Tag Archives: operation joint endeavor

The Army Interregnum, 1981-1999: A Photo Montage


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

This is another in a series of posts that serve a dual purpose, the first and most important is to shrink pictures of my 39 year military career into sizes where they won’t crush the size of the Power Point presentation to be played before my retirement ceremony, the second is to provide just a brief look through pictures at my time in the Army.

Without using a lot of verbose prose I grew up in a Navy family but surrounded myself with all things military, Navy, Army, Marines, Air Force. Of course that included everything I could read about history, especially military and Naval history, biography, technical aspects of ships, aircraft, artillery, small arms, armored fighting vehicles, strategy, operational methods, strategy and grand strategy, and even ethics and war crimes even before I finished high school.

After my dad retired from the Navy I was lost, I didn’t want to be a civilian, and this was at the end of the Vietnam War when the military was not popular at all. The draft had been abolished, the all-volunteer Force established and there were a lot of problems even as the Soviets became a greater threat and the Middle East began a descent into the chaos that it is now. But even so I want to serve.

My parents talked me out of enlisting in the Navy or Army right out of high school to try a year of junior college. It was a good thing they did because in August of 1978 I met Judy, we began dating and in 1980 I followed her to California State University at Northridge.

Before I went to Northridge I applied and was accepted into the Air Force ROTC program and I would have jumped on it had they not insisted on attending a four week summer training camp that would have destroyed the income from an extremely well paying summer job at the John Deere and Company Warehouse where my dad worked in Stockton, California. I am forever grateful for my dad for getting me that job because it paid a good amount of my college expenses. So the Air Force was out, as was the Navy because Judy who had a number a sister and two brothers-law-serve in the Navy, did not want to have to deal with regular Navy deployments. I asked her if the Army was okay and she said yes because at the time Army assignments were pretty predicable, and with Vietnam in the rear view mirror Not too bad for family life on the whole. Not to say that in Cold War Germany my work days were usually 12-14 hours long and we had a lot of alerts, field exercises, and a massive event called REFORGER once or twice a year that took a month to six weeks out of our lives.

This is my Army story in pictures, from Army ROTC at UCLA and time in the 3rd Battalion 144th Field Artillery while in ROTC, my commissioning as a Medical Service Corps Lieutenant and our marriage in 1983, and my first five years on active duty from July 1983 to September 1988, which included time as a platoon leader, motor maintenance officer, NBC defense officer, Company Executive Office, Company Commander as well as Group and Brigade Personnel Staff Officer. I left active duty to attend seminary while serving in the Texas Army National Guard where I was commissioned as an Armor Officer and served in an Armor Battalion as the S-1, and on brigade staff before the State Chaplain forced me into the Chaplain Candidate Program because by regulation seminary and theological students are not allowed to serve in combatant positions. He had me branch transferred into the Staff Specialist Branch where seminary and law students went while in school. Now if you know the Army every Branch or Corps has its two letter designation. An Armor officer is AR, Infantry IN, Military Intelligence MI, and Field Artillery FA. There are many more but the Staff Specialist Branch was SS, so yours truly was a SS Captain, but not the Nazi kind for a couple of years. That being said, though I had orders and wore the insignia, the God of Military personnel in the 49th Armored Division still kept me on the books as a Medical Service Corps Officer, and a secondary Armor Officer in case we were mobilized for Operation Desert Storm, and we were days away from mobilization when that war ended. But during seminary I completed the Chaplain Officer Basic Course, and commissioned as a Chaplain following my graduation and ordination.

During that time I decided to try civilian hospital chaplaincy, completed a Clinical Pastoral Education Residency at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas, and then took a full time contract position as a Contract Emergency Department Chaplain in my parent’s home town of Huntington West Virginia, where both my grandmothers and numerous other more distant relatives lived. During all of this time I served as a Chaplain in the Texas and Virginia National Guard and when promoted to Major in December 1995 transferred to the Army Reserve. In the summer of 1996 8 volunteered for and mobilized to support Operation Joint Endeavor, the NATO Intervention in the Balkans. Coming home from that I had no civilian job as contractors have no reemployment rights.

About a week later the Army gave me orders to Fort Indiantown Gap Pennsylvania to help close it down as a Federal installation and prepare to hand it over to the Pennsylvania Army National Guard. That kept me there until the end of September 1997, but the Garrison Commander did not want to go the final year without a Chaplain, and since the Army didn’t have money to do it, he worked out a deal with the Pennsylvania State Military Department to hire me as a civilian chaplain while remaining a drilling member of the Army Reserve. That was a really cool time, Judy got to be with me, we had a great congregation, and I was recognized by the Army for my creativity in preparing the chapel congregation and the other inactive chapels on the base for turnover. This included the demolition of one, the decommissioning and neutralization of two others to serve in other capacities, one as a daycare center, the other a supply building. The partial renovations of three to serve as chapels for units training on base or mobilization purposes, the renovation of a tiny but historic Catholic Chapel, the Our Lady of Victory. The donations and removal of another which despite the structure being in pristine condition, would have been demolished with the rest of area six. It was donated to the First Free Congregational Church of Orwigsburg, Pennsylvania. After it had its lead paint exterior planks removed and was decontaminated by the removal of asbestos panels inside, the church had a crew of Amish workers take it apart and reassemble it on their site where it still stands. Judy represented me at the groundbreaking because I was serving as a Exchange Officer at the Chapel of the German Panzertruppen Schule in Munsterlager, between Hamburg and Hannover. When we turned the base over we went home to Huntington where jobs for someone like me were incredibly nonexistent, I got a call from the bishop of my old church Just before Christmas of 1998 that the Navy was willing to take me on active duty if I was willing to reduce in rank from being an Army Major to being a Navy Lieutenant. On 8 February 1999 I drilled for the last time in the Army Reserve and on 9 February was commissioned as a Navy Chaplain.

