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Remembering Those Who Helped Make Us Who We Are

Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

Historian David McCullough wrote something that I think is all too easy to forget in a world where many people, including our current President seem to think that everything is about them. McCullough wrote:

“We are all what we are, in large degree, because of others who have helped, coached, taught, counseled, who set a standard by example, who’ve taken an interest in our interests, opened doors, opened our minds, helped us see, who gave encouragement when we needed it, who reprimanded or prodded when we needed it, and at critical moments, inspired.”

When I look back at my own life I see the tremendous impact of how others, family, teachers, coaches, pastors, people who I have served alongside or under the command of in the military, as well as just simple people who knew me and cared enough to put an arm around my shoulder, offer an encouraging word, piece of wisdom, of maybe even a observation that wasn’t comfortable to hear, have helped make me what I am today. In fact there are so many of them that it would be almost impossible to list them all, and as we come up on Memorial Day next week I tend to become a bit melancholy thinking about those military personnel who impacted my life and mourning those who have passed on. I have written about many of them and probably will do so again over the coming months, not only the military people but the others, if for no other reason to ensure that they are not forgotten and to remember that everything in life doesn’t have to be about what is going on in the news cycle.

Even so it is humbling to know that if all of these people had not been part of my life that I would not be who I am today.

So anyway, if I can say anything to anyone today, try to remember the people who have helped you become what you are.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Back To School: Welcome Back

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Welcome Back (Theme to Welcome Back Kotter) John Sebastian

Show intro: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5VlGyMG0ksg  complete song http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xZzEzDkeHzI

Welcome back,

Your dreams were your ticket out. 

Welcome back, 

To that same old place that you laughed about. 

Well the names have all changed since you hung around, 

But those dreams have remained and they’re turned around. 

Who’d have thought they’d lead ya (Who’d have thought they’d lead ya) 

Here where we need ya (Here where we need ya) 

Yeah we tease him a lot cause we’ve hot him on the spot, welcome back, 

Welcome back, welcome back, welcome back.

In the morning I will check in to my new assignment at the Joint Forces Staff College where when I finish my initial course of instruction the Joint and Combined Warfighting School I will be on the faculty as the Ethics instructor and on the staff as the Chaplain.

NDU-JFSC-campus

It is the kind of assignment that I have always since my earliest days in the military I have desired to serve in. I will be teaching Ethics to mid grade and senior officers as they go out to serve in important billets in Joint Commands. I will also have responsibilities to pastor the small chapel at the College.

I love teaching and I love the academic world. I was listening to the radio today and the theme from Welcome Back Kotter came on the Sirius Radio 70s on 7 channel. The song always brings a tear to my eye, not in a bad way because those men and women who taught me in High School, College, Seminary and Grad School have had a tremendous influence on me. I hope that I will be fortunate enough to have my future students remember me so fondly.

Until tomorrow

Peace

Padre Steve+

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National Teacher’s Day: Let’s Actually Start Valuing Our Teachers Again

What nobler employment, or more valuable to the state, than that of the man who instructs the rising generation.
Marcus Tullius Cicero

Today is National Teacher’s Day and not a moment too soon. However most people probably don’t know or care that it is. Teachers are not valued highly in our society. They used to be but not anymore. Ask a teacher how they feel about classroom conditions, support from the elected officials on school boards that use their office to attack the institutions that they have been elected to serve. Ask any teacher about the effects of the “No Child Left Behind” on their ability to teach and be able to reach out to students that learn differently from the rote memory exercises needed to pass a standardized test.

Higher education likewise is being gutted the formerly amazing California State University System, and the California Junior College system which I attended is being decimated. Professors have not competitive wages in years, programs are being cut while tuition is increased. I attended San Joaquin Delta College and paid $5 a semester plus books. I averaged $200 a year at Cal State Northridge. Programs were amazing, class sizes good, professors and instructors, excellent. That system and many others are in crisis.

You see teachers, especially those in Public Schools have for the last 30 years or so, ever since Howard Jarvis’s Proposition 13 passed in California and gutted educational spending the target of right wing pundits, politicians and preachers. They are blamed by some people for almost every ill in the educational system. If teachers complain or take their case to the media they are made the villain. In most States they don’t make a lot of money for all the education, training and certifications that they are required to have to teach.  They have few protections and those that they do have, mainly in the protections that they gained through their participation in organized labor are being stripped away in state after state.

When I was a kid growing up in the 1960s and 1970s my dad was in the Navy. It was a turbulent time for our family. Due my dad’s transfers as well as a school boundary change in one district I ended up attending six different elementary schools in three states, three schools in three states in 4th grade alone. During that time our lives were in a constant state of flux and as a grade school student it was my teachers that helped me get through that time. Because of the transfers I didn’t get to have the opportunity to remain in a community long enough to get established until Junior High School. I was always “the new kid in town.” Not that that is bad or that I have any bad memories of that childhood. I found the new places, people and schools to be a grand adventure. In fact when my dad retired from the Navy I was not happy. I wanted him to stay in because I liked the adventure.

