager helped get the tickets for my guests in the same section.  It was good to see and talk with some of my friends from the Tides that I haven’t seen for a while, pitchers Chris Tillman and Chris George and catcher Adam Donachie.   Of course there were also my friends Elliott, Chip and Audrey the Ushers, concessionaires and members of the Tide Watchers Booster club.

RP1 Nelson Lebron, me and Judy

I had the honor of having my old commanding officer from Marine Security Force Battalion, Colonel Mike Paulovich USMC (Retired) come down from Washington DC to administer the Oath of Office.  Likewise I had my wife Judy, who has seen me through my entire career and endured many separations due to deployments, field exercises and schools at my side.  For those that have not served in the military the stress that our spouses go through is tremendous and many marriages do not survive.  There is a reason that around many military bases you will see bumper stickers that say “Navy wife, the toughest job in the military” or Marine or Army wife.  I was also honored to have my former assistant from EOD Group Two RP1 Nelson Lebron there. Nelson and I went to Iraq together and he is an amazing Sailor and I count him as a close friend.  He was my trusted body guard and I would go to war with him again any day of the week.  Judy and Nelson switched out my shoulder boards before I took the oath.

I also had some very special friends in attendance at the game, people that I really wanted to be there; LCDR Greg Ostrander USN (Retired), Randy and Sandy Smith, Jerry Channell, Denise Denise Özdemir and Karen Johnson and their significant others.  There were some people that because of military duty or other commitments that could not make it, however I know they were there in spirit due to the notes, messages and phone calls.

With Advisers in Iraq

One problem of living on the opposite coast from your family is that it is difficult to have them with you on occasions like this.  My mom, my brother and his family in California could not be here but hopefully if I make Captain in a few years or when I retire they will be able to come.  My dad passed away the day after the selection list was announced in June of 2010 but I know that he was here in spirit.

Me and RP1 Nelson Lebron in Iraq, there is no better body guard

There are people that were there for me at many points in my career that helped “make this day necessary.”  The late Master Sergeant Harry Zilkan from the UCLA ROTC detachment and Sergeant First Class Harry Ball who broke me down and built me up during my ROTC pre-commissioning “Advanced Camp at Fort Lewis in 1982 were early influences.  SFC Ball a crusty Special Forces type with a lot of Vietnam tours had me blubbering “I got nowhere else to go” like Lewis Gossett Jr. did to Richard Gere in the movie An Officer and a Gentleman. Lieutenant Colonel Bruce Lawson my ROTC advisor at UCLA was also helpful during those two formative years.  First Sergeant Jim Koenig at 557th Medical Company taught me a lot about enlisted leadership and helped mentor me as a young Lieutenant while Colonel Donald A. Johnson the commander of the 68th Medical Group showed me how to get the most out of people and the importance of knowing the details of an operation without getting in the way of people doing the mission.  Master Sergeant (Retired) Cynthia Carter was my Platoon Sergeant at 557th and went through a lot of deep waters with me there.  She was at my promotion to Captain at Fort Sam Houston in 1987.  I am still in contact with a good number of my soldiers from the 557th and each of them was helpful in my career.

LTC Ike Adams and me 1987

When I started down the road to becoming a chaplain back in 1987, Lieutenant Colonel Ike Adams, my Executive Officer at the Academy Brigade, Academy of Health Sciences was very important in helping me down that road. He is now a professor at Asbury College in Wilmore Kentucky.  Chaplain, Major Wayne Lura (USA Retired) gave me advice that has kept me out of trouble talking to me about the pitfalls of ministry and chaplaincy even before I even went to seminary.  Chaplain, Lieutenant Colonel Rich Whaley saved my ass a number of times at the Army Chaplain school during the Basic and Advanced courses.  I have stayed in contact with Rich, who I believe is one of the finest chaplains that I have ever met and he now is the Endorsing Agent for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints working with LDS Chaplains in both the Military and other Federal Chaplain programs.  Chaplain, Colonel John Price was an Episcopal Priest and the State Chaplain for the Texas Army National Guard and taught me a lot about how to be there for people, especially leaders going through difficult times.  Chaplain, Colonel Paul Howe who I served with in Germany during the Bosnia Operation helped me as a young mobilized Army Reserve Major learn to be a good supervisory Chaplain and look out for the junior chaplains and assistants under my care. He also taught me something important about caring for the sacramental needs of a diverse Christian community.

