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Padre Steve Reviews “The Wounded Giant: America’s Armed Forces in an Age of Austerity” by Michael O’Hanlon

The Wounded Giant: America’s Armed Forces in an Age of Austerity (An eSpecial from The Penguin Press)

• Format: Kindle Edition
• File Size: 1685 KB
• Publisher: The Penguin Press (November 15, 2011)

I was recently asked to do a review of Michael O’Hanlon’s new book The Wounded Giant: America’s Armed Forces in an Age of Austerity by the folks at TLC Book Tours http://tlcbooktours.com/ I am a historian and have served 30 years in the United States Army and United States Navy. As such I try to look at the nuances of Defense policy from a historical as well as current point of view.

O’Hanlon’s book deals with a topic that is receiving much attention and debate in the wake of the 2011 Congressional Budget impasse and deal and the recently release of the 2012 Defense Strategic Guidance and the FY 2013 Department of Defense Budget request. O’Halon’s book was published in the midst of the budget impasse in which could bind Congress into cuts well in the excess of the proposed $500 Billion in cuts proposed by the Pentagon and the Obama Administration. Cuts that could total over a trillion dollars over the next decade.

O’Hanlon deals with the economic necessity of Defense budget cuts laying out his thesis in the first two chapters dealing with the history of US military budgets since the Second World War with particular attention to the post-Cold War cuts under the Bush and Clinton administrations. In the following chapters O’Hanlon argues for what I would call a strategy of calculated risk in which Defense budgets and the necessary force cuts are balanced with the economic realities of our present time. He does not argue for massive cuts and disengagement from the world that some argue for, at the same time he realizes that defense cuts are necessary but cannot be too great.

He then goes on to discuss the potential reductions for ground forces as well as air and naval forces within the context of potential threats, especially those posed by Iran as well as the potential threat from China.  He argues for a leaner military but also acknowledges the danger of cutting too much.

His conclusions regarding force size and composition will be attacked by some and defended by others.  I think that his arguments regarding ground forces which support going back to the approximate numbers in the Army and Marine Corps in 2001 are reasonable presuming that there is a substantial reduction of US forces in Afghanistan and no other major ground campaigns arise.  The current personnel authorizations were only made reluctantly after years of war by the Bush administration whose first Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was no advocate of large ground forces.

O’Hanlon also discusses the possibility of savings through some base closure as well as reductions in some Air Force and Naval capabilities while attempting to minimize the effects of the reductions by crew rotations of forward based warships and more use of drone aircraft. He also discusses the US capabilities in intelligence and Homeland Security in the context of the overall defense structure.

One thing that I find lacking in O’Hanlon’s treatment of the defense strategy and budget is the lack of attention paid to the overall industrial base required to support the replacement or modernization of our current forces. He argues in favor of keeping production lines open but neglects the fact that most of the US defense industrial base is now the property of about five major corporations. At one time we had more shipyards  and other facilities that made the rapid production of war materials in times of national emergency which at the end of hostilities could revert to civilian industrial production. Much of that capability is now gone, outsourced to China and South Korea.

O’Hanlon has some good proposals and his numbers are not much different than those proposed by the Pentagon. His analysis does included what is called the DIME, the diplomatic, intelligence, military and economic aspects of national security strategy. He describes his vision for a military that despite cuts can still be mission capable. One may argue with his overall strategic thinking and his detailed proposals and many will. I have issues with some of the proposals.  Likewise anyone attempting to project a vision of a national security strategy and military force structure is always fraught with the ever present reality that no one can predict the future. However history tells us time and time again that we seldom are right and that threats yet unimagined can shred the most well thought out and detailed plans.  Making such decisions in an election year makes them all the more prone to being wrong because the political establishments of both parties

It is a good read for anyone seriously interested in national security strategy.It is not perfect by any means but worth the read.  It it is published in paperback as well as the Amazon Kindle edition.

The Author: Dr. Michael O’Hanlon is is director of research and a senior fellow in Foreign Policy at the Brookings Institution, where he specializes in U.S. defense strategy, the use of military force, homeland security and American foreign policy. He is a visiting lecturer at Princeton University and adjunct professor at John Hopkins University. O’Hanlon is the author of several books, most recently A Skeptic’s Case for Nuclear Disarmament. His writing has been published in The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Financial Times, The Wall Street Journal, among other publications, and he has appeared on TV or radio almost 2,000 times since 9/11. Before joining Brookings, O’Hanlon worked as a national security analyst at the Congressional Budget Office and served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Congo/Kinshasa (the former Zaire). He received his bachelor, masters, and doctoral degrees from Princeton, where he studied public and international affairs.

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Filed under books and literature, Foreign Policy, Loose thoughts and musings, Military, national security

The 9-11 Generation: The Few

“We few, we happy few, we band of brothers….”

Winston Churchill referred to the Royal Air Force’s heroism in the Battle of Britain.  He remarked “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”  By comparison with that tiny force the American military is massive. However in comparison with the missions that it has been given since September 11th 2001 and its size relative to the population of the United States it is a small force; a force that much more has been asked than anyone could have imagined on that terrible day.

