Tag Archives: sailors

Honest Questions About God and Blue Moons

Tonight I walked my little dog Molly to the beach under the light of the Blue Moon. It was a beautiful night, the first without rain or clouds that we have had in the past month. As I walked with her, in the quiet with the noise of the surf in the background I was taken aback by the peace. It was nice to be able to take the time to walk with her and take in all that there was to see, hear and then feel as I felt the cool sand on my feet as we walked to the surf. I needed it.

The past couple of days I have been battling what I think is a combination summer cold and allergic reaction to the vast amount of mold spores in the air due to the very warm and wet weather the past month. I went to bed and woke up with sinus headaches the past three days and this morning had a bit of vertigo. So when I went to work I got in with  one of our doctors. Thankfully I don’t have any ear infection yet and don’t need any antibiotics. However he prescribed a couple of meds to help me with the congestion and told me to use my nasal wash solution.  I have also had my fill of politics this week, it seems that as hard as I try to avoid it the whole political game gets thrown in my face. So tonight I have only had the MLB baseball channel on and tried to avoid news and political commentary of any kind.

While I was waiting for my prescription this afternoon a young Marine Sergeant came in the waiting area and sat down across from me. There were a few others in the area but it was not crowded. At the time I was reading a book from my Kindle on my I-phone and as I glanced up he greeted me. I returned the greeting and out of the blue he asked:

“Do you ever have problems with God?”

I love being around Marines and Sailors because unlike a lot of others young Marines and Sailors, especially those that have been to war are likely to ask hard questions to clergy. There is little pretense among them, something that cannot be said for many clergymen or

I was wearing my service khakis with ribbons and of course being a Christian chaplain I have a gold cross on my left collar and my rank on my right. There is no question in this Marine’s mind that I am a clergyman. I also know that he expects me to be honest with him. I also know that he will know if I am attempting to bullshit him. Marines and Sailors who have been to war have a keen eye for bullshit.

I immediately put down the I-phone and looked at him. I paused acknowledged the question and said:

“To be honest yes, a lot of them.”

He said “I do too” paused for and asked “how do you deal with them?”

I smiled and told him that it was a long story, but gave him the nutshell of how after Iraq I had experienced a crisis in faith and was for all practical purposes an agnostic struggling to believe.

He then asked how I came to believe again. I briefly recounted the story that I refer to as my “Christmas miracle” (See Padre Steve’s Christmas Miracle  https://padresteve.com/2009/12/24/padre-steve’s-christmas-miracle/ ) and said that I still sometimes have lots of doubts and questions.

He replied “So do I. I guess that’s why they call it faith.”

About that time his number was called and I gave him my card. He thanked me for listening and went to get his prescription.

I know that some believers are troubled when I express the real fact that I have doubts. But I have found that there are a lot of people like this young Marine Sergeant who just want Priests, pastors, chaplains or Rabbis to simple be honest when it comes to doubt and faith. The Marine Sergeant understood more about faith than a lot of ministers that I know.

It is not about how certain we are but instead about how certain God is in his great love for us that he allows us to doubt.

Admittedly I still struggle. But I still believe, sometimes against all rationality. The great Russian playwright Fyodor Dostoyevsky said something that I can only echo in its depth. “It is not as a child that I believe and confess Jesus Christ. My hosanna is born of a furnace of doubt.”

I guess that is big part of why I am here.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Veterans Day 2011: Giving Thanks for the Veterans in my Life

My Dad Aviation Storekeeper Chief Carl Dundas aboard USS Hancock CVA 19 around 1971 or 1972

I always become a bit more thoughtful around Veterans Day and Memorial Day.  I’ve been in the military for over 30 years now.  I enlisted in the National Guard while in college and entered Army ROTC back on August 25th 1981.  Since then it has been to quote Jerry Garcia “a long strange trip.”  During that trip I learned a lot from the veterans who I am blessed to have encountered on the way.

I come from a Navy family. My dad served twenty years in the Navy.  Growing up in a Navy family in the 1960s and 1970s was an adventure for me and that Navy family that surrounded us then remained part of my family’s life long after.  My mom and dad remained in contact with friends that they served with or were stationed with, and now many of them are elderly and a good number have passed away.  Even so my mom, now a widow stays in regular contact with a number of her Navy wife “sisters.”

My dad retired in 1974 as a Chief Petty Officer and did time surrounded in the South Vietnamese city of An Loc when it was surrounded by the North Vietnamese for 80 days in 1972.  He didn’t talk about it much when he came back; in fact he came back different from the war.  He probably suffered from PTSD.  All the markers were there but we had no idea about it back then, after all he was in the Navy not the Army.  I had friends whose dad’s did not return fromVietnamand saw howVietnamveterans were treated by the country as a whole including some members of the Greatest Generation.  They were not welcomed home and were treated with scorn.  Instead of being depicted a Americans doing their best in a war that few supported they were demonized in the media and in the entertainment industry for many years afterwards.

My dad never made a big deal out of his service but he inspired me to pursue a career in the military by being a man of honor and integrity.

It was the early Navy family experience that shaped much of how I see the world and is why I place such great value on the contributions of veterans to our country and to me.  That was also my introduction to war; the numbers shown in the nightly news “body count” segment were flesh and blood human beings.

