Tag Archives: Slaughterhouse Five

Waiting for First Light at Slaughterhouse Five: PTSD and a Coda to te end of a Military Career


Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

I am checking out of my current command to finish my career attached to Norfolk Naval Shipyard, in Portsmouth Virginia. I am struggling. Not feeling appreciated and feeling like a cast off. This isn’t new, shortly after I was promoted to Commander, the newly appointed Deputy Chief of Chaplains treated me like a potted plant while making her rounds of the Generals and Major Commands. As Kurt Vonnegut noted in Slaughterhouse Five “and so it goes.”  My Problems in the Navy Chaplain Corps began when I went public with my struggles with PTSD. Somehow it seems that Chaplains can care for the wounded and those traumatized by war but if we admit that we are wounded we are expendable.

I read General Romeo Dallaire’s latest book, Waiting for First Light: My Ongoing Struggle with PTSD a couple of years ago. General Dallaire had been the commander of the UN Peacekeepers in Rwanda, men and women who were prevented from stopping genocide, and people who have been forever haunted by what they witnessed.

General Dallaire recounts a story of horror that never ended for him, and he details how difficult and traumatic coming home that neither appreciate nor understood what he had been through, including people in the military. I found so much in his story that was analogous to my own and in light of that I am going to begin writing my PTSD memoir.

It will be hard because I will have to write about things that are deeply traumatic and upsetting, especially how I was received and continue to be received by most of my fellow chaplains. Because I came and publicly discussed my issues with PTSD, the shattering of my faith in so many things, my wilderness experience of being an agnostic for two years, and the change in my faith since then, I experienced the rejection of my former church and many of my peers.

To many of my peers and Chaplain Corps superiors I am simply a broken Chaplain; and broken chaplains or for that matter broken ministers have no place and very few people who they can talk with. I remember my old Commodore at EOD Group Two, the late Captain Tom Sitsch ask me bluntly “Where does a chaplain go for help?”My answer to him was “not to other chaplains.” Sadly, he too was going through his own personal PTSD hell and with his life falling apart he committed suicide in January 2014.

General Dallaire recounts a similar experience, as like Chaplains, Generals and other senior leaders have no place to go, they like us are not supposed to break. General Dallaire wrote: “I received little support from my colleagues and peers; I received only a few messages from my sixty or so fellow generals – a couple of phone calls, and an e-mail from one old friend. The others appeared to be in two camps: those who were too busy to get in touch, and those who didn’t know what to say.” But I would also add, that there are those that do not want to know and others who actually turn their backs on men and women whose injury lies inside their brain, as well as some chaplains and ministers who seem to take a certain perverse joy in inflicting pain.

I still struggle with nightmares, night terrors, insomnia, and hyper-vigilance. After more than a decade I cannot imagine life without them. Like General Dallaire, I still wait for first light.

So pray for me if you do that, if not send some positive thoughts my direction.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

21 Comments

Filed under iraq, mental health, Pastoral Care, PTSD, Tour in Iraq, US Navy

“So it Goes” Remembering the Day Before 9-11-2001 and the Beginning Of War Without End

The twin Towers, September 10th 2001 

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

After 18 years of unending war, terrorism, and the paranoia that come with it, I almost find it hard to remember what things were like on September 10th 2001.

I had been in the military over 20 years by then, but having resigned my commission as a Major in the Army Reserve in order to return to active duty as a Navy Chaplain serving with the 2nd Marine Division at a lower rank, I try to think about Monday, September 10th once in a while.

Despite coming close to a ground war in Kosovo in 1999, we had settled into the norms of peacetime training and preparation for whatever the next crisis might be. I had participated in the preparations for the Kosovo campaign, which thankfully we were prevented from going into a ground war over due to Serbian President Slobodan Miloševićat blinking at the last minute and agreeing to a ceasefire and withdraw from Kosovo, which could have led to a wider war in the Balkans and with Russia.

On the night of September 10th 2001 my mind was as far from war and terror as it could be. I was much more interested in the MLB Pennant Race than I was anything going on in the world, after all the only issues we faced were occasional, if deadly terrorist attacks on foreign installations and deployed ships like the USS Cole.  But as to the security of the Continental United States, or as it has been referred to by some since 9-11 as “the Homeland” I wasn’t concerned. Somehow, despite my knowledge, understanding and study of terrorist groups I just never thought anyone could pull off an attack of this magnitude.  The next morning I discovered just how wrong I was as the first reports came in while I was on my way to a late PT session at Camp LeJeune North Carolina where I was serving with the Second Marine Division, but that is a story for tomorrow night.

September 10th was a normal and pretty much a typical September day in America. The Denver Broncos beat the New York Giants in Denver that night. The Seattle Mariners won their 104th game of the season, defeating the Anaheim Angels 5-1.

