Tag Archives: Royal Marines

Looking Back at 30 Years of Commissioned Service

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I was going to write about the situation in Syria tonight but that will wait until tomorrow because June 19th is the 30th anniversary of my commissioning as a 2nd Lieutenant in the US Army. That was a long time ago. I had enlisted in the California Army National Guard in August of 1981 at the same time that I entered the Army ROTC program at UCLA.

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California Army National Guard 1982

Like most of my life I can admit that my military career, 17 1/2 years in the Army and another 14 1/2 in the Navy has been to quote Jerry Garcia “a long strange trip.” It has been eventful and it is not over. One interesting thing is because I spent about 10 years of my career in the Army National Guard and Army Reserve in a drill status I still am able to serve, probably until I reach age 58 or maybe even 60. If so my career will span early 40 years. Judy tells me that she doesn’t think I will retire until I am 60 which would be just under another 7 years.  That being said I can still crush the Navy Physical Fitness Test. I am still in the game.

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Berlin Wall (East Berlin) 1986

It is interesting what I have seen and where I have served. My career began back during the early days of the Reagan build up during the Cold War, not long after the Iranian Hostage Crisis, which was the catalyst for me volunteering even though the truth of the matter was that I wanted to serve in the military since I was a child. I was a Navy brat, my dad was a Chief Petty Officer and I loved that life.

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Germany 1984

I wanted to join the Navy out of high school but my parents convinced me to try college first, which I did, meeting my wife Judy my freshman year at San Joaquin Delta College in Stockton California. After that it was California State University at Northridge where I began the serious exploration of commissioning programs. I was actually accepted into the Air Force Program but turned it down, Judy told me that she wouldn’t marry me if I joined the Navy and the Navy ROTC program informed me that I would have to change my major to hard science, math or engineering to enter the ROTC program. So I asked who I could work with and they pointed me down the hall to the Army.

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Marriage to Judy 25 June 1983

That was the beginning. A long time ago in a galaxy far far away. When I was commissioned in 1983 this college history major was commissioned into the Medical Service Corps, the administrative and operational side of the Army Medical Department. That made a lot of sense, or maybe it didn’t but it did save me from a career as an Ordinance Corps Maintenance Officer or Adjutant General’s Officer Corps paper pusher, both tasks that the Army trained and assigned me to do as a Medical Service Corps officer.

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Company Commander 557th Medical Company (Ambulance) 1985

As a Medical Service Corps officer I attended my Medical Officer Basic Course, the Junior Officer Maintenance Corps, the NBC Defense Officer Corps, the Air Force Air Load Planner Course and the Military Personnel Officer course.

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Academy of Health Sciences 1987 with LTC Ike Adams who was largely responsible for redirecting my career and calling to be a Chaplain

I served as a platoon leader, company XO, company commander and Group level staff officer in Cold Wr Germany. I then served as the Brigade Adjutant for the Academy Brigade of the Academy of Health Sciences, where I also helped draft the personnel instruction regarding personnel infected with the HIV virus.

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Army Chaplain School August 1990 with LTC Rich Whaley and CPT Bill Blacky

I left active duty to attend seminary in 1988 and joined the texas Army National Guard, initially as an Armor Corps officer serving as the Adjutant for an Armored battalion, until the State Chaplain found out and demanded that I be transferred to the Chaplain Candidate Program which I entered in 1990. I was at the Chaplain Officer Basic Course in August 1999 when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait and the war ended just before our unit was to be mobilized for service. Technically Chaplain candidates can’t be mobilized, but one of the full time Guard personnel technician Warrant Officers in Austin kept me on the rolls for mobilization purposes as a Medical Service officer. But like I said the war ended, I graduated from seminary and was ordained and became a chaplain in 1992. I completed the Chaplain Officer Advanced Course and after completing my Pastoral Care Residency at Parkland Memorial Hospital in 1994 took a chaplain job in Huntington West Virginia where I transferred to the Virginia Army National Guard and once promoted to Major transferred to a local Army Reserve unit.

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Exchange Officer with German Army at Panzer School 

That was a turn of events that got me mobilized to support the Bosnia mission in 1996 and allowed me to serve supporting a number of units and military communities in Germany. Upon my return to the states and no civilian employment I served as the final Federal Chaplain at fort Indiantown Gap Pennsylvania. When that assignment ended I went back to West Virginia.

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Mt Fuji Japan and Panmunjom Korea 2001

Just before Christmas 1998 I got a call from my bishop telling me that the Navy was willing to consider me for active duty. Remembering Judy’s admonition that she would not marry me if I joined the Navy I did it without asking her. Not a smart thing, she was quite pissed because had I bothered to consult her she probably would have said yes, but the way I did it devalued her. Likewise she was sort of looking forward to the time I hit 20 years in the reserves so she wouldn’t have to lose me all the time to the military.