Army Chaplain School 1990 with Chaplain Bill Blackie (L) and Rich Whaley (Center)

There also was my congregation at Fort Indiantown Gap Pennsylvania, where I served from 1997-1998.  My Commanding Officer, Colonel Tom Allmon, his family and my Parish Council including the late Major General Frank Smoker USAF/PAAirNG, Colonel Ray Hawthorne, USA Retired, the late Major Scotty Jenkes (USAF Retired), CWO4 Herman Bolt, (USA Retired), and Sergeant Bill Ward, and my assistant SSG, now Army Chaplain, Major Steve Cantrell were all instrumental in my success there while General Smoker, Colonel Hawthorne and Colonel Allmon wrote letters to help get me into the Navy.

When I came into the Navy I was helped by Captain John Kaul CHC USN, who served as my Division and MEF Chaplain at Camp LeJeune. He became a model for my Chaplain ministry and has been a great encouragement over the years.  Captain Fred Elkin CHC USN, was my first detailer and set me up for success by sending me to the Second Marine Division figuring that my Army background would help me there.  Fred and I later served at Naval Medical Center Portsmouth. Captain, Chaplain Deborah McGuire, CHC USN, was great to work with at the Navy Expeditionary Combat Command.  Captain Mike Langston the II MEF Forward Chaplain who I served with in Iraq set me up for success there and Captain Jesse Tate CHC USN was really good in helping me get through the toughest time of my life after I returned to Iraq and was assigned to Portsmouth.  My fellow Chaplains there, Commander Jeff Seiler, Commander Derek Ross, Commander Kevin Anderson, Lieutenant Albert Cross, Fr. Fred Elkin and Chaplain, Captain Jerry Shields USN (Retired) were amazing in helping me get through that painful time.  Then there is my current staff, Lieutenant Shauna Sanders, Captain, Chaplain Vince Arnold, USN (Retired) and Chaplain, Lieutenant Commander Duke Quarles USN (Retired).  I have had a number of great assistants and Religious Program specialists during my time as a chaplain.  Of course there have been others who have along the way been there for me to give advice, encouragement and assistance that are too numerous to name.

USS HUE CITY Boarding Party

My commanding officers that I have served with in Marine Corps and Navy units have been awesome including Marine Lieutenant Colonel T. D. Anderson, Colonel Louis Rachel,Major General Richard Lake, Colonel Mike Paulovich and Colonel Dan Rogers.  Sergeant Major Kim Davis USMC was an outstanding Sergeant Major to work with, the grandson of Brigadier General Benjamin O. Davis, the first African American General in the U.S. Army, he taught me much in caring for Marines and gave me really helpful advice a number of times.  Captain Rick Hoffman my first skipper on the USS HUE CITY and his Command Master Chief, CMDCM Mark Dubiel were awesome to work for with as are my current Commanding Officer at Naval Hospital Camp LeJeune Captain Dan Zinder, MC USN and my current Command Master Chief CMDCM Terry Prince.  Command Master Chief Gerry Pierce, (USN Retired) has been like family since we served together on HUE CITY.

Soul Vikes

Then there are my fellow officers in the Navy, Army and Marine Corps, my shipmates from the HUE CITY and the Sailors, Soldiers and Marines too numerous to mention that have been part of my life for the last 30 years.  Likewise my teachers and professors, LCDR Jim Breedlove and Senior Chief John Ness from the Edison High Navy Junior ROTC program, Gloria Nomura, Coach Duke Pasquini, Dr. Delmar McComb at San Joaquin Delta College, Dr Helmut Heussler at California State University Northridge, Dr. Doyle Young and Doug Dickens at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Dr. Steve Ivy at Parkland Memorial Hospital. All of these men and women were amazing in my education and formation as an academic and Priest.

Last but certainly not least are those friends that have been there for me for years going back to my “Soul Vikes” from Edison High School and Stockton Junior High. Those that I went to Army ROTC at UCLA, and those that I have served with over the years in the Army, Navy and Marine Corps as well as seminary classmates, and my colleagues in the clergy from my old church and the Apostolic Catholic Orthodox Church where I serve today.  Thank you Bishop Diana Dale, and my old friends Fr Greg Schluter from the Navy and the Charismatic Episcopal Church, Major Marty Grossman who I have known since my first day on active duty, Dr. Rick Herrera, Gary Vassar and Becky Munoz-Smith who were with me at UCLA and so many more friends, shipmates and comrades that I cannot name them all.

