Friends of Padre Steve’s World,
This is another in a series of posts that serve a dual purpose, the first and most important is to shrink pictures of my 39 year military career into sizes where they won’t crush the size of the Power Point presentation to be played before my retirement ceremony, the second is to provide just a brief look through pictures at my time in the Army.
Without using a lot of verbose prose I grew up in a Navy family but surrounded myself with all things military, Navy, Army, Marines, Air Force. Of course that included everything I could read about history, especially military and Naval history, biography, technical aspects of ships, aircraft, artillery, small arms, armored fighting vehicles, strategy, operational methods, strategy and grand strategy, and even ethics and war crimes even before I finished high school.
After my dad retired from the Navy I was lost, I didn’t want to be a civilian, and this was at the end of the Vietnam War when the military was not popular at all. The draft had been abolished, the all-volunteer Force established and there were a lot of problems even as the Soviets became a greater threat and the Middle East began a descent into the chaos that it is now. But even so I want to serve.
My parents talked me out of enlisting in the Navy or Army right out of high school to try a year of junior college. It was a good thing they did because in August of 1978 I met Judy, we began dating and in 1980 I followed her to California State University at Northridge.
Before I went to Northridge I applied and was accepted into the Air Force ROTC program and I would have jumped on it had they not insisted on attending a four week summer training camp that would have destroyed the income from an extremely well paying summer job at the John Deere and Company Warehouse where my dad worked in Stockton, California. I am forever grateful for my dad for getting me that job because it paid a good amount of my college expenses. So the Air Force was out, as was the Navy because Judy who had a number a sister and two brothers-law-serve in the Navy, did not want to have to deal with regular Navy deployments. I asked her if the Army was okay and she said yes because at the time Army assignments were pretty predicable, and with Vietnam in the rear view mirror Not too bad for family life on the whole. Not to say that in Cold War Germany my work days were usually 12-14 hours long and we had a lot of alerts, field exercises, and a massive event called REFORGER once or twice a year that took a month to six weeks out of our lives.
This is my Army story in pictures, from Army ROTC at UCLA and time in the 3rd Battalion 144th Field Artillery while in ROTC, my commissioning as a Medical Service Corps Lieutenant and our marriage in 1983, and my first five years on active duty from July 1983 to September 1988, which included time as a platoon leader, motor maintenance officer, NBC defense officer, Company Executive Office, Company Commander as well as Group and Brigade Personnel Staff Officer. I left active duty to attend seminary while serving in the Texas Army National Guard where I was commissioned as an Armor Officer and served in an Armor Battalion as the S-1, and on brigade staff before the State Chaplain forced me into the Chaplain Candidate Program because by regulation seminary and theological students are not allowed to serve in combatant positions. He had me branch transferred into the Staff Specialist Branch where seminary and law students went while in school. Now if you know the Army every Branch or Corps has its two letter designation. An Armor officer is AR, Infantry IN, Military Intelligence MI, and Field Artillery FA. There are many more but the Staff Specialist Branch was SS, so yours truly was a SS Captain, but not the Nazi kind for a couple of years. That being said, though I had orders and wore the insignia, the God of Military personnel in the 49th Armored Division still kept me on the books as a Medical Service Corps Officer, and a secondary Armor Officer in case we were mobilized for Operation Desert Storm, and we were days away from mobilization when that war ended. But during seminary I completed the Chaplain Officer Basic Course, and commissioned as a Chaplain following my graduation and ordination.
During that time I decided to try civilian hospital chaplaincy, completed a Clinical Pastoral Education Residency at Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas, and then took a full time contract position as a Contract Emergency Department Chaplain in my parent’s home town of Huntington West Virginia, where both my grandmothers and numerous other more distant relatives lived. During all of this time I served as a Chaplain in the Texas and Virginia National Guard and when promoted to Major in December 1995 transferred to the Army Reserve. In the summer of 1996 8 volunteered for and mobilized to support Operation Joint Endeavor, the NATO Intervention in the Balkans. Coming home from that I had no civilian job as contractors have no reemployment rights.