Since the attacks of September 11th 2001 over 2.8 million young Americans have volunteered to serve in the nations military.  Since that fateful day some 5.5 million Americans have served in all branches of the military both active and reserve, many like me were on active duty that fateful morning. Today about 2.2 million serve in the various components of the military, just 1.4 million on active duty out of a total estimated population of 120 million men and women aged 18-49 fit to serve.

That makes the accomplishments of those that have served so much greater.  Never before has our country asked so much for such a long period of time from such a miniscule segment of the population.  Every single Soldier, Sailor, Marine, Airman and Coastguardsman that currently serve volunteered in a time of war to either join or extend their service in the military. Over 2.3 million have served in Iraq or Afghanistan with many more that have served in the Middle East and other regions supporting those wars as well as other anti-terrorist operations around the world.  While we have been committed to wars that may not be “winnable” we have accomplished so much and exacted revenge upon Osama Bin Laden and many of those who planned and perpetrated the attacks of 9-11-2001.

Many were children some as young as 8 years old when the attacks took place who have grown up in the years following the attack.  Others pressed the upper age limits to enlist many seeking age waivers to do so.  The vast majority of the men and women who enlisted because they felt it was their duty, not for money, not for glory.  They came from every State, District and Territory where Old Glory flies as a symbol of freedom.  The represent every race, creed and political party, and come from what the media like to call the “Red States and the Blue States” only for them it is not a question of “Red or Blue” but “Red White and Blue.”  Others have come to the United Statesfrom other nations because they felt that there was something great and noble about this nation and our ideals.

Some would wrongly call this military and those that serve in it a mercenary force, but no it is not and they are professionals that serve our country in time of war.  Mercenaries simply sign on for the money and fight for any regime that will employ them.  We are not mercenaries.

Over the course of this war some of those ideals have faded and of those that go back time and time again do it often because they do not want to abandon their friends or see their sacrifices wasted.  The war has taken and continues to take a toll on this small segment of America.  Over 6200 have died in action and over 45200 wounded, 77 wounded just today September 11th 2011 in Afghanistan.  The numbers do not count the large numbers suffering from PTSD or other combat stress related injuries nor does it count those that have died by suicide following deployment.

Among the many speeches today I was most taken with that of Vice President Joe Biden. The Vice President talked about this generation in a speech today at the Pentagon. The speech was one of the most moving that I have heard about our military in a long time.  It made me even more proud of all that I serve alongside.  I have excepted this passage:

“Many of them were just kids on that bright September morning. But like their grandparents after December 7, 1941, they courageously bore the burden that history placed on their shoulders. And as they came of age, they showed up to fight for their country – 2,800,000 Americans of the 9/11 Generation were moved to join our military since the 9/11 attacks, to finish the war that began on 9/11. They joined knowing full well that they were likely to be deployed in harm’s way – and in many cases deployed multiple times in Afghanistan, Iraq and in other parts of the world….

Over a decade at war, they pioneered new tactics, mastered new languages, developed and employed advanced new technologies. They took on responsibilities once reserved only for those with years of seniority- responsibilities that extended far beyond the base or the battlefield to politics, economics, and development tasks….And one more thing about this generation of warriors-never before in our history has America asked so much, over such a sustained period, of an all-volunteer fighting force. So I say without doubt or exaggeration that the 9/11 generation ranks among the greatest our nation has ever produced.” (See the video or read the speech at http://foxnewsinsider.com/2011/09/11/video-and-text-vice-president-biden-speaks-at-the-pentagon-reflects-on-the-courage-of-the-911-victims-and-their-families/

I have long contended that this generation of patriots who serve in our military as well as in our Federal police and intelligence services are a “new greatest generation.”  All of us have served to defend this country many making multiple deployments to combat zones.  I have made just two combat deployments and feel that I have not done enough, especially compared to those that have done far more of these deployments.  However I would guess that I will get at least one more in before my long career is done.

All Americans and millions of people around the world owe so much to these men and women as well as those from other nations that stand together with us.  For us it is not just remembering that terrible day that changed the world, but to give ourselves to serve and hopefully keep this from happening again.

Always remember9-11-2001, never forget that day or those that died at the hallowed grounds of the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and that lonely field outside Shanksville Pennsylvania.   But please never forget those that continue to give the last full measure of devotion, the 9-11 Generation.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under History, Military, traumatic national events