But the Army did a lot for me that led me to success in the Navy, Marine Corps, and in Combat. It prepared me by allowing me to serve in command and staff positions. To realize that war was more than a game, that one always had to expect the unexpected, and to realize that soldiers and their families were more than cogs in a wheel. I learned to try to balance justice with mercy and I learned from my mistakes when I didn’t to that as well as I should. Because of Judy we never were ones to treat ourselves above enlisted people, particularly because the Army tends to be a less stratified service than the Navy, and because we made sure that we invited enlisted personnel to dinners, including thanksgiving at our quarters, and to treat enlisted personnel and their families with respect, especially when unexpected things happened like massive pay failures during a unit move, or when we had to remain in the field longer than scheduled and Judy and the platoon leader, XO, or Company Commanders wife making sure that families were notified and cared for during such times.

I learned from excellent leaders and from the less than caring or stellar leader on how to treat people and not treat people. I learned how much my Oath to the Constitution meant, and though not a West Point Graduate adopted their creed of Duty, Honor, Country as my own.

As I said, the Army thought me about how to survive and succeed in combat, and prepare me for war. Good Army leaders taught me to think outside of the box and to throw away the book when it’s answers didn’t make sense. The bad ones always said to stick to the book no-matter what. Combined with my study of military history and successful leaders I found that taking risks and doing things that the Chaplain Corps frowned upon in combat was key to being where people needed me. Thankfully I had leaders that let me do those things.

I also leaned that to be honest and truthful when things were going to shit wasn’t appreciated by much of the brass, but was appreciated by the enlisted men. I also found that being honest and truthful could make one enemies more devoted to their power in the system than by being honest and truthful with people that have to power to fix things, including faulty weapons systems and vehicles, communications equipment, personnel regulations, training programs, and so much more that when not fixed or changed to meet changing situations, cost lives unnecessarily, and lose wars.

As the British military theorist, historian, and philosopher B.H. Liddell-Hart wrote toward the end of his life:

“We learn from history that in every age and every clime the majority of people have resented what seems in retrospect to have been purely matter-of-fact comment on their institutions. We learn too that nothing has aided the persistence of falsehood, and the evils resulting from it, more than the unwillingness of good people to admit the truth when it was disturbing to their comfortable assurance. Always the tendency continues to be shocked by natural comment and to hold certain things too “sacred” to think about.”

He then noted something that some of us learn as we progress through the ranks of the military if we are honest, “As a young officer I had cherished a deep respect for the Higher Command, but I was sadly disillusioned about many of them when I came to see them more closely from the angle of a military correspondent. It was saddening to discover how many apparently honourable men would stoop to almost anything to help their own advancement.” 

Anyway, here is the Army Part of my story in pictures.

Peace,

Padre Steve+














 





 








Well friends, that’s my Army story. There are many more photos I could have digitalized and used but this will have to work for now. On to the Navy and some reflections at the end of my career.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, leadership, Military, ministry, philosophy, Photo Montages, remembering friends, US Navy

Veterans Day 2020: a Coda at the End of a Career


With Advisors and Bedouin Family, Iraq Syria Border, Christmas Eve 2007

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today is the official observance of Veterans Day, which actually falls on The anniversary of Armistice Day. 

It is a strange feeling. I don’t really advertise that I am a veteran out in public, even though I have quite a few ball caps, sweat shirts, Polo shirts, hoodies, and fleeces that I could wear. To do that. I certainly am not ashamed of my service, but much of it has been hard, and I spend the time thinking about those who I served alongside, or set an example for me, living and dead. Unless something really unusual happens it will be my last on active duty.

I understand men like the Alsatian German Guy Sajer who wrote after spending World War Two on the Russian Front:

“In the train, rolling through the sunny French countryside, my head knocked against the wooden back of the seat. Other people, who seemed to belong to a different world, were laughing. I couldn’t forget.”

As I said, I have been reflecting on the many friends, comrades, and shipmates, not all of whom are American, that I have served alongside, or have known in the course of my 38 plus year military career. I also am remembering my dad who served in Vietnam as a Navy Chief Petty Officer and the men who help to guide me in my military career going back to my high school NJROTC instructors, LCDR J. E. Breedlove, and Senior Chief Petty Officer John Ness.


My Dad, Aviation Storekeeper Chief Carl Dundas

LCDR Breedlove and Senior Chief Ness

2nd Platoon, 557th Medical Company (Ambulance), Germany 1985

As I think of all of these men and women, I am reminded of the words spoke by King Henry V in Shakespeare’s play Henry V:

This story shall the good man teach his son;

And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,

From this day to the ending of the world,

But we in it shall be remembered-

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;

For he to-day that sheds his blood with me

Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,

This day shall gentle his condition;

And gentlemen in England now-a-bed

Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,

And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks

That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.

From the Speech of King Henry V at Agincourt in Shakespeare’s “Henry V” 1599

It is a peculiar bond that veterans share. On Veterans Day the United States choses to honor all of its veterans on a day that was originally dedicatedly Armistice Day, a day to remember the World War One, or the War to end all war; we saw how well that worked out, but I digress.

With My trusty Bodyguard and assistant RP1 Nelson LeBron, Habbinyah Iraq, January 2008. 

I wrote about Armistice Day yesterday, but Veterans Day is for all veterans, even those who fought in unpopular and sometimes even unjust wars. This makes it an honorable, but sometimes an ethical problematic observance. So, in a broader and more universal sense, those of us who have served, especially in the wars that do not fit with our nation’s ideals, share the heartache of the war; the loss of friends, comrades, and parts of ourselves, with the veterans of other nations whose leaders sent their soldiers to fight and die in unjust wars.

With Advisors at Al Waleed Border Crossing

It is now over ten years since I served in Iraq and nine years since my PTSD crash.  However, I still would do it again in a heartbeat.  There is something about doing the job that you were both trained to do and called to do that makes it so.  Likewise the bonds of friendship and brotherhood with those who you serve are greater than almost any known in the human experience.  Shared danger, suffering and trauma bind soldiers together, even soldiers of different countries and sometimes with enemies. I am by no means a warmonger, in fact I am much more of a pacifist now; but there is something about having served in combat, especially with very small and isolated groups of men and women in places where if something went wrong there was no possibility of help.