Finally there are my readers on this site that have encouraged me with their comments since I started this site in February 2009.

If as Hillary Clinton said it takes a village, I have good sized town that has stood by my side over the years and I am blessed.

Again I just want to thank everyone that made this night necessary.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Oath: Reflections on the Oath of Office and 30 Years of Service

It was a hot and smoggy summer day in Van Nuys California when drove into the parking lot of the old Armory on Van Nuys Boulevard in my 1975 yellow Chevy Monza with a black vinyl top.  It was August 25th 1981.  That night the San Francisco Giants defeated the St. Louis Cardinals by a score of 4-2 and the Baltimore Orioles defeated the Seattle Mariners 6-5 in 12 innings.  In less important news the Voyager II space craft reached its lowest orbit around Saturn.

Getting out of the car I walked into the offices of the Headquarters, 3rd Battalion 144th Field Artillery of the California Army National Guard.  I had in my sweaty hands the paperwork from the Army ROTC detachment at UCLA the “Bruin Battalion” accepting me into the program and allowing me to enlist simultaneously in the National Guard.

I was met by the Headquarters Battery Commander, Captain Jeff Kramer who after my commissioning would allow me to borrow his sword and sword belt to wear at my wedding with my Dress Blue Uniform.  Jeff finished his career as a full Colonel.  He took me to Major Charles Armagost the battalion S-1 who rapidly had a clerk type up my enlistment papers and administered the oath of enlistment below:

I, Padre Steve (I wasn’t one then but it sounds good) do solemnly swear (I don’t affirm because it’s namby pamby) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States and the State of California against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States (Ronald Reagan) and the Governor of California (Jerry Brown)  and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to law and regulations. So help me God.

That was the beginning.  I was taken to the supply sergeant who ordered my uniforms which came as a surprise since I had been issued a set by the ROTC detachment.  Of course the ROTC ones were the green permanent press fatigues which I loved and the Guard ordered the then new BDUs which some Navy units still wear. The Army, Marine Corps, Air Force and parts of the Navy having replaced them over the past decade.  My first drill was when the Battalion went to Fort Irwin for a long weekend in early September; I was on the advanced party and was assigned to drive a M151A1 “Jeep” in the convoy from Van Nuys to Fort Irwin.

Renewing the Oath on my Promotion to Lieutenant Commander 2006

In June of 1983 I was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant and I took a different oath, an oath of office versus enlistment, I would repeat it again in February 1999 when I was commissioned in the Navy and renew it in 2006 upon my promotion to Lieutenant Commander.

I, Padre Steve, do solemnly swear (again I don’t affirm, namby pamby) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.

Since I swore the oath the first time I have served in the Army and Navy, in the Army National Guard of California, Texas and Virginia and the Army Reserves. I have spent about six years assigned to the Marines in my capacity as a Navy Chaplain.  I have served in Europe, Asia and the Middle East, at sea and ashore in war and peace.  I have served as a Company Commander and a Staff Officer before becoming a Chaplain and there is no greater honor than to serve this country.

Iraq 2007

It is hard to believe that it has been 30 years.  I do take the oath of office quite seriously especially the part about defending the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic.  Since I have served 30 years I have served five Presidents and seen Congress make some fairy wild changes of direction.  That is the thing about our republic our officers do not make their oath to the President or even the majority party in the House of Representatives or the Senate. National Guard Officers also swear an oath to the Constitution of the State in which they serve but their commissions are cognizant on their Federal recognition and thus they like all other officers are sworn to support and defend the Constitution of the United States above all.

This is a good thing as I have not completely agreed with the actions or policies of each President and Congress that I have served. While I have deeply held political views they have never kept me from serving under administrations that I have disagreed with on major policies.  Officers may have strong political views but those must always be subordinated to our oath to support and defend the Constitution.  General Winfield Scott Hancock said “We are serving one country and not one man.” Hancock was a states rights Democrat who remained in the Union because he did not believe that secession was legal.  He had no political friends in Washington and he served valiantly during and after the war.  When asked about his opinion on what to do when their home state of Virginia seceded from the Union by his friends and fellow officers George Pickett, Lo Armistead and Dick Garnett before the war in California he said “I shall not fight upon the principle of state-rights, but for the Union, whole and undivided.”