9-11-2001: A Date that Will Live in Infamy 9 Years Later

On September 11th 2001 I was the Chaplain for Headquarters Battalion 2nd Marine Division, Camp LeJeune North Carolina.  I first learned of the attacks as I was logging off of my computer to go to PT after a couple of counseling cases in the early morning.  The headline I saw on Yahoo’s home page was “Airplane crashes into World Trade Center.”  I simply figured from that that a private pilot had flown a small aircraft into on e of the buildings. I got to my car and when I turned on the engine a talk radio host was screaming “Another airline has crashed into the second tower.” I don’t even remember what talk show host that it was. My mind immediately went to terrorism as the cause thinking about the bombing of the USS Cole.  I drove to the French Creek gym to see if there was anything on the televisions. When I arrived I saw the trade centers burning and Marines and Sailors crowded around in stunned silence or whispering to each other in muted tones.  I returned to my office, showered, got my uniform on and drove to our Battalion Headquarters where Colonel Richard Lake was gathering the staff. Within hours the base was locked down with combat ready Marines patrolling possible danger areas and with hasty roadblocks and checkpoints established around the base. We were locked down for almost four days as things began to settle out. By December I was the Chaplain for the USS Hue City and deployed in February 2002 to support Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Southern Watch.  In 2007 and 2008 I was deployed to Iraq serving with the Iraq Assistance Group and Marine, Army and other advisors serving with the Iraqi 1st and 7th Divisions and other security forces fighting insurgents in Al Anbar Province.  I have many friends that have deployed numerous times between the 9-11 attacks and today, some have been wounded and others killed.  Many suffer the psychological and spiritual trauma of PTSD and Traumatic Brain injury.    Even if we were to be able to end these wars today we would be dealing with the ravages of this long war.  I still serve working among many continue to deploy and return as well as treat those traumatized by war. I will return to Camp LeJeune next month as the Command Chaplain of the Naval Hospital which takes care of the Marines and Sailors of the II Marine Expeditionary Force, much of which is deployed to Afghanistan. I cannot forget 9-11. These are my thoughts.

Peace

Padre Steve+


I remember exactly where I was on that terrible day known simply now as 9-11.  The events of that day and in the following changed our lives and our country possibly forever.  The images of that day are seared into our individual and collective consciousness as Americans and usually conjure up deep emotions of anger, sadness, grief and pain.  The sheer magnitude of attacks, especially those on the World Trade Center towers covered on live television shocked and stunned the nation as the nation saw us transition from peace to war before its eyes.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=otK7c3Ushjw&NR=1

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IetZuu_seb8&feature=related

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1lKZqqSI9-s

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sczTcrRp1bY&feature=related

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E_irMA5umVM&feature=related

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XQyRjf3eumo

The attack on the Pentagon was also dramatic but because it was a military target the psychological impact on most Americans was less than the attack on the Trade Center towers.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fxV2X0vwSas

The images are still disconcerting and when watched show the genius of Bin Laden as he struck at great symbols of American power.  Bin Laden did what no enemy had done previously striking so hard at such symbolic targets; he destroyed our sense of safety.  Of course that sense of safety was an illusion all along as with the advent of ICBMs and long range bombers we have been within reach of our enemies.  Likewise we had seen terrorists attack us before including a 1993 attack on the WTC designed to bring the building down.  But this was different than all those that came before, for the first time Americans no longer felt safe behind the “moats” of the oceans that surround the country. For the first time since the War of 1812 a foreign enemy had struck at the heart of America on the Continental United States itself and unlike then the nation saw the attack unfold in real time together.  Only the attack on the Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor by the Japanese Navy on December 7th 1941 has had such an impact on us.  We watched as near 3000 Americans and others died in the towers, at the Pentagon and aboard Flight 93.  Some would say that we need to “get over” 9-11, but those that say such things do not understand the magnitude of the affect of the attacks on the soul of this nation.

The emotions generated by these attacks even 9 years later in are almost visceral because they are symptomatic of the deep and yet unhealed wounds suffered on that day.  The attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and United Flight 93 perpetrated in the caves of Afghanistan by Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda and executed by 19 terrorists who hijacked the four aircraft involved did more than destroy or damage landmarks and kill innocent people; they wounded our nation both psychologically and spiritually.

That day also created an immense desire to see the perpetrators brought to justice and set us on a course for war a war that has no end in sight even 9 years after the 9-11 attacks.  To put this in perspective from Pearl Harbor to VJ Day was just under 3 years and 9 months and even Vietnam from the Gulf of Tonkin incident to the cease fire was only 8 years 4 months.  The young men and women now enlisting as 18 year olds in our armed forces were 9 years old when the attacks occurred, kids that were in 3rd or 4th grade playing little league baseball, soccer, pee-wee football and playing with their X-Box, PS-2 or Game Cubes.  Now these children serve in harm’s way with many dying as the average age of our casualties is about 20 years old.

After the attack Americans banded together as Americans for the first time that I can remember. There were remembrances, prayer vigils and rallies to show our unity to the world. Congress even banded together in a rare display of unity spontaneously breaking into “God Bless America”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ybc3SnhCWGk

Three days later President Bush rallied the country from “Ground Zero” as it became known. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MiSwqaQ4VbA&feature=related

He threw out the first pitch in Game Three of the World Series at Yankee Stadium to the cheers of an energized New York crowd. http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/baseball/mlb/2001/worldseries/news/2001/10/30/bush_ap/

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=evb489N11Q4

Irish Tenor Ronan Tynan sang “God Bless America” which has become a fixture since then at Major and Minor League games. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LAtRb5oY3oM&p=C7401126B05C2B6D&playnext=1&index=28