With my boarding team from the USS Hue City, Persian Gulf 2002

I remember the conversation that I had with an Iraqi Merchant Marine Captain on a ship that we had apprehended for smuggling oil violating the United Nations sanctions.  The man was a bit older than me, in his early 60s.  He had been educated in Britain and traveled to the US in the 1960s and 1970s. He had the same concerns as any husband and father for his family and had lost his livelihood after Saddam invaded Kuwait in 1990.   He was a gentleman who provided for his crew and went out of his way to cooperate with us.  In our last meeting he said to me: “Someday I hope that like the American, British, and German soldiers at the end of the Second World War, that we can meet after the war is over, share a meal and a drink in a bar and be friends.”

That is still my hope.

In the final episode of the series Band of Brothers there is a scene where one of the American soldiers, Joseph Liebgott who came from a German Jewish family interprets the words of a German General to his men in the prisoner compound.  The words sum up what the Americans had felt about themselves and likewise the bond that all soldiers who serve together in war have in common, if you have seen the episode you know how powerful it is, I ended up crying when I heard it the first time and cannot help but do so now that I have been to the badlands of Al Anbar Province.

 

“Men, it’s been a long war, it’s been a tough war. You’ve fought bravely, proudly for your country. You’re a special group. You’ve found in one another a bond that exists only in combat, among brothers. You’ve shared foxholes, held each other in dire moments. You’ve seen death and suffered together. I’m proud to have served with each and every one of you. You all deserve long and happy lives in peace.”

We live in a time where it is quite possible or even likely that the world will be shaken by wars that will dwarf all of those that have occurred since the Second World War. Since I am still serving, I prepare myself every day, and speak frankly with those who I serve alongside of this reality.


The World War One Memorial Arch in Huntington West Virginia
I had a few people out in town thank me for my service when they saw me in uniform, and many more on Facebook today when Judy posted a picture of me from five years ago. My brother Jeff posted a tribute to my dad, me, and my nephew Darren, now serving as a Marine. I am grateful for this as when my dad returned from Vietnam that didn’t happen. At the same time it is a bit embarrassing. I don’t really know what to say most of the time. I have always been a volunteer, I wasn’t drafted, and I even volunteered for my deployment to Iraq. But there are so many other men and women who have done much more than I ever did to deserve such expressions of thanks.
My Nephew Darren
But I am glad that my nephew Darren is a Marine. Some of my most wonderful memories of service are over seven years spent assigned to the Marines. I proudly wear my Fleet Marine Force Officer Qualification Pin, and display my diploma from the Marine Corps Command and Staff College. 

With Marines of Marine Security Forces in Bahrain, 2004

More than a decade after I left Iraq, I quite often felt out of place in the United States, even among some veterans. That isolation has gotten worse for me in the Trump era, especially after a Navy retiree in my chapel congregation attempted to have me tried by Court Martial for a sermon in 2018.

I can’t understand that when the President that the man worships dodged the draft, mocks veterans and real heroes, and during all of his years in office has refused to visit any deployed troops until a year ago, and then it was a photo op which included handing out #MAGA hats. The President and those like him should think himself accursed that he has not only not served, but worked his entire life to avoid that service, and them for defending him. I pray the the spirits of the honored dead haunt him until the day that he dies, and I mean that from the depths of my being. That may sound harsh but he deserves a fate worse than a fate worse than death.

The past year I have served at Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth, Virginia. That assignment helped restore my faith and calling as a Christian and a Priest. I am thankful for the people who I served there, military and civilian. You cannot imagine how much that means to me and how much I will miss them. It looks like in addition to writing books and hopefully teaching in local universities  that I will also be working as a contractor with Navy Fleet and Family Services working with military personnel of all services in the area.

Today was a quiet remembrance. I am still dealing with the after effects of my tooth and am now having TMJ like symptoms. Yesterday we had a special ceremony at the shipyard during morning colors and I provided the invocation and benediction. It was a surreal feeling for it will be the last time I do that as a military Chaplain, and my last Veterans Day of over 39 years of service.

On 1 January 2021 I will finally be retired. It’s time. I am overwhelming grateful for having the chance to serve this country in uniform for so long, and I will never forget those who instilled in me the virtues of Duty, Honor, Country,” “Courage, Honor and Commitment,” and “Semper Fidelis.”

So until tomorrow,

I wish you peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, iraq,afghanistan, Military, Political Commentary, Tour in Iraq, us army, US Marine Corps, US Navy, Veterans and friends

“You Went Along With it All…” A Warning to Those Who Claim “Gott Mit Uns” in Terms of Nationalism and Criminal Wars

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

One of the more sobering war movies that I have ever watched is the film Stalingrad. Released in 1993 it is the story of four soldiers of a platoon of soldiers of the 336th Pioneer Battalion. The Pioneers were the equivalent of American Combat Engineers. It is a sobering film to watch. In a way it is much like the film Platoon. Director Joseph Vilsmaier made the battle and the human suffering come alive with realism. There is no happy ending and there are few if any heroes. The men see, protest, are punished, and then are ordered to participate in war crimes.

The battle of Stalingrad was one of the turning points of the Second World War, over a million Russian, German, Romanian, and Italian Soldiers died in the battle. Of the 260,000 soldiers of the German Sixth Army which led the attack in Stalingrad and then were surrounded by the Soviet counter-offensive, very few survived. Some escaped because they were evacuated by transport planes, but most perished. Of the approximately 91,000 German soldiers that surrendered only about 6,000 returned home.

I’ll write about that battle again around Christmas and on the anniversary of its surrender at the end of January, but there are two sequences of dialogue that stood out to me. The first is at the beginning of the battle where a German Chaplain exhorts the soldier to fight against the “Godless Bolsheviks” because the Germans believed in God and the officially Atheistic Soviet Union and its people did not. In his exhortation the Chaplain calls attentional the belt buckles worn by every soldier in the Wehrmacht, which were embossed with the words Gott mit Uns, or God is with us.

