Tag Archives: smoke

Thoughts on Smoke, Suicides, Gracie Jane, the Media Legal System and I guess I’m not Patriotic

Gracie Jane…the Boston Legal Nancy Grace

Today was one of those weird days. I got up relatively early for a day off only to have my morning interrupted by a page from the Emergency Room to deal with a suicide. I showered and drove in to work knowing what the outcome was going to be even though our staff was trying heroically to save the patient.  On the way in I was reminded of Iraq once again as I drove through the dense smoke which has enshrouded our region from one of several wild fires.

Last night I had been out watching the Independence Day fireworks with Judy and our little dog Molly on the beach about a quarter of a mile from the Island Hermitage and I did pretty wel`l, though Molly did better. While I was occasionally flashing back to watching artillery and illumination rounds and hearing that infernal 122 rocket flying over me in Baghdad as well as being nervous in the large crowds that surrounded me I didn’t melt down despite some very close blasts from individuals firing some pretty large firework charges above our heads. Maybe it was the unflappable attitude of Molly. Molly isn’t afraid of anything and maybe her looking up and occasionally barking at the infernal things both comforted and amused me. However I digress….

I got to the ER sustained by a large cup of Dunkin Donuts coffee and found that our staff could not save the life of the individual. I have dealt with far too many suicides in the military where it seems to be epidemic now days as well as in my time as an ER and Trauma department Chaplain in major civilian medical centers. There are people that condemn those that commit suicide to hell and call it an “unpardonable sin.” I can’t do that. Suicide is a tragedy no matter when it happens and it is happening far too often among the ranks of our Active Duty, Reserve and National Guard forces and to those retired or discharged from the military.  I spent some time and with our staff as well as some of his senior enlisted leaders who were obviously affected by this and quietly said a prayer of commendation at the bedside.  This is a tragedy one that will unfortunately keep occurring even as Congress contemplates cuts to the force that include the Mental Health Professionals and Chaplains that are the last line of defense for these young men and women.  But then what value are the lives of the men and women that fight our wars compared to not raising the taxes for the incredible wealthy that profit off of our wars and the sacrifices of the troops.

When I got home Judy and I took a drive up to Beaufort North Carolina where we had lunch at Finz, a bar and grill. As always we sat in the bar and while eating lunch noticed a commotion. A waitress from the restaurant side rushed in and changed the channel from the peaceful natural disasters reported by the Weather Channel to Headline News where Gracie Jane (Nancy Grace, Gracie Jane is the caricature Nancy created by the writers of Boston Legal played with gusto by Jill Brennan) was having a conniption fit that Casey Anthony was found not guilty of killing her daughter in one of the most sensational trials since the O. J. Simpson trial.

Now I didn’t watch the trial my faith in the Media Legal system having been crushed with the failure of the O. J. jury to find him guilty and order him crushed to death with heavy stones. But evidently some jury in Florida where convicting someone of murder and having them put to death is a spectator sport failed to convict, something about reasonable doubt. It sounds to me that in such and environment that the prosecutors must have pulled a Marcia Clarke and botched the prosecution.  They should have petitioned to have the trial moved to Texas where they could have gotten the conviction and the death penalty. Even President Bush who never pardoned anyone as Governor couldn’t save the lady convicted of drowning her kids when she said she had repented when a jury convicted her of capital murder.

However, my friends as terrible as the verdict sounds as it seems justice has been denied, someone probably killed that little girl and will get away with it, the reaction of Gracie Jane was priceless as she was nearly apoplectic even saying that Satan must be having a “party in Hell” and that proving “reasonable doubt” an unfair burden to prosecutors.   But that is the way the Media Legal system works, Greta, Geraldo, Court TV and Gracie Jane, they thrive on trying these cases in the media and while our justice system is certainly imperfect and sometimes even insane ever person is due their day in court and it is the responsibility of prosecutors to prove guilt beyond reasonable doubt. These prosecutors had no direct evidence of the lady killing her daughter.  They had lots of circumstantial evidence even some pretty damning stuff from what Gracie Jane tells me but they couldn’t get a conviction. When I took a class in Military Law we were advised that if we didn’t believe that we could make the charges stick at a General Courts Martial in from of a judge and jury that it was inadvisable to charge soldiers with a crime, even if we were trying the case as a “non-judicial” case under Article 15 of the UCMJ. As a company commander I never lost because I made sure that if I charged someone that the evidence would prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.  These guys didn’t. They lost to better defense attorneys and someone got away with murder, manslaughter or child abuse. But the Media Legal system will never admit that they could be wrong in convicting people before a jury even gets the case. It’s a pity that Lincoln Meyer (a peeping Tom murderer played in a most creepy manner by David Dean Bottrell) couldn’t come up and clunk her on the head with a shovel like in Boston Legal).