LCDR Jim Breedlove and Senior Chief John Ness

My second view of war came from the Veterans of Vietnam that I served with in the National Guard and the Army.  Some of these men served as teachers and mentors.  LCDR Jim Breedlove and Senior Chief John Ness at the Edison High School Naval Junior ROTC program were the first who helped me along.  Both have passed away but I will never forget them.  Commander Breedlove was someone that I would see every time that I went home as an adult. His sudden death the week before I returned from Iraqshook me.  I have a post dedicated to them at this link.  (In Memorium: Chief John Ness and LCDR Jim Breedlove USN )

Colonel Edgar Morrison was my first battalion commander.  He was the most highly decorated member of the California National Guard at that time and had served multiple tours inVietnam.  He encouraged me as a young specialist and officer cadet and showed a tremendous amount of care for his soldiers.  Staff Sergeant’s Buff Rambo and Mickey Yarro taught me the ropes as a forward observer and shared many of their Vietnam experiences. Buff had been a Marine dog handler on the DMZ and Mickey a Forward Observer.

The Senior NCOs that trained me while in the Army ROTC program at UCLA andFortLewishad a big impact. All were combat veterans that had served inVietnam.  Sergeant First Class Harry Zilkan was my training NCO at the UCLA Army ROTC program.  He was a Special Forces Medic with 7th Group inVietnam.  He still had part of a VC bayonet embedded in his foot.  He received my first salute as a newly commissioned Second Lieutenant as well as a Silver Dollar.  I understand that after the Army he became a fire fighter.  He had a massive heart attack on the scene of a fire and died a few years later from it.  Sergeant Major John Butler was our senior enlisted advisor at UCLA.  An infantryman he served with the 173rd Airborne inVietnam.  Sergeant First Class Harry Ball was my drill sergeant at the ROTC pre-commissioning camp at Fort Lewis Washington in 1982.  He was a veteran of the Special Forces and Rangers and served multiple tours inVietnam.  Though he only had me for a summer he was quite influential in my life, tearing me apart and then building me back up.  He was my version of Drill Sergeant Foley in An Officer and a Gentleman. Like Zack Mayo played by Richard Gere in the movie I can only say: Drill Sergeant “I will never forget you.”

As I progressed through my Army career I encountered others of this generation who also impacted my life. First among them was First Sergeant Jim Koenig who had been a Ranger in the Mekong Delta.  I was the First Sergeant that I would measure all others by.  Once during an ARTEP we were aggressed and all of a sudden he was back in the Delta. This man cared so much for his young soldiers in the 557th Medical Company.   He did so much for them and I’m sure that those who served with him can attest to this as well as me. Jim had a brick on his desk so that when he got pissed he could chew on it.   He was great.  He played guitar for the troops and had a song called “Jane Fonda, Jane Fonda You Communist Slut.” It was a classic.  He retired after he was selected to be a Command Sergeant Major because he valued his wife and family more than the promotion.  It hurt him to do this, but he put them first. Colonel Donald Johnson was the commander of the 68th Medical Group when I got to Germany in January 1984.  Colonel “J” as well all called him was one of the best leaders I have seen in 28 years in the military.  He knew everything about everything and his knowledge forced us all to learn and be better officers and NCOs.  On an inspection visit you could always find him dressed in coveralls and underneath a truck verifying the maintenance done on it.  He served a number ofVietnamtours.  He died of Multiple Myeloma and is buried at Arlington.  Chaplain (LTC) Rich Whaley who had served as a company commander in Vietnam on more than one occasion saved my young ass at the Army Chaplain School.  He remains a friend and is the Endorsing Agent for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. As a Mormon he was one of the most “Christian” men that I have ever met.  I know some Christians who might have a hard time with that, but Rich demonstrated every trait of a Christian who loved God and his neighbor.

Me with Major General Frank Smoker USAF (ret) and Colonel Tom Allmon US Army at Colonel Allmon’s Change of Command at Ft Myer Virginia 2005 

When I was the Installation Chaplain at Fort Indiantown Gap PA I was blessed to have some great veterans in my Chapel Parish.  Major General Frank Smoker flew 25 missions as a B-17 pilot over Germany during the height of the air war in Europe. He brought his wonderful wife Kate back from England with him and long after his active service was over he remained a vital part of the military community until his death in 2010.  Sergeant Henry Boyd was one of the 101st Airborne soldiers epitomized in Band of Brothers. He had a piece of shrapnel lodged next to his heart from the Battle of the Bulge until the day he died and was honored to conduct his funeral while stationed at Indiantown Gap. Colonel Walt Swank also served in Normandy.  Major Scotty Jenkes was an Air Force pilot in Vietnam flying close air support while Colonel Ray Hawthorne served several tours both in artillery units and as an adviser in 1972 and was with General Smoker a wonderful help to me as I applied to enter the Navy while CWO4 Charlie Kosko flew helicopters in Vietnam.  All these men made a deep impact on me and several contributed to my career in very tangible ways.

Me with my boarding team on USS HUE CITY CG-66 2002

My life more recently has been impacted by others. Since coming into the Navy I have been blessed to serve with the Marines and Sailors of the 2nd Combat Engineer Battalion and Lieutenant Colonel T D Anderson, 1st Battalion 8th Marines and Lieutenant Colonel Desroches, 3rd Battalion 8th Marines and Colonel Lou Rachal and Headquarters Battalion 2nd Marine Division and Colonel, now Major General Richard Lake.   My friends of the veterans of the Battle of Hue City including General Peter Pace, Barney Barnes, Tony “Limey” Cartilage, Sergeant Major Thomas and so many others have become close over the years, especially after I did my time inIraq. They and all theVietnam vets, including the guys from the Vietnam Veterans of America like Ray and John who manned the beer stand behind the plate at HarborPark all mean a lot to me.  My friends at Marine Security Forces Colonel Mike Paulovich and Sergeant Major Kim Davis mean more than almost any people in the world.  We traveled the globe together visiting our Marines.  Both of these men are heroes to me as well as friends, Colonel Paulovich was able to administer the oath of office to me when I was promoted to Commander.