In light of President Trump first pardoning and then appearing with convicted war criminals at a campaign dinner, I have a hard time believing that God can be with a nation which with each passing day becomes less and less free, and where the Church by and large has fallen in line with a lawless and Godless President, a man who sincerely believes that as President he is above the law and that his words trump the law, even the laws of God.

Likewise, in the reports released today, American Administrations, not just Trump’s, but the Bush and Obama administrations as well as the Defense Department have been lying about the Afghanistan campaign for years; claiming success while the reality on the ground was far different. If we had a public that actually cared about the truth, as well as the troops, this scandal would burn as bright as the release of the Pentagon Papers during Vietnam.

I am a a military Chaplain. I have been one since 1992, and the older I get the more distrustful I am of men who place a veneer of region over the most ungodly and unjust wars. For me that was frightening because I do know from experience that the temptation to do such things when in uniform is all too great, but how can anyone exhort people to acts of criminality in the name of God? I know that it is done far too often and I hate to admit I personally know, or know of American military chaplains who would say the same thing as the German Chaplain depicted in the film. Back in the Cold War while serving as an officer before I became a Chaplain I used to talk about the Godless Communists.

The second question is also difficult. I have been in the military for about thirty-seven plus years. Truthfully I am a dinosaur. I am the second most senior and the oldest sailor on my base. I have served during the Cold War as a company commander, was mobilized as a chaplain to support the Bosnia operation in 1996, I have served in the Korean DMZ, at sea during Operation Enduring Freedom and Southern Watch, and with American advisors to the Iraqi Army, Police, and Border troops in Al Anbar Province. I have seen too much of war but even though I could retire from the military today I still believe that I am called to serve and care for the men and women who will go into harm’s way.

That being said those who have read my writings on this site for years know just how anti-war I have become and why this dialogue hits so hard. Some of the members of the platoon are accused of cowardice and sent to a penal company in order to redeem themselves. The commander of the unit, a Captain who hold the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross is confronted by one of the men.

Otto: You know we don’t stand a chance. Why not surrender?

Captain Hermann Musk: You know what would happen if we do.

Otto: Do we deserve any better?

Captain Hermann Musk: Otto, I’m not a Nazi.

Otto: No, you’re worse. Lousy officers. You went along with it all, even though you knew who was in charge.

That is something that bothers me even today. I wonder about the men who go along with wars which cannot be classified as anything other than war crimes based on the precedents set by Americans at Nuremberg, and I am not without my own guilt. In 2003 I had my own misgivings about the invasion of Iraq, but I wholeheartedly supported it and volunteered to go there.

I was all too much like the German Captain. I went along with it despite my doubts. As a voter I could have cast my vote for John Kerry in 2004, but I didn’t. Instead I supported a President who launched a war of aggression that by every definition fits the charges leveled against the leaders of the Nazi state at Nuremberg. When I was in Iraq I saw things that changed me and I have written in much detail about them on this site, but I supported that initial invasion.

Now as a nation we are in a place where a man who openly advocates breaking the Geneva and Hague Conventions, supports the use of torture, and who both beats the drums of war, to the extent of appointing one of the most strident proponents of the invasion of Iraq as his National Security Advisor, before firing him a year later.

Likewise, the President holds the professional military, and State Department in contempt appears to be angling for war in the Middle East against Iran even as he excuses the criminal actions of Saudi Arabia in Yemen and against American residents, as was demonstrated in his wholehearted defense of Saudis after one of their officers killed three American military personnel at Pensacola Naval Air Station on Friday.

I have no doubt that unless something changes that a terrible war is coming and that our President will be a catalyst for it. But for the next eight and a half months before I retire, I will remain in the military to care for the sailors, soldiers, marines, and airmen who will have to go to war and perhaps fight and die.

The thought haunts me and makes it hard for me to sleep at night and I do my best to speak up and be truthful in fulfillment of my priestly vows and my oath of office. Today, unlike my younger years; one thing for me is true: I will never tell any military member that God is with us in the sense that all too many Christian nationalists have done in the past.

I don’t actually think that I ever said the words “God is with us” in regards to advocating war in my career as a Chaplain, but I am sure that my words, and public prayers could have been interpreted in that way when I was younger, especially in the traumatic days after September 11th, 2001.

Likewise, I did go along with the war in Iraq even though I understood what it meant! and what the men and women who engineered it wanted when they took us to war. Sadly, I trusted my leaders too much, especially when Secretary of State Colin Powell spoke before the United Nations to prove the case against Iraq just before the invasion.

Supreme Justice Robert Jackson, who served as the Chief American Prosecutor at Nuremberg stated in the London Agreement:

“If certain acts of violation of treaties are crimes, they are crimes whether the United States does them or whether Germany does them, and we are not prepared to lay down a rule of criminal conduct against others which we would not be willing to have invoked against us.”

Now we live in a world where nationalism, ethnic, racial, and religious hatred are rising, and our own President seems to be abandoning the democratic and pluralistic ideas of or founders, while praising and tacitly supporting authoritarian and Fascist rulers around the world. Honestly, I dread what may befall us if he remains in power, or if someone worse follows him, backed of course by those who believe that God is with them. They of course are the true believers and as Eric Hoffer wrote:

“The impression somehow prevails that the true believer, particularly the religious individual, is a humble person. The truth is the surrendering and humbling of the self bred pride and arrogance. The true believer is apt to see himself as one of the chosen, the salt of the earth, the light of the world, a prince disguised in meekness, who is destined to inherit the earth and the kingdom of heaven too. He who is not of his faith is evil; he who will not listen will perish.”

Most of the German troops at Stalingrad marched into that battle believing a similar creed. I would dare say that many, if not most of the Trump followers, inside and outside the military believe the same. A recent poll conducted of the military indicated that the military is divided in terms of Trump. Younger white and more junior officers, as well as enlisted personnel support Trump, while Well educated and experienced senior officers, women, and minorities Of both officer and enlisted ranks do not. That is not a good situation, years of right wing propaganda have had a huge effect on many in the military. It took my experience in Iraq to cure me of nearly two decades of exposure to it.