I remember every one of my elementary school teachers names, save one in 4th grade where were we not at the school long. There was the strict Kindergarten teacher, Mrs Brandenburg who made sure that she write with my right hand.  To this day my handwriting is illegible but who cares now when I type everything. Then there was my 1st Grade Teacher at Oak Harbor Elementary School, Mrs Christian. She was a sweetheart her husband was an airline pilot and in 1st grade, probably because of my handwriting I was tested for some learning difficulties. I guess that there was nothing wrong because that didn’t last long. In Second Grade I had Mrs Jackson. Then in 3rd grade a new school was opened and I attended Olympic View Elementary School.  My 3rd Grade Teacher was Mrs King.  It was in 3rd grade that I really began my adventure in reading. I devoured every book in the biography and history section that I could find in the Library, especially those dealing with military and political leaders, sports figures (especially baseball players) and military history.

I began 4th Grade at Olympic View but my dad was transferred to a travel intensive assignment in Long Beach California in the fall of 1968. I had my first male teacher at Olympic View, Mr Alguire who I really liked. We moved to Long Beach and it was a difficult move. there were a number of deaths and serious illnesses in the extended family and I attended Robert E Lee Elementary in Long Beach for just a few weeks before my dad had my mom, brother and I go live with my Grandparents in Huntington West Virginia. We arrived there in early December and I found that I was out of my element. My teacher at Miller Elementary was Mrs Gates. She was very tough and I was hammered with more homework than I had ever seen. I was also the “new kid” and since we had just moved from Long Beach a “city slicker” and was challenged to a fight in my first week. It was a draw. However Mrs Gates was a great teacher and I continued to read, write well but illegibly and learn to speak in front of the class.

When the school year was done we moved back to Long Beach when in a different neighborhood just across the cement lined San Gabriel River from Orange County I attended Hawaiian Gardens Elementary School where I met my friend Chris Brockel who I have managed to stay in contact over the years. That was probably my most fun year in school. I was asked if I wanted to skip 5th grade but I told the principle that I wanted to remain in my 5th Grade Class. My teacher was another gem, Mr Oliver. It was a great school year combined with the fact that my dad was always taking us to California Angeles baseball games.  But dad received orders to the elderly Aircraft Carrier USS Hancock CVA-19 home ported in Alameda California at the end of that school year which made another move necessary and initially thought had ruined my life. heck I had baseball, Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm, the Queen Mary and Sea World. I saw my first professional hockey and basketball games and it was a dream life.

Since it was the early 1970s and the Bay Area was in turmoil and I had a great Aunt in Stockton  we moved to Stockton just down the street from her. In Stockton I attended Grover Cleveland Elementary School and had the woman that I think was my best teacher of elementary school Mrs Dietrich. My dad was underway or deployed most of the time between 1971 and 1974 when he retired. That first year was hard and like my other teachers Mrs Dietrich was a rock of stability who encouraged me to learn and think for myself.

I attended Stockton Junior High and Edison High School and there are were teachers at every grade level who I remember fondly. My French Teacher from 7th-9th Grade was Mrs Milhousen who was very patient with me. My history teacher was Mr Silvaggio who my brother would later teach on the same faculty in his first teaching assignment. I remember my Printing Shop and Wood Shop teachers, back then you had to become familiar with trade skills as well as academics. I learned to play the French Horn in band class which was taught by Mr Hull.

At Edison I still remember great teachers like Gloria Nomura, Mr Riley, Mr Oji, all who taught History or Social Studies, Donovan Cummings my Speech teacher, Coaches Charlie Washington, Vick Berg, Duke Pasquini.  There were others but two of the most important were my Naval Junior ROTC instructors LCDR James Breedlove and Senior Chief Petty Officer John Ness.  I could go on and on about teacher.

That continued in college and seminary. I am indebted to the wonderful, gifted and dedicated men and women that were my teachers.  My mom was a teacher’s aid when life settled down in Stockton when dad left the Navy and retired from the school district. Likewise my brother Jeff is a teacher and in administration at an alternative school in the district, his wife is an elementary school teacher.  I now have a BA and three graduate degrees. I am indebted to my teachers and cannot forget them. Teaching is hard. I have taught a couple of undergraduate level Western Civilization classes and the amount of work is enormous.