With advisers to 1st Brigade 1st Iraq Army Division, Ramadi Iraq 2007

Finally there are my friends and brothers that I have served with at sea on USS HUE CITY during Operation Enduring Freedom and the advisers on the ground in Al Anbar mean more than anything to me. Perhaps the most important is my RP, RP2 Nelson Lebron who helped keep me safe and accompanied me all over the battlefield.  Nelson who has doneIraq3 times,Afghanistan,Lebanon and the Balkans is a hero.  The men and women of Navy EOD who I served with from 2006-2008 have paid dearly in combating IEDs and other explosive devices used against us in Iraq and Afghanistan are heroes too.  There is no routine mission for EOD technicians.  Then there are the friends that I serve with in Navy Medicine, medical professionals who care for our Sailors, Marines, Soldiers and Airmen, family members and veterans at home and in the thick of the fighting in Afghanistan.

I give thanks for all them men that I mention in this post, especially my dad. For the countless others that are not mentioned by name please know that I thank God for all of you too.

I do hope that people will remember the Veterans that impacted their lives this and every day.  Some may have been the men and women that we served with, perhaps a parent, sibling or other relative, maybe a childhood friend, a teacher, coach or neighbor. As we pause for a moment this Friday let us honor those who gave their lives in the defense of liberty in all of the wars of our nation. They have earned it.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Memorial Day Weekend 2010: We Happy Few, We Band of Brothers

On May 27th 2010 the US Military experienced the loss of its 1000th KIA in Afghanistan. The young man killed was Corporal Jacob C Leicht of Kerrville Texas.  Corporal Leicht was assigned to 1st Light Armor Reconnaissance Battalion, 1st Marine Division Camp Pendleton California. Corporal Leicht had previously served in Iraq where he had been badly wounded by an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) that hit the HUMMV that he was traveling in.  Pulled to safety by his Iraqi interpreter Leicht spent the two years recovering from those injuries engaged in a letter and phone call campaign to get back into the fight with his fellow Marines.  He was killed when he stepped on a land mine during that desperately sought after second tour. His younger brother Jesse Leicht who just 10 days ago enlisted in the Marines said “He said he always wanted to die for his country and be remembered, he didn’t want to die having a heart attack or just being an old man. He wanted to die for something.”  Please keep his family and his fellow Marines in your prayers this Memorial Day.

Last year I was very melancholy during Memorial Day and stories of young Marines, Soldiers and Sailors killed in the line of duty usually cause me to reflect on the sacrifice that the young men and women who volunteer to serve our country make on a daily basis while most of the country goes about its business often oblivious to the wars being waged by our sons, daughters, brothers and sisters and mothers and fathers in Afghanistan, Iraq and other lesser known fronts in this war.  Last year I was still very much in the midst of my PTSD crash and struggling with depression and faith.  At the same time I was still remembering all of the veterans who made a difference in my life.  That was covered in the posts Memorial Day 2009- Thoughts and Musings and Remembering the Veterans in My Life…Memorial Day 2009.

As we approach Memorial Day 2010 we must remember that while the war in Iraq is drawing down that the war in Afghanistan is heating up even as U.S. and NATO forces prepare to engage the Taliban in their spiritual home of Khandehar.  Likewise there is are rising tensions on the Korean peninsula where the Heavy Combat Brigade and Air Combat Brigade of the 2nd Infantry Division are based in support of Republic of Korea and UN forces in Korea backed up by Marines of the 3rd Marine Division and 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force in Okinawa and Hawaii that are not currently in Afghanistan. At sea U.S. Navy forces patrol strategic choke points including the Straits of Hormuz where an ascendant Iran continues to build up for forces that could threaten the Freedom of the seas.

How am I different this year? To answer the question I can only say that I have regained some measure of faith and community that had been absent in my life after I returned from Iraq.  This has made a lot of difference however it in no way takes the place of remembering those men and women that I have served with in harm’s way as well as the veterans who made an impact in my life and still do today.

Memorial Day, initially known as Decoration Day is a somber holiday in its truest sense however it is as Paul Reikoff of the Iraq Afghanistan Veterans Association notes is “One Country, Two Holidays.” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/paul-rieckhoff/memorial-day-one-holiday_b_592398.html For those that have served in war going back to our WWII veterans but also those of the not so popular wars, Korea, Vietnam and the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan who have lost friends and sacrificed spending months and even years in combat zones and the work-ups and exercises that part and parcel to deployment.  There are the wounded in body, mind and spirit and those whose physical injuries who have killed them in previous wars but now live in tortured bodies somewhere in between life and death.  Likewise there are those whose injuries are invisible, the injuries of PTSD, TBI and other psychiatric or psychological disorders related to their time in combat.  I spent almost two years in PTSD hell and though I am making a good recovery now still am reminded of the fear, anxiety, depression, hopelessness, loneliness and an existential crisis of faith that came with my return.  I know too many Marines, Soldiers and Sailors that suffer much more than I have whose struggles pass unnoticed by most of society.  I am now working with our Substance Abuse Rehabilitation Program and it is hard to see the young men and women that are in the program whose problems either came in part from their combat experience or their experience upon returning home.  Likewise we are now receiving more of our combat wounded at the medical center and thus I am reminded of the sacrifices made by veterans every day.  For those who work to help these young men and women and in many cases have served alongside them in the combat zones it is a continual reminder of the cost of war.

For those of us that have served, not just in the current conflict but our brothers and sisters that served in previous wars, especially Vietnam and Korea there is one Memorial Day.  While we do attempt to do some things with families and friends the holiday is one of sober reflection as we count the cost of war in human terms, both in our lives as well as our families, the soldiers of our Allies that serve alongside of us and the populations of lands devastated by war.