The question today, is will we do the same. I cannot. I have to echo the words of German General Henning von Tresckow, one of the men who died in the conspiracy to kill Hitler wrote a number of observations of his time that are quite applicable to our own:

“I cannot understand how people can still call themselves Christians and not be furious adversaries of Hitler’s regime.” And “We have to show the world that not all of us are like him. Otherwise, this will always be Hitler’s Germany.”

Personally, I cannot abide this being forever regarded as Trump’s America. So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under christian life, ethics, faith, film, germany, History, Military, national security, nazi germany, News and current events, Political Commentary, Religion, war crimes, War on Terrorism, world war two in europe

For Me It’s Personal: Veteran’s Day 2019


With Advisors and Bedouin Family, Iraq Syria Border, Christmas Eve 2007

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Today is the official observance of Veterans Day, which actually falls on The anniversary of Armistice Day. 

It is a strange feeling. I don’t really advertise that I am a veteran out in public, even though I have quite a few ball caps, sweat shirts, Polo shirts, hoodies, and fleeces that I could wear. To do that. I certainly am not ashamed of my service, but much of it has been hard, and I spend the time thinking about those who I served alongside, or set an example for me, living and dead. Unless something really unusual happens it will be my last on active duty.

I understand men like the Alsatian German Guy Sajer who wrote after spending World War Two on the Russian Front:

“In the train, rolling through the sunny French countryside, my head knocked against the wooden back of the seat. Other people, who seemed to belong to a different world, were laughing. I couldn’t forget.”

As I said, I have been reflecting on the many friends, comrades, and shipmates, not all of whom are American, that I have served alongside, or have known in the course of my 38 plus year military career. I also am remembering my dad who served in Vietnam as a Navy Chief Petty Officer and the men who help to guide me in my military career going back to my high school NJROTC instructors, LCDR J. E. Breedlove, and Senior Chief Petty Officer John Ness.

My Dad, Aviation Storekeeper Chief Carl Dundas

LCDR Breedlove and Senior Chief Ness

2nd Platoon, 557th Medical Company (Ambulance), Germany 1985

As I think of all of these men and women, I am reminded of the words spoke by King Henry V in Shakespeare’s play Henry V:

This story shall the good man teach his son;

And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by,

From this day to the ending of the world,

But we in it shall be remembered-

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;

For he to-day that sheds his blood with me

Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,

This day shall gentle his condition;

And gentlemen in England now-a-bed

Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,

And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks

That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.

From the Speech of King Henry V at Agincourt in Shakespeare’s “Henry V” 1599

It is a peculiar bond that veterans share. On Veterans Day the United States choses to honor all of its veterans on a day that was originally dedicatedly Armistice Day, a day to remember the World War One, or the War to end all war; we saw how well that worked out, but I digress.

With My trusty Bodyguard and assistant RP1 Nelson LeBron, Habbinyah Iraq, January 2008. 

I wrote about Armistice Day yesterday, but Veterans Day is for all veterans, even those who fought in unpopular and sometimes even unjust wars. This makes it an honorable, but sometimes an ethical problematic observance. So, in a broader and more universal sense, those of us who have served, especially in the wars that do not fit with our nation’s ideals, share the heartache of the war; the loss of friends, comrades, and parts of ourselves, with the veterans of other nations whose leaders sent their soldiers to fight and die in unjust wars.

With Advisors at Al Waleed Border Crossing

It is now over ten years since I served in Iraq and nine years since my PTSD crash.  However, I still would do it again in a heartbeat.  There is something about doing the job that you were both trained to do and called to do that makes it so.  Likewise the bonds of friendship and brotherhood with those who you serve are greater than almost any known in the human experience.  Shared danger, suffering and trauma bind soldiers together, even soldiers of different countries and sometimes with enemies. I am by no means a warmonger, in fact I am much more of a pacifist now; but there is something about having served in combat, especially with very small and isolated groups of men and women in places where if something went wrong there was no possibility of help.

With my boarding team from the USS Hue City, Persian Gulf 2002

I remember the conversation that I had with an Iraqi Merchant Marine Captain on a ship that we had apprehended for smuggling oil violating the United Nations sanctions.  The man was a bit older than me, in his early 60s.  He had been educated in Britain and traveled to the US in the 1960s and 1970s. He had the same concerns as any husband and father for his family and had lost his livelihood after Saddam invaded Kuwait in 1990.   He was a gentleman who provided for his crew and went out of his way to cooperate with us.  In our last meeting he said to me: “Someday I hope that like the American, British, and German soldiers at the end of the Second World War, that we can meet after the war is over, share a meal and a drink in a bar and be friends.”

That is still my hope.

In the final episode of the series Band of Brothers there is a scene where one of the American soldiers, Joseph Liebgott who came from a German Jewish family interprets the words of a German General to his men in the prisoner compound.  The words sum up what the Americans had felt about themselves and likewise the bond that all soldiers who serve together in war have in common, if you have seen the episode you know how powerful it is, I ended up crying when I heard it the first time and cannot help but do so now that I have been to the badlands of Al Anbar Province.

“Men, it’s been a long war, it’s been a tough war. You’ve fought bravely, proudly for your country. You’re a special group. You’ve found in one another a bond that exists only in combat, among brothers. You’ve shared foxholes, held each other in dire moments. You’ve seen death and suffered together. I’m proud to have served with each and every one of you. You all deserve long and happy lives in peace.”

We live in a time where it is quite possible or even likely that the world will be shaken by wars that will dwarf all of those that have occurred since the Second World War. Since I am still serving, I prepare myself every day, and speak frankly with those who I serve alongside of this reality.

Over the weekend I have had more people than I can count thank me for my service. For this I am grateful, for when my dad returned from Vietnam that didn’t happen. At the same time it is a bit embarrassing. I don’t really know what to say most of the time. I have always been a volunteer, I wasn’t drafted, and I even volunteered for my deployment to Iraq. But there are so many other men and women who have done much more than I ever did to deserve such expressions of thanks.