Within a month President Bush launched our military into an attack on Al Qaeda bases and those of their Taliban allies in Afghanistan.  With the help of different Afghan Mujahidin groups US Special Forces, Marines and Paratroops had driven the Taliban out of power and were searching for Bin Laden.  Although American forces came close at the battle of Tora Bora to catching Bin Laden he escaped along with the leader of the Taliban Mullah Omar.  Eventually the effort in Afghanistan became secondary as the United States focused its attention on Iraq and became involved in a bloody insurgency against Al Qaeda allies as well as Iraqi militants of various types.  Mistakes were made by the administration in disbanding the Iraqi Army, police and Civil Service following our 2003 invasion.  On the ground some American soldiers at Abu Ghraib videotaped acts of torture on prisoners and detainees which found their way into the world wide press creating a firestorm reaction which made the war that much more difficult as it made those on the fence more likely to at least give the insurgents aid and support.  That changed in 2007 the “Surge” of extra combat troops to implement a true counter-insurgency strategy aided by Iraq security forces and the Anbar Awakening where the Sunnis turned against Al Qaeda.  Iraq still has major issues but in the long run will likely do well as the Iraqis take control of the country.  I know that there are many people including some experts who doubt this but knowing a number of Iraqi senior officers of both Sunni and Shi’a Moslem factions and the history of modern Iraq which is one of secularism, I believe that Iraq will do fine.

The strategic problem with Iraq was that it diverted attention from Afghanistan where we had an early chance to drive out and keep out both Al Qaeda and the Taliban. The loss of emphasis in Afghanistan allowed the Taliban to regroup and reestablish their control throughout much of the country.  The other thing was that it created a situation that cost the US Military a large number of casualties and made it difficult to fulfill other commitments and contingencies.

Nine years later we are still at war, American Soldiers ream in Iraq helping the Iraqis manage their own security and American troops lead NATO and Afghan forces in a bloody war against the resurgent Taliban which has claimed as of today 1257 Americans on top of the 4404 lost in Iraq.  http://projects.washingtonpost.com/fallen/

The war in Afghanistan has blown up over the past two years as the Taliban often aided by elements of Pakistani intelligence services take advantage of the corrupt and unpopular Afghan government. The Afghan government led by President Karzai who at best can be described as an unreliable ally in the war against the Taliban is barely able to influence events in the capitol Kubul, but less in outlying areas where the Taliban has established a formidable shadow government.

At home the United States seems to be at war with itself, no longer united but bitterly divided even as American military personnel lay down their lives overseas.  A controversy rages about an Islamic Cultural Center and Mosque to be built not far from Ground Zero while Fundamentalist Christian pastors threat to burn copies of the Koran inciting more rage against Americans deployed in harm’s way.  The President is increasingly unpopular and the Congress even less so. Sentiment is building for wholesale change with some even talking of revolution or secession.  It doesn’t seem that either the builders of the so called “Ground Zero Mosque,” its opponents and the hate filled pastors have any clue about the propaganda victories that they hand our enemies on a daily basis.  In a world-wide insurgency, which this has become propaganda is often more important than military power.

It seems that Osama Bin Laden is succeeding in his goals. In 2004 Bin Laden said on a video “All we have to do is send two mujaheddin . . . to raise a small piece of cloth on which is written ‘al-Qaeda’ in order to make the generals race there, to cause America to suffer human, economic and political losses.” Bin Laden and his allies have seen us abandon some of deepest principles of freedom of speech, movement and association as the government tries to ensure that no more attacks take place. However as any student of terrorism knows there is no way to stop every terrorist attack.  Eventually another will succeed and when it does we will see freedom curtailed even more.  If the attack is large enough the real possibility exists of Martial Law.

As this transpires American Military personnel of every race, color, creed and political persuasion do battle with the enemy.  At home other military units train and prepare for battle.   Police, security and intelligence officers from a myriad of Federal and state agencies conduct the painstaking work of trying to figure out where the next attack is coming from and try to stop it. Since 9-11 they have been successful but the law of averages says that eventually another attack will succeed because Al Qaeda and other Islamic terrorists while small are always seeking ways to further terrorize Americans and other westerners.

All I can imagine now is that our current state of division will last until we are shocked out of it by something worse than 9-11.  I hope and pray that cooler heads will prevail and somehow we will recover our sense of who we are as Americans that sense of “e pluribus Unum” “Out of many, One” will take the place of hyphenated America and Red States versus Blue States.  Bin Laden would like for nothing more for us to continue to be at war with ourselves.

Today we mark 9-11 and I hope and pray that the lessons of 9-11 will not be forgotten and that both the losses of that day and sacrifices since will not be in vain. As for me and the rest of us in uniform we will continue to serve to preserve and defend this country and our most cherished ideals.  May God have mercy on us all.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Loose thoughts and musings

29 Years in the Military and still Going Strong

“It’s a mere moment in a man’s life between the All-Star Game and an old timer’s game.” Vin Scully

Padre Steve in 1982

They say that “time flies when you’re having fun” and I cannot believe that I have been in the military now for 29 years. On August 25th 1981 a 21 year old college kid with long Southern California “surfer” hair walked into the California Army National Guard Armory on Van Nuys Boulevard to enlist in the National Guard after having just sworn into the Army ROTC program at UCLA.   Back then I enlisted in what was or is called the Simultaneous Membership Program or SMP program.  My initial military training came through the ROTC program as well as on the job training in the National Guard as a Field Artillery Forward Observer and Intelligence Specialist.