This is not the case in much of the world. Many militaries swear allegiance to the ruler, the state, ruling political party or the majority religion.  The officers in many Moslem nations combine their oath with the Bya’ah which includes a personal oath to the King or Sheik and the Islamic statement of faith.

The British military swears an oath to the Queen and her successors:

“I ( name), swear by Almighty God that I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, her heirs and successors and that I will as in duty bound honestly and faithfully defend Her Majesty, her heirs and successors in person, crown and dignity against all enemies and will observe and obey all orders of Her Majesty, her heirs and successors and of the generals and officers set over me.”

The Red Army of the Soviet Union swore an oath to “to protect with all his strength the property of the Army and the People and to cherish unto death his People, the Soviet homeland and the government of Workers and Peasants, also to respond at the first call from the government of Workers and Peasants to defend the homeland, the USSR.”

Germany has had a rather perilous history with oaths sworn by the military.  The Imperial Army swore an oath to the Kaiser but when the Kaiser abdicated and the Weimar Constitution was ratified German Officers and Soldiers took this oath: “I swear loyalty to the Reich’s constitution and pledge, that I as a courageous soldier always want to protect the German Nation and its legal institutions, (and) be obedient to the Reichspräsident and to my superiors.”  The history of the Republic shows that many officers and soldiers, especially those that had served under the Kaiser resented this oath.  In 1933 Hitler changed the oath to this  “I swear by God this sacred oath, that I will render unconditional obedience to Adolf Hitler, the Fuehrer of the German Reich and people, Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, and will be ready as a brave soldier to risk my life at any time for this oath.” The current German military oath states: “I swear to serve loyally the Federal Republic of Germany and to defend bravely the right and the freedom of the German people. So help me God.”

All oaths hold potential dangers but those of theUnited States military officer corps is perhaps the best thought out oath in the world.  The oath is to the Constitution, not a person, political party or religion.  The efficacy of the oath is based on the honor of those that swear to uphold it.  In times of national turmoil it is important for officers and enlisted personnel to ensure that remember that fact.

When a nation is as badly divided as we are at this point in our history there will be divergent views regarding political beliefs in the officer corps.  This has happened before but only one time did it fracture the military and that was during the Civil War.  Many Southern officers in Federal service resigned their commissions and entered the service of their home states as did a number from the North who had family or marriage connections to Southerners.  Those that did so believed that they had a higher allegiance to their states and viewed the Federal government as an oppressor.

My family came from Cabell County Virginia in the far west of the state.  It was one of six Virginia counties to vote to remain in the Union. My family opposed this and sided with the Confederacy.  They owned slaves and sided with their self interests over their neighbors.  I find the talk of secession by some politicians today repulsive and hateful and those that even suggest it should be shunned by every American.

But there were Southern Officers that remained loyal to the Union; the most prominent of which was General George Thomas. Thomas was a highly successful commander who remained in the Army despite having his friends and superiors in the Second U.S. Cavalry Regiment including Albert Sidney Johnston and Robert E. Lee.  He struggled with his decision but kept his oath.  His family was outraged by this and turned his picture against the wall, destroyed his letters, and never spoke to him again.  They also refused his financial help after the war.  He was pro-emancipation and commanded some of the first Black Regiments in battle during the Western campaigns.  Thomas is emblematic of the cost that one can endure in remaining true to his oath.

Politicians, pundits and preachers from both parties will always attempt to peel military personnel, especially officers away from their oath to the Constitution in order to appear strong on defense, more patriotic or ingratiate themselves to them during a time of war.  This is nothing new, George Thomas noticed it after the Civil War and said “I am also afraid that the military arm is becoming more or less infected with politics; let us by all means keep that branch of the public service free from the taint of intrigue and party strife.”

Yes we have problems I this nation, but they are not insurmountable.  A strong and able military that keeps its oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United Statesis necessary to that end; it cannot allow itself to be drawn away from that no matter what our individual political beliefs.  General Winfield Scott Hancock said “The time under our System of Government, when an army becomes political in its character … is about the end of its career.”

I’m proud that I will have a chance to renew that Oath of Office when I am promoted to Commander in the Navy on Thursday.  Technically there is no legal requirement to do this as an officer in continuous service as the promotion is only cognizant on me accepting it and signing the letter of acceptance.  However I do think it important that I renew it publicly to remind me that I serve the people of this country in a time of war and not any political party.