More than a decade after I left Iraq, I quite often feel out of place in the United States, even among some veterans. That isolation has gotten worse for me in the Trump era, especially after a Navy retiree in my chapel congregation attempted to have me tried by Court Martial for a sermon. I can’t understand that when the President that he worships dodged the draft, mocks veterans and real heroes, and has never even once in his first two years in office has refused to visit any deployed troops. The President, and those like him should think himself accursed that he has not only not served, but worked his entire life to avoid that service. I pray the the spirits of the honored dead haunt him until the day that he dies. That may sound harsh but he deserves a fate worse than a fate worse than death.

Judy were out with friends today, some military, retired, maybe some still active, as well as civilian friends, many of whom have military relations at Gordon Biersch, the brewer brewed a special Veterans IPA, proceeds from tonight which went to Virginia Veterans.

To my friends there I am Steve or the Padre. They all know me and know that I still serve, but that’s because they know me, not because I advertise. They also represent the span of political views in the country at large, but we are friends.

So until tomorrow,

I wish you peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, Military, News and current events, remembering friends, Tour in Iraq, Veterans and friends

Thoughts on 36 Years of Commissioned Service

Second Lieutenant Dundas, 1984, Neubrücke Germany

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Thirty-six years ago, on the 19th Of June 1983, about 15 of my Army ROTC classmates and I were commissioned as Second Lieutenants in the Active Duty Army, the Army Reserve, or National Guard. Now, thirty-six years later I am the last one on active duty. A number still serve in DOD civilian status, others have retired from the military, and others transitioned to civilian life sometime during the intervening time.

My life since I was commissioned has being as a Medical Service Corps active duty platoon leader, motor maintenance officer, NBC Defense officer, Company Executive Officer and Commander, before becoming a Medical Personnel officer at a Medical Group and later the Adjutant for the Academy Brigade, Academy of Health Sciences, at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. While there I helped write the Army’s personnel policies on personnel infected with HIV and AIDS, which helped change my views on those infected with this horrible disease, and my acceptance and support for LGBTQ people, not just in the military.

Back in 1983 I took an oath which I still abide by:

I, [name], do solemnly swear (or affirm) 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.

When I left active duty to attend seminary in the fall of 1988 I entered the Texas Army National Guard, still,serving as a personnel officer, but with a branch transfer to the Armor Branch. Later the State Chaplain found that a seminary student was serving as an Armor officer and had me transferred to the Staff Specialist Branch, for Chaplain Candidates, for which there is no paper trail in existence even though I attended the Chaplain Officer Basic Course the following summer. Until I became a Chaplain in October 1992 I was officially listed as a Medical Service Corps or Armor officer.

I continued on as a Chaplain in the Texas Army National Guard, then Virginia before being promoted to Major and transferred to the Army Reserve in West Virginia in December 1995. In June 1996 I was mobilized to support the Bosnia operation, OPERATION JOINT ENDEAVOR. I supported the operation from Germany, filling in for forward deployed Chaplains at the Würzburg Army Medical Center, the 4th Battalion, 3rd Air Defence Artillery, and as the base chaplain at Leighton Barracks in Kitzingen, before returning home to find that my contract position at a local hospital had been terminated when I was deployed and a man I had trained had been hired as a full time permanent employee.

Within two weeks of my release from my mobilized service I was activated to serve as the Garrison Chaplain for Fort Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania, about 18 miles east of Harrisburg. The Gap was on the Base Realignment and closure list for 1998 and I was the last Federal Chaplain before it was transferred to the Pennsylvania National Guard. When we shut it down my tour ended, but I had been able with the support of my Commanding Officer, the Active Duty Army, and the Pennsylvania Army National Guard to keep the chapel program going. When done I went back to be the Group Chaplain for the 38th Ordnance Group, in Cross Lanes, West Virginia. However, without a civilian job to go home to it was difficult as we lived off of savings and drill pay.

Just before Christmas of 1998 I got a call from my former bishop in my former church that the Navy had hit a recruiting crisis for Chaplains and was willing to deal. Since I was a Major, a controlled grade, the the Army wouldn’t take me back into active duty. However, the Navy allowed me to resign my Army commission and enter the Navy the same day, with a reduction in rank. I was commissioned as a Navy Chaplain on 9 February 1999 and before the end of the month was on active duty.

After Chaplain School I was assigned to the 2nd Marine Division where served with the Second Combat Engineer Battalion, the 1st and 3rd Battalions, 8th Marine Regiment, and finally Headquarters Battalion, 2nd Marine Division. I was the Division Chaplain’s “relief pitcher.” When a Chaplain got in trouble and was removed, or when one was transferred unexpectedly, I got sent in. I was a Headquarters Battalion on September 11th 2001 following a deployment to the Western Pacific with 3rd Battalion 8th Marines. In December I was transferred to the USS Hue City and shortly thereafter deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. Following that deployment, in which I served as an “advisor” on a boarding team and participated in 75 missions on interred tankers and merchant ships found in violation of U.N. Sanctions against Iraq.

When I transferred to Marine Security Forces in Norfolk in October 2003 my battalion commander put me on the road one to three weeks a month to Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and various locations stateside in support of Marine Security Forces. During that tour I was Promotes to Lieutenant Commander, and then assigned to Navy EOD Group Two, from which I was deployed with my assistant to Iraq in July 2007 in support of American advisors to Iraqi Forces In Al Anbar Province. That was a life changing experience. Suffering from severe PTSD and mild TBI I returned to the States in a mess. My next assignment after EOD was at the Naval Medical Center Portsmouth. I found that I was working 60-80 hours a week, and occasionally more in our ICUs and as the one call Chaplain to try to make my PTSD better. It didn’t work. I fell apart. My PTSD as well as physical injuries took a toll on me. Though I was selected for Commander the day after I found out that my dad had died of Alzheimer’s disease, things were never the same. Despite that, during those tours I had completed the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, earned my qualification as a Fleet Marine Force Officer, and completed a Masters Degree in Military History.

I had decided to speak up about my struggles with PTSD, and questions with the church I was then ordained by, I found that I was pretty much abandoned by my old church and the Chaplain Corps. I was short toured at Portsmouth and sent on a geographic bachelor assignment as the department head of the Pastoral Care Department at Camp LeJeune, Naval Hospital where I spent three years. The economic cost was great and the emotional cost to Judy and me greater.