But then there is another country.  A country consumed with materialism and for whom “heroes” are reality television “stars,” actors and actresses and sports figures.  There are those who while they profess to “support the troops” are the first to want to replace military personnel with contractors such as Halliburton and the company formerly known as “Blackwater” with often disastrous results. Political operatives and lobbyists support paying astronomical sums to corporations that often embarrass the country and make the  job in the military harder in Iraq and Afghanistan having done things that alienate those populations.  Then there is the cost for services delivered and the often terrible way that these corporations treat their employees, especially the third country nationals with working hours and living conditions that would be punishable he in the United States, but also Americans who gain employment but serve driving trucks or other hazardous duties that they have little combat training to do and receive little if the are wounded in action nor for their families if they are killed or disabled. That is part of the “other country.” About 1.8 million Americans have served in Iraq or Afghanistan less than 6/10ths of 1 percent. Unlike World War II where the war was truly a national effort this war is waged by a small minority of the population.

I do not have any problems with people enjoying a holiday but hope and pray that Americans will take at least a few minutes to pay their respects to the Veterans of wars past and present the honored dead as well as the living.  Say a prayer, visit a military or veteran cemetery, and pay a visit on a living vet or the family of one of those killed. Donate to reputable veteran organizations or charities and maybe take a vet out for a bite to eat or buy them a cup of coffee, Coke or a beer.  Don’t let the day pass by simply looking at the faded yellow ribbon “I support the troops” on your car but take a few minutes to thank and remember those that have served our country regardless of race, creed or color and pray that the fallen will rest in peace and the living will recover from all wounds.

Unfortunately for the country the President will not be at the wreath laying ceremony at Arlington Cemetery this year. Unlike some who are vehemently criticizing him I can only say that I am disappointed that the Commander-in-Chief will not be present because of what I feel is the tremendous symbolic importance of his presence at the event when we are at war. At the same time the President’s absence in emblematic of how much of the country “celebrates” Memorial Day.  Unfortunately as the number of men and women who have served our nation in time of war goes down in proportion to the population at large the day will become less significant to many, a curiosity that is quaint and nice but does not impact their lives.  I do not mean this in a bad way or with any malice; it is simply a statement of fact as for most the military and the war is not an everyday part of their lives. I think that the Previous President while understanding the significance of this day did not help the nation when after the September 11th attacks did not marshal the energy of the nation for a war which his administration readily acknowledged would be a “long war” but instead told people to “go shopping” to pump up the economy.  I think that was an act that has limited the personal effect of the human cost of these wars to a very limited segment of the population.

At the same time I as well as most veterans do appreciate the fact that we in the military are treated well by our countrymen even if they do not truly understand what we go through.  I for one am thankful to people who go out of their way to thank us in public places, those that take on hateful groups like the crowd at West Baptist Church that protests outside of military funerals and bases invoking God’s wrath on us.  Likewise there are the volunteers who meet returning servicemen and women at airports as the come home from war, the sports that honor the military before games or as in the case of most of Major and Minor League Baseball in the 7th inning stretch.  At the Church of Baseball, Harbor Park Parish in Norfolk they display the photos of servicemen and women currently serving overseas.  The Raley’s grocery store near my parents’ home in Stockton California has a display of hundreds of 8 x 10 photos of military personnel in the front of their store and a wide range of people and groups try to find ways to help.  This in is stark contrast to the treatment of our brothers and sisters who served in Vietnam and the attitudes and treatment of military personnel on college campuses that lingered far into the 1980s.  Thankfully the vast majority of Americans are appreciative of what we do.  At the same time most are not personally effected and as such will simply see Memorial Day as a three day weekend that kicks off the summer vacation season hardly pausing to think of the cost that has been born to ensure that Americans and people around the world have the opportunity to live in freedom.

Band of Brothers, Above Me and RP2 Nelson Lebron, below Foot Patrol Al Waleed Iraq

This weekend I pause to remember the veterans in my life, my father who remains in a nursing facility with dementia brought about by Alzheimer’s disease, men like my NJROTC instructors Senior Chief John Yarro and Buff Rambo who taught me in our FIST or Fire Support Team, SFC Harry Zilkan and CSM John Butler from my UCLA Army ROTC program and SFC Harry Ball my Drill Instructor in ROTC Advanced Camp. All were Vietnam Vets.  Then there were 1SG Jim Koenig of 557th Medical Company who was my 1st Sergeant when I was a new Lieutenant in Germany and Colonel Donald A Johnson the Commander of the 68th Medical Group and his successor Colonel Jim Truscott a high decorated Medevac or “Dustoff” helicopter pilot.  I cannot forget Chaplain (LTC) Rich Whaley a company commander in Vietnam who saved my ass as an aspiring Chaplain at the Chaplain School in 1990 and 1992.

Then there were the WWII and Vietnam Vets in my Chapel at Fort Indiantown Gap PA. USAF Major General Frank Smoker a B-17 pilot, Colonel Walt Swank who served at Normandy and SSG Henry Boyd one of the 101st Airborne Troopers epitomized by “Band of Brothers.” There were the Vietnam Vets in the congregation, Colonel Ray Hawthorne an artillery officer who served several tours in country including an advisor tour.  Charlie Kosko a helicopter pilot and Major Scotty Jenkes who served as a USAF pilot flying close air support in Vietnam.  Then there was Colonel Tom Allmon the Garrison Commander who served in the Gulf War as well as Iraq.

My life more recently has been impacted by others.  My friends of the veterans of the Battle of Hue City including General Peter Pace, Barney Barnes, Tony “Limey Cartilage” Sergeant Major Thomas and so many others have become close over the years, especially after I did my time in Iraq. They and all the Vietnam vets, including the guys from the Vietnam Veterans of America like Ray and Charlie who used man the beer stand behind the plate at Harbor Park until health issues kept them from continuing all mean a lot to me.  Likewise my friends at Marine Security Forces Colonel Mike Paulovich and Sergeant Major Kim Davis both Iraq Vets mean more than almost any people in the world.  We traveled the globe together visiting our Marines.  Both of these men are heroes to me as well as friends.