A dear friend, Retired Marine Corps Colonel and former commanding officer will do the honors for me behind home plate at Harbor Park in Norfolk before the Norfolk Tides play the Gwinnett Braves.  We went through many difficult times together and I cannot imagine having anyone else stand with me in reaffirming this sacred oath.

As for the place of the Oath, I could have chosen from several but the Tides and baseball mean a lot to me, after Iraq Harbor Park was one of the few places that I found peace.  When the season ended the team management allowed me to visit and walk the concourse in the off season.  I can’t think of a more fitting place to renew the Oath.

I pray that I will be faithful to the oath and the people that I serve in the coming years.  It is an honor to still remain in the service of this country.  I have served five Presidents and quite possibly will serve under another before I finally end my service. That is a testament to our political system, there have been no purges of the military like in many other nations and the military is not a king maker.  We can be immensely thankful for that.

Those serving in the military come from every walk of life as well as political and religious beliefs.  What sets us apart is that we serve in harm’s way and look out for each other regardless of those beliefs even when they conflict.  I think the rest of the country could learn a lesson from us.

So long as we remain people of good will and commit ourselves to placing the interests of the nation above our own we shall do well.  That is the essence of the Officer’s Oath of Office.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, leadership, Military, philosophy, Political Commentary

Fort Hood Memorial and Veteran’s Day…The War Comes Home via a Traitor to His Oath

fort hood memorialSoldiers rendering Honors to Fallen Comrades at Fort Hood (MSNBC Photo)

The killings of 13 Americans and wounding of 30 others by Major Nidal Malik Hasan has left a bitter taste in many American’s mouth.  It was an act of treason by a man who apparently became a “self-radicalized home grown terrorist.”  Influenced by his religious beliefs which even some of his Moslem Imam’s thought were troubling and for which they would not approve him to serve as a volunteer lay leader for other Moslem soldiers, Major Hasan attacked his fellow soldiers.  He walked into a processing center for soldiers and opened fire allegedly shouting “Allah Akbar!” as he began his 4 minute rampage firing over 100 rounds from two weapons, one a “cop killer” type of pistol.  It appears that in the year prior to this terrorist act that Major Hasan not only made statements approving of suicide bombing, statements against U.S. Service Members of the Moslem faith fighting other Moslems and vehemently opposing the U.S. involvement in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Many of these statements were around other Army personnel and evidently Army investigators had been watching him.  As an officer who at one time was a company commander and also helped the administrative oversight of various criminal investigations I wonder how Major Hasan was not fully investigated and called into account for his statements which were in direct contravention to his oath as an Army Officer, his Commission which as a Regular Army Field Grade Officer was actually approved by the Senate, and his Hippocratic Oath as a Physician to “do no harm.”  Major Hasan is not the first soldier, Moslem or otherwise to kill his fellow soldiers.  What makes his case unique is that he is an officer and a physician.  I personally think that is why he was never called to account for his words by others in the Army.  The fact is that no one ever assumes that an officer or a physician could or would actually commit such an act.  This was one of the hardest things for me in comprehending Major Hasan’s crime, simply put “officers do not do such things.” Maybe I’m old fashioned and my sense of honor as an officer borders on archaic but how such a man could swear the oath “to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic “ could kill his fellow soldiers is beyond me.  I read his power point presentation given to his class last year which is posted here:

http://a.abcnews.go.com/images/Blotter/Hasan_2007.pdf

The presentation is troubling because of the more fundamentalist understanding that Major Hasan shows even in relationship to Moslems that he considers “moderate.”  “Muslims may be seen as moderate (compromising) but God is not.”  And “We love death more than you love life!” Having attended the Jordanian Army Peace Operations Training Center and gotten to know senior Iraq officers while serving with our advisors I can say that Major Hasan has a different take on this than many Islamic officers in the armies of Arab nations.  How Hasan was able to present this and have had documented contact with known radicals without being at least questioned shows an incredible lack of forsight by the FBI and Army investigators.

http://abcnews.go.com/Blotter/official-nidal-hasan-unexplained-connections/story?

I pray that he faces justice and of there are any accomplices that they will also be cause and pay for this.  At the same time I pray that the xenophobic ramblings of some who see all Moslems as the enemy are curbed and that they will not incite violence against the innocent in the name of revenge.