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Korea DMZ PT Session

Long story short. The Navy took me and I took a reduction in rank to come on active duty. One day I was a Major in the Army Reserve and the next a Navy Lieutenant. I was given a choice of assignments. I wanted to serve on a ship. I was given the choice of Marines or Marines. So I chose Marines and after completing the Navy Chaplain Office Basic course I reported to the Second Marine Division where I served as the “relief pitcher” for the division Chaplain, whenever someone got in trouble or was transferred without a relief in place I went in like a baseball relief pitcher. I deployed with 3rd Battalion 8th Marines to Okinawa, Japan and Korea. I was at Camp LeJeune on 9-11-2001 and in December 2001 reported to the USS Hue City CG-66 in Mayport Florida deploying shortly thereafter to support Operation Enduring Freedom.

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USS Hue City Operation Enduring Freedom

In October 2003 I reported to the Marine Security Force Battalion (now Regiment) and travelled the world in support of those Marines, spending between 1-3 weeks a month on the road. That was an amazing assignment because it gave me a global perspective of the Navy Marine Corps mission traveling frequently to the Middle East, Europe, Asia, Guantanamo Bay Cuba and various locations in the United States. While in that billet I completed the Marine Corps Command and Staff College and my Fleet Marine Force Officer qualification and was promoted to Lieutenant Commander. After that I went to EOD Group 2 and from there was sent to Iraq as an Individual Augment to support advisors to the Iraqi 1st and 7th Divisions, 2nd Border Brigade, Highway Patrol and Police in Al Anbar Province working under the authority of the Iraq Assistance Group and II Marine Expeditionary Force Forward.

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Iraq 2007-2008

I came back from Iraq in pretty bad shape but consider it the pinnacle of my operational ministry as a Chaplain that I would not trade for anything. Since I have written much about it I will not say more about it in this article. From EOD I was transferred to Naval Medical Center Portsmouth and after being selected for Commander in 2010 was transferred to Naval Hospital Camp LeJeune as the command chaplain. This tour was as a geographic bachelor and every couple of weeks I drove back to Virginia.

Now in a couple of months I will be reporting to be the Ethics Faculty and Chaplain at the Joint Forces Staff College in Norfolk.

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Various scenes top to bottom with General Peter Pace, teaching Marines at Normandy, with Secretary of State Madeline Albright 2005 Spain, with German office in Jordan 2007, Scottish Highlands with US Marines and Royal Marine Commandos 2005, Jordan River 2007, Belleau Wood France 2004, Guantanamo Bay Cuba 2003 or 2004

There have been highs and lows in my career and a few times that I thought that I wasn’t going to survive. But of all the things that I value in serving this country are the people that I have served with, Army, Navy, Marines and others including allied officers. I have met a lot of wonderful people, quite a few of whom I still stay in contact with despite the distance and years.

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With FAST Marines in Bahrain 2004 or 2005, Easter Sunday 2002 aboard USS Hue City and aboard USS Hue City with USS John F Kennedy CV-67 in background.

While I value my service in the Army, because it is a big part of my life I echo President John F Kennedy who said “I can imagine no more rewarding a career. And any man who may be asked in this century what he did to make his life worthwhile, I think can respond with a good deal of pride and satisfaction: ‘I served in the United States Navy.'”

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Dining Out

Tonight was a lot of fun.  I went to our 2009 Naval Medical Center Intern Class Dining Out. Now for those that do not know what a dining out is I must take some time to in the words of Ricky Riccardo, to “‘splain it to you.”

Dining outs, and their counter part the Dining in go back to the times of the Roman Legions, when the officers of the Legion would get together to honor to honor individuals or units.  In these events they would recall campaigns and battles, shared hardships and parade the booty from their campaigns.   Transplanted to Northern Europe the Viking and later the people of Britain. The Viking War Lords gave a new shape to these feasts.  Of course the Vikings, like the Klingons were quite the people for a hearty celebration of victory.  They ensured that the feast was something special. “These celebrations saw all clan members present with the exception of the lookout, or watch. Feats of strength and skill were performed to entertain the members and guests. The leader took his place at the head of the board, with all others to his right and left in descending order of rank.”  Transplanted to England the tradition further developed with the various councils of knights such as the Knights of the Round Table and the lesser known Knights of the somewhat Oblong Table with One Short Leg.

For those who are clergy and somewhat put off by such displays, we too have a hand in this.  The monastics of Europe had these types of events.  The clergy of course, being the learned educators of the day spread the custom to universities.  Professional British officers who graduated from these universities carried the tradition to their units where they became more developed.   Thus to all the officers who find these functions a waste of time or money, you can blame your chaplain.  He or she may not have any idea about this, but hey, you can call them out.