Like Cal Ripken Jr commenting about his career “So many good things have happened to me in the game of baseball. When I do allow myself a chance to think about it, it’s almost like a storybook career. You feel so blessed to have been able to compete this long.” I can say the same thing just substituting the words “military career” for “the game of baseball.”

On the day that I enlisted I met with Major Charles Armagost the S-1 of 3rd Battalion 144th Field Artillery and full time advisor for the battalion filled out my enlistment papers and raised my right hand. I still remember the day when I enlisted. It was a hot smoggy Los Angeles day where you could see the air.  I walked down the hall after I swore in to see the supply Sergeant who outfitted me with four sets of Olive Green fatigues and ordered me two sets of the brand new BDUs.  I was issued my TA-50 gear and taken to the motor pool where I was given cursory training on the M151A1 “Jeep” and issued a military drivers license.  The three weeks later I was driving one of those venerable machines to Fort Irwin on a Friday through Sunday drill with the advanced party. It was the beginning of a 29 year career spanning two services, the active and reserve components and now multiple trips to combat zones.

Army Captain 1987

It has to quote Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead “a long strange trip” spanning the Army and the Navy, active and reserve components as well as two tours with the Marine Corps while serving in the Navy and the beat goes on with my selection for promotion to Commander and my Senate nomination to that grade on August 21st.  I have served on the Fulda Gap in the Cold War, been to what was then East Berlin driving the Helmstedt-Berlin corridor sharing the road with Soviet armored columns.  I supported the Bosnia Operation in 1996-97 and the Korean DMZ with the Marines in 2001. I served in Operation Enduring Freedom and Southern Watch in 2002 where I was on a boarding team, boarding 75 Iraqi and other country smuggling ships while serving aboard the USS Hue City.  That was followed by multiple trips in and out of theater with the Marine Security Forces from 2003-2006 as well as time on the Cuban fence line at Guantanamo Bay before serving in Iraq with our Marine and Army advisors and their Iraqi Army and Security forces.  I’ve served with Infantry, Armor, Combat Engineer, Artillery, Medical and Ordnance units, Security forces, support elements, bases and training centers, hospitals and ships.

Berlin Wall November 1986

When I enlisted I thought that once I was commissioned that I would serve my entire career in the Army and retire as a Lieutenant Colonel. I did not anticipate becoming a Chaplain nor leaving the Army for the Navy. When I am officially promoted to Commander it will be the first rank since I was an Army First Lieutenant that I have not held twice.  When I first enlisted and had no ribbons I used to look at wonderment at the Korea and Vietnam veterans who had tons of ribbons and tell Judy that I wish I had what they had. Now that I am working on 9 rows of the things I cringe every time I have to remount ribbons and ribbons and my wallet screams in agony.  Judy is quick to remind me of my whininess back then and tell me that I asked for it.

She didn’t know what she was getting into

As an Army and Navy Officer I have served or done some kind of military duty in Germany, France, Great Britain, Greece, Italy, Croatia and Turkey, Spain, Malta, Korea, Japan, Jordan, Bahrain, Kuwait and Iraq.  I’ve done what I call the “Commie Trifecta” the Berlin Wall, Korean DMZ and the Cuban Fence Line. At the same time I have spent 16 of 27 wedding anniversaries away from home and lost count of birthdays and other important occasions that I missed while serving the country.

Guantanamo Bay Cuba 2004

I have served 5 different Presidents. In that time I have seen changes in the political, social and economic conditions of the country and the world that I could not have imagined at the time of my enlistment.  The Soviet Union had just invaded Afghanistan and the Iranian hostage crisis had just ended but within the Soviet Union had been defeated the Berlin Wall taken down and collapse of the Soviet Union.  Twenty years after I enlisted the people that defeated the Soviets were attacking us on our own soil.

Boarding Party Arabian Gulf May 2002

I lived in Europe and went through the Chernobyl radiation cloud which is obviously the cause of my glowing personality.  While in Europe I ate enough beef to be labeled by the Red Cross as a potential carrier of Mad Cow disease. I worked on military personnel policies at the beginning of the AIDS epidemic and saw the beginning of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell policy.  I saw the Reagan build up and the post Cold War drawdown.  When I was a Company XO and Company Commander we had landlines and typewriters with carbon paper and did not get internet in my office until 1997.  It is hard to believe the changes even in the quantum leaps in computer and communication technology in the past few years where I can check e-mail on my Blackberry and work from almost anywhere with my laptop.

With Advisors and Bedouin on Iraqi-Syrian Border December 2007

Looking back here are some of the things that I have seen since I entered the military:

October 23rd 1983: Beirut Bombing: BLT 1/8 barracks and French 1st Parachute Regiment destroyed by suicide bombers 241 Americans and 58 French Paras killed.  I was at the Junior Officer Maintenance Course at Fort Knox watching CNN late at night when they broke the news.

December 12th 1985:  Arrow Air Charter Boeing 707 crashed in Gander Newfoundland killing 248 American Soldiers returning from Peacekeeping duty in Sinai Peninsula. Among the dead was Sergeant Charles Broncato who had been one of my Squad Leaders in 2nd Platoon 557th Medical Company Ambulance. I was then serving as the Company Commander.