I a rare stroke of fortune my detailed got me assigned to my dream assignment as an instructor and chaplain at the Joint Forces Staff College. If I couldn’t be operational and out with the troops at least I was instructing, teaching, researching, and back in academia. I spent 3 and 1/2 years there teaching Ethics and leading the Gettysburg Staff Ride.

After I left the Staff College I have struggled. I was assigned as the Command Chaplain and Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek Fort Story. I have found that despite the massive budget increases in DOD that the base, Medical, and support side of the house are being gutted. My billet used to be an O-6, or Navy Captain billet. There were more Chaplains, more enlisted support staff, and contract personnel, and that is not just on the religious ministries side of the house. We are short of critical staff and security measures across the board. After almost two decades of war the Navy is attempting to sharpen the point of the spear but the shaft is rotten and about to fall apart.

I have good people to work with, quality Chaplains and enlisted personnel and contractors who do a great job, but I expect unless something radically changes that my work, and the work of Chaplains decades before me will be for naught. Supposedly there are more deep cuts coming, despite the increases in the overall Defense Budget. My friends in Navy Medicine confirm that more deep cuts are probably coming to Navy Medicine.

As for me, I have been assured that by the time I retire next April that my knees will be fixed. So I will be able to retire, and once I figure out what my retirement pay + disability + VA benefits + post retirement earnings then Judy and I can plan on selling our current townhome and getting a ranch house that won’t fuck with our knees, and allow us to have an office for me, an art studio for her and a guest room.

Commander Dundas, Joint Forces Staff College, 2016

By this time next year, unless the President gets us in a war and triggers a stop loss I will be retired, and back in the civilian and academic world full time, and with that ranch house with enough room to be able to enjoy it, with our puppies. By the way if you want a nice, good sized townhouse with great neighbors in Virginia Beach, let me know.

By the way, it takes a lot of really good people to get someone like me through such a long and often difficult career. First among them is my wife Judy, who was and still is there every step of the way. Likewise all the men and women that I have served alongside, either as a subordinate, equal, or superior during my career.

To all of you who have walked this path with me on the blog the past decade, thank you.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Stalingrad and Responsibility: God is Not Always With Us

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Tomorrow I will be taking part in a commemoration of the seventy-sixth anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. It will be a special occasion and I will write about it tomorrow evening.

However tonight I took the time to watch the German film Stalingrad. Released in 1993 it is the story of four soldiers of a platoon of soldiers of the 336th Pioneer Battalion. The Pioneers were the equivalent of American Combat Engineers. It is a sobering film to watch. In a way it is much like the film Platoon. Director Joseph Vilsmaier made the battle and the human suffering come alive with realism. There is no happy ending and there are few if any heroes. The men see, protest, are punished, and then are ordered to participate in war crimes.

The battle of Stalingrad was one of the turning points of the Second World War, over a million Russian, German, Romanian, and Italian Soldiers died in the battle. Of the 260,000 soldiers of the German Sixth Army which led the attack in Stalingrad and then were surrounded by the Soviet counter-offensive, very few survived. Some escaped because they were evacuated by transport planes, but most perished. Of the approximately 91,000 German soldiers that surrendered only about 6,000 returned home.

I’ll write about that battle again on the anniversary of its surrender at the end of January, but there are two sequences of dialogue that stood out to me. The first is at the beginning of the battle where a German Chaplain exhorts the soldier to fight against the “Godless Bolsheviks” because the Germans believe in God and the Soviets do not, and he calls attentional their belt buckles which are embossed with the words Gott mit Uns, or God is with us. I am a Chaplain and the older I get the more distrustful I am of men who place a veneer of region over the most ungodly and unjust wars. For me that was frightening because I do know from experience that the temptation to do such things when in uniform is all too great, but how can anyone exhort people to acts of criminality in the name of God? I know that it is done far too often and I hate to admit I personally know, or know of American military chaplains who would say the same thing as the German Chaplain depicted in the film.

The second one is also difficult. I have been in the military for about thirty-six and a half years. Truthfully I am a dinosaur. I am the third most senior and the oldest sailor on my base. I have served during the Cold War as a company commander, was mobilized as a chaplain to support the Bosnia operation in 1996, I have served in the Korean DMZ, at sea during Operation Enduring Freedom and Southern Watch, and with American advisors to the Iraqi Army, Police, and Border troops in Al Anbar Province. I have seen too much of war but even though I could retire from the military today I still believe that I am called to serve and care for the men and women who will go into harm’s way.

That being said those who have read my writings on this site for years know just how anti-war I have become and why this dialogue hits so hard. Some of the members of the platoon are accused of cowardice and sent to a penal company in order to redeem themselves. The commander of the unit, a Captain who hold the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross is confronted by one of the men.

Otto: You know we don’t stand a chance. Why not surrender?

Capt. Hermann Musk: You know what would happen if we do.

Otto: Do we deserve any better?

Capt. Hermann Musk: Otto, I’m not a Nazi.

Otto: No, you’re worse. Lousy officers. You went along with it all, even though you knew who was in charge.

That is something that bothers me today. I wonder about the men who go along with wars which cannot be classified as anything other than war crimes based on the precedents set by Americans at Nuremberg, and I am not without my own guilt. In 2003I had misgivings about the invasion of Iraq, but I wholeheartedly supported it and volunteered to go there. I was all too much like the German Captain. I went along with it despite my doubts. As a voter I could have cast my vote for someone else in 2006 but I didn’t. Instead I supported a President who launched a war of aggression that by every definition fits the charges leveled against the leaders of the Nazi state at Nuremberg. When I was in Iraq I saw things that changed me and I have written in much detail about them on this site.