There are those that I served with at Navy EOD Group II that performed amazing feats in Iraq and Afghanistan and retired Command Master Chief Bill “Two Feathers” Tyrell an EOD tech that I came to know well working family issues and PTSD issues for our EOD sailors.  Bill was a tremendous help as I struggled with PTSD.  Likewise there are my shipmates and friends from the USS HUE CITY that I served with deployed to the Northern Arabian Gulf and Horn of Africa in 2002 including the men of the boarding team that I served as an advisor to on 75 boarding missions aboard impounded Iraqi Oil Smugglers.  Then there are the men that I served with in Iraq especially my assistant and body guard RP2 Nelson Lebron who is getting ready for his 10th deployment this time another trip to Afghanistan.  There are my friends that served in various locations with the Iraqi security forces that I was able to travel to, serve alongside and serve as a chaplain in remote areas of Iraq with the Iraqis. In my current assignment I have had many friends and colleagues deploy to Iraq and Afghanistan in some very “hot” zones caring for our wounded as well as local nationals and allied soldiers.  This is not stopping anytime soon.

These are my brothers and sisters and I remember all of them with fondness.  My thoughts are much the same as Henry V at Agincourt as depicted in Shakespeare’s Henry V:

What’s he that wishes so?
My cousin Westmoreland? No, my fair cousin;
If we are mark’d to die, we are enow
To do our country loss; and if to live,
The fewer men, the greater share of honour.
God’s will! I pray thee, wish not one man more.
By Jove, I am not covetous for gold,
Nor care I who doth feed upon my cost;
It yearns me not if men my garments wear;
Such outward things dwell not in my desires.
But if it be a sin to covet honour,
I am the most offending soul alive.
No, faith, my coz, wish not a man from England.
God’s peace! I would not lose so great an honour
As one man more methinks would share from me
For the best hope I have. O, do not wish one more!
Rather proclaim it, Westmoreland, through my host,
That he which hath no stomach to this fight,
Let him depart; his passport shall be made,
And crowns for convoy put into his purse;
We would not die in that man’s company
That fears his fellowship to die with us.
This day is call’d the feast of Crispian.
He that outlives this day, and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is nam’d,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say ‘To-morrow is Saint Crispian.’
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
And say ‘These wounds I had on Crispian’s day.’
Old men forget; yet all shall be forgot,
But he’ll remember, with advantages,
What feats he did that day. Then shall our names,
Familiar in his mouth as household words-
Harry the King, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester-
Be in their flowing cups freshly rememb’red.
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.

See the Kenneth Branagh’s rendition here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NA3gOST4Pc8&feature=player_embedded

With crucial battles ahead in Afghanistan against the Taliban, the storm clouds of war gathering over Korea and the threat of terrorism and attacks around the world and at home it is indeed a dangerous world that our Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, Airmen and Coastguardsmen serve in.  Never before in our country have so many owed so much to so few.   Unfortunately there are those of us, men and women that have served our country from before Pearl Harbor to the present who who struggle and will spend this day alone and uncared for in isolation, anonymous to nearly everyone. Please, if you see such a man or woman do not let the opportunity pass to thank them and if need be do something to encourage or thank them for their service. Please remember and thank a Veteran this weekend and if somehow the spirit moves you to do more and you are capable of serving and join this new “Band of Brothers” please see a recruiter.  It is a noble profession that we, we happy few are proud to serve despite the cost.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under iraq,afghanistan, Military, PTSD, shipmates and veterans

A Previous Generation of Sailor Insults the Current Generation of Sailors

A Different Kind of Navy

Today I received an e-mail forwarded by a retired Navy Chief and actually a dear friend of my family.  However the e-mail was so insulting to the present generation of sailors that I sent a very blunt response back to him and everyone in else by replying to all recipients.

As readers of this site know I constantly go out of my way to make sure that the sacrifices of the previous generations of military personnel are recognized, honored and not forgotten.  In fact I am not alone in this, many like me have been touched by these veterans of World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the Cold War, Desert Shield and Storm and the Balkans and honor their service in thought word and deed. In fact I and thousands like me are deeply appreciative of the service and sacrifice of those who have gone before us.  However with the exception of the Vietnam vets I don’t think that this honor and appreciation is shown much to the current generation.

We have been at war coming up on 9 years. This is nearly three times as long as the US involvement in World War II and will certainly go well beyond that.  Unlike that war where the whole nation was mobilized and millions of men and women served in all components of the armed forces all over the world in the current war only a tiny minority of the population has served. In fact if you look around the country we are a nation that doesn’t even act like we are at war unless it benefits someone’s political agenda.  While various individuals and organizations, especially professional sports take time to publicly acknowledge the service of the current generation for most people the war is something abstract that really doesn’t affect them or change how they live in any appreciable manner.

What is even more insulting is getting e-mail and hearing some of the older generation demean those who serve now, while saying “Support our Troops” they then spread horse manure like this:

Then – If you smoked, you had an ashtray on your desk.
Now – If you smoke, you get sent outside and treated like a leper, if you’re lucky.

Then – Mail took weeks to come to the ship.
Now – Every time you get near land, there’s a mob topside to see if their cell phones work.

Then – If you left the ship it was in Blues or Whites, even in home port.
Now – The only time you wear Blues or Whites is for ceremonies..

Then – You wore bell-bottoms everywhere on the ship.
Now – Bell-bottoms are gone and 14 year-old girls wear them everywhere.

Then – You wore a Dixie cup all day, with every uniform.
Now – It’s not required and you have a choice of different hats..