Finally I ran afoul of a Tea Party partisan yesterday when I mentioned in his extended quote from the Declaration of Independence about removing despots and the right of people to revolt he cut off the quote where the Declaration says “Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes.” For this I was called everything but a Democrat, you’d think that I had spurned God and man for mentioning this. Instead the man and one of his friends set out to mock me as some kind of Constitution stomping, CNN and MSNBC watching infidel for my cautious and even distrustful views views in regard to the Tea Party movement and some of its leaders.  Of course when picked their arguments apart I got called more names was told that they were “Constitutionalists” and kept trying to shut me up. I had too much fun finally getting one to end his insulting comments aimed at me with “God Bless the USA!” Unfortunately when the phase is used to end an argument, insult the honor, integrity and intellectual honesty and question the patriotism of a fellow American it resonates about as well with me as much as “Heil Hitler!” did to Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Evidently even though I have served the country in the military in peace and war the past 30 years including in combat I am less of a patriot than him or anyone else in the Tea Party.  Despite my personal victory today I fear for the worst when this man and others like him come to power. Dissent will be crushed as they use laws that they currently decry to punish their opponents or critics. Those that joined the movement out of legitimate frustration at the mess that Republicans and Democrats alike as well as most powerful supporters have made of this country will be sorely disappointed when they find that they are considered expendable to those that they put their trust in to deliver the country.

I personally find the often violent language and imagery used so flippantly by many the leaders of the Tea Party to be frightening. The use of such terms as evil, satanic, communist, Marxist or Fascist to characterize those that disagree with you is dangerous for it dehumanizes the other and appeals to the basest forms of human behavior.  The fact that some senior state organizers have links intellectual and economic to white supremacist groups and anti-government “militia” groups makes me even more nervous as do the unstated motivations of some of the principal financial backers the Koch brothers and Rupert Murdoch.  Contrary to what some believe this movement is not a movement of uneducated bumpkins to be trifled with. The Tea Party has money, media and power at its disposal it is not to be taken lightly even when its leaders make mistake after mistake concerning American history and the Constitution.

But it seems that none of them really studies history and that we have failed in teaching our people to learn from history, not the mythology that makes us feel good and warms our patriotic hearts. But according to the gentleman I must not have one of those. Oh well… God Bless the USA!

Well that’s all for tonight.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under ER's and Trauma, faith, leadership, Lies of World Net Daily, Military, Pastoral Care, philosophy, Political Commentary, PTSD, purely humorous

Till the Smoke Clears: A Reflection on PTSD and Faith

A morning drive in Iraq, looks like that here too

We are in a drought in Eastern North Carolina and with that drought have come forest and peat fires in the areas surrounding the Crystal Coast. The fires have now shrouded the summer sky with a layer of dense smoke and the National Weather Service is predicting poor air quality and visibilities of a mile or less.

I had been noticing it periodically over the past few weeks and occasionally the stench from the fires would catch me unsuspecting and send me back to Iraq. Anyone that has served in Iraq can testify of the pall of smoke from burn pits and in locations around the cities and countryside of Iraq. Those afflicted with PTSD often have a heightened sense of awareness to things that most people take for granted such as noise, light and smell.  Having experienced this myself and talked to many more men and women that served in Iraq, especially those with PTSD these normal parts of everyday life now seem to be hard wired into our brains along with a need for safety and a certain level of hyper-vigilance.

Sand smoke and clouds

I had to drive to the Marine Corps Air Station at Cherry Point for my BLS recertification at the Medical Clinic this morning and the sky was weird hue. It reminded me somewhat of Iraq and the smell of the smoke hit me as did the sound of helicopters and jets taking part in a large exercise.  For a fair amount of the trip I was back in Iraq.  When I returned to LeJeune I had to stop by the UPS Store for a simple transaction and as I was filling out the paperwork someone barged in and slammed the door to the store as the sound of bombs exploding on the bombing ranges of the coast of Camp LeJeune went off. About that time a police car roared by with its siren wailing, just like they did in Iraq. I had to about put myself back into my skin as I remembered a morning doing PT near the perimeter of Taqaddam air base when an explosion rocked the town of Habbinyah less than a mile away with gunfire and sirens following the explosion. That’s some good living.  Hurriedly paying I got out of the store got in my trusty 2001 Honda CR-V and got on the road. As I drove west toward the base the smoke was worse in places as was the stench.