January 28th 1986: The Space Shuttle Challenger blows up 73 seconds into flight killing 7 Astronauts.  I was in my office at the close of the day getting ready to adjudicate an Article 15 when my Charge-of Quarters SPC Lisa Dailey ran into my office and said “Lieutenant Dundas, the Space Shuttle just blew up!” My response was “Come on, Space Shuttles don’t blow up.”

February 15th 1988: The Soviet Union withdraws from Afghanistan. I was a National Guard Officer in Texas attending Seminary and thought this was a good thing.  Now I wish that they had done better and at least killed Osama Bin Laden, then a relatively minor commander.

December 21st 1988: Pan Am 103 downed by Libyan operatives over Lockerbie Scotland killing all 270 passengers and crew. The aircraft a Boeing 747 named the Maid of the Seas was the same aircraft that we had flown home from Germany on December 28th 1986.

October 17th 1989: the Loma Prieta Earthquake causes massive damage in San Francisco and Oakland. I was watching pregame activities of game 3 of the World Series between the A’s and Giants on television when it happened.

November 9th 1989: The Berlin Wall Fell. In November of 1986 we had been to East Berlin and like most Americans never thought that we would see this day.

August 2nd 1990: Iraq Invades Kuwait: At time few people believe it well end in war. I was deputy course leader for Army Chaplain Officer Basic Course, tell my classmates to get ready to go to war.

December 31st 1991: The Soviet Union is dissolved.

April 19th 1993: FBI and other Federal Law Enforcement personnel using Combat Engineering Vehicles from the 111th Engineer Battalion, the unit that I serve as a Chaplain assault the Branch Davidian compound outside Waco Texas. Davidian leader David Koresh and dozens of followers die in fire and shoot out.

June 17th 1994:  Police arrest O. J. Simpson after nationally televised low speed chase charging him with murder in the death of his wife Nicole and Ronald Goldman. NBC splits screen between NBA championship series game between Houston Rockets and New York Knicks and the chase. I watch in back of M577 Command Vehicle on 9 inch television in the field at Fort Hood.

August 12th 1994: Baseball strike cancels season, playoffs and Worlds Series.

April 19th 1995: Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols blow up Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building

January 26th 1998: Bill Clinton states that “I want you to listen to me. I’m going to say this again: I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky.”

December 31st 1999: The world awaits the end of life as we know it due to the Y2K flaw sthat supposedly causes computers to malfunction and bring calamity to the earth.

January 1st 2000:  People including me wake up from hangovers to find that computers still work.

September 11th 2001: Al Qaeda terrorists hijack four commercial airliners crashing two into the World Trade Center Towers in New York collapsing them and one into the Pentagon. A fourth is brought down by passengers before it can reach Washington DC and its target, the US Capital killing 2976 people and injuring another 6000+. I am at Camp LeJeune North Carolina and remained locked down on base the next 4 days.

March 19th 2003: US and Allies launch attack on Iraq known as Operation Iraqi Freedom to remove Saddam Hussein from power and disarm his stocks of weapons of mass destruction. I am assigned to USS Hue City and the ship is in dry dock. The rest is history.

I also saw a lot of baseball mostly from afar, Pete Rose’s epic hit, Cal Ripken’s consecutive games record, Nolan Ryan’s 5000th strike out and 7th no-hitter as well as all of the now steroid tainted home run records including Barry Bond’s 756th home run which I saw live in a chow hall in Baghdad.

Somehow it is all worth it. Judy has not divorced me although I have probably given her reason on more than one occasion to do so and I love what I do and the people that I get to serve. It really is amazing to look back and think about all the events that I have either witnessed or been a part of in the military as well as all of the great people that I have been associated with. Those friendships and relationships mean more than about anything to me and I am grateful to God and to Judy, my family and all of my friends who have helped me, sometimes in very dark times to go as far and as long as I have in both the Army and Navy.

I was selected for promotion to Commander in June and confirmed by the Senate on August 23rd. I now am about to enter a new phase of life, military service and ministry as the supervisory Chaplain at Naval Hospital Camp LeJeune North Carolina.  Lord knows what the future hold, but whatever happens I feel that things will be fine.

I hope that whatever you do that you will experience good things and be able to look back in life and say “wow that was something else.” So here is to all of us and the long strange trips that we embark upon in life.  In the words of Lou Gehrig, “I am the luckiest man alive.”

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Baseball, History, Military, Tour in Iraq, US Navy

Kira Gets Married, the June Swoon and the Rise and Fall of Stars

kira 1Kira Arriving escorted by her Proud Dad Tony

After having to deal with what has seemed like and unending series a series of memorial services, funerals and family medical crisis’ I finally something to celebrate.  Judy and I are going to the wedding of Kira.  Kira goes to the same church as Judy whose mother sings in the same choir.  Kira is a choir child and occasionally will sing with them. We first met Kira when she had just graduated from high school.  Even then she was a joy.  She was and is one of the sweetest girls we have ever known.  Of course Judy knew Kira and her family at church.  I was on the road frequently and only occasionally attended the church.  I got to know her better over at Gordon Biersch where she worked when Judy and I first started going there.  The first time I actually met her Judy told me “THIS IS KIRA AND YOU WILL OVERTIP HER.”  I did so but never regetted it, Kira always earned it.  If things were not too busy and even if they were busy Kira would pull up a chair by us and just talk.  Sometimes it was life, sometimes church, school or relationships but the conversation between us and Kira was something that we looked forward to every time we went to Biersch.  Now we know all of the bartenders and quite a few of the servers at the restaurant, and we love them all and we pretty much overtip them as well.  Kira however was something special.  As she completes college I know that she will do great things.   Her soon to be husband is a lucky man and is advised to take good care of Kira.