Fort Hood conducted a memorial service today for the fallen.  I listened to a lot of it on the radio as I was out.  I was impressed by the remarks of General Cone, General Casey and President Obama.   I think that given the circumstances that the words were fitting and appropriate especially since tomorrow is Veteran’s Day.  The link to the text of the President’s speech is here:

http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/remarks-president-memorial-service-fort-hood

However I do think that a couple of parts of the speech stand out enough to post here:

This is a time of war.  Yet these Americans did not die on a foreign field of battle.  They were killed here, on American soil, in the heart of this great state and the heart of this great American community.  This is the fact that makes the tragedy even more painful, even more incomprehensible.

For those families who have lost a loved one, no words can fill the void that’s been left.  We knew these men and women as soldiers and caregivers.  You knew them as mothers and fathers; sons and daughters; sisters and brothers.

But here is what you must also know:  Your loved ones endure through the life of our nation.  Their memory will be honored in the places they lived and by the people they touched.  Their life’s work is our security, and the freedom that we all too often take for granted.  Every evening that the sun sets on a tranquil town; every dawn that a flag is unfurled; every moment that an American enjoys life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness — that is their legacy…

These are trying times for our country.  In Afghanistan and Pakistan, the same extremists who killed nearly 3,000 Americans continue to endanger America, our allies, and innocent Afghans and Pakistanis.  In Iraq, we’re working to bring a war to a successful end, as there are still those who would deny the Iraqi people the future that Americans and Iraqis have sacrificed so much for.

As we face these challenges, the stories of those at Fort Hood reaffirm the core values that we are fighting for, and the strength that we must draw upon.  Theirs are the tales of American men and women answering an extraordinary call — the call to serve their comrades, their communities, and their country.  In an age of selfishness, they embody responsibility.  In an era of division, they call upon us to come together.  In a time of cynicism, they remind us of who we are as Americans.

We are a nation that endures because of the courage of those who defend it.  We saw that valor in those who braved bullets here at Fort Hood, just as surely as we see it in those who signed up knowing that they would serve in harm’s way.

We are a nation of laws whose commitment to justice is so enduring that we would treat a gunman and give him due process, just as surely as we will see that he pays for his crimes.

We’re a nation that guarantees the freedom to worship as one chooses.  And instead of claiming God for our side, we remember Lincoln’s words, and always pray to be on the side of God.

We’re a nation that is dedicated to the proposition that all men and women are created equal.  We live that truth within our military, and see it in the varied backgrounds of those we lay to rest today.  We defend that truth at home and abroad, and we know that Americans will always be found on the side of liberty and equality.  That’s who we are as a people.

Tomorrow is Veterans Day.  It’s a chance to pause, and to pay tribute — for students to learn the struggles that preceded them; for families to honor the service of parents and grandparents; for citizens to reflect upon the sacrifices that have been made in pursuit of a more perfect union.

For history is filled with heroes.  You may remember the stories of a grandfather who marched across Europe; an uncle who fought in Vietnam; a sister who served in the Gulf.  But as we honor the many generations who have served, all of us — every single American — must acknowledge that this generation has more than proved itself the equal of those who’ve come before.

We need not look to the past for greatness, because it is before our very eyes.

This generation of soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen have volunteered in the time of certain danger. They are part of the finest fighting force that the world has ever known.  They have served tour after tour of duty in distant, different and difficult places.  They have stood watch in blinding deserts and on snowy mountains.  They have extended the opportunity of self-government to peoples that have suffered tyranny and war.  They are man and woman; white, black, and brown; of all faiths and all stations — all Americans, serving together to protect our people, while giving others half a world away the chance to lead a better life.

In today’s wars, there’s not always a simple ceremony that signals our troops’ success — no surrender papers to be signed, or capital to be claimed.  But the measure of the impact of these young men and women is no less great — in a world of threats that no know borders, their legacy will be marked in the safety of our cities and towns, and the security and opportunity that’s extended abroad.  It will serve as testimony to the character of those who served, and the example that all of you in uniform set for America and for the world…

Long after they are laid to rest — when the fighting has finished, and our nation has endured; when today’s servicemen and women are veterans, and their children have grown — it will be said that this generation believed under the most trying of tests; believed in perseverance — not just when it was easy, but when it was hard; that they paid the price and bore the burden to secure this nation, and stood up for the values that live in the hearts of all free peoples.