Sunset in the smoke and sand and a smoky day in ENC

I got back to the Hospital and took care of what I needed to do and went home. On the way out the door I could not find my Blackberry. It was nowhere. Not in my uniform, my desk or anywhere. I wracked my brain wondering where it could be.  Then I thought that it had to be at the UPS store, the Cherry Point Clinic or the Cherry Point base gas station.  I was beginning to hit panic mode but was able to calm down and as I drove back home toward the UPS store I just prayed that I had left it there. Thankfully I had and the very kind lady that runs the store had safeguarded it.  Evidently when the other customer had slammed herself through the door I had dropped it out of my hand without even noticing.  That old startle response is still there and thank God for life in small towns.

I finally arrived at home relatively calm and turned on baseball. As I fixed dinner I could hear more bombs exploding on the ocean bombing range which is only about 6 or 7 miles away from my apartment.  Meanwhile the aircraft were much more active even deep into the night. I turned up the television and hunkered down on my big bean bag, finished an article that I began yesterday about the Battle of the Philippine Sea and tried to tune out the aircraft and the occasional explosion.

Hanging on at the end of the Iraq deployment with RP1 Nelson Lebron

A friend of mine recently wrote about the “tentacles of PTSD” which I think is an apt description of the neuro-sensory reactions that are part of life with PTSD.  While I have had a lot fewer reactions over the past few months I have noticed an increase of hyper-arousal and hyper vigilance as these stimuli trigger physical responses to perceived danger.

I remember when I was collapsing in the summer of 2008 there was a rather large and long burning fire in the Great Dismal Swamp. I walked out one morning and the smoke was so thick that the sky looked just like Iraq between the smoke and sandstorms.  That was the day that after a daylong seminar on combat and trauma that my medical officer looked at me and asked if I was okay and I said that I wasn’t. In fact that was around June 16th 2008.  It marked the beginning of me recognizing that I was different and damaged and that nothing was the same including my faith which was shattered to the point that for all practical purposes I was an agnostic. But that day was also my first step to healing.

Now I do not expect a major crash because I am a lot more aware of what is going on and what triggers me. At the same time I do feel less safe in large part due to the sights sounds and smells that are running rampant and reminding me of Iraq. They say that the smoke will be worse tomorrow and the temperatures will also rise into the mid-90s, low by Iraq standards but enough to increase sensitivity to the sights sounds and smells that I and thousands of other Iraq and Afghanistan veterans in the area will experience.

Eventually the smoke from the fires will clear away and with it the neuro-stimuli should decrease and life will return to my “post Iraq normal” where the hyper-vigilance will subside a bit. In the mean time I have the wonderful privilege of caring for and providing ministry to those who like me have returned from war changed.

My faith which was shattered when I returned from Iraq has returned and while I still have days where I have doubts I am no longer an agnostic.  I am able to be with those that doubt and even those that have “broken up with God” to use the term of Sarah Sentilles, especially those who had their faith damaged by war. I see a lot of that here as well as a lot of men and women that have doubts but try to hold onto faith while battling PTSD, TBI, depression, substance abuse and even suicidal thoughts.  Many like I did probably have to lie to their friends and families about their doubts, fears and struggles because most people don’t want to hear them.  When people do start talking they become “radioactive” to use the term of Dr. Robert Grant.  For me that openness cost me friends in my former denomination and led to me being asked to leave it in September of last year. I am better for the experience but it is still somewhat painful as I see more young men and women coming home from war not only injured or damaged in mind body and spirit but also wondering about the war itself and feeling cut off from their countrymen.  No one likes to talk about that but there are tens of thousands of veterans including many still on active duty that struggle with all of this.

Yes the smoke will clear someday, I am confident that somehow God’s grace mercy and love shown to us in Jesus will get us all through.  Until then we wait for that day when the smoke clears and we can see clearly.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Loose thoughts and musings