When I hear the Unholy Trinity of Right Wing Politicians, Pundits and Preachers that beat up public school teachers at every opportunity. School Board members who seem to be more interested in political careers than education and those that hack away at programs that cater to the whole person I am disgusted. When I went to school those things that made me what I am today, the library, the gym classes, athletic programs, the foreign languages, art, music, speech, and things like shop were required. They helped give me an appreciation for the world and for people in general. They helped make me a more rounded person. From what I see now those kind of programs are being decimated and our kids will be poorer for it. This is not the fault of the teachers. They work with the crap being forced on them by politicians in Congress, statehouses and on school boards with ever shrinking resources and always increasing requirements.

We need to actually care about our teachers and educational systems. Policy and budget priorities set by politicians coupled with parents that are either bullies or absentee are the reason our schools are in trouble.

I hate to lecture but teachers matter. Education policy matters. Educational funding matters. If we want to be competitive in the world we need to make education a priority again and start giving teachers some measure of respect and stop using them as a straw man to divert attention from the real causes of our educational crisis.

Today is National Teacher’s Day. Admittedly it is after hours but take some time in the next few days to thank a teacher.  If you don’t have kids, go back and thank one of your own.

Until tomorrow,

Peace

Padre Steve+

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In Memorium: Chief John Ness and LCDR Jim Breedlove USN

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LCDR Jim Breedlove (Left) and Senior Chief John Ness 1975-76 Edison High School NJROTC

I have found that as I get older I find there are moments where eras end.  Today was one of those days. I came home from my overnight on call at the Medical Center I checked my e-mail and found a message from Maggie Ness.  She was the wife of my1st year NJROTC at Edison High School, Stockton California, Chief Petty Officer John Ness. She wrote to inform us that John had passed away on Good Friday after a long illness.

The death of “Chief” was expected.  As I said he had been sick for many years and had come back home in hospice care. His death followed that of our Senior Instructor and Detachment OIC, LCDR Jim Breedlove by about 14 months.  LCDR Breedlove died unexpectedly after a short illness shortly before I returned from Iraq last January.  Both of these men had a profound influence on me and taught me many lessons.  From them I learned a lot about responsibility, honor and commitment.

They had founded the detachment in the early 1970s which was not when you think about it a great time to begin any military activity on any campus as Vietnam was winding  down.  Both men had recently retired from the Navy.  LCDR Breedlove was  what we would now call a Surface Warfare Officer who spent a lot of his career in ship’s Engineering Departments serving often as the Chief Engineer.  Chief was a Cryptologic Technician.  In short, a codebreaker.  Chief has spent a lot of his career working in the intelligence side of the house.

These men were the glue that helped guide me through high school.  Their efforts expanded my world.  My world had become much smaller when my dad retired from the Navy in 1974 and I was miserable.  Yet because of these men  my world expanded, in fact the world again became a place of wonder.  During the fall of my sophomore year I was able to go to San Diego and ride the USS Agerholm DD-826 up the coast and home.  Later in the fall we went to Mare Island to spend time with the “Riverine” forces of Coastal River Division XI.  That spring I went to a “mini-boot camp” at NTC San Diego.  The next summer I spent a couple of weeks on the USS Coral Sea CV-43 and get some “on the job training” in the ship’s Medical Department.  On Coral Sea I was able to see the intricate workings of flight operations on a aircraft carrier. Coming back to school we got a ride on the USS Pyro AE-25 a ammunition ship based out of Alameda California.  On Pyro I met a Navy Chaplain and talked with him about the chaplaincy.  I also saw my first burial at sea.  The next winter we traveled to Portland Oregon to board the USS Mount Vernon LST-39 coming out of the yards and going back to California.  My senior year was the highlight of my time in High School.  A group of us went down to San Diego and took USS Frederick LST-1184 from San Diego to Pearl Harbor. We spent a week at Pearl seeing the history of the base, the USS Arizona and USS Utah memorials and spent Easter Sunday there.  While there I spent a day snorkeling at Hanauma Bay and came out with the sunburn from Hell.  One of my friends, Jeff Vanover still remembers me as the “Lobster man” after that experience.  We rode the USS Gray FF-1054 back to San Diego and again learned a lot. On Gray I met with a destroyer squadron chaplain and learned more about the Chaplaincy.  I sent a post card to my grandparents from the Gray.   I found it when visiting my grandmother in 1995.  It said: “Dear Ma Maw and Pa Paw, I think that God is calling me to be a Navy Chaplain.”  At the time I was a civilian hospital and Army Reserve Chaplain,. I chucked and to her that “At least I got the chaplain part right.”  I had no idea that the Deity herself would lead me into the Navy a few short years later.  Other Cadets went on other cruises.  Several rode the USS Blue Ridge LCC-19 to Acuploco Mexico.  Others went on a Coast Guard cutter for 60 days in the summer on Alsakan fisheries patrol.