The tradition grew in Royal Navy and Royal Marines and was transplanted to the American Colonists.  These traditions continued to grow and prosper until Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels, a strict prohibitionist who definitely could not spell or even comprehend the concept of martial camaraderie and fun banned alcohol from US Navy ships in 1914.  The following World War, Great Depression and the Second World War contributed to its dormancy in the Navy.  The Marines kept the tradition of the Mess Night alive and by the 1950’s the tradition also began to return to the Navy.  The Air Force adopted the Tradition from the Royal Air Force while the Army had such events from the beginnings of their Service in the Continental Army.

The Dining In is something shared among the members of the Mess themselves.  The Dining Out can include spouses or other civilian and military guests from outside the Mess.  The two are very similar in most regards including an opening invocation by the unit chaplain, in our case tonight yours truly.  It is followed by other events such as the National Anthem, the parading of the beef, the testing of the beef by “Mr Vice,” the formal dinner, toasts and remarks of the guest speaker.  During the event there are certain infractions that can cause a member of the Mess to be fined or to have to partake of “the Grog.”  The Grog, depending on where you have a Mess Night can be quite an experience.  The Grog has its roots in the mixture of watered down rum and added citrus (to fight scurvy) aboard ships of the Royal Navy.  The daily ration of rum, or Grog was perhaps one of the few pleasurable moments for sailors and Marines on warships of the 18th and 19th centuries.   When I came in the Army in the early 1980s the grog was quite the witches brew, usually a nearly undrinkable concoction of whatever alcoholic beverages Mr Vice might decide to mix together.  I do think the grog has become a bit tamer over the years, but it still can have a good effect on the violator of one of the rules of the Mess.

Tonight’s event was as I said the Dining Out for our Intern Class.  They will be graduating in about two months, some will remain with us for residencies or go elsewhere in the Navy for their residency, or go for three years to be a Flight Surgeon, Diving Medical Officer, or General Medical Officer in the Fleet or with the Marines.  I have gotten to know a lot of these young men and women through my contact with them on the ICU or Pediatric ICU during good times and bad times.  I love being around them. They work hard.  Interns at our medical center spend about 79.5 hours a week in house, I’m sure some do more because they need to do research and study all the time they are there.  Some will end up in Iraq or Afghanistan in the next few months, they all are to be commended on their work in this year.

Tonight was a really good night.  I even missed a home game at Harbor Park to be at this event, but it was worth it. Unfortunately the Tides dropped their first game at home this year after 9 consecutive wins, losing 4-1 to Durham. Norfolk left 7 runners in scoring position.

Now my day in trying to get ready for the Dining Out got sporty as far as my uniform went.  In fact things reached Ludicrous Speed this afternoon as I tried to get ready for the event.  As a Lieutenant Commander I have to wear the Mess Dress Uniform.  A formal, black tie uniform complete with cummerbund, miniature medals, bow tie and jacket. It is a very sharp looking uniform, but it has a lot of moving parts.  I had to re-do my medals as I have picked up a few since the last time I wore the uniform before I went to Iraq.  I now do this myself and discovered during the process that I was missing a medal and a couple of devices to affix to a medal as well as some hardware to put things together.  After two trips to the uniform shop at Naval Amphibious Base Little Creek I thought I was ready.  I was wrong.  I mounted my medals and got them on my uniform.  So far so good.  Then I discovered with under two hours until showtime that I was missing the gold, studs to my formal white shirt.  They were in my office sitting on my desk.  I had a choice to make.  Do I go to my office at the medical center and take my chances with the traffic and the bridge tunnel, which oh by the way is closed east bound for re-paving, or do I make a third trip to Little Creek?  I opted for the latter figuring that I could get dressed in the dressing room of the uniform shop after I got the studs.  The ladies at the store, who now had become used to me showing up every other hour were gracious.  I bought the studs and started to get dressed.  Then I discovered that I did not have shirt stays to keep my shirt from riding up. Putting on my cargo shorts and Birkenstocks which did not go well with the black socks which I had just put on, I wore my formal pleated shirt with the aforementioned items and bought the shirt stays.  I was now absolutely sure that this would be it.  I got my uniform on and put on my jacket.  To my astonishment and disbelief I noticed that my button and chain set which are used to fasten the jacket were missing.  Yet another trip to into the store and to the cash register before I could safely pack my stuff and race across the town to get to the Spirit of Norfolk on which the Dining Out was to be held. I felt like an idiot, something that I am not in the habit of feeling as I made each trip to the cash register at the Uniform Shop, I’m sure that the ladies got a kick out of my antics.  I could almost see such a thing happening to George Costanza on Seinfeld.  Serenity Now!

Peace, Steve+

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