Then – If you said “damn,” people knew you were annoyed and avoided you.
Now – If you say “damn” you’d better be talking about a hydroelectric plant.

Then -The Ships Office Yeoman had a typewriter on his desk for doing daily reports.
Now – Everyone has a computer with Internet access and they wonder why no work is getting done.

Then – We painted pictures of pretty girls on airplanes to remind us of home.
Now – We put the real thing in the cockpit.

Then – Your girlfriend was at home, praying you would return alive.
Now – She is on the same ship, praying your condom worked.

Then – If you got drunk off duty, your buddies would take you back to the ship so you could sleep it off.
Now – If you get drunk off duty, they slap you in rehab and ruin your career.

Then – Canteens were made out of steel and you could heat coffee or hot chocolate in them.
Now – Canteens are made of plastic, you can’t heat them because they’ll melt, and anything inside always tastes like plastic.

Then – Our top officers were professional sailors first.  They commanded respect.
Now – Our top officers are politicians first.  They beg not to be given a wedgie.

Then – They collected enemy intelligence and analyzed it.
Now – They collect our pee and analyze it.

Then – If you didn’t act right, they’d put you on extra duty until you straightened up.
Now – If you don’t act right, they start a paper trail that follows you forever.

Then – Medals were awarded to heroes who saved lives at the risk of their own.
Now – Medals are awarded to people who show up for work most of the time.

Then – You slept in a barracks, like a soldier.
Now – You sleep in a dormitory, like a college kid.

Then – You ate in a Mess Hall or Galley.  It was free and you could have all the food you wanted.
Now – You eat in a Dining Facility.  Every slice of bread or pat of butter costs, and you can only have one.

Then – If you wanted to relax, you went to the Rec Center, played pool, smoked and drank beer.
Now – You go to the Community Center and can still play pool, maybe.

Then – If you wanted a quarter beer and conversation, you could go to the Chief’s or Officers’ Club.
Now – The beer will cost you three dollars and someone is watching to see how much you drink.

Then – The Exchange had bargains for sailors who didn’t make much money.
Now – You can get better merchandise and cheaper at Wal-Mart.

Then – If an Admiral wanted to make a presentation, he scribbled down some notes and a YN3 spent an hour preparing a bunch of charts.
Now – The Admiral has his entire staff spending days preparing a PowerPoint presentation.

Then – We called the enemy things like “Commie Bastards” and “Reds” because we didn’t like them.
Now – We call the enemy things like “Opposing Forces” and “Aggressors” or “Insurgents” so we won’t offend them.

Then – We declared victory when the enemy was dead and all his things were broken.
Now – We declare victory when the enemy says he is sorry and won’t do it again.

Then – A commander would put his butt on the line to protect his people.
Now – A commander will put his people on the line to protect his butt.

ALOHA!

“IN GOD WE TRUST”

Now there are some elements of truth in the e-mail there is also a lot of fiction and patent falsehoods which are cobbled together to insult and put down those who serve now.  Maybe this is done because a lot of the “greatest generation” never got into combat, maybe they resent the changes in society and culture, and maybe the only paradigm of war that they know is World War Two and the Cold War.  In fact if you look at history the Vietnam vets didn’t get the support or respect of the World War II generation.

I don’t want to sound like an ass or ungrateful but my generation has honored and respected those that have gone before us as “the greatest generation” while some who served in that war and during the 1950s and early 1960s run us down.  In fact I imagine that this was written by someone who did little but sit on their ass and complain when they were in the Navy and pretty sure that they didn’t serve in World War II, or see anything more than a hostile coast when they served.

Maybe I should re-write this in this manner, of course just like what was in the e-mail above it is filled with half-truths, it makes the point of what it feels like to have your service made light of by another generation.  Please know that I write this not to put down those who served before us but to show that such ad hominem attacks can go both directions, so let’s try it:

Then: Physical fitness meant if you got to fat you purchased a new uniform to waddle down a passage way.

Now: Physical Fitness standards are such that if you don’t stay in good physical condition and stay within weight standards that your career will be over.

Then: Physical abuse of sailors and hazing was acceptable and even encouraged.

Now: We don’t tolerate assault and battery.

Then: If you didn’t smoke you were forced to inhale the smoke of others in cramped and poorly ventilated spaces ensuring that you had an equal opportunity at sharing in the joys of lung cancer.

Now: If you don’t smoke you can breathe in peace and if you do smoke you still can just not whenever and wherever you want.

Then: Senior leaders both officer and enlisted who did criminal things were quietly removed and allowed to continue in service or retire as if nothing happened.

Now: Senior leaders, especially Commanding Officers and Command Master Chiefs are held to a higher standard and when relieved for cause it is public and the offense is not swept under the rug.

Then: Only a minority of sailors were married.

Now: The majority are married.

Then: Intelligence collection was pretty straight forward; you monitored Soviet communications and movements.

Now:  The bad guys use a multitude of means to communicate that were undreamed of in years past.

Then: Drug abuse was not a big problem in society at large and there was little need to test for them.

Now: The proliferation of drugs throughout society presents risks to our sailors, our security and mission that it is necessary to test for them.

Then: Women had little opportunity in the service and were regulated to support jobs.

Now: Women serve honorably in almost every Navy community at sea, in the air or ashore.

Then: Racial prejudice was pervasive and individual and institutional racism tolerated.

Now: For the most part racism is a thing of the past and sailors of all races have the opportunity not only to serve but to rise to the highest ranks.

Then: Being drunk on duty was okay if your Chief or Divo liked you and your buddies covered it up.

Now: Being drunk on duty is recognized for what it is, endangerment of your shipmates and the mission.

Then: Going on deployment meant being on a ship with regular deployment schedules and plenty for port calls and being on shore duty meant just that.