There are several things to note about the Hawaii trip.  It was over three weeks long, which because part of the time was Easter break (yes it was still Easter back then) we missed two weeks of school.  Some people would say that this would hurt students academicly, but I think not.  Sometimes I think that kids need to get out and see the world under the care and supervision of mature people. You can always catch up on academics, but to experience the world is something most kids miss out on. Commander Breedlove and Chief Ness gave us the chance to explore and see things that other kids would never see.  For me the more important facets were that the trip put in my heart a love of the sea, and the call to be a Navy Chaplain while on Frederick, something that was driven home at Pearl Harbor and coming back on the Gray.  Even more interesting was that in April 2001, about 23 years after that I celebrated my first  Holy Eucharist underway on Frederick. She was then the last LST on active service in the US Navy when she picked my Marine unit up in Pohang South Korea.  The Eucharist happened to be on Easter Sunday.  Talk about almost impossible occurrences. If there is such a thing as confirmation of where you are supposed to be, I think that this qualifies.

Anyway, those are experiences that these two men allowed us to experience.  I don’t know of many high school students who got to spend about 70 days underway on Navy ships and have all the other experiences that these emn allowed us to have.

Now it is time for some “Sea Stories.”  Chief Ness was a colorful man, as many Chiefs of his era were.  If you have seen the movie Men of Honor you can get to understand a little bit of the Navy culture that shaped Chief Ness.  He was not profane like Robert DeNiro’s character, Master Chief Billy Sunday, but he was a man who pushed us.  He was to often blunt and to the point. At the same time he was caring while not taking any crap from anyone.  He taught us to were the uniform correctly, close order drill, basic seamanship and other subjects that would be common to any new sailor.  As far as academics, he was a good teacher.  Like I said he didn’t take any crap.  We had a couple of guys who cheated on a test that sophomore year, both scoring an “A.”  Chief caught them, it’s hard to fool a codebreaker.  He brought them to the front of the class and told them that they would each get half on an “A.”  They both thought that meant a “C.”  Instead chief drew an “A” on the chalkboard and erased the right half of the letter, leaving the figure of an “F.”  He also taught us to be on time. Something that in my later years I have become almost pathological about.  We were getting on a bus to go to NTC San Diego.  There was one Cadet who was late.  At the appointed hour Chief directed the bus to start moving although a car was pulling into the parking lot and the cadet was getting out.  The Cadet did not make an effort to flag down or chase the bus, so Chief left him.  He then told us if the young man had made an effort that he would have stopped the bus, but the Navy would not delay a ship’s departure for one person and that we needed to see the consequences of being “UA.”  He also had an award that he gave to Cadets who had problems goofing things up.  It was a 10 pound shot put mounted on a plaque.  He called it the “Iron Ball” award for people who could “foul up an iron ball.”  He let us settle our class grades.  He used a “Bell curve” to do our final grade.  A the end of the quarter he would put every student’s cumulative point total on the board with no names shown.  He would then ask us to figure out who should get what grades using the Bell curve as our standard.  Thus we selected 10% for “A’s” 20% for “B’s” 40% for “C’s” 20% for “D’s” and 10% for “F’s.”  Now he allowed some room for maneuver if there were natural big breaks between scores, but he made us make the decision. He did because he knew that we would all have to make hard decisions that impacted other people later in life and that we had to learn that lesson early.  Chief almost always had his ever-present cup of black coffee, with a ceramic frog inside of it eyes looking up.  We used to joke that his forefinger was permanently molded ino the shape of a coffee mug handle. Chief had a heart of gold. He had nicknames for us, and he gave us a hard time, but when we were down he wouldn’t kick us.  He taught leadership lessons that I will not forget.

LCDR Breedlove was my mentor and later in life friend.  He taught us more advanced Naval subjects including Naval History, Law and customs.  He also taught us navigation, damage control, weapons systems and combat systems. He arranged for all of our trips and went with us on many of them.  In short he began to teach us to be Naval Officers. After I graduated I staying in contact with Jim.  He was always excited to hear what was going on in my life. Whenever I went home to visit my family I always set aside time to meet him for lunch and have a couple of beers together.  He was a gentleman, a family man and a Christian. His death, coming at the end of my time in Iraq was devastating.  We had stayed in contact during the deployment and his sudden death shook me.  I have been looking forward to once again sharing a meal and a beer or two together.

I have gone on a little long, but these two men meant a lot to me.  They were fine men, loved their families and cared enough for us to let us hard lessons before they became lessons that would kill us later in life.  A fair number of us went into the military, some for just an enlistment and others for full careers.  I’m the last of our class on active duty.  I even met one of my classmates when I was an Army Lieutenant going through West Berlin back in late 1986.  We had been in Chief’s class that first year and he happened to recognize me.

Tomorrow is Easter and I know that John and Jim are present with God.  Pray for their families, especially Maggie. May their souls and the souls of all the departed, rest in peace.

Peace, Steve+

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