Kira is also a beautiful girl.  She comes from Irish and Italian stock, but you would think that she came direct from directly from Erin.  Her personal and physical beauty must have attracted guys like flies.  She seems to have stepped out of an Andrew Greely Bishop Blackie mystery as the sweet and beautiful heroine who helps Blackie solve the mystery.   If we had a daughter, we would want her to be Kira.

Kira will be married in the yard of her parent’s home.  Her and our Priest, Fr Jim will perform the ceremony.   The location is because some people attending are decidedly anti-Catholic and will not enter a Catholic church.  This means of course that I will be in my clericals tonight and maybe even wear a big pectoral cross or crucifix.  I seldom wear these even though my church says priests should wear silver pectoral crosses.  I personally find them a bit pretentious, but in this case to help draw fire from Fr Jim and make the anti-Catholics uncomfortable I will wear this and ingratiate myself to them.  Now, this will be a sacrifice for me as it will be hot and humid tonight.  Today happens to be the hottest day that we have had this year the temperature will be in the mid to high 90s with a heat index of over 100 degrees.  I will likely be sweating like a Boiler Technician on a World War Two cruiser in the South Pacific, probably off of Guadalcanal.  I hate humidity.  However tonight the cause is worthy of suffering for Jesus and I’m sure that the Deity Herself will approve.  When Judy and I were married we had temps in the high 90s but we were married in California with NO HUMIDITY thank you God.  There is the possibility that we could get storms so I am praying hard that at least for the duration of the ceremony that the heavens do not open as this is an open ceremony.  Now I do this kind of thing a lot with the Tides with varying degrees of success.  I do pray that the Deity Herself will smile upon Kira’s wedding.

kira 2Kira and Nate

A practical implication for Kira and her very soon to be husband is that the Roman Catholic Church will not recognize tonight’s ceremony because it is not being done in a church building.  The Commonwealth of Virginia will recognize this, but the church will not.  So tomorrow they will have the rite done in the small chapel in the church proper.  It is kind of a two step way of doing this and thankfully for the bride she has a wonderful priest who will work with her.  The inside the building requirement is because of an understanding that since marriage is a Sacrament of the Church that the wedding is to be performed in a religious setting among the faithful.  Complicating the situation was that Kira’s family’s home is in the boundary of another far more conservative parish that would have had to okay it, no chance of that. I do understand this requiement under Canon Law and try to follow it myself though I am not Roman; however as a Navy Chaplain sometimes I make exception to this.  However I also have theological questions about the necessity of getting married in the church building.  If the church is present where the Bishop is and by extension where the Priest is; and the Sacrament is performed in accordance with the Marriage Rite and proper intent of it being a Sacrament  conducted by a validly ordained Priest, how can it not be valid?  It seems to me that the same Holy Trinity which sanctifies the Rite conducted by the Priest is capable of doing this outside as well as inside of the church building.  I’m sure that the early Catholic Church could not do this, neither the Celtic Catholic missionaries who converted much of Western Europe.  They simply did not have the facilities.  Likewise, the underground churches in China or Islamic nations. The Bishop or Priest was present with the faithful and that ensured the validity of the sacraments, not the location.  I’m sure to get a barrage of theological criticism from the Ultra Montanes Canon Law Nazis but what do I care?

kira 3Presentation of the Newly Married Couple

A SHAMELESSS PLUG AND FREE ADVERTISEMENT FOR THE ABBY NORMAL ABBESS: Judy contributed her part for the wedding doing a beautiful Celtic design for the bulletin covers.  I saw her working on these and the detail that she puts into her work and the beauty of the finished product is simply amazing.  If you need digital artwork done for almost anything, or for that matter religious statues restored or custom clergy vestments she is incredible. Some of my posts about our Wiener Dogs display her work.  These are drawings and not photos if you have any questions.  Contact her through the like to the Abby Normal Abbess on the blog role link on right column of this page.

Speaking of the Norfolk Tides, they are emulating the old San Francisco Giants and are experiencing a “June Swoon.”  This has not been a good month for the home team.  The Orioles gutted our fearsome batting order bringing Nolan Reimold, Matt Wieters and Oscar Salazar to the big team where they are all doing well.  Our hitting has died, thankfully the pitching staff is still holding together.  Even more importantly our closest competitor the Durham Bulls are doing even worse this month and we remain a game up in the International League South.  I must redouble my prayers for the team and perhaps ask Tides General Manager Dave Rosenfeld if I can bless the bats.  After all it was Yogi Berra who once said: “I never blame myself when I’m not hitting. I just blame the bat and if it keeps up, I change bats. After all, if I know it isn’t my fault that I’m not hitting, how can I get mad at myself?”  Since Master Yogi has made this pronouncement I am sure that something has happened to the bats and that an exorcism might be due.