Now as a nation we are in a place where a man who openly advocates breaking the Geneva and Hague Conventions, supports the use of torture, and who both beats the drums of war even as he holds the professional military in contempt seems to be angling for war in both the Middle East and the Korean Peninsula. I have no doubt that War is coming and that our President will be a catalyst for it, but I have to remain in the military to care for the sailors, soldiers, marines, and airmen who will have to go to war and perhaps fight and die. The thought haunts me and makes it hard for me to sleep at night and I do my best to speak up and be truthful in fulfillment of my priestly vows and my oath of office. Today, unlike my younger years; one thing for me is true: I will never tell any military member that God is with us in the sense that all to many nationalists have done in the past. I don’t actually think that I ever said the words “God is with us” in my career as a Chaplain, but I am sure that my words, and public prayers could have been interpreted in that manner when I was younger, especially in the traumatic days after September 11th 2001. Likewise, I did go along with the war in Iraq even though I understood what it meant and what the men and women who engineered it wanted when they took us to war.

Now we live in a world where nationalism, ethnic, racial, and religious hatred are rising, and our own President seems to be abandoning the democratic and pluralistic ideas of or founders. Honestly, I dread what may befall us.

So until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under ethics, faith, film, Loose thoughts and musings, world war two in europe

Eins, zwei, drei g’suffa! Padre Steve Muses on German Beer

Beer is proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy.
-Benjamin Franklin

Not all chemicals are bad. Without chemicals such as hydrogen and oxygen, for example, there would be no way to make water, a vital ingredient in beer.
-Dave Barry

From man’s sweat and God’s love, beer came into the world.

–Saint Arnold of Metz, The patron Saint of Brewers

I have lived in Germany a number of times and have a good number of German friends that I have served with either in the Army or the Navy that I am still in contact with.  I have a love of good beer and my taste tends to gravitate toward German Pilsners and Lagers or an occasional Dunkel or Schwartzbier. I do have a fondness for a number of Irish beers and when overseas like Kilkenny which is finally just available in the US in a few locations. Hopefully it will be more available in the coming year.  I also like an occasional English Ale such as Newcastle.  Call me a beer snob but I find most mass produced American beers pretty substandard but I do like Sam Adams and Yuengling lager as well as some beers by some smaller brewers.  I’m sorry but “light beer” scarcely qualifies as beer.  I have to agree with the folks at the Capital Brewery in Middleton Wisconsin which says “People who drink light ‘beer’ don’t like the taste of beer; they just like to pee alot.” Life is too short for bad beer as was known back in medieval times in Danzig Germany where the town council made an edict stating: “Whoever makes a poor beer is transferred to the dung-hill.”

Alan Young, Master Brewer at Gordon Biersch Virginia Beach

In the US I also like a number of the more German type micro brews, especially Gordon Biersch where I am a member of the Virginia Beach Stein Club.  I like Biersch a lot and since I know the master brewer Alan Young at the Virginia Beach location know that the beer is prepared to the German beer purity standards and that the hops used in the beer actually come from Bamberg Germany.  However, today is not so much about the Biersch beer, which I will write about in detail in the near future.

Today is a day where I talk about Germany and German beer.  When we first went to Germany in 1984 we lived in a tiny little town in the Saarland named Eckelhausen and I was assigned to the 557th Medical Company (Ambulance) which was based at Neubrücke, just over the Saarland and Rheinland-Pfalz state border.  These are little towns, Neubrücke is a few kilometers from Birkenfeld and Eckelhausen is in Kreis Sankt Wendel.

The nearest large city is Trier on the German-Luxembourg border. When we were stationed there the local beers severed at the local restaurants were primarily pilsners.  Some of those more local beers included Kirner Pils from the town of Kirn on the Nahe River, Barbarossa Braü from Kaiserslautern and Bitburger Pils from Bitburg. Bitburg has become much more than a local beer and can be found throughout Germany and around the world.

The 557th was moved to Wiesbaden in November of 1984 and this led us to other beers including Binding Bräuerei and their Römer Pils and Henninger Pils. Some of the beers from Hessen were very nice including Licher Pils from the town of Lich northeast of Frankfurt. This brewery also produces an “export” as well as a Weizen. It is advertised as the “number one beer in Hessen.”

Well we came back to the states just after Christmas of 1986 and suffered for years without a lot of German beer available in Texas and later West Virginia.  However, in 1996 I was mobilized from the Army Reserve to serve in Germany supporting Operation Joint Endeavor, the mission to help end the conflict between Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina. I was stationed with the 417th Base Support Battalion in Kitzingen but had significant duties at the Würzburg Army Hospital and the 4th Battalion 3rd Air Defense Artillery.

I lived in Würzburg and commuted to Kitzingen and in my time in this area which is in the state of Bayern but historically is the capital of Franken.  Of course I always gravitate toward pilsners or lagers and in Würzburg I came across a very old and good beer in Würzburger Pils.  I also was able to have more access to other Bavarian beers including Bamberger Pils, St Georgen  Kellerbrau, Reichelbräu Pils , Spaten and Löwenbräu as well as beers from just outside the area to include Michaelsbräu of Babenhausen and Braugold which I had in Weimar.

I have travelled elsewhere in Germany I have encountered many other beers.  I do prefer the beers from the more southern and central parts of the country than those of the north.  Probably the most unique beer I had was not so much to the quality or taste was Wittenburger Luther Beer which I came home with a stein which reads “Zum Gedenken an den bedeutendsten Wittenburger Luther Bier “ein kannlein bir gegen den teufel ihndamit zu verachten” or “To commemorate the most important, Wittenburger Luther Beer, a mug of beer against the devil is to despise him.”

So the Germans have taught me well.  I only drink good beer and I think that it is something to be savored and not abused.  I like the way that the Germans do life, unlike others who revel being Puritans, the Germans have balance in life.  Unlike some of the lack of “fun-dementalists” that I have met and spend their time reveling in the misery of their condition I totally agree with Luther when he said:

“God does not forbid you to drink, as do the Turks; he permits you to drink wine and beer: he does not make a law of it. But do not make a pig of yourself; remain a human being. If you are a human being, then keep your human self-control.”

And since I am not as young as I used to be: “We old folks have to find our cushions and pillows in our tankards. Strong beer is the milk of the old.

Amen and peace,

Padre Steve+

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