Now:  Sailors can be deployed at a moment’s notice from shore assignments and rotate from deployment to deployment to deployment with little time in between and up serving with boots on the ground where people are trying to kill you.

Then: Pay was low but since you weren’t married and lived on ship or the barracks you had plenty of disposable income.

Now: Pay is better but since you are married you have to support them and subject them to the uncertain life of being a sailor at war.

Then: Pay and benefits were so low that many in the civilian world believed that “only losers joined the military.”

Now: Pay and benefits are better so we get so of the best professionals in their fields.

Then: Medical care for life was a given and you never paid out of pocket for it for you or your family.

Now: Even with the most affordable health coverage sailors pay something out of pocket for their family’s medical care and sometimes their own.

Then: Navy housing was usually old, dilapidated and substandard and Navy families frequently lived in worse conditions than civilians lived in.

Now: Navy housing is being built to comparable standards of homes and apartments in the civilian community.

Then: There was no “Wal-Mart” or any other discount stores so the Exchange was your best option.

Now: Competition in the civilian world often makes the Exchange less attractive an option.

Then: The Navy was stingy with awards figuring that your paycheck was your award.

Now: Hard work deployed and non-deployed is better recognized and no sailors don’t get personal awards for showing up to work on time.

Then: War was different, we fought actual countries and professional militaries who played by the rules.

Now: War is fought against shadowy groups that use terrorism and other asymmetric means to fight and have no government to end the war and do not follow the rules of conventional warfare.

Then: Education was not encouraged.

Now: Education both military and civilian is encouraged to make better sailors.

Then: A sailor’s only interactions with Soldiers, Airmen or Marines were at bar fights.

Now: Now we serve alongside Soldiers, Marines and Airmen on small isolated outposts in dangerous combat zones.

Need I go on?

Now I am not saying any of this to demean or put down those who served before this generation. However I put it out here to show just how insulting the referenced e-mail was.  My gut reaction is that people who put out stuff like this didn’t do much in their own career and maybe were embarrassed by others of their generation who did. Perhaps the only way they can value their service is to put down others.  If so they are a pitiful and bitter bunch.  Now as I said up front there are plenty of veterans from past wars who honor us who serve today, however the vocal minority who put out crap like this need to be called on it.  If you see such e-mails please register your objection to them by replying to all and maybe, just maybe this will stop.  If you want past my “then and now” into your e-mail to throw it back at them.

Finally as always I thank all who served before us, men and women, especially the Korea and Vietnam vets who had their service ignored or put down by fellow vets as well as society in general. I do not want their service to be forgotten or dishonored and if anyone interprets this essay in that manner they have missed my point entirely.  But moreover I want to thank the new “greatest generation” who though small in number volunteer to serve knowing that they will see action likely in a ground combat zone serving alongside Soldiers, Marines and Airmen in places that would have been impossible for previous generations to imagine serving. It is us, we few, we happy few who fight together that hold the line, not the pundits, not the politicians and not those who sit back under the protection that we provide demean our service and criticize how we do that job.  Such people can kiss my ass, otherwise they can sign up, pick up a weapon, put on a pack or shut the hell up.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Military, philosophy

Revisiting the Demons of PTSD: Returning to Iraq in Virginia a Year and a Half Later

Today I am attending a conference on Caregiver Operational Stress Control.  This brought out my “demons” as I was faced with the stories of others who had been to the same places that I have been in Iraq, and experienced similar things that I experienced on my return.  This is a re-posting of something that I wrote in March at the very beginning of this blog.  At that time I had very few readers.

I am glad to be at this training today.  I needed to take a Xanax when I arrived because I don’t do well with these kind of events anymore.  The intial session and a video of Dr Heidi Kraft talking about her expereinces at Al Taqaduum where I was based out of.  I was scheduled for another meeting but I knew that I needed to be here.  So I asked my Department Head who was going to the meeting if I could stay and he allowed me to do so. God bless him.

I received a note from a new friend in another country’s military, a physician with multiple tours in Afghanistan.  He is dealing with many of the things that I discuss in this essay and had a bad day that took him back to Afghanistan.  I am sure that he is not alone as I deal with many people in my Medical Center who have similar experiences.  Yesterday I was walking down a hallway near our Operating Room and I saw a pretty good sized blood spill on the floor. I was surprised at my reaction as I kept seeing it in my mind the rest of the day and flashbacks to Iraq and the TQ Shock Surgery Trauma platoon where I was pulled into a couple of the last major mass casualty events where 10-15 Marines or soldiers came in at a time. I began to see those wounder Marines on the tables and can visibly see those Marines, their wounds, even tattoos… I hope this helps break the code of silence.  I wrote this on a particularly rough day and will repost some of those early essays as they are still very relevant.  Peace, Steve+

964Trying not to Show my Stress and Exhaustion after 2 weeks out while in between flights at Al Asad

The feeling of abandonment and aloneness, separation and disconnection run deep for those returning from unpopular wars in which the majority of the citizens take no part.  The effects are devastating.  It is estimated that at least 100,000 Vietnam veterans have taken their lives in the years after that war.  Last year the Army had its highest number of active duty suicides ever recorded, January and February of 2009 have been banner months for Army suicides.  Of course as I noted in my previous post these numbers don’t include reservists and Guardsmen who have left active duty or veterans dischaged from the service.  Neither do they include the host of service men and women who died from causes undetermined.

Many veterans attempted to return to “normal life” and family following the war. Many only to have marriages fall apart, continue or leave untreated alcohol and drug addictions acquired in country which often follow them back destroying lives, families and careers.  Most felt cast aside and abandoned by the goverment and society. Many got through and return to life with few visible effects, but the scars live on.  My dad would never talk about his experience in the city of An Loc in 1972 where he as a Navy Chief Petty Officer was among a small group of Americans operating an emergency airstrip in the city which was besieged by the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong for 80 days.  I do know that it affected him, he wasn’t the same when he returned, he was a lot more tense and had some problems initially with alcohol.  He never talked about his time there.