Finally some stars are rising and falling this week in the Navy.  First the rising star:  Captain Frank Morneau, my first Commodore at EOD Group Two was selected for the rank of Rear Admiral Lower Half.  This is the same rank as a Army, Marine Corps or Air Force Brigadier General.  There are not many EOD Officers who have risen to this rank.  Captain Morneau is the second.  He was great to work for and is a dynamic and energetic officer.  I remember him most as being a baseball fan, actually a Yankees fan that carried a game used bat to staff meetings.  Since I only carry a baseball in my digital camouflage uniform and get some looks as I toss up and down as I walk our corridors I can imagine the looks that Rear Admiral Select Morneau will get at the Pentagon or Congressional hearings on EOD issues.

The falling star is Rear Admiral Alan Blues Baker, the Deputy Navy Chief of Chaplains and Chaplain of the Marine Corps.  Admiral Baker is a graduate of the Naval Academy and former Surface Warfare Officer.  He was investigated by the Navy Inspector General (why we don’t have an Inspector Admiral I will never know) for an allegation of retribution and violation of the Military Whistle Blower Protection Act in regard to the FY 2008 Chaplain Captain selection board.  I do not know Admiral Baker but as a career officer and chaplain in both the Army and Navy see his forced retirement and failure to become our Chief of Chaplains as yet another stain on our Corps.  I wish this had never happened and will keep him and his family in my prayers even as I pray for the future leadership of the Chaplain Corps.  Admiral Bob Burt who was scheduled to retire will remain in office for another year and Rear-Admiral Select Mark Tidd will assume the office as the Deputy and Chaplain of the Marine Corps as scheduled.

This issue grieves me.  I remember when my Brigade Executive Officer and later acting commander Colonel Jim Wigger tell me that the Chaplain Corps in the Army was far more political and had no Ruths, being so ruthless in comparison with the Army Medical Department.  The Army Medical Department was a pretty ruthless organization, so when Colonel Wigger told me that I was somewhat skeptical.  He told me that I was jumping from the “frying pan into the fire” and he was right.  The thing about chaplains regardless of denominational affiliation, theological background or rank is that we are expected to be above the board and exemplify integrity.  If we even give the impression that we are somehow unethical or lacking in integrity then what we say means nothing because people will either not believe us or discount what we say.  It creates a problem for those who are doing good things because some people will lump us all in with the wrong doer. When a chaplain falls it can create a crisis of faith in the community. It is the same as when a civilian minister falls from grace.  The Catholic pedophile priests, pastors of Evangelical Mega-Churches or large ministries who are accused of financial or sexual misconduct created the same problem for civilian ministers as well as military chaplains.  Admiral Baker’s fall comes on the heels of a young Chaplain named Dillman who was convicted of a number of sexual assault and improper conduct charges a couple of weeks ago.  This young man once named as a Military Chaplain Association of America  “Chaplain of the Year is going to Leavenworth for 10 years.  A couple of years ago we had a priest who was convicted of a number of sexual assault charges by having sex with other men and not telling them that he was HIV positive.  This chaplain was a “poster boy” for the Chaplain Corps and the Roman Catholic Church Military Archdiocese.  Another Chaplain named Klingenschmitt was convicted of disobeying lawful orders after having engaged in a prolonged period of protest against the Navy.  Klingenschmitt, who I have written about on this website before made an absolute ass out of himself by protesting the Navy in front of the White House, making spurious allegations against multiple commanding officers and lying through his teeth about “not being allowed to pray in Jesus Name.”  When I was at Camp LeJeune I had to relieve two Chaplains who were kicked out of the Navy for sexual misconduct, one Protestant and one Catholic.  When I was at Headquarters Battalion 2nd Marine Division I was given charge over several chaplains who had not acquitted themselves well in order to try to help them become successful.   I also saw Army Chaplains conduct themselves in less than exemplary fashion.

Of course chaplains and ministers are human and we all are flawed, as the Apostle Paul wrote “All have fouled up and fallen short of the Glory of God.”  This being said chaplains and ministers while being human and free to make mistakes need to be sure that those mistakes are not those which compromise our integrity.  When I was a young Army Chaplain we were told that SAM, Sex, Alcohol and Money were the three biggest issues that put chaplains out of the service in jail.   Let’s add retribution to that list.  It is a sad day for the Chaplain Corps.  Please pray for us as individuals as well as a Corps as we walk through this valley and keep Admiral Baker in your prayers.

Peace, Steve+

Post Script: The wedding went off well, the promise of the Deity Herself to hold back the rain materizlized as she had promised.  Howver it was hot and humid and though I look good in them was regretting wearing my clericals.  The June Swoon con tinues for the Tides and the Bulls but the Gwinnett Braves are sneaking up and are within two games of the Tides and one of the Bulls.  We have been getting some runs but need to have things come together and fast.  Harbor Park is withing my resposne time to the medical center so if there is nothing critical going on tomorrow afternoon I will head over and watch the game.  So for selfish reason if nothing else I pray for the good health of all tomorrow.

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Filed under Baseball, Loose thoughts and musings, Military, philosophy, Religion