The speech which I heard on radio moved me.  A president acknowledged what I have believed about our current military.  We serve because we believe in the ideals of this nation and unlike wars past, the “Good Wars” where there were homecoming parades after surrender ceremonies we come home to a nation which mostly has not been at war, a nation that we have protected and served in harm’s way when most Americans were told to be patriotic after 9-11 by President Bush by “going shopping.”  In the midst of all we serve, many of us volunteering for more, not because we like war, but because we believe in our country and in helping others come to know freedom.  I know that amid the political cynicism that is so rampant that such idealism is derided by those who only see America as a force for evil, but such is not the case.  By and large our Soldiers, Marines, Sailors, Airmen and Coastguardsmen serve not for college money or to simply have a job, but because we care about the country and know that by serving now that we will likely end up in a combat zone.

We serve in unpopular wars and our sacrifice is to many people just a news bite in between economic, entertainment and sports stories.  There are those on the left who despise us as much as they did those who served in Vietnam. Likewise there are those on the right who have no compunction about using us in the military until we are spent without sharing a whit in our sacrifice, without ever having put on a uniform much less seeing combat.  Some are politicians seeking a way to increase their power; others are people that I used to listen to on the radio all the time whose answer is to automatically suggest bombing or invading another country.  They say many kind words about us who serve and occasionally sponsor events to “help” military families, but none suggest any real shared sacrifice on the part of the nation.  In fact sometimes they have a negative effect on those who serve because their words are believed as gospel by many and if a combat veteran disagrees with a popular radio talk show host he can be told that that he is “politically correct” “weak” or even a “pansy” by people who shop till they drop under the protection provided by we who serve.  Having had this happen to me recently I know it is the case and the blowhards who drive goad people into such idiocy can go to hell.

So we fight the wars alone while contractors such as Halliburton and the company formerly known as Blackwater get rich lining their pockets with tax dollars doing jobs that at one time were done by the military in an era when much of the nation had a personal interest in the outcome of the war.  We fight the wars and deal with the trauma while others beat the war drums without regard to cost and for the first six years of the war continued to reduce the size of the military.  The previous administration had to be forced by congress into increasing the size of the active Army and Marine Corps and to stop cutting the Navy and the Air Force.

I am glad that unlike Vietnam that the majority of people seem to care about the military and our servicemen and women, even if they disagree with the national policy regarding the present wars.  For that I am grateful and blessed for the outward show of support by many stands in stark contrast what our brothers and sisters who served in Vietnam faced.

This has been and will continue to be a long war.  We have been at war over 8 years since 9-11 as opposed to under 4 years of American involvement in World War II.  The overwhelming burden of the war has been on the backs of an incredibly small segment of the American population.   If you look at the numbers it is well under one percent of the population of the United States that has served in Iraq or Afghanistan.  This is not a shared sacrifice.

Today is Veteran’s Day.  Take the time to recognize the sacrifices of not just those who fought in the big popular wars, but for those who have endured the unpopular and unglamorous wars such as Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan.  I have made two combat deployments as well as numerous trips in and out of theater. When the time comes and my boss thinks I’m ready to go again I will go to serve alongside my friends and comrades many of whom are serving in harm’s way now.

I ask readers of this website to remember the fallen in Iraq, Afghanistan and the other fronts in this ongoing war including the home front which felt the effect of the war when Major Hasan attacked his fellow soldiers.  Remember the fallen, care for the wounded and the families of those who have lost their lives, being wounded in mind body or spirit and those who have served in wars past as well as this war.  Our brothers and sisters who fought in World War II, Korea and Vietnam are growing fewer in number daily and “we, we happy few” who continue this fight need all the support that we can get.

I have been in California this week helping with my parents affairs.  My dad is in a nursing facility here with Alzheimer’s disease.  During my last visit he still recognized me and for a few minutes I had him back. Now he no longer knows who I am.  He is a retired Navy Chief and toward the end of his career served at An Loc where he endured that siege in the spring of 1972.  I thank God for my dad’s service and example that helped lead me to chose serving in the military, something for me that has lasted more than 28 years in service with the Army and the Navy.  I pray for God’s peace and mercy on him as he lives what little life that he has left.

God bless all of our veterans, the living and the dead as well as all of those who serve in harm’s way in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Pray for our country and the military.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Military, Political Commentary, traumatic national events