But the next morning changed all of our lives and ushered in what is now 18 years of war which has cost the United States military almost 80,000 casualties including over 7,000 dead or died of wounds. Of course that does not count non-DOD agency casualties, or those of the contractors who have been a big part of the war effort, nor does it count the number of friendly Afghans, Iraqis, and others who have to use the antiseptic and dehumanizing term collateral damage, who have been killed, maimed, or displaced by nearly two decades of war.

Eighteen years after 9-11-2001 we are not only still at war, but it is becoming a war without end. President Trump tried and failed using ham handed tactics to make a deal with the Taliban, including a meeting that was to occur yesterday at Camp David to allegedly secure a peace deal that would net him the Nobel Peace Prize. That didn’t happen after Taliban fighters killed yet another American soldier in combat last week. Of course the deaths of over a dozen other Americans since January, not to mention hundreds of Afghan soldiers, police and civilians who have died at the hands of the Taliban and the descendants of the original Al Qaida. Those lives didn’t matter as long as the President thought he could get a deal to end the war, then with Taliban representatives at his doorstep he called the talks off. Personally I don’t think the President really cared about any of those lives, he hasn’t mentioned any of them over the past year, nor gone to their funerals, or met their remains at Andrews Air Force Base, so what happened had to be about him, otherwise why invite Taliban leaders to meet with him of the week of the anniversary of the 9-11-2001? If not to get a deal.

Eighteen years ago, I figured that after a few months Al Qaeda would be no more, and the war that they had unleashed upon us would be over. however I was wrong. Now now, many of the sailors, soldiers, marines, and airmen I deal with were just children or not even born when the attacks happened.

In just over six months I will be retired from the military, and as Kurt Vonnegut wrote in Slaughterhouse Five: “So it goes…” 

Have a good night, until tomorrow,

Peace

2 Comments

Filed under crime, History, iraq,afghanistan, middle east, national security, News and current events, Political Commentary, terrorism, War on Terrorism

“So It Goes” Reading, Writing, and MRI Results

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Robert Louis Stevenson wrote: ““I kept always two books in my pocket, one to read, one to write in.”

I kind of do that, except ever since I hurt my knees, instead of my pocket I carry them in a replica German WWII medical aid bag. It was either do that or get a Murse, had to hold a bunch of stuff in one hand when walking with a crutch because of bad knees. I got the MRI results back on my right knee today. I had the MRI done late last Monday night. It took almost nine months since I hurt it to get the MRI. Instead I received a round of physical therapy, followed by referral to Sports Medicine for various forms of injection therapy. Cortisone shots, Platelet Rich Plasma, and Gel injections, before the Sports Medicine Doctor said that all my treatments were basically for arthritis and had failed, admitting that something else was going on. “So it goes.”

Since last August I told every doctor that examined me that I knew that I had arthritis in the knee but it had never interfered with my life until I had my fall down the stairs last August. I knee then that I had injured it. The MRI showed much more damage than the arthritis, which was bad, basically forming bone spurs in a knee that had no cartilage left, with other damage. The surgeon who ordered it was the one who did my arthroscopic surgery on my left knee. He explained that about the only surgical option was knee replacement. I kind of figured that months ago. “So it goes.”

So Monday I go back to my aquatic physical therapy and I am doing to start going the local recreation center which has an indoor heated pool with a track in it in order to strengthen myself before any surgery. I see the bone and joint surgeon after physical therapy Monday morning. Hopefully I will get the surgery scheduled to replace the knee. “So it goes.”

But all that is a lead up to my May Reading Rainbow.

Like Robert Louis Stevenson I always carry at least one book to read, and one to write in. The only thing the one I write in is my iPad. I kind of have to, I can barely read my own writing so this is the better option. But as far as my reading has gone I have been reading up a storm over the past month, and am continuing to do more. Over the past couple of months I have read Justice Michael Musmanno’s The Eichmann Kommandos which was about the Einsatzgruppen Trials; John Meacham’s The Soul Of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels; Doris Kearns Godwin’s Leadership In Turbulent Times; Anthony Beevor’s The Battle Of Arnhem: The Deadliest Airborne Operation Of World War II; My Old Professor Helmut Haeussler’s book General Wilhelm Groener and the Imperial German Army; Terrance Petty’s Enemy of the People: The Untold Story Of the Journalists who Opposed Hitler; and Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five. “So it goes.”

I also re-read Raul Hilberg’s Perpetraters, Victims, Bystanders: The Jewish Catastrophe 1933-1945, and Timothy Snyder’s Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning. I am currently reading Christopher Browning’s Remembering Survival: Inside a Nazi Slave Labor Camp, and Joshua Greene’s Justice at Dachau: The Trials Of an American Prosecutor.

I keep books in my aid bag to read during the waiting times at doctors appointments, waiting in military pharmacies and anywhere else I can find a moment to read, and of course the iPad is there for when the muse strikes. Samuel Johnson noted:

“The greatest part of a writer’s time is spent in reading, in order to write; a man will turn over half a library to make one book.”

So until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve

1 Comment

Filed under books, books and literature, life, Loose thoughts and musings