I have seen the effects of this in so many lives,  I remember a Vietnam vet who attempted to kill himself with a shotgun blast to the chin in Dallas during my hospital residency.  He forgot to factor in recoil and blew off his face without hitting his brain or any major arteries.  He survived…talk about having something to be depressed about later.  I have seen the tears as veterans rejected by the country during and after than war begin to seek community with their wartime brothers, men who had experienced the same trauma followed by rejection and abandonment by the people that sent them to Southeast Asia.  One only has to talk to veterans of the Ia Drang, Khe Sahn, Hue City, the Central Highlands and Mekong Delta or read their stories to know what they have gone through.  LTG Hal Moore and Joseph Galloway in We Were Soldiers Once..and Young and We are Soldiers Still have deeply penatrating and soul searching views of Vietnam as does Bing West in The Village. Bernard Fall does the same from a French perspective in Hell in a Very Small Place and Street Without Joy. Alistair Horne’s book A Savage War of Peace discusses and tells the story of many French soldiers in Algeria, who fought a war, won it militarily and had their government abandon them, bringing out a mutiny and coup atempt by French Soldiers who had fought in Indochina, were almost immediately back in action in Algeria with little thanks or notice from thier countrymen.  Abandonment is an ever present reality and “demon” for many of us who have served regardless of our nationality, French, Canadien or American who have fought in wars that have not engaged the bulk of our fellow citizens. Go to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington DC and tocuh it, trace the outline of a name, look upon the makeshift memorials and tokens of remembrance left by comrades who came home and understand the sorrow and the sacrifice.

Unfortunately we would like to think that this is something out of history that we have learned from and applied the lessons and in doing so no longer have an issue.  Unfortunately this is not the case.  There are many, depending on the study anywhere from8-20 percent of returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who suffer from some type of PTSD, Combat Stress reaction or other psychological malady incurred during their tour. Similar numbers are reported by the Israeli Armed Forces in from the 1973 War forward.   The British are seeing the same now as their veterans return from war.  Canadian Forces assigned to the UN command during the Rwanda genocide suffer horribly from PTSD. The mission commander, LTG Romeo Dalliare now a Senator in the Canadian Parliament is a leading spokesman for those who suffer from PTSD. His book Shake Hands with the Devil is a study of how military professionals were exposed to atrocities that they either were forbidden to stop or lacked the combat power to do so even if they wanted to.  These men and women tell their story in a video put out by Canadian Armed Forces.

105Convoy along Route Uranium

I am not going to rehash stories that I have recounted in my other posts dealing with PTSD here, but both I and many men and women that I know are scarred by the unseen wounds of this war.  We gladly recognize, and rightfully so, those who suffer physical wounds.  At the same time those who are dying inside are often ignored by their commands or if they come out are shunted into programs designed to “fix” them.  In other words make them ready for the next deployment.  I am not saying here that there is an intentional neglect of our service men and women who suffer from PTSD and other issues.  I do not think that is the case, but it is a fact of life. The military is shorthanded and stretched to the breaking point. Many Army Soldiers and US Marines have made 3-5 deployments since 2003. The Navy has sent over 50,000 sailors, not including those assigned with the Marines into “Individual Augmentation” billets in support of operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Horn of Africa and other fronts in this war.  The Navy personnel, as well as Air Force personnel who perform similar missions often do not have the luxury of going to war and coming home with a particular unit.  We serve often in isolation and incredibly disconnected from our commands, our service is often misunderstood.  Now there are efforts by the services and some commands to do things better to support our sailors, some of these at my own hospital.  However as an institution the military has not fully made the adjustment yet.

Many sailors feel abandoned by the country and sometimes, especially when deployed by the Navy itself.  I have debriefed hundreds of these men and women.  Almost all report anger and use terms such as being abandon, cut off and thrown away by the service and the country.  Those from all services who work in unusual joint billets such as advisers to local military and police forces in Afghanistan and Iraq feel a sense of kinship with each other, often feel a connection to the Iraqis and Afghans but are often not promoted or advanced at the same rate as others who have served in conventional forces in traditional jobs.  There was a film called Go tell the Spartans staring Burt Lancaster about Army advisers in the early stages of Vietnam.  If you see it and have been to Iraq with our advisers you can see some of the same dynamics at work.

At this point we are still engaged in Iraq and Afghanistan.  These wars divided the nation and the veterans, though better treated and appreciated by society than most of thier Vietnam counterparts have no memorial.  Words of thanks uttered by politicans and punits abound, our Vietnam era and other fellow veterans in their latter years come to the airports that we fly in and out of to say thank you, but our numbers are rising, the war rages on both in country and in our minds and lives are being lost long after soldiers have left the battlefield.

not a happy camperNot Doing Well on Leave about 5 months After my Return from Iraq

We have to do a better job of ensuring that those who sacrifice so much do not feel that they have been cut off and abandoned while they are in theater and especially when they return. When it is time we need a memorial on the Capitol Mall for those who served in these wars.  I don’t know when that will be, but I do hope to see it in my day.  Sure it’s only symbolic, but symbols can be healing too, just look at the black granite wall rising up from the ground and going back down into it, filled with the names of those who gave their lives and made the supreme sacrifice in Southeast Asia.  Simply known by most as “the Wall” it has become a place of healing and rememberance.  A place to say thank you, goodbye and amen.

Peace and blessings, Steve+

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Filed under healthcare, iraq,afghanistan, Military, PTSD, Tour in Iraq, vietnam