About a week later the Army gave me orders to Fort Indiantown Gap Pennsylvania to help close it down as a Federal installation and prepare to hand it over to the Pennsylvania Army National Guard. That kept me there until the end of September 1997, but the Garrison Commander did not want to go the final year without a Chaplain, and since the Army didn’t have money to do it, he worked out a deal with the Pennsylvania State Military Department to hire me as a civilian chaplain while remaining a drilling member of the Army Reserve. That was a really cool time, Judy got to be with me, we had a great congregation, and I was recognized by the Army for my creativity in preparing the chapel congregation and the other inactive chapels on the base for turnover. This included the demolition of one, the decommissioning and neutralization of two others to serve in other capacities, one as a daycare center, the other a supply building. The partial renovations of three to serve as chapels for units training on base or mobilization purposes, the renovation of a tiny but historic Catholic Chapel, the Our Lady of Victory. The donations and removal of another which despite the structure being in pristine condition, would have been demolished with the rest of area six. It was donated to the First Free Congregational Church of Orwigsburg, Pennsylvania. After it had its lead paint exterior planks removed and was decontaminated by the removal of asbestos panels inside, the church had a crew of Amish workers take it apart and reassemble it on their site where it still stands. Judy represented me at the groundbreaking because I was serving as a Exchange Officer at the Chapel of the German Panzertruppen Schule in Munsterlager, between Hamburg and Hannover. When we turned the base over we went home to Huntington where jobs for someone like me were incredibly nonexistent, I got a call from the bishop of my old church Just before Christmas of 1998 that the Navy was willing to take me on active duty if I was willing to reduce in rank from being an Army Major to being a Navy Lieutenant. On 8 February 1999 I drilled for the last time in the Army Reserve and on 9 February was commissioned as a Navy Chaplain.
But the Army did a lot for me that led me to success in the Navy, Marine Corps, and in Combat. It prepared me by allowing me to serve in command and staff positions. To realize that war was more than a game, that one always had to expect the unexpected, and to realize that soldiers and their families were more than cogs in a wheel. I learned to try to balance justice with mercy and I learned from my mistakes when I didn’t to that as well as I should. Because of Judy we never were ones to treat ourselves above enlisted people, particularly because the Army tends to be a less stratified service than the Navy, and because we made sure that we invited enlisted personnel to dinners, including thanksgiving at our quarters, and to treat enlisted personnel and their families with respect, especially when unexpected things happened like massive pay failures during a unit move, or when we had to remain in the field longer than scheduled and Judy and the platoon leader, XO, or Company Commanders wife making sure that families were notified and cared for during such times.
I learned from excellent leaders and from the less than caring or stellar leader on how to treat people and not treat people. I learned how much my Oath to the Constitution meant, and though not a West Point Graduate adopted their creed of Duty, Honor, Country as my own.
As I said, the Army thought me about how to survive and succeed in combat, and prepare me for war. Good Army leaders taught me to think outside of the box and to throw away the book when it’s answers didn’t make sense. The bad ones always said to stick to the book no-matter what. Combined with my study of military history and successful leaders I found that taking risks and doing things that the Chaplain Corps frowned upon in combat was key to being where people needed me. Thankfully I had leaders that let me do those things.
I also leaned that to be honest and truthful when things were going to shit wasn’t appreciated by much of the brass, but was appreciated by the enlisted men. I also found that being honest and truthful could make one enemies more devoted to their power in the system than by being honest and truthful with people that have to power to fix things, including faulty weapons systems and vehicles, communications equipment, personnel regulations, training programs, and so much more that when not fixed or changed to meet changing situations, cost lives unnecessarily, and lose wars.
As the British military theorist, historian, and philosopher B.H. Liddell-Hart wrote toward the end of his life:
“We learn from history that in every age and every clime the majority of people have resented what seems in retrospect to have been purely matter-of-fact comment on their institutions. We learn too that nothing has aided the persistence of falsehood, and the evils resulting from it, more than the unwillingness of good people to admit the truth when it was disturbing to their comfortable assurance. Always the tendency continues to be shocked by natural comment and to hold certain things too “sacred” to think about.”
He then noted something that some of us learn as we progress through the ranks of the military if we are honest, “As a young officer I had cherished a deep respect for the Higher Command, but I was sadly disillusioned about many of them when I came to see them more closely from the angle of a military correspondent. It was saddening to discover how many apparently honourable men would stoop to almost anything to help their own advancement.”
Anyway, here is the Army Part of my story in pictures.
Well friends, that’s my Army story. There are many more photos I could have digitalized and used but this will have to work for now. On to the Navy and some reflections at the end of my career.